The Real Threat of a Relapse

I am really doing my best with what I have, most of the time. Still, there are exceptionally difficult months or weeks where a highly stressful situation can threaten to grab hold of all the progress I have made with my health in the last 6 months and throw it all out of the window.

Such a situation happened last weekend. It culminated after weeks of non-stop exposure to highly stressful scenarios. It’s not even about work. (To be frank, I’d very much rather focus on writing 10 pages per day of output than deal with something like this in my family.)

I have been taking it slow this week because I am trying not to relapse back into a state of ill health. One of the good things about acknowledging your health limitations is that you actually know when to stop and when to slow down. It reaches a point where you know your personal breakdown triggers and you know that you must make the difficult choice of not exposing yourself to these triggers as much as possible.

It takes years to master that skill of stepping out of unnecessarily stressful situations.

For anyone with a health condition, wielding that skill at opportune moments spells the difference between life and death, between stupor and productivity. And like many difficult experiences, there are lessons to be learned.

Lesson #1 in the face of a relapse threat: You may do a lot of things out of love for other people, but it must be NEVER be at the expense of your own wellness or health. Sometimes the people we love and care about do not really mean to harm us or hurt us, but they do so tremendously with their actions.

We must not be afraid to call them out, we must not be afraid to even cut them off and limit our interactions to them, if necessary. Eventually these actions (no matter how they often say that they did not mean to do it) can become habitual to them, and absorbing them further is suddenly a blow to your sanity. And when you lose your sanity, you lose everything.

In my life, I had to cut off a lot of people. They weren’t necessarily people I do not care for. In fact, I care about them very deeply. But I had to cut them out of my life because they are not helping me at all to become a better person. 

Last weekend, my husband finally put his foot down and helped make that tough decision for me in the face of our recent setback. He first watched me as I managed the buildup week in and week out. Deep inside, I was also checking my inner pulse to see if I can still have the threshold to handle the unnecessary stressors from the people I love. Eventually, all my reserves of strength ran out.

My husband lovingly assisted me from a distance. Not a word of complaint, just pure support for which I am most grateful. But when I finally told him last weekend that I am slowly approaching a danger zone with my health, he stepped in by speaking out honestly and from the heart.

In truth, he was just as traumatized as I was with what happened. But we maintain the optimism that we will survive this. We both dealt with it together. As a team. Like equals. Like partners. No flinching. Pure adulting.

More than doing things for each other, we are now also making decisions and tough calls in our dealings with people to protect our baby, the tiny passenger in my tummy who can now hear our voices and can feel my feelings of distress or sadness. That’s a definite game changer for any woman.

Before, when I choose to take care of myself and my health, I am doing it mainly so I won’t harm other people. Now, when I make the decision to take care of myself first, I am not just doing it for myself. I am also doing it for that tiny person inside me that needs to have a better chance at life. This tiny person deserve the most stable and reliable set of parents this world can offer, and I am not going to let anyone or anything sabotage that dream I have for my child. 

Lesson #2 in the face of a threatened relapse: It’s not really selfish if you want to pursue good health for yourself. In fact, you are doing the world a favor if you sharpen your body to be the best possible version of yourself. That sometimes, you have to stay in the bench or in the sidelines temporarily so that you can bounce back with your A game for the bigger battles of life.

It’s not always sound to face all battles. Because not all battles are worth fighting at all. These days, I am no longer afraid to speak up and say “I am sitting this one out because I need to recover.” I actually say it and then I decide to seriously sit it out even when I am itching to take action.

And finally, there is Lesson #3: By default, we always have to do our best to be in a position of supporting and helping other people become the best version of themselves to the maximum extent that we are able, no matter who they are and what they have done. Value relationships over resources, at any given time. 

And mind you, that’s not exactly just about helping and personally getting involved in that person’s life.

Sometimes, this act of helping out means saying no, ignoring messages that do not contribute to your well-being, or even deciding to stay out of another person’s life for good if he or she won’t stop in his or her self-destructive behavior. For example, a person may be abusing your kindness and turning your chat window into a garbage can of feelings. Instead of dealing with his or her issues with other people, they just choose to dump all the stress on you and expect you to cuddle them and comfort them non-stop while they do nothing to improve their situation.

Here is one useful question: Will it do good to other people and that needy person if you absorb all that negativity? Always strictly promote only what helps the person and what keeps you sane.

Do not tolerate immature, entitled episodes from those you love. Do not enable their horrible habits that make their lives permanently take a turn for the worse. Provide to the extent you are able, but take no more part if that person habitually decides to self-destruct. It’s painful, but if that person decides to always harm himself or herself after your numerous attempts to help out, you need to stay out of it. You provide help. But you are not a perpetual rescue hotline for people who do not help themselves. 

