Depression Takes All Shapes and Sizes

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There is no hard and fast rule for when I know I am depressed but generally speaking a lack of motivation, constant negative or anxious thinking, hypersomnia and a sense of worthlessness characterize my waves of depression. As someone with Bipolar Type One, I am prone to manic episodes but I have had more serious and more often depressive episodes. One depressive episode where I ultimately had to be hospitalized I did not leave my bed for literally three months and became Agoraphobic (scared to leave the house). I literally drove myself mental with obsessive negative thoughts that spiraled further and further out of control until I could not see any way out anymore. Luckily my family and then doctors intervened and were able to turn this episode around (I will write more about this experience one day).

However, I may not need to be hospitalized anymore (or at least for the past five years or so) but I struggle nearly everyday with depression and my depressive thoughts. It’s just not as severe as before now that I have been managing my symptoms with an anti-psychotic. I have been struggling more so the past few months probably due to Winter but have really been trying to push myself to some degree. I struggle with motivation when I am depressed for two reasons. Firstly, I constantly feel low so do not feel like doing anything but sleep and secondly, my negative thoughts convince my brain sometimes that nothing is worth trying cause I will just ultimately fail at it, like I fail at everything. I am not saying these are rational thoughts as I have definitely had some major successes but when my brain dips to that low point, all bets are off on what I’ll think and eventually come to believe about myself. This keeps me stagnant and lacking the motivation to make positive changes in my life that may even help the depression.

To help with my depression, on days where I was feeling more positive about life I made two key decisions which will now at least give my days some more structure. I registered for a course at the local college and signed up to be a volunteer at the local food bank. These are ongoing commitments and even on days when I feel like I don’t want to exit my bedroom, I have put myself in a position that forces me out and into the community. I have essentially tricked myself into having motivation for I am a stickler for follow-through. I find I dread going up until the moment I go and then once I get going, I feel so much better. For example, I laid in bed for as long as I could justify it prior to my first shift at the food bank (feeling slightly dejected and anxious like “what did I get myself into?”). That being said once I got there and started organizing things and even had my first client whom I helped get her and her husband groceries for the month, I began to feel better about not only my day but about myself in general. It is a humbling experience to volunteer with the neediest of the community because it really puts your issues into perspective. I may struggle with a mood disorder but currently am not struggling to find my next meal and that is something I think more than just me takes for granted.

Though I have set more structure to my days, there are still some days that are wide open and gaps in time on the days even when I am busy that I fall prone to hypersomnia – sleeping excessively. If I am not busy I tend to fall asleep around 6, right after dinner. I nap a lot also because I feel like sleep is an escape from my reality and helps me avoid the feelings of worthlessness I so often feel. I slept an excessive amount this weekend that I am even too embarrassed to figure out how much exactly. I am not proud of my coping mechanism for my depression but it brings me some comfort and that is how I rationalize it in my brain. But it has now become part of my depressive and anxious thinking as well and so it is a vicious cycle. What I mean is that I am depressed so I sleep copious amounts then get depressed about the excessive sleeping I am doing. I think to myself about how much time I waste sleeping and it gets me down. I know I could be doing more productive things with my time such as reading a book or going for a walk but I can’t seem to resist those damn sheets.

My depression changes each year and honestly I think it is slowly getting less painful each passing year as I learn better coping strategies and start to understand the way my brain works. This year’s depression is not even close to the year I was Agoraphobic where I never showered and never brushed my teeth. Back then I was also constantly researching ways to kill myself. I was never brave enough to try any but my brain became obsessed with the idea of shutting itself off to cope with the misery. I’ll take hypersomia over that any day but I do realize this is still something that needs some work too. I can’t sleep every time I feel down or I’ll never be awake  –  sad but true. I hope adding volunteering and school to my schedule will win half this battle but the other days when I am off I’ll just have to brainstorm some ideas to keep my mind productive and distracted from its self-consuming thoughts.

For those of you struggling with depression, I feel your pain and understand that your experience is unique from mine but often the feelings can be the same. We feel like nothing is worth doing and that we are not worth it. We feel like every day is a battle and one we’ve decided from the beginning that we are going to lose. The important thing though is that you get up and try, try, try. If you fall short of what you intended for the day or you’re struggling with thoughts of falling short in life in general, remember this – Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow you can try again.

