TEDxTerryTalks – Laura Bain – Living with Bipolar Type II

Translator: Angela W
Reviewer: Denise RQ I guess I should start by telling you
a little bit about who Laura is. She’s a very passionate person. And she loves science very much, and loves to talk about it all the time, much to her friends’ dismay. She’s also a sailor. She used to be the registrar
of the UBC Sailing Club. So, other things– she’s a daughter, she’s a sister
to three big brothers. She’s also an auntie
to the cutest little niece ever. She’s bipolar. Bipolar is a brain disorder
which causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy,
or ability to function. It’s unlike the normal ups and downs
that people go through. The symptoms of bipolar are more severe. In the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
for Mental Disorders,” it describes it in this way, “Bipolar is the presence or history of one or more major depressive episodes present during the same two-week period, and represent a change
from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms
is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. These symptoms can be depressed mood most of the day
nearly every day, markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities, significant weight, loss or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia
nearly every day, psycho-motor agitation
or retardation nearly every day; fatigue or loss of energy
nearly every day, feelings of worthlessness, or excessive, or inappropriate guilt
nearly every day; diminished ability to think,
or concentrate, or indecisiveness; recurrent thoughts of death
not just fear of dying; or suicide attempt
or a specific plan for committing suicide. There’s also the presence or history of at least one manic episode. Mania is a distinct period of abnormally
and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, and abnormally and persistently
increased activity or energy lasting at least four consecutive days, and present most of the day,
nearly every day. It can be described
as inflated self-esteem, or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual,
or pressure to keep talking. There can be flights of ideas,
or subjective experience that thoughts are racing. There’s distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity or psycho-motor agitation. There’s excessive involvement
in pleasurable activities that have a high potential
for painful consequences.” The DSM provides
a common language among professionals who treat patients with mental illnesses. By clearly defining
the criteria for a mental disorder, the DSM ensures that the diagnosis is both accurate and consistent. OK, enough of this bullshit. (Laughter) I’m going to be real with you. It’s pretty obvious
that I’m the crazy one here. My name is Laura,
and I am living with bipolar. So, I want to offer you today
a bit of my story. I want to go beyond
the traditional definitions and give you a bit more
of the lived experience. I must admit, sometimes,
it can be frustrating to explain bipolar
to those who are not experienced in the same mental skillfulness as I have. But I’m going to try. So… I also want to talk about language. It’s interesting
because before I was ever diagnosed, I had never read the DSM. I had no idea what criteria
I was falling under. All I knew was
that there were times where I was sad, and there were times where I was happy. And the times were
I was sad or in depression, it was kind of like this winter state. It was like things were darker or colder. And times of mania are more like summer. There’s high energy,
things are bright and fun. I was about 16,
when I first began to experience the inexplicable periods of sadness. There were no external reasons
for me to feel this way. My mind simply placed me there
in this depressed winter state. It wasn’t until later on
that I began to realize the manic summers,
which were interesting. And so, what I decided to do is I started to track my moods
on a calendar. Each day, depending on if I was feeling if I had
higher energy or lower energy, I would place an arrow on that day. I started to notice that there would be
persistent upward arrows indicating higher energy
for about two weeks. And then, there would be
a shift into downward arrows which would last for another two weeks. This was confusing for me. And it was unsettling for my mind, especially in the transition days, going from high to low. I felt out of control
in these cycles that I was tossed into. It’s scary, and I needed some relief. This is when I sought out a counselor
at [Langara] College. In weekly cognitive therapy sessions, I was able to work through
some of these ups and downs, and highs and lows,
and whatever was going on. And I learned some really helpful tools for how to find balance. As a scientist, I find it
very difficult to look at myself and not apply a formula. “If I do this, this, and this,
then I’ll be happy. “If I do this, this, and this, then I don’t have to be sad anymore.” But you know, I learned
