Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: bipolar disorder (page 3 of 3)

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.

Writing Downswings

One of the really great things about my bipolar disorder is the writing downswings it causes. /sarcasm

Actually, sarcasm aside, it does serve a purpose. It keeps me from getting burnt out on what I’m writing and enables my subconscious mind to catch up to what my conscious mind has been doing with my writing. I just wish it wouldn’t happen. There are times I wish I was more like average writers, whose minds generally don’t go on hiatus in the middles of projects.

Usually I have this wish when I’m in the middle of a writing downswing. Like I am now.

I’m kind of glad this one’s happening now, and I’m hoping it won’t last more than a week or two longer. I’ve been struggling getting plot cards on both my current projects since the fifth of this month, and it’s now the fourteenth. That’s nine days. As writing downswings go, this isn’t too bad yet. I’d like to be back to creating by the twenty-fifth, so I’m “willing” to hang out doing nothing on my writing for about another ten or so days.

With any luck, I won’t come back into writing focused on the other genre I spent a small number of years writing. Gay romances. Nothing wrong with them, except I spent the entire time writing them full of anxiety. I was afraid of so many things, not the least of which was that I was going to completely run out of ideas to write. No matter now many new ideas I got, I had that fear. I also hated writing them, I was just so desperate to write anything I wrote them. They weren’t as fun as Fantasy is for me. Neither were they challenging; I love the fact I have to keep an eye on making my worldbuilding and magic systems consistent in Fantasy. I also don’t doubt the ideas; I’m much more confident I’ll get fresh, new, fun to write ideas when I’m writing Fantasy.

I simply love writing Fantasy, and I think it shows.

Even when I was writing the gay romances, I got writing downswings. They were just more frequent, and, in some ways, more traumatizing. Probably because I wasn’t writing what I really wanted to write—but I just wasn’t getting any Fantasy ideas. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t find any joy in the gay romances, but I don’t want to go back to that, even on a temporary basis. When I swung back into Fantasy writing last year in the middle of December (after a Nano where I forced out Yet Another Gay Romance via outline), it was a great relief. I was happy again.

This year, since starting writing Fantasy again, I’ve had one downswing. Sometime early in the year. At the end of May, before which I segued into writing the gay romances again. On June first, however, I was back into Unsought Gifts, the first book of my Power of Music trilogy. And Fantasy’s all I’ve written since then.

What I’m really hoping is that this year is an example of a trend with Fantasy writing. That it’ll be something I’ll spend more time writing, that I won’t have as many writing downswings with it, that my confidence level and joy in it will fuel the fires of inspiration enough to prevent too many severe writing downswings. After the hell of last year where I didn’t make substantial progress on anything unless I had an outline and was participating in some sort of mass writing event (Julno, Nano), and where I was absolutely miserable and depressed with what I was writing, I really want my return to Fantasy to be something of if not unalloyed goodness, at least something I can count on to keep me going.

And I’ll say this. I’ve written a couple scenes on Brotherhood since the downswing began. The outline makes it easy. I mean that. It’s easy to write outlined Fantasy scenes, even in a downswing. Every gay romance scene I forced out last year was forced. I had to work to write them, and I felt disconnected from the writing, and I was always surprised at how well the scenes turned out. I’ve had none of that on the scenes I’ve written in Brotherhood since the downswing began. My only issue is that I’m not coming up with plot cards because of the lack of muse, I guess you could say, induced by the writing downswing.

I think last year was my rock-bottom in writing. I was miserable and spent most of the year in a writing downswing. It was depressing, not just figuratively but literally as well. This year has been the complete opposite. I’m happy. I’m enjoying writing like I used to. I have my confidence back—and that is a great thing. It feels wonderful.

So I think I can weather this and other writing downswings as long as I can feel confident I’ll be returning to Fantasy following it, and I do.

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