Bipolar Disorder Makes Getting Stuff Done Extremely Difficult

I have type 2 bipolar disorder, and I struggle to get anything done.  Let me explain.

Bipolar disorder imparts upon me varying degrees of productivity.  Science has helpfully illustrated this with the following graph:

Science!

The cycle of I-can’t-get-shit-done.

Let’s examine this in greater detail:

Mood: Bat-Shit Crazy

I’m starting here because this is me… right now.  Paradoxically, despite an incredible amount of energy, and my brain red-lining at 10,000 thoughts per second, I can’t get anything done; Hell, it took me 10 minutes just to write this paragraph.

Why?

Because I have 16 browser tabs open (and they’re actual honest to goodness articles… not just 16 porn videos!)  Because I’m thinking about the novel I want to write.  Because I’m thinking about that other novel I want to write.  Because I just had another idea for a different blog.  Because AFRICA is playing in one of my tabs and I can’t find it.  Because my thoughts wont shut the hell up!  It’s hard to get anything done when you can’t even start anything because you’ve got 500 ideas of what you should be doing.

Listen to Arcade Fire’s song Everything Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC30BYR3CUk

This phenomenon of racing thoughts which I characterize as a “loud mind” is so central to my experience of bipolar disorder that I named my own bipolar disorder blog after it.

I used to medicate this type of mood with booze to try to at least be sort of normal – until I gave that up… but sobriety is a whole other story.

Mood: Hypo-manic

Ah yes, the golden zone.  This is where I get stuff done; this is where I’m brilliant; but let’s face it, this is also where I’m kind of a dick.

Like this without the lava or the horribly disappointing screenplay.

What Do You Do When You Feel the Depression Returning?

The title is not a rhetorical question… Bipolar folks: what do you do when you feel the depression is returning?

I always thought I was a naturally upbeat, productive person, who just periodically went through some rough patches.  The rough patches never seemed inevitable though; it was just unfortunate when they happened – and then I got over them.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little over a year ago changed all that.  For the first time I knew the depression was inevitable – It wasn’t just a quirk that everything fell apart periodically; it was part of who I am.

As someone who is more or less newly diagnosed as bipolar I’m curious as to what some of the “veterans” out there have discovered – How do you know the depression is returning?  And more importantly, what do you do about it?

For me, I don’t know the depression is returning until I’m already deep within it.  For me that looks like not caring about anything, and losing the will to do whatever project my mania had me engrossed in.  My hypomanic bestowed superpowers disappear slowly and subtly; perhaps over a week?  Maybe two?

I take medication.  I go to therapy.  But trying to halt depression, or even just slow it down feels about as useful as trying to block a river with my hands.

Continue reading

The Woman of the Inn – A Sonnet

We met an age ago amidst a storm.

Her inn shone like a beacon in the night.

I longed for some relief, for some place warm.

The storm would pass and I’d leave at first light.

The lonely place was strangely filled with life.

A thousand men and women packed within.

And stranger still they all shared the same wife!

Each married to the woman of the inn.

I came to love her just like all the rest.

It was not long until we too were wed.

And I became so much more than a guest!

I didn’t care that life outside was dead.

Now I don’t feel a thing except remorse!

To hell with her!  It’s time for a divorce!

Continue reading

Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Engrossing

This is the first part of a series that will be featured on my blog that describes what bipolar disorder feels like to me.  In each post I will explore a single feature of bipolar disorder as I have experienced it.

Today, I want to discuss how I find bipolar disorder to be engrossing.

Now first things first, engrossing seems like a strange word to use to describe a mental illness.  Engrossing carries a sort of positive connotation, as in the phrase “the book was engrossing.”  If you describe a book in that fashion you’re probably recommending it.

Dialogue not altered in any way.

So am I “recommending” bipolar disorder?

Well no, of course not.  When I say engrossing, I mean as in this definition stolen from google: “absorbing all one’s attention or interest.”

I suffer form type 2 bipolar depression, which means I periodically experience a hypomanic state.  The typical reader of this blog knows what that is, but for those who may not be aware, hypomania is sort of like diet-mania.  If you don’t know what mania is, science has a GIF for you:

To be fair, that’s the way I look before eating chicken wings regardless of whether I’m (hypo)manic or not.

So anyways, back to engrossing.

I experience two different kinds of “engrossed” behavior, which I’ll call micro-engrossed, and macro-engrossed.  I’ll demonstrate what I mean with a couple examples:

“Micro-Engrossing”

Micro-engrossing is what I call it when my mind very intensely focuses on something for a short period of time (1 – 5 minutes), while simultaneously blocking out everything else.

The old house my wife and I lived in had a brick wall in the living room.  One night my wife was talking about her day, but I couldn’t hear a single word she was saying because I was micro-engrossed in – you guessed it – the brick wall (I didn’t say it made sense.  Remember – mental illness).

