Being a Little “Up”

My mind and heart were floating away last week...
My mind and heart were floating away last week…

This past week, I’ve noticed that my mood has been off a little bit. Other people haven’t picked up on it, which indicates I was not hypomanic or anything, but I noticed things internally.

I’m also aware of what brought this on. I recently learned my current job position is being eliminated, which caused a lot of negative stress. I’ve been staying up too late on my own and that has added fuel to the fire. I haven’t been eating very well, either, and that combined with lack of exercise can cause problems. Also, reducing my Zyprexa about three or four weeks ago may have gradually brought this on. There are other personal reasons as well I will not get into at this point.

There have been positive happenings as a result of being up. I’ve been very creative, and able to ponder my spirituality, myself, and the universe in great depth. I’ve been more witty, spontaneous, and outgoing than usual. I found I could talk much easier with people in person and didn’t think too much about being judged socially. Writing and ideas came easier to me, and my mind was much sharper. I had more energy than normal. I sometimes felt a bit euphoric. My eyes saw colors more vividly, I could notice more details, tastes were much more pronounced, and my sense of smell was better than normal. Meditation came very easily, and I could find the balances and the voice efficiently. Basically, everything was a little magnified.

However, there were negative things as well. I felt a lot more impulsive than normal, I said weird things to people that I normally wouldn’t say, and sometimes wished I could take them back. I became more obsessive about thoughts and sometimes people, concepts, ideas, things, and couldn’t stop the obsessions at will at some points. I tended to overanalyze everything and it started to drive me nuts. One example of this obsessing and analyzing was my manager who broke the news to me about my position. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and the situation at hand, which led to bad conclusions. Fortunately, I was not so “up” that I was hypomanic and didn’t actually act. It all mostly stayed in my head, but not all of it, I’m sure.

My course of action? To start going to bed on time, for one! Also, I am starting to eat healthier again and I am noticing a difference after a few days already. One night, I had to take a prn dose of extra Zyprexa to slow my mind down. Also, I need to come to terms in that this is the beginning of falling off course, so I’m not tempted to just “go with it” and fall way off course. Instead, I am being proactive and preventing the mood swing from turning into a significant one.

Meditation also helped, along with keeping my heart on a very short leash. When my heart gets carried away, the mind goes with it. When the mind gets carried away, the heart wants to skip away. When the mind or heart begin to drift away, that’s a warning sign. It’s hard to recognize, as I largely perceive things through the two.

However, I look from within myself, my center, if you will – the mind and heart are extensions of me. I am getting to know them and learn how to keep them close to me. When they drift off the ground is when other people will begin to notice and not just me, which is a place I don’t want to be. It can lead to doing things, big or small, I’ll regret doing later on.

So, keep your minds and hearts on a short leash! Learn what little nuances show up when you’re about to have an up swing. Don’t be in denial, and do something about it when you have that inkling something’s not right – it could save you from crashing and burning down the road!

If you don’t have a plan for when you’re starting to swing up towards (hypo)mania, talk with your doctors about it and come up with a preemptive strike!

photo credit: Mark J P via photopin cc

A Butterfly’s Notion

What one thinks changes the world...
What one thinks changes the world…

“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” -Chaos Theory

***

I watch the neatly-kept houses and vibrant green lawns pass by my open front passenger side window of Dad’s sky blue ‘93 Intrepid. The gentle aromas of freshly cut grass, leafy trees, and vivid flower gardens breeze by in the sunny suburban neighborhood. We are on our way to high school during late summer for freshman orientation. The radio show host announces a commercial break and I tune out the bombarding advertisements so I can enjoy the beautiful day. Suddenly, a concerned female voice draws me in on the air speaks to me. The words make my mind unsettle and my heart sink.

“Do you have times where you feel extra productive, and periods where you can’t seem to do anything?” I often do all the homework I can for weeks or months in advance to work ahead, then fall behind when I don’t feel like doing it later. I tend to take advantage of my energy when it is there. When it’s nonexistent, I need to recharge, and I prepare for this. Rarely do I work at a steady pace, and I have the tortoise and hare syndrome, but that doesn’t make me abnormal!

“Do you have times where you feel euphoric, that your mind is sharp, or you have so many ideas and thoughts you don’t know what to do with them?” I often ponder the meaning of life, and if God really exists, or if I exist, and what about each atom?  Does anything really exist? Then I just get tired, and then it all comes back again. I think about many things at once quite a bit. But isn’t that normal for everyone else too?

