Wednesday, June 18, 2014


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 "'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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Apple Falls Not Far from the Tree

I haven't touched on the subject much yet but I have two daughters. My youngest is 8 and has Aspergers and my oldest is 9 and has my bipolar.

Having a child with Aspergers is actually kind of fun. She's so high functioning that she wasn't diagnosed until a year ago (even though I knew from a young age she was, mother's intuition). She's an average student in school, nothing remarkable grade wise. But she has these glorious moments where you can see the fountain of knowledge that she truly is. She loves hockey and knows EVERYTHING about hockey, where all the teams are from, who won what which year, the players, we're talking that kind of memory you expect from a child with autism. Her other area of genius is chemistry. This adorable little girl knows more about that subject than her teachers currently do.

I'm shopping online for chemistry books for kids and they don't have much for ages 8 and under. That made me smile because I remembered my average 3rd grade daughter understands chemistry at a middle school level.

It's wonderful to live in a time where bipolar means you are designed for creativity and autism means you are going to explode in one or two particular subjects. Whenever I hear that someone has depression, autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, or other diagnoses the first thing I think of is never "oh, I'm so sorry to hear" it will always be "so what area have you been designed to be a genius in?"

Thank you for reading

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why am I Drippings with Goo?

First of all I have to give a hallelujah to spring finally being here. If you suffer from seasonal depression like I do then let's exchange a round of high fives now that winter is over.

I apologize for the long wait in between posts. The lap top I had been working off of for 2 years was a freebee and it was far from optimal. It got the job done so I can't complain and I'm grateful to have even had it but it crashed a lot and completely bit the dust a month ago. I saved up and got a new and improved one so I'm good to go.

In addition to my technical problems my moods have been off, way off. In the never ending quest of "why," which I know is bad to focus on while down, I have been running myself mentally ragged. I should be pursing the "how" as in how do I get back on track so I can identify why I fell off originally. This misdirected process has caused a lot of anger and frustration with myself- bad habits that existed before my diagnosis were popping up again. I've become use to dealing with episodes or a severe mood swing but have yet to conquer the small daily things that are necessary to maintain a consistent balance over all. I've had a slow and steady derailment for the past couple of months.

The entire month of March was pretty much filled with some form of underlying anger that I couldn't shake. I tried all of my usual techniques but I still felt like I was grinding my teeth just to keep the cynical, misanthropic comments from firing out of my mouth. Everyone and everything just seemed to annoy me, even while doing the things I love. Rock climbing annoyed me, the people who went with me annoyed me, my bike annoyed me, the roads annoyed me, having to get up and work out annoyed me, painting annoyed me, the space in which I paint in annoyed me, and all of these activities failed to do what they do the best- get rid of the extra energy and provide endorphins.

I wasn't receiving pleasure from any of my workouts so I cut back, but this was not on purpose. I would wake up and just focus on how frustrated I was which lead to thoughts of how annoying it is to pull my running shoes out and put them on my feet. Finding socks pissed me off. Lubing my chain pilled me off. EVERYTHING I loved about my day had me clenching my fists at my sides, ready to explode at something or someone. If the stuff that usually brought joy was stirring up these feelings then you can only imagine how I dealt with the things I didn't like or that were mild annoyances prior to March. Not very good would be the understatement of this century.

I had to hide in order to keep myself from snapping at people. The default action for almost all my moods except well balanced one is to hide. Everything little thing everyone said or did was the end of the fucking world as far as my brain was concerned. Checking out at the art supply store- some teenage know-nothing popping their gum, confused as to how to ring up a paintbrush and looking at me like it was my fault they had to put any effort into their day. I was convinced every driver on the road was put there by some cruel deity playing a massive joke on me. No one seemed to understand any of the common sense I thought was common, like don't step directly in front of me and stand there because your spacial awareness skills are that of a plaster wall. If anyone called me I would be pissed off that they didn't just text me. Assholes know I never answer my phone, why the hell are they calling me?! The world outside of my house was put here just to annoy me and all the people in it were sent to do it's nose hair plucking style bidding. It didn't matter who it was, it was all people- the way they talked, the subject those chose to talk about, their chosen vernacular, their voice- EVERYTHING. No part of my day helped me calm down.

