They were like wolves. No, hyenas. Ripping and tearing, feasting on my most intimate frailty. I tried to fight, to make my worth known. I wasn’t very convincing. God, I couldn’t convince myself. I just didn’t know that. They could smell it. The fear. The insecurity. They loved it. They hunted it, gorged on it. Before I knew what happened they had all had a piece. Bellies full, my self shredded and torn, they relished. I was good for them. Their egos. I was their bond. I just didn’t know it.
Wow, it has been a really long time and a lot of really awful things have happened since I was regularly posting here. For the past 5 months or so I have spent varying amounts of time staring at this computer screen. Each time there is so much that I want to fill you in on, a multitude of stories that I’ve yet to get out.
It kind of reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns gets a check-up. Well, each particular story is like one of Mr Burns’ little illnesses. The little bugs or illnesses are so numerous that they should have already killed Mr. Burns. He continues to live, however, because they are all blocking each other and cancelling each other out. Check out the video, it might make some sense to you. It is my best attempt at explaining myself.
If only a slight breeze would pop one of those stories out and the rest would flow. I guess that is kind of why I am writing this. It is something, even if it is simply me writing about not being about to get myself to write.
I feel like everything is just swirling above my eyes, up there somewhere and there is just so much ‘stuff’ in that cyclone that I become overwhelmed and I can’t figure out what to pick, what to start with. I don’t know which to write about, I don’t know which chore to start with, which move to make next. I feel like I have been hog tied with a big sock duct taped into my mouth. All I feel like I can bear to do is sleep. The whole swirling mess that is every day life just keeps spinning and I have grown weary, a ceaseless fatigue that just lingers. I don’t know how to move quickly, I am slow, I am perpetually tired. The very chore of fighting to achieve an upright position is a chore so big to me lately that I have considered just not getting up anymore. Just saying, “fuck it” and letting everything crumble around me until someone just deals with my limp, uncooperative body. This temps me often.
On the positive side, I have posted something. I feel like something budged. I think I made some room, wait…I did. So, there are a lot of stories to tell, lots of psychological findings I have come to learn. I recently found new hope and have learned that up until now, I’ve been prescribed mostly incorrect medications. I feel that many of you will be interested to learn about what I have discovered from my new, fabulous psychiatrist in whom I have a lot of hope. I want to share that whole journey as it unfolds, and will catch you up shortly. It is exciting, particularly if you have been dealing with Mental Illness in North America.
Stay tuned, I will return, I can feel a small breeze coming through that sliver of space I just freed up. Talk soon! xoxo
This is the most personal post I have written. It may sound sappy to some. I hope not, because I am putting myself out there right now. I’m hoping somebody will connect.
Beautiful isn’t pretty.
I don’t usually share this part of my life with anyone, well, ever. It is about addiction. This time I will because it is the only way I know how to share what followed. It took a long time and it is only by chance (or was it?) that I was given a glimpse of such beautiful ugly. I hope it will be for someone out there.
It is difficult to live with Bipolar Disorder. It has taken many years since my diagnosis to find the proper medical care, treatment and medication to finally get a handle on it. At least I can now recognize and manage what I see happening, unlike never knowing what is going on with me, living an unmedicated nightmare. However, I have come to see Bipolar as an opportunity to gain wisdom and perspective. This, at a cost of course.
While Bipolar Disorder presents unique challenges and difficulties because of the extremes of emotions experienced. On the other hand, by allowing us to experience extreme depth and hight of human emotion with an intensity that, if one can make it through and learn to embrace the ride, provides us with a unique and profound perspective. I don’t say “if one can make it through and learn to embrace the ride” lightly. Many make it through, but get stuck in an incessant loop of hopeless depression to frantic mania never seeming to find that middle ground for long. Never stopping to look around, look from where they’ve come and appreciate the shift, to contemplate and use the experience.
