Are You Off Your Meds?
December 4, 2014
I am bipolar.
What came first? The pill or the crazies? It is an ongoing debate. A debate I have with my dragon while I am dressed as Batman. Did the meds spin me out so far as to talk to dragons, or was that always there locked deep inside my creative brain?
It’s truly a challenge to look inward and see how absolutely fucked up a human being can be and then to realize that fucked-up person is you. This is said with much love to my fucked-up self.
At almost forty years old, a divorced mother of two, a schoolteacher, living in Las Vegas where I grew up, I look back on my rollercoaster life with gratitude for the abundance of joy, love and devilish fun. I am grateful for the rock-bottom destruction. I am grateful to my high-flying Batman persona that leaps out to chop down unsuspecting trees. More on that later.
My brain is rejecting the doctor’s diagnosis and prescription for my bipolar state. Currently, I’m slowly titrating off Seroquel. Apparently, screaming at people to go fuck themselves and referring to others as double dumbasses or fucktards is not appropriate teacher talk. And here I thought I was doing well with the new dose of meds. I was so hopeful that I wasn’t spinning out into a manic episode. I was doing everything I was supposed to do.
Create a schedule. Stick to that schedule. Be so predictable that you could be stalked and accosted. I decided to try running five miles a day, going to dance class four days a week and teaching yoga for my mom one night a week. I was also staying late at work to catch up on work or stay caught up. I was staying late at work so I wouldn’t have to drive far to the dance class, but then I wasn’t eating much. This late-night samba then ate into my sleeping time, which drove me to sleep in later and later. Ultimately, I started having trouble getting out of bed to run my miles, let alone meet with my trainer. Schedule ceased. Epic failure, and everyone is a fucking asshole.
I knew I was slipping. My speech was louder and faster. I had painted my monitor with tiny yellow sticky notes to keep me on task. Except, the sticky notes aren’t really sticky, and they had delicately reorganized themselves on my desk like flower petals. No rhyme or reason. Just pretty. Maybe my feet and legs, shaking constantly, emitted a vibration so powerful it rattled the glue at the core of the sticky notes and released them.
Self-monitoring. Rapid speech, anger, wanting to punch people in the face, hating everyone I work with, especially that cunt cheerleader coach, dumb fuckers who can’t read. Anger, anxiety, aggressive behavior. Pretty sure the meds are not working. Seroquel, you asshole! Thanks for playing the chemical balance game. You fucking suck. Back your bags, bitch, you are on a one-way trip to the toilet, but only after I have severed you into half-sized bites to slowly choke you out of my system.
My brain is foggy. My brain is fighting itself. Mild depression with a little turbocharge of mania.
Taking my mood temperature is fun. Tired. Depressed. Not suicidal. Suicidal ideations. Anxiety. Sleepy. No energy. Lack of hygiene. This is a huge one for me. When I’m at this stage, I simply don‘t give a shit if I have showered or brushed my teeth. I do draw the line at ass wiping, and that is only because if you don’t wipe your butt well, you are asking for diaper rash and who wants to be depressed and smell like Desitin? That could be the last pin pulled.
The dragon is not here right now. I do kinda wish my crazy brain and my “normal” brain would clash, and I could meet my dragon. Unfortunately, the only thing that I’m seeing that isn’t there is some creepy fucker who keeps standing on my table. It’s very disconcerting.
Batman, Bonkers, Bonfires
January 2, 2015
If you have a heart condition, amusement parks remind you not to ride the roller coasters or to do so at your own risk. Unfortunately, when you are bipolar, you don’t even realize you got on the ride until after it is over. It doesn’t matter if you have gone through a depressive or manic episode. Both leave you with a strange awakening when the dust has settled, and the ride is over.
Sometimes, you can see this demon creeping up on you. Sometimes, you just wake up one day with it sitting on your chest, trying to smother your hopes and dreams. However, if you admit to seeing a dragon, you are probably already on your way to a manic episode.
Most of my life, I've suffered more from the depression side of bipolar illness. I've had hypomanic episodes and only recently started having longer manic episodes. Manic behavior is triggered by many things and different things for different people. I have pinpointed my behavior to emotional attachments, overextending myself, working too much, indulging in my amazing artistic talent, insomnia, and continuing this cycle until I have saved the world. Note the grandiose god-like abilities I contain in this fleshy body of awesomeness.
