A Bipolar Life

I am not an expert on bipolar disorder... I just live with it. This is my blog of hope and encouragement.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Seeing Bipolar Disorder as an Energy Disorder

I am not a medical doctor; my primary care physician would be delighted to hear me admit this.  After having a disorder for 60 years, however, one begins to know things.  Just to be safe, though, I will preface all of this with the caveat that, what I am about to say applies to me, and may not be true for other people.
Bipolar disorder (for me) is primarily an energy disorder.  (I thank my former psychiatrist for explaining the energy disorder view, to me.)  Tendencies to be brilliant and creative or, conversely, financially irresponsible, when manic, depend on circumstances.  If I am working as a programmer, I create highly-efficient and complex algorithms and code at lightning speed.  Likewise, at the bottom end of a cycle, I can be sad, lacking in faith or hope, or even suicidal, if circumstances are dire or weighing heavily on me.  If circumstances are okay, my down times find me tired, disinterested, or vegetative...but not despairing or suicidal; My energetic times find me getting my housework done, easily and cheerfully.  If I'm in high energy state, I can clean all night.
This perspective on the bipolar condition gives me a vantage point from which to address 'mood swings' with strategies that do not include medication...as long as I remain aware.  For example, if I am full of energy, exuberant, optimistic, and the future looks only bright, I need to stay home and off of the retail web sites.  At those times, my high energy and optimism flies on ahead without consideration of budget and ramifications.  Mania does not cause me to over-spend; it obscures or glosses-over the reality of my limited resources.  In truth, my mood is not swinging, my pocketbook is.
Conversely, if I am sad, depressed, and see no hope in my future, there is truth behind my emotions.  A year ago, I saw no change, no improvement, in my prospects. The shock of losing my job last summer, however, put me in the hospital for a week and a half, during which time I entertained the idea of change and possibilities.  My children are now launched and so am I.  I am comfortable, secure, have a lot of (but not too much) hope and optimism about my life here at 5022 and so, when I am swinging through a low-energy period, I am merely low on energy.
Interestingly, other ailments seem to follow the energy cycles, as well.  I had severe IBS before being diagnosed bipolar.  When I started taking the correct medication for the bipolar disorder, the IBS leveled-off and has seemingly, gone away.  (An aside: when I was put on the wrong medication for me, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, not just by symptoms; I had the tell-tale type of tissue present in my intestines.  Colonoscopies since then, have shone no such tissue.)
Another disorder, that I still suffer from, that also follows the swings of energy level, is fibromyalgia.  When I am in a low energy state, I usually also hurt all over.  (I have been carefully diagnosed; I have the usual overly-sensitive places on my body, typical of the disorder.)  If the low energy state lasts long enough, accompanied by the seemingly-constant pain of fibromyalgia, I can get discouraged, and feel without hope...the result, a depressed mood.  Chronic pain can bring on disappointment and a loss of hope or faith, in anyone.
Bipolar disorder does not make me sad or depressed; it is the lack of energy that I need to deal with stressful situations, or need in order to concentrate, or need to be creative that is what makes me sad.
My strategy (for me, remember) is to be aware of my circumstances and my energy.  Some activities or tasks are better left for a 'higher-energy' day.  Shopping is better left for those in-between days when my energy level is not too high or too low.  (In fact, I have been known to buy things that are not necessary out of anger or in defiance of my low-energy state.)
In my previous essays, I suggest many other strategies that I used before I looked at Bipolar Disorder as an energy thing.  I believe they are still relevant, but seeing the disorder as an energy issue removes the common, yet unwarranted and damaging viewpoint that Bipolar Disorder is a character flaw...that bipolar people are bad people.  (I will go so far as to add that if a bipolar person is dangerous or destructive to others, there is something else going on in addition to the bipolar disorder....in spite of what Hollywood may lead you to believe.)
I have chosen to wean myself off of bipolar medications.  At one point, I was taking 3  or 4 different bipolar medications, along with others prescribed to address side-effects, as a "cocktail," a commonly used term describing the mixture of a variety of ingredients taken together toward the desired result.  I have had to stop most of my medications over the last 2 to 3 years, under close medical supervision, because of adverse effects of taking those medications over a long period of time.  Then, once I began moving (and my prospects improved), I weaned myself off of the final medication, over a 6-week period.  I avoid energy influencing foods and drinks (like sugar and caffeine), avoid artificial flavors and colors, and eat foods and take supplements known to be good for nerves, blood sugar, and brain function.  Adequate sleep and exercise are crucial, as well.
Again, I am not a doctor; I don't even play one on TV.  But, and this is a BIG BUT, when I prayed to Jesus, directly, to heal me of Bipolar Disorder, I believe one aspect of His healing was to show me how to look at my energy and my circumstances as separate factors which work in compound to affect my feelings, thoughts, and behavior.  My energy swings have been easily recognizable and manageable since praying to Him.  And He has encouraged me to pass along to others what I have observed for myself.  I hope this is encouraging if not helpful to others who suffer with the disorder.  Like a medical doctor (which I am not) it is my intention to "Do No Harm..." and to God be the Glory.

