Do You Think You Might Be Going Insane Again?

I recently had a major shift in my life in that a very serious relationship of mine came to its end. I have been coping very well compared to times in my past where I would just lose it in sorrow. I recognize now that I am older that sometimes things just don’t work out or go according to plan. I also know I gave my whole heart to this relationship and have no regrets. Is it a let down? Absolutely. But I am already getting over it and for some reason my family thinks that is a sign I might be mentally unstable again. I resent that.

My mother approached me recently and said “Do you think you might be going insane again?” She claims she is worried because I party too much, am constantly meeting new people, and am modelling again. She said it’s okay to be upset right now that something major has changed in your life. But honestly what if I am not upset? I am just doing me, is that such a crime?

I am a little offended that she would compare what I am doing right now to when I was in the throes of mental illness. I was acting super bizarre and had delusions of grandeur back then and now I am honestly just chilling enjoying myself and life. Everyone is looking at me like I am breakable and about to break but I am the strongest I have ever been because I know in my heart of  hearts that I am capable of more – more love and more potential.

When someone tells you they think you might be going insane you start to question yourself and think “well shit, am I going insane?” I mean I have no racing thoughts, no desire to partake in risky behavior and am still rocking the sober life (from drugs). I never realized moving on with your life and doing you would mean you come off as crazy to others. Don’t get me wrong I did some grieving. I put on every sad song I could think of and balled my eyes out reflecting on what and who I had lost. The next day though I picked myself off the floor and carried on. If that makes me seem crazy then so be it.

Everyone copes and moves on differently from things. This time around I chose to do it in a healthy manner and celebrate me. I realized things are fleeting and I want to enjoy my life right now and for what it is and should be – a good time. I also recognize for once that it was not my fault it ended, far from it. Some things are just not meant to be and this was a situation that was definitely not meant for me. I am done feeling like shit, doubting myself, and putting myself down for every little thing that does not quite go the way I expected.

At the end of the day just remember to be true to yourself and if people don’t like that then honestly they can go fuck themselves. I am doing me now more than ever and plan to keep it that way. However, with my history of poor mental health, I will be sure to reach out to loved ones the instant I feel something may be bothering me or wrong. I have learned from my mistakes and that’s all you can really do.

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A Picture of me (Modelling) moving the fuck forwards.

I will always carry a torch for “Torches” (Foster the People)

Music has always been a form of therapy for me and I find myself relying on it now more than ever during this madness. I have mostly been rediscovering older music that I used to lean on in times of crisis. One band in particular I have “rediscovered” is “Foster the People” and more specifically their album “Torches.” Two songs on that album have always resonated with me depending on what was going on in my life at the time – “Waste” and “Warrant.”

I have been struggling recently with these unsure times and falling trap to a negative downward spiral of emotions and more poignantly – thoughts. I came across the song “Waste” today and remembered why I fell in love with it and how it constantly resonates regardless of what you are experiencing. In this song the band sings the following lyrics that get me thinking every freaking time:

“How long, I say how long, will you re-live the things that are gone?
Oh yeah the devil’s on your back but I know you can shake him off
And every day that you want to waste, that you want to waste, you can
And every day that you want to wake up, that you want to wake, you can
And every day that you want to change, that you want to change, yeah
I’ll help you see it through ’cause I just really want to be with you…” 

The song is so true on so many levels. Everyone has a devil or sorts on their back that they are trying to shake loose. I am trying to shake off my insecurities with how I have lived my life and where it is headed. Like the song says you can waste the day or choose to wake and conquer it and even decide to change. It has been easy to waste the days away lately without much purpose other than to survive it. I have goals but I keep putting them off and saying “tomorrow will be the day I do this.” But ultimately each day I have the choice of what to do with it.

I realized after journalling one morning why I put things off and it is because I am a perfectionist at heart and believe I can never see results like the ones I imagine in my head so why bother? This is a horrible way to approach life and one I intend on working on changing around. I have what most people struggle with, a fear of failure, so I default into avoidance mode rather than try anything because if I don’t try then I will have not failed. Let me just say this is the most backwards fucked up logic I’ve ever heard and it plays on repeat in my mind each day.

One of my main goals (which if you follow my blog you are already aware of) is to write my memoirs living and struggling with bipolar disorder. I always thought I would write it when I had more time but now that we have been in quarantine I can honestly say I’ve barely worked on it. That excuse was just that – an excuse. I now have all the time in the world and am wasting it more or less staring at my four walls (while of course at the very least listening to good throwback music). I am a procrastinator and work better with strict and short deadlines but the lack of writing has gotten out of control. I realized there must be a deeper issue which I now understand goes hand in hand  with my fear of failure. Simply put I am terrified to invest all my time and energy into something that may very well result in nothing.

I have decided today to change that around after having listened to “Waste” and understanding that it is ultimately up to me to make a change. I am going to try to start slow of course to ease my way into it and dedicate one to two hours each day to confronting my project, whether that be editing pages I’ve already written, organizing and planning an outline or hell, even writing itself. I can no longer avoid these issues or my project because in my heart of hearts I know it will be a successful endeavor if I just have a little faith.

Whatever demons or “devil” that is riding your back, I want you to know that with some true effort you can shake em loose. torches_by_katribou_d56ipnu-fullview

 

 

You Don’t Always Get What You Want But Perhaps What You Need

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“Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked” (58) is a quote from the book I mentioned reading in an earlier blog post titled “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. This quote really got me thinking about my life and how it took a complete detour from my original route.

