Warning! High paranoia!

Today I am feeling incredibly paranoid. This happens a lot. Frustratingly, I am aware that my paranoia is likely just delusion and that there is seldom any truth in my fears, there is no evidence to back up my paranoia but I still feel as though everyone around me is whispering about me, as though I am hated, an irritant to those I care about. I feel useless and clumsy, I feel as though I am in the way, a burden.

My therapist, the wonderful Evelyn, says that to combat my paranoia I must attempt to find things that contradict my paranoid fears but most often that would mean confronting people and asking out-right if the way I feel is truth or delusion and though that may negate my paranoia it would increase my anxiety ten-fold.

Paranoia is one of my early warning signs. Early warning signs are the gravitating forces around any Bipolar sufferers world, they are not always the same but we all have them and the importance of finding them is almost all I hear about from my therapist. They are the triggers or repetitive actions that signal a mood swing and so in order to attempt to manage our condition we must first discover our early warning signs.

There are those that are fairly synonymous with all sufferers, deep lethargy within a low mood, reckless abandonment within a high but these are useless to us in a management sense because by the time we get to the point of these symptoms manifesting it is too late to reign the mood in. Then there are the early warning signs that are generally less apparent, I am still learning about mine but I have found a few; Anxiety triggers a low mood, the higher the anxiety the lower the mood – Anxiety can also trigger paranoia which in turn breeds stress, stress can trigger a high mood, the higher the stress, the higher the mood. I talk in a quiet voice before a low and a loud one before a high; I have a limitless sense of confidence right before a high hits, a deep lack of self-worth before a low… there are many triggers and the more I find the more sense it appears to make, though in the beginning the whole concept seemed utterly ridiculous to me.

The difficult part, I find, is that even if you reach the point where recognising all of these signs is just second nature (which seems so impossible to me right now) and you know what mood is coming, how will you ever really know what to do about it? I am learning though, in the case of my anxiety (which is by far the most common symptom within my Bipolar disorder) I have found that although I cannot make the anxiety go away, by facing situations head on I can sometimes lessen the severity of the low that is to come afterwards but I cannot make it go away entirely.

So in the case of paranoia no matter what I do to combat it, the mood is still going to swing and this is the warning that a high mood is coming but knowledge of what is coming seldom brings any comfort…

The pretty reckless…

Those who know me well, I am certain, would not think to describe as reckless, rash or one who would act without care of consequences but at times that is exactly the person I become and because these actions generally disturb and embarrass me I have become wonderfully adept at hiding them. However; every now and then a magnificently large episode of mania will strike culminating in actions so out of character that even I have a hard time reconciling them with my personality.

An example of one of these massive episodes would be the time I moved myself and my one and half-year old daughter all the way to Belgium to live with a man whom I had come into contact with online whilst in a very damaging relationship with my daughters father, I only met him once before I made the terribly reckless decision to move to Belgium to be with him… Even now, this shames me beyond what I could ever convey with mere words. Before I realised that this was a manic episode I tried to reason that it had been desperation that drove me to such a measure, desperation to get myself and my daughter out of a terrible life that had us trapped and in a sense that is true – but logic can argue that I could have been moving us into a far worse situation, I left myself and my daughter in the precarious hands of the unknown and that, to my mind, is unforgivable.

Luckily my foolish decision did not lead to dire consequences and though my mental health plummeted to levels akin to insanity while I was there it was not for lack of support from the man who ended up becoming my husband.

So far gone was I that those three years in Belgium are mostly lost to me, a murky pool of memories and no perception of what is fact and what is pure delusion.

After having my son I sank into depression and mania, further than I had ever been before (or ever intend to go again) and there were times in those hellish days that I was not the only person that believed I would never come back… My husband was the first person to tell me he believed I had post-natal depression and after some persuasion I agreed to see the doctor who prescribed me a mild anti-depressant – my doctor spoke fairly competent English but obviously prefered to speak in Dutch and so I felt painfully out of the loop when it came to my diagnosis, my husband told me I had been diagnosed with Psychotic depression; I researched psychotic depression online and my heart fell – was I really this terrible person, this monster?! My depression spiralled and the path of self-destruction began. I wrote goodbye letters to my children, I researched suicide methods online, I took 30 Citalopram tablets (Not realising they were never going to kill me and only gave me a horrendous, soaring, quaking high and shattering headache the next day), I sliced my wrists, I tied ropes to hang with, I swallowed massive amounts paracetamol and my poor husband ran around like a wild man thwarting my every attempt, afraid to leave me alone, a burden of massive proportions upon his shoulders. I begged him to have me committed on several occasions but he refused for which I am grateful as I have no doubt I would have been lost had he granted my request.

