Monthly Archives: June 2015

On the Couch: questions 5 – 10

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Answering these 31 questions on Bipolar (piecemeal as it is) does get me thinking about my ‘condition’ as a separate entity. For so long I have viewed it as almost an extension of myself. Hi, my name is Edel and I am bipolar. One of my favourite bloggers said this recently at the top of her entry. She likened it to a support meeting where you stand up, bare your soul and take ownership of your illness. Not so long ago, I was asked why those of us struggling with bipolar are given a ‘pass’ for their bad behavior when those struggling with alcohol abuse had to take ownership of and make amends for their misdeeds while drunk. Interesting thought that! I did answer the question. I’m not sure I liked the answer myself. I said it wasn’t my fault. My misdeeds, misspoken words, my behavior was all the fault of my illness. But so are the misdeeds of those struggling with alcohol addiction except they have a choice to drink and I don’t have any choice on being ill.   If we view alcoholism as an illness however, that argument doesn’t hold water. So where is my accountability then? I’m still musing over that one…….

But back to the questions at hand.

What treatment, therapy etc do you do?

I go to a psychiatrist once a month and have a session with her. I normally spend around an hour with her, where we go over the previous month and we talk through any issues I have had or anything I am worried about. She takes extensive notes and recalls everything; she questions me on anything I raised the previous month. Depending on my ‘wellness’ or ‘stability’, these appointments get longer between visits or stay the same. She determines that.

At the moment I am also undergoing CBT and talk therapy with a psychologist linked to the practice. This is harrowing but at the same time rewarding. It is forcing me to face issues I have not wanted to face and delve deep to find out the reasons I do things, and the reasons I let other people treat me the way they do and the reasons I repeat the same behavior towards others over and over again. I am being invited to take bipolar out of the equation and question what is left. Very interesting.

What do you wish you’d known when you were diagnosed?

For me now, what is most important is I wish I had known that just because I have bipolar, it does not mean that my feelings, my anger, my annoyance, my upset are all invalidated. I still have/had the right to be annoyed, I still have/had the right to be upset, I still have/had the right to be angry. I had the right to go through my life without thinking that everything negative was as a result of my bipolar and was in some way invalid as a result. This suffocated me. I spent a considerable amount of my life thinking I was at fault all the time, I apologized all the time, irrespective of the situation, I apologized even when I knew in my heart that I was not to blame. It was easier to do that than hold my ground because after all wasn’t I not aware of my own reactions and whether they were valid or not? I think that a lot of things could have been so different had my illness/disorder/shitstorm been explained to me. I wish (and this is not really in answer to the above but it is one of my greatest regrets) that my significant other had learned more about my illness from day one. I wish he had been interested in reading the books I read, watching the videos I watched, understanding the illness and therefore me better himself. That I think would have been much better for all of us.

What are the worst things someone can say to somebody who is bipolar?

Snap out of it. Pull yourself together. Get over it. Smile for fuck sake. You’re in control of how you feel so you’re the one deciding to feel like shit. Move on. Get lost. I don’t think I want to know you because you’re not right in the head. You’re a bad mother. Relax for fuck sake. Cheer up. Etc, etc, etc…..ad nauseum.

What do you dislike most about the disorder?

I dislike the uncertainty of things. I dislike the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any triggers to avoid so that I don’t start cycling all over the goddamn place. I dislike the fact that there is no cure. I hate the fact the meds stop working and have to be switched sometimes. I am petrified by the fact that after so many years on medications I could become drug resistant altogether. I abhor the fact that it makes me feel so shit about myself. I dislike my reaction to my swings sometimes. I hate the fact I can’t control the mania. I don’t like who I am when I’m a raving mad lunatic. I dislike the fact I regularly refer to myself as a raving lunatic. I am not mad, I am not broken, I am suffering with a brain disorder/chemical imbalance and it is not within my control. I dislike the fact I don’t always get that. I dislike the fact I comfort eat. The last few things are not really about the disorder itself, but my reactions to it, but hey, who says I’m perfect!!

