Posted in Bipolar

Social Media & Bipolar Disorder | Can Social Media Activity Predict Depressive Or Manic Episodes?

images (71)In the past few days I have been able to come out from under the covers. Visiting family, taking walks, eating, bathing regularly, you know, the things that I take for granted when I am not sick. It feels good to see some light. Literally though, it has brightened up in terms of weather in the past two days which doesn’t hurt the progress.

During the last month or so I have really struggled with the lower end of this illness as evidenced by my intermittent to non-existent Blog posts, Tweets and Facebook activity. This got me thinking. Could social media play some role in predicting or somehow catching an episode whether it be an early stage depression or early hypo-mania? Of course, when I start to wonder things like this I go straight to Google and interestingly enough, I am not the only one that has noticed this.

I know that when I get depressed I have incredible anxiety. I get physically sick to my stomach when the phone rings, if I need to take care of some paperwork, pay rent, interact with people….Opening my computer to write, communicate on Twitter or Facebook becomes unbearable to think about. Emails feel like little attacks of more things that I am going to have to take care of. Then I start to get even more depressed and anxious because I am not keeping up with all of these things and I worry that I am missing some appointment or some important email. I worry about not keeping up on social media, hell, I am worried about who has been calling and what I am missing or what problems I might be causing myself because of the missed calls. It is irrational, I know. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds like a simple fix. Just suck it up and do it. One email at a time, just pick up the phone, it is probably just a friend, just look to see who it is that is calling before you answer. I can’t explain it, I can only share it. If you haven’t felt it, that knife in the gut feeling and then the guilt from not doing whatever that knife in the gut feeling images (69)stopped you from doing, you cannot understand. If you haven’t curled up into the fetal position and audibly moaned with agony from the butterflies on speed in your stomach, you can’t get it. It is not your fault, it just cannot be gotten. But I have gotten off track.

Back to my observation about my social media activity during this time of depression. I can actually track my activity on all platforms and watch it decline. My posts, tweets and Facebook messages become fewer and farther between as the depression continued. That made me wonder if the opposite might be true. I thought back to my last manic episode. It started early last summer and continued through most of the summer months. It was before this blog however, but during this time I had 5 Twitter accounts, I was dabbling in a couple of blogs, one is still active, 3 Facebook accounts for different causes that I had become involved in. I was even contacted by a radio host who wanted to do an interview because of my other blog and its cause. My posts were 2,3,4,5 am then 9am again. I was constantly monitoring my computer and my social accounts. I was obsessed. I couldn’t be stopped! A member of my family mentioned something to me about the strange hours that I was posting on Facebook, but that is all I heard about it. So I know that in my case, my activity on social media could quite likely be used to predict an episode, either depression or mania.

With a little searching, I found that this is being studied right now. Facebook in particular has been popular for researchers in terms of what is normal and what is out of the ordinary for the individual it is monitoring.

Here is an article about one such study: Facebook posts of Bipolar patients to be studied to monitor signs of relapse in world first study:

A world-first study will use Facebook as an early intervention tool to help prevent people with Bipolar from lapsing into manic episodes.

The Facebook use in Affective Disorders study will analyse the changes in social media use by an individual before and during a bipolar relapse.

If the first part of the trial proves that the Facebook monitoring helps to avert people from experiencing relapses then an application will be designed for users to download. ~ By Leesa Smith | Mail Online

Roisin Kiberd in, How Facebook Can Be Used to Predict a Manic Episode gives an example of some out-of-character Facebook use that he has noticed.

Recently a friend of mine began to post excessively on Facebook every day, usually between 5 AM and 8 AM. One day I used wordcounter.net to add up 9734 words in total; another day, 6288. His page became an archive of racing thoughts, manifested in aggressive, disturbing updates that friends found difficult to read.

Readers will remember a similar, very public series of tweets made by actor Amanda Bynes in the run-up to her eventual hospitalization, along with countless other examples both in public and private. ~ Raisin Kiberd

…it goes on the explain the method behind how researchers are planning to study what is normal Facebook use for an individual, and how that can be used as an indicator of a shift activity and perhaps mood.