You can be charitable without becoming a masochist. You can be charitable without being heavily attached to the favors you dole out. You can be charitable, but strictly in a way that empowers and enables you and the other person to become the best versions of yourselves.

It’s really a phase of life where I have to make difficult choices. And today, I choose both CHARITY AND WELLNESS.

 

 

 

 

The Lowdown on the Low Mood

Having a low mood due to an existing mood condition is a difficult thing to manage, with all honesty. Harder even is explaining what it feels to someone else because honestly, the words don’t make sense or give the feelings any justification. There are no words, really.

There are things that are normal to the bipolar patient but outrageous and outside conventional norms to the rest of the world. To quell the mental nausea of mood swings, one would get prescription medication for maintenance. Although these are mood stabilizers that give a floating feeling and a focused mind, I shunned most of them for the horrible side effects: migraines, slurring, shaky hands and fingers that can’t even hold a pen or a glass of water straight, and the inability to procreate or conceive while on medication.

A handful of Hollywood celebrities possess the diagnosis. But there is absolutely nothing glamorous about this illness. Absolutely nothing, save for the spike or bursts of creativity and aplomb during the best of the manic phase.

Mania, at its finest, produces the most brilliant of ideas. It’s like perpetually being on the summit of a mountain with all the stars and glorious mists in tow.

But all the suns of mania goes down eventually. Sometimes, it dips suddenly and gives way to the crashing waves of depression. It’s deafening, overwhelming, occasionally unbearable, stupendously odious.

Some fellows find themselves slashing their wrists, or jumping off ledges, or overdosing on some sleeping pills. The impulse to destroy is there, and so is the pain of the stigma of the unspoken violence that any bipolar patient may darkly succumb too at one moment of ennui too many.

Others (and I believe myself to fall more in this category) simply wither in a corner despondently and wait for the dark clouds to disappear, bracing one’s self in an unnamable despair that is reserved only for those who were given the blessings and curses of feeling emotional extremes. We utter words just for the sake of uttering them, but inside we swim in the pools of hitting the lowest of the low points a human being can possibly have.

Swimmingly, my mind just spins with ideas but I cannot hold even the most basic ones down. There’s a silent panic and terror at the prospect of being stuck in this flighty thought pattern. There’s a bit of a fight here and there to stay conscious and aware of the present moment. In these times, I’ve stopped asking the Universe why this kind of lot is handed over to me. I just know that like the other previous cycles, it will soar me back up soon like a perpetual roller coaster ride. And sink low again. And swing up again. On and on it goes until all life ceases in me. Life is, in essence, a perpetual bracing of one’s self for the best and for the worst.

Meanwhile, I eat cheese and bread to assuage my poor soul, as if the comfort of the palate extends to comfort the deepest bowels of my soul. I absorb the unfortunate tide of my mood. And do my best to stay on in this manner of just being until my hyper days go back to fuel me anew.

Like I am always fond of telling my significant other: “It’s going to be okay.” I tell myself that over and over again until the clouds stop hovering and clear skies go back again.

Suffering from mental illness can be frustrating for both the patients and their families, but there are lots of people who can help. Students who are interested in working in the mental health field, may also want to pursue a healthcare management online degree.

It’s going to be OK.

The One-Year-Old Bipolar Yuppie

It’s been a year since my diagnosis.  I would love to say I am already free of the disorder but I feel it more keenly now than ever. Since then, I have learned to somehow accept who I am and what this disorder has done to my personality. I still have moments where I wish that I did not have this illness. But I just keep trying to move forward and advance in spite of it.

Around a month ago, I was rushed to the emergency room four times in a single week because of panic attacks that ensued from an uncontrolled manic phase. I was strongly advised, nay, pushed to resign from my job. Most therapists recommend that people with this disorder, in order for their therapy to work, work on a part-time basis or at least on a less stressful environment (i.e. no excessive overtime or killer deadlines). I disobeyed the recommendation, and I am miraculously surviving thanks to those short but sweet visits to EDSA shrine each morning before I go to work.

Basing from that limitation, I have to say that I am a suicidal person for keeping my current job. At one point, I just wanted to throw in the towel and look for an easier job. I googled “bipolar workers in the corporate world” and “bipolar at work” in an effort to find people like me. I found some useful sites, but it was not enough to paint a picture of what a bipolar lifestyle in a demanding job looks like. It’s hell on earth on some days, and utopia on the others. There is hardly an in between.

So what’s it like so far?

For one, my medications are making me so hungry and fat and a little older. These side effects break my heart. So far, I have tried Valpros, Epival, and Depakote. They are all monsters that keep me from writing with a steady hand. I can’t even hold a glass of water steadily. I get hungry, and when mixed with asthma medication I even got some mild seizure attacks. I tried not taking my medications from November last year to February but the panic attacks got worse and I really fell apart even at work. Today, I just settle with eating minimal rice to help cancel the Depakote pounds. And well, I accepted the fact that they are maintenance medication until I decide to get pregnant and/or survive without having fulltime work.

