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Bipolar & Me: Part 2. Symptoms

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So onto the main bit of these posts: bipolar, what it is and almost as important, what it isn’t.

Let’s start with some definitions, cause who doesn’t love those:

“Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. If you have bipolar disorder, you will have periods or episodes of:

  • Depression – where you feel very low and lethargic.
  • Mania – where you feel very high and overactive (less severe mania is known as hypomania).”

This is taken directly from the NHS page so you’d expect it to be pretty accurate.

And yes, you do have to display episodes of depression and mania to a psychiatrist in order to be formally diagnosed (which is part of the reason diagnosis takes so long; you very rarely go to your appointments when you’re manic because hell, you’re not sick, you’re better than fine, you’re amazing, the most healthy person! Only sick people go to psychiatrists etc etc). So often your psych will only see the depressed or possibly mixed states (I’ll explain that last part later). Which means you just get antidepressants and gosh, just giving antidepressants to bipolar people gets an interesting reaction, as it often send them straight to manic. Not good but it’s often the fastest way to be diagnosed, aside from having an extreme episode of mania where you end up in hospital. For full disclosure, I went the former route. My psych saw me in depression, then in mania, then a long period of mixed state.

I’m using these terms, depression, mania, mixed…but what do they mean, really? Read on, dear readers, read on.
Depression

Biggest misconception about depression: it is just sadness. How many times have you heard (as a depressed person) things like: “everyone gets sad, deal with it, cheer up, focus on the good things, it could be worse, what do you have to be so sad about?” etc. I won’t even go into how much I hate the phrase “man up”, as that’s a whole different blog post waiting to happen.

 

The “Black Dog”, as coined by Winston Churchill (and taken by Ruby Wax to create the Black Dog Tribe online) is very different to sadness. Much has been said recently about depression and there’s a lot of writing out there that is superior to my own. It is not just sadness, it is so many things and yet nothing at all. When my depression is at its worst, there is nothing, there is an empty void where thoughts should be. That void seems to suck my energy, my interests in everything, my love for my loved ones. I feel nothing, I am nothing. This is actually when I have done the most harm to myself. Sometimes just trying to feel something, sometimes just because if I am nothing then why not hurt myself, damage things around me? Nothing matters. When that emptiness starts to ebb, that’s when sadness, anger, hatred, paranoia, all those fun things happen. It hurts. It’s like something has cracked deep inside and you can’t fix it and you can barely move because everything hurts and you know you deserve this because you are an awful person. Then there’s the searing guilt that you shouldn’t be feeling this way, so many people have it worse than you, what do you even have to be depressed about, which you take as proof of how weak and awful you are. That’s when self-harm as punishment, as release of the pain you’re feeling can come in. I also feel intensely hopeless about everything, and I can’t rid my head of suicidal ideations/plans. You feel so damn tired, but it’s hard to sleep when you need to and even harder to get up when you need to, like there’s a weight pressing down making it so much harder just to move, get out of bed, wash, eat, work, anything. Again, this is my experience, I know some people overeat in their depression which is a way of seeking comfort (as many comfort foods, like chocolate for example, release hormones like oxytocin, making you feel a little better, for a short while. Until you feel bad that you used food as a crutch again, and that feeds the depression, and you feed yourself, and it’s a near endless awful cycle. I’ll talk about coping mechanisms more in part 3). I was like that when I was younger; I swung the other way in my teens when I struggled to eat anything due to feeling so low.

 

So you know, not a barrel of laughs. You lose interest in most things, you (try to) isolate yourself; you have little-to-no concentration so finding comfort in books, even TV and video games is difficult. This is just a short look into depression, and no two depressed people will experience it alike. So this won’t apply or ring true to everyone, but it’s how it has been for me.

On to the flip side!

 

Mania (and hypomania)

 

Hypomania is the “light” or lesser version of mania. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy to deal with by any means but people don’t get to the extreme end of symptoms when experience hypomania, and often, it doesn’t last as long as full manic episodes. Hypomania can be the only type of mania a bipolar patient gets (for example if they have Bipolar II, or if they have rapid cycling bipolar) or it could be the stage before a person reaches mania, so sometimes with the right intervention, full mania can be avoided.