Just Keep Running – A Fitness Update

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In a previous blog post I mentioned my weight gain as a result of Abilify, an anti psychotic, and how I was determined to making a lifestyle change. This included watching what I eat and making sure I am in the gym at least three times a week. A month later and I can say that I have fully committed to the gym aspect of my lifestyle change but am letting go of the restrictive diet I had put myself on in order to lose that ten pounds I discussed losing before. In the long run this diet would not hold up and I would end up bingeing in rebellion, I am sure of it! It’s much smarter to continually make smaller healthier choices then to cut out all sugar and junk food as a way to manage your weight. I even banned myself from having juice during this diet!

I now understand everything in moderation is the key. For example, I may not have juice everyday but the occasional glass during the week won’t kill me and will keep me from swinging the complete opposite “fuck it!” direction of watching what you eat. I am working on consuming more water  but find this a struggle as I find water bland and boring to my taste buds. Increasing your water intake from what I understand is a sure fire way to lose weight but I suppose I am not ready to commit to this idea yet. I also do not deprive myself of all junk food like I was for those three weeks following my wisdom teeth surgery when I lost those ten pounds. It’s important to “treat yo self!” as the cliche goes. If you do not indulge every once in awhile then you will go crazy and stress yourself out to the point of again, swinging in the “fuck it! You only live once!” mentality. That being said, I have not had Iced Caps from Tim Hortons or dark colored pop in two months now and am committing to eliminating these products from my life completely (the amount of sugar in them is unreal!).

The point is I may grab an apple instead of a cookie nine times out of ten but that tenth time when I really want the fucking cookie, I am not going to deprive myself of it. A lifestyle implies longevity and to be in it for the long haul means sometimes giving into that craving for a donut one day so you can stick to the yogurt for the rest of the week. Also life is meant to be enjoyed (for the most part, haha) and limiting your taste buds experience for the sake of a number on the scale seems just cruel.

Which brings me to my next topic – the scale. The scale can be your friend but it can also quickly become your enemy. In the beginning of my weight loss journey I was weighing myself nearly every other day except this quickly grew into frustration with the numbers rising and then dropping and then rising. It’s good to know where you are at to be aware whether your weight is getting out of hand but to obsessively check it becomes detrimental to the journey of getting fit. The number on the scale rising does not necessarily mean it’s fat you have put on but perhaps muscle. Also weight fluctuates to a certain degree. I find it much more healthier to weigh myself once a week if that. I recently did not weigh myself for three weeks terrified of all the pre-holiday and holiday snacking I did. I felt I was losing control when it came to my eating and I was sure it would reflect on the scale so I avoided it. I was dead positive I gained back the ten pounds I lost throughout the holidays.

I am happy to report that I DID step on the scale the other day and found I did not in fact gain back those ten pounds but am still at the weight I was three weeks ago. I could choose to be upset that my weight loss has plateaued or I could take it as a win that I survived the holidays unscathed. My counsellor gave me some good advice, she said the number on the scale is just that – a number. You are as fit as you feel you are. I may weigh the same but I definitely feel fitter. For one thing I can run farther and for longer bursts of time than when I first started this journey. I have noticed my legs have slimmed and gotten tighter. My arms are starting to slim but they are a little more stubborn and need some extra work. I still have strides to make in the gym but I am noticing improvements and that is what counts. Also getting to the gym is half the battle. I no longer plan lengthy strenuous work outs because I found I was losing gusto and overall motivation to continue going. Consistency is key. I now focus on going three times a week but doing what I feel I can do, not what I believe I SHOULD be doing.

The biggest part of the gym I love is the impact on my mental health. It has definitely improved these past weeks. I have more confidence in myself and the goals I set for this year because I showed up for myself with my gym commitment. Each time I leave the gym, I feel like I hit refresh on my brain since it truly rejuvenates your mind and body. I can think clearer and feel less stressed about making decisions.

My advice for those gaining weight on anti psychotics or any other medication is to really try and make the effort to incorporate the gym into your life. I am proof you can lose weight and I can speak to the mental health improvements, and hey let’s face it if you are on those medications you probably could use the positive mental health boost anyways. And my advice to those trying out a diet is moderation, moderation, moderation. Sure cut out some of the bad stuff, but leave enough of it to keep you sane. Also in any journey, whether it be weight loss, dieting, or anything new you’re trying just remember each day is a new day and you choose what to do with it. You can start my making small adjustments and smarter choices to reach those goals each day and those will snowball eventually to larger more meaningful results. And if you fall short, again don’t worry tomorrow is a new day (you can try, try again).