My depression continued to worsen, my anxiety grew to the point of ridiculousness where I could not answer the phone or the door and would rarely leave the house and so my husband was visiting the doctor for me a relaying his interpretation of my symptoms. I later found out that my husband had embellished a lot about what the doctor was saying (I still don’t understand why – desperation, perhaps?) and that he had never said I had psychotic depression; this shattered my already broken emotions and I fell further into the hellish pit of psychosis.

I was a wild thrashing beast of a person, impossible to reason with and the very definition of psychotic.

I don’t know how I eventually clawed my way out of the insanity and I live in a near-constant state of terror that I will relapse to that point again and not have the strength to come back. Insanity is like foreign land, a home away from home – both a comfort and torture in equal measure. I miss it sometimes even as I quake in fear at the thought of its return… I don’t think I can really explain why I miss it, I don’t think I know why…

Depression and the darkness that comes with it seems so much more acceptable than the symptoms of mania. When I am depressed, I wallow, I ooze lethargy, I spread sorrow and I’m sure I’m not much fun to be around but so much worse than that, for me, is the thought that whilst in the throes of a manic episode I might endanger a loved one or act in a manner that hurts someone, then there is the painful embarrassment stemming from the occasions of mania in my past – the lack of reconciliation with the person I am and the lack of control over the person I become… and the excruciating knowledge that I don’t know if an action is caused by mania until it is already too late. How can I ever believe I am not a bad person when I have hurt so many people? Does a lack of intention to hurt equate a lack of blame?

 

Relationships…the cut and run

My Bipolar disorder mixed with a heap of anxiety and a few helpings of paranoia has served to destroy most of the relationships and friendships I have had through my 27 years.

I have always felt I was a bad person and for a long time my behaviour was what most people would construe as fairly awful though I’m sure there are worse things I could have been doing… I still have a hard time believing this doesn’t make me a terrible person but my therapist has been trying to convince me otherwise. She says that the behaviour I exhibited was in correlation to my illness and the desperation, as a child, to try to cope with the feelings I had no hope of understanding and a reaction to the ways in which I was treated on occasion by those around me as they tried, in vain, to understand why I was behaving in this way. I don’t know if I believe this but I do know that the way I feel about myself has had and continues to have a massive impact on my friendships and relationships culminating in what I term, the cut and run… My best friend and mental saviour is the only person that I have let in on the secret of the cut and run – which until around 2009 was a completely subconscious action; essentially the cut and run is the point in any relationship or friendship that I have had where I feel we are getting close, fear, paranoia and anxiety strikes, I panic that the other person is going to get tired of me, delude myself into believing that they secretly hate me and live in a constant fear that they will realise I’m not worth the trouble and leave and so to save myself from the pain of loss I cut and run – as a result of this I have lost many, many people and have never had a relationship or close friendship that lasts longer than 3 years, until my current friend.

The realisation of what I was doing only dawned on me when I left my husband, in 2009, after just under 3 years together; I was very unhappy with him, but I had no real reason to be as he was a generous and loving man (though a little immature but nobody is perfect). He was pushed to the edge after trying to cope with my illness for so long and he was at a loss as to how to help me – but that is understandable as after having my son I suffered a complete psychotic episode which lasted for around two of the almost three years I was with him and I will never know how he continued to pour so much love my way while I behaved in the way that I did.

After realising that I was running from all of my most important relationships I came back to the importance of honesty and so my current friend is privy to my failings in almost painful detail and she accepts each and every one of them with a grace that boggles the brain. We celebrated our 3 year ‘friendaversary’ at the end of last year in honour of my beating the cycle and maintaining a friendship longer than any other in my past and closer than all those before it; it is impossible to describe how wonderful it feels to have someone who understands exactly how much it means for me to have made it to that point. I honestly do not know what I would do without her. I know without a doubt that on the days plagued by paranoia and anxiety she will attempt pull me out of it and if I were ever to cut and run she would chase me down and force me to reconsider. This is the beauty of honesty and acceptance, friendship and compassion.