As mentioned before I was a star student at a prominent University and felt I had nowhere but up to go (“up” being an eventual Undergraduate degree, Masters, and then PhD).  I was defiant in my belief I was born to become a University Professor, specifically in the field of Art History, when all my ideas of who I was and who I was becoming came to a grinding holt with my first manic psychosis and diagnosis of Bipolar Type One. I had studied bipolar in brief as part of  my psychology minor (an element of my undergraduate degree) and as part of a neuroscience course – which I aced, despite the professor continuously warning us that this course was no “cake walk.” The point is I had a foundation of understanding when it came time to being diagnosed with this lifelong affliction but had no clue the ramifications it would have on my life journey and the deep feeling of loss I would feel as I mourned my pre-diagnosis self.

It’s one thing to study bipolar but it is an entirely other thing to live it. Prior to my mental break and diagnosis, I had completed three years of my Undergraduate as a double major in English and Art History with a minor in Psychology. People often joked how did I stay sane with a course load that thick and now having lost my mind. I find this question ironic. I remember reading about cycles of mania and depression in those with Bipolar Type 1 in my neuroscience textbook and thought how eerily familiar that concept seemed and wondered nervously whether I could possibly have it. I would ultimately push this idea to the back of my mind.

The summer upon entering my fourth and final year of University, I had a psychotic break with reality in late August. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, as well as paranoia. I would be treated quickly and relatively effectively within a week to two weeks with anti psychotics and the mood stabilizer Lithium. I requested I be released in time for the first day of school and the hospital happily obliged with the promise I would return for a follow-up. The problem was when I left I was still struggling with some residual paranoia and found my brain couldn’t keep up at the pace it was at before while on Lithium. The best way I can describe it is my brain felt like it had melted. I understand they were slowing me down but they may have dosed me too high and I swung into slug brain mode. Also hindsight being 20-20, I now know years later I do not respond well to Lithium in general.

It was disheartening to find I could not remember facts or hold on to them in my brain for very long – being a history major who excelled at this normally I felt devastated. I was also entering the hardest year of my Undergraduate and worried I would not be able to maintain the grades needed to enter a Masters program of my choice at the rate my brain was working. My brain was regressing at a time when it needed to be at its peak. I panicked and ultimately decided to leave school in hopes of returning some day when I was ready. The problem with this decision which led to my deepest depression ever was that I highly identified with being not only a student but a successful, overachieving one.

I had to let that go. It took my years of being at my lowest and reading a lot of self-help books and quotes about failure to eventually do this – truly and utterly let go. As the quote in the beginning of this blog post suggests I was put into a position to reevaluate my life and my choices. A door firmly closed on my face but it opened another one – a deeper and better understanding of me as I am as a person. I was so busy with school and getting the best grades, and having the best leadership roles on my resume, that I never stopped to consider WHO I was becoming. And quite frankly I was becoming arrogant, selfish, naive, and closed off to the world around me. I lived in the universe of Academia but anything outside it I deemed as unimportant or irrelevant. I was working towards real and ambitious goals but I wasn’t doing the work on myself. For example, I lost many romantic relationships because I refused to make more time for the other person if it conflicted with my study schedule and p.s. my study schedule was overkill but hey it got me on the honor roll!

I was introduced to and became addicted to drugs as a way to escape the fact I never ever truly loved myself while at University. It is through recovery from psychosis that I am now sober and am attuned with myself. I may be more depressed than when I was in University, but I still love myself ten times more because I’ve had the time through recovering (which I still am and might always be) to reflect on my choices and how to make newer better ones but also to let go and stop holding on to the not so great ones I made in the past. The past is the past folks! Let it lie there, turn your back and don’t look back. Forwards is the only direction you need to be going. I also have grown to accept myself for the positive aspects and the negative ones. I take each day as a challenge to grow and  for self-discovery. I used to shy away from trying to get to know myself better now I buy and fill out workbooks dedicated to doing just that!

I may not have gotten what I wanted, a fancy degree and career I could be proud of, but I got so much more from my psychotic detour – I found myself. I realized I am an insightful person with an opinion that matters. I now give love when I get it. If you are one of my friends I don’t judge you regardless of your journey and choices. I stand by people when they are at their lowest and try to lift them up. I found out I am the LEAST judgmental person after having experienced several psychotic breaks and struggles with my mental health. I understand each person’s struggle is unique and though I may not understand it, I can relate. I value writing and sharing stories – stories of hardship are my favourite for we’ve all been there. I also am aware that I am less motivated on medication, less prone to “put myself out there” and that on my worse days I forget all my good traits and decide I’m not even worth getting out of bed for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is I have a voice and that voice will be heard. I have experiences now, with bipolar, that are worth talking about so others can feel less alone.

Though I may not have gotten that degree, I got something I needed – something to write about and since a child I have been looking for content that inspired me to write something worthwhile, something that meant something to me. I now have the confidence and self-esteem to say my story is worth telling and it’s worth telling because it might just mean something to someone else too.

12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life

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“The only difference between an opportunity and an obstacle is attitude” is a quote I enjoy from the book  “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. In this book they break down “12 Ways to Get a Second Chance in Life” and I am going to go through some of them and how it inspired me to try again. I feel as though I am on my thousandth chance because I keep trying then giving up on my life, obviously not literally but figuratively. I set goals and decide to work on them then slowly lose gusto and give up somewhere along the journey. This year, however, as I mentioned in earlier blog posts I want to live my life with more intent and focus.

