I’m running a little bit again. I am not a runner. I fell off the running wagon shortly after finishing the Gold Coast Marathon in 2011, but I’ve recently been forced to jump back on. It’s one of the few ways I know to chase down the Black Dog of depression.
Image Credit: The Creative Panic Blog
I’m from a generation where the type of rapid-cycle mania and depression that I’ve been blessed/cursed with since my teens was termed ‘manic depression’. It first manifested at around about 13, with manic high risk behaviour, promiscuity, self-destruction, alcohol, depression, over and over again. It has a new name nowadays, one which sounds a whole lot scarier and has me imagining people taking an instant step backwards, both virtually and physically from anyone who owns up to it. But if you insist on labelling it in contemporary terms, I fall into the Bipolar II category.
If I’ve been off the radar, withdrawn, silent or disengaged you can generally assume that I’ve fallen into a big black pit and have been wallowing at the bottom with daytime TV, junk food and self-loathing. Or as Carrie Fisher once magnificently put it: “The tide has gone out”. And boy, when the tide goes out for me it’s an empty soulless place I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; there is no reading, no writing, no creativity, virtually no thought process whatsoever apart from can I be bothered to get washed and dressed today? When the Black Dog begins to stalk me I become hypersensitive to noise, both day and night: a trait that the maniacal genius Spike Milligan was also tormented by. Not that it stopped him from being an irreverent comic genius who responded to a letter from Prince Charles with the infamous ‘grovelling bastard’ speech: Milligan Lifetime Achievement Award. When I’m not trawling Youtube for inspirationally manic clips, I scramble desperately for other distractions; plans, goals, something forward thinking to aim for before the ground gives way below my feet and the pit opens up. Because the absolute worst thing for me to do is stand still and fight the flee instinct.
Currently, I’m crawling mentally exhausted out of the other side, which is why I’m able to write at all, even if it is something of an over indulgent/over sharing confessional. I’m preparing myself physically for the next cycle by getting as much sleep as possible, eating clean and healthy, easing myself back into tiny shots of Yoga in the morning and not vodka, walking, swimming and a little bit of running. I’m not asking for a pat on the back or a merit badge here by the way, just highlighting the extremes of my own cycle. So can I just reiterate for those who may not know this already how desperately hard it is to tackle this stage, because: I fucking hate running. With my Honours year over and the intense mental distraction that it provided, I’m in dire need of a running equation that deals much more with my mental health than my physical health: 90% mind 10% legs. You’d think it would be the other way around wouldn’t you? But when you really, really hate running, it’s your my mind that you’re training more than your legs. It’s virtually impossible to listen to the cacophony of negative voices when you’re focussed on silencing just one that’s screaming “Stop You Idiot!! This is pointless and it hurts!” I’ve tried meditation, but for me that’s almost too easy an option. Instead I have to channel my anger and despair at something that is always going to be difficult to motivate myself to deal with, so running it is.
Hitching myself reluctantly back onto the running wagon means that I’m on the way to being back in some sort of control again. I can take the reins and chase the Black Dog away for just long enough to keep up social appearances and make the most of the manic high that’s sure to be on the horizon. It’s the biggest paradox of all for people with Bipolar; without the utter horror of the low, there cannot be the roller coaster of the high and all the creativity and positivity it brings with it. If I’m gabbling and talking over you, giggly and enthusiastic, insightful and quick witted, up for any challenge, it should be no surprise to you that that’s where I’m at baby!! It’s a double whammy: because part of my condition means I suffer periodically from social phobia, so whether I can face social situations in my mania or not, in either state I can exhibit the sort of anti-social behaviour that might mean I don’t get invited back or my husband is mortally embarrassed. Do the 16 jobs since I left school, constant moving, new challenges, fads and obsessions have at least some explanation of cause and effect? Of course they do.
After so many years of dealing with this and trying to hold down some financially necessary jobs in-between, I’ve developed some of my own coping strategies; but if you recognise ANY of the above (well maybe not the aversion to running, that one IS pretty common I’m led to believe), you should see a health professional immediately so you can make your own informed choices, and you can also look up a support group such as The Black Dog. We are all individuals and one size does not fit all. I went through a spell with St John’s Wort in my twenties, but that didn’t seem to make as much difference as modifying my diet and watching sugar, alcohol and fat intake and walking/exercising (especially outdoors as I also have Seasonal Affected Disorder….lucky, lucky me). The older I get though, the less energy I have to hide the condition and whilst still in the UK my doctor did suggest medication as my mid-thirties saw a particularly long and frightening spell of depression. Ultimately, the decision was left entirely up to me as, generally, apart from two attempts to take my own life in my teens, I haven’t slipped that far down the psychotic slope again since my children were born. My long suffering husband may disagree at times that I’m not psychotic, but from long experience I can still recognise depression from psychosis. Rightly or wrongly, I was brought up to believe that you don’t just pop pills willy nilly, stiff upper lip and all that, get sent to school ill for the school nurse to be the one to decide you should actually be at home for the day, that your leg has a healed fracture and that’s why you’re limping, or your arm is fractured and why hasn’t anyone taken you to hospital?…..yikes, slight bit of bitterness creeping in there. I have to state categorically that the fractures were absolutely accidental, but the aftercare was, as usual, somewhat lacking. I distinctly remember being told to shut up crying and stop being a baby with the arm fracture. Anyhow, after a lot of consideration and professional advice I decided that antidepressants are not for me and Lithium, for now, belongs in batteries and not in my body thank you very much.
Rejecting conventional medication doesn’t mean that I’m not acutely aware of how perplexing and annoying I can be for friends and family, but trust me; you don’t need to tell a manic depressive to just pull themselves together. You don’t need to make them feel guilty for their actions and inactions; I can assure you that they are already doing that in large doses to themselves. Being genetic and particularly female dominant in my family, well, that’s just one more dollop of parental guilt on top at the moment because this is one cycle you really don’t want to be in tune with; I can’t dig her out of her pit if I’m already entrenched in mine.
I can’t override the switch, I can’t guarantee that this or that will bring me ultimate ‘happiness’, I can’t always fit into everyone else’s ideas of normal, I can’t make any promises that I’ll suddenly level out and be the ideal human being, employee, student, friend, partner, relative, blogger, and be easier to be around and deal with. I’m just grateful that I’m still here, and that the ups are worth surviving the downs. If you’re half as brave and loyal as I can be, you can hitch your wagon to mine. We’ll ride it out together, chase the Black Dog down and breathe in the space we need as we wait for the good times to roll back around in all their amazing, exhausting, and fucking glorious mania.
If you’re one of those hardy folks that enjoy my ups, please try to forgive my downs, they are not always within my control. xxxx
*For other parents seeking a safe blogging space to share their experiences and to support each other I can recommend a visit to - Crazy Good Parent