Thoughts to ponder

A young man, bleeding to death as we talked online. He had cut his wrist with a rusty blade, hinting at what he had done, giving me enough time to get help. He and his brother trusted me, talked to me. He lived, went on to do good with his life.

A young woman, ready to walk away from her husband and four children for a man she had never met in person, remained with her family, and is getting help. 

A retiree who hated his life. An abusive wife made his days a nightmare, with trips to ER, police calls, and court dates. He now lives his days in utter peace and joy now. 

A new acquaintance from a free poker game site. Struggling to deal with numerous changes in his life as well as a dysfunctional family. His comments hinted at despair and depression.

A close friend, working in Afghanistan, so far away from his family. Injuries that would have crippled others only slowed him down, but the psychological effects will never leave.

Others I talked to for short times, impacting their lives in a small way. Conversations that began in the darkness and ended with a brightly shining light leading them toward the path of healing. Sharing stories from my life, giving examples of how I moved forward, convinced each one of them to seek professional help. They admitted their faults and flaws as they walked the path to healing.
 
Every single one of these people have affected me in some way. Maybe they aren't aware of it even. But I'm honored they've allowed me into their lives, that they trusted me enough to guide them during times of stress.

As many people claim, we should thank our parents for making us who we are today. I struggle with that concept a bit. Should I thank my parents for the abuse, then? That doesn't sit well with me, even though I understand that the challenges and struggles I endured as a child made me the caring and compassionate person I am. Because of the hurt and anger, I am sensitive to others dealing with that same hurt and anger. 

In the end, whether I agree to thank my parents or not, I wouldn't change my childhood. I'm humbled to have had the chance to impact so many lives.



Weakness and strength

A question came up recently about strength and weakness. If someone is strong enough to counsel others, can they also have moments of weakness where they need help?

I'll give an example.

Lets say I spent time talking to a woman who felt as if she had no reason to go on. Our only link was through the computer, but I gave her my full attention for several hours, four nights in a row. She lost her job and didn't have family in the area, leaving her lost and alone. Facing life without the security she once had seemed impossible.

We talked, or rather, I talked, while she listened. I gave examples from my struggles to show her she wasn't alone. With gentle persuasion, I turned her thinking around.

The next night we talked, I had to force myself to find positive words. Then it occurred to me: what a valuable lesson it would be if I showed her how hard I had to fight. I wasn't any different than anyone else: my moods dropped and I needed encouragement, too.

She listened when I said I was having a bad day. Instead of leaving, she began tossing my words back at me. She listened when I had to vent. And she boosted my spirits until I pulled myself back from the bottom.


Back to that original question then.  
 
If someone is strong enough to counsel others, can they also have moments of weakness where they need help? 

Without a doubt. Strength doesn't show up and stay forever, just as weakness doesn't remain forever. 








Pay it Forward

Paying it forward is popular. People pay for coffee, fast food orders, tanks of gas, and more, surprising strangers with their kindness. The concept exploded over the past decade with amazing results.

There are so many other ways to help, though, using the same premise. We can teach someone a skill that will last them a lifetime. We can help someone during sickness and tragedies. There is an endless list of way to pay it forward.

Listen to someone who needs a friend. Share life experiences to help others struggling with the same challenges. It costs nothing to give someone a few hours of your time but can mean everything to the person who feels lost and alone.

Pay it forward today.


Labels

People with a mental illness are still humans. Yet often there is a label attached. "Those people", "mentally retarded", and "whacko" are just a few that come to mind. When I hear someone define anyone with a mental disorder as one of "those people", I cringe. I hear the derision in their voice. "Those people" should be locked up, as if we're animals, not humans.

Labels are everywhere. They aren't exclusive to people with mental disorders. But if you must give others a label, think first. Consider how you would feel. Then remember that no matter what disorder or illness someone has, they are a human first . . . just like you.

Tracking moods

Lists can be helpful. We make them before we go to the grocery store and to remind us of errands. They're easy to make. And when we're done with our lists, we can toss them away.

But what if our list was supposed to include the highs and lows of the past six months of our life? How difficult . . . or simple . . . is that?

Can you remember anything specific from say, September or October, something that affected--and changed--your mood? What happened in August? Did anything spectacular happen in those months? Did your mood drop to the point you struggled with your disorder?

Making that list might be easier if we keep a journal of our moods. One suggestion is to use an extra calendar. Each time you have a mood swing, or a shift in thoughts, or any symptom important enough to discuss with your doctor, jot a few words down. Use whatever will trigger the memories. Make it easier for yourself. And in the process, you'll be able to track your moods, too. It's a winning list, no doubt.

Beauty is all around you

Winter weather effects moods. That's logical. We tend to stay inside more. Darkness takes over before many people arrive home from work. Cabin fever strikes without warning. We can't stay within the walls of our home any longer. And the first person who crosses our path has the misfortune of listening to us vent.

But I find that the snow has a beauty many people cannot see. I love standing in the middle of a snowstorm and just listening to the flakes as they swirl through the air. The cold air refreshes and clears my mind. My mood lifts within minutes, even on the coldest nights.

Use your surroundings the way you would use an art book. Open the pages to the amazing views and let them work their magic on you. Feel your winter blahs float away. 

Triggers

Discovering what triggers a mood change takes time. With diligent observation, you can figure out why you switch from happy to sad or angry or lethargic in seconds.