Are there any benefits to bipolar for you?

No. I’m not of the mind where I feel that my mania has resulted in fabulous talents that I wouldn’t have without the bipolar. Sorry, I’m not getting on that wagon. No-sir-e…. Nope….   Nada…… No fricking way.  I am who I am in spite of my struggle with this illness and yes, because of it, but not in any beneficial way.

Do you tell people you’re bipolar? Why/why not?

I told the world and ‘everyone in it’ at one time because I believe and still do to this day that there is nothing to be ashamed of.   But I wore my bipolar like a badge. I told work colleagues so they could understand the mood swings and the rapid talk, the sight of me going around the office like an energizer bunny, the bad temperament, the explosive laughter, all the ‘good’ stuff that comes with being bipolar. I have however become more reticent about coming forward in the last few years, except on the blogosphere (ain’t anonymity grand), because the reactions are not always what I expect of people and that leaves me genuinely hurt. Those I would have been sure would take my diagnosis well didn’t, so I’ve been stunned/flabbergasted when that happened. I’ve been ‘dropped’ by people I would have called ‘developing’ friends. I’ve been ignored by people I genuinely called ‘friends’ already and dropped like a hot potato/pile of shit/leper (no offense to lepers!) when I really needed them the most.  I’ve learned my lesson; keep quiet until my hand is either ‘forced’ or I make the choice to ‘out’ myself. It takes longer nowadays than it did before. I’m not as much the advocate I perhaps should be and at one time professed myself to be. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Not for me because it is not for me right now. But things change.

And so endth the session on the couch today….. Lets take this up tomorrow!

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31 Questions on Bipolar. Question 1 – 4

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I’ve only come across the 31 questions to be answered if you are bipolar that is doing the rounds on the blogosphere recently. “Where have you been,” the voices in my head ask?   “I’ve been gone, gone, gone,” I answer, to the rhythm of the song of the same name by Phillip Phillips. (I kid you not!) – and yes, I had to look that one up!!

I’ve decided to answer the questions too, in ‘bite’ sizes. I have to think back a good few years for some of the answers and so I am approaching this the way I am approaching everything these days, with absolute honesty, otherwise what’s the point?
Question 1. What flavour of bipolar are you? What does your diagnosis mean to you?

My ‘flavour’ of bipolar is a Rapid Cycler Bipolar 1, with mixed states thrown in for good measure. I am a frequent, persistent rapid cycler, with way more than four distinct episodes per year, certainly in the beginning and again in the last few years.  What does my diagnosis mean:  its shit!  I feel like I’m damaged, broken somehow – not whole – not trustworthy.  Not trustworthy!!
Question 2. What is your baseline mood/state? How does that impact your life?

My baseline mood/state? I had to think about that one. That seems like a stupid statement, but I haven’t been baseline for at least 26 months and I forget. I forget what it’s like to feel ‘normal’. Looking back on my life though I have been successful, for the most part, in my working life. I have been mostly successful at rearing a family. I worry about the long-term effects of having an individual struggling with bipolar as a mother on my children, but for the most part, they seem to have come out of childhood relatively unscathed. I have been in a relationship with the same man for the past 27 years (married for 23 of those years) and he’s still here so that is something. We have had our ups and lots of downs, so whether it is a ‘successful’ relationship I’m still trying to work that one out. For a long time I viewed myself as ‘broken’ and was amazed at the fact that he stayed in the relationship. I had to count myself lucky that he was still here. Lets face it, who else would be able to love me, or put up with me, or put up with my moods, my anger, my depression. So the fact he stayed was ‘yah’ for him and a relief for me. So, back to baseline: I think my baseline allowed me to be high functioning, possibly more on the manic side of normal than the depressive side. The last two/two and a half years, that graph seems to have flipped and I have been on the very low depressive side of normal. In fact I’ve been so below normal, I scared myself sometimes.

