Monday, January 5, 2015

Searching for Fantasia

The seasonal depression is starting to set in. The last post I made was when I was finally able to start riding again after a 2 month break due to a bad ankle sprain, and I got 3 rides in that week. That weekend I ended up catching the flu and that has resulted in another 2+ weeks off.

Riding is all I'm able to do while my ankle is still technically healing as it is a low impact activity. My choice in activities are currently limited to only cycling- no climbing, running, or my at home strength training workouts, and after 2 more weeks of immobility, I've cracked.

I had high hopes this winter of avoiding depression. Last year's episode was hard to shake but I trudged through it thanks to the above mentioned activities. 2014 had me in much better circumstances and during the fall I came up with a great plan to keep the momentum going and get through this winter with minimal, if any, depression. Or at least that was the plan before my injury.

Depression has many forms, the common ones are overwhelming sadness and what I like to call "the nothing." I stole that from The Neverending Story, a movie I watched way too many times as a child. In the movie it is a huge storm that is a negation of existence that swallows up everything in its path, it's described as "human apathy, cynicism, and the denial of childish dreams." My depression usually ventures on the side of the nothing and very rarely is a long bout of sadness.

I don't feel a drive or motivation, it has kind of dried up or dissolved without me really being able to do much about it. Today I was going to ride but after checking the weather yesterday they said it was going to be a high of 44 degrees and raining all day. I woke up today to a sunny 49 degrees but something inside of me just closed the front door and decided to give up anyway. The Nothing has taken over.

Depression will make any and all tasks seem too daunting and not worth the effort. I don't want to get my bike and winter clothing ready, it just seems like too much work even though it's not. I've been doing this for so many years that gearing up for winter riding isn't that big of a deal, even though my brain is saying otherwise. I just don't have the energy for anything.

I've mentioned many times in this blog that these athletic endeavors are more than just hobbies, this post is not about a woman crying over not being able to go outside and play. They are "the nothing" prevention, they provide a sense of accomplishment, and they produce wonderful batches endorphins, life's natural depression fighters. I use them to regulate myself and now it's just more waiting while my moods deteriorate. The self deprecating thoughts set in and the want to get out of bed each day just withers away.

I'm not sad and I don't feel bad about anything. I just feel nothing. I don't care if I'm eating toast or winning the lottery, I just simply couldn't care less about where I'm at or what I'm doing.

The lack of sunlight each day gets to me as well. I have a very small window of riding time due to being a night owl by default and working at night. Bipolar people naturally have a "broken" circadian rhythm, we are almost always night people. It's a biological part of the disorder, not a result of bad habits or lack of discipline.

Part of self management is a strict sleep schedule- I have to be in bed at the same time each night as well as awake at the same time each day, combine this with an already faulty internal clock and you have someone who could wake up at 8am every day but their brain functions won't actually wake up until 2pm and end up twice as tired each day. Messing with sleep is the number two cause of mood swings. I will break this schedule every once in a while to go to sleep early for a morning group ride, but being off the bike for 2 months has set me back to the point where I can't do the rides I want, I'm not that strong anymore. That's currently one of the largest negative thought cycles I get into, if my brain decides to "feel" anything.

So my plan of action is to suck it up and try again tomorrow. I will get my bike and gear ready today so it will be easier for me to slip out the door and ignore what my body and mind are trying so hard to prevent me from doing. "Whether I feel like it or not" can't be an excuse I live off of for long- that will ensure that this depression won't clear up by spring time or any time soon. For today I'm going to play video games (something I don't do often) and try to keep my head above water.



Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cheval




This is my newest painting. It speaks from my soul and represents my inner being. Just kidding, I'm not that deep. But I have been painting this for the past hour because of a mixed episode. Some bipolar sufferers will go off their meds even though they know better, it just happens with some people. I'm not one of those types but I do have my own mental block as far as self care is concerned. I keep testing the waters with my gluten allergy. I know better but something inside of my brain still doesn't believe how sensitive my body really is to the stuff.

I ate something yesterday that was only minorly contaminated, as in it has to be such a small amount that I considered it probably ok. I know I shouldn't risk it and the best thing I can do is avoid anything that even remotely has a possibility of contamination. Well, I fucked that up again. With instances like these, it's like my brain can't accept that a food substance, no matter how small or large the amount, will actually set off bipolar mood swings. But just like every other time I've ignore it, I end up like I am right now.

I'm in a mixed hypomanic state. My hypomania is never fun. I don't get anything accomplished, I don't feel euphoric, I usually can't stop my eyes from darting around so fast that it actually gives me a headache. Then I end up severely frustrated because my thoughts aren't connecting and I can barely talk or figure out what my body is trying to do, which leads me to bumping into things and covered in bruises the next day.

