An Example of What Bipolar Disorder is Like

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At least as far back as high school, I’ve dealt with severe depression, anxiety, and mood changes, but it wasn’t until this past year that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The diagnosis didn’t lead to a cure for the disorder since there isn’t one, but it’s allowed me to notice the symptoms and triggers for the manic or depressive episodes that define the disease. Seeking professional help for it has also led to being on medication that I, in all honesty, should have been on decades ago.

Unfortunately, we’re still getting the medications worked out. The types of drugs and the amount vary for everyone, and we haven’t quite found the right mix for me yet, despite going as far as doing genetic testing to try to figure out the best combinations. The medication has certainly helped to a certain degree, but I’m still having manic and depressive episodes that are severe enough to interrupt my normal day-to-day activities.

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This past week has been a rough one, and also a perfect example of what my bipolar disorder is like. Therefore, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write about what I experience every time I go through a manic and depressive episode.

Everything started out fine this past week, and I even managed to complete nearly a full week at work (which has been rare for me lately). Then the hypomania kicked in.

Hypomania is different from mania, although it can also lead to full-blown mania. Bipolar mania tends to get out of control, sometimes even requiring hospitalizations. Mania lasts for a week or more, can lead to terrible decisions (think out-of-control spending, increased drinking and drug use, and making poor sexual choices) and is something that, thankfully, I’ve only experienced twice in my life.

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Lasting for just a few days however, hypomania actually feels great much of the time. During the hypomanic days that I experienced this past week, I was incredibly productive, highly motivated, excited about everything, talkative (which is strange for me, because I’m usually really quiet), and didn’t sleep as much. I experience hypomania frequently, and it always leads to a period of depression.

It’s a strange feeling to be hypomanic. One the one hand, it’s wonderful, because I no longer feel depressed, I have less anxiety, and I can get so much done. On the other hand, however, I know that it can lead to an actual manic episode. I have trouble knowing when I’m hypomanic, which is why I’m thankful for my boyfriend, who has taken the time to get familiar with the disorder so that he can help recognize the symptoms even when I can’t.

So, for two to three days, I felt great. And then yesterday happened.

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Yesterday I woke up feeling shattered. I didn’t want to get out of bed, my anxiety was about as high as it could get, and I felt worthless. I had to call out of work which was necessary but made me feel guilty and even more upset.

My entire day yesterday consisted of beating myself up mentally, binge-eating, trying to escape into Fallout 4, and napping. So much napping.

My boyfriend did what he could to try to cheer me up and to make sure I was eating and drinking water, lighting stress-relieving candles around me and putting my cat on my lap when I was feeling particularly bad (quick tip – purring cats make you feel better). Despite all this, I just felt like absolute trash all day.

Depression isn’t something that you can smile your way out of or ignore the pain of. There’s nothing worse that you can say to someone suffering from depression than “snap out of it” or “It’s not that bad – deal with it.” It’s a mental illness that can lead to physical pain and make normal life impossible to carry on with.

Being bipolar is difficult. There are any number of things that can trigger either a manic or depressive episode. The worst thing I’ve been dealing with lately is that it appears that my job is a trigger for depression, which is terrible since it’s the best-paying job I’ve ever had, and I desperately need the medical and mental health benefits that I receive from it.

While these manic and depressive episodes are different in everyone, and can even vary for me, this was a great example of what living with bipolar disorder feels like. As I learn more about coping with this disorder, I’ll share what I learn with you guys. As of today, I’m still struggling with the depressive part, but I know it won’t be too long before I’m on another upswing.

Bipolar disorder is one hell of a mentally exhausting disease.


Are there any questions you would like to see answered about living with bipolar disorder? Leave them in the comments for me and I’ll answer as many as I can!




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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – A Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Horror | Classics | Gothic
Published by Penguin
Released September 21st, 1962
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Shirley Jackson is one of those authors whose books I’ve had on my TBR list for years, but never got around to reading. Which is odd, because I adore Gothic horror. Jackson is also the creator of the popular horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, as well as plenty of other similar books.

I had grand plans for my Halloween TBR, but all that ended up not happening when my bipolar disorder took a turn towards a depressive episode and we had to move at the end of the month. I was determined, however, to at least read some spooky books, and since We Have Always Lived in the Castle is relatively short, under 150 pages, it was a perfect choice.

Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson

I feel the need to preface this review by explaining something about my personality: I have very macabre fascinations and a dark sense of humor. I tend to be attracted to books and characters that have dark or nefarious qualities to them.

That personality trait hopefully explains why I was hooked on this book by the end of the first paragraph:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I disklike watching myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

What a way to start a novel!

