Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

You Don’t Drink?

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm”- Abraham Lincoln

A few days ago, we had our work holiday party at The Keg. It was at night, so of course, alcoholic beverages were being consumed en masse (because wine and cocktails are that much better when you don’t have to pay for them). There is that awkward moment when the waiter/waitress comes around and asks if you would like some wine, or a cocktail, or to see the drink menu and you politely decline and get offered a soft drink and people look at you and say, “What? You don’t drink?”

Yes. I am not a lover of alcohol. Especially around people I don’t know well, and who do not know about my anxiety and bipolar diagnosis. What would they do if suddenly I became anxious? I do not believe in mixing my medications with alcohol. As well, wine and I don’t get along; it makes my face red almost immediately, which makes me feel anxious and hot, and you can imagine the vicious cycle that starts. As it turns out, one of the other staff members who happened to be sitting beside me does not drink either, for her own reasons, so I was not alone. She seemed to be happy that she was in good company, as the girls across the table from us kept pestering her to get “a drink” and then told her that she could at least get a mocktail. She was happy to order a soft drink, like me.

What do I have against alcohol? To be clear, I am not saying I don’t have a tiny bit of wine in any given year, but I very rarely consume alcohol, and if I do, it’s before I take my pills for the night.

My issues with alcohol:

  1. I dated an alcoholic. At the beginning, I didn’t realize how bad the problem was, and neither did he. Once I started having anxiety and later realized he made me anxious when he drank and embarrassed me, I had some clarity. Once he was so drunk he did not understand that “no means no” when it came to intimacy and as a result, I was actually frightened of him. To be open about a dark chapter that I don’t like to talk about, I have unfortunately been the victim of incidents like this more than once, and he, being a boyfriend at the time, made my thoughts and fears about sex, trusting men and my own vulnerability worse.
  2. While dating said alcoholic, he and his friends had a lot of house parties when their parents went away, which meant a lot of drinking. I learned the hard way that it is a terrible idea to consume alcohol while you are on Zoloft. The first one of these parties I went to after starting Zoloft, I found out that drinking while on antidepressants can make you feel like sh**. I ended up feeling so depressed and was bawling my eyes out in a room away from everyone else. Thankfully, my best friend was there and consoled me.
  3. There was a period of time when I was off medication as I was doing well, and of course, drinking seemed like an excellent idea and it was university, and that’s the time to enjoy yourself. Plus, some of these parties were literally within walking distance of my house, so why not? One night, I got so drunk that I ended up with a 3 day hangover. I know that may sound ridiculous, but I was so nauseous and headachy, I became very anxious and could not get out of bed and refused to go to school for 2 days. I feel terrible for all the times my friend had to make sure I got home okay.
  4. Me + alcohol = obnoxious drunk. Drinking can make people seem more fun, carefree, easygoing. Maybe a little bit can make me “loosen up”, or be “less stiff”, or “relax” as my mom would say, in relation to me being so serious sometimes. However, I don’t think she ever knew the extent to which I drank at parties, and how inappropriate I was when I drank. I am sure I embarrassed myself in hindsight, but other drunk people probably don’t remember…right? What do I mean by obnoxious drunk? You know when you are talking and you think no one hears you, so you just talk louder and louder (“Hey! No one is listening!”), or you just have no filter and say things you should NEVER say out loud and then embarrass other people, i.e. your best friend that is going to console you later when you are anxious and hungover. To make matters worse, I would become excessively flirtatious. Around this time in my life, I had lost a lot of weight (because evil Zoloft was out of the picture and Weight Watchers actually worked for me at the time), I was very confident with how my body looked and I didn’t understand that I was hypomanic. I just knew I felt good, life was good, and I enjoyed flirting and seeing if I could make so and so like me. I was seeking attention, for lack of a better way of putting it.

So there you have it, drinking turns me into a hyper mess and can trigger anxiety. I know now that I do not need alcohol to be fun. I may not be the most spontaneous person, and I may not enjoy clubs or drinking parties anymore, but at least I am being true to myself and I am being myself.

In my last blog I talked about how running into a former friend dredged up some unwanted feelings and memories and triggered anxiety, because I realized, in being friends with her, I was not being true to myself. One of the most important qualities in a person to me, is the ability to be yourself.

Sidebar -I have to give credit to my husband and say that one of the reasons why I respect and love him (besides his ability to make my laugh) is that he has never been afraid being himself and won’t change for anyone. That and he has put up with the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to my moods and behaviours and he still loves and respects me because he will always see beyond my diagnosis- so thank you Daniel, for being you.

I may not feel confident about my body, or the way I look, but I am confident that I am acting like myself and being myself. Yes, I have to “act” while I am at work in the sense that I need to stay level during the workday and I do not think it would be beneficial for the office to know about my diagnosis. However, I never put myself in situations where I have to be phoney, i.e. sitting in the lunchroom and feeling compelled to participate in a conversation that I know is not for me.

