Guest Blogger – Becky Bee – I have bipolar, I am bipolar.

I have bipolar.
I am bipolar.

For me, those two sentences say two different things.  I would always say that “I have bipolar” whereas many, with equally valid reasoning, would be fine with saying “I am bipolar”.  Here, I look at both these choices, not to dictate how people should or shouldn’t describe their experience of their own conditions, but to explore what each says about what it means to experience a mental health issue.

A friend of mine, who is autistic, has explained to me that, while he wouldn’t mind being called “a person with depression” (as opposed to “a depressive”) he prefers to refer to himself as “autistic” rather than as “a person who has autism”.  This is because he feels that, while depression is a condition that may fluctuate and change, autism is a constant.  It is essential to how he views and interacts with the world.

Like his depression, my bipolar fluctuates.  Not just between highs and lows, but through periods of stability.  The reason I say I “have” rather than “am” bipolar is largely due to not wanting to be defined by an illness.  You can’t be Chrons’ disease, or IBS or even flu, so why should you be bipolar? Why should you be anything at all?  It boils down to which things affect my world view, and which don’t.  Does an illness affect who you are?  In some ways no. But in some ways yes, as I’ll describe below.

In part it’s a problem of language.  I am mixed race, am a lesbian, am a woman, am a writer.  Are those things essential to my experience of the world?  Sure, each of these things has affected my experience of the world, but is any of them essential?  You could argue either way.  Yet it’s much harder to say “I have a mixed heritage”, “I have a sole attraction to women”, “I have a female gender identification” or simply “I write”.  Maybe claiming that I have, rather than am, bipolar is more a matter of semantics.

I don’t think so.

I like to think of myself as having certain qualities, rather than as being defined by them, and bipolar is one.  Bipolar is something that has caused me hurt, and loss, and distress and I would rather, in an ideal world, that it not be integral to who I am as a person (note, that doesn’t mean I would rather not have/ be bipolar).  I would prefer not to be defined by some of the worst moments of my life and for me, saying that I “am” bipolar suggests that I must be defined by the illness and, therefore, of the many ways in which it has affected my life.

If I am bipolar, to me that suggests that bipolar is something essential to me, that it has a constant and long-lasting effect on my world-view and on my way of being in the world.  Does it?

I have to say that in some ways it does.  I have experienced mental health difficulties from a very young age.  Whether inside or outside of an episode, I am ever-vigilant of my own mood.  Aside from the introspective element, does bipolar- when under control- affect my way of seeing/ being in the world?

I think that, like my ethnicity and gender and sexuality, bipolar has informed my way of understanding the world.  It has also shaped the way in which the world has affected me.  There are forms of discrimination and misunderstanding that I would not have experienced has I not been (or had) gay, mixed race, female, bipolar.  Experiences shape perception.  At some point the two become intertwined and your experience in the world becomes your experience of the world.  For my autistic friend, autism has always shaped both his perception of the world and his interactions and experiences within it, as my bipolar has for me.

Although I don’t think I am limited to the confines of an illness, I do need to recognize that it is in some ways integral to my experiences, behaviors and traits.  As such, I am learning to feel more comfortable with people saying that I am rather than have bipolar because I can’t always tell where I end and it begins… and that isn’t always a bad thing.

What do you think?

By and © 2015, Becky Bee, All Rights Reserved

Bio:

Becky Bee is a coffee-loving, running-inspired writer living in London.  She keeps a blog at www.balfourthrb.wordpress.com, covering all manner of issues around mental health, sexuality and other issues. She is also writing a novel, a sort of lesbian Bridget Jones.  When not writing or running, she spends her time trying unsuccessfully to beat her girlfriend at Scrabble.

You can find her blog at: www.balfourthrb.wordpress.com

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Guest Blogger – Bipolar Brainiac – The ‘waiting game’ is ours to win.

My Current antidepressant stopped working. Now, I can stop worrying about when it’s going to!!!  (laugh track) What? A joke at a time like this? Seriously? Seriously.

I’m bleeding tears right now. If I don’t find some humor in this repetitious routine of manic, depressed, manic, etc, I’ll opt out.  Of it all. ‘But no,’ I think. What will happen to the new friends I am making? How will my choice to accept defeat lying down affect their recovery?

Sometimes when someone dies, it makes the rest of us stronger, but I remember two recent ‘accidental overdose’ (suicides) that left me scared to death. It filled me with terror because the proximity of them taking ‘the final option’ crept closer to my consciousness. I won’t do that to others, I remembered thinking at the time of their deaths.  Considering my circumstances, since I’ve begun to feel better, taking myself out would be very selfish of me.

On this last episode, I was on a new antidepressant Brintellix. It works on eight neurotransmitters.  It was like driving an 18 wheeler tractor trailer through a barn.  I had been feeling so strong. I got seven good months out of it and suddenly, one day, the bottom fell out and I was angry. I felt cheated. I drank for a week. (Oops!)  My good friends thought I needed a hospital, but if I did that, my family would push me even further away than they already have. Do you think in my family of five sisters that I ever get invited to get togethers?

Never. I’m the black sheep, even though I tow a rough road. They don’t want it anywhere near them. The do not want to understand this disease or accept the fact that a bipolar person never actually gets ‘well,’ only better or worse.

