Bipolar Downshifting – Suzy B

bipolar angry parisian womanShe wakes up from a fitful sleep and within an instant knows the day will be hard. Lying on the bed for a moment she stares at the bathroom door. It’s the first port of call, but for what? Because that’s what you do. You go to the bathroom and prepare for the day before moving on. It’s what you do.

She turns over and stares at the opposite wall. It’s neutral without a picture, plants or anything. There is nothing there to provoke the senses. But its blandness is perfect for the bipolar projectionist letting her see and create ideas and images out of nothing. The blank wall gives her moment for reflection.  Surely there is a choice? I can paste upon it positive things: exciting past events, good people I’ve known, and wonderful places visited… all evoking a sense of pleasant nostalgia.

But despite this rational thought, the choice simply isn’t available. Her bipolar downswing gives her no choice. Something in her refuses to allow the choice. She’s locked down below and there is nothing to lift the mood. Yet all she wants is for the myriad of miserable thoughts and images to go away.

Maybe it would be just good to lie here and with luck fall back sleep, she thinks. It could be nice to trace a dream or two – to lose oneself in sub-conscious imagination. But nature calls. That plus the alarm make the next move inevitable. She must get up.

She swings her legs off the bed. Its warm embrace has offered relief from the maddening mood. It feels like she’s carrying a sack of coal over her back as she walks slowly towards the bathroom.

She climbs into the shower. ‘Shall I face this way or that’, she thinks. ‘Perhaps I should sing or imagine playing croquet….’Silly, a head full of random thoughts that for the most part make no sense and offer little value.  They float by like diatoms moving slowing or fast. There isn’t a narrative, just random thought.

‘Now I must do the tiresome business of washing head to toe’, she thinks. She has choices. She can start with the arms or feet. ‘Perhaps I could do the left foot followed by the right knee’. She’s used different types of soap to make the morning routine a more uplifting experience that may life the tenor of the day:  rose-scented soap or the aroma of patchouli – even ‘no nonsense’ tar soap from England. Today, she uses the first shower wash she finds.

Her thoughts continue to swirl drift and race. No direction, just a succession of ideas:  beautiful or horridly graphic ideas or fleeting images of ghostly apparitions, fleeting thoughts whirl by in a glance. It’s like watching a movie, she thinks. ‘I am a plankton at the mercy of the ocean current’. ‘But I will make choices, I will fly somewhere and dine with friends sitting cross-legged on plush pillows in some exotic foreign restaurant somewhere.’

She feel quite desperate for a change of scenery, but remembers advice given one time. ‘If you don’t deal with it you take the problem with you’.

‘Ah, Sherlock I note that beside the toilet there is a wildlife magazine left no doubt by my ex Beau. It looks interesting enough ‘There is a world of wonderment to discover beyond me’,

There is a lot to read, but there are pictures, too, and in this frame of mind a picture fires the imagination and generates a loose story line or a raft of partly related ideas. Photographs of frozen northern forests are evocative and generate a kaleidoscope of actions, stories and frozen images that she hangs onto until they are smashed by another thought.

‘Hell, this could take me to lunchtime, but I could be 10 kg lighter and little better educated’, she concludes. If only for a while the magazine proves a distraction. ‘The world is full of interesting things like plankton, wolves, big spiders, and oh did you know Wolves don’t like Wagner’’? She pauses ‘where did that come from? Silly, silly thoughts: silly, silly thinking. A Timber Wolf would not know his Ray Charles from his Handel. The magazine is tossed aside. She is back in the bathroom; she is back in her head. Private education in the bathroom? It might have changed her mood, but it hasn’t. It hasn’t generated exciting ideas which could generate energy, the sort of energy that bounces you up from your sprung mattress high into a new day.

She looks at herself in the mirror. ‘Why do I feel so very, very down? My evening was lovely. I was buzzy and I went to bed feeling good. Now I feel just like s**t’. Why the downshift again? Why can I not sustain that good-time feeling?

I’m cycling again she thinks: ‘Bouncy, bouncy bipolar ball, but I won’t play this game at all!’

It ‘s dodge ball, except that the only players are me and me together with me and me and – I slam that rubbery ball repeatedly against myself. Yet I still lose.  Surely there should be a winner and that winner me?

Today, again, I carry the burden of bipolar: the ’ Beast of Burden’. STOP THIS!! No Money in idiotic thinking. Stay straight if possible there are things to do.

She leaves the flat. Out into a chaotic world. She knows it’s going to be one of those days and she must block out the world – keeping the palms of her hands firmly pressed to her temples to screen out the city noise and the endless movement as she navigates between people on a busy street. She’s already wincing as if in the strongest of sunlight. Fear turns to anger. It can be just like that.  Anxiety gives way to aggression. She walks faster. Somehow this attitude does not warrant examination it’s mindless. It just keeps her sane. She collides with someone, but offers no apology. Why?

She’s on the subway and watches some business guy absently mindedly picking his nose. She wants to go up to him and start picking his other nostril and, once done, simply say, “you’re welcome” and leave the train. Silly and slightly aggressive idea: silliness brought on by this barrage of sensory overload. But still she stares at him. He notices and doesn’t mistake the look as a ‘come on’. It feels very uncomfortable. Eyes can snarl. Fortunately, the next stop is his and he leaves promptly.

