Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

How Can You Help During A Panic Attack?

Dr. Oz recently had the well known General Hospital actor Maurice Benard on his show to talk about his experience living with bipolar disorder, and the subject of anxiety came up. Dr. Oz explained that Mr. Benard has difficulty with flying, and Mr. Benard actually filmed his time on the airplane so he could show the audience what he experiences when he flies.

I can relate, as I have difficulty flying. I can handle a short flight, but the thought of being on a plane for much more than an hour makes me anxious and then I start to feel claustrophobic and “trapped”, because I can’t get off.

The interview was heartfelt and relatable and I highly recommend watching it if you have a chance.

At the end of the episode, Dr. Oz shared his method for how to shut down a panic attack, “The Aware Method“, and provides a link for a wallet card print out, encouraging everyone to print it out and share it with family and friends. I know I am going to. What does AWARE mean?

A- Accept the Anxiety (fighting it or getting angry fuels the fire)

W- Wait (take a minute to regain your ability to concentrate and think)

A-Action (work on regulating your breathing again from your belly, or your diaphragm)

R-Repeat (repeat the steps as many times as it takes until the panic attack is stopped)

E-End (remind yourself that panic attacks end; it is a temporary state)

Different strategies work for different people, but I think the Dr. Oz method is worth trying. I know that breathing and trying to focus on breathing is important and I also think that if I keep reminding myself that the panic attack will end, then I won’t feel so helpless during one.

It’s hard to know what to say to someone during a panic attack or during a period of anxiety if you have never experienced anxiety. One website that is really comforting and helpful, both for people who live with mental illness and for people who want to understand what they go through, The Mighty, has really great articles that are great for this purpose. The article “21 Texts To Send People With Anxiety When They Need It The Most” provides examples of reminders that we are not alone and we can get through our tough moments:

  • Just wanted to let you know you’re not alone in this.
  • I believe in you. You can and will get through this.
  • You won’t feel this way forever. I promise.
  • You are and will always be enough.
  • Take your time to feel OK. The universe will wait for you.
  • You are stronger than anything you are afraid of.

From “26 Pieces of Advice That Have Actually Helped Helped People With Mental Illness“:

  • “Someone said, ‘I’ve been here, I know a way out, I’m here to show you too.’ And, ‘It gets better, it may not leave, but it gets better. And it has.” — Tom Everman
  • “The best advice: Treat yourself as if you were a good friend.” — Julie Jeatran
  • “Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small, instead of dwelling on all the things we perceive as failures.” — Jennifer Northrup
  • “Your worst days will only be 24 hours.“ — Arielle Smith
  • “Your struggles are your accomplishments in disguise.” — Katherine J Palmer
  • “Take life 5 minutes at a time.” — Stephanie Lynn
  • “I am a human being. Not a human doing. I just have to be.” — Michelle Balck

And one more article I feel is worth sharing, “20 Things People With Mental Illness Needed To Hear At Their Lowest Moments“:

  • “You won’t always feel this way.” — Pat Shaw
  • “Your feelings are always valid.” — Amanda Schulte
  • “Do whatever you need to take care of yourself.” — Brenda Ann


make you tea



International Bipolar Foundation

Laughter Is The Best Medicine and Is How I Found My Soulmate

This post was first posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website:

married bipolar disorder

Melanie’s husband, Daniel, wrote an accompanying blog post for our Couples Series. We recommend reading the two posts together. 

My sister messaged me on Whatsapp the other day and said she liked my profile picture, and that I looked genuinely happy in it. Having the terrible memory that I do, I forgot what it it was, and had to check. It is a picture from my wedding album (above), of my husband, Daniel and I. My sister was right, I do look happy, and my smile was genuine. I told her that Daniel must have made me laugh right before the photo was taken. I don’t think I would have been able to get through my wedding day this past May without his silly/bad jokes!

I would not get through life and the hard times without him making me laugh, and always knowing how to cheer me up.