  1. Let go of the past – This one is a lot easier said than done for often times we feel our past defines us. We reflect on what we deem “failures” in our past and it leads to us shying away from trying new things in fear of this failure occurring again. The Chernoffs make a good point for why we should let our past go in that every difficult moment in our lives is accompanied by an opportunity for personal growth and creativity. Even failure is an opportunity, an opportunity to try a new way or get up and try even harder. I have decided to let go of the past five years or so following my psychosis that I have remain idle with fear and not really working on what I want from life. I think I was afraid to admit what I wanted and truly work towards it in case it never came to fruition. This year I want to be more productive with my life and I am going to try and take steps each day to make this a reality – oh hey! look at me writing a blog post instead of watching tv or sulking in my bedroom.
  2. Identify the Lesson – Everything is a life lesson. Even and especially when you don’t get your way. For example, me not achieving my dream of finishing my degree and going psychotic off and on for a few years has taught me the importance of my mental health. It has also taught me to share my experiences with others such as on this blog because I know firsthand what it feels like to be lost and searching for answers or understanding. I think I needed to lose my dream to create a new one and that is to share my experiences with bipolar disorder through a published book. I am working on writing this book finally this year and am making it a serious life goal.
  3. Lose the negative attitude – This one is a great one because it led to me believing I could make my goal possible and kick started me into researching my past journals for my book I intend to write. The Chernoffs write the following and it really struck home with me: ”The mind must believe it can do something before it is capable of actually doing it.” Whatever goal you have cannot come into being unless you believe you can achieve it. You are not going to take a bunch of small steps to a bigger goal and continually take those steps if you feel discouraged and believe it will never actually happen. For example, if you want to lose weight but get discouraged every time the scale reads a larger number than you assumed, you’re more likely to give up on your goal of going to the gym often thinking it’s pointless. But with the right attitude those numbers can be interpreted another way such as gaining muscle that week led to the increase on the scale.
  4. Accept accountability for your current situation  – YOU and only YOU are in charge of your life and it is up to you to change it if you do not like it. Take responsibility for your actions and decide each day to work towards the changes you want to see in your life. For example, I noticed I never have any savings so I decided to track my money and see what I am wasting it on. I am now more aware of my situation and can make plans to change my spending habits that are superfluous. Will it be easy after most of my life blowing through money to now track it and manage it better? Hell No! But I am at least now making the effort to change it and I do not blame anyone else for this problem but myself because ultimately I know I got myself into this financial jam through poor life choices.
  5. Figure out what you really want – If you do not do this you will fall trap to never starting anything let alone finishing. I have done some self reflection recently on what I want to work on and have come up with some areas in my life I would like to start taking steps towards changing. One is obviously my book I want to write so I have decided to set an hour each day minimum aside to research, mind map, or even write out chapters. I also want to start volunteering again to feel as though I am contributing to my community in some sense and have a meeting Monday with the volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank. I also have decided to take my doctor’s recommendation of being physically active in the gym a minimum of three times a week which I now track on my calendar. Take some time and think about what you really want whether it be a new house, car, career, etc. And make a plan to work towards it.

I am writing this blog to let my readers know that Yes, You can start again. There’s no hard and fast rule of how to live your life or how many chances you get at one. Unhappy with how things are going? Hold yourself more accountable because ultimately it is you and only you that decides your happiness. If you are unhappy, take some time to reflect on why? and don’t blame others because it’s not their fault. If someone really is impacting your life negatively then it was your choice to invite them in and it can be your choice to let them back out. Once you have identified the problem areas in your life whether it be, career, finances, or your love life, ask yourself what is your ideal version of these? Then make a plan to take steps towards changing them. Seriously go old school, get a pen and paper out and start strategizing ways you can improve your life. Then work on it. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get exactly what you hoped for but hey, on your road there you may find an even better detour. The point is life is never over til it’s over. Right now if you choose, you can have a second chance.

New Year, New Me?

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New Years Resolutions…Nay or Yay? You decide. But honestly I am curious if people actually set new years resolutions and if so do you find yourself being successful? Leave a comment if you have an opinion or experience on new years resolutions. I think new year’s resolutions are a great idea…to a degree. I think it is a great idea to come up with some goals and share them with your loved ones so you are held more accountable but making up goals for the sake of making up goals is counterproductive. I personally am not setting New Year’s resolutions this year, however, I AM setting realistic and timely goals.

I want to lose weight, however, being fit is more important than the number on the scale so I have set a reasonable and doctor suggested goal of working out three times a week at the local gym I joined. I hold myself accountable by tracking the days I go on a calendar and ensuring I go three times the current week I am tracking. This motivates me because with each day I mark with a check mark for having gone to the gym  I feel as though I have accomplished something. Consistency is key so I try not to overwhelm myself with strenuous work outs each time I go and focus more on actually going in general. That being said, I do currently keep a fitness journal where I track each exercise and how many minutes or reps I do of each one. It challenges me to maintain that workout the next time or even strive to improve it. If I am having a hard week for motivation, I allow myself one freebie workout where I go free form and just explore the gym and try new machines without the added pressure of tracking it and just write in my journal that I went to the gym that day. The important thing is going and getting yourself in the space and I find the rest falls into place.

The second goal I have is to manage my money better and start growing savings. My entire life I have never been able to save or manage my money properly. I tend to blow it as soon as I get it and I wish I was exaggerating. My first step in this process –  I have already begun  – is to track my money and understand better what I am spending my money on. Of course tracking my money did not stop me blowing my entire budget for January in two weeks, again wish I was kidding but I am not. However, I am making strategies for February and the following months to make my money stretch and have decided as of March I will be attempting to put away $200 a month into savings. Why March? Because February I have a trip to Toronto planned and am being realistic as to what I can do with my money as someone who is new to this whole “watching her money” thing.

