Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: bipolar disorder (page 2 of 3)

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.

Signed,

A.

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.

Bipolar Disorder Is Fun!

The title of this post is my favorite “tagline” for when I make mistakes or do something which my mental illness has had a strong influence in. I say it in a variety of voices, and hear it in my head in a high-pitched, childlike tone similar to the character Columbine’s voice (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I can’t quite reach that tone of voice or inflection all the time, though I’ve known it to make me laugh—sometimes bitterly, sometimes with true amusement, and occasionally with a kind of grimness reflective of my determination to make it through the “ride” which Bipolar Disorder is.

I’ve probably been mildly bipolar most of my life, possibly even beginning in childhood. In my adolescence, I experienced periods of debilitating depression which, were it not for my mother, would have induced me to hole up in my room and hide from the world whenever possible. The one thing I will be eternally grateful for my mother for is forcing me to join a local Star Trek club when I was about fifteen or sixteen. It was one of the few things which gave me enough hope to endure a period of my life which I largely viewed from the bottom of a pit.

For me, the depressive episodes of bipolar disorder have always been the most traumatic. Not being a very social person to begin with only exacerbates this condition. Unmedicated Bipolar Disorder, for me, is so far from even the jokey reference to fun in my “tagline” that I’m driven into a state where I simply do not function beyond eating and using the toilet. I don’t bathe, I don’t get dressed, I don’t read, or watch movies, or get on the computer, or write. I lay in bed with the covers over my head, make periodic forays to the bathroom for the toilet, and eat a little once or twice a day. I do not function.

I have brief (extremely so) periods of hypomania when I’m unmedicated. Not quite as severe as true full-blown mania, they nevertheless have me venturing from bed. I get out, do things, participate in activities, hang out with what friends I may have. These don’t last. Invariably, I slide back into nonfunctionality and return to bed.

And I’m Mixed-State, which makes things more interesting. Unmedicated, my long periods of depression are periodically pierced by the manic symptoms of overspending, overextending myself (with favors or promised activities—which never actually ever get done), or unobtainable goals. If I’m forced to socialize at all during such a depressive phase, the “mix” of the hypomania makes me babble uncontrollably, and usually with extreme cheer and a bubbly personality which grates on others’ nerves. If I get to spend most of my time in bed, my mixed state treats me to my own personal auditory hallucinations of people murmuring unintelligibly.

In some ways, the Medicated Ashe is a vastly different person. In other ways, Medicated Ashe is just the same as Unmedicated Ashe.

I’ve been stable—on some sort of medication for Bipolar Disorder—since about 2006-2007. I’m not exactly sure, but I think that’s about right. Things from the period when I was properly diagnosed—and before—are kind of a smear at this point. I suspect it’s a side effect of bipolar disorder. I have some extremely clear memories of my life before my slide into insanity, but most of my mental illness up until I got stabilized is a jumbled blur. I remember things out of order, or not at all, or partially—and never with any kind of attachment to a season, much less time or date. The clearest memory from my mental illness is when I went for my initial evaluation with the VA. It was winter. I got off the commuter light rail, crossed to the correct sidewalk, thought I’d never find my way to the hospital with the directions I had with me, and screamed and whapped the nearest light pole with my cane, which I was at the time using ’cause my knees were extremely faulty. I still have that cane; it’s got this nice, gentle bend in it from when I abused the light pole, which survives to this day with no discernible damage to its shape or paint job.

But Medicated, I get out of bed every day, even when I don’t feel like it. I get dressed—a requirement, because if I hang about, even at home, in sweats or other clothing I’ve mentally relegated to the designation of “sleepwear,” I don’t do anything except lay around my apartment in a down mood with a head which won’t connect thoughts; dressing is an incredible mental/emotional boost for me, so I usually wear jeans and a tee, complete with shoes, unless I’m so sick and cold I’m bundled in bed dosed with the strongest OTC cold medication I can find anyway. Medicated, I write, and I get lots of fun ideas for my stories. I clean house. I keep up with hygiene. I read and look forward to going out with friends and hang out online with my e-friends who are scattered all over the world.

And then there are the “Fun” moments, usually driven by the hypomania. It’s even more “Fun” when I’m interacting on the same level with another bipolar person.

