If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Lemon-TreesAlbert Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over and expect different results. So I have been doing the same things over and over and yes, you’ve guessed it; expected a different set of results. I have let my bipolar disorder rule my life to such an extent I feel at times enslaved by it. I determined through pure strength of will that ‘the next time’ I would not be as bad on each up or down. But strength of will either deserted me altogether leaving me feeling morose, miserable and depressed or left me feeling so full of myself I became a bombastic, arrogant, verbose, pretentious, angry idiot: in other words I just repeated the same old cycle year after year. Expecting that with each ‘recovery’ some miraculous curing would happen and the next time round things would be different, but not actually doing anything other than wishing it, is I suppose the definition of insanity according to Einstein (or whoever!!). But I know I am not insane. Why then, has it taken me over half my life to decide that I can’t continue to do this? I can’t continue to expect different results but change nothing. It seems so simple. Change something, DO something else, try out something else. And yet, year after year, I continued to do the same old things and lamented the fact I was doomed to repeat the same old cycles, blaming it all on this “all encompassing” bipolar disorder.

If I am to be brutally honest, I don’t know what scares me more; trying something else and it not working, or trying something else and it actually working and then having to take ownership of the fact I left it so long to alter things. My new therapist said to me recently that in the small time we have been working together she has gathered from our conversations/sessions that I ‘pour myself’ into helping people when they are in need. I actually thought that was a very good way of describing it. I go into overdrive when people around me are in need. I do that for everyone except myself. With me, I surrender: I give up without putting up a fight. I am not okay with the fact I have bipolar disorder, my rhetoric will lead anyone to believe I fight against the onslaught of this illness, but when I am ambushed by its symptoms, I don’t do much to help myself because in that moment I can’t. In the ‘in between’, I haven’t done much to help myself either. I certainly educate myself and try to keep abreast of new treatments, but when I am feeling well, I am just that – feeling well. So I put all thoughts of doing other things on the back burner. I know that eventually a swing will come, but life has a way of taking over. My time is filled with other things, other people, places to go, people to see and lots of things to be done – shitloads of stuff to be done. Somehow, I end up way down the priority list.
emotional+intelligence
I would certainly say that life has given me a lemon. Bipolar disorder is a bitter, bitter illness that, if I let it, will rob me of everything that is unique and wonderful and special about me. But I can’t change that fact; ever! I have bipolar disorder, it is incurable, lifelong. For now. So I can continue to rage against this illness in word only, or I can try something different. This therapy is something different. Wonderwoman (nickname for Therapist) is of the opinion that emotional intelligence will stand me in really good stead for all of my life; for all of my dealings with everyone in my life. I happen to agree. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. I am learning to use emotional reasoning to deal with my anxiety levels. I am learning to come at an issue from the point of view of assertion rather than aggression. I am learning the practical differences between the two and how to cope with my own feelings rather than push them deep down inside of me. I cannot continue to be low on my priority list. Ultimately that is not helping anyone, least of all me.

Instead I am endeavoring to make lemonade with those lemons. I am attempting to do something different. Because staying the same isn’t an option any more.

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An End in sight at last…..

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When I started to answer these questions, I thought it would take me an hour or so, but here we are, days if not weeks later, and I am stillllll writing the answers. Of course, I haven’t just been doing this; life just seems to get in the way at the moment. In fact, I’m not sure how some of you on the blogosphere manage to write, read and comment on so many entries, your own as well as others: So many blogs, so little time eh!

But, I’m almost at the end so here goes the final push….

Question 26. How do you see your future beyond the state you are in currently?
This is really a loaded question. At times, it’s very difficult to see past my own depression, my own misery. My sister once told me she thinks depression is about the most selfish illness anyone could possibly have because in being ill, their illness is all about them. It is certainly a “way” to look at it, and at times, yes, I am selfish. I have to be selfish in order to heal. There are times when my world doesn’t just revolve around me, it has stopped spinning altogether and I can’t see beyond that. It is not a definite act, a decision I make to be selfish, in fact it is the antithesis of choice. If that is selfish, then perhaps I am. But part of my depression is not being able to see positivity, not being able to look into the future and be “bright eyed and bushy tailed” about it.  I am not where I was this time last year; of that there is no doubt. I can manage to get up out of bed and wash myself. I can do a lot of things that I found almost impossible last year, but recovery is never a straight road and regaining a state of normality does not come in simple steps. The last few days I’ve been finding it tough to hang on to any sort of positivity. I’m not sleeping and that certainly is not helping.  I get up out of bed without feeling like I had a nights sleep at all and that’s not a good place to be in. So I need to sleep and maybe then the answer to this question may be more positive.   For now, the answer is I will have survived and am surviving another low – day by day – and it is significant.