This is the level of stupidity my anger got to. I should be ever so grateful that I'm able to be at an art store purchasing new brushes and doing what I love so much. I should be thankful I have friends who are calling, for any reason they might pick up the phone with me in mind. There are people out there who give a shit about me and I was too pissed off at the fact that my phone was squeaking with which ever annoying ring tone I had chosen. The other drivers on the road didn't have this effect on me prior to March, it was like they all leaked out onto the road at once. I knew that wasn't true and that my perception had been distorted by my annoyance with life.

I have no idea where this came from, a month long perpetual state of anger. Luckily I didn't give in and say or do something I would deeply regret. Except for the couple of pharmacy technicians that received my wrath. There are a couple places I can't go anymore. Those around me were effected but I'm lucky that they understand that in those moments the person they see isn't me. I always make it a point to apologize. I appreciate the people who put up with me and I want them to know that I am aware of the circumstances my disorder puts them in. I can't stop being bipolar so I thank them for their efforts, even if it's as simple as not punching me in the face.

The break in my mood came from a metaphor someone shared with me during a peer support meeting. I told the group about my unexplainable anger and someone referenced the river of pink slime that is underneath the city of New York in the 1989 movie Ghostbusters II. In the movie this supernatural fluid reacts to human emotions and anger is the specific emotion that allows this river of slime to grow and actually start influencing negative behaviors in others, pretty much making everyone want to kill one another. She said that my anger is like that river of slime and I can keep feeding it with my negativity or I can fight against it.

That made so much sense. While I was wasting my time trying to figure out why I'm so mad I have been feeding the underlying anger itself.

It's strange to think that after a month of intense irate struggle and daily self loathing my perspective can be turned around by a comedy that had Dan Aykryod as one of the writers and Bill Murray as the star. Mental health works in the most mysterious ways. But it's the best metaphor for what had been happening all during the month of March. There was a lot of anger inside of me and I was feeding it. I still don't have a clue what caused it but that doesn't matter because I needed to take control before I could establish a possible cause. I'm bipolar, there might not be a single cause to be found, it could just be another chemical shift in my brain.

Thanks for reading

Monday, February 17, 2014

Where You Invest Your Love, You Invest Your Life

Cycling is more than just a hobby for me. I named this blog with a bike related title not because I enjoying riding that much (although I do) but because I found out that for years I was self medicating with a combination of two wheels and leg power. I never really got into drugs and even though towards the end I drank it wasn't too much of an issue because I was more focused on making sure I could ride the next day. I would pedal to and from work, sometimes get in and extra 30-60 miles in before my commute to work, or ride another 10-30 miles after work. I loved it but looking back I realized while I was riding my demons couldn't quite catch up and that's what kept my legs moving.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love riding for pleasure. It has served so many purposes in my life but when I was at my worst it was my crutch. I would have severe panic attacks and of course I could hop on and ride through the streets of Richmond to either distract myself or to push myself so hard I would puke and forget about the racing cesspool that was my mind. I was always fighting an unknown force inside of me and I used my pedal therapy to deal and I had no idea that's what I was doing.

I worked in a bike shop up until about two years ago. I spent 3.5 years in the industry and as hard as it was sometimes due to my anxiety, depression, and mania I absolutely loved it. It was weird that a funny looking goth chick would be so captivated by such a "normal" sport. I didn't care and all the vampires could kiss my ass- I loved cycling more than anything else I held onto in my life. I didn't know a whole lot when I first started working there so for me it was a playground of information and holy crap did I eat it up. The first year at the shop my moods seemed to level out, there were some episodes and bad weeks but over all I was ok. I always look back at that time as the last time I remembered being truly content. After that my mental health started to deteriorate bad and it became quite a struggle but I fought for everyday because I loved all things bike related.

I couldn't get enough. I would go home and read about lumens, grams, cadence, how carbon was made- friggin EVERYTHING! I used my phone to learn what each tool in the shop did and I spent months switching my brain over the the metric system. All of this is very silly but I was in love. I still looked like an idiot in front of the other guys because they had had 10+ years on me as far as experience goes but I didn't care. I asked stupid questions, got laughed at, and learned to laugh along. I also learned how to overcome a lot of anxiety working there- my coworkers were relentless and I loved them for it.

