Like Sunday Morning.

I used to be an easily agitated person. I’d fly off the handle and lose my temper very easily. I remember as a teenager my mum started saying I needed anger management classes because I’d suddenly lose my shit and yell and shout over the littlest of things. And I could physically feel it within me. I had days where I had this darkness inside me, this negative energy and I’d actually want to blow a fuse and lose it. I’d wake up and know that all it would take was something insignificant and I’d be gone. In those black moods I wanted to hurt and upset those I cared about.

I wasn’t a physically violent person, but definitely threatening and verbally abusive. It was a very ugly thing, and I am ashamed to admit that I was like this. Because it wasn’t me, not really who I am inside. I mean I did those things, I take responsibility for my actions and feel bad for them. But it was to some extent something that was out my control until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started having the appropriate therapy and medication.

One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve been on my medication is that situations where I would have melted down just fly right over my head and I keep my cool. In general, when it comes to potentially upsetting scenarios mostly I am very chill.

I’m like Sunday Morning. Easy.

I don’t get as bothered about people or things as I used to. Once upon a time my fuse was so short I would sometimes snap if my ex breathed loudly at night (poor guy has a deviated septum it’s very difficult for him to breath through his nose at all let alone when trying to sleep!).

These days most little things don’t bug me, and many big things barely affect me. I still have my moments when I get angry. From time to time I get a little irritable, I might be a teensy bit short or snappish. And I still have anxiety issues, but I normally clam up and internalise rather than externalise. I don’t shout and scream and rant and rave like I used to. When I’m off kilter nowadays I am far more likely get either super happy or super sad. There are far fewer phases of rage. Most days I have an unfazed, laid back attitude.

If anyone remembers Lucas from E

If anyone remembers Lucas from Empire Records, sometimes I think I’m almost as Zen as he is!

A Little More Backstory

I have been a single parent for 2 years – ever since the life altering moment when my now ex decided he just “couldn’t do this anymore” and walked out after the children had gone to bed. What he meant of course was that he couldn’t be with me anymore. At the time I was blindsided, I didn’t see it coming. I was getting treatment for my illness and was actually breaking ground and getting better. His leaving was a huge shock at the time, but eventually I have come to understand why he had to leave me.

However, he fucked up royally by leaving me to deal with the aftermath of his decision. I (still to this day) have to field the endless questions of why daddy left without saying goodbye, the nightmares, the fears that I’ll disappear in the middle of the night. Some of the residual effects are still present in the both of my children and that pains me deeply.

For the first couple of months after he left, he didn’t call them or see them – I could have fucking eviscerated him. How does a person who adored his children from day they were born – who had an integral part in taking care of them; was so present in their lives – go from everything to nothing?

I get that he couldn’t deal with me anymore. I know that I’m a shit person to live with because of my flaws and the fucking dark clouds of bipolar that shrouds me at times. I also get the fact he probably felt guilty for abandoning the kids without warning. He maybe even felt a little guilty for hurting me. But that doesn’t excuse cutting off all contact with them for any length of time.

If it was only me in this equation, I would have said “Whatever. I’m well shot of this pillock.” and forget I ever knew him. But it was my children whose needs I had to think about. And I know that they want and need him in their lives. And honestly before all of this he was the best dad in the world. He really was.

Things have gotten better now, he calls them (from time to time) and has them stay once a week. It’s not really enough for them because deep down they miss him fiercely, miss having his constant presence in their lives. But at least he’s there for them in some capacity.

One of the things that still bother me is the fact that he’s never had to deal with the fallout from his leaving out of the blue. He left it all to me to clean up. I keep trying to explain to him, that he needs to acknowledge to them what he did wrong – to explain that it wasn’t their fault he left. However, because he doesn’t have to see the tears, the worry, the struggles they have – he thinks that everything is ok so he can just sweep it under the rug and forget it happened.

For someone so brave (he works in emergency services), he really can be gutless. He goes into shutdown over anything that forces him to admit to his imperfections, to acknowledge mistakes he has made, to look deeper into his heart and soul. He runs, runs like the wind, instead of confronting and dealing with emotional situations. Life gets tough and he’s checking for the exit, finding a loophole in the contract, eager to find a way out. He doesn’t deal – he runs.

I get that more than he understands – I spent most of my life running. But I stopped running. I had children and realised that I can’t run anymore. I have to face who I am, how I feel, all of the things I don’t like about myself, about my situation. I have to stand strong for them. Always for them.

No Meds Make Karlee a very Agitated Girl.

