Tag Archives: depression

Pain Makes Me Stupid

I don’t think I realized what a relationship I had with the pain until I was pain free for six days for the first time since 2016. I have had infatuations with emotional pain before, romances with depression, flings with mania. And a former cutter will always have a strange dynamic with physical pain.

After so long, I had just integrated the pain into my daily life. I had just adapted to it. It was unpleasant and I hated it, but it had become the new normal. Steroid shots had given me spotty relief over the years, but those first six days after surgery were the first time I had experienced no hip or hamstring pain since my hip popped out of socket that fateful day. Even if I was immobile and detoxing off anesthesia, it was blissful relief.

It was when I experienced pain again that I was able to see how much it had taken root in my mind, how it had poisoned and deformed the tissue in my brain. Instead of logically thinking that pain is a part of recovery and it is going to pass, I immediately panicked emotionally. My brain descended into a hopeless ramblings about how the surgery did not work, how the pain was back again, how the pain was never going away.

I flinched away from it the way you would recoil from a stove after having been burned.

I know I just had surgery. I know pain to be expected, even if I was spared it initially. I know it is way too early in the recovery process to decide if the surgery was successful or what my body will feel like going forward. I know these things, yet I do not feel them. I feel panic followed by crushing hopeless depression.

I would love to go for a run to clear my mind and bring myself back to sanity, but that might just exacerbate the situation.

Taken from an outside perspective, recovery has been going amazingly well. Once I emerged from the anesthesia haze, I felt great physically. Even now, my pain is less than a tenth of what it was when I checked in for surgery. Last night hurt, but it did not hurt as much and it is passing. If this is improved as I ever get, it would still be improvement.

The brace and the crutches are torture devices. The crutches are supremely inconvenient, mostly in how much they slow me down and how they prevent me from carrying anything. I feel completely useless. But those I could deal with. The brace drives me mad. Sitting in it, sleeping in it. It’s always on me, squeezing me; it’s always constraining and confining me. I want all the things off me. I want to be able to just walk again. But it has already been over a week, so I have less than a week remaining. I can stuff my complaining and make it.

I just hope I remember to appreciate being able to just walk again.

I hope I remember to appreciate every day with my healthy, able body again.

If I can manage to reestablish perspective and deliberately manage my reactions to emotional pain, there is no way I shouldn’t be able to easily translate that to physical pain. It should be easier, but I underestimated the instinctual influence, the way the baser part of my mind takes over when my body hurts.

Onward…

 

Christina Bergling

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Unfiltered

My mind is an asshole.

I know this. I have known this since I tried to take my life at age 12. I have stepped up and actually dealt with this since I was 19. And yet, somehow it still manages to surprise me with this truth. Over and over again.

Last Saturday, I experienced one of the worst depressive crashes I have had in years. The degree of depression hearkened back to when I had no idea what was going on in my brain in my late teens or when I was learning how to deal with my bipolar in my early twenties or when I was in Iraq a decade ago.

Years ago, I seemed to figure out how to live with my bipolar, how to balance my life and my mind. It took several therapists, years of experimentation and failure. Finally, with a combination of behavior cognitive processing approaches, an amazing support system, a solid routine, and a high amount of exercise, I seemed to find a way to ride the waves, to level out the sea a bit. It has never been a cure, but it has been pretty effective adaptation.

So effective that I had largely forgot to depths my mind could drop to and what it was like to be raw and unfiltered.

Saturday reminded me. After a night writhing in hip pain on the couch, the depression overwhelmed me from below my exhaustion. It weighed down on me to a heavy and paralytic level I had not experienced in so long. I lay on the couch simply weeping for a couple hours. My husband attempted to counsel me, but I didn’t have words, and I did not want to make eye contact.

My husband has been with me through all stages of this journey. He met me when I was a teenager who was cutting and burning herself. We were friends and casual partners when I was lost and self-destructive. We began our actual relationship after I started dealing with what I am. He was who I came home to after Iraq. He has been with me for half of my life, which has included most of my struggles and traumas. He has seen me that low; he knows the patterns.

