Angry At Everything

I’m really struggling, and I just want to be heard. Please hear me. Please don’t be offended.

I need to vent.

This is me angry. I’m not angry at you. Please keep that in mind. I just need someone to hear me say all of this. I need it out. I need it said. You’re my readers, so I’m having faith in you that you will still follow me after you read all this mess that I just want out of me.

I almost feel like I don’t have a right to complain about my circumstances, but fuck it, I need to do it. Some things feel like poison if you keep them inside. My therapist says “Some things just need to be said.”

I am angry.

I’m angry that I’m not autonomous. There are so many “normal” things that most people take for granted that I just can’t do. And since I don’t look sick, people around me assume I can do normal, daily things like

  • drive: It’s too dangerous. I’ve been in two car accidents, and now when I get behind the wheel I get terrified and tremble. My family is also uncomfortable with me driving. I haven’t driven a vehicle in over a year.
  • walk through a grocery store without having my soul catch fire with anxiety, which usually triggers a dissociative dysphoric episode: It leaves me confused and dumb, unable to complete simple tasks. When I dissociate, I lose my rights as an autonomous adult: I am not allowed to use knives, the stove, or our gas heaters (our only source of heat, so if I’m by myself, I just stay cold). It’s not safe for me to wash the dishes. I can’t plug in or unplug appliances because it’s too dangerous. I can’t go for a walk by myself because I might get lost. All of this, triggered by 20 minutes in a grocery store.
  • have any sort of conflict without shaking like a leaf for hours afterward: In any scenario involving someone having a negative feeling that I caused or a scenario in which I’m nervous or feel judged, my hands start to shake. Actually, my whole body shakes, but the tremors in my hands are the most visible. I’ve had people tell me to calm down and not be so nervous. I lie and say I have a tremor from a seizure disorder. It’s close to true, but not the truth.
  • have any strong feeling without crying: this is typical of dissociative disorders, which I learned about recently, when my doctor added “dissociative disorder” to my official diagnosis. It is very inconvenient, and even more embarrassing. I can’t stop it. A very strong feeling can make me cry anywhere: the store, out to dinner, in a movie theater, in the mall, at the salon… I can’t escape it, and it hits me hard where the self-esteem lives. It makes me feel like a child if I’m in front of other people. These strong feelings, followed by crying, usually lead to the same kind of episode I described in the grocery store.
  • remember anything about a movie a few days after I watched it: I have no retention. I forget everything. When my husband mentions a movie, I hardly ever know anything about it and have no clue whether I’ve seen it or not. Last night, we watched a comedy special that I had already seen 3 times, but I was convinced that we were watching a slightly altered movie because parts of it were completely new to me.
  • remember a date with a friend even if it was important to me: Like I said, I forget everything. This includes friend dates and family dinners at my parents’ house. I can be told the day before and still forget and miss the meeting. For doctors’ appointments, I write down the appointment on the paper calendar on the wall and put a reminder in my phone. It’s not so easy to remember to put every date in my phone right away. That’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate because at least I have that little bit of control.

I can’t do these things. And these are only some my limitations. These are all part of my disability. If I’m being measured by healthy standards, I will always fall short of what I “should” be. I will always fail.

I don’t want to be measured by healthy standards because I don’t want to be a disappointment or a failure. But I don’t get to choose how I’m measured. I can live up to my own expectations all I want, it doesn’t stop me from being a problem for other people.

I need you to hear this because I need SOMEONE to hear this. It’s exhausting to constantly be failing in the eyes of others, especially when I am absolutely powerless to change the scope of my abilities. I didn’t ask for this, I did not choose this for myself, but I’m responsible for it and it’s something that becomes a problem for the people that I love. And it’s a problem I can’t fix. I can apologize all I want and still be stuck in the limbo of watching other people get disappointed or irritated or angry with me over things that I can’t change.

I fight to get healthy and stay healthy because I know that if I don’t fight, if I don’t keep this as under-control as possible, it will exhaust my support system and people will start giving up on me. I don’t want to be put in care because I have no one left who can put up with me. If I did not stay on top of my pill schedule, keep my blood sugar level, exercise, go to all my therapy appointments, use coping skills to get through most of the day, and do everything I can to keep this under control, I would lose everything.

