Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Is It Possible To Feel Proud Of Yourself Even On An Off Day?

I’m the type of person that  makes lists, intending to follow them and complete the tasks on said lists. Of course, if the list is written in messy handwriting, or I have made changes to it, I have to rewrite it! I like to complete a certain amount of work every day or else I feel guilty. That sense of accomplishment after completing the things you want to accomplish gives you the opportunity to feel proud of yourself. It gives you a sense of satisfaction, just like getting a promotion or a good grade can make you feel accomplished and proud. Why? Is it how you personally feel, or is it that these accomplishments make others proud of you too?

The definition of the word ‘proud’, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is:

very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to, etc. : feeling pride

or

causing someone to feel very happy and pleased : causing a feeling of pride

What makes you feel proud? Does it always have to correlate to a significant event, milestone, large project, etc.? In my opinion, no.

It is said that in order to love another, you must love yourself first. This includes being kind to yourself. How can you be kind to yourself? Here are a few ways:

  • Do things for yourself (find an activity you enjoy!)
  • Don’t put yourself down (especially in front of other people)
  • Take space/make time for yourself, away from other people
  • Relax and try to clear your mind (disconnect from social media, your phone, your devices)
  • Be proud of everything you accomplish

I found this article on Yahoo! Health, “17 ‘Little’ Victories That Aren’t So Little When You Have Anxiety”, essentially a compilation of responses from readers, in answer to the following question:

“As I’m sure all of you already know first-hand it can be overwhelming even to do the ‘little’ or ‘normal’ things in life for those with anxiety issues. It’s about time every one of us bragged about our triumphs big and small in our day to day life. I want you to tell me about your victories – large and small.”

As someone with bipolar disorder and who experiences anxiety, there are so many times when I can’t do much because symptoms prevent me from doing what I need to/want to do. I am hard on myself and criticize myself, longing for the times that I can be productive and energetic. After reading this article, and seeing a post on Facebook in one of the groups I follow, which asked something along the lines of “What have you done today to make you proud?” I realized that I can recognize small accomplishments and be proud of myself for going places/completing things when I am having an off day (like emptying out the dishwasher, getting out of bed, putting on makeup).

Today was a perfect example of a day that I thought would be a bad, unproductive day. I couldn’t sleep last night and had also forgotten to take some of my pills. I was lying in bed, trying to sleep and felt a wave of emotions rush through me and began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day. We went out for brunch for Father’s Day. I felt warm, had a tight chest, and was nauseous. I felt like I couldn’t swallow or breathe. I didn’t want to have to leave because of the anxiety so I tried to fight it off, tried to talk to myself and took Ativan. About 20 minutes later I felt slightly better. Once I got home, I realized I handled myself well and was proud of myself and felt calmer. Getting up today, going out for lunch and keeping to the plans for today, despite feeling anxious is something that required strength. To be able to sustain being out of the house (general anxiety) and being around people (social anxiety), was facing anxiety head on today.

It is the little things that count. With anxiety, you need to take it day by day or sometimes by minute, depending on how present your anxiety is. When you are kind to yourself, your mind appreciates it.

Take care of yourself and the rest will fall into place!

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Learning To Live With Your Diagnosis

Last month, we had Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada, and the month of May was Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. Hopefully awareness was raised and the efforts made to reduce stigma were well received. I’ve said it before in other blog posts; stigma is dangerous. Stigma prevents people from getting help and from being themselves.

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I found an interesting article, “Forget Mental Health, We Need to Talk About Mental Illness“, which talks about stigma, awareness months/weeks, and the difference between mental health and mental illness. The term mental health seems to be more palatable for people compared to the term mental illness. It seems that when you put the word “mental” in front of the word “illness”, people become uncomfortable. The author talks about how mental illnesses are treated differently from physical illnesses:

Obviously the mention of any illness, mental or physical, will induce various reactions from different people. It’s not fair to say that mental illness holds the monopoly on shock and awe, as well as denial. But from first-hand experience, sharing that I’ve had to take sick days due to increased anxiety resulting from my bipolar disorder — this is received far differently than when I’ve mentioned I had the stomach flu. Taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications has my listener looking for the closest neon red exit sign, whereas the mention of blood pressure medication is the opener for a discussion on the topic.