Second, career advancement in a corporate or office setting is a daily mountain to climb. There are days when I risk bursting into tears while seated in my office desk. I get so self-absorbed that I don’t get to read the verbal cues of my bosses or colleagues. These things can get misinterpreted easily. Sometimes, I get so spaced out because my neurons are all dried out (this is also the reason why bipolar patients are required a full 8-10 hours of sleep each night) in the middle of the day. And even mild forms of work pressure become an emotional trigger that explodes inside and makes me suffer in an indescribable depth. Sometimes, I tend to overthink, misinterpret, and blurt out strange stuff in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation. This is also why I prefer to just keep quiet, lest I say something wrong and embarrass myself.

Third, coffee and alcohol intake is out of the question. Night outs with colleagues have to be declined; sleepiness has to be combated with water and little else. I cannot collect Starbucks stickers without risking another emergency room trip. This is supposedly healthy living but there is little good health in the bipolar mind.

When I am in a manic mood, I can do a lot of things on the job. But once I swing to the other end, I am just a walking zombie. I count it to God’s goodness that I manage to get to work and survive on those low days. The zigzag pattern of my moods is quite tiresome to track so I trashed the mood diary and switched to just crying when sad and laughing when I am happy.

One year in the treatment and one would think that there is progress. Awareness, perhaps.

There is still that inner demon luring me to jump off the building when it hurts so bad, or go AWOL on my job, abandon my loved ones, change my sim card, and live in an obscure place where I can no longer be traced. I have just learned to face him, anyway. And I fight him back every single day, tears on my face and prayers in my head. He is invisible to everyone else, but so real to me.

I guess year one taught me one thing: Facing my inner demons.

For year two, I will work on killing them one by one.

 

 

 

Bipolar Quotes

These are just some of my personal favorite bipolar quotes, the ones that I think I can relate to the most. And yes, if you can see the frequency of my posts, I am in a manic rapid cycling phase.

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“I roll on like a ball, with this exception, that contrary to the usual laws of motion I have no friction to contend with in my mind, and of course have some difficulty in stopping myself when there is nothing else to stop me…I am almost sick and giddy with the quantity of things in my head–trains of thought beginning and branching to infinity, crossing each other, and all tempting and wanting to be worked out.”

-John Ruskin

“I am excessively slothful, and wonderfully industrious–by fits. There are epochs when any kind of mental exercise is torture, and when nothing yields me pleasure but the solitary communion with the ‘mountains & the woods’–the ‘altars’ of Byron. I have thus rambled and dreamed away whole months, and awake, at last, to a sort of mania for composition. Then I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures.”

-Edgar Allen Poe

“If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”

Socrates

 

 

 

Beginning Bipolarity

Somewhere in this online world, another bipolar or manic depressive person will be researching about his or her condition if he or she is in his or her normal mood. (This is pretty much the same with me giving board exam tips for people who will be taking their board exam this year and in the coming years. But this time I am writing as I go along with my recovery process.) While I am quite optimistic at the fact that I am already initiated into the messed up world of the intellectual elite through this mild bipolar disorder, there are still realities that must be faced and it is not an easy thing to deal with. I want to contribute with whatever information I can give from my resources here. To the bipolar persons who might bump into this blog, I hope that you find the information here a little helpful. Moreover, I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone. There’s about 1.5% of the world population who suffers from this condition. I don’t want to hide my condition and I will explain this further later on.

As I began my therapy, the first thing I had to adjust to is the side effect of my medication. I was prescribed only half a tablet of Lamictal each night and I have been taking it for the past four days. I have these irritating rashes that are, according to Lamictal’s website, quite normal. On top of the rashes, I have those hand tremors similar to the one I get when I take Salbutamol for my asthma attacks.

I am sorely tempted to ditch the medications because of the rashes. I am a bit obsessed with the quality of my skin, even though I care so little about clothing and other fashionable stuff. However, I started reading on my condition from two psychiatry books my aunt lent me last night. And according to the books, worst case scenarios for bipolar syndrome include full-blown psychosis, lack of coherent mental function, and successful attempts of suicide. Between the rashes and losing my great but messed up mind for good, I think I’ll just embrace the rashes as part of my Lenten penance until I get alternative medications next month. (I already bought a full month’s supply of the darn thing so I have around 26 days to endure this itchy ordeal).

The primary ingredient for most bipolar medications is Lithium. Funny how I used to shrug that off as an insignificant part of the Periodic Table of Elements. Now, I need it to balance my Sodium and Potassium content, thereby balancing the mood swing tendencies. It was supposed to prolong the change of episodes between mania and depression. The thing with Lithium medication is that it enters the blood stream and it will actually be present in breast milk of a female bipolar woman, hazardous to baby’s health. On top of that, after each pregnancy, a bipolar woman will most likely have severe manic depressive episodes even when they have already recovered for some time. Genetically speaking, my children will also have a 10% chance of having bipolar syndrome because of me.

