Just Snap Out of It

Society has developed some seriously bad attitudes toward mental illness.  It’s no surprise.  We see it attached to the stigma of it.  We’re treated like lepers, as if this were a terribly contagious thing.

Depression is no exception.  Today, a lot of people have been discussing the topic of the “Just Snap Out of It” phenomenon that occurs out there.  Honestly, there is a saying out there about how if a person hasn’t experienced it, then they can never truly know.  A person who hasn’t experienced clinical depression, either in the form of MDD or BP depression can never truly know it’s depth and breadth.  It is an all encompassing monster that claims every last bit of life and any possible joy that can come from it.

Having Bipolar Disorder, I am a person who naturally experiences some sometimes pretty obvious mood swings.  And the attitudes toward it are so completely off.  I have never had a person treat me poorly while I was in a manic episode.  Not one.  Not even when the plainly awful behaviors were showing.  Each person seemed to find it charming, amusing, or interesting.  Even when there were moments where I was so out of control that I was scared out of my wits, not a single person around me seemed to notice that there was something absolutely wrong with it.

No, my energy and spirits were high.  I would act impulsively, and people would take it as spontaneity.  I’d be overly, annoyingly chatty, and rudely interrupting others, but they took it as being outgoing.  Everyone seemed to think that was a sign that I wasn’t depressed anymore.  They seemed to think that it was some kind of miraculous recovery from “being like that”.

People only seem to take notice when I am depressed or mixed, like it’s some kind of disease that I choose to be afflicted with.  And the comments are absolutely endless, because everyone seems to have their own opinion about it.  It’s as if they consider themselves to be the authority on depression, anxiety and sadness in general. I will constantly hear phrases like, “Get over it” and “Get a grip” as if just snapping out of it were an option for me.

Meanwhile, people without mental health diagnoses start flinging clinical terms around, like they had some true application to their fleeting, shallow emotion.  For instance, “Oh, I’m so *bipolar* today”, instead of just saying that they are moody, or women arbitrarily making a comparison between PMS and Bipolar Disorder.   Or “I’ve just been so depressed lately”, to reference a little bit of discontent or sadness.

It’s not cute. It’s not funny. No one with those diagnoses thinks that it’s witty that someone is taking a serious clinical term with so much guilt and stigma that it could bring down a religion, and applying it to their BS, frivolous emotions!

It does everything it can to minimize those conditions.  It puts it in a light that we have some kind of real control over it.  As if it were something that a person can just “snap out of”.  It implies that a person chooses to be disordered.  It also puts a shameful connotation of attention seeking behavior.

Yeah, it’s the life, let me tell you. If I were doing anything for attention, it wouldn’t be this. It would probably be something more hilarious, like plastering myself with an obscenely worded banner and rollerblading through Downtown. Depression isn’t newsworthy, but that sure is.  Or maybe I’d be doing something a little more productive or noteworthy, like finding a cure for cancer.  But no, my depression is just that interesting that I would choose to gain that much needed attention from people I don’t even know or care about.

I have to wonder if the general public has to be so naive that they would actually be jealous over it.  So much emphasis is put on the “just get over it” ideals, as if that were possible. If I could will myself out of this state, don’t you think I would do it already? It would be more logical to think that I want to reclaim my life and be a productive person.  But no, according to others who are ignorant enough of mental illness, I am perfectly content to have disordered behaviors.   Sure, who doesn’t love ignoring their kid because the voices just got too loud? Personally, I love gripping my ears and screaming, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!!”

And as a result of this blatant ignorance, I am really starting to believe that some are just plain jealous.  Because, they seem to think that those with disorder aren’t being responsible for their emotions and behaviors that result.  I certainly have quarrels with wanting to thrust a sense of selfishness and entitlement out there, because it’s what I have to do to take care of myself and my own in this world.  It’s those same people that shove themselves and their ideals down other people’s throats, only to make them feel bad. Misery loves company, and we’re perfect targets, right?

The point is this.  If a person is out there reading this and getting offended, it’s time to take a step back and think hard.  Is it so fair to be so judgmental?  Isn’t it about time to take a look from another perspective?  Does a person with a congenital disorder choose to be symptomatic?  It would be an entirely different story if I were refusing treatment, but like anyone else, I am keeping my appointments and taking my medication according to doctors orders.  We don’t blame someone for their symptoms when they have a seizure.  Why should this be any different?