Therapy

Yesterday was my ninth out of a planned sixteen sessions of therapy and my first since we took a break for the Christmas holidays. My therapist has said to me in almost every session I have attended ‘Yes, you’ve got it; well done you’ and every time she has said it I have felt a little dejected because no, I don’t feel as though get it. Yesterday I think I finally got it, the meaning of therapy, the thing my therapist has been trying to drum into me is exactly what I feared all along; she can’t help me, I have to do this. Of course I knew this already but accepting it as fact is a terrifying concept – essentially all that therapy can do for me is teach me to behave a different way to cope with the way my Bipolar disorder makes me feel but these feelings, this torture and agony that lives within my brain will never go away and for the rest of my days I will have to work hard to look as though I am not in turmoil on the inside. This knowledge is not therapeutic in the least.

My therapist says that after changing my behaviour for a long while it will become a second nature and not so much of an effort or a chore and so perhaps I will not have to work at pretending forever but this doesn’t seem like much of a cure to me… All through life you will hear people telling you to be yourself and my therapist is telling me to behave like the masses in order to keep myself sane.

Not to mention the other ‘coping techniques’ I have been told to apply to my everyday living; the school holidays that interfere so much with my disease because of their lack of structure are my responsibility to cure. In order to do this I will have to write a plan for each day, give myself a reason and set time to be out of bed… the very things I have no motivation to do.

I feel a great weight of pressure upon my head, wellness is my responsibility but how can I possibly stay well when a very vocal part of me doesn’t even want sanity?

Honestly… maybe

When I was around 19 I made a conscious decision to stop lying. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and it certainly didn’t happen over night, but it was at that point that I decided it needed to stop, things had to change. I realise that must sound a little strange and must be hard for the average person to understand; I think to really grasp what I’m saying you have to know that my entire being, up until that point, was essentially a coiled, slithering mess of lies and exaggerations. I used to lie to get attention, I lied to avoid punishment (fairly standard for a child), I lied to make a situation more fantastical, I lied to make myself more interesting, I lied out of pure delusion.

Everything I did and said was tinged with some form of a lie and then of course there was the ever developing farce of ‘being ok’.

There are occasions I can remember where, as a child, my depression must have been fairly noticeable to those around me (although none of us suspected what it was), my mum would ask what was bothering me and I would rack my brains trying to figure out just what was wrong, most of the time I would not even notice that I was feeling sad until she brought it up (that was how I always felt – it was just normal for me) I didn’t know why I was feeling down, but the answer of ‘I don’t know’ was not enough for my concerned mum to let up and so eventually I began making up stories as to why I was feeling sad. As an adult, I am still flabbergasted that she ever believed some of the tales I used to weave, but I suppose she was just relieved to have some sort of explanation as to why I was so often withdrawn and melancholy. My dad however, was not so easily taken in by my lies and so trouble often came my way. Generally though it was the festering, un-caught lies that landed me in hot water; I never took much care when lying – I didn’t plan to lie, my brain and I had no agreed upon story and so I rarely kept track of the lies I had already told and would often get caught in the middle of a lie that contradicted the mountains of others. They would build to such a twisted mass that after a while even I had problems deciphering the truth.

I don’t know what made me decide to stop the lying eventually but though I have occasionally relapsed, I now try to live my life in as much honesty as possible. There is a massive freedom in declaring your failings to the people you know, accepting them within yourself and having others accept them too.

I’m not proud of my lies. I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as a boast – I am painfully ashamed with the way I behaved to the point that when I was 21 I sent emails to some of the people I had lied to over the years, apologising. I know that over the years I have caused unimaginable hurt to those around me, but to not face the things I have done would surely be the cowards way out.

I have spent a long time believing I was a bad person because of the lies I told and to a degree I still believe that. My therapist says it was a symptom of being ill for so many years, I had to develop a way to cope with my disease and the things I didn’t understand. I believed some of the lies I told so fiercely that even now it is hard to see that some of the things I thought I knew are a fabrication.