The night before Thanksgiving, I stayed up cleaning, rearranging the furniture, dusting, reorganizing, prepping. All the cleaning led to me noticing the patched holes in the walls, so of course, I needed to paint those. Then, the baseboards looked so dingy next to the new paint. How could I leave out the door frames? All of this was done with a one-inch brush around four in the morning. I couldn't leave the garage door looking like shit but didn't want to pour paint, so I just spray-painted it. By 6 am, I finally wound down and went to sleep, only to get up at 8:30 am to make the turkey and continue with normal turkey day festivities. That should have been a clue, the one-inch brush.
I don't remember the order of events. I can't discern between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I do know that during those days, I wore a Batman onesie and destroyed my backyard trimming palm trees. The poor garden didn't deserve to go like that. I tried to start a bonfire in the fire pit outside that almost made me start a fire in the kitchen because I couldn't find a lighter. I called and texted many people, inverting the subject and predicate and inventing my own spelling. My new favorite addition to this manic behavior was seeing a new friend, or creature, a four-foot-tall red dragon with black spikes that talked too much. I kept shushing her. A friend of mine suggested I name the dragon, so if I go Batman gardener again, she will know who I'm shushing. Her name is Pandora.
I unwittingly fought with myself. I bruised my arms and legs. Fell into the walls bruising my shoulders. Fell and bloodied my knees. I fell out of bed and landed on my face, giving myself a bit of a shiner. In an attempt to quell the manic behavior, I took a sedative and continued to take them until I had taken them all. I don’t remember taking them and don’t know if I was intentionally taking them. Drugs and alcohol are an interesting chemical cocktail in the manic mind. They don’t always affect the person in the manic episode. It’s the gasoline for an uncontrollable fire.
As the days unfold, I see the worry on people’s faces. My boss and friends from the school where I teach show their concern. My son, Jesse, shouldn’t have to take care of his mother. He is the only one who lives with me now. Everyone’s eyes are sad, the corners of their mouths turned down. Worry lines crease their faces. There's no assurance from my mouth that can appease them. Their look is pure concern. Real concern that makes me concerned.
I reverted to my plan of action. All people with a mental illness should have a plan of action. I finally included my friends and family in it. I called my doctor, took someone with me, and prayed they would just adjust my meds and send me home.
The spinning wheel in my brain has subsided. The other shoe hasn’t fallen. I am also concerned. The mirror image of the mother of dragons is a suicidal nutcase who gets admitted to a psych ward or hallway in nothing but a gown and net underwear. I’m waiting like a lab rat to see if the dose will allow me to stay on this universal plane.
It’s hard to admit you are bipolar. It’s hard to admit you need help. It’s hard to take medication. I have found my way and accepted these limits.
Bipolar is known to be genetic. It is passed down through the generations, often skipping generations. It is masked in families by drug and alcohol abuse, often a form of self-medication. There is also, typically, a traumatic event that sparks the bipolar. Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and I believe mental illness is present there as well.
I was always a sensitive child. I would cry easily and get my feelings hurt at the drop of a hat. That intensified after I was sexually abused as a little girl. My mom does not have any of these traits. She’s not an alcoholic or mentally ill. My brother, who died ten years ago, was an alcoholic and suffered from depression and extreme anxiety. His anxiety was so bad at times that he had trouble going into crowded stores. If he couldn’t see the exit, he would panic.
In this book, I’ve gathered pieces of my life. My illness, childhood, and adult life. An invisible thread connects and binds all aspects of my life, but just because they are connected doesn’t mean one can explain the other. Mostly I want to share my experiences of what I know, what I’ve learned from whom, and what I love. To find the connections of these invisible threads that reach from past to present, I accept that no one perspective can make sense of it all. Being bipolar is being alive, just more, living in the moment. Too much more. But all of it – the mania, the energy, the agitation, the obsession, sadness, fear and hurt – are distortions or exaggerations of normal emotions. I’m still me in the end.
