hypomanic episode

Being depressed and helping others

I’m learning to be honest with myself and others about the current state of depression I’m experiencing. I’m learning something else, too.

I used to believe that I can’t truly be of service to others who are struggling, if I’m struggling, too. Like somehow my brokenness and woundedness means I have no right and no basis for reaching out to help others who are experiencing struggles of their own.

It’s a “relapse” in my mental health recovery process, except it really isn’t. There’s an idea that being in relapse makes one’s knowledge and understanding of what recovery is somehow invalid and insignificant. However, when it comes to mental health, all it ever is is symptom management and a kind of remission. At least that’s true for me.

The brain, which is atypical, continues to be the brain it is. I was reminded of this a few months ago, when I was being very productive, feeling very good about myself, sleeping less than my already minimal sleep, and full of “grand ideas” about how I was going to go about changing my life and circumstances.

I’m as well medicated as I can be and still be cognitively and physically functional. However, I was concerned that I was experiencing a degree of hypomania. It was actually serving me in constructive ways, but, I couldn’t shake the worry that this would end like all the other times – of which there have been too many for me to remember over the past 40 years. I was fearful of the potentially impending period of depression that would follow. Especially considering that I was also entering my “traumaversary season.”

I expressed that concern to a trusted friend and mentor. He reminded me that, regardless of how well medicated I am or how many behavior modification methods and tools I have learned and acquired over the past five years, my bipolar brain, is still a bipolar brain. I needed to recognize that I may be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, but they weren’t anywhere near as severe as in the past and that the depression that might follow wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as in the past either. Plus, I do have tools and I have learned healthy coping strategies, as well as increased self-awareness.

There’s also an idea that experiencing symptoms means I lack the capacity to help others. As if being symptomatic is a weakness that, by definition, consumes all my functionality and diminishes my ability and capacity to do more than survive the symptoms.

To a degree, and in some circumstances, both of these things can be true, however, they aren’t absolute.

I am struggling with significant symptoms of depression. The depression is exacerbated by current circumstances and situations beyond my ability to control, but are inherently part of me and what I’m having to come to terms with. These things are emotionally and mentally exhausting and draining.

Yet, I’m still functioning. I’m not doing all the things that are supposedly normative for neurotypical folks: keeping a clean home, staying on top of nutrition, and generally sociable. However, I’m taking tax prep classes and attending them instead of giving up because the depression and overwhelm have gotten in the way of doing homework. I am still attending my Peer Support Specialist Training and being fully engaged with the class and processes, even when they trigger stuff. I’m still taking care of personal hygiene (mostly). I even followed through with a job interview and was offered a job.

I’m also in or near tears a lot of the time. I’m experiencing the negative voices/thoughts of self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-hate. I barely have the energy to do the things to care for my child and my dog, but I’m still doing them.

In the midst of all of this, through honest conversations, allowing the tears to fall and be seen by others, and sharing the struggles, others are letting me know that I’m helping them. They don’t feel so alone. Seeing me fight and recognizing the little “wins” offers hope and insight for themselves.

So, I’ve decided that if the depression, hypomania, and anxiety are going to fuck with me and my life, I’m going to put them to good use.

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When hypo-mania meets a fibro-flare

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It’s 3:21 a.m. and I’ve been awake since 1:37 a.m., if I remember the numbers on the clock correctly. This is usually the first sign that a hypomanic episode is starting. It makes sense, now that I understand the cyclical patterns of cyclothymia, since the previous hypo-manic onset was about a month ago, April 22nd or 23rd. However, I must confess, that I was seriously hoping that it had somehow, miraculously gone away. After all, I don’t officially have any “real” diagnosis. Also, I’m in the midst of the fourth week of my 28 Days to a New Me journey, and I’ve been doing great with it. I’m exercising every single day, regardless of how I feel or what other things are going on in my life. I even exercised two hours with a migraine last week!

Hmmm, migraine, I guess I should have seen this coming. *sigh*

Why should I have seen this coming? Well, last week about this time, I had to struggle and push through a depression episode that was triggered by the fact that Keith was experiencing another disruption in his work/home time cycle and, yet again, our finances are swirling down the porcelain bowl. I did push through it with the support and encouragement of people in the 28 Days group. It also is kind of a requirement that when Keith is home and going through his stuff, that I work through whatever it is I’m experiencing to stay present and engaged with him and Luna.

But, let me tell you, even having all the encouragement and support, prayers and validation that I did, for the first time in what feels like forever, and being open to receiving all of that, only took the edge off. I’m not whining or throwing a pity party here, but I’m just being real and honest.

Depression

Being depressed is not just being down and needing a pick me up and a quick change of attitude or perspective to turn things around. Being depressed isn’t a choice. At this point, it is a biological, neurochemical imperative; a downhill slide in an uphill battle, pushing one hand against the mountain that feels like it’s crumbling down around you while you try to reach all the leaking holes in the breaking dam with the other hand.

Having the knowledge and the tools of things like The 12 Steps of Recovery, scriptural promises of God’s love and provision, psycho-social knowledge of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other related treatments, and being responsible for the well-being of a child are the things that help me fight through it without the help of or access to medication and consistent treatment by a professional. I’m grateful to have reached this point. However, let me be clear, it is one of the most exhausting things in life to be in a state of depression. It’s even more exhausting fighting through it when just about everyone around you expects you to continue functioning at the same levels as when depression isn’t active.

And so, I pushed through the latest episode of depression and kept going . . . at a cost.

The weather went from dry and warm back to blustery, cold, and wet at the same time as I was pushing through the depression. Then, I thought trying a Zumba class for the 55+ set would be a great idea. The juxtaposition of all of these things combined to trigger a fibroflare of severe pain and fatigue. I’d already been experiencing severe numbing and tingling, mostly in my hands, arms, and shoulders, but also in my feet. At my last screening via the Lions club, last October?, I wasn’t diabetic and the numbing/tingling thing has been going on for more than 20 years.

So, deep fatigue, brain fog, sharp, shooting pain, deep tissue achiness is all combined with the stiffness and pain from what is probably arthritis in the knee and a herniated disc in the lower back with a pinched sciatic nerve are all happening at the same time as my body is going through the rigors of consistent physical exercise after becoming so sedentary that taking a shower had become a workout.

I have concluded that swimming is the only exercise I can safely and consistently do at this point. Even if I have a migraine or any of the other symptoms, I can still swim. I swam a mile in an hour and a half on Tuesday, then again on Thursday. While I was in the water, I was alert, energized, and feeling fine. I felt strong, powerful even. My body functioning and responsive to my commands. I could feel the engagement of my muscles, throughout my body, as my arms and legs pushed and pulled against the resistance of the water. Smooth, buoyant, and purposeful. I didn’t want to stop when I hit the mile mark. Within 15 – 20 minutes of arriving home, the fatigue settled on top of me like a lead blanket and I slept for an hour to an hour and a half. When I woke, my brain felt sluggish and disoriented.

I have concluded that life would be easier if I could live in the water, like a merperson. This conclusion restores a childhood memory of my enjoyment of the show, The Man From Atlantis, and how I would try to swim underwater with the full body waving movement and arms tucked to my sides. I wonder if merfolk deal with things like depression, hypomania, and fibromyalgia?

It’s 4:15 and I’m exhausted, but not sure if I can sleep. I’ll try anyway. Maybe I’ll dream of the ocean and being the purple mermaid Luna told me she dreamed I was the other night.