Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: bipolar disorder (page 2 of 3)

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.

Writer’s Block or Project Block

If you’ve followed my blog any length of time, you know I suffer from an unpredictable, periodical, and severe form of writers’ block, driven by my bipolar mood swings, which I call “writing downswings.” I happen to be in the middle of one of these right now, and while it hasn’t been completely dry creatively, it has pretty much wiped out my creative mind. What little progress I have made, on my 2yn15 project, has been stilted at best; I’m in the middle of a series of exercises meant to help me build the world of Mukhamutara, and it takes me days to figure out how to meet the expectations of the lessons given.

But this is, for me, inherently different from another, milder form of block which affects specific projects or, more frequently, all the projects on one particular world. I’ll call this Project Block, and I think it may be just as driven by my bipolar as my writing downswings are, which means it’s never going to be controllable.

Typically, in my writing, things go like this: My writing swings “up” out of a downswing with a focus on one particular world. Sometimes with a focus on one particular project in any given world. Regardless, this does not permit deviation from the particular world I’m focused on. So, if I come “up” out of a downswing focused on, say for example, TPOM3, I’m unable to work on anything besides other Chraest stories.

I may read every single stalled project I have set in each and every world I have a Scrivener file for. This includes even those Scrivener files where I’ve just copy-pasted old wips from years before that I plan on looking into completing at some later date. I will frequently even come up with ideas for the storyline, characters, or other things related to those stories, and I write these notes down. But I don’t actually write on these stories, or in these other worlds.

So, typically, my focus remains either TPOM3, or possibly some other Chrest project or two.

Rarely does my creative mind provide me ideas for plotting/writing on projects set in two different worlds; that’s generally when my writing is running a bit manic, and it’s more frustrating in some ways than it is helpful, because it makes it impossible for me to focus on one or another particular project enough to make decent progress on anything at all.

Much of the time (though not all), I’m happy with my creative mind’s willingness to focus on one particular project or a number of them set on one particular world. That’s when I make the most progress on anything. So, for the most part, Project Block is helpful. There are times when it isn’t, but those are rare, and that’s typically when I have the desire to write, but no ideas for plotting or handling plotted out scenes, and this is something I can’t get moving even if I move to a project I happen to be pantsing for the most part (I do have a project or two for which I have no outlines—but they usually have notes and other background work).

The frustrating thing is when my Project Block migrates from world to world. This happens pretty frequently—sometimes even more frequently than I post about on Twitter or here on my blog. I’ll be happily writing on one or more projects on a given world, then, over a number of days, I’ll lose creative focus, then come out of the fugue with a focus on another world.

I’ll be honest here. I really wish I could be like those writers who can focus on one project from beginning to end before moving on to something else. I’d probably have a lot more books done if I could do that. And I have tried to do that. More than once. Each and every time, I ended up hating my writing, and I stopped forcing the words so I wouldn’t drive myself into depression. I do not want to be depressed and in despair over my fantasy writing. It’s my first love in writing, and the work I really want to make work, so I’ve learned to go with the flow. If my creative mind doesn’t want to work on something, I don’t force it. I know I’ll eventually come back to it, and I’ve learned to accept that.

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.

The Thief

This is a realization I had upon the announcement of Robin Williams’s death yesterday afternoon and the fact it was probably due to depression.

Oh, how precarious any mentally ill person’s mental health actually is.

Mental illness—any kind, but especially depression—is a thief. It only takes. It takes your energy. It takes away your will. It takes away your ability to find true happiness.

Depression, and by extension, the depressive phase of bipolar disorder (which I have extensive personal experience with), takes everybody’s power away. Not just the mentally ill person’s power, but also that of those around them. Loved ones and friends who want to help can’t. The best loved ones do their best to guide the depressed/bipolar-depressed person to the help they need: therapy and possibly medical assistance in the form of medication.

Unfortunately, that requires they be able to recognize the mentally ill person’s condition. Also from personal experience, I know to what lengths many, many mentally ill people go to in oder to disguise the fact they’re struggling emotionally. They will do everything in their power to appear normal, happy, well-adjusted. Some will self-medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs. Others will force themselves to function to hide the fact from everyone around them that they’re really walking the edge of an emotional cliff they’re terrified of falling off of.

And they invariably do.

