Constant Discovery, My New Treatment

On Monday I had a long talk with Jen because I was a crying mess in the 40 Days To Optimal Health group and Red Tent last Friday, plus I missed my appointment with her in the morning because I was so out of it. I’ve been having difficulty planning and teaching my yoga classes while in a depressive low…something I was worried about but didn’t think I’d have to deal with until now because I’m actually in it.

I also had a long talk with her after my ER incident and we talked about meds, and the potentiality of me getting off my meds, but she said she hadn’t actually expected me to. After I was prescribed Lamictal though, I was pretty worried about getting that fatal rash it’s known for because I had already experienced some rare side effect and was afraid that…maybe I’m just unlucky. I don’t want that rash. I also found out that one of my bipolar friends was hospitalized on Lamictal for it making her too manic, and I don’t want that either. Honestly I’m starting to feel in my gut that part of my purpose is to learn how to fight this thing WITHOUT medication. So this was a serious talk on Monday about what she thinks I should do to stabilize myself without it. Thankfully she’s helped a lot of people get off their meds, so she knows what she’s talking about.

She said she wants me in CONSTANT DISCOVERY, and I think it just really hit me what that means. We only grow up once, which is why whatever comes our way we’re doing the best with what we got, cuz no one really knows what they’re doing. It’s all about building experience, and we build experience by going through things, making memories, and storing those memories within our hearts. Whenever we react to something, it’s like an opportunity to really DISCOVER what our past self is trying to tell us about the patterns we have built. Every time we react to something…it’s a chance to get to see ourselves, MEET ourselves, and the person we are becoming. This is what “constant discovery” now means to me, and I’m truly excited to go on this journey. Because it really takes the pressure off.

I see now that before my diagnosis, I was always expecting myself to do something. Be something. Build certain skills. Get certain jobs. Get a certain amount of followers. But these unrealistic expectations kept building and building the pressure until I was crippled and incapacitated beneath it all. I was trying to do too much while trying to “figure out what was wrong with me.” When I was diagnosed, I feel like puzzle pieces started clicking into place, but that was 2 years ago and I feel like I’m still discovering what that diagnosis even means. And I see now that what it really is is an opportunity…this opportunity for discovery, now knowing that I share symptoms with this bipolar population. It’s given me a chance to heal, now knowing roughly what to expect. This hit me today too…this kinda letting go of the pressure I was feeling before…knowing I’m committing to this constant discovery of myself.

As I was walking Han this morning I got choked up walking past Amy’s old apartment and remembering her coming out of her parking lot to pick me up. And I thought about Bre’s text to me yesterday saying she felt “haunted” and she proceeded to tell me her memories of when we saw this amazing meteor shower a couple years ago. When I was hit with these memories this morning I realized that this is how it is…we collect memories and they come up and affect us when we least expect it. Not even bad memories…but good ones. They remind us of what we perceive as “better times” even though we’re always struggling…there’s a melancholy to them…this simultaneous joy that it happened, but sadness that it’s over, and that’s just the existence we face. It made me even sadder this morning thinking of that…missing the past…and realizing that everyone feels this way. But that’s when this constant discovery really hit home for me…this “only growing up once.” When I was really manic in my early 20s life was a blur…my whole 5 year college relationship I can barely even remember. It’s now that I’m really choosing to commit to this form of self treatment, self discovery, that I’m allowing to slow down to see how these memories actually affected me. Changed me. And created patterns within me that affect how I live today.

Jen also mentioned pattern disruption, which is basically just rewiring your brain. Choosing to do something different when you can catch that you’re doing the same thing you normally do. So she told me when I start to isolate myself that I really need to reach out to my community…say that I’m starting to enter a low or high and get support for it. Enter a conversation about what it actually means, where it’s actually coming from…like detective work to really get to know myself, rather than falling completely in the hole and starting to wallow.

