Tuesday, August 25, 2009


There are several shorter things I want to blog about that I don't merit think posts in their own right... so you get an assortment today, readers.

Regarding the last post

A Facebook reader (hi Catie!) expressed interest in Mental Health First Aid Certificates. The elevator pitch: MHFA is a multi-award winning course designed by leading Australian psychiatric researchers. It is supposed to be a very rough equivalent of a (Physical) First Aid Certificate - like those run by St John's or Red Cross - for Mental Health. For example, learning how to identify and respond to a potential emergency, such as a psychotic episode. Having experienced psychosis myself, and having witnessed others under its effects (I mean on the street, on the bus, in my workplace, and so forth, not just during the time I spent in a psychiatric ward), I'd like to see more of the general public educated about it, and of course other mental health issues. I'm trying to push it as a training agenda item in my workplace at the moment; I personally receive a lot of help from ROAM communities, one of the Sydney-based organisations who offer the course, and since I know from first hand experience that they're awesome guys I feel no hesitation in recommending friends, family and colleagues to take the class with them.

More High Fidelity Antics

Current topic: The Greatest Feminist Anthem in History, so far

I've quizzed a few people about this. There seems to be a paucity of opinions amongst people I know about the great songs of feminism; this is probably because I don't know enough feminists, which is a shame. I have my own choice which so far nobody else I've asked has picked. Please throw your opinions into the comment thread (assuming I can actually get a comment thread for this post) and I'll see if I can compile something more resembling a personal top 5 in place of my current personal top 1. Massive bonus points to anyone who makes a suggestion which displaces my current favourite. I expect players to abide by the same rules of the game I do - no use of Google, Wikipedia, iTunes, or in fact any source of information except the brains of yourself and the people you happen to come into immediate contact with. Think pub trivia.

Finally, for a nice tie-in of the previous two mini-posts,

The top 5 songs that personally best capture my experience of Mania

Songs are important to us partly because they evoke certain moods and emotions, right? Mania is a pretty damn significant mood, by any standard, and there are definitely songs that I associate with it. Here's a "naked" top 5, without the accompanying explanatory music geekery :

5: Territorial Pissings by Nirvana, 4: Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, 3: Breathe by the Prodigy; 2: Its the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) by R.E.M; 1.....

will wait for a follow up post, pending receiving some guesses from others. Yes, I'm trying, as I often do, and probably just as ineffectually, to coerce readers into giving me some feedback. Sometimes the stark truth of blogging - the endless shouting into an empty room - is hard to simply accept and live with.

This is a rather diverse list, which is intended; I want to convey that mania isn't a simple cut-and-dried affair - any more than say, happiness, or love. The list is subject to change of course - in fact just about any song can seem overwhelmingly significant and relevant during mania itself, but these leap to mind as appropriate songs about mania when I'm not feelings especially manic.

I hereby promise to post part I of my current political rant series within a week of getting 6 or more distinct people commenting on this post :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another written off day

Add it to the extensive lifelong list - 22/08/09 was a day that didn't exactly go as I'd planned.

I normally prefer to blog about abstract ideas than my day-to-day life - draft philosophy essays rather than journal entries. Its more comfortable territory for me.

But a sizable portion of the known readership of this blog will know I took the day off work today, and it seems some explanation is in order.

I've been "elevated", which is a nice euphamism for hypomanic, for the best part of a month and a half now - those who know me well can usually pick up on the signs of this and figure it out without being told.

For a long time, it was pretty much "all positive" from my point of view - yes I was more irritable, more "intense", less patient, never able to shut up, etc etc etc. But I had tremendous amounts of energy and felt like I was getting a hell of a lot of good stuff done in my life, professionally, socially, and personally, especially in contrast to the shitty mixed depressive
symptoms I had immediately after my return from New York City. And I was managing to still get enough sleep, get out of bed reasonably early, eat well, exercise a lot, and so on. Some negativity remained of course but I was doing my best to use it for its evolution-given purpose: as an ongoing catalyst for healthy, positive change.

Over the last week, though, I became more mixed - I could speculate a lot over the exact triggers but suffice to say behavioural red flags started creeping in. I missed a critical "lets start planning for how we move forward from here" kinda appointment with my psychiatrist on Monday, having gotten wasted the night before. I was late to my exercise session with my mental health nurse on Thursday. The apartment became rapidly and noticably messier. I missed some of my planned morning walks. I was staying up til stupidly late hours reading pointless flame wars on the internet. Etc, Etc, Etc.