Bipolar disorder is essentially, according to my therapist, behaviours that have arisen due to the chemical imbalance in the brain and so scientifically I suppose I am not a bad person; but to those I have hurt I am nothing but a liar and an attention seeker and sometimes no amount of remorse can undo your mistakes.

I live now in what is sometimes a painful state of honesty; I don’t open myself up to just anyone but those close to me are aware of all of my failings both past and present and luckily, for me, all of the people I have chosen to open up to have been unfailingly accepting. Their acceptance is like a drug, addictive, euphoric and warming to the core. I feel free to be myself and that is a true gift. I don’t need to make up a fantastical lie as to why I want to arrive an hour early for an appointment because my friend knows already that I have a strange need to be ridiculously early for everything and she accepts it. I  don’t need to make my excuses and leave a party early because the crowd of new people are too much for me because everyone I surround myself with understands my anxiety and will support me. I don’t need to embellish my stories to make myself seem more interesting because to them, I am already interesting…

Honesty is such a great freedom and I wouldn’t be me without it.

Meditation and impending doom.

As is usual after a period of guilt for my perceived failings as a human being, I have been struck by an unnerving sense of impending doom today. It is an uncomfortable feeling, close to the feeling that you might get when you’ve forgotten to do something really important only this is laced with a dread at the possible consequences. It reminds me of the feeling I used to get as a child when I had done something naughty and knew that my parents were only moments away from discovering my offence; it is a trepidation, a fear, it fills my heart with an itchy, weighted sorrow and spreads adrenaline until I’m so close to drowning that it hurts to breathe.

There is no calm within a phase of impending doom only a building agitation, a closeness to implosion, combustion… one more stroke of stress and my brain will explode like the proverbial time-bomb it is. There is no reasoning behind the feeling and so there is no quick fix either, only despair and confusion.

Calming things can sometimes help to soothe the ominous feeling, a warm bath, a book to get lost within, gentle music, silence and the most effective of all, in my opinion, is meditation. I have never studied meditation, I do not pretend to know the proper practices but I have found what works for me and essentially that is sitting in a comfortable position in a dimly lit room with my eyes closed and soothing music playing quietly, I slowly empty my mind of thoughts and concentrate on my breathing, letting myself drift within the nothingness. It is sheer bliss when it works but that can depend on exactly where my mood is at that time; if I am in a high mood it is impossible to meditate, not only is my mind going at 100 mph but my body does not want to stay still either and within a big depressive episode it is rather redundant to even attempt to meditate as I am generally in a near vegetative state anyway…

I keep telling myself to stay positive, I can figure out how to manage all this crazy Bipolar stuff, but the harder I try the more complicated things seem to get – I’m not sure I can make it through this.

My biggest critic…

There isn’t a day that has gone by where I don’t feel as if I have failed in some way. My therapist says that it is my cycle, everything in my Bipolar disorder comes back to me feeling like a failure, incompetent and stupid. I have always felt judged – as if everyone in my life disapproved of me in some way. At some point, I suppose, it is rather too much of a coincidence that everyone feels the same way and then you have to accept what is painfully clear to everyone else; you are your biggest critic and the majority of the rest is in your head.

So today as I sit, terribly disappointed with myself and feeling incredibly paranoid and as if I have failed everyone in some way, I know that really I have only failed myself. But still the worry of what others think plagues me.

Yesterday I was planning on going to a Bipolar self-help group – my therapist suggested it. They meet on the first Thursday of every month, there is a visiting speaker each month who works in mental health within some professional capacity then there is a chance to mingle with others who suffer with Bipolar disorder. I was excited to go and meet people who would understand and have had some of the same experiences as me; I thought it would probably help me to come to terms with having this illness as, at times, I find it hard to not find some of the symptoms of Bipolar a little unbelievable and ridiculous. However, anxiety got the better of me, I spent the day sleeping my anxieties away and then woke with no confidence and a lot of guilt and decided not to go, a decision I have been beating myself up about ever since…

Self-help… That is how they tell me I can manage Bipolar disorder, but how can I possibly do that when sometimes I don’t want to be better; sometimes it would be so easy to succumb to the disease, give up – face oblivion. I suppose the only way to avoid that fate is to listen to my biggest critic, me.

