All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 25. This endless monotonous repetition of nothingness

Day 25: What state are you in right now, when did it start and what are your goals and hopes about it?

fd5a606c6a0097343cccabaebb79fdd8A little over twelve months ago I attended a camp organised by the mental health organisation I frequent. From beginning to end it was an unmitigated disaster. Shortly before the camp my GP and I decided to change my medication regime, so when I was present at the camp, I wasn’t present, as the new medication I had started to take was unleashing all manner of side effects on my person. My participation at the camp – in part due to my social anxiety – was also lesser than what I’d hoped it would be, with my time spent sitting on my lonesome or helping out in the kitchen prepare each of the meals we were to have. I rarely said anything. I rarely opened up. And I rarely, if ever, participated unless I had to.

The reason I mention the camp now, twelve months after the event, is because it triggered a depressive episode that I am still floundering in. To this day I’ve never been able to work out exactly why the camp triggered such a depressive episode, but trigger it, it did. Ever since I attended that camp my mood has been low, my concentration has evaporated and my ability to function has been questionable at best. To say I’m suffering from an elongated period of anhedonia would be an understatement; nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me pleasure. Not movies. Not TV shows. Not reading. Not photography. Not writing. Nothing. All of the things that I have turned to in the past, all of the things that saw my soul sing and my passion inflame, do nothing for me. They don’t raise a smile. They don’t elicit a giggle. They just produce a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘meh’ sound.

Without question this has been the longest depressive episode of my life. As it enters its fourteenth month, it eclipses even the depressive episodes that permeated my mind during my homelessness, the longest of which was nine months. I have tried mindfulness. I have tried distraction. I have tried medication. I have tried positive thinking. I have tried everything that, in the past, made a dent in my depression. But on this occasion nothing, and I repeat, nothing has worked. I have just continued to be lost to this endless fog of self hatred, monotony and self loathing. Getting out of bed; only occurs because I need to go to the bathroom. Leaving the house; only occurs because I need to purchase food. Cooking this food; only occurs because I should be eating, not because I actually want to. I do nothing for the pure pleasure of doing it. I achieve nothing each day aside from the occasional vomit of words onto my blog. My life is just one endless monotonous repetition. The same actions day-in, day-out. Boredom personified.

Things have got so bad that even hope has left  me. I no longer believe that life will be any better than this. I no longer believe that happiness will find me. I no longer believe that my life will be anything other than this eternal, all consuming, depression. And I hate it. Even when I was homeless. Even when I was living in a park, eking out an existence with the help of soup vans and sheer bloody minded determination, I had hope. I clung to television shows. I clung to my own belief. I clung to anything that helped me get through the next hour, the next day, the next week. I had hope that my future wouldn’t always be this endless battle of survival and starvation. But now? This episode, these fourteen months of despair, desolation and depression, have stolen my hope and replaced it with a black hole of nothingness in the center of my soul. How can I hope for a better future when all I have in the present is pain? How can I hope for something more when all I have is just one endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.

My only goal concerning this episode is for it to end. I want it to end. I want to be able to wave a fond farewell to the pain, desolation and despair and be able to live my life with some semblance of enjoyment and meaning. I want to feel something beyond the agony and torment of depression and isolation. I want to feel the flutter of excitement ignite in my soul as I formulate blog posts; to revel in the act of writing and creation. I want to be able to watch a movie and actually laugh; actually feel something for the characters whose lives are acted out for my own personal enjoyment. I want to be able to read fiction again; to delight at the words as they dance in my mind. I want to be able to do so much more than what I’m currently capable of. Whether it be running barefoot through the grass, dancing under a sprinkler or skipping through the world at large. I want to be able to laugh again. I want to be able to feel again. I want to be able to hope again. That delicious, unquenchable emotion; hope.

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‘Hope and Despair’

But how do I accomplish this goal? How does one rediscover hope? How does one end an endless monotonous repetition of nothingness? My doctor has been tweaking my medication for months, dutifully striving to find the correct balance for my current ennui. I see my support worker on a weekly basis, each time striving to discover new avenues to approach this episode. I’ve also started to see a psychologist, and I have six appointments with her to try and find ways to combat this all-consuming episode. So it’s not as though I’m doing nothing. It’s not as though I’ve given up completely. I am trying to dig my way out of this depression; it’s just my shovel work doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Yet.