When I went home I wasn't as happy. I didn't really know anyone into cycling outside of the people in the shop. My severe anxiety kept me from group rides or even considering racing. It wasn't until a friend insisted I start going on rides with him and a group of people that I was able to break that barrier. Up until then I would spend my days off in the country for 60-90 mile rides by myself. I would take in everything and it centered me. There were some rides that were awful because my mind was breaking down but my body was able to collect my gear and get me out the door and onto the pavement. I have more memories of pedaling through tears than any thing else from my rides back then. When I had paranoia or anxiety set in I would push myself to the point of puking. I didn't care- it was better to focus on a granola bar exploding from my throat than it was to sit with the thoughts in my head for one more second.

I would ride in the rain, the cold, through thunder storms, 105 degrees outside, in the middle of the night, even through a couple snow storms. I didn't care. The faster I pedaled the further my demons seemed to fall behind me. The more I rode the less I was trapped in my own skull. I would wear my body out in hopes of killing what was wrong inside of me. I eventually spent more time on the bike that anything else as a way of avoiding dealing with my life. I was in a horrible relationship that I knew was a bad idea but the disorder attached itself so strongly to that unhealthy situation that I couldn't rationalize what I needed to be doing in order to better myself. So I would ride instead. That was when I felt like me. Those were the times that the women I have found myself as today was able to shine through. I felt human and like a strong individual that could deal with anything life threw my way. I wasn't wrong- I was very much that person but I had no idea I was tackling life and battling bipolar. I seriously had no idea that the hell that was my existence off the bike was because of a chemical imbalance. I just kept pedaling and getting more and more immersed in bike culture.

I felt like I was leading two different lives. Off the bike I was Typhoid Rezurex- the manic creature of the goth bar scene. On the bike and at the shop I was Gwen- the weird but sweet enough girl who asked stupid questions but knew a whole lot about what she was doing. I was no big shot at the shop or in the cycling community, in fact I was nobody so my mania had no way to latch on. I didn't like Typhoid's life but that one was most familiar and that was the one the disorder loved the most. As the years went on I saw less and less of the Gwen I did enjoy being.

My brother died at 23 years old in October of 2010 from a heroin overdose. That is what triggered my further decent into a very severe mental health decline. My relationship at the time and the death of my brother were enough to kick start the bipolar into full blown manic swings and severe depression that resulted in a hand full of suicide attempts and a couple times behind bars. My whole life flew out of control. A year later I found my fiance had been cheating on me with several different women for at least 6 months prior to me finding out. I had never known paranoia until then. My anxiety reached a level to where some days at the shop I couldn't leave the bathroom for fear of interacting with others. My self esteem plummeted so low I couldn't look myself in the mirror. The disruption in my brain seemed to have taken over and I forgot simple every day bike knowledge and job skills. Some days I would look at a drive train and have no idea what to do- like it was the first time I had ever seen one. I had days I would get confused and forget the combination on the safe at work (something I had had memorized for years), I would get frustrated because I all of a sudden couldn't explain the difference between the bike trainers we carried despite the fact it's the same ones that just last month I knew more about than most of the other guys in that shop. My brain would literally just stop working. I could true a wheel one day but forget how to put lube on a chain the next.

This was devastating. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom crying. My brother and relationship were one thing but I didn't think that would kill my ability to function, especially at something that I loved so greatly. I retreated further and further away from people and became over sensitive towards the customers and my coworkers. I felt like everyone was just trying to annoy me or waste my time. I lost the ability to have conversations with people and this wasn't good for work. I kept forgetting important information and felt stupid for it. I started to fear going to work because I didn't know who I was going to be when I showed up. There was no Gwen anymore. I didn't want to talk about bike stuff. I didn't want to hear about who was racing. I didn't care what new stuff that was coming out. I was angry because my brain had betrayed me and took away the only source of happiness I had.

