My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Paranoid Thoughts and Depression

Just because I have been able to hold a good job (at times) and have married successfully and had a child in no way shape or form means I have been immune from paranoid thoughts, depressive thoughts, anxiety or mania.  My illness over the years includes acute paranoia that I have had to process or let go of and get past. 

My first episode at the West Ferry airport is a case in point.  In addition to that mania and paranoia I have believed that I could see some terrorists in the Himalayas who had two “broken arrows” pointed at the US specifically at Washington, DC.  I have felt that I could see the boot camp of these terrorists as well as know the path that got them to their hide-out and the code associated with both of the bombs at their disposal.  I have envisioned the recovery of these weapons from such a terrorist camp via a team of highly trained military personnel and their dogs. 

The day the Challenger exploded, I was in a complete state of paranoia.  I was on the train from Chicago back to my college campus and believed the conductor was signaling me to exit the train.  I got off in an unknown location and started hitch-hiking down icy back roads in the pitch black of night with snow and frozen ice all around.  At some point I ended up on Interstate 400 going North.  I believed I was conducting the cars in various colors in a symphony along the highway.  I must have been in the middle of the interstate when a trucker named Bill picked me up on the highway and took me to a nearby exit from the highway where by some turn of fate I ended up at the police station.  I remember that the Challenger had exploded and that I felt somehow responsible for this.  I kept repeating that “I have a dream….” like Martin Luther King but instead of stating it I was screaming it over and over as if it were more a nightmare that I had instead of a dream…  Thanks to the police, I ended up back at the hospital on campus.

In addition, I later came to believe that I was a master code-breaker for bombs and machines that had been constructed by the military.  I believed that I was able to isolate code line by line that had been altered by terrorists and to communicate those lines of code to the military so that the code could be disengaged.

In addition, I came to believe that HIV was becoming a food-borne illness in need of early intervention and that a nuclear meltdown had been grossly underestimated by the military establishment — that the whole electric grid was liable to go up in smoke within minutes considering the griddle like effect that the grid provides its ability to relay power between destinations within seconds. 

In the early months of the postpartum period, I believed that three men from Eastern Europe had immigrated to Canada in order to migrate from Canada to the US as Canadian citizens.  I believed that these three men were planning a “nuclear accident” somewhere in New Hampshire such that the entire watershed East of the Mississippi would be unpotable and contaminated with nuclear waste.

Almost all of my paranoid thoughts have involved feelings of unsafety.  Whether around the corner at a neighbor’s house or on the international nuclear war stage, I can get easily paranoid about human safety.    Could these issues of safety be tied to the fact that I was not safe as a six-year-old child?  Probably so – more work is needed.

This tendency toward thoughts of safety more than likely dates back to my first episode in the snow at the West Ferry airport.  When I allowed my fears about safety to be expressed, I was treated as a criminal and as someone who was unsafe.  If my fears had somehow been allowed to be conveyed to friends, family, an airport personnel or even a passer-by, perhaps the reaction to my fears might not have been so dramatic.  Even more compelling, if my fears of flying had been addressed in the airport with airport personnel in a way that they could understand, I may have been able to avoid what became years of preoccupation with fear and safety.  Instead of them seeing me as a threat to self and others, perhaps they would have been able to request I be moved directly to a hospital setting rather than being arrested and handcuffed and locked to the door of a police vehicle with flashing blue lights. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Coincidences and Mania, Coincidences and God

When I first started out my faith journey, coincidences had the capacity to overwhelm me and send me into episodes of mania.  It was as if I were first tasked with perceiving events that seemed highly significant and then making sense of those events without any help from friends, therapists, doctors or the Divine.  For example, the fact that I went to Ivy College and later lived on a dead end street called Ivy Place might be one example of such coincidence.  That I worked on a software program while with a state funding agency called CT and after worked on a software program at an engineering company called BCT and eventually worked for a company whose acronym was BCT at times seemed all powerful and too much to comprehend and process.  Once again, there was this notion of patterns and pattern recognition. 

As my illness matured, these coincidences and patterns seemed to migrate out of the paranoia realm and generally into the context of the Divine.  The existence of patterns and patterning data at one time were enough to land me in the hospital overwhelmed by the level of coincidence I was experiencing.  With a more informed sense of my Creator, I came to understand that while the patterns and coincidences still existed, they were not to be feared.  God was the author of the coincidences and patterns.  There was nothing to be fearful of as this was God’s domain and God was in control.  The coincidences that at one time could send me into the hospital later became a sign that perhaps God is near and God is in control.  Then as now, there is no longer cause for needing interpretation and logical understanding as these coincidences are in God’s hands.   And now I can perceive of them in the hands of God.

Today, I continue to experience coincidences large and small and largely experience them in the hands of God.  The connections between things, the names that seem to repeat, the patterns of colors or numbers or shapes no longer are a source of consternation for me.  If anything, the coincidences now serve to remind me that I am not the author of my own reality.  God is.  In any case the coincidences that crop up in my life today do not necessarily occur more frequently than before, earlier in the life cycle of my illness.  It is just that I am attuned to these coincidences should they occur as occurring within the purview of God.

This brings me to a critical juncture.  My spiritual and emotional intelligence has grown since my first days of perceiving coincidences as overwhelming.  One lingering question is how does that person who is largely comfortable with coincidences in life today interact with that child within of six or that child within of ten?  This is largely unexplored territory and may be the topic of future work and/or writing particularly if the likelihood of abuse at age six continues to present itself.

Question – do others have experiences surrounding coincidence and coincidences? If so, what is helpful for you in that regard? Does a spiritual approach help work for you in managing these perceptions?

Thought for the day – resilience

I do not know if this is the experience of other people with bipolar disorder or clinical depression or other behavioral health diagnoses including addiction, but when I am in the midst of a high or a low, it feels like that state will never end. The mania is all consuming. The depression seems never ending. Yet invariably the high or the low does dissipate. Perhaps this is because I have found medication that is useful or perhaps I or my therapist have talked myself out of anxiety about this or that potential event occurring. In the past when I have had a low or a high that was not receptive to medications, I have felt like that high or that low would last forever. The mania is all consuming so that I am unable to think of anything else. The depression feels like it will go on interminably. The only silver lining in these episodes is the idea that “this too shall pass.” Invariably after medication (including trial and error with multiple meds) and/or therapy do take hold, I can see clearly that the mania was temporary as was the depression. So is it possible that those of us who are first-hand familiar with anxiety and/or depression are perhaps more familiar with the anxiety that surrounds us today perhaps because of our own mental health conditions? Do we go through each day with the knowledge and perhaps the mantra that “this too shall pass?” Can we be a reminder to each other through our words and our actions that whatever negative thoughts or feelings we are having, in time things will be looking up or at least be more manageable? Can we be a reminder to those unfamiliar with anxiety or depression that again “this too will pass?” Can we through it all be the face of resilience?