Let me assure everyone.  If could have snapped out of this disorder and been a “normal” person, I may have done it, instead of living this ongoing nightmare.

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Vitamin L : Medication Adventures

Lamictal.  The one drug that I can say that we’ve all been on at one point or another in our adventures with medication.

Pardon me, my aphasia is showing with a little dash of emotional flattening.

I’m having difficultly remembering how to spell things.  You wouldn’t know it, because there is a such thing as spell check just for this purpose (but not solely).  My emotions are at such a level that I don’t actually feel.  It’s closer to a favorite pair of jeans where the dye has just completely washed out.  The jeans still look good, but they are faded and muted.  That’s me.  Faded and muted.

I can’t write intelligently like I did before.  Everything just comes pouring out like word vomit, because I can’t hang on to a thought for longer than a moment.  It’s a miracle that I can put anything coherent together.

The landscape of my technicolor world washed away into an old movie reel.  It’s so surreal.  Once, I was the flowing turquoise waters of the seas, ever changing, always in motion.  Now, I am the cracked earth, immobile and silent.  And ever so slowly, I am drying up and eroding, existing without life rooted in me.  Only the empty air whistles in my mind, catching a faint tune here and there, only to carry it away.

Moments come in flashes.  I am engrossed and deeply engaged for just a few seconds before I am distracted by something nonsensical.

Stop.  Sip of coffee.  What was I doing again?  I reread my last passage, and I am stumped, because it seems futile to even continue.  What is the point I am trying to convey with such vague and poorly worded imagery?

That was my world for the last month, prior to the last couple of weeks.  That is my life today, a translucent figure shrouded by shadows, discontent with such a shackled self.

That was not my life over the past couple of days.  That is how I narrowed down what medicine was doing this to me.  I was starting to run out of Lamictal, my Vitamin L as it’s commonly called in the mental health community (not to be confused with the Vitamin L of Lithium).  I lowered my dose from 300 mg to 200 mg in order to make it through successfully.

Except, there was no success to be had.  I went straight back into the same mixed episode I’ve been a slave to for more than nine months.  It was almost as bad as before, sans the psychosis.  I referred to it as Energetically Sad.  The story of my life.  I went into several crying fits a day, panicked and shouting the same phrase again and again,

“I can’t do this!!!  I can’t do this!!!”

Not again.  Not again.  Not again.

I can’t do this again.

Ultimately, I grabbed my precious medicine and dosed. The distress was immeasurable. I needed relief from that hell, the one I had endured for far too long.

But, I realized I’m not experiencing relief. I’m experiencing escape. My mind goes into a state of partial shutdown, leaving me no real clarity in any aspect. My consciousness is jagged, disjointed, and blurry, at best.

I experience slow motion waves of hollow, but shallow depression. Futility is found at every turn. The shadows seem deeper and more defined, like menacing sillouttes in the distance. I can’t shake them, but they can’t seem to touch me. They nip at my heels, and send ripples of darkness through me, infecting every molecule. And in a few moments, it passes, the poison having been purged.

At first, I thought it was just me. It felt like a new state altogether, like anxiety masked by a tight cloth, rustling, deperately seeking an outlet. It had the face of depression, leaving me dispondent and uninspired. But no true symptoms existed. Not in the desperate, deep dark places I’ve been. I stood in a parellel existence unlike anything I’ve ever known.

And then I thought, “Is this what it’s like to be better?” Dullness and mild discontent.

It’s not.

It’s the medication.

So, that leaves me with two very undesirable states. Perpetual distress or muted depression and anxiety. One zaps my everything, making me too medicated to function. The other disrupts my life with meltdowns, only making me partially functional.

One little pill is what makes the world of difference. My vitamin L.

Conditional Conditions

I was having a fantastic time at Tang Soo Do class last night.  I excelled in techniques that were far above my level.  I was really doing well with jump kicks and then, POP!  I landed on my knee wrong, and here I am.

