The Art of Coping

By James Heaton

We all know the drill. You see your doctor, in the 15 minutes that you are given to explain all the complexities of your disorder and the changes that have been happening in your mind. And we struggle with a way to explain that our thoughts are bizarre and scary, but at the same time we hold back. We know the things that are coming out of our mouths sound bizarre to us, so how do we tell a particularly well adjusted man with a medical degree the intense process of your bipolar brain. Over the years I’ve learned to read people well, I know when I over share my thoughts, it tends to make people uncomfortable, so you learn how much you can truly say about the madness that transpires in your brain.

For instance when I am mixed episode / rapid cycling I can actually “see” the different color ideas that flow through my mind like tubes of light and data. I can see all the tabs I have open in my head, and it can be as few as ten and as many as 50. And I’m thinking about each and everyone of them at the same time. But I’m a little different, a variable that must be considered, is that I have had ECT, which in some ways can reset your brain to an almost normal way of thinking. Well that last little bit of “normal” thinking resides in a beautiful little sphere that is bright yellow with a sense of what is way too much and just enough. It acts as a filter so that it tells me when the things I am about to say are something that shouldn’t be shared. Terms like crazy, insane and the act of calling someone bipolar who isn’t, are extremely offensive and have no place in our lives. We have legitimate medical conditions that need and demand respect. But at times I do feel “insane” when I think about my mental functions. And that saddens me to think so little of myself. I deserve better from myself.

Its been a couple of weeks since my last post about coming to terms physically and mentally with the new “cocktail” my doctor has me on. Lamictal, Mirtazapine, Pristiq, Valium, and Trazadone. I’ve tried them all as most of us have at one time or another. Its a game. Lets try this combination at this strength and this amount until we find a place where there is balance. Because that’s what were after, right? Balance. Somewhat normal thinking, and toning down our mood swings.

The meds were difficult at first, I feared once again changing into a new version of me. But after a few weeks I feel better, more managed. I feared losing my creativity but it slowly came back to about 80% strength. And as a writer my creativity is everything. I had some physical issues at first, upset stomach and vomiting, intimacy issues. But that passed, but I am still very tired, and I combat that with Energy Drinks to keep me functioning. I understand energy drinks are a hot topic, but I give a little of my health to maintain my ability to function. Its a sacrifice and we shouldn’t judge others for the way they cope. I lose a few years off my lifespan for the sake of not sleeping all day, and actually producing work that I sell. Its a sacrifice, one that I am willing to make.

One thing I learned years back at AA is that all the members smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. they give up one vice for another. Is all about coping, what do I need to make it through the day? For me its getting my sleep out, and this means going to bed, taking the sleep pills and waiting for them to work in combination with the cannabis gummy that helps me sleep. I was on 300 mgs of Trazadone for sleep but with cannabis gummies I can bring that number down to 100 mgs of Trazadone and much less of a hang over in the AM. If I have to wake before 9, I am groggy and need about an hour to begin to function. But if I sleep until 10 am I can wake, shower, eat and begin my day. I worry about how people see me, a lazy bum who sleeps the day away, or just lazy in general. And I assure you I am not. After my morning routine I begin the energy drinks with a small amount of Valium and then with an instrumental playlist of music in the background, (which occupies my racing thoughts because they are focusing on the music) I begin to write on my newest book of Kindle Vella series, which I have two active and five total, or simply draw illustrations for future books. And I try to get five hours in of that per day. At that point I am physically and mentally drained. I fix dinner for the family, eat and relax for an hour, take a cannabis (delta 8) gummy and then go to bed early. I immediately take the night meds and wait for them to kick in. During this time I watch tv, draw or read. About two the three hours I can fall asleep. I have learned the routine that works for me.

Now being able to refocus to do chores and normal day to day stuff annoys me. I find it taxing and sometimes ignore it. My focus is on my schedule and I use it as my treatment so that I don’t overtax my brain, giving it more than it can handle. And for the most part I am handling it well.

But today I offered to go get lunch for my wife, to show her appreciation for all the times she helps me through the rough patches. The times when I cant pull it together and have anger or crying sessions. Those have become less frequent with the new meds. But today the drive thru gave me a very flimsy and thin drink holder with two milkshakes and a drink. It was too much for the flimsy cup holder and it spilt all over me, my new car and under the seat. At that moment I went RED. RED is the manic rage that overwhelms me to the point of not thinking clearly, anger, violence and in the past I would black out and destroy things when I had these bipolar rage episodes. Our moods are like spectrums and the RED is the extreme of the manic episode, its when my mind goes full blown anger mode and I seriously have a difficult time controlling it. It overtakes me and controls me, but I fight it and try to focus on bringing it down to a manageable level. If I was working with 80% of my energy, the RED moments zap almost all of that energy and I just need to crash and sleep. I cleaned my car, all the while focusing on bringing down the rage. I took valium to help, smoked my Delta 8 vape and got in a safe place. Luckily I didn’t get physical with anyone or break doors or objects. I went through a lot of things in that short period of time, I was truly angry. But with coping techniques I was able to eventually relax as much as possible.

And this happens to so many of us. And our friends and family DO NOT understand. Period. And how could they? Its bizarre and so far from normal brain activity that its almost as if we, the bipolar community has an entirely different brain. And that is the point I try to make to family and friends. Although we are similar in genetic make up we have completely differently wired brains.

In the past year, I was in a good place for a while. I played with my meds, self adjusted dosages and then things went bad. I began having mixed episodes with rapid cycling and I sought help from my doctor. He put me on new meds and I diligently adhered to those meds. And at this moment I feel like I made the right choice. But this has taken two to three months of my life. And that is another thing our friends and family do not understand. It takes so much time to start a new med and wait for the affects. And we always take the chance that it doesn’t work and we have to try yet another med. But the secret is, be diligent to your schedule, adhere to the doses and take them religiously. Meds are the bane of bipolar, but they are necessary for us to function in the world full of normal people who have no conceptional idea of what this is remotely like.

I offer you success in your treatment, I beg of you to stay loyal to treatment (doctor, counselor, and meds and studying coping skills) recently I avoided a hospital stay, but I was fully open to going. We have to come to grips with this life and I hope my words can help just one of you who is struggling. Keep fighting. Stay strong.

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