Bipolar Disorder is a moving target. Its effects vary from episode to episode, and a treatment that might be effective for months or even years can suddenly stop working. Treating it is a challenge. Staying stable is a challenge. Accomplishing anything, no matter how small, is a victory.
And it’s a victory I haven’t enjoyed very much in the past couple of years.
Before about seven years ago, I would have bouts of hypomania. Hypomania is awesome. I would be full of energy, whole novels would dump themselves into my head in a single afternoon, I felt like I could do anything. I could go without sleep and not feel the effects. I would think fast, and talk fast. If I was a little incomprehensible to people around me, who cares? I was on a higher plane than they were. I could do anything.
Eventually, though, that would turn toxic and I would crash into a depression. No energy, little coherent thought, getting through the day was a challenge. I would obsess about various ways I could kill myself, but lacked the wherewithal to do anything about it. If anything, this just made me feel worse, like I was a failure even at this.
I rode this cycle until about seven years ago, when the cycle of hypomania and depression stopped, and I began instead to go between stages or normal and mixed episodes. Mixed episodes are awful. You have all the energy of mania, with all the negative thoughts and anxiety of depression. In hypomania, you want to climb a mountain. In a mixed episode you want to climb a mountain so you can throw yourself off it.
Back in 2008, when I was in the middle of one of these mixed episodes, I went to my GP. He consulted some kind of web app, looked up Bipolar Disorder, and put me on Abilify.
If anything, this was worse. I was a zombie. Walking across the room was a struggle. My wife saw I was struggling and planned a family trip, hoping to cheer me up. It was a really great trip, but I don’t remember much of it. It was hard to even stay awake. I stopped taking the Abilify, but was still having the crushing anxiety and elevated anger of the mixed episode.
So we found a specialist. He diagnosed me officially with bipolar disorder, and put me on a mood stabilizer. I wasn’t fixed, but it was better.
All through this time I was trying to write. in 2007 I finished a novel, and in early 2008, before the mixed episode, I started another one. Then, with all of the cycles, writing became difficult. Hypomania gone, I found my ideas just weren’t coming anymore. The prose was bland. I hated everything I wrote. I managed to get past it and write anyway, and even sold a couple of stories, but I wasn’t happy with it. I came to the place where I thought I might now write anything good again.
This continued for several years. I got out of the habit of writing every day. I worked on editing my first novel, but had to admit it just wasn’t working and abandoned it. This only made me feel worse. I used to love this, why couldn’t I do it anymore. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had always defined myself as a writer. What was I going to do if I didn’t have that any more. More years passed. I wrote a couple of short stories, but they didn’t sell.
Last year, I decided to pull out the novel I started in 2008. As I read it, I got excited. It wasn’t perfect, but It was pretty good. The voice was entertaining and the plot, which I had written by the seat of my pants, actually hung together pretty well. I loved the characters. If I had once been capable of this, might I be capable again. I just needed to make myself do it.
So in July of last year I signed up for camp Nano. This is like NaNoWriMo except you set your own goal. I set mine for 30,000 words. Doable, I thought. I was fine for the first three weeks, then the fourth week an episode hit and I got nothing done. I ended up writing only 20,000 words, which wasn’t bad for a month’s output, but I didn’t meet my goal.
I read what I’d written and I hated it. I put my writing away for several months. Eventually, I wrote another short story, which didn’t sell. For a year I was pretty stable, but was accomplishing nothing. I wasn’t falling into mixed episodes, but wasn’t able to get much done.
I also gained about forty pounds, which only made things worse.
This summer I finally talked to my specialist about. He decided to try an anti-depressant long with my mood stabilizers. After a few weeks, I started to feel better. I wasn’t writing, but I was able to get stuff done during my day and had more energy. I got sick of looking at myself in the mirror and decided to start running again, hoping this would help me continue to balance out. I set myself for running in the 5k color run coming up in October.
In August I looked at all I had written so far on the novel, and I had to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was definitely salvageable. I decided I had worked on it long enough that it was time to finish it. It had been since 2007 since I’d finished something long form, and that was just unacceptable. I set myself another goal. I would have this book done by my birthday in January. In September I started writing again setting myself a goal of writing 1000 words a day, five days a week.
If I was going to do this, I needed a plan. Even on all my meds, organizing my day is hard for me, and I often come to the end finding I hadn’t accomplished mush. This had to stop. So, I got myself a notebook, wrote out a schedule and a to-do list for each day, and tried my best to stick with it.
It worked! I was meeting my writing goals, continuing to run, and (mostly) keeping up with all the housework and laundry.
So with the combination of mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, and exercise I feel like I’m functioning again. I’ve been in a better mood. The book is 2/3 of the way done, and none of the pets have died.
I don’t know how long it’s going to last. Like I said, it’s a moving target. But for now, I’ll take it.