Mental health disorders with limitations are difficult enough on their own.  I find that I am unable to just go to the mall.  I have to plan, and take a Xanax or two well in advance.  The same is true for many other crowded public places.  Forget concerts, bars, clubs, and occasionally anywhere within Pittsburgh City Limits.  Even the idea of attending an event is overwhelming, fiercely bashing my panic button.  It’s enough of a deterrent on its own.

Phobias often limit places I go and events I attend.  Social anxiety often limits my capacity for meeting new people and maintaining friendships.  And bipolar disorder comes with it’s own special set of challenges.

Bipolar disorder has proven to globally stunt me, from the disorder itself preventing me from having stable relationships and jobs to the medication causing aphasia, making it difficult to express my own thoughts.  “My memory ain’t what it used to be,” although it was never stellar in the first place.  I find it challenging to create new short term memories and even sometimes long term memory is kind of foggy.

Depression and mania, in their own respects, both cripple my ability to function.  In depression, I have a tendency to isolate myself, causing my relationships to go sour quickly.  I find that the state of depression and the behaviors associated with it are generally a mystery to others.  Since it is so misunderstood, people may start attributing it to life events incorrectly.  And when the depression doesn’t subside, others become short with me, occasionally to the point of ignoring me.  No one likes a wet blanket, so to speak.

Depression also causes me to lose interest in activities I used to find enjoyable.  Worse, I become disinterested in work and start to have issues with the processing speed of my cognition.  I cannot focus on a particular task, and most situations become completely overwhelming.  In short, I feel like I am unable to handle my life any longer.

Mania is a horse of a different color.  In certain types of mania, I become overly social to the point of being overbearing, blunt, attention-seeking, and needy.  It puts an extreme burden on friends and family.  In euphoric mania, I will demand my impulses be satisfied without a thought to how it will affect anyone else.  Contrastingly, in dysphoric mania, I will become enraged at the slightest thing, real or imagined.  I have been known to become aggressive.

I have a tendency to become overly ambitious.  That would entail me taking on too many tasks at once, with the intent to finish them all, but with zero follow through.  This is especially detrimental to my work, seeing as how I find it next to impossible to sit still, or remain on one task for any significant duration of time.  I will demand immediate satisfaction, and have an inclination to become aggressive with co-workers.

With psychosis involved, there is a whole new ball game.  In psychosis, my grasp on reality starts to loosen.  I will insist that conversations took place that never actually did.  I will invent ulterior motives from suspicion generated by delusion.  Or, contrastingly, I will assert myself incorrectly by insisting I am infallible and all-knowing.  In the worst instances, I have had delusions of being a time traveler, not living in this reality but in an overlapping parallel reality.  Psychosis makes typical functioning next to impossible.

Mixed states provide a variety of issues drawing from both mania and depression, respectively, but also brings other unique symptoms and behaviors to the surface.  In mixed states, I often suffer from dissociation and splitting.  It’s as if my mind cannot handle the overload of external stimuli that provokes and emotional response, therefore I dissociate.  Occasionally, I have been prone to partial dissociative amnesia, where events that took place become only vague in my memory.  I have been known to have multiple personas, and in the most distressful of moments, my dominant persona becomes pushed into a partially conscious state as a disgruntled, passive observer to the actions and behaviors of the alternate persona.

As if these conditions are not serious enough on their own, they can be aggravated by a physical illness or injury.  I am experiencing a lot of emotional turbulence over this knee injury.  First, I am panicked that I did not receive professional medical attention.  I am wearing a brace from my last visit to the ER for a similar condition, but I obsessively worry that I may be using it incorrectly.  I am putting a small amount of weight on it, and it occasionally hurts pretty badly.  I worry that I am doing more harm than good.

Secondly, I am embarrassed over the injury that happened in the middle of class.  In short, I landed wrong during the jump kick and felt my knee give out.  I feel like a complete rookie, although I am only a white belt at this time.  As I am very sure that many people have gotten injured before, I still feel like it is maybe too big of a deal.

Next, I feel guilty that my husband had to spend his entire night driving back to 511, our old home, to retrieve my knee brace.  Why didn’t I have the presence of mind to bring that knee brace when I am well aware that I have life long knee problems?  It seemed like an entire night wasted, all over a silly injury I probably could have prevented, had I been more careful.