I just sat here and painted that 9'x5.5' piece of illustration board black for over an hour. I couldn't stop. I needed to paint it black in order to create the image on top of a black background, but I put so many layers of paint that I'm pretty sure it's bullet proof at this point. That is insanity.

I was only able to pull myself away because the frustration built up until I felt like I was going to peel the skin off of my face and scalp. Luckily I didn't, and my boyfriend will be happy to wake up and find a girlfriend with the same amount of skin as she had the previous night. During my moment of insanity I stopped, looked at myself in the mirror, and said "you're bipolar. This is a mood swing. This is not a result of any of the thoughts currently in your head. The world is not ending, you do not want to rip your skin off." This alleviated some of the tension, enough of it in order to bring myself back down to earth. My brain fights when I try to regain control, it loves the crazy swirling emotions and panic more that it loves me. But I've learned that I can override it. I still have to experience the inferno, no part of that experience goes away, but I convince myself to trust what I'm now telling it and that all else are lies. It works. It takes a lot of practice, but it works.

I have wished so many times in my moments of insanity that I wasn't bipolar. That's where the feeling of wanting to peel my skin off comes from- I don't want this anymore. But I have learned that wishing I wasn't of the chemically flawed variety does nothing to solve the moments when I feel like I'm in crisis. My goal isn't to wish it away anymore, it's to latch back on to reality and weather the storm. I want to get away from those all consuming emotions and that is something I have some control over sometimes.

So now, in this moment of clarity, I can decide to end today. I am going to take my sleeping medication, read a book (which will be difficult), and wake up tomorrow with all of this gone or significantly lessened. I've learned to find the reins I can grab instead of trying to wish away the out of control horse.



Thanks for reading








Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why I Ride

2 months ago I severely sprained my ankle. I'm lucky that it was only soft tissue damage, but it hurt like hell. I was advised to stay off it for 8 weeks. I don't know if most people could understand what it's like to be told not to run, ride, climb, or workout for 8 weeks when your life revolves around those activities. I know a lot of people can, but the majority might see it as a mini vacation and as having that much more free time. To me it feels like a death sentence.

So much of my mental health depends on my physical activities, especially cycling (in fact, all other activities are just to enhance my ability on the bike). That's how I get rid of the extra energy that would otherwise build up in my brain as negative thought cycles, which my bipolar's #1 way of manifesting itself, even when my moods are stable. It's how I work through a lot of issues- there is a lot of free head space when you're on a bike for 2+ hours, and if it's not that long of a ride then it's going to be a faster ride which really zaps the energy that my bipolar side requires to invade my conscious domain. These negative thought cycles are when my brain can't stop mulling over something but also doesn't allow me to fully processes it. The thoughts just keep repeating the same pattern over and over again, but nothing gets accomplished. It's like having a song stuck in your head except that it's a bad thought or emotion. My bipolar will hyperfocus on an event that could have happened recently or 5+ years ago and will force me to dwell on it and re experience the awful emotions associated with it. The incidents it picks have already been dealt with long ago or never were a problem to begin with. It could be the way I said something to an acquaintance that I am now seeing as dumb or awkward, and now I'm feeling embarrassed or that I'm a loser- which isn't true but the inability to wrap it up or dismiss it causes and fuels bad anxiety. Or (which is it's favorite) it will dwell on some sort of emotional trauma from my past and just throw me right in the middle of how I felt back then. It will be like it was just yesterday, even though the subject it chooses has been dealt with and is long since over. It isn't PTSD, it's just some bad emotions and thoughts my bipolar brain Tivo-ed and makes me work 10x as hard to think anything else, if I can even get to that point.

It's hard to get anything done or talk to people when you're sitting there trying to convince yourself that everything you're thinking and feeling is incorrect. It's like being on fire and telling yourself you aren't on fire. It feels real to me and telling myself otherwise doesn't stop it, it just keeps me from reacting on the outside, but that's all you can really hope for.

When I'm riding I am usually thinking productively, creatively, and processing life in a healthy manner, as well as centering myself. I've tried meditation and I hate it- my road bike is my meditation. It's so INCREDIBLY helpful, almost as great as therapy. Other times I use pedaling to control a mood swing or manage a bad day in order to prevent a mood disruption. I also ride to get through depression, when I couldn't care less but rather do something and feel empty than sit around and feel nothing. The bulk of my mental stability is heavily contributed to by 3 things. They are, and in the order of their importance: medication, therapy, and cycling. This is obviously not the scale everyone goes by but this is how my life is defined. When I was told to take one of those away, I really didn't know what to do. I was facing a medical injury so I knew throwing my hands up in defeat or ignoring Dr's orders weren't smart options.

