Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

How Am I?

 

Ahhh… the question that I think most people with mental illness hate answering. How are you (or how have you been)?

The first thought that pops into my mind is “Does this person really want to know or are they just asking for the sake of asking?”. You know, some people just follow social conventions and follow protocol when conversing or when they haven’t seen you in a while (or spoken to you in a while). And there’s the problem. If you haven’t seen/heard from me in a while, and you are my friend, shouldn’t that give you some indication of how I am doing?

Yes, friendship is a two-way street, BUT, a mood disorder makes it really hard to reach out and say, “Hi! Let’s get together!” or “Let’s chat tomorrow” or make plans and actually keep them. Or even pick up a phone just because, or sometimes just sending a text message or email is hard. You don’t want to expose your true thoughts and feelings and feel like you are under a microscope. You probably aren’t under a microscope, but your anxiety and depression tell you otherwise.

Our minds tell us nobody understands and nobody cares. We begin to believe it. It’s funny, because I look back to how many people were at my engagement party and wedding, and how few of them I have actually seen since my wedding! Is it my fault?  Is it their fault? Does it matter? Do I care?

The people I really care about and that I thought cared about me should know better. Sorry to be frank, but they really should.

Do I have friends? Yes. Do most of them know I have bipolar disorder? I would say many of them do. Do they know I withdraw and “hibernate” when I am not doing well? Yes. Do they reach out and try to help or do anything? Well…few do.

No one is psychic and knows how I am feeling, but if a friend knows my patterns, all I ask is to check in once in a while. I hate “how are you”, but maybe “I’ve been thinking about you, just wanted to say hi”, would get me less irritated. Or just tell me “you’ve been on my mind, I wanted to check in”. I don’t care if you tell me “you’ve been quiet lately”, because then I know that you actually noticed. And I will appreciate that perceptiveness more than you know.

I get that people are busy and have their own lives to live. But I shouldn’t have to rationalize to myself why people aren’t there for me when I am always there for them. I am emotionally and mentally drained. I had a very difficult 2017. Well… I have had a very hard time for the past 5 years let’s say. Getting back to my earlier point, if you are a friend, act like a friend. No, it doesn’t have to be tit for tat by any means. Just be real and sincere.

Have I become bitter and cynical? Am I now a pessimist? I hope not. I am just frustrated and angry about things that have happened to me and my family. Family is everything to me – and we have a small family, so it makes it that much harder to deal with.

Anyone who works full time knows it is tiring. You have limited free time. You only have the weekends. Anyone who has a mental illness AND works full time knows it is even more exhausting because you spend 5 days a week trying to regulate your moods at work and (hopefully) not explode at someone or cry at your desk and trying to keep your anxiety at bay (which is not easy to do). Nothing about anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder is easy.

Am I happy? Not yet. But it’s not out of the question. Some day, I am sure I will be happy again. I just don’t know what will make me happy, and it’s not going to be something material, it has to come from within. They say happiness is a journey and not a destination, so maybe this is a very very long journey.

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Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

The Holidays Aren’t Happy For Everyone, And That’s Okay

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/holidays-aren%E2%80%99t-happy-everyone-and-that%E2%80%99s-okay

It’s that time of year again. December. The holidays are approaching. Time off school for students, perhaps time off work for those whose offices close (or who take time off), time to travel for some, staycations for others. A chance to spend time with family and friends and enjoy yourself- that is, if you want to and are able to.

You may be wondering what I mean by that pessimistic sounding last line. I am just being realistic for those of us who experience bipolar disorder (or any type of mental illness).

To clarify, when I talk about holidays, I am referring to whatever holidays happen in December, including New Year’s Eve. Okay, especially New Year’s Eve.

There is pressure to make plans, to be social, to “party” (depending on your age) and to have a good time.

I find the lead up to the end of the year brings anxiety and feelings of sadness, guilt and disappointment.