The only thing I am clinging to is the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, no matter how much it feels like its going to. I’ve been depressed in the past, and bounced back to euthymia or hypomania with barely time to breathe. So it stands to reason that this episode isn’t going to last the remainder of my life, however much it feels like it’s going to. Sooner or later things will shift, my mind will rediscover contentment and everything will be rosy in Addy’s world once again. I just wish it would happen now. Or at the very least, tomorrow.

For I don’t know how much longer I can take this endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 24. Personally, I feel like I’m due some euthymia

Day 24: How much of your life has been stable/euthymic, depressed and hypo/manic?

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Over the years it has become noticeable that my baseline mood state is depression, but that doesn’t mean my life is always spent in this most painful and debilitating of states. After all, according to several psychiatrists, I am bipolar, so my moods are going to deviate from time to time.

The only period of true mania that I’ve experienced came in June/July 2007, when I went psychotic in Adelaide. From what little I can actually remember, I spent my days trawling bars and clubs for beautiful women, whilst imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and eating very little. I streaked down Rundle Mall on the promise of playful spanking, I talked incessantly to whomever would listen to me, slapped multiple backsides to announce my presence and generally spent my days (and nights) convinced I was an immortal God. Even hurling myself in front of a moving train wouldn’t have damaged me, such was the extent of my delusional thinking. It was exhausting, it was exhilarating, it was painful, it was pleasurable. It was, without question, one of the most fucked up periods of my life. And if it weren’t for the fact I was raped – which I’ve long believed to be the trigger that ended my mania – God knows how long it would have lasted and what would have become of me. By the time it ended I had barely slept for several weeks and felt both dehydrated and malnourished. In fact, the depressive episode I collapsed into was comforting in its monotony and familiarity.

As for hypomania, I have experienced this state on several occasions, and have long considered it my preference. When I’m hypomanic I am everything that I’ve ever wanted to be. I am charming. I am debonair. I am talkative. I am creative. I am driven. I am committed. I am motivated. When this state is surging through me there is nothing I can’t achieve, and everything I set my mind to is tackled with such panache and energy that it will often result in my best work. I wrote my novel, The Ghosts that Haunt Me, when I was hypomanic. I edited said novel when I was in this state. When my mood turned to hypomania in mid-2008, I was able to find work in a matter of weeks and performed said work to such a high standard that I received praise from every manager above me. When I was hypomanic in 2009, between May and July, I had my written work published twice; once in a national magazine and once in a local newspaper. A feat I’ve never been able to match during my euthymic or depressed, baseline, states.

All in all, my main periods of hypomania (that I’ve been able to identify) have been: September 1997, September – November 1999, April-June 2000, late 2003, August-November 2006, January 2008 (although this could have been more rapid cycling), June-October 2008, May-July 2009 and the last couple of months of 2012. All of which back up my belief I’m at my best when I’m hypomanic, as each of these periods coincides with periods of tremendous productivity and achievement, whether it be traveling to combat my anxiety (1999) or engaging with social activity and building relationships (2006).

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Personally I feel I’m due another bout of hypomania soon, although, the same could be said for euthymia, which I haven’t felt since 2005! Back then I was working full-time, committed to my relationship with Louise, developing plans for the future and generally living what many people would consider “a life”. I had no major financial issues, stressors in my life were few and far between, and I was engaging in social activity whenever time allowed. I was even making new friends and forging stronger relationships with people in my life.

In fact, things have been so bad for so long, I can barely remember what being in this state actually felt like. I remember it through a haze of memory, as if looking back on that period with rose-tinted glasses. Things were probably not as good as I remember them being, but because things were so normal, so safe, I remember it with tremendous fondness and exaggerated comfort. I was stable, I was “normal”; I was everything I dream of being now.

