By James Heaton
I feel the need to update my followers about my current condition and assure everyone we all fall down, and its so we can learn to get back up.
So as some of my readers know I have had Bipolar my entire life. I can remember my earliest memories being strange and uncomplacent with what I saw as normal from my peers. I was moody, cried a lot and then had intense moments of rage that turned into very manic moments of inappropriate actions.
At 24 I finally broke down and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, OCD and Social Anxiety Disorder. I got put on a small cocktail of meds, and tried that for a few months, and nope it wasn’t for me.
A lot transpired from that kid at 24 finding out that he was different and had a non-curable medical disorder. A lot of anger, burned bridges, hell I even ran away to the Bahamas and Mexico for a couple of years trying to sort out this thing we call life.
I finally got the help I needed in 2004, at the age of 32, I broke down and went back to the doctors. I was put on lithium and a handful of pills that over time turned into about ten a day, currently my personal record is now up to 16 a day.
I got married in 2006 to wife #2, and unlike wife #1, she cared. She honestly cared about my condition. She is also a very skilled nurse, in that she knows how to treat a patient, even if he is a stubborn bastard that just happens to be her husband. She has been going with me to doctor appointments, and forcing me to be truthful. She makes me be honest with me, about me. And that is a difficult task. Because admitting things to yourself is so much harder than telling a stranger.
In 2018 I chose to have ECT and it was the scariest thing I have ever done. It zapped my memories away, made me a literal walking Zombie for almost two years. I had to learn how to do everything all over again, but it gave me something very unique and very special that I had never had before. It gave me personal insight and accountability. For years I just blamed everything on bipolar, I used it as a crutch. I figured if it couldn’t be cured, if it couldn’t be fixed then fuck it, blame it all on this monster in my head.
But this insight showed me that my brain worked differently, it processed things differently. Not to mention I have to daily reprocess every word I write because I also have dyslexia, but I conquered that. I learned to adapt at a young age and dyslexia is just a speed bump for me, but bipolar is a giant hole in the ground that I am forced to manage my life around. And its actually more like a sink hole, that gets more difficult to manage with time. And manage I did. I wrote a book, Life With Bipolar Disorder, I started this blog, I started a podcast and the feeling of all the people responding so positively gave me such an intense feeling that I wanted to keep working harder, I wanted to not only work on the Bipolar Part of my writing but I wanted to be true to my real writing, the stories that I told on my other website. The books that I published that told stories about normal people and also included stories about people who lived with bipolar. I did this so I could include “US” into the real world. When the LGBTQ community pleaded to be included in regular television, regular music and the world I understand their plea. As Bipolar sufferers and survivors I recognize that SURVIVAL HURTS ( a line from a beautiful song by Amy Lee). And we need to seen as who we really are. Not the nutcase wrapped in a blanket on Law and Order or the most insane person in some tv show who, you guessed it happens to have bipolar disorder. I wanted to introduce us to the world as the passionate, loving people we can be. I wanted to show the world who we really are.
I was paddling out for those twenty foot waves that were building and building. Sharks were the last thing to worry about, being able to catch that wave and ride it until I died in the process was my growing obsession. (clearly metaphorical, its been years since I slapped on my wetsuit and paddled out into the ocean, but that surfboard is crying to come out.)
So in order to keep this little bit of mania alive and use it like a drug that could propel me into great writing, great areas that I had been excluded from, I started adapting my medications to my individual desires / needs. I was getting residual checks and bonuses from my work on Amazon and I was watching myself coming into this serious writer mode, the novella writer, the multi-book series writer, the guitarist for a local band that desperately wanted to still be relevant after years of being that guy who was playing weekly shows all over the state, I wanted to record more albums, I wanted to conquer the entire world! I wanted to be the greatest living person in the world, and I wanted everyone to see my potential. (There it was, the giant wave of mania and I was paddling so hard to catch it.)
And then the small part of my brain that exist solely because the medical team at the ECT Center zapped me over and over in my brain in an attempt to fix my broken mind, this little ball of yellow energy (that’s how I describe it, it sits at the front of my mind and its the size of a gumball, just holding its ground and being absolutely normal) that I consider to be trustworthy, I know that it is the only part of my brain that isn’t bipolar. It guides me, it tells me when I’m acting insane, it tells me when my ideas are too absurd and it was telling me in a very loud voice, “You are surfing the manic wave, and it can only last so long before you crash into the reef that lurks just under the surface, that reef that is slowly becoming the rapid cycling/ mixed episode monster that is going to consume you.” Self awareness is strange but so essential in recognizing the danger that is waiting for you.
I would go into my studio and just create, like a madman. I was writing six stories at once, three for current Vella series on Amazon and three more that I was pushing to 100 pages before introducing them to Vella. I had six individual stories in my head all flowing at the same time, and I was working on them mentally 24 hours a day. Even in my sleep, even when I would drive to the store. I couldn’t bother being interrupted by my family or their constant need for something from me. My oldest daughter needed me to be her marriage counselor, my disabled son needed me to order his meds and spend hours on the phone getting his needed medication as well as taking him back and forth daily to the vocational center he was training at. My youngest daughter needed my assistance as she was going through intense counselling for her issues. All three of my children have some mental health issue, my oldest is pregnant and that in itself is terrifying for me, will that little baby be bipolar? How could I continue to be responsible for my flawed DNA spreading out over these children’s lives. I felt so guilty. It was all getting louder, more of me being needed, the phone constantly going off, the world needed me and I needed to swim down to the bottom of the ocean and hold a giant stone so I could remain on the ocean floor for all eternity, just to be left alone.
