Friday, October 26, 2007

A Very Bad Day

One of my favorite booklets is Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This picture book describes a very bad, absolutely terrible, obviously horrible, and without a doubt, no good day in the life of a little boy. At least that's the way that he sees it.

Alexander awakens to find gum in his hair, his teacher doesn't like his drawing of an invisible castle, he finds that there isn't any dessert in his lunch, his dentist tells him that he has a cavity which needs fixing, there is kissing on TV, and he has to wear his railroad pajamas which he hates.

Alexander's day is so terrible that he decides to move to Australia. His mother assures him that everyone has bad days, even people who live in Australia. That's what I've discovered also. Everyone has horrible, no good days, but not everyone is clinically depressed. Bad days begin with bad minutes and then bad hours. You add enough days together, and you have a terrible month. Twelve months become a year, and enough years become a very bad life.

Sometimes the "badness" of living comes as a result of who we are, and what character traits we have. It doesn't have anything to do with depression, it's a summary of how we think and behave. It's not dependent on what happens to us situationally, but rather how we respond to the circumstances of life. It's been said that happiness is largely determined by what happens to us, but joy is what happens in us. That's why the apostle Paul was able to reasonably admonish the Philippians to "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (Php.4:4)." You may not always be able to rejoice in what you experience, but you can rejoice in who you are. That is, if you are a child of God, and find your joy in Him.

Look at the words below to discover how people who are constantly having "very bad days" actually think, live and respond to circumstances.

00-Abandoned-feeling alone without being cared for or supported

00-Ambivalent-having mixed, uncertain or conflicting feelings about something

00-Confused-unable to think or reason clearly or to act sensibly

00-Crushed-extremely upset, saddened or depressed

00-Despairing-feeling or showing loss of hope

00-Frazzled-exhausted and in a very confused or irritable state

00-Frustrated-feeling exasperated, discouraged, or unsatisfied

00-Homesick-feeling sadness and longing to be at home with family or friends

00-Intimidated-a feeling of fear, awe, or inadequacy

00-Maudlin-overly or tearfully sentimental

00-Panicked-fear or anxiety that comes on suddenly, is overwhelming, appears to be uncontrollable, and may seem to be unfounded

00-Pressured-to feel powerful and stressful demands on one's time, attention, and energy

00-Tentative-slow, hesitant and careful way that reveals a lack of confidence

00-Desperate-overwhelmed with urgency and anxiety, to the point of losing hope

00-Grieved-to experience great sadness over something such as death

00-Pessimistic-somebody who always expects the worst to happen

00-Apathetic-not taking any interest in anything, and not bothering to do anything

00-Negative-unhappy, discouraging, angry, or otherwise distracting from a happy situation

00-Rigid-unwilling to change or adapt behavior, opinions, or attitudes

00-Reserved-having a tendency to emotional restraint

00-Apprehensive-worried that something bad will happen

00-Sensitive-easily offended or annoyed

As you can see, there are often personality traits that are as "depressive" as any mood disorder. I believe that it's much easier to control depression than it is to modify thinking and behavior. The above list is certainly not comprehensive, but it is representative of the character traits that lead to people having Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days, and quite probably having a very bad life.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's The Mood, Dude?

What's the mood, dude? Or is it dudette? For the person with Bipolar Disorder (BPD), and those around him, there is always some difficulty deciding if the present mood or personality characteristic is a normal (typical) one or not.

Everyone has both good days and bad days, so when someone with a depressive disorder has a good day, are they being hypo/hypermanic, or are they simply expressing the true positive characteristics of their personality? If they are depressed much of the time (BPD type 2), when their mood lifts, are we seeing the real person or are we seeing atypical attitudes and emotions that are to be interpreted as the manic side of their BPD cycle?

I know that at my house, this occasionally becomes a debatable issue. I sometimes feel that I'm not always being allowed to experience a good day without having to prove that I'm not going into a hypomanic phase of my BPD. That can be frustrating. I suppose, from my wife's point of view, that it's sometimes hard to remember what the non-depressed Stormy is like.

