It’s all this iceberg.
It’s all this iceberg.
‘You want to know why I feel exhausted?’ I asked.
‘No, not really. But go on, if you must..’
I haven’t slept right through the night even once in perhaps 30 years. Not once. I ache down to my very soul; if you thought bipolar is solely a mental illness then you’re mistaken. It’s also a physiological illness, a painful one. Between the disease and the medications they pound away at muscles, joints and bones 24/7.
Then I have to hold down a job. A stressful job at that. And when I’m not holding down a job I have to run a house and be a single parent. Not wanting to end up living in a sty that has hundreds of baked bean cans stacked on the stairs or newspapers going back to the 80s, I have to cook and clean the same as the rest of you. Pride, necessity. Being civilised and human, I guess.
And the moods.. they’re all over the place as I have a layered illness, that’s the best I can describe it. I might be hypomanic for months and depressed for months but on top of this I have acute shifts in mood, often very brief intrusions of one mood type upon another. Ultra-rapid cycling. Ultradian.
That means my mood can shift dramatically within one day: periods of hypomania and periods of depression, and most significantly periods of mixed-mood which for me are always the most dangerous and unwanted. When I’m mixed I am depressed enough to want to die but high enough to be able to make such a thing happen.
Today I stood by the kerb at a pedestrian crossing. Lorries were thundering past at 30mph and it took all that I had not to take one step forward just as the next lorry was approaching. Fighting this urge is exhausting. On the way to the crossing I’d experienced some kind of hallucination (more than, I think, a delusion per se) where I was suddenly walking along seeing the ground from 7’+ high. I’m 5’ 5”. That lasted just a few seconds, but dealing with this was tiring nonetheless.
It’s all one thing on top of another. Chronic, acute, a bit of this a bit of that.
Then there’s the meds: 20mg of fluoxetine in the morning (slightly sedating) with 100mg of quetiapine (more sedating). Then another 200mg of quetiapine mid-afternoon, followed by yet another 200mg of quetiapine in the evening.
This isn’t even a lot of meds for someone with bipolar (plus anxiety and OCD). I’ve met people who are taking 15+ doses of meds per day.
Spending most of the day (and night) sedated is physically wearing. I have to fight myself to leave the house, to walk, to exercise. To live rather than simply to exist. Plus, I self-medicate with alcohol by late afternoon though thankfully I’m in control of this and I manage to keep within my weekly recommended consumption as an adult male. That’s a miracle in itself!
I have to put on a brave face, a smile for my son so he doesn’t worry about me too much. This act requires energy and focus and tires me out also.
All of this, and more. Not just for a day, a week, a month, a year; I’ve been battling this more seriously for a couple of decades and on the whole since my late teens and indeed probably my childhood. I’ve only been on meds for several months, only sought treatment 2 years ago.
Everything I’ve described happens almost every day. Most of it happens every day.
It’s no wonder I feel exhausted.
Wow, it’s been a while since I updated this! Is it a case of ‘no news is good news’? Well, yes and no.
My medication seems to have been settled though a mistake on my repeat prescription indicated ordinary release Quetiapine rather than the extended release I’d been taking. I decided to stick with this mistake, if only because my eating pattern wasn’t dictated by the need to take the meds on an empty stomach.
I jiggled (is that a medical term?) the dose throughout the day to suit me further so now I take: 20mg fluoxetine and 100 mg quetiapine at breakfast time; 200mg quetiapine late afternoon; 200mg quetiapine an hour before bedtime –ish.
The quetiapine has worked well at controlling moods, especially hypomania / mixed. As for side effects, I’ve put on three-quarters of a stone in 6 months and I have chronic lower back pain and a variety of other aches. I’m always sedated to some extent though even on 500mg quetiapine I still haven’t slept through the night even once in decades.
For some reason I’ve never been able to fathom I am always – always – worse on Sundays. I assumed it was because of work on Monday but being off for 8 months recently, and now being on 6 weeks summer break, hasn’t made much difference. My anti-anxiety medication of choice (as long as it’s mid-afternoon+) is a glass or two of white wine. Well, it works.
