Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Monday, May 02, 2005

This bipolar life

Being bipolar (or manic depressive) is a blessing and a curse. First of all, for those who don't know, there are two main types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I: You suffer from manic episodes as well as depression

Bipolar II: You have hypomanic episodes (a milder form of mania) alternating with depression.

I am bipolar II, which means that my life is chock full of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Here are the main pros and cons of this illness:

MAJOR DEPRESSION: THE CONS
In my case, this is no little old case of the blues. I become psychotic, which means that I enter into a vegetative state. I become suicidal and delusional--and often very paranoid. I am completely in my own little nightmarish world of obsessively negative thoughts, which consist of horrible guilt (I've ruined everyone's life and/or career, as well as my own); suicidal ideation (mulling over my "preferred" method, which is jumping out a window); hopelessness (this will never get better); inability to think, function, speak, or get out of bed (going to the bathroom is the day's major accomplishment). I am all too aware that I have literally "lost my mind." It is sheer hell on earth. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

MAJOR DEPRESSION:THE PROS
The only one I can possibly think of is that I have developed a lot more empathy for those with mental illness, as well as others who struggle with life in general.

For instance, there was a Vice President at the university I used to work for. It seemed like she "had it all." After working there for decades, she had achieved a prestigious, respected position, had several children, a great apartment, and a boyfriend who was also a successful VP.

One day this woman, who lived in a university-owned building a block away from our office, went to her balcony and jumped.

When my colleages heard the news, they were naturally shocked and dismayed. But what infuriated me beyond all reason were the responses:

Oh, I'm so mad at her for doing this!

What a selfish thing to do! Think of her children.

Mind you, these were people who were colleagues of the woman: not close friends or relatives. So I said to one of my co-workers, who did not know the woman personally: "When you are in a deep depression, you can become delusional. You may think that your family is better off without you. She must have been in a great deal of pain."

How do I know? Because I've been there. I just never had the "guts" to carry out the jumping off a building part, for which I thank the Lord. But incidentally, in the last year or so there have been a rash of student suicides at the same university. All were jumpers.

For an example of how cruel and ignorant "normal people" can be, check out comments 7, 8, and 9 on "AA: Threat or Menace?"

HYPOMANIA: THE CONS
Since I "suffer" from a milder form of mania than the full blown variety, I can only speak authoritatively about this variation. In a nutshell, people with full blown psychotic mania might think they are superman and jump off a building--but not for the reasons my colleage did.

As far as hypomania, it is kind of like your brain is producing speed tabs, because that's what it feels like. You become euphoric. You have lots of energy. You don't need to sleep a lot. You are bursting with ideas.

Thanks to my hypomania, I did some very foolish and regrettable things. I alienated friends, family, and colleagues by being obnoxious and belligerent. I put down a $3000 deposit toward an elaborate wedding reception even though I had always eschewed marriage as being too bourgeois. (And since I didn't want children, what was the point? I lived with my ex-boyfriend for 20 years--longer than most marriages--without benefit of a piece of paper.) In any case the wedding plan was aborted after I plunged into another major depression. More recently, I almost bought a second coop which would have left me financially strapped.

HYPOMANIA: THE PROS
First of all, it feels good. And you don't want to listen to anyone who tells you you're manic. They can all go fly a kite. (In fact, that's a good idea...)

Your thoughts race a mile a minute. In my case, I start to get a zillion writing ideas faster than I can scribble them down. You have mind-blowing insights (or so you think). You feel invincible, brilliant. Life is a song.

If I had never experienced hypomania, I might never have had the nerve to push hard for a well-deserved, long overdue raise. I might never have pursued writing and getting published in major NYC papers over 90 times in 18 months. I might never have started this blog (is that a good or bad thing?) I might have continued to stay in a 20-year toxic relationship with my ex-boyfriend, instead of getting back into the dating world, meeting new people, and eventually finding my crazy and wonderful Bowleg Guy.

