|In picture: Heather Jackson overloaded by work and my right hip bearing down in evil boss likeness.|
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I’m depressed, I’m happy, I’m depressed, I’m hyper… oh, I’m bipolar! Well, that makes sense…
Written by Nathan Weaver
Several years ago I noticed a decline in my ability to focus on tasks and concentrate, and consequently to complete tasks. It was really quite frustrating, but I tossed it up to being probably ADD or ADHD. My father had been diagnosed with ADD very late in life (probably around 40, if my memory is remotely accurate). So that I would be experiencing such symptoms in my early 20s, instead of my childhood, didn’t really surprise me.
But, being of a creative nature; a method actor, writer, filmmaker, and lyricist… I create any way my mind will allow me. Where was I? Oh, right… but being of a creative nature, I told myself I WOULD NOT take medications and mess with my brain. I refused to jack with my creativity as I like to refer to it. But to pull this off, it meant I couldn’t tell anyone. So I didn’t tell my wife or any of my friends or family what I was struggling with. I just told myself, “You are now aware of the challenge, so BEAT IT.” Which worked for a few years, in some ways, but reality eventually sank in as my condition worsened and I realized you cannot defeat the brain with the brain.
If your brain is the problem, your brain ain’t gonna fix it.
So, that was a good first step. Recognizing that I was no longer winning the battle with my brain. So, I told my wife that I might have ADD or ADHD, and she said, “No, ya think?!” And I told a close friend, and she said, “No, ya think?!” Apparently, I hadn’t been fooling everyone. (by the way, it’s ridiculous to think you can hide behavior, because by the time you notice your own behavior someone else has been putting up with it for years).
BUT, to my credit, I didn’t really lose the battle with my brain in those years. I still accomplished a great many things; got a promotion at my job, made several films and videos, published books and many other accomplishments I could rant on and on about. The point is, though, that a brain disease isn’t one you beat. It’s not one you cure and it goes away and it never comes back. It’s there. Always present, sometimes dormant mind you, but it’s there. It becomes a part of who you are, whether you like it or not, and you just have to find a way to live with it and manage it in such a way that you aren’t doing crazy stuff.
Now, I am not preaching for medications, or preaching for any one particular method of treatment period. But what you have to come to realize, like I did, is that you can’t manage it by yourself. Get a doctor, get a therapist, get a support group, get medicated or not… but do something. You can’t rely on your own brain to fight this fight. And it’s not that you are incapable, that you have to turn to others for help. It’s just that you have to recognize (tap finger to your temple) that this isn’t working so you can’t really trust it. Find a way to manage it, and that becomes your process. Own that process. Make it yours. Be empowered by your new stronghold over your brain. Don’t let it tell you you’re worthless, or that you’re better off staring at a wall for hours instead of living.
What’s up, Doc?
In 2013, after several frustrating attempts to get help locally (small town), I was able to get a diagnosis. Chronic depression (also known as Dysthymia). It sort of caught me off guard, and in a way I was angry at the diagnosis. Until they explained how they came to that conclusion. It did make a lot of sense, but I was left with a few items on my list that I believed were symptoms which they did not cover or account for in the diagnosis. This left me feeling that maybe these items weren’t symptoms after all, as I’d thought, and I went back to feeling guilty about those things again.
It was suggested I take some medication, an anti-depressant, and do weekly therapy sessions. I continued with that process for a year, and there was some improvements but not everything was lining up the way my therapist and I wanted. She made a suggestion, that I see a specialist, and get reevaluated on my diagnosis. So I did.
Enter the worst April Fool’s Day joke ever…
On April 1, 2014, I was diagnosed Bipolar 2. For those of you unfamiliar with bipolar, there are two variants. The main difference between Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2 is that folks with Bipolar 1 can and will have psychotic episodes and their manic phases tend to be much more severe. But, if you go anywhere on the net and start looking at symptoms, pretty much any and all symptoms can be traded between each variant, except the psychotic episodes. And not everyone has the same symptoms… example, I know folks who are Bipolar 2 like me, and we are affected in completely different ways. Some folks suffer the mania more, others never suffer mania and primarily suffer with the depression. And by the way, mania and depression barely cover the gambit of symptoms a bipolar person can suffer from.
Announcing you have a mental disease is like coming out of the closet…
|Decided to announce this publicly on August 21, 2014.|
Was speaking with an old friend of mine (we were both recently diagnosed with bipolar), and she came to the conclusion that announcing you have a mental disease is like coming out of the closet. And sadly, I had to agree.
No, it’s not exactly the same as coming out of the closet, but it is like coming out of the closet. You have this fear of letting people know, because of the stigma that revolves around it. You know some people will begin treating you different, and in some cases people begin treating you worse than ever. Some people mark you off their black book of friends (Facebook), because they don’t wanna be associating with crazy folk.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but by the time someone is diagnosed with a mental illness they’ve likely been living with it for years. Which means, you’ve already been hanging out with them while they were crazy folk… and guess what? It didn’t bother you. It’s really the knowing that bothers you. The knowledge drives you away. Sad.
For me, I can trace it back as far as high school. I had a lot of depressive episodes in high school, and manic ones as well. I just didn’t know the difference. Just thought that was me being… well, you know… me.
I also had one suicide attempt my senior year in high school, but as quickly as that came on, I quickly quelled it. It was the flash of a dear, close friend that shook me out of the moment.
It’s fascinating and strange all at the same time, looking back on your life and going, “Wow, now I see it. Weird.”
And I have to say the speed in which moods can swing, especially how quickly I can fly into depression is ridiculous. And how quickly that depression can be like, “Come along with me!” And I can be all like, “Derp, OK!” And before you know it you’re staring death in the face and questioning, “Dude, how did I get here?” And depression be all like, “You came along with me, man!”
Or maybe you’re just staring at the wall, and then glancing to the clock and wondering where all of the time went to.
Since I’m Bipolar 2, my mania phases are also known as hypomania and can be rather helpful sometimes. Basically, a lot of the time for me, it simply means getting super hyperfocused, which can be cool if that hyperfocus is spent on things that need to get done. If it’s spent on something completely trivial, like organizing my Windows 8 Start Screen and smartphone tiles, it can be rather frustrating. Or my always favorite, spending hours organizing my to-do list instead of doing anything on said list.
And, of course, as can often be a trait of bipolar, I have moments of irritation. I consider myself somewhat fortunate in this regard though, because I had made a decision at about 13 or 14 to quell anger and have a great control over temperament, because my mother was not and I didn’t want to turn out like that. That means I developed a pretty keen understanding of anger, what makes people tick, and how to handle difficult situations. That means, now that I struggle more with bipolar than ever before, I can still handle those irritable moments far better than I’ve seen others. If I can feel the irritation building, sometimes I take a step into another room or the bathroom and let it out there. No one needs to know, or be hurt.
Which, naturally, brings up another thought… early detection, early treatment. The sooner you know, the quicker you can leap on treating the symptoms of bipolar or any other mental illness for that matter.
DON’T BE LIKE ME, and put it off for years. It is scary, but it’s better knowing and moving forward, than not knowing and taking random pokes in the night at what might help.
And, well, just because…
If you like reading these mental health posts, and suffer with depression/bipolar, and would like to contribute to the Bipanda Collection I welcome you. Head over to the Submissions page to learn more.