I kept riding though. I didn't even enjoy it that much for a while. I didn't have any energy and I was indifferent to whether I was on the bike or not. I know now that I was going through a severe depression. But I kept riding, mostly because it was just habit for me at that point. I would ride to work, ride home, or spend 8 hours on country roads but remember none of it. It was like this for quite some time. Not every day was bad. Every once in a while Gwen would come back through and I would wake up in the middle of a ride and enjoy what I was doing. I didn't enjoy anything anymore but I kept pedaling.

I was tortured by thoughts of suicide all of the time back then. My mind couldn't seem to kill me off fast enough. I use to ride while biting my tongue until it bled in order to make them go away. Every time I passed a cemetery my mind told me that's where I belonged and that moving my legs is useless and idiotic. I pedaled through every thought about how worthless I was. I pedaled through every thought about my little brother until I just couldn't do it anymore. I had no energy. It was becoming winter, my mind and body were finished.

I took a 6 month long break from riding and tried to kill myself twice. I was miserable at work, at home, with my friends, with my fiance; I was just a body. I didn't care about my bikes, I didn't care about the bike shop, I wished cycling was something I had never gotten into. I felt so different from the people at work and who rode. I felt like we had nothing in common and that I wasn't a cyclist. They were weird for doing it. We're all just going to die any day. Who cares how much your brake pads weigh? Who cares if you have a race this weekend? Who cares if you tacoed your wheel? I didn't. They should all just give it up, it's pointless.

Of course none of that was me talking. That was the hole the disorder had created and was trying to bury me in. Of course I cared about that stuff! I just couldn't tap into it. Any time I felt anything is was because I was miserable and would spend hours in bed with fits of uncontrollable crying. I wanted my brother back and I wanted to be happy again. Cycling still represented happiness for me back then. I identified my concept of a good day with the ones I use to have at the shop, even the ones where I would ask something stupid and the guys wouldn't let me live it down. I didn't want to give up- I remembered what it was like to be happy I just needed to get back there.

 Some part of me was still alive because as soon as the weather started getting better I did as well, enough anyway to clean off the dust on my trusty steeds. I got back on my two wheeled machines and rode until my will to live was stronger. My brain got a bit better and I slowly got back into riding shape.

The biggest turning point was someone we hired at the bike shop who I felt I could relate to a bit more than the others decided I needed to do group rides with him. I swallowed my anxiety and went. That spring and summer I found my love for cycling again except it was 100x stronger. I was able to ride with others and made stronger friendships with riders. I knew through that second wind in life that no matter what in life comes and goes I'm a cyclist and the rest can suck it.

I'm going to cut the story off here because there's a part two to this bipolar and bicycle tornado that I'll write hopefully next week.

I used cycling as self medication and as the first part as finding out who I really am. Without it I wouldn't have had those moments of clarity back then nor would I have had a distraction from the more harmful choices I could have made. I am very lucky that I found it when I did and I'm very grateful I worked in a shop when I did. The combination almost seems like a meant-to-be scenario but I don't really believe in that stuff but I'm glad it played out the way it did.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hammer of the Witches

I've always been my own worst enemy. That hasn't changed but I've also found that I am also my greatest ally. There aren't two sides to me, it's all in a mess together so it often makes it hard to discern the good from the bad. Trial and error followed by more error.

I don't give myself enough credit for the effort that I put into trying to live a well managed bipolar life. A lot of people I talk to don't give themselves enough either. The hand that we have been dealt in life isn't perfect but life sucks and it sucks for everyone. I think we spend a lot of time unknowingly discrediting ourselves. I have met very few bipolar individuals that feel as if life owes them something for inflicting this disorder upon them. In fact, I find the exact opposite- most people don't want to talk about what's wrong or apologize profusely when they try to. Their words are riddled with doubt and they're troubled with feelings of being a burden if they do speak about it. I'm guilty of it myself.

That way of viewing ourselves has to stop.

Compared to the rest of the world my life is pretty damn good. I tend to lose sight of my daily management needs because comparably my "needs" often look selfish. The ability to function is held together by the little daily details. Skipping out on any of them is the first step to a harsh decline in long term management. Stupid little first world tasks that most people wouldn't think were a part of a successful bipolar day.