To people on the outside, I’m sure it looks like I have it extremely easy. No job. Not many bills. There’s nothing I can do to change that perception outside of telling people the reality of my situation one person at a time and trying to find a way for them to relate to things they’ve never experienced. But I don’t know how to communicate what a dissociative episode is like. I can’t bottle the essence of dysphoric mania. I can’t describe the terror of delusions and paranoia. Sure, I can describe a hallucination, but the relatability stops there, at the physical. How could they possibly know how it feels to be hungry but do not know how to make food, or even what I can eat? How could they know how it feels to be terrified of making even a tiny decision, like which candy to buy? Or to be cold and be afraid to light the gas heater? Or to have to rely on the emotional and monetary charity of others daily, just to survive? Or to watch myself upset people over and over in so many different ways because of things that I am responsible for but not able to change?

This is not a pity party. This is an expression of anger. I’m angry at my circumstances and my brain. I’m angry at my limitations. I’m angry at my life. I’m angry because most people don’t understand that by healthy standards, I am always going to fail. These are things that I need to be said, and I’m also angry because I don’t think this will be well-received, and may even fall on deaf ears. If you’re still reading, thank you for falling down this hole with me. It’s dark and lonely down here. Knowing that someone will read this is what is sustaining me today.

I don’t deal well with anger. I don’t deal well with any strong feeling. I can’t help it. I’m getting ready to double up on therapy to try to get more control, faster. I know I’m exhausting my support system. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Just continue to fuck up and continue to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness? I don’t see any options. Just the shitty, shitty status quo. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m sitting here, terrified of losing everyone, terrified of exhausting everyone, terrified of hurting everyone. I’m scared. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I’m trying, I promise I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying. I’m so tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

I know I just have to keep moving forward. Therapy helps me gain some control over my feelings and thoughts, but not the chemicals in my brain. My self-esteem is shot to shit right now, so I’ve got to build that back up. I feel worthless. I’ll keep doing what I can to change.

 

Post-Script: I wrote this during a dissociative and mixed-state episode, and it began as a letter to my partner. I decided to edit and then publish it even though I’m worried that it may be offensive to some people. Not everything in this is objectively true: my partner assures me (he’s an honest person when it comes to my shortcomings) that I’m not exhausting him or my support system. The problem with incorrect thinking inspired by negative feelings is that I believe all of the horrible things I tell myself, which increases my fear and despair. In the moment I wrote this, none of it felt like hyperbole. In the moment, I was sure I’d lose my partner, my family, and my friends because I was too large a burden and not worth the effort. Self-esteem is a bouncing ball for me, and that day, I was on the floor.

If you live with mental illness, please, please recognize that your thoughts lie to you when you feel bad. They can make you feel worthless. They can make you believe horrible things about yourself and your life that are simply not true. You eventually see that when you come out the other side. If you’re stuck right now in a place where you hate yourself and think other people hate you too, and if it might be a while before you see daylight again, you’re going to have to take your own thoughts and beliefs with a grain of salt. That grain of salt is “I cannot be sure this is objectively true. No matter how true it feels, I cannot be sure it’s true.” Take those thoughts and beliefs to someone else to help you confirm or deny the truth of your beliefs. Then, trust that person to tell you the truth. This takes some practice and some courage, but asking others to help you fact-check is amazingly therapeutic. I had to take these feelings to my partner in order to figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

I’m not worthless, and I’m not exhausting anyone. The rest, unfortunately, is true.

 

Like my artwork? Lots of different paintings are for sale here on Etsy!

How I Learned That Change Is Always On The Way (or Hope In Water)

 

Above the Spiral CC

 

One time, about 5 years ago, I was on an antipsychotic medication that was known for being very safe and having few side effects. I will not name it here, because I don’t believe that telling others about my bad experiences with medication is safe or appropriate. This medicine helps millions of people; I was just in a minority of people who had horrible, devastating, contraindicative effects from it. This effect is possible because each medicine reacts uniquely in each person’s brain. A medication is prescribed based on the typical reaction it produces, but the typical reaction doesn’t happen to everybody. For me, this medication was very harmful, and it took several months for my doctor and me to connect the dots between my ever-worsening depression, insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and mixed-state bipolar episodes to that medicine.

I was on this medication for five months, growing progressively worse. Every time I got worse, my doctor increased my dosage. I stopped sleeping more than 4 hours a night and fell deeper and deeper into a dark hole that was filled with overwhelming sadness and psychosis. By the time I got to the point where I had felt sincere suicidal desires for about a week, I started making plans.