In the last twenty years, I have taken numerous personality characteristic tests, including the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the Meyer-Briggs Personality Test, with almost exactly the same results each time. I took these tests many times when I was depressed, and yet the typology was closely similar to the times when I wasn't depressed. I believe that I can safely conclude that my true personality characteristics were emerging in spite of the masking of my bipolar disorder.

So what's the mood, dude? Is it hypomania or are you having a good day, week, or month? The following terms describe someone who could possibly be experiencing either. You will have to decide for yourself, or with a little help from your friends. Who's the true you?

Are You Sometimes?

00-EXUBERANT-full of happy high spirits and vitality
00-ZESTFUL-lively enjoyment and enthusiasm
00-ENTHUSIASTIC-showing passionate interest in something
00-GREGARIOUS-very friendly and sociable
00-OPTIMISTIC-tending to take a hopeful and positive view of future outcomes
00-SMILEY-often smiling
00-HOPEFUL-feeling fairly sure that something that is wanted will happen
00-CHEERFUL-happy and optimistic by nature
00-STIMULATED-interested in or excited about something
00-FRIENDLY-pleasant and welcoming
00-FUN LOVING-seeks and enjoys life's pleasures
00-HUMOROUS-witty or able to make people laugh
00-HAPPY-feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy
00-ADVENTUROUS-willing or eager to participate in risky or exciting activities
00-DYNAMIC-full of energy, enthusiasm, and sense of purpose
00-GOOD-NATURED-having a pleasant or obliging disposition
00-INSPIRING-making somebody feel more enthusiastic, confident, or stimulated
00-LIKEABLE-pleasant and friendly, therefore easy to like
00-CHARMING-having the power to delight or attract people
00-PLAYFUL-fond of having fun and playing with others
00-PERSONABLE-having a pleasant personality and appearance
00-VIBRANT-full of liveliness and energy
00-LIGHTHEARTED-not weighed down with worries or troubles
00-WHIMSICAL-slightly odd or playfully humorous, especially in an endearing way
00-AMUSING-causing someone to smile or laugh or be amused, often in a subdued way

Maybe my wife and I can work out a compromise. I will agree to be "hypomanic" half of the time, if I can have "good days" the other half.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Friday, October 12, 2007

And They Created

Would you call me creative? I created two sons. I built a horse barn. I wrote poems to my wife. I've been known to make up my own jokes. I wrote songs during the long lonely watches in Viet Nam (none were worth hearing). I lied "creatively" to my parents. And I'm sure that there must be some other things that might be described as "creative."

Yet, I would be reluctant to put myself in the same category as the people listed below.
01-Hans Christian Anderson-writer
02-Drew Carey-actor
03-Napoleon Bonaparte-emperor
04-Jim Carey-actor
05-Agatha Christie-author
06-Winston Churchill-Prime Minister
07-Francis Ford Coppola-director
08-Patricia Cornwell-writer
09-Emily Dickinson-writer
10-TS Elliot-poet
11-Ralph Waldo Emerson-essayist
12-Robert Frost-poet
13-Sigmund Freud-scientist
14-Marilyn Monroe-actor
16-Isaac Newton-scientist
17-Edgar Allen Poe-writer
18-Mark Twain-writer
19-Ted Turner-media giant
20-Vincent Van Gogh-artist
21-Abraham Lincoln-president
22-Axl Rose-singer
24-Ben Stiller-actor
25-Jane Pauley-news anchor

And the list goes on. All of the above are believed to be sufferers of Bipolar Disorder (BPD). For years, scientists have thought that there is a strong link between BPD and creativity. In recent times, Stanford University's researchers Connie Strong and Terence Ketter, MD, have made significant advances toward exploring this connection. They conducted a controlled study comparing both healthy, creative people and people from the general population. Their findings were that there was a disproportionate number of people with BPD in the creative group than was found among the general population. One of Strong's conclusions was that the "emotional range, having an emotional broadband, is the bipolar patient's advantage. It isn't the only thing going on, but something gives people with manic depression an edge, and I think it's emotional range." How mood influences the performance of artists and genius scientists will be further researched at Stanford.

