Friday, February 5, 2016

Slaying the Dragon: Kicking Bipolar's Ass (or At Least Attempting to Tame Her)

I wasn't planning to write this post until the end of the month because I figured by then I will have discovered whether I not I could live up to it's title. But there are enough thoughts and actions going on right now that I can't help but decide to just go ahead and capture these thoughts and actions.

When I decided to go down the wormhole of sharing my journey managing Bipolar I with the Internet I did not know that I would take it this far. But since I've opened the door I decided to just ride this wave and see how far it takes me. In the past I've alluded to the frequent hell I go through in my efforts to manage my hot heavy brain. But this is a new level of disclosure that I'm sharing because I need it for future reference. I need to place bread crumbs for myself in case (or, when) I crash again and I cannot remember what it feels like to "feel like my real self" so why not use the convenience of (publicly) putting pen to paper. 

This undoubtedly will be my most personal post yet (so stay tuned!!!!!!) and I figure what's the worst that can happen. HR fires me? Nope, been there done that, already.

It's been five days and for the past five nights I've slept on average 1.5 to 4.5 hours a night. Now, before you say anything, fear not gentle reader, I know that's not normal. I've been going back and forth on whether or not I should call in the good ole medical reinforcements to drug me into "normal" sleep but, full disclosure, I am in the middle of an experiment. I want to see what happens if I see this thing out. 

What would happen if I rode this violent wave in order to explore the other side of full-blown Red.

When you have Bipolar Disorder and you don't sleep, you invite the Dragon in to romp around in your mind, reeking havoc that, ironically, you are the last to recognize. I recently viewed Infinitely Panda Bear while flying on a 777 back from Israel. Because I was so Blue, I was embarrassed and appalled by the film's depiction of Bipolar. But, now that I am Red, I am like, Oh, yep, totally

The thoughts, they change so dramatically when I am in an active Red/Blue cycle. It's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, completely.  

Where to begin. Where to jump into the morass of weird shit that will make you either 1. Start well-meaning gossip to launch into casual have you heard about Susan Andersen's mental breakdown?? OR 2. Keep up the dialogue that perhaps some suffering person out there might find recognition and temporary relief of the symptoms of Bipolar.  

When Red is really starting to cook, it is super fun. You sleep little and you are not tired. You also have a warm sweet feeling of wellbeing and connection with the Universe. Awesome, right? But, the problem is that the warm sweet feeling isn't a fuzzy furry bunny. 

She's a sparkly, iridescent, fire-breathing dragon who takes over your reason and starts pushing you to enter into the realm of psychotic, grandiose, illogical thoughts and, sometimes actions.

Psychosis, hallucinations, feeling like you are completely high half the time; call it what you will, Mania takes ahold of your trusting hand and takes you into unchartered territory that, while supa dupa fun and fascinating!!, inevitably leads you into madness. 

What is madness? It's garden variety for each soul, but it is undoubtedly dangerous, and sometimes lethal for the subject, which makes Bipolar such a potentially deadly disease.

In case you want to know, the one time my life actually was in peril was back in 2004 right before I was whisked off to Abbot Northwestern to receive my shocking, (but admittedly somewhat expected) Bipolar diagnosis. My friend, Liz, was over at my apartment and we were hanging out. Crazily enough, I had already been fired from my (well-meaning but completely uneducated about Mental Illness) company and I had run away to Canada where I stayed for several days until my Aunt flew on a private jet to come "rescue" me (I thought I was fine. I was planning on changing my name to Sara and moving to Quebec to start an amethyst-selling business).

Liz and I were standing on my balcony and I had so much energy I had a four cylinder engine pumping me into pummeling over the edge. My apartment was on the 3rd floor and so, I don't know, 20 (30? I am bad with numbers) feet off the ground. Point is, I was certain I could handle the fall. Like, convinced that with my level of energy that I could leap off that balcony and bounce off the green grass and catapult into some fun, flowing realm. Or, perhaps I thought I could fly. I'm not sure. 

Thankfully, Liz stopped me. And then she called my mom and then we were in the car driving to Abbot and I was drumming my hands on the dash board, loving my loud music in my headphones, and then plunging into racking sobs of crying fits. I was in a dangerous very manic state that led me to a (humane) strip search and a cop in my holding room (I remember he did have a loaded gun in his holster) and a delightful cocktail of Haldol, Zyprexa, Risperdol, and Depakote.

I stayed in the hospital for a week, then went home, then was readmitted for ten days?? I don't know. I was a complete zombie, drooling, sleeping all night and all day, and 30 pounds overweight (gained all in the month of July) and then up at 5AM playing a classical guitar that the hospital staff allowed me to play quietly in the mornings. I was writing songs, drawing pictures (really killing it in OT arts n' crafts) and full of acne and sucking down cigarettes every ten minutes and oh, had also cut all my hair off. I mean, I didn't do it, but I made my mom take me to the mall where a cheap place cut it all off after I demanded it. Between my two hospital stays I also strolled into Saint Sabrina's one day and asked for a Keith Haring tattoo on my lower back (I had designed it that morning when I'd decided an unplanned tattoo was a sound idea). And then I went through a day treatment program (I sat in the corner and drooled and slept and - sadly - criticized the girl with bulimia and the woman with un-medicated Bipolar) until the beginning of September. So, to review, the run-away-to-Canada incident and almost-deck-jumping incident occurred starting June 9th till middle of June. 