But this cacophony of noise! She can’t think sanely! It invokes within her that cycling turn of anxiety and then anger. This aggression makes her question her sanity.  Apparently, they use audio recordings of babies wailing as a method of torture. Sometimes the inability to discern relevant from irrelevant sensations feels like a perpetual onslaught, or a confederation of wailing, screaming babies.

Disjointed sounds everywhere; this is a busy city: the sirens, cars, loud voices, jackhammers, trains, loud conversations in cafes and restaurants. She is from a noisy, busy city, but this experience is way more than just a noisy city.

No tolerance, no wish to interact, just grinding her teeth as she listens to stupid people speaking in clichés – one shallow thought elicits an equally inane reply and on, and on, and on…

‘These people would be better employed down a mine’, she thinks. ‘Oh silly intolerance! I’m being childish again, just let it all wash over you’. But despite herself she listens and quickly grows more irritated, enraged by their laughter and ease.  She disdains with passion the useless observations of everyday life.

‘Oh, for god sake!  Why cannot I let this go ‘? Why pass judgement? Why think all these silly thoughts that simply elicit more frustration and exacerbate an already restless emotionally cycling mind? Bipolar hell?

Oh yes!



Bipolar Story in New York Times

bipolar storyI ran across a fascinating article in The New York Times magazine this past week entitled “I Don’t Believe in God but I Believe in Lithium” by Jaime Lowe dated June 25th 2015.

It is a remarkable story, most particularly remarkable because it deals with some of the most charged issues connected with bipolar – inpatient and involuntary treatment, medications and their side effects – and it deals with these in a very public forum, the New York Times magazine.

Jaime writes –


The manila folder is full of faded faxes.  The top sheet contains a brief description of my first medically confirmed manic episode, more than twenty years ago, when I was admitted as a teenager to UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute: “increased psychomotor rate, decreased need for sleep (about two to three hours a night), racing thoughts and paranoid ideation regarding her parents following her and watching her, as well as taping the phone calls she was making.”  

She goes on to talk about her various manic episodes and gives some very good descriptions of what these are like and also talks about the experience of being seventeen and suddenly confronting the issue of bipolar, and what it means that “as long as I take those three pink lithium carbonate capsules everyday, I can function. If I don’t, I will be riding on top of subway cars measuring speed and looking for light in elevated realms.”

There is a description of mania based on videos that were taken by her boyfriend. The fact that she was willing to review the videos, and then write about them in the New York Times magazine speaks to her courage and honesty.

I was deeply impressed and moved by the article.

Finally, there is an extended discussion about lithium, its benefits and also its drawbacks, its history as a treatment, etc.

Well worth reading for all people who are early in the course of treatment for bipolar.

Blog Recommendation

blog recommendationA longtime reader of this blog sent us an email –

“I wanted to share one of my favorite blogs. I first found out about the author and blog through his amazing article right after Robin Williams’ suicide. I feel he writes what I feel but can’t put into words on my mental health. Best, Geraldine.”

Geraldine has bipolar 2, and has recently gotten married and started a new family. She has, in the process, done an amazing amount of work to build a more stable life for herself.

The author of the blog is a transgender activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay, who writes primarily about his fun life on the bipolar and queer spectrum.

We were intrigued by her recommendation and wanted to find out more about why this site seemed particularly meaningful.

I love the series of questions – What is Recovery?

She found the series of questions in the post, “What does recovery look like for me?” to be especially helpful.


  • Do I have enough stability and energy to meet my needs and pursue my desires (within reason)?
  • Do I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of my life? Do I feel like I am in charge?
  • When my mental state shifts, am I riding the wave or do I feel like I’m drowning?
  • Am I able to cope effectively when confronted with a stressor? What do I do when I’m stressed?
  • Am I in survival mode, or do I feel like I’m truly living my life?


“With my disorder, I don’t know what normal is.  I don’t remember a time when I’m stable as I am now.  I like the series “Do I have enough stability and energy to meet my needs and pursue my desires?” and there are plenty of time when I haven’t.”

It is a personal blog.

“This is a a very personal blog and that helps me a lot. He talks about his personal experiences and perspectives… It’s nice to know that even if you are in good recovery, and I definitely am, there are still mood swings, there are still ups and downs.”

It is okay to have issues.

“Sometimes I need to hear that.  Some days I just want to get rid of all this weirdness, the effects of bipolar. It is helpful to know that it is OK to be in an ongoing process of recovery. ”

I loved the part where the author talked about his stability and energy to meet his basic needs such as “showering regularly”.  This is an issue that nobody really talks about.

“Yes, showering consistently – huge deal.  That one hit home.”


Keith O’Neil Fights Stigma

Keith O'NeillKeith O’Neil is a former Super Bowl champion and the founder of the Forever Foundation, an organization whose mission is to educate the public about bipolar disorder and to de-stigmatize the illness. In September he spoke at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD) meeting in Washington, DC.

From time to time I like to share information about people who are working hard to eradicate stigma and shame associated with mood disorders. This is a short post but I hope that the information that you can read below about Keith and his efforts may be of interest to some of you.

His presentation in September galvanized the audience and you may want to read more about his efforts on his website.