I sat at home with a swollen ankle trying to figure out what the fuck I was going to do with myself for 2 months. I needed to come up with a plan that didn't consist of whining and annoying my boyfriend.

Lucky it was October and that's when I have a lot of hired makeup and costume projects to do. I kept myself insanely busy and was actually enjoying the extra free time. After Halloween was over I dedicated my time to painting and actually got my own studio on November 1st. Things were going really well until the last 4 weeks hit. I had a full blown manic episode. It didn't last long and that was directly because of the involvement of my boyfriend. He was able (god only knows what super power he has) to keep calm and let Typhoid (the name for my manic persona) run her course without provoking her or escalating the situation further. He said and did the right things in order to bring enough of me back and calm me down so I could safely take my sleeping meds and have the night be over with. He's currently in the fire academy and is working extremely hard to become a full time firefighter, so he isn't the kind of person to panic in a dangerous situation (he was never in danger, but he knew that I was). He separated who I was from the symptoms that he was facing that night. He knew that wasn't me and didn't react irrationally or emotionally, even though it was tough for him. I'll go in depth about the incident in a separate post, but the point is I had my first manic episode since being properly medicated and having turned my life around. I think the largest (but not only) contributing factor is the built up energy that my bipolar feeds off of. I haven't had one of my three most important tools that assist my overall bipolar management. I feel like it was only a matter of time.

The refractory period for my mania is anywhere from a month to 3 months. This time around it was only 3 days. I cannot express how insanely wonderful that is. Even though I had a full blown manic episode, it shows me that all of my hard work has payed off and my life choices have been the right ones.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get completely back on track since then. My moods aren't shifting drastically but my mind seems to be in a light fog. I haven't been on top of my schedule and I don't have as much energy as I should. I know that's the lack of riding catching up to me, but I had no other options except to try and distract my mind. I haven't been as focused and my motivation seems mediocre at best. I'm not depressed, I'm just avoiding a lot.

I've become the Mad Procrastination Woman. I spent a good percentage of my free time reading about irrelevant subjects instead of working on what I need to. I now know the economic history of Russia over the past 300 hundred years.  That was horribly depressing so I switched to other useless subjects instead of getting ontop of what I needed to. I taught myself all the events that led up to WWI, how HIV is medically handled better these days, and why dogs don't catch diseases from humans. The list goes on and on but the issue is my brain seems to have shut a little bit of itself off. I've still been painting and getting stuff done but the rate of these things has slowed dramatically. As you can also see, I have been neglectful of my blog.

Today, December 15th, I am officially allowed to ride bikes again. It might have to be slow, short rides as I'm not sure how far I am in the healing process, but I am able to test the waters and will do so this afternoon. I am not proud of my manic episode, nor am I really all that thrilled about my mental fog, but I am proud of how everything has been dealt with and how far I've come in this process. Living with an extreme case of bipolar isn't easy but it's been incredibly rewarding through all of my hard work and through the efforts of the people I keep close. Long ago I accepted that I'll never be symptom free and the past 2 months have reminded me of that fact. I cannot beat myself up for what has happened, I cannot blame myself for my chemical imbalance, but I can keep moving forward and handle each situation better than the one before.




A huge thank you to Matt. He's taken on the difficult task that is loving someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. He has been an endless source of support, comfort, and empathy. He has never judged me for my bad days, never said an unkind word to me, and has never seen me only as my disorder- no matter that the circumstances. Through his efforts I have become more resilient in my fight against my faulty brain chemicals, and he has proven me wrong in my scepticism about healthy relationships and bipolar. I don't believe in luck, I believe I worked myself to a level where I was able to choose a healthy and compatible partner for myself, and he proves me right every day.
Thank you.















Sunday, November 23, 2014

Deliverance



I received that comment and after a lot of consideration, I decided to respond to them. I get mean, nasty, or passive aggressive messages pretty often so I'm quite accustomed to ignoring them. This one had me thinking for quite some time before I decided to abuse my keyboard once again and pound out a response.

I don't owe anyone anything. No one owes me anything. There are a couple of people I would love to be friends with now that I'm a better human being but a relationship just isn't possible. Some of them I have wronged and others I just rubbed the wrong way. It's unfortunate, but that is how life works. I'm dealing with a disorder and I'm not in denial of my faults. They have every right to choose whether we're friends or not. I don't hold that weight when I go about my daily life. It isn't mine to hold. If I was legless I certainly wouldn't be upset that I couldn't be a soccer player. Everyone's life has limitations and this is one of mine. I will not be able to be friends with everyone I want to because of who I was and who I am.