This is gonna be really difficult, cuz it’s going against my natural instincts. But if it means really getting to know myself and I can frame it in that way…it actually sounds pretty cool and interesting. It’s like getting to know a new friend 🙂 It’s a constant unfolding, and the more I embrace this, the more my brain patterns will shift…the key is patience, consistency and commitment. In this same vein I’m choosing to commit to more consistent journaling and I’m gonna try and rewire my art habits…get used to expressing myself and my emotions…using it as an outlet. It actually makes me nauseous just thinking about how tough that’s gonna be but that’s why I gotta do it. Sigh 😦 It’s what I’ve been avoiding for years…but that means it’ll be worth it. There are probably a lot of answers waiting for me in my art.

Constant discovery right?

Day 1: Hi I’m Elora and I’m Off My Meds!

It’s ironic that I’m starting this blog on Father’s Day because I’m pretty sure I got my bipolar tendencies from my Dad. I wish I could talk to him about it, but he passed away in December 2015, and I just found out that I’m OFFICIALLY bipolar about a month ago, May 10. I should’ve started this then, but I guess at the time I wasn’t sure how much it would impact my life to get this diagnosis. Turns out quite a lot. Now this first post will be super crazy long so I can write all this down before I forget! Hopefully from now on I can be consistent, because more and more I’m realizing how quickly things can change. I’m also realizing the quicker things go, the more I want to hold on to the memories as they pass… but I digress.

My UNofficial diagnosis was on April 9 when I went into the doctor for a bad cough I’d had since March, hoping for some antibiotics to finally get rid of it. That day there was a random depression screening, which apparently is something going around because I had to fill out the SAME screening at the gynecologist last week. Maybe the mass shootings of our generation are pushing doctors to care more about checking their patient’s mental health. But anyway, it turns out from this initial depression screening that I was pretty damn depressed haha. Actually, looking back at this screening now, I feel like I’m in a MUCH better place at my current state. However, seeing my answers to these questions reminds me of where I was then… and I can feel it so clearly. It’s nice to know that at least some progress has been made.

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Dr. Ribaudo was pretty concerned about the findings of this thing and had a serious conversation with me. This resulted in me coming to understand that joking about suicide is bad, normal people are supposed to feel a lot more stable than I do, and that my condition was a LOT worse than I thought. She said she wanted to prescribe me medicine for my depression, I said I wasn’t comfortable with it. She asked if I had mental health issues in my family history, and I said I knew my dad had something because my mom always said he was crazy and he had to go to the mental hospital after he jumped on our car when my mom threatened to leave. But she never told me what was actually wrong with him. She looked at me with pity and made me take ANOTHER screening.

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I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on her face when I brought this into her office. She looked at me like I had cancer or something and said “This is not good. I can’t prescribe you any medication because this is serious–you need to see a psychiatrist right away. There’s a good chance you’re bipolar. It’s also genetic.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just stared and said “Ok…” She continued. “There will be a number for you to call on the referral. PLEASE call that number. They can hook you up with a psychiatrist. And I’m also prescribing you with some nasal spray and antibiotics for your cough.” “Oh good. Ok” I said.

Well, at least I got the antibiotics. 😐

Even though when I left, my doctor has said she couldn’t prescribe me medicine, it turned out she’d done it anyway! I went to pick up my nasal spray and antibiotics, and sure enough they also gave me Bupropion, a generic form of Wellbutrin. I told the guy at Walgreens I didn’t want that one, just the nasal spray and antibiotics. And he said “Well we made it so you should just take it.” I took this as a sign from the universe that maybe I should give meds a try, as much as they scared me. “Alright” I said, taking it anyway. “You’re cool,” he said, “You fed a giraffe.” My wallet has a sticker that says that, and that guy ALWAYS brings it up every time he sees me. He’s pretty cool. Sign taken, universe.

I decided to try taking the bupropion and hold off on the psychiatrist. To be honest, psychiatrists and pharmaceutical medicines freaked me out. From a young age, my mom had villainized my dad to me, saying he was “crazy”, or “he’s a little off today” or “I don’t know what’s wrong with your dad, the medicine isn’t good for him.” She would spit out the word “psychiatrist” with such hatred, really perpetuating the mental health stigma for my impressionable young ears. I feel sorry that my mom was such a harsh critic for my dad, even though I know she cared for him and actually WAS supportive, he probably didn’t feel that way when he was going through the dark times. I was terrified to see a psychiatrist, but I decided to call the number anyway. Dr. Ribaudo’s serious face was no joke, as much as I tried to convince myself that it was.