And lastly, I feel helpless.  I am responsible for supervising my child while my husband is off at work for nine or ten hours a day.  I am terrified that I am not going to be adequate to care for him properly.  I am unable to move around, therefore my function is limited.  Mostly, I will likely be confined to a sitting position for most of the day.  I am at the mercy of others.

All it takes it one spark.

Clarity of Chaos

We sat together, alone on a Friday night.  What an atypical Friday night, without people hanging from our rafters and music blaring.  A couple of cans of beer and a pack of cigarettes were the only occupants of the old grainy table with red paint peeling.  I chipped at it a little carelessly while watching him intently.  It was him and me, peacefully alone, deep in light, airy conversation.

I was mildly distracted by the clarity of his voice.  No ambient noise of idle chatter engulfed his words.  They slipped from his full pink petal lips, with the crispness of mildly intoxicated honesty, confessions from a fortress of a man.  He explained his position, the station in which he found himself in within his own self.  My ears perked up at the heaviness of the content, and I felt the weight shifting from a crushing burden of existence onto him, sliding onto the table, begging for me to grasp it.

All I had desired, each last truth and beautiful, intimate moment sat before me, ready for my embrace.  However, I failed to understand the dimensions of it.  He began to clarify, “I need you.”

Befuddled, “Need me how?”

“I need to be with you.  I want more time with you.”

Those two sentences struck me with the force of a wrecking ball, crumbling every wall throughout each layer, penetrating me into a sweet surrender.  Simple words completely ravished me, turning my entire world on it’s ear.  And in this entire duration of the last six months, I had been none the wiser.

I wrote an article for A Canvas of the Mind entitled, “Disorder and Love: What We Do and Don’t Know” It went into a detailed analysis of relationships and how disorder can come to affect them.  I wrote:

Mental health disorders have a way of putting blinders on a person.  I have to say, there are a lot of things in this world that I miss.  Whether it’s because I’m wrapped up in my own head, or I have one of the different shades of the multiple pairs of glasses I don on, I know that my own perceptions are often distorted.  In short, I miss things.  Sometimes, I miss very important things.

I am not one to take a hint.  So, one of those subtle things, such as love, often slip past me or whiz over my head.

This admission was far beyond my own powers of perception, interpretation, and insight.  Riding a ten year roller coaster of various states and natures of friendships and romantic partnership, I came to expect that no further surprises existed.  He had seen me in the worst of lights, beyond any imagination of my own personal wreckage.  This is just as he had seen me in my greatest successes, radiantly reborn each time out of my own ashes.  And I witnessed him in his own pits, disheveled, yet hiding it well. With each crack beginning to show, every time pulling himself back into flight.  We ran our own cycles again and again.

People don’t change, they just become more so.  Murphy was sorely mistaken in this context.  And I had made some serious fallacious conclusions in this progression.

Have I folded into myself so tightly that I failed to see this?  Clearly, this desperate longing existed within him, stirring and quaking for eternities, extensively understated.  Had I walled myself into such complete introversion that existing within his own mind and heart was an impossibility?

It no longer mattered.  The blinders came off, and he had never been so radiantly focused though my own eyes.  We were unencumbered by the shackles of responsibilities and obligations.  In that moment, we were young lovers, engulfed in each other, professing each perfect droplet of affections in fine, caressing detail.  The purity of those exchange brought definition and order into our world of chaos and illusion.

That simple phrase was so multifaceted, in such a simple package with a little satin bow.  He had lost me, the pure, undistorted, unadulterated me before him now so many times.  He had lost me to our child, sacrificing so much time and energy that there was not much left to give.  Again, I disappeared into the abyss of postpartum psychosis, and dropped even further into the depths of bipolar disorder.  Each relapse must have been more inexplicably painful and confusing for him than it was for me.  A wild woman emerged in each episode of psychosis, severing him from me as reality slipped through my fingers and out of my grasp.  In the last six months, he had to have been suffering the same loneliness and mourning for the life and love we shared.

“I’m not going back there,” I assured him.  “I am better, and I will keep getting better.  We know what’s wrong with me.  And we can make me better together.  You don’t have to lose me again.”

“I just want it to be us.”

And it is.  And forever will be, us.

Invitations to Narnia : 30 Days of Truth

Day 05 : Something you hope to do in your life.