Chances are the person who made this comment is probably not one of the people on my short list that I am interested in having a friendship with.

The other side of this is that there are some people who rubbed me wrong as well. I'm a healthy individual now, not Ghandi. There are people that I avoid and some that I just plain don't get along with. It's not my goal to love the world and teach people absolute forgiveness. If anyone stumbled upon my blog expecting to find that then they should have realized a bipolar person is not going to cultivate an adequate breeding ground for inner peace. I'm coping and living with a disorder, not completely blind as to how the world works.

I'm not sure what this person was trying to get out of this or if they are even someone I ever knew. The internet is full of trolls who love nothing more than to shit wherever they can squeeze their giant, bored anus into. Frankly, I don't care what this person's motivation was, nor do I care to reconcile any wrongdoing they felt has been done.

I will not please everyone with who I am. I will not please everyone with my efforts. I will not change everyone's opinion on bipolar, or mental illnesses for that matter.

But I will sleep comfortably at night knowing that I am ok with and proud of who I am and my efforts. I focus on progression, not perfection.




Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ADRASTOS


I participated in and finished a Tough Mudder on Saturday, June 14th. At the end of the day, long after all of the high fives and "hell yeah!"s were dished out, I sat in the bathtub amazed by what I had just done. I sat in orange tinted water, not contemplating my performance or the physical challenges I had just put my body through, all I cared about was my ability to accomplish something that would have been impossible a year and a half ago. I was able to have an epic adventure completely free of social anxiety.

I'm a pretty fit person who takes great pride in my physical well being but that hasn't prevented me from being terrified of doing athletic activities with other people in the past. This Saturday was a perfect breeding ground for my social anxiety but I experienced none. No part of me mentally shut down or caved in. There were other athletes there that are beyond what I'll ever be, enough to intimidate anyone who doubts themselves even in the slightest. But I saw them as motivation instead of my brain telling me they're better than me and that I'm not good enough for what I'm about to face. I didn't have one embarrassing moment and that wasn't because I escaped doing embarrassing things. In fact, I found myself in a few situations that would have made great viral videos of what not to do. I also bombed some of the challenges so bad that I'm sure I made everyone else feel better about their performance. But I also did amazing on the other obstacles. But the memorable part is that I didn't care and that I laughed it off, the bad as well as the good. I did great but most importantly I felt none of the anxiety that once would have been there.

I am beating my own chemically programmed fears.

In the past I could have never possibly toyed with the idea of joining something like this. There are a million reasons my mind could instantly come up with that would scare me away from any event with other people involved. None of them are reasonable but anxiety within the bipolar spectrum isn't always fair or warranted. It took me years to build up the gall just to do group bike rides. Even then it wasn't necessarily courage that brought me out onto those paved country roads, it was someone I connected with that told me I was going. But even then I was a wreck though the entirety of those rides. I wasn't afraid of how other people saw me, I have rarely if ever cared about that. My anxiety is me judging my own actions, my self image turns on itself.


"You're really quiet. I never pegged you for a quiet person."

I'm not. I just have no idea what I'm doing and I'm fighting the urge to fake a death in the family so I can run and hide from this verbal exchange.


"Are you ok? You don't look ok."

No, I'm not ok but it's my goal in life to make these situations ok, so please bare with me as I sweat like a 600lbs person in 110 degree weather and make unprompted seasick faces.


I'm going to act like the opposite of who I really am because I'm treading water in a polluted river of chemical imbalances. I don't know why I want to run and hide but the compulsion to do so is overwhelming. I'm going to look awkward and do awkward things during these moments because I forgot how to move my bones and muscle in conjunction with the skin that's encasing them.

My social anxiety manifests itself as unwarranted fear. No logic associated with it, nothing to pinpoint, just the feeling of fear. The chemical reaction in the brain that causes that emotion without any reasonable trigger. It may not be warranted but it is unfortunately 100% real. The fight or flight chemicals being dropped like atom bombs while I'm comfortably sitting in a coffee shop with other decent people I may or may not know. I'm not hard to make friends with and I make friends quite easily, unless it's during these moments.

