I don’t think this is you

“I don’t think this is you.  This is your pathology, not your personality.”

 

This was told to me by a psychiatrist when I was going through a particularly rough patch, and my behavior was less than stellar.  The thing with mental illness is that our symptoms are not just seen as something apart from us.  The way mental illness manifests, is that it affects the very way we think and feel, the way we perceive the world around us, and the actions we take.

Sometimes corrections a person who is mentally healthy can take are actually impossible for a person with mental illness.  Then there is the added stigma of that if we were just “better”  more compliant with our treatment, or choosing different treatment that our illness would be better mitigated.

 

Being mentally ill is not something we “do” to other people, but unlike many other illnesses, it can get a bit messy, and affect not only we who are suffering, but affect those around us as well.  I don’t know how to avoid this.  And the longer that we do manage to hold things together the more it seems like a betrayal when things finally go off the wheels.

 

Mental illness is damaging.   It destroys one’s careers, one’s relationships, one’s perceptions, thoughts, and emotions.  In my case, any mitigation is always ephemeral. Sooner or later, it will become evident that I am ill.  Things will be done that are out of character for me, but they will still be me doing it.  While I get dissociated and see my pathology take the driver’s seat while my personality is taken along like a passenger.

 

Mental Illness is a hell of a thing.

Mental Illness in the Magic Kingdom

009

They call it the Happiest Place on Earth for a reason.  Within the span of a week, I have found myself in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt for five days, then a few days later five days at Disneyland, in Anaheim California.

This is not the first time this sequence of events has happened.  When I was a teenager in 1987 I went from a psychiatric hospital to Disneyland in a span of days.

During my medicine respite in 2014,  I self-medicated with pixie-dust. My fiancee and I made frequent trips to the theme park which we jokingly called Disney Therapy.

I have had my medicine adjusted recently during my hospital stay, and am no longer suicidal, however suicidal ideation (and attempts) are just one of many symptoms of my mental illness of bipolar disorder.   The fact of the matter is, I have had a malaise of depression during this visit which has put a bit of a grey haze over what should be one of the most enjoyable things I can do in public.

I’m not exactly sad, though it seems to present as sadness.  What I really feel is frustration. Frustration that I cannot seem to have a genuine emotional response to something, but rather have to filter things through the symptoms of my illness.  Now there have been times approaching joy here at Disneyland, but it seems in general happiness is being held in reserve for something.  I don’t know what that would be, and I am sure that this articulation of my emotional landscape falls short of the actual experience.

A trip to Disneyland should not be an exercise in perseverance, pushing myself forward, and working hard to not give in to depression and just retreat.  Now as far as environments go, it is one that is easier than most to persevere in the face of depression, but no amount of Pixie Dust actually negates a mood swing.   We have been leaving the park early — often before or during the fireworks display, and my partner has taken pride in how well we are pacing ourselves — not pushing ourselves too hard.  Thing is, most of the time, I am pushing through an undefined malaise and the desire to just retreat.

I don’t want to make it sound like a Disneyland vacation is a chore — it is certainly not, but neither is it really the escape that the planning video claims it will be.  There is nowhere I can go where I will  not be mentally ill.  There is no amount of fun that will mitigate my limiting neurochemistry.  Rather than escaping my mental illness for a few hours, this trip just puts it in sharp relief.

I sincerely believe that Disneyland really is the Happiest Place on Earth.  I am not at all unhappy, I am just ill.

The continuing saga of Mental Illness is a hell of a thing part 43

I have come to the recent realization that I treat my emotions with suspicion. The nature of my illness means that emotions arise for no discernable reason other than my brain not acting in the manner that a healthy brain acts.

Part of my coping mechanism has been to develop a sense of emotional awareness.  Through introspection and self-honesty, I tend to dig down and analyze not only the emotion I am feeling, but the why of it.  It is only when I can understand why I feel a certain way that I can feel the emotion is genuine and not part of my pathology.

Mental illness is a hell of a thing.  I have lived with a diagnosis for 28 years now, but honestly the illness has been a lifelong presence for the 43 years of my life.  I have gotten pretty good at navigating it for the most part, but I also know it is probably inevitable that my coping mechanisms, support, and medication will not be enough and things go tits up again. I have built these survival strategies over my life, and it is sobering to realize that there will be a day when they are insufficient and I will need to learn new ones.

But for now, I am doing the best I can with what I got, and strive to keep moving forward.

Fernando Therapy

In the 1980s Billy Crystal had a character on Saturday Night Live that insisted that it was better to look good than to feel good.  With a cyclic mood disorder, there will be days, many more than I would like, that I won’t feel good.  Even with medicine and therapy, I will find myself in a depressive mood swing, and there really is nothing for it.  No amount of positive thinking or will power will allow me to not be depressed.

But even in a depressive episode, if i is not severe, I still have some control in my life.  I express this control by making the choice to look good.

Today is one of those days.  I have had mild depression for a few days now, so I indulged in a little self care.  I showered (something I am prone to neglect when depressed), and spent a goodly amount of time on grooming.  I’ve recently started shaping my beard in such a way that I get to wear a full beard, but also get to engage in the ritual of shaving regularly which I enjoy.  I got dressed in a shirt and tie, with the addition of a small lightsaber pin as a tie-tack.   I finished the outfit with bright red shoes to contrast my black pants and shirt, and to coordinate with my black and red tie.

