My Latest Breakdown

Trigger warning: Brief mention of suicidal thoughts. 

A few months ago I got a large letter in the post from Centrelink. For those not in Australia Centrelink is an unemployment service that provides payments to those who are struggling financially to make ends meet. In these last couple of years my psychiatrist had recommended I go on the disability support pension to take the stress off me from applying for jobs. And it was stressful. I would apply for ten jobs a fortnight, hear back from few employers for an interview and then be left waiting in nervous nail-biting anticipation to find out whether I got the job or not. I’d get a call but it was more for being told they went with someone else and that maybe I should try to be less nervous during interviews.

Being on the disability support pension did take the edge off. Unfortunately, I suffered worse mental health issues in that time and now I think I really depend on the pension to be able to live away from home. It’s a pity though because there was a point in my mid-twenties when everything seemed to be working out for me. I was so driven to succeed in any way I could. I was able to learn anything I put my mind to. I was medicated to focus, be motivated to do any dull task without giving it a second thought and I was hell bent on becoming a famous author, or a physicist, or even the first female combat pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. But then the truth was finally revealed, which I’ve been writing about for a long time – it was just mania and I had developed bipolar disorder.

I’ve been thinking about that for a long time because I’ve still not received proper medical treatment for it which just seems dangerous and counterproductive to my future plans. I also at times struggle to see mania as a bad thing. Why did the great authors, artists and a few composers find success despite their bipolar when all it does to me is destroy my relationships, empty out my bank account and make it impossible for me to commit to an artistic project or anything else I’ve wanted to accomplish. Another obstacle in seeking treatment as it’s made me a much more sociable person. I used to be quiet, withdrawn and low on energy. Now I’m usually sociable, a chatter box really, and have bursts of intense energy for a few hours, sometimes a few days.

But all this combined with severe ADHD and severe anxiety and the eventual depression that always follows mania, has shown me that I’m more unfit for work than ever before. I may feel like I have more energy but I’m too impulsive and distracted to stick with any task. The only work I’ve been successful doing is volunteering for a music website called The Dwarf as a live band photographer. October has been my busiest month and I’ve been shooting bands non-stop and when I haven’t been shooting them I’m editing photos for days on end, to the detriment of my own physical health.

That letter from Centrelink was a review form for my disability pension support payments, and according to my psychiatrist this meant that the Prime Minister just wanted to kick people off the pension and send them to work. My much nicer translation is they were going through the list of people on the pension, under 35, with a fine-tooth comb, seeing who belonged on the pension and who didn’t. I was a red flag for them because I’m only down as has Asperger’s syndrome, and I’ve been getting letters saying that I could still participate in work, even if it’s just volunteering and I could even be trained up. Actually, there are going to be more services to train autistic people to get them into jobs. And all this time I thought the government didn’t care about us? That was sarcasm.

There were a few hiccoughs getting this form filled out. For starters the second part of the form had to be filled out my doctor and at this time I didn’t want to see my psychiatrist. He’s ignored my plea to be assessed for a mood disorder so many times, even when my mood journal was plastered with suicidal thoughts. At this time I was desperate for a diagnosis and medication. I had stopped taking Ritalin full time late last year and my depression and anxiety was very hard to deal with, to not alter my own personality. What I mean by that is I listened to the thoughts and believed them and my mind and lifestyle was changed to accommodate for those thoughts. Since I went on anti-depressant medication it’s been easier to see those thoughts as merely symptoms and they don’t become a part of me. At first the medication completely dulled my mood or rather equalized them which felt like losing my personality, and then I adjusted. Then the mood issues came back.

Previously to finding this form in my mailbox I had successfully been able to keep my suicidal thoughts at bay. But because of the fact that if this form was not handed in I could have lost my pension this played on the most severest of my anxieties – financial instability. It goes like this: if I don’t have enough money to buy food then suddenly I see myself living on the streets and eventually dying. My poor sister has witnessed my many panic attacks over paying rent when I didn’t feel secure enough with the amount of money in my account. This anxiety turns to blaming everyone for causing the anxiety (sorry sis) and feeling like rampaging through the streets because anxiety and anger mixed together gives one a lot of manic energy. You just have to smash, throw, yell it out of you. But all I smash is my possessions, sometimes expensive and rare sci-fi paraphernalia. I throw my possessions too. And I yell at the air.

But then the suicidal thoughts came back, and not just feeling worthless but planning how and when to commit suicide. Then I found another way to want to stay alive. It has to do with not wanting to make a friend hurt over the suicide over a friend all over again. But I still have to deal with very intense suicidal thoughts even if I don’t plan on killing myself, and it’s a horrible thing to go through every couple of days.