 

Symptoms of hypomania are similar to those of mania. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Excess energy.
  • Little need for sleep.
  • Unusual exhilaration.
  • Excessive irritability, excitement or aggression.
  • Increased confidence/self-esteem.
  • Very fast speech and thoughts that others find hard (sometimes impossible to follow).
  • Unable to concentrate on one thing, easily distracted by their latest idea (an example: I once had made several drinks, in different parts of my flat, had half done dish washing, university work “done”, new art projects started, and new guitar tab music up on my laptop to do. All at the same time).
  • Abnormal hypersexuality.
  • Increased outlandish and uncharacterised risk taking.

For it to count as a hypomanic episode, there must be a sustained period of these symptoms during the entire episode. The emotions experienced are often unconnected to anything going on in the person’s life, though a person can be tipped into an episode by life events/stressors.

The main difference between mania and hypomania is the person does not experience psychosis or related symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, severe paranoia etc.

Mania, as I mentioned is similar. You again experience the excessive energy, along with things like extravagant and impulsive behaviour, excess/uncontrolled/impulsive spending, hallucinations (auditory/visual). To class as mania it must last at least a week and have a sustained abnormally elevated/expansive/irritable mood. It normally causes problems in the person’s social and work life, and can often (especially if they are not taking their medication) will lead to hospitalisation.

I guess what I would like to emphasise about mania is the common misconception that these periods are “fun”. I have myself sometimes felt so desperately low that I have stopped taking my medication in the hopes of eliciting a high episode, because surely it has to be better than depression right? Not necessarily (shockingly, depressed Kathy is not great at thinking rationally about this).

For me personally, mania is terrifying. I get paranoid, I have hallucinations. I don’t enjoy the excess creativity that is often spoken about bipolar sufferers. Admittedly, sometimes I *think* I’m a creative genius who can be working on three different creative projects at once and they are all breathtaking but that is rare and, in my case, definitely not true. I used to think mania was fun, at the beginning, but the effects are what truly get to me, and are why I hate it so much. My ex would tell me that it scared her when I was like it, I’m quick to anger frequently because everyone else is moving too slow, can’t know what I’m thinking, doesn’t understand my ideas and “brilliance” (usually because it’s unintelligible garbage). I’ve come close to cheating, because my energy just fuels all the awful impulses and urges in my head. I’m lucky in that so far, I’ve managed to catch myself before anything happens, but from reading other experiences I know that it does sadly happen (especially when you are untreated).

Finally:

Mixed State

It sort of is what it sounds like, state that is a mix of manic and depressive symptoms. So you could have the energy and racing thoughts, but the depressive thoughts, suicidal ideation etc. It is an intensely uncomfortable state to be in, to be excitable and energetic yet at the same time, apathetic and closed off and alone. I spend more time than I’d like to admit in this state I think, especially since my current medication mostly staves off the full-blown manic episodes (though life sometimes happens and pushes me there, but it’s a work in progress to try and reduce this). I also get incredibly anxious in this state, heart racing, indecisive, racing thoughts, but all about the negative potential possibilities. Makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate or sleep. The latter is important to try and get as many people with bipolar are hugely sensitive to sleep change (an almost sure fire way for me to go high is lack of sleep for a night or two).

There’s more I wanted to go into but this post is already longer than I’d planned. I hope this has provided a more rounded idea of what people with bipolar go through, it’s not like what I’d seen in the movies anyway.

As I will keep repeating, this is just my experience of the illness. If you disagree or experience episodes differently, I am not trying to dismiss you! We all experience the illness differently; feel free to comment on if you agree/disagree/think I’ve missed out something in the comments 🙂

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Bipolar & Me: Part 1. Introduction

OK so this is not easy for me to do,  but I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. So I’m going to write a series of posts about mental health. My mental health. Specifically what mental health struggles I have.

