Bipolar ThoughtsBlogFamilyTherapy

A couple of months ago I was contacted by the genetics company 23 and Me to participate in a genetics study on bipolar.

I have been talking to my wife for almost two years about doing the 23 and Me thing anyway, just because I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to have a more defined outlook on my genetics. Being a science nerd, I just find it interesting. But also, two of my former psychiatrists have done genetics on me and both told me I have an “interesting combination”, at least as it pertains to medication.

But mostly, I just think it is fun and could be pretty eye-opening. For example, my grandmother on my father’s side has a family name of Burns. And she claims that it is an Irish name, despite having a Scottish spelling (the Irish version would be Berns). However, there is a very small Irish village where this particular surname in this spelling derives from. So, if I turn out to be Irish and not Scottish, then I will have a pretty fantastic glimpse into a very specific place in my lineage.

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AnxietyBipolar ThoughtsDepression

I hate the term “rock-bottom” and all of the sloppy metaphors that are associated with it.

Here is the problem: you only know where the bottom was in retrospect. When you are at your lowest point, you honestly have no idea how much further down you can go.

So that makes it nothing at all like rock bottom. If you fall in a well, you will know when you hit rock bottom. It is painfully obvious, literally.

I have been at my lowest point ever in my life, many times in my life. I have felt like I could feel no worse than I did at that moment, only to feel worse the very next day, or the next week, or not for several more months.

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Bipolar ThoughtsMedication

I have eczema. I have had it ever since I can remember. I had always had a plethora of creams and shampoos around my house. I use soaps and detergents made for sensitive skin and all that jazz.

I could do more. For instance, my deodorant is known to be very harsh on skin and I have an almost constant spot of very itchy and painful eczema in both of my armpits. Why do I do this? Well, I have an obsession with how I smell. I need to smell good, or at least not bad. I also sweat a lot, and the deodorant I use works very well in this regard. So I deal with it.

The worse part for me is my scalp. It isn’t how you might think, it is actually the least itchy, the least painful, the most easy to forget I have. But it is also the most embarrassing.

I am constantly fighting dandruff. I am constantly pulling little scales off the back of my neck (above my hairline). I always have to be cognizant of what I need to do and when and what I am wearing.

For instance: haircuts.

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Bipolar ThoughtsDepressionPersonal Relationships

It is an extremely common thing for people who are around depressed people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells.

People have said this to me many times: ‘oh, we didn’t want to mention it because we thought it would upset you’, or ‘I don’t even know how to approach you about this without upsetting you’, or many other things like that.

I have gotten comments like this from probably a dozen people in my life. I have found out things being hidden from me dozens of more times. And the times I have gotten worried looks, sideways glances, and uncomfortable avoided conversations are uncountable.

It is also something I have heard repeated often in group therapy. It is a common complaint. People treat depressed people as emotionally fragile. Any bad news is likely to push us into suicide.

It is all non-sense.

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Bipolar ThoughtsDepressionObsessionsTherapy

Blame and Responsibility

These two things drive a huge amount of the content people process in therapy. It is an incredibly difficult subject for almost every living person, but the lack of accurately attributing blame and responsibility often feels like the keystone in a mentally ill person’s psychology.

I would like to note here that not only am I not trained or educated in psychology, I’m not even poorly read in this area. I know practically nothing about any actual theories, studies, research, major players, or significant findings. I am the utmost of laymen in this arena. All I know is what I have personally experienced and seen firsthand. That experience isn’t insignificant, but don’t take anything I say as gospel, don’t even take it as accurate. This is all personal experience.

The reason blame and responsibility are difficult for people, all people, is because it requires a person to be objective, throw their bias in a box, and be self-critical. Another reason is that after an objective analysis, the most logical conclusion very often is that everyone is somewhat to blame and somewhat responsible. And that can be very unsatisfying.

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Bipolar ThoughtsSuicideTherapy

With all the hurricanes and earthquakes and fires and everything happening lately, I have seen a lot of footage of people being rescued. You know the image: person lying in a stretcher, being placed into the back end of an ambulance; usually an oxygen mask on their face. They look hurt, but it is an optimistic image. You know that the worst is probably behind this person. They are safe now. The healing has already begun.

I don’t mean to minimize how intense the healing process is, or the struggle some of those people will endure yet. And obviously, some of those people won’t ever leave that hospital. But what I am speaking to is that hopeful image. They put that image on the news because it shows devastation, but it shows humans prevailing, overcoming, helping, healing. It shows us that everything will be okay.