Now, I can’t say whether Robin Williams’s family even had any sort of inkling about his mental state or, if they did, of its severity. I can say he was probably dealing with the collapse of his mental stability longer than anybody can guess. It takes a lot of courage for a mentally ill person, particularly someone who’s severely depressed enough to be contemplating suicide, to admit to being so “weak” emotionally.

And that’s where the stigma lies. The impression all mentally ill people who spend any time stable have that they’re supposed to be able to function, stand on their own, and be strong. When we see other people functioning well, and are fairly certain they’re not suffering as we are, it’s silent encouragement to be as strong as they are. When mentally stable people openly dismiss their own emotional struggles as something easy to get over (and yes, I understand, it is that easy for a fair number of people), it’s only further indication we who are mentally ill, particularly those of us who struggle with any variety of depression, are weak.

This of course only exacerbates the problem. Because, no matter how stable and functional we seem to be, a lot of mentally ill people always have a little doubt about themselves. We’re worried about being “normal.” We’re afraid of seeming “weak.” We’re terrified that if we seek the help we need when we begin to need it, others—the mentally stable—will think we’re whiners, complainers, and seeking undeserved attention. Depression is a “should” disease (“My life is good, so I should be happy—why can’t I be?”) and a disease of fear (“What if everyone else realizes I’m such a big whiney baby over something so stupid?”) and when we’re directly and indirectly encouraged to be something we’re not feeling, it only makes the doubts and fears worse, and, if the depressed person is trying to hide their mental instability, those doubts and fears eat away at what little joy and confidence we have.

Eventually, with this vicious circle spinning through their mind, a depressed person begins to see suicide as a viable way out. Depressed people develop debilitating beliefs, and one of them is commonly the belief they’re a burden on their friends and family, that they only hurt those around them with a selfishness they may only mistakenly perceive but which may, unhappily, be supported by comments and encouragement to Be Happy others give them. They can’t make themselves Be Happy for these other people, and that only makes it seem like they’re making everyone else unhappy, so they begin to think that if they only remove themselves from the equation, everyone else will be happy again.

You have to admit, it does make a twisted sort of sense.

The thing is, with healing from depression, it’s not as simple as telling yourself you are happy. Depression is frequently, particularly with clinically depressed individuals who rebound into self-medication and/or healthy therapies for mental health care, a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nobody can simply command their brain to level out the chemical imbalance. That just doesn’t happen, particularly with people in whose families there is a history of mental illness.

And the worst thing about depression is the power it takes away from the loved ones of the depressed person. It’s easy to figure out what to do if someone breaks an arm or leg, or falls down, or needs help in a move. One of the hardest things for me, in my depressive phases without medication, is watching those around me struggle to find a way to help me. That’s another thing which adds to the whole mess in such a way to make suicide seem like a good idea. Depressed people don’t know how to ask for help, and it hurts them to realize their loved ones are struggling with offering the assistance they need.

Depression is essentially a deep dark pit of hopelessness, and everything about the condition only buries the sufferer deeper in the pit. It separates the sufferer from those around them, makes them believe no one can care—because no one else can understand the depth of loneliness they’re suffering. And, even if the sufferer’s loved ones don’t feel the victim is a burden, it creates a kind of paranoia about it, no matter how much the depressed person is reassured otherwise.

And the worst is, not all sufferers of depression turn to obvious methods such as illegal drugs or alcohol to control their depression. I never did. I’ve known others who haven’t. The scariest part of depression for someone on the outside looking in is that it’s not always easy to spot. For some sufferers (like myself), the most obvious symptom of depression is not getting out of bed, and we all have days like that, particularly if we’re physically ill, and if the depressed person lives alone, there’s no one to see the regularity with which this happens. If the depressed person is determined not to betray their emotional condition to anybody, they may well force themselves to go to their job, socialize, and carry on an outwardly normal life as well as possible until they either suffer a complete emotional breakdown . . . or commit suicide.

I wish I could give a lot of advice on what mentally stable loved ones of those who suffer from depression can do to help. I can’t. My experiences with depression have only been from the depressed person’s perspective. All I really can say is that if you even suspect someone is depressed, you offer your time and attention. Talk to them, ask them how they’re feeling—demand honesty when you do, and be compassionate and offer to listen when that honesty is given. Do not tell them to buck up, or that things will get better, that all they need to do is put a positive light on things. Just . . . really listen to them. Promise you’ll be there to listen if they need you again later. And, if they give you the opportunity, or ask you to help them find the help they need, do so. Give or help them find a depression/suicide hotline number. Do your best to help them get into mental health care by researching local government mental health assistance organizations.

