Mood Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified

diagnosed bipolar and pissed about it

Month: May, 2013

the road to hermosillo

Where to start.

It’s hard to say, because it has felt like one big domino effect for I don’t know how long.  You know, I don’t ask for much, and maybe that’s my problem.  Today I reached the last thread on my rope, and I am just done.  Done.

Given the nature of my more recent posts, it may seem like a complete turnaround to appear to be back to ground zero again.  Thankfully I’m not at ground zero, and in the end, these trials and tribulations will stand as evidence of how far I’ve come.

But today, they are just shit.

I am in Mexico right now.  I’ve been in this country for one harrowing week already, with one more to go.  The weeks before that were filled with grading, end of semester stress, threatening students (them threatening me, not the other way around), preparing a workshop, etc.  It has literally been non-stop, and by that I mean several sleepless nights, up working, plugging away at grades and handling mundane responsibilities, and preparing all materials for a multivariate statistics workshop, and teaching the pilot version in the U.S. before bringing it abroad.

I’ve been handling my shit, in other words.  And that’s been really great, although I’ve since discovered that there is practically zero incentive for being so awesome.

Before leaving for Mexico, I got all my ducks in a row.  Grades were submitted ON TIME.  The workshop was prepared, with PowerPoints, and an illustrated (more like screenshots, but whatever) user interface manual, annotated outputs, and a complete knowledge of the material and its implications. And by the way, when I showed these materials to my advisor, who had invited me to teach the laboratory portion of this workshop, do you know what he said?  He said, “oh great, now I know what I need to teach in the lecture.”

What!?

Mind you, this was literally a day or two before the workshop was to begin.  And he hadn’t even started.  I pulled all nighters, working on this shit, and he hadn’t even bothered to start.

Lesson #1: Only work as hard as your students.  Or in this case, your advisor.

Back to my original illustration of being initiated into the superhero society: I looked up international phone services, and got instructions to avoid extra charges.  I arranged to have my neighbor watch my dogs, and paid her a hefty sum so I knew she’d step up to the plate.  I ordered rental insurance in case anything happened while I was gone.  I called the bank, and made sure my cards wouldn’t be canceled or flagged if I used them in Mexico.  I paid my mother fucking rent.  Early.

I also arranged it so that I would not be responsible for teaching in Mexico.  My Spanish is spotty and combined with public speaking fears and being in another country, I thought it best if my colleague and friend taught it, since she speaks more fluently than I do.  It seemed like a reasonable trade that I teach the material in the U.S., she teaches in Mexico, and we share in preparing the materials.  It turned out that I ended up preparing EVERYTHING, but still, since I didn’t have to teach in Spanish, I was only moderately annoyed.

It’s been hard and trying and exhausting and challenging.  That’s par for the course with, you know, life.  I made it.  I earned my fucking stripes.  I kicked ass and took names and goddamn it, I wish I could say that in real life without feeling like I had to make a fucking disclaimer, or water it down by saying it as a joke.

In any case, so everything is in order, and I’m on my way to my advisor’s house bright and early so we can drive to Mexico.  At the time, I’m thinking, Great!  I’ve got my shit done, my friend/colleague (we’ll call her Linda) is going to teach this, so I’ll have the days to myself to set up my summer course, which begins exactly two days after returning from Mexico.  The lab is, after all, only one hour out of the day.  The lecture portion doesn’t start until 4pm, and so we would teach from 6-7pm.  I’d be like an assistant, helping students with the interface and materials, while Linda reads off the PowerPoint slides.  Whole days could be spent working, getting my class together, and even working on research projects.  Or if I’m really lucky, relaxing.

Lesson #2: Nothing ever goes as planned.

I get a random call from Beautiful Disaster, who is shit-faced as expected, and telling me how amazing his life is, fluffing his peacock feathers, about how he wants to fly me to Miami, or come see me in Tucson, or whatever.  Really, I only ever talk to him just to hear about the crazy experiences he’s having.  Sadly, I can’t really empathize anymore because of, well, mood stabilizers.  They really kill highs.