I still have some delusions; always the same ones as I’ve been having for a few years now. I have (manageable.. so far) psychotic episodes, particularly when in a mixed mood. Anxiety and OCD go hand in hand and can be a nuisance. I have extremely intrusive instances of suicidal ideation and these are worrisome; they too generally happen in higher/mixed mood.
I returned to work in my stressful job a month or so ago and it went OK. The start of next academic year this September will dictate how I am and how I feel.
Suicide is a complicated business. Or rather, bipolar suicide ideation is a complicated business.
Being ‘suicidally depressed’ and wanting to die is how most people imagine the subject. To be so low, so clinically depressed that life has no meaning other than that it should end. Wholly and completely. It is utter despair with, in that moment (which might be a prolonged moment; linear time doesn’t always apply here) nowhere to go, no escape route. No solution other than un-life.
But as I say (and of course I can only speak about my own, personal experiences) suicidal ideation in bipolar can be a very different kettle of fish. So to speak.
Medicated (Quetiapine 400mg, fluoxetine 20mg) I haven’t had an extreme low or high for a while. What I do still have however is the hypomania and mixed mood episodes I’ve always had. Rapid – or ultra-rapid – cycling, at least they don’t last long. Not long enough to dig themselves a sizeable hole or system of clogging trenches I have to drag my metaphorical feet through.
Having suicidal thoughts because one is ‘happy’ is where the complicated bit comes in. And I imagine those people who’ve never experienced it – personally or with a family member perhaps – find it impossible to comprehend.
Put some favourite music on, loud: maybe those old or new Underworld tracks, that Oceansize song, anything from ‘Definitely Maybe’ or the first Strokes album – basically anything upbeat and rowdy, something singalong.
Have a glass of wine or three. Get lost in the moment.
I’m never happy, per se. Never have been. Anhedonia. So when I feel like I might be, like in these moments I’ve mentioned, I get suspicious. I’m aware (but perhaps not entirely aware, consciously) of the mood; but it’s a very welcome relief from the usual overwhelming pain of bipolar and anxiety (with its associated mild OCD).
Fuck, yeah… I’m happy! I’m dancing, one with the music. With the wine. With the universe at that moment!
So hell, yes, why wouldn’t I kill myself? Why on Earth not? It’s the logical thing to do. I’m – unknown to me at the time – depressed enough to want to die but high enough to have that energy, that ultra-rare joie de vivre to carry it out.
Mixed mood suicidal ideation is the most dangerous for me, by far. Then, it makes absolute, perfect sense to kill myself. As I say, Yes! Whyever not?! I’ll never be as happy again as I am at this moment and I want to celebrate, to prolong this happiness.. by dying. Confusingly and ambivalently however, I want to live forever. In fact, I will live forever! How could that fact possibly not be true?
“Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” – Jean Paul Sartre.
Fortunately this kind of mood state pays me a visit at home. Occasionally it descends (or ascends?) upon me when I’m driving, alone. Music playing, sun shining, countryside slipping by each side of that motorway or A road. I’m so happy that I see a lorry speeding towards me in its own lane and for a moment think I want to remain in that ecstatic moment by turning the steering wheel sharply and ploughing into that vehicle. Did I mention the sun’s shining? I’m doing 60, he’s doing 60.. that a 120 mph impact. Sorted!
Then the moment passes. For now at least. What was the trigger? Well, it was probably nothing external. Just me; my electricity.
Was I aware at the time? No, or at least barely. Was I ‘myself’? No. Was I in control of my actions? Subconsciously, automatically, hopefully. Consciously, no. But I’m alive. At least, for now, same as it’s ever been.
Woke last night at 11.24pm then 1.24am, this triggered an episode of hypomania and associated ‘magical thinking’: 4+2+1=7, which is a magic number. This indicated [to me] that my apparent delusions (when psychotic) are in fact entirely true. #Bipolar is rather complicated, to say the least
Suicidal today, but that’s OK. Isn’t it? I mean.. when did such ideation become, for me, normal? Well, a normality of sorts.