The Facebook use in Affective Disord​ers (FAD) Study is currently underway in Melbourne, Australia; it’s a collaboration between researchers from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Centre and computer scientists from the School of Intelligent Systems at RMIT University. It tracks the Facebook activity and mood of participants with bipolar disorder to work out what “normal” is for them, with the hope of alerting subjects when they begin to stray from their usual patterns towards a potential relapse. ~ Raisin Kiberd

In my research I even found a researcher from Michigan who is testing a phone app that would predict Manic episodes in Bipolar patients by monitoring the user’s voice. The app would record the user’s voice picking up changes in speech patterns, intonations and speed to predict a manic episode. The data would be sent to the user’s doctor for monitoring so that the doctor could be aware of the patient’s possible oncoming episode. You can read more about it hereApp May Help Predict Manic Episodes in Bipolar Disorder

I suppose then, that I am not the only person to have noticed that there might just be a link here. I’m not sure how soon we will have access to any of these apps or on-line tools to monitor our social media activity, or that anybody would want them to, but I do think that it is a good tool that we can use ourselves. I find it particularly helpful in a hypo-manic stage. If I am depressed, it doesn’t take the guilt of not keeping up my on-line presence to let me know that I am depressed, but when I feel good, that is when I might need to pay more attention.

There is a fine line between happiness and illness with this disorder. It is actually one of the things I find most frustrating. I am never quite sure if I am doing well and am happy or if I am becoming manic and need to monitor myself after I finally feel great. Is it happy or is it hypo mania? It is extremely disappointing to discover that it is the latter, and that it is now time to medicate away the enthusiasm. I think with experience we get closer to understanding on what side of that fine line we are on, and if it is travelling in one direction or the other. I believe that happiness is feeling good without needing to do, or be or go, or have anything. It is quiet, contentment, without the busy, racing sun storm. There you go, I think I am getting closer to recognising that line after all.

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Posted in Bipolar, Musings, Personal, Stories

Misdiagnosis to Mania

When looking back at my younger self, I know now that I was suffering severe depression and social anxiety disorder (actually, I know now that I was suffering bipolar disorder, but until that time mania had not presented itself yet). I was always paranoid, though I could not identify what I was feeling at the time, but it was in the realm of psychotic. I was convinced that people, anybody, especially my “friends” only asked me to hang out so that they could laugh at me. They were pretending to like me but I was the joke in the room. They thought I didn’t know, but I was on to them. This is how I get when I am going through depression.

I experienced my first hypomanic/manic episode just after my first year of college. It didn’t last long. It did however last long enough for me to make the life changing decision to leave all my plans, my relationship, my life on a whim to move to the other side of the country by myself. Once there, the mania dissipated and the weight of my decision landed heavily on my shoulders. What had I done? Where was everybody? Where was I? I was alone and scared thousands of miles from home. Enter paranoid social anxiety closely followed by depression. My depression and anxiety worsened quickly and dramatically. I developed severe social anxiety to the point that I would not leave my apartment except to dodge to my classes and back. There were exactly two people that I trusted enough to communicate with, only sometimes, and as long as nobody else was around. I was sure that I was the world’s clown; they didn’t know I knew it, but I did. When around people, I would catch a glimpse, or a look from them and my stomach would sink and churn, the room would spin and everything sounded as a distant echo. I had to run, I had to get out! I was in a constant state of panic. I had no idea that this was something that a medical professional could help with, I thought that it was just how I was, but I walked into a doctor’s office and explained everything. The whole time I was thinking that the doctor must think I am crazy, but he didn’t even act surprised. That was where I heard about depression and social anxiety. I didn’t even know those were things, but I read the information I was given and was shocked that I was not alone! At that appointment I was misdiagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder and was prescribed Paxil. This started a life altering mania.

Within weeks I did not recognize the world. It was beautiful. I had no idea what people were laughing at until now. It certainly wasn’t me, I was awesome. I got it. I got why people smile and laugh! I was confident, I was happy, it never occurred to me that someone would make fun of me. I finally got it! It was such a relief from an existence of darkness, guilt, shame and blindness. I was genuinely happy.

Then I started to really get it. I was understanding things about life and the universe that I believed nobody else got. I tried to explain the missing link between relativity and quantum, I stayed up for days working on assignments. They were genius! I was alive! Why did nobody see the magic that I was seeing? Was everybody blind to the universe around us? I kept trying to explain. People stared at me as though I was a wonder to behold. I was such an amazing, special person! They stared! They could tell that I was brilliant and they were amazed. I could see it in their faces. Oh, the stares…

I remember those stares a little differently now.

