Writing to Discipline My Thoughts

Disciplining My Thoughts By Writing

This morning I attended an OC Writers’ write-in. I haven’t attended a writers’ group in a long time. Been isolating myself and focusing on my son rather than my writing, rather than myself. Today, I left him home in bed, then left the meeting early to get him to class on time. When I got back home, he was dry-heaving in bed. Crap.

Hate spending my mornings trying to wake him up to do his homework and go to school. He will be seventeen next month. Time to wake up and do homework on his own. Unfortunately, his private school is not within walking distance, nor would it be a safe bike ride, and my kid has no interest in getting his drivers’ license yet. So, I’m still driving him to and from school.

The first week of June, during my son’s summer break when I didn’t have to act as alarm clock and chauffeur, I started cleaning my house with help of my next-door neighbor. She did most of the cleaning and organizing. I chatted and did a wee bit of organizing. We tackled the kitchen, spending two hours on Monday and two hours on Friday.

The second week of June was my son’s first week of summer school, so I took the week off cleaning and organizing. He has a full schedule this summer. He attended most of his classes last week, perhaps because I offered him $10/class/day. He’s motivated by money. It costs more to reschedule his classes than it does to pay him to attend.

Hypomania Raises Its Head (Again)

Last Tuesday in therapy, I said I no longer felt hypomanic. At the time, I seemed relaxed, at ease. By Wednesday my mind was racing. At night, when it was time to fall asleep, to slow down my mind – instead of thinking in my usual monologue, as an orator narrating my life – I heard a cacophony of voices.

I wondered if, when those voices crowded my mind, I should have written them down to see if I was thinking in dialogue. Were the voices characters wanting to be heard, auditory hallucinations, or thoughts racing so fast, I could not make heads or tails of them? Most likely speeding thoughts.

When I couldn’t fall asleep, instead of writing, I medicated myself to sleep. I force sleep when it won’t come on its own.

As I wrote last week during the day, while my son attended school, I could not hear the noise. Instead, I focused on my voice and that’s what I thought. Writing disciplined my thoughts.

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Diagnosing Bipolar II #DavidLeite #NotesOnABanana

Creator of the James Beard Award-Winning Website "Leite's Culinaria," David Leite, "Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression"

“Diagnosis: Mental Lite!” — Chapter 33 of David Leite’s self-deprecating Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression — reminded me of the two decades it took before I was diagnosed bipolar type 2.

For twenty-five years Leite was treated (unsuccessfully) for depression and anxiety. Like Leite, I was an overachiever who cyclically crashed. From eighteen to thirty-nine, I was diagnosed dysthymic (chronically depressed).  Finally as a mother of a toddler, I recognized my euphoric callings from God as symptoms of hypomania and called for help.

After seeing numerous psychiatrists since he was fourteen, Leite sought and got an accurate diagnosis of bipolar II from Neil De Senna, who at the time was a Columbia University Medical Center professor of psychiatry.

Here I excerpt as bullet points the questions Dr. De Senna asked that led to Leite’s diagnosis. Buy the book to read his life story and answers to these questions — you won’t regret it.

  • Did I ever have rapid, repetitive thinking?
  • Did I ever talk fast, sometimes so fast people couldn’t understand me?
  • Had I ever been so irritable, I shouted at people or started fights or became violent?
  • Had I ever had a decreased need for sleep? If I slept just a few hours, did I feel great?
  • Did I ever engage in risky behavior that endangered my life?
  • Had I felt unusually self-confident in myself and my abilities? Did I ever experience grandiosity?
  • Had I ever had morose, violent thoughts?
  • Had I ever contemplated suicide? Had I ever attempted it?
  • Had I ever lost interest in things because nothing gave me pleasure?
  • Were there times when I was very interested in being with people, and other times when I wanted to be alone?
  • Did I have crying jags, anxiety and panic, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, bad feelings about myself?

