Adding It Up


The Chicken or The Egg

I’ve had this talk with my psychiatrist before. What begets what, exactly? Does the episode precipitate certain events based on behaviors or does the environment spark the episode?

There’s really no clear cut answer. My largest concern has been what seems like constant fatigue and body aches. Yes, those are symptomatic of a depressive episode, of which I am especially prone to. The doctor asked me, “Well, you tell me that you are a mother, you work, you go to school, you are a wife, and you are responsible for domestic duties. Consider the amount of stress you are under and your lifestyle in general.”

I have considered those things.

Breaking It Down
Let’s take a tour through my average day. I wake up and am solely responsible for getting my son out of bed, dressed, fed, and ready for the day. Three days a week, we have either Occupational Therapy, Developmental Therapy, or Speech Therapy. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder and likely Pervasive Development Disorder. But he’s too young to have a definitive Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

We do that, get him off to the babysitter, and then I have to make the mad dash to get ready and out the door for the hour commute to work. Then, there’s the whole matter of navigating Port Authority, Pittsburgh’s “premiere” public transportation system. For those of you who live in or near the city, I’m sure you’ve had at least one memorable encounter. Like when the bus was especially early or incredibly late. We all know this doesn’t work when there’s a connection in town. And in most cases, there is. It’s always a nightmare.

Honestly, work is the most enjoyable experience in my day. It’s mostly stress free. There are usually two or three teachers per classroom, which makes behavior management so much easier. Most of my students come in focused, enthusiastic, and ready to learn. And all of them are loving and affectionate toward me, much like I am toward them. My boss is great. She’s a very hands off boss who trusts her employees to run their own classrooms. My co-workers are hilarious and warm. Everything about that place feels like home and family.

This is not to say there aren’t problems. My students still have behavioral difficulties. Sometimes, I do have co-workers that rub me the wrong way or interfere in my lesson more than they should. New policies are implemented that I don’t like. And my boss doesn’t always give me gold stars. It’s just like any other workplace. The only exception is that I like what I do, the people I do it with, and where I do it. Makes it a little easier to bear.

Another hour to an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the babysitter’s. We go home and I get to cleaning and cooking. My husband comes home, we eat, and then the rest of the night, it’s up to me to care for our son.

And that’s my day. I usually have a couple of hours to fight sleep because that is the only time available for me to unwind. Sometimes, I just pass out from exhaustion.

Doesn’t sound like much to some of you, huh? I’m sure there are a decent number of readers that will scoff and say, “I do waaaay more than that in a day.” Yes, you likely do. And that is the core to this.

Adding It Back Up
Bipolar Disorder or too stressful of a lifestyle? Or both? Could it be possible that I take on more than I, personally, can?

Which brings me to the core of this. I get a lot of flack for not living up to expectations, or what others perceive to be “laziness”. And I think to myself, “Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I take on everything without having a breakdown?” Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t.

What I exampled above it only scratching the surface. I’m not going to go into a novel sized, pity-party sounding recount of every single snag in my life. Just add in all of the incidentals. A large unexpected bill, a tough toddler day, a rough patch in my marriage, a hard day at work, family troubles, financial difficulty, etc, etc. You can draw from your own experiences and know that there is much, much more.

Honestly, why can’t I perform all of the tasks and duties required of me? It doesn’t sound very complicated. Although, to me, it is. So I push myself harder. I medicate myself more, because I am convinced that my lacking is a result of my dysfunction.

In Reality?
Which is which? Can people without disorder handle everything? Or is this deficit actually a result of dysfunction? And if it is, can medication actually resolve that?

Or is it the reverse? The dysfunction is caused by overload and can only be resolved by reduction in responsibility and stress through delegation. And how do you go about telling people, “I need help. I can’t handle my life.”?

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6 thoughts on “Adding It Up

  1. Hi I also have Bipolar. I feel really similar to the way you do. What people view as everyday life is usually difficult for me. From the outside looking in my life doesn’t look very hard, but for me it is. I don’t have children so I can’t imagine what its like to never be able to push that responsibility on the back burner. But I have to schedule myself rest times or days in order to keep going.

  2. It has taken me a while to respond to this, because I wanted to do it right.

    I think that the answer is you have an illness, which makes everyday tasks range from more difficult to impossible, which causes your illness to have a greater effect, which makes everything even more difficult. . . You see where I’m going with this.

    I think those of us who are bipolar have this unconscious mindset like we have to compensate for our perceived “deficiencies” somehow. We have to do more, we have to do better, we have to go above and beyond what is expected of even an average, healthy human being. I think this is partially just a natural reaction to feeling like we are somehow “less,” and also, depending on who knows about your disorder and who doesn’t, a knee-jerk attempt to hide it from everyone.

    As far as my personal experience, it shifts with the tides. Right now I’m in a very, very severe depression, so I consider my day a success if I wake up and get out of bed to pee or get some water. Bonus points for opening up the laptop and blogging, or making it to my doctors’ appointments on time. But then again, everyone in my life knows what’s going on with me – I reached a point where it was impossible to hide, so I stopped trying, and I don’t give a flying you-know-what if they perceive me differently because of it. But it took me a long time to get to that state, mentally.

    As far as I’m concerned, you’re flipping Superwoman! Just reading about your day makes me tired!

