Daily Archives: June 2, 2018

The Eyes Have It

One of the funny/strange things about bipolar disorder is the way people’s eyes change when they’re in a mood episode.

Seriously. I can always tell when I’m manic, even when I don’t think so otherwise, because my eyes actually sparkle and change colors. My hazel irises turn green and there’s this slightly mad look in them that tends to make others wonder just what I might be up to. My eyes also widen and the pupils dilate; friends call this phenomenon “psycho eyes”. If you’ve ever seen the Vraylar commercials on TV, they show a woman whose eyes do pretty much the same thing, which is about the only realistic part of the ad (come on, when you’re really manic you don’t even know where the sticky notes are, let alone have them lined up neatly on your office window).

Eyes also tend to change when you’re depressed, although not as dramatically. Mine will darken and take on a sad, dispirited look that gives me away even when I tell people “I’m fine”. My parents told me my face was way too easy to read, which is something I’ve spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to overcome because I was often punished for letting my emotions show. It’s tough facing the world sometimes when you know anyone with the emotional IQ of a seventh-grader can tell that something’s wrong.

My youngest son, Ethan, could assess my feelings even when he was three years old. I remember one evening in particular when I was putting him to bed, and he began asking me questions. “Mom, are you sad? Mom, are you mad?” he inquired, obviously concerned about me. At the time I didn’t think I was either, but sometimes my resting bitch face causes people to assume I’m upset and trying to hide it. Rather than try to explain my apparent funk, I told him I had a headache, and he said “You need an aspirin!” His ability to ‘diagnose’ problems has also served him well in his nursing career so far. LOL.

But it’s the mania that really brings out the crazy in my peepers. I have been told at various times that they almost glitter, and that it’s kind of frightening for the people who know me well. Others mistakenly believe I’m just super happy, and for the most part I’m content to let them think that. Believe it or not, I have a few friends who have NO idea whatsoever that I’m bipolar and I’m not about to let that cat out of the bag. They all came from a time when mental illness was something to be ashamed of and thus wasn’t often talked about, so I simply let them think I’m perfectly normal…and if by chance someone remarks about my wide-open, sparkly eyes, I only tell them I’m having a really good day.

Julie A. Fast, a well-known bipolar expert who herself suffers from bipolar 2, has actually posted pictures of herself in both mania and depression in BP Magazine, and it’s very easy to tell which mood state she’s in. I’ll do the same here one day if I can ever think to take photos when I’m one way or the other.

Speaking of moods, I seem to have returned to baseline for the most part…just in time to see Dr. Goodenough this coming Wednesday. I will, of course, have to fill him in on how I’ve been flipping in and out of hypomania this spring, and he may not be very thrilled with me given his repeated requests that I call in to report any deviation from stable and I haven’t done it. I will also have to tell him about my screwy sleep patterns; I sleep nine or 10 hours some nights, and two or three hours on others. Wednesday night I didn’t sleep at all, and last Friday I was up for 36 hours straight. And I wasn’t even tired. That’s never a good sign. So it’s probably going to mean an increase in meds, and not a decrease like I would have liked. We shall see.




How I’ve Been Grieving Lately

Before my father passed away, I planned to attend the Sunriver Writers’ Summit. Unfortunately, the summit followed only a month after his death, and I felt too raw to attend. Social gatherings overwhelm and exhaust me and can trigger mood…

The Conundrum of Seasonal Affective Disorder

I must admit, I get a little pissy when I explain to people that I have extreme Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD, S.A.D) and they attempt to commiserate by saying, “Yeah, I get a little of the winter blues, too.” I really can’t fault them for their ignorance of comparing ‘the blues’ to a crippling months long depression that impacts every aspect of your functionality. Let’s face it. The world at large is very ignorant of mental health issues, period. While we have certainly come along way over the last 40 years or so about knowledge, stigma, and acceptance…It’s just one of those things that most people see as ‘if it doesn’t apply to me, I don’t need to know about it.”

Except if you have someone in your life, be it family, spouse, significant other, a friend, who has been diagnosed with extreme S.A.D, it would be very supportive for those around us to learn about the disorder so they can better understand why we have mood swings or sink into despair. It’s not merely winter blues. It’s like a shutdown of function and it is debillitating to live life that way 6-8 months of the year, depending on your geographic location and weather extremes. I give points to those who try to commiserate by admitting their winter blues, mind you. It’s just not a fair comparison.

I live in Bumfuck, Midwest, population 590, and the weather here gets pretty extreme without much consistence. For example, yesterday it was 92 and scorching. Today it’s 66 and the sun is peeking out after an hour long rain. While rain and lower temperature is certainly more comfortable for me, the sudden shift also leaves me reeling a bit. Fall and winter are the same way. One day in the 60’s, then it can drop to negative 3 the next day or rain for 3 straight weeks. It’s difficult to regain equibrium and even footing. I’ve been asked a zillion times, why not just move to a better climate? And I always point out the dollar signs factor. Just moving 7 miles out of town has nearly broken me. Can’t imagine what moving halfway across the country to warmer climate would cost.