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!

 

Fantastic Mistakes

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In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Why does this matter to you or me? Well maybe it matters less to you and more to me because I found a hard copy of this speech also referred to as “The Make Good Art Speech” at the local library and it has inspired me to finally take on what I think I was meant to do in this world – write a book about my experiences with manic depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.

The picture that I have included in the beginning of this blog post is a snapshot of a page out of the text as envisioned by Graphic designer Chip Kidd. It is a snapshot of the words that have sent me on this new quest and with a new vision for my life. They are as follows: “If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.” I have had a strong sense that I was blessed with the skill of writing and bipolar disorder so I may write about it and make people struggling with their mental health feel less alone. Since I was a child, I always envisioned writing a book and becoming a novelist so much so I wrote a letter of my intent to my favourite author at the time and she wrote back! encouraging me. Ideas for my novel have come and gone and have evolved into entirely different ideas over the years. However, ever since my psychosis I have held onto the idea of writing about my experiences with it. This is the one idea that has stayed in my mind the longest and is still prevalent.

Seeing these words, “then just go and do that.” It never occurred to me to just start writing and see where I and my idea end up. I feel as though it was by divine intervention that I came across this speech just as I have been faltering and procrastinating my idea. I struggle with the questions of how to write this book and in which way it will be organized but I believe these answers will come when the time is right and for now I just need to start working on content, no matter how disorganized it may come out. I have always wanted to help somebody with my writing and I do believe I was put on this earth with some intent. My life has some kind of bigger meaning than I think I realize and this may be it…not to get too carried away or spiritual here. But I do believe everyone has a purpose and I think it’s due time I began creating mine.

In the beginning of his speech writer Neil Gaiman says “I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along…” Even just reading those words at the very entry point to his speech, something dawned on me. I have been avoiding writing my story because I am afraid I will write it poorly or that it will be poorly received. However, I am missing the point of writing and its very nature which is that the only way to become a better writer is to write, write and then write some more. Nobody ever just wrote one draft of something and was content. You have to edit, edit, then edit some more. Revise, revise, revise. I need to simply put pen to paper and begin somewhere and stop dwelling on what it will end up being. The process is just as important as the end product. I just had to remind myself or rather be reminded by Gaiman that writing is my passion and that I DO enjoy the process, hell, I even enjoy revising.

As for what it will become? Nobody not even me can be sure. Maybe someone will publish it or maybe they won’t. Maybe I’ll self-publish or release it in a series of blog posts. Again, time will tell and I do not have to have all the answers right at this moment. But I do owe it to myself to try for fear of failure cannot have the last word…not anymore.

Gaiman also mentions in his speech that he tried never to do anything purely for the money but because he wanted to create something into existence and to be proud of his work and time spent: “The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality, have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.” The reality is I love writing and I love writing what I know and I definitely know my intimate experience and struggle with bipolar disorder. I think I am scared to start writing my memoirs because I am afraid nothing will come of it but after reading these words I realized the experience of writing in itself is worth it to me. So as of today I will be setting some time apart to write about my life and more specifically my cycles of bipolar – from mania, to depression, to psychosis, to mania, and back again because I know deep down that I am worth it. And I owe it to myself to try.

Stay Tuned for more posts and updates from BiPolarMania.

Anti psychotics and The Pesky Side Effect of Weight Gain

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Me at the Gym Progress Pic One in my Journey.

As far as side effects go I’ve had it pretty easy when it comes to my anti psychotic Abilify to mange my Bipolar Disorder. I have no nausea, tremors, or muscle rigidity.However, I do sleep more than usual since being on Abilify and I am experiencing some very serious weight gain though that could be attributed to the birth control I am on.

I did not realize how much weight I had truly gained until about three weeks ago when I was forced to step on a scale at my doctor’s office. I literally started balling as they left me alone waiting in her office for her to come in and consult with me on whether or not adding a mood stabilizer known to control appetite was a good idea. When she walked in she said I looked “voluptuous” but that she meant it in a good way. And I know she meant it this way because I carry extra weight well, so well that I had been deluding myself for months that it was not getting out of control. Most of my extra weight goes straight to my ass and boobs but as I slowly crept up in weight class, it started to gravitate to my arms and face which I was really starting to struggle with.