that wellness is more like art. And you have to be able to see the gray, and there’s not always a right answer. I’m going to read to you
a bit from my journal, because after I saw
a counselor for a while, I also realized that medication
could be a helpful tool for me. And so, I went to see a psychiatrist. And it was kind of scary. You know, sitting there, wondering, “OK, am I going to come out with a Laura/ bipolar Laura/crazy person? I don’t know.” But it wasn’t totally that way. I started seeing
a psychiatrist, dah-dah-dah-dah. And then, I went for my second
psychiatric assessment at UBC. “A second opinion–
an hour bike ride, an hour wait, and over an hour talking about my moods and family history. It turns out that I am indeed
Bipolar Type II, rapid cycling. But whatever! I’m feeling much more comfortable with my mental things. Taking meds seems less scary
and more just something extra to do in my morning routine. I’m still quite private, though, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing about
my psychiatric appointments, my illness, or medication. It’s still new, and it can be
overwhelming at times. I’m working things through,
and I think it’s going to be OK. Well, I have some time to think
about it on my bike ride home. So, what’s it like to be manic? Well, it’s kind of like wearing
really gorgeous heels, like these. (Laughter) And you just walk around,
and you feel taller. There’s a confidence. There’s a direction to it. Just things are clear and easy. There are thoughts and ideas
that just come so naturally; ideas, ambitions, hopes. Anything is possible,
the world is limitless! But trouble comes
when these thoughts don’t stop, when it goes beyond control,
when you can’t will yourself to sleep because you can’t stop thinking of the creative project
that you want to do tomorrow, or the next trip that you want
to go on, or your new life plan. So, I have another journal entry
to share with you. All of my secrets. This one I titled “Zopiclone,” also known as “Little Blue Pills.” “My mental state: hypomanic. Bipolar season: summer. I didn’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. Too many thoughts, too many ideas, too much happening in my head. After three and a half hours
of willing myself to sleep, I made the healthy move, and I took one
of these little blue pills. A metallic taste lingers in my mouth. It feels disheartening
every time I have to take one, but I guess it’s OK. Even though I may have the tools, I sometimes lack the connection. In the end, I was glad for my humility. Sleep was good. I find that the struggle
is harnessing this energy for school purposes and holding off
on my social and creative ambitions. Then, there’s the other side of things. The depression side. Well, depression is more like slippers. Not the comfy, cozy
kind of slipper feeling. It’s more of the need
to feel safe and secure. That outside of these slippers,
it’s just not right. And it’s kind of awkward
walking around in slippers, giving a talk in front of 400 people, being depressed
amongst classmates, and family, and friends, and roommates. And with depression, there also comes
these kind of winter glasses, where things just seem darker. It’s out of focus. The lenses are distorted, and it’s difficult to see farther ahead. So, bipolar is kind of like wearing
the depressed slipper on one foot, and a hypomanic heel on the other. This is such a contrast. You know, on one foot
you’re walking around, just up on an adventure,
ready to go and see the world, and then you fall down, and just can barely get out of bed,
and just drag along. But, you know, I live like this. Somehow, each day, I live like this. It’s funny because when I first applied for the TerryTalk, I was definitely wearing the manic heel. (Laughter) And then, they accepted me,
and I was like, “Oh, crap!” (Laughter) And then, a week or so later,
I became depressed, and the thought of standing here
today in front of all of you, in my slippers, it was just impossible! So, how does this fit in relationships? As I said before, sometimes,
it can be frustrating to try to explain my moods to those who haven’t experienced this, who aren’t mentally skilled. And yet, I really do want to try. I really do want to start
talking about these things, because even in just
the title of this talk, you wouldn’t believe
how many conversations have been started
which never would’ve happened, and that’s a beautiful thing. Because when we start
talking about this stuff, it becomes OK. So, as I walk around campus – I’m a biology student in my fifth year – I’m just savoring
the last little bit that I got. I have classes over
in Buchanan, and in forestry, and all over campus. I see the slogan
that is everywhere which says that, “UBC is a place of mind.” It causes me to question,
“What kind of mind is this? Is it an open mind? Is it a healthy mind? Is this a place
where my mentally ill mind can be? I wonder, after this,
are you going to call me Laura? Or are you going to call me bipolar? Tell me; is this OK, or do I have to hide? Thank you. (Applause)