Question 27. What do you see as the most important thing in your treatment regime, and why?
Taking my medication religiously. Why? Because it is the best thing I have right now and while it’s not perfect, it is better than not taking the medication at all, or taking it sporadically. I used to do that. I’d take the medication for a few months, feel great, so think I was cured and then stop taking them. Of course the crash would come as it always did. In the early years, the trial and error it took to get me stable played havoc with my whole system. So, now that I have a regime that “works”, I take the medications religiously. To do otherwise is just pure folly.

Question 28. To what extent do you tell people that you’re bipolar, and why?
I don’t normally just volunteer the information. I don’t just slip it into conversation, like “It’s a lovely day today and oh, I have bipolar disorder.” I was however very open about my illness in the past. I would have had no problem discussing it with anyone who wanted to know about it. But, I’ve been ‘disappointed’ at the reaction of a few people in my recent past and so I have decided to be less forthright in the future. If I need to tell someone I will, but I won’t be volunteering that information in the same easy fashion that I have done. It’s complicated. It’s private. I’m complicated. It’s no-one else’s business at the end of the day.

Question 29. Of all the famous people (dead and alive) who are allegedly bipolar, who would you pick as your favourite, and why?
Oh, no brainer – Stephen Fry. Just because! He’s my hero, he’s super intelligent, wounded, flawed, fantastic and I just find him fascinating. Wit and intelligence (of a certain kind) does that to me though!!

Question 30. What meds are you on now? Have you found your ‘magic cocktail’?
1500mgs of Tegretol (carbamazepine)
60mgs Mirtazapine
15mgs Zimaclone (Zolpidem tartrate) sleeping tablets.
I don’t really believe there is such a thing as a ‘magic cocktail’. It’s as good as I have for now, so that has to be good enough.

Question 31. Have you attempted suicide? What, when, why, how and what did you learn?
No. I’ve planned it, I’ve mentally said my goodbyes, but I always chickened out.   Thankfully.

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Regret is such a toxic thing.


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(pic courtesy of dumpaday.com)

There are a lot of things in my life that I regret. I regret not being a more patient parent, I regret not being nicer to people I had dealings with both personally or professionally. I regret lots of different things but when all is said and done they are not very important things, so the ‘regret’ is more a feeling of general disappointment. But when ‘regret’ is a distress, a grief almost, it can be toxic. I don’t have many of those, but I do have a few.

I have had few real friends in my life. I find it difficult to let people really in. I have a difficulty with boundaries, with what I say and when to say it. So I tend to not let people in at all. But when I do let people in, you have me – you have my loyalty, my love, my admiration – all of it. And when that is betrayed – when I am betrayed, its not just a slight, it wounds me deeply.

I had a best friend for over twenty years. We went to school together, went to discos together, got our hairs ‘permed’ together, dated together and then when we met our husbands, we started our families around the same time. Our children were born only months apart from each other. We shared everything. She was my confidant, the yin to my yang. And then she betrayed me. The circumstances of that betrayal are not that important, not really. Unfortunately, that act took place in front of my hubby. For a long time, hubby had been of the opinion that she used my illness, my frailty, my vulnerability against me. So this for him was a ‘final straw’. For me, her betrayal crushed me. My hurt was fuelled by hubbys outrage. And so our friendship fell apart. Trust was gone for me. She didn’t want to apologise, she felt she was not at fault, and within four months, in the face of her continuing obduracy I stopped seeing her. I mourned the loss of her. I grieved as if I had lost one of my own sisters. I suffered for a long time; her absence from my life was deep, profound. It hurt, more than I ever realized it could.

I was lonely. For a long time, our lives had been so aligned we hadn’t really needed anyone else – either of us. We did everything together, to the detriment of every other relationship (except our own family’s) in our lives. And so, when she was gone from my life, my world shrunk very quickly. I had no other real friends. For a long time, she had been it. Very, very slowly, I met a few other women. I met them through the Parents Association of my childrens’ school. Two in particular became good pals of mine – over time.

