by James Heaton
As you may recall from my last post I am in the early stages of recovery from a Rapid Cycling / Mixed Episode situation. As mentioned in the previous post I claimed responsibility for this situation mainly because I had only been taking half of my prescribed dosage, and I was also going without a mood stabilizer.
For information’s sake, I am 49 yr. old male, diagnosed at age 24, four hospital stays, I have done eight ECT sessions, and have experienced bipolar my entire life, there have been at least half a dozen serious attempts at suicide, mostly overdosing. Even as a child I had rapid cycling and mixed episodes but did not receive treatment until I was 24 and the initial diagnosis was for OCD and Bipolar. The obsessive compulsion disorder I learned, through self-discipline to control. I was granted disability status in 2004 and I have seen a psychiatrist a minimum of four to five times a year since then as well as bi-weekly therapy sessions. I have never simply gone off my meds and spent time without them. So, in essence I have been medicated for the last twenty years and I have tried every psych med that there is. Most I cant remember, because as you may be aware, ECT takes a lot of your memories away. Sometimes years and sometimes months, but the hardest part of the ECT is the recovery from the procedure. The awakening as I like to call it, which for me took two years before I was able to function without stumbling or being clumsy, the memories come and go. And the worst is that there are memories that I don’t know that I don’t know about that have been taken from me. But ECT did its job at the time, and I stand by it if your at the point in your journey of bipolar that you simply want to end it all and nothing can convince you to stay.
I make my living by being a creative, mostly from my writing but I am a classically trained artist and a musician as well. So, it goes without saying that having the manic phases at my disposal has been great for my work. But that’s not how it works. But the greatest creative genius of our time have all gone unmedicated at times to simply produce their best work. Ernest Hemingway, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Vincent Van Gogh and countless others suffered from bipolar disorder, and they used it to create some the of the greatest work the world has ever known. But it comes at a price.
When I first concluded that my manic phases and rapid cycling were becoming more than I could cope with I broke down to my wife. We have been married for fifteen years and she has seen every version of me. She has stood by my side diligently like a loyal friend and partner. I asked my wife to go with me to my psychiatrist and counselor appointments to keep me honest. One of my greatest weaknesses with bipolar is that I try to conceal it, to the point of simply saying, I’m fine. Truth is the only way that you can get the help you need.
My main focal point in this blog post is to share with you what its like to go from heavy cycling, intense manic phases, to increasing your medication and ending the rapid cycling and mixed episodes. Its not easy, in fact its one of the hardest things I have ever done. I confessed to my doctor that I had only been taking half doses so that the manic phases could take over and help me produce more projects and be more creative. As a published author with Amazon in both books and the Vella Series on Kindle, I have to provide weekly episodes of my stories. But when the mixed episodes prevented me from actually doing what I intended, I was unable to function day to day.
During my last visit with my doctor, he increased my antidepressants and added a mood stabilizer. That was two weeks ago today, and I have experienced severe upset stomach issues, increased fatigue and lack of creativity. But I force myself to push harder and try more daily. I am lucky as I have a good support team of my parents, my wife and my kids. I think this has been hardest on my son, as my youngest at almost 21 years of age he hasn’t been exposed to the deeper sides of my disorder. My older daughters have seen me at my worst, and they experienced my worst manic episode in 2001 with a suicide attempt that stopped my heart and forced the paramedics to perform CPR. I spent time in the hospital after that, and thankfully there was no organ damage from the copious amount of drugs I took to overdose. They stood by helplessly as I decided to move to the Bahamas and then on to Mexico for a couple of years. Trying to cope with the insanity in my head, I actually made it worse by self-medicating with alcohol and cocaine to assist with my mixed episodes and rapid cycling. I can honestly say that is not the answer and medication is by far better than treating with illegal drugs and alcohol, in fact as people with bipolar we should steer clear of any drug use or alcohol consumption. Mainly because it just makes it worse, and it also interferes with any medication that you take.
My counselor suggested that I write about the difference that I have experienced being on half dose medication and then going to full dose with a mood stabilizer (Lamictal is the mood stabilizer I am on). Being in a semi-controlled state of mixed episodes and rapid cycling was intense. I could see the colors and the flowing of thoughts in my head. I was able to think about ten to twenty things at once. There was always activity in my brain, constant thoughts and even narratives. I had mental conversations with these “voices”, interacting with them while trying to function. Even when I wasn’t in my studio (which I spend the majority of my day, writing, drawing or recording music) the noise was deafening. At times I enjoyed it, I loved the flow of knowledge and the feeling that I was a super genius (clearly an illusion). We can see this sort of activity in a certain celebrity who is diagnosed with bipolar and claims to be the greatest musical genius in the history of the world. Delusions of grandeur is typical behavior. This celebrity “KW” as I will call him, refuses medicinal treatment and regularly has break downs in public as well as inciting battles with his family on Twitter. He is the perfect example of what not to do.
