I’ve been contemplating writing this post for a couple of months now, I’m still not sure if I’m comfortable sharing this with people who know me in real life, so I’m starting with you semi-strangers. While this post is not really running related, it does explain why I haven’t been running, or writing about running for a while.
I am bipolar, or am I?
I know that there are some people in my life who will be upset at me for saying this (hence the title of this post), but a few years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve never been completely convinced that the doctors (I got 4 or 5 “second opinions”, because I’m stubborn) are correct. I have reached a point where I can admit that whether I have the disorder or not, I definitely have the symptoms and meet the criteria for the diagnosis.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
People often accuse others of being bipolar when they change their minds a lot, or contradict themselves. While it may be true that people who are bipolar change their minds a lot (when you go from being manic to being depressed, chances are you’re going to have different thoughts), that’s not what being bipolar means. Simply put, people who are bipolar sometimes experience manic or hypo manic episodes and sometimes experience depressive episodes.
I like using the word mania, it sounds really scary and crazy, but it’s not. Being manic is actually a lot of fun. When I’m manic, I’m really happy, outgoing and friendly (If you know me in real life, you’re probably thinking that doesn’t sound anything like me). I have lots of “brilliant” ideas, I get very impulsive, energetic and super productive. Sometimes these episodes (I hate that word, but I don’t know what else to call them) only last a few hours, sometimes they last for 3 or 4 days. They’re usually accompanied by lack of sleep (who has time for sleep when there are so many brilliant things to do?) without the tiredness that should come along with not sleeping. The problem with mania is that while it feels awesome, it leads to impulsive and reckless decisions.
Depression and Suicide
I think depression is better understood than bipolar disorder, but it is still confused with simply being in a bad mood. It’s far more than that and it’s not something you can just snap out of. One of the scariest things about bipolar disorder is that somewhere between 25 and 50% of people with bipolar disorder have attempted suicide at some point. If I understand correctly (I’m certainly not an expert) the biggest risk factor for suicide comes from the changing of states, between manic and depressive, which is supposed to be limited by mood stabilizers. Unfortunately, the medications aren’t 100% effective and other things can cause mood changes and trigger things like ultra rapid cycling (it’s not as much fun as it sounds).
I’m Not Ashamed
The reason I decided to write about this, in spite of people telling me to keep it quiet, is that I am not embarrassed or ashamed of being bipolar. I don’t think it’s something that I need to keep secret. It’s also not something that I need to share, but I can if I want to. People in the mental health industry often compare mental illness to cancer and other diseases like that, I prefer to compare it to post-nasal drip. Chances are that some of you suffer from post-nasal drip, but it would be ludicrous for you to feel guilty about such a thing. Mental illnesses are also real illnesses and it’s just as ludicrous for a person with such an illness to feel guilty (yet, most probably do). Having a mental illness does not mean your whole life is about being mentally ill. I would argue that someone with post-nasal drip is bothered by their condition more frequently than a mentally ill person who is being properly treated. It would sound silly to write a post like this about having post-nasal drip, so why write about mental illness? Simply because the attitude that we should be embarrassed about our illness is still pervasive (especially within certain communities).
I’m Not Dangerous
With everything going on in the world and the Florida school shooting in particular, I feel the need to say what should be obvious. Just because someone is mentally ill, they’re not necessarily a danger to kill anyone. It might be true that all mass murderers are mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean that all mentally ill people are potential mass murderers (you know…correlation doesn’t equal causation, or something like that). I actually saw someone I know in real life write on Facebook that instead of gun control, we should just round up the mentally ill people and lock them up. I wonder where he thinks he would wind up.
Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong
Typically, being bipolar doesn’t have a big impact on my life. I have ups and downs like everyone else. I might have to work a little harder to recognize the changes and possible dangers that sometimes pop up, but that’s relatively benign. Unfortunately, there are times when things get messed up and it can really screw with my life. Recently I had some medication changes that did not work out as planned (I’m blaming the medication, but that’s probably not entirely the cause) and sent me into an ultra rapid cycling state. Basically, I was changing from manic to depressed many times over the course of a day (not the same as simply being happy or sad because of events that took place during the day). This brought on some risky and impulsive behaviors that were deemed to be hazardous to myself and others around me. That’s not to say that I was suicidal or homicidal, I was not and am not, but I was doing things impulsively that could have caused damage. Fortunately, I didn’t do any permanent harm to anyone, but I was forced to get more intensive treatment.
Real Life Example
I’m not comfortable talking about the more serious things I’ve been going through, but I feel like maybe an example would be helpful. I went to New York with my wife for my birthday a few months ago. It was our first time going away together without our son in well over a year and my first attempt at taking a break from the restaurant since I reopened it. A bunch of things went wrong on our trip, but I was still having a great time. I wasn’t quite manic, but I was feeling like I was getting there and then I decided to have some wine with dinner and that put me over the top. Long story short, my wife was understandably tired after a long day of traveling and wanted to go to sleep. I did not, but I know better than to keep her from her sleep. I forgot to bring one of my medications on the trip and consequently couldn’t fall asleep. For some reason my wife brought nail polish remover along for our two day trip and it spilled in the suitcase, leaving behind a horrendous smell. I tried everything to make myself fall asleep, but the more I tried the more anxious and upset I got. I tried sitting by the open window to breathe in some fresh air, but I couldn’t stop thinking about jumping out the window (not that I wanted to do it, I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head). I thought about going for a walk, but I was afraid I would run into traffic, or do something else that would get me killed. I made it through the night without any sleep, or any harm, but I got into a depressed state that lasted for weeks.