I did this most waking hours. Bread knife across the throat, hanging myself with an electrical cord from a tree in the park, strangling myself with duct tape, and buying a gun were all considered. I was hurting so badly that all I wanted was out. The breadknife across the throat was the most troubling because when I was lying awake at night with my soul on fire, that was a legitimate plan for exit; all I had to do was walk to the kitchen to end it. I remember literally “white-knuckling it,” clutching my bedding so hard that my hands cramped. Continue reading

How An Episode Unfolds, and What It Feels Like

conv fishes sophie2.jpegIn case you don’t already know, I have bipolar II, mixed state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features. I get hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions during manic and depressive episodes, which is part of having mixed state episodes. A mixed state episode can lean one way or another so it can be helpful to refer to them as manic or depressive for purposes of communication, but every mixed state episode has features of both mania and depression.

A real-life example of a troubling psychotic episode would be that I can hear the clouds above me whispering (hallucination) and even though I can’t hear what they’re saying, I know they are talking about me and are going to come down and hurt me (paranoid delusion). This happens often in episodes that lean toward mania. In an episode that leans toward depression, it is common for me to believe that there is an intruder in the house (paranoid delusion), or to feel very afraid and not know why (paranoia). Every episode has features of both mania and depression at the same time often in conjunction with hallucinations or paranoia. My episodes are rapid cycling, which means that they are short and intense, usually between 4 hours and 12 hours, and I have them three days in a row at about the same time of day, unless I am able to get 14 hours of sleep in a night, which interrupts the cycle and prevents an episode the next day.

I usually use the metaphor of a thunderstorm to explain how an episode unfolds. Continue reading

How To Support To A Mentally Ill Loved One

One of the biggest worries of a mentally ill person is that they are a terrible burden on their friends and family. As an outsider, most of what you can contribute is verbal. Regularly remind your loved one that they are not a burden, they are not going to lose you, you love them, and that it’s okay to be upset. Physical contact is also very powerful: a hand on the back, a squeeze of the hand, or a hug can make an enormous difference in the current mental state of your loved one in crisis. If it’s appropriate to your relationship, lay with them and hold them, or let them put their head in your lap so that you can pet the side of their head. This sounds very basic and very infantile, but the difference you’ll make is enormous. Just being present with your sick loved one is powerful. Try to listen without judgment, and try not to give advice, only reassurance that they’re safe and loved. If your loved one is very sick and not making good choices, keep them at home. Even a trip to the grocery store could be catastrophic for their state of being. If they’re not making sense, do not let them cook or drive, and keep a close eye on them to keep them safe.

If your loved one is suicidal, take them immediately to the emergency room, because they’re going to need to Continue reading

Practical Advice For Living Successfully With A Mental Illness

There is a multitude of things I had to learn to manage when I got sick. There are many practical, everyday tasks that must be fulfilled in order to stay in the game. In all of my trial-and-error learning, I’ve figured out some very crucial things. If you’re mentally ill, I hope you learn to do all of these things too.Above the Spiral CC

The first and biggest is managing medicine. You have to take every dose at the right time every day, or it’s not going to work for you. If you feel like your medicine isn’t helping, this may be the culprit. Even the perfect medication only works if you put it in your body on time, every single day, and that is a much bigger undertaking than one would assume. I strongly recommend putting alarms on your phone for every dose-time. When I started, I had to put a backup alarm on, too, for ten minutes after my dose-time, because I got used to hearing the alarm, turning it off, and then forgetting about it and not taking my medication. If your memory is impaired (as mine is), this will be even more challenging, but if you stick to this routine, you will eventually Continue reading

Sometimes I Can Only Sit And Feel Hard Things

Since my mental illnesses presented 12 years ago, I haven’t been able to do much. This website is the largest thing I’ve accomplished since I was 19, and I’ve only been able to do this by building it slowly, little by little. It has taken me over a year. There are whole weeks when I make no progress. The past year has been more productive than I’ve been in a long time and has been the easiest year to handle since I was diagnosed. For that, I am incredibly grateful. Living well with mental illness takes skills, and I’m working on mine every day. I am making progress.Sunflower CC

In college, I abandoned school in the middle of spring semester four out of four years. Springtime always makes my symptoms more intense and sometimes even unbearable. Most of my time at Oberlin I couldn’t do simple self-care tasks like laundry, or go to class or parties; I basically could do nothing but stay in my room, sit, and try to cope. Sometimes I’d use an episode to make a painting, and god, those paintings born of episodes are the darkest ones I’ve made. None of them are on this site yet, and I burned many of them one night during a manic episode. I thought it would be cleansing. It was just destructive. I get a lot of “great” ideas when I’m manic, and Continue reading