    As far as asking for help – honestly, I can’t tell you how to do that, because I still can’t do it, even when I’m this low (okay, sometimes I can ask my mother to pick up something for me to eat on her way home from work, but that doesn’t really count in the long run and even that is a really rare occurrence). I can, however, tell you that I know many people who have successfully learned how to ask – and as I’m sure you know, it is absolutely crucial if you want to make it through to the other side.

    • I’m terribly sorry to hear about such a severe episode. I hope that it subsides soon. Depressive episodes are always the worst for me. Honestly, some days, I can’t imagine how I muster up the will to get out of bed.

      Well, in some instances I do. I love my son. If I don’t care for him, no one will. And if I don’t go to work, then we can’t pay bills or eat that month. My family depends on it. That’s not to say that I haven’t had breakdowns where I have to hand my kid over to a relative because I just couldn’t make it to work that day. But that happens very few and far in between.

      Sometimes, going to work is easier than staying home. I can pretend to be a whole different person and I’m surrounded by a lot of love. The kids can sense when I’m off, and they don’t ask questions. They just hug me and tell me that I’m their favorite teacher. Sometimes, children can provide me with the only medicine that works. And that is their affections.

      I really do feel like I have to over compensate for my condition. I force myself to do things that I really can’t because I don’t want to be any less than anyone else. Bipolar isn’t an illness that you can see on the outside. It’s crippling in an invisible way. And few people get it. The rest of the “norms” (as I like to call them) just think that we have the ability to suck it up and move along. It’s too hard for them to comprehend why that is sometimes impossible and how that logic hurts more than helps.

      I’ve tried to reach out before. I’ve tried to ask friends and family for support. I ask my husband just to listen to me and have some patience when I’m in a bad place. I’ve asked my family to watch my son for a few hours so I can get myself together. I’ve asked friends to be my go-to people when I’m in a crisis. And it always falls through.
      The “norms” don’t get it. I’m being dramatic. I’m being lazy. I have no self-control. All I want is a pity party. On and on, I could go on for days about the reactions that I get. So I stopped asking. Because I can’t make people understand.

      I have a great amount of self-control and that makes managing this a little easier and a lot harder at times. But sometimes, I think to myself that if I just give in and let myself go nuts, that people will begin to realize how this is very serious. But I’m not sure that I can deal with some of the possible repercussions, so I sit silently and just wait for the breaking point. Yeah, not healthy.

      I keep thinking that I should go to therapy. I’ve been there dozens of times and it never worked for me. I can’t find someone to connect with, who really knows me and can develop a treatment plan that can work. I don’t want to go through the aggravation or the disappointment. Should I try again? Can it possibly work?

  3. In theory, therapy can work. I know many people who swear by it. But I have to be honest and say that, like you, it has never worked for me. I do still try, from time to time.

    I waited for my breaking point, too. Actually, that isn’t entirely accurate. I just kept on, for about 11 years, spending every waking hour hiding things as best I could. Coming home and making chit-chat, going upstairs and sobbing quietly in my room for a few hours, then cleaning up my face and going down to dinner.

    When I did break, I broke completely. The short version is five+ years in psychiatric care, in and out of therapy, SSI disability because I had become so incapacitated, and 16 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. And I am still miles away from “well.”

    I say it’s better to seek intervention before you breakdown – but in many ways I am a liar for saying it, because I certainly never did. I try to now, this last episode was just very unexpected and there was no anticipating and heading it off.

    And you’re right, there is no understanding. I have tried to talk to people whom I love about it, and the minute they start throwing around terms like “drama” and “engaging in games,” that’s it. I know that we’re done and I won’t waste my energy. Sad, but true.

    • The former sounds a lot like me. The latter is a terrifying fate. I do think about just breaking down and committing myself. But the backlash from such a choice could be overwhelming and possibly irreparable. Also, I hate hospitals and I’m unfamiliar with institutions. I’m not sure that I could handle it. On the other hand, at times I feel like I need it. Just a small piece of time where I am forced to face myself and deal with things very intensively.

      I’m glad you shared with me. And I will refuse ECT at any cost. It’s bad enough that I have to live with the idea that all of these chemicals in my body, while preserving my sanity (somewhat), are likely poisoning my brain and body. ECT would be the mother of all whammies. Maybe I will try again.

      And yes, there is little to no advocacy and public education about mood disorders. Everyone understands developmental disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder. And yet, if you ask anyone what Bipolar Disorder is, they’ll only really be able to tell you that it’s a person who has extreme mood swings. They don’t know how it goes deeper and affects every portion of your life, including levels of functioning, social relationships, and so much more. I can’t stand that word, “dramatic”. Drama belongs in the theater. Not here, in real life, where all of us have to live.

  4. Hi!

    In a nutshell, my 2 cents…I think that we are so happy, productive, etc when we’re experiencing hypomania that we honestly believe we should be able to sustain that level of activity at all times. And, let’s face it, sustaining the pace is sometimes crazy-making. I went through a very bad cycling at the end of 2009 & into 2010. Hypomania, inevitable crash, hospitalization, more hypomania and then (thankfully!) a new medication intervention. I accomplished some really amazing things during that period and was able to keep up a hard-core schedule. But, since then I’ve had to yell, ‘uncle.’ So, for me personally I have to agree wholeheartedly with your last statement: The dysfunction is caused by overload and can only be resolved by reduction in responsibility and stress through delegation. And how do you go about telling people, “I need help. I can’t handle my life.”? Well, I haven’t. I’m a closet BP II sufferer. 🙂

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