(I wrote this article as soon as I returned home from moose hunting, after two weeks of watching this young dog’s remarkable alertness and sensitivity to danger in the wilderness. Whether she is reacting to an animal intruder– moose, bear, or caribou– or to a sudden switch in my bipolar moods, Lapua’s intense sensitivity has been remarkable since she was an eight-week old puppy.)
While I helped set up our moose camp deep in the Talkeetna Mountains, my 10-month old puppy, Lapua, a lanky, 50-pound, Great Pyrenees-husky-boxer mix, set up her own vantage point at the top of the knoll.
From her spot, she could watch for any moose, bears, or caribou that might walk up from the ravine below through the swamp east of our camp, and up the hillside. Lapua knew that this was the entrance to our camp, and what would be the main trail for any intruder, and so she sat, on alert, ready to warn us of any danger.
Although we never saw a bear near camp during those two weeks, she always woof-woofed her alarm when a moose or a curious caribou ventured through the shrubbery along the mountainside above us.
Lapua is not a guard dog, by any means, and she certainly is not highly trained. But, like she did in moose camp, she is somehow able to sense anything that is out-of-sorts in her environment, and she always alerts me and my husband to its presence.
At home in our living room, where she cuddles on a blanket in the corner with my old dog, Ruby, she somehow senses, and responds to, any shift in my bipolar moods.
When bipolar confusion leads us into unknown landscapes, it is essential that we ask for help—before we get lost in our own minds.
“Only Carin could get lost in the high desert of Smith Rock,” said my friend, Dave, as he shook his head and laughed. “How in the world did you do it?”
“I don’t know,” I responded, head down.
It was 24 hours since I had started hiking the day before, and more than 22 miles from our climbing camp in central Oregon. And I had no idea how I had gotten there. After a week of rock climbing the hardest routes I could find, of baking in the sun, of sleeping little, and of being the female star of our eight-person climbing group, I wanted a break, and so I headed out at 4 a.m., through a rock formation called Asterisk Pass.
The Crooked River flowed downstream to my left, the spires of Smith Rock to my right. Landmarks surrounded me, but somehow I still got lost.
I knew I had gone too far, but I just kept on walking, making one poor decision after another. And when I arrived at a little farmhouse at 2 a.m. the next morning, tearful and scared, an elderly woman called my friends and they ended their search for me by driving to pick me up. My only memories of my trek were of cow skulls, sinister faces that had formed in the cliffs beside me, and a fast river that I thought of swimming across.
Read more of my article at https://www.bphope.com/blog/how-did-i-get-here-confronting-bipolar-disorder-confusion/.
We are all familiar with the story of the “tortured artist” but is there a unique creative force in the mood swings of bipolar disorder?
By the time I was sixteen years old, I had convinced myself that I was a creative genius. I knew nothing yet of bipolar disorder, but the budding manias of my teenage years had flowered into an obsessive pursuit of literary greatness. Inspired by poets like William Blake and Emily Dickinson, I wrote constantly, often into the early morning hours. After writing page after page in my journals, I shoved the pieces of paper into my very own secret box.
When I think about those years, and then the eventual tumultuous years of my early twenties, I often ask myself: Was such intense creativity the result of madness? Or was madness the result of creativity? I ask the same question when I consider the lives and creative contributions made by the many great poets, writers, musicians, and artists who may have had bipolar disorder.
Read the rest of my article at https://www.bphope.com/blog/world-bipolar-day-honoring-van-gogh-are-creativity-and-madness-linked/.
A bipolar mixed episode is a uniquely confusing experience and can result in a state of extreme agitation and despair, but you can prevent this by recognizing early signs of a coming episode.
I sat at dusk, my arms around my knees, at the junction of a turbulent and muddy river and the slow, dark water of an ocean inlet. As I sat at the convergence of two vastly different and yet similar things, my mind, too, found itself at its own convergence. Somehow, two moods-vastly different and yet somehow similar-had merged into something terrifying, feverish, and inexplicably sad.
