Sunday, May 15, 2011

How Being Bipolar is Driving Me Crazy

I've had a manic couple of days.  I've hidden it pretty well, because I am obsessing about things that I am not actually talking about with anyone.  But here I am obsessing.

I am self-aware enough to know when I am pushing too hard and trying too much.  Posting too many status updates on Facebook.  Trying to reach someone who is busy with something else and I need to just stop and wait.  Take a deep breath.  Step away for awhile.

Friday, the blogging site went down and, when I went back to look, I had posted a status update of frustration that I couldn't get into the site about every hour.  I was absolutely obsessed with the fact that (a) several of my blog posts had disappeared and (b) I could not get in to post anything new.  This is the way my brain works.  The blog seems to be fixed now and if I had just used the time to do something else, well, it would have been a better use of my time than all of that obsessing and complaining about something I could do nothing about.  It kills me that I can’t stop worrying about things and I am desperate to shut myself up inside my head.

The smart thing to do, obviously, would have been to step away from the computer for awhile.  And I did do that to some degree.  At lunchtime, I finally went and had lunch, made the kids some cookies, shifted laundry around, and found myself right back in front of the computer, posting up my frustration for all to see.  I wonder sometimes how many people have "hidden" me on their Facebook feed because they get sick of seeing my profile picture coming up every few minutes because I have had yet another thought pop into my head.  Does anyone really care that I can’t get into my blog site?

Obsessiveness is a hallmark trait of being hypomanic.  I can usually catch myself now when I am doing it.  I can't always stop it, but I know I am doing it and I annoy myself horribly when I can’t stop.  I can't imagine how much I am annoying other people.

Weekends are particularly bad, because everyone in the whole world has a life.  I also have a life and it's a pretty good one, but I have managed to isolate myself from having any kind of normal outside commitments because of my social anxiety.  Which means I have a lot of free time on my hands over the weekends now that the kids are getting to the age where it’s no fun to hang out with Mom anymore.  I try to understand that weekends are family time for the other people in my life, stay calm, breathe deeply, and focus on things I enjoy doing like reading, or watching cable movies, or the 10 unfinished sewing projects I have lying around because I can't ever finish anything I start.  Or writing three or four blog entries.  Another hallmark trait of hypomania.  And then there's the laundry to do, which seems to multiply like rabbits behind my back when I am not paying attention.  There are errands to be run.  The kids always need something and being mom, it's my job to take care of whatever it is they need.  Which unfortunately falls a lot on Justin because of this pesky agoraphobia that just won’t go away. 

I hate to keep labeling myself as a “sick” person, but I know that this stuff going on in my head is just not normal.  I know everyone has issues, but do those issues make them unable to refocus when something is bothering them or keep them from being able to put a foot out the front door because of some unnamed, some unidentified fear?  Probably not.  Once I get out and get going, I’m usually just fine.  It’s making that effort to get the shoes on and grab the car keys and walk out the door.  It’s like there’s a brick wall instead of a doorway.  But the brick wall is actually inside of my head because the door physically will open and I can walk through it.  When I can make myself do it.

The problem is that I get these obsessive thoughts into my head and I can’t stand it that I can’t share them, which makes me obsess even more.  Justin gets tired of me going around in circles and he’s so busy between work and trying to keep up with the yardwork and the cars and all of the other stuff he does that he just does not have the patience to listen to me obsess.  So I try very hard to spare him as much of my obsessiveness as I can.  But it puts a lot of pressure in that space between my ears and sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode.

I wouldn’t say I exactly chose to have such an isolated life.  But I have not exactly helped myself.  Someone pointed out to me recently that obviously I can type so I should be able to find some kind of employment.  Okay, yes, clearly typing is a marketable skill.  But, I tried going back to work.  I really, really did.  I wanted desperately to make that job work because I needed to be out of the house for a few hours a week.  I lasted exactly 13 months before they asked me to resign.  They couldn’t handle my obsessive, anxious personality any more than I can.  Which means I am now at home 24/7 and there are no jobs anywhere in the area to be found.  And if there were, I doubt I would handle whatever job I found very well.

I have a degree, which obviously means I have above average intelligence, I interview well, and I am willing to do anything anyone asks of me.  The problem is that I am very anxious about making mistakes and it comes out fairly quickly on the job as my stress level builds.  What happened to the person I used to be?  I worked a high stress job as a legal assistant, juggled multiple cases, and worked to the satisfaction of my boss for years.  Where did that competent person go?

