The Cost of Perfectionism

I spent two hours at work tonight writing one single tweet. 140 characters. One hundred and twenty minutes. This is not because I am inefficient or ridiculous. I’m actually kind of obsessed with productivity (more on my Evernote systems soon) and have figured out how to get shit done really efficiently when it comes to work and life. But I have an obsessive personality that insists on trying to perfect something even when that something can’t be done perfectly.

This blog, too often ignored, offers me some solace from that way of life because I don’t feel that I’ll be personally judged for my words. It’s horrifying to know that my issue, at its core, is really my fear not of failure, but of being looked down on by others. Instead of striving for greatness and risking failure, I settle for mediocrity.

How many of us settle like this? It’s what Seth Godin writes about in The Icarus Deception. We too often fly too low to the sea as opposed to too close to the sun. We struggle with creativity and making art because that means we’re putting ourselves on the line.

I know that I need to let go of these fears. To spell check the tweet and hit send and move on with my life.


The Manic Ship

People describe mania as happiness, but it’s an inept description, much like trying to characterize the black void of depression as “sadness.”

Mania is much like having too much life pulsing inside you. It’s so strong that it keeps you awake, makes you angry, pressures you to talk too much, peaks your desire for sex, for clothes, for alcohol. It is a ‘high’ that feesl like a drug. Except you haven’t gone  to a party and swallowed MDMA.

You are you, just a sped up, wound up, riled up version of yourself.

The manic-depressive stereotype is that we start to feel “great” and go off our medication to feel even better. But for me, and I am certain for others, this is not the case. (Hypo)mania is frightening. As good as I feel, I remember what it was like to be fully manic, and I do something to nip it in the bud, so to speak.

These past few days, I started to notice some of my key ‘mania-is-coming red flags’ in addition to the typical list of symptoms (not sleeping or eating enough, for example).

Here’s my short list, which I’ve talked about before:

Feeling Too Attractive.
When I look in the mirror and think to myself, ‘I look really good,’ I know there may be a problem on the horizon.
—Drafting Angry Emails
I under no circumstances send rude or angry emails at work. But I do dream them up and draft them. And then I notice that my anger may have much more to do with my state of mind than what’s going on around me. This isn’t always the case, but it often is.
Losing My Train of Thought Mid-Sentence
I find myself saying to someone, “wait a second, what was I talking about?”
—Contemplating the Purchase of a Very Expensive Something
This is a traditional symptom. But I’ve come to notice my specific tendencies. Usually I decide I need something like a new computer.
—Talking to Myself
I find myself imagining arguments and rehearsing responses aloud. Speeches I plan to make to my boss or a colleague about a problem I’m having at work, for example.

And so even though I want, sometimes, more than anything, to give into it—stay up all night, skip the medication, stop eating, make some bad decisions—I don’t. Instead, I make sure I get sleep and stay on my medication.

That said, during this hypomanic time, I have energy and ideas and enthusiasm about the world. It’s what got me started writing on this blog again. My problem is that once the high subsides, my lizard brain tells me what I’m doing is stupid. That people would make fun of me if they found out. That this would hurt my professional career. And on and on and on.

So, I’m saying it here loud and clear and if I fuck it up I fuck it up publicly. For at least the next 30 days I am commiting to posting once a day on this blog. I don’t care if it has to be one sentence. I’ve been inspired by Seth Godin’s idea of shipping instead of succumbing to the lizard:

Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship.

Trick the lizard if you must, but declare war on it regardless. Understand that the only thing between you and the success you seek in a chaotic world is a lizard that figures out that safe is risky and risky is safe. The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era.

The resistance is waiting. Fight it. Ship.

Seth Godin

So that’s what I’m going to do. The really hard, seemingly impossible part of this, will be achieving this goal when my mood dips down. Nevertheless, I think I can do this.

(As I type this I start to think, “god–this post started off talking about mania and now I’m talking about shipping. Jesus I need to revise but it’s already 10 o’clock and I have to turn the computer off and go to bed. My plan was to schedule the post for the morning to get to work on time, but maybe I should save it as a draft and review it in the morning and then hit publish.”)

And then I say to myself, SHIP!