As it stands, one can find me within the wardrobe amongst the coats, between the real world and my Narnia. This is not the Narnia as others know it. It is the absolutely surreal, ever shifting landscape, containing both horrific monsters and beautiful, majestic creatures. All of that world is tucked away, within a wardrobe, in an innocuous cranny of my home. Many unsuspecting people could stroll up to it, jam their coat in, and never give this unassuming wardrobe another thought.

Lunaria

But, this world is not meant to exist tucked away.  This world lives inside of me, wrapped up in an old world map, tied with a satin ribbon.  It waits to unfurl for all of the world to see.

Snapshots of this map are contained within every word, in each piece that I carefully create.  Some have been privy to view them, scanning the terrain, gazing upon the horrors and magesty.  Others have been lucky enough to set foot on the Terra Amici, The Land of Friends, specifically set aside to welcome guests who have braved the Sea of Aliquim.  And others, those closest to me, have journeyed through the deepest, darkest places of Lunaria.

I dream of the day that I allow Lunaria to emerge from the wardrobe.  This is the day that the earth will quake around me to birth Lunaria from within.  I will invite others to explore at will, without the requirement of the confines to Terra Amici.  To brave the fiery mountains, volcanoes spewing molten rock,shifting and shaping the landscape daily.  The mountains grow higher, only to be whittled away by the erosion.  Bask in Bad Wolf Bay.  Peer deeply into Mare Demersi, but still fear to tread too closely.  Lose themselves in Vac Saltus, and navigate the sullen, sunken lands of Val Mergullado.

All of this, one day will be accessible to all.  Lunaria will rise.  I can openly narrate the tales and history of Lunaria without fear of persecution and ostracism.  I hope to accomplish my quest of bringing this all out of the wardrobe.  I want others to see what my world, one world of a woman with Bipolar Disorder looks like.  It possibly connects to other places, to weave a global patchwork of personal worlds, connecting us all, to encompass every single person who has been hiding their own Narnia.

I hope to have a voice that can bring this all to the world.  And I hope to build the strength to do it.

My Super Powers

Bipolar disorder has a way of distorting perceptions that color the world in the mood of the moment.  It might be an inconvenient truth during most times, but in mania, I can say that I sometimes find it truly fun and interesting.

 

Mania is like a teen girl that preys on my unstable sense of self and often convinces me that those half-truths are a strong reality.  In dysphoric mania or, as some clinicians think, a mixed state, those whispers can come in the form of intrusive thoughts.  However, in hypomania and euphoric mania, they come in sweet whispers of steroids for self-esteem.  They term that “delusions of grandeur”.

 

I feel like that might be an overkill kind of term for what I typically experience in milder manias, or even hypomanias.  Typically, I have enough litigation between my id and ego to come to some kind of realistic compromise between the two competing truths in my mind – “I am not particularly special,” and “I am completely unique.”  That’s just a stock version of the battle that rages in there sometimes.

 

I am led to believe that everyone has a special ability, kind of like a super power but without the super part.  However, that might just be the fluttering eye lashes and sincerity in the voice of that lovely young miss who smiles sweetly at me.   But, seriously, everyone has a unique ability that only a small population might possess.

 

Perhaps a person was born with it.  For me, the sixth sense is my unnatural empathy.  I can literally feel emotional vibrations from others.  I have termed this ability the state of being an “Empath”, after the Star Trek race of half-Betazoids.  Of course, once I Googled that term, it seems I’m not the only one that came up with that, and it’s unlikely that they derived it from the same origin.  Others might be able to accurately predict weather with the (super) power to sense slight variations in temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity.  I find that I can only smell rain and feel the magnetic field shift ever so slightly.  Some might even be clairvoyant or even psychic.  That is one (super) power I can honestly say that I have never thought to possess.

 

Others might be able to develop it.  Personally, I developed the skill to see lies.  Thanks to the show Lie to Me, based on the work of Paul Ekman, I practiced the art of recognizing and reading microexpressions.  In addition, I studied Psychology in college with an emphasis in Applied Behavioral Analysis.  In essence, I’m a behaviorist.  All of those combined allow me to see right through a person.  An ill delivered phrase, combined with a microexpression opposing their forced expression, and the nature state of being an Empath, deliver all I need to know about a person.  Unfortunately, it’s most effective when I’m having face time.  That is why I have a certain preference.