How did that impact my life? Well I suppose I answered that with some of the above. I was high functioning. I worked hard in a full time job, I mothered three kids, I ran a home, I was a wife. When my children were diagnosed with dyslexia one after the other, I did what I do, I went into overdrive, learned about the condition, got them help, helped them myself, became the epitome of a pushy mum at their school and pushed and pulled them through their schooling fighting for them every step of their way.

I had few friends though and I mean in the ‘real’ sense of the word. I had two friends during the time my children were really small. Relationships were and are still not easy for me. Now, acquaintances and ‘casual connections’ they were easy. They didn’t really ‘know’ me, or have to get to know me and all my issues, so they were easy; kept at arms length. Despite being in an industry where I had to talk to people regularly, I kept myself and my personality wrapped tightly, protected, away from others.

How does it affect my life now?

The fact the graph has swung down to the depressive side is harder. It’s harder to fight off slight depression than to cope with slight mania. My default seems to be pessimism, ineffectiveness, lack of energy, lack of any sort of motivation. My get up and go has got up and gone! So that’s hard. It’s actually really hard. And it’s really hard on family relationships and dynamics.

Question 3: How old were you at the onset? How old were you at diagnosis? How were you given the diagnosis and are you satisfied with the way it was handled?

Well, now, how old was I at the onset? – That is what I am actually still trying to figure out? I was ‘diagnosed’ at 26. I went to my doctor nine months after my son was born thinking I had post natal depression and he’d give me Prozac and everything would be fine in a few weeks! He listened to me and said ‘Weeelll, its not only pnd, so I need to send you to a specialist, which he did. I got an appointment fairly quickly and went (as a private patient) to a psychiatrist who at the time (unbeknownst to me) was one of the foremost specialists in Bipolar disorder in the country. He diagnosed me within one session with a ‘rapidly cycling mood disorder’, and that as they say is that; I was 26 years old – petrified, unsure of what it really meant and what would happen from here.   Despite being a foremost specialist, my psychiatrist never really explained what the diagnosis meant, what it would mean for me, for my life and where we (or I) should go from here. I went off and on my meds like a yo-yo in the early years thinking I was cured and was not really aware of what would happen if I did this. I did research, read up on the condition, but never really associated what I read with myself and lied like a trooper to my psych whom I couldn’t for some reason bond with. Was I happy with the way things were handled back then? Absolutely not. First and foremost I would have loved more information, more knowledge, more everything. Now, having been with another psychiatrist since 2003, I have come to realize that I had ‘events’ in my life way before the diagnosis in 1995, when I was 26, as far back as my mid teens. Does it really matter at this point ‘when’ it started? Not to me. Not at this point. Too much living has happened in between.
Question 4: How do you feel about people who diagnose themselves online and then treat themselves for bipolar?

One word: Idiots

Seek professional help. Get a proper diagnosis. Get a medical plan. Get support. Just don’t go on online diagnostic tests. They will have you having everything from cancer to brain tumors. They are not reliable!!!!

Okay, I’m exhausted. I think those four answers are enough for today’s ‘session’.  I’m leaving the couch now!!  Be back soon though……

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Filed under depression, depressive episodes, family and relationships, hypomania, Life and Health, Mania, mental health

Dyslexia and Exams; the unfairness of it all.

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I didn’t realize it at the time, but rearing young children is a doddle compared to trying to help young adults navigate their way through school, to college, to their first job, through peer pressure and all the angst that comes along with growing up and growing away from ones parents.  The problems faced by us parents at a time when what is important to our children is that “so-and-so said such and such to me and I’m not their friend any more”, seem huge at the time, but are nothing compared to the angst suffered by our young adult children in their search for the right path. Simply put, the stakes are higher. Simply put the pressure is greater – on them and on us as parents helping out on their behalf.   Had anyone sat me down when my children were younger and said to me, it gets harder, I would have laughed. Having three children under the age of four was tough. It required a type of organization and effectiveness that was at times hard to juggle with the actual realities of life with three small children. They didn’t want to co-operate with my efficient plans; in other words, life got in the way. The best-laid plans very often went astray within the first few hours of the day, but to be effective (and you have to be with such small children), I learned to roll with it as best I could, as often as I could.