Oh [insert expletives here] it’s 3:28am and I’m not asleep yet. It’s all my fault of course, I was distracted and forgot to take my medication. Through trial and error I have found the optimum time to take my medication is at 8:30pm. 1/2 an hour earlier than that and I wake up far too early (like 4am early). 1/2 an hour later than that and I’m too drowsy to wake up in the morning. And if I don’t take it at all – I don’t sleep.

I always assumed that the sleeplessness wouldn’t really occur unless there had been a prolonged period of withdrawal. But it seems that even missing one dose keeps me awake all night long. Which is painful when you have two darling children who always seem to require your full attention by 7am at the latest.

I’m so exhausted, I can’t stop yawning, I’m feeling nauseous, and my eyes are watering. But I lie in the dark and sleep just won’t come. My mind is racing, my body is agitated, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Like an addict I need the hit. But I can’t take my meds now – if I do it will mess me right up. I can’t afford to be drowsy all day, I have children that I cannot neglect.

So I have to hope that I can make it through the day, I just have to hold on long enough. If I can reach 8:30pm in one piece I can sleep through the night. Theoretically anyway.

The Ups and Downs of being UP

I’m not going to lie – there have been numerous times when I want to go off my medication because I want to bring on manic episodes. I know that’s a very dangerous thing to do – I learned some time ago just how critical it is for me to keep taking my medication regularly. So I wouldn’t intentionally stop taking them no matter how much I might think I want to.

But when I am feeling this way it is because I want the clarity, the feeling that I know the answer to everything, the certainty that I can save the world and bring peace. I long for the high of being connected to the universe, of feeling the energy of every living thing, the self assurance that I can change the world and make a difference. I know that these are delusions, that I don’t really have all the answers, that I can’t literally bring about world peace. But I crave the way the manic periods bring me a sense of purpose, of feeling good about myself, of feeling worthwhile.

Of course in reality it’s never as good as memory recalls. My high periods frequently included impulsive, reckless and downright dangerous behaviour, of an attitude of “fuck the consequences”, of a fools bravery that I was invincible. It also made me not a very nice person, as I lost the mind to mouth filter and said things without thinking or caring that they might hurt people. I would be irritable and annoying and pick fights – all for no reason other than to amuse myself at how easily I could push buttons and how angry I could make someone.

But of course time and distance always makes us gloss over the negative aspects of a memory. When I am longing for the manic periods it’s because my mind is choosing to only hold onto the more palatable aspects of those times. It remembers the allure of the self confidence but conveniently chooses to ignore the unpleasantness of the arrogance. It remembers the feeling of seeking thrills, but blatantly forgets the troubles recklessness brings.

If I knew I could control myself, if I could know how far to go and when to stop – I would embrace the mania. It makes me feel so good. But I know I don’t have control, and that’s the whole dangerous problem. So even though I wish I had the exhilaration of self assurance, I take comfort from the fact that lacking it means I don’t take stupid and unnecessary risks for the hell of it.

Still sometimes I miss that brave (and stupid) manic me – because I see my “normal” self as being too much Clark Kent and not enough Superman. Except in reality when without the meds I’m more like Jekyll and Hyde and I know that’s definitely not something to aspire to.

A Peek into a Private Journal Entry.

I was looking through my notebook for something to write about (it seems writer’s block was upon me tonight). And I was reading a journal entry I had written last week when it was still school holidays and my children hadn’t returned from holidaying with their dad at his parents place in the country.

Whilst a lot of this particular entry contains rather embarrassing stuff that I would never share with anyone (which is why I write it in my private journal) there is part of it that I want to share. Clearly at the time I wrote it I wasn’t in the right state of mind (however that tends to be the only time I write in my journal).

But in this entry, even though I was having irrational reactionary thoughts – a part of my mind was still self aware that I was being moderately delusional. And even though it’s not really funny, the way I wrote down my train of thought kind of makes me laugh due to the absurdity.

Fuck I am losing my grip. I had thoughts before of not being here when the kids come home. Those thoughts then moved on to running away somewhere. And what actually went through my mind next was “Too bad I don’t have a current passport – I could buy a ticket to London and disappear”. Of course then I think “Thankfully I DON’T have a passport”. Then next thing I know I’m seriously considering applying for a passport just so I could do it. When I am considering shit like this in all seriousness – it is not a good sign. It is a sign I am cracking up.

It hasn’t been the only entry of this kind recently. The rest of this entry, and the others like it, are really too messed up to go into detail on. But lets just say I was on the verge of checking out of reality for a while. This isn’t the first, or last, time that I have had an irrational thought process like this. But sadly, in the past, I didn’t have that self aware part. The part that knew my thinking was irrational, and could stop me from following those thoughts into action. In the past I just used to follow my impulses for better or worse (usually the latter) without thinking about how this would impact the future.