Writing a book also feels impossible. I wrote this book in a manic episode. All the buzzing energy of a manic high, full of grandiose thinking. The dragon wasn’t present. There wasn’t psychosis, but I was pretty manic. Thoughts came through my mind like a rapid-fire machine gun. With each round, I needed to get the idea on paper or the computer. I wrote and wrote. I thought that I was writing a best seller. I wanted my ideas and life to be shared with everyone. I thought my story needed to be told. When you are manic, this over-the-top thinking is common.
Originally, this was a collection of short stories and diary entries. I have kept some of the diary entries so you can see the thought process of the bipolar mind. I’m not crazy. I’m a real person with a lot of difficult feelings to sort through. The book is as linear as it can be.
Now, while in remission of symptoms from the bipolar, I don’t have that feeling of it being a bestseller. I’m constantly doubting my writing ability. I doubt my voice and experiences. My thought processes are subdued. I think what I wrote is worth telling. I think it may help someone who has bipolar share their thoughts and not be alone in their mad thinking. I hope that survivors of sexual abuse will come forward with their stories and seek help. I hope my voice allows others a voice. I hope my stories entertain and shed light on my life.
While rereading the book from a “normal” mind, I have found it to be humorous, grandiose, honest, and self-deprecating. My family and friends keep asking me if writing this book was healing or a chance at self-discovery. I have learned that I am a strong person. I have learned that I have grown through trial and error. I make mistakes like anybody. I was hurt and grew from that. I am ill and try to get through it the best I can. I don’t know if I truly learned anything new about myself, but I realized my life was something I wanted to share with others. I hope you find it worth reading.
Mixed Episode. Take 1
August 9, 2018
I analyze my mood constantly. I was hospitalized for the second time for the bipolar. I had a plan of action for mania but not so much for depression. The problem was I wasn’t really depressed. It was a mixed state. Fun times if you have never had one. This was a combination of highs and lows all within a 24-hour-period. I wasn’t necessarily feeling low, but I was weepy. I felt high and loud and sing-songy.
Fear ultimately led me to the hospital. A pervasive fear of hurting myself to the point of suicide flooded my brain. I felt powerless. I felt like I would burst if I didn’t harm myself. I just wanted relief. I knew if I cut open my arm with a knife or razor blade, the pain and voice inside me would quiet. As the blood flowed, so would the pain that was racing through my mind.
As a child, I cut myself all the time. Didn’t know I was a baby bipolar then, but I was always in a state of depression. This may stem from the sexual abuse (more on that later) and the family inheritance of the crazies, but it always felt better after the first cut.
I didn’t cut myself this time. I burned myself twice with a lighter. Immediately the pain of the depression lapsed into calm. The screaming inside my brain quieted, and I felt at peace.
I woke up the next day hypomanic. I swung from one tree to the next. One mood shocked into another. This hypomanic episode felt different. I felt spacy. I felt elevated but not overtly happy. I felt if I moved, I would not be able to stop. I had no concentration. I couldn’t watch TV or focus enough to read a book. Which super sucked, because I was on the last novel in a series. I could do nothing but sit and watch the birds and chipmunks.
All of this was happening while the eerie voice inside my head kept telling me to grab the fish knife and slice open my wrist. Just do it lightly. Just enough to make it bleed. The thoughts became harder to ignore, but I did ignore them. I surrounded myself with people.
I spent the first week of that episode with my friend at the cabin in Utah I share with friends. But not really there. Just existing because I was afraid I would be found out. People would learn that I was not right in the head. So, I did nothing. I sat. Drank my coffee. Smoked my cigarettes and just observed nature. Tried to channel that calm.
Elevated, the thoughts and desires became more intrusive. The fact that I had already hurt myself made me realize I didn’t want to do it again. It didn’t stop me from almost doing it again and again. Each time I smoked a cigarette, I considered burning myself with the hot end of the cigarette. Pushing the red cinders into the fleshy part of my arm.
I returned to the cabin to spend time with Aunt Margaret and Cousin Carrie. Carrie with her warm smile and calm demeanor. I feel closer to her than all my other cousins. She is the calm I always need. She is the voice of reason in any situation. I felt out of sorts, but I kept hiding the returning darkness. We spent three great days together. The day they left, I was to spend another two days by myself, isolated with the birds and my destructive thoughts. Within minutes of my family’s departure, I gravitated to the sharpest knife in the cabin. I picked it up and started crying. I saw no other way out of the hell I’d been in for weeks. It scared the shit out of me. I cleaned up, packed up and left the cabin for the three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Vegas.