First things first: surprise, surprise, I have bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

You may have seen Stephen Fry’s latest documentary on BBC “The Not-So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On”. I watched the first documentary 10 years ago, before my own diagnosis. I’m trying to hunt it down to watch it again to see if my perspective has changed since receiving the diagnosis. From what I can recall, it seemed the follow up documentary was more of a depressing watch, there didn’t seem to be much hope portrayed for any of the bipolar sufferers depicted, including Stephen Fry himself. While I have only been officially diagnosed myself since ~March last year, I thought I would try and offer my own personal perspective on the diagnosis process, the medication, and the resources I’ve found available to me through a series of posts.

I have to admit, I struggled watching the most recent documentary. I found that a lot of what was said resonated with me and I understand that it needed to show the truth of living with this disorder. However, I think it really could have benefitted from showing just one person coping, one person managing their condition to balance out the rest of the quite depressing situations. I am by no means in control of my illness as it stands, and I’m still trying to work out how to manage it with my CFS/ME. It is exhausting. But I have found a medication that works for me, which is phenomenally beneficial (I will go into this in a later post). I’m able to stay more balanced and when I do have episodes, my lows are less low, my highs less high. I am considerably safer than I used to be. I am also fortunate in that it doesn’t make me numb, it doesn’t make me a zombie. I am still working full-time in a fast, stressful industry that I love. I have blogged before how I am so lucky because my employer is so patient and flexible in how they let me work.

I wish others with ME, others with bipolar could be able to do this. Many with these conditions have to work part-time, if they can work at all. I reiterate: I am incredibly lucky, and it is something I’m going to have to keep fighting for every day of my life to keep doing. But I am doing it. And I think that someone newly diagnosed with this illness would benefit from knowing that it can be possible. Hence these posts on “Bipolar and me”.

See Part 2 for my thoughts on the illness itself, dispelling some common misconceptions and just trying to fill you in on what living with bipolar really means.

Life, death and what happens in between

TW: suicide

Sorry I’ve been quiet again, things have been busy at work and my health has been topsy-turvy, to say the least. (This is only going to be a short post.)
Additionally…I suffered the loss of a close friend. I lost her to depression and suicide. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry. This is the second friend I’ve lost to it, with two tohers (that I know about) who tried and came close). But I’m trying to take things from her life, instead of focusing on her death. But it is difficult and it is something I have to make a conscious choice to do every day.

She was a roller derby player; she was relentlessly trying to improve at it too. She will inspire me to keep pushing, to know I can always get up when I fall down (and it’s roller derby, there’s a lot of falling). She was a crafty person, she enjoyed making her own jewellery and doing crochet. I have a hundred projects I’m either yet to start or yet to finish. I’ll think of her and it’ll remind me to use my creativity, make something beautiful. She found it difficult being around people sometimes, found it hard to make friends. I know what this is like. But she started roller derby to meet people, to make friends. She will be my reminder to step out of my comfort zone. She was blunt; you always knew exactly where you stood with her. Sometimes I need to remember to just say what I feel, to channel her backbone.

I could do a whole post on suicide, on mental illness. I will in the future I imagine, when it’s a little less raw. But let’s just say I have first-hand experience of an illness and can offer some insight on suicide, from a mentally ill person’s perspective.

Things have been difficult with this going on. But the people left behind after suicide have to keep pushing on, going forward. She couldn’t carry on into the future. So we keep the memory of our lost ones with us, so they can continue forward with us.

Next time I’ll be writing about working when chronically ill; it’ll be more cheerful than it sounds I promise!

Any ideas for future blog posts are welcomed, otherwise I’ll just keep making it up as I go along.

I have been writing! Technically…

So this is a new topic for this blog, as I am usually writing more about biology, post-university options and things that interest me generally (books, current affairs blah).

But I have been pretty busy with a different type of writing for the last 7 months now. And that is my current job: Technical Author (well…Graduate Technical Author)freedom

SO. MANY. CHOICES (courtesy of xkcd.com/freedom)

Those of you who know me personally know who I work for but just I figure I should keep it to myself on here. Just in case. The big change for me is that it is within the Engineering Sector (I haven’t left STEM! Just changed letters).