These day my insight is usually pretty good for someone with my condition, and I could see the regression long before anyone else had a chance to notice the extent of the subtle shift, but I wasn't really sure how to take action. So I took the standard plan of attack - doing absolutely nothing, but just willing myself to go back to how I'd been the week before.

Then last night I stayed up late, again, having had less than 5 hours sleep the night before. I knew I had to go to bed - I needed a really solid night's rest before going to work in the morning. I resisted, fucked around, didn't go to bed. A friend of mine IM'd me at 4:30 in the morning to ask what the hell I was still doing up. A very good question.
I was now caught in that tired old trap - even if I could get a couple of hours sleep and get up, I'd be far worse than useless at work, and make all my colleagues life actively harder. But if I didn't go to work, I would sleep til some stupid time, my whole circadian rhythm would be devastated for days to come, and over the medium term things might deteriorate even further.

In the end, I didn't sleep at all. This is a risky "strategy" because the (hypo)manic symptoms can get worse the longer you go without sleep. But if you can go the entire next day without sleeping, then go to bed as soon as you start to feel tired in the evening - before you get a "second wind" - you can get back on track for an early rise the day after and thus resestablish a proper sleep cycle.

I called in sick - hopefully not causing too much disruption. It took 3 attempts to do so - I would pick up the phone, and then literally get distracted and not make the call.

Then I thought, right, I need to get out of the house, get some fresh air, exercise, stay awake, without getting more elevated. So I'll call a trusted friend, meet up, go for a walk around a park or something. Chat, but try to lay off the more heavy duty flight of ideas babbling. This was a genuinely good plan. Here's how I carried it out:

Where's my phone? In my pocket? Oh the other pocket.

Oh, the charge is about to die. I should go back and charge it. OK, walk towards the apartment.

No wait, if I go back home, I'll got to bed and fall asleep. Bad idea.

I'll go for a walk down to the oval.

No, wait, I shouldn't go wandering off on my own without a means of contacting someone. And its stupid to go walking before getting breakfast. I'll go get some noodles for breakfast, the shopping centre is open now.

No, before I should do that, I should call someone - keep an outside party in the loop.

No, wait, its too early in the morning, I'll be waking people up. And making them panic unnecessarily.

No, I should call them. Its important.

Wait, my phone isn't charged. That's right. If I go back and charge it, I can spend some time on my computer, which will keep me awake.

No, the interent will just stimulate me more. Maybe just 1o minutes of lying down would be good.

No...... etc.

This kind of Executive Dysfunction is actually in a sense a mild symptom. It makes you utterly unable to get anything done - and I mean get anything done, I've spent hours trying to start to do something as simple as the dishes while in this state - but its not actually really dangerous at all in its own right, except to the extent it make you oblivious to your own surroundings.

After a good solid couple of hours of this crap, I managed to get a breakfast of a springroll and a Vietnamese pork roll (which I barely remember eating), and eventually succumbed to the temptation to "briefly rest". I wokeup about an hour and a half ago, which was 8:00 pm, local time.

Hopefully the drugs will knock me out tonight and I'll be able to get to work and have an ok day, and turn around this briefly bad patch.

Anyway, that's my "a day in the life of someone with Bipolar Disorder" post. I don't really want to make a habit of them - I prefer to read about people's ideas than their lives, and so this blog implicitly assumes the same about you, Non-Existent Reader. Also, Bipolar Disorder is genuniely quite boring a lot of the time.

However one of my recurrent "Big Important Ideas" that's been at the forefront of my mind lately is using my own experiences and insights to try and help contribute to a world where mental health problems are less debilitating, not just for me but for everyone. Spreading awareness is a big part of that. (Mental Health First Aid Certificates, anyone? I'm going to keep pushing and pushing that one with friends, family and colleagues until long after I've been asked to shut up.)

The 500 ideas for other blog posts I've had recently are bearing some fruit - hopefully a couple of the more polished ones will see the light of day soon. The first installment in my latest series of political rants is starting to get dated, and I've actually drafted a pretty big portion of it, so that's my next current top priority. But I make no guarantees. You might get 50 blog posts over the next month, or zero. That's just how it is, I'm afraid.