“Don’t worry, its gets easier”, was the refrain I heard from older mothers. “Don’t worry, they don’t stay small forever” etc etc.. No they don’t; and the problems one faces change too. I have not much to complain about. My children were all fit and healthy for most of their life. A bout with chicken pox that crossed the blood brain barrier in my three year old daughter was the only time I came face to face with an illness that was potentially life altering. But it wasn’t and she recovered after a spell in hospital and all became right again with the world, with my world.

My kids were all diagnosed with dyslexia in early childhood. For a time, I lost all focus and perspective. When my oldest son Gary was diagnosed, I felt at the time ‘there goes his future…’; all the plans I had for him were now down the toilet. But again, order was restored to my world when I put his difficulties in perspective and went about ensuring he had the help, support, understanding and commitment of all his teachers, his tutors and a workshop where I enrolled him to help with the difficulties that arise with dyslexia. After he was enrolled, then my daughter was diagnosed, and then my youngest son. Coping with one dyslexic child is easy compared to the commitment it takes to cope with three of them. Getting them the help they need is costly; workshops are expensive, tutors are expensive and then the time you as a parent need to invest in their education seems at times exhaustive. I gave up work for five years and ferried them to tutors, to workshops, I educated myself as to what exactly this means for them, I sat on school boards, the parents association and the board of the Dyslexic Association of Ireland all with the express purpose of helping my children to the best of my ability.

Then your children make their way through school slowly and not easily. Every parent teacher meeting and every report goes pretty much the same; teachers telling me my child is a bit unfocused and must try harder and me telling them about their dyslexia and how it affects each child. Some teachers embraced my knowledge, asked for more information and in collaboration we helped my child(ren) through their years in school. Other teachers scoffed, dismissed the diagnosis, vetoed my suggestions as to how to get the best from my child and openly discouraged my intimate involvement with their education. I was, I suppose the epitome of a pushy Mum. And I make no apology for that.   I did whatever I could, whenever I could. I championed their cause because at that young age, they could not advocate for themselves.

As they got older however, there comes a time when you have to let go of their hand and let them walk alone. Towards the end of their time in secondary school I did that with mine, I let them take responsibility for their education, but I never let them do it alone. I was always there, at the sidelines, ready to take up the baton at a moments notice.

My eldest received what is termed “accommodations” during his state exams for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate state examinations. He got extra time, a reader and a separate room where he could concentrate to the best of his ability. The accommodations he received were not in any way to give him an advantage over any of his peers, it was simply to ‘level the playing field’ so that he could complete his exams to the best of his ability. He has a reading, writing and processing deficit that puts him in the lowest 2% for his age group. His IQ is above average. But the slow processing, writing and reading speeds, put him at a distinct disadvantage when having to sit examinations even with the ‘accommodations’.   Simply put he tanks!

I understand this, he understands this, we realize that the results he gets in examinations are not the true measure of who he is, or of his ability. Unfortunately for people like my son whose difficulties are profound, they are measured by the results of exams and nothing more. Pathways to third level education are only through the results of examinations. In the past when private colleges would accept students on to courses according to the ability to pay, not the natural ability of a student, it meant that there was some hope for those who didn’t quite make the grade in their exams. All that has changed now.  I understand the reasoning behind it, of course it is to protect the ‘integrity of the examinations process’ and to ensure that students who would not have the ability to complete a college course don’t start it. It is to protect them from failure. But what if failure in examinations is all they have experienced?  What happens to this person? What is to be their life, their future? So much emphasis is placed on examinations that in a few years time will mean absolutely nothing. So much of a persons future is determined by what they can or can’t do once they leave school and head on for college – or don’t. Years ago, it was not such a big deal if you didn’t attend college. My generation is filled with people who still managed to make a success of their lives and create a successful career without ever sitting in another classroom once they finished second level education. That is however not the case for this generation, the generation of my children. With so much competition these days for any sort of a job, getting even a start-up or part-time job is extremely difficult. You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. And by the way, do you have a degree??!

