Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Frustrating

I wrote a post on The Bipolar Writer Blog wherein I described Bipolar Disorder as engrossing.  I encourage you all to read that post, but the short version is this: One effect of hypomania or mania experienced by many people suffering from bipolar disorder is an intense desire and focus to do one thing – in short, they become completely engrossed in that one thing, sometimes to the point of having no desire or ability to do anything else.

Basically, this.

Engrossing isn’t always a terrible thing – you can get a lot done in a short amount of time if you have the time to work on that thing.  In fact, I think this is one of the best parts of bipolar disorder.  I’ve learned a lot by becoming engrossed in different things throughout my life.  The problem is that things like work, children, and… you know… eating, sleeping, and having actual relationships sort of get in the way.

And this leads us to frustration.  Ah, frustration – that thing you feel when you’re unable to achieve something you want… or what you experience when trying to open one of these:

clamshell.png
Fort Knox.

To me, frustration is one of the defining emotions of bipolar disorder.  I get so wrapped up in one single thing, and it becomes all I want to do; but life keeps getting in the way!  I still have a family.  I still have a job.  And my 4 month old doesn’t care that I have to finish this blog post or I’ll lose my mind!

This leads to anger, and the occasional shameful parenting moment; and over time it can lead to resentment.  Unfortunately these emotions are usually directed (unfairly) at the so-called “obstacles” to fulfilling the object of your manic engrossment.  This leads to some very odd, very unhealthy thoughts like: man, can’t my 3 year old just walk to preschool so I can work on this masterpiece tongue depressor bridge model that I have to finish. (side note here: It turns out tongue depressor bridge building is a thing because of course it is.  While googling it to find an image for this post I found a rich online community dedicated to it.  I love the internet…)

Frustration is a normal part of parenting, and life in general.  But it can be elevated to irrational levels for someone suffering from bipolar disorder.  Denying access to the object of a manic or hypomanic person’s engrossment is like denying an alcoholic their precious whiskey… something I also know nothing about.

In turn, the person or people who are seen as denying access can come to be seen as “enemies” – which to me is one of the most difficult and tragic parts of bipolar disorder.  Anything that has the ability to make you view your family as an “enemy” – even temporarily – is truly terrible.

And finally, bipolar disorder is frustrating when the depression returns and robs you of your will to continue pursuing your engrossment.  It’s like when you have to sneeze, and at the last moment you can’t.  Except the sneeze is your entire life’s work, and the sneeze going away is soul-crushing depression returning.

Here’s another helpful image:

Science’s best depiction of bipolar disorder.

It’s around the time the depression returns that you begin to realize you’ve probably been neglecting a lot of things you shouldn’t have – and maybe you’ve been a bit of a jerk too.  These realizations make the depression even worse, and feed into self-loathing… but that’s a topic for another post.

So that’s how I find bipolar disorder to be frustrating.  This is the second part of a series I am writing that explores various aspects of bipolar disorder, and how I experience them as someone suffering from type 2 bipolar disorder.

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Parenting and Mania: 5 Tips to Keep Your Head On Straight

Parenting is hard enough as it is, but parenting with bipolar disorder introduces its own set of unique challenges.

We all know little kids are certifiably insane energetic.  They’re excited all the time!  And why not?  Everything is new to them, everything’s an opportunity to learn!  We have so much to do, and we have to do it right now!  

Childhood really is kind of like mania… but unlike you and me, kids don’t really have the ability to completely destroy their lives.  Ah, the good old days!

I mean, I guess your kid could do this too.

But look, when you yourself are going through a manic episode, it’s hard enough to concentrate on 1 of 1000 things running through your head.  Add in some little kids running around, screaming, demanding your attention, and well… it’s enough to make you lose it.

But since losing it is generally undesirable, expensive, and you know… potentially marriage ending, it behooves us to keep it together.

So here’s 5 things I try whenever I feel a hard-core, mania-fueled, child-ignited, explosion of a freak-out session coming on.  And by the way, these 5 tips apply just as equally to those who aren’t suffering from bipolar depression.

 

#1. Drink.

 

 

#2. Get in the Car and Just Start Driving for a While.