So, me and my sister went searching for a new psychiatrist but time was running out to hand these forms in so I had to wait hours in Centrelink waiting to just see someone, because on calling their hotline made me extremely anxious because I didn’t know how to follow the prompts given to me by a robotic voice. In the waiting area at Centrelink I every half hour discretely ate a snack so I didn’t have a hypoglycemic attack. I still did and felt really weak, dizzy and had blurred vision where I’d just stare around like most autistic people do when they’re under stress. My anxiety was intense too and I started to get in my angry ranty mood where my thoughts turned to violence. I was kind of seeing the worst case scenario in my head. I think it ended with me being institutionalized.

I got the extension on the time to hand in the form but it was recommended I see a doctor who knew me well. That meant going back to mood disorder-denying ‘you just have to work and socialse more to overcome your anxiety/depression/mania’ biased as f**k psychiatrist. Fine. So, I called him up. The next appointment fell on the day my form had to be handed in. Now I don’t know why I didn’t ask for another extension after that, even just one more day, but I didn’t. I’m starting to think I make myself paranoid on purpose. Just so I worry about everything falling apart constantly so everything turns out fine in the end. And now I need to find some wood to knock on.

Basically, if one thing went wrong then the end of the world would come. I even started to refer to October 20, the day of the deadline, as the day the world ends. I think this is why I overcommitted to my band photography. On one hand I was glad that I finally could get to shoot the kind of shows I wanted to, on the other I could lose all this if I was to be cut from the pension, have my payments sliced in half and most of my time taken up by applying for jobs or working in a field I was not even remotely passionate about. I even have myself a bit of a fan following. People have told me it’s a waste of my talent to not do band photography. Even my ex was happy to hear I was still doing it. Nah. It’s not like that. We still mates.

For a few weeks I was able to ignore the looming deadline but in that last week my anxiety skyrocketed and I was still shooting shows and editing photos up to the day of my appointment with my psychiatrist and the end of the extension. And then it rained.

The appointment went fine actually. In the waiting room my writer’s block that triggered every time I thought about filling in my part of the form had miraculously disappeared and I scribbled down a bunch of answers. During the appointment I talked non-stop in nervous-manic energy as my psychiatrist filled out his part of the form, replying with the odd ‘mmhmm,’ to show he was listening to my ramble. I kept talking about my mood disorder symptoms of course, including my impulsive spending which he played down by saying I was buying things I needed – sure, I was just spending thousands instead of waiting until I could really afford to spend that much.

Afterwards, I was briskly walking to Wollongong Centrelink in the rain. I had scoped out two Centrelink buildings before my appointment – as I had arrived more than 1 hour early – to put my mind more at ease. The people inside this Centrelink were nice and friendly, compared to the rush-shove too serious service I get from my local one in Leichardt. I was told that I could leave my form there and that everything will be alright.

Finally satisfied that I was given some clarification about my payments continuing I celebrated my buying underwear, socks and a checkered jacket for only $12.50.  I had one of the most scrumptious Mexican lunches at one restaurant too. And as soon as I arrived at the train station there was a train going to the city waiting for me. I even got to catch the bus home, which was free instead of me forking out some $20 for a taxi home. So, things just seemed to fall in place for me that day.

I thought this meant the breakdown was over but I was wrong. That night I was exhausted and being used to this after dealing with stressful situations I just went with it. But the following day’s things didn’t get better. It was hard to adjust to my normal daily life and I fell into a comfort zone where I didn’t try to push myself more. I thought maybe I needed it after going through months of extreme anxiety, but it was hard to break out of. I didn’t even want to go to another show to photograph a band or edit the remaining band photos. I procrastinated writing this blog post for a very long time. I began to watch a lot of TV or spend most of my time on Facebook.

I’m not even sure if things are better now. I’ve decided to plan my days thoroughly so I won’t have large chunks of the day where I’ve got nothing to do so spend them watching TV or saying stupid things on Facebook. I think my afternoon vodka drinking session which of course made me more manic yesterday taught me that I needed to get more control over my life and especially my emotions, which meant fighting against those impulsive desires. I never been good at avoiding impulses because they’re impulses – you act on them before you even know you are – but if I commit to something that needs more focus and thus requires me to take more focus aides (fish oil) then there may be less opportunity for these impulses to surface at all. And I have decided to put all leisurely activities as lesser priorities, which means TV and internet leisure time happens at the end of the day.

So, I’m looking forward to getting more organised and focusing more on my art, which now means Christmas cards or perhaps a nice canvas painting as a gift. I’m not sure. I haven’t done it in ages. It’s my natural talent but I still need to practice it to create some real masterpieces.

