grimrose_eilwynn: (Default)
I have not had an episode in over a year. So I'm sharing something with you today. These are the things I do to keep from swinging into episodes:

- I take my meds.

I cannot emphasize this enough. I TAKE MY MEDS. I went through a lot of different medication regimens before I found one that worked for me. Relentlessly, every single time I felt an unacceptable side effect, I informed my psychiatrist at once. In this way, I weeded out the unlikelies and finally found a medication regimen I could accept taking every single day. And I do. I have an exact time to take my meds that I've worked into my schedule each day; I even have an alarm on my phone to remind me to take my meds every night.

- I've become very self aware.

Funny thing. I think you'll find, if you really try to keep track of how you're feeling each day, usually the answer is "I don't know how I'm feeling." Unless you're in some extreme state, like exhaustion, usually you really won't know how you're feeling. You're in "neutral." But what bipolar people have to do is tease apart their feelings even when they're in "neutral." The minute moodiness hits, they have to take steps to minimize it: through medication changes and self management techniques. The minute I start to feel depressed or anxious, I do something about it.

- I have a great support system.

I let my family read about my disorder, and inform them every time I start to feel high or low. They try to talk me through it, and advise me on things like medication changes and self management techniques. I also know that if I get really bad, they'll be there to help me, and that can be very comforting.

- I do self management techniques.

I've been through lots of different kinds of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy. I have gotten many techniques from this to be used at my disposal. I know how to stop, analyze, and then distract any stray depressive thoughts. I know how to relax after a lot of stress or depression. I know what to do and what not to do to make myself feel better. I understand that I have to do things like stay away from drugs and alcohol, and I need to get plenty of sleep. Self management techniques can be incredibly invaluable.

- I know how well I've done, and I never let bipolar disorder hold me back from doing what I want.

I've accepted my illness. (That alone is critical.) But no away am I letting it get me down! I'm still going to get my bachelor's degree, I'm still going to get a job. I can still fall in love, travel, and do all the things I would otherwise do. And every so often, I congratulate myself on how far I've gotten already. I try to concentrate on the good things instead of the bad.

- I don't sweat the small stuff.

I try not to let little, everyday stress get the best of me. An argument. A bunch of phone calls and emails. I try to remain calm in all situations, and I make sure to have good things scheduled into my day along with the bad. Life isn't perfect and we shouldn't expect it to be. But it's up to us to make it as good as we possibly can.

On Guilt

Jul. 25th, 2015 05:16 pm
grimrose_eilwynn: (Default)
I'm here to talk today about bipolar disorder and guilt.

Guilt is a common feature of bipolar disorder. We're hard to live with and our actions are often completely out of our own control, and that can lead to bad decisions, which can lead to guilt in the aftermath of the bad decisions. We hate, in the rational part of our minds, that we make things harder on other people. But we can do little about it at the time it's all happening.

Some things I've been guilty about: Bothering the people I'm living with by staying up too late with insomnia. Getting reckless and manic and doing things like bustling around and singing loudly when other people are trying to go to sleep. Doing stupid things like hanging up and storming out on people during moments of mixed episodes. Basically anything that makes me come across in public as "crazy" or "mentally unhinged", I also feel guilty about. Making social faux pas during manic episodes, I definitely feel guilty and ashamed about.

Some people have it a lot worse, though. Drinking, drugs, violence, ruinous spending sprees, angry shouted words, ruined relationships. You name it. All can happen in people with bipolar disorder.

So how do we deal with this guilt? Here are some things I've found.

The first thing I do is try to stop and analyze the bad thoughts. I acknowledge the feeling I'm having and then put my brain to it. Is this thought reasonable? (In other words, does it use unreasonable words like "never" or "always" or "hopeless"?) Why am I feeling upset? Is it over something I can change? Can I keep myself from going through that behavior again?

If the answer is yes, then I change my life for the better. No need to feel guilty anymore. If the answer is no, there's nothing I can change, I try to stop feeling guilty over it. (Sometimes healing meditation can help with that -- sitting with the feeling without doing anything about it.)

Because sometimes, that's the answer. There's nothing I can do about it now. It was all in the past, over, done with. Also, I was out of my own control. Which moves me to advice #2.