I'm not a sensitive person. Sarcasm runs through my veins and is more important to me than balancing my check book. I take jokes and sly remarks very well, I enjoy the lifestyle that is trying to get the best of one another. I don't get seriously bothered when strangers are rude to me or if people stare at me in public. I don't mind asking stupid questions or tripping over my own feet. I'm incredibly witty and usually a very self confident person. It doesn't make any sense for me to randomly be afraid of people. It isn't always just strangers or people I know. Sometimes it's one or the other and sometimes I can be frightened just by the concept of other people. I have days where I'm outgoing and all smiles around strangers. I'll crack jokes with a cashier who's ringing me up, I'll have no problem going to the bank, or waiting at the DMV and striking up a conversation with the person next to me. But sometimes during my chipper day I'll run into someone I know and I'll get this weird feeling in my stomach and have no idea what the hell to say to them. I just conversed with 100 strangers without any problem so why is my stomach churning at the thought of speaking with a friend? It could very well be a close friend but my mind will still freak out.


"Hey Gwen! What are you up to?"

I'm currently praying that the entire milk aisle will spontaneously combust so we all have to rush out of the building and I can avoid a painful conversation with you that is through no fault of your own. 


"I saw you Facebook post about _____, how was it?"

It was somewhere between the generic answer I should give and the weird answer my mouth is going to produce that will result in you feeling uncomfortable because I suddenly forgot how to interact with the human race.


Other days it's the opposite. I can crack amazingly wonderful jokes that have all of my friends laughing. I am my comfortable and outgoing self. I can conduct a conversation with an acquaintance, everyone enjoys my company, and I theirs. But as soon as I'm in the presence of strangers I feel a bizarre pressure to make sure I don't say the wrong thing.


"Which pump did you say, ma'am?"

I don't know. I'll just stare at this Wawa attendant and hopefully the other 8 people in line won't murder me.


"Nice weather we're having, isn't it? I see the bikes on your car, going for a ride?"

A what? Oh yeah. I'm going to go ride bikes today. "Yep. I'm going to rotate my feet so they move forward. Or the weather. Yes. We have weather."


And the ever popular days where I can't seem to interact with anyone properly. On days like these everyone is a threat to my mental stability. Strangers, good friends, even the chubby babies who stare at me while I wait in line or while sitting across from me in a restaurant. I like to make nasty faces at these babies on days like that. At least I'm only mildly intimidated by someone whose life centers around shitting their own pants.


"I've been texting you for a couple days, are you mad at me or something?"

No. I've been ignoring all of my messages. I've been avoiding eye contact with my pets and the neighbor's dog. I'm even hiding from images of human beings on the internet.


Social anxiety hits me for no reason and often out of nowhere. I can start off an interaction like a normal person and an hour after talking to them I suddenly feel like I have no idea who they are and I must escape the situation as soon as possible. They haven't said or done anything wrong. In fact, they're still tuned into the conversation and when I suddenly cut off the interaction it's very obvious that I'm trying to get away. People take this personally and think that they've done something offensive or that I dislike them. My behavior comes from no such foundation. The natural organic flow of human interaction that is inherent in all of us leaks out of my brain and I'm stuck trying to figure out what the hell to say in response to you. 404, social behavior not found.


"So after I found my cat sick I rushed her to the hospital and it seems like everything is going to be ok."

Oh god, do I need to comfort them? But the cat is ok-ish? What the hell do people say to things like this? Just say what naturally comes to mind. "That seems like an good bad situation, or a bad good situation... I mean they have other cats out there... I mean if that one doesn't work out, like as in it (holy fuck, don't say dies)... Sounds like it's going to be fine."


"____ and ____ got engaged!"

Fuck! Show enthusiasm, open your eyes wider and smile, or something. "Oh great! (the muscles in my face only retract my lips and eyelids, now I look like a bug eyed cannibal). So I guess that means they're having a marriage or a married?"


The over abundance of nervousness that builds in your system causes you to not want to see anyone for the rest of the day or the next couple of days. You don't want to experience the pressure of remembering how people are suppose to talk to each other. I already know how and I'm great at it except for the times when my brain chemicals decide to temporarily abandon this skill. After a while avoiding people for a long stint of time seems to be the only answer but of course that's impossible. I'll just continue to walk around acting strange and making people feel uneasy while they lose faith that I ever liked them or thought of them as a friend.

I've over come a lot of that and Saturday was the proof. I still find myself trapped in those loops every now and again but I'm capable of overcoming them. The biggest realization is that hiding from people doesn't work in the long run. However, I can take some time to myself and recuperate when I need to. Recognizing when to give myself alone time in order to recharge the energy needed for successful social interactions is now a gift. I no longer beat myself up for this behaviour because I know it's bipolar based.