I’m also hoping I get to photograph my favourite band from my childhood, The Living End, this Friday and again on the 6th of November. Then after that I’ve got a few more gigs to shoot and also a visit from my mum. I do like to keep busy. I’ve been walking a lot more too to help with mood and focus. And I have another appointment with Centrelink next month to keep me on my toes, somewhat literally. I’m just going to keep on doing my photography, playing my therapeutic video games, and having Christmas with my family. Next year is about taking my photography professional. I need to learn more about taking promotional band photos though. I think I’d do better with getting a professional photographer friend acting as my mentor rather than studying in a classroom. My untreated moods, ADHD and my more anti-social symptoms would make it an impossible task to accomplish.

revealed, which I’ve been writing about for a long time – it was just mania and I had developed bipolar disorder.

Stigma? What Stigma?

Hey peeps! Look who’s back writing another blog post. I told you I would. So, I’ve been following the ABC’s coverage of mental health awareness on TV and on social media and I’ve been impressed with the many forms of awareness they are using. After all, we all experience it differently. They’ve taken a ‘mental illness is an everybody thing’ approach to it, which I do understand – we all like to relate to each other – but for some of us mental illness can be genetic and our type of mental illness does not affect everyone. Some of us – ok me – believe that this type of mental illness is non-recoverable and it’s there for life and we’ve just got to deal with it the best we can. Of course, recovering from any mental illness is a difficult road to go down. I’ve had various forms and severities of social anxiety for most of my life. It took my voice away in childhood. And I still have some non-inherited forms of mental illness to overcome like PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder.

So, what is this inherited form of mental illness, I hear you say? Well, it’s a mood disorder, most likely bipolar 2. It triggered in my early 20s after I took any type of prescription med. I’m not here to criticize the Pharmaceutical industry. The medication worked for what it was designed for, it’s just that it did something else, which doesn’t happen to all people, just people with a family history of mood disorders. So kids: always look at your family medical history before taking drugs, especially the ones your teacher says you should be on.

Bipolar is my newest constant companion, together with autism and ADHD I really don’t know what each day will be like. I can wake up one morning and have little energy and at some part of the day or night be unable to contain my energy. I randomly go on spending sprees, say things to people I forget and commit to things without giving it much thought. Then at some point in an extreme exhausted state I may crash into a deep dark depression. Even writing about it changes my mood state so I’ve got to be careful.

First, negative thoughts seep in after days of over confidence. I go from thinking everything is possible and everyone loves me to doubts about my abilities to questioning who my friends really are. Then comes the pessimism and a cynical view of the world and the cruelest sarcasm towards people you could ever think I was capable of. And then I just keep sliding down, down, down. To the point I become incapable of making myself meals or can even get out of bed. My mind turns on a loop of very vivid thoughts of suicide; the moment before, the act and me gazing down at the world following my suicide. Then after a couple of hours I cycle out of it. I become hypomanic again. It’s an all-round positive mood, energetic and ready to give the world a big giant bear hug.

I know a few people who have actually had their friends commit suicide and it made me feel very uncomfortable and guilty to be around them and hear them going through that mourning process. I never used to empathise with people when thinking suicidal thoughts and people’s poor choice of words to comfort or encourage a deeply depressed person to rethink their decision didn’t help either. I couldn’t see things from the point of view of a suicide survivor and copped a lot of abuse for that. But I’m used to it. My old blog was trolled so much I had to delete it but I’m back and expecting it now so whatevs.

Then, when I became deeply depressed again, despite being on anti-depressants, I started to think about one friend in particular who had lost a friend who I didn’t want to upset again if I did kill myself. And I certainly didn’t want my friends and family to develop a mental illness because of the shock of my own suicide. Before I didn’t think they’d be a shock because I talked about it so much – I even think I wrote a status update that was an equivalent to a suicide note. Luckily, a few friends got behind me and started to encourage me and I felt better.

Now when deeply depressed, if I can’t avoid falling into it through constant gigging, playing video games, watching comedy and sci-fi, I will just experience it and focus more on the physical pain than emotional. Once I get control over my mind I can push my emotions in any direction. So, I will deny my depressed thoughts and just try to focus on the next mood cycle. I wouldn’t do this if I had unipolar depression but because I’m also a rapid cycler telling myself the feelings are just temporary works for me. So far.

I think in order for people to really grasp what bipolar is about I need to talk about my manic symptoms. First, I’ll explain the differences between hypomania and mania. Hypomania is the milder state but it’s a higher than usual ‘happy’ state to be in. You’re very motivated to do things, you might get a few creative ideas you’d like to try out and you want to be around people more. Together with the motivation and creative ideas you’ve got the energy to get everything done and you don’t even require that much rest or sleep.