He dragged me off the couch, put me in my running clothes, and gently guided me out the front door. Even as I protested that I just didn’t want to through tears. He knew I needed to.

So I ran. Through the crippling pain in my hip and in my head. It took a full mile to be able to make full strides with my leg. It took a second mile to feel like I was actually running. But by the third and fourth miles, I was able to float, to lose myself in the run, to not be in me.

The run helped. It didn’t cure me of the depressive episode; it never does. But it did elevate me out of the dark waters so that I was no longer drowning. I was simply numb. I was still struggling to engage, make eye contact, form thoughts that could be turned into speech. I had zero appetite. Food tasted like sand, but I needed to eat in order to drink a Monster energy drink (my long-time bipolar hack).

The Monster helped. It usually does. It lifted me another level out of the darkness. I could finally interact with people again, which was helpful since I had a baby shower to attend. I was functional enough to help host the party and engage with people, all while being completely honest about how I was feeling and what was happening but without stealing the attention. Interaction with people helped too, helped pull me out of myself.

I made it through the cycle. My husband, running, Monster, and my dear friends substantially abbreviated the episode. But the crash revealed what I was really worried about with my upcoming surgery.

I wasn’t really concerned about the medical procedure or the pain. Sure, those are always worries when going under for surgery. However, the real fear, the true anxiety was the idea of losing my balance, not having access to my crutch. I would survive the surgery. I would get through the pain. My body would heal. The prospect of dealing with my bipolar, my mind unfiltered and unmitigated for six weeks is what truly worried me.

I know that 2-3 days without any exercise cause me to cycle. Nothing like the epic crash of Sunday but depression nonetheless. I know that pain and sickness cause me to cycle. This hip injury has been doing that to me for two and a half years. So the idea of being in pain and unable to reset my brain chemistry was somewhat terrifying.

In the end, I’m not scared of surgery or pain; I’m scared of myself. My crash on Saturday reminded me of what I still am and what I might be facing after surgery.

Logically, I know I’ll be fine. This too shall pass. All of that. However, fearing and avoiding facing the full monster inside me is no different that flinching away from a stove after having been burned before. It’s an instinctual avoidance of pain. Getting a taste of that darkness clarified my anxiety. Yet, as terrible as the sample was, it did pass, and that reminded me that even the lowest depression is only temporary.

I’m sure it will be less than I fear; it usually is. Fear is distortion. I know what I need to deal with on the other side of the anesthesia and am being proactive about redirecting my energy during my recovery.

 

(Note: I could not find the artists for the images in this post. If you are or know the artist, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

Christina Bergling

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Exercise: The Bipolar Hack

I think I have come to accept that my obsessive, demanding fitness regime has simply become a way of life. Initially, after having my son, I told myself that I was killing myself just to recover from him. I told myself that I was dial back the effort once I was back to maintaining. Even as I fixated on my shallow pursuit, I think I always knew, deep down, that was not true.

At some recent point, I remembered who I am on multiple levels. I remembered that I do not care about being skinny enough or a certain size; I remembered that it is not really my priority. Instead, I care about sanity. And I remembered that I need this, that obsession, fixation, and self-abuse are at my core. Channeled addiction, directed negative energy.

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I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 19 years old. By the point I finally sought help and a diagnosis, I was scarcely functional, and my self-mutilation escalated to an alarming degree. What I would later learn were my symptoms emerged when I was 17 yet I can remember hints back into my childhood. I remember feeling so much and never being able to adequately explain or understand it.

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Like most, I railed against my diagnosis, alarmed by the permanence of the idea of being defective or broken. I resisted what it meant, fought what I needed to do, and continued to be a self-destructive mess for a long time. Making peace with what I am, with the way my brain is was probably the hardest point of growth in my life. The idea of who I am, how I identified being defective or undesirable was a difficult pill to swallow.