Now I quote without editing, De Senna’s description of bipolar I and bipolar II:

He explained that there are two types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I is the more severe form, what Kay Redfield Jamison, the author of An Unquiet Mind, has. In it, the manias are screechingly amped up and oftentimes dangerous. They’re emblazoned with inflated self-esteem and billowing grandiosity, a marked decrease in sleep, a pressing need to talk, sometimes with odd features such as “clanging,” where speech loses meaning and follows a pattern of rhymes or sounds. Someone suffering from full-blown mania can be grossly distracted; battle racing, looping thoughts; and engage in potentially dangerous and deadly activities, such as unchecked buying sprees, risky or anonymous sex, foolish business dealings, and reckless driving. All the while, psychosis—a disconnection from reality—can be skulking in the background, just waiting for a pause, an opening. These manias can disrupt a person’s life to such a degree that jobs are lost, relationships implode, families disintegrate. Hospitalizations usually follow.

“What you have, bipolar II,” he continued, “is a milder form of the illness.” While the depressions can be just as deep and disabling, disabling, he said, what makes the difference is the quality, degree, and length of the high times. With bipolar II, a person suffers from hypomania. Elevated, expansive moods that are seductively attractive to the sufferer and the people around him, hypomanias are a watercolor version of bright-neon manias. Through it all, life isn’t disrupted to the same degree, and there’s never a psychotic break. Hospitalizations aren’t common.

“It can be very, very difficult to diagnosis hypomania,” Neil said. “Especially in type-A people who are normally goal-oriented, high energy, and creative. Their personalities can mask the illness at times.”

By quoting from David Leite’s memoir, published by HarperCollins, I do not intend to avoid copyright law. My hope is to educate, and as an added bonus to Leite and HarperCollins, to promote a great memoir of a creative soul living with manic depression.

Am I Still a Mental Health Blogger?

Self, Wife, Mother, Caregiver, Writer, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

What defines being a blogger, specifically a mental health blogger? Must I write regularly or frequently? Must I always write about mental health? What if that is not my focus ALL the time? What if I’m so busy that living with bipolar disorder is not in the forefront of my mind? What if I’m overwhelmed by my life circumstances? What if I’m simply taking a break?

I’m not the most disciplined writer. Never been one for discipline; though, I do brush and floss my teeth every night. My house is a mess – dusty and cluttered. I bathe or shower (I prefer to bathe) at least once a week. (You are probably disgusted by this admission. I try not to move too much, so I don’t sweat and get stinky. Yes, I know I should exercise daily. And, eat better. Just because I know better, doesn’t mean I do better.)

Followers of my blog say they miss me when I write once a month, and not more often. Not sure if it’s nice to be missed, or if it’s stressful, if I have an obligation to write.

No, I have no obligation to write.

That’s why I blog.

It’s mine. All mine.

Yes, I interact with others here and enjoy doing so. I respond to those who comment.
Recently, though, I’ve been busy with life. My illness, bipolar disorder, hasn’t been the focus of my blog. I’m fairly stable. My symptoms are more or less in remission. But, the concepts of remission and recovery can mislead. Serious mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are chronic, lifelong brain disorders. You can live with them. Medications can help you treat the symptoms. But, the brain disorder remains.

To stay stable, I must be careful. I must plan for how certain circumstances affect me.

Last month I presented and next week I again will present as an individual living with mental illness for NAMI Provider Education at the hospital where over a decade ago (12 years now) I was treated two weeks inpatient and for a few months in their partial hospitalization program until I got bored.f

I get overstimulated in social situations and must recover. I cannot sustain that level of social functioning without paying a high price – psychiatric instability, hypomania and subsequent depression, mood cycling. So, I must keep in mind that I will need downtime afterwards – time to recover.

So… I started writing this piece wondering about the effects of my recent lack of “mental health” blog posts. I’ve also slacked off reading and commenting on others’ blogs. Sorry, folks.

