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Sunday, July 17, 2022

BEING BIPOLAR, Part Ten: Anatomy of a Depressive Episode

Being Bipolar is a series that began in the winter of 2011.  It's an occasional attempt to explore aspects of the life of a person with manic-depression, or bipolar disorder if you will.  It's never meant to be a regular feature of The Knight Shift.  It comes along whenever "the time is nigh" for another installment is called for.  In this series I do my best to be as honest and forthcoming about this condition as possible, within reason.  As with anything else of this kind of subject matter, it should be noted that I am not a medical professional.  So don't take anything written here as solid medical advice in the way of drugs etc.  If you need immediate assistance, please go to the emergency rom of the nearest hospital, or call 911 on your phone.  You may also find a great deal of assistance from a local support group, such as those sponsored by National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org).


For the past three years and nearly four months I have been a peer support specialist employed by a state department of mental health.  That's supposed to mean that as someone "in recovery" from mental illness, that I'm in a unique position to help others who likewise must deal with having emotional and behavioral disorders.

I wish that I could tell you that this means that I have a handle on my own diagnosis.  But over the course of nearly a year now that assumption has been solidly put to rest.  Because I've discovered that in many ways I'm the same way I am now that I was six years ago, when I first left my old hometown of Reidsville, North Carolina and began looking for a new home.  That was supposed to have been a fresh start for me (and my dog Tammy).  And for awhile, when we initially set out, there was that breath of fresh air that comes with expanding one's horizons.  With casting destiny to the winds of the Lord.  And then came a year after setting out, and a situation that triggered my bipolar disorder as it had never had been before and what led to friends having me live with them until I could get my mind situated again. That was five years ago and I'm no less thankful for them and what they did for me.

Maybe it was "the plague" that triggered me this time.  Nothing has been the same since COVID-19 came (and I was hit with it this past December, I'm pretty sure I caught it when some friends and I went to see Spider-Man: No Way Home because they came down with COVID also).  I worked from home for more than six months and it changed me.  Made me consider and reconsider my life.  I got the "vaccine" early on, because my job puts me at the forefront of public health (namely visiting patients at their homes among other things) and in the year and a half since then I've come to wonder if that was such a wise thing to have done (it's not being called the "clot shot" for nothing, but I digress).

Back to being a peer support specialist and being in recovery.  The more I have recovered, the more I have found that I still have a long way to go toward that.  It's a lot like "the Hell Curve" that I first described in 2011: I'm forever getting closer to that Y line of total recovery, but never going to cross it or even touch it.  I realized that even before last September, and the day my neighbors found me dancing in the rain in my sweatsuit and socks and trying to open other people's car doors.  I don't remember that at all.  Neither do I remember the next day and being found lying face-down next to the road beside my house, my face beaten up like hamburger from the fall onto the asphalt.  Eleven months later and I still can't wink my right eye without feeling some residual pain.  None of that, I remember transpiring.  It was all because of a medication reaction between my "current" meds and one that I have since stopped using.

I lost very nearly a solid month of work because of that incident, which encompassed one week spent in a mental health facility while I was detoxing.  It led to some changes of my work: changes I haven't been crazy about (no pun intended, or is it?).

Long story short, this past week and a half or so I've had a depressive episode that wrecked havoc with me in nearly every aspect.  Were it not for taking care of Tammy, my miniature dachshund, there is no telling what I would have been compelled to do during this time.  Depression sucks the vigor and vitality out of a person.  Takes away nearly every interest including the desire for eating (and sometimes not even getting up to use the restroom, which is no problem if you're not ingesting food anyway).

Today the episode finally began to abate.  I must thank many friends on Facebook who I reached out to, who have been lifting me up in their prayers.  I hope that I can be just as much there for them when they need my own prayers.  I have pretty much wasted an entire weekend except for this afternoon.  So I thought, maybe since it's fresh in mind I could do another Being Bipolar installment (it's only been THREE YEARS since the last one!).

This depressive episode crept up on me.  In hindsight I can see that it was bedeviling me for almost the past two weeks.  It's been so severe, and I was so subconsciously holding it at bay, that I didn't realize it was happening until two days ago.  During this episode I was robbed of any interest apart from the meanest of caring for myself and my dog.  I was eating candy bars for breakfast and nothing else for lunch or dinner.  I fed and watered Tammy but I didn't feel like playing with her.  She "gets" me when I'm like this.  When I curl up on the sofa, unable to move, she curls right up next to me.  Tammy understands me even if no one else does.  I'm pretty sure that I lost some weight during this time.  When I went to see a doctor this past week I had lost seven pounds since the previous visit about two months ago.

My hygiene has suffered.  I went two days without showering for work.  It didn't seem to matter.  I just didn't care.  I brushed my teeth, but that's mostly out of dire habit.  Something ground into me about seven years ago when I realized what depression was doing to my dental care.  I haven't lost any teeth and I don't intend to.  So whenever I eat or drink something I'm inclined to brush immediately afterward or at least as soon as possible (which has become a religious ritual after getting home from work, before I even take Tammy outside).

I have been trying to cook better for myself (thanks in no small part to the encouragement of a good friend, hello Heather!).  A week and a half ago I visited the nearby grocery store and pharmacy to pick up two prescriptions and I had no other interest in shopping for anything else.  Well, I take that back.  I did purchase a box of Froot Loops, and that was "dinner" for a few days.  But again, my overall desire for a good meal had evaporated.

