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.

 

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.

INKTOBER – Empirical Evidence of An Improvement In My Mental Health

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My Inktober sketch for Day Four’s Prompt “Build”

Inktober is a month long art challenge created by artist Jake Parker that is focused on improving skill and developing positive drawing habits. Every day for the month of October anyone participating in the Inktober challenge creates an ink drawing and posts it online. There is a new “prompt” list each year for the challenge which is a one word prompt such as in the above picture where “build” was the prompt. I decided to draw the Brooklyn Bridge because many lives were lost to build it and it still stands today.

Inktober this year when compared to last year’s efforts has already revealed an improvement in my mental health. For example, I lacked the motivation and esteem to follow through and complete a drawing for each of the thirty-one days of October last year. This year, however, I am six days in and have completed a drawing each day and within the allotted day instead of spilling over days’ drawings.

I have noticed this improvement in my mental health since I got sober roughly five months ago. I am starting to challenge myself to set goals and follow through with them with things as simple as Inktober to things such as quitting smoking cigarettes which I am in the process of doing (haven’t had a smoke the entire day! and until a month ago I was a five year straight smoking a pack a day kind of gal). These may seem like simple things but they are building blocks to setting the tone for my next goals. If I can accomplish getting sober, quitting a pack a day habit and well, hey, Inktober then I feel like I can do pretty much anything I set my mind to. It’s about showing up for yourself and practicing self-care. I have also adopted a new habit of running each morning which until recently seemed like an impossible endeavor due to lack of motivation.

The change I’ve noticed the most in my mental health since last year compared to this year is my motivation. I have significantly higher energy levels since quitting dope and have decided to turn this energy into positive things like completing blog posts , finishing a book, running, exercising in general and the greatest thing I have put my energy behind is setting goals. Now last year I could not have even dreamed up a goal much less set one, I was too busy smoking up and wallowing in a pool of self-pity. I had zero self esteem and assumed I was not capable of accomplishing any goals I could think of setting – so I just didn’t set any. This year I have several goals, all kinds of goals, to starting writing those pesky memoirs on my experience with bipolar disorder to trying my hand at going to school again. I know I may not succeed but I know I am in a good enough place that I can handle failure and I think that’s what was stopping me before – a fear of failure.

Inktober has shown me that I am more than capable and yes some days my drawings suck but I still finish them and other days I make a freaking masterpiece and am so glad I put my mind to it. The important thing is to show up and the rest will fall into place.

Below is my latest creation and yes, I am quite proud of it. It’s for the prompt “husky.”

huskyinktober

 

 

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.

Stop Doing That Sh*t – A second look at Gary John Bishop’s Self-help Book

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“You got yourself to this point in your life, and I’m going to show you how you subconsciously did it. How you fucked yourself. And how to dig yourself out” (Bishop 53).

Gary John Bishop boldly states that he can show you how to unfuck yourself in his self-help book titled “Stop Doing That Sh*t.” He does so by making you more conscious of the “three saboteurs” he claims are the conclusions you’ve made in life about three things: Yourself, Others and Life. Bishop states, “They skew everything. Contort everything. And ultimately burden you with the life you currently have. The one you’re trying to change” (Bishop 114).

We’ll start by discussing the first saboteur – conclusions you have made about yourself. Your conclusion about yourself always begins with an “I” and is stuff like the following:

“I’m not smart enough”
“I’m a loser”
“I’m different”
“I don’t matter”
“I’m incapable”
“I’m not loved” or even all the way down the hole to “I’m worthless.”

Bishop asks the important question, “So what have you concluded about yourself?” and I’ll be honest when I was forced to answer this question I felt extremely uncomfortable and shocked at the answers that so readily flew out of my brain. Things I did not even realize I was holding on to about myself. The conclusions I had made about myself were all negative and I started to realize why my life seems as unhappy as it does. If I was holding on to these things in my subconscious, it was no wonder I was sabotaging myself because clearly I did not think very highly of myself or thought I deserved better. Below is my conclusions about myself:

I have concluded that I am worthless. My personal conclusion is that I am not smart enough to cut it in life and I am not capable of having a job let alone a career. Also I struggle socially with the conclusion that I am different from others because I have bipolar disorder and have experienced a few psychosis. I feel I am not smart enough to hold down a job because I have been fired a few times in my life. I feel I am not capable or smart enough to continue my schooling because in my final year of University I struggled with my mental capacities and things that seemed so easy before like memorization came extremely difficult to me, I know this is backwards logic because I was experiencing my first episode of psychosis ever and previous to this episode had more than excelled at University. I can’t seem to help these conclusions about
myself though, despite trying to look at them objectively and prove them wrong with examples where I did in fact the opposite of what I am concluding.