My participation in the Tough Mudder wasn't made monumental just by me showing up. It was the fact that I was able to motivate and help people all day long. I didn't have any of the social anxiety fueled mood shifts that were once my entire life. I shook hands and introduced myself to others, something I'm usually terrible with. I joined forces with strangers to better get through obstacles and motivate each other along the way. Not once did I feel uncomfortable or had any fear of being around others. I put myself in the right situation and with something I love- athletic endeavors. Physical activity is my first and foremost tool against bipolar and nothing is better than seeing all of my efforts paying off in the environment I'm most comfortable in.

Mad bike women:1
Social anxiety:0


Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 9, 2014

July 2013

I found this post from July last year. I don't know how I missed publishing it and I was hesitant to due to it's content but I feel it's worth documenting since it was a pretty big issue for me back then.

July 19th, 2013:


I'm stuck in a mixed state lately. Right now it's sadness which comes with feelings of hopelessness and no energy. I needed to go running today- I didn't. I need to be painting- I can't. My mind won't adjust into the head space it needs for painting. I tried, I sat and painted for 2 hours. I told myself to stick with it and it will eventually come. I didn't. I sat crying at my desk. That makes me feel worse and only promotes the hopelessness setting in.

I think the isolation is getting to me. I'm by myself at the house busting ass, having to catch up for 3 months of mental vacation. Johnny went o VA and now is in LA. I have a ton of people I can call or message but I have no social life. I can't really afford one right now. But when I feel like this I just further isolate myself. I don't have anyone here I can confide in. Johnny wants nothing to do with my mood swings, even if they are light and manageable. He's done dealing with this part of me. That's horribly depressing to even think about.

I keep screaming internally at myself that I'll be fine and I'll feel better soon but to no avail. It doesn't register.

Nothing feels good right now. Nothing is making the vacant, numbing, lack of feeling subside.

I put painting down to go draw what ever idea my heart desires. Nothing. I couldn't think of anything and to be honest I didn't even care. I started playing Skyrim. Nothing. I'm uninterested. I could go to the store and get cookie (gluten free cookie = fun) but I don't have the energy to get on my bike to go get them.

And I'll Find Strength in Pain, And I Will Change My Ways


I've been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the past and how others around me have felt about and dealt with my disorder post and prior to my diagnosis. I feel bipolar sufferers are often judged too harshly because others can't separate us from our symptoms. The behaviour we exhibit when we're depressed, manic, or having a minor mood swing can look like a choice. Others have a choice not to act certain ways so they feel we're simply handling situations wrong, as if we're childish or emotionally immature. A lot of times they can't understand that it is coming from a chemical mix up in our brains and not a voluntary response. An emotional breakdown can make others think we're trying to hurt them on purpose and they can take it very personal. A sudden angry outburst can be received as a direct threat, and suicide attempts or talking about it can be misconstrued as having narcissistic intentions.

My blanket statement for everyone accused me of these things:
I'm not self centered, I do not like being the victim, I do not want others to feel sorry for me, I am not doing this for attention, I am not playing helpless, I am not trying to manipulate anyone, I am not doing this on purpose. I could not control my episodes in the past so I sure as shit couldn't use them to any advantage I could possibly have. I gain nothing from coming across as helpless, needy, or weak. I would never subject anyone to the bad side of my disorder on purpose.

Every Time I heard those accusations it made my condition worse. I didn't know what was wrong with me but I knew none of those were true and it added to the frustration that the people close to me thought so poorly of my character.

It's different now, I have more control over myself than I ever could have imagined and a greater understanding of what bipolar is. But it isn't perfect and I am still prone to symptoms. I don't worry as much about people's perception of my behavior anymore. I do my damndest to handle myself and I know where it stems from so when I hear those hurtful accusations they no longer have the impact they once did.

Being born without a legs is an obvious problem that everyone can see and understand. When you can't get up a flight of stairs easily people tend not to look at you like a lack of effort is the cause. You can't look at me and see what I was born with that prevents me from leading a regular life. When I speak frantic nonsense, cry uncontrollably, and try to pull my own hair out then you might get a glimpse of my "missing leg" but it's everything in between that people misunderstand. Often they would rather think it's the person who is flawed and that the disorder is an excuse. It's easier to discredit the sufferer instead of trying to apply patience and extend an empathetic hand.

Around the time of my diagnoses, I had an anxiety attack that prevented me from entering a grocery store. I sat outside in the car, frozen in the driver's seat. The company I was with was in complete disbelief that I "wouldn't" go in. It had been an hour long trek from where I was living at the time to this store. They were incredibly angry as I tried to explain that I can't get up and out of the car. In addition to the fight or flight reflex going off inside of me, I was being ridiculed for the time, effort, and money that I was wasting. I desperately tried to explain that I am incapable of opening my door. I couldn't go inside and I couldn't explain a panic attack during a panic attack. Regardless of the triggers for this incident I was facing a situation that only perpetuated itself. I don't know which felt worse- being berated over it or feeling like an idiot for trying to explain it. I was bashed further into myself and the hell hole that was my panic filed mind. I couldn't handle what was going on inside of me and I couldn't handle the reactions of the person next to me. Even as I tried to communicate how I felt and what was going on it only worsened my state. My passenger didn't understand and thought worse of me for it. My symptoms were being mistaken for bad behaviour and I was suffering further because of it.

