on my own

other things are going around my head
other than stress
other than depression
other than mania
other than earth shattering solitude

you are in there with me
you are breaking up all my patterns
you are turning on lights that I thought were broken
you are holding my hand and leading me through the debris
you are showing me the power I have within

you disintegrate
I realize that you were never here
I have done all of this on my own

— GB

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the constant state

isn’t this what happens when all
the big banging around is done
isn’t this the recovery
isn’t this the constant state

we go through hours or weeks
or months of something,
when we are “through”
we start the recovery process
that lasts until the next
something happens
then…

isn’t this the recovery
isn’t this the constant state

— GB

Ways I See Myself

Ways I see myself:

1. I’m a guy with Bipolar Disorder II.  I’m fairly run-of-the-mill, I have downs more than ups.  I have several hypo-manic episodes  a year, but those are usually pretty mild.  I’m just doing what I need to do to get by.  I get enough sleep, I take my medications, I go to a NAMI Peer Support group every week, I see my therapist every other week and my psychiatrist every 3 months.  I write a blog where I publish poetry and articles about Bipolar Disorder and Mental Health from my point of view.  I guess you could say that I’m on maintenance.

2. I’m a guy who lives in the past.  It’s been two and a half years since I had a psychotic episode.  It’s been one and a half years since my last ECT treatment.  I am trying to piece together my life between 2005 and 2009 because it is largely a blur to me.  I would like to know what caused my big psychotic break.  I have a suspicion that a large part of my life between 2007 and 2009 was lived in a manic state.  Most of my writing is about things that happened in the past.

3.  Again, I’m a guy with Bipolar Disorder II.  That in itself makes life harder for me to live than other people.  I fear the stigma that goes along with it, enough to keep me from doing much besides going to my doctor appointments, seeing my therapist, writing a blog, dinner, movies, shopping, all things that either center around Bipolar or don’t have anything to do with Bipolar.  I shy away from social situations.  Because of the ECT and some of the medication, I don’t always speak well, I have problems finishing sentences, I have tremor in my hands and legs.  I feel I am awkward both physically and mentally.  I am unsure about my future life.

I do know this:  Post 800

“A Bipolar Life”

After my break, I floated around for a while.  My parents were there to take care of me, I was not in the psych ward.  I’m not really sure what I did, except try to piece together what had been going on for the previous two years.  I remember little pieces of things but not very much.  I also know I hunted around for quality psychiatric care.  Other than that, I come up empty.  Six or seven months after the break, I had found a psych doc and therapist. My meds had changed and I was starting to feel the fog lifting a bit.  I had started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on an outpatient basis at the psychiatric hospital.  I had been going for a month and I really wasn’t seeing any benefit.  My biggest complaint was that I was still hearing voices telling me to do all kinds of things, the least of which was to crash my car.  One of the counselors took me aside one morning and talked to me about ECT.  I went home and talked to my parents about it and we set up an appointment at the hospital.

The next thing I remember clearly is being taken off the unit I was on and walked down to the ECT department.

The first ECT went like this:
After the lengthly talk with the nurse, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, temp, etc. etc.
Walk down the hall to the ECT Room
Hop up on the gurney
Hello to the Nurse, Doc, Orderly, Anesthesiologist
Nurse hooks up a bunch of electrodes, then finds the vein, hooks up the IV
Doc puts electrodes on your head
Anesthesiologist administers heart rate drug (downer, feels a little good, I could stay on this for a while)
Anesthesiologist administers knock out drug (it felt like my heart stopped and I died, I don’t need to or want to experience this again)
Wake up on the gurney in a long line of gurneys and curtains (ECT Recovery)

The way I experienced ECT for the first few months was to black it out.  This was made easier by the anesthetist.  Having to go for treatment on a regular basis meant that my regular life was pretty much blacked out as well.  I remember doing things in and around San Diego, but they’re a little fuzzy.  When the treatments got farther apart the three of us would go on weekend then week long trips.  Yosemite was a favorite and I know we went two if not three times. (I’ll have to look back at the pictures I took).  We also went up the coast to Santa Barbra, and further North to go whale watching.  Most of my in between treatment memories are held in pictures and video that I have on my computer.  Other than those trips, my memory of that time is empty.  I don’t know if it was because of the way I was approaching ECT or if it was the ECT itself.  I have nothing.  Though I will say, the ECT appeared to be doing its job.  My mood was better and the voices had stopped.

Then the disability from my job ran out and I was officially laid off.  We needed to find a new place to live.  I did, and my parents were coming with me.  So, we moved to my aunt’s house in Elk Grove, VA.  That’s about an eight hour drive North of San Diego.  We moved there and still “commuted” to San Diego for ECT treatments.  They were getting further apart so we didn’t have to go too many times.  Still, those trips were a blur.  I think we drove down the day before, stayed in a hotel, had the treatment the next day then drove back to Elk Grove.  I float in and out of the early days in Elk Grove too.  After a little while we made arrangements with the Psych Hospital in Sacramento to take over the ECT treatments.  They required that I go in patient to start so I could be monitored.  I remember three things about that stay.  Gray,  the cafeteria made me want to retch, we had to walk through the gym to get to the ECT trailer and it smelled of sweat, rubber flooring and rubber balls.  After the initial treatments I went to outpatient again.  Once my government disability and Medicare was available we moved out of my aunt’s house and into an apartment close to the hospital.  My memories of this time are better.  For one, I had an outstanding therapist who just “got me”.  Also, all the relatives I had around provided a constant source of interaction and I was finally coming out of the fog I had been living in for a long time.