I think “I” went away as the bipolar and anxiety became worse.  I have made it even easier on myself to isolate after I had Justin move my desk and computer back up into the master bedroom to give him more privacy and quiet while he is earning the mortgage money.  The cats are upstairs animals and I love spending time with them in that bedroom, writing, messing around on the computer on Facebook, talking on the phone, and watching whatever cable program takes my fancy.  I even put the iPod dock in there and can listen to music while holed up in there.  It’s cozy, comfortable, and way too safe.

After we got the dog, I decided to take over the mid-day walk for Justin to allow him to do something else.  Like eat lunch, take a shower, go to the gym, read a book on his lunch break.  It drags me out of my comfortable little nook in the bedroom every day that the weather permits and I have had several very pleasant conversations with other people in the neighborhood who were struck by Jackson being such a beautiful dog and stopping to pet him and talk to me.  One woman who also has a golden retriever puppy even came back with me to the house with her dog and gave me her name and number so that we could get the dogs together for a doggy “play date.”  I haven’t called her.  I need to.  I should call her.  Why can’t I pick up the phone?  I know Jack would love it and it would be a person outside of my husband and my very few friends to talk to for awhile.

Having bipolar is a lonely thing.  Living in my head is annoying and frustrating and that spills out into everything from the way I talk to the kids to whether I can take the overdue library books back to the library.  It has settled itself into every aspect of my personality.  I do not like this, but I am not sure what to do about it.  I react badly physically to every mood stabilizer they try to put me on.  The SSRI’s make me horribly manic.  The new generation anti-psychotics make me feel like I’m either drunk or a zombie.  I know why schizophrenic patients go off their meds.  The side effects are simply horrible and I can see why it might be easier to live with hallucinations or voices in your head than to feel the way those drugs make you feel.

I am lucky in so many respects.  I do not live alone – I have Justin and the kids.  They are busy with their own lives, of course, but it is comforting to have them here in my life and know that they are here.  I know that any one of them would allow me to sit beside them for a few minutes and just soak up the “normal.”  So many people with mental illnesses do not have this luxury of living with other people.  Mental illness scares people and there is still a horrible stigma about it.  The general conception of a mentally ill person is someone who is completely irrational and out of their mind.  It’s hard to correct that perception and to convince people that most mental illness is both manageable and not really that scary.  Most of us are, for the most part, rational people with "eccentricities." 

Many people who are mentally ill think that no one would want to be with them romantically.  Or possibly the symptoms got away from us and have already driven potential spouses away.  Women who are on medications for mental illness have to worry about the risks vs. the benefits of taking their medications if they want to have children because of the birth defect possibility.  It’s a huge decision whether to have children when you have a mental illness both because you are afraid to go off the drugs to ensure the baby doesn’t get a birth defect, you are afraid of passing along your mental illness to your children, and you don’t know if you are going to be mentally able to handle being a parent. 

For me, it’s the last one that’s the killer.  I know that I have not been a perfect parent to my children because of my mental illness.  I was recently trying to explain to Joey why I receive social security disability.  I didn’t want to get into the whole bipolar thing because I thought it would be a lot to understand for a 12 year old, so I simply left it at, “I used to work but then I got sick.  I have something called depression and it’s when you are sad all the time.”  And then I proceeded to tell him that it was really better if he didn’t go around school telling everyone that Mom was getting social security money because she was sick with depression.  There is that stigma again.  I don’t want the kids to be judged because their mom is mentally ill.  So I try to keep the more extreme aspects of my illness from the kids and ask that they don’t share it with the world.  And then I share it on the blog.  My own little space on the internet, where I am trying to reach out to other people who have these issues and give them a feeling that they are not alone.

And the internet thing is a whole other thing, because I am really opening myself up and letting people into my internal craziness.  It’s a vulnerable place to be sometimes and just a bit frightening.  I am slowly building a readership base and I am working to expand that in many ways when I am mentally able.  But, being bipolar, the internet and writing is like everything else in my life.  Unfinished.  I love the blog for that reason, but there is so much more I could do if I could just concentrate and finish a thought.

Bipolar first.  Fibromyalgia second.  Writer third.  These are the things that somehow have come to define me, almost more than being a wife and mother.  I don’t like the way that priority list looks at all.  It needs some work.

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