I imagine there’s a Suicide Machine. Or rather, a strip of three buttons:
Yes Maybe later No
One would deliver instant painless death; no fripperies or fandangos. One would register a Meh, why not? I’ll think about it some more and get back to you. And one is No way, Jose!
Most mood situations, however complex bipolar can be at times (well, actually more often than not), can be resolved by pushing one of the three buttons. (I’m reminded of Alice’s Drink Me.)
Today was Maybe later, though for brief moments, it was Yes.
Welcome to normality, boyo.
Wednesday 23rd Dec.
Wow, how many times this year have I been told to recognize my triggers? It’s got to be.. well, a lot. And how come, every time, despite knowing the theory of it all, in practice I never can?
Slept badly, waking often through the night inside a long vivid dream full of colour and overall goodness. And walked into town in the morning, stopping off at a large supermarket that was doing a good impression of the Sacking of Rome. But was I stressed? No, not one bit; in fact I was calm, and taking no notice of the carnage going on. I actually noticed this, just as I’d noticed the disturbed sleep.
But did I recognize my triggers? No.
And then later, this afternoon and suicidal in the bath, listening to the one song I always listen to when I’m Mixed. No.
Well, actually it was then, finally that I did. But by then I’d had 16 hours of this and that’s how long it took me to finally – finally! – recognize my triggers. And they’re so damned obvious, so damn recognizable that.. how did I miss them? How did I miss them, yet again? Doh!
How did I miss them the past 4 days, come to that? Sunday: two things happened.
My.. delusion.. well, my main one.. That I had a near-fatal accident some time back, probably whilst driving. That something very very bad happened to us (me and my son). And that now I’m either in a coma or catatonic; either way, I’m lying there and all this.. THIS.. is in my imagination. Not real. It kind of blurs with the solipsism I’ve flirted with unintentionally since my teens.
And on Sunday it was worse and I got stuck in a loop of really, really believing this delusion. And I got scared, and panicked a little because it meant..
well, it meant something BAD. The worst. And I can’t even say it because saying things can make things happen. And this is why I have my obsessions and compulsions; it’s a barrier; totems. So Sunday I got all OCD in the midst of this. THIS.
But that wasn’t the only thing. The other thing was I started smelling things. Really strong things, and I asked other people if they could smell them because the smells were really, really strong. And no-one could smell them. Then the next day, Monday, I could still smell them.
And last night, when I woke, I could smell them.
And now, four days later, it’s finally hit me. Finally suck in. The triggers! Only now we’re way past that, and whatever triggered whatever has bedded-in and left me with.. well, what they triggered.
Ninety-six hours and I’ve been triggered all over the place. Up, down, mostly both. And now I’m thinking that 2 months on the meds.. they’re not entirely working, are they?
Amidst all the stress of Christmas and being called into ‘the office’ for a meeting with Senior Management and HR, you’ve got to see the funny side of things:
In town this morning after yet another Occupational Health doctor appointment, who should walk up the street and pass me but.. Darth Vader.
I then saw him again in the market, waiting to buy a bus ticket.
I won’t lie; I did for a moment or two have to check if I was psychotic again or whether it was just Christmas. It was a difficult decision but I went with ‘Christmas’.
I’ve thought of that thing so very many times in my life it no longer has any meaning. It’s become the norm.
I’ve said the word a thousand times. A thousand thousand times, and it’s nothing more now than any other word.
I was a teenager when I bought not one but two copies of Erwin Stengel’s book, read it cover to cover as if it was a talisman; informing and protecting me from its subject.
It means so little to me now it blurs with breathing, thinking, seeing. Believing. But most of all, knowing. A thousand thousand times.
I still don’t feel protected, however much I feel informed.
I find myself in the bizarre position of trying to make myself depressed. This 5-week hypomania w/ occasional mixed state is going to be the death of me at this rate, and I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had enough of it; it’s evil. I’m taking it personally: it hates me.
So, I’m trying to make myself depressed – a state of being I’m much more self-aware in. I’m not suicidal when I’m depressed; just when I’m hypomanically mixed.
What could possibly go wrong?