So, I spent the Summer of 2004 in the psych ward. It was a necessary and completely devastating experience for me, my family, and my friends.

I write, because what else can one do??

When I lived in Chicago (2013-2014) and was working at Leo Burnett, things seemed to be falling into place quite nicely. I had fled Minnesota where I was in a deadended relationship and stumbling through my first job in advertising and Blue as fuck. So I packed up my stuff (Burnett was so awesome in my transition, just have to put that plug in there) and I moved to Chicago and it felt like a fresh start. 

At first things were going great. My 1.5 mile walks to and from work helping me lose those 30 pesky medication pounds and I loved (still love, adore, Leo Burnett, the agency and the man himself), but then, something happened that Summer of 2014. It started May 2014 and then started to gain speed at a dangerous pace until I was full blown Manic. In June I started to date a Creative at Burnett then married him one month later. I became erratic at work and, vaguely recognizing I was headed for a major crash, resigned from Burnett before they could fire me, and very manically cruised through my dad's last hospital stay  and in October, hit a wall so fast my teeth shattered in my mind. 

I hit a wall of Blue so thick I couldn't see straight. 

Recognizing the folly of marriage to (a wonderful, but almost complete stranger) and feeling the bone crushing impact of my dad's death, I could not imagine the daunting task of living another 70+ years on earth.

That's quite the mouthful, isn't it. No shit. My dad died on October 7, 2014, and his funeral was, I'd say, the most difficult 24-hours of my life and doubly difficult because I had so much shame over the wreckage of my actions from the four-month manic episode. I had to read a prayer at my dad's funeral and, in the hours leading up to the morning it was to take place on October 14, 2014, I could not even read the piece of paper with the prayer on it. I paced my house, avoiding the elephant in the room (my new husband who had flown to Minnesota from Chicago, bless his loving heart) and literally shaking at the thought of standing in front of 300 people, exposed on the pulpit of Westminster church. 

God must have seen the situation at hand and God showed up for me on that pulpit and helped me read the prayer perfectly. But then, as I stood in the receiving line, thanking all of the friends and family who showed up to honor my departed father, I could not breathe. My husband was faithfully in the corner in the room, hanging with my best friends, and watching as I received compliments of my new marriage and condolences about my dad. My head was lead and I was certain that the world would end that night. But, somehow, I muscled through it, for my dad.

In December my ex-husband and I annulled our marriage and then, March 2015, I moved in with my mom (best decision of my life) and I live here to this day. I always tell people that I live with her due to my dad's death (which is true), however that is only half the story. I moved in with my mom because I was a broken, unemployed, withered walking corpse of a human being. You might read that and say, yeah, but you seemed fine to me? Well, welcome to my monumental task of hiding Blue. I'm an expert at hiding Blue.


Jesus in the hot tub
Thank you for your patience on that walk down memory lane (that is the first time I've actually written out the psych ward experience or my Chicago breakdown), but let's move back to today. This morning, in fact.

As I journey through these nights where I wake in the wee hours (1:30 - 3:30), I have so much time on my hands, alone, stuck with the task of waiting for morning to come when you and the rest of the neighborhood wake up and I can join the ranks of normal people. With all this non-sleepy time on my hands, I do whatever I can to burn through Red energy. I shovel the driveway at 5AM, write (tell all!!!!) blog posts, listen to music super loud in my headphones, and exercise my ass off. But I also smoke cigarettes (I learned how nicotine works wonders for helping ride through wave of Red. Many people with Mental Illness smoke, particularly people with Bipolar , interestingly enough, I have no interest in cigarettes whatsoever when Blue). When I am Red, cigarettes feel like medicine. (The first time I started cigarettes was in the psych ward in 2004 when one of my fellow inmates recommended nicotine as a tool to calm down enough in order to pass the observations with the doctors, although I talked a mile a minute and drew all over the whiteboards anyway.)

I took this picture while making an impromtu snow angel, knowing that I'd use it if I wrote this post, so you could see what Red looks like before I put on makeup, hide my smokes and "look normal"

I had so much energy I did laps in the yard, trudging through the snow, trying to burn off the energy, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. Hey neighbors!!!!

