Understanding and Awareness Part II

When I google for the meaning of awareness, I notice common terms like knowledge, perceptions, understanding, consciousness. Its online definition is “knowledge gained through one’s own perceptions or by means of outside information.” By that, it means I know I would need to see my Doctor if my daily functionality was severely compromised by depression. This knowledge came from my perception of past experiences. So I am aware . But awareness did not come to me easily.

Awareness and Me

Awareness The Knowing

Awareness is essential and to keep an open mind for the element Awareness is much needed. As awareness is elusive and spontaneous, I never see it coming and it arrives unannounced. Perhaps another term to describe the moment and feeling is ‘Ah Ha! So that it is!’ the case. Awareness is elusive, either I have it or not. Most of the times being aware is about learning more about myself. Not all awareness is well-received. There are times when being aware is a brutal awakening and an end of being in denial. It took me donkey years to be aware and convinced that I had been ill mentally. I seemingly know that I am sick but I could not understand the-how, as I have been physically all right.

The knowing that I had been anxious and worried on the eve of a major exam, skipping schools for days to weeks, speaking rapidly with racing thoughts, first attempt of suicide at a young age 12 years old — these behaviors blatantly glaring at me, I know and yet the least aware that I have been sick when I was a child. The knowing is present but the level of awareness is almost none. Perhaps awareness and denial are both ends of a continuum on each end. I know but I am in denial or I know, and I am awakened, conscious of its full impact on my life. I can say too, with understanding, awareness becomes more ready to befriend me. So what is the role of awareness on managing my Bipolar journey?

Managing Bipolar With Awareness

Being aware means knowing beforehand and knowing what steps to take for the next course of action. On a bipolar-depressed day, negative thoughts were unrelenting and I would show contempt and behave unreasonably. Often it comes with an abrupt emotional outbursts, loud shouting and screaming on top of my voice, directed at my siblings. At this point in time, it is obviously late to say I was aware as damage had been done, relationship had been scarred. However with awareness it can alert me when I have negative thoughts, I will be able to ask “is this a valid thought supported with evidence?” Should I get a Yes-answer, I can ask again, “do I want and/or need to act on it?”

Similarly on a bipolar-hypomanic day, I would encounter thoughts like “Am I spending too much for this grocery shopping trip? Buying too many biscuits, stocking up too many cooking oil?” Other thoughts like getting a party dress and a pair of new shoe to go with it, buy a new smartphone, a new labtop and a labtop bag, a luggage. Thank goodness no car nor a house loiter into my thoughts. Knowing beforehand, I’m aware of the symptom of hypomania has surfaced, I can act accordingly by asking “I seem to be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, I better not buy this item now? How about take a wait-and-see approach?”

My Ally AwarenessBest Ally

 

Awareness is a powerful tool to aid my thought processing and search for the underlying emotions. With awareness I have more autonomy to make responsible choices on my behavior. It certainly ease the pain of regrets should I not be aware of my thoughts and emotions on day-to-day happenings. On a wider scope, awareness allows me to be pragmatic on frustrating life issues like “Why am I unable to hold on to a job like any other normal being?” The emotions of envy and sadness can be overwhelming. What I perceived has limited my confidence and ability, I have drawn a circle that I walked into it, believing I am unable to deliver and perform. I become aware that I have subconsciously blame my inabilities on my Bipolar illness, using it as an excuse to hide behind my fear of failure or rejection.

In the nutshell, it is fun to ally with Awareness as at any instant one may have an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment. My two best friends Awareness and Understanding (Part I) will be my lifelong companion. They help me to recover, manage my illness, and grow into a better person I desire to be.

Understanding and Awareness Part I

Understanding and awareness are two powerful ‘tools’ on my journey in managing Bipolar disorder, I am fortunate to own them.

Why Why Why Me?

At the start of my journey, I have asked the sky, the trees, the One Up There ‘Why Me, Why am I ill mentally?’. Searching for the answers has been a futile endeavour, as the knowing is not a practical coping strategy for my Bipolar condition. Rather I have gotten enmeshed in a web of possible answers that makes me feel more lost and dejected, and the act of finding answers gives me a false sense that I had been problem-solving. This is not genuine understanding, the least for awareness.

Hypomania and DepressionShould I ask the question what causes Bipolar-disorder, I’m likely to find that there are several factors attributing to this physical yet invisible illness. Scientists explain that certain brain circuits and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) is responsible for the mood swings along the bipolar mood spectrum.A person like me either experience the high of hypomania (or mania) or the lows of mild to major depression. Genes and biological differences (significant physical changes in the brain) are the usual suspects (for almost all mental illness), and risk factors like stressful life events either develop or trigger the onset of Bipolar disorder. Seemingly I have a better understanding. So how now?

Admittedly I am curious about the concept of Understanding and its role in helping me manage my Bipolar condition. How much I understand as in having a sharper visual of the malfunction in brain circuits and neurotransmitter, gives me clarity. With this piece of information, I am more willing to accept the inevitability that I need medication (Thank Goodness there are medicine for this illness). For how long? Do I really need to know? With medication, I can function productively on a daily basis. That overwrites all other thoughts, perceptions, and biases.

