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Wednesday
May042011

Enough with the wanting, now for the being

I don't know if you'd call this a "public service announcement," but it is a public announcement that hopefully will serve a good purpose:

Some of you know that in 2006 I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder (manic depression) and have since been in therapy and on medication (Lamotrigine); others of you have simply considered me to be a "creative type" or a "flake."

It's all true. 

The condition known as bipolar disorder is defined as "a mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from abnormally elevated (manic or hypomanic) states of mind to abnormally depressed states for periods of time in a way that interferes with functioning."  As a bipolar II sort of person, I tend to suffer more frequent and more intense depressive episodes than my manic episodes.  And my mania comes in a more subdued form known as "hypomania."  It's a "mild to moderate level of mania, characterized by optimism, pressure of speech and activity, and decreased need for sleep. Generally, hypomania does not inhibit functioning like mania." 

But the depression part of being "manic depressive" is a real kicker:

"Signs and symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder include persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation, or hopelessness; disturbances in sleep and appetite; fatigue and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities; problems concentrating; loneliness, self-loathing, apathy or indifference; depersonalization; loss of interest in sexual activity; shyness or social anxiety; irritability, chronic pain (with or without a known cause); lack of motivation; and morbid suicidal ideation." 

Yeah. LOADS of fun.

Last year was a rather bad year for me.  Even though I've been doing the therapy thing and have been taking medication, life still happens.  I'd rather not go into any details, but suffice it to say: "be careful what you wish for." 

This year (January & February) seemed like it would be a continuation of last year, and then "BLINK: So Far" happened.  After seven years of wanting (and waiting), I had an actual, real-life, honest-to-gosh Blink book that I could put into anyone's hands and say: "Here it is, read it." For about a month and a half, I was walking on sunshine and walking on the moon simultaneously.  I didn't expect it, but it came, and I am always going to be grateful for its coming and for its being.  But gratitude only goes so far. 

And so, as a manic depressive, the phrase "I get up, I get down" is the common refrain (Yes, indeed I am often close to the edge of any mood for a day).  ;)  I knew that my highs which had carried me aloft through much of March and April would eventually turn into lows and bring me back down to earth.  Almost two weeks ago, those lows slammed me in the face and my mood skidded along the ground, screeching and whining in my head like nobody's business.

Most people who see me when I'm out and about (especially those who don't know me too well) would probably say that I'm a rather gregarious sort of guy.  It's pretty easy to be outgoing and talkative when my brain is mixing its serotonin and dopamine in such a way that makes my world seem to be filled with rainbows, gum drops and all-so-much joy and wonder.   Well, it’s not all roses and rainbows, but I am usually able to see the bright side/silver lining to just about anything and it’s mighty darn nice being me when my mood is its hypomanic phase.

However, when I get depressed it’s quite a different story.  It's as if someone had amputated my ability to be happy and see the joy and worthwhileness in the world and all that I'm left with is a memory of it.   I sleep a lot, am unproductive and do the minimum necessary to get myself through the day.  Before I was diagnosed, it was a lot worse than it is now.  Seriously, it was a LOT worse.  These days, when I get depressed, my head doesn't feel like a giant black hole screaming with anguish and fear and guilt and anxiety and hopelessness and worthlessness and self-pity and self-loathing and on and on.  Also, I don't spend much time during my dark periods wishing for my world to come to an abrupt end-- so that's a good thing.  Although, I do tend to clam up and refrain from human interaction (including no phone calls or Facebook updates when I’m down) as I deal with the phantom feelings in my head.  So, for the past few weeks, I've been shut up in my darkness and tried not to disturb myself (or anyone else) too much. 

Oh, yeah-- and I had a "mini book tour" thing that happened right smack dab in the middle of this depressed period.  It went okay, a few people came out to say “hi,” I sold some books and have no complaints.  But I’ve got more stuff coming up in the next little while: story and art deadlines, convention and store appearances, various business matters and the like.  This depression thing is a real kill buzz when it comes to me getting anything done. 

Last night, as I was riding to work (and grateful for the brief respite from the rain), I was looking up at the vast sky with its clouds and stars and beauty and I wished that I wasn't depressed so that I could experience the simple joy that I knew I could feel if it weren't for my condition.  (Spring and Autumn are my favorite times of year.)  I arrived at work and after a brief time was asked if I wanted to leave early (they were over-staffed).  Since I made a little scratch on Sunday from the “book tour” and hope to make more this Saturday (on Free Comic Book Day), I figured that I deserved a night off.  And boy oh boy, did I get one!

On the ride home, when I looked back up at that big, beautiful night sky, I saw a single shining star poised amidst the billowing cloudscape and my world shifted. 

Suddenly I was smiling and singing and happy again.  And now I can stop wanting to be happy and I can enjoy being happy.

Reader Comments (1)

I feel you Max. I can be deliriously happy at times and the next week become hopelessly pessimistic. Like you said I tend be able to find the good in almost any situation. I know that I'm a lot better than I used to be. Things that have helped me is being Married, getting solid sleep, eating more nutritious foods, taking b-vitamins, and telling myself "this too shall pass". I think someone once said that 90% of success in life is just showing up. That's how I made it through college. I also try not to live in either or situations. I think in terms of good, better, and best. It takes the pressure off of me to perform at a perfectionist level. I become obsessed with getting every detail right that I tend to put off addressing those issues until the last overwhelming minute. As someone who shares these Bi-polar tendencies I'm proud that you were able to let go of Blink enough to get it out there, warts and all. All I can say is set small attainable goals and try not to over complicate things.

Best Wishes,
David Branstetter

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