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.