Walking the Fine Line of Remission

Welcome to 2012.

[I despise New Years.  The sentimental reflection, the faux cheer, the drunken parties.  New Years, like Christmas, is rife with insincerity.  I despise all of it and everything it stands for.  Except for the fireworks.  Who doesn’t love to blow shit up?]

The ending week of my 2011 was certainly dramatic.  A geriatric family member’s serious injury, a possible new house, another family member’s death.  Did no one tell the Fates that foisting just one of these events on a Bipolar person is asking for it?

I’ve known for several months now the medication is working and I am in a remission.  I’ve been pretty proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish with my head screwed on straight, and would never, ever consider going off my meds.  But if I said I wasn’t looking over my shoulder every second for the Black Dog or the mania monster, then I’d be lying.  Because I am.  I thought the last week of 2011 would knock me off-balance from treading that fine line of remission.  It didn’t.  Rather than lose it over one of the three major life events that happened, the only thing that made me cry just a bit was watching a movie I used to watch with my mother.  It made me miss her.

So, the question emerged: is effectively just carrying on without feeling strong emotions after a week full of upheaval really what remission is all about?

I’ve read stories of BPs who are in or have experienced a remission while on their meds.  These people all stayed on their meds during remission, too, some with a success interval of ten years.  Ten years.  An entire decade.  Feeling ‘flat’ while on antidepressants, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics is not uncommon.   But is it normal to feel more emotion over your lack thereof than over an event that would illicit a response from a five-year old?

I was beginning to think not.

Although I will never quit my meds, I do finally understand why some choose to do so in order to feel something again.  After all, what is the human experience without the emotion?

Conversely, that’s not really a fair question to ask a person whose emotions and moods can kill them.

Lastly, I started thinking about the dark side of Bipolar.  The hospital.  The last time I wanted it to just all be over.  The last batch of psychotic thoughts.  The last mania.  The last round of bad behavior that deeply hurt those around me.

Sitting at my kitchen table, sipping my decaf, reading all the news about the latest horrors in the world, I decided it would be best for all those involved – myself, my family and even my dogs – if I just continued to walk that fine line of remission and make peace with the fact that severely diluted emotions is the price for the illusion of sanity.

Besides, there’s an up side to all of this as well. I was able to visit a relative in the hospital.  I didn’t lose it when I found out about another relative’s passing.  And I am able to reason with clarity about choosing the location I will spend the next 10 years of my life in.  So what if my tears don’t come when others expect them. It gives the impression I am completely composed.  Little do people know what’s really at the core of my outward composure is being eternally grateful in the inside I am not having to deal with any of this from the confines of a hospital or are too drugged out to deal with anything at all.

I’m glad to hear that you’re in remission. And I really feel that having strong emotions over particularly moving events is part of the human condition, not the bipolar condition. I believe what you are experiencing is typical. The best testament to your remission is handling those situation, handling those strong emotions, and not having a reaction that would completely hinder your functioning. I think you’re doing great!

Having no emotion at all is not what it’s like to be human. Even animals have emotions. It’s natural. And that’s why a lot of people choose to drop their meds entirely.

I don’t think that’s a good idea. There is a compromise between being flat on medication and being symptomatic. I don’t really understand why people don’t seem to think of it. Lower the dose. Or change medications. Either way, whether a person changes meds or goes off of them entirely, they risk becoming symptomatic again. I believe a person can have that happy medium where they can experience emotions and be on medication at the same time. Emotions aren’t symptomatic of bipolar disorder. Extreme emotions and extreme behavioral reactions are symptoms.

Where do you draw the line? At dysfunction vs. function. And that’s not a definitive line either. It’s different for everyone. I wouldn’t personally call myself in remission yet, for two reasons. First, I haven’t been in a stable state for long enough. (6 months is my marker). Secondly, I’m not sure where to draw the line at functional in terms of my symptoms. I still experience pangs of symptoms.

Sometimes they are very severe, but short lived. I was angry at my husband about a week ago, and slammed the front door. In doing that, I jammed the door. We had to break into our own house through the bolted side door. First, my husband gashed his finger ripping the handle off of the screen door. Then, he had to kick in the door and knock the framing clear off to get it open. Thankfully, he was very patient with me when we discussed it. “What did we learn?”, he asked. “To be more aware of my emotional state and the behaviors that result,” I answered. I already knew that. And still, I was compelled to do it.

Is that remission? Am I walking the fine line? I’m not sure I could ever be in remission. But, I give you kudos for striking that balance we all strive for!

Hi, Lulu! You always write the best comments 🙂 Thanks for your support!

I’m sorry to hear about the fallout with your husband. Yeah, slamming the door and locking yourself out is a pain in the neck, but here’s a question. Don’t people who are not bipolar have moments like this, too? I think it’s normal to slam a door when you’re angry. Do you think there’s an unrealistic expectation thrown at us to be extra-well-behaved to somehow prove our moods are under control? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Who doesn’t get mad at their spouse sometimes? They get cranky too, and I know there are times my getting angry at the husband is perfectly justifiable. But I think the expectations, even the ones we create for ourselves, to be nothing but even tempered are sometimes very unfair. Thoughts? (PS…never doubt your ability to be in remission. I’m sure it will happen for you, too!!)

Very good point! See, your responses are even better than mine!

I remember what we were fighting about after a moment of reflection. He was being grouchy with me, because I forgot where we were going and left my check in the house. It’s not like we were very far, and I knew where the darned thing was. I got angry with him for being nasty to me. You know, show a little respect! I can’t remember everything all of the time! I’m only human!