My Paranoia, Delusions, and Hallucinations

Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. I can only speak to my own experience. During the delusions of grandeur during mania that I’ve had, I felt really, really good about myself and thought without a doubt that I could achieve very difficult things, like using a chainsaw to illegally cut down all the trees on a road near my house overnight because the trees had grown to block the formerly beautiful view of the lake, and I was outraged. I believed that was a good idea, and that it was achievable. Fortunately, I got distracted from that plan. I also had a recurring delusion that I was going to write a book about bipolar and publish it. It would be so meaningful, insightful and true that it would become a best seller, and I’d go on a book tour to publicize it. I’d end up telling my story to Oprah herself. I started that book about five times and didn’t get far, but now I have a website about bipolar that has all my best wisdom in it, and I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me lately to share their stories and tell me that my words have helped them. Educating people about bipolar was always a goal, but during a delusion of grandeur I took it to the extreme, and I felt good about my future.

Now, what is it like to have these delusions of grandeur in the first place? All I can explain is how it feels to me. In the very few times that I have had pure mania with delusions of grandeur (almost every episode I’ve had is mixed-state, with features of both mania and depression at the same time. I get dysphoric mania, the opposite of euphoric) I have buzzed with energy, felt like I could lift a car, been quick to make witty remarks, laughed often and too loudly, talked too fast and believed I could do many different extremely difficult things if I just put in the effort. I also believed that I could put in that effort, ignoring the fact that my illness precludes me from even having a job because keeping myself alive is a full-time job itself. It was such a positive headspace that anything felt possible. I was just along for the ride, trying to have as much fun as I could. Of course, this has only happened to me a handful of times, since most of my episodes suck very much, even manic. Continue reading

What Is Madness?

I’ve been asked what the difference is between mental illness and madness. I absolutely love language, and words are important and fascinating to me. While some people find the term madness to be outdated or even offensive, with me it is a word that resonates deeply. I do not want to step on anyone’s toes here, because there are many valid ways to view mental illness, especially if you have it yourself. My answer is mine alone, meant to reflect my own experience and opinion.

I have mental illnesses, and I sometimes experience madness. Madness feels like the world is burning down around me. I can see things others can’t, I know truths others never will, and I can feel the source of universal pain flowing through me and out into the world. Madness is powerful. Madness is bold.

If I experience madness in a grocery store, I can hear the thoughts of all the shoppers, and I know deep within myself that they are all in danger, and I cannot save them. Continue reading

The Abnormal Life

 

A person with multiple severe mental illnesses, like myself, will never lead a “normal” life. We are not neurotypical, and cannot lead neurotypical lives. We live our own special brand of abnormal lives. These lives can be worthwhile, rich, and rewarding, even though they do contain immense suffering.

Of course, trying to get as close to normal as possible is the first big goal of treatment. Medicine, therapy, and coping skills are meant to help minimize symptoms and pain. Medication is more than half the battle, so seeing a psychiatrist and making sure you keep up to date on prescriptions is the biggest single step you can take. If you do not yet have medical treatment, you will need to work out a plan to get to a psychiatry appointment. You can involve loved ones in this. Do not be shy about asking for help. Your quality of life is on the line, and I guarantee you that you have at least one person in your life who does not want you to suffer. Ask that person to take you to the doctor. You deserve to have treatment. You deserve to live in less pain. You deserve to have your needs met.

Finding the right medicine can take time, but sticking with it until your cocktail is correct is worth the time and suffering of the trial and error process. The long-term goal is remission, and the short-term goal is the amelioration of pain. It can feel hopeless, but please don’t give up. Medicine is the cornerstone of your recovery.

Mindfulness is another coping skill available to you. Mindfulness, an immensely helpful tool, is the practice of experiencing the present moment exactly as it is without passing judgment. The present moment is not good or bad, it’s just what is. You can learn to step back from your thoughts and accept the present moment, and doing so can give you some immediate relief. When you are mindful, you are not worried about anything that is going to happen in the future and you do not regret anything that happened in your past. You ground yourself firmly in the present. There is an abundance of information on how to be mindful on Mindful – healthy mind, healthy life, which is full of techniques for developing this skill that can serve you for years to come. Learning to be mindful will be helpful almost immediately. Continue reading

Can A Bipolar Person Ever Be Happy?

