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Overcoming My Mind

>> Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We all have our ups and downs. It is an inevitable part of being human (or any animal really, I KNOW Floyd is moody). Sometimes the ups don't last as long as we would like and it seems at times that the downs last forever. It's hard to do, but remembering the good is even more important during the downs than we realize. For some of us, however, the ups and downs spin out of control. They are not just situational highs and lows, they are emotional highs and lows so extreme we cannot control them. At all. I know many people think: 'they are YOUR emotions, how could you not control them?' but we can't at all.

The point I am trying to get to is a topic that is near and dear to me. This is a topic that requires me to admit something about my self I have only ever even mentioned (sort of) once on this blog before. I am bipolar. It's true. I have medical records dating back more than 13 years and covering various professionals that all agree. I'm stuck. There is no way around it. Well, there is LOTS of medication, but lithium almost killed my kidneys.

Why, all of a sudden, am I telling you this? Mostly, it is a way for me to teach something else science related while breaking down certain stigmas attached to this topic. Partially, it is to give myself a pep talk and to let me know that it is okay and not my fault. Weird, I know.

First and foremost, a definition:

According to One Look, bipolar means having two poles, like Earth. Throw on the word "disorder" to that (I really hate that word) and you get

noun: a mental disorder characterized by episodes of mania and depression

Now what this means is I am mental and manic and depressed. Okay, not QUITE that mean, but really it just means I go from high to low in periods. Seasonally and daily in my case. Instead of a perfect seasonal sine wave going down for fall and spring and up for summer and winter, the overall trend is up and down but with little "mini" ups and downs in between. To illustrate this, I, well, made an illustration (hehe).

fig. 1 episodes

Sounds like fun, right? Well my husband says it keeps things interesting, like sleeping with a different woman everynight! *sheesh* As you can see, he is actually very supportive and through the years, I have developed a sense of humor about this.

What causes this?

I don't really want to rewrite everything I see today so you get a quote from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI for short):
While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, most scientists believe that bipolar disorder is likely caused by multiple factors that interact with each other to produce a chemical imbalance affecting certain parts of the brain. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, and studies suggest a genetic component to the illness. A stressful environment or negative life events may interact with an underlying genetic or biological vulnerability to produce the disorder. There are other possible "triggers" of bipolar episodes: the treatment of depression with an antidepressant medication may trigger a switch into mania, sleep deprivation may trigger mania, or hypothyroidism may produce depression or mood instability. It is important to note that bipolar episodes can and often do occur without any obvious trigger.
This, in a nutshell, states that we really have NO CLUE! Somewhere, though, I have faulty wiring. How to fix faulty wiring? Well, we don't have little nanobot electricians (yet) but we can load up on chemicals.

How does it affect a person's life?

I don't mean to sound morose, but it affects everything... especially school. Some days I am super gung-ho and can't wait to learn and research and learn and talk talk talk. These are usually my manias. This is great except my papers sound like my thought process: a tornado flinging thoughts at you. Other days I can't even get myself to think about doing my homework or even getting out of bed. At times I go to school just to argue with people. Other times I am there, but my notes are more sketchbook pages.
The worst part is I know the stuff but since I don't go to a Big State U, I can't just rely on my test scores to float me. Homework = FAIL. The advantage is I am a discussion based learner so the small classes accomodate that. That is why I am still an undergrad at my age with an okay grade point average even though I am super passionate about science. I can't stay focused and I can't really learn the way I KNOW I can. This could be due to a really horrible standardized education system, but that is a topic for one of my soon-to-return Debate!s.

Back to the topic, bipolar disorder can so severely affect people, they can be considered disabled. I, however, am stubborn, and even though my case is severe I force myself to be a "normal" functioning member of society. It may lead to me having odd jobs (painting ornaments, working with butterflies, barking) and having a hard time with authority at times, but I make it work. I know what my triggers are and I have an amazing support network (the hubs and my best friend/mother). There may be many people you know who are bipolar as well and you may not notice or simply think they are nutty and silly.
A book I read when I was younger made me realize I was not alone. It's called An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness and it was the first time I saw on paper what I had been trying to describe all along. I read it when I was about 14 years old and is one of the books that has deeply impacted me over the years. I began to talk more freely about my condition and found other people who thought they were alone as well. Until you know what you have, you feel as if everyone and everything is going crazy and you can't grasp why what you are doing and feeling is wrong. When you know, you can (occasionally) step back and say, "it's okay, it's just a swing." It is a bit hard to overcome, but I am driven and know that even if it takes me 10 years to finish my degree (I hope not) I will do it because this is what I love and I am not going to let my malfunctioning neuropathways stop me!


Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 9:26 PM  

why be normal? this imbalance has made you unique. Your jobs are interesting and artistic to say the least. You don't sit behind a desk all day pushing paper, answering phones, dealing with other peoples bad attitudes,feeling like a robot. And whose idea was it to put a time frame on education. So you don't finish in 4 yrs. as long as you do and that's what matters. And what matters even more is that you enjoy your artistic and nature jobs, its self gratifying. If anyone knows what you go through is me and that is why I stand tall and proud of you, because even with your swings you have done so well for yourself. I know it has not been easy. You know my phone is always with me day or nite when you need me to talk you through it. I just wish more people would educate themselves on this condition so it can make it easier for them to understand how special you are as well as others like you. Thank you daughter for sharing something so personal and at the same time teaching about it.

Mimi October 22, 2008 at 6:13 AM  

@ the queen... I know you are hear for me! That's why I mentioned you in the post! I don't have a lot of friends because I am not easy to deal with but you and Nick are always there.