Calling this number was not what I expected. It was almost like… a suicide hotline. I guess maybe they deal with pretty bad cases where people are on their last leg of sanity because I got this really nice kid on the phone who kept telling me things would be okay. I went along with it, and told him about my mood swings, my depression, and how I could go nights without sleeping and afterward I’d always want to kill myself. And how it got so bad last year that I actually looked up ways to do it, and my fiance got REALLY mad at me. He told me that even though I haven’t had an official diagnosis yet, being bipolar isn’t so bad. He told me that instead of focusing on how bad it makes me feel, to focus on the good. He told me to read “An Unquiet Mind” and “Touched With Fire” by Kay Redfield Jamison, because she was a creative just like me, but she learned to make the most of her disorder.

Disorder. Do I have a disorder now? I remember thinking. Am I one of THOSE people? Those crazies? This guy on the phone doesn’t even know me but he sounds so concerned, and he’s also pretty helpful. How did I get here? Is this bad? Is this good? Is this what dad had? Am I really that bad? Mom always said I’m just like Dad…

So many questions flooded my mind during that conversation, and I decided that maybe this was a good thing to happen after all. What that really nice kid on the phone said about choosing to see the positives really stuck with me. I immersed myself in learning about bipolar disorder, watching tons of documentaries and bipolar people talking on youtube. I listened to reviews of whatever she had prescribed me, bupropion, and decided… yeah all of this sounds EXACTLY what I’ve experienced my whole life. I’m probably bipolar after all, and maybe this can help.

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I brought this up to my Aunt Laramee, my dad’s sister. I figured she would tell me the truth, and sure enough I told her about my bipolar and she said my dad had a long history of it. We ended up meeting at the Getty for a really great day of checking out Greek/Egyptian fusion and talking about my dad. His bipolar apparently progressed to schizophrenia at a pretty young age, and it was pretty bad. My aunt said that at one point he was running around the neighborhood naked, screaming in the streets. And once when he got arrested he called and lied to her about seeing someone getting murdered right in front of him. My aunt thinks that an LSD trip he had at a young age did it. Considering I want to do ayahuasca and everyone tells me that it can make bipolar worse or trigger it, I’m assuming LSD could possibly have a similar effect to adolescent or unprepared minds. 

Or maybe it always WAS just his brain chemistry. Who knows, but something pretty cool and hippyish I also learned about my dad is that he lived in a VW van with an older woman who had a kid, taking drugs in the jungles of Mexico. My Aunt Laramee says that my dad always had to experience things, which is also totally how I feel. I’m pretty sure he was an INFP, type 5 enneagram… very feeling and intuitive. That’s where I get it. Although my mom’s superstitious filipino side may lend itself to the intuition as well. Going to the Getty, my aunt brought it up that I’m a fusion just like the exhibit we saw. As I get older, I can’t help but pay more attention to what traits I got from my mom and which ones I got from my dad. Children really are the combination of both… which can be dangerous but also balance out the bad. 

ANYWAY.

My aunt was so glad I told her about my diagnosis, and happy that I did the screenings and was honest about my depression. She convinced me to try the meds, and made me feel better about the whole thing in general. She told me that even my GRANDPA had it. Of course the artists in the family would. But yeah… I remember taking the bupropion for like 2 weeks. I felt like it made me happier like the first 2 days I took it, then I couldn’t really feel it doing anything after that so I eventually just stopped taking it and waited to see the psychiatrist. It wasn’t until May 10 that I was able to get an appointment, and sure enough I was diagnosed as bipolar.

I remember the psychiatrist not being bad at ALL. The office looked normal enough, nothing like the dark, dank brownness of my dad’s psychiatry office I visited as a kid. I’m sure that place was normal enough, but I think it’s been forever corrupted in my mind. The psychiatrist herself was cool… she was just a person who seemed like she wanted to help. I remember talking REALLY fast at the time. After my unofficial diagnosis I became much more aware of my moods, and by the time I saw my psychiatrist I recognized that I was in a full on manic state. She saw it too, and prescribed me an antipsychotic called “Latuda” to hopefully “stabilize” me before I crashed into the typical depression. I was having my bachelorette party that next weekend and was afraid of what the medicine would do to me and if I wouldn’t be myself at the party. She told me to take it anyway. I got the meds the Monday after (the 14th) and went for it.

