Different people experience Bipolar Disorder in different ways. In my case, I’m a Type 2 Bipolar who spends a majority of his time in relatively functional depression. That has been my baseline since I was a teenager with regular dips into non-functionality.
So a few days ago, November 17th, I turned 35. About a month before that I found a document that was a 2013 report on the career I wanted to pursue for my state. I knew that the role I wanted to pursue was new and uncommon; but I did not think it was “only 150 people doing it in the entire state” new and uncommon. That kind of low existence isn’t really a career choice; it’s more like a craps shoot.
In years past, this would have been a trigger into morbid or suicidal depression. Today, I know how to handle that thanks to what I learned in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. There’s a window between the time the Bipolar person triggers and the destination they will wind up at. I know that I need to minimize the impact of my thoughts in that trigger window. I do that by forcing myself to not think or dwell about the circumstance unless I absolutely have to. In this case, realizing that it would be completely retarded for me to sink the time and effort into developing a career that only 150 people perform was the trigger.
Every time it would pop into my mind, I would force my mind somewhere else. I would distract myself with music I could really get into, talking or immersing myself in the struggles of other people, or video games. It took a few days, but eventually my mind felt like it reached the plane it was supposed to be at. The chaotic fluctuations were more muted and the waters seemed to have calmed. After that point, I was able to think about it with a clearer mind.
It still kicked me towards the depressive side; but no suicidal or self-destructive thoughts. I didn’t fall as far as I would have had I just jumped on those emotions of experiencing a set-back. This is an invaluable skill to develop if you’re Bipolar or Depressive. Do not just jump on your emotions when you hit an emotional experience. Does it always work out so neat and clean? No. It doesn’t. I fuck it up from time to time or it’s something I can’t put off; that I absolutely have to take care of. But when I am successful it makes things so much easier.
That initial slam of the trigger is the hardest part to work with. I’ve still had to deal with the periodic waves from needing to think about it and dealing with this monkey-wrench in my plans. I shout it down in my mind with the mantra I embraced when I was diagnosed; “swim or die”. Is it the end of my world? No. It’s not. Things rarely go as you plan them in life. I just have to keep swimming and find another way to accomplish my long-term goals.
My birthday was bittersweet and is often time for reflection. A year ago November 17th, my grandmother passed away. I grew up living across the street from her for most of my early life and when I was living with my folks as an adult. I love her dearly but I just don’t feel the loss like I know my family did. I attribute that to the logic from my autism overriding my emotions. She was obviously an older woman, 89 if I remember correctly, who had been experiencing kidney problems. It wasn’t surprising to me that a chain of events stemming from that could end with her passing.
I think that this understanding is why her death didn’t trigger me. I understood far ahead of time that old people + kidney problems = bad. I didn’t spend time wondering why or grieving the fact that she was gone because my brain knew that old people + kidney problems = bad.
I do think that it might have had a much more negative impact on me had it happened out of the blue; like a heart attack or aneurysm. That probably would have kicked me into a shitty depressive cycle because I had no time to get acclimated.
But, the discovery that my career of choice was actually 150 instead of maybe a couple thousand? That came out of nowhere and tried to slam me pretty hard.
People who deal with depression will be able to relate to this sentiment. For most of my life I couldn’t picture having a future because my present was mired in depression. When you’re severely depressed, everything just sort of blends together and becomes irrelevant. Why should I take care of myself? I don’t matter. Why should I plan for a future? I probably won’t be there anyways.
I spent about 20 years; from about 13 to 33, wrestling with these thoughts. My dad constantly jokes that he never thought he would make it to old age because of the life he led. I would often make the same type of joke, “I won’t make it to old age”; but I left off the rest of my thought. That thought being “I won’t make it to old age because I’m pretty sure I’ll end up killing myself long before then”.
But now, now I have a different reality. I found purpose and a deep sense of self-fulfillment in helping other people. That was not a thought that ever crossed my mind when I thought I was just a broken piece of shit. Sure, I would try to be there for a friend or something if they needed it. As for strangers? My depressive thoughts for the longest time were “you don’t give two shits if I’m alive or dead so fuck you too”; even if completely unfounded.
So I’m 35, turned an important corner a couple years ago in coming to terms with myself and what I have to offer the world. I’m 35, trying to figure out what I’m doing with the rest of my life to be self-sufficient, to help people, to not lose my own war with Bipolar Disorder. And I am now back to square one on how to accomplish that.
I wish I could install a window in the side of my head for y’all to peek through at the debate that rages.
Depressed side: “You knew it wouldn’t work out. You fuck up everything you set out to. Idiot.”
Rational side: “Fuck that guy. Shit isn’t going as you planned, it never does. Find a new path.”
Depressed side: “Yeah find a new path that will just blow up in your face and fuck you over.”