And, please, be respectful of their struggle. Don’t downplay it, and don’t tell anyone else what you’ve heard unless the depressed person gives you permission. It takes a lot of courage for a depressed person to admit to needing help, and if they’ve trusted you with the need, that means they trust you to not go around declaring their condition to all your friends (and if you do that, it may make the depressed person feel even worse because it tells them they couldn’t trust a friend, so why should they call a hotline and admit their struggles to a stranger, whom they have even less reason to trust?); treat their confession of instability like a gift and look for an opportunity to help them get into the mental health care they need.

An Open Letter to Dr. Carlson

Dr. Carlson,

You should be impressed, I remember your name. If you aren’t, I won’t be upset, though. I don’t expect you to remember me. The last time you saw me was back in 2007, if I remember correctly. That’s a pretty long time for a doctor who has only about fifteen minutes to devote to her patients, no matter how frequently they have to visit her, and, as I recall, I saw you once every two or three months.

I’ll be honest. You aren’t the only reason why I left Valley Mental Health’s care. First, I was denied a therapist, and I did—and do—still need therapy. Just not for the reasons I needed it to begin with. Then there was a mess with my applications for funded medications, because you’d prescribed me a “new” medication for Schizophrenia which the company who manufactured it still had sole rights to manufacture, which meant they were charging at least $100 more than I could afford to pay for it. Yeah. That was a tough one.

But the kicker?

That was when I got the reevaluation by the Veterans Administration Hospital. I’m sure you knew of it before I departed Valley Mental Health’s care. I distinctly recall one of my last visits with you, when I told you the evaluating doctor had pegged me as having Bipolar Disorder. Remember how you refused to consider he might be correct? Then you gave me a scrip refill for my Schizophrenia medication. Which I didn’t even bother going to the nurse’s office to fill out the paperwork to have it funded for me.

You know why?

Well, I’ll tell you now. I had an appointment for the next week with a VA psych doc. Also a therapist there. Yeah, they evaluated me and got me into all the care I needed within a month. I forget the medication regimen Dr. Agricola put me on, but it worked better than what you’d given me for Schizophrenia.

I know you think you were just doing your job, but isn’t part of that job to listen to patients and make adjustments based on what they tell you? I think it is. It’s how the psych docs I’ve had at the VA have dealt with me. When I complained to Dr. Vukin, my current psych doc at the VA, about the fact I was sleeping 14 hours a day, getting up for about an hour or two, then taking a 6-7 hour “nap,” he changed my medication regimen. Yes, I know we did this, you and I, Dr. Carlson, but you always seemed more interested in pushing me onto certain medications rather than trying to find what would work.

Of course, nothing would work. Why? They were all Schizophrenia medications, and I needed those for Bipolar Disorder. I was not functioning as well as I seemed to be, Dr. Carlson. I was not stable. You know how I know? I still had temper tantrums, like the one I had on the way to the VA for my evaluation. I got off the commuter train and crossed the street (luckily going in the right direction), and, thinking I was lost, struck the light pole there with my cane. That’s the clearest tantrum I recall having, and it’s not the only sign. I was still making unwise decisions with my sexual activity. I had an incredibly difficult time keeping hold of what little money I was able to make. It was a good thing I had a part-time job doing surveys on the phone, because I tended to babble a lot. And there were times I’d be up for two or three days straight, as well as periods where I stayed in bed for days due to depressive swings. On the medication you prescribed to me.

I’m certain I told you and my therapist about these bipolar episodes. This tells me you never really listened to me. You went through the motions of giving me care. You had in your head I was Schizophrenic, and that diagnosis was written in stone for you. I pity your other patients and can’t imagine they’ve gotten any better care.

I know why you clung to the diagnosis of Schizophrenia so hard. It’s because I have auditory hallucinations, and hallucinations of all kinds are a hallmark of Schizophrenia. I’ll tell you this, though: It is entirely possible to have hallucinations, particularly those of the auditory kind, with Bipolar Disorder. Yes, it is. I’ve looked it up, asked both Dr. Agricola and Dr. Vukin and my therapists I’ve had at the VA, and even asked the evaluating doctor about it. They all backed up the research I’ve done since. Auditory hallucinations can be a symptom of the manic phase of Bipolar Disorder, which all my other symptoms point to.