Next January, we will have known each other for 10 years. It is hard to believe that 10 years ago, I met this wonderful man, who accepted me for me from the get go. I should probably explain that at the time we met, I was in a hypomanic state (unbeknownst to either of us), and was very different from who I am today. I was not well, I didn’t know it, he didn’t know it, but I was fun so who cared? Well, I was reckless in some ways i.e. shopping addiction, not sleeping, not eating properly, and eventually this culminated into a panic attack on our first New Year’s Eve together and always being medicated since then. This meant chronic battles with weight and self-esteem. Oh, and of course, a debt consolidation loan, because I maxed out 4 credit cards and a line of credit, and yet he didn’t judge me or criticize me for this, because he is not like that.

Daniel, being supportive, has come with me to my psychiatrist’s appointments, without being afraid to voice his opinion or ask questions. I encourage him to read about bipolar disorder, to learn about mental illness, and to ask questions of me. I know he won’t be able to understand what I go through, but so long as he can recognize when my moods are shifting, it helps because he may sometimes catch it before I do, and he can try to keep me calm when I seem hyper, whether it’s at home or in public.

Daniel has been nothing but patient and kind to me throughout the years. He has stood by me when I wanted to give up and hide in bed. I will never forget having a panic attack in front of him the day after we met, and he couldn’t do enough to try and help me. I was just stunned that he wasn’t afraid of me and actually wanted to see me again.

I always say laughter is the best medicine, because it distracts you. In order for me to calm down from a panic attack (aside from taking one of my “emergency” pills), I will often just ask Daniel to tell me something funny. Distraction works.

I also knew Daniel was special when he connected with my Grandfather right away. I always wanted a marriage like my grandparents, because my Grandpa always referred to my Grandma as his princess and he tried to treat her like one. He adored her, he made her handmade cards, and it was true love and I am happy Daniel had a chance to meet both of them.

Grandpa’s motto was actually, “Laughter is the best medicine” and he adored Daniel (I should mention that everyone who meets him does because he is very charming and patient). My Grandpa made the best of every situation, and Daniel tries to do that too. He always tries to see the best in people and he always tries to keep positive energy in the room (even though sometimes I tell him “stop it!” when he says, “Positive energy Mel! Positive energy!” when I am in a bad mood).

It was difficult for Daniel to see me grapple with my diagnosis in July 2010. It took a long time for me to accept this was my “new reality.” Even though the bipolar disorder had been there my entire life, it wasn’t until that point in time that it really hit me in the face. The weekend before my doctor’s appointment where she confirmed the diagnosis, I was in an extremely hyper, terrified state and I know it was not easy for him to see me like that. It’s never easy to see a loved one go through a difficult time, especially when you don’t know how you can help. It took a while for me to know what made me feel better when I was in my different states, and to be able to actually communicate that. I have trouble asking for help and admitting that I want someone to listen to me and to verbalize what is going through my mind. I am a great actress and am very adept at hiding my feelings because I have to do that at work, so no one asks questions, but sometimes I forget to take the mask off at home. This is where it helps to have a partner who knows you well.

Let’s face it, a “normal” relationship is hard to maintain. A relationship with someone with longstanding anxiety, depression, bipolar II with rapid cycling, who has low self-esteem and doubts herself most days is not easy. I tell Daniel that I know how lucky I am to have him. But you know what, he’s lucky to have me too. Why, because I am unique and special. No matter what, I pull through every challenge life has given me (as has he), and that’s why we work. Because we are strong, passionate people who respect each other and have a deep caring for each other. He always tells me that he wouldn’t be where he is today in his life without me, or who he is without me. Our lives would be very different without each other.

What makes us work?