For instance, there was the time an online friend and I were discussing our living situations and how we wished we could improve them. Within three hours, we’d found apartments in my city where we could move as roommates, determined how much it would cost for my friend to drive cross-country with their furniture, and were making relatively firm plans to go with this plan. We were on this quest for a few days, emailing various landlords with requests for info regarding the places we were considering moving to (one, I remember, was a house with the fridge in the living room). I forget the mechanism which gave us the much-needed reality check, but we abruptly abandoned these plans with much resignation to our current living situations.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I say I go “bipolar” about something. And what I mean when I jokily say “Bipolar Disorder Is Fun!”

And I don’t need to be interacting with another bipolar person when I have a bipolar “moment” like this. One of Bipolar Disorder’s manic symptoms is overspending—I mentioned this before. It is incredibly easy for me to convince myself I need something so well I buy it right then. The bipolar friend I mentioned previously, and one who lives local to me part of the year both say they have this symptom. And it can become quite pronounced. I once had a general-use credit card with a limit upwards of several hundred dollars. I maxed that sucker out over a period of two or three months, convinced I had to have each and every item I used that card to purchase . . . and I have almost nothing to show for it. It takes a lot of effort for me to control my spending, and involves me making a budget each month, sending a savings fund to an account I can’t access easily or receive money from quickly, and, occasionally, overspending my “local” funds to the point of scraping by on my “backup food” of canned and frozen goods.

And this is the controlled version of Bipolar Disorder. When I’m unmedicated, I don’t keep a savings account. I don’t even do monthly budgets. I have barely enough for end-of-the-month bills, and certainly not enough money for fresh groceries most of the month, because my budget for those drops to about $25.00 a week—if I’m lucky. If I’m not? I hit food banks, which is a laborious process to undergo from where I now live, which is anywhere from one to three miles away from where most of the local ones are.

And, the most “Fun” aspect of Bipolar Disorder is, for me, the writing swings. I’m in a manic writing swing right now, winging a (ugh) gay romance I’d rather not be working on at all. I’d far rather be writing on my Chraesti or Hatuni stories. My subconscious is throwing gay romance scenes at me instead, and I can’t even make thoughts connect from the plot cards for my Chraesti and Hatuni stories. It just won’t happen. But I relax a little, and I have lots of ideas for my gay romances. I’m reluctantly going along with it with hope I’ll segue to what I’d rather be writing or, if not that, at least another writing downswing. Yes, I’d take another downswing in favor of the gay romance writing. Any day.

So, that’s my little snapshot of my Mixed-State Bipolar Disorder. It doesn’t seem very severe to me, but I imagine another bipolar person reading this will finish it and think mine’s worse than theirs. (I personally think my two mentioned bipolar friends’ conditions are worse than mine, but can’t go into much detail about theirs aside from saying, when looking at theirs from what they’ve told me—neither Mixed-State like I am—I’m rather glad I have Mixed-State Bipolar Disorder.)

Regarding This Blog

This site is a major social endeavor for me. Much of my real life, and even my online life, is quite limited socially. My online activity fluctuates according to my bipolar mood; sometimes I’m very active and all over the net, other times I’m barely on it at all; most of the time, I fluctuate between these two extremes. However, despite the stress keeping up with this site puts on me, I do have fun with it, and I want to keep up with it.

So, I’m going to be switching to posting other things besides cancer stuff, probably starting next week. Not sure what I’ll be doing, but it’ll likely be real-life related for the most part. I’ll still give cancer updates as things happen, but because I’m done the most intensive parts of treatment, I don’t expect to have much to say with such regularity regarding it. So expect a variety of more generic posts about various aspects of my real life.

Since I’ve determined I can keep up with two posts a week fairly well, I’ve decided on a tentative posting schedule. I’ve had it in mind for several weeks now, based on what my habits already are. It’ll never be anything besides tentative, but I figure I’ll do a real-life post on Tuesdays and a writing-related post on Fridays. This is mainly to give readers an idea when to swing around if they’re not getting the posts in email.

There are probably going to be occasional unannounced hiatus periods on the blog. I will do my best not to be “away” from the site for more than two consecutive posts. If I think I won’t be posting for a longer period, I’ll be sure to announce it. Now that I don’t have a driving need to post something (because the major cancer stuff is over), I know I’ll likely have more frequent periods like I did the week of March 16th this year, where, for whatever reason, I won’t post anything. That was because of burnout, and I’ve found it’s generally wisest for me not to force things when I’m burnt out or I end up hating everything to do what I’m forcing and giving up completely.

