Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

I’m jealous

I am not a jealous person. Really. Except when it comes to one thing.

I am jealous of those who don’t have anxiety. And I know you’re thinking “Well, everyone has something”.

Well, most people have a normal range of emotions (excuse my use of the word normal here). A range of emotions that includes feeling nervous, stressed, irritable and sad. But, I can almost guarantee you that most people do not experience emotions the way someone with bipolar disorder does. Or the way someone with a mood disorder/depression or an anxiety disorder does.

And that is why I am jealous. Because if you don’t experience anxiety or depression the way I do, or others like me, you don’t know the extent of what it’s really like. You can try to imagine what it is like but it is not the same thing. Us mental health advocates and mental illness “sufferers” (I hate that word because it isn’t all suffering, so let me change it to “experiencers”) try to describe the symptoms and feelings but words can’t do it justice.

Maybe you think I am being dramatic (which is actually something you should never say to someone with a mental illness FYI). I’m not. Maybe I seem bitter? I’m not. In many a blog post or Instagram post I have mentioned that I am not an optimist but I see myself a as a “realist”.

There are many things a person can be jealous about. Money. Love. Fame. Success. Careers. Family. Friends.

I don’t think I have met anyone who is jealous of my mental illness. Wouldn’t that be something if someone came up to me and said “OMG you’re so lucky. You have bipolar disorder!”. Yeah right. No one wants to have bipolar disorder. No one wants to have anxiety.

My husband and I were talking about growing older earlier today. He said he is afraid of growing older, but in a light-hearted way. I said I am, but I really am. I am terrified. It takes a lot out of me now to manage my illness. It takes a lot of strength to pull myself together daily and to keep my symptoms (mostly) at bay when I am at work five days a week. I am exhausted now, how will I manage when I am older?

What will life be like for me? Honestly, I don’t want to know. I’ve seen statistics about people with bipolar disorder having shortened life expectancies. The heightened risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, this and that. That doesn’t mean it will happen to me. That doesn’t mean better medications and treatments won’t be discovered. I know there is no cure.

I also know that believe it or not, this is a manageable illness. When you let your thoughts run wild, it seems impossible to fathom. There are two things I try to remember: 1) This is not my fault 2) I am not alone.

Sometimes I get caught up thinking about silly or stupid mistakes I have made. Chalk it up to hypomanic behaviour. I also want to mention that while hypomania is not as “severe” as mania, it is still very disruptive and destructive. I can seem like I am on a war path but I have learned some techniques along the way to stop myself from full blown self-destruction.

As my husband just said to me as I read him a draft of this, “It’s not an easy illness to have.  You have to modify and adapt as a partner and as a family“. Which is what he has learned to do and what we do as spouses.  Some days are not easy. Especially when I am irritable and agitated and want nothing to do with anyone, even him. I have learned to signal to him when I need space and try to do it as politely as possible because I know I can come off as brash when I don’t mean to.

Sometimes he asks me what he can do for me or how he can make it better. I may respond with “Get me a new brain”. He will tell me “You have a beautiful brain, don’t worry”

Maybe he is biased but I have to put some stock into it because I am the way I am for a reason. Maybe it doesn’t always make sense, but after all, who says everything in life has to make sense?

As Carrie Fisher once said:

“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Do you feel like crying?

My husband asked me how my psychiatrist’s appointment was. I didn’t feel like talking about it. I felt it was easier to write it out instead. This is the result. I was hesitant to post this as a blog as it is so sensitive and personal but this is who I am and writing is part of my process.

She asks me, “how are you feeling?”. I say in my quiet, mouselike voice, “Okay…I guess”. I am clearly not. I am emotional.

“Do you feel like crying?” she asks me. I don’t answer.

I ask if I was hypomanic the last time I was seen, three weeks earlier. I am told I had described myself as “borderline hypomanic” when last seen. I had described being upset about putting our beloved dog down and being worried about how my Mom was handling that (I am very close to my Mom and often feel her emotions too).

I proceed to tell her about my “over-productivity” over the last few weekends involving cooking, baking, reorganizing and very little rest or relaxation.

She asks about my anxiety. I say I have been rather anxious. She asks if there was a particular reason. I ask if I have to have a reason to be anxious, to which she agrees, I don’t.