My third goal is to volunteer somewhere this year and somewhere different than my previous place I volunteered at which was the Cat Adoption Center. I have already reached out to the local Food Bank and have arranged a meeting with the coordinator Monday to discuss me spending my time there as a volunteer. I want to build my resume but more importantly I want to contribute to something bigger than me so I can feel like I am offering something to the community instead of being a waste of space. Sometimes being on disability can make you feel worthless when you have too much time on your hands and battle with depressing thoughts often. I need a distraction and a reason to get up in the morning and I hope this will provide that.

My fourth goal is to quit smoking for real this year. I say it every year and never do it. I am going to use NRT products and go to counseling until I break this habit for good. I fall trap to all or nothing thinking though which I know I need to work on. I often think “what’s the point of quitting if say 8 months down the road I smoke a cigarette and then this cycle of quitting starts all over and those 8 months were for naught.” I realize I am making excuses and the worse one is “YOLO!” I want to live a longer and healthier life and the fact is I need to start taking steps today to make that a reality, including and especially quitting smoking.

My final goal I am going to discuss here is one my readers have heard before. I am going to set time aside each day to mind map, write and research for the book I want to write on my life with bipolar disorder. I think I am finally motivated enough and inspired enough to set aside at minimum an hour a day to work on this project. My biggest set back was thinking I would never be able to. The mind cannot create what it believes it cannot. Your mind needs to believe something is possible in order for it to be achieved. I finally got out of this mind trap and now believe in my ability to do this – it may have taken a self help book and a TED Talk to do it, but regardless of how I changed this thought process around, it is changed.

New Year, New Me? I have good intentions but I understand that may not be enough so I wrote this blog post about my goals this year in order to hold myself more accountable and reflect on why I am setting them. The fact is I am in a deep rut and have been for a few years now. I am finally willing to pick up the pieces of me off the floor and try at life again. I have not truly been living to the best of my ability and I know that. I am just finally calling myself out on it.

New Years Resolutions – Nay or Yay? – Let me Know!

 

No More Wisdom, Teeth That Is…

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It took me twenty-seven years to part with my four wisdom teeth. Now that’s one of the longest relationships I’ve had in my life so you can see why I was reluctant to let them go. I was really only reluctant because I had too many irrational fears. Anxiety and negative thinking generated and blew up these fears to the point they seemed overwhelming and all encompassing.

Long story short – All four teeth were pulled at the local hospital by a very talented oral surgeon who sincerely deserves accolades for the job done on my teeth. I have yet to feel any pain, only slight discomfort in one side of my mouth (and I mean ever so slightly). He prescribed ibuprofen (600 mg) and T3s but I have not had to rely on them whatsoever besides an ibuprofen to help the swelling.

The general smooth sailing of this operation seems glorious compared to the vision of my recovery I had cooked up in my head prior to surgery. Let’s address irrational fear number 1: That I would not be put under anesthesia for my wisdom teeth extraction and if I was, that I would wake up in the middle of surgery to crunching tooth noises and scenes of blood and gore. The first part of this fear was addressed by the surgeon himself at our consultation meeting when he informed me that I would be put asleep for the surgery and that he would freeze my mouth during surgery so that I would have limited pain when I woke up.

However, the second part of this irrational fear stuck with me until the hour before surgery where I kept it pretty together (accepting that what happens was going to happen) and then broke down balling hysterically. The guy in charge of taking me or rather wheeling me to my surgery noticed me crying and asked me what was wrong, “Are you just nervous or afraid? Because it’s okay to be nervous but there is no reason to be afraid.” He went on to explain that my surgeon has done this for many decades and that the nurses and staff have also done this procedure like a hundred times. It comes easy to them, he explained. He also detailed to me the nature of my anesthesia and how it was impossible that I would wake up during surgery since the anesthesiologist only has one job and that is to monitor me being asleep and keep me that way.

He was most comforting, this man, and I am very thankful for my encounter with him prior to surgery. He wheeled me to the OR while telling me “You must be one of those girls who watches Grey’s Anatomy.” I exclaimed that’s my favourite show! (I’ve re-watched the entire series at least eight times)  And then he went on, “Well you don’t see no McDreamy wheeling you to the OR just McOldGuy (referring to himself) and no McSteamy lurking in the hallway. These hallways are clear and calm. There’s no rushing in and out of OR rooms in frenzies and crazy drama.” I laughed quite loudly in response to this news and asked genuinely, “So a bomb isn’t gonna go off in the hospital and blow up this hallway?” (referring to a significant episode in earlier Grey’s). He chuckled “No! Surgery is actually pretty boring compared to that show and you’ll do great!” He wheeled me in front of the door and there I waited for my surgical team to get started.

I proceeded to work myself up again and then a surgical nurse came out to get me and assured me my teeth were of the easier surgeries she has ever seen and that they will not be difficult to remove. The gas mask was put on me and alarmingly I was able to count fully backwards from ten but then added a comment that I was getting drowsy and then blackness. I woke up in what seemed moments later with a nurse calling my name saying I did great and to which I responded “Are all my teeth still there? Like they didn’t knock out extra ones?” He laughed and assured me that they only extracted the four wisdom teeth. This was yet another irrational fear of mine that once they took one out, it would be like a domino effect and I’d be left with virtually no smile. This luckily was not the case and I woke up with only slight discomfort, no pain.