The medicine BLEW MY MIND but in a different way than marijuana, acid or shrooms. It made me think “is this what my mind is SUPPOSED to be like?” I found my whole perception of time shifting, especially when I took it for the first time at work. Time seemed to move slower, so I didn’t feel as much stress or urgency when trying to finish my assignments. I didn’t feel like the day slipped away from me like I always did, and I felt like I could talk to people without worrying about what they were thinking of me. My anxiety was considerably lowered, I was able to focus, and my negative thoughts were kept at bay. Actually, whenever I HAD a negative thought, it wouldn’t stay around for long because a rational thought would pop up and kick it away. I didn’t even know it was POSSIBLE for my mind to do that! Oh man… those first days of taking Latuda were AMAZING. I remember checking in with Dr Ribaudo too during this first week and she told me I seemed so much more relaxed. “REALLY!?” I said. Maybe this medicine WAS for me!

Being on the Latuda, I was able to be aware of my emotions and separate myself from them enough to take a good look at myself. I started seeing myself as a friend, rather than the “me” that was a failure. For the first time, I felt like I could think good things about myself, as though I was someone I admired. Again… NEVER THOUGHT THIS WAS POSSIBLE FOR MY MIND TO DO. It was amazing! Was this what it felt like to be stable? Normal? My psychiatrist says yes, that most people live in a little box of emotions basically, with their highs and lows being relatively constrained. Whereas bipolar people have CRAZY highs and lows, WAY outside the box! Taking 40mg of the Latuda was perfect, keeping me I feel slightly out of the box, but not by much so I was more stable than I’d ever been! After trying to take 60mg, I experienced that “zombie” feeling of not caring enough about anything to make life just not worth living for me. Eddy said that most people live life more in that state, including him, but man… I just can’t do it. I NEED to care, NEED to FEEL!! Which is why 40mg seemed okay.

But that brings us to today. There are a lot of reasons I stopped taking my meds, but the main one being I just can’t see myself strapped into this rigid schedule of taking my meds with a late late dinner (350 calories at least) and knocking out right after. It just feels so unnatural to me, defies my regular eating patterns, and overall makes me feel trapped. What about those days when I’m out with a friend and need to drive home after dinner? It’s not like I want to wait to take my meds when I get home and eat ANOTHER meal… geez. The food thing really gave me anxiety, and there were some days where I had to cheat and say that I hoped my dinner still soaked up my meds even though it was like 3 hours ago. I just can’t be tied to taking a pill everyday…especially with a certain amount of food.

I also realized that the meds weren’t as mindblowing as when they first were, but if I tried taking a higher dose I would zombie out. I came to understand that even though there are good things about the meds, like getting me on a good sleep schedule for example, maybe it’d be better to try getting those same effects without. I’ve been so observant of my inner landscape this past month that I want to try a little experiment… try to achieve these same mental effects without taking the latuda.

I would much rather live a life where I’m able to control my mood myself rather than relying on drugs for it. As time went on, I also noticed that if I didn’t simultaneously get high during the day, even on 40mg I would basically zombie out and not care about anything. I found this out just 2 days ago when I brought my vape to work but it wasn’t working so I had to go without. WHAT A HORRIBLE DAY! I felt like I could focus, but ultimately that nothing even mattered because I was numb to the world and couldn’t FEEL anything. I thought… do I really need to take this medicine AND get high for THE REST OF MY LIFE to feel ok? NO! I DON’T WANT THAT! I don’t want to feel like the world is meaningless if I forget my vape or run out of my cartridge. Those effects of zombification even bled into yesterday, where I went to a friend’s party and just didn’t care about ANYTHING. I felt like “why am I even here?” and during conversations think “oh.. Well this will at least pass the time so it seems like i’ve been here a while.” I typically ENJOY conversations and hearing people’s stories, which is what makes the world colorful for me on a normal basis. It was so upsetting to just…drift through life.

