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Looking for help writing a character w/ bipolar/depression


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#1 Yvette

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 09:35 AM

The mc of my new work will be one who suffers from bipolar and/or depression. Lots of things happen in her life - she has a negative relationship with her sister, she loses both her parents AND a marriage in the same year, etc. She suffers acutely, physically as well as emotionally, and I don't want her on meds since her suffering will be a large part of the story. I usually write historicals, but this story is contemporary with a historical subplot. 

 

What I'd like to know is, how, specifically, will she suffer? What sort of physical pain would she experience? For how long? Is she bedridden for days? How would she deal with all the stuff that happens in her life? How likely would it be that she has suicidal thoughts?

 

I know this is sensitive, and I really appreciate anyone's time providing insight. My story will probably be in first-person PoV so it's important I get it right.

 

Thanks very much.


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#2 LucidDreamer

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 10:40 AM

Well, bipolar and depression are two very different things, so you might want to decide which you're going for. I would say use chronic depression because bipolar disorder is a very specific thing that would be difficult to write about in first person unless you have experienced it or have seen it up close and personal (as a family member, spouse, medical provider, etc.)  Just my opinion, of course.



#3 Jeanne

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 10:56 AM

Bi-polar is a pretty rough roller coaster ride, especially if the person doesn't take meds. I have a relative who is bi-polar, and when she skips her meds, her life gets pretty crazy. During her manic phases, she makes bad decisions (usually financial), over-commits to projects and activities, sleeps little, etc. During her depressive periods, she sleeps a lot, gets angry with people who try to help her, and withdraws. For years, she self-medicated with alcohol, but she joined AA after a couple of serious auto accidents and no longer drinks. Whether or not that is typical is hard for me to say because it's only one person. Others may tell you about different behaviors.

 

You might find a couple of books by William Styron helpful. His novel, Sophie's Choice, has a character who is bi-polar. In fact, the character is central to the story arc. Styron also suffered from severe depression and was unable to write for almost 12 years. He wrote a memoir about his struggles with depression called Darkness Visible.

 

Hope that helps a little.

 

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#4 Charlee Vale

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 11:49 AM

Depression is a very subjective and personal thing, and the way it manifests itself are very unique to each person. 

 

Vicky is right, Bi-polarism and depression while in the same mental illness category, are not the same mental illness. I don't have experience first hand with bi-polarism, but I do with Clinical Depression.

 

First off, to address one of your questions, people who have depression don't suffer literal physical pain. It's a mental pain. In my experience, it's a severe muting of everything that's around you, so much that you don't actually feel anything. This is why so many people with depression self-harm. It hurts, but at least they can feel it. At least they can feel SOMETHING.

 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact feeling of depression, since often (as in my personal case) I didn't realize how deeply I had been depressed until I came out of it. (because America is so judgmental about mental illness, we don't teach the warning signs of depression and many people don't know to, or don't dare to seek help) But one word that comes to mind is detachment. 

 

My first year of college, I had a very deep clinical depression. I would get up in the morning, go to my classes. I would eat lunch, go back to my room and sleep till dinner. I would wake up, eat dinner, go work in the theatre and do my homework, and go to bed. Rinse. Repeat. 

 

I avoided people at all costs without knowing why. All I wanted to do was sleep. Or be alone. There are times I think back on that period of time and I literally cannot remember it. I do remember though, when the depression finally lifted, it felt like I could breathe again--though I hadn't even noticed that I'd stopped breathing. 

 

I hope this helps. Let me know if you need something else. I don't mind talking about it. 

 

Also, depression and bi-polarism are also genetic disorders. You don't have to get it that way, but that is a high percentage. 

 

CV


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#5 Jemi

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 05:07 PM

I have some experience teaching kids who've been diagnosed with bi-polar (unusual to be diagnosed under 14, but I've taught a few boys in this situation) and depression (both genders). I don't know these conditions from the inside, but if my thoughts as a teacher could help you out, send me a DM



#6 Yvette

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 09:48 PM

Thank you, everyone. Really appreciate your time and thoughts.  :smile:


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Posted 28 October 2013 - 10:19 PM

There is a hugely popular book called "Real" in which the love interest is bi-polar, but the author writes it as a type of jekyll/hyde disorder where even his eyes change colour.