The thing with hypomania is that "sufferers" tends to walk a fine line between normal "high spirts" and creativity and plain old bad judgement. I found that at least as far as my work life was concerned, my hypomania served me well. I have read that many successful people and artists suffer from bipolar disorder, and many celebs are now coming out of the closet about their condition. So my supervisors loved my productivity and great ideas. One of them explained away my volatile temper by making allowances for the fact that I was creative--and everyone knows artists are tempermental. But he also told me I was scaring all my co-workers. And indeed, I was contemptous, insufferable, egotistical. I slammed doors a lot in explosive fits of rage. Some people continued to be wary of me for years after one of my hissy fits.

I may add more to this post later, but here are some links of interest:

A new book by John D. Gartner, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America, explores how hypomania leads to significant accomplishments, innovation, and creativity.

See also Celebrities with Bipolar Disorder

I hope some fellow bipolars will contribute some thoughts and share some experiences. But all are welcome to comment.

17 Comments:

At 12:54 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

And yes, I DO take my meds. Always.

 
At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think have bipolar makes you "crazier than a shithouse rat". Personally, I think that is a horrible image to present to someone who might not know very much about the disorder. I wouldn't want someone to read this and assume that anyone with bipolar is crazy or a half wit.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Thanks for your comment. It gives me an opportunity to raise an important point.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness. Gay people were encouraged to try to become straight. They were terrified of being outed and made to feel ashamed of their "malady."

Then came Stonewall and Act Up. Suddenly, gays were not only being vocal, but embracing and flaunting the very behavior that straights hated and feared--behaving "queer."

Now, many celebs have come out of the closet. Can you imagine shows like "the L Word" or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" 20 years ago?

Similarly, overweight people are severely stigmatized. There is no way to hide their condition. In public, people may be p.c. and call them "big boned." But in private, they too often think "that fat slob! Why can't he/she control him/herself?"

Then came Kirstie Alley. She was a pariah in Hollywood, where slimness is vital to an actor's livelihood. Instead of hiding under the covers and eating her bon bons in silence, she created a show that embraced all the fat stereotypes in a hilarious way, and to which millions of fat people could relate. (Obesity and overweight are epidemic in this country, by the way.)

Similarly, people with mental disorders are beginning to speak out (see the link below my post for celebs and artists with biopolar disorder as well as the link to "The Bipolar Edge": the author's blog explores how being bipolar is now (pardon the pun) all the rage.

I think that presenting a tongue in cheek and humorous approach to serious issues like mental illness is more likely to help people overcome their sterotypical views. Rather than cower in the closet in fear and shame, I favor the in-your-face approach: I'm here, I'm queer (or fat or crazy or alcoholic, etc.) Get over it!

In my post "AA: Threat or Menace, a rabid anti-AA'er chastized me for not agreeing with his position that anyone who used substances was "evil" (!!) Addicts were making a stupid choice. There was no genetic predisposition to alcoholism. They were immoral.

When I gently chastized him by asking if he thought my mental illness was an evil choice, I received an anonymous reply:

TAKE YOUR MEDS!!!

Ouch.

Instead of engaging in verbal fisticuffs or cowering in shame, I used this cruel response to speak out about the fact that I, and most mentally ill people, take their meds. The meds don't always work. Not all "crazy" people fit the media sterotype of the deranged maniac who refuses meds and pushes people onto the subway tracks. Most mentally ill people are much more likely to harm themselves than others.

You say that my blog will make people assume that bipolar people are "crazy." I don't know about you. But I AM crazy. So what? We're all people: gay or straight, crazy or sane, addicted or sober, fat or svelte. Why be ashamed and fearful? Let people be aware that we exist and we're not all drooling, babbling idiots.

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Oops:

in the last comment, I mentioned the book "The Bipolar Edge." It's "The Hypomanic Edge." (Once I post a comment, I can't edit it.)

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger Judith said...

Hi, my name is Judith, and I am B/P.
"I am all too aware that I have literally "lost my mind." It is sheer hell on earth. I wouldn't wish it on anyone." This is the point I keep trying to drive home to my friends and family, that just think I am lazy (or as they say-unmotivated.