Hours earlier, when I was overflowing with love and grandiose dreams, I spent several hundred dollars on gourmet cookies and bouquets of roses and lilies to hand out to friends. Later, as day turned into evening, mania and depression blended together into the unique and startling pain of a bipolar mixed episode….
Every year, the returning sunlight marks the coming of my most dangerous season, and so begins my preparation for another bipolar spring.
I have my very own bipolar calendar. And it is nearly always the same. Every spring, like clockwork, the sun returns to southern Alaska with an unnecessary force, and with it comes the manic eruptions that signal the end of the comforting darkness of winter.
During my depressive bipolar cycles, a river is what remains in my mind. Always. The sea, now that you can forget — the way the wind ruffles the surface or falls calm like a lake — but a river is what remains after my memory of it has seemingly passed, even after my imagination stops adorning it with riffles and dark wet holes and oxbow lakes. It lingers.
I am an Alaskan woman in love with a river. I love the muskeg along the banks of that river, the crooked black spruce that struggle for the sky but always fail, their bark wet with the effort, their limbs broken from the start by their own soggy roots. In Alaska, muskeg means a river is nearby. In the case of my very own river, the Delta Clearwater, it means it is flowing, slow and cold and spring-fed, somewhere beneath the tundra at my feet, and somewhere beneath where my grandparents built my family’s rickety old cabin….
A previous blog post of mine has been published on The Mighty. You can read more of it here: https://themighty.com/2018/01/suicidal-delta-clearwater-river-helps-me/
Do you ever trick people into thinking you are OK?
Individuals with bipolar disorder quickly learn how to become tricksters—because the truth is simply not polite.
I leaned to the left in the photograph, laughing as I held a puppy on the bow of a green riverboat. I was smiling my slightly crooked smile, and in the background—in a dark sky above black spruce trees—were two bright arcs of a double rainbow. A puppy, a smile, a rainbow—all three were the unmistakable symbols of pure and perfect happiness.
Little did the photographer, or anyone else, know that it was all a trick. Despite the props in that photograph, despite being surrounded by joy and backlit by rainbows, the sky was still dark.
Read the rest of my article at https://www.bphope.com/blog/the-bipolar-trickster-smiling-in-the-face-of-it/.
Many years ago, I skipped the exit on the highway that led to my job and just kept going. I drove south, and while my inner monologue rose to a frenetic pitch, I decided that I would live as a jobless poet in the Alaskan countryside. After several hours of driving, and as reality set in, I turned around. The next day, when I finally showed up to work, I no longer had a job.
For me, and for anyone with bipolar disorder, simply showing up to work can be the greatest challenge. During the early days of my career, I was just too unstable to fit into the structure of an 8-to-5 job. My life was like a rollercoaster, and every day was unpredictable, so how could I fit the mold of a predictable schedule, with the predictable everyday requirements of a job?
Later, as time passed and I began to stabilize, I found that the structure of a daily, 8-to-5 job was just what I needed. I still need it. I go to bed at the same time every night and I wake up at the same time each morning. I pull myself up and out of bed at 5:00 a.m. every single day and, even if I am cycling through the mood swings of bipolar, I pull on a suit jacket and skirt out of the closet, and I go to work.
I did not enjoy going to work every day at my previous job. Even though I made six figures a year and held a high-status position, I was bored and unchallenged. As time went on, I realized that it was not just structure that I needed. I needed something to be passionate about.
Why do I go to work every day? I go to work because I have a job that allows me to be creative. I go to work because I am passionate about what I create, and the changes that I can make in people’s lives. At work, I get to write. I get to create, and like so many individuals with bipolar disorder, being creative is a fundamental part of who I am. Even though we face great challenges in the workplace because of our passion and sensitivity, we can use those feelings to motivate us to get up every day and go to work—but only if we choose our careers carefully.