How could I ever really change my life if I’m rooted in the belief that I am worthless and incapable? Bishop claims in his book that you can have the life you want to live if you willingly choose it: “The good news is if you accept that you made the mess, you are also accepting that you can unmake it. I often have to remind people of their power. It takes as much effort to live a crappy life as it does a great one. And you’re the only one who can choose which you want to live” (Bishop 138). This brings us to one of Bishop’s main arguments for change which is acceptance. He states that we did not ask to be born but rather were thrown into humanity whether we liked it or not and says it is up to us to deal with that fact:

“You had no say in any of this, yet it doesn’t matter if you think its fair. Youre here and you’ll have to deal with it like everyone else before you and everyone after you. This is where the road to peace of mind begins. Acceptance. Acceptance is the gateway to real change” (Bishop 73). Bishop then goes on to say releasing blame is fundamental for real change: “the single most important thing you can do for your life is to release anyone (including yourself!) from blame for how your life has turned out. Even if you were thrown into the worst circumstances, it’s your choice now to turn your life around, make it better, learn and grow and break free of where you came from.”(Bishop 87).

I realized a lot of the pain I was feeling in life was due to not accepting things for what they were. I laid on a couch for six months in the deepest depression I had ever experienced because I could not let go of the notion that I had not completed my Bachelor’s degree. I would not accept it and instead wallowed into a self-inflicted state of despair over never finishing my degree. I wasted six months of my life pitying myself when I could have said “Yes, that happened but now what?” I could have started to make moves to get back to my education or even to find something new to strive for and change my life for the better instead of getting stuck in it, in my mind of “I’m worthless.”

But I digress, to the second saboteur which is the conclusions you make about others. This second saboteur, your conclusion about others could be anything: People are stupid, untrustworthy, a threat, unreliable, uncaring, selfish, cruel, manipulative, untrustworthy, etc.

I have determined that the conclusions I have made about others are that they are selfish, a threat, and untrustworthy, and that people will always leave. Because of my experiences as a child with selfish parents who cared more about the bottle or their gambling addiction than making sure I was properly brushing my teeth or looked after. I also concluded people were untrustworthy at a young age when I told a friend a secret in confidence that she then disclosed to a teacher and the police got involved. Losing my father during adolescence and the trail of exes I have has led me to conclude people always leave as well.

This brings us to the third and final saboteur, arguably one of the most important which is the conclusions you make about life. Bishop asks “How do you feel about life?” (Bishop 157). He claims that “deep down in your subconscious, there resides a life conclusion:

“life is hard”
“life is complicated”
“life is a struggle”
“Life is too much” (Bishop 158).

I conclude that life is unfair and a constant struggle. I concluded this after working my ass off all through elementary and high school to prepare for University. I got to University and struggled to make ends meet while supporting myself at school. I excelled at school for three years of my undergraduate then had a mental breakdown leading to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I concluded life was unfair when I had this breakdown
because I realized then I would always struggle with a mental disorder for the rest of my life because of what, roll of the genetic dice.

I looked around me and everyone seemed to be thriving mentally whereas I was a disaster. I had to drop out of school, the only thing I was ever good at when I found the things like studying and memorizing facts became too difficult shortly after my first psychotic break with reality. I concluded life was unfair because some stupid mental illness took everything away from me, my sanity and then the only thing I could depend on in life or felt like I could- my education.

Bishop states: “Its what you have concluded about life that has you stuck in a certain place” (Bishop 160) then continues to elaborate: “You don’t have problems! You have your problems! The perfect issues , specific to you, that allow you to continue with this daily absurdity. And that’s what it is. Absurd. Your whole fucking life is absurd now. All because you’ve told yourself that life can’t be any different from what you have come to believe” (Bishop 162).

So what can we do to get unstuck?

