The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

Constructing narratives and why you should be suspicious of yourself

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.

 

Diminished libido/appetite.

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.

 

Raised anxiety/stress.

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.

 

For specifics:

 

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,
H&J

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16 comments on “Constructing narratives and why you should be suspicious of yourself

  1. Tournesol (Clr)
    18/03/2015

    Welcome and sending you some positive energy. I am not a good one to give advice these days as I am grieving (what I call necessary depression) and fed up with our Montreal winters. But since you did ask, writing has saved me much $$$ in therapy, watching comedy shows…the ones that make you belly laugh out loud. I know it helps once I can get my butt outside in the fresh air…what forces me is that my car died last September, so I have to walk to the grocery store at least twice a week besides walking to work every day.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      18/03/2015

      Hey there,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to respond and sorry to hear of your grief. I’m right there with you on writing saving money. I’m lucky enough to have an especially bright friend who more than makes up for the lack of a therapist for me.

      I think our car is inches away from a quite frankly timely demise so I’ll have no choice but to do the walking soon too. Here the winter isn’t so much of a problem as the wet season where it rains for three months constantly.

      Which comedy shows do you watch? I’m in the market for something new 🙂

      All the best,
      H&J

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tournesol (Clr)
        19/03/2015

        Walking is a blessing…you may have to get that granny stroller, I bit the bullet and did and can get anything now…may have to make two trips, but that is just healthy. I must send you a list of some funny movies I have seen on Netflix. Of course comedy is very subjective and depends on culture too…I love Roseanne, The Big Bank Theory, All in the Family and more but those are the ones at the top of my head so far. I should add a page to add funny movies I have seen on Stop the Stigma.

        Like

        • drheckleandmrjibe
          19/03/2015

          I’ll probably get death threats for this if everyone reacts the same way my partner and friends did but – here goes – I can’t stand Big Bang Theory! The final nail in the coffin for me was watching an edited version of an episode on Youtube with the Laughter track removed. I honestly couldn’t tell where to laugh half the time!! We might not get much out of sharing recommendations after all but I really appreciate that you replied and made an effort for me.

          I’m much more Coen Brothers and True Grit/Deadwood for comedic dialogue. Deadwood ruined TV for me because nothing has had the same standard of writing.

          Interesting fact about it is that the write apparently has such bad OCD that he worked on the same few pages of the script for years, re-writing and re-writing. The physical act of writing things down/typing them rendered him unable to get any work done. The team behind Deadwood saw the promise in his writing and had the foresight to put him on a spinning chair and just let him TALK the entire script to various interns positioned around him. The result – the best television I’ve ever seen!

          How’s that for getting round an illness!

          All the best,
          H&J

          Like

  2. Ruth
    18/03/2015

    It’s so hard when depression nibbles around the edges of life so subtly that for a while you don’t really notice it eating away at you – and then of course it’s doubly hard to not beat youself up about the not noticing! Take care of yourself, hope things start to improve for you soon 🙂

    Like

  3. veritas
    18/03/2015

    good luck – the depressive side of the beast is the worst. i am lucky (?) that my depression is managed by my standard meds, while my mania is not. mania, i can self manage, but when it comes to depression? it’s hard. and bipolar depression is such a strange, difficult to define thing. all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      19/03/2015

      I’m on Seroquel and it’s washed away hypomania, it seems. It’s an a-typical antipsychotic and so that’s the job it is supposed to do – so I suppose that’s all good. I do think sometimes though that I’ve gotten rid of the part of the illness that I actually enjoyed mostly and I’ve been left with the bad. At least I’m aware of it thought, eh? 🙂

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

      • veritas
        19/03/2015

        yep i take seroquel for break through mania, but am on lamotrigine for my depression. a life saver. i don’t overly like seroquel, and take it at a low dose, only increasing it if i really need to. also, benzos, which i hate even more. at the moment, i’m on nightly seroquel, but mostly because of other factors, and needing to dim down the anxiety a bit.
        best, e

        Like

  4. Ros
    18/03/2015

    Hey! Great to see your posts come up on my feed again! I was wondering just the other day where you were and how you were doing!

    Now stop and read what I said again.

    Don’t analyse it or excuse it. Just read it and try to take it in. Understand that I didn’t just say this because I’m a nice person. I didn’t just say it because I don’t really know you and it’s what people say. I said it because I meant it. I really was delighted to see you blogging again. I appreciate both your honesty and your humour and I genuinely find what you have to say interesting.

    Hard to hear? I don’t doubt it! But one of the most valuable things to me during my darkest times was the gift of another perspective – even when I could not accept that perspective. It helped, somehow, just to know that it existed. Allowing people into my dark sanctuary was hard. But it is vital.

    ‘I see myself as an emotional black hole, sucking in all the pleasant mood of others.’ Yes. I’ve been there too. But you know, even if that is just a little bit true, it’s never, never, never going to be all you are. We are brightly coloured people with many facets. Some of those facets will appear darker and more brooding, but others will be quite light and airy. This blog does not speak to me of an emotional black hole, it speaks of a deeply honest human being who loves life and loves his partner, but just happens to be struggling a bit at the moment.

    ‘Realise that the sun is always going to come up tomorrow.’ Yes!! When I went through a period of depression, ‘This too shall pass’ became my mantra. The sun has come out before. It will come out again. Rehearsing that in my mind didn’t really help to lift my mood. I still felt broken. But it was still an important focus. Without it, I suspect the feeling that I could not go on might have taken over.