The good news out of all this: I am now stable and have been for at least the past two years. I probably still can’t hold down a regular job very well, but I’m not spending days at a time huddled in bed, having unprotected sex, or experiencing auditory hallucinations consistently. I’m able to make a budget for each month’s income and stick to it so I have all the money I need for bills. And now I actually let people get words in edgewise instead of babbling right over them. My tantrums are few and far between, and I’m able to talk myself out of them because the therapy I’ve gotten has enabled me to recognize when I’m caught up in reacting too strongly to situations and events. I won’t lie and say I don’t have the mood swings typical of Bipolar Disorder, because I do. I will say that I’m able to weather them with greater calm and patience with myself than I was when I was misdiagnosed as Schizophrenic.

I thank you for doing what you thought was your best in your care for me, Dr. Carlson. It enabled me to get by until I received the proper diagnosis. However, “getting by” is not my goal in life. I want to be fully functional, and I was not when I was misdiagnosed and on the wrong medication. I’m still not quite there, but I’m much more functional than I ever was on any of the Schizophrenia medications you tried on me, and that is extremely important to me.



Day vs. Night

(Considering my current condition, this will probably meander a bit.)

I’m in another of my fun bipolar swings. I’m mixed-state bipolar. In case I haven’t explained this before (and for any new readers), this basically means, I’m always, all the time, every day, experiencing some symptoms of the depressive side of the disorder while at the exact same time experiencing some symptoms of the manic (or, more precisely in my case, hypomanic) end of the disorder. This, I’m sure you realize, makes some of my days pretty interesting. One particular symptom which can be a characteristic of either end of the spectrum, is poor sleep habit.

My circadian rhythm is so screwed up right now, it’s unbelievable. A mentally healthy person could not do what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. For example, I spent Saturday, from about noon, to Sunday, until about midnight awake. Part of this was probably because I forgot to take my night meds on time, and when I did remember to, my mind was in hypomanic mode, which even my very good psych med regimen can knock out under “normal” circumstances. However, I have not been sleeping at night for the past three or four weeks. I’ve been rising between noon and three in the afternoon and staying up until five to seven in the morning.

No, it’s not daylight that’s interfering. It’s the bipolar. It decided it wanted me up at night, so it fights the psych meds, no matter when I take them. It’s worse if I try to take them on time for a sleep at night, because I’ve got my energetic, still quite alert, natural wakefulness momentum going, and when I’m in this state, my mind gets more active when the sun sets, so even if I take my meds like I should for that night of sleep I want so very much, I still spend most of the night lying awake, getting more and more frustrated as each hour passes, which only fuels the bipolar urge to be awake at night. If I take the medications “on time” for a day sleep, which is around midnight to one in the morning, I’ll probably drop off to sleep sometime around six in the morning.

If I forget to take my meds then?

I typically don’t realize I have until I’m still wide awake at 0600 and think to check my little daily pill-dose box thingie to discover my night meds still quite unswallowed. At that point, if I take them, it won’t do me any good at all. I’ll be totally useless. Unable to sleep, because I’m in bipolar second wind, but unable to gather the mental capacity to do anything useful. Even feed myself. I have before done this and literally spend all day at my computer with barely enough mind left to surf the net, never mind pay attention to what I’m seeing when I do.

So, I spent all Saturday night and Sunday-to-midnight awake. Slept sound, got up Monday . . . and did it again. Was up at noon fifteen Monday. I’m still going strong at half past five Tuesday evening. I’m not sure when—or even if—tonight’s dose of night meds will knock me out at all. Sunday night, when I was still up three hours after taking my night meds, I took half a dose of NyQuil. That, like it usually does, knocked me out at last. I’ll probably be doing the same tonight.

The worst thing about this—well two things—are that this circadian rhythm switch is unpredictable with regards to beginning and ending, as well as duration. I have no warning whatsoever before this switch happens. It just happens. One night, I sleep all the way through, the next night I’m wide awake until six the next morning even after taking my meds. Not even nightly doses of NyQuil can prevent this switch—and trying to only makes me irritable and even more unlikely to sleep during night hours. And I’ve already been like this for two or three weeks . . . and it could continue for months, or, horrors, years-again.

This is one of the Gotta Live With It aspects of my particular flavor of bipolar disorder. Whether another mixed-state bipolar person goes through this is a total crapshoot, and I’m miserable enough like this I don’t care to search to find out if I’m the only one. I know “misery loves company” but I really have no wish to learn somebody else shares this particular misery.