During this mania I began to experiment with mind altering substances. I found some likeminded people who understood the wonders of the universe, or at least tried. They were at least as blown away by them as I was. We ate many mushrooms to get closer to the truth, acid, weed, anything to enhance my already awakening genius. I was flying! I was on cloud nine, or at least I thought it was cloud nine. I had hit the north pole and flown head first into a manic episode. I wish I could say that this is where I found help. That I was admitted or that I came crashing down. This mania was one of the worse that I have suffered and I believe that it was sparked and sustained by the treatment for my misdiagnosed unipolar depression. I believe that the mania was so severe, and lasted so long because I was on the Paxil for so long. I eventually decided that I felt so god-like that I didn’t need medication anymore and I weaned myself off. I did okay for a while, but it was only a matter of time before the same psychotic depression hit again. This rollercoaster of antidepressant treatment to mania, to depression, to mania went on for years.

Oh the stories I will tell. I have had some of the most amazing experiences while manic, but have also made negative decisions that I will deal with for the rest of my life. I will leave off here for now, but be sure to come back for more manic stories. You don’t want to miss the one about my life with the mountain man….

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Posted in Bipolar, Musings, Personal, Stories

Head In The Clouds

This post is the story of my first mania. It is a continuation of the post called “First Signs”

First Signs….I feel sad for my younger self. These were many years of turmoil both internally for me and externally in my home life. This life continued until just after I graduated from high school, then something unexpected happened. It was like an epiphany, a revelation! A freedom that I had never felt or experienced. It was what I know now to be my first Manic episode.

My first mania had a subtle onset. It lulled me into a feeling of something bigger. I come from an island off the east coast of Canada called Newfoundland. It is quite isolated and I had just returned back from a summer program in a university in Nova Scotia. I had left the island all on my own and survived!

I was 17. When I arrived at the university my depression became worse. I was alone amongst people that I had never met! I had no self confidence, I had no clue if anybody really wanted to have anything to do with me and in my state of social anxiety and paranoia I was pretty sure I was just a bother. I made it through though, finally, just like I trudge through all of life’s mud with my oversized boots. I always get to the other side. On the other side was my home on the island. So where does this mania come into play here? Well, like I said, it started with a whisper. A feeling of something bigger.

Even though I fell apart on my own, once I returned home I felt proud of having left. Proud of my experiences. I am sure that having left, I was suddenly struck by the reality of a larger world than I had ever known and I had barely left the east coast of Canada. My mind started to wander. I started to look into other places, other ideas. I began to enjoy smashing the shackles of time and the expectations that are attached to it. You know, around 8am we wake, breakfast, noon is lunch, it is a work day, or a weekend, it is getting late we should probably sleep. The shackles, the preconceptions about what we ought to do and when. I began to switch it up. I would stay at the 24hr coffee shop and eat my breakfast muffin at 3am, “What is time anyway?”, I wondered. “Nothing!” I loved being out when everyone was sleeping. It was like the world was a free place, where nobody was about to let you know what you ought to be doing. No one there to look at you strangely if you walked in the middle of the street instead of on a sidewalk. Those invisible lines that we dare not cross increasingly did not exist for me. I began to really think that I could do anything. Go anywhere. Right now. There are no rules or constraints, those are all illusions! I began to feel brilliant. I didn’t need to sleep, I could stay out musing philosophically in a moonlit graveyard until 4am then get back to the regular peoples’ world, the working world by 5am. Oh the things I understood. So why was I getting flack? Why were people looking at me strangely, questioning me? Don’t they see it? The freedom? That there is really nothing? I understood.

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During this time, I had been in a relationship for about 2 years. I suppose we were “in love”. I don’t know. High school sweethearts and all that. We were meant to return to the same university that I had just left. He would play hockey, I was on the volleyball team. I had already rented an apartment with some girls that  I knew there from the summer time. We had a plan, and it was good. It was stable. It was normal. It was in my best interest. It made sense. It made sense to a level headed, non-maniacal mind. At this point however, my mind had hit the north pole and I was struck with a wanderlust that sat me for hours in front of my computer researching places unknown, far away. How would I get there. What would make sense? I needed to go. University! That was my out!

University was the best plan. I researched and researched all the universities I could find. Both nationally and internationally. It was exhilarating, I was thinking quickly now, I had to. With only weeks left before the start of the school year I had to think quick. Ha! No problem there! There were a lot of questions about why I would just take off like that. What happened? I didn’t have an answer. But what about the boy? Right, a long distance relationship. Problem solved. For me, not for him. He broke up with me, he didn’t get it. It didn’t slow me down. My coach from university called me when he heard I wasn’t coming back. Not enough to stop me. My roommates called. It was too late. I was already gone. I just hadn’t left yet. Until I did….

I left for the other side of the country, leaving everybody I have ever known and loved behind, a decision that was made on a whim and changed my life’s direction forever. I will continue this story in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!