So, I went back for it, slamming doors all along the way. I was really angry. It’s not as if I didn’t know I was either. He dropped me off at one store in the complex to cash my check, and went to another store to shop with T.D. I knew I had to get it out of my system, so I power-walked through the complex, several parking lots, in 30 degree weather. It was enough, thank heavens.

I think getting angry with a spouse is perfectly natural. I know that he had to be miffed with me, but he sometimes can’t manage himself, and he goes for the throat. I’m especially sensitive, when it comes to him. Most spouses that have our kind of relationship are like that. I absolutely respect triggers for his anxiety, and don’t force him into panic producing situations. I accept that he has to go five miles out of the way to avoid certain bridges. He’s getting better himself, but you’d think by now that he’d be a little more mindful of my touchiness.

Anyway, you’re absolutely right about the “being on our best behavior”. I do my best to be tempered, and I think I’ve come a long way. I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting where I’m nitpicking, where I’m grouchy, and where I’m just irritate for no justifiable reason except that I’m in a mood. Just this morning, I had just gotten up and my husband wanted me to do several activities that involved me going out in the freezing cold. Not cool. But necessary. I was grumbling about it, and his hearing was bad. He asked, “What’s wrong?” And I sighed and answered, “Nothing. I’m just grouchy.” It’s true. These things weren’t his fault. They were just things I wasn’t ready to do yet.

It has taken me so long to get where I am at tempering myself. I have had to discover ways to express my extreme emotions that are appropriate, but still meaningful. I can’t just calmly explain that I’m angry, hyperactive, or depressed. It doesn’t get the point across. Sometimes, I need to do something that demonstrates that, and put words to it. No extreme behaviors, just a loud rant or some soft crying. Because I’ve noticed one thing. If the behaviors are extreme, no one wants to listen to it or deal with it. They seem to think to themselves, “This is an episode. It will pass.” It might be, but that doesn’t mean my thoughts or feelings are illegitimate.

Oh, Lulu. You’ve hit the nail right on the head. It’s really screwed up that when we truly need an intervention is when our behaviors are extreme, yet no one wants to pay attention to us when we’re in that state. I’ve become better at doing what you do – tempering the behavior in order to get attention. I think my husband has also gotten much better at recognizing my behavior for what it is. My son, as most 16 year olds are, is still clueless, though. 🙂 Just the fact that you recognize you are tempering your emotions is a great thing…see, you’re closer to a remission than you think. BTW, I hate going out in the freezing cold, too. I totally understand why that made you cranky!

I read this and think that I’m hesitant to use the term “remission” because I don’t want to trick myself into believing that I will always be stable. If I do that, and I have another episode, then I will have felt like I failed. Maybe it’s easier in my head to process bipolar disorder.

What happens if I ever believe that I am symptom free? Will I start to have illusions about getting off of my medication? Will I be less vigilant about recognizing red flags and stopping an episode before it starts? Or is that why I’m better in the first place? – the early recognition system reduces symptoms so much that they’re hardly distinguishable anymore. It’s an idea I have a hard time grasping. I’ve been symptomatic for most of my life. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t.

How does a person with such persistant bipolar disorder go on about life without it?

It’s a hard subject to touch on. Most people would basically tell me to shut up and be thankful. I’m not ungrateful, quite the opposite. But, it’s a huge lifestyle change. I’m not sure there’s a lot of literature on the topic. What’s the percentage of people in treatment that have long periods of remission? And of those people, how many go on to write about the account of life beyond constant symptom management?

Hi,
I am a fellow blogger and have just been awarded “The Versatile Blogger” award by another blogger. (Please understand that I know little about it but am grateful to have been awarded it.)

As far as I can make out it is an award given by bloggers to other bloggers whose work/blogs they appreciate.

Part of getting this award is that you have to pass it along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.

Since I have visited your blog a few times now and really enjoyed it (albeit that I normally prefer to just read it and then leave, I thought I would award this award to you also as the author of a blog I enjoy reading.

I have also, as part of this, detailed your blog on one of my blogs “Voices of Glass” http://voicesofglass.com/2012/01/10/yay-an-awar-now-that-is-somewhat-bemusing/

I hope you don’t mind and understand that I really do enjoy your blog which is why I included it in my list.
Kind Regards,

Kevin.

I very much relate to your excellent post. I am also “in remission,” save for little “blips” that consist of one or two days of hypomania/mixed state, which is better than the week or so of depression that also crops up once in a while. But the otherwise Mr. Spock/Data-like lack of affect would be upsetting, if I were capable of being upset. Last week my dog fell off a second-story deck, and while I was walking composedly down the stairs to make sure she was in one piece and all systems functioning, I kept thinking, why am I not in tears, heart pounding?

Oh no!! Is your dog OK??

Being stable on meds is such a mixed bag. You were centered enough to walk down the stairs (not fling yourself) and thought about making sure he/she was OK and not about Bipolar histrionics. Being cool in a crisis is really, really important and admirable. But, yeah…when you’re wondering why you aren’t upset when you should be…doesn’t it make you feel like some sort of fembot? Do you feel guilty? (I sure did.)

Glad to hear you’re in remission! My fingers are crossed you can enjoy it for a long time to come!!

Thanks, she’s fine! She bounced 🙂 She’s a Lhasa Apso and they are, thankfully, tough little critters. I’m trained not to show emotion, both through growing up with a narcissistic mother and then becoming a doctor, so I have never had the release of hystrionics. But I have felt things, yes.

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