Mania is the more serious state. I can only tell I’m manic by the wired-like stimulated state of my brain. I have non-stop racing thoughts, overflowing with 10 to 200 creative ideas I must accomplish NOW! I’m restless and anxious and my skin tingles in discomfort. Sounds are louder, lights are brighter- every sense is turned up way loud. This is the state you become delusional and psychotic in. You have higher ideas. You feel like you are enlightened and that everyone else is intellectually inferior to you. They can’t see what you can see. They’re stuck in this stiff collared world of facts and reason, and not into the Jungian dream-like utopia that you slipped in through the smallest crack in the universe. You have more energy than you’ve ever dreamed of and your legs don’t stop moving for days. You’ll pay for it later. You know depression will come but you tell yourself you’ll be like this forever, although, to be honest, you just want to go back to hypomania.

It’s not always so positive though. Mania and hypomania have an opposite evil twin. It’s sometimes called dysphoria or dark mania – it’s the ugly pessimistic and paranoid face of bipolar. Much of it is mixed with symptoms of anxiety and depression, though I’m still unsure if this is what constitutes a ‘mixed episode.’ You snap and yell and rant at people. At worst you have paranoid delusions about them. You’re impatient, anxious, losing confidence in yourself but still have a flair of arrogance about you. You still have all the energy of mania but all positivity is gone. This is actually the most dangerous state to be in because if feeling suicidal you’re impulsive enough to do it. You’re definitely ‘not in your own mind.’ People can become violent when like this.

Above I said mania was like a drug and indeed it is but no one goes on a constant high for days or months without making some mistakes. Those can be overspending, sharing your delusional ‘enlightened’ ideas with people, just ranting and raving and ending up in places you can’t remember how you got to. There’s a trail of destruction you’ve either got to clear up or run away from. You interact with a lot of people during this time, people who you may have to see again when you return to normal, unless you’re rapid cycling – if that’s the case then you’re probably going to repeat the same mistakes again.

In my first year of taking Ritalin for ADHD every dose made me manic, from at least day two of taking the drug. So I spent a whole year basically manic. Depression never came because I’d just take another dose. Eventually it did hit at the end of the year where I was also experiencing clusters of seizures. I was just waiting to die basically. I’d come up with some wild themes for my science fiction stories and books on Jung or Synchronicity took my mind into a new and exciting realm. It was incredible but it wasn’t real. Some of my delusions were very damaging to my mental health. I became obsessed with people, people I acted like I knew well and was destined to be with. That is one place I do not want to go to again. I thought I would never recover but my medication for anxiety has helped make that world disappear. I finally feel sane again.

The title of this post is kind of confusing but what I mean by that is before I was even aware there was such a stigma around mental illness, well, I sort of always talked about it as though I was talking about a hobby. I find psychology and neuroscience to be fascinating subjects and my underdeveloped social skills could not pick up that I may have been making people feel uncomfortable. I actually had to be told by someone that people might not want to be around me if I kept talking about it. Then after I was trolled severely after writing many manic fueled blog posts before I even realised that I could even be bipolar, I decided maybe I’ll just cut back on posting about mental illness and ADHD and autism. But lately I’ve been thinking censoring myself and giving in to the stigma just makes the stigma of mental illness even stronger and I felt better being open and honest about all my mental health issues and atypical neurological wirings. So, while I still may be aware that I’m making people uncomfortable I can just ignore it and keep on talking, or writing. It’s not like anyone will tell me when I make them feel uncomfortable.

October is even ADHD Awareness Month and because I’ve been unable to write my blog about inattentive ADHD, I’ve just been posting a few things on social media. I will eventually write that post though.

I also find educating myself about my illnesses, neurological disorders and other ailments makes me develop the best coping skills for dealing with them. I’m untreated bipolar only on anti-depressants for my severe anxiety, so the only treatment I can do is problem solving skills. Okay so I may have spent $300 or more in the last week and I’ve been mouthing off/ranting a lot and my upcoming gig list keeps growing because I’ve finally got the opportunity to photograph what bands I want, even the ones I need media access to, and not just photographing bands keeps me sane, but the preparation keeps me looking forward to something. Then there’s my recently reignited video game addiction which I really think helps keep my depression from triggering. I just get exhausted now which is ok. I’d rather have the tiredness and lack of motivation that comes with depression without any of the emotions.

So, this is me. A life of mental illness and unique brain structure. There’s no stigma here. It’s just my life. It’s wild, it’s messy, sometimes boring, other times exciting, scary, frustrating and then something unexpected happens.