Interest in fun things and activities crashes and burns.  All that's left are the ashen remnants of something that once moved you.  I've been stoked about the current season of Stranger Things lately.  Especially the music.  I had been listening to the soundtrack and reveling in the return of "my kind" of music.  But interest in any music has gone away during this episode.  I've tried to make myself watch stuff like The LEGO Movie, a film that I usually adore, but that failed to move me too.

Depression has caused me to lose interest in my work.  Has led me to seeing it as all a vain effort.  I haven't been able to help others, in the way that I usually can and have loved doing.  I drove a patient to a physician's appointment this past week and I was barely talking at all, when usually we are readily engaged in conversation.  He could sense that there was something wrong, and he told me as much.  It has caused me to forget tasks, has made me indifferent during phone calls to patients.  It's ironic, that I work in a mental health office and my own mental health has caused that work to suffer.  But then again, my life has been filled with a lot of cruel irony.

This coming Wednesday would have been the twentieth anniversary of my getting married.  A marriage that was destroyed in vast part by my bipolar disorder.  I still can't make sense of that.  It was something I was committed to as much as anyone could commit to something.  And it wasn't enough.  Why did God let me have something that was going to wreck such havoc on an institution that He Himself created?  That has been a thought that has run rampant through my mind during this time.  I suppose that no matter how happy I might be, I'm going to forever be running that through my mind.  It hasn't been made any easier because of this latest episode.  And the proximity to the date has only made it worse.

Strangely, my faith in God this time is something I'm not doubting.  A quality that I must ascribe to not only my friends' prayers, but to all the other times I've had depression.  In its lesser moments I can find myself able to pray, and to solicit prayer.  I don't doubt God, even when it seems the depression is something cruel He lets happen.  I have to remind myself that being a Christian does not mean an escape from pain: something I wish I had known during the first few decades as a believer.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, that there have been moments during this latest episode when I have not wanted to be here any more.  When I've actually prayed to God to please let me die.  But that's a different thing from having full-fledged suicidal ideation.  Something I've come to learn increasingly during my work with those with mental illness.  It's almost okay, maybe perfectly "normal", to have thoughts about not wanting to be alive any more.  It becomes something else entirely though, when those thoughts turn toward contemplating getting a knife to open one's veins, or ingest a whole bunch of drugs and hope that they will lull one into an eternal slumber.  I will admit, that I have tried the latter at least twice.  Both times failed, thankfully.

Also thankfully, the episode seems to finally be abating, and maybe writing these words out is aiding toward that.  More irony: I've lamented in the past week or so that I haven't been able to write anymore, and here I am, composing a new blog post.  Not just blogging but really pouring my heart and soul into this new installment of Being Bipolar.  Maybe if I can write this, perhaps other things that I've thought I'd lost will come back.  Writing is a gift that I first realized I had when Mrs. Rutledge in my freshman year of high school told me I had.  I've been trying to use, develop and hone that gift ever since.  Manic depression over the past two decades and more took a LOT out of me toward that.  Maybe writing this post means I still have it.  Maybe I can write more.  Perhaps even work anew on that book that Dad wanted me to write.  Dad was proud of me.  I was very fortunate to have had him in my life.  I want to finish writing that book, and dedicate it to his memory.

And, that's all that I know to write about this latest bout with bipolar depression.  It is my "dark fountain": a term I have been it from the very beginning, when it first erupted in the spring of 2000.  Its black waters trying to swallow and drown me, and I doing everything that can be done to keep my head above its currents.  Maybe writing about it this time will help to stop the fountain, if only for a little while.

Maybe doing this will help others also, who are going through their own times of depression.

If so, please know: you are not alone.  There IS help.  Your local mental health department is one resource.  So are groups like National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI (nami.org).  If you are in a severe crisis, you can call 911.  It's okay, it really IS an emergency.  And as of yesterday there is a simple three digit number - 988 - that you can call to get help from a national suicide help line.

And if you need a friend to talk to, I'll do my best to be here for you.  My e-mail is theknightshift@gmail.com.  I've communicated with quite a few people over the years that Being Bipolar has been a feature on this blog.  I'll do what I can to be here for you, too.



Job said...

Thank you for writing this Christopher. I have read your blog for several years and especially when you open up about bipolar disorder. But stop calling it an illness! It's a quirk of manufacture. How many truly sick people have it as well as you do? You have a job, a GREAT dog, I presume you have a house or apartment. You are doing very well despite that quirk. And I'm glad you write because I have a sister with bipolar disorder and you've helped me to understand her. Thank you for what you've done and will be praying for you!

Chris Knight said...

Thank you for those kind words! :-)

Anonymous said...

Chris, I used your first several Being Bipolar chapters as sources for my high school junior year English term paper. Long story short I'm now a trained counselor with a masters degree. I'm helping many who have mental illness including bipolar disorder. I might not be doing this had you not opened up and shared your life. You have impacted so many lives because of opening up about your experiences. Whenever you feel in doubt, you should remember that.

Thank you, Chris.

Your friend and inspire-ee Allison.

Chris Knight said...

Dear Allison,

Thank you very much for writing your comment. I am, DEEPLY honored that I had some small part to play in your becoming a counselor. I really appreciate your words :-)

Best wishes and God bless,