Why Having Bipolar Disorder in This Culture Has Turned Me Into a Liar

Anywhere I’ve ever worked, I tell my coworkers I have migraines. Usually I’ll slip the detail into conversation if it comes up or I’ll write to my new boss about a month into a job and say “I have a terrible migraine have to stay home and lie down in a dark room.”

When I was a kid, my mother had chronic migraines so I know what they look like and have even gotten a few over the years. Not recently. But migraines are a good cover. The truth is, of course, that I have bipolar disorder. My moods are well-managed and I’m as capable if not more capable than anyone on the job. But once in a while something gets out of whack: I might lose too much sleep a few nights in a row and start to see myself slipping into mania. Or during the times when I am fighting off depression, I may need a last-minute appointment to adjust medication or talk through my mood. 

This morning I wrote an email to coworkers to say I had been up most of last night with a migraine . In truth, I was up much of last night, not because of a migraine, but because my mind started racing. And so I invented the acceptable sickness.

Really, I just needed the sleep.

Trying to Get Back on that Old School Ferris Wheel

I hate amusement park rides. My body doesn’t appreciate being whipped up, down, and around for the sake of an adrenaline rush. As a kid, when we took class trips to Great Adventure, I tagged along with the I-hate-roller-coasters crew and spent the day eating fried dough.

Why am I thinking about amusement parks?


a Rotor ride (image via Wikipedia)

Because these past few days, I’ve been riding an all-too- fast mood swing that resembles one of these Rotor rides that spins (willing!) participants around a million miles an hour.

It’s like this: before I can even settle into feeling depressed, I’m up. Then I’m down. And back around.

It’s exhausting!

Can you relate?

Rapid cycling is a diagnosis that exists, but what’s happening to me isn’t the full cycling from manic to depressed. It’s something different.

And then I have to laugh at myself and ask: Maybe this is just, well, life?

But the difficulty of swings like this when you’re bipolar is that once you get a taste of that hypomanic high, you want it to keep going for at least a few days. (I mean, jeez.) And when you’re feeling unusually low even for a few hours, the worry sets in that you’re plummeting into a depression.

What I want is to step onto ferris wheel of mood “swings”– to glide through the ups and downs of my life with a speed that allows me to look out into the distance and catch my breath.

The High Price of Hypomania

About a decade ago, when I was in my mid-20s, I was on a road trip with my boyfriend. We stopped for gas. I went to the ATM to get some cash. “Overdrawn,” it said when I tried to take out sixty dollars. Or maybe it said, “No more funds.” My point is that it said whatever ATMs say when you have no money.

I went back to the car and got in the front seat to wait until my boyfriend finished pumping gas. Once we got back on the highway, I told him the news.

“Someone stole my credit number,” I said, panicked.


“Yeah. I have no money.”

“Call your bank,” he said. “It happened to me last year.”

I got out my flip phone–remember when cell phones were all flip phones?–and I called the bank like my boyfriend said. A nice woman with a Southern accent picked up. I told her someone had hacked into my account.

“OK, ma’am–let me pull up your account.”

She verified I was overdrawn. And then she said, “Let me just read back your last few purchases here to see if you recognize anything.”

Then, she proceeded to list a bunch of stores: Nordstrom, JCrew, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victorias Secret. My stomach turned over. They were all places I’d been that week, at my local mall, buying up a storm because I was getting manic and all I wanted was new things.

I hung up the phone, embarrassed, and I told my boyfriend–who had a lot of credit card debt and student loans–the real problem. He said he would lend me cash for the week, the irony being that he had substantial student loans and credit card debt, and I had no financial burdens other than money problems of my own making.

It was a good lesson.

Over the years, I’ve been pretty good at tempering what I’d identified as the manic shopping spree. The high would hit me, and I’d want so many things I didn’t need: cashmere sweaters, shoes, kitchen appliances, expensive shampoo. I learned to recognize the spree as a symptom.

But I’m still learning: this past week, I have spent more money than I want to admit. I knew what was happening, but I told myself: I need this five hundred dollar necklace; I need this new leather wallet; I need this designer sweater dress; I need this hundred dollar Fitbit to track how much I’m sleeping and walking every day.