I believe that this thing, brain disorder, mental illness, whatever it will be called, is not for the faint of heart. It is a bitter-sweet gift. It is a tragic path to wisdom if we keep our eyes open and our heads up (when we can). Through understanding there is nobody that we can’t help through a difficult time, because we have been to the depths. While mania is considered to be a negative symptom, we experience feelings and emotions, even ecstasy that we could never otherwise have experienced. I understand that these “gifts” come at a cost; Wisdom is gained through suffering…perspective through experience. If we keep our eyes open we will recognise how profound what we have just suffered while in a depression was, and be grateful for the shift. When we are feeling good, or great, or on that fine line between happy and hypo-manic, we should open our eyes and be grateful for what our suffering has led us to understand. With experience we will learn to recognize the fine lines between tired and depressed, happy and hypo, sad and sick…
It is the fine line between happiness and illness that I have found to be one of the most difficult challenges. It can seem to ruin happiness. Never being sure if it is true happiness or the illness. Having to monitor yourself once you feel good in case you start to feel too good and then have to adjust medication to take away your long lost joy. With experience, though, true joy and happiness become more apparent, and it will not be so difficult to decipher what side of that fine line we are on. As I get older and the longer I have
this illness the more clearly I understand what true happiness feels like, and the larger the distinction between healthy happiness and illness has become.
Happiness is pure. It is contentment itself, depending on nothing for its existence. Happiness is calm. Feeling happy does not have to equal (and usually doesn’t) fast, frantic and energetic all the time. Happiness is peace with just being. That is how I know the true happy moments. When happy, I do not have the urge or feel a pressure to do anything in particular. I just am. When I can feel well while simply being, then I know that I am on that beautiful side of the fine line.
The longer I have this illness, the more I feel a sort of deranged gratitude for the experiences that have allowed me to gain a unique perspective. I have experienced human emotion above and below what seemed survivable. There is a beauty and a wisdom that comes from surviving anguish and pain. Wisdom is a gift. I greatly value what I have learned and how living with Bipolar has shaped me. At times I might have said otherwise, but when I am healthy, I would never give up what I have gained through living with Bipolar, it is worth it. Would you?
This week that has just passed was unbelievable. It was like anxiety was an entity that came into my apartment and curled up into a knot in my stomach. It was totally unexpected. The week before I had been feeling great. I had been to the gym every day, my medication seemed to be working like a charm. Once Sunday or Monday came of this past week I just didn’t know what happened! I could hardly shower, the ringing phone would send my stomach into knots, I didn’t even open my computer until today. I actually spent the entire week curled up in agony on the couch afraid of the phone, email, people, and just couldn’t do anything. I tried meditation, going for a walk, tidying up, but nothing worked, everything was unbearable! Finally, it occurred to me on Thursday night what the problem might be. You see, one of my medications is very expensive so I decided last week that I would just take one every second day, you know, to save money. It didn’t occur to me until Thursday, well, yesterday that that could be the problem. I spoke with the pharmacist and he assured me that the drastic up and down that was happening from day to day was almost certainly the cause of my crippling anxiety. So let that be a lesson folks! Take medication as prescribed, I sure will, because that was unbearable!
I feel like I can breath again!
It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I most definitely couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.
Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold…
A Story About An Un-medicated, Undiagnosed Bipolar Cashier
I have been on mood stabilizing medication for several years now. Sometimes I think I am fine and wonder why I need any medication at all. Then I remember back to when I was not medicated. I remember the unbearable irritability, the profound anger and rage of a volatile and explosive mind. I was so irritable that I couldn’t even stand myself, I was literally getting in my own way and on my own nerves. I thank god often that I didn’t actually murder someone in a fit of rage. This kind of irritability and anger could result from just dropping a pencil or stubbing a toe. I’m not even going to talk about driving… Well… maybe just a little. The only way I could manage to not rip off my own head to relieve the anger was to imagine my car having undetectable go-go-gadget weapons that would just disintegrate any driver that would send me into a fit of road rage, which was almost any driver. I can’t even go into the things I imagined doing to people who honked their horns at me. Needless to say, after thinking back at how unstable my moods were I remember why I am on my medication and all is well with the world (for the most part anyway).
I am telling you this because I was thinking of an incident from back in the days of my unmedicated madness and thought I would share. At the time I am surprised that I did not spontaneously erupt into a ball of flame and combust from the heat of my own rage. It took place in a store where I worked customer service, which is quite possibly the worst job I could have in my unmedicated days, heck, even medicated.