In addition, I developed the skill of deciphering a natal astrology chart.  All I need to know are the positions of the planets when a person was born, and I can translate that into a full personality workup.  I have the ability to tell people things about themselves that they were unaware even existed until they do a bit of introspection.  I’ll do my own short version workup for a bit of proof.

Ascendant:  Sagittarius

I like to appear put together and in control.  I may have ego issues and I take criticism very personally.  I am likely to be passive-aggressive with acquaintances and have a tendency to shoot verbal arrows in the attempt to start an argument.

Midheaven:  Virgo

I have a need to look unassuming.  I want to appear practical, methodical, and quiet.  To acquaintances, I seem shy and set about my business.  I want to keep things clean and orderly.  I am the least likely to initiate confrontation, and I attempt to dodge blame whenever possible.  Owning up to my superficial mistakes is difficult.

Moon:  Libra

Life has to be a beautiful experience.  I am prone to surrounding myself with beautiful objects and people.  Drama-prone, difficult, close-minded people are not welcome, because they do not promote harmonious friendships.  However, there is a strong need for partnerships, romantic and otherwise.  I have always had a lifetime goal of finding “The One”.

I am often free with my emotions and I feel strongly.  However, I am always concerned with a balance of emotions and equality in relationships.  Flaws present easily, and I am always prone to attempt to “fix” things, and especially people.

Sun:  Capricorn

It is in my nature to be overly ambitious and practical.  However, I am not too practical to the point of extreme sacrifice.  I have a taste for finer things, but am less likely to indulge, though it will likely happen.  I like worldly goods, and might have a tendency toward hoarding.

I feel as if I need to be useful and purposeful in my life.  My life has to make a difference in others, and tangible results are the only way for me to feel successful.

I have trust issues, especially after betrayals.  I have difficulty letting things go.

Mercury:  Capricorn

All communication is practical and purposeful.  Information that does not serve a purpose cannot be compartmentalized or connected to anything useful is often discarded without thinking.  I am always eager to go after independent study, and get defensive when someone attempts to teach me something in a domain I was sure that I was highly skilled in.

Venus:  Pisces

I have a warm heart and a soft spot for people in need, making me naturally good with children and animals.  I am naturally sensitive and am high maintenance in a relationship.  I can be a bit selfish in my friendships and romance.  I often trust my heart in relationships rather than being practical about it.  I have a need for dreamy moments and have a tendency toward idealizing people and situations.

Mars:  Pisces

I don’t like to fight.  I avoid confrontation.  If confrontation happens, though, I can have a bad temper.  Sometimes, it is irrational anger and misdirected.  I am prone to feelings of shame and guilt.  I have difficulty regulating emotions and maintaining relationships as a result.  I want everything to be perfect, simple, and nice.  I want all of my relationships to have a dream-like, supernaturally close kind of quality to them.

I have a tendency toward manipulation, though I am not apt to actually want to hurt anyone.  However, I have a strong sense of want, and can be kind of selfish.  I am never really sure what I want, and I shift constantly between extremes.

Jupiter:  Capricorn

I have to work for good fortune.  It doesn’t just come to me.  However, with time and effort, I can usually see good results.  I have high integrity.  I am ethical and professional.  In addition, I am urged to be responsible and organized.  I am at my happiest when my world is neat and orderly and trouble free.

However, I am easily annoyed by little misfortunes and mishaps that could have been avoided.

Saturn:  Scorpio

I am generally secretive, and not always purposefully.  I am not always straightforward, and I feel a need to have a rich internal life that I can reside in at will.  I do not lend my trust easily, and I do not forgive easily when someone has burned me.

I have a need to control my life and situations around me.  When this is not possible, I am prone to retreating into that internal world where I rule.  Unfortunately, that means retreating from the external world.

I do not like failure, and I will run from it every single time.  That is usually how many of my projects go unfinished, because I was overly ambitious and ran at the hint of failure.

 

I will be happy to do anyone’s full natal chart if they are interested.  Just email me at lulu.em.stark@gmail.com.

 

So, I’ve divulged all of my (super) powers.  They might be delusions, but they are mine.  What are your powers?