I called for help. I left messages. I cried. I listened to music. Finally, Michelle, my friend and co-worker from school, called me back. I bawled hysterically. I couldn’t communicate what I was feeling. I felt scared and isolated. I wanted to hurt myself. I was driving at 80 mph. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be hospitalized. I just wanted to be in my own bed, curled up in the dark.
But as much as I wanted to isolate, I knew what I was feeling was not normal. I needed help. Michelle was the one person who would not hold any punches and make me get help. I knew I would end up in the hospital even if I didn’t want to.
I got home safely and tried to stop crying. My friend and her family took one look at me and suggested the hospital. They found an emergency room that had a psych ward at the hospital in case I needed to be admitted.
There is nothing like a psych ward to make you feel sober and normal. It’s the snake pit effect. Within an hour of being admitted with blood pressure 199/111, I felt calm. The urge to hurt myself had dissipated, but I was still waiting to be assessed.
ER psych wards are greatly lacking in services. The room was set up with no bathroom, no water, no TV, no access to phones, just four gurneys and plastic pillows with nurses shouting, “Back to your bed!” if you moved to the doorway.
After several hours of feeling normal, I was assessed and deemed not a harm to myself or others. I was released back into the wild under the condition I see my doctor ASAP.
I am currently under a medication switch. Titrating down one set of meds, Geodon, the antipsychotic, and upping the new med, Latuda, which I don’t think is covered by my insurance. Should be interesting to find out.
I am out of work for two weeks, pending the med change and mood stability. Today is the second day of decrease and new meds. The first day I felt hypomanic. I was busy. Couldn’t focus. No books or TV. I only slept four hours. Last night I got about ten hours of sleep, and I feel less manic but no focus still.
I’m upset I do not get to start the school year with my kids. I’m upset that I have to pay for an eight-hour hospital stay that did nothing but give me a time out and a pill for high blood pressure. Overall, I feel better, like I could work, but the unknown is the unknown. I could freak out tomorrow.
The upside… no staff development days.
Glimpse at Coming Down
New Year’s Day 2019
At the heart of the matter, I am mentally ill. Today I am hypomanic, coming off a manic energy that had me buzzing so hard I thought I might drive myself to the hospital or call the doctor. Instead, I adjusted my meds and waited it out. Slowly it has simmered down to a slight shimmer instead of a loud, intense blaring and buzzing inside my head.
I have been manic since the beginning of December. This has been a strange episode. First episode on the new cocktail of medication, the Risperdal, Lamictal, temazapam, Ativan, Benadryl, and Topamax. In fairness, the Topamax and Benadryl were added once the mania started to build.
I saw the psychiatrist right before Thanksgiving. I was doing okay. Nothing really to speak of. We added a small dose of Topamax to help with the binge eating and extra mood stabilizer. It helped with those. Then, something strange started to happen.
I began to get irritable.
Out of the main four symptoms bipolars get—depression, mania, anxiety, irritability—irritability is the one I never get. But lo and behold, I was hit with a wave of disgust and hatred of all things human. The sound of breathing bothered me. It was a chore to do my job at school and listen to children be children.
I had to closely monitor my mood because I knew it was a symptom, and I was not myself. I just felt off. It was, as I said, strange. I also just felt this anxious feeling of dread. Not quite depressed and not exactly dread. I didn’t feel like something bad was going to happen; I felt weird and uncomfortable. I felt paranoid. Like people were watching me. I knew that this was a symptom, and nobody was watching me, but it was happening.
I could not recall that I had these kinds of symptoms all mixed together before.
When I drop low and get depressed, I feel like I am catching a cold. My body starts to hurt. I feel sick. My head hurts. I withdraw. I lose my appetite. I lose interest. I can’t concentrate. Things become grey. My vision becomes darker and out of focus. I get tunnel vision. I can see myself moving slower and slower. Time stops, and I’m caught in a dream or a trap. I can’t see myself in the mirror. It’s fogged up. I feel this monster coming for me. It sneaks up on me and traps me in its claws. I’m a prisoner for an unjustified amount of time until my mind sees fit to release me. Then the fog lifts like steam after a shower. I see my reflection in the mirror.