“Do you sometimes feel down, blue, low on energy, or hopeless?” There are times when I wish whatever this pain, this cloud, this guilt is, would just go away for good. When it’s there, I can’t seem to get any of my school work done, or anything done for that matter. I don’t want to get up in the morning for days on end. I cry myself to sleep over the littlest things that seem to mean the world to me. But eventually, it goes away. Isn’t that all part of life?

“These are symptoms of what is called ‘bipolar disorder.’ It is a severe illness, but very treatable with medications.” Bipolar. Isn’t that the mental illness that’s almost bad as schizophrenia? I’m a normal, functioning human being, as hard as it can be sometimes. My instincts tell me the problems I have are beyond normal, and I have been hiding this suspicion from everyone including myself.

“People can lead normal lives with treatment. Can you or a loved one relate to these symptoms? There is help.” Bipolar? Me? That’s crazy! I’m normal and just entering high school! My journey in life has just begun! I’m only hearing this and getting overly concerned, acting like a hypochondriac reading a textbook on mental illness and self-diagnosing. People would think poorly of me if I’m labeled bipolar. My heart gives me the notion that I’m bipolar, but I dismiss it in horror.

“I guess we’re almost there, Dad. Is there anything else I need besides what you said?” I said, as the radio voice reads the website address, contact information, and sponsor on the air…

***

Three years later at age 17, I find myself in a Crisis Stabilization Unit for two weeks of hell, completely psychotic, wandering an evil reality from beyond the other side. I’m transferred to the mental hospital after becoming stable enough, with an admitting diagnosis of schizophreniform. Dad explained that means schizophrenia-like symptoms and I need to be observed more before I’m considered chronically schizophrenic or something else.

I find myself at the mercy of the men in white coats at the hospital. They are my judges. I am on death row, awaiting my diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a crippling disease, and I show many signs of it. The medications turn me into a living zombie.  They numb my heart, mind, and soul, yet I’m painfully aware of it all. I’d rather be dead, and seriously ponder suicide often. I overhear the staff talking about how tragic my situation is. How did I get here from having such high hopes and great potential?

The hospital has observed me for over a week now.  The doctors call a meeting with my parents and me and we all sit down on cheap chairs in a small gathering room. One doctor introduces himself and explains what this meeting is about. I hang on his every word. “We want to hear your input about what you think may be going on here. You’ve had a traumatic past few weeks, and things seem to be settling down for you. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions.” He continues, “While you were growing up, do you remember having periods where you felt up and others down?”

My throat closes tight. “Y-yes, I think?” I stutter, unconvincingly.

I feel a panic rising inside of me, but the question he raised pierces through the numbing medications and points to that moment in the car three years ago, when I dismissed the notion from my heart that I have bipolar. It comforts me, and I throw my pitch. “I remember hearing a radio broadcast about bipolar and I thought that I had it… but that seemed crazy.” I stammer through everything I remember hearing and thinking about on the radio three years ago, pleading my case for bipolar.

I brace myself for his response. I have spent the last three weeks in a very dark place. I’m admitted essentially as a schizophrenic and I would think the same if I were a doctor, considering what unspeakable horrors must be in my chart from the crisis unit. What if they diagnose me as that and I’m stuck on these God-awful meds for the rest of my life? Am I doomed to be psychotic or a zombie forever? Will they think I am bipolar and not schizophrenic after all?

“Because you believe you had mood swings, and your thoughts are connected though loosely associated… and what you have just told us now… we don’t believe you have schizophrenia. You have bipolar, a disorder that is very treatable with medication. As you have heard, people who have it often lead normal lives.” There is a long pause. The unexplainable expression on his face with his glasses and dark hair, my open chart in his hands, becomes ingrained into my memory as he looks up at me. Words fail me.

Tears begin to trickle as I rapture straight from this hell in a steady crescendo. I never cried so hard from within, and I soon find myself going someplace else, feeling my front shirt collar and chest becoming damp. I am confused beyond my understanding, experiencing so many emotions at once I never thought possible at the same time. Shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, relief, clarity, and joy overwhelm me. My thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories well up in small streams flowing from my broken soul out of my eyes. My head becomes silent for once and my pale, bleeding heart warms up and settles down inside my chest, the throbbing infection washed away with saline from my soul.

Slowly, my mind speaks: “I’m bipolar… and I can lead a normal life someday.”