Plus, it would be stupid to burn bridges with someone who has ungodly amounts of money and no idea what to do with it.  A few weeks before, he had called to ask if he should consider going into a PhD program.  To be a clinician.  Of course I thought this was a terrible idea but rather than say that right away I asked him to tell me why he wanted to do it.  His reason?  Because he’s fucking rich and wouldn’t have to go so far in debt to get the degree.  And then how awesome it would be to have this amazing degree and he’d work barefoot counseling people.  Almost like clockwork, he played right into the point I intended to make.  I said, you know, there is one reaaaaally important think in that whole answer that I didn’t hear.  Something that would be SUPER important if you were going to do this job, you know?  And he said, what?

I said, you didn’t say one word about wanting to help people.  Not one!  This is clearly not the job for you.

We went through a few more options.  But the point is not that he is a retarded kid, which he is, clearly.  The point is that someone with stupid amounts of money is asking ME what he should do with it.  Which means that given the right circumstances, I could, possibly, influence him to do something good with it.  It might never happen, but it could.  So, in the end, it’s worth it.

Back to my original story.  Mexico.

I arrived at my advisor’s house 10 minutes early, which interestingly made my advisor flustered and a little irritated.

Lesson #3: With some people, you simply can’t win.

I had just a few tasks left before heading out of the country.  I called my veterinarian to put my credit card on file, in case anything happened while I was gone.  I also tried to pre-order and pre-pay for dog food in case I ran out.  That didn’t work, so I texted my neighbor that I would send money via PayPal.  Finally, all was complete.  I was ready to go.

Or so I thought.  I gave my advisor’s wife the keys to my car, in case she needed to use it, or the alarm went off spontaneously, which it has been doing as of late.  Not 20 minutes later, it went off, and by the look on my advisor’s wife’s face, random instances of my car alarm would not be remotely acceptable.  After a few seconds, I decided that the best course of action would be to disconnect the car battery.  I asked for a wrench.  They didn’t have a single one.  I requested an old rag and tried to remove the negative terminal cable by hand.  No luck.  Eventually, I just decided to go knock on the neighbor’s door, even though they weren’t my neighbors and I had no idea if they would have the tool I needed.  The bottom line was that I was going to do whatever it took to solve the fucking problem.  And I did.

We finally got on the road, albeit late, around 10:30-ish.  The morning events, and likely the stress of the week(s) prior, left me feeling anxious and uncomfortable, tired but restless, and on edge.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had been irritable all week, frustrated with useless people and assholes, and I started to panic a little because I thought that the stress from everything had initiated a bipolar episode.  The feelings were identical to those I felt when she-who-shall-not-be-named told me I was experiencing dysthymic hypomania.  I was on my way to Mexico, with my advisor and a colleague, and of all possible times, I was cycling into a fucking episode.

We weren’t at the border yet, so I texted my aunt and asked her to look up symptoms and treatment.  I only had just enough meds to get me through this trip, so if I had to increase dosage, I’d need to fill a prescription in Mexico.  Not ideal, but do-able.  I didn’t want to say anything yet to my advisor and colleague…not until I was absolutely sure AND knew that it was going to impact my capacity to work.  That stretch of highway was REAL fucking lonely.  I was scared and humiliated that this was possibly happening to me, doing my best not to cry or bug the fuck out.

My aunt was able to call while we were stopped at a gas station, just before the border.  “Not the ideal time for this, now, is it?” Ha. Ha. Ha.  I made sure to decrease the volume on my phone, but Linda had already swiveled her head around the seat, one eyebrow raised, and looking very, very curious.  I tried to smile and brush it off, and dialed the volume down lower.  We made a plan for her to look up some information, send it by email, and for me to practice deep breathing exercises.  After all, I had had a lot of coffee that morning.  Maybe that was it.  Hopefully.

For an hour and a half, all I did was count my inhales and exhales.  If conversation was going on, I didn’t hear a word of it.  Only, breathe in, 1, 2, 3, breathe out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, over miles of desert.  Maybe 45 minutes in, I started to feel myself start to center.  My mind started to calm.  I stopped trembling.  We pulled over to a restaurant for lunch right after the border at a delicious place called Leo’s.  Just one of many hole-in-the-wall places set up haphazardly on the side of the road.  I decided I would eat and make sure to use the bathroom, in the case that the caffeine was causing my symptoms.  I continued my breathing.  I distracted myself by eating the spiciest salsa I could stand.  My eyes watered and my face burned.  It was excruciating.  Excruciatingly good.

The hard work paid off.  My face was flaming hot, but my mind was calm.  By the time we finished lunch, I was able to drive, and we pulled out on the long road to Hermosillo.

