Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Is it just me… or is the world on go-slow?

OK, so at the end of the day I have got myself into the habit of taking stock of my day, looking at how I’ve been through the day – moods, thoughts, energy – all that jazz.

This evening, because I’ve been feeling a bit jittery, I’ve made the effort to keep track of my thoughts. The following have all occurred:

Is my iron broken? It’s not getting the creases out as quickly!

I’m sure the SVU theme tune isn’t normally this slow….

is it too late to get a babysitter and go out? It’s only nine fifteen…

Perhaps I should also note at this point that typing on the touchscreen of my iPad isn’t working very well because I keep missing letters out. I’m sure I can’t normally type too fast for the tech to keep up…

So here’s my first question: Should I be worried?
And my second: If I’m self-aware enough to worry, surely I’m fine?

Interested in your thoughts, fellow bipolarites….

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Jitterbug

I am, today, what we refer to in our house as ‘jazzy’. This means that I talk fast and move fast and have a constant feel of the jitters, but not high as in manic. That said, my laundry is all done and dry and piled, the whole second floor has been vacuumed, and my kitchen hasn’t looked this clean since Beauty ICE came in and blitzed it to her own, slightly obsessive compulsive standard.

Unfortunately, the physical energy doesn’t last, and I’m beginning to slump, but the brain is still going strong, and thoughts are zinging around quicker than hummingbirds disappear when you’re trying to take a photo. So this is when I write, and hope that there are at least a couple of nuggets of wisdom (or good writing) in amongst the flow of thoughts that just keep coming.

I’ve been working really hard to understand what my affect (posh doctor word for mood) is. I’m not even at a stage of figuring out why – the what would be enough for me. I fairly frequently seem to be thrown something that could be described as a mixed state, but less stable – I have some symptoms of hypomania and some symptoms of depression, which fits the definition of a mixed state, but it’s not consistent, and certainly doesn’t always last the four days dictated by DSM.

So, following my bipolar support group meeting last night, I have spent doing some research, and discovered the concept of ‘rapid cycling’. This describes to a tee what it is I have been trying to deal with. Why has no doctor ever mentioned this?! I have been beating myself up over it, berating myself for being melodramatic over everyday mood swings, and yet it turns out that it has a name and that other people struggle as much as I do! Funny how not feeling alone in suffering can suddenly make things so much easier. (Note to self – write insightful post about how Jesus experiencing our suffering and having suffered himself is what makes our relationship with so close and comforting).

I’ve also discovered an explanation of mixed and rapid mood cycles that differs from everything else that I’ve read. I found it on a website called psycheducation.org. I’d not discovered it before, and had what I think of as a healthy scepticism, but was comforted by fact no-one was asking for money, it wasn’t sponsored by any kind of insurance company, and that the doctor who wrote it told me to be sceptical and check both his professional standing, and all his sources. The page that most fascinated me is this one. It suggests that affect can be charted and monitored not on a single axis, but in three different areas – mood, energy and intellect (the ability to form and connect ideas). Classic mania would involve these three all being top of the graph, and classic depression seeing all three at the bottom. But each of these three aspects can increase and decrease independently, causing mixed states and rapid cycling.

So, to use myself as an example: last night, intellect and energy were fairly high, but mood wasn’t quite so high. So, at my bipolar support group, I talked fast and couldn’t really sit still, but mood wise I wasn’t completely out there. I talked about sensible things, and concerns I had, just a bit faster than normal (although I’m sure it was that everyone else was really, really slow…!). This morning, mood was lower, but I was still agitated and talking and thinking at speed. Since early afternoon, the energy has followed the mood – I’m now exhausted, but still having to chase thoughts through my head to catch them. To see how this might look on a pictorial graph, go here again.

This has opened up to me a whole new way of thinking about my mood and how I might manage it. I’m not sure how – or whether – it can be treated, but I do know that knowledge is a great weapon in the battle with bipolar. I’m now trying not to feel substandard, or like I’m making a big fuss about nothing, just because my moods don’t fit the textbook descriptions.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what do you think? Those of you who have been on the bipolar train longer than I have, does this make sense? And – most importantly – what helps? Any little nugget of advice would be most appreciated….

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Just another manic monday

The second Monday evening of every month sees me schlepping 15 miles over to my nearest bipolar support group meeting. I’ve been going for about six months now, and the relief every time I step foot through the door is something I would pay significant amounts of money for. Actually, scrap that – I would pay significant amounts of chocolate for it.

It’s not that it’s necessarily a fun place to be. Sometimes the pain in that room is palpable. Everybody there has had their world thrown into chaos by the evilness of bipolar, whether it’s their own diagnosis or that of someone they love. No, fun is not a word I would use.