Thankfully I now seem to have part of me that remains present and tethered to this world – even when my impulsive responses kick in. And for the time being this self aware part of me has a hold strong enough bring me back from the brink. It keeps me grounded. It also keeps me alive.

It’s times like these when I am actually glad for that “fracturing” of my mind into different aspects – because it means that my tendency towards internal conflict leads to indecision, and procrastination, and ultimately not following through on a lot of impulsive behaviour. The mood stabilizers help me not to get too extreme, so I can retain a modicum of self restraint. Even if the restraint isn’t a conscious effort, but rather simply due to those aspects of my mind failing to agree on a course of action.

They sit and argue it out, and ultimately I’m rendered immobile, until it washes over and I can think straight again. I guess it can be useful being a thinker rather than a doer.

For who could ever learn to love a beast?

I was out to lunch with a couple of my co-workers the other day, and one of them happened to ask me “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?” My answer to that was a resounding “no” as if I thought she was completely nuts for asking. She didn’t seem to understand why I would say “no” like that, and though I never explained myself – it did get me thinking.

What was my reasoning to be incredulous at the thought that I’d be dating anyone? I think my disbelief stems more from my wondering – who the heck would want to be with me? I’m sure I have many redeeming qualities – I know I am loyal, I have the capacity to be loving, I am genuine and honest, and sometimes have a rather mischievous sense of humour. But that sort of stuff takes time for someone to learn.

At first glance I am somewhat aloof and detached. I have difficulty trusting other people, and tend to keep to myself. But more crucially I’m damaged goods – a single parent of 2 children, AND I live with Bipolar disorder. I mean if my ex couldn’t live with me – even though we have 2 children together – who the fuck would want to put up with me? I know I have many days where I’d like to check out and be someone else so I didn’t have to put up with me.

It’s not like I necessarily believe I’m actually really truly damaged goods. It’s more like I don’t feel like I am whole (I wonder if I ever will be). And if I can’t be whole for myself, I don’t think I can be whole for anyone else.

I’m awfully lonely though, and I’d love to have someone who truly understands me in my life – my own Mr. Right. But I don’t think I have the capacity to be anyone’s Ms. Right. At least not in the way anyone would need me to be, the way they would deserve to have me be. I am too particular, I need my life to be a certain way or I can’t function. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to accommodate my peculiarities because it would be asking too much.

I wish knew better when I got into the relationship with my ex. I didn’t realise the kind of person I am. If I did; there is no way I would have gone that far. I wouldn’t have let it get serious enough to have a family. I would never have willingly put anyone into the situation where I just make them miserable because of the parts of me I cannot control.

Now, I have to live with the fact that I emotionally damaged someone else because of my illness. And I constantly worry that I’m going to ruin my kids and make them miserable. I do the best I can, but sometimes I don’t have anything left to give my kids. My energy, my attention, my affection – they are all limited resources and there are times I don’t have them to give. And if there are times I can’t even give them to my own flesh and blood, what hope would anyone who “chooses” to be with me have?

I’d like to say that I believe that there is somebody for everybody, but it is my belief that there are always exceptions to every rule. And I happen to be an exception in this case.

Note 1: This is not a pity party, I don’t need to be told that I am “whole” or that I will find “Mr. Right” someday. This post expresses personal feelings that I had to get out of my brain into the real world. I currently accept the above as my place life. I acknowledge that I may not always feel this way, but at least for the foreseeable future this is how I see it.

Note 2: The title of this post is a quote from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Please don’t try to “Fix me”

I know that people in my life are generally well meaning when it comes to advice. But for a person who lives with Bipolar disorder, sometimes even the most well intentioned advice comes across as hurtful and insensitive. I don’t open up very easily – it’s difficult for me to put into words my own thoughts and feelings (especially when they are running around my head at a million miles a minute). But when I choose to speak – I’m not looking for a “fix me”. I don’t want advice. I just want someone to listen to what I am saying, to really listen to me, understand me. I want them to be in the moment with me, so I can get stuff out of my head and hopefully make more sense of my world.

One of the classic things my dad says when I’m trying to explain what it’s like when I am depressed is “we all have our good days and bad days”. I know what he is trying to say. I know he is trying to show solidarity and let me know that I’m not alone. But he doesn’t have a mood disorder so all I’m hearing is “stop complaining and get over it.”

I can’t just get over it. I’ve said it before – I think too much. I obsess over every thought, every action, every detail. I deliberate and overthink the intent of such a simple statement. And of course I feel my skin crawl, my mind preemptively jumping into defence mode, arms at the ready to scream “I can’t get over it”. I know logically that’s not what he means – but knowing it doesn’t invalidate my feelings.