In terms of my social life, I only go where I am comfortable, and I am very aware of what I can and can’t handle. I hope that my friends understand when I can’t make it to their events because I am having an off day, or because someone who will be there or the location is a trigger. I know by going to an event like that, I will have to be phoney, or pretend, and it’s just not worth my energy. This may not be the approach for everyone, but one perk is that it’s a good way to find out who your real friends are. Oh – one more sidebar – always remember to thank the people in your life who have been there for you, the “no matter what” people that you consider to be family (you know who you are).

There is a line from the book, The Help, that my mom and I always used to tell each other that I think of as very comforting:

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

I am going to pat myself on the back now and say I am proud of myself for how far I have come (because you have to be kind to yourself), for realizing who I really am and for recognizing my strengths and limitations, admitting to being wrong at times, admitting I needed help when I didn’t want to, and for being able to recognize my mood swings now and say, “Yes I is.”

You are enough

Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Viewing Anxiety As A Messenger

Have you ever noticed that you seem to get anxious around the anniversaries of certain traumatic events or “bad things”? How do our minds just “know” it’s that time of year again?

There are certain times of year where I experience bouts of anxiety that I find are harder to control and just exhaust me. There were a couple traumatic events that happened in the fall of 2013, my grandfather’s unexpected death in January 2014 (1 week after I started my new job) and of course, every summer, I remember the anniversary of my bipolar diagnosis.

Lately I have been feeling anxious again, and I know I have a great “toolbox” of strategies to calm myself down, but I am just in such a way where those weren’t working. I have had to make sure I only go to “safe” places and am in situations I can handle. So when my boss asked me to come to a mediation with him on Tuesday, I thought, “Sure, why not – I have been to mediations before and I’ve been to this venue. I can handle this.” Well, I was wrong. By the afternoon I started to feel scared and anxious, I was sick to my stomach, nervous, had a tight chest, and trouble breathing. All I could think was “I have no way of getting out of this situation….I can’t take an Ativan because I have to drive myself home later and it might affect my driving…I need to get out of here!!!”

Luckily, I had my computer with me and tried to distract myself that way. I texted my husband and my friend, but I just couldn’t calm down. Time was dragging…but once I found out we were going back to the office I calmed down a little bit and I managed to get through the last hour of work and got myself home (nausea and all).

I was a little bit puzzled by what triggered my anxiety. I was talking to my mom about how I was feeling and I mentioned that I ran into a lawyer who was someone I used to be friends with many years ago. I haven’t been friends with this person in 12 years. I realized that I started feeling sick after I had this interaction. This former friend was really cold during our interaction. I said, “Hi, how are you?” and her response was, “What are YOU doing HERE?” in a really rude tone – as in, why would a law clerk be in that place? Not a nice feeling. I guess seeing her reminded my subconscious of some unpleasant things.

This person was and is a very superficial, shallow person. She probably isn’t someone I could have told about my diagnosis because she wouldn’t care as she is self-absorbed. When I was friends with her, I thought I was “cool” because I had this impression that she was this “popular”, pretty girl who guys liked. As we went through high school, I loved going to parties with her and being introduced to potential boyfriends. I loved learning how to be a flirt, and that’s what I became. I wanted to be fun, easy going, “hot”, “sexy”…you get it. I got there, but at what price? The price of not being myself.

The first year of university was my final year of being friends with this person. We actually had a falling out at my birthday party that year. This was a couple of months after I had experienced my first panic attack and I had been on Zoloft for a couple of months. I was getting used to learning how to control my anxiety. It probably didn’t help that I was in a relationship with someone who was an alcoholic and I was in denial about it. I wasn’t myself when I was friends with this person and I wasn’t true to myself or kind to myself when I was in that relationship either. Clearly running into this ex-friend triggered some unwanted feelings and reminders of things past, but I had to remind myself, “Look how far you’ve come”. I may not have become a lawyer, but I am still valued in my law firm.

do not underestimate

You may be wondering about the title of this blog post. I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and came across an article, “How To Stop Viewing Your Anxiety As An Enemy“, which was so fitting given the way I have been feeling.

“We don’t have a choice about the feelings that arise in us. But we do have a choice in how we respond to them, or what stories we tell about them…”

The article talks about different ways to think about and react to anxiety, and one suggestion is to view your anxiety as a messenger:

…anxiety “is a messenger trying to deliver you a message about what’s important to you.” It’s trying to communicate your needs so you can meet them…your anxiety might be telling you to focus more on self-care; that you’re scared and need some support; or you like the feeling of fitting in.

“Once we get the message, we are in a better position to take action on behalf of what’s important to us.”

I always believed that my anxiety was “trying to tell me something” and that I should listen to my “gut”. If the thought of a certain situation or event didn’t feel right and I started feeling anxious about it, then it meant I knew I couldn’t handle it. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe it’s feeding into my anxiety and coddling myself, but maybe it’s not. It could just be what works for me.  So what if I miss a party or gathering here or there? Is my life going to change because of it? Nope. And luckily, I don’t have FOMO (fear of missing out).

life isn't about making other people happy