Lesson #4: Exhaust all options before assuming the worst.

to be continued…

of two minds – a new documentary about bipolar disorder

somehow, an announcement about a new movie crossed my desk.  i don’t go see movies very often, but this one was a necessity.  it’s called Of Two Minds, and it’s a new documentary film about living life with bipolar disorder.  it was in town for one night only, so i canceled my appointments and headed to the theater.

i wasn’t sure what to expect, both in terms of turn out and my response to the film.  i was a little nervous because i’m still in the “not sure i’m bipolar” phase and i wondered if i’d identify with the individuals in the film.  if so, it would be bittersweet.  find community, lose hope about not being bipolar.

it played at the local artsy-ish theater in town, which means it wasn’t going to be your typical movie going experience.  for instance, the director of films for the theater pulled up a microphone before the movie to introduce it, as well as the director (!), and other representatives from the mental health community.  we heard from reps from DBSA, NAMI, and the Aurora Foundation.  they announced the post-movie discussion panel and Q&A session, which i thought was a pretty neat idea too.

but let me back up a little.  i pulled up to the theater, and saw a crowd of people swarming the entrance.  fortunately, my friend was already there, so we’d have a place in line.  i was surprised to see such a turn out.  i honestly wasn’t expecting a lot of people to show, but that might be more a reflection of my history of perceiving this town to be a desert wasteland than anything.  boy, was i wrong.

by the time i parked and walked up to the theater, the line was wrapping around the building.  i scooted past a diverse group: old and young, normal…and not so normal, male, female, subculture, counterculture… the line went on.  i must admit with some amusement that it was fairly easy to distinguish the psychiatrists and psychologists in the group.  it was almost as if they had a dress code to adhere to: business professional, tweed, the works.

we walked in to a half full theater.  even then i thought it was far more people than i expected.  but they kept coming.  lines and crowds of people filtered in, filling the theater.  the start of the movie was delayed because people just kept coming and coming.  soon we were in an auditorium brimming with people.  i caught my breath, and tears filled my eyes.

i’m not alone.

once the movie started, my palms were a bit sweaty.  what would i see?  would i see myself, reflected in these lives?  would i identify with the trials and tribulations of these individuals?  the mania?  i knew the depression would be no question…but the mania?  would i identify with that too?

the movie followed the lives of several people living with bipolar disorder, some in more detail than others.  one of the opening scenes showed a young women up close to the camera.  she said, this is what mania feels like, and started dancing while the credits rolled.  i giggled a little, because it was silly, and because it resonated with me, much more so than some of the videos i’ve scanned by searching “bipolar mania” on youtube.  i wasn’t uncomfortable, to my surprise.  i wasn’t sad.  i was amused.

the stories unfolded, and spanned a variety of experiences, although i am fairly confident that the movie captured mostly bipolar 1 and not so much of bipolar 2.  it spoke of mania, psychosis, depression, and suicide.  of being untreated, undiagnosed, and unmedicated.  it featured love and relationships: those that worked, and those that didn’t.  of self-medication and pharmaceutical medication, and alternative methods of medication.

i was a little disappointed that more mania and hypomania weren’t captured on film.  that’s what i really wanted to see, in any case.  sometimes the individuals described it, along with psychotic episodes, artistic endeavors, and the vitality that is so often paired with bipolar disorder.  but it wasn’t featured all that much.  at least, not directly.  one of the characters who was refusing to take medication was clearly cycling up and down, and i think that was the extent of it, aside from the introductory cuts of the young woman dancing.

more poignant were the descriptions of depression, of yearning for death and ending the pain.  that was all too familiar.  right on the mark, really.

but overall, the film was good.  did i see myself?  yes.  was i upset about it?  no…i think i’m in a new place to be open to this possibility without freaking the fuck out.  it is what it is.  let’s just hope i don’t cycle into depression again because i’m not sure i’ll survive the next one.

the post-movie panel was great, with a few especially memorable quips by the panel members.  one guy, a representative from dbsa who is bipolar himself, said, “isn’t stable a place to keep horses?” which i found fucking hilarious, but it didn’t translate so well when i tried to recreate the moment for a non-bipolar friend.  his response was more like “…”  i, on the other hand, was crying from laughing so hard.