My heart realizes: “It all makes sense, now.”

photo credit: nicholasjon via photopin cc

Realistic Expectations

The subtle bipolar storm
The bipolar storm

Amidst the storm surrounding my diagnosis, my grandpa said, “realistic expectations” to everyone. I didn’t know what it meant but tried to follow that advice anyways, and later I understood. It is an important concept to have when one is going through hard times, and when one needs to grow and get his or her act together. Other parts of the storm included difficult relationship problems, work, school, interests, taking care of myself, figuring out this bipolar problem, and moving on. Realistic expectations are healthy expectations. Not great expectations or low expectations. If you have one of those, you may end up dying instead of growing.

photo credit: .Andi. via photopin cc

Reflections – My Growth Spurt

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chiotsrun/5187045259/
Finally, after all this time in the ground…

When I mention a growth spurt, I don’t mean the nine inches I grew in eighth grade. I’m talking about my life’s current season, growing from within and seizing every opportunity to branch out. Bipolar put my life on hold for seven years from age 17 to 24. The vital truths I learned then were that I am not my illness but have it, and becoming familiar with my “strain” of bipolar. During the following three years since age 24, I found myself.

Reflecting on the past four months, I now realize I inadvertently decided to make some life changes. Such changes were impossible for me before, until I learned that change comes from within. In order to make new friends and form new relationships, I must silently call out to people from within. When I did, people came, both new faces and people I’ve known for a while, and I followed my intuitions.

Writing became a much higher priority, as my inner desire is to speak out about bipolar, mental illness, and share my experiences. Much of this is in keeping journals and keeping this blog when I can. Meditation taught me I have more control over my body, and I can lose weight because I want to. I’ve now lost over 30 pounds in 2 1/2 months! My career opportunities may be expanding as well, as I desire to have greater responsibility for my life.

With all of this being said, I mentioned in a recent post that I’m planning on telling my parents I’m not a Christian. That was my idea, and I know it to be the wrong thing to do. Why? It’s out of context. I don’t want to ruin this growth by nipping it in the bud before it blooms. I’m enjoying the season, every day of it, and I shall see it through. No one knows how my parents will react, and I’m still dependent on them financially. Also, it would cause them and my extended family great pain to hear this news. Anguish would be wrought upon me in dealing with their feelings myself. I cannot stress enough how deep the Christian convictions run in my family. As much as I want to come clean with my faith to everyone, now is not the right time or place.

To those who are suffering right now from bipolar, I feel your pain. I encourage you to press on and never do it alone. I hope this might be some encouragement for you in that there is hope of not only becoming a normally functioning human being, but that your trials indeed turn to gold. Your pain is the price you pay to be extraordinary later on. I assure you it’s worth the cost.

Thank you, everyone who has read part of my blog, and especially to those who have followed or given feedback and support! I appreciate it. Seize the day!

photo credit: Chiot’s Run via photopin cc

1 Week Followup – Zyprexa Change

So I’m going on my first week of reducing my dose of Zyprexa from 2.5mg to 1.25mg. I haven’t noticed much of a difference other than I have more energy and I’m able to concentrate better. Also, meditation is coming easier. Maybe I can go off it in a few months 🙂 I guess I’ve evaded all the pitfalls of the last dose reduction I had.

The Impossible Miracles of Normalcy

Journal Entry 7/6/08, 22 years old, 4.5 years after diagnosis.

Right now I’m normal headed towards mania because I haven’t taken my meds properly and it’s that time of year for my mood to swing up.

I feel oddly not liberated, but snuffed, decomposed, old, frail, lost, worthless. My drive I always knew is gone, I despise it, loathe it. My only source of creativity is what I write here perhaps these entire past few months; this year if it weren’t for that manic spurt I had earlier. I fail at finding work and jobs on my own. I work for dad’s office now, and I’m even slacking at that. I grow fat on fat food, and non stop video game sessions. My computer is now broken so I watch TV in the meantime.

I feel people take sympathy for me; worry that my roommates talk about me behind their backs about my laziness, poor hygiene, room cleanliness, eating habits, wearing the same clothes every day, day after day.

Where does drive come from? Success? Hard work? I’m “normal” now for me. I used to be able to live, touch, and taste these things. But now, they are out there, irreducibly complex. Routines scream at me and I can’t get up and keep up with them.