My psychiatrist asked me how many pounds I had gained since being on medication and I told him twenty pounds to which he was shocked but in actuality after stepping on the scale at my family doctor’s, I’ve actually gained thirty. This was a blow to my heart and my ego because I have always been in shape like annoyingly so. I even tend to have a six pack when I’m at my peak fitness. I have grown to become sensitive about my weight over the past year in particular since my mom has decided to voice her opinion on it but not in a constructive way, in a demeaning way. I’ll walk upstairs and she’ll comment “That skirt makes you look fat. You should really change,” or my favourite, “You sure you’re not pregnant or something? Cause you look totally fat!”

My mother is not one to talk she basically gave herself diabetes eating a full sized bag of chips and several cans of coke per night her entire life and I wish I was grossly exaggerating. She has heart problems and cannot be mobile for long periods of time because she can’t heft all her fat around. But have I ever once in my entire life made a comment about her weight? No, because I knew it was not my place and if I had I would have brought it up in a more sensitive manner. However, stepping on that scale put things into perspective. I WILL NOT BECOME MY MOTHER. I refuse to let my weight get carried away anymore from this point on, or rather since the moment I realized how bad it had gotten.

So what is my plan you may ask? My doctor and I discussed a lifestyle change and that is how I am choosing to view my new outlook on health so this becomes a permanent thing rather than a fad diet or fad workout. We decided to take a different approach to the mood stabilizer avenue because the mood stabilizer would block my birth control and I am not willing to have an IUD. I think this is a better plan because it motivates me to be healthier and do my research on what health is rather than taking a pill and hoping for the best. My doctor and I discussed what foods I should avoid, a.k.a. bread and carbs and what I should add more of such as fruits and veggies and of course protein. She has prescribed 3-4 times at the gym per week and I plan to stick to this as well as I can with my schedule.

I’m proud to say since about three weeks ago when I went to see my doctor I have lost ten pounds which I had made my Christmas goal. I did it safely too! I cut out coke and juice and added more water and tea to my diet. I cut out chips completely and unhealthy snack foods like chocolate and things chalked full of sugar. I actually now read the nutritional values of foods on the label which I have never in my life done before (sad but true). I also as of about two weeks ago started back in the gym and have managed three workouts this past week as planned. I just need to keep the momentum going and realize this isn’t some crash diet or get skinny quick trick but a lifestyle change, one I intend to make for the rest of my life.

Who doesn’t want to be healthy? When you take the time and sit to think of all the benefits such as feeling good and looking good on the superficial level. But also on the deeper level, things like lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and don’t get me started on how your mental health and even memory can improve. It just makes sense and it baffles me how people choose to stay unhealthy for so long and I was one of them who veered off the path for a few years but exercise disguised it. I am now taking a more holistic approach to health, trying to fuel my mind, body and spirit. Another thing to consider is my age as I am getting closer to my 30s I can’t get away with the constant sweets anymore and staying up all night partying. That was cute maybe when I was 22 but now I am more concerned with the longevity of my life. It’s time to change and I think I have already got a good kick start and possess the dedication and motivation to make this a part of my life on a daily basis.

You need to consider your choices everyday and how they will affect you long term. Perhaps meditation would be better than binging your Netflix show. You can still get an episode or more in but create a space of time that is wholly dedicated to you. Perhaps walking to the mall for a change would be better than driving? Maybe you should try the salad instead of the fries today? These are small decisions you can make that will help you in the long run and they don’t necessarily need to be inconvenient. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be sure to update you on my fitness and life journey soon.

Has anyone else who comes across this post have gained weight due to medication use? If so please comment and share your stories.

 

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!

Emerging Blogger Series – Mental Health @ Home (Part 2)

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I had the recent pleasure of being featured on the emerging blogger series on Mental Health @ Home. I talk about manic psychosis and my own experiences with it. The blog post on this site will be featured in two parts with the second part having been released today. The post goes into detail about delusions, hallucinations and paranoia I experienced during this episode.

As it is Thanksgiving, I feel the need to add that I am extremely grateful for my sanity today since as you will see in my post I briefly lost it and would ultimately lose it again (see my blog post on my second manic psychosis). I am also thankful for bloggers like @mentalhealth@home who give bloggers like me a chance to share their story on an additional platform. I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to the emerging blogger series and hope you all give it a read! Link below to my post on Mental Health @ Home.

And Stay Tuned for a Blog Post about the downs in bipolar disorder, specifically the depressive episodes I experienced and was also hospitalized for.

Emerging Blogger Series: Brittany – Part II