I describe the nausea and horrid anxiety I’ve been feeling, and my difficulties with food. She comments that I’ve lost weight. I realized earlier that day that my shirt and blazer were looser than previously noticed when I was getting dressed. I replied that I really had no appetite and lost weight unintentionally. I know what you’re thinking, “why is she complaining about losing weight” but you have to understand this means I am really unwell.

The nausea has been overpowering.

I thought I was being heroic by not taking Ativan for a couple of months and using Clonazepam very sparingly, only when I really couldn’t sleep.

I was trying to do this without benzodiazepines.

But she asks me if I had been using them and I said no, not really. She advises me it’s okay to do what I have to, to be able to sleep and calm down. She says to think about my mental peace, and how important that is because it is obvious (to her too) that I am not happy, I am not myself and I am feeling miserable (and that the weather doesn’t help).

I respond, “I don’t even know who myself is sometimes,” (truthfully, that is most of the time) and I was rather tearful.

Again, “Do you feel like crying?”

Yes. I start to but then I stop because I can compose myself so quickly it’s scary and I am already distracted by another thought.

I feel the hypomania fighting, clawing its way to the top. Trying to speak and take over the conversation because sad Melanie is being too quiet.

I describe how I was feeling so sad that morning but by lunchtime and certainly by the time my appointment came around, I had begun to feel hypomanic and chatty again.

I discuss how I become so frustrated because I know what is happening and I can’t stop it.

She commends me for being able to recognize all of this, which says a lot about me and while I “forget” who I am, to think about all the good things I am doing or still able to do. I am working consistently, I cook, I bake, I find ways to keep my brain busy. I even do extra work on the weekends to make extra money. Essentially – “you are high functioning”.

She asks what brings me joy or what do I do that I enjoy. All I come up with is that I would just love to have time to sit and read for pleasure. I love books. I want to just read. And write. As I wrote that, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote,

“We read to know we are not alone”

She assures me it’s okay to take Ativan and Clonazepam as needed. I don’t have an addictive personality where I will abuse these medications. They are there when I need them.

I just feel like it’s somehow taking a step back but I know it isn’t because in order for me to take a step forward, I have to be able to tolerate/survive the present and get my symptoms under control.

Sometimes we have to rely on those tiny pills (or “emergency pills” as I initially called them in early years) more than we want to, to bridge the gap between anxiety and “stability” or as I call it, my “baseline” (which is really a low-level anxiety that is manageable but still on occasion likes to remind you it’s there).

I feel like my moods shift back and forth, like an oscillating fan. I might experience a soft breeze of anxiety or a more forceful burst of hypomania. I could have a calm lull of nothing. Unfortunately, unlike a fan, I don’t have settings I can choose from.

I am trying so hard to come to terms with things I can’t change. It’s hard to let go of certain situations and to try to put distance between myself and bad things or sad things that have happened.

The sad and unfortunate reality is no one has a solution. There is no magic pill. No magic wand. No cure-all. No remote to rewind time. No remote to pause or stop time. No one has answers. No one can do anything to make things better for me or the situations I face or the ones I care about most have to deal with.

No one has any answers, there is not a damn thing anyone can do to make things better and this is not me being dramatic, this is just the cold hard truth.

People often respond with “I’m sorry”, “I don’t know what to say” or seem to imply they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. There is no right or wrong thing to say. Just don’t give me purple prose. Don’t feed me fluff and tell me things that you can’t guarantee or know will happen (i.e. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay”).

I’ve had to adjust to a new reality since my diagnosis and have experienced some of the worst anxiety attacks and bouts of depression and agoraphobia.

I’m not asking anything of anyone. All I can hope is that by reading this, you are gaining insight into the muddy waters of my mind.

Sometimes the thoughts are so heavy, they drag me down as though I were drowning in quicksand.

I struggle to stay afloat.

I may seem composed. I might be that day. I might be anxious and terrified on the inside. You might never know because I am so good at hiding it. I am so good at hiding it I seem “normal”.

I am exhausted is what I am.

I advise my doctor I am afraid of sleep. I can’t sleep because I have nightmares. I don’t remember them but I know I have them because I wake up breathless. And we know how important sleep is when it comes to mood disorders.

So now I must focus on getting myself to sleep better and to relax and get my anxiety under control. I have to. I can’t afford to fall apart. I don’t have the strength to, and then to put myself back together. So if Ativan and Clonazepam are my bandaids and Polysporin, well I guess I better use them to prevent further infection.

