Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Voice

I wish this post had something to do with the television show “The Voice”.  It would mean I can actually sing!  I mean, everyone can sing, but my attempts sound more like a frog with a sore throat: It just kind of croaks in a scratchy kind of way. 

No, this is about the voice in my head.  NO!!  I’m not “hearing” voices so send back the guys with the unfashionable jackets, okay?  No, this is the voice that we all have.  The one that says, “Don’t forget to pick up some milk” and “Gotta remember to take the dog to the groomer”.  THAT voice. 

For the non-mentally interesting, those are the types of conversations that are held within the head.  The mind thinks it, a mental note is made, and if all goes as planned the brain regurgitates the info at the appropriate time and the dog gets groomed and no one does without milk on his/her Frosted Flakes.  Voila! Fait accompli!  (That’s fancy for: got ‘er done.)

But, for we mentally interesting, the convo is quite different.  During hypomanic (and manic) states, the brain’s convo is so pleasing!  “You can do anything!”  “Yes, start that new business, go back to school, and adopt 10 children from underprivileged countries!”  Yep, this is how the mind thinks: Anything is possible during these phases.  Projects are begun, the family gets fed, and there is plenty of milk for the Frosted Flakes.  Hooray!

Mania and hypomania are not fully wonderful.  There are plenty of downsides, but the voice in the head is a friend.  It loves you and everyone around you.  The to-do list is generally remembered without transferring it to paper and every item on it gets checked off.  Done and done!

With bipolar disorder, though, what goes up must come down.  And when the depression hits…even when it’s not a deep depression… the voice’s words, inflections, and hidden meanings take a completely different turn.  “How can I pick up the milk and take the dog to the groomer’s when I can barely get out of bed?”  That’s one thought, but the Voice follows closely behind (using a capital V for this voice) calling you a lazy slob, useless, and more.  Once out of bed, it can be difficult just to take a shower.  Energy and strength are nonexistent, making any effort seemingly Herculean in nature.  Sometimes, just breathing is an effort.

So here comes the Voice again.  “You’re hopeless” “You can’t do anything right” “You ruin everyone’s life” “The situation is just hopeless” “Why would anyone want to be around you?” “You can’t even take care of yourself, let alone your family.  They’d be better off without you.” The last comment inevitably leads to: “Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around.  They’d all be happier if I just went away.”  Translate “went away” to “commit suicide”. 

That’s not rational, you say?  Tell me about it!  But the depressed brain is definitely not rational.  It lies. And yes, I’ve heard comment from the Voice, too.  My hubby has made me promise to let him know if and when I start hearing It.  Sadly, he doesn’t like to leave me alone if he feels I’m upset about something or feeling more depressed than I had been.  I say “sadly” because I hate knowing my illness affects him like that.  He deserves so much more. (Did you notice what I did there?  That’s the Voice.)

It’s bad enough that the Voice drags us over a truly rocky road…ice cream not included…but then it plays wonderful little tricks on us.  You see, most of us mentally interesting folks whose brain cooties include depression really don’t feel like being around anyone while depressed.  When we manage to drag ourselves out to run errands we make every effort to prevent human interaction.  (Remember, just breathing is a challenge.  Need to use that all important oxygen just to survive.)  At home, we ignore the phone, don’t return texts or emails…the thought of any kind of exchange is exhausting.  Keep in mind, we don’t even know what we offer.  Trying to chit chat as if we’re well and happy and offer something meaningful to mankind is just more than we can do.  And when we do we deserve an Oscar for best performance award.  Ordering pizza ‘cause you can’t cook dinner?  Internet to the rescue!  Don’t have to talk to anyone that way.

A Catch-22 then comes into play, and it’s really not fair…we suffer enough.  But frequently it’s our own family and closest friends we avoid while depressed.  It makes it worse, feeling we’re ignoring a loved one when in actuality we simply can’t communicate.  Let’s head on out a few days, week, month or so later and the depression lifts!  Fabulous, right?  Life returns to some semblance of “normal”.  Au contraire.  (I’m enjoying using fancy terms today.  Humor me.) 

We beat ourselves up until we’re bleeding while depressed, and the worse of it, for many of us anyway, is knowing we’ve ignored people we care about. Birthdays, holidays, just contact in general.  There’s the worry that we’ve run them off.  And in some cases, we do.

What to do now that the depression has lifted?  Pick up the phone and call as if nothing had happened?  Feel embarrassed and continue with the avoidance?  The Voice says to continue avoiding.  Why set yourself up for rejection?  (Yes, the Voice is still there, though quieter, when we feel better.)

However, while in the good place, the best course of action is to pick up the phone, either say you’ve been sick, you’ve been dealing with exhaustion, or be fully honest. That person may not understand, but you know you’ve done what you need to do, opened up.  Yes, there’s the risk of rejection in just making the blasted call, but how else to explain being in and out of someone’s life.  Keep in mind, those people have feelings, too.  While we know we’ve inflicted pain, explaining the brain cooties’ effects may at least offer a band aid.
Being honest is difficult.  

Yes, I’m open about my illness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary, especially when it comes to those I love most.  The Voice says “Don’t bother.  You’ve already burned your bridges” but the voice says it’s worth the effort.  Get over the embarrassment and the guilt, and make a phone call.  Or send a text, email, or message on Facebook…not quite as threatening that way, and an easier way to put out feelers, so to speak.

Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go.  Time to make some phone calls.