My mouth was frozen the entire day following surgery and night so I felt no pain and would continue to feel no pain a week later which brings us to today. I don’t know why I was so scared to have my wisdom teeth removed knowing that majority of people get it done all the time and they have all survived (I like those odds). I think it comes down to my anxiety of the unknown, of something I have yet to experience and in my negative brain immediately predict it to be a negative one. My surgery and recovery went flawless and I could not have asked for a better oral surgeon. It’s good I had them removed since they would only cause problems later down the road and my dentist was surprised I wasn’t already feeling some pain off and on because of the state they were in. It took a lot of courage for someone with as many dooms day thoughts as me to even cross the threshold to the surgical floor but I am glad I did it. It means I am improving my oral health and therefore my overall health.

I feel silly for avoiding the dentist and avoiding this surgery because so far I have had nothing but positive experiences I have decided to start trying to tackle my problems head on instead of avoiding them and hoping they go away. I may not always get the positive outcome I have so far but it’s worth the risk to keep things more on track. It seems I have lost my wisdom teeth but have gained some residual wisdom. And that I am thankful for.

The Link Between Disorder and Genius

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“The subject of genius and mental illness has been discussed and debated on a scientific level for decades. Our cultural awareness of the link between mental disorder and genius is as old as philosophy. Plato wrote of what he called “divine madness,” and Aristotle recognized that creative people tended toward melancholia. It is no coincidence that such a high percentage of American Nobel and Pulitzer Prize – winning writers are also alcoholics” (Saltz, 9).

It was these lines in M.D. Gail Saltz’ book The Power of Different that led me to read this psychiatrist and bestselling author’s take on mental illness as a driving force for creativity. Saltz relies on scientific research, stories from historical geniuses and from everyday individuals who have not only made the most of their conditions but have also flourished because of them.

Being a blogger on mental health, specifically bipolar disorder, the idea of disorder being linked to genius extremely interested me. Saltz found in multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). Being both an artist and a person suffering with bipolar disorder this peaked my interest even more.

Clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison writes in her book Touched with Fire that Saltz references,  “Many of the changes in mood, thinking and perception that characterize the mildly manic states – restlessness, ebullience, expansiveness, irritability, grandiosity, quickened and more finely tuned senses, intensity of emotional experiences, diversity of thought, and rapidity of associational processes – are highly characteristic of creative thought as well” (Saltz 145). Bipolar is a disorder that has links to creativity which can be traced back to writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Anne Saxton who unfortunately took their lives as a result of their cycling moods.

The most creative individuals however are not the “most well” or the “most ill” but rather are often “mildly ill.” Saltz references the research of Robert Bilder and Kendra Knudsen at the University of California, Los Angeles who observe this phenomena: “These are the individuals who can be diagnosed with all sorts of brain differences – like depression or bipolar disorder – who are simultaneously well treated and flexible enough to move back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking” (Saltz 206).

Examples of this kind of flexibility can be found in a forty-year longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers and published in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research:” “These researchers found that being an author “was specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Clearly the authors who suffered from these brain differences were functioning at a level high enough to enable them to produce publishable work. Moreover, these same researchers found much higher representation in scientific and artistic fields among those whose first-degree relatives had diagnosed mental illness” (Saltz 206).

In the words of Bilder and Knudsen, the creative brain needs to balance at “the edge of chaos: “the kind of creativity that produces novels, musical scores,entrepreneurial ideas, and scientific theories requires the ability to flip back and forth between organized and messy thinking” (Saltz 206).

Often times people with bipolar disorder who enjoy the creative frenzy that accompanies mania or hypomania neglect to take their medication in order to ride the high out a little longer, so to speak. The flurry of ideas that come during these manic episodes can seem intoxicating and I can speak from experience of a rush of ideas that came over me that all seemed pressing and yet I was too disorganized in thought to be able to hold any one idea down.

Nassir Ghaemi, Who treats many bright students in their teens and twenties, says, ” is that people with bipolar disorder can benefit from taking a broad view of their own creativity. When patients resist medication, the real issue they’re having is that they think about creativity is just one thing, as this kind of flash of inspiration that happens when you’re manic. And that is part of creativity, but there’s another kind of  creativity.”(Saltz 150). 

Ghaemi cites the work of psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques, who wrote about what he called “sculpted creativity”. “This is not a flash of inspiration, but it’s insights that overtime you put together, like a Sculptor. And it’s not something that happens all of a sudden. This durable sort of creativity depends on maintaining equilibrium over the long haul –  that is, not burning out like a light bulb or losing time to severe manic and depressive episodes” (Saltz 150).

Ghaemi tells his patients the following: “instead of having a lot of creativity really briefly and then being depressed and fallow for a long time, you’re better off having less creativity more regularly, more consistently. it actually adds up more that way.”  (Saltz 150).  

In multiple studies, bipolar disorder has been scientifically, clinically proven to correlate with creativity and the artistic temperament (Saltz 136). I can speak from experience as a visual artist and writer with bipolar disorder that the shift between moods elevates my work in ways if I was quote on quote normal would not be as interesting. When I am hypomanic (not manic because that is too much of an extreme) I have creative ideas and am more able to execute them such as writing this blog on the link between creativity and bipolar disorder. When I swing into more of a depression, I am more prone to edit my work and create visual art because I ruminate more and am able to take on longer projects such as a big painting or technically precise artwork that takes several bouts of time.

However, I have been medicated for years and now notice a more sculpted creativity Nassir Ghaemi speaks of in that I have more creativity that is productive instead of bursts of disorganized manic ideas that I would have a harder time following through on. I am also prone to experience mania as psychosis and so my ideas turn psychotic in nature and no longer productive at all, like thinking I can buy eight mustangs with money I do not have.