Some of the reviews are interesting to read for the insights given into bi-polar and how it affects people.

http://www.amazon.co...k/dp/B00CRAMM02



#8 Aightball

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Posted 28 October 2013 - 10:27 PM

Depression is different for everyone. At my worst, I had tantrums, threw things, yelled at people, considered suicide, and cried a lot. A mild period might find me withdrawing into my own little world, not speaking to anyone unless forced, sleeping a lot, etc. I'm not on  meds now, but was for a time. The meds do help. Counseling helped me more than anything. These days, while I have my moments when stress gets high or I just need some alone time, I'm under control without meds. That's not to say things are perfect; far from it. My friend talked me out of committing suicide less than a year ago. But the old saying "it gets better" is true, at least for me. Things are tough now because I'm so busy and finding "me" time is tough, but I'm learning how to make time for me. So, how your character suffers will vary. I never had the physical pain, I had emotional pain. I had mood swings from hell, outbursts, things like that. So, it's very personal.


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#9 LucidDreamer

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Posted 29 October 2013 - 07:52 AM

I have lived with chronic depression all my life. (Didn't know it until I was older, of course -- parents didn't believe in psychotherapy or any kind of psychological therapy, especially for a child). Mine is definitely genetic, clearly inherited (but try telling THEM that).  Anyway, I'm like Aightball, in that I've had very bad periods where I needed medication and therapy, but now I can manage without. ( Still fight it -- but I have learned to recognize the signs that I'm falling into it again and nip it in the bud before it gets too bad.)

 

I always knew that something was wrong, even at the worst times, but was helpless to do anything about it on my own (in the past).

 

I was a secretive depressive, though. Most people did not know. I was very good at masking it. The main thing, as others have mentioned, was that I withdrew into myself and stopped doing certain things I enjoyed (hobbies, etc.) and stopped being very social. I always maintained my work in school or managed to get my work at my job done, though.. Cried a lot, but never in front of others (once I was out of 3rd grade -- but that's another story). Was very anxious and "wound too tight" but I compensated by being hyper-attentive (basically obsessive) in fulfilling my obligations at school or work. Watched a lot of TV (I knew I was at my worst when I caught myself watching QVC, LOL). Read to escape. Couldn't accomplish much creatively, though. I've found that I can't write or draw or do anything very creative when I'm really depressed.

 

So -- hope that gives some insight. Everyone's experience is different, but there are some similar patterns. PM me if you have specific questions.  :smile:



#10 J. Lea Lopez

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Posted 29 October 2013 - 10:00 AM

An author friend of mine wrote a book talking about his experiences and all of the ways he tried to self medicate, including some not so great decisions. It might give you some insight since it's his firsthand account and not a medical text. His style is raw and gritty with some dark and off the wall humor. http://amzn.com/B004HO5ZXW

#11 Corin.Hamelton

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Posted 01 November 2013 - 03:03 AM

Just to add to the topic from my training and experience with behavioral disorders.... I usually only see people afflicted with bipolar disorder at their worst.  Often they are suicidal and have been drinking.  Alcohol is a common problem with bipolar and you need to understand the basic feeling of it: without meds, it's a rollercoaster of manic and depressive periods.  Manic is great, they're up and have high energy levels, but Depressive is irrational anger and sadness that often drives their need to drink and withdraw from everyone.  Bipolar persons are often highly intelligent. 

 

The problem with medications is that it flatlines their emotions and everything is just shades of grey.  Most bipolar people really dislike feeling this way and tend to convince themselves that they don't need their meds to function, or think that they can drink to regain some of those emotions.  This leads to medication non-compliance and more profound manic-depressive expression.

 

If you want to write about it, try to experience it from this point of view... being medicated all the time and feeling like you live in a boring little box... I am not sure how you would create that experience but figure something out.  Then go out and do something like a rollercoaster or something else extreme.  Then go back to the "grey".  This will help you to see the addiction of a manic period and emotions in general. 

 

It's sort of like being addicted to drugs.  If you have something missing in your life, no meaning or connections, some people will fill that up with escaping into drugs and/or alcohol... getting them out of that situation can't be accomplished with just cessation and meetings... they have to find something positive in their life to replace the habit.  But I'm sidetracking here...

 

And yes, suicidal ideation is very common with bipolar disorders.