I’m happy. Not always. Not even every week. But my life has meaning, regardless of how ill or healthy I am in the moment. Because of this, on days when I feel normal, I am happy.

I’m from Texas. I’m on disability income because of bipolar, and I live in my hometown. I have a healthy sense of self, loving friends, a cat, a good psychiatrist, a great therapist, and parents who live nearby. I also have mixed-state episodes, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, psychotic episodes, dissociation, random pains and sometimes insomnia. Sometimes I also have suicidal ideation.

My life now, at 31, is better than it has ever been.

Episodes are awful (I’m heading into one right now, and I am not at all excited about it). My brain’s response to stress is to shut down completely, dissociate, hallucinate, panic, and cry. My body shakes and spasms, I get dizzy and lightheaded, and I have very uncomfortable physical sensations. Because of this, I do not hold up at all in the workplace. No one really appreciates that kind of behavior on the job. I was lucky enough to get granted disability, which lets me live with just enough money to get by. I can’t make any “fun” purchases, but I can pay for my rent, electricity, and Netflix. I save what I can to make occasional “major” purchases, like getting an eye exam for a contacts prescription, which is what I’m saving up for now. I do struggle sometimes. But I’m satisfied.

When I was 18 I was on top of the world. I graduated high school in the top 5% of my class, I had won several contests for classical singing, and I was accepted to a handful of colleges, including Oberlin Conservatory, which is world renowned for their undergraduate vocal program. I had tons of friends, and I had high self-esteem and a fun life. I went off to college at Oberlin and the fun intensified. There were so many interesting people and ideas that were brand new to me. I turned 19, and after a couple months, bipolar presented. All of those happy and wonderful things, bit by bit, were taken from me.

Between 19 and 30, I longed to go back to age 18. It was the happiest I’d ever been. When I turned 31, I shifted into the new “best” time in my life. I am happier now than I was at 18. My happiness is deeper and more fulfilling. My life is beautiful. But that is not the important part.

The important part is that I still have episodes. I still have depression. I still have severe psychosis, dissociation, anxiety, paranoia, and panic. I have to find my happiness in the time between episodes. I am so lucky that I get to have those times now; for years I did not. It took 11 years to find the right combination of medicine, and 4 years of weekly therapy to learn enough coping tools to not jump straight to suicidal ideation in episodes. But I did it. Now I’m here.

Not having a job is not the worst thing in the world. I used to feel guilty for accepting government help as well as the help of my family before I realized that societies and families exist for the purpose of us keeping each other safe and alive. That is the point of communities and social support systems. I would have died if I did not accept the help that was offered.

My work is keeping myself healthy. I have to exercise, eat well, stay on a sleep schedule, take all my medicine on time, shower, do laundry, go to all my appointments, and socialize with someone in person at least once a week. Those things take up every bit of my ability, and I can’t achieve all of them every day. If I’m depressed, for example, I can eat and sleep, and maybe shower. My overall goal is to do all those things when I am expected to, but it is important and healthy to lower your expectations of yourself when you’re struggling with mental illness symptoms. I do all the work I am able to do, and I adjust according to my current capabilities.

I’m glad to not have a job. I would be having episodes every day, and I don’t like that idea at all. I also like being able to determine my own priorities for how I spend my time. In the time between episodes, things can feel so wonderful, and I’m free to do things like write on Quora, go for walks, or work on my website. I am very sensitive to the moments when I feel okay or calm. I’m able to be grateful for a happy thought or feeling. I can pay close attention to the good. Mindfulness helps me tremendously with that.

Even though I can still feel miserable, I am at peace with my symptoms. I will probably have them for the rest of my life and will need to stay on top of my treatment. In all the healthy minutes, hours, or days I am granted, I am able to see how lucky I am. I’m living my own personal happily ever after, just with the addition of episodes of misery. When the episode goes away, my happiness comes back. My real life is beautiful. I often can’t see that in episodes. Sometimes I believe things are so bad that I should kill myself. But when the storm passes, I get my life back, and it’s still beautiful.

So yes, there are bipolar people who are still sick and have good lives. I can be happy, and then sick, and then happy again. My life’s work is staying alive, and I’m even starting to get good at it. This website is a byproduct of exactly that. It’s all about survival at first. Once you get past survival, it becomes about living. Here I am, happy. Here I am, living.

 

Continue reading