However, this year I noticed somewhat of a mixed state where I became hypomanic and wanted to shop and buy random things off of Amazon (because Amazon Prime is dangerous when you have a credit card). I am tempted to hide my credit cards from myself or have my husband hide them from me.

Why anxiety, sadness, disappointment?

Anxiety hits me hard because I feel a rush of thoughts surging through my brain about everything I didn’t do and should have done and still have to do. And of course, the thought “how will I get everything done” shows up. Anxiety makes you live in the future. You are future-focused. It probably doesn’t help that resolutions are associated with New Year’s and people always ask if you have any resolutions and if so, what they are. Or if you have had a bad year, “Next year will be better”. Then you doubt this is possible because anxiety tells you not to believe anything anyone says.

Depression makes you live in the past.  I feel like I accomplished nothing. I am saddened by this. So, then I feel guilty and like I disappointed people, because I set ridiculously high standards for myself. I start to remember how productive and efficient I used to be a 4 or 5 years ago, before this awful mental fatigue that interferes with everything existed.

The usual thoughts are that “I didn’t do x, y or z” and then I start thinking about how I would have if I had more time and I should have more time and can I make more time and then I panic about how time goes by so fast and then I just feel old. Then my husband tells me “age is just a number”.

For me, this time of year is difficult as it brings back some very difficult and painful memories (I know, I know, it’s bad to dwell on the past but this is what happens when you experience depression) and I associate this time of year with one awful New Year’s Eve I had four years ago where I felt so low and alone. But I made it into the next year, and the year after, and the year after that and I will keep on going…

So, how do you survive the holidays and New Year’s Eve with bipolar disorder? Here are a few tips:

1)Take care of yourself. Take some time to decompress and practice self-care whatever form it may come in. For some of us self-care can be as small as taking micro-breaks from a task we are doing, getting take out instead of cooking, getting our nails done, having a bubble bath- you get the idea. It can be doing an activity you enjoy. Really, it is about carving out time for yourself, so that you take care of yourself, especially your mind.

2)Forget about making New Year’s Resolutions. This can just create added stress and expectations that you don’t need in your life. Or, if you are determined to make a change, aim for something small and achievable, so you don’t have to deal with the feeling that you’ve let yourself down, and so that you do get to experience feeling proud of yourself for making that change.

3)Make plans that you will actually enjoy and will be comfortable with and more importantly with people you are comfortable with!

4)Don’t overextend yourself. If you are going to a party, or an event and are asked to do something or bring something, keep it simple and don’t offer to do more than you are asked to. It’s okay to bring something store bought to a potluck or a party. When you are around people who know the real you, they are not judging!

5)If you feel like doing nothing, do nothing. Just go with the flow, whatever it is. Don’t fight it. If you don’t want to socialize, it’s not a crime to stay home. There are many of us who are content with takeout/snacks and Netflix and there is nothing wrong with that.

However you decide to spend your holidays, may your mind give you a break from anxiety, depression and anything else it throws at you and let your mind be quiet enough to let you enjoy what you are doing and who you are with! We all deserve that, right?

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Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation

What Happens If You Let Anxiety Get The Best Of You?

This post first appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/what-happens-if-you-let-anxiety-get-best-you

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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.

Anticipation-is-the-worst!

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.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

How Do You Describe Bipolar States?

This post first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/describe-bipolar-states/  

I watched the documentary Bright Lights with my friend this weekend. Bright Lights is the HBO documentary about Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds. It is a very honest documentary. There are parts that will make you smile and laugh, tear up and possibly cry, and nod in agreement.

One fan of Carrie Fisher’s said,

She epitomizes a strong woman who speaks her mind and I wish I was more like that.

Thanks to organizations like Healthy Minds Canada, many of us do speak our minds like that! I wish more people were that open about their diagnoses and felt free to talk about their mental illnesses. But, stigma is still a barrier.

I will take this opportunity to quickly say that March 30th is World Bipolar Day, so if you are on social media that day, post about it and help change the conversation about bipolar disorder and mental illness. This year, International Bipolar Foundation’s theme is “My Bipolar Fuels My Passion For” (#MyBipolarFuelsMyPassion4), and focuses on creativity.