So for young adults like my son, the route to a ‘career’ will be a much longer and more arduous one. When I think of what he is capable of, but is hindered by, it makes me extremely annoyed at our current system. It is also the most heartbreaking thing to watch, seeing your young adult child devastated because of another failure and reaching the end to a particular path they wanted to journey on. Knowing that as a parent I can do nothing to help is one of the most difficult things to accept. There is an inherent unfairness in a system that measures ones ability simply by a series of results in a test. Because you received the points necessary to study to become a doctor does not mean you should be one, or would even be a good one. So this ‘system of measurement’ is flawed. It is the only one we have, but it doesn’t mean it is right.

William Butler Yeats said that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Our system of education fills the pail. Any education system that only fills the pail and doesn’t light or ignite the fire for knowledge or thirst for learning for learnings’ sake is doomed to fail in the long run.

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Filed under dyslexia, education, family, Reasonable Accommodations

‘It’s my bipolar’ – ‘No, it’s not’….!

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I have spent 21 years of my 47 years on this planet living with the label of being bipolar. My life has been seen through the veil, the threat, the symptoms of bipolar. My moods have been described and dismissed as being bipolar symptoms. My whole identity has been so intertwined with being a bipolar sufferer that I don’t at times know where it ends and I begin.

This new psychotherapy is playing havoc with my knowledge of myself.   I am having to re-evaluate things, episodes, events, what’s inside me and my reaction and interaction with people that for my whole life to date I have dismissed as being a ‘bipolar’ reaction. Now, I am very aware that the ‘illness’ of bipolar has no personality, but it feels like it has and it’s been grafted onto mine – or that my personality, my frustrations, my anger, my upset my emotions have been attributed to my bipoloar and not given legitimacy in their own right. My feelings have been dismissed and instead they have been commandeered/hijacked/usurped and labeled as a bipolar rant, a bipolar low, a bipolar anger, a bipolar anything and everything. I have spent a good majority of my life apologizing for my mood swings. I have spent a good majority of my life having my ‘upset’ and high emotions, my anger, my frustrations, attributed to my bipolar. I can’t talk about my life in any substantive way without mentioning himself. He’s been a part of it for the past 27 years. We are longer together than we were as separate individuals. I was diagnosed after I was married ; after my first son was born and he has lived my illness with me every step of the way.

But what happens to an individual whose very emotions are called into question and/or dismissed as illegitimate because of that illness. What happens when the person doing it is the one who has supported you every step of the way? Can illnesses like mine turn the very relationship that has been of vital importance all my life into a toxic one? And is it too easy to blame the illness!!

I have spent the majority of my life feeling lucky. I have felt lucky that I did a job I really enjoyed (most of the time), I had three lovely children whom I adored and still do (though they are almost fully grown now), and a husband who stood by me throughout my illness. That is how I describe him. He’s wonderful, he stood by me. He’s amazing, he stayed even though I was a raving lunatic at times. He’s so good to have put up with me all those years. But in putting him up on this pedestal, I threw myself down to the bottom. I became unworthy somehow. My illness became this ‘huge’ thing that no one else would put up with and boy isn’t he great because he did put up with it, how lucky am I.

Don’t get me wrong, I do actually love my hubby, but it’s not an equal relationship we have. And it’s not equal because of how I view myself and how I view him. I view myself as Damaged. Sick. Mentally ill. Broken. Not Worthy. It is those feelings of being inadequate that the psychologist is pulling away at. She’s pulled at a few strings and I can feel everything unravel, but it’s happening at a pace that is hard for me to adjust to – after all I have spent my life feeling this way. To be asked to address the root causes of those feelings is difficult to do. And to be honest I’m not sure whether I want to see the man behind the curtain, or whether I can just stay in Oz, running from the wicked witch of the west.

