Can you progress when you’re bipolar?

Happy Halloween. Err at least it was Halloween when I wrote this. I’m watching true crime right now – it’s my favorite type of entertainment when I’m depressed. Not that true crime is entertaining in a happy way, but it definitely captivates me. I think that’s what I like best about true crime – it captures my attention fully and lets me forget about my own life while I’m consuming it. My favorite true crime show is That Chapter, an amazing YouTube channel by a guy named Mike Oh. Or O. I don’t know. But he’s an incredible storyteller and manages to infuse these horrible stories with humor but in a way that’s respectful to the dead. He’s good shit.

At least my true crime obsession makes sense on Halloween.

Halloween season has been slow this year, as I imagine it has been for everyone. I usually try to do some ghost hunting or at least find a way to get in the spirit early. It’s my way of coping with a bad trauma that happened in October. The trauma is far enough away now that on the anniversary, I didn’t even think about what happened. So that’s progress!

One of my greatest fears lately is that there’s only so much progress I can make as a bipolar person because I will always be bipolar, even if I heal my trauma. There is no cure as of yet to bipolar disorder and that’s daunting to sit with. Just knowing that if I go off my meds, I am liable to become manic and destroy my life is kind of heavy. And lately, I’ve been tired and unable to carry much weight.

Because I’ve been so fucking tired, I’ve decided to start eating a keto diet again. I did this in my 20s and I had a lot of success with balancing my moods, though I was unaware of my mood disorder at the time. I just generally felt so much more stable and regulated. I’ve read some cursory reports of keto working well for managing bipolar disorder. There aren’t many thorough studies of this, but the ones that do exist have shown positive results. I’m not approaching keto as a fad diet but as a lifestyle choice that’s meant to be longterm. I’m interested in seeing if keto is capable of lifting my dysphoria and allowing me to feel energized again. I will keep you updated on whether or not that’s the case.

I’ve gained about 50 pounds since I got pregnant and I don’t hate my body but I don’t really feel comfortable in it, physically. It is hard to do the strenuous exercise that used to keep me mentally stable. My body feels heavy and tired and difficult to maneuver. I am usually only able to workout 30 minutes a day, compared to my former one to two hours. And I know that sounds like a lot, but I am usually a very intense person with a ton of energy and that’s always been my means of burning it off. Now I have no energy. I honestly eat like shit. I eat fast food at least a few times a week and I notice that my mood drops as soon as I am finished and sometimes stays that way for a full day.

I enjoy eating but not to the extent that it impacts how I feel during the day. I eat too many carbs and sugars, as do most Americans, and I know that’s the major contributing factor in why I’ve been gaining weight lately, on top of taking a new anti-psychotic. Those drugs notoriously make people gain weight. I have no problem with fatness aesthetically but my cholesterol is also high and when weight gain starts to impact my physical health, that’s when I start to take issue with it.

Earlier this year, I had a period of feeling super confident in my bigger body. I think I was manic, but still – I felt great. That’s one of the things I sort of miss about mania, the crazy confidence. The belief that everything is not just okay, but fucking great. That I’m not mentally ill. That my body is wonderful. That I am happy and the world is beautiful and perfect. Thinking back, I can hardly believe I ever thought like that but I did. And I thought that very recently.

Sometimes I feel sad that my anti-psychotics take these things away from me but I also know that I didn’t feel that good all the time. Sometimes I felt extremely suspicious and paranoid. I stopped trusting my loved ones. I pushed loads of people away. I obsessed over numbers on social media and made content that not embarrasses me. And when the mania was over, I would crash into massive states of depression that took months to climb out of. In fact, I am still trying to climb out today.

When I told my old therapist that I’d been diagnosed with bipolar, she kind of chuckled and said something like, “well, that’s not too surprising, is it?” And I feel a bit bitter about that because she’s the one who instilled in me that I have borderline personality disorder and that it was the cause of all the problems in my life. In hindsight, it makes so much sense why that diagnosis never sat well with me. It was wrong. There was something else going on. I had undiagnosed bipolar disorder behind the scenes and this brilliant psychotherapist totally fucking missed it and diagnosed me with the same thing she diagnoses all of her patients with.

I have so many issues with the mental health establishment. It’s such a fucking inexact science, almost like new agey bullshit. Half the time, doctors are just speaking from their asses, making guesses about what could be wrong with you and then guessing again about how they can treat it. The truth is that there are so few solid answers within the mental health field about why we are the way we are. All they seem to know for sure is that we need to be medicated and we need to devote the rest of our lives to engaging in mental health treatment. Sounds a little bit like they’re making sure their pockets stay lined forever, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and spill some of what’s on my brain because there tends to be a lot at all moments. I’ve really enjoyed blogging again and I missed blogging here in particular. I stopped because of social media, bane of my existence. But that’s a topic for another day.

It’s the day after Halloween now and my second day on the keto diet. I already have a noticeable amount of energy and motivation and I feel a lot less heavy in my body, even though my weight hasn’t changed. Carbs have been making me so damn lethargic and as a mother to a one-year-old, that isn’t very practical. I am excited to be taking back control over my life and finding the motivation to make changes. I am excited to be starting something new. I haven’t even thought about smoking weed since I decided to start the keto diet, which is a huge improvement compared to where I was at a week ago, when all I could talk about was how much I was missing weed. I don’t miss it as much when I have something else to work towards and look forward to. Half the reason why I smoked was plain and simple boredom. Fill that time with something motivating and a lot of the obsessive thoughts go away.