Ahhhh routine…

Dear Brain,

Back to some semblance of normality today as the kids were back in school. I had a nice lunch with my mum, completed some mundane tasks – not to mention a quick catch up with the most compassionate and understanding friend ever (did I mention I’m feeling very over-emotional and dramatic today?) In a ‘how-well-did-I-pretend-to-be-sane-today’ kind of way it was a good day.

Routine always helps a lot in the sense that I have a reason to drag myself out of bed at a decent time in the morning – I must switch my brain on long enough to nag the kids into their school uniforms and maintain a steady flow of motherly nagging until their bellies are full of breakfast and their shoes are tied; there is some purpose to a morning. However; routine also seems to drag me down – I am a perfectly (yeah right!) well-functioning person between the hours of 7am – 9am but without the lure of family or friends for the day it is almost certain I will return home and sleep the day away… I always have the best of intentions not to; I have made lists, pacts, I even tried bribing myself with cake but nothing beats the lure of being totally oblivious and switching off from life all day (and I still eat the cake) – if I’m asleep I don’t need to think about the washing piling up the wall and the dishes growing science experiments, I am not aware of the two corn flakes that have been trodden into the carpet or the freshly spread toothpaste on my bathroom mirror… I can’t debate the worth of my life compared to that of a gnat, I don’t analyse the way my daughters, friends, snotty mother looked at me in the playground that morning or whether I might be a failure at everything I do. In other words I can hide from the things I tell myself I should be doing. I wake at 2.30pm groggy and ashamed of myself but I made it through another day and there are only a few more hours to be responsible and alert until I can fail at sleeping during the night just to do it all again tomorrow.

Is this a recurring trend of Bipolar disorder I am beginning to see? That it’s a fickle bastard, full of contradiction, the very things that aids also offers defeat – showing little in the way of a solution, a reprieve – no light at the end of this tunnel, we’re conserving energy! Yep, that would surely fit my experience of it so far.

There is something inherently odd about having a disease and not knowing everything about it; I suppose I must know more that I realise, having lived with it for so long, but I don’t know what I know – how very odd… to learn bit by bit what has been affecting you for the majority of your life and how it has been doing it. That knowledge seeps into every memory you have, tinges and poisons them all, both good and bad memories, skews all that you held to be true and leaves you holding nothing – your very foundation, your childhood (which was not a stable foundation anyway) has crumbled and turned to dust – do you subside? Or tear everything down and start to build again, perhaps on firmer ground this time… I know which would be the easier path.

Triggers and rapid cycling.

Dear Brain,

What a day. An absolute confirmation that I rapid cycle and a glimpse into what is perhaps one of my triggers. I should feel accomplished, but I just feel drained and ashamed and full of chocolate…

I woke up today in the same low slump that I am always in when the kids are off of school and I have no stead-fast routine to keep me moving, I should probably learn from past school holiday struggles and create a routine, set a time to be out of bed and structure some activities as a reason to move myself – of course, if I had the motivation for all of that there would be nothing wrong with me!  I struggled to get out of bed today and when I eventually did drag myself from my pit it was only to slump on the sofa and turn on my computer. I then checked my online bank account – expecting to see the same empty coffer as was there yesterday, but no – there was a nice wad of unexpected money in the bank account! I realise this would get anyone a little excited but for me it was the moment my low swung to a high, sky-high… and probably the first time I have recognised (in hindsight) the actual swing from one to another.

I rushed around getting the kids in order, getting myself in order – barking unreasonable commands and feeling frustrated at the amount of time everything was taking. Then we went out to spend my money. Some of the things were practical things, School shoes and shirts (desperately needed!) other things were frivolous and reckless – expensive haircut for my daughter, toys, food to binge on later… I spent everything, almost to the penny.

The tough thing to process is that I didn’t see it for what it was (a high mood/recklessness) until it was over, so what do I do to prevent a reoccurrence? More vigilance? Never spend anything ever again? Stop looking at my bank account? None of these solutions seem very realistic for the long-term.