My doctor originally had me on a low dose of Geodon to control the manic phases, but I was only taking half a dose. I lied to him and told him it was fine and I was dealing with it. He had me on 300mgs of Trazadone for sleep, but I hated waking up hungover so I cut that down to 100mgs a night. And I was spending so much time ingesting CBD Delta 8 products to escape the intensity of life, I was eating CBD Gummies at night to help with sleep, I was smoking a CBD Delta 8 Vape all day long and eating more and more valium. And this is not speaking bad of CBD, it is an absolute life saver. It can bring you peace when you need it and there is no hang over or, unlike drinking I don’t do stupid things that I regret. I simply get into a comfortable place and spend hours watching cartoons.
And everyday as my personal time was infringed upon, I got angrier, and angrier for people not respecting my need for solace. After all I am technically disabled and I needed to start acting like it was real and not try to do the amount of work a nondisabled person would be capable of, to simply prove to myself that I wasn’t unworthy of a respectable life simply because I was disabled. (I received my disability in 2004 and it was for a combination of bipolar disorder and a severally damaged shoulder that I received while arresting a shoplifter in another life.) I put more and more on myself, when what I needed to be doing less and do less. But I didn’t know how to say no, and it was crucial that I learned that. I wanted to be the savior of the broken and the damned, and my family meant everything to be, but they kept relying on me to fix all their problems.
Then I went to my arthritis specialist to talk about this other wonderful addition to my flawed body and mind. I have been diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis for several years and I take an amazing Biological Drug called Tremfya that comes at a great savings of $25k per injection. But I found an assistance program and used it to only pay $5 a month. I have severe pain in my fingers and shoulders (constantly) and my first finger on both my hands have started turning in, they are rotating to the inside of the other fingers. As well as having Dupuytrens Disease which affected both my tendons in my hands, causing my ring fingers to slowly curl in, it creates painful knots in my palms and the wonderful doctors told me that they cant really do anything preventative for now, but when they close up they can operate. A brief look into my future. By the time I’m 65 my hands will be useless. And that’s okay with writing, I can always use the wonderful technology of vocal dictation. But the pain comes from knowing that my passion of playing guitar will fall to the waste side. And those dreams of teaching my grandchildren to play were getting farther and farther from my reach. The future I imagined was becoming bleak and depressing.
I realized that I had an problem that needed medical attention when I began having momentary idealizations of suicide and self harm. It would only come for a few moments at a time, and then it would leave me. But that is what drove me to seek ECT in 2018. I was constantly obsessed with suicide, to the point of making a plan, gathering the needed items and preparing for it. I couldn’t survive that again. I’ve been chasing Hemingway since I was five years old and I was starting to understand why when he realized that his future was over, he simply took the easy way out. And even though I shared the same date of birth as him, I refused to die the same way.
But I recognized this failure to maintain my therapy and I asked my wife for help. My psychiatrist, recognizing that my daily sanity comes from hours of writing and composing music in my studio was more important than a hospital stay, and with a promise from my wife that if I got worse, she would take me to the hospital, and I agreed to let her.
So I made a plan. Something I had wrote about last year, and made it an important part of recovery. So now I was going back over all the things I wrote offering help and insight into the world of bipolar disorder, looking for insight into how to save my own self.
So how am I coping right now at the beginning of my newfound treatment?
The most important thing is the meds. I’m on my prescribed dosage and I feel like a zombie. I sleep late and wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by bus. I had my heart broken the other night after I shared a story that I had put six weeks into and my wife read it from her perspective, and she took it as my goodbye letter. But it was just a way to release a lot of personal pain, and it wasn’t what she thought. I explained it to her, but what should have been a simple explanation on my part turned into suicidal idealization, and left me in bed for a day while I tried to recover from what should have easily been laughed off and corrected. My emotions are intense, I feel everything, I feel the distance from my family, even though I asked to be left alone for a period of time so that I can heal. I feel the major difference of surfing that huge manic wave, feeling like I was God, feeling like that ride would never end and just feeling the intensity that comes with a beautiful manic episode that last for weeks. But that isn’t real life. Side note, when I lived in the Bahamas I had no insurance and no doctor to help, so I self medicated with Rum and Diet Coke and lots of cocaine. And when I try to explain to people what a manic phase feels like, I always ask, ever done cocaine? Because if they have then they know what its like. But instead of just lasting for a thirty minutes its nonstop and manic phases are very addictive. I realize this now, and I am focused on correcting, setting goals, being honest with myself and my wife.
So I’m technically three weeks into recovery, and I am grateful mostly to my wife for saving my life once again. I am thankful for a family that is beginning to understand mental health and how it really works. I am thankful for being on disability, because there is no way I could work in a workplace environment with others and do the things that would be required of me, with this sort of condition. Because I don’t know from day to day who I’m going to be, or if I’m going to be strong enough to do what is required of me as a member of a family, a husband, a father, a bandmate and a writer.
I’ve backed off the valium, I use it only when necessary, I fight the desire to get lost in a bottle of vintage wine, and I am letting my mind do what it does best, and that is create. Recognizing the things that are bad for you, but make you feel so damn good is the hardest thing to do. There are bipolar people who can go for years on a manic phase and do some amazing things, but here’s the clincher, the one point I need to make with all this rambling of my problems (cause each of us has an equally important story of survival), that one point is that you need to be healthy and be aware of those around that you can destroy with your disorder and avoid that with every fiber of your being.
I’ll end this with a quote from the most important man in my life, the one guy who has always been the light that illuminates this dark, dark path. And I try to learn from his mistakes to be the best I can be.
Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
Copyright James Heaton (Except Hemingway Quote) 2022 Jamesheaton.net