This episode was different. I had shadows of all different feelings. Anxiety, paranoia, some depression, mania, irritability. I didn’t know how to label it or how to process it. I didn’t know what to expect.
I started to sleep less. I didn’t know if it was a mixed episode. I didn’t know if I was going to start losing my shit, hurt myself and need to be hospitalized, or if I was just going a little manic. It was a new sensation. In reflection, I think it was the start of a mixed episode that ended up being a manic episode.
The irritability and paranoia left, but the mania stuck around. Sleep lessened and became restless. I was waking up each hour or two, then sleeping an hour or two, getting a total of four or five hours of sleep a night. This has been the case for the month of December.
Mania scares me in a different way than depression. What scares me about depression is that I could be so far gone that I could want to kill myself, and what scares me about mania is that I could be so high up that I could hurt myself and not know that I had done it.
I have learned that I need to focus when I am manic. Sometimes sitting and doing nothing is the safest choice. The energy is unfocused. It’s dangerous to unleash it. Once it is unleashed, it only manifests more energy. Laws of physics and all.
If I start to clean, I only find more stuff to clean, and soon I’m on my hands and knees with a toothbrush, scrubbing the grout on the floor. Or painting the wall with a one-inch brush. It all leads to another project.
I try to do small things. Things that have a beginning and an end.
Right now, writing offers that tiny bit of focus. I have a little bit of focus for that.
I am not a religious person. I am not sure what I believe in, but what I have found in this manic episode is peace in going to church. I don’t know why, but I have gone to church every day for the past six days. Haven’t missed a day since vacation has started. I think it’s part of the mania and the compulsion to do things that I have found comfort in the church. Who knows what will happen in time?
The mania has been ongoing for a month. During this month, Aunt Tillie died, and a student died from suicide. It has been challenging. Due to the mania, I have not been quite processing the sadness of these events in the way I normally would. I feel them but not to my core. The suicide made me feel suicidal and triggered thoughts of self-harm for a short while. I worked past that, but I quickly ended up back in a manic state and stayed there.
Went back to the doctor during semester exam week, and he upped my dosage on the Topamax and wants me to take the Benadryl to sleep. I upped the Topamax: still nothing. I was zipping and buzzing like lightning. Christmas Eve, I upped to 100 mg. When I woke up, the buzz was muted but still there.
The buzz is still there. The lack of focus is still there. I’m still hypomanic. Not full-blown mania but hypo.
Oh, and during the mania, I shaved the dog. Poor thing. Better the dog than my own head like a Britney Spears moment.
January 19, 2019
I monitor my mood in eMoods. According to my chart, I’m leveling out. However, I don’t feel quite normal yet. I don’t know how to explain or express it. I’m getting sleep. Restful sleep without waking up several times a night. I am dreaming again. Strange things, like Clint Eastwood kidnapping John C. Reilly and I’m in the getaway car. I am taking my meds and eating healthy. I am walking a couple of times a week. But my mood is hovering on the edge, not knowing which way to go.
It’s like a scale before anything has been placed on it. It’s set at zero, but the hand is hovering over it with something to put in the bin. Just waiting and looming.
I feel these bursts of energy and racing thoughts, and I think I must be going hypo today. Then, next moment, something triggers me, and I’m crying. Big tears. Glasses fogged up and all. Nothing really to speak of.
I went over this with the doctor. He thinks the mania is on the rise again. Waiting to come back. He doesn’t want to increase the meds yet but wants me to take the Ativan as needed to take the edge off the mania and see if that helps lessen. He wanted to increase my number of pills, and I told him I didn’t want access to that many pills. He asked me if I had made attempts. I had told him yes but not in many years. Twenty years. But still, I didn’t want to tempt fate or a bad day. He didn’t write the script. I told him I would make do with what I had.
I always start to get dodgy around this time of year. Coming up on my brother’s birthday. It isn’t for another six weeks, but it is coming up.