When Erratic Energy meets with Despair

This is where it gets dicey.  If you are familiar with bipolar disorder, you have probably heard the term 'mixed states.' You probably also know that suicide is attempted more often when the sufferer is considered 'agitated.'
In terms of energy, the state of 'mixed state' can best be described ( in my view) as rapidly changing and erratic.  Think of problems with the power lines when the lights flicker or glow brighter than usual, power surges cause appliances and electronics to pop and trip breakers, and computers don't know what to do and often shut down.
If you are attempting to monitor your energy, in conjunction with circumstances, it is nearly impossible to gauge.  At times like that, the state of your circumstances governs what you should do.  For example, if circumstances are okay, walking or meditation may be helpful to even out the energy.  Avoiding problematic situations (shopping, conversations which can go awry, or dealing with potentially stressful issues) is probably a good idea.
If circumstances suck, the combination of that with erratic energy can be dangerous.  Psychiatrists use the term "agitation" to describe the feelings of confusion, despair, hopelessness and panic...and all kinds of red flags fly up. Inappropriate outbursts at just about any frustration are likely.  Poor concentration and the inability to put things in perspective can lead to suicidal thoughts.
It is my suggestion to first 'table' all concern for the circumstances, if possible.  My table of choice is at the feet of Jesus.  Then get thoughts about the circumstances out of your head.  Write them down if you feel the need to keep track of the details but do what you must to quiet your mind.
Then, address the energy.  If it is intense, find a way to release some.  I listen to music that makes me cry...and I usually listen to it really really loud.  The first audition of Charlotte and Jonathan singing "My Prayer," does it for me; or Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (The premier performance by Arturo Toscanini, if you can find it); or "Bring Him Home" (Colm Wilkinson or Alfie Boe); Nessun Dorma (Pavarotti or, a personal favorite, Alfie Boe "warbles a bit").  I even cry when listening to "NASA's Orion Space Launch set to Interstellar Soundtrack (the 1st one listed)"
But, I digress.  The idea is to expel some energy in a safe and healthy way...and I think crying is healthy.
Before picking the circumstances back up, if you must, you should assess your energy.  If your energy is too low to deal with the issues, and if they can wait, let them wait.  Napping is good.
If circumstances are dire, you need to establish a safe situation for yourself.  Call someone who has experience with such matters.  Let someone, someone who will respond with compassion and strength, know what you are going through. Do not go through it alone.  Being aware of His presence will help, but if your thinking is distorted, your perception of His voice may be, too.
If you do not feel safe, take yourself to the hospital; let someone else do the thinking for a while.  You need to build up your strength so you can see things clearly again, so you can accurately assess your energy and your options and make good choices.
Jesus is there; help is available; you are not alone.  I know what of I speak.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


During my recent hospitalization, the doctor expressed doubt that I am, in fact, bipolar I but that I am rather mildly bipolar II, but much more so a victim of unresolved grief and loss.  I think there is some truth to that. Therefore, it is my intention, with the help of God, to release the disappointment, resentment, and pain I have suffered in my life.  As part of that release, I am considering closing down this blog.  Dwelling on the negative in my life has done me no good.  What has done me good, however, is the sense that sharing my experiences, and trying to put a positive light on them, has done you some good.

Therefore, if you would, please indicate whether or not this blog has been a help to you.  I share from Saint Francis in that I hope to be an instrument of God's peace.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

I know lately I have sought to be consoled.  I have not been well.  But I am taking steps (even baby steps) to shed myself of the crap of a painful life.  If I continue this blog, it is my intention to bring hope, light, joy, and peace.

Your response will help me decide what to do.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hospitalization (Caution: mentions suicidal ideation)

Until recently, the thought of being hospitalized gave me cold chills and sweats.  My first images of hospitalization came from a 1967 movie starring Rosalind Russell as Rosie Lord who (I believe...my memory could be warped) was committed to a mental hospital by her children.  The children felt Rosie was being irresponsible (and selfish?) in spending their 'inheritance.'  Somehow, at the age of 12 or 13, I knew that this scenario was significant and scary.  There was force.  There was screaming.  Imagine Rosalind Russell without makeup, wiry hair awry, gown askew.  I imagined electric shock and straight jackets.  I still feel nauseated at the thought of being forced, held down, and injected.  I made my mother promise to never let that happen to me.

Flash forward to two years ago when I helped a family member move into a hospital mental health ward.  I was afraid but did my best to not show it.  I was supportive and positive.  I visited on visitation day and attended the group sessions that day.  I was there to take that person home when the time came.