I do notice an artistic temperament to bipolar disorder, in that us bipolar people tend to be more melancholic in nature and so reflect on the world in a more drawn out manner and have the gifts of mania/hypomania to illuminate ideas/ ways in which we can translate these thoughts to the general public, typically through writing and art. However, there is a pendulum effect to being productive with creativity in that you must ,as discussed above, be slightly insane but sane enough, or rather medicated enough, to be able to translate that insanity into something coherent. Me raving mad in the psych ward about the millions of dollars I have and trying to order things I cannot afford are not well executed ideas or a productive use of my illness. However, writing about it later while medicated provides others with bipolar disorder a sense of hope, that they can create normalcy out of insanity and even discuss it openly without shame or stigma. I couldn’t string more than two sentences coherently together while manic let alone write a full blog post. It is through medication that creativity can truly foster and grow. It is through balance that the bipolar mind can be as creative as it was meant to be.

The link between disorder and genius is evident through research and influential creators who are linked to this disorder. Virginia Woolf may have committed suicide but she is still arguably one of the best English writers of her time and for that matter even all time. Bipolar disorder has its pitfalls like in the case of Woolf a higher risk for suicide but it also creates a powerhouse of potential, the potential to create something meaningful from the chaos of the mind.

 

Bipolar Disorder – My Super Power

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Me as Wonder Woman. I’d argue its a constant mindset. 

When discussing bipolar disorder we tend to focus on the negative such as the crippling lows and delusional highs. However, this negates the beauty and positives one can find to living and struggling with bipolar disorder. I like to say that being bipolar is like having a super power in that it provides you with empathy, respect and love for others. It makes you appreciate life more and the small things that you once took for granted. Below you will find six things my disorder has taught/given me and how it has affected my life:

Super Power #1: Empathy

I find I identify with people more so than ever after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I particularly identify with the struggles of others. Before, the image of a man on the street talking to himself aggressively would have led me to conclude “wow, he’s insane!” But now I feel empathy for this man and realize he may have a mental illness such as schizophrenia and is battling with the voices or rather demons in his mind. I am less prone to say a person is crazy having gone completely psychotic myself and am more aware of words and how I use them to describe people.

I feel for others who struggle with depression, mania, poor life circumstances, etc, because I have a fuller understanding of how hard life can be. I spent over a year being Agoraphobic and unable to leave my house following a manic psychosis and now have a better understanding of this affliction and how debilitating it can be whereas before I thought it was some made up illness. I genuinely love and respect other people more now that I can appreciate that everyone struggles at some point in their life. I am less blind to this struggle having gone through years of various episodes ranging from extremely high to extremely low.

Super Power #2: Awareness/  Knowledge

They say that knowledge is power and it really is! I can’t believe how grossly educated I was about mental illness and it’s prevalence. According to Statistics Canada: over two million Canadians aged 15 and older have a mental-health related disability. This represents 7% of Canada’s adult and youth population. In 2017, 8.6% of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.6 million people) reported that they had a mood disorder.

I used to think mental illness was more of an outlier and that I would never experience it in my lifetime. Again, I was grossly misinformed. I have bipolar type 1 and have experienced multiple episodes of depression, hypomania, and mania and even manic psychosis. I was always a very thoughtful and anxious child who had bouts of depression followed by increased levels of activity which have finally been put into context through my diagnosis. 

Having this disorder has taught me to seek out more information about bipolar and attempt to educate my readers as well on the various aspects of it. I am less prone to judgement as a result of this knowledge and always provide a listening ear to anyone and I mean anyone who is struggling in their life and wants to talk (whether they have a mood disorder or not).

Super Power #3: Appreciation for Life and the little things 

Having lost my sanity not once, but twice, I tend to appreciate that shit! Having been bed ridden for months on end makes you appreciate when you are healthy so much more. I now have a new lease on life thanks to my bipolar. I appreciate my family more having been by my side during these tumultuous times. The small things like smelling a flower, writing this blog post or even sitting and simply breathing feel more alive to me now having gone through periods of debilitating illness. I find joy in the little things in a way I never did before. Before my illness, I was moving a mile a minute studying while working full time and never stopping to appreciate any of it and always in a despairing mood. When you get sick something shifts inside your mind space and you promise yourself that if you were to get better, you’d appreciate normal so much more and that is now what I do. I appreciate my sanity more than anything, to be medicated and not experience hallucinations or delusions is a godsend, anything on top of that is just gravy to me.

Super Power#4: Creativity and the Ability to Channel it

Bipolar tends to come with a sense of creativity (which I will discuss in my next blog the link between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness). When you are hypomanic you get a burst of ideas such as creative projects to undertake and if you are lucky and medicated you can hone these ideas into something great. I have had a manic idea to write about my memoirs but now having been medicated for years I am finally in a position to write them being now sound in mind. However, the experience of insanity brought on by my bipolar disorder gave me the inspiration for this idea and the content to write it. Mental illness can be talked about in creative ways and if you are brave enough to share, you can always find a creative outlet such as writing, painting, etc.

Super Power#5: Judgement is not in my vocabulary (anymore) 

I used to be a snob. I am not kidding. I was the prissiest little priss there ever was. I judged everyone from what they wore to how they talked to where they were from…well, you get the idea. Judgement was my middle name. However, having now gone through a life changing affliction I am less prone to jump on the judgement train. How can someone who has gone psychotic twice get on any semblance of a high horse? I’ll tell you…they can’t. I got literally knocked off mine and catapulted into understanding and acceptance of others. I now try to see beyond first glance and if someone is rude to me, I don’t assume they’re a bitch but realize I have no clue what their day has been like or how their life has played out up until that moment in time. I don’t assume homeless people are lazy bums but rather people who have gone through some sort of hardship that has led them to said point. The point is judgement is not in my vocabulary…anymore!

