I tell myself this every day

I tell myself this every day

Friday, May 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading

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