Bishop claims acceptance is the key: “Stop the striving and struggling, for starters, and just accept where you are. Be “here” for the moment. This moment” (Bishop 186). He also argues for a future-oriented lifestyle in which the actions you take each day lead to the future you want. He talks about the “limitless potential” one has when they let go of their past and look to the future. He says to accept that your conclusions are a part of who you are but in essence not to become them: “Remember this is not about stopping self-sabotaging behaviors on their own but instead designing a future that compels you to fill your life with new actions, new outcomes – in short, a new life” (Bishop 217).

Bishop asks his readers to ponder the following questions and imagine a future worth living, “Imagine the kind of work you’ll do a year from now, the relationships you’ll have, the lifestyle you’ll live?  What actions are you taking today to reveal that future? Now look at this present moment of time. What actions are you taking right now to reveal that future?” (Bishop 223)

I realized through my conclusions that I have been holding on to the past and that it’s time to focus more on the future through the present moment. I can start today to make small steps towards building the future that I dream of. In the future I am back at school but this time instead of studying Art History and English, I am specializing in Curating. I have already done the research and found a University close to home which offers such a program. Now I need to work towards financially getting myself there which means I really aught to start looking for a job. The steps I can take today to slowly get myself to where I need to be is to apply to jobs. I also imagine myself as a driver in the future and so need to seriously buckle down and save for and attend driver’s Ed. In the future I also imagine myself back at my ideal weight and today I can take the small step of a bike ride and incorporate exercise into my daily life from here on out. I will no longer be a slave to my doubts rooted in the past and focus on the here, this moment, and what I can achieve to gradually get to where I want to be.

In “Stop Doing That Sh*t,”  Bishop hits you right between the eyes with the truth: “Do you know what life really is? It’s an opportunity for you to play with the skinbag you were given. To try it out, to take it for a ride, to work that thing to its very limit, to live this life before you fucking die. The certainty you’ve been craving? That’s it right there. You’ll die” (Bishop 226).

The fact of the matter is we are all going to die one day and if you waste your moments worrying or get caught up in something that was or never will be, you re bound to get stuck in your life. You might as well work towards something and if it takes you longer than anticipated to get there, so be it. You’re working on it, and that’s what’s key.

Bishop ends his book with probably one of the best questions you could ask and I am going to end my blog on this note: “Fuck the past, reveal a bold future, step out there and get into action. Deal with yourself. The future has arrived. Now what the hell are you going to do about it?” (Bishop 227).

 

 

Stop Doing That Sh*T

stop doing that shit

”Someone once asked me, “What’s at the core of every human being?” “Bullshit I replied.”

Gary Bishop, though kind of insulting, leads his reader in with this opening line of his second self-help book to “Unfuck Yourself,” titled “Stop Doing That Sh*t  – End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life Back.” His straight between the eyes honesty , though highly humorous, effectively gets his point across and with a few choice expletives stops you in your tracks and forces you to think about and reflect upon your life. I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor “Unfuck Yourself” by a factor of ten.

Bishop descries his book and its intent in the first chapter, “…This book is a short , intense jolt to your way of thinking. I’m not out to give you all the answers here. Your answers will come from you…This is more a catalyst, providing questions and ways of looking at things that will spark something in you and cause you to take on your life in a new way.” (Bishop 9).

It is Bishop’s questions that he poses in this book that have you and had me examine my life more closely and understand what was at the root of the problem. He also proposes a new way of looking at things that are more future oriented and that abandon the past or rather accept it and move forward (which we will get into more later). Bishop states that this book began with him asking a simple question, “Why?”

“Why is my life the way it is?” (Bishop 31).

He then asks the reader to stop and consider these questions for themselves, “Why do you do what you do? Think. If you keep living this way, where is it all headed? Not some wispy concept of your future but rather a down-in-the-dirt look at where your
current actions are leading you ” (Bishop 32).

I reflected on these questions and concluded my future looked bleak if I were to continue with the actions I take on a regular day-to-day basis. If I am being honest with myself I do what I do to avoid pain or discomfort. I chain smoke because it feels good and alleviates my boredom but this action will inevitably lead to a future that I am not in, because I will ultimately have died from lung cancer like my father. I eat sugary snacks and sugary drinks knowing its harming my teeth in the long run and causing weight gain that I do not like because in the moment it feels good.

