Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Category: Bipolar Disorder/Mental Illness (page 1 of 2)

Depression and Writer’s Block

In a way, I don’t know where the past few weeks have gone, though I can tell you what I was doing for most of them since my last post here. The essential thing is that I’ve been in a depressive funk and struggling to do pretty much everything from rising every day to writing on anything to indulging in hobby activities like crocheting. I’m not out of the pit yet either.

What I’ve been doing is getting out of the house a lot. Between Christmas and the beginning of last week (the 7th). Most of the time, I’ve either been going to the offices where the Utah Pride Center moved their therapy services, or, even more often, to Oasis Games, which bought the pride center’s old building and fixed up the first floor. I’ve been going there mainly to read Dungeons and Dragons books; I finished reading the Player’s Handbook and have been making slow progress on reading the Dungeon Masters Guide since about the first week of January.

I’ve also been continuing crocheting. My primary project is now complete, and I’ll be giving it to my friend who I decided to give it to soon if I get an opportunity. To be honest, I’ve done most of the work on it at the pride center’s therapy offices.

But even with those things, I’ve been in a depressive funk. The main reason is because I received a decision from the VA on my Compensation claim. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last year, but I started the claim in order to try and connect my bipolar disorder to my Naval service. Well, they didn’t even bother opening a case; they simply denied it without investigating. I’m fairly certain that is what threw me into this depressive funk.

It’s still with me. And, unfortunately, it’s not a state of mind I’ve been able to simply write through. I’ve tried. The first 4 days of this month, I wrote at least 500 words a day. Managed to complete, I think, 2 scenes on Unwritten Letters. But I didn’t feel like writing. Even with plot cards, I had trouble grasping the ideas. I felt no joy in getting the words down. Even though the quality was up to my standards, I hated what I’d written because I’d written the words when I felt bad. Gah, talking about it is dragging me down again. Enough.

Anyway, I haven’t touched my writing to do more than read stuff since then. Most days, I haven’t even been able to read my writing. I will not go into detail about how that makes me feel—it’s even more depressing than my description of writing, and I really don’t want to get as bad as I was last weekend over it all.

So, I foolishly thought writer’s block was a myth. That people who had it were undisciplined and lacked initiative in their writing. Well, since September or October, I’ve seen what it’s like to be undisciplined and lack initiative. And now I’ve been treated to my own grand case of writer’s block thanks to this depression.

Let me go over this again, to make it clear. Reading my writing depresses me, primarily because I see all its potential and am not actively capitalizing on it. Writing on anything depresses me any more because it’s not THERE—the ideas are vague, no matter how well-prepared I am for writing, and I hate the act of writing, and having done so makes me feel horrible because I didn’t enjoy doing so and I think I should. So it’s easier to just not write. I’ve gotten to the point where I dread writing, and I figure when it’s that bad, there’s no point in torturing myself.

Oh, I won’t be this way forever. I have faith in that. Maybe I’ll tuck myself into the inpatient mental ward at the VA, maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll get by and this depression will pass. It’s already started to lift—a little—the past few days. I have a good long-distance friend I can chat about this with, and if that doesn’t help, I can always call the Veterans Crisis Line, and I’ve already notified my mental health care team about where I stand emotionally. All I need to do is stick it out long enough for the clouds to pass, and I’ve done that before and know I can do it again. In the meantime, I’m getting out, cuddling with my cat, and doing what I can to distract myself from my depression so I don’t do something stupid.

Unplanned Hiatus

My bipolar disorder has dictated that I lose interest in keeping up with my websites. There’s more to it than that (there always is), but I won’t go into the details beyond saying my bipolar, as I think I’ve mentioned, can be pretty randomly selective in how it effects my mood. Right now, I couldn’t care less about either of my websites, and I know better than to attempt forcing myself to attend to either one, thanks to awful experiences with writing fiction when I had no desire to do so, or I’ll end up a moody, depressed wreck. As a result, there will be no updates, after today’s post, to this site until further notice. I’m hoping this will pass quickly, but so far that hope hasn’t been met, so I’m at last announcing what the issue is.

Mixed Phases

Every so often with my mixed-state bipolar disorder, I’ll go through a very mixed phase. I’m in one right now. Whereas someone with more typical cycling bipolar—someone who isn’t mixed-state will have definitive periods where they’ll experience and present symptoms of either mania or depression, I commonly have phases where I present and experience symptoms of both.