B/P disorder stole me from myself. I can't plan more than a day in advance anymore. Don;t get me wrong, before I had kids, and before I knew what was WRONG with me, I was alot of F^&*ing fun. But, the fun destroyed my future (HINT: I left the Navy, just so you know, you just don't leave the Navy)

I also managed to get married when I shouldn't have for absolutely no reason to boot. So happy to hear you dodged that bullet!

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Hi Judith:

I'm so sorry to hear that your friends and family don't understand your illness. My mother was either depressed or BP, and passed away when I was 14. My aunts (her sisters) really don't seem able to talk about her illness, or mine, or my cousin's. Sometimes it pisses me off. I want to ask them questions about my mother, because I was too young to really understand what was going on when she had to be hospitalized and I had to stay with a foster family or with my aunts.

Is there any way your therapist or psychiatrist could set up some sort of family meeting to discuss your condition? Are there any articles or books you could urge them to take a look at that might help enlighten them?

I know that BP can destroy lives, and I sympathize with your plight. I hope things will get better for you, and that you can get your loved ones to understand a bit more.

 
At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elvira,
I am late getting here but I wanted to comment on being bipolar. First of all, you are very lucky to be bipolar 2, not bipolar 1. You know that, right? If I was BP2 I wouldn't even take meds. No way! I miss hypomania like little kids miss Christmas. I've crawled back into my shell and I am far less sociable on lithium. Why medicate at all? Well during my manic episode I completely lost touch with reality and hallucinated. I was fired from my job and put myself into very some dangerous situations. If you are seriously psychotic and hallucinating you are BP1. I thought I was the median 33rd level Christ and part of a selective breeding program. John McCain, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry were going to have a secret meeting at my house. Then I thought my place was going to be bombed because I could hear the plotters outside my window.
You are NOT crazier than a shithouse rat if you are BP2. You are not even close. Maybe you are just pretending to be crazy because you think it is a cool artistic thing to do. How pathetic. You are not truly bipolar at all!!!

 
At 10:35 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Anonymous:

OK. Them's fighting words.

Pathetic? Not bipolar at all? I bet to differ.

First of all, as I mentioned, I descended several times into a PSYCHOTIC depression, complete with delusional thinking. I was SHITTING MY PANTS because I thought it was less "messy" than using the toilet. I became extremely paranoid. Could not talk, think, eat, etc. I was a suicidal vegetable. That was pathetic, but definitely not normal. Does a full series of electroshock and paying a small fortune out of pocket to remain in the hosp several weeks after my insurance had run out help me rate in your book?

Yes, I consider myself lucky that I have BP II, which is nevertheless recognized as a mental illness as well. I DO absolutely have to take meds, in part so I will not descend into the absolute hell that I experienced time and time again with the major depression with psychotic features.

I did take lithium for many years, but also found that it seemed to put me in emotional handcuffs. Now I take Lamictal, along with an antidepressant, and as a result I find that my hypomanias are much more manageable.

Nevertheless, I've done some really stupid, foolish shit while hypomanic also. I wasn't hallucinating, but I was not in touch with reality either. People in a hypomania might wind up ruining their marriage, losiing their jobs, draining their bank account, alienating friends and family, and all sorts of other horrific stuff.

Shit, is this some sort of pscyho competition? That, my friend, is truly a pathetic attitude. Hey, my boyfriend's schizophrenic. He once thought he started World War II even though he was born in 1950. He also has a penchant for slashing his wrists. I think he scores more crazy points than either of us. Doesn't that make you feel inadequate?

Shame on you.

 
At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its always mildly interesting to me that some people think that they can get into someones head and assume that they know thier life expereinces, motivations, ailments, after reading one brief article.
How do you anonymous, beleive you can do it? Do you think youre God? Omnipotent and omniscient?