This is all too true. I have had to take sick days because of increased anxiety, especially at past jobs. I am happy at my current job, and it is a positive environment where I am comfortable. Not to the point where I would advertise my diagnosis though. I am sure certain people there would be unsure what to do with that information, others might be accepting, and others might have the reaction of “oh, but you seem so normal and functional!”  It is much easier to talk about a physical illness or physical injury. Nevertheless,  I am good at my job, I am generally productive and get my work done so no one suspects anything. It’s not always easy to go to work, stay calm, and concentrate on the task at hand. It’s hurtful to hear people at work refer to their clients as “crazy” or “psycho” or use mental illnesses as adjectives. The only person at work who knows about my diagnosis is my boss. I had planned a few days off before the wedding, and the day before what was supposed to be my last day prior to the wedding, I woke up, in a panic, nauseous, fast heartbeat and knew I was unable to go to work. I called my boss and explained to him the situation and his response was “Don’t worry about it. I understand. If you weren’t feeling well because of something physical it would be the same thing. If I had a bad back and it was acting up, I wouldn’t go to work that day.” How often can you say that your boss actually knows that a mental illness should be treated like a physical illness? If only more people were like him.

Getting back to why I hate stigma, for me, not being able to be my real self is not a good feeling. I am sure many of you can agree with that. I don’t like having to hide a part of me. I was talking to my friend the other day, who had concerns about a family member. The family member’s behaviour reminded me of some of my behaviours I would like to forget, and parts of my hypomanic episodes I would like to forget. I was explaining to her that I understood his behaviour, and his attitude all too well. I said that for him, acknowledging there is a problem and that he needs help makes what is happening to him more real. If he seeks help and receives a diagnosis of whatever the condition may be, there is no going back. Once you get that diagnosis, as much as you don’t want to think that way, your life changes. You fear people will “find out about you”, and look at you differently. You wonder, “Who do I tell? Who can I trust?

That conversation brought back memories of the events leading up to my own diagnosis. I knew something wasn’t right when I had periods of highs and my spending was out of control, when I couldn’t sleep, when my eating was off, etc. Or when I couldn’t stop eating or talking or would start having an existential crisis in the middle of the night and make no sense. I didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening to me. I must have been really good at hiding the evidence of the shopping sprees and good at masking how I was feeling because it was a long time before it became clear to me that I was “high” and in a hypomanic state and before my family, friends and (now) husband realized the same thing.

What I also started to remember about my hypomanic self was my aggression, irritability and stubbornness. If you didn’t agree with me, I would berate you and not stop talking until I was convinced that I had proven my point. I was very easily irritated and agitated. If you weren’t on my side, you were my enemy and I couldn’t trust you. You didn’t care about me if you weren’t on my side. And my ideas were always great and fantastic and you couldn’t tell me otherwise. I didn’t need to sleep – what for? Yes, I did need that purse, those shoes, that makeup, don’t tell me I have enough- I like variety!! You get the point. When I think about how rude I was to my parents, my husband, probably my best friends, I feel terrible. I have learned a lot about myself since being diagnosed with Bipolar II almost 5 years ago. I am stronger, more insightful, calmer, thoughtful, empathetic because of it. Not that I wasn’t/didn’t have these qualities before, but having/living with this mental illness brought out the best in me. I also found comfort in learning about all the celebrities, artists and writers who have been successful living with Bipolar II and learning about the connection between creativity and bipolar disorder. I appreciate my creativity more. I appreciate everyone in my life so much more because of all I have been through. I have eliminated a few people in my life who are toxic. I have learned who will never understand me. I know who I can be my real self around, and not be ashamed when I have to take my pill box out at dinner to take my first round of pills, or when I have to take it out to take my second round of pills later on. I know who my real friends are now. More importantly, I know who I am.

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