This is meant to depict the end of the struggle. Help has arrived. Safety.

For those of us who have gone to the hospital for mental health concerns, it is often a very different situation. For us, going to the hospital is filled with fear and trepidation. It might save our life, but things will probably get worse before they get better.

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Bipolar ThoughtsDepression

One of the more curious aspects of my depression when it gets very deep and is sustained for awhile, is that I begin to feel very disconnected.

I suppose you’ve heard that before, but allow me to explain further, maybe it isn’t quite what you think.

You know those dreams that are so lifelike, so accurate, so painfully exact, that it is disorienting to wake up? You aren’t really sure where you are or if you were just dreaming or creating real memories?

That is a very similar sensation when I say I feel disconnected. It is like I am never really sure if I am awake. I feel less like a participant in life and more like a spectator. And an uninterested one at that.

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Bipolar ThoughtsSuicide

I found myself standing on the purple and pink stool my daughter uses to wash her hands in the bathroom sink.

I knew I would need a stool this time, it needed to be higher than last time.

I also knew I needed to use a belt that would close tight with my weight, and be difficult to open, even without weight against it. Things were too easy last time.

I spent about 25 minutes just standing there with everything in place.

I wasn’t emotional at all.

I wasn’t even really very sad.

The view from the doorway to my bathroom opens up to almost my entire house. I studied it. I thought about how I came to the point in my life where this was my home. I wondered about what would happen to it after this.

My wife would find me here. I thought about how haunted this doorway, and the view it provides, would become for her.

I wondered how long until my daughter understood, and then how long until she forgot.

That’s when I started to get emotional.

I pulled out my phone and opened it up to my favorite current picture of me and her.

I just held it about a foot from my eyes and wept.

This is it.

I put my phone in my pocket with that image still lighting up the screen.

I looked out the front window and saw my neighbor on a walk with the kids. A neighbor I know well, kids I do too. I wondered if I was seen, standing on this stool in this doorway.

But I wasn’t.

I considered running outside and begging for help.

But I didn’t.

I knew in the deepest parts of me that everything would be ok afterwards. I still know this is what’s best for my family.

A father’s job is to do what is best, no matter how difficult, isn’t it?

I stared out the window, focused on what needed to be done, and then kicked the stool out from under my feet.

I miscalculated everything.

There was too much length in the belt, the stool was too short.

I was able to push my toes into the floor and open the door behind me. The intense pain of this is difficult to imagine. It only takes about 25 seconds to lose consciousness, but each second feels like an hour.

I immediately grabbed the taller stool.

I made the belt tight as I fit it into the door jamb, and I locked the bathroom door.

Lessons learned.

I opened my phone back up and stared at the photo of my daughter.

We were at the zoo, standing on a fence looking at both the giraffes and zebras.

It was the best part of what would become a pretty awful day. She hadn’t turned into a terrible listener, and I hadn’t yet become a monster. But both of those things were inside us.

I lost all my energy then.

The tears that flowed from me resembled the sort of booming and ominous summer storms that scare you awake and force you to close the windows.

I released the belt. Got down and placed it on the stool. I unlocked the bathroom door and grabbed a tissue.

I really don’t know what happened for the next hour or so. I didn’t sleep, as I have in the past. But I wasn’t really awake either.

The thoughts didn’t leave me that day, and the next day I found myself in a similar headspace.

The view from the height of that stool is still haunting me, but it appears to be beckoning me as well.

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AnxietyBipolar ThoughtsDepressionMental Health News

The International Bipolar Foundation recently shared this article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317919.php

And I found it pretty fascinating.

Researchers have identified 7 genes that are related to insomnia. That alone is great news, as gene therapy becomes an ever more real way to treat mental illness.

But they also found some interesting associations. Now, I should note that none of this should be surprising. Everything I am about to tell you should make perfect sense. But it is still nice to see hard science backing up what soft science already associated.

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AnxietyBipolar ThoughtsDepression

There are a few words in the English lexicon that appear to draw a lot of power.

Sport is a good one. Lots of things claim to be sports, and saying something isn’t a sport is often very controversial; so much so that pretty much any type of physical competition is now considered a sport. Hell, even activities that aren’t competitive take on the moniker, like hunting or fishing.

Somehow, we have deemed “sport” to be the word with the most honor bestowed upon it, and words like “competition” are deemed to sit below it.

Art is this way as well. People clearly not making art claim to be artists all the time, like restorative painters. And people that sit well outside the traditional visual, literary, musical, or thespian arts claim all the time to be creating art.

Hell, I’ve even said that once in this space.

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