It was around Christmas time…
I was working at a store that I would describe as a small version of Ikea. It wasn’t all that bad for the most part. I mostly worked organizing shelves and stocking merchandise, things I enjoy doing anyway. It is not that I am not a people person, but I do not do well with a large number of small, superficial interactions, especially if I am in the middle of doing something and am focused on it. I also hate being interrupted and having to drop what I am doing just because someone needs to ask me a question. If I am in the mood for it, I am great at it, but if not (and I am usually not) I loathe it. I’m pretty sure I did a terrible job hiding my complete and utter irritation with the customers. Especially when they were asking me how much something was when the price was plainly posted no more than 2 millimetres below the item on a bright yellow tag. Just like on every single other item in the store. Either way, I was completely out of line. It was never the customers fault, I just quite simply was not cut out for dealing with people and had a bad attitude and an un-medicated mood disorder. Some days I was fine but others, when my mood was off, I could be pretty bitchy. Typically I wasn’t put on as a cashier and worked as much as possible on the floor, left alone to organize and arrange just as I liked it. Besides, that was what I was really good at anyway. I didn’t mind just filling in on cash for someone to break or something like that, but I hated being assigned there for my shift. I would rather eat glass.
I will just give a little background note here: Around the time of the incident myself and some of the staff who had been there for years had recently found out that a girl who barely graduated high school, had no education, hadn’t worked in four years and had no experience was hired as a cashier for 75 cents more per hour than the rest of us. More than people with university degrees who ran their own sections, and had worked there for years. So there was a little bit on animosity brewing anyway…
So, on a busy day during the Christmas rush my manager decides I should spend my shift on cash. I requested that I please work the floor, but it wasn’t happening. A bitterness seed sprouts open in my gut, uh oh, that familiar feeling is brewing. So, swallowing my contempt I slowly moped to the cash. I kept up appearances but inside I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide my absolute disdain for the hundreds of meaningless interactions I was about to endure. People started to enter, the store became more and more busy. It was the Christmas rush. I wasn’t even that experienced on the cash anyway so I’m not sure why he would put me there at the busiest time of the year. It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I certainly couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.
Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold.
I was barely holding myself together, but I was managing to keep things civil, ringing up the items and saying “have a nice day!”. You know, the basics at least. Then they came. The curtain guys. I will never forget those damn curtains. The first gentleman said hello, I responded the same and took the package of curtains to scan them. I didn’t engage in conversation and certainly didn’t give them a friendly smile, full of Christmas cheer, but I wasn’t directly rude to them either. Not good enough. The second man, with his smug face, his half smirk and is condescending attitude snidely remarked,”Uh, you could smile you know.”
I’m not sure where it came from, but before I knew what was happening my mouth was moving and I could hear my voice say, “Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t.”. (Maybe some lingering bitterness about the 8.75 the unskilled labour was getting at the cash next to me?)
Oh shit, oops.
He glared at me and snottily said, “You’re a little bitch.” “I want to see your manager!”
Much of what happened next is a blur. I froze. It was as though every negative emotion hit me at once not allowing any of them to break through. The silence was palpable. There was a line up extending to the back wall of the store and only two cashiers. I glared at the men for a moment, then without a word I slid their curtains back to them without completing the transaction, left the cashier station, walked to the managers office and calmly said, “I need to speak with you right now.”
My poor, clueless manager.
Trying not to lose it completely I informed him , my voice quivering from restrained rage, “They are pissed and want to speak to my manager, I really pissd them off.” Then it burst through and I snarled “But you can tell them that you are not my manager any more and I’ll be waiting for them outside of the store!”
By now I was livid, all the anger about the unfair wages amongst other issues I had with the staffing, hours and all the bullshit at the job bubbled up and as I gathered my things I proceeded to inform him that we all know about the new girl’s wage and all the other things that pissed me off about the store. Finally I said, “I told you not to put me on cash today.” and I stormed out the back door in a blaze of glory. Then, as promised, I awaited the men outside of the store. I watched them walk to their car. They looked back several times in fear.