Step back and look at yourself as if you're watching a stranger. Follow your behavior for the past few minutes. Then take note of what changed. Did someone enter the room and disturb you? Did the project you were doing have problems? Was there a plan in place that didn't occur as you expected? Did someone say something that made you emotional? Maybe someone mentioned a characteristic you consider a fault. For example, I have a hard time when someone talks to me about success and failure. I despise failing, yet I know there are times I have done just that. Knowing I couldn't succeed as I wanted to, my mood will drop from happiness to tears instantly. And that makes me feel worse.

Whatever you find, try to stay away from that situation again. No, it won't be easy. But I've discovered that reducing the triggers is simpler than working through mood changes.

Is bipolar hereditary?

I hear that often, both as one with the disorder and as one with a degree in psychology. The answer isn't as simple as yes or no. Not everyone will know their family history. And past generations didn't have the medical advancements we have. Bipolar wasn't in existence until the last 1950s. Someone older might not be open to discussing what they call private and personal topics with strangers.

However, if you look at the behavior patterns of past generations, you might find the answer to why great uncle Herman was so moody. I don't have to look far to know I'm not the first one with a mental disorder in my family. Now if I could just say I was the last one . . .

Moods

How much of your mood relies on others?

Who has the most effect on your moods?

How do others alter our moods?

Can we change our moods on our own or do we need others around us for that to happen?



The answers aren't simple. Neither is bipolar.


Recognizing symptoms

Talking about symptoms is easy. We can discuss signs to watch for, triggers that set us off, and patterns that change. Recognizing the shifting bipolar symptoms in others takes careful observation. But what about identifying those same symptoms in ourselves?

To identify a behavior change, we have to be able to know what our normal behavior patterns are, and compare the differences. For example, if you suddenly have trouble sleeping and spend vast amounts of time organizing or cleaning closets, you should be able to notice the difference from a normal sleep pattern. There are other changes, some not as easy to recognize, that take longer to connect as a bipolar problem. Thoughts that are never verbalized are difficult for others to equate as a change.

When we have a loved one with bipolar, we watch them closer, to help identify problems before they are out of control. But if we have the bipolar, we have to take an honest look at our behavior and admit the change to someone we trust can help us.


Symptoms defined

Demons, dark thoughts, the devil . . .

Some pieces of bipolar are easier to explain than others. The moodiness, for example, is a symptom that doesn't require details. On the other hand, it's difficult to find the right words for the demons or the devil or the darkness. They are generic in nature and vary by person. In fact, the terminology isn't universal either.

Demons might be a harsh word, but the anger that fills my head is harsh too. Dark thoughts can be simply as they seem, or they can be worse, with topics such as suicide, drugs, and alcohol.

Hearing someone say they have a bipolar diagnosis isn't rare. Sadly, too many people struggle with the disorder. Their description of the "dark" side might be simpler . . . or more complicated. That really doesn't matter. All that's important is that the person finds the help they need. Bipolar isn't all demons and darkness. You just have to focus on the good.

Boulders or pebbles

Every path we take is bumpy.
Whether we see them as boulders or pebbles determines how far we make it.
If we see the path as only filled with boulders, we get nowhere.
But if they line the path and the pebbles make up the path,
we will find the happiness and peace we deserve.

Nov. 13, 2007



Bipolar doesn't care if we're rich or poor, tall or short, married or single, young or old. The disorder settles in and tries to dominate our lives. For many people, the fight is so difficult that the symptoms win. Their lives become a cycle of mania and depression that's overwhelming. For others, fighting becomes their way of life. Some succeed while others remain stuck in a loop of gaining a step, falling back two steps, and fighting to move ahead again.

The important part is fighting. Working to keep the disorder under control as much as possible. What works for one person might not work for another. Something that helps me might not help someone else. That's OK. Adapt something to fit. Like shopping for clothes. Try on several before you find the right one.


The diagnosis

Bipolar doesn't have to be thought of as a horrible thing. Hearing that diagnosis isn't easy, but after the initial shock, look for the good. Consider the differences before and after, with medications and without, therapy or no therapy. When you compare everything, and make an honest evaluation, knowing is a good thing because you can get the help you need.

Damaged Goods

Bipolar can make the us feel different from others. When I first heard the diagnosis in 2004, relief hit me before anything else. But along the way, I discovered that people often misunderstood both bipolar itself and how it affected an individual.

I heard the same thing from several people. They believed that no one with bipolar could be normal.

During my hours of research on the computer, I ran across a list of famous people with mental illnesses, including bipolar. The names impressed me. Their accomplishments gave me hope. But a small paragraph tucked away on a page of the website gave me a quote I have yet today:


 There is hope . . .

 You are not damaged goods . . .

 You are not alone . . .



No one with bipolar needs to be alone. If a hospital, psychiatrist, or psychologist isn't possible for you right now, then look around. Reach out. Ask for help from someone who knows what it's like.


Ask me.



Past Years



The other day I took a break from writing to sit outside, something I do for inspiration, to clear the head, or just for the fresh air. Most times, I have paper and several pencils next to me to capture those stray thoughts and ideas.

A conversation from the previous night gave me this:


Past Years

We faced failure
Fought evil
And walked through darkness

Our hearts shattered
Tears fell
An empty soul left behind

Look closer
A speck of light in the fog
With it a purpose to life once more

Have faith in the future
Let go of the hurt and anger
Choices made in the past belong to the people we were
Not to the ones we are today

8/9/2013