The other piece of advice I get is to “just breathe”. I get that from a colleague at work when my anxiety levels start to rise. I feel like shouting “I am fucking breathing – I haven’t collapsed from a lack of oxygen!” Again I know she means well, that regulating breathing can help calm a person. It’s not like I don’t already know what I need to do. But my mind first of all needs to process what precisely is happening before I can figure out what I need to do about it. Jumping into a “solution” before I’ve identified the symptoms will not speed up recovery time. And the day I fucking stop breathing is the day I am dead.

It also bothers me when someone who hasn’t experienced Bipolar disorder tells me they “know how I feel” and rattle off some story about the time they decided on a whim to do something ‘outrageous” and then cried about it for a week. Yeah. You don’t know how I feel. I can only wish my condition was that simple.

There are a few people in my life that I could kiss though. One of them is my former supervisor . Whenever she could see I was struggling because of my mood disorder, she would pull me aside and ask me “how are you feeling?”. And she would listen, just listen. And when I was done talking she would say to me “tell me what I can do to help make things easier for you.” This is the kind of help that I need from people. This is what makes me want to actually be involved in human interaction, not just watching from the sidelines.

I know I have other things to mention on this topic, but my thoughts are not slowing down long enough for me to grab onto them.

Music for my Mood

My mum thinks I have weird taste in music. It is entirely possible that it is weird, however I like to think of it as eclectic. And of course depending on my mood, my musical choices change. I’ve never really thought about until recently –  I have a specific type of music that I’ll listen to depending on which direction the mood pendulum is swinging.

It only really caught my attention because there is a particular song at the moment that I really can’t get enough of. The song is called Itch and it’s by a band from the UK called Colour of Bone (I’m obsessed with all of their music at the moment). I finally worked out today (after listening to it for weeks and weeks) that the reason this song is resonating so well with me is that the music almost perfectly creates an audial representation of the more unpleasant (manic) side of my experiences with Bipolar.

It begins with frantic, and agitated piano notes, and a verse that is harshly chanted and the words almost spat out. The frantic pace and heavy electronic sound suddenly gives ways to a calmer but uneasy chorus that hints of something bubbling just under the surface. After another frenetic verse, and uneasy chorus – with a sigh the music transitions to something more dreamy and almost psychedelic in nature.

This song is practically imitating how I am when I am on the way towards a manic episode. The build up of agitation and irritability, my skin practically crawling with anxiety. Those moments interspersed with reluctant surrender, the uneasy calm before I am totally losing control and any sense of reality. And even the lyrics speak volumes to me, to the angst and confusion and my loss of control. Especially the part of the chorus “Go I think I’ll be a while…” the way it’s sung it matches the way I feel – with a heavy sigh I am resigning myself to the fact that the pendulum has swung, and I have to go into damage control.

I have been very good at maintaining control and not getting into a full blown manic (complete with psychosis) stage. But it’s always there, under the surface, an itch I can’t reach, can’t relieve. Never quite sure when everything I have carefully built will all come crashing down.

But I don’t fear the crash. I never waste time and energy fearing it. I just do the best I can do with what I’ve got. One foot in front of the other.

The Fear of Being a Mental Mum

I have two children, aged 8 & 7 (there is a 15 month age gap). One of the things that is a constant battle for me is the fear/guilt that I am not a good parent, and that I’m going to ruin my kids lives because of my mental illness.

I’ve mentioned before that there have been a number of occasions in my life when I was diagnosed with depression. When my youngest was born I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. A couple of years after that things started to go bad. This was a rock bottom – locking myself in cupboards, self harm and waking up in hospital stage.

But it wasn’t just a case of depression. In fact, if it was just depression it probably would have been easier for me to handle. At least with my depressed state I am still mentally aware, still able to understand that I am present in this world, I am not delusional. When I have depression I don’t interact with the world as much – however I don’t completely mentally disassociate from it. I wasn’t suicidal at those time – just apathetic about life, lethargic, and unwilling to get out of bed.

Worse were the times that I would enter a highly agitated state where thoughts would be racing a million miles a second and I couldn’t focus on a single thing. There were wild spending sprees, and other signs of impulsiveness and recklessness. During those times I would have extended sleeplessness and become overly talkative and irritable. On those occasions it was when I talked about ending it all, and was harming myself. At it’s worst I would blank out and end up catatonic – awake but just not there.

After those episodes I would “wake up” although I hadn’t actually been asleep. It was like I has lost control of my mind, and then I’d come back to reality – unable to account for things that had happened while I was in that state. It was the manic stages that really worried my partner at the time.