Most typically with me, the depressive side will manifest as letting my housekeeping falter or fail, while the hypomania turns me into a moody, bitchy, temperamental person. These mixed phases I do not enjoy. It takes a lot of effort to do anything around the house and I hate doing it the entire time. When I’m in a state like this, the slightest thing can set me off. I have thrown fits, and probably will again, over such minor things as untying my shoes, or the fact I let my tea steep too long and now it’s cold when I wanted it at least warm by the time I’m done mixing the sweetener and milk in, or opening one of my bottles of medication. Simple things a person without bipolar disorder wouldn’t be inclined to stress over, I have a screaming temper tantrum over. When I’m enduring this sort of mixed state, the temper tantrum state is just on the edge of my mood at all times, and the depressive side makes me not care about housework.

But on occasion, I enter a slightly different type of mixed-state phase.

Right now, my depressive side is manifesting as a desire to sleep the day away, no matter how early I go to bed. I’m much inclined to remain in bed until after noon, frequently until as late as two or three pm. I see no reason to get up, even though my writing is going fairly well right now. I wouldn’t call myself suicidally depressed, but I definitely don’t want to get up to face the day until most of the day is over. When I’m like this, getting up even for an afternoon appointment or activity (even if it’s fun) takes a great deal of effort.

This depressive phase, y’all, is why I habitually get dressed in a full day-clothes outfit each and every day, even when I’m physically ill. Being fully dressed is a mood booster. If I sat around in sweats or in pajamas all day, I’d be depressed. How do I know this? Because I used to “dress down” if I had nowhere to go during the day. This was way back when I was younger, and I noticed a propensity for my mood to grow gloomy over the course of the day, so I started dressing in day clothes every day regardless of whether or not I expected to go out. And, in fact, after forcing myself out of bed when in a mood like this, getting dressed takes little effort—and the mood-boost payoff is incredible. I’ll admit it doesn’t throw me into raptures over being awake, but once I’m dressed in day clothes, I feel much more interested in being up and about. So, quite literally, some days putting on a full day-clothes outfit is like putting on armor—armor against a low mood. It’s one of the simplest and quickest ways I know of making myself feel capable of facing the day.

But at the same time I’m feeling so “hopeless,” I’m also much more interested in household things. I spent about two or three hours cooking tonight, purely because I wanted to. I was in the mood to cook. And while cooking, I enjoyed it (I don’t when this particular mania isn’t functioning—cooking is a chore and I do as little of it as possible). Then, after I ate, I cleaned the kitchen. Other housework is on the agenda, but some of it involves disposing of boxes, and I’m not going to do that at night when the chute abuts the bedroom of the neighboring apartment. LOL

To be honest, I’ve been working up into this mood over the past couple weeks. I’m coming up out of a phase where I was experiencing no particular phase—a stable phase, so to speak. I cooked when I felt like it, cleaned when I felt like it, got up with little difficulty, but didn’t keep up with personal hygiene as well as I perhaps should have, though dental hygiene was going really well. For the most part, a typical stable phase for me.

I don’t think this is something I need to notify my psych doc about. It’s not pronounced; it’s an average mood swing, one of those I expect to have over the course of time. Eventually, I’ll swing back into either another stable phase or into a different combination of my mixed state.

My Experience of Mixed-State Bipolar Disorder

I’ve made it no secret I have bipolar disorder, or that I’ve got the mixed-state variety. What “mixed-state” basically means is that I experience aspects of mania (mine is more toward hypomania) and depression at the same time. While I can and do cycle like any other person with Bipolar I or II, as long as my medication is working, I’m stabilized in a state where neither has precedence.

And this, for me, is the experience of mixed-state bipolar disorder:

The depressive side . . .
Makes me feel like not getting out of bed.

And the manic side . . .
Inundates me with ideas for my writing to the point where I can’t focus on any one story.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

The depressive side . . .
Makes me not care about personal hygiene of any kind for anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks.

And the manic side . . .
Makes me babbly and talkative and gives me the desire to go out and be among people.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

The depressive side . . .
Makes me not care about eating healthy.

And the manic side . . .
Gives me an increased appetite.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

The depressive side . . .
Makes me want to sleep.