  • Being honest about who we are from the beginning of the relationship- I told him on our first date that I had an anxiety disorder;
  • Not being influenced by the opinions of others- Yes, there have been relatives/people who may have questioned his choice to be with “someone like me,” but he never let that bother him or change his mind;
  • Listening to each other and valuing each other’s opinions;
  • Him understanding my need for “space” a.k.a. breathing room when I feel overwhelmed;
  • Being patient with things like how long it takes to put away laundry, dishes, or if I don’t feel like cooking, he will bring home dinner;
  • Learning to work as a team;
  • A willingness to compromise – If I don’t want to/can’t go to an event, but he still wants to and I am okay with it, he can go without me and I don’t mind;
  • He is willing to stand up for me and vice versa.

When I was in dating mode before I met Daniel, what I thought I wanted was very different from who I ended up with. I have no regrets. I don’t need to be married to a millionaire, be a doctor or professor’s wife – I just need to be with someone who lets me be me, and who is authentic. From day one, Daniel has been authentic, original, and has never changed. Whenever I fill out a card for him, I always say something along the lines of “Thank you for always being you, never change”. I don’t think he will change, and I’m proud of that and proud he is my husband.

As Shakespeare said, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Easier Said Than Done

In September, I wrote a post called “Pace Yourself”, and the gist of that post is that I must learn to do so, as much as I want to take advantage of the energy I have when I am in a hypomanic state.

The other day, the hypomania reared it’s ugly head and said, “We are going to cook dinner tonight, tomorrow and make spaghetti and meat sauce this weekend, and that is that,” even though the rest of me wanted to say, “But we are so tired and don’t have energy and feel sad.” I am experiencing what they call a “mixed state” right now, so I actually have the pleasure of feeling hypomanic, impulsive, chatty, and unable to sleep while also being depressed, anxious, exhausted and very sad all at the same time. My brain feels like it’s on fire, and the migraine I have had for 2 weeks does not help.

I actually did make dinner 2 nights in a row and I will “take advantage” of the fact that it is Family Day tomorrow, which means a day off of work, and cook a batch of sauce. Not because I actually want to, but because in the long run, it means I can have something in the freezer that easily converts into a dinner during the week.

As a result of these symptoms, I can’t trust my memory. Last week, I was convinced I left my straightening iron on in the morning, couldn’t stop thinking about it, and rushed home at lunch to check. Of course it was turned off, and unplugged, but I literally could not remember if I had turned it off or unplugged it (thankfully I don’t live too far from work).

I begin to doubt my memory and that I finished things at work, and am constantly double and triple checking to see that I did finish tasks, send letters out or whatever it was I had to do. I also have to check multiple times to make sure I take my paycheck home with me on Fridays! I am going to hope that it’s just a case of “This is your brain on stress” and nothing more sinister, because obsessive thoughts can be dangerous. Which brings me to a new type of thought that has been plaguing me for the past while: GERMS & VIRUSES.

I am one of those people who has emetophobia. It’s something that is very hard for me to say out loud because it makes me so anxious, but this is its definition:

Emetophobia is an intense, phobia that causes overwhelming, intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting. This specific phobia can also include subcategories of what causes the anxiety, including a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting or fear of being nauseated.

So, my new obsessive thoughts are about germs – where they may be laying in wait for me, how I may accidentally come into contact with them/ingest them, and what if someone who was sick touched my food or touched something I touched etc. I am not so terrified when it comes to colds, but you can imagine what types of flus scare me. I know that anxiety causes nausea and vice versa and it’s one of those chicken and egg situations where sometimes I don’t know what happened first. If someone near me at work or a friend mentions they have had the flu recently, I panic.

Eating out at restaurants is very hard for me because of this; there are certain foods I will not eat and I have a restricted diet as I am gluten free! I am afraid of undercooked meat and contaminated foods. But I don’t have the time to cook every meal, so I have to trick myself into believing that restaurants are okay to eat at/have clean surfaces to prepare their food on. If you have ever seen the movies Road Trip or Waiting you will understand why I have an irrational fear of what goes on in the kitchens of restaurants and am afraid to send my steak back if it is underdone! And we all know how powerful the mind is in tricking your body that you are going to be sick. If the brain says you are, you most likely will be.

