Author Archives: jeffmuir2013

What’s the Deal with Isolation?

So, what is it with being alone? During my recent lengthy engagement in an institution I spent a lot of time talking with my therapist about the role that isolation plays in my illness … Can it be a sign of an oncoming cycle? Can isolation help trigger a cycle? Prolong a cycle? What needs am I looking to meet by isolating? Is isolation a way of expressing control over my surroundings that I lacked during certain unfortunate incidents in my childhood? All good questions.

Part of “it” is just always feeling weird. She (therapist) kept encouraging me to define “weird” and I was never really able to put words to the feeling. But I think my innate pull towards isolation goes deeper. And I try not to judge it … it is what it is … unless it puts me in danger.

When I am around a lot of other people, I often feel a great deal of anxiety … so there’s that. Actually, just the idea of being around a lot of other people usually causes a great deal of anxiety …

The funny thing is that throughout my life, during manic cycles, as I became extremely extroverted and confident, I have been successful at all sorts of endeavors that required being around and in front of dozens and hundreds of people.

Leading seminars … giving speaches … being on television and radio. There have been periods where I have spearheaded initiatives and lead huge teams of people and volunteers. And (happy) periods where I have been the driving force behind large social groups that undertook all sorts of fun adventures.

Then, of course, all that confidence and energy and creativity would morph into strangeness and paranoia and agitation – and everything came crashing down. Eventually I would “come to” in a depression and survey the darkness and desolation and utter destruction I had made — once again — of my life and career and relationships.

And so, yet again, I would swear off people and all forms of social engagement. “Not for me,” I would say. But of course, bipolar being bipolar (my experience of it, anyway), the cycle repeats and I would go through the entire hellish experience one more time.

Hence, my frequent fantasies of pure, perfect isolation. My mind drifts to dreams of caves, lean-to huts in the wilderness, desert encampments where I can live alone with the stars and sunsets. These things have filled more hours of my consciousness than I really care to recount.


And, hence, my actual contrived isolation, now that I am “older” and trying to get “one-up” on the manic-me that is waiting in there somewhere to trick me, again, into thinking that I can safely interact with other human beings.

Yes, I understand that isolating makes me “weirder.” Yes, I recognize that I almost always feel better after one or two low-key hours of appropriate human engagement  Yes, it is still incredibly difficult to lift up that thousand-ton phone and answer it when somebody is calling to see how I am doing … or to walk those endless 12 steps from my couch to my front door and go outside.

Yesterday was beautiful here … the first nice day after weeks and weeks of cold rain. I made a commitment to participate in a charity walk for a cause close to my heart. I woke up early and got myself there, withstood a crowd of 4,000 people and blaring music, and was out walking in the sunshine with others for hours. Did I break that day’s cycle of solitude?

My therapist would “praise” me for the effort, for taking the initiative, for getting out of the apartment, for getting involved.

But … I went alone and didn’t talk to a soul all day … and when I returned to my apartment I felt just as isolated as if I hadn’t even gone. I felt weird being at the event all by myself, while everybody else was there with other people. Errrrrr….. A mixed success …

… and today I’m not going anywhere!


Feeling Like I Won’t Ever Feel Better

The dictionary definition of futility is “useless.” Another definition is “won’t ever get better.” That’s how I feel when I think about not wanting to live anymore. That’s how I feel a lot … because I feel useless a lot … and because most of the time I feel pretty sure that things will never get better. My existence seems utterly futile … and therefore completely pointless.

A defining characteristic of many bipolars is thinking about suicide, attempting suicide or succeeding at suicide. Personally, I rarely contemplate actually killing myself. Usually I fantasize about simply not existing.

When a counselor or therapist asks me if I feel like hurting myself, or if I have recently thought about hurting myself … I usually look away and wonder how to answer honestly and accurately.

“Not exactly,” I say. This, essentially, means “Yes,” to a therapist working with a bipolar client.

I explain that I just feel tired, exhausted. That I hate the idea of never getting better, of living like this day after day, month after month, forever. I just want it to stop.