 It's not that hard to get up and walk into a store, I know that, but an anxiety attack isn't "I don't feel like it" or "but I don't want to." It is a very clear and direct "I cannot" and this inability is coming from a chemical change in my brain. It's the full on fight or flight chemicals firing off, my nerves and decision making skills are being over run. I was upset over an argument but there's no reason for this primal, animal like, reaction to go off in a Trader Joe's parking lot. I don't live in the wild like our ancestors did. I wasn't being cornered by a predator with my life threatened. I was a confused 30 year old woman sitting in a PT Cruiser freaking out. The passenger's reactions only further fueled the adrenaline that was already wreaking havoc on my consciousness. How the situation was treated: "you have legs, you can walk." And that's what I told myself as well "I have legs and they work" but to no logical response. The other person saw me as a rude and ungrateful burden when all I really was doing was fighting the internal and external elements that seemed to be crushing me where I sat. I was just trying to hold on.

I could not control it then. I didn't fully understand what "it" was. That whole incident was a small piece of me that I've always tried to keep from leaking out. When it did surface and I wasn't fortunate enough to hide it was almost always met with hostility. This is just one example of being harshly judged and treated poorly because of my disorder based behaviour, there have been many many more throughout my life. Every incident fed the self deprecating manner in which I spoke to myself. I didn't feel like I was a weak person but then I would act like that and it was evidence that seemed to prove otherwise. People's reactions just added to my shame and guilt. It made me want to find a hole and retreat from the world. Not die, just cease to exist. I wanted to pull back that piece of me I was careless enough to let out in front of someone else. I would rather suffer by myself than be on the painful receiving end of another's reactions.

It's different for me now. Were that to happen today I could walk myself through it and be able to complete my shopping unscathed. I have also learned to keep better company.

During my youth I've dealt with this by spending almost all of my time alone. I hated getting close to people because I knew something was wrong with me. I always tried to fight whatever this unforeseen monster was but when that other person inside of me surfaced around others I would have symptoms 3x as bad. The shame and guilt ate away at my confidence and self worth.

Growing up I have had so many incidences that made me look like an idiot or weak in front of my family because of my disorder. During those tough younger years I never received any sympathy, help, or empathy so I learned to keep it to myself from a very young age. Sometimes others close to me would use my "freak outs" as a way to punish me. They would say and do the right things in order to trigger a meltdown. My bipolar surfaced early on and my broken family life only exacerbated my illness. I would keep my suicidal thoughts, self loathing, connection with the dead, outbursts, depression, fear, freak outs, and weird thoughts to myself. And I did a great job.

Strangely enough I was never short of people who wanted to be around me. I'm intelligent, creative, very funny, and people were drawn to me. My personality has always attracted people for some reason. I didn't understand how to deal with that for a long time. I was social enough in school but wasn't really big on having friends outside of it. I wasn't able to keep up my public face once I stepped away from those white cinder block walls. My anxiety ran at very high levels back then. I stuck to being a loner and spent my time reading, drawing, getting completely lost in my vast imagination, and fighting to understand what the hell was wrong with me.

I indirectly ended up isolated myself. I'm not an introvert, at all. I'm an extrovert who didn't know how to make real friends because "I" went away sometimes. "Gwen" wasn't here all the time and during my teenage years I didn't know what I was going to feel like at any given moment so I didn't bother making close friends. Someone expecting any level of consistency out of me when I knew I could never provide it would have been too much pressure. I felt like I was watching everyone from behind a glass wall. Observing but never participating. It seemed like too much of a hassle, but that's not how I wanted to live. I don't enjoy keeping entirely to myself, I just did that because it seemed better than the shame and guilt of possibly having a mood swing around my peers.

Deeper, longterm, meaningful friendships are not something I specialize in.

I actually enjoy people and love being around them. I have my whole life. I didn't hate the world for thinking I was weird or fucked up- I agreed with them! I had an appreciation for all of the individuals I knew and met. I didn't get along with everyone but that's expected. I enjoy people for their own quirks and unique traits that creates the creature that is presented to me. Growing up I prefered to like them but not have to worry about whether or not they liked me. I have never been fully able to have a "best friend" like other people seem to be able to do. I've had friends that I did a lot with but I have never had a best friend as others would define it, just some people I spent more time with.