I tried medication once. And by once, I do not mean one kind of medication; I mean one pill, one time. The experience was horrendous. I was unconscious for over 12 hours, borderline catatonic for the entire next day, then suicidal for two more. I vowed to never attempt medication again, so I had to find an alternative method to deal.

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I did not want to hide in pharmaceuticals, but the chemical component of my disorder is undeniable. I cannot ignore it without it tearing apart my life. I cannot control the structure of my brain. I cannot affect the way my neurotransmitter receptors react to chemicals or the natural levels of serotonin or norepinephrine. However, I learned I can control two things: 1. The chemicals and activities that change my brain chemistry and subsequently moods, and 2. How I react to and process the moods I experience.

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Therapy handled learning how to react and process better. After I got past the resistance to what my diagnosis meant and entailed, sessions could actually be productive. By the end, I learned to suck any fraction of worth from 50 minutes out of a paid hour like a vampire. A reduction in alcohol intake and elimination of detrimental chemicals tamed the peaks of my extremes. Enter exercise as my medication.

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All my self-destructive behaviors included trying to eat and drink myself to death, so when I surfaced from the depths of my depression, I initially started exercising to lose weight. That shift, in itself, was a change from self-destruction to self-care. Instead of trying to kill myself slowly in every way possible, I made one step in the direction of taking care of myself, of deciding my body and my health was worth the investment. Then it was habit and routine to maintain the loss. It took years, but I discovered the mentally therapeutic benefits of fitness when I began dancing and running. When there was a high.

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The high is the key, which is why exercises like dancing and running are more effective for me than walking or weight lifting. I am chasing that wave of euphoric endorphins. Like a true bipolar, I am at home in extremes. Like a true recovered masochist, I always want to push until I hurt myself a little. That high can extract me from depression or level out the waves of my cycles (fun fact: Monster energy drinks also serve the same short term purpose but too much can lead to flirting with psychotic mania). So regular high intensity cardio exercise both helps keep me level and helps level me out when I do cycle.

This realization and practice, nearly a decade of bipolaring in the making, has changed everything for me. I did not have to wean off of medication or forego breastfeeding when I had my babies. I do not have to worry about side effects, the ones I experienced with my one dabbling or others like excessive weight gain associated with psychoactive drugs. I am unshackled. Unchained yet also completely and solely responsible for my own functioning. I’m even off the therapy leash these past few years.

However, this approach is definitely more demanding than popping a pill. Usually, I exercise 8-12 hours per week. Balanced between a full time job, two young children, writing, and a social life with my family stretches me pretty thin (and not in the aesthetic way).

This much self-care requires me to be selfish at times I probably should not be; it makes my relationships inequitable at times. I have to make sure to go run when I should be with my children. My partner has to consider me and make sure I can take care of myself before himself. It is often gravely unfair, but doesn’t my condition need to be considered and attended? Does my neuroatypical brain not require different things than the typical ones around me? Don’t I have to take care of myself to be worth anything to anyone else? These are hard questions to answer, and I do not think the answers are always the same.

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Neuroatypical is a new word to me. So much more comfortable than crazy or broken.

This concept, my way of dealing, has been weighing on my mind with extra heft lately. Recently, additional snippets of family history have been revealed about breakdowns and hospitalizations. The history always just feels like a damning roadmap of my future. But I want to be different.

I already am different. I am living my life out in the open. Part of me hesitated to publish this mental history lesson publicly under my real name, but this is who I am. I am bipolar. And if anyone can benefit from the lessons I have suffered to learn, I am willing to put them out there. I am not hiding or denying, like past generations had to. I have cultivated a support system who are familiar with my challenges and are able to support me through them.

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I am being proactive. If working myself out to the bone is what keeps me sane, I am committing to this fitness lifestyle. It’s a hell of a better reason to do so than just trying to be some kind of skinny.

 

Christina Bergling

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