I’ve been too busy doing taxes (scanning tons of receipts), driving my son to and from school and numerous doctors’ appointments (unfortunately, he isn’t motivated to get his driver’s license anytime soon & knows we didn’t get ours until we were 18 & 19), and making sure my parents are happy.

When I haven’t been busy, I’ve been exhausted – too exhausted to write, to read, to do anything verbal. Instead, I took up doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad – enjoy that they are visual, non-verbal, and engage my mind.

Meaning and Mental Illness

I wrote this post for Lisa Bortolotti’s project Imperfect Cognitions: Blog on delusional beliefs, distorted memories, confabulatory explanations, and implicit biases.

The blog was founded by Lisa Bortolotti in May 2013, after receiving the happy news that she had been awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a project entitled “The Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions“. The core idea of the project was to see whether a variety of cognitions (beliefs primarily, but also memories, narratives and explanations) could enhance knowledge even when they were inaccurate or ill-grounded.

Source: Blog History

Meaning and Mental Illness

Monday, 28 December 2015

For our series of first-person accounts, Kitt O’Malley, blogger and mental health advocate, writes about her experience of altered states and what these mean to her.

When I was twenty-one upon returning from my grandfather’s memorial mass at which I gave the eulogy, I first experienced a series of altered mental states which I chose to interpret as God calling me to the ordained ministry. I questioned that sense of call due to my intellectual skepticism, my agnosticism, and the fact that I had a history of mental illness, namely major depression and dysthymia. God did not speak to me in my altered mental states. I heard no voices and saw no visions. The altered states I entered were sometimes ecstatic and sometimes tempting and dark. My interpretation of my experiences was influenced by my familiarity with the works of Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and Roman Catholic mystic saints.

As I received no definitive instructions, I didn’t know exactly what God called me to do, but I chose to identify with mystic saints and believed that God called me to seminary training. I did not pursue a seminary education at that time. Later when I was thirty, after being prescribed antidepressants, I experienced a week-long psychotic state in which simultaneous thoughts raced through my mind in binary (zeroes and ones), about chaos theory, and about Roman Catholic mystic saints. Even after the psychotic break, my diagnosis remained dysthymic, with the episode believed to be a reaction to antidepressant medication.

Again, I believed God called me to seminary, but I had to address my mental health before I could follow through on my sense of God’s call. At the age of thirty-nine I once again started to experience euphoric sensations and the belief that God was calling me. At that point, I was a mother and wanted to be stable and grounded for my active toddler son more than I wanted to be a mystic. As a mother, the practical trumped the mystical. I sought help for bipolar disorder from a psychiatrist. My diagnosis changed from dysthymia to bipolar type II and my medication changed accordingly with mood stabilizers and sometimes an antipsychotic added to the mix. Finally, after a psychiatric hospitalization at forty-one, I applied to and attended, but did not complete, seminary.

My belief that I am both a mystic and have a mental illness remains. I believe that God has a purpose for me and that I am fulfilling that purpose in blogging about living with bipolar disorder and in my volunteer work as a mental health advocate. At the same time, I am skeptical of my own belief and realize that such a belief can be dangerous and can lead to destructive behavior.

In spite of my skepticism, I decided to embrace my own experiences as meaningful. I straddle both biological and meaning-based understandings of both my mental illness and my experience of divine calling. I believe both perspectives could be true. For me, what is key is that the meaning I glean from my experiences is positive in its effects.

Insomnia – My Mind Will Not Rest

Found this draft scrap of writing that I wrote 17 days ago. My hypomanic racing thoughts and insomnia did lead to finding solutions, but the solutions are long-term, not short term. Patience is required now.


4:15 am: third time I awoke this evening. My mind will not rest, will not cease looking for solutions to the health crisis in our family. Unfortunately crises such as this – mine being age related health issues incapaciating my parents, specifically my mother’s stroke over a week ago – can trigger mood cycling – for me hypomania.

Grief is a bitch.

I worry, too, about my son. My husband took last week and this week off work to pinch hit for me at home.