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Don’t Minimize My Feelings

Find out who you are and do it on purpose- Dolly Parton

I started writing this blog post about 5 weeks ago, after a conversation I had with someone who made me feel like my feelings were being minimized. I know it wasn’t that person’s intention and I am not going to “out” that person because he or she is not a bad person, it’s just one of those unfortunate situations where you hope someone understands you (or is trying to) and it turns out that is not the case.

If I decide to open up to someone, I am making myself vulnerable to potential judgement, to a possible argument and the chance that the person actually doesn’t really have the time to speak. The worst thing you can do to me is make me feel like my thoughts are not valid or they are not important. Because my thoughts are very real to me and sometimes are scary as hell. Believe me, I live with them. They keep me hidden at home sometimes.

Vulnerability can be beautiful. I appreciate when people show me their true selves and show me they are vulnerable. I would never hurt those people and I know they would never hurt me. Unfortunately, there are so many people who are afraid to let this part of them be seen (if it exists in them at all).

I realize I am not the easiest person to be friends with, or be related to, or be married to or live with. Although at the same time (and not to pay myself on the back here) though I do struggle with self-confidence and self-esteem, I know at my core I am a good person. I am a strong-willed, fiercely determined, ambitious, loving, generous, patient person with more empathy than I know what to do with. This empathic nature gets me into trouble though, because I am a sopping wet sponge when it comes to absorbing everyone else’s emotions, even from a distance! (Sorry-tangential thinking there)

Okay back to the subject at hand. I may not be the most easygoing person at times, but I am never intentionally difficult. Unless you are trying to get me to open up and I have clammed up, and no matter how much you try to pry me open, I won’t budge. I want to explain why this is and what my thought process is, because I think it is important for people who care about me, or who want to understand me to know and this is the best way I can explain it.

Before I delve into my thought process, I want to talk more about the issue of minimizing thoughts and feelings. We are human. We all have thoughts and feelings. How willing we are to express them is an individual choice. I can be very expressive at times, and it is those times when I hope the person I am talking to recognizes I need to be heard. If I feel like I am wasting someone’s time or this person does not have the time of day for me, it is unbelievably frustrating and painful. Or if the person on the receiving end of my call/texts (or however we are communicating) questions the logic behind my thoughts and feelings, it is a crushing blow. I am aware that what I feel and think may not seem logical or rational to many people (no one said anxious or depressive thoughts were rational), but let me work it out. I like to think out loud sometimes.

Sometimes, I become preoccupied with the idea that I am a burden to my friends. I don’t know when this started or why I think this way, but this belief only strengthens when I am feeling depressed or starting to go on my downwards spiral. I worry that I am a needy friend and that when my friends see messages from me they think “Oh boy, not again” or “She’s so draining” or “She’s so needy”. I hesitate to reach out when I need help.

Instead, I suppress my emotions and I try to keep it to myself. I have written about having great friends, which I do but when I get in one of my “funks” I almost don’t believe that I have friends. What ends up happening is I drive home from work, sad, in pain and tears, wanting to call someone, but I can’t, because if he or she is busy, I will be disturbing them (or so my mind tells me).

My thoughts spiral further and further to the bottom of the pit. I begin to feel like I am a waste of space. I start to doubt my abilities. I wonder why I bother blogging or with mental health advocacy, I think “Am I really making a difference”? and “Who cares about my Instagram account and what I have to say?” and so on.

When I come out of my “funk”, I remember that these thoughts are just thoughts. The same way my anxious thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily true and not necessarily indicative of things that can and will happen, because anxiety is not a psychic. At least I hope mine doesn’t evolve into one. That would be f*cked up.

When I originally started to write this, I was listening to Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out”, and the lyric, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” spoke to me. You don’t know light without dark. You don’t know good without bad.

Or, as Albert Einstein once said,

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.

What opportunity you ask? For growth. To develop strength. To learn an important lesson. Let your difficulties teach you something. I know I certainly have. Over the last 6 or so years, I have been challenged more than I deserve, I have experienced profound sadness and absolutely terrifying anxiety, stigma, the loss of friends, more stress than I ever thought I could handle and I am still standing.

Do you want to know what I have learned?

Here it is: No matter what life throws at me, I am still here. Yeah. Take that life! I’m not getting knocked down. I’m not going anywhere. 