I will just have to see what happens. I have continued to go to church. I have listened to daily masses on YouTube. I go to church three days a week. I have started a new healthy eating plan. (I refuse to say DIET!) It is a way of life. I have introduced walking as a way of channeling some of the extra energy, but that becomes obsessive for me. I just want to walk all day long. But I’m pushing 300 pounds and have gained a hundred pounds in the last two years. Some due to med changes and some due to poor eating habits. A combination of poor self-care and depression.
It is just a new adventure. A path that needs to be taken for my health. The med change in September caused a forty-pound weight gain. Ten pounds a month. I figure it took me two years to put on this weight, it will take at least two years to take it off. So, I will be fighting the good fight.
Two fights now. Mental health and physical health. Hopefully, the two will meet in the middle.
Trying to Be a Kid and Growing Up Too Fast
My childhood, overall, was happy. I have great memories of my family, my mom and brother. My parents divorced when I was three. I saw very little of my dad, who’s a full-blooded Navajo. My mom is white. My mom and dad met in Colorado. They got married a year after my mom graduated from high school. She wore the same dress to graduation as she did to her wedding. It was a simple dress. My dad was in the military. My parents’ divorce was brought on by infidelity on my dad’s part. Also, I don’t think my dad liked that my mom had joined the women’s lib movement. Shortly after the divorce, when I was about three, he was stationed in Germany. The divorce was best for all involved and eventually led to happy endings.
We were poor but never went hungry. Even on a pauper’s budget, my mom made sure we had healthy food, right down to the terrible whole grain, brick-like bread we ate. We never had sugar cereal or sugary desserts. My brother and I would have killed someone for some Fruit Loops. Instead, we had Cheerios and Shredded Wheat—the biscuit kind that you had to break up. I once tricked my mom into buying a sugar cereal. It looked like a healthy cereal with a yellow box, but when we got home, she read the ingredients and I got a talking to. I played the innocent, but deep down I was deceptive about it. I knew it was sugar and I wanted it. I lied. We never had snacks lying around, except raisins. We got tangerines and nuts in our stockings at Christmas. I was always shocked at the fact Santa brought other kids’ candy.
My mom worked three part-time jobs while putting herself through school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In the divorce, my mom got a hundred and fifty dollars a month for each of us kids until we turned eighteen and maybe something like that in alimony for a few years. That helped while she was going to school. She spent long days working, early evenings cooking, and putting us to bed, and late nights typing at a typewriter writing papers for school. She has grit ,and I’m grateful for what I learned from her about persistence and reaching goals.
And even with all she did, she still made time for us.
I don’t know how old I am precisely, but this is the first memory I have stitched together. I am small. I am wearing footie pajamas. We’re living in our brown house on Chelsea Circle. I am asleep in my bedroom. Something loud is happening outside my room. The hall light is on. I can see it peeking through my closed door.
I am very tired. I get out of bed. I can feel the sock things on the bottom of my footed pajamas as I walk to the door. I have my bankie, my woven, pink security blanket with fringe on the ends, in one hand. I walk out of my room and into the hallway. As I step into the empty hallway, something flies over my head. I think it is a Frisbee.
Scene ends. Fade to black.
I’m on my back in the back seat of our car, looking out the back window. I’m watching the hazy yellow streetlight blur by as we drive down the street late at night. It’s so dark out the lights are almost blinding as they pass rhythmically every so often. I’m still in my pajamas. I think they are yellow.
My mom is standing on the porch of a house with a yellow bug light, holding me. The screen door is outlined in black metal adornments. My brother is next to us, also in pajamas. Aunt Cindy opens the door and brings us inside.
The adults talk about something. I put my head in my mother’s lap and go to sleep.
Now, from what I was told and putting things together, these memories all happened in one night. My mom and dad had a fight. There may or may not have been drinking involved. The Frisbee that came down the hallway was not a Frisbee but a huge speaker. It missed crushing me by inches. I guess I heard the commotion and came out to see what was going on and walked into the fray. My mom, upset, went to her sister’s house. Her sister lived a few blocks away.
That is my first memory. Always surviving something.
I don’t remember my dad leaving. I just remember him being gone. I remember the absence of him. I wanted him to be there. I remember him coming home one time. I lay on the couch with him, on top of his belly and chest. We watched The Lone Ranger.