And the manic side . . .
Prevents me going to sleep when I need to.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

The depressive side . . .
Makes me not care about housework.

And the manic side . . .
Makes me antsy and unable to sit still.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

The depressive side . . .
Makes me not care about paying my bills.

And the manic side . . .
Insists I do in fact have spending money I do not actually possess.
(Let’s throw a temper tantrum!)

In case you’re wondering about the phrase in parentheses, which I imagine you are, that’s my mania’s basic characteristic for me. I’ve heard the more “typical” presentation of mania is more of an “I can do ANYTHING” attitude that gives the bipolar person utmost confidence in absolutely everything they decide to do. It’s a very positive outlook that has no room for even doubts, much less a realistic outlook that admits endeavors may fail. Many bipolar people will start numerous projects over the course of their manic phases and then abandon them when the depressive phase hits, only to begin other projects during the next manic phase.

I do not have this particular variety of mania.

No, I’ve been graced with an underlying strain of bitchiness. It’s always there, waiting, and it honestly takes very little to bring it out. Most of the time, I can catch myself when I feel myself working up into a temper tantrum, but sometimes I’m not able to control the launch into throwing a full-blown screaming-my-head-off flailing fit. If I’m not careful, I will throw (and break) things—sometimes things I really don’t want to break. There’s always a little part of my mind—the sensible part I’ve trained into myself—which observes the rising tantrum. Sometimes, I can latch onto this island of sanity in my own mind. Other times, it’s not quite so easy, as my temperamental side takes off before it has a chance to engage. But if I am able to latch onto this sensible part of my mind, I’m usually able to back away from whatever it is that has upset me and disengage enough to calm down.

If my bipolar is cycling? The effect is much quicker, but also of much shorter duration. For instance, right now, I’m in the depressive phase of a “typical” cycle, and I couldn’t get something to work on my computer. My first response was to scream at it to work, damn it! then I calmed down a moment later when I got an idea for how to access the file I needed to. And, as I explained, that reasonable part of my mind was back there, observing, and had already put forth the suggestion I not do what I planned to do (add a book to my Nook). That suggestion was strong enough I likely would have obeyed it if I hadn’t had the aha! moment I had that allowed me to put the book on my ereader.

So that’s my basic experience of my mixed-state bipolar disorder. Another person with the same condition may experience it differently, though.

My Mixed State

I don’t know what others with bipolar disorder go through. To be honest, though, I’ve always been of a mind that I’d far rather have Mixed-State Bipolar Disorder, then Bipolar I or II. It seems to me to be a kind of hell to go through distinct cycles from high to low. Yes, I know there are periods of relative stability between the cycles for some with Bipolar I and II, but after watching, from a distance, what my friend Bryce went through with his cyclic bipolar disorder, I decided I was happy with the version I have.

I think I’ve mentioned that I cycle, too, but it’s usually both hitting me in different ways at the same time. Or rather, it’s probably more accurate to say they each effect different aspects of my life when I cycle. They don’t always cycle up at the same time, but, generally, when one hits, the other does as well within a few days.

This has happened. I’ve been in a slight depressive phase for the past week or so. It hit near the end of last month and effected my writing. Even the new-shiny project my creative mind dropped into my conscious mind hasn’t driven me to distraction, when, normally, a new idea like this would. And now the mania’s hit.

It isn’t always easy for me to track or determine just what paths my mental illness has taken, even when I pay attention, and I’m very mindful of my mental state. It behooves me to be so. If I’m not, something will blindside me, and that just makes things worse.

The past couple nights, I haven’t been able to sleep. This is a rare effect of hypomania for me, and it’s been much more dramatic than it typically is. It is also not a good thing at all. In a way, I prefer to get the moody-bitchy-temperamental kind of manic swing, because I’m actually able to sleep, and it doesn’t feed into my depressive phase like the rare insomniac manic phase does.

That’s the biggest problem with this swing of mania. I have very good meds that usually put me to sleep within a couple hours of going to bed, but they haven’t been working for the past two-three nights. Because my mania keeps me awake. I go to bed when I’m yawning constantly and lay awake for hours because sleep does not arrive due to the mania.