Elvira, you have no obligation or duty to defend yourself or your illness. This person IS shameful. This person just lacks empathy, and is probably plagued by a lot of bitterness and guilt as well. You know what they say about folks who protesteth too much?

Another point I wanted to make, is about these diagnoses. They cannot possible describe in thier titles and few words of signs and sympotoms, the heartache, the mess and the maddness of having ANY mental illness- be it a neurosis, psychosis, or mood disorder or a combination thereof.

I used to bug my T for my diagnosis, but he kept putting me off by asking me questions about why I wanted to know and what Id get out it, and how it wasnt that important seeing how we both knew I had a serious mental illness and it didnt really matter what you called it. But over time, I persisted and he knew he couldnt hold out on me forever. Finally, he told me. When he asked me, "so what do you think about it?" I replied, "it doesnt even come close to describing the hell ive been through, it just sounds too "small". and he said "yeah, thats one of the reasons I havent wanted to tell you." He thought the knowlege might trigger a reaction in me that would end up stressing me into a breakdown! The fact is that a couple of little words like Bi-polar II or this or that, cant even come close to describing a persons expereince with such a disorder--your talking about a lifetime of upheaval, constant struggle, on and off meds, hospitals, suicide attempts, and on and on...and for anyone to suggest the someone would actually "choose" this kind of hell, or pretend to have it, going so far as to take meds for a non existent ailment, is living an ignorant and cruel mindset for certain.

Of course there are the facticious disorders, where people actually DO make up thier illnesses to get attention etc. but they are very rare and usually it take doctors years before they diagnosis them in a person. what makes you so able to come to such a conclusion after reading just one article??

Its pure hogwash--maybe its really YOU who is lying about something, heh?

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Wow! Thanks so much, anonymous.

Yep, I was really awestruck, to put it nicely, at that comment. It's bad enough when those who haven't suffered any mental illness don't understand what it entails, but when someone with bipolar tells another BP they've got it made in the shade, I have to say that that's REALLY sick. Maybe she's in a manic state right now. I don't know.

I know there's lots of people I've met online who have been ill for years and finally found out their diagnosis. In my case, it helped because at least I could come to terms with what I was dealing with and, along with my doctor, try to minimize the damage. That's really weird that your doc chose to hide you from yourself, so to speak. To what end? That's kinda like sparing a patient the bad news about a terminal physical disease--though I can see the motivation for that more clearly, I guess. But in that case, you're also depriving the person of the chance to get their mind around the inevitable, prepare for it emotionally, and maybe choose whether they want to spend what time they have left being "treated" in a hospital or at home enjoying their family. Doctors, too, often assume they are omniscent and capable of determining what is "best" for their patients.

Perhaps Anonymous thought I sounded too "well" to be BP. I have had to tried to explain to some people that though I may seem to be functioning rather nicely right now, if I am under too much stress, the disorder can come back full force at any time. I often have horrible dreams where I feel myself sinking into the confusion and despair of depression again. It is horrifying to know that the disease is lying in wait, just waiting to rear its ugly head. I doubt many people are ever completely "cured"--the most that can be hoped for is that they will be able to keep the devil at bay with meds, if needed, and through the reduction of major stressors, if possible.

You didn't say what your diagnosis was, but I know that you understand the hell it entails as perhaps no "normal" person can. Nevertheless, I think that virtually everyone has gone through some horrible emotional experiences, and we are all human. One of the things I have tried to do here is to show that "psychos" like me are not just babbling zombies intent on hurling innocents onto subway tracks, as well as utilizing a bit of humor to try to discuss a very serious disease without bombastic lecturing. I guess it backfired in the case of anonymous.

Again, many thanks. I wish you all the best.

 
At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey E-
Im happy to be of some support.....youre welcome.

The whole thing with my T is that he is very aware that I have primarily obsessive OCD, (amoung other things--I have comorbidity) and he knows that I will obsess over my diagnosis to the point of insanity--He wasnt really trying to hide anything from me--he knew that I knew what was wrong (ive probably said it a million times myself, but in other, less "clinical" ways)..But I think he didnt want to give me any information that would encourage my obsessions.