I went from these waves of colorful thoughts, these brilliant moments of creativity to breaking down in my wife’s arms and crying about losing my mind. But then an hour later I would be fine and back at the productivity that seemed to have no end. But the increase of the Geodon and the addition of the Lamictal as well as an increase in Trazadone and Remeron took about four days to quiet the noise. It went from brilliant colors of thoughts and nonstop noise in my head to nothing.
Absolute quiet. No noise, just hush…. no voices, no light, just emptiness.
To be perfectly honest (and that is what the purpose of this blog is for, to offer insight into the life of a bipolar person) I hate this. I hate the quiet and I miss the noise, but I don’t miss it pushing me to the point of insanity. There has to be balance. Bipolar is simply chemical responses in our brain, either too much or not enough. Some patients have manic episodes that last for hours, while others have them for months. In the last two months I have overspent, buying some of the most ridiculous things and not controlling my budget. Pushing myself to struggling with my finances has been one of the many issues with not being fully medicated.
I meet with my psychiatrist this week to discuss the new meds and how they are working. He may keep it the same for a period of time, or he may alter it. And that is the job of a psychiatrist, to diagnose and offer medication that he or she determines that can help. But truthfulness on your part is essential. They cant help unless they know. My doctor agreed to keep me out of the hospital as long as my wife, who was present at the appointment, kept an eye on me and it was left up to her to make the decision for hospitalization. I feel that this was the best way to deal with my illness. I need her honesty, because I don’t trust my own mind to decide.
Waking up is difficult with the heavy dosages of medication, it takes a good hour to be able to mentally focus and become functional. I spend four to five hours a day writing or being creative in some way and this is what is best for me. I force myself to do activities that engage my mind, but honestly, I would prefer to just sit in my recliner and watch television and sleep. Energy is hard to come by being this medicated, but I feel that for me, engaging my mind and forcing it to be active is what is keeping me out of the hospital right now.
This is a very scary time for me, and I am sure many of you have felt the same or worse over your lifetime dealing with this disorder. There are moments when I feel like I just want to end it all, how can we expect to deal with this daily for the rest of our lives? But I find encouragement to keep pushing in the small things that bring me joy. I have a granddaughter on the way, and I want to meet her. So that makes me push to make it to her birth, which will be in July.
I had a counselor that once told me (and she was very efficient and wise) to pick a day. I would come to her office and tell her that I just wanted to end it all, and her response every time was, pick a day. We would pull out a calendar and I would point to a day, either a week or a month away. I would write on that calendar, D-Day. It would be the day that I planned on ending it. But every time I would get to that day, and something would be going on in my life that was bringing me happiness. So, my response was picking another day, and eventually I got to the point where I stopped writing that on my calendar. Because I grew to understand that there will always be a better day.
Ever since I was a young boy I have been obsessed (in a healthy way, mostly) with Ernest Hemingway. I was born on July 21st, the same day as Hemingway. His writing inspired me and filled me with happiness and above all he was honest. Sadly, he ended his life on July 2nd, 1961, and I have always fixated on that day as a very emotional day for myself. As a young boy I always thought if we were born on the same day, we would die on the same day. The strangeness of a child’s mind. I think of how life would have been so different if he had picked another day, and then eventually moved passed the desire to end it all. His actions took him away from his family, from his fans, and who knows, maybe he could have written many more classics. But he was selfish and ended it when he felt that he could no longer write after several electro-shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic in 1960. He essentially stole his gift from the world out of selfishness and desperation.
I understand his thinking. And I’m sure if your reading this and you have this horrible disorder, you have thought that way also. But sometimes we have to deal with things that we don’t want to. We have to stand strong in the face of the storm. I push myself everyday to be better, to do more, to fight this battle. I hope that my words can inspire at least one of you out there to push harder and fight for one more day of life. This is probably the most emotional post I have ever written, but its necessary. I miss the noise in my head, I miss the energy but as with anything in life, too much is dangerous. Everything in moderation and one day at a time.
Be strong, be brave and live everyday with passion and vigor. Be honest with your doctor, don’t fear hospitalization, and surround yourself with people who love and support you. I support you in your battle.
I’ll end with a quote from Ernest Hemingway.
“We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.”