I don’t embrace change well. I don’t know if I can do this……

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It’s been a while………..

aunty-17 It’s a while since I picked up a pen, or danced my fingers across the keyboard to do anything other than check my bank balance (depressing) or see who sent me emails I don’t need/want/require/or are of any benefit. Although I probably could do with the diet pills, I certainly don’t need a penile enlargement, to find out if my partner is cheating on me, a Russian bride, to claim the lottery prizes (of which there are quite a few) that I have won (but never entered!!) or any of the other asinine stuff that comes to my inbox every day.

Digression over, it’s been a while….

It’s been a while since I had any time to myself. It’s been a while since I felt able to string a coherent set of thoughts together. It’s been a while since I have had any sort of peace within myself. And it’s been a while since I simply felt like putting down on paper/screen/(out of my head) my thoughts; because once I do that I have to confront what is there before me. And that’s the difficult part….. The thing with bipolar is I never really trust my own feelings. Are they real? Is my anger justified? Why am I really sad, or frustrated, or discouraged, or upset? Is what I am feeling real at all? I have started sessions with a psychologist and she’ll be teaching me the techniques of cbt, but before any of the good stuff that will actually help is talked about, she’s brought me back to places I’m not sure I want to revisit. She’s brought me back to a time in my life I wanted to just forget, wipe from my memory as if I can just ignore its very existence. She is making me dredge up things I either wanted to ignore, or forgot about in some sort of self-protection approach. She’s a lovely psychologist, but I have left the last three sessions with her in tears by the end. And then I’m upset for the week. I’m facing issues about myself and others around me that I don’t particularly want to face. Because facing issues like that means that action must then be taken. Without some sort of action, this will all be pointless.

I don’t know why I was reluctant to undergo this type of therapy. Strike that, I think I do. – My psych told me at my last two sessions with her that my recent ‘issues’ were not bipolar related – that she feels I am instead having a bit of a crisis and an inability to deal with the stresses of life – for which she cannot prescribe any medication because I’m at the highest limit for my particular meds (we just recently changed the anti-depressant anyway – but she says its not related to my recent anxieties!!); hence the psychology sessions!! The first time she said it, I passed it off as her having a bad day, because surely I can’t be “not able” to cope with “life”. That sounded ridiculous to me. I’ve coped with bp for so long, how can it now be that ‘life’ is getting in the way… how can it be that it is simply the stresses and anxieties of life that is now making me feel this wretched. The second time she said it however, I had to take notice. She suggested the psychology sessions and organized them fairly promptly which brings me to the last month. It’s so easy to label everything that goes wrong in my life as ‘bipolar related’. It’s easy to pass off feelings of insecurity, anger, despair as being the symptoms of the illness I have for so long shouldered. In labeling them that way, then it becomes easy to avoid doing anything about them because the root cause is not of my making, well not really – it’s in my head – its only my ‘illness’ talking. Except sometimes it’s not in my head. That is what this psychologist is making me face. She is making me face myself and my decisions and my actions or inactions in a very cool, calm way – but its wreaking havoc on me. I come out of there a snotty mess. For the last few weeks she’s shook my hand and said it will get better. But before that happens we have to go back….. Go back and dig up stuff I don’t want to. Go forward and deal with stuff I’d rather label as bipolar related, go and look myself in the mirror and say ‘yeah, but how do you really feel’..

And I’m terrified.

I’m terrified of what I will see.

I’m terrified what I will find out about myself

I’m terrified of what I will have to then do about it.

I’m not sure if I have used my bipolar as a crutch my whole life or as an excuse, or as a shield. Perhaps it’s a bit of all three, perhaps its none of those; I really don’t know. And that’s the terrifying part. That and what’s now going to happen.

Shit, I hate the unfamiliarity of all this….

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Filed under anger, bi-polar, depression, depressive episodes, family, family and relationships, Life and Health, Mania