The book is about two sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance, who live in their large ancestral home with their Uncle Julian. The rest of their family died many years previously, and Constance stood trial for poisoning them but was eventually acquitted.

After the death of their family, Constance stopped leaving the house and the townspeople actively started to dislike the remaining members of the Blackwood family, even going so far as to create a macabre song to remind them of the murders:

“Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

The small family keeps to themselves until things begin to change with the arrival of their cousin Charles. Eventually, there’s a haunting confrontation between the sisters and the townsfolk.

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The first edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

One of the most noticeable themes of this novel is agoraphobia, which is a phobia in which a person cannot leave their home and avoids any sort of uncomfortable situation. While Mary Katerine, nicknamed “Merricat,” heads into the town twice a week in order to pick up groceries and library books, Constance hasn’t left the house since the trial for the murder of her family. The sisters are terrified of outsiders and live in a fenced-off world all their own.

I’m not sure if any Stanley Kubrick fans are going to be reading this, but I was reminded of his films while reading this novel. Not due to the story being at all similar to any of the fantastic films he directed, but because of the anti-people cynicism that pervades the entire story.

Many of Kubrick’s films show the darker side of humanity, such as my favorite of his, Full Metal JacketSo many writers and artists strive to show the good of humanity, where people come together in times of need, overcoming prejudices and fears to embrace kindness and cooperation. Like Kubrick’s films, however, Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle displays how terrible people can be. The townspeople constantly heckle Merricat when she’s in the town on her trips to the grocery store, and there’s a particular scene towards the end of the novel where we are shown just how horrible people can be, especially in a mob setting. At its core, this novel shows how communities ostracize people deemed to be “other” or outsiders, and how it affects those targeted.

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In more modern times, fiction has embraced mental illness, showing the struggles of sufferers and focusing on how people overcome these sometimes debilitating conditions to live the lives they desire. This novel, however, shows two sisters who live without treating their mental illnesses, and how their conditions are exacerbated by a hateful community and a lack of resources. It was fascinating to see this other side of mental illness displayed in a novel.

I read this book in less than 24 hours, and I know that this is going to become not only one of my favorite books of all time but one that I’ll read over and over again. The mystery and atmosphere of the novel combined with its themes and characters left such an impact on me that I’ve been almost constantly thinking about it since finishing it. It’s also inspired me to start reading her other works, which I’ve already reserved at my library.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Shirley Jackson’s final published work before her death three years later in 1965. It’s a masterpiece of a novel to go out on, and a book that will stick around for decades to come.


Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or any of Shirley Jackson’s other works? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!




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The Transformation by James Gordon, MD – A Review

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The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma by James Gordon, MD
Mental Health | Psychology | Nonfiction
Published by HarperOne
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinions.

I’ve frequently written about my struggles with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder on this blog, and I always look forward to reviewing books that deal with mental illness. When FSB Associates reached out to me to ask if I’d like to review Dr. James Gordon’s new book, The Transformation, I jumped on the chance. Despite not being familiar with the author’s name, I had definitely heard of his organization, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

It took me a while to read through this book, but that was only because the information contained within it was so helpful, and I wanted to try out all of Gordon’s advice. I went through a whole stack of sticky notes annotating this book so that I could come back to it over and over again.

The Transformation is a book meant to help people deal with trauma through methods other than being prescribed antidepressants and other drugs. One thing to note is that Dr. Gordon doesn’t think that medications are bad, in fact, he writes in multiple places that they are useful if needed, but that the techniques in this book can be used before resorting to taking pills.

Of course, the advice and techniques contained in this book can be used if you’re already on various medications, such as I am. Medication only goes so far, and it’s always nice to have other methods for handling the bad symptoms of mental illness.

One aspect of this book that immediately drew me to it was Dr. Gordon’s definition of trauma. Whereas many people think of trauma as something rare, he defines it as something that everyone experiences – from violence and war to losing your loved ones to being fired from a job. It’s this definition that I feel should be the correct one. So many of us can point to at least one traumatic experience in our past that we are still trying to overcome, and as such, The Transformation is a book that I would recommend to everyone.

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Dr. James S Gordon

Within the book, Gordon gives us plenty of examples of how his methods have worked for different groups of people, from survivors of brutal wars, to business people, to first responders, and everyone else.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first of some of the advice, particular what he calls “shaking and dancing.” Essentially, this is similar to ecstatic dancing, which I’m familiar with (it was popular when I lived in Asheville) but that I’ve never done. Well, I tried it while reading this book, and let me tell you – it really did help loosen me up when I was stressed and anxious. It left me feeling more energized. My full-time job is at a call center that deals with auto insurance, and it’s the most stressful and demeaning job that I’ve ever had. This past week, I’ve taken to hiding in bathroom stalls when I feel like I’m on my way to having another panic attack in order to “shake things off,” and it has really improved things for me. While it’s not going to solve the fact that my job worsens my mental health or that I have anxiety, it is a useful method for dealing with it in the moment.