The Loony Bin
My psychiatrist recommended that I check myself into a partial hospitalization program, which I was hesitant to do for a number of reasons. Then I accidentally missed an appointment with him and he felt I was not complying with his treatment plan, so he called the police to check in on me and recommend that I voluntarily go to the hospital (The alternative to going voluntarily would be an involuntary check in with a mandatory five-day hospitalization). I chose to go voluntarily, thinking that they would discharge me right away, as I was perfectly OK. Turns out it’s not that simple and they ended up keeping me for around 24 hours and only letting me go on condition that I was being supervised and agreed to attend a day treatment program at a hospital as soon as they could get me in.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
I imagined the psych ward as being similar to how it was portrayed in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I thought I must be wrong and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining. I was wrong. Fortunately there was no Nurse Ratched, but there was quite a bit of entertainment. There was the guy I named The US American, screaming and cursing on top of his lungs about his constitutional rights and demanding to see a representative of the United States government (at 4AM). He was a combination of entertaining and scary, but I didn’t like him since he took my room and they moved me into the hall.
The Racist Jerk
They put me directly in front of another room, with the curtain open (they don’t let anyone out of their sight) and the guy in that room was Mr. Racist. When the nurse brought him breakfast in the morning, he said “Thank you sp*c prostitute”. I thought I heard wrong, but for the rest of the day he continued to rant about the sand n*ggers, sp*cs and crackers. When he finally saw me he pulled his curtain shut and told the nurses they couldn’t open it because he didn’t want to see that “f*cking f*ggot Kike” which while hilarious (I wasn’t even wearing my running tights!), was also kind of annoying. I wasn’t sure if it was OK to complain about how someone’s behaving in the psych ward, I mean we’re all there for a reason, right? But, I complained anyway, and they did nothing 🙂 There were also quite a few people in considerable pain and turmoil, some sobbing and wailing and reminding me that this is not a big joke, it’s a serious situation.
After the ER stay I figured it would be wise to humor the doctors and go to a day treatment program, even if I didn’t need it. The program runs from 9-3 daily and while voluntary, is also considered an emergency hospitalization program, so you kind of have to show up. I’m still in this program now and so far, it’s actually been quite helpful. It’s kind of nice spending the whole day on a couch working on different things, without distractions of daily life. On the other hand, it’s frustrating not being able to go about my life and do the things I’m supposed to do, like work.
What You Can Do To Help
In the past when I’ve talked about mental health issues, people have contacted me upset that I didn’t confide in them, or asking what they can do to help. The answer is, don’t judge me or get mad at me for avoiding you and understand that I am not an illness, I’m just me and I don’t need to be treated any differently. One of the main reasons I don’t talk about this, or confide in anyone is that the last thing I ever want is to be pitied or treated like a fragile baby. I am a strong, capable person who can take care of myself and get help when I need it (except when I’m not).
There are people who have noticed that I’ve been acting differently lately and have asked me about it. My response was to get far away from those people, because I’m not happy that they’re able to see what I try to hide. That said, one of the big reasons I’m writing this is that I know some of you also have mental illnesses and it can be helpful to hear from others who are going through similar things (kind of like a post-nasal drip support group), so if you do need help or advice and I can help, I’d be more than happy to.
What About Running?
The reason I started running was to help with my physical and mental health. Ironically, when I get sick (physically and mentally in this case) I stop running. Over the last three months I’ve gotten completely off track with my training program and had to give up on the upcoming Jerusalem Marathon. Now that I’m getting help and on medicine that seems to work, I’m hoping to get back on track and train for a marathon in a couple months. This week I managed to run twice and while I can feel the effects of all the missed training, it felt good. Next week I’m going to attempt to restart the Hal Higdon training plan that I wrote about here. Going through all this craziness lately has caused me to rethink a lot about my life and I’ve decided to embark on a journey that I didn’t have the guts to even talk about before, attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I’m not sure what my timeline is yet, or if it’s an achievable goal. More on that later.
Until Next Time
Hopefully I’ll be getting back to running and related posts soon. I apologize for the detour, but I felt that it was necessary to do my part in ending the stigma around mental illness and explain my disappearance. I know this post will be hurtful to some of you who think it would be better to keep these things private, so in the words of Eminem “I’m sorry momma, I never meant to hurt you….but tonight I’m cleaning out my closet” (not literally, there’s still plenty of time before Passover!).
P.S. In spite of the name of this post, I am not blaming my mother for anything, I’m using “momma” as a generic term for people from older generations who are only trying to be protective. Also it fit the eminem song, so….