With better understanding, I can differentiate recurring negative thoughts and energy consuming emotions from being the real me. In the past, I was misled into believing that I was always an angry person, not the least a grouchy one under the facade of Depression. I doubted my intentions, did I become mentally sick so that I could get attention and support, and also shirked off house cleaning tasks at home. Rather, I am able to say “Depression is not me”, what really happened was by-products of being ill with Bipolar-disorder. The understanding and the perception of myself gives me strength to move on, and be not in the dumps of depression.

The Way
The Open Door

Understanding opens the door to compassion. Knowing how impactful my life has been disrupted by the illness, and how much anguish, worthlessness, the “pain syndrome”, recklessness, the job opportunities I miss, this sense of injustice is intense. How am I going to reconcile and move on? Compassion is a gentle partner to my recovery. Have I not understood that these injustices I had lived with it for donkey years, is like the spilled milk, gone and irretrievable, I would have bolted my gate, close all windows, and sunk into a deeper and dangerous pit of depression and/or hypomania.

In the nutshell, this sympathetic awareness and tolerance of my intangible physical illness, understanding, like a key, has opened up the door to recovery. How it intersperses with awareness brings about countless “Ah Ha” moments, and serves me a strong, sturdy walking-stick on my journey. I am and will count my blessings.

In my next sharing, I will be writing on awareness, what exactly it is and how it helps me in managing Bipolar disorder. In the meantime, I will part with a question for you, “how does understanding serves you?” I hope it brings about “Ah Ha” moments, the point in time that let you understand yourself.

Am I hypomanic?

Yes, I am concerned.

And I am always worried when would be my next relapse, it is like there is no tomorrow, as at anytime I could be down in my dumps or high on Cloud 10 (yes, not cloud 9). Both ends are unwelcoming, they disrupt my work, sour my relationships, demoralize my spirit. Often, relapses challenges my resilience to get better.

In The Tunnel

It took me a very long while to begin charting my mood. I am reluctant to write and record my mood status on a daily basis. It is simply too troublesome to make out whether I am in the mood brought about by a full throttle of energy and a act on impulsiveness, with racing thoughts, delusions that all things are possible. Or I am in the deep trench of low mood, when holding a pen to record how depressed I am is as challenging as climbing the Mount Everest.

But mood tracking is essential for recovery. With my mood data on records, it provides a realistic overview of how my mood journey is in the weeks and months, how in a period of six months, the mood fluctuates. Which part of the year my low mood surfaced or could the season festive periods say around December to February, bring me to the hypomania level. Sometimes, the tangible graph line depicting my highs and lows, provides
mood trackingassurance that my mood is manageable. It is like ‘Hey, you came out of your lows pretty quickly’ or ‘not bad, this time you have kept your elevated mood in check’. Mood charts and records are my managing tools and they are vital to my mental wellness.

On shorter time frames, mood charts provide information to assess my day-to-day mood status. Am I heading downhill or in the midst of being hypo-manic now, what interventions can I garnered to counter my bipolar condition? Knowing my current mood level, I am able to find out with a set of criterion whether a relapse has presented itself.

So am I hypomanic now? I will ask myself a set of questions should I feel my mood is on the down or up side.

The Questions I ask when depressed

  • Am I depressed for most of the day, nearly everyday?
  • Are you feeling no pleasure for most of the activities most of the day, nearly everyday?
  • Am I eating more or less than usual?
  • Am I having insomnia or sleeping excessively?
  • Am I feeling fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday?
  • Do I have recurrent thoughts of death and suicide?

And Questions I Ask When Hypomanic

  • Do I sleep less hours than usual?
  • Am I more talkative than usual?
  • Do I feel energized and not feel tiredness?
  • Do I experience irritable mood?
  • Do I have inflated self-esteem or feelings of grandiosity?

Keeping check of my responses, I can make good guesses that my mood is in an upward, downward trend or in the normal range. In a case when I observed I was leaning more on the hypomania mood range, my responses could be sleeping on average three to four hours daily, very chatty, easily irritable, and no sense of tiredness. Out of 5 questions, I had 4 positive response, indicating a moderate level of elevated mood (on a scale of none, mild, moderate, and severe). Moderate level means orange signal (the 3-color system) implied that I had to make sure not to overstretch my pace of living on the day-to-day basis.

This color system is an alarm signal, which meansTo Alert

  1. green, mood in normal range, daily functionality able and acceptable
  2. orange, mood in hypomania or mild depression range, daily functionality not impaired, and less acceptable
  3. red, mood in very high elevated or severe depression range, daily functionality disabled.

In another words, the answer to my question of whether I have been in the hypomanic range is yes, a positive indication to take note and exercise caution for my Bipolar disorder management. This illness management recovery system is my intervention tool to counter my illness, an essential and vital strategy to actualize and re-position my action plan for a sane way of living with Bipolar Disorder condition.

Therefore, what is Action plans, and what is its relationship to awareness and understanding. With this question, I will conclude my concern and worries about “Am I hypomanic?”. And to sincerely invite you to find out more about my next topic on Awareness and Understanding.

Mental Illness