Why I’m Not Trad Pubbing My Novels

Years ago, when I first started thinking about publishing my writing, I was more than happy to contemplate the Traditional Publishing path, quite willing to go through the rigmarole of trying to sell my books through and agent, and able to keep up with the process. That ability is no longer present.

With Bipolar, as I’ve mentioned before, has come writing downswings. These are frequently debilitating to the point where I’m unable to make any kind of editing progress or adding words onto whatever projects I happen to be working on. There is also the fact my brain goes through periods where it focuses solely on one genre, then switches to another. Last year (2013), I spent on fantasy and Science Fantasy projects. This year, it’s the gay romances which drove me into a severe depression in 2012.

With a fluctuating focus and interest in writing at all like this, it would make keeping up with a Trad Pub schedule nearly impossible for me. These genre-of-focus switches and writing downswings are, like all aspects of dealing with a mental illness, something which cannot simply be forced out—at least, not without some pretty severe and even more debilitating affects—which was why I was so severely depressed by the end of November in 2012.

Right now, I’m focused on the gay romances, which I have extremely mixed feelings about. However, earlier this year, I tried forcing myself to write on my Chraesti stories instead. That didn’t last. I began to hate what I was writing, got sick of the stories, and threw myself into a writing downswing with a spot of strictly writing-related depression, somewhat similar to where I was at the end of November 2012. The more I forced myself to write the Chraesti stories, the less focused I got, and the deeper my depression came. So I gave up and waited for the depression and writing downswing to pass. This was sometime in February or March, before my radiation treatments began and wiped me out for doing any writing at all.

To make things perfectly clear, at the end of November 2012, I was determined to give up writing the gay romances. I’d spent most of the previous year in writing downswings, some of which I forced myself to write through because I had outlines, incomplete projects with outlines (like 2011’s NaNo project), and was participating in some sort of wordcount-oriented writing “competition” like July Novel Writing Month or National Novel Writing Month. Forcing me to write left me an emotional wreck and the depression from doing that spread into other areas of my life, even though I did manage to write one Chraesti story for the FM Anthology series (check the “Published” page for that story).

When I surprised myself by beginning a brand new Chraesti story in mid-December of 2012, I promised myself I would never again force myself to write when I was in a downswing. It was just too traumatic to do so.

My mental health is very, very important to me. I want to be stable. Depressive swings are no fun. Hating my writing and myself and my life because I for some reason think I must write or work in some capacity on my writing is the furthest thing from fun I can think of.

If I took the Trad Pub route? I would, at some point, be guaranteed to have to force myself to work on my writing in some capacity during a writing downswing. If I somehow managed to succeed in this and get whatever edits or whatever were required done and back to my editor, I’d most likely be in some sort of emotional pit afterward. If I didn’t, I’d destroy my career, because no Trad Publisher is going to cater to any writer’s emotional upheavals regardless of how much they’re supposed to “nurture” authors (I don’t believe the “Trad Pub Nurtures Authors” myth, myself; I’ve heard and read too many anecdotes about how they do the complete opposite).

Not only that, the way my mind is apparently going to switch between contemporary gay romance and my speculative fiction would be a recipe for disaster. Say I somehow manage to sell Discordant Harmonies I during a period when I’m focused on my Fantasy and Science Fantasy. Good. Perfect. By the time edits roll around, however, I may be sick of all my speculative fiction and somewhat contentedly working on gay romances without any ability to consciously switch myself back to spec fic.

No Trad Publisher wants to hear, “I can’t make myself focus on that genre right now, so the edits will have to wait.” No. They’d demand a refund of whatever amount of the advance they’d already paid me, and wash their hands of me. And then, I would never be able to sell a book as Ashe Elton Parker to any other Trad Pub company because I didn’t fulfill my contractual obligations.

So, for this reason alone, going the Indie Pub route is the best for me. Besides, I like the idea of keeping full control over every aspect of my writing, from cover to being able to tell the stories I want to tell. Also, this way I can adjust my writing goals, schedule, and plans to fit what I’m actually able to write on, wait out the writing downswings, and go with the flow regardless of what’s going on with my life and my mental health so I don’t end up a severely depressed basketcase who hates their writing to the point of shelving it all in despair. I won’t ruin my writing/publishing career as an Indie.

For me, there are too many pros to Indie Publishing, and too many cons to Trad Publishing, for me feel confident in taking any publishing route besides Indie.