It took me a while to let them in, but when I commit, I commit. I’m not really a ‘half measures’ kind of gal and I think that scares off some people. But we became friends. Our friendship survived long after our kids had left their primary school and moved on to different secondary (high) schools.   Then in November 2013, my depression hit. And I withdrew from the world for a year and a half.   In 2014, I saw these two pals twice. They made no effort to see me, to keep contact up at all. (They live close to me, one in the same estate; they are on fb and twitter as am I, and I have a phone and mobile.. they used none of that. They really simply abandoned me at a time when I could have used their friendship and support the most.) I met one of my ‘pals’ while out walking with hubby a few weeks back. She jogged past me with a “hiya, can’t stop, have to keep going”, and with that she was just gone… and I was left with my mouth open. They both see each other regularly. But I’ve been left behind. I regret that, I regret not being important enough to them for them to make any sort of an effort. Do I mourn their loss, no! Not like I mourned my best mate.

Which brings me to my regret. Did I walk away too easily? Did I allow my very real and very deep hurt to completely cloud my judgment and make a decision in anger and pain? My trust was gone. She was not apologetic at all and could I have moved past that – could we have moved past it, considering she didn’t think she did anything wrong? I don’t think so – but I’m not sure. And that is my deep regret. Hubbys anger was also an issue. He didn’t want me seeing her – so in effect he couldn’t and wouldn’t move past it either. But it wasn’t about him. It was about me. And I walked away. To this day, when I think of her, I get a lump in my throat. I still get upset when I sit quietly and think of her. That regret is substantial, deep and very, very real. It will forever be the “what if”, I can’t answer. And it is one of the things I wish I could change. And that is what makes it toxic.

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More answers to some Questions: Bipolar Disorder 101

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Starting and then finishing anything these days takes a huge effort. My mind wanders and goes off on little journeys all its own, flitting from topic to topic as others either talk to me or I simply sit quietly on my own. Following any ‘train of thought’ to a conclusion is challenging and the harder I try to concentrate, the more I appear to meander. So lets see if I can manage to answer the next five questions without heading off on a tangent all my own!!!!

 Question 21; Are you content with it being called bipolar affective disorder, or rather revert to manic depression or rename it completely? Why?
‘Manic depression’ has, in Ireland anyway, a very negative history. Those who struggled with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression)(think prince!!) in this country were historically horribly mistreated, placed in asylums with very little medication and lots of cruelty.   While things have changed drastically in terms of services and treatments, the name still holds negative associations to this day. At the end of the day, it is what I suffer from – I have a manic depressive disorder. The fact that there is still so little really understood about the illness, still so much stigma attached to the condition for those of us who suffer from it and so much discrimination and prejudice shown to those of us with mental illness (and also accepted by us) is a disgraceful indictment of a modern society. The label won’t matter as long as those prejudices remain. The label doesn’t matter as long as medications to counteract the symptoms remain expensive and access to mental health services continue to be inadequate or elitist. I am lucky I can afford both the medications and the specialist psychiatry care. On average a months worth of meds and a doctors visit costs about $300 dollars or 3,500 South African Rand, with the medications costing more than half of that figure. Every month. I could attend a public clinic, but would get less care, less often. All things being equal, I don’t care what it’s called. I just wish lots of things were different – the name is not really one of them.

Questions 22. What meds gave you the worst side effects, how did/do you treat it/them, and do you still get any side effects now?
When I was first diagnosed, I was prescribed a drug called Fluanxol. It is a thioxanthene medicine, diagnosed for both schizophrenia and those of us suffering from depression. I was on this for about five years and I developed a shaking and weakness of the hands which was fairly difficult to deal with. I also had restless legs and would unconsciously move my legs all the time. I didn’t quite rock back and forth, but I wasn’t far off it. My doctor at the time, weaned me off fluanxol after about five years as he said that there had been cases of patients being left with face tics after prolonged use. I was put on tegretol which is a carbamazepine medication. The side effect of this was to give me what I called a ‘cotton wool’ tongue. It made my brain fuzzy, it made me feel like I had a swollen tongue and I was ‘tripping over it’. Sounds strange – how can you trip over your own tongue, but that is the closest description I can think of. It wasn’t until I was put on tegretol retard that this symptom mostly went away. Presently I take 1500mgs of this daily (just before bed actually). I was also put on Lexapro (an SSRI) about ten years ago and 18 months ago, that was changed to 60mgs of mirtazapine.

