Category Archives: My Experience with Bipolar Depression

The Door

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It’s in the room with me. It’s always there. Always closed. Taunting me with its bright, shiny handle.

The handle that won’t.

It won’t open. Won’t let me in. Won’t grant access to the other side. No matter how hard I try, it will not open. It isn’t locked. I know this because it turns. It turns. For some reason, I keep trying it. Surely one of these days it will open, and I will finally find freedom.

Freedom.

Freedom from the darkness that surrounds me. It’s been dark for too long. I have wrestled the darkness. I have willed it away for fleeting moments, but it has always returned.

It always returns.

I can see the light seeping through the edges of the door. It’s black on my side, but I know the light is on the other side.

Do you have a door? A door right there, in your sight, within reach, yet not. Do you weep in desperation because the light behind the door is off limits?  Do you wonder if the door will ever open?  Or do you wonder if the other side will forever be off limits?

Sometimes the door becomes translucent enough that the room fades from black to grey, and sometimes even to light grey.  The darkness is like a heavy fog and thick, humid air.  It’s hard to see, and hard to breathe.  But the grey?  In the grey, I can see.  I can breathe.  Grey never quite becomes white, but I can take a deep enough breath to survive.

Enough to survive.  Ugh.

That’s not enough.  Not for me.  I want so much more than that.

I believe a lot of things.  God.  Jesus.  Holy Spirit.  It’s real.  All of it.  And I believe it – all of it.  I know that I am loved and protected.  I know that nothing is a surprise to Him, and that He can handle everything that I cannot.  I know that He will show me how to use all of this suffocating darkness for His good.  I know all of this.  Without any doubt, I know it.

Yet…

None of that erases the pain.  None of that means that it will all go away.  Knowing does not equal healing.  Believing does not equal a problem-free life.  I still hurt.  I still struggle.  My days are still filled with too many bipolar-related things.  I don’t think I could believe anymore than I do, yet here I am, still smack in the middle of the darkness.

And so I wonder…

Will He remove the darkness this side of Heaven?  Does His plan for me require that I continue to carry this cross?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that my only job, when the door becomes black and closes out all light, is to breathe.  One breath at a time, all I have to do is keep breathing, and He will do the rest.  Every breath will probably hurt, and I may even wish them away, but as long as I don’t stop, the door will loosen, and the light will return –

Or at least the grey.

You

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How could you do this?  You’re not even real.  You don’t have a heartbeat.  You don’t have eyes or arms or a mouth.  You don’t have feelings.  You’re not real.  So how did this happen?  How did you break us?

And why?  Why did you push and pull?  Why did you whisper and lie?  Why did you dull your roar, and then strike again just as we were cleaning up the mess you had already left behind?  Why us?

But you know the truth of what I really think.  You know that I know you’re real.  I know you come to life.  I know the control and power you have – over me, and then over them.  You know that I know.  You know that I fear you.  You know how to get me to miss you, too.  You know how to settle in so that my senses come alive, and my mind produces so much that I can’t contain it.  And that’s how you keep me hooked.  That’s how you trick me into thinking you aren’t so bad sometimes.

Still, I fight you.  I fight to keep you away, but I lose a little part of myself in the process.  But you know this, too.  I think this is your game.  You can’t get inside my head, so you aim at another target – a weaker target.  Us.  You keep us apart.  You tear us down so that we can’t recover.  We can’t regain our strength.  And then you throw one thing after the other at us so we stay down.  Distracted, exhausted, angry, hurt, blind.  We can’t see each other.  He can’t see I’m drowning.  I can’t see he’s hurting.  We try to see.  We try to fix.  But it’s not enough.  It’s never enough.  His hurt is too painful for a bandaid.  My gasps are too desperate for a life vest.  He tries.  I try.  Not enough.

Is it too late?  Is your wedge too wide?  Can I ease his hurt without drowning?  Can he guide me to calmer waters without the hurt breaking him?  Is love enough?  You aren’t going away.  You are the third person in this relationship.  You are baggage.  You are trash.  But you are here, and we have no say.  We are so battle weary.  We are scarred.  Maybe you’re too powerful, and it was foolish for us to think we ever had a chance.  We win one battle, but you just bring another, and another, and…

Will the vicious cycle ever stop?  Will we ever be free from your grip?  Will you ever stop tormenting us?  You aren’t real.  You don’t have a heartbeat.  You don’t have feelings.

You aren’t real.