 

 

#3. Freak-out just a little.  You know, scream into a pillow and then sob quietly in the closet.

 

 

#4. Maybe gamble a little… like a few hundred bucks… to start…

 

 

#5. Start that brewery!

 

#6: Buy a motorcycle.  #7: Grow a beard.  #8: Get in a high speed police chase and run from the cops?

 

OK, don’t do any of those things.  Seriously, try this instead:

#1. Keep a Schedule.

It’s easier to get through the day if you know it’s going to end.  If the kids go to bed at 8 or 9, then there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.  Set a time, then divide and conquer.

Here’s what I mean: say your kids are driving you to drink enjoying the innocence of childhood, and it’s… stressful.  Don’t think this is endless.  Think, I just need to get through the next 30 minutes.  Then another 30 minutes.  Then 1 more hour and it’s bedtime and I can get some sanity time to myself.

#2. Set Me Time.

So I said put the kids to bed at a decent time.  How about after that you stay up for an hour or two?  Make sure you have some you time.  Chances are your mind’s racing, and there’s a bunch of stuff you need to get out.  Well that’s no good if you don’t have any time dedicated to you.

I’m not saying sleep isn’t important, of course it is.  I’m just saying, get that me time (Also known by my family as “F-You Time”… as in, “F-you, I’m doing what I want to do”).

I know this one seems obvious but it can be really hard.  I’m too busy I can almost hear you saying; or I don’t have the time.  But chances are you just aren’t making the time.  Or maybe you feel guilty making the time?  I have to catch up on whatever chore, or maybe I have to spend every waking second with my significant other. 

Again, not saying you shouldn’t spend time with your significant other… and maybe that’s exactly how you want to spend your free time, and if so that’s great.  But you shouldn’t feel guilty carving an hour or two out of the day for just yourself to do what you want to do.

Besides, you want the time you spend with your partner to be quality time… and it’s not going to be quality time if your manic hyper-brain is making you trace patterns on the brick wall, or if you’re counting bumps in the ceiling, or if you just noticed the floor board joints make a pattern if you look at them from the right angle; or if you’re trying to write a blog post… oh wait.  Hold on honey, yeah, yeah I know, I just need a couple hours to finish this post.  Also, I’m taking the van this weekend, I’m going to Jimmy’s place on the lake… no, no, it’s just a dude thing, you can’t come.  Oh come on, don’t be like that, you’re so unreasonable.

#3. Get a Sitter.

It takes a village.

Ever hear that?  Well it does.

Don’t try to raise these kids by yourself.  You’ll die trying.  My wife and I were too proud to ask for help for the first 6 months of the life of our first daughter.  You know what happened?

Get some help.  Hire a sitter.  Call in a favor with that friend.  Get the grandparents involved.  They’ll love seeing your kids.  And then when things get hard for them?  They can leave!  And by the time you get back you’ll be ready to go again!  2 hours out on the town is like 2 months in parent-years.

#4. Get your kids into something interesting.

I’m not saying take your son whose clearly more into dancing than football and have him try out for the squad.  Don’t force your kids do do something they don’t wan’t to do, or be something they don’t want to be.  Don’t impose the same paternal inferiority complex on your kid that your father imposed on you.  Break the chain!

It looks cute to us – but that kid is devastated.  He’ll remember that forever.  This is how super-villains are made.

Get your kids into something they enjoy, and something you enjoy.  Get them, and by extension you, off the couch.  Make the time you’re going to spend with them no matter what fulfilling and interesting and you’ll both benefit.  You’ll get some of that manic energy out along the way.

But I’m a dude, you say, and I have daughters.  I don’t want to get into dance.  Well whatever dude, your loss.  Get over that toxic masculinity and start living the best life you can.

Get creative.  Go out of your comfort zone.  Don’t you want your kids to do those things?  Well set the example.  And make yourself better, and scratch that manic-itch to learn something new.

#5. When it gets hairy – take a minute.  Or ten.

You’ve been pushed to your breaking point.  Your kid is inconsolable.  You feel stressed.  You feel helpless.  And then you feel angry.  I do everything for you, you have everything you need, why are you still crying?!