Yesterday, I told myself that I would stop shopping, stop taking cabs, stop buying expensive cheese, for at least a month. (And let me note here that I know how privileged I am to be able to buy these things in the first place. Some people can’t even afford to feed their kids or heat their apartment.)

Tonight, on my way home from the gym, I walked by the Loehmann’s going out of business sale. How could I not go in? It was a once in a lifetime discount.  I spent two hundred dollars that I don’t really have.

My credit card balances will not be paid in full this month. All I can do is my best to get my mood back in check so I stop the irresponsible shopping, no matter how fun it is.

(Image by Valeri-DBF via Flickr.)

The Blessings and Curses of Mania

I’ve been up since 4a.m. For some people, this would just be a night of less-than-ideal sleep. For me, it’s trouble.

Which is so hard to accept because I feel invigorated, energetic, smart….  how could those things be bad?

So many people talk about struggling with depression, but my struggle with mania–with poking a hole in and deflating the puffed up shiny balloon of a mood that is floating into the stratosphere — has been just as hard.

Below I’m going to try to go through what’s been happening the past couple days to try to gain some insights into mind and hopefully connect with anyone going through the same thing.

Here is what I wrote yet didn’t publish Tuesday night:

I should start by saying that this will not be my most polished blog post because I’ve taken my medication early tonight in hopes it will kick me back to normal. It’s already started to work; I feel so incredibly groggy I can hardly type. But I wanted to post, still, because I have some more insight into my mood this evening.

Definitely  getting manic-ish. One of the huge indicators that I am getting too high is, unfortunately, this blog.  When I get manic I lose my filter, become more self-centered, and I  like to talk about bipolar.

My mind is racing so much I can’t have  a clear thought. Going to go to bed and hope to wake up better.

Yesterday morning,  I did wake up “better:”

When feral thoughts dominate   my mind like wild cats herded into a tiny cage, there is nothing I can do–other than sleep– to quiet their impossible hissing.

This morning, after seven hours of shut eye induced by Seroquel and Lunesta, I did wake up feeling much more centered. I also felt fantastic, though I knew the feeling was a warning sign that I’m still too “high.”

And now, today:

One of the hardest things about living with bipolar is that the high that can kick in after a depression feels sacred. Like the most beautiful gift–an offering from the gods you’d be silly to cast off because, finally, after months of doom-and-gloom, you feel not just hopeful, but excited to be alive.

With this hope comes, for me, responsibility. It’s not just a “good mood” it is, possibly, the first stage of an episode.

What has helped me most over the years is really understanding my own personalized symptoms of hypomania. Here’s what happens to me :

1. I obsess over cleaning house and grooming myself
2. I lose my filter and tell people a little too much personal information; I also tend to talk about “my bipolar disorder.”
3. I look in the mirror and feel really attractive.
4. I become the center of some kind of tornado of work drama that seems to be caused by outside forces.
5. I talk too much, too fast, and I lose my train of thought. “I forgot what I was even saying….” I will tell someone. This never happens to me when I’m in my normal mood state.
6. I feel popular and loved even the reality is that, as I noted last week, I am unbearably lonely.

Because I can, after so many years of managing the illness, see these symptoms arise, I can also monitor them.

Today, I know I’m going to be running on fumes, inclined to talk about myself too much, long-winded, egotistical. But I will resist those urges as much as I can;  that’s how I’ve been able to keep a full time job and live like this.

Am I Getting Hypomanic or Is Everyone Stupid?

I knew there was a bit of a problem when I rearranged all of my furniture yesterday.  That’s the first sign that I’m on the upswing: gleeful home improvement.

Then, of course, I couldn’t sleep last night. Around 2a.m. I finally downed a Lunesta, but five hours sleep is not nearly enough for me. I need nine hours.

My day went OK. I knew I was going to be a little bit off so I was careful about what I said. 

Then, this evening, I found out someone at work had made a mistake earlier today. Incensed, I wrote an angry email. A few minutes later, I deleted it. Because I never send angry emails if I can help it. And because what I know to be true is that when I start to get a little manic, suddenly I have all sorts of reasons to be angry. Suddenly, everyone around me is stupid.

And this is when I remind myself, no: everyone around you is not stupid.

You’re riled up.

Time to get a good night’s sleep and hopefully wake up more level-headed in the morning.