Following Final Chemo

This entry is part 27 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’m glad I had only four cycles of chemo. I had it relatively easy and I know it. My friend JA Marlow‘s mother has a very invasive and aggressive form of brain tumor. Early last year, Mother Hen, as JAM’s mother is called, had surgery to remove the original tumor and radiation. She’s been receiving chemo in pill doses at home. Unfortunately, the tumor has regrown, and it’s in an area which is affecting her much more than the original tumor did.

By comparison? My experience with breast cancer is nothing.

It has been my hope that putting my experiences up online would inform and assist other people with breast cancer, if not other forms. With that in mind, I’ll expound a bit upon my last post-chemo experience.

The fatigue was as profound on Wednesday as on most other previous days. I spent most of the day in bed, but was able to get up, eat, and putter around a little bit, though I was never up long enough for a cup of tea with water properly boiled in a kettle. I drank orange juice most of Weds and Thurs, as that was quick, easy, and tasty—so tasty, in fact, I drank my first two gallons before my three-week cycle period ended. It’s probably what helped me avoid getting sick about a week or so later, as I felt the beginnings of symptoms of an illness my mother recovered from just prior to her visit the week after chemo week, to drop off homemade burrito makings and an apple pie.

On the Friday of chemo week, I went in to see my new official (and hopefully permanent) Oncologist, Dr. Colonna (not sure that’s the correct spelling, but will correct it in later posts if it’s wrong once I’ve seen her again), who is specializing in breast cancer up at the VA. She’s the one who sat and talked to me and Mom all those months ago, answering the many questions my mother and I had about various things to do with my cancer diagnosis. She was pleased with my progress and sent me on my way with encouraging words.

The next week wasn’t as bad, PottyTime wise as previous cycles. I think it may be because I entered a heightened mixed-state phase (my bipolar is mixed-state, meaning I have symptoms and presentations of both mania and depression at the same time) and spent two nights out of that week awake because I couldn’t sleep. I don’t suggest this as a method of shortening the duration of the diarrhea, though that’s what it seemed to do for me. By the end of the week, my PottyTime phase was pretty much over as well, but I was not in any kind of condition worthy of being called “human.” I wasn’t a raving lunatic, or abusive, or temperamental. I was Jell-O. And this despite my two sleepless nights not following one right after the other. There were one or two nights where I actually slept between them.

I finally got fed up and shaved my head of all the straggling hair leftover from chemo-balding. Now I have stubble and fuzz. I did this with my women’s fancy wire-wrapped razor in the shower (the wire wrapping is important. Would not have done this without it) since I don’t have an electric shaver I could have used dry as I generally don’t shave my legs, and that’s what I’d use it for if I had one.

Chemo mouth was more severe. The cycle previous, it had spread to throughout my mouth, and this last cycle, it did the same, only drier. For the first time, this part of post-chemo treatment annoyed me. Could not eat anything spicy, as I learned one night when I made French toast (I put pepper in scrambled eggs, and in my Ft egg mixture with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweetener, with a dash of salt and a few tablespoons of milk), because I think I exhaled flame after that meal. My mouth hurt for several minutes during and after eating that French toast. Hot temperatures were just as prominent, so drinking my tea while it was still very warm was out of the question; tepid was the hottest I could handle. Also, it felt as if my tongue had numerous cuts on the top, though I don’t think that was actually the case. I tell ya, between heat killing the top of my mouth and even the softest, blandest food torturing my tongue, I’m rather amazed I ate at all. LOL

Earlier this week, I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for my radiation setup appointment; I’ll write about it sometime next week.

Enthusiasm

A few years ago, before 2008, when I first started writing the gay romances, I wrote Fantasy regularly. All the time. It was what I wrote, what I had written for years, since branching away from badly-written Star Trek: The Next Generation pastiches and my first unhappy forays into original Science Fiction stories I discovered I had an anal-retentive and obsessive desire for the technical knowledge to make them “realistic.” I found a freedom—and a challenge to make my worlds logical and rule-abiding—in Fantasy stories which even the handwavium technology of Star Trek couldn’t match.