If Only I Could Remember

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There is this notion that says one mood state can’t recognize, or at least has difficulty recognizing, another. That is to say that when a person is very sad or depressed, it’s hard for him to recall ever feeling happy; or when a person is fearful, she can’t remember feeling safe.  I have experienced this on a few different levels.

During times of intense depression, I tap into thoughts and feelings that are deep and profound and frightening. My mind races with words and sentences and sometimes even whole pieces.  I can’t keep up with them.  All the while that they swim in my head, I know I need to write them down because they so clearly and descriptively portray what I feel.  It would be powerful – if I wrote it.

The truth is that most of the time I don’t get the chance to sort through everything in my head and get something written.  The shame of it is that when my mood state shifts I lose all the stuff that had been swirling in my mind.  I can’t remember what I thought.  I can’t remember how I felt, at least not to any real depth.  All I’m left with is the knowledge that I missed an opportunity to get something on paper that could capture a snapshot of what it’s like to experience extreme depression.  And I very rarely get it back.

Bipolar Disorder is wild and erratic.  It’s devastating and frightening.  But it’s a big part of who I am.  I know, I know, we aren’t our disorders.  What I mean, though, is that many of the people who live with this disorder are highly creative and emotive.  They are deep thinkers and feelers.  They are talented and expressive.  They are bold and passionate.  They accomplish their dreams.  All of these things describe me.  I have so much inside of me that is screaming to be heard.  My desire to sing and write is so strong that I can’t describe it with words.  My desire to use every last tear that I’ve cried to make a difference is so big that, frankly, it scares me.  There is something that gnaws at my insides, not allowing me to settle for ordinary.  God has something big for me to do, and Bipolar Disorder is going to help me do it.

When medications dull everything to the point that I can’t feel anything deeper than the shallow end of the kiddie pool, I can’t accomplish anything outside of ordinary.  I can’t write.  I have no desire.  I have nothing to say.  I can sing, but it lacks passion.  I can sing, but I don’t want to.  I can listen to others and do my best to offer help, but do I really care?  Not usually.  Ahhhhhh!  This is not me.  This is not the life I want to lead.  This is not the life I deserve, my family deserves, my clients deserve.

But, the most recent medication change has rocked my boat a bit.  I’m somewhat depressed.  I don’t particularly like it, but this time it’s manageable.  I’m sad, and tired, and my mood jumps from sad to irritated to fine to sad every few minutes, it seems.  But I can feel things.  I can write.  I can tap into feelings that allow me to connect with others.  This feels like me.  It hurts, but feels like home.  I shouldn’t want to feel this way.  I mean, I don’t want to.  But I do.  But…

Numb.  Manageable.  The thing is, when I’m numb, I can’t remember how bad the alternative can be.  I forget the days, weeks, and months I have spent wishing it all away.  Wishing I could disappear, and wondering how I could make that happen.  Yet, when the pain gets that bad, and all I want is to make it stop, I can’t remember how dead I feel when I’m numb.  My brain won’t allow me to remember, so I stay stuck in limbo, constantly questioning which is better.

What I do know is that I cannot be ordinary.  What I do know is that I cannot waste everything I’ve learned and experienced.  If only today’s mood state could remember yesterday’s.

Happy Unhappy

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“How’s life treating you?”

“Oh, it’s been fine. I mean it’s, you know, it’s – it’s not terrible.”

We’ve all been there.  People ask us how we are, we say we’re fine even though we are anything but fine.  And when we ask them in return, they tell us the same.  We accept it as truth, right?  That’s just how it goes.

I was having a conversation with a close friend yesterday, and I was telling her about how I’ve been feeling lately.  The words, “it isn’t terrible,” came out of my mouth, and it struck me how sad that is.  “I’m not miserable,”  Not terrible.  Not miserable.  Is that what I want?  Is that how I want to feel as I go through life?  Trudging from day to day hovering somewhere just above terrible and miserable?

Well, no.

For at least two years, I was in a very dark and twisty place.  It was scary and confusing and painful.  It was something I worked tirelessly to escape.  To conquer.  In the last couple of months, we have finally found a good balance of treatments that have brought me out of the pit, and into the light again.  Victory!

And at first, I thought it was.  And to everyone else, it is.  But to me, now, I’m not sure anymore.

I don’t feel like myself.  I feel like a stranger walking around in my body.  I am disconnected from everything – my husband, kids, friends, mom, clients, co-workers, Jesus, worship, singing, music.  I feel very little.  In some ways, that’s ok – even good.  But in other ways, I am empty.  My passion for worship is gone.  My creativity and desire for writing is gone.  My drive to do big things is gone.  My excitement for this new career is gone.