As I said, this feeds into the depressive phase. Sleep happens to be a very good thing for my depressive phases. If I sleep, they don’t effect me as long, and they aren’t as severe as I’ve known them to get. After two nights of little sleep—and what I’ve gotten being broken and restless—I’m starting to want to hide from the world. Yesterday was okay, but today I’ve wished several times I could just go away. Commit myself to a mental ward somewhere and not have to deal with real life.

But even with that—and this is why I prefer my version of bipolar disorder to that of I or II—I’m still able to function. I wrote two scenes last night, exercised. Today, I got out and ran some errands I needed to run, paid some bills. I’m functional, even depressed, because of the mixed state of my bipolar disorder.

I’ll be honest here. Before I was medicated at all for my bipolar, I had lots of nonfunctional days, where I huddled in bed, or, at most, got up to putter around the house. But even then, I still had functional days. Typically, when I’m not medicated, if I get out, I do okay. It’s just that with medication, my functional days managed to far outnumber my nonfunctional days. Without medication, the mental state I’m in now would have sent me to bed aside from snacks and potty breaks for several days as I chased sleep and waited for the state to pass enough I could stand to see daylight again.

But, overall right now, I’m paying particular attention to my thoughts and feelings. I’m on the lookout for suicidal thoughts and will report them to a mental health professional promptly should they occur. If I don’t drop lower on the depressive trough than wanting to commit myself to a psych ward, I’ll be happy. But just in case I do drop lower, I’ll be ready with that funky little stress ball I got from my last Therapist (Dave), because it’s got a VA hotline number for me to call. I also have the same number on my cell phone, in case I’m out of the house and need to call, and on a card in my wallet in my purse, in case I’m out of the house without my cell phone and have some sort of breakdown.

Anxiety

I’ve mentioned my bipolar before. I may have mentioned my unspecified anxiety disorder as well. Though I am on medication for the bipolar, and I have mindfulness and theraputic methods I can use to control the anxiety without medication, these both affect my life adversely, and neither has proven completely conquerable.

Most of the time, thanks to my medications, my bipolar remains relatively stable. I can’t recall if my bipolar is considered to be rapid or slow cycling, but it is consistently mixed-state, meaning I present and endure symptoms of both hypomania and depression at the same time. Only occasionally do I notice one, the other, or, sometimes, both become more prominent.

The unspecified anxiety is a bit more difficult to endure. I can’t predict what will trigger it and have known anything from filling in forms, to cooking something, to meeting new people to come with a palpitating heart and inability to perform the challenge I face. Last week, I quit the coffee-and-donuts hour following the church service after eating my donut and drinking my juice because I couldn’t find the courage and confidence necessary for approaching any of the groups of people I saw at a few of the tables through my anxiety. Most of the people seemed to be in family groups, and that intimidated me to the point where I couldn’t even force myself to ask if I could share their table, never mind talk to them.

To be honest, facing people has long been a major difficulty for me, and socializing with people I don’t know or haven’t yet met is one of my demons. Sometimes I can do this with ease, and I’ll strike up an unimportant conversation with someone at the grocery store; generally speaking, the fewer people I have to talk to, the more confident I am, the more capable I feel, and the easier it is for me to convince myself to approach someone. It also helps, particularly when I’m meeting a group, if we all have some sort of activity, besides holding conversations, to do. When I first joined the square dance club I’m secretary for, I found it easy to get involved because we spent most of the evening learning to dance, and I felt reasonably confident that I wasn’t required to socialize between tips, so I felt free to go sit by myself until the next lesson.

I don’t tend to reach pure panic-attack heights with my anxiety, which I’m glad for. However, I have noticed that the more social stress—that’s purely just social (without other activities) stress—that I experience, the greater my anxiety becomes. I tend to avoid parties. I have been known to have to retreat to bed after intensive social interaction with people I know, never mind people I don’t know well or at all. Usually, spending a little time laying in bed, listening to a favorite song on repeat, with my eyes closed in a state similar to meditation sets me right again, because sometimes, after interacting with people, if I come home and try to do other stuff, even though I’m now alone again, I have difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly. I don’t feel calm unless I take the time to lay down, close my eyes, and let music flow into my brain for a while.