But alas, things are no longer like that. My life, as with much of it, has become consumed with feelings of hopelessness, pointlessness and depression. Everything is difficult. Everything isn’t awesome. It is a state that I should be used to by now; a state that I should know intimately given how much time we have spent in each others company over the last twenty years. Our dalliance in 2000 brought on feelings of worthlessness and despair. Our tryst in 2006 cemented these feelings. Whilst our flirtation in 2011 brought on multiple suicide attempts in a matter of months. Depression has been such a part of my life that I no longer live in fear of it; we are one, depression and I, a civil union that will see me till death us do part.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 23. Why do you blog about bipolar?

Day 23: Why do you blog about bipolar?

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Hopefully enabling other people who are battling depression to realise they are not alone.
Hopefully enabling people who are prejudiced against mental illness to gain a better understanding of what it is, and the damage it can do.
Hopefully enabling me to have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I wrote the above words on the 21 October 2007, the day I began my blogging journey. Back then I was naive to the world of blogging and trod wearily through the maelstrom of syllables, words and sentences that joined together to form the blogosphere. It was the start of a new endeavor; a new chapter in my life that saw me journal for the world to see, rather than hiding it away in the A5 notebooks I’d written in previously. I was opening myself up, sharing things that I had never before shared, and it was difficult, painful at first, but endowed me with a sense of freedom that I never thought possible. I was writing about depression. About self-harm, suicide and, later, bipolar. I was talking about my innermost demons, all the chaos that I had lived with for nearly fifteen years was being shared for the world to read, and comment on, should they so desire. It was an enlightening experience and soon it became my world. The blogging bug had well and truly infected me with its venom.

My reasons for starting to blog were outlined in a short introduction post, and eight years later those reasons haven’t changed. I continue to blog so that other people who are suffering from mental illness realise they’re not alone. I continue to blog so that people who are prejudiced against mental illness gain a better understanding of what it is, and the damage it can do. And I continue to blog so that I can gain a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I blog because it enables me to do things that I love (write, help other people, share my story) from the safety and security of my own living room.

I blog because if I didn’t, my life would be hollow, empty of point, purpose or direction.

I blog because someone has to.

I blog because I love it. And that’s the only reason I need.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 22. Side effects of medication

Day 22: What meds gave you the worst side effects, how did/do you treat it/them, and do you still get any side effects now?

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Without question the worst side effect I’ve ever experienced came from Sodium Valproate (Epilim). Although I’d been taking it without any major consequence for several years (on and off, depending on homelessness), earlier this year it decided to revolt against my system in a huge way, by inflicting excruciating acute pancreatitis on me. The pain was unbearable and led to me being hospitalised for nearly three weeks whilst my body fought the pain. This then led to me developing a cyst in my pancreas, which has bothered me on/off for the last three months. For a time the abdominal pain was utterly intense, but fortunately it has been decreasing over the last few weeks and now only bothers me once or twice a fortnight. Hopefully, within the next couple of months, the pain will disappear entirely – because I’m really, seriously, over it!

Other than this rather serious side effect, I have to say I’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to medication side effects. I get headaches quite frequently, and my digestion is seriously effected, with frequent bouts of diarrhea alternating with periods of constipation. I also receive tremors in my extremities (mainly hands and legs) as well as the usual lack of motivation, energy and drive that accompanies most psychiatric medications.

Of course, as with most people who take psychiatric medication, I experience weight gain as a side effect, mainly from the Olanzapine. Even though I lost quite a lot of weight during the pancreatitis episode, I’ve put it all back on (and then some) over the last few months. Without question it is one of the worst side effects, as I suffer from quite extreme body image/dysmorphic issues at the best of times, without having the large rolls of fat that cover my body to contend with as well. It seriously damages my self-esteem and confidence and I wish, I really utterly wish, that weight gain wasn’t a side effect of psychiatric medications because of the sheer damage that it can cause to an already vulnerable individual.

But it could all be worse, so I’m not complaining – well, except for the pancreatitis, I’m complaining about that because it was bloody painful!