the director, a mr. doug blush, said probably the most striking comment i’ve heard in reference to mental illness so far.  an audience member asked him why he personally was interested in making this film.  mr. blush went on to say how much he has learned about the mental health community, and how in the mainstream media, mental illness is always portrayed in such a destructive way, with extreme behaviors that don’t capture most of life with mental illness.  he said (paraphrasing), “i’m just so tired of seeing mental illness portrayed in this way, and i’m tired of the media making mental illness out to be the only illness in this country!”  i got the tingles when he said that.  poignant indeed.

if you want to check out the movie yourself, it’s now available on amazon and itunes.  i’m going to get it, just so i can watch the extra footage.  enjoy!

ouch

So, I decided to take a little break from work around 9am…I worked through the night to prepare materials for a workshop I’m teaching on Tuesday, and then again in Mexico (twice…and in Spanish).  I need to get back to grading term papers and exams, because grades are due tomorrow.  I got a random inspiration to read my blog, starting from the beginning.  Four hours later…

Holy FUCK.  What a shit show.

My heart is literally breaking…for myself, which is something that has never happened before.  Reading my old posts was like reading another person’s story.  I mean, I had the memories, but didn’t share in the deep, debilitating emotions I described.  By the end, I found that I was mourning for myself.  And the magnitude of suffering that I went through hit me, and forced me to realize how awful of a period it was and that I need to remain active about caring for myself and healing.  I’ve been so busy over the last academic year…even though I have made some great strides, I think I could really use some self-love and attention.  I still have healing to do.  And building, and improving, and thriving.

While I recognized that my thoughts and feelings were enshrouded in depression, I couldn’t help but notice how awful I was…to myself.  How many times did I say I was an asshole, or made of suck?  Or how engulfed I was in self-hatred and loss and confusion and suffering…and the very real, very serious intent to hurt myself and the sincere wish for death that would have been a relief to the pain I was experiencing.  I can’t identify with those feelings now.  So much has changed.

Really, the most significant (or, perhaps, noticeable?) changes and improvements have occurred in just the last 3 or 4 months.  That’s crazy when I think about it.  Although my mood improved substantially in October, I was so overwhelmed with work that it was all consuming, leaving little time for myself.  This semester has been better, but not by a whole lot.  I suppose I succeeded in one goal last fall: finding confidence that I can accomplish things again.  When I think back to last summer, and the cognitive deficits that plagued me, I shudder.  I remember the fear I felt that I wouldn’t recover.   That I would have to change all of my life goals because my brain had simply shut down.

I think the benefits and changes I’ve experienced recently have a lot to do with a conscious decision to focus on myself and creating a healthy life.  I realized that going out and partying until the wee hours didn’t serve me well, neither the amount of alcohol consumed, nor the recovery period that prevented me from achieving other goals.  I’ve done very little of that in the last few months, instead electing to stay in and do things that are more substantive or have longer term benefits.  It’s can be as simple as taking care of my home and my animals, and giving myself space and time to pursue personal interests.  I’ve also been connecting, meaningfully, with friends.  Interestingly, I have even found enjoyment living in this city, which is something I never thought would happen.

I signed myself off of online dating.  Honestly, I got bored with the whole thing, and I also realized that I don’t want to find people to date.  I’m perfectly okay being on my own and focusing on myself.  In fact, I prefer it.  For a long time, that preference arose out of a feeling of repulsion about relationships, largely due to my last experience (good GOD!).  Now, I’m not repulsed by the idea.   I’m more focused on creating a healthier, happier self that is prepared to accept something more substantive.  When it comes, it will come.  Meanwhile, I have a life to live.

I’ve come to a place of acceptance, but not complacency, about my body and fitness, and am working toward lifestyle changes, like eating healthier in general and being active.  My expectations for weight loss have changed, so that I will work at it in moderation, which I think will go a long way toward facilitating my success.

I discovered, in therapy, how my expectations of myself lead me to self-destruct in many cases.  In fact, reflecting on the past year or two, I can clearly identify some of the self-imposed expectations I didn’t meet and link them to my extreme mood and behavior fluctuations. I’ve had to think very carefully about setting appropriate expectations so that I don’t set myself up to fail because that failure leads me to lash out against myself, disregarding or even destroying personal goals I’m trying to achieve.