Super Power#6: Patience

If anything bipolar has taught me how to be patient more than anything else. I spent years (almost five) trying to find the right medication to balance my moods. Some swung me into manic psychosis to the point where I was raving about being a celebrity millionaire going around in a onesie giving out designer perfume bottles like they were sticks of gum. In actuality I was a University drop out on welfare. Some medications on the other hand slumped me into depressions so deep I literally would not leave my bed for three months. I became Agoraphobic as mentioned before and had to have counselling just to be able to walk to the end of my street. I finally found the right medication after years of trial and error but it took patience and a willingness to try. It took me five years to become completely sane and not overwhelmed by the fluctuating cycles of bipolar. If that’s not patience tell me what is.

This lesson in patience has carried over into all aspects of my life. I am more patient with people and understand that they are not perfect nor will they always do what I expect or want them to do. I also have more patience for simple things like hospital waiting rooms and accept that everything will come when it is meant to come.

In summary Bipolar Disorder may have taken a lot of things away from me but it has given me so much more. It has given me a new attitude and perspective on life that allows me to cope better with the things life throws at you. It has given me superpowers!

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

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I had the great pleasure of reading Mark Lukach’s memoir “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” recently. It was interesting to read from the perspective of a loved one and their experiences dealing with the mental health of their significant other. It’s easy in the struggle to maintain sanity to forget that it is not just you struggling but rather your family is right there with you. Lukach details the account of his wife Guilia’s several stints in the psych ward in a relatively short span of time. Mark speaks about his feelings of abandonment from the  professionals at the Emergency Room who sent his wife Guilia home with medication instead of admitting her when she was having delusions of the Devil.

Mark and his in-laws would ultimately have to bring her back to the ER when she had more ramblings about the Devil and how he is still here and that she protected them from him. They gave her Ativan to calm down and through the fog of it she said “Mark, I am the Devil.” The on-call psychiatrist stated that she would need to be admitted and treated. Mark remembers this moment, “I knew that this was coming, that this was the inevitable next step in the process, but it still felt surreal.”

I realized while reading this book, I never truly thought about my parents and what they had to go through when I was admitted to the psych ward. Did it feel surreal to them? Were they upset? Did they feel as though they had failed me? Dealing with the pain of being forced to be hospitalized left me with no room to consider these questions until now. I feel so incredibly selfish that it took until now to reflect upon them. I hope they know they did everything they could to take care of me but that psychosis is inevitable when untreated for bipolar disorder. I wonder if it was a shock to them that I was being diagnosed with bipolar and sometimes I wonder if they think less of me for it. I know my mother never likes the word being uttered around family or in public as if I was saying God’s name in vain.

Mark’s wife was admitted on a form 5150 which means she was involuntarily checked in and needs to spend 72 hours there as required by law. He describes his first visit with her at the psych ward and it is heart wrenching. She screams at them to leave and that the Devil is there and wants them. She was hysterical with fear and screamed “Don’t you dare come near me!” At one point she rolled onto her back and started to chant “I want to die, I want to die, I want to die.” Mark recalls this moment, “I’m not sure which scared me more: listening to my wife whisper her death wish or scream it.” Throughout all this Mark continued to support his wife and assured her that the Devil would not get her or him and that their love was stronger than any of it, they would get through this.

I similarly had a moment in the psych ward where I wanted to die. They had me on a heavy dose of lithium which we have now learned does not work for me and actually makes me more depressed and suicidal. I laid in the hospital bed crying that I wanted to be with my father and that I thought I was ready to be with him (my father died years ago). My mother just held me crying and I eventually drifted off to sleep and waking to a new day in which they decided to take me off lithium  and instead put me on a nice healthy dose of anti psychotics. Anti psychotics have worked for me then and ever since – keeping me stable.

Once Lukach’s wife was discharged from the hospital she slumped into a eight month depression following her psychosis where she fixated on suicide and was extremely lethargic from the medications she was put on. She was discharged with no firm diagnosis but the doctors had ruled out schizophrenia. Lukach writes, “We had no clear explanation for what had gone wrong. It was probably related to a combination of lack of sleep, stress, hormones, and chemicals in her brain, but not even her clinicians knew what it was.” This meant they did not know if it would come back, however, ninety percent of the time psychosis recurs. They went on with their lives hoping that Guilia  was of the ten percent but as time would tell she was in fact part of the ninety percent.

The reason this book stands out for me not only because it is a memoir about a husband’s experiences with his bipolar wife’s psychosis, but also because it highlights the other side – the caretaker’s struggle with mental health. Lukach mentions he also started seeing a therapist while Guilia was unwell. The therapist wanted to know why Mark wanted so badly to be Guilia’s hero. Mark writes: “I wasn’t too interested in understanding why I devoted to much of my caregiving to Guilia. To me, the answer was simple and cliched: love.”

Mark mentions feeling like shit all the time and wanting to know why. He had never felt so disinterested and lethargic before in his life and was used to having an excessive amount of energy. His therapist said of course he feels like shit because he has been through a lot the past nine months with one month of his wife’s psychosis and following eight months of depression. She also points out that “the worst is over but everything you once knew is gone. The love you had with Guilia, the way you once knew it, is gone.”