Amanda October 22, 2008 at 11:53 AM  

I'm proud of you for talking about this. There still seems to be an unwarranted stigma surrounding mental illness. I'm glad that you have an excellent support system (and I hope that you consider your bloggy friends as supports :-) ). I think that the more of us that discuss how our mental illnesses (is that grammatically correct?) affect our lives, the less of a stigma there will be.

Mimi October 22, 2008 at 12:24 PM  

@ Amands... I'm not sure if that is grammatically correct. Sounds good. I do agree though, I find the more I talk about it, the more questions come to light and the more I can help people understand that I am not going to snap and kill people... maybe. HAHA kidding. Thanks for reading this post. It means a lot to me.

Cheryl October 22, 2008 at 1:34 PM  

Dear Mimi......you have my respect for talking freely about your condition........my mother also is a sufferer.......so to a degree I understand most of what you have said.......my mother is a clever and wonderful woman........her swings are daily....she is now 81 and still writing her poetry and all the other things she loves....

I wish you the best in everything you do.........hang on in there......

Mimi October 22, 2008 at 2:03 PM  

@ Cheryl... I am glad your mother is still doing all the things she loves. People with this conditions, while at times hard to be around, are usually very creative and have very high intelligence levels so have a lot to offer the world... just in their own way. I hope I can continue to do what I love without my brain interfering. How funny it sounds though!

sealaura October 22, 2008 at 3:39 PM  

Hola Mimi!
Thanks for sharing your personal story. I am always learning new things from you. I adore your frankness.

Q October 22, 2008 at 4:49 PM  

Dear Mimi,
I respect you so very much for being open about your "swings".
Don't ever give up on your desires.
Your Mom is a gracious lady who seems to love you so very much. You also have a mighty wonderful husband!
I would like to be here/there for you...anytime...

Cheryl October 23, 2008 at 3:45 AM  

Dear Mimi......

you are so right....my mother is a high intelligent woman with a brain much younger than her years......I would not lie to you I sometimes find the moods difficult to cope with, so does my father.....Mum had her first attack of depression at 13, so I have lived with Mums condition all of my life......in saying that I would not change her for the world......she has taught me so much far more than I can read in any book. She also knows that I will always stand by her.....only she knows what she has to deal with on a daily basis........

I shall keep you in my thoughts Mimi.......

Mimi October 23, 2008 at 3:47 AM  

@ sealaura... thanks!

Mimi October 23, 2008 at 3:49 AM  

@ Sherry... that really means a lot to me. I am learning now that unless we talk about these "taboo" subjects, there will continue to be a stigma attatched to them.

dardar November 5, 2008 at 8:01 PM  

hi Mimi,

I know exactly where you're coming from. I was diagnosed as bi-polar two years ago. I'm now 31 yrs old and depression runs in my family. It's been said by the medical profession that these disorders normally appear in the early to mid 20's. So, here I am, 29yrs old and thinking that I was home free.
I knew there was something wrong but I was in denial. I was sleeping about 4 hours a night and my nerves were shot. I was off of work for 8 months. I found this difficult because I'm not one to get a cold or flu so I never missed work.
I spent a summer of a misdiagnose and incorrect meds. Finally, one year ago, I was diagnosed correctly which then triggered at least 8 months of medication adjustments.
Like you've said, the lows are low..the highs are great...I can really relate to the fact that we both have great intentions and determination for an interest and then all of a sudden it disappears.
I agree, the more we talk about it, the more we can educate people. After all, knowledge is power!
Keep going!
My motto for living is "Never give up!" and I don't plan to ever.

Mimi November 6, 2008 at 8:43 AM  

@ dardar... I understand completely. I won't give up. I will not let my "disorder" control my life. I instead will control my disorder. Thank you for your comment and thank you for reading.

eugene December 3, 2008 at 6:19 PM  

I admire your courage & perseverance.MORE POWER! I'm trying to understand bi-polar condition for kids since my gf has a 10 yr old son with the condition. I'm just trying to sort out where the dividing line is between being bi-polar and just being a plain spoiled kid, thus my interest in this condition.

Mimi December 3, 2008 at 7:50 PM  

@eugene... It is hard to know. I am surprised that they gave a diagnosis to one so young. Usually with conditions like bipolar, the symptoms are so strange that they try to avoid diagnosing until through puberty at least. Hormonal imbalances have similar symptoms. I hope you learn as much as you can and it may be a combination of bi-polar and spoiled, who knows?! :D

Stacey April 28, 2009 at 2:10 PM  

Mimi, we are unique....I have been going through some tough times lately myself dealing with the symptoms.  It is very hard.  Thank goodness for loving friends, like your mom and yourself,  and family to support me through the rough times.  I am very proud of you!!! I am very impressed with this post, you are speaking out for yourself and on the behalf of all people out there affected by the symptoms of this disease called Bipolar Disorder.  You are making a difference in the world by making people see that Mental Illness is not "taboo"  it is an illness just as any other illness, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc... and with the correct medication and therapy it can be controlled.  Thank you Mimi, for speaking out for yourself, myself, and everyone else out there that suffers from Mental Illness.  Job well done!!!!

Marizela M. Zambrano April 30, 2009 at 8:22 AM  

I am glad Mom is there to support you. She understands a bit more than most. I am hoping, little by little to get the word out there. See ya soon!

Michelloui July 18, 2009 at 8:32 AM  

What a useful post. I have a friend who is bi-polar and I know there are plenty of sites on 'what it is' etc but reading it from your point of view has been really really helpful. Thank you!

Im here from SITS, have a good weekend!

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