Getting back to Bright Lights, there are clips of Carrie Fisher talking about bipolar disorder and describing her moods. This is one such line:

Roy is rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. Pam is sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs. One mood is the meal, the next mood the check.

What an analogy.

Mania is the wild ride, the carefree “I don’t give a F***” mood that just frolics around not worrying about the consequences of his destructive actions. Mania is the fun friend everyone wants to party with and get into trouble with. You don’t have worries when you have mania. You can’t feel worried.

Depression is watching the world go by and feeling like an outsider. You sob uncontrollably. Bipolar depression feels endless, and as though no one or nothing can comfort you. You feel so alone.

I know I am slipping into hypomania (a “milder” form of mania) when I become numb and start to care less about certain things I usually obsess over like having things very organized and clean. My laundry may sit in a basket for a week before I put it away, or I have piles of magazines, work, or mail all over my kitchen table and couch. “I don’t care, no big deal, it’s just paper, it’s not hurting anyone.” Or you can walk inside my condo with your shoes on and I won’t care vs. “NO- your shoes have been outside and they were in dirty areas and you will get germs everywhere!!!”

When the hypomania comes, I have energy, I feel reinvigorated and then all of a sudden I get things done at home and am very productive at work. Then I feel unstoppable and I think I can take on a lot more than I can. The creativity flows and the ideas are never ending.But I forget that what goes up must come down (even though I have experienced these cycles many, many, many times).

The best part of hypomania (aside from the creative bursts) is feeling numb towards emotions and feeling a reprieve from anxiety. When the high wears off, the anxiety comes back and sucker punches you so that you fall down and you don’t get up, because you become low. The depression sinks in. And so it goes, and if you rapid cycle like I do, you experience these states frequently, instead of having a predominant mood. I go through these cycles multiple times a year, sometimes in a month or in a week. It is exhausting.

I want to find a middle ground, but it’s so hard. The best coping mechanism I have is routine. I know what I have to do when I wake up, I know why I wake up and I know I have a purpose. I know I have responsibilities. Even in these contrasting states, I still function. I know there are people who criticize the use of medication, but you do what works for you. It works for me. It’s not the only reason I function, but it plays a significant role.

Carrie Fisher also said,

You know what would be so cool?….To get to the end of my personality…

The end of a personality. Where does my personality end? Maybe, as a creative person, it is endless. Maybe there are parts I have yet to discover. But that’s for another day.

I’ll leave you with this line that Debbie Reynolds said in Bright Lights,

The only way to get through life is to fight-you don’t make it through the easy way.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

How to Practice Compassion

This blog first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/how-to-practice-compassion/

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I’ve written before about how powerful and overwhelming thoughts can be. When you are feeling anxious or feeling depressed, or a combination of both, you have thoughts that are hard to process and thoughts that lead to further feelings of distress. These thoughts are real to you and are important as part of your mental health journey.

There will always be people who think that our anxious or depressed thoughts make no sense, are illogical, and essentially are trivial thoughts. You know the people who I am talking about. The people who think other people have “real” problems (i.e. physical injury or illness, suffering a loss, surviving a disaster) and therefore your symptoms of mental illness don’t count, because other people “have worse problems than you do“.

Coming out and being open about living with a mental illness is courageous and a brave thing to do. I wanted to share my story and encourage others to do so because suffering in silence is painful and feeling ashamed of something that is no fault of your own is foolish. It’s just plain wrong. I say we are brave to be open and share our stories because that stigma is a real b**** and we have to teach her a lesson.

I always tell people don’t apologize for something you didn’t do, or something that isn’t your fault. So why feel ashamed, or apologize for our condition, or symptoms of our condition?

I know we can’t expect everyone to understand what mental illness is, what it looks like, or how it affects us on a day to day basis, but a little compassion goes a long way.

How can someone show compassion or understanding?

