Bipolar Despair… knowing the triggers

I was diagnosed with Bipolar only about seven years ago, but I have had it my whole life. I know this because as I try so hard to understand this horrible disorder I learned through many readings that if any doctor gave a crap about me long enough back when I was 17, circa 1987. I probably would have been diagnosed then, but I honestly don’t think bipolar really was thought of much in 1987 to your regular GP or psychiatrist, why I don’t know.

But here we go again and despair has set in,,, despair is not your normal low self-esteem, or depression it flat out says I’m done with life let me crawl in a hole and die. I know this because I have been here before, many times since I was 17. I know the triggers, I feel the onset strong. Its what cost me most of my jobs, most of my college career, relationships and even my dreams. It creeps up and if not figured out soon enough could do irreversible damage. It’s taken me to part time disability at one time in my life and just this year it almost had me committed into a outpatient program for 3 months. I am determined to not let it get to me now and this is why I decided to write this article. Maybe someone will see this, feel the same way and understand they are not alone and try and move forward.

I’m not sure how many people in my life realize I live with a serious illness. It’s also a treatable and treated illness, but that doesn’t make it less serious. And if people who care about me don’t realize bipolar is serious, I am partly to blame for minimizing its impact on my life in our conversations. I do tend to make light of it as much as possible, joking about my mood swings as if I as Sybil. Ya know the old movie with Sally Field and the 27 personalities she has. It is my favorite all time movie-maybe because on some level I understand her more than I do most people.

This is a memo to the ones who care but aren’t nearby enough to see the impact of bipolar on my life as it is unfolding:

If you haven’t heard from me in weeks or months, it doesn’t mean I’m busy crushing it, loving life and the world is at my feet it means I am busy trying to stay afloat from the overwhelming world we call life. I’m busy trying to keep the demons in my head from rushing forward and condemning me at any given point for no reason other than to knock m down a notch.

You can think of me as the CEO of a mental illness. I have been for several decades. I’m at the helm of this ship during good times and bad. The main component of success is not jumping overboard like the tried in my teens and 20’s and the the rest is taking the life preserver that has been extended to me from family an friends that do know about my illness.

It would be nice to report that after this much time I have fully mastered the art of having bipolar disorder and have moved on to more interesting hobbies like crafting. It would be nice if I could say recovery requires the twelve step practice found in most AA meetings. But that is not my experience.

My experience is that with the right tools and a strong support network, you can get better as things grow worse, and by that I mean you get better at coping with worse things and that you get better by coping with those things.

Certain aspects of managing this disorder have become easier for me, like identifying triggers and setting boundaries around my needs, but there is one thing I find increasingly difficult as time passes: telling you when I’m struggling. My husband who fights demons everyday at work comes home like a knight in shining armor with this great big shield around himself, he might be silently freaking out but you would never know it. He seems to have a full grasp on the world and takes it with such stride like a MVP player..

My desire to be perceived as someone living successfully with bipolar disorder often prevents me from reaching out to the people who matter most when I need it most. When I’ve enjoyed a long period of stability, it’s tough to admit that I’m not in a good place anymore.

I forget that a relapse doesn’t mean I’ve lost all the progress I’ve made. I withdraw during these times so I won’t have to report the truth, which is I’m ashamed and that I feel like a failure.

I go to work a little quieter, not so much laughter with the kids, I don’t grade my papers as quickly, I come home and don’t do house work, I forget dinner time, take naps instead of being productive and I hide in my room when I feel I have everything a mom and wife could do for the day. I am just getting by. Doing my daily duties and nothing more. I can’t, its like a rope is wrapped around my waist telling me to go back to bed and wish I never woke up from this hell inside my head.

When it’s real bad, like it is now I hear the same song in my head over over again obsessing thoughts, right now its “White Christmas” except that its two lines that are on constant repeat and it drowns out everything I am supposed to be doing, I forget everything. Or maybe driving home the last three days I’ve had Coleman Hell’s “Manic’ on loop on my car so the only song I hear for the 40 minute drive up and back is the same song, stopped at a gas station – same song-go to bed – play the song. That’s how I know I dropping into despair. My life becomes obsessive, It becomes so hard I cant do anything but the same thing over and over and over again. My back hurts, head hurts, lights are too bright, my body feel heavy-so heavy it’s impossible to get up. I cry as I drive to work and cry as I drive home from work. I feel like all hope is gone, like I have a death sentence on my hands and there is no coming back.

Now I said before I’ve been here before, I know my triggers, so yesterday I changed the song on my phone to Daniel May; meditation music – all songs are not the same. I stayed up and decorated the tree – insisting I was doing this by taking out all the ornaments before dinner. I was doing this dam thing hell or high water. I sat at the dinner table and forced a meal with my family and laughed when I was supposed to, I am having this holiday party on Saturday no matter how much I want to NOT have it because my husband wants it. By pleasing someone else, it makes me feel better and I know I will actually enjoy the company. I played binuaral positive sounds at work for the students today, it kept them quiet and me relaxed. I made weekly appointments with my therapist – GOD I LOVE HER! She hugs you at the end of a session. I love hugs. I called my psychiatrist and told him I know I am going into severe depression SOS – I don’t see him for another month, but he upped my medication instantly over the phone.

I know the end is not near, why because I am unhappy with my life at this moment and until I can figure out how to change that or I settle into allowing it to be for a while, things might change later I have no choice but to let despair run it’s course, But I will not let it take over me. I have a job to do, a child to raise and family to care for and friends that do love me for me. I understand that this might not be a lot for people but for me its all I can handle in my life right now and to be honest it’s all I need to have in my life right now. I know I am the only one putting pressure on myself to be this super mom career smashing awesome dinner house perfect wife, no one else.

So if I didn’t make it clear. At the early signs of hopelessness/depressive thinking or feeling of despair here are some things to try to combat the feelings quickly.

  1. Let your doctor and therapist know at the first signs of it. Don’t wait!
  2. Let key family and or trusted friends know. Don’t wait.
  3. Not talking about your feelings of hopelessness will cause you to bottle it up inside you and it will begin to have even more “power” over your thoughts and feelings. You need to talk about it.  Get it out into the open.  Talking will release some of the very real pain of hopelessness.
  4. Work hard at not isolating. Isolating empowers hopelessness. Continued isolation will affect your brain’s ability to problem-solve and thinking differently.  (There’s actual research out there on this: isolation brings can cause an inflexibility to the brain to problem solve.) Call or text friends. Send out an SOS to whomever even if that is all you can do.
  5. If you have a peer specialist that is working with you be sure to let him or her know. If you do not have one, find out where in your community (Gloucester County, NJ is linked here) you might receive the services of one.  Having a peer support specialist is particularly important to do if you lack a support system through friends and family.
  6. Also look to spend time reading and listening to things that inspire you and fill you with hope.

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