But You Don’t Look Like You Have Bipolar!!!

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But You Don’t Look Like You Have Bipolar!!!

And You Don’t Act Like It Either!!!

What?!? Really?!?

So I ‘m visiting with my step-sisters after not seeing them for a couple years and it came up that I have ADHD and Bipolar Disorder (I don’t announce it). My 25 year old step-nephew’s head turned and his eyes got big and he said, “But you don’t look like you have bipolar and you don’t act like you have bipolar!” He said it many times during our visit. I’ve heard a lot of things about bipolar, but this was a new one.

Brandon said it many times. I asked “How does a person who has bipolar act? And how are we supposed to look?” He didn’t know. But not like me. I looked and acted “normal.” I did my usual, saying it could be managed with the right medication (for me). A different cocktail for each of us that takes a while to get right, but definitely worth the work. Blah, blah, blah.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this. What are we supposed to look like? How are we supposed to act? We don’t look like we feel. We are pretty good at hiding what’s going on with us. We look pretty much like everyone else.

Now acting like we have bipolar might be a little different. Depends on the day (month or day or week or hour). But it’s not something that another person could label as bipolar. I don’t think. Most days we’re fine. Some days we’re depressed and want to disappear or not get out of bed. Some days it might be going on a really fun shopping spree, or cleaning cleaning and cleaning some more, or getting very agitated or using drugs or alcohol to make us feel normal. But most of the time, we’re fine. We can manage it with sleep, good-for-you food and exercise. And we probably add medication. So we’re fine most of time. And not only that, a lot of people without bipolar act the same way. But “YOU DON”T ACT LIKE YOU HAVE BIPOLAR”!!! Really??? Give me a break!

Yes. I do have bipolar 1 with psychosis. And my aunt next door watched as I went through the part where I would see people that weren’t there. All this took place while we (doctor and I) were trying to get my medication straightened out. And my son had died a few years earlier which triggered my big manic and depressive episodes. My aunt, next door, has never let go of the fact that I am mentally ill and not “normal” like everybody else. It’s very frustrating. I can be mentally healthy by managing it. I can do anything anybody else does. I just have to be vigilant. I have to pay attention to my moods. I know what to do. I know what to look for. As does my support team. Friends, who agreed to help me through any manic or depressive episodes that I may have. My episodes now are manageable because I take my medication. I will take it the rest of my life because I don’t ever want to have a life like I had before I found out I had bipolar disorder. I don’t want to “act” like I have bipolar if I can help it. Ha-ha. However that is. So no one can tell I have bipolar. Either way, my 87 year old aunt thinks I will never be OK again. Very frustrating. I was 55 when I was diagnosed with bipolar. It’s true that I had some pretty bizarre manic episodes during my lifetime. And some deep depression. But I also had a lot of business success my whole life. In two different careers. I wish people would remember that. Instead of the mistakes I’ve made. I made amends for the times I hurt people. So I’m okay there. Yes, I have a mental illness. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a “normal” life. And I do.

Here’s another good one. My daughter also has bipolar. And when my daughter visited from another state, my aunt (same one) later said, “She doesn’t act like there’s anything wrong with her. She doesn’t seem like she has bipolar. She seems fine”. What’s up with that? She IS fine. So am I. So are many, if not most, of our tribe. In fact, most of humanity is just fine.

Emotions: A Blessing and a Curse

Emotions. Feelings. Moods. Those ups and those downs.

Emotion:  An intense mental state that arises subjectively rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes.  

Feeling:  An affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments, or desires.

Mood:  A state of mind or emotion.

The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

Emotions. A blessing and a curse. This is true for everyone, of course. Expressing how we feel. Up or down. Energy or blah. For those of us with Bipolar it’s way too up and way too down. A little too much energy and sometimes not enough to get out of bed. We try to hang on, keep our feelings in check so we’re not too vulnerable to be hurt or embarrassed. We all do. The more we hang on, the less joy there is. How can we find the balance we want so we can enjoy the normal highs and be normally low as the situations arise? How can we get our medication/therapy/whatever right to allow us the “normal” feelings and keep from being a zombie? I’ve been both and I was recently on the very emotional side. Not depressed, just emotional. At least in my opinion. I wanted to be able to say, “I’m okay” when asked how I was without bursting into tears for no apparent reason. Or crying so much I have to cancel plans. Sometimes…not always, but sometimes. It’s embarrassing…actually I felt ashamed something was wrong with me and I couldn’t control my tears. Shame is another emotion we have to deal with on a regular basis.

When it comes to managing their bipolar, there are three camps: 1) Those who manage with medication, 2) Those who have figured out how to manage it other ways, and 3) they don’t… The amount of exercise, sleep and the right foods can work to keep some of us relatively stable. I’m a medication person, myself. Most of my life, pre-diagnosis, I was a mess. So if medication could fix that, I’m in. I really need meds to stay stable. It took a couple of years to get the dosages right. This blog speaks more to those of us on meds because that’s something we can tweak.