Mark reflects on this realization: “Nothing could ever be the same. Our bliss, our puppy love from college, our charmed lives, it was all gone. Guilia’s psychosis and depression would color the rest of our relationship. Maybe even my own happiness wouldn’t come as easily as it always had. I would have to work for it and have the courage to do the work.”

Guilia would eventually end up back in the psych ward following the birth of their son Jonas, after tapering off lithium mostly because she would not be able to breast-feed on it. Instead of a psychosis fixated on hell though this psychosis would fixate on the notion of heaven. After days of not sleeping and rambling about heaven being earth she was admitted to the psych ward for her second time in three years. The doctor believed Guilia was suffering from postpartum psychosis. The doctor would eventually officially diagnose Guilia with bipolar disorder I, characterized by soaring highs and crippling lows. Guilia somehow experienced both as negatives with her mania fast-tracking into psychosis, with paranoia and delusions. The doctor made it clear she will have to be on lithium for the rest of her life.

Guilia would be released from her second stay at the psych ward after thirty two days. Mark would end up feeling uneasy with the two hospitalizations and begin to research bipolar more thoroughly. He spoke with Sasha Altman DuBrul, one of the founders of the Icarus Project, an alternative medical health organization that calls mental illness “the space between brilliance and madness.” Sasha introduced to Mark the concept of a mad map. Mad maps allow psychiatric patients to outline what they’d like their care to look like in future mental health crises. They are designed to encourage patients to plan ahead in order to give them more control and avoid, or at least minimize future mistakes.

They came up with a plan for if Guilia starts to relapse again. If she can’t sleep again, she will take one milligram of Risperdal (an antipsychotic) by midnight. If she still can’t sleep by two a.m., she will take two more milligrams for a total of three. Guilia would relapse again and even though she followed the mad map she would end up in the hospital a third time. However, this time, she was discharged after thirteen days – the shortest of all her stays. This may be because they had the safety net of the mad map which lessened the blow of her episode with medication ahead of time instead of only after the fact.

This book was a beautiful account of a husband’s struggle and triumph being his mentally ill wife’s caregiver. It addresses resentments felt and issues with the mental health system. Mark stands by his wife through three psychotic breaks and proves what true love looks like – it is kind, understanding and supportive. He even struggles with his own depression as a result of his wife’s mental health but finds solutions such as exercising regularly and seeing a therapist. The one thing Mark never does is give up on his wife. He genuinely stands by the vow “in sickness and in health” which some not as strong as him may have taken Guilia’s illness as a way to cop out.

If you are looking for a book that shows the other side of mental health – the side with loved ones who struggle to grapple with and understand their significant other’s mental illness – then look no further. This book has shown me what a true caregiver looks like and how they struggle with a variety of feelings. This book is called “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” and it is written by one of the loveliest husbands who in my opinion is a hero, a hero to Guilia.

Reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment

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This reminder: you could die at literally almost any moment slapped me in the face this morning while I was reading Elan Gale’s “You’re not that Great (but neither is anyone else).” It is a truly ubiquitous reminder for it’s in the back of all of our minds but we simply choose not to acknowledge it. However,  maybe if we acknowledged it a bit more we’d be striving to be the best version of ourselves instead of settling for mediocrity. Why do we always say we are going to do something but put it off for “tomorrow?” I have decided I am officially done with that bullshit.

It’s easy to lie around and accept what is but it takes true awareness and motivation to want to actively change it. If you do not like who you are or where you are simply change it. And I know you’re thinking “well how do I do that, Brittany?” That’s not up to me to answer for you but for you to do the research. For example, I’ve decided I want to lose weight (keeping it simple here) but I keep saying I’ll exercise and then don’t. I have a monthly gym membership (my bank statement each month reminds me) and I barely use it. But I’ve decided enough is enough! I have set a really healthy and realistic goal of exercising 30 min a day whether that be walking, biking, running, etc, as of today. I have also decided to increase my water intake and reduce my consumption of calories (perhaps cutting out that midnight snack). It is up to me to follow through though and realize that today is all I have and hey, this is morbid, but I may not even have today (I could get annihilated by a city bus).

Another thing I want to work on is my finances cause guess what I am done settling with the mediocrity of walking everywhere. Fuck Yes, you betcha I want a fucking car! This means I need to research how to budget my money cause like every other millennial I was never taught these basic skills. But I am committed to change and I am willing to put in the work. You want something more out of life? Cool. Then start actively working towards that goal and stop allowing yourself to settle for less. You got big dreams? Fuck Yes, shoot for the stars! You may fail but you may just fail into something better. Maybe you won’t get that Audi you dreamed of but maybe through your hard work and determination you might just be able to finance a Chevy Cruise (another more reasonable car I enjoy driving). Stop saying that this is it and work for what could be. Put in the fucking work. Let me repeat myself, put in the fucking work.

And you are probably going to struggle but that’s the beauty of life figuring out the stuff you’re made of. You might just discover you’re stronger than you think. I have this reoccurring thought “I’m not smart enough to go to school” or “My brain has deteriorated since being hospitalized as a result of bipolar disorder” and you know what I ve decided rather than sit on my ass (like I’ve been doing the past three years), I am going to try and challenge this thought by actually going back to school part time. I might fail, who knows? But at least I will have tried and that’s worth something in my books. If you constantly sit on your ass instead of working towards your dreams/goals then you guessed it you’re gonna have to live with regret. And have you felt that shit before? Because let me tell you it isn’t pleasant.

So thank you Elan Gale for reminding me that I may die tomorrow because as of right now I am going to use the best of today. Because fuck it, I know I am worth it.