This is not authentic.

This is not me.  I am a passionate person.  I get excited about things – at least I always have in the past.  I dream big.  I work hard and accomplish big things.  Only, now I don’t have passion.  I don’t get excited, I don’t dream big, and I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything.

So what’s better?  Living life feeling half numb as I walk along being not-miserable?  Or living life severely depressed, and sometimes manic, feeling everything on so deep a level that it physically hurts at times, but also allowing me to tap into the things that drive me, the things that connect me to the world?  The latter is authentically me, but it is worth it?

I think I can safely say that to everyone else it is most definitely NOT worth it.  They see me as less sad, better able to make it through each day, more productive, happy even.  It’s easier on them for me to be in this state.

I would say that most people don’t feel things the way I do, so they don’t really understand what I’m talking about here.  They would say, “you went from miserable to not miserable, what’s the problem?  Sounds like a win to me.”  And maybe they’re right.

Suppose you are an athlete.  You run track.  You’ve always loved running, and you’ve worked since you were a child to improve your skills.  Along the way, you picked up basketball, and in the last couple of years you have grown to be really good at basketball, as well.  But, you begin to notice that something isn’t quite right with your left leg.  You begin going to doctors, searching for answers.  Ultimately, you learn that you have a condition that will eventually require amputation.  You play as long as you can, and you endure the pain until you just can’t take it anymore.  The loss of your leg is devastating.  Though you know your leg was sick, and it was causing you pain, you mourn its loss and wish you had it back because it allowed you to do what you love.  It allowed you to fulfill your passions.  If science somehow allowed you to get your leg back, with the sickness remaining, would you?  Would you endure the pain in order to run again?  Or would you accept that what you had is in the past, and try to find a new way to fulfill your passion, knowing it would never quite be the same?

I can decide at any moment to get my leg back.  The cost is great, and not just to me, but not-miserable is a big price to pay.

Uninspired

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When emotions run deep, I have passion.  I have drive.  I have ambition to do big things, to use what I know, and what I have lived, to help people.  When emotions run deep.

But when they don’t?  I’m uninspired.  I have no drive for big things.  Not for writing.  Not for books.  Not for using my story for good.  No passion.  In fact, I feel just the opposite.  I feel apathetic about having any goals.  I have no interest in it.  No desire.

At the same time that I feel apathy, I wish I felt passion.  There are so many things I want to write about, but without a strong connection with my emotions, I can’t.  I cannot write.  I have nothing to say.  My mind is blank.  It’s just empty.  When I try to push through anyway, the lack of inspiration and passion is evident in my writing.  It’s flat.  It’s boring.  It’s a waste of my time.

This muted emotional state just doesn’t feel like me.  It doesn’t feel authentic to not feel things.  I feel like I’m not really living, like I’m missing out on truly experiencing life.  I feel separated from relationships.  I feel separated from God.  I want to have meaningful experiences, but I can’t.  I connect with the world through emotions, so when they are gone, or at least severely inhibited, I am disconnected.  Separate.  Apart.  Alone.

What am I to do about it?  I don’t know.  The medications are meant to keep me steady, and they are.  It’s taken a long time to land on a combination of meds that is effective, so changing it is risky business.  But I’m not sure that I want to feel this way permanently.

The ups and downs are hard.  The extreme lows are really hard.  But still, it feels authentic.  Is it weird that I miss it?  Is it possible to have the ability to feel that deeply without being in anguish?  I don’t know.  For some people, I’m sure it is.  But for me?  I don’t know.  Truth is, I think as long as I have to rely on chemicals to be healthy, there will always be a part of me that doesn’t feel quite right.

Take me off the vent

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I was watching TV with my husband this evening, and something struck me…

Today has been a day.  In fact, I’ve had many ‘days’ lately.  Too many, actually.  Today was one of those days that made no sense.  My moods and emotions were so erratic, I felt like a ping pong ball being hit back and forth – the direction of my next move a surprise to everyone.

I’ve felt sorrow today.  I’ve felt despair.  Doubt, fear, helplessness, loneliness.  Anger, frustration, confusion.  Insecurity, embarrassment.  I felt all of these simultaneously at certain points during the day.  But there is still the one I haven’t mentioned.  It’s the one that is hanging on tightly, trying to smother me.  Guilt.

Guilt.

