Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Reflections On World Bipolar Day

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Today, March 30, 2015, is the 2nd annual World Bipolar Day. (WBD) I read a really great article written by the co-founder of the International Bipolar Foundation, Muffy Walker, “Why a World Bipolar Day”. Walker writes:

Mental illnesses have historically been misunderstood, feared and therefore stigmatized. The stigma is due to a lack of education, mis-education, false information, ignorance, or a need to feel superior. Its effects are especially painful and damaging to one’s self-esteem. It leaves people with mental illnesses feeling like outcasts from society. Whether the perceived stigma is real or not, it is the subjective interpretation that affects the person’s feelings of belonging. Like most groups who are stigmatized against, there are many myths surrounding mental illness.

I couldn’t agree more. Almost 5 years ago, when my doctor was able to confirm my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II, I wondered what people’s reactions would be if I told them about my diagnosis. I wondered, will they look at me differently, will they treat me differently? Was I different? Was I “abnormal”? Would their perception of me change?

If someone judges me because of my illness, what does that say about them?

Be Honest

I love the Dr. Seuss quote, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind,” because it’s true. The people who matter won’t judge, and don’t mind if you have days where you “aren’t yourself”, are quiet, hyper, sad, whatever your symptoms are that day. IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY. Not every day is the same. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We just have to make the rest of the world understand that.

I think World Bipolar Day is a great idea. We need to educate the masses and combat stigma in every way possible. I hope that WBD succeeds in educating as many people as possible and in spreading awareness. Stigma is dangerous. Stigma, as it has for me at times, prevents me from being me, “my true self”, at work, in public, in crowds – around people who don’t know “the truth” about me. I don’t want that to be my reality anymore. Stigma is frustrating. Perhaps the more World Bipolar Days we have, like Bell Let’s Talk Day, the more celebrities and individuals will feel comfortable sharing their stories, inspiring hope and sharing positive messages about mental illness/Bipolar Disorder.

Let’s tell the world why it’s wrong to use mental illnesses as adjectives. The weather is not “bipolar” or “schizophrenic”. We need to treat mental illness like physical illness. See the person, not the illness. Let’s stop stigma together.

 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

I Can Help Myself (I Just Need Some Reminding)

I work best under pressure. My best essay writing in university always happened in the middle of the night, close to when the paper was due.

My mind has been racing as of late. I have been in this mostly hypomanic state for more than a month, full of nervous energy, skipping meals, forgetting a pill here and there, staying up really late and not sleeping enough. My ability to concentrate remains limited.

Of course, sitting down to write this post was a struggle. Last night my mom asked me, “Don’t you have a blog post due?”

And I said, “Yeah, but I can’t decide what to write about.”

So she said, “Why don’t you write about being indecisive?”

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That got me thinking. I have a whole list of topics or ideas I would like to write about. I had a conversation with my doctor a couple of weeks ago, and expressed my frustration about being hyper, unable to focus, and being stressed – you know, one of those conversations where you end up sobbing uncontrollably because someone is really listening to you and they care. She asked me if I was doing anything for myself. She ran through a list of things I could do that might help:

  • massage
  • mindfulness meditation CDs
  • yoga
  • exercising
  • take time off work
  • writing for pleasure
  • self-help books (e.g. Feeling Good/The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns)

I told her that I go for massages when I can (I have chronic neck and back pain from a car accident 11 years ago), I listen to relaxation tracks on my iPod so I can fall asleep, I am writing this blog every other week and that was about it. I went to the gym once. I have a yoga mat I am doing nothing with. She highly recommended purchasing Feeling Good by David Burns. Of course I did, and purchased David Burns’ other book, When Panic Attacks, as well from the Indigo website. The books arrived and what did I do with them? Added them to my collection of things to put away in my office.

I must have 50 self-help books. I can’t say I have actually read any of them, maybe flipped through some of them. I have books by Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Jon Kabat-Zinn…and now Dr. David Burns.  Am I actually going to read these books? Maybe….

Do self-help books actually help? Maybe they give us a feeling of being included, or a feeling that we can help ourselves, thinking, “I can do this on my own”. I think I just like some of the titles of the books and that’s why I buy them.

I was flipping through Feeling Good and the page I opened to was from the chapter, “Do Nothingism- How To Beat It”:

“Procrastinating and self-defeating behaviour can seem funny, frustrating, puzzling, infuriating, or pathetic, depending on your perspective. I find it a very human trait, so widespread that we all bump into it nearly every day.”

The chapter goes on to list types of mindsets that are associated with procrastination and do-nothingism:

  1. Hopelessness
  2. Helplessness
  3. Overwhelming Yourself
  4. Jumping to Conclusions
  5. Self-labeling
  6. Undervaluing the Rewards
  7. Perfectionism
  8. Fear of Failure
  9. Fear of Success
  10. Fear of Disapproval or Criticism
  11. Coercion or Resentment
  12. Low Frustration Tolerance
  13. Guilt and Self-Blame

I am sure many of us are familiar with these mindsets and perhaps some of them are harder to overcome than others. The ones I struggle the most with are #3, #4, #5, #7, #10, #12, #13….okay, fine, all of them!!! I blame myself for my perfectionism, I resent myself for doing nothing and procrastinating, I aim to please, and so on and so forth.