Looking back on that time of my life, I can now see how I pulled myself through some horrible experiences.  The only way I can describe it; I was present but I wasn’t always there.  I found myself in a sequence of situations that I didn’t want to be in, so for all intents and purposes, I went on auto-pilot and just got through.  I am greatly and sincerely sorry to anyone this may have hurt, inconvenienced, put-out or mislead during that time.  I was trying to survive the best way I could.

Reading “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher for the past week and a half has made me look at my own relationship with Bipolar Disorder a lot differently than I have been.  Marya’s experiences with Bipolar are very different from mine.  To begin with she has Bipolar I, rapid cycling, meaning she goes from depression to mania very quickly, she also suffers from mixed episodes where she experiences depression and mania at the same time.  I have Bipolar II and suffer mainly depression (though I am not a stranger to mania and psychoses).  She has also been in hospital many more times than I have.  Where our experiences do cross how Bipolar has affected things in our lives like relationships with family, friends (gained and lost), jobs and careers (won and lost).  Mental illness affects these things and many, many more, in all who suffer from it.

I learned a lot about myself reading this book, I saw a lot of myself in those pages and I think that I am better off for having read it.  One thing I will take away from it comes from the Epilogue (that’s right you should always read the Epilogue) where Marya talks about who we are and what we can become.  She writes:

“How do we know who we are or what we can become? We tell ourselves stories.  The stories we tell are what we know of ourselves.  We are a creation, a product of our own minds a pastiche of memory, dream, fear, desire.  My memory looks like a child’s collage, or a ransom note, incomplete and full of holes.  All I have is today, this moment, to work with.  I am writing my story as I go.  I am inventing myself one moment, one experience at a time.

And that’s all right.  It means I can choose who I become.  It means I can write my future.  I can create a person, write a story, full of hope.”

I sincerely hope you get a chance to read “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher.  It’s a gripping, funny, maddening, harrowing, human story that could possibly change your life.

Start Again

“There are millions and millions of people with mental problems.  They work regular jobs, irregular jobs, they work at home, they don’t work, they’re married or single, they have kids or don’t, they do laundry and fall in love and have opinions and grieve their losses and, if they’re lucky, take their meds.  That’s what I’m learning.  I am a person with mental illness. So it takes some extra effort.  So sometimes it’s debilitating.  But now that I’m learning to manage it, it’s becoming not my entire life but simply a part of how I live, something people around me live with as well, something I can accept.  I have to, that’s the only way this works.”             —  “Madness: A Bipolar Life” by Marya Hornbacher

This extended quote gets right to the heart of where I am right now.  As someone with Bipolar Disorder, which appears to have been put in my rear view mirror for the time being, I am trying to figure out where I go from here.  What I need to do is figure out how to stop being afraid of things I perceive as being outside my comfort zone.  I’m not sure how to do that, if any of you have some suggestions I would really appreciate it.  Some of the questions I ask are:

Can I get a job?
Can I handle a career?
How about a significant other, or a family?
What happens when I fall apart?
Where does it all go when the only thing I can focus on is me?

defeat is just an
opportunity to
start again

I don’t know where I heard that but it seems like a good motto.  I think I’ll take it as my own.  Now I need to do some serious work on me.  I hope nothing gets in the way.

Big Break

Big Break, for someone in Hollywood, say, an actor, it means something completely different than what it means to me.  For both of us, it will be a life-altering event.  For the actor, the change he experiences may or may not be permanent.  For me, the change is constant.  Nothing is ever the same.  It’s like I’m living on the edge of a kaleidoscope that is attached to the International Space Station traveling 17,00m mph.  At least that is the way it felt most of the time while I was having my Big Break (psychotic break, psychotic episode, mental breakdown, gone bat-shit crazy).  Part of the time, though, I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace. That feeling only applied to me, everything else was moving at normal, if not accelerated pace.  This was the case with the little men trying to get into my apartment.  They were climbing through windows, coming up my porch downspout and pushing open my front door faster than I could sweep them out.  Because I was moving so slow, they were moving even faster. I couldn’t even get my pistol and shotgun out fast enough to get them all out.  Luckily, the guns were kept locked up and the little men, somehow disappeared.

That amounts to the sum total of what I can remember of my Big Break.  The slow parts continue to this day.  They have gotten better.  I don’t usually feel as though I am completely slowed down.  Not physically anyway.  Though it does frequently happen to me mentally.  I notice it most often when I am writing or speaking.  A thought or idea will enter my mind and it will feel as though it is wading through mud.  It will take an eternity for me to find the right word or words to express the idea.  This is frustrating when I’m writing but when I’m having a conversation with someone it can be very embarrassing.  I’ve been working on the problem for over a year now and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  It looks like the sticky mind is here to stay.  If I were in Hollywood and the result of my Big Break was something like this, I’d probably be heading back to my home town in search of other opportunities.  I’m not, so I have no choice but to keep working at it.