Monday, November 21, 2016

The Witch, Blood Tests, and Lithium Mess

5 months ago I went through and called every single psychiatrist's office that my insurance covers. Almost 60 different practices and only 4 responses. Most of them weren't taking new patients or just never returned my calls, a couple of them offered me their nurse practitioner but I declined. I need a Dr, I understand the differences between the two but I needed a psychiatrist. Tegretol's side effects had become too much. I couldn't remember one minute to the next, I was always unbelievably tired and it was just getting worse. I experienced long bouts of mental confusion which made meeting life's demands nearly impossible. I developed something else that I didn't know existed, I ended up with hypothyroidism. I needed to get my medication reevaluated and by a psychiatrist.*

One office was able to take me in and I scheduled an appointment but when I got there they informed me that I will see their nurse practitioner, something I specifically told them I didn't want. I wrote down the name of the Dr they told me I would be seeing and expressed that my appointment was confirmed over the phone with this doctor. I was told that I must be mistaken because that Dr isn't taking new patients. There I was, frustrated about my medication side effects (and they were getting worse and worse each day), spending my lunch breaks calling Dr office after Dr office, all just to take care of myself and my bipolar disorder and I landed in some sort of bait and switch situation. I even had to wait 3 weeks to get into this place and it had the shortest waiting period, the next one being 6 weeks out. I just want to take care of myself.

I had already paid for the visit so I figured I might as well get something for my copay, which is just a symbol of time wasted at this point. I sat down with the NP to give her a shot. She looked like my grandmother, who was also a nurse, which instantly pulled at some heartstrings. My grandmother had bipolar and was probably the most special person to me during my childhood. I made the mistake of making a decision out of emotion, something I rarely, if ever, do. I put my well being into her hands.

She means well and I honestly believe she's done the best she can. She did not half ass her effort as a medical professional,  and she genuinely cares about me as a patient, but her best has completely screwed up all of my hard work. She has no ill intent and is sweet as can be but she has created a fiery psychological hell that has all but consumed me.

I was on Tegretol at 400 mg for about 3 years, that's the usual max dose (some people are prescribed more, but it usually maxes out at 400 mg). It's an anticonvulsant usually used for for patients that are prone to seizures, but it has also been found to have mood stabilizing qualities. It's something your body has to be weaned off of slowly, very slowing, usually cutting the dose by 10% every 2 weeks. That's not the instructions I was given. I was told to cut my dose in half every 2 days so I did. A week and 2 days later I'm in the middle of the country on a bike ride when my whole body gave up and started shaking violently. My muscles suddenly gave out and I sat on the side of the road with a fellow rider who was gracious enough to hang with me for a while and feed me snacks with plenty of water to make sure I was ok. He and another guy thought it was a low blood sugar issue but I know how to fuel up before a ride and during so I ruled that possibility out, but I've also never had my muscles give up on me while my body trembled from head to toe.

I was able to pedal the 20+ miles back. They were some painfully slow miles but that's all I had. I went home that day and spent my afternoon throwing up while still shaking. Then I started getting crushing migraines. I had never had a migraine before but I have given birth. It was like my skull was trying to birth a large boulder. All the windows had to be blacked out, the dogs couldn't be in the same room as me, there were ear plugs in my ears because all sound was like a pickaxe to my head. I constantly had an ice pack resting on my forehead, and there was a terrible pain in my eyes. It was like they were trying to press themselves out of each respective socket. There was no relief. Pain meds weren't much help. One of my prescribed medications interacts with the majority of over the counter headache options, and the one that was supposed to be safe caused my heart to race and caused major panic attacks.

It was then my husband hopped online and figured out I was going through withdrawals associated with anticonvulsant medication. I developed a stutter and involuntary hand movements that were embarrassing. I'm not ever self conscious about much but the way some customers in the shop would look at me made me feel like shit. It's already hard to get people to trust and respect you as woman in a bike shop (you'd be surprised how quick we can be written off because of our anatomy) but it's even harder to be taken seriously when your hands keep pointing, balling themselves up, and awkwardly jerking around in the air without the ability to stop them. I was even made fun of by some people. Had a guy at Staples ask me "what the hell are you doing with your hands?" Thanks random asshole. That's exactly how you should talk to people. I'm assuming he goes up to people in wheel chairs and asks "what the hell are you not doing with your legs?"