What happens next isn’t going to be pretty.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my kid safe?
  2. Are their basic needs satisfied?  i.e., are they clothed, dry, warm, clean, fed?

If the answer to the above is yes, and you feel yourself crossing that threshold into anger, then walk away.  Put the baby in the crib, make sure the toddler can’t get into anything, and walk out of the room.  I’m not saying leave the house.  I mean, you have to stay in the house, pretty sure it’s a crime if you leave (definitely is).

But you can walk out of the room for a minute.  Collect yourself.  Don’t feel bad, it’s OK!  Really!  Sometimes you have to chill.  We all do.  That’s completely understandable.  You might have to do this everyday!  You’re still a good parent, this is really hard man!  Your kids will forgive you… hell, they probably won’t even notice.  You need to forgive yourself.

What’s not good is freaking out in front of the kids, hurting them, or hurting yourself.  Or punching the drywall.  Or kicking the dog.

So that’s it friends!  What helps you?  Let me know below!  Follow me for more!

 

 

 

2 Ways to Change Your Thinking to Get Mental Health Help

I’m a man.

For some reason that single fact alone creates a multitude of problems when it comes to improving my life, or seeking treatment for bipolar disorder… or you know, any number of other “mild” medical issues.

A mild medical issue.

I’m talking of course about toxic masculinity, and the culture that surrounds it.

The key word there is toxic.  Masculinity in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Why would it be?  I’m a man who does man things; that’s all good.

A man thing.

OK, so what do I mean by toxic masculinity?

Well, imagine you see a man sitting with his young daughter having a tea party.  He’s really engaged – hell maybe he’s wearing a tiara, or whatever else his daughter has deemed fit to bedazzle him with.  Masculinity is toxic when your first reaction to that scenario is “WOW, GAY!”  (The inherent logic of said statement being that having a fulfilling and engaging relationship with your daughter makes you enjoy sex with men… somehow?  What?  Also, do we really care about that still?)

Here’s another example: If you’re a straight man, and your reaction to seeing a beautiful woman in public is to shout a pathetic pick-up attempt out of the window of your 2005 Honda Civic that has an aftermarket spoiler that looks like it was designed by Boeing – well first of all you’re an asshole; and also, that’s what I mean by toxic masculinity.  (Again, the inherent logic here goes something like this: she’ll be so impressed by my assertiveness that she’ll start running down the road after me, perhaps stripping naked as she does so, and hopping into my sweet-sweet ride for some road-sex).

This car.  You’ve seen this car.

So, before moving on to the main point of all this, to briefly summarize:

Masculinity:

Car chase added for emphasis.

Toxic Masculinity:

See the difference?

So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why this is a problem for getting treatment for mental health in particular.

Well, talking about your feelings is not manly.  Admitting you have an issue is even less manly.  You know what is manly?  Bottling all that emotion up for a decade and masking it with an alcohol addiction.  I mean seriously, that shit’s considered manly!  And you’re a real man, aren’t you?

Look, I hate talking about myself too (says the guy currently talking about himself on the internet)… No but really I do.  It’s hard!  Men, we’ve spent our entire lives being conditioned that talking about your feelings makes you less of a man.  But you know what really makes you less of a man?  Being emotionally distant and not present in your kid’s lives.

To quote Salt-N-Peppa:

“…spends quality time with his kids when he can – secure in his manhood
’cause he’s a real man.” – Salt-N-Peppa, Whatta Man.

You know what else isn’t manly?  Bottling all that shit up for years at a time until one day you unleash it on the drywall:

That man is really passionate about his work.  Promote that man!

That shit’s weak.  And I know, because I’ve put more holes in drywall than I’m comfortable admitting to my court mandated therapist.  Come to think of it, I’ve got enough experience patching drywall that I just got another great idea…

rage quit drywall repair

But Matt, how am I supposed to overcome the paternal inferiority complex that’s been drilled into my monkey brain for the past 3 decades?

Well, here are the two very simple things that I’m drilling into my own head to try to get over this… with some success too I might add.

#1: Stop Belittling What You’re Going Through

Depression is real.  It’s not fake.

Bipolar disorder is real, not fake.

