Before I start this piece, I would like to state that the following account is representative of my personal experiences ONLY. In no way should you take it as serious medical advice. The exact drugs I mention won’t necessarily affect you the same way as I have responded and I do not mean to glorify nor condemn any of them. The point of this article is to demonstrate that even after years of apparent failure, medication should not be abandoned as a potential treatment option. I started recognizing that something wasn’t quite “right” with my mental health extremely early in my life, perhaps even as early as elementary school, but like most people I put off seeking treatment for a long time. To be fair, the symptoms didn’t really begin to disrupt my life until college, and I (as well as most people around me) was under the impression that a bit of emotional turbulence is to be expected in childhood/adolescence (true to a degree, but dangerous to assume the level that is considered “healthy”). Anyway, that is another story for another time, but the point is that my issues were somewhat advanced by the time I received treatment, and I urge anyone who is “iffy” about their psychological health to confer with a professional (psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist, counselor, etc.) as soon as possible. It could make a world of difference.
Believing in your own abilities and being persistent are two characteristics that are important when it comes to managing life for virtually anyone, but they can prove to be especially influential for those of us with mental health concerns. From my experiences with the ups and downs of bipolar type II disorder, I can say that it is disturbingly easy to completely lose self-confidence and drive for no apparent reason, even when the definitive symptoms of depression and hypomania are under successful treatment (knock on wood). While this remaining instability certainly poses a challenge, it is not insurmountable.
Self-esteem was a regular focus when I was in grade school and it was a popular topic in many of my university courses. Accordingly, I was surprised and somewhat disturbed last month when my advising mental health professional suggested that low self-esteem could be a major component of my issues. I was not taken back by the information alone, since self-esteem disruptions and mood disorders are undeniably linked, but I was instead blown away by the sudden realization that I had been completely neglectful of my own esteem for a considerable amount of time.
First off I’d like to apologize for the lengthy lack of writing on my part. Luckily (kind of), the reasons for my absence have provided more than enough material for several new blogs. The short story is that I experienced more symptoms during the low light (or “dark”) part of the year (roughly Oct-March inclusive where I am) and this blog was the unfortunate victim of my addled productivity. The longer story is as follows. Apparently there’s a strong seasonal component to the expression of my bipolar type II. This isn’t very surprising, as I’ve suspected that the influence of the seasons had been strong for many years (plus, seasonal symptoms are relatively common in several mood disorders), but last year I paid more attention to the way that my symptoms changed. Beginning in October I started to become regularly hypomanic. I had taken a writing job of questionable social worth (writing academic papers for profiting websites) and I felt pressed to work as much as possible to make the most of the situation. Hindsight being 20/20, I can say that the better choice would have been to regulate the hypomania instead of feeding it (I even wrote a blog on the topic, d’oh). I suspect that my work obsession was a direct contributor to the psychological crash that followed.
About a year ago, I lost touch with a very close friend. Well that may be putting it lightly, the friend essentially disappeared, but with good reason. We were both in very bad places psychologically, and neither of us could do any good for each other. Fortunately for both of us, the other person could recognize the issue while I couldn’t; this is why they had to disappear. Anyway, my point is not to debate the actions of one person, but to examine the true meaning behind the need for separation. As I’ve come to see it, dealing with anyone who has a mental illness can be quite difficult, but the truth of it is that you can’t truly understand it without being afflicted yourself. Ok, you may say “that’s a given,” but I doubt many people can grasp the gravity of the situation. This fundamental lack of understanding leaves me with a permanent disconnect from the majority perspective. People may as well be expected to learn how to juggle with eels if they are expected to be able to understand all the nuances of my affliction or others.
In my experiences with bipolar type II disorder, the concept of pacing myself has become something that needs constant attention. When I’m clear or moderately hypomanic, I can often become incredibly productive, but it doesn’t come without cost. Sometimes, the charge of energy that comes with my hypomanic episodes is so strong that I forget that I need rest in order to operate. While I sometimes find this aspect to be a welcomed influence (for example, when I’m cramming to meet a deadline), most of the time it leads to a zombie-like state where I continue to operate without full comprehension of my actions, which can cause trouble. In a worst-case scenario, the energy drain leads directly to a depressive breakdown.
One of the hardest aspects (for me) of having a mental illness is not just being productive, but managing to maintain productivity. This topic can truly be a “can of worms” as it entails a large contribution of social norms in the designation of someone as being “acceptably” productive. For the sake of this discussion I’ll assume that the accepted level of productivity in this society is in the range of a 40-hour workweek. To most people that may seem like a reasonable expectation, but for someone with a mental illness, these expectations can be a major source of stress.
Death is the inevitable conclusion to life, as we know it. Experienced by all, loathed by most, this phenomenon is quite possibly the most important contributor to the shaping of anyone’s worldview. The avoidance of death is the primary driving force behind life. The experience of a close relative or friend’s death can bring on some of the strongest emotions that human being is capable of producing, or it may numb you to the core. The event can be traumatic enough to induce or significantly worsen a mental illness, but it can also bring about life-altering positive revelations. Death is one of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of existence (or inexistence), yet it is a topic that is often swept under the rug as quickly as it was brought up. I like to drag it back out.
Accepting newfound limitations is one of the hardest parts of dealing with consistent psychological abnormalities. For those of us with a past of high functional proficiency, the transition is particularly difficult, and may require a modification in the way we view and define the concept of “success.” For a long period in my life I had a deep desire to be the best at everything I attempted. I was a “gifted” child, so achieving this goal was not far from the expectations others held for me. I excelled in every sport I tried, consistently had grades among the highest in school, and was very popular among all types of peers (I was one of the few that could drift from clique to clique). Like most teenagers, I did not know how lucky I was at the time.
Understandably, suicide is a touchy subject under any circumstances. Many of us have lost someone to their own hand, or at least know someone who has been affected by such a tragedy. There is little to be said that can alleviate the aftershock of a suicide, but there inevitably comes the discussion of signs. Was it predictable? Preventable? Did it happen with little to no warning? It is unfortunate that our apparent awareness of these signs often comes after it’s too late. A post-hoc (meaning “after it happens”) analysis of self-inflicted death is often part of the healing process. If we had direct contact with the person recently, we may feel the need to scrutinize those interactions. This can be a dangerous approach to dealing with a suicide if it is not put into the proper perspective.