One of the greatest side effects of these medications for me is weight gain. I have over the last ten years put on a significant amount of weight, which I find extremely difficult to shift. I comfort eat as part of the depression itself, so of course this doesn’t help. Because my brain won’t ‘shut off’ I also take 15mgs of Zolpidem every night. But I don’t sleep well, even taking two tablets every night, my sleep is fairly disturbed – certainly not what I would call ‘restive’.  I deal with the symptoms/side effects as best I can.  That’s all I can do; it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.

Question 23: Why do I blog about bipolar?
I blog to quiet and clear my thoughts, to make sense of what I am thinking, how I am feeling and try and sort things out for myself. I write to have a record of my ups and downs so that I can track how I am actually doing. Sometimes it is difficult to gauge that for myself. I also blog to share with others who struggle and suffer as I do. There is strength in numbers and great support on the blogosphere. I like to feel that, to feel that I am part of a bigger group, to feel I am understood completely without having to explain myself.

Question 24. How much of your life has been stable/euthymic, depressed and hypo/manic?
Well that’s a tough question… to which I actually don’t know the answer.   I am a rapid cycler. I have distinctive high and low episodes regularly.   But I’ve also had a stressful life.  I had three children under the age of four, a fairly stressful business to run, a home to run, and a husband who is a workaholic and an alpha male. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be all things to all people because I am also a bit of a perfectionist. I worry about things more than I should and find it extremely difficult to delegate. Of the last 20 years, I can say that probably half of it has been somewhat balanced, while the rest has been cycling either up or down. That is as exact as I can be.

Question 25. What state are you in right now, when did it start and what are your goals and hopes about it?
I was diagnosed as clinically depressed in March of 2014. My doc said that it was not related to my bipolar disorder.   I had spent about five months before that wanting to put my car under a truck so that I could just “stop” everything. When I almost did it one morning on the way to work, I knew I was in trouble. Since March of last year, I’ve been battling to get out of that ‘valley of shadows’. The medications have been tweeked and upped until I felt at least I wasn’t getting any worse. I feel like I’m coming back to myself now. But anxiety has become a factor for me. Doc says it is like I am having a bit of a crisis, that life is just a bit difficult for me at the moment. When I feel too much stress, I get panic attacks, anxiety attacks and I shut down. But I’ve come a good way already . When I look back on how I was this time last year, I know there is a huge improvement. I just have to make sure that I keep that up, that I get control of the anxiety and I can have somewhat of a normal (or at least what passes for normal) existence. That’s all I can aim for – more good than bad days. I’d settle for that.

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How to get side-tracked on a sunny day!

Buddah
It’s a beautiful warm sunny day here and I am out my back garden, dividing my time between staring at all the plants I have and staring at the screen of my laptop. I feel a sense of pride in my garden, because I planted every single shrub, plant and herb in it. I picked out the little statues; one of Buddah (placed in the very corner of my garden, on a black slate, surrounded by white stones,) and one of a white lady holding an urn (she is standing atop a tree stump which is covered in dead moss) and a small solar powered little owl (placed among the flower beds – whose eyes are supposed to light up, but never worked). I still like the owl, despite his brokenness.  He’s not quite ‘fit for purpose’, but then again, I haven’t been lately either, so there’s solidarity there between him and me – if even in my head alone!   My garden is a bit like me at the moment; it has the foundations to be truly spectacular. I’m not saying I can be truly spectacular (mind you sometimes I do think I’m pretty wonderful when I’m manic of course!!),  but more that I have the basics within me and in my life to be better than I am, more than I am.

I have a good psychiatrist that has seen me through the last decade. I have a regime of medications while not perfect, are mostly effective. I have a strong family foundation; my parents live close, my children and my other half are supportive and I have a strong, if small, network of friends. I’ve started CBT/Talk therapy sessions and while they are ardous, they are going really well. I finally feel like I am making some progress within myself. Dealing with painful issues is not easy, but it has to be done.   So, like my garden, I feel like I have great potential. I have the potential to help myself get better and that can’t be a bad thing at all.main garden 2

Back to the 31 questions on bipolar: I’m almost two thirds of the way through them, so here we go….