Then comes my future. How could I possibly understand what I want if I’ve been bipolar since early childhood? I’ve proven how clever and deceitful I can be with hiding my symptoms when I want to, bordering on if not becoming a criminal mind. I’ve dropped that now, it seems – it’s all lost to me, exhausting to even try to start to think about and in that mindset. But I have been doing that my whole life. I’m 22 years old, and truly a complete loser – parents pay everything, I’m slow, outdated, dry, lack interests, perverted, I smoke… At least I don’t drink much, have sex, or do drugs…

The point is I feel dead without those loopy chemicals. Perhaps the way I handle it now, I really am dead. How do I get past this? I sense that will be the under-attended direction that keeps popping up in my thoughts in the future. Will I ever figure out the miracles of normalcy, in work, routines? I’m scared I never will.

John Raymond – The TV and the Angels

The second story about a boy I met in the crisis stabilization unit during my first break. Later, I learned to call him, “John Raymond.”

_____________________________

Here I am, sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair as I flip through the TV channels with the remote. All the usual: news, weather, cartoons, soap operas. I settle for the weather, as I know I haven’t been outside for the past several days nor will I be outside soon. I’m on lock down. I lean back and try to relax just this once.

Then he comes in, that boy, as darkness and pestilence trickles over my inner being and seeps in. I suffer silently and try to ignore him but I can’t keep him out. I look him in his unusually dark eyes as he stands behind me in the corner of the small room. The TV feels different and the sound cuts out. I look back and the caption feature turns on. A black subtitle box appears, filling almost the entire screen with obscene text images scrolling across the TV from right to left. I check for the remote and it’s in my hand. I hadn’t pushed anything and the caption button doesn’t work.

The boy starts laughing hysterically. He pierces me in the eyes with his look and thoughts appear in the forefront in my mind: “Give up! Follow me, and you will have great powers. Denounce Him! You are better than Him!” With all my will and calling upon Christ, the thoughts stop. Not a word is spoken between us.

The TV then switches to the news and the subtitle box shrinks to normal size with normal captions. I don’t feel relief at all, as sure enough the words then begin hailing Satan for the atrocities in the Middle East, the topic of the news special. They then transition into some sort of evil-sounding speech as I tried to pronounce it in my head, with scattered symbols here and there that seem like white noise interference. I sense the army of darkness present everywhere as I recite the evil speech internally: here in this god-forsaken w/e unit it is (not even a hospital), and in every part of the world.

The channel changes to cartoons. More white random symbols appear in the caption box and I look at the boy. He’s staring very intently at me with his body in a contorted posture. I draw my attention to the TV and right before my eyes, there is a story appearing in the captions in front of me: a combination of the visuals in the cartoon, my thoughts, and my deepest fears and darkest secrets, all in a seamless,  flowing story of a most obscene nature. Then it describes how and when I die, relating to the cartoon visuals and elaborates on the mess I make after I slit my wrists up the middle in the bathroom.

I clench the remote and try everything I can: turning off captions, changing channel, turning off the TV, all to no prevail. I remind myself that God never gives me more than I can handle. I can do this!

I push the power button on the TV, but it snaps right back on… once, twice, three times. I pull the plug and the image disappears, the remote in my hands the entire time. The boy then makes a fantastic feat with his body in a most unusual contortion and grins. His faded eyes roll back in his head as he begins a deep, dark seance.

The unplugged TV turns on to white noise with evil sounds coming out of it getting progressively louder. I look up a the monitor and an image of a creature begins to appear that I recognize as demonic from an encounter I had previously. I shriek. This is about to make me do something stupid, and look at the new staff member I’d never seen before and mouth, “help!” as I didn’t want to appear crazy and start yelling.

She glances over her shoulder at the boy and he topples over. She yells, “That’s enough!” and the TV shuts off. Darkness and pestilence morph into shalom in a dovetail heartbeat. I never saw that worker again, and wonder to this day if she was an angel.

John Raymond – Card Tricks

During my first break in the crisis stabilization unit, I met a young boy who was what I believed at the time to be demonically disturbed. He had the ability to look at me and incite torment, along with putting his body in grotesque postures while channeling negative energy where he pleased. I have a few stories about him, and this is one of them.

_____________________________

The care provider orders me to go into HIS room, the young boy’s room, and she slams the door after I get in. I hear a commotion outside and I see my roommate through the window as he flies by on a wheeled stretcher, going into shock.

Must have been that bag of white powder he snuck in upon arrival, which I retorted to him, “That must not be powdered sugar.”

“No.”

Fortunately, the boy is sleeping. However, as time passes, I feel a different presence take part of this boy. He is covered in scars from I don’t know what. I feel peace now, instead of torment and agony, and he wakes up. He and I are on the same wavelength.