“So, do you have a plan to hurt yourself?”

I try to convey the nuance of what I am feeling … it usually requires having worked with a therapist for a while for them to get it ... or at least for them to believe me when I say I’m not going to hurt myself. I suspect that some other bipolars know what I am talking about.

Futility. I look back on my life and I feel exactly the same as I always have … despite all this work, all this therapy, all this treatment, these pills … Ugh.

A lot of the time I just can’t see things getting better. And the thought of things not getting better is excruciating. It’s more than I can imagine living with for another minute longer.

My efforts at self-annihilation have largely been in the areas of alcoholism and addictions. I now consider recovery from chemical abuse to be essential to achieving the best possible mental health I can hope for.

It’s funny … I drank because I couldn’t stand the thoughts and voices in my head … I couldn’t take the mania for one minute longer, and the alcohol did quiet it all down and make me feel “normal” and relaxed – for a couple of hours. But the cost was enormous. Looking back, nothing made my mental health symptoms worse than alcohol—nothing.

So, now I’m stuck with me and, yes, the mania, the voices, the crushing depression, the mixed episodes that tear me apart and wear me out. And almost every day I find myself saying, “This is absolutely pointless … am I existing simply to be miserable?”

But I keep doing it … so there must be hope in there somewhere!

1980s Music Video Deconstruction Time! Yeah!

What’s it like to be bipolar? Ever try to describe it? The closest I’ve been able to come is the following … I’ve said that it feels like there are several “me’s” in there … and that the “genuine” me is usually cowering in the corner … because it feels like he’s been violently kidknapped and held hostage by either depression or mania, which I think of as different versions of me … because most of my waking life I AM a depressed or manic version of “me” … I mean, WAY more than I am “normal” me.

I have described this as feeling like the normal me is inside my actual skull, looking out my eye sockets, watching, as either my depressed me or my manic me goes about doing what they do: ruining my life, wrecking jobs, destroying relationships … you know the drill. Every now and then “I” (the normal me) will “wake up” and survey the damage. I’ve described this as feeling like I am waking up on some desert isle, just like in the movies, and wondering, “Where am I? What happened to my job? My relationship? My home? I guess I have to start all over! Crap!”


So, one day I’m taking a trip down nostaliga lane on YouTube. I type in the title of a relatively obscure, minor hit that I had always liked, but hadn’t heard in years, and watched the video. As I watched I was actually hit with an emotional cannonball. It wasn’t really the lyrics that got me — it was the imagery.

Go check it out at this link then come back.

So, here’s what I see in there.

There are the several or aspects of this one person. I see the female as the “genuine” self, and the male characters as the “symptoms” of her mental illness. The video opens with one of them trying to reassemble pieces of a shattered mirror (what symptom would this be? what is he reassembling? her psyche? her life?). Then we see the self “putting herself together,” and talking to herself in a mirror, at a makeup table. Hmmmm.


Next is a sequence in which the self-girl is unconscious in the back of a car, between two of her symptoms. She is driven to an entirely unknown and terrifying destination. One of her symptoms carries her out of the car and hands her over to a derelect looking man. Then they literally abandon her there, in a chair in front of a trailer by a campfire. We see her momentarily looking around, confused … and then she is passed out, unconscious, in the chair.

Now we see her frantically running through night-time streets, populated by strangers who are walking towards her, lunging at her; she is terrified, lost, doesn’t know where she is or how she got there. Have our symptoms ever taken us places we didn’t want to be?


Meanwhile, the other symptoms are running and looking for her (are they chasing her? doesn’t it feel sometimes like our symptoms track us down?). One of them is in a derelect room, again trying to assemble the shattered pieces of broken mirror. Our girl runs in breathless from the street, into a devastated room strewn with refuse, and collapses on a bed, exhausted.

Who else feels utterly confused, bewildered and exhausted after a manic cycle? One of her symptoms finds her and strokes her hair. Another assembles broken mirror shards; he sees her reflection in one of the pieces, but her eyes are empty, filled with blinding white light.