Here's where you need to bear with me and try not to judge me too much. Part of the outer regions of hypomania and the beginnings of Mania are some interesting phenomenon also known as Psychosis

Now, calm down, no one is talking to me in my head (yet), but, I see things that I question and, now for the first time, I am making a point to mention them to my mom (she's my appointed sidekick in taming the Dragon). This morning (or, yesterday morning, I guess. The beginning and end to days is blurring now) I went to The Marsh to burn off Red by swimming laps at 5:30AM. I donned my swimsuit and swim cap and goggles and walked to the pool where I was surprised to see someone in the hot tub. It was a guy and I have to admit, I was like, ehh, I wish I were alone here and he's...creepy. He was just sitting there, skinny and gaunt, almost shoulder-length wet curly hair. His cheeks were sallow and he looked kind of...sad? Defeated? I don't know, it was really weird. He did not look like the typical patrons I see at the Marsh. I remeber - this is inappropriate and "mean" - but I thought to myself that he looked like a stereotypically homeless person. 

I thought all of those things very fast and I got into the pool and started swimming laps, feeling vaguely uncomfortable being there so early with this unexpected dude in the hot tub who I sensed was watching me. The hot tub bubbles stopped and I casually peaked up in the middle of a breast stoke to watch him leave the hot tub. But, he was gone. Just like that. Whoa. That was way too fast for a person to leave a hot tub, put on their flip flops and towel and leave. But, then I remembered, there was no towel or flip flops. Hmmm.

Cue Red thinking...

Was that...Jesus? Was that Jesus in the hot tub just now. Was it?? 

Admittedly, I do not really think about Jesus much ever. However, maybe my brain was going to this conclusion, especially after my recent trip to the Holy Land (??) I kept swimming laps and then my mind started to pick up speed. 

I think that was Jesus. I do...It was...That was Jesus. Holy shit Jesus was just sitting in the hot tub what should I do. Should I stop swimming? Should I go home and start reading the Gospels right now?

But then, since I am so hyper-aware of what's going on with my brain right now, when I got home I went straight to my mom and asked her casually if I could tell her about what I saw. Now, as you know, my mom is awesome. Instead of starting to panic or ask me if I need to call my psychiatrist this morning, she just matched my casual demeanor, helping me calm down a bit.

"Mom, you know how it is, when - "

"Your mind is really chugging?" She said with a smile.

I laughed when she used that word - "chugging" I loved it. And I love how she has the wisdom to not freak out in general at my increasingly Red state with me starting to, perhaps, "see things" in the midst of my manic thinking. 

Later, when my mom left for work, I went into the basement. When I am Red, I like to hang out in the basement, even though it is sort of "scary" cause it's big and unfinished and has, lots of boxes and stuff. But the basement is where my dad always hung out at his desk in the back. There is a lot of his stuff down there and it has sat untouched for nearly six years. 

So, I go down into the basement and I am buzzing with Jesus-sighting energy and I start going through my dad's stuff (I've started doing that lately) and I unexpectedly, immediately find my dad's dog tags from when he was in the Air Guard. I did not even know that my dad had dog tags? 

Cue Red.

"Dad? Dad. Are you here? Are you here right now. Did you want me to find these?? Don't scare me, Dad. Don't just show up and scare me as a floaty ghost or something cause I will have a heart attack, I swear."

I sensed a presence. That's what happens in Red. I can feel things, sense energy. I have a hypothesis that it is one reason why manic people can get really irritable; I think we can sense energy and are more sensitive to it and more susceptible to people's good and bad energy. 

Sooooo, anywhoo. That was yesterday. Ha, no, I think the thing is (my thesis) is that, to be honest, I am kinda scared of when Blue comes back this time because I am really tired of her. It is Agony - the Depression - and the thoughts are so black they nearly embarrass me. I think about Death and (although I would never, ever, ever take my own life) it becomes such Agony to live each moment that it's hard to breathe. Do I fake it really well, hell yes. In fact, had I not spilled the beans I bet you'd have a hard time telling whether I was Red or Blue unless I started to mention my shame (Shame = Hallmark of Blue) at my failings in life etc, etc OR started telling you how I really AM going to become Susan B. Agony and become a rockstar (Magnificence = Red).

I don't think I need to go to the hospital because I am safe and I am being an open book - no, a so-see-through-you-can-see-my-intestines right now. But I do see my psychiatrist next week and, yes, frustratingly, we probably will have to adjust my medication cocktail, again. It's a never-ending journey, Bipolar, trying to adjust meds and make healthy life choices. No matter how happy I look, make no mistake, I am an exhausted human being. 

It's important for me to pause here and reassure you that, even though I'm chugging along in the Red state, I am safe. My mom and a few close confidants (and now the Internet, I guess) know that I am facing this (still fairly contained, relatively mild) episode with an arsenal tools.

I do not know where this current trail of Red will lead. Where will the Dragon take me? Will she give up this time? I am fighting her with newly learned skills from DayBridge and facing her with a new strategy. You will not take me down without a fight, Dragon.

But, yes truly, I'm fucking tired. I'm tired and I am also wired with laser sharp racing thoughts at the same time of all these ideas (some good, some probably ill-advised but at least not incoherent ideas) and I'm free (read: unemployed) to fight this pesky Dragon all day and night long.

Don't give up on me and I won't give up on Susan and, Dragon? You better watch out, I'm coming with an army this time.


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