My anxiety is also the primary reason why I wear headphones almost all the time outside. I have to have some sort of upbeat song going when I’m out most of the time in order to distract myself from my nervousness. Silence is another thing that tends to drive up my anxiety, unless I’m about ready to drop off to sleep, so I usually have music playing all the time when I’m up (unless there’s a thunderstorm or heavy rain on the windows), and when I first go to bed. I even play music when I shower—which, oddly, tends to drive my anxiety up into greater heights if all I hear is the water, and no, I can’t explain why this is necessary; it’s just one of my little anxiety tics.

I think, sometimes, to some small extent, my bipolar disorder drives my anxiety. Usually at times when I’m feeling more manic, I’ll suffer stronger anxiety, and that tends to drive me to retreat. I avoid going out, I talk to only a few select people on the phone, I lay down daily to recover from the stress of socializing online. Going out can aggravate the moody, bitchy temperament I develop when my mania is up (I’m not a bipolar person graced with the happy, confident, I-can-do-ANYTHING manic phases, which I’m actually kind of grateful for; I can only imagine what stupid crap I’d do with that kind of mania influencing me), and that in turn can drive my anxiety up, because not only am I dealing with general being-out-among-people anxiety, I’m also suffering I-don’t-want-them-all-to-realize-I’m-a-bitch-right-now anxiety.

And, there’s even times I’ll get anxious just reading a book. And I don’t mean the average anxiety everyone feels for the character. I have known myself to put down a book when it reaches an intense situation, or one which I fear is dangerous for the MC, and not pick the book up again for up to several months, because the thought of reading through that situation or danger frightens me so much. I think I do this because, unlike with watching a movie, I’m able to more deeply immerse myself in a book, so I tend to “feel” the danger or intensity more deeply than I do when watching a movie. I have to mentally prepare myself for such depth of intensity.

Overall, I consider myself pretty lucky. I may have some anxiety, but it’s not severe. It’s manageable without medication, and there are so many others who aren’t so blessed. Though it may not be predictable, it’s also not so debilitating that I’m unable to come back to something that previously caused anxiety and do it again later. A little mindfulness about my anxiety and what’s causing it and some meditation and self-coaching generally take care of my anxiety.

On Mental Illness and Being Honest About It.

Mental illness carries with it a number of challenges, especially when the sufferer is young. When I was a teen, I had incredible social anxiety, exacerbated by beliefs that I was unworthy of friendship, I was ugly, and that nobody really cared about me. That nobody could care about me. I believed I was inherently unlovable and undeserving of being loved.

My mother was at a total loss as to what to do with me—until she saw an article in the newspaper about a local Star Trek club. Now, I’d been a fan of Star Trek: the Next Generation since I discovered it in 1989. I adored that show, and I’d been writing fanfic based on it pretty much since beginning ninth grade. So, Mom did what she thought was best and dropped me off at the library for one of their monthly meetings one Saturday afternoon. I briefly considered hanging out in the main section of the library for the duration of the Star Trek meeting, but ultimately decided to at least check things out, in part because I didn’t want to have to lie to Mom about having gone.

The little library’s main meeting room was already set up for the meeting, with a long table with chairs facing the room at the front, and rows of chairs facing that setup in the rest of the room. Two more long tables stood at the right, already bearing snacks and 2-liters of sodas and cups. A few of the regular club members were present, but I didn’t approach them. I sidled into a chair in the middle of the last row set up and huddled there. I can’t remember if it was Dawn or Milo or someone else, but one of those already present came over and introduced themselves, asked my name, and pointed everybody else out with their names when I admitted I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of talking to anyone.

I spent the entire meeting in that chair, and scurried out without partaking of any of the snacks when it was over, though everyone else stayed to socialize. I’d had enough, I felt stressed, and I wanted to go back to my bedroom at home and hide with my writing. Mom picked me up. On the way home, she asked me how things went, and I told her a little of what had gone on, then, to my own surprise (and probably hers, too), I admitted I wanted to go to the next meeting.

I gradually grew comfortable enough to chat with everyone after the meetings, but my first Christmas party with them, at one member’s home, proved to be a little too much. In the middle of our Secret Santa gift exchange, I retreated to an empty, dark bedroom to spend some time alone. I needed to recover from what was for me intensive socialization. It was either Kim or Dawn who followed me to ask what was wrong, and I, in my innocence, was completely honest with her when I replied. I explained I needed a break from the social activity because it was starting to stress me out, and I was getting edgy enough to start snapping at people for no reason, and I didn’t want to do that, so I needed some time to recover. She nodded and told me to take all the time I needed, that she’d tell everyone else what was going on and that I wasn’t upset or hurt or anything, then left.

