Bipolar Recovery Year in Review

So it’s been exactly a year since I hit published one of the hardest posts I ever have made (that was on January 1st, 2015 apparently).  And while I’ve done a number of bipolar recovery updates over the past year with decreasing frequency (primarily because I didn’t have anything new to say) it seemed appropriate to summarize the past year to kick things off.

Winding up 2015

As 2015 had wound down, many things had happened, mostly positive.  Certainly I had been productive in my field in a way I hadn’t been in many years. My therapist had referred to this as MVP: meaning, value purpose and after several years of having none, it was nice to be working on something concrete.   I updated the website most weeks, wrote most of one book (currently on hold) which spun off into the book that is currently crushing my soul, the woman’s book.  Outside of my first book, it will likely be my hardest and most exhausting project.  Given the topic and what I hope it will represent to the field, it may be one of the ones I’m most satisfied with.  If it’s ever done…

A big part of this year was separating myself from some previously unhealthy environments.  In the early part of the year, I’d have the occasional urge to return to them.  Knowing how critical my sleep schedule was, I just forced myself to delay until it was bedtime.  Eventually even that dissipated.  Getting into a healthier interpersonal relationship (read: dating someone NOT from those environments) in the summer helped.  It had its own craziness (as these things do) but, overall, it was a much better place for me to be.

Mentally, I had one small blip, in the early spring where I almost spiralled off into hypomania.  That old thought process and mood started to come back.  But I caught that and, fighting a strong urge to lie to everyone, told my nurse practitioner (NP) and support system that I was feeling it happen which is a first for me.  Part of the insidiousness of bipolar is that, as it hijacks your brain, it tells you you are fine.  Actually you’re more than just fine.  YOU.  ARE. AWESOME.   It’s why many people with bipolar don’t want medication or ignore it in the throes of hypomania (when you’re depressed, you don’t have the energy to get help)   Who needs treatment for AWESOME?  But I noticed the behaviors, told everyone about it, we doubled my meds (I’m still on like 1/4th the maximum dose) and I was fine two days later.

Into the fall, I didn’t have my normal bout of depression outside of a small blip that was mostly situational.  I may not have been as peppy as earlier in the year but it certainly wasn’t as bad as it typically was where I was completely unable to function.  Some of that was the book weighing on me, I had a couple of personal issues but once those resolved, so did the depression.   As a first in perhaps my life, even one of those interpersonal situations was dealt with calmly and rationally.  I typically ignore them in depression until I explode and go off in hypomania.  Another step change.

It’s normal, even on medication to have good and bad days and it’s easy to over-react to a bad one.  But it’s a constant trend downwards that is the problem.  But it didn’t happen.  I was being consistent in the gym (lifting 4 days/week, yes I do lift and can’t imagine where this idiot idea that I don’t came from), my diet was on point, I’m always good about my meds and supplements and everything was basically in-control.   We discussed bringing my dose back down but I saw no point in it; I’m on a baby dose and have no side effects so why risk it?  Unless I have another problem, going forwards, I see no real reason to change it for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps most importantly, with the exception of a single item that hit me right before Christmas, everything from 2014’s disaster had wound itself up and was out of my life.  I had gone from fearing my professional and financial future at the start of the year to actually being in a pretty good place by the end of it.  I would love to take full responsibility for this but I have been incredibly lucky to have a number of really amazing people helping me throughout the whole situation.    Trust me can I say that I could not have weathered this without them.  But being able to start 2016 with all of that resolved would be a huge burden removed from my life.  There is a very remote possibility that it might jump up to bite me in the ass but the further away from it I get, the less likely that is.   It’s not something I can bother to stress about since it’s completely out of my control.  If it happens, I’ll deal with it.  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

My support system was invaluable to me this year and probably one of the most critical aspects to keeping things in check.  From friends I saw every few weeks to a good friend who I talk to on the phone every few days, having them watching for changes in my behavior was immeasurably important to me and I thank all of them for it.   It’s hard to see it when it’s happening in yourself and that’s why you need outside observers.  Not that you always listen to them, of course.

If there was a major change from the first part of the year it was that I fell off a bit from my attempts to be more social.  The groups I had been attending bored me, I just couldn’t followup on them and kind of lost interest (as the book took over my life, it was easy to avoid them).  As well, due to some personal stuff (taking a friend to work), I got out of the habit of going to DBSA support group.  I will be honest that I don’t get a lot out of it personally.  I know for a lot of people who are struggling more than I am, who don’t have the types of non-judgmental friends that I have, it’s a place where they can get things out of their system that they wouldn’t otherwise.  But I’ll talk to just about anybody and I always had the same stuff to say weekly anyhow.