I read stories of people that are suffering from 3rd world levels of poverty, starvation, unfathomable abuse, disease, or simply lacking basic human needs. These horrors make my necessities and routines seem so insignificant. When I compare myself to the lives of everyone else who is suffering from things beyond my control I start to slip on my small daily upkeep- I don't place as much value on them. I have to make my bed and clean my room to center myself each morning but as I begrudgingly send my comforter flying over my queen size bed I'll start thinking of people that don't have beds. I'm mildly pissed off because if I don't put the pillows up the way I like them the visual will annoy me and throw my mood just slightly off for that day which opens up the door for other laziness and eventually an episode. As I'm grumbling about all of this to myself I will suddenly think of children who have to sleep on dirt floors with little protection against the elements. I'll have images of mattresses that are old, stained, and too small. These kinds of thoughts are pretty regular for me. Other times I'll get mildly upset because I haven't been out to ride in a week for so (something that GREATLY stabilizes my moods) and then I'll start thinking about people that don't have legs. Here I am, upset I can't hop on a self propelled machine that costs more than most people would consider spending on a decent used car, while there are families that don't know if they can afford to keep a roof over their head for another month. My mind loves to torture me- as much as it possibly can.

Situations like this happen all the time. Any frustration that I have, no matter how big or small, my mind will create a scenario to combat it with and make me feel guilty. It keeps me from becoming completely self absorbed but it would be nice to be reminded instead of bombarded.

I despise cooking. Hate it. Food is fuel, I don't really care to think of it beyond anything but that. I enjoy food but if I'm making it chances are it's purely for performance and I'm complaining through the entire process. I get about 80% of my meals from out side of home but there is a fresh hot/salad bar at our local health food market so most of the time I'm there or other healthy food on the go options (Lamplighter!). I financially sacrifice a lot of other things just so I don't have to prepare food at home. I like it this way- that's how much I hate cooking. I'm very much a spoiled brat in this sense but I have accepted it. Some day's when I'm dragging my feet because I have to drive or ride to get food and I wish it would just come to me, I start thinking about families that struggle to feed their children or individuals that have had a long term struggle to feed themselves. There were some times growing up we didn't have any money (we never had money but some times were worse than others), we had very little to eat and I remember the impact those years had on my family and me. I dwell on how that must feel for other people especially since I've been through it. No one should have to deal with that kind of want and I think about that a lot. Every time I'm bitching because I have to drive my car or ride my bike to the store to get my healthy gluten free foods, I am brought back to those times growing up and think about the people in even worse situations.

I have first world problems. As an adult I am lucky enough to say I have more than enough of the basic needs and a lot of extra (I'm using my own personal laptop to type this, it's an absolute piece of shit but I have one). I have a car, 2 road bikes, plenty of art supplies, nice clothes, and so much more to be grateful for. My life isn't care free and I have a lot to deal with outside of living with this disorder but I am grateful for my position in life. I even feel that my bipolar management is a first world problem- and holy crap am I grateful that my circumstances allow me to focus my energy on that. In the great big picture that is human life my struggles aren't anywhere close to as bad as it can get and the amount of people who have it worse than I do is very humbling and I never forget that (my brain will make sure every time I am inconvenienced that I'm reminded about the AIDS babies suffering in Africa).

Even hearing other people speak about what they have been through humbles me to the point where I can lose my sense of priority. If someone crashes their car and totals it I empathize with them greatly and feel bad they have to go through that process (unless you were drinking or doing something stupid, then I have no sympathy for you). I have never once looked at anyone else and thought "my life is so much harder than yours." But I'm quick to look at others and tell myself "you're life isn't that hard."

I never pity myself but I'm quick to discredit the hurdles that my particular existence has put into place. I convince myself that my problems are superficial and therefor are a result of selfishness. A bipolar life isn't easy and I've caught myself slipping up on my responsibilities because I keep playing the comparison game. Even talking about this makes me feel kind of bad but I can't sit and cry about every problem that human kind must face that is completely out of my immediate control while I ignore my own.

Comparison is selling myself short and reinforcing behavior that isn't conducive to being happy or healthy.

I can be an empathetic person without sacrificing my needs.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. I would like to say that I greatly appreciate those who enjoy cooking and to all of the culinary wizards out there I extend my deepest gratitude. Without all of you I wouldn't be able to avoid cooking or having to think about it for this long.