Last Sunday, when the kids were visiting their father and grandfather on Father's Day, I found myself finalizing plans on another technique for exiting this earth.  Before actually gathering the materials and implements, I made a call to my therapist.  Bless her heart, I was interrupting her packing for a week long retreat and I got the feeling she didn't have a lot of extra time. She made some inquiries and called me back.  There were no available beds in Western North Carolina.  none.  I kept packing.

Ultimately, I drove to a nearby city, found the hospital, and checked into the ER.  All told I spent 23 hours dozing in the brightly lit ER examining room with a security guard blocking my door.  He was actually quite sweet.  Every time I turned over he would ask if I was doing ok with a thumbs up query.  Sometimes I gave him a thumbs up...sometimes the thumb was sideways.  One of the nurses apologized for my having to wait in the ER for a room to open up upstairs.  I told her it was fine; there were no painkillers, tranquilizers, or razor blades there.  All I had to do was sleep, and so I slept.

The next afternoon, I was walked upstairs by two security guards.  Not having been on the ward before myself, I didn't realize at the time that it was customary...and loving...to congregate and line the halls to see the new person on the ward.  It didn't take long to make friends and be a friend to several of the people there.  I miss them and sincerely pray for their good fortune and healing.

No one was mistreated.  No one was forced to take their meds or needed restraint.  It was a sometimes happy, orderly, serene place with caring, kind, and often funny attendants. I could look down on a peaceful garden, up into the changing sky, or out into the trees outside my room.  We talked about art, spirituality, stress reduction, wellness, and grief.  The food was even not too bad.

I have a friend who thinks fondly on his own rather lengthy stay in a hospital.  The idea disturbed me at the time he told me so.  I now know better.  Getting out was a surreal experience.  My medication has been rather drastically changed so perhaps that explains my less than perfect driving skills.  Traffic on the interstate, while orderly and reasonable, was too much stimulation for me.  But I made it home.  And I went to work putting my home in order.  I wanted to replicate the tone and feel of the hospital ward.

I want to thank those of you who were concerned for me.  That was kind and thoughtful of you.

Someone in the hospital referred to the experience as resetting their buttons.  I think that is a good way of putting it.  I think about the internet modem and router.  Occasionally, they need to be reset, and apparently, so do I.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Chris and my friends

I'm on my way to the inpatient ward at the hospital.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Risky Behavior

In the past, my risky behavior consisted of over-spending and and the occasional un-protected sex with someone I hardly knew.  Now, I have speed.  No, not the drug...the car.  My little BMW Z3 M Roadster is Fast.  And I love it.  Yesterday, on a major 4-lane highway, south of town, I sat at a red light.  Behind me was an orange Mustang.  When the light turned green, I floored it.  The mustang stayed with me.  I slammed in the clutch and changed gears.  The Mustang moved over to the right lane and tried to catch up but I didn't let him.  We caught up to traffic and he sat several cars back.  He eventually moved up.  Having not done this much, I was inexperienced in the etiquette of racing...so, when he moved up beside me, I simply looked over.  The grey-haired man about my age was giving me the thumbs up.  What a thrill!  Traffic was on the move so we couldn't converse.  He yelled over, "Now, you have to let me in ahead of you."  I was already ahead of him at that point and traffic wasn't cooperating so he pulled off at the next corner.

I feel bad that I didn't do it right.  My son would have known what to do.  But I still feel good.  I hope Mr. Mustang doesn't think I snubbed him.  I just don't know what I'm doing.  We may have broken a speed limit. but we didn't endanger anyone's lives.  We had fun, which I don't ordinarily do. To Mr. Mustang...

thumbs up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I met a friend on a mental health website.  I said we were all "wounded healers."  He said we were all looking for validation.  I had hoped we were more altruistic than that.  But this started a discussion that left the website and moved to our personal email spaces.  We discussed our histories, abuse, medication, children, ourselves as children, music, books, travels, hopes, opportunities, aspirations, limitations, and the idea that we would like to meet...one day.  1000 emails later, he is gone.

He had a manic episode that I did not know how to handle.  He was getting 'in your face' confrontational with people in his neighborhood.  I tried to calm him down and that was apparently not the thing to do.  He signed off...and that's the last I've heard from him.

So many feelings...so many reactions...so many possibilities.  I hope he's alive.  I hope he's safe.  I hope he knows I care about him deeply and would not abandon him...intentionally.

Our two months of correspondence walked me back away from a near-fatal depression last spring.  I now face the days without the dozens or more new emails titled in bright blue.  The silence roars with intensity,.and I wonder, what happened to him.

I will not think I could have been hurt...that I am better off.  In spite of his intentions to go out looking for trouble, I know he would not have hurt me.  I feel no concern for that.  I did not like the intensity of his anger and belligerence...that is why I failed to be what he needed at the time...friend.

I hurt, but I'm ok.  In one unanswered email, I said I was like a SETI technician, sending out signals in hopes that I would one day hear something back.