Now, this has come with some brilliant advantages and exciting prospects but with change obviously comes challenges.

I am not an engineer. I am not a computer scientist. Before starting to work here, I could not code (I’m at a basic level of learning Python as part of my personal development, although I don’t need that type of knowledge for my role, it makes me feel more at home with my colleagues).

I have had a lot of people ask *WHY* if I’m a biologist (which I am and always will be, at heart) am I working where I am. I suppose there are three answers really:

  • Between working as a Publishing Editor and a tech author, I was working about 30 hours a week at a popular supermarket chain. It was awful, soul destroying, painful (due to the illnesses I have) and paid ~£6.83/hour. Believe me when I say, I was applying for everything out there.
  • I love learning. My old job was at a chemistry company and though that is considerably more relatable for a biologist (especially with a lot of biochem in my degree), it was still a change of discipline. And one that I dealt with well and thoroughly enjoyed (despite how it ended). So I didn’t see why the same wouldn’t be true here.

Now onto the main reason…

  • I got an interview and the job. Now this seems like I’m not really answering the question but stick with me. I saw who the job was for and wasn’t going to apply. But I looked into it as a job role and thought it sounded like something interesting that would lead me to good places in the future (and also thought, hey, if nothing else, it’s application practice). And then I got the interview. Well, three of them. A writing test to do at home, then a phone interview, then a face-to-face interview with a formal writing test and then an HR interview over the phone. And I got the job. So as nerve-wracking as it was (and occasionally still is) to work somewhere like this, *they* think I can do it. There are people in my department that come from other strange backgrounds for this company (English Lit, Linguistics and Translation, another biologist) and people who are closer to the sector but still, not engineering (couple of physicists). Basically what I’m saying is, not everyone in my department is an engineer. So why wouldn’t I be able to do it? As long as I put in the time and effort, inside work and out, I will pick up the necessary skills and knowledge. Which means I get to do a lot of reading (and coding is fun!)

So this post is about the WHY I am here. But when I tell a lot of people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and mumbles of “Oh…um…what’s that?”

Which brings me nicely to the end of this post and onto the next:

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communication?

Hope someone out there cares enough to read these, I am enjoying writing again and am hoping to make this more regular (I’ve set writing reminders now and everything).

Has anyone else had a big change of career, or subject base? I’d love to hear from you and why you did the change too.

RESULTS DAY

EEK.

I’m so scared. Four years, a chronic illness and mental ill health and I’ll find out if it was all worth it tomorrow.

I keep being told to calm down because I already have a job lined up but:
1) these people CLEARLY don’t know me :chronic worrier:

2) what if the job is taken away? Granted, there was no clause in the contract about needing to achieve a specific grade but to apply you had to have or be expected to achieve a 2:1 or above and to bring your certificate on your start day.

I’ve worked so so hard for this. I just hope it showed and has paid off.

I feel sick to my stomach…though that could be because of all the ice cream.

Better post soon, when things are somewhat calmer!

Sorry!

It’s been some time since my last post, is a busy, scary time right now!
Finals start on 30th, and God the modules are bigger in you’re final year!

It’s made it very clear where my interests lie, although my thoughts on my future career remain very much up in the air right now, but will maybe use another post to talk about that…

My modules this year have been Mechanisms of Toxicity & Disease, cellular Neurobiology, Human Reproduction & Development and Cellular & molecular Immunobiology.

Bizarrely, my two favourite modules ended up being mechanisms and human reproduction- this bring odd as they were the ones I was umming and ahh-ing about whether to choose or not.
Suffice it to say I’m glad I did, as I have not enjoyed the other two as much add us expected.

Guess it’s something to bear in mind, your interests develop and change as you learn more and you try more areas of biology. I’ve enjoyed the debated that have been sparked from doing reproduction as obviously we learnt about IVF and assistive conception techniques. I think I thought I knew where I stood but again, there are rarely any simple answers, it’s hard to choose what’s ‘right’…I do not envy the HEFA at all!

Anyway, this is really all I’ve got time for- would like to start discussions here so will give it a go: what have been your favourite modules at uni and why? 

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