 

 

 

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

The Pills Are Looking At Me (It’s Not What You Think)

The bottle of pills is staring at me. It’s calling out my name. It’s within reach, but I am not going to be reliant on Clonazepam to get me through the rest of the week. I already took half of one today. I want to gain control of the situation, even though I know it’s okay to take it if I need it.

I haven’t seen my doctor since January 7th. I was supposed to have an appointment at the end of January but that was cancelled due to weather and then cancelled again due to a death in her family, and my next appointment is on Monday. I’ve never gone this long without going to my psychiatrist. It’s not that I need someone to hold my hand while I discuss my feelings and validate them. It’s not that I don’t have people to talk to, because I do. There is just something about seeing my doctor that helps me. She’s not there just to prescribe me pills. I have been seeing her for over 16 years, and I am used to my regular appointments.

I’ve made it this long, but I am trying to keep it together, I really am. I’m so nauseous, I can’t tell if it’s anxiety or something else but it really freaked me out this morning. Hence the need for Clonazepam. My boss could tell from my voice that something was off and sent me home and told me to just work from home.

I grabbed a couple files and went home. I haven’t exactly been productive- yet. I know I will get work done though, just at my own pace, even if it means working into the evening. As long as I put in the requisite number of hours, it doesn’t really matter when I do the work, right?

Anyways, back to how I am feeling today. So, I call this my “scary anxiety”, where I am absolutely terrified of the nausea and panicked. I was just panicked. I still am. I wasn’t having panic attack and I was okay when I left the house, but as I got closer to work I felt worse. It’s odd because I was in a great mood for a couple of days before that and wasn’t anxious. Why does anxiety come back when I need to be productive and go to work?!?

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have emetophobia which makes me terrified of nausea for a very valid reason. I can’t get into it, because it will make me more anxious.

Even when I got home, I still didn’t feel better and I feel like I am getting worked up again. I am already worrying about tomorrow (thank you anxiety). I think I am thinking about “This time last year, this happened….and then that happened…” and recalling bad/upsetting things that have happened the past couple of years and having trouble dealing with it. I am not sure why the feelings are resurfacing now, but I am so f*cking frustrated with this brain of mine right now.

A couple weeks ago I went more than a week without Clonazepam (which is a big deal) and I was all proud of myself for meditating twice a day and feeling like it was making a difference and for feeling more “centred”. And then this happened. It doesn’t take much for anxiety to undo all your hard work, does it?

On my way home, I heard one of the songs on my “Feel Better Play List”, which made me tear up. It’s not even a sad song. I just always loved that song and usually it makes me smile, but today it made me want to cry. A couple hours ago I thought I really was going to bawl my eyes out. I don’t know what triggered the sadness, I guess the same thing that triggered the anxiety. Maybe compartmentalizing everything that has happened is backfiring on me and the dam I built is finally breaking.

I don’t think anxiety/panic attacks are cathartic, but I know having a good cry can be. Can this be subdued with a good cry? Maybe, maybe not. Do I need to take another Clonazepam later? Most likely. Is that a sign of weakness? No. Sometimes we all need a little help, and it can come in various forms.

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Honesty Is The Best Policy- I think

If I told you I didn’t answer your call because I was at a doctor’s appointment, what would your first reaction be? Would you think I was seeing my family physician for a specific reason or for an annual check up? Would you be worried that I was feeling unwell for some reason? Would it ever cross your mind that I was seeing my psychiatrist for our regularly scheduled appointments?

I have to leave work early to go to my appointments, so when I say goodbye and I am leaving for the day, if anyone asks, I just say I have a doctor’s appointment. I sometimes am met with a look of concern, and am asked “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”. No one thinks I am going to see my psychiatrist. Only those at work who really know me know where I am actually going.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, yesterday, during my appointment I missed a call, and then received a text message asking how I am etc. I apologized for missing the call via text and said I had been in a doctor’s appointment. The response I got back was hope I am okay. I made a decision that I was not going to sugar coat and say “Don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s nothing”. Nope, not how I want to do things. I responded that I was at my psychiatrist’s office. I am pretty sure this made the recipient uncomfortable because the next message ended the conversation and I felt like I was being brushed off.

So, it got me thinking. We have mental health and we have physical health. We need to take care of both. We go to various specialists or to our family doctor when something is physically wrong. A psychiatrist’s specialty is to treat mental illness and to help you maintain your mental health. I take care of my mental health. I am tending to my mental health. What is wrong with me being open to anyone and saying where I was?