I am still in the grip of depression, but it is balanced somewhat with pride in my appearance. It is a small victory, but I will take it.  Mentally ill, but still MARVELOUS.

The (lack of) joys of rapid cycling.

One of the aspects of how I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, is that I occasionally rapid-cycle.

 

I am having one of those episodes right now.   I was fine an hour ago,  took the garbage cans from the curb and back up against my fence, I walked my dog, and I chucked a blu-ray from Netflix (that I got in October) in the mail.   Things were fine,  I felt fine, nothing seemed out of whack.

Then… there was a sudden transition.  I could feel an even mood nosedive into a heavy sadness or slight depression.   Quite literally I was fine one minute, and the next I just felt the weight of a mood swing come across my body, my shoulders hunch, my head goes down, and I just hold my head in my hand and sigh.    Writing these words now feels like Sisyphus and the boulder.   This is a slight depression, but it is still depression, and that means even simple things take more effort.

The transition from “normalcy” to depression happened as quickly as the transition of walking from the outside to indoors through a door.  It did not creep up on me or build overtime.  Quite literally I was fine one minute, and the next, struggling, the feeling of slowly drowning or being buried, with no vector for these feelings to be addressed.  I am pretty sure there is no environmental cause, but just what my brain does.  Have I mentioned my brain is an asshole and entirely unreliable?

I was having a very difficult time with recall yesterday, I was worried about my brain acting up (I have a not quite small amount of anxiety about the reliability of my brain), I wonder if it was a precursor to this sudden mood shift?  Any answer would be guesswork.

Suicidal Does Not Mean Sad

A post from Facebook giving some context of what my mindset was during the August, 2014 Crisis

 

L. Christopher Bird
August 29

I want to address a topic that seems to keep coming up, when talking with my friends about the event of the past few days.

I was not suicidal because I was “sad” or even “depressed” it was an expression of an illness I suffer from, that had gone untreated for far too long (some of the responsibility for the lack of treatment falls squarely on my shoulders, SOME).

If anything, I was SUFFERING, and I sought and end to that suffering. One of the avenues that I could figure out while in the state I was in, was suicide, the other was gaining treatment.

Even though I was not quite rational, I WAS “working the problem” as is my practice. I did seriously and sincerely contemplate suicide, so much as researching a method, and taking steps to carry it out. Before doing so, I sought other alternatives — which including finding and calling a suicide/crisis hotline.

I knew even there, that gaining treatment was ONE path to mitigate my suffering, and suicide a way to end it — however it would also end many things I enjoy — but could not enjoy while my suffering persisted. One of the reasons I was placed in a 5150 hold, because when asked my intentions, I clearly stated that they were predicated on if I was able to receive treatment or not. If I could not receive help, then it was my sincere intention to come back home and continue with what I had researched.

I do not know if it had to come to such an extreme crisis for me to be able to receive care in a timely manner, but by my perception (which I admit may have been flawed) it seemed to be to me.

I am on the mend…

An Important Note for those I love. (Facebook Note Aug. 10, 2014)

This is a Facebook Note from August 10, 2014

 

I hate to break it to you,  but I am living with a serious, debilitating, and possibly fatal illness.  While there are treatments, with different levels of efficacy, there is no cure, nor is there likely to be one for Bipolar Disorder within our lifetime.

You are probably aware that I have not been using an pharmacological treatment for this illness for about 10 months or so .Some of you have mentioned, how well I have been doing, and my skills at mitigating some of the effects of my illness.   What I would like  you to know, is that my illness has not been mitigated these long months at all.  I still suffer from the effects of Bipolar Disorder, not daily, but moment to moment.  When I seem “well”  that is not because I am not experiencing symptoms of this mental illness.

What appears as “stability” is nothing of the sort.  I am not stable, and have not been for months.   These moments of calmness and lucidity come with great effort on my part.  It is not an affectation, but it is not  a state that happens organically.  Any calmness, lucidity, clarity of thought, etc, comes as a result of work i have been doing that you have not, and cannot see, for it is internal.

I need you to know, that these periods also have to be maintained by a great deal of effort.  Sometimes, I am simply not strong enough to sustain it, and I will have periods of moodiness, or as has been often lately, quick, explosive irritibility.  For that unpleasantness I apologize.  I do not want to hurt any of you, but be assured I am doing my best, even when my best is pretty goddamned awful and pathetic. Your happiness is very important to me, and I would lovingly do anything within my power to increase it.  However that being said, your happiness is NOT my RESPONSIBILITY.   Nor is mine yours.   There will be times that I will fail to be able to do things that may lead to your happiness, and I regret that, but please understand, that I do not have the intention to willfully do things that decrease it.   If that does occur, I ask you to please let me know kindly and compassionately, so that I may correct such things.  While it is my responsibilty to make those corrections, help doing so would be appreciated.

I would like you all to know, that I love you, however, I ask for your understanding about the seriousness of my mental illness, and be mindful of the effort and work I am doing to live with it at this point in time.

August 10, 02014 The Craic House Modesto, CA (The people tagged in this note, are those that I feel are most impacted by my illness, but this note is for everyone in my life, from partners, lovers, to the most casual acquaintance, new friends, and even potential friends whom I have not yet met.)