The stutter that developed made speaking difficult because I knew what I wanted to say but it took forever to come out, if it even came out at all. It was really frustrating, especially for someone like me who normally talks too much and at over 100 mph. Not being able to get the words out felt like the last second or two before you absolutely have to breathe after holding your breath for as long as humanly possible. It's a pressurized panicky feeling, a built up frustration that you can feel in every part of your lungs and skull. Those sensations are the force behind every word you can't get out. The interesting and somewhat funny part was how nice strangers treated me when I had a stutter. People sympathize better if you have an issue that they can see.

If I had to choose a worst of the worst side effect from the withdrawal stage it would be the inability to sleep. If I got 5 hours it was a goddamn miracle but that miracle didn't happen but 5 or 6 times during those first 3 months. I had been on sleeping meds for almost 7 years at this point but they were ineffective; my brain was not going to let me rest. I spent 3 months going through withdrawals and all while sleep deprived. I don't know how most people are but my brain shuts down if I don't get adequate sleep. I felt like the living dead.

When I saw the NP during all of this and told her what was going I watched her hop on her phone and google how long the withdrawals process could take. Right in front of me.

I'm telling you, she's doing the best she can. She was genuinely concerned about what I was going through and if she had had any prior knowledge that any of this would have happen she would have weaned me off slower.

But she didn't and my life was hell but that is only the first half of this experience.

During the weaning process I was prescribed a new medication- lithium (new to me).  The NP started me on the highest dose of lithium while she was yanking me off the anticonvulsant. Your body needs to be slowly introduced to lithium, just like it needs to be slowly taken off Tegretol. Lithium's side effects went wild almost immediately.

Once the withdrawal shaking died down I was left with uncontrollable hand tremors. My hands wouldn't stop shaking which made every day gestures arduous. I couldn't steady them long enough to put my house key in the lock. I couldn't button my shirts (still have trouble with this one). I couldn't put on my makeup nor could I hold an object for too long before it rattled right out of my grasp. What use to be simple movements became endlessly pathetic attempts; picking up a pen had become a frustrating 15 second cat and mouse game. Turning the page in a book took military level planning. I still have bad hand tremors but they are slightly less in intensity.

I had trouble standing up because my equilibrium is so greatly affected by the lithium. If I'm not in motion I almost always have to sit down because my body sways around and focusing on shifting my feet to keep myself upright is all I can pay attention to. I haven't been on a bike since this whole mess started because I figure if I can't stand up then how the hell am I going to balance on a bike? I don't want to injure myself, or worse, endanger other riders.

Forget closing my eyes while standing up, I would save more time by just throwing myself to the ground. Simple daily tasks like closing my eyes in the shower to rinse my face off become difficult, I actually have to brace myself because once they're shut I essentially have no balance. I try to shower with my husband as much as possible because I'm afraid of falling over and injuring myself. Well, that and I like seeing him naked.

Lithium is a salt so hydration- the right balance of water to salt intake- is essential. That being said, it can also cause water retention and the good news is that I also had that side effect in spades. My body decided to store all the excess water in my stomach, which caused it to swell up to the point where I looked pregnant. I still have a bit of a swollen stomach today but it's not as intense. It just look like a "drink a lot of beer and over invite all of you neighbors to all of you carport cookouts" kind of belly now. Looking at you Lakeside.

Then the fun really started. My hair began to fall out.

I noticed in the shower that there was an increase in the amount of hair flowing down the drain. Then I noticed strands of hair on the sink, all over the floor, choking up my brushes, and even falling out as I prepared food (don't worry, I picked them out). I couldn't wear my bangs straight across my forehead like I usually did because my hair thinned out to the point where my bangs had sections too thin which created gaps, causing the whole delicate hair to forehead ratio to become unbalanced. I have bangs because my forehead is shaped funny, I don't need a funny looking forehead with half assed clumps of hair scattered all over it.

At this point I looked like a balding pregnant woman who was casting spells with my exaggerated, involuntary hand movements.

I also had menstruation cycles that were 2 weeks long and experienced frequent bleeding inbetween periods. Uteri are fickle, somewhat wild creatures so I didn't feel any real sense of alarm until one of my periods surpassed 2 weeks in duration. I visited my gynecologist and after checking for and finding no physical abnormalities she was convinced it was part of my thyroid's process of getting back to regulating my hormones since it was under functioning until 2 months ago. She said it could last a couple months or 6+ months.