But still, I feel defrauded.   When I was inpatient for 60 days back in 1989 and also the 60 day inpatient in 2000, and in various IOP programs of length,  I was told to take these drugs ‘the rest of my life’ and to take them ‘as directed.’ I did so.  I quit drinking. I feel I’ve done my part. But I’m drowning. And tired. Exhausted of the drill.  I’ve had 10 bipolar relapses due to something the doctors forget to tell you about when you walk out the door with the prescription:  ‘medication fatigue’ or ‘Prozac Poopouts,’ as they are clinically giggled about. Sometimes I feel that we are less than human to them. Giggling ? When someone is in their office behind closed doors, crying out for help? Seriously.  I’ve given hospitals a wide berth after this. I trust my psychiatrist of 15 years and that’s about it.

I think I should widen my circle a bit. That’s what I am trying to do now.

I go through my life as a ghost, worrying about when these antidepressants will ‘stop’ working and I’ll be right back here, binge watching television again, not wanting to cook for myself.  I haven’t been to the gym in 7 weeks. I used to work out for an hour and a half, chasing the endorphins and it never comes. I just quit going. I don’t like lifting weights and riding the life cycle just to do so. I can just as well read the newspaper on my couch at home. Takes less time.

These days, even though there are support groups aplenty, I Google a lot to find out about certain medications, how they work and to see if there are  new ones on the horizon for us. The answer?  There are tons of drugs in the pipeline. They are even working with “Vitamin K” you know, animal tranquilizer, to be given as a last resort in a safe, prescribe-able form, to people with Major Depressive Disorder, who respond to nothing else. And then, there is always ECT.  Ooops. That’s a thought that makes me think I’m getting better already! No, seriously, from what I have read, ECT has come a long way and it’s done on an outpatient basis. They only do one side of the brain and if I was up against long term depression, which I was once, for an entire year, I would do it. I’d do anything to save my life, even when it feels like it’s not worth a nickel.

By and © 2015, Bipolar Brainiac, All Rights Reserved

Bio:

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Bipolar Brainiac (AKA known as Allison Strong..her radio name) was a Stanford scholarship Volleyball player.  She lived in Los Angeles for a year, appearing in Television Commercials, TV and the occasional very small part in a movie.  She had her first manic episode in 1989 and had her mother send out tapes and resumes to Salt Lake City radio stations. She got hired right out of the psych ward! Full Time, Benefits. It wasn’t her favorite station, so she then segued into Alternative Radio during the 90’s,  where she was able to play songs about being depressed and songs about aggression and anger and all sorts of things not previously heard on the radio. It was an exciting decade.  She moved to Florida, studied Medical Transcription and did that for a while until she was felled by  a nasty depression that lasted two years. She applied for disability and got it immediately. She is a mental health advocate as a speaker and a writer. She lives with her husband and two cats, in Hollywood Florida.

You can follow Bipolar Brainiac on twitter @bipolarbrainiac

You can find her blog at: https://bipolarbrainiac.wordpress.com/

Guest Blogger – Writing of Passage – Like a Crazy Train

The Godfather of Heavy Metal, Mr. Ozbourne himself, said it right, when he sang about “going off the rails like a crazy train”. Would almost make you wonder if he had this disorder in mind.

I’ve lived with bipolar disorder (tentatively bipolar II) for over twenty years. I’ve been diagnosed for less than 1 of those. What bipolar means to me now as opposed to what it meant all those years when I never knew it existed is completely different. For years I thought I was crazy, maybe a little insane. I felt I didn’t belong anywhere; my own family felt like strangers, adult figures seemed like aliens from another planet, and my friends, foreigners who spoke a different language. I didn’t quite fit anywhere- not at home or at school. I didn’t quite mesh with anyone- something was always a little off. I was a little off.

Who was I? Where did I belong? And what the hell was wrong me with me?

Some answers came last year when, after a complete and total breakdown that nearly landed me in the hospital, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I still wasn’t sure who I was or where I belonged, in many ways I’m still not, but I do know now what is “wrong” with me. After more than 2 decades of living in what was sometimes pure hell, or always being afraid that people who learn of my “secret”, of wanting to die at times while wanting to rule the world at others, I finally know and understand why.

My earliest signs of bipolar, back when I didn’t know what the word even meant or that the condition existed, was my dramatic changes in mood, behavior, and even personality. I would go off the rails, from one extreme low or high to another, time and time again.

My lows were typical bipolar depression, with a side of teenage angst, a dash of dysfunctional family and more than a hint of verbal abuse. I was a mess, although you would never have guessed by looking at the energetic, happy, outgoing teenage shell that I inhabited. I was a cutter, hiding my wounds beneath trendy shirts and sweaters. I tried to end my life several times, explaining away the missed days of school as girl problems or a stomach bug. I was clever in not letting the world see the the angry, hurting, truly and utterly fucked up person beneath the surface of the smiling, doe eyed teenage girl.

My high phases were, again, typical bipolar highs, or mania. It was during these periods when I managed to get into, and often cause, the most trouble. I drank a lot, partied hard, dabbled in drugs, flirted with far too many and often very inappropriate boys or men, experimented with members of the same sex, got into fights, and made one bad decision after another. My family life was turmoil most days as it was, but my behavior often made things worse. I was saucy and rude, rebellious and mean. At school I managed to keep up a pleasant facade, my secret guarded well. My parents couldn’t control me. I couldn’t control me.

I often wonder how different my life would have been had I been diagnosed and treated back in my early teen years when things started to go astray. Where would I be today if it had? How would my life now be different? One can only wonder. I suffered in silence for so many years, years that I can never get back, that this disorder has robbed from me. Years spent going off the rails like a crazy train.

By and © 2015, Writing of Passage, All Rights Reserved

Bio:

Writing of Passage is a Thirty-something year old. Single mom of 2. Survivor.

You can find Writing of Passage at her blog here:  https://writingofpassage.wordpress.com/