Mania is real, not fake.

Mental illness is a real thing.  You’re not a wimp.  You have a disease.  You have a potentially terminal disease if you don’t treat it.  You’d probably treat cancer if you were diagnosed.  You’ll probably do something about that cholesterol.  Why not do something about this too?

#2: Realize You’re a Bad-ass

You wake up every day and immediately go into battle with your own brain.  That’s fucking intense stuff man!  You’re a bad-ass!  You’re a warrior!

You know who else are bad-asses?

These guys:

action-army-battle-163347 (1)

But they’re not too manly to call in the air support when they need it:

I guess in this metaphor this is… therapy?

You’re a bad-ass.  Mental illness is an entrenched enemy – entrenched in your mind and body.  Call in that airstrike!

Ladies, the two tips above apply just as much to you.  Mental health stigma isn’t just a dude thing.  Plenty of women are too proud to talk about this stuff too.

So let’s talk about it!  It’s time to get better.

Talk to this toxic male whose brain doesn’t work down below!  Follow for more.

 

 

 

Shameful Moments in Parenting #1

So I’m a wonderful father who is completely infallible.

End of post.

.

..

….

Oh, you’re still here aren’t you?

Alright, let’s talk about some stuff.

So, parenting can really suck.  Sometimes frequently.  Often frequently.  OK… lately it seems more like usually.  I mean, I love my kids more than anything, and I’d do anything for them of course, but let’s be real for one minute… sometimes I just want to get in the car and start driving until I run out of gas.

Would I ever do that?  No, of course not.  But the thought gives me solace in times of trouble.

A time of trouble.

So I think I’m a pretty good dad but… well… sometimes not so much.  So here we go:

My job is very stressful (said everybody).  But really, it is… more on that some other time.

But anyways, everyday I get out of work, and every day I get stuck in traffic for an hour.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  Then I get the kids from the sitter and we go home; then the real fun begins.  When the doors of my dad van open, it’s like the door just dropped on the landing craft, and we’re storming the god damn beaches.

Welcome home.

The dogs have been locked up all day, so as soon as I open the door I know they’re going to go ballistic.  A tiny, angry chihuahua and a pug celebrate my return by digging their tiny little dagger paws into my shin and screaming (barking, I guess) as loud as possible.  Why are they screaming so loud?  I know why I am.

My 3 year old needs juice in her cup, but she already has it, she’s just confused for no reason.  But no, she actually doesn’t want the juice, she wants chocolate milk, but we don’t have chocolate milk.  WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE CHOCOLATE MILK?!

Then my 3 month old is screaming because she’s still coming to terms with the fact that mommy also works for a living, and daddy doesn’t have lactating breasts – just worthless man boobs; and I’m starting to sweat thinking I’d trade my testicles for a damn boob right about now.  My balls just make problems… boobs solve them!

Image is completely necessary.

Now the dogs are done eating, which means the Chihuahua’s timer has started – if he is not outside in 15 seconds he is going to shit everywhere.  Then he’s going to eat it.  Then he’s going to lick my face later… and my daughters’.

So then I open the door a crack to get the leashes, but there’s geese in our back yard, and the Chihuahua said FUCK THOSE GEESE! and shoots out the backdoor like a bat out of hell.  The pug gives me a quick, sorrowful look as if to say I know, he’s an idiot; I nod in agreement, but then he walks outside, stops short of the grass, turns around, stares me straight in the eyeball, and takes a dump on the patio.

Meanwhile, tiny humans are screaming.  My 3 month old is still strapped to her portable car seat, and is currently rocking it so violently that she’s skidded the thing about 6 feet into the living room.  My oldest continues to lament the lack of chocolate milk with an anguish befitting a funeral.

“Where’d chocolate milk go?!” – Tiny, insane human.

I contemplate letting the dogs continue to run free but then realize I have absolutely no explanation for their disappearance prepared for my wife.  So I run out as fast as I can and shepherd them back into the house.

Remember, I’ve been in the car for an hour before this, and it’s hotter than hell right now.  So like a good, healthy person, I’ve been hydrating all day.  This is great and all, but it has the unfortunate side effect that my bladder is so full right now that my back teeth are floating.