I’m pleased to have gotten a lot of my life back in order and that I’m still making progress.  I still have a box full of unopened mail from 2011-2012, but I’m slowly sorting through it.  It’s painful.  Not only was the emotional turmoil costly psychologically, but it was literally costly, financially too.  I have worked hard to fix my financial situation with a lot of success, and I was even able to save enough money so that I could leave this summer and stay with my aunt in Washington.  I am so looking forward to a restorative summer experience in a beautiful, abundant place.

I am in a place of peace with my family, for the most part, although hearing stories of my sister stealing from my grandma, or claiming she’s still sick but treating herself with LSD, ecstasy, and a host of other drugs, still upsets me.  I vent about it.  And then I try to move on.  I can’t fix it.  My mother flips out about how awful her boyfriend is (pfft), so I let her vent and listen.  It makes me sad.  But I have to let it go.  I can’t fix it.

I’ve found a comfortable distance from people in my life, whether it be from work or elsewhere, who have inflicted emotional pain on me in the past but who I still need to interact with for one reason or another.  For the first time since I moved here, I am not in conflict with, being bullied or threatened by, or feeling afraid or anxious about anyone.  Those people with whom I’ve had excruciatingly painful experiences exist only as an incidental part of my life…not as an integral part, as they once were.

I cannot believe how far I’ve come, especially after reading my own blog.  The truth is, I still have a ways to go.  The beautiful part about that, though, is that I am open to it, and welcoming it.  I actually find the possibilities exciting.

I turned 30 this month.  I hear that some women cry about this.  Not me.  I don’t understand what’s worth crying about.  I’ve been so happy because I believe that the second third of my life will be what I make of it, rather than being tied up in other people’s problems, or wrapping myself so tightly around other people that I experience my own problems as a result.

I’ve noticed that steadily, my priorities have shifted toward things that will help me grow and be a better person, and away from things that will hurt me or not serve me well.  I’ve been setting healthy boundaries for myself, although I could stand to do a better job with my teaching responsibilities.  🙂

I am able to look to the future with optimism and a deep sense of satisfaction about what will come.  I will be focusing on my dissertation beginning in July, and hope to be able to graduate in a year.  The post-doctorate possibilities keep coming my way, and I’ve been offered opportunities to take various jobs in Italy, Mexico, Sweden, and various places in the U.S.  The greatest realization, though, is that I am going to choose the one that is best for me, in accordance with my values and life goals.  I don’t know which option that is yet, or if I’ve even conceived of it.  I am in a place where my decisions are based on multiple dimensions and, rather than revolving solely around career opportunities, include things like love, connection, quality of life, hobbies and recreation, and friendship.

I am thankful for who I am, even though I am pained to see the full magnitude of self-criticism and self-defeating behavior that I am capable of.  I am satisfied, impressed even, with my recovery and my life choices these days.  I still struggle, but I have actively sought out skills to deal with those moments when shame, self-criticism, and self-destruction try to take over.  It’s rewarding to observe myself practicing those skills and to see them be effective.  It gives me hope for what is to come, for the healing and happiness I may permit myself in my life.

As for being bipolar…honestly, I haven’t thought about it in a while.  I suppose I decided to forget about it for now, because I likely won’t get any answers any time soon.  My life has been improving so much that I thought maybe I’m not bipolar at all.  I question that conclusion now though, after reading my blog.  The difference is that I’m not experiencing the resistance, anger, pain, and despair in response to the possibility.  It’s a factor that I need to consider when making decisions, but it has lost its centrality in my thinking and in its role in my life as a whole.

Looking at my blog categories, I see that there is not one positively-valenced category.  I’m glad to say, this post will have the first.  🙂

friday night lites

grrrreetings!

(that’s me, practicing my rolling r’s, because i’m going to mexico in a week)

sorry i haven’t been around for a while.  my abandoning hope about learning anything new about my bipolar diagnosis for a very, very long time has unfortunately been accompanied by my abandoning this blog.

that, and a lot of work.  ’cause you know, i’m actually productive these days.  which is a blessing and a curse, because i’m productive, but i also feel this crazy anxiety that depression could creep up on me at any moment and take all my success away.

anyway, this isn’t why i’m posting.  i’ll try to post a more meaningful, mental health related post after work settles down.  sometime in july…

the reason i’m posting is because a friend just texted me about the new blog entry at Hyperbole and a Half…part 2 to the infamous depression post, and it made me think of you.  🙂

here is the link to the post, in all its shining glory: http://www.hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

enjoy!

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