The Guilt of Mental Illness

(A bit of a ramble and a small rant.)

There’s the deep, depressive, dark pit, where I can’t care about anything.

There’s the hypomanic high, where, to be blunt, nothing and nobody matters to me except what I want to do.

Then there’s the in-between. When I’m functional, but not quite all with it. This is the worst. I’m not so depressed I don’t care, and I’m not manic to the point of nothing matters. In this state of mind, I care about every little thought that goes through everyone’s head.

Well, not every little thought.

And it’s actually more a worry. About one thought. I’m afraid people are thinking I’m just using my mental illness as an excuse.

I’ve been in this state of mind for the past several weeks. It’s been pretty consistent, though it fluctuates from easy-to-ignore to I’m-sure-they’re-thinking-it. For most of the past couple weeks, I’ve been feeling antisocial to the point of not even caring to check the mail. I’m afraid I’ll meet another resident of the building who’ll talk at me. Or that someone will pass by the building and I’ll have to greet them somehow while I’m outside. It’s been all I can do to go square dancing.

And both last Tuesday and tonight I sat out the dancing. I read. Buried myself in an ebook. Didn’t talk to anyone except other members of my club. Could not bear the mere thought of trying to talk to someone I hadn’t already known fairly well.

Both nights, members from other clubs came to join us for our weekly night. People I either barely know or had never met before.

Both nights, I had to explain to my friends that I simply could not dance. That the mere thought of socializing with people I barely or didn’t know ramped up my anxiety. No, I don’t have social anxiety. It’s more generalized, and triggers are unpredictable. But this past couple of weeks, it’s been social interaction. Due, in part, to a depressive phase which has made me feel like not doing anything. Not even getting out of bed, though I make myself do so.

It’s hard to explain to people how my mental illness affects me, especially when they’ve never seen me like this before. And it makes me feel guilty. I’m afraid everyone, even my friends will think I’m using my mental illness as an excuse to be rude. Especially when I’m feeling antisocial to the point of ignoring guests.

Part of it was the fact it was a surprise both nights. I went dancing expecting only my club members—and then maybe not even enough for a full square—to show up. Except . . . strangers arrived too. I couldn’t convince myself to socialize last Tuesday, and after attempting to with one person tonight, I couldn’t handle the stress and had to get away from the social interaction.

I feel bad for not being able to socialize. For letting my mental illness control me like this. I suspect this is a feeling only another mentally ill person can understand—this feeling of inadequacy, of “I can do better than that!” I feel. I’m lucky. My friends are kind and understanding. They don’t tell me to “buck up” or suggest I might feel more like doing something if I forced myself to.

(Depression doesn’t work that way. No mental illness does. It’s incredibly rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectful of someone to suggest a depressed person be happy. Or that someone who’s feeling antisocial be social anyway “because it’ll make you feel better.” No, we don’t need advice, or someone else’s attempts to “fix” the issue. If we’re taking care of ourselves, we’ve got a therapist who does that for us. What we need is compassion and a little willingness on the part of our friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers to not treat us like our difficulty is something easily dealt with. Yes, it may all be in the head, but, with mental illness, it’s not simply a case of “mind over matter.” That does not work when there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

What makes a mentally ill person feel better is having a hug. Or a kind word. Or simply a listening ear. Or, if they need it, to be left alone to muddle through it however they’re able. . . ./rant)

I’ve been very, very lucky. When I was depressed and antisocial in high school, my mother forced me to join a local Star Trek club chapter. And the friends I made there earned my trust by letting me go hide in a dark room by myself if I felt overwhelmed by the social requirements. The other members of the square dance club I’m now in are the same; if I’m at an emotional point where I can’t induce myself to socialize with people, particularly strangers, they don’t push me.

And I still feel guilty. Because I’m not normal. Because I’m not emotionally stable enough to see strangers and throw myself into socializing with them. Because I feel like there’s nothing worth getting up for right now, and it takes everything I have to get out of bed every day, never mind convince myself I actually do want to hang out with friends who I want to see. My friends don’t need to say anything to make me feel this way.

I’m glad I’ve gone square dancing the past couple weeks. I enjoyed seeing my friends. It was good for me to get out—even if I’m not feeling like it was.

I just hope no unexpected strangers show up to dance with us next Tuesday. LOL

Okay, ramble over. Just had to get that off my chest. So glad I’m seeing my therapist this Friday.

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