This is a slob’s an artist’s rendering of that brick wall:

Bricks

Pretty much what you expected.

But as my wife’s talking, my hyper-brain becomes completely engrossed in that stupid brick wall.  Soon my brain starts seeing patterns… Look at that diamond!

unmarked diamond

ooooooooooohhhhhh, DIAMOND!

Now I think she’s talking about work… or maybe she’s talking about her mom.  I don’t know, because I wonder how many bricks are in that diamond… better start counting:

count the bricks

Can you tell I was one of the cool kids yet?

“… it’s frustrating because it seems like my boss doesn’t listen to me.  I get the feeling that she doesn’t respect…”

That took too long.  I wonder if there’s a faster way to determine how many bricks are in a diamond.  Is there a formula that can be applied that would scale to arbitrarily large diamonds?  There has to be…

Bricks Diamond

Maybe it’s related to the number of bricks at the widest point of the diamond?

“…I was asked to pick up a shift this weekend so I need you to watch the girls, is that OK with…”

OF COURSE!  NOW I SEE!  The number of bricks in the diamond is equal to the number of bricks at the widest point SQUARED!  5 x 5 is 25!  And it scales to arbitrarily large diamonds!  

Squares

Of course!  A diamond is just a square tilted to the side… 

I’m a genius!  I wonder what other patterns ther-

“Matt!  Were you listening to a word I just said?”

“… yes?”

“What did I say?”

“…”

[Sleeps on couch, gets to stare at brick wall all night.]

I’ve summed up micro-engrossing in one, glorious GIF:

I wonder if there are any patterns in the boards of this basketball court?

“Macro-Engrossing”

Macro-engrossing is micro-engrossing just scaled up.  It’s when my brain becomes fixated on a problem over the course of weeks or even months.  It’s not as acute as micro-engrossing; I’m capable of carrying on a perfectly healthy conversation with my wife while engaging in this hypomanic behavior, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

Take this for example:

During a particularly strong hypomanic episode that I experienced last year while on vacation in Maine, I got it into my mind that I was going to single-handedly program a massively complex turn-based strategy video game.  Civilization, but BETTER!

Well, in order to start, I’d need to randomly generate a two dimensional game map.

Now this isn’t a blog about computer programming and algorithms, so I’m not going to elaborate much more on the particulars of how one goes about doing this.  If you’re curious, it implements a modified version of Conway’s Game of Life which you can see described by the man himself, John Conway, in this wonderful video.

The point is I found myself consumed by this problem while on this vacation.  While my family was relaxing and enjoying a well-earned week off, my mind was humming on overdrive – determined to find the answers!

Ultimately, this phenomenon is the inspiration for the name of my blog, Loudest Minds; a reference to the disquiet of my mind – the constant racing of thoughts that characterizes the manic and hypomanic episodes of many people suffering from bipolar disorder.

I used to think of this engrossing behavior as a gift; a means to achieve moments of brilliance.  But I’ve come to realize that mania is not a superpower, it’s a curse; because as soon as I solved the problem that had consumed the entirety of my mind’s resources for weeks, the depression returned, and I abandoned the game like so many other projects before it.

So that’s how I find bipolar disorder to be engrossing.  I hope you were thoroughly engrossed by this blog post!  If you were, share it with your friends!

If you suffer from bipolar disorder, do you experience a similar phenomenon?  I’d love to hear about it! Continue reading

Challenge Yourself! – Find 5 Meaningful Things To Do

Ever get so caught up in the day to day crap-you-have-to-do that you lose sight of what you actually need to do… or what might actually enrich your life?

Of course you do!  If you don’t, you’re probably kidding yourself.  That, or you need to immediately publish a book enlightening us on your secret – probably make a million dollars while you’re at it.

Today I was trying to distract my mind from the typical stress at work (and procrastinate from doing the crap-I-had-to-do items detailed on the to-do list sitting on my desk) so I started cleaning and organizing my office.

After reaching the bottom of a formerly bottomless desk drawer, I found a note from my predecessor.  It was a to-do list filled with 5 mundane tasks that were not unlike the ones I was myself putting off that moment.

The note was unremarkable in every way but one – the date; it was dated from just before he went out for the last time.  You see, his cancer had returned, and this time it would not be beat.  He passed away in the months that followed.

It made me think about what I was doing in that moment – just going about the motions of the day, looking at the clock, wishing it was over.  What if this was it?  What if I was running out of time and I didn’t even know it?

How many of you are doing the same thing?  How many of you are wishing for the hours to slip by so you can do something that’s actually meaningful to you?  What is actually important to you?  Challenge yourself to make a list of what you actually need to do.

I scribbled off the list sitting on my desk and made a new one:

5 Things I Actually Need To-Do:

#1 – Help My Kids Find Their Passion.

There is one really important word in that goal – “their”. I want to help them find their passion, not mine.