I feel guilty that I don’t have a big desire to spend time with my family.  I feel guilty that I’m so distant.  I feel guilty for thinking about how much I want to give up.  It’s shameful, really.  But at the same time that I feel guilty for wanting to escape it all, I feel guilty for being here and making things hard for my family.  It’s a double whammy.

Back to the TV show from tonight.  Grey’s Anatomy.  There was a woman who had been in the hospital several months, and it was apparent she was dying.  She made the decision to be taken off of the ventilator.  She had suffered long enough.

Take me off the vent.

During this scene, I couldn’t help but feel jealousy toward this fictitious woman.  She had the option of ending her suffering.  The doctors understood.  Her husband understood.  She was tired, and she was ready.  It was merciful to take her off the vent.

Take me off the vent.

In my case, this would not be looked at as an act of mercy.  It would not be acceptable because my sickness is different from hers.  Mine is hidden behind my eyes, and you only see it if I allow you to see it.  Mine doesn’t steal my breath, but it has stolen plenty.  My identity, my laugh, my smile, my joy, my stamina, my marriage, my friendships, my mind, my time, my hope…and the list goes on.

There is no cure.  There is no procedure that will correct the issue.  But still, I have to stay on the vent.  Frankly, it doesn’t seem fair.  Frankly, I don’t want to.  Maybe it’s wrong for me to feel this way.  Maybe it’s selfish.  Maybe it’s weakness.  Whatever it is, my insides are screaming

TAKE ME OFF THE VENT!

Invisibility

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I was sitting with my therapist yesterday…

*aside – Raise your hand if you’ve ever written something that began with ‘I was sitting with my therapist…’  Be honest.*

Seriously, yesterday was one of those sessions that stands out for one reason or another.  First of all, I realized when I left that I had been there for two hours!  Ummm, oops.  Sorry, A!  My bad.  A, you should have packed your bag, stood up, opened the door…hahahahaha

For real, to my point.

At some point during our conversation, I mentioned that I often feel invisible.  She pointed out the irony that, at the same time I feel invisible, I aim to not be seen.

How is that even a thing?

I should explain that I have this avoidant thing going on.  Think social anxiety on steroids.

Example 1: I won’t wear my scrubs anywhere other than work because I don’t want to draw any attention to myself.  Logically, I know that no one is paying any attention to me based upon what I’m wearing, nor do they care.  However, I feel like I’m walking around with a flashing neon sign over my head that says, “LOOK AT ME!  I’M DIFFERENT BECAUSE I’M NOT WEARING REGULAR CLOTHES!”

Example 2:  I would basically have to be bleeding out my eyeballs to get up and walk across a room full of people.  In a classroom, in church, in a conference, etc., I will be on the brink of needing ‘clean up on aisle 2’ before I will get out of my seat and walk to the exit – in front of everyone – to go to the restroom.  No way, José.

I don’t want public attention.  Please don’t make a fuss if I show up with a cake, or a plate of brownies.  And, for the love, do not take me to a restaurant on my birthday and have them sing to me!!!

*Having flashbacks of wearing a sombrero and ringing a cowbell  while the servers sang*

Happy chimichanga to you, and a cheese enchilada, too. Guacamole, chilé con queso, hot tamales to you.  That’s our way to say, ‘Happy Birthday from Casa Olé’ Happy Birthday, dear Melissa, Happy Birthday to you!

*shudders*

A sombrero and a cowbell????  Are you kidding?  This is probably why I don’t want all eyes on me.  Humiliating.

While I don’t want to be the center attention – ever – I do want to be seen on a more personal level.  I want to make a difference in the lives of the people around me.  I don’t want to be seen for things I do, I want to be seen for the person I am.

If I give you a gift, I don’t want thanks or praise, and I certainly don’t expect you to reciprocate.  I simply want you to know that you are loved, that you are important.  I want you to feel love.

So, I guess I want to be seen as someone who builds others up, who supports others, who loves others.  This is what is important to me.

I was in my car this morning when a thought occurred to me.  Maybe I feel invisible because I work so hard to do things in a way that won’t bring a lot of attention to myself.  Maybe I don’t allow others to see me at all.  Maybe I fly so far below the radar, that I make myself undetectable.

Here’s the paradox – the thing I want to be known for the most – my love for others – is manifest in the exact things I don’t want to be recognized for.

And here’s the truth – I’m not actually invisible.  I am visible – to God, to my husband, to my children, to my mom, and I’m guessing to a few more.

I just have to believe it.