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 21. Manic depression vs bipolar affective disorder

Day 21: Are you content with it being called bipolar affective disorder, or would you rather revert to manic depression, or rename it completely? Why?

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Personally, I’ve never understood why manic depression was renamed to be bipolar affective disorder. Manic depression is a far better description of the illness than bipolar will ever be. Firstly, you have your mania, and secondly, you have your depression; the two major episodes of bipolar covered with the name of the illness. But you also have your manic depression, which covers everything that happens when you’re between the poles; all the chaos and mayhem that occurs when you’re not manic or depressed, but lost somewhere in between.

And what is wrong with calling an illness after what the illness actually does? Bipolar sounds too clinical, too scientific, manic depression is much softer, more relevant. In fact, I relate to manic depression more than I ever have bipolar, and to me personally, this is what the illness will always be called.

What do you think?


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 20. The joy of creativity

Day 20: Do you consider yourself creative? How do you express that? What piece of work (or whatever is applicable) are you most proud of?

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A depiction of Tir-nan-og, a fantasy realm from my urban fantasy series, that I drew on my bedroom wall in 2006

For the vast majority of my life I’ve considered myself creative. But I would like it known – on the record – that I do not consider myself creative solely because I’m bipolar. I know there are many people out there who consider bipolar to be the “creative illness”, and there are many wonderfully creative people who are bipolar, but like me, they would probably be creative in spite of their mental illness. The bipolar is not what has made us creative, we managed that all on our lonesome!

Writing

First and foremost, I consider myself a storyteller. When I was but a young wee bairn I was often making up random stories about all sorts of weird and wondrous things, regaling my family and friends with everything from what mystical creatures lived in the Moss (a large area of overgrown parkland in the town I grew up in) to how best to survive a monster apocalypse. After school I would rush home to write all manner of stories and fictional escapades. I continued the adventures of Indiana Jones in the stirring Indiana Jones and the Sword of Excalibur and created a movie based on perennial Australian soap, Neighbours.

When I was fourteen I wrote my first novel – Lifetime – an amalgamation of The Goonies, Doctor Who and your stereotypical coming-of-age tales, an adventure that saw a group of lackadaisical teenagers battle living waxwork monsters whilst combating their own hormonal urges. Suffice to say, it was a piece of shit, but I loved every single minute that I spent writing that epic of badly written fiction. And it was a period of my life that solidified my desire to become a writer.

Over the following several years I wrote whenever I had a spare minute. I dabbled in melodrama, tragedy, mystery and crime, but always found myself returning to the genre that is Urban Fantasy, wherein normal earthbound characters battled otherworldly creatures from the safety of their own hometown. And it was within this genre that I created my masterwork; The Inverness Chronicles, a series of novels, television series and motion pictures that spanned three generations of characters within the fictionalized city of Inverness. Only the first novel of this planned series has been written – The Ghosts That Haunt Me – but the remaining installments have been planned to perfection, I just need to find the time to write them!

Alas, I cannot share The Ghosts That Haunt Me with you. Over the years that I was homeless the copies I had in my possession were lost to floods, theft and personal mistakes, and the remaining copy (on a USB stick in my parents house) seems to have been lost when my parents moved in 2010. But rest assured it was the best piece of fiction that I’ve ever written and encapsulated my own beliefs, values and strengths in a story that saw several characters face an apocalyptic event against the backdrop of contemporary Scotland.

As depression has further gripped my soul, I have found my ability to tell stories dwindle. I used to write for pleasure, for the pure wonderousness of seeing a story come to life by the words and syllables I chose to use. But since the depression, since the bipolar, since my breakdown, I’ve been unable to find the energy to tell the stories that sing in my soul. I hope, one day, to be stable enough to write again, but until then I can just continue tinkering my Inverness Chronicles plan. Gently caressing the characters lives until they’re ready to ignite the page once again.