Let us be our real selves.Tell us it’s okay to let it all out. Tell us to take off the “normal mask” we may have been wearing all week at work (to make things easier at work), so the real self can breathe.

Don’t make us think our thoughts have no value, or are trivial. Help us work through our thoughts if we are willing to talk about them.

Let us be silent if we don’t want to talk. Enjoy the silence with us.

Let us speak when we are ready to.

Give us space when we need it. We need down time to decompress. Mental illness is exhausting.

Make sure we practice self-care and self-compassion. Teach us to relax if you can. Give us gentle reminders that self-care is important and that whatever we insist we must finish today can wait until tomorrow, because most of the time, it really can.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

A Shift In Perspective

This post originally appeared on Healthy Minds Canada: https://healthymindscanada.ca/a-shift-in-perspective/ 

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Your thoughts are powerful and you can convince yourself of many things. You can convince yourself you are capable and smart, or you can convince yourself you are worthless and useless. It all depends on your state of mind, and what you want to believe.

Over the past few days, I felt brighter, and less foggy and actually wanted to do things. I noticed I had been productive at work (maybe having a long weekend last week helped) and I had been feeling like cooking. I am sure the nice weather helped too.

I managed to clean out closets/cupboards and make a stew in a crockpot (first time using one). I just did. I went for a walk on Friday. I never want to do these things. Maybe something inside of me is telling me it’s time to change or it’s time to make the time to do these things. I don’t always have time to cook, but I know (as much as I hate it) that some form of exercise is important for body and mind. It’s important to start small, but it is also important to have the actual desire or want. Without it, these activities seem like awful chores or daunting tasks.

I personally become irritated when someone tells me to be positive, because sometimes it is not always that easy, so I would never tell someone to do that. Instead, I like to think of having or being in a different, or “better” mindset as “a shift in perspective”.

Every day is different and some days are better than others. If I have been able to have a few brighter days for one reason or another, I’ll take it. Medications help, but they only go so far. We know how destructive thoughts are/can be and I don’t think medication can suppress my thoughts or make me stop thinking. Part of the recovery and healing process is learning how to reframe your thoughts, which if you think about it, is shifting your perspective, the way you see/think about things/situations.

Right now I am just grateful to have had a chance to genuinely laugh and smile this weekend and enjoy good company and not feel bogged down by the weight of the world (a.k.a. my thoughts).

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Be Relentlessly You

This post first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/be-relentlessly-you/ 

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I am admittedly not a sports fan, but I did watch the Super Bowl last week, including the fantastic performance Lady Gaga put on. She performed a variety of her songs, including “Born This Way”, which has lyrics that I know resonate with many people, because of the message.

Predictably, Internet trolls and people who had nothing better to do started posting about Lady Gaga having a “stomach” and other unnecessary comments. As soon as I saw those articles start to appear on social media, aside from rolling my eyes, I felt angry and frustrated. This woman is a talented musician and she has an amazing figure and she is proud of her body. She is not ashamed. She didn’t have to, but she did respond to those “haters’, and what she said is powerful:

 

No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don’t need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you. That’s the stuff of champions. – Lady Gaga

From personal experience, it is exhausting being anyone but yourself. The mask becomes heavy, you question who you are and if people actually know you. Having a mental illness is difficult for many reasons, but the worst part of having a mental illness is stigma. The stigma makes it difficult to be yourself, if you fall victim to it. I didn’t want to hide anymore, so I’ve been sharing my story. The best way to fight stigma is to stare it in the face and show you are not afraid. I am not afraid. I am not the problem. It’s people who are afraid of mental illness that are the problem- and we shouldn’t cater to them.

I also really appreciate that Lady Gaga is not ashamed to talk about mental illness. In an article from Esperanza Magazine, she discusses her experience with anxiety and depression and talks about acceptance.

 

No matter how much success you have, no matter how many people accept you to your face, the person that really needs to accept you is you. -Lady Gaga

Remember, your opinion is the one that matters the most.

 

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