Ahhh! Spring is just around the corner. It’s so close I can FEEL it! But for me, that feeling of springtime can often lead to the most difficult phase of bipolar — the dreaded mixed state. Don’t get me wrong or view me as ungrateful…theoretically I love the blooming flowers, buds on the trees, longer days and abundance of fresh air. However, the change in time and fluctuating weather can often wreak havoc on my system. Chris Aiken, MD who is director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, NC describes it as: “ being tired and wired and urgent and distressed and anxious…you feel driven to do something but you don’t know what to do.” This is exactly how it presents itself in me and it’s frustrating, puzzling and very scary.
The extra light and fresh air feels amazing but it triggers something almost indescribable in my brain. It’s like taking in a huge breath of fresh springtime air that saturates my lungs then travels to my brain as a current scrubbing everything out it encounters (including the fog of winter depression). At first it is refreshing. I equate it to a pressure valve opening to get rid of all the grogginess that has built up inside my head. The problem is it doesn’t know quite how to regulate the release– it quickly erases the cobwebs but suddenly my mind feels as though it is being stretched too far on the verge of snapping. It’s as if upon emptying, the ability to connect to the world around me has also been sucked out along with all inhibitions, judgment and self control. The initial feelings of motivation and renewal morph into desperation and urgency — to do WHAT, I usually have no idea–and THAT is what becomes maddening.
I find myself pacing a lot, unable to sit still. My patience is virtually nonexistent. I lose interest in reading because I can’t concentrate and it’s difficult to absorb information especially at work. I get very disorganized despite the fact that I am constantly “organizing” everything. My mind bounces back and forth to all of the things I need to accomplish but it paralyzes me because even though I am CAPABLE, I can’t figure out where to start so often I just sit and stare into space while getting trapped inside my head. The urgency to DO is incredible. The ability to START is gone. It’s a tug of war that declares no winner.
Reflecting on my past I clearly see a pattern of my springtime “awakenings” dating all the way back to my late teens. They have been characterized by risky behavior brought on by a sense of invincibility. In hindsight it’s obvious how this state led to staying up all night partying, suicide threats and episodes of self harm. When I close my eyes, I’m instantly transported back to those moments vividly reliving how I was feeling and it was the same EVERY time. The same sensations were present in my head, my eyes and even the blood coursing through my veins.
My most recent episode was several years ago when my kids were very young. Sleep became nearly impossible — 2-3 hours a night if I was lucky. I would wake up exhausted but within an hour my mind became wired. It was absolutely necessary to keep moving because I felt if I stopped the crash would be just around the corner, so I spent every waking moment trying to outrun it. When it was time to go to bed anxiety flooded my entire being because I had run out of things to do, but the thought of laying still in my exhausted body while my mind raced at lightning speed was torture. My thoughts had no substance and made little sense whereas my body would be on the verge of collapse. The nightmare would peak when my skin would literally start to crawl and my blood felt like it was shivering. Knowing that despite not sleeping the sun would inevitably rise and I’d have to do it all over again made me cry and want to rip my skin off and pull my hair out. After a week or so of trying to cope I would feel desperate and often end up in a hospital because if it was bad enough I would envision jumping through a window or actually harm myself as an attempt to wipe out the agitation that took over every cell in my entire body.
I used to feel so guilty because it was SPRING! How could anyone be unhappy? There would be people EVERYWHERE declaring how springtime was their favorite time of year and I desperately wanted to join them but I could never shake the sense of being on the brink of destruction. Even when I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I somehow knew there was SOMETHING lurking.
Now, thankfully, I know there is a name for it and I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. I recently read that springtime (March in particular) can be the most difficult time of the year for people with mood disorders. At first I found that very surprising because we often associate long, dark winters with depression, so logically I thought the light of spring should make it all better. But studies dating back to the 1800’s have consistently shown suicide rates peak in the spring. Theories range from increased energy, circadian rhythms, and increased socialization. Whatever the cause, it is real and is difficult to deal with.
In order to cope with this intensely confusing ball of emotions I often turned to alcohol because it seemed to calm and numb me at first, but then I would stay up all night with a manic purpose convinced I was better. Eventually I’d have enough alcohol in my system to “pass out” which was the only time my mind would shut off. But that type of behavior can only last so long without devastating consequences. When I finally stopped using alcohol as my coping mechanism life seemed unbearable. The only thing that relieved the agitation was running long distances and a growing relationship with God. I found it difficult to be consistent in my running, but when I kept it up and forced myself to put on the earbuds, disappear into the music and run for hours it calmed me. However it was not always possible to go for a run whenever I was having a breakdown or in the middle of the night as I was battling insomnia. I learned that the true source of peace was in fact always with me, every moment of every day; all I had to do was turn to Him. Admittedly though, when I am experiencing these frightening swings sometimes I simply choose to look the other way because I get so absorbed in what is wrong and I have no desire to turn what seems impossible around. But I will say this: Every time I have chosen to reach out and sincerely ask for help and trust that indeed God will help me, He has never failed to comfort and save me.
Yes, it is once again springtime and I’ve already felt my chemistry shifting. I write this as a reminder to myself to use what I have learned to avoid falling apart so I can truly appreciate the beauty of what is going on around me. I have done it before and I will do it again. That means I must swallow my pride, ask for help and turn to God over and over again because let’s face it…medication is unreliable, the weather is unpredictable and the chances of me following through on everything I need to do in order to stay completely symptom free are pretty low. But, thanks to people around me I am reminded that God is ALWAYS reliable and He ALWAYS follows through. When I allow that truth to penetrate my heart and soul I know without a doubt that He will get me through.