He grins at me and picks up a fresh deck of cards. The boy must be only 12 or 13 at most. We start to play Indian poker, and I notice that he is winning every time. I ask him how he’s cheating! He explains to me that he is not, and I know that something was going on. Somehow, he knows what his card is – at which point he says, “You have that power, too.”

Next, he does a card trick. The simple – pick a card, any card and I’ll find it for you. This time, I hold the deck, shuffle it, and I pick a card. I look at it, and place it in the deck and shuffle a few times. He then takes the cards from me, feels the cards and pulls out my card every time. “How is that possible?” He does this to every card I choose, no matter how thoroughly I hide it in the deck. He tells me to pick another card, but the moment I look at it he tells me what card it is. I check for mirrors, inspect the deck for sliders and marks; nothing! He says to me, “You have that power, too.”

I felt a tug of war inside of me, one side explaining that I’m crazy and this is all nonsense, while the other explains that I do have faith and all of this is real in its own way. One side explains to me that this is the devil’s trickery, while the other says that I have God’s blessing to listen to this boy. After enduring his hell placed upon me, I’m in the light. Listen.

He looks me in the eyes, takes a deep breath, and closes them. “Know the card,” he says. I shuffle the deck thoroughly. I feel as though I’m letting him into my thoughts a little and I pick up a card. The moment I see it, he tells me what it is, and again. “Don’t look at it! That makes it too easy for me!” He then recites several cards to me without anyone looking at them, every time, then faster than I can pick them up – all correct. Somehow, I am on the same wavelength and I understand. I just have to use the same impulse what I call “faith” and know what card it is.

He starts me with Indian poker. I place the card on my forehead, and struggle to convince myself that I know what the card is without getting anywhere. The boy says, “You’re doing it wrong – have faith.” Ok, so I can’t know, but I can have faith that I know. I feel as though a new muscle in my mind twitches and the card is what it is.

I am able to know what each card is in Indian poker, and the card trick as well.

Then I arrive at the point where the boy shuffles the deck, and pulls up one card at at a time. I start slowly, but recite as though saying a sentence all of the cards he pulls up till I’m looking at him and he’s not looking at the cards. The rest of the cards follow in a stream of faces and suits and I recite the remainder in the order of the deck.

The boy is laughing and grinning very big at this point. “Now,” he says, “Keep shuffling till you know you stop.” I shuffled several times, cutting it, and shuffling, until something felt very much in order. I rearrange a few cards blindly. “Done,” I inform him. “Deal us in.” Queen, Ten, King, Jack, and Ace of spades for me. Full house for him.

The boy, exhausted, climbs back into bed. He looks me in the eye and I see visions of ancient people invade my thoughts, and he informs me, “Call me John Raymond. My mom calls me that,” then falls asleep.

When he wakes up, I call him “John Raymond,” and he snaps into a perfectly normal, sweet young boy: not a demon or a prophet.

Opening Up to My Aunt

This post is on the personal side, even for me. At my extended family gathering yesterday, I had an opportunity to talk one on one with one of my aunts. We’re both introverted at heart and needed to go downstairs to recharge, where we start talking.

We start off with the topic of losing weight as that’s something we’re both striving for. This leads to a discussion of my mental health and my medications. I explain to her where I am at, and she says she had no idea because I have left her in the dark. I tell her it wasn’t her fault as she tried to reach out and I pushed her away. She says to me, that my old self became lost and I turned into a different person after my initial trauma occurred ten years ago. I agree with her, and I’m inadvertently trying to get some of the good parts back of my old self.

She’s incredibly happy that I feel the way I do about my bipolar, that it is a very small part of me that I don’t think about other than here or in private conversations from time to time. She says it seemed to define me before, but not so anymore – not at all. I also share my desire to reach a point where I can go back to school and pursue a career in writing – at least give it a shot, if you will.

She suggests that I write down my story according to exactly how I feel first, and go from there. It’s hard for me to do that, as this involves real people whom I love and are close to me, and to share that stuff with certain parties would ruin them. The main one being that my mom played a very big role in pushing me over the deep end early and initially. I know that going over the deep end would be inevitable, but that’s how things went down. My aunt points out I need to get these feelings out sometime that I hold tight to in order to protect others, that it’s not good to keep them in. I know I’ve shared plenty with my therapist, but that’s different than sharing it with family or friend.

I also realize, something I failed to tell my aunt yesterday, that I pushed her away because of other extreme extended family drama from ten years ago and I feared I would repeat that pattern by opening up to her about my feelings.

It’s taken 10 years for me to have a truly meaningful personal conversation with extended family like that. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.