“What are you doing?” “Are you following us?” “We are going to call the police!” they shouted in worried voices.
“And tell them what?”, I yelled. “That a 20 year old girl is going to attack two 40 year old men?”
I’m really not sure what I was planning to do, but I finally backed off and watched them until they were out of site. I’m pretty sure they were terrified.
Needless to say, I never returned to that store again. I hated working customer service anyway and it was worth giving up 8 measly bucks an hour to steal any ounce of pleasure they would have had complaining to my manager. It mustn’t have been very satisfying complaining to a manager about an employee who no longer works at the store.
Long story short, I no longer work customer service and I continue to take my medication regularly.
I am not proud of my behavior, but at the same time the emotions were so strong and so unbearable and overwhelming I couldn’t control them. If only I had known that I had a mental illness that was causing these powerful episodes. It was so difficult to live with.
Since being diagnosed and treated I live a relatively normal life. Of course I have up and down episodes but I know how to recognize them in time and I understand what is happening and what to do about it. I am so grateful to haver been diagnosed and been given a chance at a more balanced life.
It has been so long since I have been in such an unstable state that I sometimes forget what it feels like and how detrimental it is to myself and those around me. That is why, when I start to wonder if I really need my mood stabilizing medications, I think back and remind myself of the alternative, then swallow the pills.
I wanted to write this evening about something that has stuck in my mind for a long time. There were two incidences, several years apart, but they are very similar. They are both examples of stigma and how uninformed many people are about mental illness. Both occurred where I was working at the time, and both involved a discussion between co-workers (myself included). In each scenario several of my co-workers were talking about a regular customer, an acquaintance (more of mine than anyone’s). Each customer was a regular at each place I worked. Most of us had close to daily interactions with them, mind you they were the typical superficial interactions that a coffee shop regular would have with a seasoned barista. The customers were regular enough that we had plenty of time to observe each of them, their mannerisms and their perceived characteristics.
In the first workplace, I actually had a chance to sit and chat several times with the gentleman and I happened to really like him. I could see how he could come across different or even a little strange, but he was actually quite interesting and very nice. He was just really quiet and kept to himself. He always walked to and from the shop and dressed like someone who might live a simple, natural life in a cottage by a lake. I could see why they found him to appear out of place.
In the second workplace, I had never personally met the individual, but I was listening to the conversation of a couple of my co-workers and immediately got the impression that he was not a nice guy. He clearly had some issues and they seemed to find it quite acceptable to make it clear that he was screwed up and most certainly not a good person. He had major issues, in their opinions.
In both situations, the conversations drifted to an end with exactly the same conclusion. Not one that was based on any previous training or understanding of the “diagnosis”, mind you. Nevertheless, it was clear to them. The first pair, about a man that they had never actually spoken to, agreed that “Yeah, he’s bipolar. He creeps me out so much.” The second pair, the two that I was considering sharing that I have bipolar, quite simply stated, “I’m pretty sure he is like, bipolar or something.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s like, bipolar or something.”
This sentence has silenced me for far too long. Those conversations still paralyse me.
These people had no idea what qualifies as bipolar disorder. They didn’t know that I was bipolar. I am quite certain that neither of those men were bipolar. Those two scenarios pop into my mind often. I have not come out about my bipolar disorder to many people, and it is situations like that that keep me silent. It is my impression that bipolar disorder is perceived to be an illness whose sufferers are plagued with unsavoury characters, that they are selfish, dangerous or miserable. They are strange and not to be trusted. That is my experience of how those who do not know anybody personally (that they know of) who has bipolar disorder perceive a person with bipolar disorder to be. It scares me frankly. It makes me worry that suddenly those who I have been close to will immediately question every moment that we have spent together, that they will suddenly see me as something else. Someone that is not safe, that needs to be kept at a distance. This is stigma. This is what it does and how it feels.
Sometimes I imagine what would happen if all of us with bipolar disorder were to come out and tell the world at the same time. At least there would be an accurate representation of what bipolar disorder looks like, acts like, is. They are people that they like, love and have known as friends for many years. That is what bipolar looks like. Just like the person they are sitting next to, sharing another story about the strange guy who just came in for coffee again.