    Meanwhile, involving a doctor and looking at tweaking the medication looks like a very good idea to me. Apart from anything else, it looks to me like a means of trying to take back some control. That’s important. A big issue for me when I became physically ill was the loss of control. I suspect it’s the same with unemployment. Certainly, with depression. For me, finding ways to take back control was an important part of my recovery. Finding things I could do – and doing them. Focusing on little daily achievements, rather than all the things I wasn’t doing.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      19/03/2015

      Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words and support. Your comment has felt to me exactly how I’ve hoped I would come across when I’ve messaged people in the past. I HUGELY appreciate it and it has helped. You get a gold star.

      You’re absolutely right about setting small, achievable goals. It’s something that I’m guilt of not doing enough of and as of now I’m going to be a lot more deliberate in how I organise my days.

      Thanks so much for lending me some perspective. I think the fact that we’re just internet people makes it way more meaningful because there was no oblgation for you to write this message but you did it anyway. I hope it makes you feel good to know it hasn’t fallen on stony ground.

      Thanks again,
      H&J

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lillisamy
    19/03/2015

    I know that doing anything when depressed is tough. But I love reading. And sometimes it’s just the NY Times, sometimes a novel, sometimes poetry…but with these readings I escape the pains of life for a while. When I can’t read, I know I’m really not doing well. Like you said it’s moment by moment–I just try to sit back and appreciate what IS.

    Like

  6. Valleygrail
    19/03/2015

    Hello again H&J, it’s good to see you back. I read your post carefully, and want to encourage you to be in frequent contact with your physician. Your meds should be monitored closely and often. It is interesting you do not mention the struggle I have witnessed with people who share your condition in not staying on their meds. They either think they don’t really need them, or they feel better, so they are no longer necessary. I am happy you do not seem to ride that merry-go-round. The question you raise about current depression being circumstantial or organic; for you it is not necessary to define its cause in those terms. Depression is an uneasy passenger in your life, and it can be exacerbated by circumstances, or circumstances alone can trigger it. The point is when you are sucked down into that black hole, your focus needs to be on getting out, not how you got there. Dear H&J, my humble advice: get in touch with your doctor regarding the meds. Take them faithfully. Stay far away from alcohol, chocolate, dairy. Take at least 4000IU Vitamin D3, daily. Your doctor can check your Vitamin D levels in your bloodwork. Last, get up and move. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it, or not; moving is the greatest thing you can do for yourself. That and laughter, but I think you already have that one down. Stay the course! You can do it!

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      19/03/2015

      Humble advice – it’s not often you get that! 🙂

      I’m lucky in that the pill was never sugar-coated for me (pun intended) and I realised very early on that if I want to be well and stay well that I’m likely to be medicated for the rest of my life. Whether I like it or not has no part to play in my decision-making-process – that’s just the truth of it. It was the same with Alcohol after I started the meds. If I was going to take meds then it was no longer an option to a thinking adult (What have I become?!) to imbibe a substance that would directly counteract the good that the other drugs were doing. So I stopped drinking altogether.

      My moods are still weird and wonderful creatures to me and I’ve not quite yet managed to correctly identify/understand them all. In light of that, unless the Seroquel did to me what Zoloft did (which was to render me suicidal in less than a month) – I think I’ve probably benefitted from giving it the full year without other substances to muddy the waters of how I assess the drug.

      Knowing how I behave on the Seroquel now means that whichever direction I push out in next – I’ll be able to confidently identify the effects of the new medication in isolation >HOPEFULLY<

      My doctor put me on 600mg/day and said that he intended to reign the dose in when I was more well. To that end I did the naught thing and after about 8 months I gradually knocked my dose down to 300mg/day but not long after that I became quite unwell so I upped the dose to the original amount.

      Re: not being focussed on how I fell into the hole. Granted that my immediate attention needs to be on getting well – I also need to identify anything that has the potential to trip me up. Does this lead to over-analysing a lot of things : probably. In the past though it's also lead to me identifying some really serious triggers that I can now totally avoid. Two or three of them are things/people that I've cut out of my life entirely to a unanimously positive effect. I suppose the difference between my current situation and full-on depression is that I can spare SOME emotional bandwidth to this process without it sinking me through the floor.

      I've not had any blood work done yet at all but I'm thinking of getting some. What do you ask for? What are you looking for specifically? I read about a certain genetic defect recently that causes us to be unable to process B vitamins properly. Can you ask doctors to run down whether or not a certain gene is activated or not? This is a totally new world for me so any help you can give me would be appreciated.

      Thanks very much for taking the time to lend some insight and encouragement. I really appreciate it!

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  7. April
    20/03/2015

    Wow, you just described what I have been going through. I haven’t been on medication that long–at least the proper combination. I thought I was at least level. Then I had a hypomanic phase followed by—depression. I was so mad and frustrated with myself. Through therapy, I’m learning this is simply my way of life and to stop beating myself up over every single thing. I hope things start evening off for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      20/03/2015

      Thanks very much for taking the time to reply. The BEST thing to come from blogging, I reckon, is the knowledge that we’re not alone. When I’m at my worst I’ll convince myself that I’m not ill, just a lazy, good-for-nothing person who fails at life. Communicating with people on this network lets me know I’m not alone and that this situation is REAL. I hope things even off soon too. I’m glad you’ve gotten to a place where you can avoid berating yourself. For me personally, it’s hard to maintain that outlook. It takes constant reminders from people around me, which must be exhausting for them. I’m glad you’re in a good place!

      All the best,
      H&J

      Liked by 1 person

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