The conundrum here, however, is that my other disorders are both helped and worsened by weather changes. I changed to a different med, got off the secondary antidepressant, and the winter turning to spring has helped immensely, even if it took the midwest til May for spring to actually appear. What happens to me during spring and summer is the polar opposite of fall and winter 90% of the time. I go hypomanic some days. I have more energy, more zest for life, more desire to keep fighting all the crap flung my way. But ALSO, since activity outside rises during warmer months, my anxiety metastasizes with all the noise triggers. People are out and about. There are lawnmowers and chainsaws and cars and kids on bikes shrieking and of course, my kid being her social butterfly self, always bored, always wanting a friend to play then she spends the entire time MOM MOM MOMming me to death because the friend makes her annoyed or angered. That’s the flip side to the depression lifting. I feel like I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown every single day because my sensory overload is tipping the scales that way.

In contrast, my anxiety goes way down during the winter (except during family helli-day get togethers) while depression seeps into me, slowly at first, and then BAM. Ninja depression has completely seized me and I can’t enjoy the calm because I’m too far down that black depressive rabbit hole.

It really sucks to endure life this way and hey, if someone wants to adopt us so we can relocate to warmer pastures with more steady climate…here we are, lol.

I think the biggest misconception about S.A.D though, is that it’s the same as ‘winter blues’. Those I know with winter blues don’t go days without bathing, or want to go to sleep at 6:30 p.m. or spend four months in layers of clothing under Fort Blankie because they can never get warm. SAD is a whole different beast. I’ve tried everything for it- aromatherpy, light therapy, color therapy, talk therapy, I even had my bloody chakras aligned during some new age phase in the 90’s. The doctors and therapists are so hung up on these ‘sun’ lamps that mimic natural sunlight and this is suppose to be some major boost or cure but for me…it does nothing. Except the same as extreme exposure to sunlight-give me massive headaches because of light sensitivity. I know light is healthier for easing depressive symptoms but it’s no cure and it definitely has a down side for me.

I resent how casually the professionals approach seasonal affective disorder. For them, I guess it is just winter blues. For me, around October, it means I start sinking in mental quicksand and know I won’t come out the other side til April. To say it hinders my life is understatement of the bloody year. It impacts my hygiene, my ability to go out on errands or keep up housework (already a Goliath sized chore for me), even the quality of parenting my kid because I retreat so far into darkness-not by choice- that she says she misses ‘fun mommy’. And I can’t say I blame her cos frankly, I miss fun me, too. But alas, the doctors just harp on that damn sun lamp and I flail for months and months, hoping my meds at least keep me propped up or I can try something different that might help. And this time, by stopping Wellbutrin and doing singular anti depressant therapy with Cymbalta, I am coming out on the other side.

Where my overly stimulated senses point me to a nervous breakdown.

Man, if I could just have two things on Earth, it’d be the higher mood of spring and summer and the lower anxiety during fall and winter YEAR ROUND. I want off this crumbling mountain, on solid ground.

But, then again, that’s pretty much the hope of any of us with mental imbalances so I am in good company.

The Titanic Had a Plan, Too

Planning is part of my DNA.  Knowing a plan is just the tip of an iceberg was something I had to learn.

As I waited this past winter to move from Iowa to Oklahoma, I tried to imagine what difficulties might be in store.  I knew leaving my therapist and managing without one for a while (I finally meet her this week) meant working as many Tools as I could, including complete acceptance of where ever I landed on the bipolar scale each day.  I expected leaving my friends and UU church community might stir up some ancient loneliness and tendencies to isolate.  I imagined the culture of the Plains might take some getting used to, or that the food might be a little different.  I wondered if living closer to family would challenge my communication skills, my boundaries or shake up what I’ve come to consider my limitations.

What never even crossed my mind was the weather.

I knew it got hot here in the summer, but I was not ready for 95 degrees and 96% humidity the first week of May.

It stupefied me.  The humidity seeped into the crevices of my skull and expanded like Gorilla Glue.

My nephew, the rancher, gave me lots of good advice:  Get any running around done in the morning, then high-tail it home to air conditioning for the rest of the day.  I told him I must be losing weight with all the puddles of sweat in my shoes and no appetite.  He said he thought the same thing when he moved here back in his college days, but it never did work that way.

Well, shoot.

Now, Iowa can be hot and humid.  In fact, my friends tell me it is right now.  But, I don’t ever remember opening my front door at 7:00 in the morning and walking into a swampy cement wall.  It takes a moment or two to find the air and pull it into my lungs.  I feel like Ed Harris in The Abyss.

I can’t tell if my depression is worse because of the weather, or if it’s the normal run of my rapid cycling doing its thing.  I know I’m bored with my own whingeing and try to keep my mouth shut.  I must say it does help to hear locals complain and that the weather service issued a heat advisory yesterday.  It’s not just me, then, being a weenie.

Knowing my A/C will be on until October makes me worry about my expanding carbon footprint.  To that end, I’m determined to recycle and to look at other ways I can assuage my environmental guilt.

I know.  I’ll make a plan.  That will solve everything.

Authority vs. Mental Illed Woman.

I just shared with my boss that I’m kind of feeling salty about going down to part time. The reason I had to was because of horrible family issues.

His response was.. “well just do what I tell you and you’ll be fine”


WHAT!? Do what you tell me to do? Is This isn’t a hierarchy. Is This is the ThunderDome? When was the time I did everything you tell me to and I felt fine about it?

My mental illness makes me hold on to everything and THAT was definitely something you shouldn’t have said.

Now.. I’ll probably do something shitty and regret it later but at least I know what a trigger is for me….

A U T H O R I T Y.

Vlog Entry Two

Check out my new vlog entry at the YouTube channel “Julie Whitehead”.  I explain the basics of bipolar disorder and what a mood disorder is like for me.  I’ll see you all next Saturday when we get back.