Nashville for Christmas

Nashville, Tennessee is where I was born and bred and spent nearly a month last year after the disaster of 2014 (which I still will not detail).  It was where I got into treatment for my bipolar II (bipolar light), got medicated and set up with nurse practitioner and met with a therapist that I actually really clicked with.  Mainly because he was a to the point, foul-mouthed smartass and I could get behind that.   Even in the few sessions he had, he gave me a lot of things to think about regarding what I was going through.

Throughout 2015, I have had regular Skype sessions with the NP but didn’t with him.  I opted to go home earlier than usual as I was able to schedule a face to face appointment with both of them for the Monday before Christmas.  My NP actually prefers face to face as some of the medications can cause dyskinesia; if you’ve ever been around folks on various psychotropic drugs, you may have noticed that many of them move in a similar way with a similar body posture.  It’s hard to describe if you haven’t seen it but those that have know exactly what I’m talking about.

But via Skype she can’t see how someone is or is not moving to see if there are issues.  Given that I’m on a single medicine (Lamictal, with a magic B supplement called Deplin) and a low dose at that, I don’t think she was as concerned as she might be with the typical cocktail of higher dose drugs many people have to be on.  And honestly, given the number of years I’ve been involved in sports and such, I probably would have noticed.

Both meetings went well.  I didn’t have much to talk about with my NP since I talk to her so frequently, going forwards I will move to following up with her every two months except maybe around my danger spots (April for hypomania, Octoberish for depression) where I’ll go to monthly just to be safe. I can always get an emergency appointment as needed and told her she was probably bored of hearing me say the same stuff every month.  I enjoyed the session with my therapist, just sort of caught up with him, told him about some step changes in how I approached things this year which he found insightful.

One of those was with my brief situational depression.  He mentioned that, even given the cyclicity of my personal swings, it’s critical to recognize and accept the various aspects of just life itself.  Some days are good, some days are bad.  That is normal life.  It’s easy to lose perspective of that once you’ve dealt with mania or depression.  On bad days, you think you’re cratering; on good you worry if you’re ramping up.  He was also amazed that I remembered both of his acronyms MVP (above), GSR (Guilt, Shame and Regret) and the concept of narrowing the road (lessening the up and down swings without losing the normal human experience of having good and bad moods).  But I’ve got a good memory.

Looking Forward to 2016

In hindsight, 2015 was definitely a case of narrowing the road for me.  I had some up times in the spring (and one of my most controlled and productive periods of work in a long time) and some down times in the fall but that was it.  I didn’t have a full-blown hypomanic or depressive episode but neither was I anhedonic or “just existing” as I have described it before. It was a nice happy medium.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I know that I’ll never be done with dealing with this.  It’s not something that is currently curable it’s only treatable.  But I don’t mind being on medication, especially given how mild mine is right now.  If I were on a cocktail of drugs with side effects, it might be different (and I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am compared to many who can’t get the right drug cocktail, are on multiple interacting drugs, etc).  Yes, it can change with age; many people find that the medications that worked just stop. I’ll deal with when it happens.

Was 2015 perfect?  Of course not.  I know I still have more work to do on every aspect of what I tried to change last year.  I did better at not going off on people but I can still get worked up and rage online, especially when I’ve got too much caffeine in my system.  Couple this with the occasional person deliberately trying to wind me up and then blaming me for going off on them (this is akin to screwing with a dog and blaming it for biting you).  But such is the nature of the Internet.

The one way to absolutely get me to tear someone a new asshole is to play the bipolar or mental health card on me right off the gate (as one person in the field did when I had the audacity to criticize one of his bullshit claims.)  “Are you off your meds?” will get you both barrels and then some and I still have all of my skills for verbally destroying people. But in the aggregate, I was better at not being a belligerent asshole simply for the sake of it  Not perfect by any stretch but better.  It’s all a work in progress and I’m ok with that.   The next year I hope to be that much more better about it.  I won’t change nearly two decades of being an ass overnight.

I at least started the process of repairing the interpersonal damage I had done previously.  For the record, in contrast to what one idiot claimed (as a means to dismiss me of course), I NEVER blamed the bipolar for my behavior; I take responsibility for all of it.  But this individual is either ignorant, illiterate or just an outright liar (more accurately, he’s just another weak-minded idiot in a field full of them; since he can’t handle criticism he just uses fallback bullshit).   I couldn’t patch it up with everyone and I accept that.  I’m not big on forgiveness or second chances and don’t expect everyone to be ok with how I acted or my apology.

The book grinds along, when that is done, I’ll go back to the project from which the woman’s book originally sprang from.  Will I get both done next year?  Maybe, maybe not.   I have trouble imagining editing that second book given how exhausting this book has been but you never know.  If I can get some controlled productivity going next spring, all kinds of things might happen.

Ultimately, given where I was a year ago, the changes are pretty damn dramatic and I think that’s all I have to say about that.  Quite likely this is the last one of these I will do unless something major changes.  The last several updates have been all basically the same and just repeating that endlessly seems pointless.   But ultimately I guess we’ll just have to see….

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