All my actions are about instant gratification and I am starting to realize as this book is causing me to reflect on what I do and why I do it, that I am no better than a child. I spend my money quicker then I get it, on trivial things like new brand name clothing or the latest self-help book (I actually lent this one out from the library, Go Me!). The point is  I spend literally all my money instead of putting even a small portion away because I like the instant gratification that comes with a new purchase. This is going to lead to a future where I am constantly living check to check struggling to make ends meet and never really properly managing my money. I  know if I continue to be a slave to instant pleasure, I will have a bleak future indeed. One where I am fat, broke, and my teeth are rotting out of my head.

Bishop writes, “There’s no end to the possibilities you’ve written off with nothing more than a series of auto-response triggers in the confines of your head.
“it’s too hard”
“It won’t work”
“I can’t do it”
“I don’t know enough”
“There’s no point. It won’t make any difference” (Bishop 43).

We all do it, don’t lie. Write ourselves off before even trying. I know currently I’ve been constantly writing myself off. Writing off applying to jobs or going to job interviews because I believe “I can’t do it or I don’t know enough.” I have also written off something very important to me with those same excuses before even starting and that is to write my memoirs about dealing with bipolar disorder and being hospitalized.

Bishop offers hope in “Stop Doing That Sh*t” though and boldly states, “You got yourself to this point in your life, and I’m going to show you how you subconsciously did it. How you fucked yourself. And how to dig yourself out” (Bishop 53).

So buckle in Fuckers, and read my next blog post for how to unfuck yourself and stop doing that shit – that self-sabotaging bullshit that holds you back.

Stay Tuned Folks.

2 Months Sober and Counting…

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It’s been two months since I’ve smoked the reefer which as Ive mentioned in previous blog posts is the longest time I have gone without in over five years. I so far have experienced no side effects, however, I did notice just recently within the past week I sometimes feel depressed in the morning and on two occasions it overwhelmed me to the point of staying in bed til late afternoon. I think this has more to do with my fear of the day because I honestly don’t know what to do with myself.

Before when I was smoking dope I did not care that I was jobless or lacked goal-directed behavior. I only really ever thought about my next high and where it was going to be coming from. Now, I am sober and painfully aware of the goals I had been neglecting like to get my full license and return to school. Unfortunately due to erroneous amounts of debt I owe I would need a steady job to even consider these goals. So I decided to get off my ass and meet with an employment counsellor and have started applying to jobs which I have not done in about two years! Being sober has really cleared my mind and made me able to see and plan a road map to achieve my goals. Getting a job is a first really good start to achieving these goals and is a goal in itself – to be employed.

I am proud of myself for even thinking of returning to the workforce because as a person with a really inhibiting disability it is honestly no easy feat. I am now more aware of my limitations after having worked in customer service for over 8 years (for example I could never be a waitress again….just can’t do it!). I have real bad anxiety when working, constantly paranoid that I’ll be fired to the point I just end up quitting before I believe they’re gonna let me go (I know this is my bipolar spiralling). I will be looking for these anxious red flags and doing some CBT to work through them. I need to look at things objectively and not be so harsh on myself which is easier said than done, I know!

Another thing I would like to work on and am painfully aware of now that I am sober is my finances. I would like to start writing a budget and challenge myself to actually stick with it each month. But unfortunately new expenses each month keep popping up like the new medication and eyedrops I need for my allergies. I’ve never had allergies in my life and then I get them so bad to the point no over the counter or  covered allergy medication works so I am stuck paying out of pocket each month for that. I realize I am making excuses with my spending habits and justifying spending money on senseless shit. I will admit I am a bit of a brand whore and am a little materialistic. But I am going to start documenting everything and everywhere I spend my money to at least be more hyper aware of what I am wasting my money on and what I think is so much more important than saving for driver’s ed.

The point of this post is to discuss what two months sobriety feels like and I’ll be honest it feels a little like hitting a wall. You’ve sobered up enough to realize what you should be doing but you’ve been high so long avoiding doing anything that actually getting going again feels impossible. I am taking very small steps to get where I need/want to be and getting sober which actually the biggest step I took to achieving my goals because now I am in the right headspace to work towards and build up goals. Being Sober is Scary cause you’re painfully aware of what is lacking and you don’t have a substance to fill up that space so you have no choice but to confront…confront your life and start conquering it.

All My Love, Your Sober Buddy and Confidante,

BiPolarMania