Great. Now I'm a bleeding, balding pregnant woman casting spells.

It also affects your digestive system and can cause constipation. I've had horrific constipation, sometimes I won't be able to go for 4-7 days, even though I take stool softeners and have bumped up my already high fiber diet to a super high fiber diet. I have to drink a lot of water and apparently that should help but it doesn't. When I finally have to go my stools are so hard and massive that it's incredibly painful and causes bleeding. I'm so sore afterwards that it hurts to sit down for an hour or so.

Now I'm a bleeding, balding pregnant woman casting spells who can't poop.

So far lithium sucks and it's benefits have been minimal. I blame being put on the (what is usually considered) max dose on day one. My body didn't have time to adjust and the intensity of the side effects reflect that. I asked the NP if we could drop the dose down in order to help my body get used to it and she gave the go ahead. That was a disaster, not her fault this time. I was worse off psychologically and felt like I use to before I was diagnosed and medicated. The reduction in side effects was minimal. After 1 week of 900 mg I went back to 1200 mg. Took about a week for my body to catch up but when it did I didn't feel "better," just less worse.

I will say there has been one beneficial side effect which goes hand in hand with it's worst side effect. I've lost 8 lbs, which is interesting because lithium is not known for weight loss, it's actually infamous for excessive weight gain. It's not unheard of by any means but it's relatively uncommon. I've also lost that weight during a time where I haven't been riding, which means the extra 2 to 3 thousand calories I would normally burn each week haven't played any role in my weight loss. I like this a lot, especially since Tegretol affected my thyroid to the point of gaining weight even while using calorie control and constant cardio exercise. Back then, if I even looked at a picture of a cake or some muffins on Facebook or in a magazine I would instantly gain a pound. The weight loss might just be the result of going off Tegretol but lithium has not added any more pounds onto my balding, pregnant witch body, and that is a very much welcome result.

Have I mentioned bacne yet? Because I have also developed that. Zits have broken out across my back, but has left my face unaffected. Most reported acne cases with lithium report acne on their face. My face has actually cleared up almost completely, something I was struggling with for a couple of years (probably caused by low thyroid function). But yes, I also have acne on my back, or as we said in middle school "bacne." It doesn't bother me too much as it's on my back which means I don't have to stare at it often, and it seems to be a pretty mild case anyway. I also have 25% of an unfinished back tattoo that does a good job hiding the bumps.

Now I'm a bleeding, balding pregnant woman with "bacne," casting spells who can't poop.

I have to get blood tests often because lithium is poisonous and it's clinically effective level is a hairline away from its toxic level. I find it ironic I have to take something dangerous in order to be healthy. My lithium blood levels are really low for being on such a high dose. Drinking too much water can flush out too much lithium out of your system so I tried drinking less water but it didn't seem to help. I don't want to raise my dose, the side effects are already too worrisome. It also makes me so unbelievably thirsty, causing my mouth to dry out and my breath to smell like hot garbage even though I brush, floss, and use mouthwash daily.

Now I'm a constipated, bleeding, and balding pregnant woman with "bacne,"casting spells with a mouth that smells like a sun baked port-o-potty.

I am the lithium witch.

I'm not a fan of lithium so far but that's because my body doesn't seem to want to cooperate with it. Not everyone has these experiences with the drug so if you feel discouraged about trying it just remember that this story is my personal experience and should not be taken as medical fact. A lot of people have had really positive experiences, mine just doesn't happen to be one of them.







*The psychiatrist I was working with specialized in ADHD and addiction. I had been going to him for almost 8 years due to my ADHD and my brother use to go the same office for addiction counseling when he was still alive. I was diagnosed, treated, and properly medicated while in Pittsburgh and after moving back to Richmond I only needed a Dr to refill my prescriptions in order to maintain my medication regimen until I needed to move on to a different Dr. When the Tegretol became a problem he referred me to another Dr who is better suited to treat bipolar and other behavioral disorders. That particular Dr doesn't accept insurance and the initial visit was about $400. Needless to say I did not take that option. Gotta give a shout out to Dr. Bright. He's a great man.







Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dog eat Dog

I got a new dog. She's a 9.5 month old frenchie pit bull mix and was completely unexpected, like an unplanned pregnancy. We got her from the pound and she's perfect in every way- housebroken (mostly), super relaxed, listens well, learns very easily, loves affection, doesn't chew on anything, plays well with the other dogs, doesn't chase cats, loves car rides, and about 1000 other things that make a dog perfect.

She's also came into my life during the worst bipolar episode I've had since being diagnosed and medicated. Something's happened and I don't know if the catalyst is chemical, environmental, or cerebral. What I do know is that my symptoms have become overwhelming and unmanageable- mostly because I have no way to denominate these new emotions- not quite anxiety, not quite depression, nothing in the apogees that are bipolar depression or mania.

I'm easily confused by simple events or thoughts. I wake up and don't feel like myself or feel any connection to my physical surroundings. They're visually familiar, as if I've seen them in a movie once a long time ago. My many alarm clocks in the morning don't register as marking a significant point in my schedule. Their existence is confusing because I can't correlate time and my physical being. Time doesn't mean anything, my brain won't recognize it. I NEED to feel connected to the concept of time, most people don't function without it and I certainly can't.

My sense of time is usually bad (worst in the world) but that's because I'm easily distracted. That's why I have a watch and a billion alarms set on my phone for my mornings. My chorus of punctuality looks like this:

6:00: wake up
6:15: out of bed, brush teeth, make bed
6:30: getting dogs ready for walk
6:45: walking dogs, letting me know to be home in 15 min or less
7:00: feeding dogs
7:15: pulling out work out weights and mat
7:30: workout break, folding laundry
7:45: finish workout and fumble around with whatever your ADHD says to
8:00: get in shower
8:30: put makeup on
9:00: catch up on news and social media
9:30: go to work

None of that is interesting and I promise I didn't type that out in order to punish you. The point is to show the strict morning schedule I set for myself, and it's been like that for a while. It's the same thing, every morning, every day so my body and mind are used to it- it's like breathing and blinking at this point. That is until the switch got flipped. Now my alarms scare me when they go off, I can't connect with them as reference points in which certain tasks need to be done. I wake up unable to consociate my life and reality. I can't start my day because some sort of essential program in my brain has crashed.

404 life not found

I've never had that before. I've disconnected and disassociated before, that's some scary stuff, but what is happening now is different. I am able to channel my mind enough to communicate (that doesn't always happen during the bad times) but actually feeling in tune with my life isn't happening. New dog, great husband, same loving, internet addicted children, same awesome job in the cycling industry, everything is good. Everything is healthy and steady as ever.

Except my brain.

I'm suffering like I've never experienced before, not the worst I've ever experienced fortunately, but the worst since my diagnosis almost 4 years ago. And this is different. These symptoms have no precedence and are too intense to function with. I've been through a lot of therapy for self management but nothing prepared me for this.

I am not at a functioning state currently. As I'm typing this the setting sun is setting off my anxiety and the paratrophic sensation of mental disassociation. Any change of any kind sets these feelings off.

I know who I am, I just don't know who's life I wake up to every morning. I don't know these emotions I'm beleaguered with. I'm just trying to survive this episode and return back to any sense of familiarity.


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Sunday, March 13, 2016

On the road again

I work in a bike shop again. I can't tell you how monumental this is for me. This isn't merely a retail job where I do my time and collect a paycheck. This isn't just a great job because I get to be around bikes and get a discount. This is a big deal because I get to see who I really am in a setting I once enjoyed, even when my life was miserable.

I'm 5 weeks in and each day was pretty thrilling as far as a learning experience. I've learned that my anxiety level is low, not at a 0, but at a completely manageable level. I don't feel like I use to, I don't approach people the way I use to, I don't see things the way I use to. It's like a heavy burden has been lifted and I just get to be myself. It's a magical fucking thing. I get to act and feel as myself, which is something I didn't quite have before. I live, exist, talk, and act as the person who was always hiding inside wanted to. I get to be me.

People respond to me entirely different. This has to be the craziest and most unexpected part of the whole experience. I use to think it was the hair and makeup that would put people off but that might have only been a small part of it. I'm still covered in tattoos and have fake eyebrows but no one seems even slightly aware. I have little old ladies that are 2 generations of standards behind today come in and take to me right away. They walk in pretty much warmed up to me the minute I greet them. They laugh at my jokes and have a great time while we talk bike baskets and water bottle cages, not once looking at my physical appearance (I'm still not 100% conventional looking, even if it's almost night and day from before). I have middle aged businessmen (they would always look at me the strangest in my prior bike shop job) talk to me without any sceptical side glances or judgement in their voices.