My brain is being so mean to me! I think it’s punishing me for being overworked.

empty cup

Okay back to what this post is supposed to be about…Part of pacing myself means finding a balance somewhere, and I currently am struggling to find balance. I am emotionally and mentally depleted. I spend way too much time worrying about work, my family, germs, the future, and anything else you can throw in there, that I am not living in the present.

Telling myself to pace myself didn’t work. Telling myself to take a mental health day (as per my last post) didn’t work either as that day turned into a “Melanie doing work from home” day and not much pleasure or relaxation was had that day. Then I spent the rest of that week bitter and angry.

I had a massage this weekend and for the first 5 minutes, I was convinced I was about to have a panic attack and would have to leave. I kept trying to think of something funny, or do a breathing exercise but I was so scared. I thought to myself, “Maybe if I start a conversation with the masseuse it will distract me enough to forget I am anxious,”and sure enough it worked. I know massages are supposed to be relaxing, but what can you do?

I admit that I am not okay right now, and I don’t know when I will be, so everyone stop asking! “Finding motivation”, “pacing myself” or whatever else someone would say to me is easier said than done. Baby steps? Have you ever seen how unsteady a baby’s first step is?

I just want to tell someone that I feel like I am being swallowed right now, and that I would like to hibernate. Hibernate and stop the clock, put everything on hold for now and just find time to breathe. Breathe so that I can breathe deeply. It’s hard to tell your friends and family to go away and leave you alone. People who care about you don’t always understand what “space” is, and how important it actually is. I should have a sign that says “handle with care”.

I always smile when I think of this Dr. Seuss quote:

Dr. Seuss

This quote could not be more true, and it reminds you of who your true friends are.

Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Taking A Mental Health Day

On Friday I decided that I wanted to take Monday off. I needed a mental health day. I am tired, I feel drained and I just need a “me” day. I don’t feel rested and I just don’t feel “right”. I want to press reset and regenerate some energy.

Let’s face it, having a mental illness is exhausting. It’s often hard to convey how I am feeling, especially when I am feeling anxious or agitated. Or when I become overly frustrated when I “lose my words” and someone doesn’t understand why that would bother me so much. It’s not just forgetting a word. I forget many words. It makes me sad and angry because I have an extensive vocabulary, I pursued an English/History Major, and I “have words” but they just don’t want to come out in conversations. All of this reminds me of “memory gaps”. I noticed that I don’t remember pockets of time, or certain people that I used to be friends with, and for the life of me, I don’t know why we aren’t friends anymore. Yet I can remember the exact outfit I wore the day I met my husband, what movie we watched, and I can remember conversations that happened several years ago.

While I have most of my symptoms in check and can function on a day to day basis (and an outsider would not suspect I have a mental illness), I find I always have the most difficulty with managing my anxiety. Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Once I started experiencing panic attacks, I thought I would never be able to travel, have a real relationship, handle anything “big” or work at a “real” job. I obviously proved myself wrong over the past 13 years.

So what have 13 years of panic attacks taught me?

1. I need to stop doubting myself because I can do more than I think I can.

2. I can still lead a fulfilling life.

3. Sticking to a schedule keeps my symptoms in check.

4. I need to pace myself and work at my own pace.

5. I need to set boundaries with respect to how much I can take on.

6. It’s okay to say no.

7. Nothing is perfect so I don’t need to be perfect.

8. Every day is a new day and a fresh start.

begin trusting yourself

Not only is it important for me to learn these lessons, but it’s important for people who support me to learn lessons on how to help me (and others) with anxiety or other forms of mental illness.

A couple articles I recommend in particular are “13 Things to Remember if You Love A Person With Anxiety” and “11 Things Those Who Love A Person With A Mental Illness Should Know” – these seem to give solid advice and I hope my family and friends can benefit from these articles. These articles touch on subjects such as exhaustion, becoming overwhelmed, communication, and how to actually help.

Not every day is the same. Taking a day just for myself is just what I need right now. I need to have some me time and be on my own for a day. Let’s just hope I can actually let myself relax!