I didn’t know it then—I wasn’t as self-aware and mindful as I am now—but I taught myself a valuable lesson. I learned that day it was important for me to be honest about my mental health with my friends. I didn’t realize it, but by telling Kim/Dawn why I’d retreated into isolation as I had, I’d given my friends a precious opportunity to be supportive and caring.

I realize now how big a thing that is. Up to that point, I’d fiercely guarded my mental health status, even after my inpatient visit to a local hospital’s mental ward. I didn’t tell anyone except my therapist and psych doc about my mental status. I didn’t realize, even when I told Kim/Dawn how I was doing mentally during that Christmas party, how imperative it was to be honest about my mental health.

That’s something I’ve learned over time, this honesty about my mental health. As friendships fluctuate, grow more distant and close again as they are wont to do with me, I’ve learned the value of being completely honest with my friends how I feel at any given time. If I’m upset or depressed, I tell them with complete honesty and as tactfully as I am able. This may be over the phone, or in an email, and is frequently done with them in person. I need to keep giving my friends the opportunity to understand me, particularly when I feel upset with, or angry at, or jealous of them for some reason. I’ve found that when I give my friends the opportunity to address my mental illness and its effects on me, my friendship with them strengthens.

This, I believe, is why I’m now able to pick up a friendship previously dropped or “forgotten” over the course of time when things get busy for myself or one of my friends. Not only am I honest with them about myself, but my honesty allows them to feel comfortable being honest with me, and confident I won’t get upset with them for life getting in between us. That’s what I mean about strengthening the friendship. It doesn’t matter how many months or even years fall between us from one conversation to another; what does matter is that we’re able to pick up where we left off because we both are honest with each other about what got in the way.

But I have to give my friends the opportunity to be honest, and compassionate, and caring. If I don’t do that, they won’t know I’ll welcome them back no matter what’s separated us.

Transgender + Bipolar =

Statistically speaking, transgender people are much more prone to depression and suicide than the average person. I think (do NOT quote me on this), they may be more prone to depression and suicide than gay/lesbian people are as well. I do know, they’re right up there with gays and lesbians, especially as youths, in the range of high-risk of suicide and depression.

The first time another transgender person I knew made a comment about attempting suicide, it had little effect on me. I was still muddling through the fact I couldn’t hide from being transgender any more, and that was difficult enough. Recently, another transgender person I know announced the same thing, and this time it really hit me what I may be setting myself up for.

This is what popped into my head:

Transgender + Bipolar = incredible risk of suicide/depression

I discussed this with my therapist yesterday, about how I was afraid now that following this transgender path into my psyche would put me at much more increased risk of suffering a severe depressive phase at some future point. I tried to kill myself once before, when I was in my early twenties, due to a home situation I had no control over. At the time, I was spending a week or two away from home, then going to visit every other weekend, and the transition from the peaceful away-place back to the home situation with my mother and her abusive alcoholic live-in boyfriend stressed me to the point I one day swallowed every psych pill I had and crawled up onto my bunk to “die.” I didn’t die (obviously), but I did spend the next few weeks struggling psychologically (after an excellent nap, induced by the sedative effects of my antidepressant) because I couldn’t dare risk admitting I’d swallowed them all in a suicide attempt because I didn’t want to be forced back into a mental ward. I’d done that trip once already back when I was in high school during a previous period of home stress which had gotten me into psych care in the first place.

But I told my therapist I was concerned about the possibility of me going off the deep end during a bipolar depressive phase. I told her I didn’t want to risk that, and she led me around to considering a few things. I’m still concerned, but my therapist helped me figure out where I stand.

1. I’m much more aware of where I’m “standing” on a psychological level, in a general, overall sense. Right now, I’m a bit depressed; personal hygiene has been out the window unless I’m expected at some sort of social event, I’m not too concerned about my writing even though I’d like to for the mood boost, losing weight and physical fitness aren’t even on the radar most days, and housecleaning isn’t getting done unless I need to sit there or use that dish or pan. I’m at a point where if I can spend my day reading, I’ll quite contentedly do so, with a few visits to the internet and online friends every few hours and I don’t really care to go outside and do anything.