They're responding to the person. Me. The real me.

There must be complete difference in my expressions and body language that I can't personally observe. I *feel* different, even though it's more of not being different but having the layers of struggle peeled away. I spent 3.5 years in a shop before, and even though the shops are different, there's still the same elements involved when talking to customers.

Feels good. Feels really good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Don't Care

The inevitable winter depression has set in. The confirmation came as I was riding trails a couple weeks ago and realized I was miserable doing so, which is not how riding usually goes. Those two wheels are kind of my "other medicine" so being miserable during something you love pretty much kills your enthusiasm for everything else.

I've been doing all of the activities I love but have been receiving no psychological reward. My happy chemicals are on vacation. The usual climbing, riding, P90X, painting, comedy skits, and other dopamine producing activities have become tasks that I wade through. I still do them because if I'm not going to care about anything and feel empty, I'd rather do it 40 feet up in the air, or on a bike with the wind blowing in my face, or creating things to make people laugh.

Last year it was "The Nothing" as I called it, this year it's the "I don't care." Everyday is one big shoulder shrug.

I switched up my paintings to include much brighter subject matter (a depressed person wanting to paint brighter subject matter, I have no reasonable explanation for this). I started to paint scenes of the riders from the UCI World Championships that came through Richmond last September (best week ever by the way). I did feel excitement when I finally started moving in this direction as cycling is what I want to dedicate my craft to. But as I work on these paintings and make progress with my skills that are quite remarkable for someone who's been painting for only 3 years (more about impressing myself that others), I just don't really care. It's not that I don't feel anything, it's just that I don't give a shit and kind of abandon emotions as they come up. It's the same feeling I get when someone takes 5 painstaking minutes out of my life to explain a dream they had- At first I like the wackiness of it all and then it turns into me wishing they would hurry up and finish.

It could be a 65 degree winter day with the sun out and not a cloud in the sky. I'm cruising on a smooth windless single speed ride through the city, friendly people out that say hi or wave, just a perfect winter ride. Almost like the setup of a Disney movie and I'm waiting for the birds to fly with me and start singing.

Don't care. Don't care about any of it. The sun can go fuck itself and the weather just registers as an adjustment in my clothing. No leg warmers and no fucks given about any part of the day. Don't care about the birds, would probably smack them for shitting on my car all the time.

It could be a 6 day climbing streak, my arms feeling great as I clear harder routes than normal, work through some tough spots that I couldn't figure out before, and what feels like getting over my fear of heights.

Don't care. The personal accomplishments mean nothing to me. The heights don't even bother me, which they usually do. Even the natural responses in my body can't be bothered. The fight or flight reflex in my brain doesn't care.

I've lost almost all of my social restraint. I'm not trying to be mean but my sense of humor is getting caught up in my speech and it ends up coming across as pretty nasty. "Hey, what do you think of my shirt?" Me: "I think you should have cut holes in a trash bag and slammed that over your annoying head."

Despite the depression I'm able to keep the house clean and stay on top of chores, which is pretty crazy considering how depression works. The house looks fantastic, especially after all the painting and improvements made to it during last summer. And yet I don't care. Each room is as useless in having an effect on my emotions as the other. But I stick with it because letting those things go will turn not caring into apathy.

Most of what I do on autopilot is to make sure the depression doesn't get worse, even if none of it makes me feel better.

I'm not apathetic, I'm just not impressed or entertained by anything. The connection is made but then given up on. I'm trudging through everyday without wanting to do any of the work or activities I'm doing but also can't think of anything else I rather be doing. That's kind of a shitty feeling to walk around with.

No sadness, I don't care enough right now to be sad about anything.

I make sure I keep going through the motions because like I said, if I'm going to be miserable I rather do it going through the woods on a bike or 40 feet up on a climbing wall. Staring at the walls in my house will probably turn the not caring into apathy which will turn into sadness, which will toss me into "The Nothing" phase and I don't want that. I rather accept the depression and stall it from descending to the next level if I can.



Thanks for reading!!














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.