Also, he see's it as self destructive when I "identify" myself as crazy, which is another reason he wasnt forthcoming. He says that in order to overcome it, the illness has got to become a smaller and smaller part of your identiy, until the time when you have it so "under control" that you can function with it. In essence what hes saying is that other parts of your life become so much bigger than your illness, that the sick part of you becomes a mere shadow. I mean its a wonderful idea, and I can see that many people with MI do this successfully, but it aint all that easy, is it?--anyway, it is a goal worth shooting for.
Also, when you put words to something it just brings it further into the forefront of your consciousness kinda thing. I understand that he was just trying to protect me from myself and my obsessive tendencies but yeah, I guess he shouldnt have put me off. But then, I didnt really push all that hard most of the time either. I guess maybe in a way I didnt really wanna know myself. Knowing your Dx can be helpful but it can also be hurtful-kinda like the ignorance is bliss idea. I mean I wouldnt choose ignorance over knowlege, but there is definitly some truth to that cliche. it seems the ultimate irony.

Anyway when I found out, It really did bring me down. It made me angry and hysterical cause it just didnt seem to live up to my expereinces. But then I dont think there are ANY words that could describe a life full of expereince with a mental illness-- how can one put it all into a nutshell? Not even a doctor can do that...

Personally I think it takes a great deal of courage and conviction to write about your expereinces with BP-- and this crazy shit appreciates it.

Thanks for the well wishes--same to you.

 
At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh I just thought Id mention, that I have been Dx'd BP I by my p-doc. (along with the other stuff). Of course, he and my T dont exactly agree, and thats one of the troubles with Dx's and doctors, they are not infallible and all-knowing. Sometimes i think they are just as confused as the people they treat. After all we are treading in very muddy waters....

 
At 2:53 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Hey, nice-Anon (as opposed to naughty-Anon, the Bipolar I with a superiority complex):

One of my diagnoses is also Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Although I make light of it in Invasion of the Psychotics, it can put quite a crimp in your style, to say the least. I first noticed it at about age 12, when I developed a sudden overwhelming urge to wash my hands, over and over. It is now generally less severe, but tends to come out more under stress (what else is new). Also, if my b/f is pressuring me to hurry up and I'm in the bathroom doing my checking the sink for drips thing, I'll get even more crazed.

The idea your doc had about trying to help you perceive your mental illness as kind of background noise (maybe this isn't exactly what he meant, but you know what I mean) is interesting, and reminds me of one of my boyfriend BG's shrinks.

This doc was a psychiatrist with a specialty in substance abuse detox, who charged us $4000 for a "painless one-day detox" from methadone for BG. Don't get me started--I will write about his fiasco in a future post. But in one of my frantic follow up calls to the doc, I said that BG, who is schizophrenic, was babbling incoherently and acting...well, schizophrenic.

He chastized me and told me not to label him as that...he said, "it's just his personality."

Interesting concept. Although pretty radical, it is in part true. When BG is in remission, he still retains certain schizophrenic personality traits which are reflected in his art and other ways he expresses himself. For instance, he often exhibits a trait known in psych parlance as "points of reference." For example, for awhile he started noticing pennies on the ground wherever he went. It got to be a running joke: whenever we went on the subway, for instance, he'd point at the ground in front of him and sure enough, there would be a penny there. He kinda started imagining it had some special significance for him, like maybe someone was trying to send him a message. But he wasn't reduced to a babbling maniac. Just a subtle little charming quirk.

As for docs being infallible and sometimes just as confused as the people they treat, check out Scary Shrinks from the Bowels of Hell!!! for some hair-raising examples of docs behaving very, very badly.

 
At 2:59 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Re my last comment:

Once again, Blogger is playing cruel tricks on me (could this be a point of reference?) by rendering my hyperlink to Invasion of the Psychotics null and void. Try this one on for size....

 
At 3:50 AM, Blogger Henry said...

This pustule is now ready to pop.