Apparently my 3-year-old’s is too, or at least it was, since she’s currently standing in a puddle of definitely not chocolate milk.  But don’t worry, she’s using the absorbent properties of her stuffed sheep to soak it up.

After mister pee-sheep gets thrown into the wash, I get my daughter and the puddle cleaned up, and I make her a sandwich.  Perhaps 5 minutes have passed since we pulled into the driveway.

Now it’s finally time to tend to the baby.  I get her out of the car seat and she continues to freak out.  I look in the fridge for a bottle but only find a bag of still frozen breast milk.  With one arm holding baby, I clumsily fish around at the back of the bottom cabinet looking for a pan to heat some water.  I know you’re not supposed to boil frozen milk this way but the screams of the tiny baby human in my arms are telling me that doesn’t matter right now.

I put the baby down in her pack and play while the milk is warming up.  My older daughter realizes that there’s a chance that peace might return to my life.  WELL WE CAN’T HAVE THAT!

There is no peace.

“Daddy, can you put on the show?”

The show… I hate the show.  The show is one of those awful things you find on Netflix or YouTube with the computer animated kids and animals that sing the same 10 songs on repeat until finally they become the soundtrack to your nightmares.  I begin to wonder how much gas is in the van…

“DADDY, SHOOOOOOOW! PEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAZZZZZ!”

I begrudgingly turn the show on.  The music seems to placate her for the time being.(Daddy finger, daddy finger, where are you?  At the bar, at the bar, how do you do?  By the way, who wrote that awful song?!)

By now the milk is warming up and I can actually take care of the baby.  I get a brief respite as the children are eating, and I sit down for the first time in what feels like hours.

“Mommy finger, mommy finger where are you?…” – certified asshole.

But soon my oldest is finished with her dinner, and I’m surprised that it’s already almost 8pm – I hadn’t realized how late I’d stayed at work that evening.  So it’s time for bath and bed for my oldest.

So we all head upstairs, and I put the baby down in her crib.  Bath time proceeds as normal with my oldest one playing with her bath toys in peace and my baby actually taking a break from screaming.  But after a few minutes the baby starts screaming again so I try to coax my oldest out of the bath.

At first I try to do the nice thing, ask her if she’s ready, try to ease her out of it.  But it’s clear she has no intention of getting out of the bath, so I’ll have to make her.  I start washing her and she loses it.  She knows that means bath-time is over and she’s not ready.  But baby’s screaming in the other room and I can feel that familiar feeling of “baby is crying, I need to do something” panic rise.

My anxiety is finally reaching a breaking point as I have to lift my oldest out of the water with one arm while I wash her bottom half because she refuses to stand up on her own.  The screams from the other room intensify, and the wriggling child in my arms begins kicking wildly.

Then at last my anxiety overcomes me and I break; I spank my daughter – hard.  And not just once, but ten times.  Over and over.

She stops resisting for a moment and is in complete shock.  Then she starts crying in earnest.  I quickly finish washing her, then lift her out of the tub to dry.  She’s inconsolable.  I do the only thing I can think to do to calm her down – I hug her.

She cuddles with me for several minutes while the baby cries in the other room.  At last, she allows me to let her go, and I scoop up the baby from the other room, and I tuck my oldest into bed – but not before she makes me read her her favorite books.  At last she asks me to turn the light off, and I kiss her goodnight.

I’ll admit, this incident freaked me out.  Many parents are fine with spanking their kids; they think it’s good for them… even think it’s necessary.  That’s never been my thinking but I know plenty of people who spank their kids and everybody turns out fine.  What upset me was my loss of control.

I wasn’t spanking her because I decided to, or because it was some life lesson about listening to your parents, and learning discipline.  I did it because I was pissed, plain and simple.  Now maybe she deserved it.  She was out of line after all, and she was the one who caused me to lose my temper.  But she’s 3… what does she really know?

So now am I someone who beats their kids?  A deadbeat dad who comes home from work and loses control?  I don’t know, maybe that’s an overreaction, but it’s something that will probably stick with me for a long time, and definitely qualifies as a Shameful Moment in Parenting.