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#12 Eli Ashpence

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Posted 01 November 2013 - 04:16 PM

The mc of my new work will be one who suffers from bipolar and/or depression. Lots of things happen in her life - she has a negative relationship with her sister, she loses both her parents AND a marriage in the same year, etc. She suffers acutely, physically as well as emotionally, and I don't want her on meds since her suffering will be a large part of the story. I usually write historicals, but this story is contemporary with a historical subplot. 

 

What I'd like to know is, how, specifically, will she suffer? What sort of physical pain would she experience? For how long? Is she bedridden for days? How would she deal with all the stuff that happens in her life? How likely would it be that she has suicidal thoughts?

 

I know this is sensitive, and I really appreciate anyone's time providing insight. My story will probably be in first-person PoV so it's important I get it right.

 

Thanks very much.

 

I suffer from Depression (unmedicated), though it's not strong enough to be unmanageable.  I've also encountered people with extreme cases of both. 

 

Depression usually causes all the symptoms of fatigue, since it does wear down the nerves.  Physically, the worst I've ever felt from it is a dull ache in my bones and a heaviness, and a very strong lack of appetite.   There's also difficulty facing sunlight if you've let yourself turn into a hermit.

 

If she's bedridden for days, then that's a pretty extreme case.  The most I've ever experienced is a few hours where I usually fall asleep, then wake up with more energy. 

 

Depression makes you disinclined to go outside and dislike of interaction, which only makes it worse.  There's irrational anger if someone intrudes on you depression, and a bit of shame since you know it's not their fault, but you can't stop yourself from feeling put upon.  Although, during peaks, anyone willing to listen while I pour my heart out (typically over imagined wrongs) is treated as an angel. 

 

As for dealing with stuff, it's important to have a strong self-image, so you recognize when you're going too far off the deep end.  Unfortunately, over time, exerting too much control can makes you very closed-off in trying to keep your personal issues from affecting others or even being noticed by other (don't want those imagined wrongs make you seem like a whiney twit).  Sunlight helps a lot, as does a 'happy place' to retreat, such as books with happy endings or books that make me feel like life isn't all that bad.  Anything in the middle of those extremes is a no-no, though.   

 

When it comes to feeling suicidal, it doesn't matter how bad it gets as long as there's an anchor in life.  For me, that's my family.  No matter how depressed I get, I know I can't off myself because they need me.  I know other people who rely on religion (fear of going to hell).  There's also the shock that comes from nearly succeeding.  When that happens, there's the realization that you still have some fight left and, because you've nearly died, you lose fear dealing with the things that kept you depressed. ("What's the worst that could happen?")  Think of it as a morbid pick-me-up.

 

I can't really say much about the internal workings of a bi-polar person's mind.  However, I know I attract bi-polar people, since I'm forgiving enough to ignore how they're hurtful when they're having a bad swing.  I know in one particular case combined with ADHD, she had such a bad mood swing that we went from physically fighting to, an hour or so later, her telling me how sorry she was for always treating me like crap.  She apologized for nearly every hurtful thing she ever said, and she was in tears because she didn't know why she acted like that.  Two hours later, she went back to her 'normal' mode like nothing had happened.

 

In both cases, the only 'suffering' is emotional, or comes from the consequences of actions taken while influenced, or is so internal that other people consider it to be a form of shirking (in old days). 

 

...unless someone starts cutting themselves.  Then that's a whole 'nother issue.

 

Hope that's helpful! 


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#13 Corin.Hamelton

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Posted 01 November 2013 - 09:43 PM

oh!  Be aware that with suicidal ideation for persons that are seriously unhappy and planning to take their lives, there are warning signs.  The most common is the "I thought he/she was getting better -- she seemed so happy the last few weeks"... yep, that's because they had finally accepted their decision to commit suicide and it gave them a feeling of escape.  This is a period where they actually feel disconnected from the pain that has weighed them down because it won't matter much longer.


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#14 Yvette

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Posted 01 November 2013 - 11:28 PM

Very grateful for all of you taking the time to share. Thank you! 


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#15 Eli Ashpence

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Posted 01 November 2013 - 11:45 PM

oh!  Be aware that with suicidal ideation for persons that are seriously unhappy and planning to take their lives, there are warning signs.  The most common is the "I thought he/she was getting better -- she seemed so happy the last few weeks"... yep, that's because they had finally accepted their decision to commit suicide and it gave them a feeling of escape.  This is a period where they actually feel disconnected from the pain that has weighed them down because it won't matter much longer.