But can I help myself? Yes. I am capable. When I am in the right frame of mind. I just need to be reminded. Here are a couple examples where I have realized I have the tools to help myself, even though I don’t think I do.

I go to a dietitian at a Diabetes prevention clinic because it’s prevalent in my family and because I want to be healthy. I am not an active person but I want to look good and feel good. I am always hard on myself and critical when I go. The dietitian always says we should focus on what I am doing right. We take inventory of this and instead of creating many goals at once, we aim for one at a time, such as remembering to eat breakfast. She actually has a particular interest in working with patients who have Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses so she is very understanding when I come in and am agitated! Last time I said that I was convinced I had gained weight, but countered that maybe I shrunk my jeans in the dryer, and she smiled and responded that it does happen.

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After my car accident, which was about 5 months after I developed my Anxiety disorders in 2003, I struggled with both pain and Depression, panic attacks etc. One of my mom’s friends, who is like an aunt to me, is a master hypnotherapist and I decided to try hypnosis sometime in 2004. At first I was skeptical but I wanted to learn how to calm my mind and how to combat the anxiety in other ways. This was before I had been introduced to Rivotril (Clonazepam) and Ativan (Lorazepam). I attended hypnotherapy for many years, on and off, and find hypnosis tracks on my iPod helpful when I am anxious. What I learned from hypnosis were techniques to (hopefully) calm myself down quickly when I am anxious. At the time that I started, I was commuting to university by subway and this was difficult for me. I was taught visualization techniques and I still use them today. I can calm myself down by counting down from 25 to 1, picturing each number being written on a blackboard and being erased before the next one is written. Or by picturing myself walking down a set of stairs, counting down as I take each step.

One thing I know about anxiety, at least for me, is that if I distract my mind, I can calm down. I also used to call or text my fiance and ask him to tell me something funny, if he wasn’t with me at the time. Humour helps.

I believe we are all capable of more than we think we are. We just have to find the “will” within ourselves and find the desire to help ourselves. It has to come from you, and not from someone else’s urging.

 

 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Easily Distracted And Lacking Motivation

Why can’t I focus? What happened to my brain? I used to be able to focus. I was able to concentrate whether I was in a noisy environment or quiet – it didn’t matter. My brain was always working, always thinking- I was a superstar at work. I am/was an over-achiever. If I don’t get enough work completed in a day- I panic. I feel guilty; I worry about letting someone down or disappointing them. I NEVER want to be a disappointment.

I hate to admit this, but I crave approval. I need to know I’ve done a task well. I need to know my work is “good”, “great”, “excellent”. I constantly doubt my abilities.  I don’t remember when this doubt started, but I remember sometime after my diagnosis, I lost my self-confidence (all aspects of it- more about the self-esteem issue next time).

I realized that I play the self-blame game too often. I am a perfectionist, an overachiever and I want approval and validation. So, what happens when I can’t focus and everything distracts me? I get upset. Really upset. I can’t remember the last time I was able to be truly productive, focused, motivated and able to concentrate. I keep thinking it is my fault and that there is something wrong with me.

I haven’t been as productive as I want to be at work lately. I sit and stare at the work I need to complete and I end up reading the same sentence twice, three times, four times…If someone walks by my desk, or starts talking to me, there goes my focus. Somehow the day goes by really fast and when I haven’t “done enough work” for the day (by my standards), I leave work feeling, for lack of a better word, shitty.  Sometimes I stay late so I feel better and have less to do the next day, but that is not a long-term solution.

Where is this lack of motivation coming from, and just how bad is it?

  • Once I run the dishwasher, it takes me 2-3 days (sometimes more) to empty it
  • We moved into our condo last April and still have not hung up any artwork/I have not hung up my degrees in my office
  • It took me months to switch my summer shoes with my winter shoes/boots in the shoe closet (and it was close to winter by this point), same with our coats
  • My office is covered in random boxes, things are out of place, it is not organized how I want it to be and I can’t bring myself to fix it
  • When I do the laundry, it will take me a week to put it away

Bipolar Disorder II involves major depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, during a hypomanic episode, a person can experience symptoms including: distractibility, unusual talkativeness and racing thoughts. A major depressive episode can include symptoms such as fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day, decreased ability to think or concentrate nearly every day, and markedly reduced interest interest or feeling no pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day.

Fine. There is a bona fide explanation for these symptoms. I still don’t feel better. I want “my brain” back. I am tired, fatigued and as of late, have also been experiencing hypomania and cannot stop talking if you get me started!

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These may not seem like big ordeals, but to me they are because as mentioned, I am a perfectionist and I like everything in our home to look perfect and I feel as though if items are not in their proper place/put away it reflects my state of mind. Unfortunately, it is hard for those around me to understand why this is important to me and this has caused many fights (“Why can’t people come over? Why don’t you want people to see the condo? It’s my condo too!!”).

After reading the above paragraphs, I realize that I am being self-critical and am not being kind to myself. There is that saying, “You are your own worst critic,” which of course I am. If you don’t like yourself/are that critical of yourself, you will emit negative energy. My fiance keeps saying, “Positive energy Mel! Positive energy!”

You get what you give right?

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