Question 20. Do you consider yourself creative? How do you express that? What piece of work (or whatever is applicable) are you most proud of?  
Creativity can come in all shapes, sizes and forms. I believe within each of us is the ability to do many things, to be creative in many spheres of life. Some people reach their full potential and are very prominent in the world, others don’t find that prominence, but are no less creative as a result. Am I creative, sure! But then, I believe everyone on the planet is, in some form or another.   Those who innovate in the business world are no less creative than those who excel at the arts. The innovation and creativity is just expressed in a different medium, that’s all.

I love to write poetry. I filled heaps of copies with my scribblings years ago, when all I could write about was my dreams of the prince charming that was going to sweep me off my feet. When I got a little older (and a lot more wiser), I started to write about what was affecting my life, and that is when I started to take great pride in what I produced. I sent off some of my work to a poetry publisher who while turning me down, did it in the nicest fashion. I still have the compliment slip that arrived with my returned manuscript. “don’t stop writing” was on the bottom of the note. And I didn’t. I have so much stuff I could wallpaper a room with it. Some of it is “ouch-worthy”, some of it is not. But over the years, my style changed, instead of being serious I started to, as we Irish call it, ‘take the piss’ out of my siblings in poetry format. They make us all laugh, so I enjoy their laughter just as much as I enjoyed writing/reading the poems to them. I don’t have a piece of work I can point to and say “that, there is what I am most proud of’. But I did do something that I am to this day, still proud of. One of my best mates was killed when he was three weeks away from his 21st birthday. We shared a love of the lyric and after he died, I went to his room and took all his poems away. I typed them all up, had them copied and bound and gave every one of his family and friends a copy; to keep forever. I filled the pages with his words, his photos and his smile danced off those sheets for everyone to cherish.   I did that for his parents, his friends, for him and also for me. I could rage against the futility of him dying on a back road on the 6th of November 1989, covered in rain and grime from the truck that hit is motorcycle and I could turn that into something productive and I did.   The black book, which I still have today is embossed in gold lettering. It’s called ‘Thanks for the memories’, which is the title of the first poem on the first page. And it said it all. That is what I am most proud of. It’s not my work. And while that poem isn’t particularly great, it’s his!

Thanks for the Memories
By Adrian Young, {aged 16}

Thanks for the memories of the past
Togetherness though it didn’t last
Memories of my broken heart
When you stopped loving me.

Thanks for the good times, the singing
Of songs, even when the time wasn’t long.
For all the memories that won’t be lost
Because I loved you so.

I will never forget the time we have spent
under the sun, but that time was lent
And now the sun is behind the cloud,
Pretty soon, it’ll be going down.

But one day, the clouds might go
And I will have my chance to show
My love for you
Which I hold so dear.

Still miss you man!

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Brainstorming on Bipolar: questions 11 – 20 of the Bipolar quiz!

brain-mind-spirituality-p0p1bv-27j2t4iSo much of what really happens to us depends on the family/friends/connections we have in our lives. Do we have a strong family unit behind us, do we have good friends, do we have a supportive partner, do we have any endless number of things?   I love George Elliots’ book ‘Silas Marner’. I had to study it for my Final Year English exam (oh, way too far back to even admit) and I think I read the book so many times I almost memorized it word for word. One of the questions about the book in the exam was “No man is an island”,– discuss!  I found the transformation of Silas throughout the book to be wondrous, miraculous even.  That 18 year old me felt that love could conquer all. I believed in Karma, the second protagonist in the book denounced his child and she ended up literally saving Silas Marners life while he ended up in a childless marriage. I believed in love and redemption. I still do, but it is tempered with a whole heap of realism and I suppose cynicism to a degree. But in drawing parallels to my own life, I do wholeheartedly believe that our journey through this life can be either helped or hindered by those around us and sometimes that is more fortuitous than we would like to believe. Add into the mix a life lived struggling with mental illness and you can end up with a pretty messy crapshoot altogether.
Discuss………….!