Once I got the correct diagnosis and began treatment and psychotherapy things gradually became more stabilized. It’s been about 4 years and I am a world away from where I was. I function – I can actually work, and mostly look after myself and the kids, and even when their dad left us around 2 years ago – I didn’t fall apart. It’s still not all roses. There are good days, there are bad days and there are really bad days. I haven’t had a full manic episode for around 3 years thankfully.

But I still wonder if I’m fit to be a parent. I think back to their infant and toddler years where I was incapable of looking after myself let alone them. My ex had the responsibility of being a “parent” to me as well as the kids. I wonder if I set them up for a troubled life because at those critical years I just couldn’t give them the love, attention and security they needed. I know they don’t remember it, but they saw me at my worst so early in their lives – and I still feel guilt and self-hatred that I somehow ruined them for the future.

My kids are very affectionate, and open with their love. I am somewhat envious of the fact that they are both so easy with their affection, because I find it very difficult to expression emotion and affection. I do love to get kisses and cuddles from them, spend time and have conversations with them them. But I am the type of person who also requires a lot personal space where I don’t want to be touched or talked to. It sometimes gets to the point where I feel like I am actually suffocating when they want to sit on my lap, cuddle me, or just be with me.

I feel a sharp pang of guilt every time I have to ask my kids to give me some space and not touch me for a bit. They are still too young to understand that human interaction is very taxing on me both mentally and physically. I get scared that they will think I am rejecting them, and that feeling of rejection will lead to major problems for them. It’s not that I don’t love them, because I do with all of my heart. It’s just that I wonder sometimes whether they deserve a better parent that I am. Someone who isn’t as messed up as I am in my head.

Being a single parent is hard enough. Doing it with mental illness is an endless battle. Being responsible for myself is a challenge –  sometimes I think it’s a terrible and sick cosmic joke that I am responsible for two other lives. But at the same time being responsible for people other than myself is grounding. I can’t let myself become reckless and impulsive because I know that I have to protect two vulnerable and innocent children.

If I don’t want to lose them, it’s all on me.

With a Snap of the Band

I have experienced different ways of (not) coping with my illness and the times where my dark thoughts overtake me. As I’ve said before I have locked myself in the cupboard for hours and hours. I’ve spent days in bed not moving. I’ve deliberately injured myself by scratching, hair pulling, hitting, cutting etc. I’ve even taken too many pills when I just wanted to make the pain stop.

Clearly these methods are not ways to cope, but just ways to escape. And I know they are very shitty ways to do it.

My current method of coping sounds a little counter productive (as it is sort of self harm) however it has been exceptionally successful. When I feel like I am losing control, when my thoughts are racing at light speed, and I feel like I am going to crumble I know I have to snap myself out of it.

I do this literally with an elastic band around my wrist. I pull it taut and let it snap against my wrist. I keep snapping it against my wrist as I try to get myself back under control. The sharp sting pulls my attention away from my thoughts, and brings me out of the downward spiral. Sometimes it only takes a couple of snaps, sometimes it takes a lot more. Sometimes I end up with bruising, but that’s only when the darkness has consumed me and I’m drowning in it.

Yes, I’m a little masochistic because I like the pain (I won’t lie, I’m also into a little B&D).

Yes, I know it’s dangerous to potentially give strength to the dark part of me that is convinced I deserve to feel nothing but pain.

But the stinging sensation, and the almighty snapping sound, grounds me and brings me back to reality. If I didn’t snap myself out of it with a physical reminder there is no way that I would be able to pull myself out of the blackhole of my thoughts. It’s especially helpful if I time each snap with a breath. I can control my breathing, and then my anxiety, and I regain control over my mind.

When there isn’t anxiety, only the depression, I write.

I’ve kept private journals since I was 13 years old. In them I write my thoughts and feelings – things that I cannot and will not ever share with the outside world. Getting my thoughts out on paper where I can arrange them into something that makes sense is a huge outlet for me. I generally only write in a journal when I am unhappy, or something is really bothering me.There are very few entries of things that I’d actually WANT to remember.

From time to time I’ve read back through my journals – and it’s very hard. Seeing all the dark places I’ve been to in my mind makes me really sad. But at the same time it’s actually therapeutic to see how much I’ve grown, and how much more rationally I cope with the dark times. There are far fewer entries of wanting to “end it all”. There is still a lot of self-hatred, and emotional self-abuse, and wanting to escape. However, the journal entries are spaced further apart – I don’t get as bad as I used to.

It’s not perfect, but I accepted long ago that it never would be.