The Moody Blues

Note: this is not about the English rock band

So most of you who’ve been around for any length of time know that I have bipolar disorder. I’m not quite true Bipolar I, but it’s more intense than Bipolar II. I’m Bipolar 1.5 (lol).

For the last 10 years I have gotten meds stable, gone to therapy every week, revamped my entire life, and generally spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that I could still do what needed to be done. I live alone; I work a regular 9-5 job; I have pets; I have a 401K. I’m largely a successful adult – and I do a lot of work to maintain that.

Sometimes, though, I get reminded that no matter how much I do all the things, my brain is still going to kick me sometimes, and the brain chiggers (thanks Ursula) are just a thing that happens. These aren’t “weasels” – brain weasels are usually something I identify as part of my brain that is trying to help but that, because it is a weasel, doesn’t have the frontal cortex to do a good job. Depression is not like that.

So this is me saying it out loud – I had four incredibly intense months of over-functioning, finished off by an exceptionally intense weekend, and when that was over I crashed off the side of the cliff.

My (very wonderful) boyfriend tanked a total meltdown last Monday night, and things have kind of lingered around there since then. Stuff I’ve been looking forward to for months just seems like work, or worse. In fact, that’s a good descriptor of how things feel right now.

Everything just feels like work.

Got a birthday package in the mail? Finding the scissors is work. Opening the present is work. Yeah there’s a little dopamine hit when I get to the new thing (in this case, a Patreon present from an artist I support), but now I have to dispose of the box, and that’s just work.

Work is, of course, still work. But even the joyful things are work right now, and my brain is actively sabotaging my attempts to help make things better.

But I know that. Oddly, knowing that this is a bipolar mood episode makes dealing with it easier. It makes my perspective shift from “why is everything in my life suddenly awful?” to “oh, here we go again.” Mindfulness is a hell of a thing, and just being aware of the thoughts and what they are takes away a lot of their power, especially the dangerous, intrusive thoughts. It changes the story from “wow, why does everything suddenly suck?” to “nothing is different, your brain just needs defragmenting.”

My life isn’t miserable, my relationship didn’t suddenly tank, I’m not suddenly surrounded by people who hate me. My brain just took a trip to chigger-town, and it’ll take about a month to get back.

And that, I think, is a pretty amazing thing. Thank you Donna, Christina, Connie, and Russ (my four therapists). It took me a week to put it together, but once I did, I’m living a better life despite being pretty critically depressed. I might not get out of my pyjamas today, but I ate lunch, I made tea, and I’m going to play video games with my boyfriend tonight.

I can do this. It’s only a month. I will be okay.

Ramblings on Madness

I lived a lot of my life on 4 hours or less of sleep, for weeks on end. I would go months in a hypomanic binge, then crash into depression and force of will myself to keep over functioning. High school was bad, college was a mess. I got through because I’m fucking smart, and good at taking notes, remembering lectures, taking tests, and charismatic and personable so if I needed extra help I could get it. I also took a degree in something I am both passionate about and good at, so when I needed to coast I could, but I didn’t need to coast very often. And I only had a couple of panic attacks so who’s counting. The nightmares about failing were just part of college, right?

After college though… I floundered about, jobless except for teaching and freelancing, for four years. Playing competitive video games to take the edge off.

Then I went crazy. It’s better now.

though I do kind of miss it sometimes

The endless energy.
I got So. Much. Done.

People marvel at me now? I got nothing on 20 year old me in terms of productivity. I took 18-21 hours every semester of undergrad, graduated with a 3.998 (fuck you too, piano performance grade) and still was a competitive athlete. Worked two internships or went to school over the summers. But the depression was so bad when it WOULD hit. Weeks getting out of bed only because I couldn’t bear to write my professors and tell them I wasn’t coming to class. (Which I felt I owed them. Probably a coping thing. If I had to tell someone I wasn’t going, I had to say out loud that I was depressed.)

It’s kind of amazing I survived

No, it’s not worth it or healthy. But it was a high. A fun one. I could do anything I set my mind to. I’m dumber now, and slower. I have a more mature wit, but the meds dull me noticeably. The trade off is that I’m not cripplingly suicidal, in an institution, dead, homeless, jobless. I have a savings account and a small financial safety net. I put money into a 401K. I don’t have panic attacks anymore, or at least not very often.

So it’s worth it. I have to keep telling myself that. It’s worth it. My life is worth it. I’m a reasonably functional adult, with a high stress job, a high stress unpaid second job, a hobby that demands creativity and competence, two cats, an apartment. Bills that I pay on time.

But I feel it every time I go pick up a refill.

Every time I get a new pharmacy tech, and she looks at my rap sheet and patiently counts out the 3-5 bottles, depending on what needs refilling. Asks me if I have any questions about my meds. Asked me every refill last year if I was sure I wanted the one that costs more than my rent every month, without insurance.

Nah, I’m okay. It’ll be fine. I want to say.

It’s like a backwards sort of addiction. My mind remembers the highs of not being on the meds. Sings siren songs about how I don’t need them. How much writing I could get done. How I’d be fearless in the face of D&D improvisation. Knit an entire lace shawl in 4 days. (It conveniently leaves out how bad the depression gets. Siren songs are only good when they’re about the deepest desires of your heart, after all.)

How many people do you know that have bipolar that take the meds for awhile, only to decide they’re “better” now? It’s super common, almost to the point of being part of the pathology of bipolar, because it cycles, for people to take the meds until they even out, declare themselves better, and stop taking their meds. And they do okay for awhile, and then they crash again. Lather, rinse, repeat. My doctor won’t let me go more than 3 months without seeing me, just to help reinforce that I need to take the meds. Same with my therapist, who double checks that I’m still taking my meds every few weeks.

I’m not crazy anymore, but there are mornings where I can see it from here.

My life now is sitting here, fully caught up on my work at my paying job, AND having written so far almost 1800 words before 11am, and wondering if I just got a little close to the fire-in-the-head, or if I should be stepping away to meditate, to slow my brain down, to maybe take something to take the edge off the drive to be writing. Is it productivity or hypomania? Is it a creative spark or hypographia? Does it even matter?

I’m not crazy anymore, but there are mornings where I can see it from here.