I loved writing Fantasy.

I have no idea why I segued into gay romances, but I did my best to use them to learn. I taught myself how to power through the middles to the endings and completed more unoutlined gay romance stories than I ever had unoutlined Fantasy stories. I taught myself how to outline, to give myself a better chance at completing the stories I started, with the gay romances, and thus completed even more stories than I ever had before. I taught myself how to cause my characters real conflict, both physical and emotional pain, and how to connect my characters’ actions to their emotions with gay romances. I learned.

My writing is better now than it ever has been before, in spite of the way I destroyed it with my mental illness and trying to force my first Fantasy stories written here in Utah into the mold of a restrictive religion which, while I loved it, did not offer me the freedom to accept myself or, more importantly, my writing, which was, to be honest, my one link to sanity at the time. I wrote myself into my Fantasy and vague attempts at Science Fiction stories as I slid down the slope of Bipolar Disorder into nonfunctionality. Religion pulled me enough out of it, with the half-helpful wrong medication (I’d been misdiagnosed as Schizophrenic), to return to writing, and I proceeded to destroy it on the altar of Catholicism. I still claim a Catholic soul, but my body, my heart, and my mind are still decidedly secular, and since they outnumber my soul by two, I heed their guidance and learned also, through writing the gay romances, that I could heal both myself and my writing without the structure of religion.

Perhaps, in some ways, the gay romances were my psyche’s way of proving to the rest of me that I needed to follow my heart, not my desire for a spiritual home.

With my return to Fantasy, which really hooked me in December of last year, filling me with enthusiasm for and excitement over a brand-new, almost-completely-conceived story, I entered into a whole new world, with a brand new magic system developed from my own search for a spiritual home, and sped through the first book of the trilogy I’d thought up.

I thought I could fit all of TPOM into one book. Ha. The first book is just under 60k, but the second book is longer. Book three may be even longer than book two. And I had great enthusiasm for the whole trilogy up until about the time I started losing my enthusiasm for Brotherhood. So I stopped writing TPOM’s third book, in part because of that, and in part because I needed to figure some things out. However, I never doubted I’d come back to it at some point.

I eventually had to even stop working on Brotherhood because I lost enthusiasm in even it. I’ve explained what I’ve done recently with it, and I have to say, to be completely honest, I was afraid of cutting it. I was half-certain that my lack of interest in my two primary writing projects indicated that I was still trapped in the same rut I’d left when I stopped writing Fantasy earlier. Previously, I’d start Fantasy projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, but I’d get only so far before losing interest in whatever story I was telling. I thought I’d come to that point again with both TPOM and Brotherhood when I realized I no longer felt happy about the latter project and hadn’t touched TPOM in over a month.

I was afraid cutting Brotherhood wouldn’t work. I feared I’d just be delaying the inevitable. But I made the cut anyway, spent about a day away from the project, then tried working on it . . . and my excitement over it and enthusiasm for it came back. I was amazed. And so very, very happy. It may be, as I said, slow going on Brotherhood, but I’m happy with it again, and that means everything to me. I’m feeling excited over nearly every scene I outline, never mind write, and in the previous version, I wasn’t even feeling enthusiasm for writing the scenes. It just wasn’t there, and I got to the point where forcing the scenes out was the only way they got written before I lost interest in doing even that.

But with the cut, I’ve regained my love of the story. I’m even able to feel enthusiastic about TPOM again, and that I was desperately certain I’d lost interest in for good. I love outlining and writing when nearly every scene is a candybar scene (scenes a writer looks forward to writing with a lot of anticipation), and even those which aren’t such induce a thrill when it comes their turn for me to write them.

I’ve said all year, since my return to Fantasy December 21st of last year, that I’ve found happiness in my writing again (I was so not happy writing gay romances—did so only because those were the only ideas coming to me, and I doubted I’d come up with any new ideas with every new story I conceived). I’ve got my joy back, my confidence back (now I’m certain I’ll get fresh new ideas to write—because they’re Fantasy ideas), and most of all, every bit of fun I missed in writing the gay romances, I’ve rediscovered in my return to writing Fantasy.

Fantasy became my niche in the mid-90’s. Now it’s my home, and I’m glad to be back.

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