Since I’ve found out I’m bipolar, I feel like it’s been such a long journey. It’s only been about 2 months and I feel like my growing awareness of how my mind operates has already increased so greatly. But even still, I’m at this point where I already feel like I can’t be on my meds. What about people who have known they were bipolar since they were children? I can’t imagine living my whole life taking these things. I need to see this as an opportunity to stop while I still can, and that’s what I’m doing. Being on Latuda has taught me so much about myself, but I can see there’s SO MUCH MORE to learn. I love the idea of exploring this landscape of my mind in a pure form, and now knowing what my weaknesses are, I can be on the lookout for patterns I’ve always succumbed to in the past.

Finding out that I’m bipolar has changed my life completely, but in the best way possible. In the past year, I’ve been introduced to the in depth analysis of personality tests like the Enneagram and Myers Briggs which have both taught me so much about myself (Type 7/ENFP). After extensive reading on those personality types, being told I’m bipolar doesn’t surprise me much. It also offers me a more refined personality profile. I’m now able to research this disorder to further understand myself in addition to the personality types. However, I know to not use it as a label. Something my psychiatrist says is that she addresses SYMPTOMS in her patients, not the disorder, because everyone is different. I feel fortunate to have been diagnosed at a later age, where I’ve had time to delve into my personality already and don’t need to cling to a label to create an identity based on mental illness. Where I’m at in life, I can only use this information for good 🙂

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been impulsive, enthusiastic, scatterbrained, moody, and very extreme. I’ve wasted tons of money on useless shit and spent years of my life feeling like a failure, so much so that those negative ideas crippled me for what felt like eternity. After essentially isolating myself from the world after my dad died, I’m grateful for those who have stuck by my side and seen my progression over the years. In fact, lately many of my friends have been expressing to me how much better I’ve gotten recently, not even truly knowing the changes I’ve undergone to get here. I always take it as a compliment, but sometimes I think “Wow, was I really that bad?” I especially appreciate my fiance Eddy, and how he literally translated my unintelligible thoughts for me as I was learning to communicate like a functioning human being, with my WORDS rather than grunts, whimpers and whines that represented my feelings.

Being told that I’m bipolar feels like the biggest relief of my LIFE. I feel like a missing puzzle piece has been put in place, and now my personal core struggle has been identified. We all have one, and sometimes if we aren’t sure what it is, we can be left feeling empty… like we need to be moving on some sort of path we can’t see. We as human beings long for balance, but without identifying what needs to be worked on, we’re basically blind. So many things that happen to us as children manifest in mental walls that only solidify with age, and the older you get the stronger you need to become to take down those walls. Since I’ve started dating Eddy, he’s made me really look at myself for what I am. That was over 4 years ago, and now the anger and hate have turned into the need for love and understanding.

I’ve always felt like there’s a beast within me, as many people probably do. I used to feel like darkness was spilling out of my ears, that this beast was setting me on fire, or possessing me to do or think bad things to make me kill myself. It was out of control for SURE, sometimes even making me throw physical tantrums resulting in getting pinned to the ground, throwing things across the room, or screaming at the top of my lungs so that Eddy would worry someone would call the cops. Since I’ve been on the path of self discovery, the beast has become increasingly more and more domesticated, and now I see that all it wants is love.

Something really important that I’ve discovered is that, just like our puppy Han Solo, my inner beast needs to be taken on walks. It needs to be treated with patience as it learns, and be spoken to kindly and lovingly rather than shouted at with disgust. All I was doing before was hating on it, punishing it, screaming at it… I even wanted to KILL it! However, it was all because I felt like it wanted to kill ME. I felt broken for the longest time, different from everyone else, making me lonely and ashamed of being such a failure… but now I know that other people experience this also, and that it’s because of my brain chemistry that I’m like this. I can’t BLAME myself for it. If anything, I finally have to learn how to LOVE myself… and strangely enough i actually feel like that’s happening.

I’m hoping that this blog will serve as an archive of walks with my bipolar beastie. Over time, I’m sure more patterns will emerge to teach me more and more about the lil troublemaker. For the first time in my life I’m learning to embrace it rather than attack or run away screaming. Here’s to embracing your lil beastie as well 😉

Happy Father’s Day, dad. I’m gonna befriend my beastie for the both of us.