This post first appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/what-happens-if-you-let-anxiety-get-best-you
You don’t want anxiety to win, but let’s face it; sometimes it happens. I say don’t be hard on yourself when it does.
Anxiety and bipolar disorder seem to really like each other- a lot. Or at least that’s what my experience has been. Anxiety came first; a precursor to bipolar disorder.
I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks and was treated with an anti-depressant, which helped for a longtime. Until it didn’t, when the anxiety was at an all -time high and an increased dose of medication propelled me into a hypomanic state. This was unpleasant, but it finally led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (type 2), which led to the right medication cocktail.
In my experience, being compliant with medication and regular appointments with a psychiatrist have been helpful. I believe it is important to have an objective person to speak with, and also someone monitoring your symptoms and any side effects from medications. This is my personal opinion. Everyone has a different experience with his/her mental illness and treatment.
Last week, I let anxiety take over and get the better of me. Anxiety can really convince you that something has happened or will happen. I have a tendency to clench my jaw and I grind my teeth (for which I have a night guard), and I do get jaw pain and pain in my teeth. I noticed pain in a different location and I really panicked and was convinced I broke a tooth or something more sinister had happened because this pain had not occurred in this spot before. It probably didn’t help that I was overdue for x-rays at the dentist and was worrying about possible findings on the x-rays. So, what did I do? I called the dentist’s office, booked an “urgent” appointment and took off work the following day.
I was extremely anxious that evening and had trouble eating, because I was afraid to chew on one side. I talked myself into quite a bad state, so much so that I decided I would not be able to drive myself to the appointment and would have to take a taxi because I knew “how I would be” and that I would have to take a benzodiazepine in order to be able to leave the house.
I saw my dentist’s colleague, and before she had a chance to say anything I said, “Just to let you know, I am really anxious. I’m bipolar so I get like this. I probably am making myself really anxious since I have a tendency to catastrophize”. She had a nice calming demeanour about her, and was able to make me feel at ease. She was pretty sure what was “wrong” was related to the jaw clenching/grinding teeth issue, but to try to alleviate my anxiety, ordered the full set of x-rays and spent the time doing a full examination. Now that’s a nice dentist!
The takeaway is, if you let anxiety take over your thoughts, it will convince you that what you fear is really true. I am truly amazed at how powerful anxious thoughts can be.
The first panic attack I experienced was over 14 years ago. I have had to learn techniques over the years to calm myself down when I am at home, at work or on the go. If you’ve experienced panic attacks, you know that those 15-20 minutes (or however long yours last for) can feel like an eternity. You are terrified, nauseous, shaken, maybe dizzy, flushed, warm, and a host of other symptoms, and it seems like you will feel that way forever. You won’t.
I used to take benzodiazepines to stave off panic attacks. I initially referred to them as my “emergency pills”, because I would take them just for that reason. There were times where the only way I could leave the house was to take them. Now, I keep them on me in case of an emergency, meaning only use them if my other techniques such as self-talk, deep breathing, visualization, listening to music or if I am at home, watching TV or colouring don’t work. It is progress compared to the days when the only way I thought I could get through a day was to use them. Just knowing I have them on me helps a lot.
Part of my self-talk routine is to tell myself that a panic attack does not last forever and it will end. I remind myself “look how far you’ve come” in regards to my ability to function with anxiety. What I mean by this is how I have an anxiety “threshold”, a baseline, where I may feel some low grade anxiety, but I can still go to work, go grocery shopping, and maybe go to a restaurant (maybe), but not big social events. I remind myself of the panic attacks I have “survived”. I have survived my worst, most anxious days, and I will survive this day too.