I didn't connect deeply with others. I would let them get close to me but I always had one foot out the door. No one else seemed to operate or think like I did or experience the insanity that I was going through so I kept everything to myself. Even when I met other kids that had issues I didn't connect with them either. Any time I relaxed just a bit and was more of myself, even just a tiny bit, you could feel the person's enthusiasm for me dissipate- I would make them uneasy and to ease the suddenly awkward tension they would say "....you're weird." I was an unidentifiable social mishap and I made people uncomfortable.

Yes. I'm weird. People have told me this since the first time I was able to open my mouth and direct my words towards another human being. This is the only consistent element in my entire life.

Meeting new people was never a problem for me, I'm very outgoing, but a lasting conversation just didn't exist when I interacted with others. I would hide my undeveloped social skills behind my goofyness, that way people would laugh at my sharp observational humor and I wasn't forced to actually talk to anyone. I was never concerned about fitting in or finding acceptance, those concepts naturally didn't occur to me. I was just afraid of people seeing the other side of me, the weird (and sometimes violent back then) one I couldn't seem to control. I would talk 1000 miles a minute and blurt out random thoughts. No one else could get a word in because I interrupted them or never stop running my mouth. I saw that this annoyed people so I kind of stopped talking altogether once I realized it. I couldn't not do it so not saying anything seemed like the only alternative. I wasn't good at the natural flow of a conversation. My family didn't have a lot of those growing up so I had no frame of reference. To be honest, I'm still learning the flow of having a conversation. I didn't really start working on that until I was diagnosed and put on meds. That made me able to listen instead of be afraid of saying something weird or at the wrong time. I wasn't just concerned with my own thoughts as it might have appeared but I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing so I always tended to say or do the wrong thing.

My symptoms were being mistaken for always wanting to talk about myself. I wanted the opposite. I wanted a rest from my internal dialog but had no idea how conversations were supposed to work. My anxiety drove most of those interactions, drove it directly off of a cliff.

Later on in life I found new ways to hide it but still actually have a social life. When I got sick of hiding myself away from the world I kind of "hid" myself in crowds. Strangely enough I preferred them- I could disguise my anxious behavior by running around from person to person. If I cracked few jokes and then bounced to the next person I wasn't faced with the threat of people actually wanting to talk to me. If I got pulled into a conversation there was a higher chance of my anxiety taking over and It would be obvious that I was more of a manic mess than the life of the party.

I was never interested in the same stuff as other people so when asked about what I thought or what I liked I usually had a very awkward answer that discredited me as an intelligent person. I could cause an entire room full of people's minds to flatline because of something I said. I was just weird, in my thoughts and verbal execution. I never had a desire to fit in but I had a desire to figure out why there was an obvious road block in my ability to connect with others. My brain raced 100mph at all times so I was easily distracted and focused on the wrong things. People liked me and I wanted to reciprocate their friendship and interests.

I don't fight as hard anymore. I learned the most while working in the cycling industry. That whole time in my life helped me in more ways than I could count. I was able to connect with people with a common interest and it wasn't something that weirded people out. After I got my mind straight and started working on myself I realized I didn't suck at talking with people, I just needed to sort out everything in my head before I was capable. There was a much needed calm that I could not achieve on my own. I still have days where my mind seems to shut off and my interactions are strained but I don't get nearly as upset as I use to. I know that the problem isn't me and I have the ability to retreat, take some time to center myself, calm my mind, and then reemerge functional and receptive. It helps knowing I don't personally have these issues and that's it's related to bipolar. I don't suck, my mind just needs more assistance than others.

I still worry about people misinterpreting my behaviour but only slightly. I've made a lot of friends since becoming healthy and some of these relationships have become very important to me, they have become deeper and more meaningful. My friendships have blossomed and most people accept me for being quirky and a little weird. In fact, since talking about my disorder I have felt a sense of relief that I've never had before or could have imagined. I think what was putting such a strain on my social interactions was not being able to figure out the other side of me that I was scared of.

I worry that others will write me off as someone who uses bipolar as an excuse. I'm still trying to accept that some of my behaviour is bipolar related, I almost have a hard time understanding that some parts of me can't be "fixed" in a conventional way. But then I reassure myself that is the opposite of what I do and it's not my concern what my efforts look like. I can't convince the world of what is actually going on with me but I can chose who to spend my time with and the people I keep around. I make sure these people are understanding to my situation. They don't have to get it but they are compassionate enough to tolerate me.



Thanks for reading