Well, I see that a "Herbert" has decided to enter the fray.

OK

Anonymous BP2:

First things first: If you're gonna come over here and spew that kind of nonsense, at least have the balls to sign a name to it. Hell, you could have even made up a pseudonym, but to just saunter away under the shadows of "anonymous" after dropping a bomb like that... you are seriously lacking in intestinal fortitude.

I would like to remind you of the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I Disorder (DSM-IV-RT:296.x0) and Bipolar II Disorder (DSM-IV-RT: 296.89). If you'll notice, the only difference between the two flavors of BP is the absence of psychotic features to our version of mania. If you look really close, you will notice the only difference between a manic episode and a hypomanic episode is 3 days duration in the episode.

You are right about BP2's being better off in one sense: BP2's don't have to keep going back to psycho-shrinks from Hell for constant upgrades to our Dx's. You screwballs gotta keep going back for more torture so that some madman can use you as a guinea pig for their demented drug experiments and fiddle with your numbers every once in a while. I don't envy you that.

As for the accusation of pretending to be BP: That is absolutely unfounded. You must be off your rocker to say something like that. Your serum lithium levels must be below the therapeutic level, because you must be tripping on brain juice to ever say something like that to someone who is truly mentally ill; Elvira has even been officially pronounced by many of your blessed quacks.

And another thing: What's this 33rd median religious nonsense you are hallucinating about? You know that women can't be Freemasons, right? Selective breeding program? Would someone actually want to breed with a mongoloid like you? Maybe with a test tube, I guess.... That's some extremely scary company you're keeping there, even if it is in your own mind only. John "Rat Cage Boy" McCain, Nancy "Anti-Soldier/Pro-Homo" Pelosi, and John "Fairy" Kerry?!? That's some really crazy shit!

I'm done with you now; go crawl back under the rock from whence you came.

Elvira:

I'm sorry you had to endure that psychotic's nightmareish attack. I don't think she'll be back.

I still love ya and think you're funny as all get out. Don't ever change, baby!

Anonymous II:

You are absolutely right that Elvira need not defend herself from this troll; I'll do it for her!

Don't bother asking your T for a Dx. Nowadays, you've got to pay some Biopsychopharmacologist through the nose for the fancy titles they will bestow upon you. What's that? You're having tea with Joan of Arc this afternoon? You're seeing six-foot bats while running around babbling your head off? My God, according to this book here, um, the DSM-IV-RT says you are Bipolar I. Ta-da! That'll be $400 on your way out the door, please.

For another tidbit about my intro to the world of Docs and Meds, check out The Rapist. It's fun!

I'm totally relieved that I am BP2. For decades, I thought there was something wrong with my personality or character; I thought maybe I wasn't "raised properly". Now I realize that all the strange going ons in my head are just a normal part of everyday existence for me. Many things are still hard to deal with, but at least I now know the cause of all the whacy signs and symptoms is something I was born with and is not my fault.

Phew, now it's sleep time.

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger synternet said...

We give so much energy in trying to educated the the close minded idiots of the world. I think we all now that the general population hasn't a clue on what it's like to be mentally ill. The most common comment I get is "Just get over it", like it's a paper cut on your pinky. I can't tell you how many times I've had to defend myself, so now I really don't give it to much attention or it would really send me into a hole. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm still trying to accept it myself, so if I give it to much attention it pulls me down.

Anyway thanks for your great site, it's nice to know I'm not alone!

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Henry:

What can I say, dude? As always, you are right on and hilarious. I am so glad you're watching my back, baby!

Synternet: you've got a pretty great site there yourself. It's so cool to see that more and more BPs and others with mental illness are speaking up, esp in cyberspace. I think it's great therapy, and also helps put the word out there that we are not just babbling drooling vegetables--at least not all the time. (lol)

Yeah, get over it, snap out of it, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, all that happy horseshit....wake up, people, and smell the thorazine! This is the 21st century, now, isn't it? Everyone else is out of the closet. Now it's our turn.

 

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