I try to tell myself I was out of my own control. I was going through an episode. I can't do anything about the fact that I'm bipolar and sometimes my brain gets sick and makes me do stupid things. Just that reminder can make me feel a lot better.

Once I've gone through options one and two (acknowledge and analyze the thoughts and possibly meditate with them, remind myself I was out of my own control) I move on to step three. I distract my mind from guilt by doing or concentrating on something else -- preferably something enjoyable.

This can be something as simple as taking a walk, running yourself a bath, or curling up with a cup of tea and a good book. You could watch a movie or a standup comedy routine. Just something healing and healthy that makes you feel better and distracts yourself from what's troubling you. I find that if you ignore thoughts long enough, they at least temporarily go away.

One additional step is very important to me. I engage in positive self talk. This means that when I do something good, I pretend there are people encouraging me, acknowledging how well I've done. I imagine what they would say. In this way, I remember to dwell on all the positive things I've done as well as the negative ones.

This may take some repeats. The negative thoughts may keep coming back and you may have to engage these techniques against them over and over again. But I've found that with a little time and perseverance, the thoughts start to sting less than they used to. Time, I think, can heal almost anything.

We just have to open ourselves up to the possibility of healing and of life getting better.
grimrose_eilwynn: (Default)
I read this article and it was very thought provoking for me:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jun/25/musicians-touring-psychological-dangers-willis-earl-beal-kate-nash?CMP=share_btn_fb

It made me think of John Lennon.

I have studied John's life extensively, and I am of the very strong belief that he was bipolar. Something about certain things concerning him just fundamentally connects with me. There's his history of violence, his drug and alcohol abuse, his rampant sex addiction, his extremely well documented moodiness, his frequent suicidal periods, and what he said in an interview once, that there are "just some days when he wants to throw himself off a building." (He claimed the mood swings got better as he got older -- in the last years of his life, he'd stopped taking drugs. Also, surprise surprise! He's a jumper, like me.)

And now, after reading that article above, I want you to consider a couple of things:

1. If it's that hard being an ordinary musician, what would it have been like being a Beatle? With the screaming fans, the utter impossibility of ever going outside, and the constant demands for yet another album or tour?

2. And if it's that hard being a Beatle, what would it have been like being a Beatle with mental illness?

Because being bipolar is hard. You can't stand crowds. You can't take loud noise. You need a certain amount of exercise per day. You can't take drugs or alcohol unless you want to cycle into an episode. You need plenty of sleep. And even then, you're moody and prone to periods of extreme panic.

Can you imagine being a Beatle and being bipolar?

There's one moment I remember keenly. I was watching video footage of John Lennon's apology after the Bigger Than Jesus scandal. A little background:

John, a great reader, gives an interview in which he mentions Nietzsche's theory of the decentralization of Christianity in the twentieth century. John predicts that at the rate we're going, Christianity will soon disappear. Some asshole disc jockey from Alabama takes one part of one sentence from a whole paragraph, reads it so that it will sound like John thinks he's better than Jesus, and then bans Beatles music from his station. No one bothers to verify with the original source, of course -- it makes for a better media story if John's just an asshole.

So John's sitting there, crowded on a couch that's too small for all the Beatles to sit on together, with a clamor of hundreds of voices shouting accusations at him and wall to wall cameras flashing really bright lights. And I remember watching that footage, and feeling so intensely what John felt. The isolation, the pain, the fear (people were setting things on fire and threatening to shoot him), and the anger.

Later, a photographer tells the story of barging into the bathroom to find John hiding inside. John is crying. "Why couldn't I have just kept me big mouth shut?" he says.

And I think that was the first time John thought he really couldn't do this anymore.

Because being a Beatle basically ruined his life. It totaled his relationship with his first wife and oldest son. He was never home, and even when he was he was either busy or exhausted He got addicted to drugs and alcohol to try to deal with the pain. He went through periods of extreme depression and extraordinary self hatred. (His pictures from the mid sixties are hard for me to even look at, the self hatred and despair is so clear to me.)

They asked for two albums a year. Two albums a year. On top of all the touring. And the noise. And the screaming. And the never seeing his family.