It’s real. Everybody comes in exactly as they are, no superhero capes required. We sit in a circle, drink decaf coffee (caffeine is not good for mania), and just be. No secret identity, no hiding our actual selves. One of my favourite writers, Glennon Melton of Momastery fame, once said “It’s far braver to be Clarke Kent than it is to be Superman.” Our little room is full of Clarke Kents. Clarke Kents with a sense of humour – nowhere can you be quite as sarcastic and cynical and downright irreverent of mental illness than in a room full of psych patients.

A couple of months ago, my ‘real’ was hardly there. I was so low that I could hardly move, and every sentence took an age to formulate and full minutes to get out. My fellow groupers just waited, bless them. They looked at my greasy hair and the rings under my eyes, and knew it had taken a week’s worth of energy just to get to the meeting. They fed me chocolate chip cookies, and gathered around with their love and acceptance. No pretending, no making it better, just letting me be.

This month was different. I was doing well. My meds had been tweaked, the mood stabiliser was kicking in, and I had not only washed my hair for the occasion, but could be a part of the conversation with whole sentences. Somehow, no one was depressed, which is a rarity in a group of bipolarites – normally we illustrate the whole swing of emotion. It was actually turning into a pleasant evening.

Then Jen arrived. Jen for whom Jenny or Jennifer is just too long to say because there are too many more words that need saying right now. Jen is always balancing on the edge of fully fledged mania, but tonight it was like she’d thrown herself off the tightrope and somehow managed to fly. She turned up as if coming to a meeting was the most amazing way to spend her evening, telling us all about how much better she felt than last time and what colour the sky was, and how it was far too long since she’d seen her relatives in Iceland.

But she wasn’t talking sense. Her brain was moving too fast for her speech to keep up with, so each thing she said was completely unrelated to the last. Letting slip that she hadn’t slept in over a hundred hours was the last nail in the dazzling multi-coloured mania coffin.

There’s only so much you can do when you’re in a support group where by definition you’re all as messed up as each other. We managed to phone the crisis team and get someone out to see her, and got her home in one piece. By the end of the week she’d been sectioned.

The bugger with bipolar – and so many other mental illnesses – is that you can be ill without really knowing how ill you are. Especially on the manic end. So every time I see someone who is manic and low on self-awareness, the fear kicks in. I am made aware all over again that I could become that ill, and the only solution would be for all my super support people to take control away from me. And it suddenly hit me that this thing is forever. Jen is in her late fifties, and still doesn’t completely have a hold on what’s going on in her head. I’m 34, and could have another forty odd years of this, never knowing when I might become ill again, or how bad it could get. Or whether I will have friends around to bail me out. Jen seems to be all alone at the moment. Her son is the one having to deal with her. I don’t want my kids to have to deal with me.

And the other thing that has really hit me is that she’s a Christian, and yet still has bipolar. She has bipolar, and she’s a Christian. The more I say it, the less I understand how those two things can go hand in hand. It’s not that I think we should be immune because we love Jesus, but I do think that there are some issues where we should be provided a get out of jail free card. If we are running the race set before us, it stands to reason, in my mind, that there are some obstacles we’d be better off without. Bipolar makes it so much harder to persevere. My path is blocked my my brain. Do not pass go, do not collect $200….

The verse that I quote to myself every day is 2 Timothy 1:7 – that God gives us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. And yet, looking at Jen tonight, I’ve realised that I can’t rely on it. There might be times when my mind is not sound, and that scares the crap out of me. Back in January, when hypomania came a-knocking, I would have said I was making perfect sense, but then, that’s what Jen would have said about herself this evening, and it’s scary that I could get like that again without seeing the signs or doing something to stop it. I know in theory that I have to accept that this is an illness, and that I have to figure out a way to live with it and treat it and not let it overtake me, but in practise I’m just not sure how I do that. It’s so easy to say of Jen tonight that she’s ill, and needs treatment, but for some reason I think I’m making a big fuss about nothing, or that I just have a personality flaw that I can talk myself out of.

If only there were a neat, tidy, straight-edged answer to all of this. I really wanted to have a final, witty paragraph that put the proverbial cherry on the sweet and sour sundae of bipolar. I guess part of growing up is finding that life isn’t simple. When MicroBob does a puzzle, he always looks for the straight edges first, then follows them until he has the entire picture in front of him. It seems that as we grow up we need to get used to the funny shaped puzzles that don’t fit together the way we expect, and just hope that the picture is just as beautiful when we get to the end of it.

And hope that no pieces are lost under the sofa – that’s a whole other blog post!

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