2. I’m firmly connected to a comprehensive mental health care network. If I’m not slated to see my regular therapist up at the VA, there’s a hotline the VA provides that I can call for general bipolar depression psych needs, and, if I absolutely feel I must, I can see about getting myself committed to the hospital’s inpatient psych ward. Also, if there’s a question I have, I can contact my therapist via phone or email.

3. I am on mood stabilizers, and, even more importantly, I keep up with taking them when I should each day. If I have a question or concern about my medications, I can contact my psych doc to talk about things with him—and, furthermore, if we both feel I for some reason need to change or adjust my medication regimen, I can make an appointment with him to discuss it.

4. If being trans is upsetting me somehow, there’s a new Trans Lifeline I can call if I suddenly need to discuss it right away, and I can walk the three blocks to the Pride Center and possibly see about chatting with a therapist there about how being trans is making me feel.

5. I’m regularly attending a trans support group, and that is helping me. It lifted my spirits this past week when I went because it reminded me I’m not alone in my journey, and even though I don’t have direct contact with any other members of the group between meetings, knowing we’ll be meeting more regularly in January (after the holiday season) is helping me be more patient with myself and my fears right now.

To be honest, yesterday’s therapy appointment couldn’t have been better timed for me. My mood dropped about four or five days ago, and I really needed to go, just for that. It is, I think, combining in a bad way with the fear of risk of suicide, but I’m doing okay for now. I’ve been chatting with my family and some friends on the phone—just to chat—and though I haven’t told any of my online friends where I stand emotionally right now, I know they’d be supportive and encouraging if I did decide to. I think that as long as I get out of bed each day, get dressed, and make an effort to at least get to my computer for a while and feed myself, I’ll pull through this okay. Having my therapist help me figure things out is keeping me from losing myself in the fear of what only may happen.

This is just the way things sometimes go with bipolar disorder. As long as I’m mindful of where I’m at psychologically, I should be fine. And if I’m not at some point, there are people and places I can turn to for the support and assistance I need, for which I’m extremely thankful.

The Mixed State

I’m officially diagnosed as mixed-state bipolar. In case I haven’t defined it before, this means I generally present and experience symptoms of depression and mania (in my case, hypomania) at the same time. There are places online which explain what the symptoms of these mental states are, but such lists are a little cold.

Because I’m currently in a mixed-state swing, I’ll try to describe what I’m going through. I can’t promise it’ll be any less clinical, but maybe I’ll be able to add a little depth to the shallow lists.

1. I don’t care. About anything.

2. I want to do things with my writing and my e-friends. I have no idea what I’ll do with my writing . . .

3. Because I’m in what happens to have become a traditional writing downswing since Nano is over. I’m reading through all my writing though, which is good—I’ve spent the first week or two of December so sick of my writing I couldn’t bear to look at it the past few years, so this is a nice change.

4. But at the same time, I’m absolutely confident I’ll write at some point each day—which is why I get out of bed, even though thus far, most days have proven unproductive.

5. I don’t care to take showers, either.

6. But I love smelling good right now, so when I do finally drag myself into a shower, I do the works: wash hair, scrub body, use scented soap, and, when I’m done, put on lots of fresh-scented anti-perspirant and spritz perfume, cologne, or something nice-smelling on.

7. I hate going out. I don’t want to hang out with local friends. Going for groceries is a major hassle, even if I need food.

8. But I leap at opportunities to go square dancing, where I spend time with friends, get some exercise, and have a great time.

9. I want to eat. I want to eat food I cook. I enjoy cooking a great deal.

10. I hate cooking. It’s a chore.

11. The mess on my desk is getting on my nerves, so I’ll probably clean it at some point during this mixed-state episode.

12. Cleaning the rest of my house is out of the question, though. It’s all I can do to make my bed in the morning.

13. I’m extremely energetic. All-nighters are more frequent, and I have to force myself to go to bed. Staying up all night is fun, even if I’m bored to death the whole time.

14. After I do go to sleep, I don’t want to wake up. If I could burrow under the blanket and never get hungry or need to go to the bathroom, I’d be quite willing to spend all day sleeping.