 

This isn't always true.  Sometimes it's a very sudden decision with immediate consequences.  If a depressed person has already become a hermit and cut off all meaningful ties, they have no reason to put it off once they make up their mind to do it.  In that case, sometimes the only warning sign is an attempt to reach out to people (a subconscious search to find someone capable of changing their mind).  I remember during one of my really, really, really bad peaks (I call them 'peaks' because it seems to build into a climax, then calm, then repeat), I ended up calling a friend that I hadn't spoken to in almost a year. 

 

That might be a helpful detail, too.  Because my depression makes me... guarded... and extremely introverted, the only lasting friends I have are those that STAY friends no matter what.  They're the type of people that don't require daily updates and know I will likely never visit them... but they'll find themselves treated like family when they ever show up at my door (and they don't take offense when my mood is off-kilter).  I simply can't keep high-maintenance friends, and those that stick around for the long-term seem to all be sensitive people capable of seeing right through any mask.  They're people that understand hurt. 

 

I hope that makes sense.

 

P.S. I haven't had a bad bout of Depression in years.  The kiddo and hubby keeps me far too busy to think about how I'm feeling most of the time.  Writing has improved me in more ways than I can count, too.  Everything I'm saying is from the past, though the memories are quite vivid.


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#16 Bri104

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 12:26 AM

Everyone else seems to have already said everything I can say, and in much better words. There are a few things I can add, though.

 

Bedridden for days would be very, very bad depression. I know someone who's like this, because she stopped taking her medications, and she can't function like a normal person anymore. She's completely irrational and can no longer take care of her five children. It started after she miscarried her third pregnancy, and it progressively got worse and worse.

 

About the pain: There CAN be physical pain, and I say CAN. For me it's more of a weird side effect than anything else, and it's not how you're imagining it. It would really be all in her head. Sometimes, for example, my shoulder hurts, even though the old injury is healed. It took so long to heal, and the pain was a part of my life for so long, I just got used to it. Addicted to it, maybe you could say. Now it will start hurting just because I'm thinking about it, and I have to force myself to stop. It's part of the cycle of depressive thoughts, and it's more along the lines of what Charlee said -- it's an attempt to FEEL something, focusing on anything that's real (or seems like it is). It's a distraction from the emptiness of depression. Depression isn't an emotion, it's lack thereof.

 

Still, my depression isn't anywhere near unmanageable. It's chronic, but it's mild, and when I feel myself slipping I've learned to keep busy and stay away from negative thoughts to stave it off. It sounds like you want your MC to have much more serious depression, more like the woman I mentioned above.

 

Hope this helps!



#17 allismith

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Posted 19 December 2013 - 04:45 PM

If you want to do some research and have fun at the same time, I suggest watching Homeland on Showtime.  The main character, Carrie, is bipolar and has a breakdown at the end of season one.  It shows the progression of her breakdown and tells the drugs she's supposed to be taking but decided they "fog her brain."  Claire Danes is AMAZING in the role, plus you'll get hooked on the amazing show permanently.



#18 Blanche

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Posted 24 June 2014 - 04:39 PM

The best book on the subject of bipolar disorder you could possibly read, IMHO, is An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison.  I think it should be required reading for everyone in mental health clinical training.  I'm a clinician, myself, and apart from my experiences with patients, hers was the most informative thing I've found.  She is a psychologist herself, who suffers from BiPolar disorder, but has managed very well on medication for many years.  The book is her memoir. She's also written "Night Falls Fast--understanding suicide" which was another excellent book.

 

I can tell you that BiPolar disorder has a strong genetic component (tends to run in families), rates of suicide are very high, and the impulsivity that comes with the manic phase has something to do with that.  At its worst, BiPolar disorder can also be accompanied by hallucinations, extreme sleeplessness is a hallmark of the manic phase, impulsive and risky behaviors (such as over-spending, sexual impulsivity), substance abuse are common.  The manic phase can also sometimes look like agitation and anger.

Bipolar disorder is not one discrete illness, though. There are distinctions to be made between BiPolar I, BiPolar II, cyclothymia.  You can find the distinctions in the DSM (diagnostic and statistiical manual of mental disorders), though the manual doesn't touch on the human impact as Jamison's book does.

It is treatable, however.  The search for the right, most effective medication and dosage can take time, however.  Lithium based pharmaceuticals can be highly effective.






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