Back to the questions:
What resources do you recommend and why? (Books, documentaries, websites etc … anything at all.) Answering this question really depends on what type of information you want. If you want factual information about the illness, then I find http://www.webmd a good site. There are always links to other articles/information and the information given here is medical based and sound. I’ve watched dozens of documentaries on bipolar disorder. Again, if you want information, the videos of Dr Patrick McKeon on YouTube explain in detail what exactly the condition is and how it effects individuals. They are over an hour long so offer a very good “overall” view of BP. If you want to know what it’s like from the point of view of someone struggling with the illness, then watch Stephen Frys’ programme ‘the secret life of the manic depressive.’ (I just love this guy – if only he was straight or I was gay!!) Again this can be found on Youtube as can many others.
The first book I ever read on my condition was a book called ‘Coping with Depression and Elation’ by Dr Patrick McKeon (he’s Irish, so am I – see a pattern here….). A good read is ‘Sunbathing in the Rain’, by Gwyneth Lewis. It’s her story of surviving one the deepest depressions she has ever had. (It did leave me wanting to be married to her husband however!!) gosh, there is just a plethora of good books, videos, articles all on line these days. The web is your oyster as far as information is concerned.
If you want more anecdotal evidence, then blogs by others struggling with bipolar disorder are great and they can be found everywhere on the blogosphere; wordpress, blogroll, pinterest, tumblr.

Who was/is your favourite doctor (any kind) and why?  That’s an easy one…….Patch Adams.  Do I really need to answer why? – Just because I love Robin Williams, because the character he played of the same name was the epitome of what a good doctor should be and should do. Because he is full of humanity, modesty and a genuine love of his profession and of people. Because he founded the ‘Geshundeit institute’ (ya gotta love him for that alone!!) and because he is a real person. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams exists and does all the wonderful things that Williams depicted in the movie.

Who was your least favourite doctor and why?  
Despite being an expert in his field, one of my least favourite doctors was my first ever psychiatrist. We didn’t bond, I had no trust in him and for that he is one of my least favourite docs only because of that. My early experiences of this illness are coloured by that fact. It is in no way an indication of his skills as a doctor; and more to do with his ‘relationship’ with me as a psychiatric patient. I was young, inexperienced and going through one of the worst periods of my life. We didn’t relate; and doctors, especially our head doctors have to relate to us, have a trusting relationship with us.
Oh, and Dr Death of course…. Aribert Ferdinand Heim, SS Officer. I think he is the definition of pure evil.

What would you say to your younger self if you could?   How long have I got and how honest do you want me to be?? 1. Do more to help yourself. 2. Go easier on yourself. 3. Don’t be a wimp, stand up for yourself. 4. Go and get psychotherapy alongside your psych sessions – NOW. 5. Find self help groups and join one. 6. Get more of a support group around you.

What would you ask your future self if you could?
How does it all end? Why the hell didn’t you follow my advice?? Are you happy?

If you could plan the best possible treatment strategy for your bipolar self, what would it look like?
What I would want and what is available are two completely separate things. I would love to have a magic pill that would cure me of bipolar forever. It’s not going to happen any time soon, so in light of that and based on what is available, what I would plan for myself is regular psychology (or talk therapy) sessions, pills that work, 8 hours of good quality sleep every night, a personal trainer, a live-in chef to cook health promoting meals and the winning ticket in the lottery so that I could afford all that! Failing that, I do the best I can with what I have at the time and that has to be good enough.

If bipolar was a real thing or being, what would it look, sound and behave like?
An evil, soul destroying, joy sucking, perverse, torturous prick with no heart.

If big pharma was actually listening, what would you say about bipolar meds?
Get your goddamn finger out and get us some meds that work……

What don’t people without bipolar understand about people with it?
It’s not our fault. We can’t snap out of it. Your understanding is vital.

If religion and/or spirituality is a part of your mental health regime: what, how and why?
It’s not. I am an Irish failed catholic. I do however believe in the inherent goodness of most people. I believe as best I can, in surrounding myself with people who love/like me as a person because I am for the most part a decent human being. I believe in showing respect and basic human kindness and in doing so, you will get it back. I believe in not judging people because of their colour, creed or sexual orientation. I believe in giving people second and third and even fourth ‘chances’, because we are all flawed and will fall down from time to time. I believe in the strength of family, the sanctity of marriage and the power of a parents love. I believe all this because I suffer with a mental illness and need those chances/love/support and respect of those around me more than they realize.

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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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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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‘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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