Examples of my writing:

Photography

My photography habit kicked off when I started backpacking in Scotland in 1999, and continued to grow and evolve when I studied the subject at college the following year. I can still remember how relaxing and inspiring I found the time I spent mixing chemicals in the darkroom, slowly easing the black and white images to life through patience and determination. For my birthday that year, my then girlfriend, Louise, organised with my parents to purchase me a brand spanking new SLR camera, and this became my most prized possession until it was stolen from me in late 2007. In fact, my love of photography was so strong, that after obtaining my first (and only) job since my breakdown, I rewarded my hard work with a new camera, that I took many wonderful and beautiful images on.

But in the same manner that depression has stolen my ability to write, it has also stolen my ability to take photographs.My abuser would regularly attack my photography, calling them boring, uninspiring, a waster of time, monotonous, and ever since those words stabbed my soul, I cannot see the images in the same way that I use to, I cannot find the creative spark I need to imagine my thoughts in photographic form. One day, I hope, I will rediscover my photographic urges. One day, I hope, I will be able to successfully deal with the PTSD to take photographs again.

Drawing

As for drawing, I’ve never considered myself a master-artist, it was always something that I enjoyed doing rather than doing it because I was good at it. I used to love drawing Doctor Who montages; Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans battling the trusty Time-Lord across the stars. I would compose artwork based on my favourite video games (Zelda, Sonic and Secret of Mana) or sketch haphazardly in my journal various Scottish vistas seen throughout my backpacker odyssey.

I loved creating artwork not because I was good at it, but because it relaxed me. It was something I did for the pure pleasure and enjoyment of doing it, nothing else. And unlike other aspects of my life (including my writing and photography) I didn’t care what other people thought of it because, deep down, I knew they were crap drawings.

And this, to me, is what being creative is all about. It isn’t just about the kudos and praise you receive from a stunning piece of art or breathtakingly beautiful photograph. It isn’t just about how other people feel when viewing or appraising your work. It is about how you feel whilst creating it. As long as you are capturing an essence of yourself, regardless of the medium, then you are succeeding at being creative.

My writing, although rooted in fantasy, mayhem and apocalyptic events, was always about the people and how they reacted to the chaos. My photography, regardless of what my abuser said, was meant to capture landscape and emotion of place, a memory of a moment that would never be seen again. Whilst my drawing, however bad, captured who I was in that moment of reflection.

So regardless of what other people think, I’m proud of my creativity, and I’m proud of the work I’ve created over the years.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 19. What people need to understand about bipolar

Day 19: What don’t people without bipolar understand about people with it?

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People without bipolar have no understanding – and no way to understand – just how problematic and painful the mood swings can be.

It isn’t like the usual sway of emotions, the ups and downs of regular, hum-drum, normal life. The mood swings of bipolar are epic in nature; the highs extremely high and the lows extremely low. I don’t think anyone who isn’t bipolar can understand this. There is nothing to compare the highs and lows to as nothing comes close to the chaos of emotion that a bipolar person experiences.

The depression is more than unipolar depression; it is all-consuming in nature and leaves you wrecked, exhausted and unable to function. The mania isn’t just feeling a bit happy; it is feeling like you are a God, and nothing you do could ever be conceived as being wrong. Then comes the other states; the hypomania, which is like mania but not as pronounced, or the rapid cycling, which is a brutal state to be in as you don’t know which way is up and you’re being dragged left, right and center on a seemingly endless emotional roller-coaster.

Sure people can claim to understand the mood swings, they can claim to get it, but I really don’t think they do. I really don’t.

I also don’t think people without bipolar understand just how controlling these mood swings can be. It isn’t a case of just “getting over it” or “dealing with it”. It isn’t a case of just “ignoring it” or “pretending it isn’t there”. None of this works when it comes to a bipolar mood. The mood swings of bipolar are all-controlling; there is little you can do once you’re lost to the mayhem other than ride it out and hope to come out the other end relatively unscathed.

Some people think people with bipolar aren’t trying hard enough, and it is these people who need to understand just how severe the mood shifts of bipolar can be. Everyone with bipolar works there arse off every single day of their lives, they have to, otherwise the illness would consume them in an instant.

Bipolar people are strong – incredibly strong – and I think this, more than anything, is what people without bipolar need to understand.

What about you? What do you think people without bipolar don’t understand about people with it?