The statistics are against me when it comes to marriage and having kids. I am most certainly not fit to enter convent life because the depressive tendencies will just make me a liability to the other religious in my community. And I am not even a suitable roommate because I will be too overbearing for the people who live with me. I am actually trying my best to increase my material resources so that I can move out of my present home and not drive my mom, sister and cousin crazy with my strangeness.

Bipolar disorder at its worst has the tendency to hurt their loved ones even when they do not mean to do so. We do not mean to be rude for the most part, but it compulsively comes off to be so. It is so difficult to listen to other people since flights of ideas are just floating ceaselessly in my head. It is hard to sit still and much easier to worry too much. We appear egocentric even though deep inside we mean really well.

Women who have this disorder are not really recommended to have children, much less marry because they cannot sustain a romantic or family relationship without Herculean efforts. Loved ones who have to live with bipolar people are going to have a difficult time as well. We are one of the hardest to live with because of these mood swings. The tendency not to have a sense of personal boundaries can cause some things that can shock normal people but are not an issue to the bipolar person.

My shrink told me that I am still allowed to date but I am not yet allowed to have any serious commitments. I think the no strings attached setup is unfair for me and the other person, still. For one, if I like or love a person well enough to date him, I will always want him to be happy. And making that person happy in the long run means not getting him involved with me any further. 🙁

I will eventually not want to subject the person I love to this giant cross of having to put up with the realities of my disorder. If it gets serious enough for marriage, I will not want him to become a father to children who may have inherent mental disorders. I will most certainly not want that special person to undergo the difficulty of having to live with someone like me. I just cannot imagine causing that much pain to a person who I find to be very special and dear to me.

And before all this discovery, I thought that the only primary difficulty that I have to deal with is my inability to cook good food for the kids. Apparently, I will be bringing more damage to earth if I procreate. I must get used to being alone and make the most of what I do have, which is not really a few things. I am still blessed. Pining for the things that are already inaccessible to me in lieu of this disorder is quite a waste of time, because life is too short to brood over the things I cannot have in this lifetime.

I write it here so that I will no longer have to explain myself over and over again to the men who have been asking me out as of late. I am thankful for the attention and interest, but I think you will be much happier to keep me as a friend and peg your affections to somebody else. I will just give the link to this blog post each time I get asked out and I am sure most of them will back off happily.

These realities are hard pills to swallow right now. But I believe that it is more practical and for the common good if I forget about entering convents or raising kids. I must keep it that way so that I will not hurt any more individuals, especially the ones that I genuinely like the most.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions. I acknowledge that some bipolar people may find themselves able to marry and manage it amidst these sad scenarios. I am only expressing a view which I find to be more applicable to me, and I am not imposing it to other family-oriented bipolar people. I do believe that there are men or women with giant hearts who can be partners to bipolar individuals. But they are quite hard to find, and possibly non-existent in my side of the world.

The up side to this slightly abysmal situation is the fact that bipolar people are generally productive and creative individuals who can instigate positive change to the world and make timeless masterpieces that transcend their messed up minds for everyone else now and in the future.

While we are hellish to be in a relationship or live with, it is heaven to read our creations and benefit from our noble pursuits if these stream of hyperactive thoughts are channeled in the right way. This is what I am trying to do now, because there is nothing much else to do other than stick to the positive side of the condition.

It is not entirely a bad thing. And when I get my passport, I can sail into the oceans of unchartered waters because I need to revel in the one perk of being single forever: boundless FREEDOM from attachments.

I guess I can just volunteer to help take care of other people’s children. I’ve always wanted to put up an orphanage for abandoned kids. And I can just have silent retreats in place of the lovely solitude that monasteries give to nuns. It’s not going to be as fulfilling, but I choose to make the most of what I have because this is what God has given me.

I surely wish I can talk to more people with the same condition. I dislike hearing cliches like “Cheer up”, “Things will get better”, and “I know exactly how you feel because I have felt that way too”. It is not as easy as it sounds. I appreciate the good intentions of the people who say these things. It is quite uncomfortable for other people when faced with these issues. For all their good intentions, they do not really know what it’s like to have this kind of mind. I appreciate the efforts to connect and empathize, but I do long for someone who has been through the same thing and managed to survive it.

If it shall help anyone out there, my shrink also recommended the book entitled Personal History. It is an autobiography of Katharine Graham, one of the bigwigs of The Washington Post, mother to four children and wife to a brilliant, bipolar man who succumbed to suicide.

I shall begin reading it today, among with many other beginnings that this new revelation of my life has brought me.