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Another part of The Transformation that I really appreciated was the chapter on diet and mental health. I’ve always been fascinated by how the foods we eat can influence our mood and mental health, and it’s a section of the book that I will definitely be referencing frequently.

I’m not going to go into detail into every technique that Dr. James Gordon discusses, because I think you should get it directly from the book. What I do want to say is that I am incredibly thankful to the publisher for reaching out to me for a review, because it’s already improving my life. I doubt I would have picked this up otherwise, but I’m so, so happy that I’ve read it.

If there’s any part of your past or present that is causing you stress or anxiety, please find a copy of this book when it’s released on September 10th. Whether you purchase a copy or request a copy from your library, just get it into your hands and read it.


Need some other mental health books to hold you over until September 10th?

Perfectly Hidden Depression | Healthy as F*ck




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My Bipolar Type II Diagnosis

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At the beginning of last year, I started a new full-time job, one that had great health benefits. Previous to this, I had worked jobs that either didn’t offer health care or didn’t offer good healthcare. I’d gone most of my twenties without having insurance, which meant I had zero access to mental health care.

Once I had insurance, I went to my primary care doctor and brought up my issues with anxiety and depression. He prescribed Zoloft to me, and I started taking medication for my mental health for the very first time.

Before we go further, a few things: First, I’ve suffered from depression since middle school, so for nearly twenty years. At times it’s been incredibly severe, even to the point where I’d fantasize about suicide. Second, I’ve always had wild mood swings, sometimes going from happy to depressed within seconds. Third, I’ve also dealt with crippling anxiety, particularly in high school, which has slowly gotten manageable over time. I’ve long known that I needed to be receiving mental health care, but when you don’t have insurance and are working jobs that don’t provide income beyond that which you need for basic necessities, it can be impossible to get the help you need.

Back to the Zoloft. At first, it worked. I noticed that I was generally happier. The changes happened quick, almost too quick. Within a couple months, it completely stopped working, actually making things worse. I became lethargic and depressed, and it got so bad that my boyfriend was skipping work to be home with me because neither of us wanted me to be home alone.

I went back to the doctor, and he then switched me to 20mg of Lexapro. The same thing happened this time around – it started working right away and then stopped, and I was thrown into another period of depression and worsening anxiety.

So then I went back to my doctor a third time. This time around, he cut my dosage of Lexapro in half and added Wellbutrin. And… you guessed it. The same thing happened again.

Finally, I’d had enough. I booked my first appointment at a psychiatric office, which I should have done in the first place. I met with someone who I talked with for about half an hour, and she looked at me and told me straight up that she was 90% sure I was bipolar.

I had heard of bipolar disorder before because I had a high school teacher who was bipolar, but I really didn’t know much about it. At the end of that appointment, I was scheduled for another, to get my actual bipolar diagnosis, when I was told that I had bipolar type 2. Afterward, I started doing research on bipolar disorder, and I was shocked at how every single symptom was something I’d experienced. It felt so good to finally know what was going on in my brain.

My new doctor kept me on the Lexapro and Wellbutrin but added Quetiapine to the mix. So far, everything is working. In fact, I feel the best I have in recent memory. The Quetiapine maintains my mood swings, and I rarely have panic attacks anymore.

Looking back, I’m not surprised by my diagnosis. I’ve been able to pinpoint manic episodes, where my energy levels would shoot up to astronomical levels. I’d stop sleeping, and take up activities that weren’t particularly healthy. In fact, during one of these manic episodes, I lost nearly 100 pounds in a few months because I spent an entire summer being obsessed with working out, sometimes working out for six to eight hours a day. With the help of my doctor, I was able to pinpoint two truly manic episodes in my past.

With bipolar type 2, I’m more prone to hypomanic episodes, which “is an emotional state characterized by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least four (4) consecutive days, according to the American Psychiatric Association.” I’ve been learning how to deal with this disorder, and I finally feel that I’m getting the mental health care that I’ve needed.

I’ve been wanting to write this article to encourage other people to get the help they need, and to make sure you’re speaking up about whether or not your mental health medications are working. At times, when the previous concoctions of pills weren’t working, I didn’t notice right away, because the slide into depression happened slowly. The first time it happened, with the Zoloft, the only reason I noticed it was because my boyfriend pointed it out to me.

If you feel as though you need mental health care, get it. If your medication isn’t working perfectly, talk to your doctor. You deserve to be happy.




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White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – Book Review

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.