What do we do when our medication seems to be working pretty well, not really manic and not really depressed, but it’s right on the edge? It’s important to have, feel, the highs and lows of life and with Bipolar it’s easy to either be medicated so you don’t experience a normally wide range of emotions or on the edge of being too emotional. Some would call it drama. It’s hard to tell until someone asks how you are, and tears show up…for not much of a reason. Or not really over spending, but did I really need that membership at a gym that’s 30 miles away and I don’t go to? Just spurts of thinking I had enough money for whatever I wanted and times when tears show up for something others would just brush off. Pretty stable my standards. But it doesn’t have a positive impact at a meeting, at work or at home, visiting friends. Otherwise, everything was fine.

Trying to decide to make a medication tweak so not to be so emotional and take the chance it would make me too unemotional was a tough one. Messing with meds that pretty much work can be tricky. I also have ADHD and would love to take medication to help me settle down and focus. BUT, that medication can kick off a manic episode. For me, a manic episode is spending too much money. Back before I knew I had bp, I did a lot of other wild and crazy and hurtful things. (I did make amends.) My bipolar meds have toned that down and I have it managed. I’m as stable as I want to be… pretty stable and occasionally I’ve been known to spend money on goofy, not used things or freak out for a day or two. My downs are not so bad either. I can function but it takes a lot of effort for a few days. So tweaking meds can cause some problems…or can it can get better? I’m lucky to have a team of close friends that have reeled me in or held me up during my light-weight episodes. I keep the episodes light-weight with meds, therapy and coaching. Exercising, eating better and getting at least 8 hours of sleep almost every night is important, too. Not easy, that’s for sure. But it helps a lot.

So back to where I started. If we don’t allow ourselves the sad and depressed-at-times emotions, we are also not allowing ourselves to experience real unadulterated joy. I really like to feel joyful. But I don’t like tearing up or crying over nothing. It’s been such a dilemma.

Then there’s another way to look at this. It’s OK to be just as we are. No one’s perfect. Life isn’t perfect. We’re humans and God gave us all feelings and emotions and, just like some who have green eyes or brown, some of us were endowed with bipolar, ADHD, something else or nothing at all.

Mood swings. Emotional havoc. Way up (although some of the ups can pretty cool, there’s almost always that not-so-cool down that follows) and way down feelings. Ugh.

What do you think? How do you feel about this?

BTW: I opted to try tweaking my meds. Too early to tell how it’s going to work out.

ADHD Spring Cleaning

I know it’s technically winter, but in CA, its spring like.

Something I’m learning about how to keep my house cleaned up/straightened up/somewhat clutter-free…so, if Aunt Clara drops by I won’t get that rapid heartbeat that I get when I feel like I’m being judged. I know it can’t all be done in one day, so I chunk it down…maybe a half or whole room a day. I do have other things that need my attention during the day besides housecleaning.

So this is what worked for me, at least for now. I started with my utility room. The smallest, most neglected and unseen room in my house. Why clean it? Who’s going to see it anyway? The answer to that is “me”. Every time I walk in there to do the laundry or clean out the cat box I say to myself “What a freaking mess”. Then I walk out and forget about it until the next time I HAVE to go in there. It took me ALL DAY to clean and organize a 5 x 10′ room with a washer, dryer, freezer and water heater taking most of the space. First of all, I live on an almond farm with a shop and tractor area surrounding my house. So dust and dirt is a daily challenge. If I let anything go longer than a few days I have a pile of dirt on any flat surface (that’s not covered with clutter). There was reorganizing the cabinets where I found an amazing amount of useful things and an equally amazing amount of junk to be tossed. Part of the re-org involved under the kitchen sink. Cleaning supplies and cleaning supplies, right? The many duplicates could explain why I run out of space.

The kitchen was next. (After I freshened up the utility room) The first thing to be dealt with was the paperwork I was using as a tablecloth…mail, newspapers, notes to self, notes to others, just notes. This took half the time because I am evidently a paperwork hoarder…well, paper hoarder in general. I needed a breather a good chunk of the way through. Don’t laugh. It’s exhausting deciding what to keep and what to let go of. I had to do it more than once. I had a notes-to-self notebook I could transfer notes to. A notes-to-someone else notebook. Each someone-else had their own page or two. A lot of the notes were obsolete. There have been many times I had to throw everything on the table into a bag and hide it in the closet or somewhere not to be seen again when I had friends over. I still don’t know what’s in those bags. So I must not need them. Right???

Back to business. Next was figuring out where to put the papers I was keeping. File cabinet, bookshelf, etc. The file cabinet pile was left for another day when I have to re-org my file cabinet. Next are the counters and the stuff on them. This had to include drawers and cabinets. I started panicking. I quickly went to the utility room and took a deep breath. I remembered how I felt, inside and out, when I completed this room. Another deep breath. Ok, I’m ready to get back to the kitchen, looking forward to the same feeling about two rooms. I started at the counter next to the utility room door (I could see my handiwork) and moved clockwise. Cleaned, re-organized, found homes for things that do not belong on my counters, etc. Most of a day. I now know how it feels to dance around TWO cleaned up, organized, I-can-find-anything-you-ask-for rooms.