And then John fell in love with Yoko Ono. He tried to include her in his world at first, and when that didn't work he did the right thing for the first time in a decade. He dropped the band and kept the family. It was an incredibly courageous thing to do, frankly.

I think by the end of the Beatles, John just couldn't do it anymore.

And when I think of it like that, all his anger makes sense to me. I can totally understand John thinking, by the end, "Fuck them! I gave ten years of my life to that fucking band! Isn't that enough?"

Isn't that enough?

On Alcohol

Jul. 10th, 2015 03:07 pm
grimrose_eilwynn: (Default)
I almost never drink alcohol. I'm here today to explain why.

I've seen a lot of alcohol problems in different older, adult family members over my lifetime. Interestingly, all the people I can think of either were bipolar or had been treated for psychiatric illnesses in the past. My grandfather is the most obvious example -- I never saw him drunk, but I never saw him without a glass of alcohol in his hand either.

Other family members were slyer, but their alcohol problems still showed in little ways. Drunken phone calls, big bottles of alcohol left out with the trash, and other things.

I also saw the effect alcohol could have on someone's innocence in high school. It seemed like all the popular girls around me were forever talking about birth control and pregnancy tests. I'll never forget one particular incident.

I was sitting in math class, and the teacher was letting us work on our assignments in class. There was a low buzz of chatter throughout the room, with students talking as they worked. Some boys talking behind me were loud enough for me to be unable to avoid overhearing them. I can multitask, so I listened as I worked.

One boy -- who had a girlfriend he kissed every afternoon outside our math class -- was talking about the many girls he had fucked at the latest party. They had all been drunk, and he'd fucked about three different girls throughout the night. One girl was so drunk that she just kind of lay there. He relayed this with great humor and exaggeration, and he and his friends laughed as they rated the girls. They talked about getting the girl with the best score a fake trophy from the local 99 cent store.

Later, at the end of math class, one boy had noticed me listening. He seemed to automatically assume I wasn't one of the girls discussed -- I wear nice jeans and classy sweaters, don't wear makeup, have short hair and glasses, and have a kind of reserve to me that forbids popularity. I guess I must have been paler and more shaken than usual, because the boy said, "I'm sorry you had to hear that. These girls, they need to learn to respect themselves." In other words, it was the fault of the girls. They got drunk, they took the risk.

I promised myself I would never end up like that.

One incident really cemented it for me, though. I grew up next door to a certain man. He had it all -- he had a great life. A pretty wife, a job he liked working on cars, a nice house with a pool that was near the beach, a couple of dogs, and lots of friends who came over every weekend.

But this man had a drinking problem. He drank heavily every weekend, and had ever since he was a teenager. He came over one day, pale and sweaty. It was me who opened the door. "Do you have some Advil?" he asked, shaking and twitchy. "My head and back really hurt."

I went inside to get the Advil, and I heard a horrible, heart-wrenching scream from outside. I ran back to the doorway to find the man lying face-down on the ground. He'd had a seizure.

An ambulance was called, and the man ended up being okay. The seizure was small. The EMT said that the seizure had been caused by excessive drinking over a long period of time. If the man didn't stop drinking, another, bigger seizure could happen again.

The man promised to stop his drinking habit. But then he hurt his back at work, while saving another man from being crushed by a car. He was lying around his house all day, bored and in pain, and he started drinking again. He hated himself for being unable to quit his drinking habit.

One night, he got on his motorcycle and drove out to a local bar. He drank in the bar for a while. Then he got back on his motorcycle and drove out in front of an oncoming semi truck. No one could tell if he'd done it on purpose or not. He was dead on impact.

The whole town went out to his funeral -- everybody had known him and loved him. My family went, but I didn't go. Not because I didn't care, but because I'm selfish and I hate funerals. This man's death had shaken me deeply. He'd been a good friend of the family, and his horrific death because of alcohol frightened me.

I sat there in the quiet, empty house, and I thought about him. Probably throughout the whole funeral. I sat down, got up, sat down again. I paced a lot. I couldn't stop thinking about how he had died.

In the end, I promised myself: I would never get into drinking. Not at parties, not with friends, not ever.

And because of this, I have always stayed away from drugs and alcohol.

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Hopeless Dreamer

March 2016

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