15. I don’t want to associate with anyone when I’m out shopping for groceries or going to appts, or taking any walks I somehow get myself to do.

16. At the same time, I babble constantly to anyone nearby. It takes a lot of effort to keep my mouth shut when it should be so, and I’m always utterly depressed when someone who I know never cared to hear about my mood swings or whatever is brusque and gets away from me as fast as they can.

17. I’m optimistic about my plans and goals.

18. I don’t care if I don’t carry out those plans or meet my goals.

19. I want to buy everything I see.

20. But when it’s not right in front of me, I couldn’t care less about whatever is out there to be purchased, even if I happen to need it right now.

This is, in some ways, just as inadequate as those bipolar disorder symptom lists you’ll find in books and online. It’s the best way I can think of to explain my experience of my mental illness, but there are some aspects of the disorder which I cannot put into words. I have cycles like this maybe once or twice a year, and the more severe ones can be quite debilitating. On a scale of 1-10 ranking severity, I’m currently experiencing about a five or six, and I generally hover around a one, sometimes a two. My mixed-state phases aren’t usually particularly debilitating; I think I’ve gotten close to what I might call a ten only once or twice since my diagnosis and being placed on any correct medication regimen.

I also have periodic pure-mood swings. This is a non-technical term I have for when I’m experiencing my mood swings in an unmixed state. They’re rare occurrences, and I’m more likely to have a purely depressive swing than I am to have an upswing into pure hypomania. And my hypomanic “up”swings, when they occur, tend more toward making me irritable and impatient, not happy or cheerful.

How Music Helps Me

I’ve always loved listening to music. I’ve even played/sang it on occasion, mostly to do with school activities like band and chorus. But I’ve always loved music.

Throughout my life, once I realized my love of listening to music, I’ve always done my best to have it with me. Beginning in the 1980’s, when the Walkman came out all the way up to present day with mp3 players, I’ve habitually had some sort of music playing. I listen to music before I go to sleep, used to sleep with it on when I didn’t wear headphones in bed, and am happiest when I can have some sort of soundtrack playing, even if it’s only one song on repeat and all I’m doing is sitting at my computer in my apartment.

After my breakdown, music became even more important to me. It became a buffer between me and the rest of the world. It protected me, kept me distracted from things when I went out. It still serves this purpose to this day. It’s something I need, sometimes a great deal, in order to face the world outside my home with confidence and at least the appearance of calm.

I have unspecified anxiety, and focusing on the music playing in my headphones keeps me from losing my mind and going nuts when I’m in public. Particularly in new places. Like grocery stores. Or at the mall. Places where there are lots of people who just might find something to say to me. I can’t explain just what it is about such situations which drives my anxiety up, but I do know that music helps me stay calm and reasonable. I’m able to, if I must talk to someone, move one muff aside so I can understand what the other person is saying; the music playing in my other ear keeps me calm.

Music keeps me balanced and grounded when I’m feeling desperate to get away. It relaxes me so I don’t get too tense or irritable with those around me. I can handle silence if I must, and I can be without music if I need to be, but I prefer not to.

I concentrate on different things at different times when I have music playing in my ears. This is to rein in my impatience when I’m doing something new or going someplace I’m unfamiliar with. Doesn’t always work perfectly, but I’ve found if I concentrate on some aspect of a song on repeat, say the beat, or the lyrics, I’m able to endure the situation I’ve put myself in better. Concentrating on the bass notes from piano/keyboard or synthesizer helps a lot, too, especially if those notes come at a slower tempo or less predictably than the song’s drumbeat.

I habitually step to the beat of the music I’m listening to if I’m on my way somewhere afoot. This actually helps in square dancing, because walking to the beat helps with the dancing. When I was a kid and went to roller skating rinks, I skated to the beat. While waiting for the light to change so I can cross streets, I’ll frequently end up sort-of-dancing if the change takes long enough.

I don’t know what I’d do without music to help me through my anxiety. Even though it isn’t very pronounced much of the time (I don’t require medication to control it, thank goodness), it does affect my life, and I’m glad I’ve found a safe, healthy, cheap way to keep it under control. There are so many other ways I could have chosen to deal with my anxiety—and most of them are in some way detrimental to my overall health and/or safety. It’s nice to know I have something to turn to if I get to feeling like doing something or going somewhere is too daunting.

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