I am still in the very early stages of therapy and diagnosis so I’m still learning about and discovering my triggers but it would seem to me that an unexpected source of income is one of the triggers that sends me into a high mood, providing me with the symptom, reckless spending. It seems rather ridiculous to call reckless spending a symptom of a high mood but I certainly didn’t have any form of obvious control over my spending today – there was no decision to go and spend the money, it was instantaneous – there was no need to make a decision because it was an knee-jerk reaction to getting money and surely that is enough to prove that it is a symptom of my disease and not that I am just bad with money or irresponsible.

One of the hardest parts of Bipolar disorder for me is the knowledge that tomorrow I may wake up a different personality, I have no control. Even this post, attempting (rather ineptly) to describe the move from one mood to another and analyse what is a potential breakthrough in relation to my triggers, may seem like utter drivel to tomorrow’s Cheryl. Today I may learn, watch, analyse and evaluate and yet tomorrow’s Cheryl will disprove, argue and debate leaving me standing still, forever dancing through what I do and do not understand about Bipolar disorder.

 

 

 

The bare bones of me.

Dear brain,
I want to share with you something that I posted to Facebook a month or so ago;
I have Bipolar disorder. You may have some preconceived notion of what that means (I know I did) but it probably isn’t what you think. It means that I’m probably going to yabber on about how I feel more than the average person – emotions are like the physical symptoms of an average illness, to me. I’ll probably say something illogical once in a while, or I won’t say it (which is worse) I mean it at the time but I’m aware it’s not true, paranoia is like a friend you just can’t get rid of. I’m going to fuck a lot of things up, but I’m working really hard not to; I always thought it was because I was a bad person and I’m still working on not believing that. I can’t always cope with the mundane stresses of life and sometimes when there is just too much ironing in the basket or that bitch in the school playground is giving me the wrong look it overwhelms me and I sleep to recover (or to hide) It can make me look lazy (its hard to even convince myself otherwise) but essentially I am just sleeping off my illness as you might sleep off the flu or a virus. When anxiety pays me a visit; as it often does, it can be hard to even leave the house or answer the phone. My therapist and I have discovered that I have had this illness for 22 years of my 27 years on this planet, you can imagine how that might have stilted my development and so when I seem a little socially awkward it’s really only because I was sick the day they taught social interaction. I spend a little recklessly sometimes (yes, that’s a symptom too) I eat far too much cake (amongst other things) and when I seem at my ‘happiest’ I’m just as ill as ever. I know it’s a lot to swallow and hard to believe some of these things are related; sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just a good excuse to be a mess but I have no control (though I’m learning to have more) and I don’t want to be this way… I have lived with this illness for such a long time (some times have been worse than others) that it is difficult to know what makes up my personality, my character and nature and what is this plague called Bipolar disorder. I suppose the most important thing to understand is that even I don’t understand it. I have a mental illness and though I can’t say I’m proud I can say I am not ashamed. Maybe it is necessary to share this via the medium of social networking amongst many people who I have not seen in over 10 years and some I count as my nearest and dearest or maybe it isn’t, but there is some kind of freedom in owning my illness and declaring my plight and if this declaration can make my struggle (or anyone else’s) just a little easier then my mini soapbox stand has been worth it.
I felt it was important to share that here initially, mainly because it so accurately describes my ‘condition’ (though it has to be said, it does not describe my personality).  I also shared this here because I am so incredibly proud that I wrote it and laid myself bare for all to see, it took a lot of courage and I felt rather sick for a long time afterwards!!
What an introduction it is though, what a way to enter a room! If only life imitated the computer screen… I can be what I want here and I want to be the woman who entered the room with a bang!
I received such an incredible out-pouring of love and support from my friends and family for that post, both those that I was certain would comment with things to make your heart go gooey and those I had no idea even registered my existence. I revelled in their love for weeks, I got greedy with their attentions, addicted to their support but nothing lasts forever. You see, unfortunately you only get to do that once, I can’t post that declaration every day and receive the same support, that would be attention seeking, not to mention a little odd – but my disease has not gone away despite the interest dying down, I am still learning about this wonderfully hellish plague called Bipolar disorder and though I need to talk (and whine) about it almost constantly people (quite rightly) do not want to hear about it day in, day out for the rest of their lives. And so, it is here that Dear brain… becomes my saviour! I can ramble to myself about the idiosyncrasies of Bipolar disorder (among other things) and my loved ones get to maintain their sanity; though, dear readers, I fear you do not!