Rational side: “Shut the fuck up. Victory goes to the tenacious; the people that overcome set-backs. So don’t listen to that bitch and figure something out.”
That’s pretty much how I debate things in my head with myself.
Inspirational as fuck, eh?
So I’ve spent the past few weeks, silently battling in my head and trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. I have really boiled it down to two options.
A. Work a typical job and continue to do what I do through my website as my means of helping people. There are problems with this approach. That is going to require a heavy investment in time and energy in the week. Being Bipolar, I do need to attempt to keep my stress levels somewhat in check and have time to decompress so it doesn’t shove me into a hypomanic cycle. And if you’ve been lucky enough to not have to work too many low-tier jobs in your life; they don’t tend to honor or respect your time very often unless you have an actual decent superior. You’re a low wage monkey and can be replaced by any other low wage monkey. So that isn’t likely to work out in the long-term. Yes, there are good people that would work with me out there. There are also assholes that would smile to my face and start looking for any reason they could to get rid of me so my problems didn’t impact their ability to conduct business.
B. Go back to college. I could complete an Associates in Human Services Tech at the local college (or university for you folks not in America). The government should pay for it (or a majority of it) as part of vocational rehab to get me off of disability and back into the work force. Furthermore, if things went well, I could continue that education to four years; and then maybe even look at Graduate school to become a Therapist or Psych. I like the fact that I can increment it. Maybe I make it through two years but it’s hard as shit because my brain sucks and my short-term memory has the retention of a screen. I could take that two years and get a job as an aide or assistant.
Quite honestly, I would be looking further than that. I have a very unique, perfect storm of things going on with me that puts me in a position to contribute greatly. Bipolar but not too Bipolar; Autistic but not too Autistic; skilled written communicator who can articulate well; battered, bruised, damage- but not broken.
What I lack is credibility to medical professionals. A degree would be huge for that because I could say “Hey, I’ve been through all this shit; but I’ve had training like yours too. So perhaps you should at least hear me out instead of just looking at me like I’m fucking stupid?”
And then there is the matter of money. There is little to be money to be made in mental health. I’ve talked about my need to actually earn a couple times, and received a couple of messages about how “money isn’t everything” and “I shouldn’t be worried so much about that”.
Yeah, that’s all well and good; but I want to be self-sufficient and I like stuff. But even more than that; I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to figure out types of businesses that could push towards self-sustainability, provide opportunities for disabled people, the poor, and convicts trying to change their lives. That’s going to require money and I know that between my credit rating (LOLOLOLOL) and general history as a mental patient (also LOLOLOLOL); a traditional lender is going to look at me and shit themselves in laughter.
So if I want to even attempt something like that in the future; I’m going to need to have my shit straight. I’ll be in a decent position if I can make it through college with minimal debt. I’ll live below my means after that point so I can stockpile resources. If I decide to pursue a venture like that, I will probably have to appeal to independent investors for funding. And I would prefer to have at least half of the capital be my own money to demonstrate I believe in it and planned thoroughly enough to put my ass very much on the line.
College seems to be the right path but man; in addition to all the normal doubts…there’s the doubts that go along with being Bipolar. For example, I know cramming is fucking useless for me because my brain won’t retain information that way. I need to cram about a week ahead of time before the info pops out of the wasteland that is my short-term memory. And that many years? Oh I will definitely have unwell cycles and probably run into chaotic situations as a result. Sure, I have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act; but will I be of mind to advocate for myself? To ensure that I am given the rights I am entitled to by law for being a nutcase trying to better my situation? Will I even be able to do anything about it if there is conflict?
I tried to go to college when I was younger and I succeeded at doing was racking up a $3000 internet bill from long-term, unwell decisions and blowing about $6000 in savings bonds that were gifted to me throughout my childhood.
But! There is good news in all of this.
I just turned 35 and I don’t look forward with hopelessness. Even when I am depressed, I still see a future for myself. Yeah, there are still times when I put on the headphones and zone out into a video game for several hours because I can’t think. But those times are much fewer and far between than they used to be. I had to reevaluate and change the way I looked at myself and my future. It’s something I’m still working on in a lot of ways.
The point to all of this? I no longer feel like I’m just killing time until I die. That came from a shift in a way I not only viewed myself but in the progress I’ve made fighting the Disorder with the help of doctors, medication, and therapy. That’s a change that so many others could have too if they jump into the fight, scrapping tooth and nail to win their own war.
I’ve gone from 20 years of feeling like shit about myself to knowing I will have a future. I’ve been able to close my hateful eyes and see someone with a unique combination of difficult experiences and gifts that can be used as a catalyst for others.
So if you look in the mirror and can only see yourself through depressive eyes; that doesn’t have to be your future. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Subscribe to have blog posts and news delivered straight to your Inbox!