I’m still very confused about what I’m doing with my life, as it seems to change every few weeks. The main thing I’m doing is parenting and I need to be okay with that. Parenting and caring for my mental health. I had such a big episode this summer that I think I need to accept that it’s just going to take some time to crawl out of that and it’s time to be patient and not force myself to accomplish all of my dreams while I’m trying to recover. My life is likely not going to end tomorrow. There is time – for all of it. I can allow myself to rest and come to terms with my diagnosis on my own time. Keto is part of that. I am learning new tools to manage my moods every day. That is progress. It really is. I may not be able to heal this shit, but I can learn to live with it in a way that isn’t so destructive to my life.

So yes, I think you can make progress when you’re bipolar, it just doesn’t look the same as other types of progress. And when did any of my quests resemble the mainstream? Lol.

That’s all for now. Hope you get something out of this. If not, hope you enjoyed the reading.

Have an awesome start to your week!

Best,

Leif

Imposter Syndrome

Another post I’m transferring from my new blog because it fits better here.

I enjoyed my blog more when I wasn’t trying to get followers – when it was just a project meant to provide a home for my photography. Now I’m back in that sick cycle of feeling irrelevant unless I have such and such amount of followers. I got back on Instagram and now I’m back to comparing myself and judging the quality of my photos. I see professionals who have probably been at this for 10 years and I think, “well I might as well give up because they’re so much further along than me.” But is that really why we, as humans, have hobbies? To show off? Or is it because we love the craft and the process.Mother Mary

I know this about myself – as soon as I get wrapped up more in gaining attention than in the process of making art, the art becomes miserable. Why do I do this? I don’t know. It could have something to do with my mania. But it’s unnecessary. An artist makes art because they have to, not fundamentally for others. Sure, the eyes of others are a bonus. We want that validation – everyone does. But that’s not why we make the art in the first place. It’s not why we need to write or paint or sing. We need to do those things because there exists a force within us that tells us those things are necessary. Save us all!

Because I have only been taking photos for about a year, I struggle endlessly with feeling like an imposter. It’s a brand new craft and even though I love it, there are many things I don’t yet understand and haven’t been able to grasp. Something that brings me solace is the fact that I’ve seen loads of old people take up photography as a hobby in their old age and, in doing so, they probably rarely if ever think about the eyes of others, but only about the fact that taking photos brings them joy. I hate this obsession I have with validation and needing the eyes of others to create and I think the only way to fight it is to keep creating regardless of who watches. To do it because I have to, because I love it.

I’ve been doing things I don’t really enjoy because I get more followers. Things like making videos for YouTube and considering a podcast and posting videos on TikTok. I did those things because I knew there were people consuming that type of content, even if it wasn’t the type of content I wanted to be making. Part of the reason I stopped blogging was because I knew people weren’t reading blogs as much, even though blogging brought me more joy. It was a slower pace and allowed me to practice the skill I went to school for – writing. I traded that for something hollow for the sake of validation from people I don’t know and will probably never meet. I couldn’t just be satisfied with the modest reader-base I had acquired. I needed more.

And I do think that’s my mania speaking. My manic self wants fame and glory. My depressed self doesn’t give a shit. She’s satisfied with hiding, with the slower paced, more modest life. My manic self is not. She wants the spotlight. And perhaps that’s not only because of mania but also because of my trauma. I seek attention because I don’t have a lot of people in my life. I seek validation from strangers because I don’t have a family. That’s sad. The validation I get from strangers isn’t the same. It’s not like the love of a family. It’s fleeting. And that’s why I always need so much more of it.

I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life. I thought I would have a book published by now but instead I have a child and I can’t afford to edit a potentially traumatizing book while I’m trying to raise her. So it’s gone on the back burner and I have photography in its place. I’m not the best at it but I’m not the worst. I’m just okay. And if I want to progress at all I need to be satisfied with that and stop striving for this American ideal of being the best. I know that’s where half of this comes from is just American dream bullshit. We’re not supposed to be satisfied with having just enough. We’re supposed to want millions, the big mansion, the fancy car, the perfect family, the perfected skill. We’re supposed to strive for greatness. And I think that American ideal got lodged somewhere in my brain even though my heart doesn’t fully agree with it – even though part of me wants a humble, quiet, just-enough life. I suppose that bipolarity fits my diagnosis, doesn’t it? I’m a person of extremes.

The undertone with all of it is a fair amount of self-hatred. I’m just endlessly uncomfortable with who I am, how I feel, the way I exist in the world. Because I haven’t been on social media for a few months, I feel like no one, like all of my friends have forgotten about me. It feels like in order to be loved, you have to be a slave to these systems that you may hate. And boy do I fucking hate them. I hate the feelings I get when I scroll Instagram and see people who seem to be doing better than me in this or that way – a feeling I don’t really have when I’m not on the Internet. I’m much more comfortable with modesty and humility when I’m disconnected. Social media raises the stakes in ways that feel involuntary. Does anyone else feel that?

I prefer the quiet life to the comparisons, judgment, self-hate, and isolation I feel when I’m connected to the Internet. Isn’t it supposed to have the opposite effect? But then how would they rope us in? These negative emotions are crucial for maintaining an audience. The worse you feel, the more you check, the more you compare, the more you judge, the more your scroll. It’s brilliant, really. And since social media has been compared to a casino, we can roll with that metaphor and consider the poor soul who loses ten bucks to a machine, feels shitty, and then is hit with this determination to feel better using the very thing that’s caused them distress. They spend ten more. Lose it. Another ten. Lose it. And on and on. That’s what I feel every time I post.

Blogging is different. It is slower. It’s fairly desolate. I’m doing it for me more than for accolades. And so I will continue to do this so long as I still have words to write. Typing hurts less than handwriting these days because of my pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel. And I enjoy providing a home for my photos. But the more I think about the eyes and trying to find validation, the more I want to curl up and die. So perhaps it’s best to just do this in silence, for myself, because I have to.