I will tell you – NOTHING. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me expressing myself and feeling comfortable enough to say that. Did I feel slighted and like this person did not want to hear anymore or know more about it? Yes. But I want to know what makes people so uncomfortable? Particularly if they already know I have bipolar disorder.

I think I know what it is. Some people forget I have bipolar disorder. Not that I am trying to pat myself on the shoulder, but I have adapted very well and I have good insight into my illness and how to manage it as best as I can. These past 8 years have been one heck of a journey and there have been numerous stressors/crises that I have no idea how I got through, but I did.

Why do people “forget”? I am high functioning. I am not sure how I became this way, but I push myself every fricken’ day to get out of bed and go to work. Yes, there are days when the anxiety wins and I stay home, but those are rare compared to before. I function at work. People at work don’t notice my symptoms because I am so good at hiding them or “controlling” them. I mean, worst case scenario, I can just say I am PMSing right? Or really busy/stressed.

I am open about my experiences with bipolar disorder. There are a few people at work who know about my journey, but there are also definitely people there who would not know what to do with this information and it’s easier for me if they don’t know. It’s not worthy my energy. You never know how someone will react when you tell them, but sometimes you do get a sense of who may understand you.

Recently, I reconnected with two friends who had both played important roles in my life. One actually facilitated the introduction between myself and my husband and has always had a big heart and is a kind person. The other, is someone who I had a relationship with and who actually was with me when I developed anxiety and first had panic attacks. He is a kind soul and I was lucky to be with someone patient and understanding, considering I also had agoraphobia. I don’t know what made me want to reconnect, but when I did, I was really forward and shared my diagnosis. I was met with supportive responses.

I wasn’t surprised. These are people that were in my life when I started to have anxiety and first started an anti-depressant. These are definitely two people who are non-judgmental and I am happy I decided to reconnect with them. I don’t think these friends realize the impact they have had, so I hope that they read this and now know.

I have to add that when I met my husband, he had the opportunity to witness a panic attack during our second date. And it didn’t scare him away. He couldn’t do enough to help me. He is still like that.

Bottom line – some people do not have the capacity to understand, some people don’t care to understand, and those who do understand- cherish them. As my mom keeps saying, “Every day is a gift”. So tell people how you really feel!

Tell them how you feel, even if it makes them uncomfortable. If someone you care about isn’t supportive of you, tell them. Or if they make you feel uncomfortable for being you, say something. Life is short, so you should enjoy the people in your life and get rid of the people who no longer bring you joy. I told my doctor yesterday I know who my tried and true friends are (and they know who they are) and that I don’t need to have 100 friends. I just need people in my life that are genuine.

I am not the easiest person to be around at times. I am irritable and agitated and sarcastic and excessively chatty and perhaps annoying when I am hypomanic. Or I am bordering on being a hermit when I am in a depressed state. I am either too willing to share, or not willing to share at all. Or I am angry at the world and think no one understands or cares, but that is so far from the truth.

It is not difficult for us to believe the lies depression and anxiety tells us. I mean, when you’re in that state, it’s easy to feel like you deserve to be alone, and nobody cares, or you are a burden etc. My mind tells me “Keep it to yourself. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT. YOU ARE. BURDEN”. But keeping it all in, that is not a good idea either. When you reach that breaking point, and you just can’t stop crying because you’ve held it all in, then depression tells you “Do you even have anything to be this sad about? There are people who have it worse than you”. And then you cry even harder. Or at least that is what happens to me.

Sometimes I feel guilty for sharing my thoughts because I am convinced the person on the other end of the conversation is thinking “Okay, what is she so worried about/complaining about? It’s not so bad. It will pass or get better. Other people have it way worse”. Yup – that is my thought process. I am afraid of being a burden or people wondering what is so bad in my life that I am “always anxious” or never happy.

I realize this blog post has gone off on a bit of a tangent here, I apologize. I think being able to share your thoughts without fear of judgment is important and it is great when you can share how you feel with someone who doesn’t minimize your feelings. I had an incident the other day at work on lunch where someone minimized my feelings and it made me feel pretty sh*tty, especially because she knows I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. Like I said before, some people forget I do.

Is honesty the best policy? Maybe. I think is if you want to know who your real friends are and you want to be your real self.

 

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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

Blog quote- Melanie-FB (2)

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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