There is also anecdotal evidence for a streak of creativity in BPD patients. The next time that you are at a support group meeting, ask your members if they have a creative way that they express themselves, something that might set them apart from their other acquaintances. In my case, my "creativity" is shown through my blog and my photography. I leave it up to you to decide how significant it is. This much I know. I have always had a yearning for a method to
express myself creatively. It has been an itch that I couldn't scratch, until this last year. So, for me, it is enough that I communicate my "artistic" side, however unremarkably. The only person who would be likely to see the genius in my life would be my mother, but I only need a fan club of one to be satisfied.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mona Lisa

What made Mona Lisa smile? Was she pregnant? Had she received some good news? Did Michelangelo tell her a joke? I guess we will never know. This will always be one of the enigmas of the art world.

Smiling can become a habit, and scientists say that it is one of the best habits we could develop. It can reduce the level of stress hormones and raise the level of important neurotransmitters, like Serotonin, which is desperately needed by those of us with chronic depression.

One of the theories of psychology is a hypothesis called "facial feedback." This theory states that there are "involuntary facial movements which provide sufficient peripheral information to drive emotional experience." In other words, just smiling may improve your mood. Psychologist Dr. David Lewis says, "Seeing a smile creates what is termed a 'halo' effect helping us to remember happy events more vividly, feel more optimistic, more positive and more motivated." The caveat to this is that a "fake" smile doesn't do anything good for anyone. Just think about how happy you are(n't) when you look at your driver's license.

There are also social benefits to smiling. When you give a smile, you nearly always get one back. This reciprocal effect is one of the reasons that I enjoy smiling. In fact, it has always puzzled me a little when I look at someone and they give me a warm and interesting smile. I asked a friend about this once, and he said that I always (mostly) walk around with a little grin on my face. When I meet another person, they respond to what they see. Try it. If people don't smile back, at least they will wonder what you've been up to.

You might be surprised at other findings by professional researchers. Hewlett Packard conducted a survey which concluded that seeing a smile is more pleasurable than having sex or eating chocolates, and a smile can even generate more stimuli than other things, including receiving money. Two thousand bars of chocolate or receiving $16,000 can only give you the same amount of pleasure a smile can emanate, avers the test. Just think of the pounds that can be saved by some one's smile.

NOW, there is a negative side. In support group meetings, I've learned that many people who are chronically depressed are still functioning smilers. The drawback to that is that your acquaintances may not take your depression seriously (or believe in it at all) if you have a grin on your face.

I don't know why I smile as much as I do. For some reason, it just comes naturally. No matter how depressed I am, if someone speaks to me, I respond with a smile. I've had people remark about my "face lift" all of my life. A cousin who I hadn't seen in thirty years once said, "If I had met you on the street, I wouldn't know who you were, but I would recognize that smile anywhere." For good or for evil, that's just the way I am. Sometimes, I just wish that I didn't give the false impression of being "happy go lucky."

Though I am more optimistic when I'm depressed than some people are when they aren't depressed, I just want my depression to be taken more seriously. There are some days when I wish that others could see the pain behind the smile. Who would have thought that a smile could be a handicap? I sometimes feel a kinship with Sir Walter Scott's bride in his poem Lochinvar. She had a " on her lips and a tear in her eye."

Still, I think Mark Stibich, Ph.D. has given us 10 good Reasons To Smile.

01-Smiling makes us attractive. We are drawn to people who smile. Frowns push them away.
02-Smiling changes our mood. Smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood.
03-Smiling is contagious. It can light up the room and make others happier.
04-Smiling relieves stress.
05-Smiling boosts your immune system. Prevent the flu and colds by smiling.
06-Smiling lowers your blood pressure.
07-Smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and Serotonin. Smiling is a natural drug.
08-Smiling lifts the face and makes you look younger.
09-Smiling makes you seem successful.
10-Smiling helps you stay positive. When we smile, we tell our self that life is good.

Even though I don't always feel like it, I'm giving my vote for the sweetest expression in the world. If you are one of those people who have been frowning for so long that your face has frozen, take advantage of Newton's Law of Gravity and stand on your head. What goes down might go up.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]