I love football. I’d love to have my kid in the NFL.  But I have two daughters that probably aren’t going to share that goal.  Also I don’t see many women in the NFL in 2018.

This was something I think I missed as a child; I never found something that I was really into that I could also do for a living. It wasn’t until after college that I really started developing true passions other than drinking beer and spending money.  What a waste!

Also, I think it’s really important that kids have at least something they know they’re interested in before school’s over.  Otherwise how the hell are they supposed to decide what they’re going to do after high school?

Here’s what the decision making process looked like for me:

Dad: Alright, here’s a book of college majors, you need to pick one.

Me: Wait, what?

Dad: Yep. You’re 18, and it’s time for you to decide what you want to do for the next 40-50 years.

Me: Can I just play X-Box?

Dad: Nope.

Me: Ok, let me see that book then…

Me: [Flips through book of alphabetized majors, loses interest at the letter ‘C’]

Me: Chemistry sounds good!

Dad: Excellent.

Me: [Wastes next 10 years of life stumbling down misery-path]

I really, really want to avoid that, which I know can be difficult.  I know my parents tried to get me into things and it was me that resisted.  I know you can’t make your kids do anything once they get to a certain age, but I hope I’ll be able to help them see how what they are interested in can become a career.

Here’s an example that would have worked for me. I’m really into video games.  That’s one of the only things I was consistently into growing up.  That sounds like a horrible waste of time, right?

Cut to 10 years later and I discover a passion for computer programming. Now I program video games in my spare time for fun.  Imagine if I had the creativity and vision to see this as a possibility when I was 18?  I could be doing this for a living right now, and I would have loved it!  Sometimes you need to be creative.

#2 – Pay for Kid’s College.

My wife’s parents paid for her to go to school, a generosity for which I am extremely grateful. We bought our first home when I was 24, and she was 23, because of the financial boost her parents were able to give us after we graduated.  We had an incredible head-start.

I graduated with $25,000 in debt, which is probably pretty low since I went to a public school. $300 dollars a month to student loan debt payments really sucks when you’re 22 – A huge percentage of your paycheck simply disappears.

Thankfully, I actually have a pretty decent head-start plan on this. It’s called the Stop-Obsessively-Buying-Ridiculously-Irresponsible-amounts-of-Ethanol (that’s alcohol for you – remember, chemistry major)-This-Year also known as SOBRIETY.

The math looks something like this:

$20 dollars per week for margaritas on date night.

$35 dollars per week for beer.

+             $45 dollars for Woodford Reserve because I’m one of those classy alcoholics.


$100 dollars per week

×             52 weeks in a year


$5200 per year on alcohol.

×             18 years


$93,600 saved over 18 year period.

That’s a decent head start!

#3 – Finish One of Those Damn Mania-Projects!

If you suffer from bipolar disorder you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re manic, or hypomanic, and you’ve fallen in love with… something. You have all this energy and you’ve decided to direct it towards writing a book, or starting a blog, or making movies, or learning an instrument, or learning to paint, or going back to school… or all of those things at once!

The problem is that bipolar disorder is a cruel mistress, and now two weeks later your depression is back and you have absolutely no interest in doing any of those things anymore. So what was just days ago an all-consuming passion project is left abandoned and incomplete.

I’ve spoken at some length about how mania or hypomania may be thought of by some as a blessing, but I’ve started to view it as a curse.  In my days or weeks of depression immediately following a hypomanic period I find myself surrounded by husks of beautiful, useful, and creative things that I was only able to take halfway to completion.  The sense of failure does nothing to help the depression.

Just once, I’d like to finish something. Write a book, learn a skill, finish programming that video game – anything!

I can say I have found one way to scratch this itch; break it down into small, bite size pieces! When you get the bug to start writing, instead of only working on that 100,000 word manuscript, why don’t you write a blog post!  I finish those all the time!

#4 – Travel Abroad With Family

I’ve been to two countries in my entire life. The United States, since I happen to have been born here, and Canada, since I happen to have grown up about 30 minutes from the border.

I never had a strong desire to travel (or really, to do anything) when I had the (relatively) easy opportunity to do so in college. Many of my friends did however, and it always seemed like a great adventure that enriched their lives.

I’d love to do this with my family, or if we can’t all go, I’d like to send the kids when they’re young, in college, and life is still (relatively) simple.

#5 – Start a Business

Is this every manic person’s dream, or is it just mine?

Imagine taking your energy, and your sudden, intense focus on something, and getting so good at it that you can actually start a business around that thing. Then you can screw the man and ride off into the sunset!

Ok, so I understand in reality that starting a business isn’t actually easy, and the whole riding off into the sunset thing is not likely to happen, but can’t a guy dream?

So that’s it!  That’s my What-I-Actually-Want-To-Do list – my 5 Meaningful Things.  I challenge you all to do the same thing!

Unfortunately, reality always seems to get in the way.  Speaking of which, these expense reports aren’t going to approve themselves. Back to it…