I remember the first time that my medications interrupted what had been a lifetime of incredibly predictable cycles of mania and depression, which traditionally had been broken up by only a few days of “in-between.” I literally didn’t know what normal felt like. The new medication routine put me in “normal” for ten straight days — which was extremely confusing and uncomfortable … I didn’t know who I was, I felt incredibly weird, and I actually missed being manic. This sequence in the video totally reminded me of that.

On their own, the lyrics to the song, “Destination Unknown,” can be read as relevant to the subject of mental illness:

Life is so strange, when you don’t know.
How can you tell where you’re going to?
You can’t be sure of any situation.
Something could change, and then you won’t know.
You ask yourself: Where do we go from here?
It seems so all too near.
Just as far beyond as I can see.
I still don’t know what this all means to me.
So you tell yourself: I have nowhere to go!
I don’t know what to do!
And I don’t even know the time of day …
I guess, it doesn’t matter any way.

In the context of the video the words take on a deeper meaning — to me. Sure, I can see where all of this might seem trivial and juvenile to somebody else … and that’s cool. The Missing Persons didn’t write this song, and the video director didn’t plot out each scene, back in 1982, with my 2013 bipolar symptoms in mind. I’d have an entirely different diagnosis if I thought that (schizotypal?)

But I do wonder what the inspiration for the video imagery was? Was it strictly the song lyrics? Or did the subject of mental illness play any part? We’ll never know.

I suppose the point here is that I was able to find some inspiration for meaningful introspection from an unexpected place. And that’s always a nice destination to wind up at. Pretty cool song and video, too, if you don’t mind the weird 1980s fashions and hairdos.

A Wonderful Therapist

I recently spent over a year in a really unique treatment facility  It was relatively small. Gradually, over the course of my stay, my therapist and I had a lot of discretion about my working and participating in life outside the facility.

As a result, she was able to observe me over time, through several cycles of mania and depression, during different levels of stress and stimulation. And I was able to develop a genuine trust in her sincerity and her approach. It was a tremendous opportunity — if being institutionalized can be called such.

What made her style unique, in my experience, was that she didn’t “tell” me anything about how I “was” or what I did or didn’t do — unless I really pressed her with direct and specific questions. And she wouldn’t make suggestions for for what I should do.

Rather, she would ask me thoughtful, angular questions that made think about things in ways that gave me new insights about my bipolar symptoms. She encouraged me to develop my own solutions and to follow through on my goals.

I’ve seen numerous therapists over the years — lots. Some really, really bad ones, some that were just “there,” and a few terrific ones.

Who wants to share some experiences about what makes for a great therapist? I’m not so interested in what makes for a terrible therapist — because that’s pretty obvious — and Bipolar.Bits is a positive place.

A goal of this blog is to attract those in the helping and teaching professions, and provide them with a different perspective on bipolar disorder, directly from those who experience it.

So, here’s an opportunity to give some positive feedback, and some ideas for growth. It’s also a chance to share and give hope to those who may have had bad experiences with therapists in the past. Thanks!

Welcome to Bipolar.Bits!

No two bipolar sufferers experience exactly the same symptoms … but we do share similarities — suicidal thoughts, feelings of uselessness, and those horrible cycles of mania and depression (which are so different for all of us). In many ways, the world views us, and wants to “deal with us,” as a single, simple “type” — a one-dimensional collection of symptoms and outcomes described in textbooks. It can be so frustrating to convey to those trying to help us that what we experience and what we perceive is totally unique to us as individuals. Bipolar.Bits is a place where sufferers are encouraged to share our personal experiences with our symptoms, with the treatments we have tried, and with our journey through all of this. Bipolar.Bits is also a place for families, loved ones, treatment providers and professionals to gain a better understanding of the actual experiences of “bipolars” — beyond the descriptions in textbooks and diagnostic manuals, beyond the second-hand stories and lore passed down in break-rooms and at conferences. This is a place for sharing, learning, expressing, and asking questions. Welcome!