It took another week before I even started to spring clean the living room. I do have another life. BUT, every day I went to the utility room and dusted it off and made sure everything was in its place. Then I did the same with the kitchen. I also noticed I wasn’t leaving paperwork on the tables in the living room so much. In fact, I started putting things away without even noticing I was doing it. So…when it was time to start on the living room it was much easier. I even washed the cushion covers from my sofa. I was getting used to and expecting to feel awesome, like SOMEBODY, like my Aunt Clara could drop in whenever she wanted and I would welcome her without one twitch. As long as she doesn’t come in further than the living room. I don’t know how long this will last, but so far it’s working. Still to be done is my bedroom and office.

It’s almost a week later. Still “freshening” up my previously spring cleaned rooms. Have not started on the other rooms. I feel so overwhelmed. Both rooms have ceiling fans that work with lights that do not. I need to replace the lights. In fact, now that I’m talking about ceiling fan lights, the one in the kitchen has the light, but not the cord to pull. Fortunately it turns on when the switch goes on, along with the fan and goes out when it’s switched off, along with the fan. Speaking of the kitchen I found two things I missed when I worked so hard to get it completely cleaned and organized. Well, three things. The top of the refrigerator. Another flat surface under the window and behind the kitchen table with PAPERS on it. OMG! The worst, however is my toaster/convection oven that sits on my counter. It was beautifully cleaned on the outside and I thought that was done. It isn’t. It hasn’t been cleaned like an oven should be cleaned in at least two years. I use it all the time. I discovered it when a light bulb went on in my head…unlike the lights in the office and bedroom. I realized the reason I needed to turn the oven fan on and open all the doors and windows about 10 minutes after I start baking. It wasn’t the PAM or the oil I used so things won’t stick. It was the baked on splatters from more than two years of baking chicken, steak, fish, frozen French fries, etc. and it wasn’t going to come off with a sponge. So I need to use an oven cleaner. Why would I have an oven cleaner under my sink (I know this because I just cleaned out and re-organized it a few days ago)? I have a self-cleaning big oven and a little toaster oven that I toast AND bake stuff in. So now I am in the middle of cleaning my toaster oven and can’t finish until I get some oven cleaner. Next time I go into town. You see, I live on a farm and just outside a tiny town with no stores that carry oven cleaner. So I have to drive almost 30 minutes away to buy it. Not happening today. While I’m in town getting the oven cleaner in a couple of days, I should pick up three new ceiling fans. I won’t be able to put the fan up in my office, where I really need the light because I’ve been using it as storage for things I took out of storage and I haven’t put in their place yet. This idea of spring cleaning came to me after that. The covered window is on the other side of the room. I’m in a conundrum – My living room looks very nice and clutter free or it doesn’t, and I’m dragging stuff in there from my office so I can get to the window to see so I can put things in their place. I’m afraid some of the boxes will stay in the living room because, as you ADHDers know, it’s not going to be fun anymore. I won’t want to do it. So what to do…

I go to the utility room and look at how beautiful it looks (for a utility room) and notice how good I feel and capture that feeling by closing my eyes and taking a deep breath and grasp the wonderful feeling of finishing something. I put my blinders on as I walk past the toaster oven sprawled out on my pristine counter waiting for oven cleaner. I walk into my living room and it’s so clutter free and I feel so good that I actually finished something. I’m starting to get pumped up again. I’ll cover up the toaster oven with a towel until I can clean it. I’ll let you know how the office and bedroom go another day.

A Beginning.

This is my “I’m open for business” blog. It’s a beginning. January has been a month of beginnings…of finishing the projects I started during 2013. This website was one of them. It’s not completely finished. I still have a few pages on ADHD that haven’t been posted because they’re just not ready yet. I will always be adding to it so it will never be finished.

I’m a non-medicated for ADHD person who is medicated for bipolar. Bipolar meds are working like a charm and the ADHD coping skills are coming along. I’m liking the experience of finishing something. Enjoying that feeling and celebrating it is working for me. I had not make a big deal about finishing something in the past. I would tell myself “You finally finished this, you bozo, it should have been done months ago.” Do you see the difference? One celebration is probably going to bring more success than a “you bozo” will.  So I have lots of overdue things to finish. I’m going to celebrate each time I finish something. I started Spring Cleaning last month. (I know most of you in the rest of the country have been freezing your butts off, but it’s been spring-like all winter long here in California.) It’s no overnight job, but I’m finishing what I’m starting, room by room. More on that in my next blog.

I’m rolling out my website…kathysalas.com, today. I have this website up for several reasons. I will be promoting my coaching business as a tool for some people to use to stay focused on the life they dream of so they can actually have it and more.  I’ve learned a lot going through my lifetime of battles and challenges with bipolar and ADHD and we’ll throw in some anxiety issues. You can read more about me in the “About Me” tab on this site. I hope to bring all that I know from experience and/or research to the site. I’ll continue to update with new information as I find it or experience it. I’m in this to grow, too. I have my coach who is helping me make my dreams come true. I will be blogging for the first time (a beginning). This is my first. It’ll be short this time.