Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
Hello again everyone!
Firstly, I hope you’re all healthy and if not – hanging in there.
I could have made this post weeks ago, but I have found myself in a rut. I seem to be hovering at about a 3/10 as far as my mood and my energy levels are quite low.
My partner and I went on an extended road trip through the Christmas holidays, climaxing with the Falls Festival in Byron Bay and ending when we moved into our new house on the Atherton Tablelands in early January. I’ve thus far been unable to find a job and we’re struggling financially. The trip and festival were pleasurable but I found myself exhausted almost immediately. We were moving around and organising a lot of things and so I told myself that the tiredness was perfectly understandable.
Since moving in life has taken shape in a way that would leave most healthy people out there feeling a bit flat. No job, no money, lethargy from poor diet and insomnia from money troubles and general stress/anxiety/guilt. These are all very strong, negative environmental factors that influence or determine a person’s mood. In this situation, pretty much anyone would be apathetic, if not unhappy.
If we are truly aiming to be as free of symptoms as we are able then it becomes important to understand which thoughts and feelings are OURS and which are generated by our illnesses.
From what I’ve read it seems that though Bipolar Disorder usually manifests in the late teens/early twenties – most of us are not diagnosed until much, much later. This means that our behaviour in the interim our behaviour didn’t strike us as particularly unusual or inexplicable. Even after being told that we’re malfunctioning the first reaction is often denial. Denial is simply our rejection of the observable truth in favour of a narrative that we have created to simultaneously justify and explain our behaviour. We’re playing roles that we have been rehearsing for years or, in some cases, decades. If you’re anything like me – you will have had to explain extreme behaviour for most of your life and by the time you get to my age you’ve become fairly adept at the (self)deception.
Even now, after trying to learn about Bipolar Disorder and after a year of cultivating as much self-awareness as possible, I have fallen into the trap of resuming one of my old internal narratives. I have explained away a prolonged low ebb in my mood and energy levels by pointing the finger at my surroundings and situation rather than taking a closer look at what is going on. In my opinion we can ALWAYS find a way to explain our behaviour but the explanations themselves rarely stand up to scrutiny. The goal, therefore, must be to scrutinise as often as we are able.
I’ve not been right for MONTHS but I haven’t dipped low enough to cause serious alarm. This situation, whilst not posing the most risk to life, is still incredibly precarious. I SHOULD be aiming to further tune my medication, seek help in some other way or at the very least I should be kind to myself and not build pressure upon pressure as though I’m to blame for my mood. instead I’ve allowed myself to gradually sink lower and lower to the point where it’s becoming serious again.
Signs of depression seeping in, rather than crashing like a tidal wave.
In my (admittedly brief) experience :
Not having the energy to engage in activities you KNOW you very much enjoy.
This one should be the most obvious but I find it is the easiest clue to miss. I still want to do the things I enjoy, mostly. Upon opening the laptop – all the will abandons me and I’m left staring at an impossible task, rather than just getting stuck into writing for you fine people. The weather is fine and I’ve got a dog to walk, but I get as far as looking at the dog’s lead before the feeling that walking to the top of the hill and back would be impossible and pointless. My partner is due home in an hour and I know I should make dinner. I enjoy cooking, especially for her, but as I look at the piles of washing up that I’ve neglected from the past three days I feel totally deflated before even trying.
This may fall under the category above but I feel it merits particular mention, especially appetite. When you find yourself thinking that it’s less stressful to just not eat than to face the apparently impossible tasks of deciding WHAT to eat, and then having to buy the ingredients and make it, or pick up the phone and order it – be suspicious of yourself.
I’m male and not yet thirty. For me to not want to have sex – alarm bells should be ringing. You know your own sex drive.
The desire to seclude yourself.
Whoever said ‘Misery loves company’ hadn’t met depression. I find myself doing almost ANYTHING to avoid being in a position where someone can ask me “How are you?”. I pray that my girlfriend will be late home or that she’ll find something to do that doesn’t involve me so that I’m not dragging her down. I see myself as an emotional black hole, sucking in all the pleasant mood of others. This starts with simple things like not telling the truth when asked “How are you?” by your partner when they get home from work. It metastasizes into ‘not feeling like’ going to your friends’ for dinner. It ends with the covers pulled over your head, wishing you lived in a cave somewhere.
I’m struggling to find work, the student loans company are harassing me and demanding arrears payments despite me proving to them that I have no earnings, my girlfriend’s family are ‘politely suggesting’ jobs to us as though we can’t use the internet (showing that they obviously don’t think I’m trying to find work), the next visa we are hoping to get onto costs $7000 and then we’ll have to PROVE that we’re a genuine couple. These are all stressors – but I KNOW they’re impacting far more than they should be on my mood. My mind and mood have been arrested by these various pressures. My girlfriend has actually explicitly told me that she doesn’t care if I don’t earn any money, so long as I find a way of getting happier. I should be experiencing NO pressure at all but it’s as though someone has closed the release valve. I agonise over things that I intellectually know are unimportant because my feelings say they’re crucial and pose an immediate threat.
What to do about it?
Firstly – Don’t take anything for granted when it comes to your state of mind. The first and worst mistake I have made is to abandon rigorous self-analysis when it comes to extremes in my mood. I’ve allowed myself to lose awareness of my own emotional landscape.
After that – it becomes about medication for me since I’m still in the early phases of being on any drugs at all. My current meds have dealt with hypomania but obviously not depression and so they need tweaking.
Improving my diet is the next aim for me. I’m going to start using Cronometer to make sure that I’m getting the nutrients that I need. Getting enough fresh air and sunshine for Vit-D is bundled up with this.
Lastly, and most difficult is the act of just having faith in your loved ones and friends that when they say “It’s not a problem” or “Don’t worry about it” – they mean it. You don’t need to beat yourself up about being a drag on anyone, financially, emotionally or otherwise.
Get out for a walk with someone you care about – Find ways to laugh with/at each other. Grab a Billy Connolly DVD.
Accept help with cooking/cleaning and other mole hills that you’ve made into mountains.
Realise that the sun is always going to come up tomorrow. The ‘huge’ stressors really aren’t that important in the cold light of day 99% of the time. Do as Bill Withers suggested and lean on someone. If they’re willing – put your partner/a loved one in charge for a while. Do as they say.
Worst case – REST. There are times when you’ll need to go to bed and wait it out. Recognising these moments is something I’m still not particularly good at. Listen when your loved ones say you look tired.
These may not be particularly effective for you. They don’t work absolutely for me. I feel mounting pressure even as I type this even though I have no looming deadline or crisis demanding my attention.
I still feel as though I’m very much at the start of a journey with this and I can only tell you what has helped me somewhat. If you’ve got specific routines or activities that help you break out of being in a rut – I’d love to hear from you.
If you have specific methods to monitoring your behaviour and identifying when you’re in a low ebb because of your illness, rather than a general malaise caused by real, environmental factors – again, I’d love to hear from you.
Glad to be back.
All the best,