My Daughter’s Starting High School, and I am Freaking Out!

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It is the end of the school year, and all I can think about is that in two and a half short months she will be walking the halls with adult students (i.e., 18-year-olds!) She will no longer be safely tucked away in middle school with all the prepubescent boys and girls coming in from elementary school. She will be even more beyond my control, more independent, more grown up, less my little girl, and closer to the day when she will leave this house.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Am I? Am I? Yes, I am. But…it is what I do. I am over-dramatic…somewhat of a teenager in that way, myself.

As a result of my anxieties over this starting high school stuff, my borderline personality traits have flared up over the past week. That whole “fear of abandonment” and emotional instability is out of control. I’ve been more impulsive and angry as well. Plus, the anticipation of the upcoming change in my daily schedule with the kids being home all day isn’t helping matters. I go through this every summer when school lets out and every fall when it starts back up again.

Like with everything else, I am just holding on until it passes. Everything always does…passes. It is one thing I am learning to love about life – that things are always changing. I used to hate change, but now, with so many hard and stressful events constantly going on, I welcome change!

Plus, I have gotten to the point in my journey with my disease that I fully accept the quick ups and downs of my bipolar rapid cycling. Maybe I am settling. Maybe I am not. For now, I am ok with it because I am able to function as a wife, mom, and friend. If I am called upon to do more than that, then I may need to look into stabilizing my moods a bit more. Until then…

My daughter is starting high school in the fall, and I am freaking out! ;)

5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House

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Anxiety is a bitch! It has been several years since I have had a full-blown panic attack – the one where you can’t breathe and you think you are dying – but on a regular basis I have bouts of anxiety where my heart races, I get a bit short of breath, and I fear I may go into panic mode. These smaller anxiety attacks, along with some low levels of depression, are enough to make leaving the house a big chore for me.

Top 5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House

1) Showering takes more energy than I have on most days. And then there is the fixing of the hair, and OMG! make-up, and God-forbid getting out of my pajama pants. I mean, come on…that’s a lot to ask of a girl. By the time I do all of that I am ready for a nap!

2) Driving is stressful. I live in a busy metropolitan area and traffic is heavy. Patience, concentration, and sometimes aggressiveness are needed to safely navigate the roads around here – all of which I basically lack.

3) Social anxiety. Leaving the house often means going to some sort of social event, and I don’t feel comfortable around other people because small talk is like nails on a chalk board to me! I’m definitely an introvert and prefer to be alone or with my immediate family. Also, if it is a larger party, the noise and extra stimuli is overwhelming to my senses.

4) Fear of public places. Leaving the house also often means going to the store or some other public venue where crowds gather and strangers abound. Yikes! What if I see someone I know? What if I get mugged? Kidnapped? How claustrophobic I feel standing in lines and squeezing down isles. How it makes me lose my breath to bump into others or feel them in my physical space! And again, the noises, lights, and movement are all overwhelming to my senses.

5) Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an intense fear and anxiety of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. This would explain why if my husband is with me, I feel much less anxious when out of the house. He drives, I stick by him during parties, and follow him through the stores. Now if only he could shower for me. :)

Although I hate leaving the house, I do force myself to on a regular basis. Sometimes I have to take an anti-anxiety pill before I leave and sometimes I don’t. I think it is important for me to desensitize myself to these stressful situations as much as I can, because if I don’t my anxiety will only get worse.

I also grade the tasks in a way that will make them more successful for me. For example, when I go to the grocery store I only get a few items at a time, and leave the big list for my husband (he’s the best!) When my daughter has a 3-day sports tournament in a loud crowded gym, I will only attend one or two of the days. When going to a social event, we will only stay a short while or not go at all if I am not feeling up to it. We go out to eat early in the evening (with all the old people) so we don’t have to wait for a table. These are just a few examples of how I compensate for my increased anxiety.

As you can see, there are ways around anxiety. It doesn’t have to make you a prisoner of your own home. Although, sometimes it will. But it doesn’t have to all of the time.

How does your anxiety limit you, and what are some ways you have found helpful to decrease these limits?

Guns, Parenting, and Mental Illness

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My husband’s new hobby is shooting. I decided to go to the range with him and try it out this week. I have never held a gun before or even seen one up close in real life for that matter. I was so nervous about holding a lethal weapon that I almost chickened out.

He gave me a quick review of some basic safety precautions such as always act like the gun is loaded even if you know it’s not, never point it at anything besides the target, never hand it to anyone, but rather lay it down for the other person to pick it up. He taught me how to hold it and what kind of kickback to expect.

We donned our eye and ear protection and entered the shooting area. There were other people in there already, and while my husband was setting us up another shooter’s shot went off and I about jumped out of my skin! It was so loud and deadly sounding. My heart was racing, my breathing was erratic, and I felt tears stinging my eyes. I thought I was going to break down and cry from fright!

After this initial shock, I just kept telling myself that all was fine and that I was safe. As subsequent shots went off and I got used to them, I started to calm down. When I picked up the gun my nervousness returned, and squeezing the trigger felt a bit like jumping off the edge of a cliff. I shot at a little bitty paper target because they ran out of big ones. So, many of my shots missed the target completely and I had no idea if I was too high, low, left or right. I was “shooting blind” so to speak – I had no feedback to help me decide what adjustments I needed to make in my next shots. It was quite frustrating!

Lately, parenting my teenager feels a lot like “shooting blind” as well. She has been making poor choices in friends and in her social media behavior. We placed compassionate boundaries on her activities which she agreed to, and I sincerely believe she meant to adhere to them. But, something comes over the brain (or lack thereof) of an adolescent that makes them forget everything you told them and they make the same stupid mistakes over again.

As a result, hard consequences and strict rules have been enforced. Apps have been deleted, parental passwords have been activated, and cameras have been deactivated. (Sigh!)

There is no eye or ear protection to protect you from the pains of parenting. The anxiety attacks have been frequent, the worry is constant, the fear is eminent, and the “shots” that keep going off are not ones that I can get used to.

How is this all affecting my mental illness? I find myself needing a lot more sleep than usual. I feel sad because I am losing parts of my little girl that I will never get back. I feel anxious because my routine is completely gone. It is hard enough with the holidays and the kids being off of school, but then to throw in all of this extra drama makes everything so much worse.

How am I coping with this to protect my mental health? Surprisingly, I think I am doing ok. I am sleeping when I need to. I am taking my meds when I am supposed to. I am acknowledging that things are not how I want them to be but accepting that they are what they are. I am validating my sad feelings and having compassion for myself as I would for a friend who was going through this. I am talking with my husband about it, writing and praying about it. I do a lot of distracting when I find myself getting wrapped up in worrying too much about it by participating in my hobbies (photography and baking) or doing some housework or reading a novel and blogs. I practice mindfulness meditation and yoga by using free apps on my phone or by finding YouTube videos.

Parents, how do you protect your mental health when the kiddos trigger your mental illness symptoms?

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When Outside Factors Affect Our Mental Health

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I’m usually an even-keeled kind of person. Properly medicated, I’m a laid-back gal. There are, however, a few things that will get me riled. The major one is witnessing someone being bullied or being bullied myself.

Last night, at a meeting I was bullied by a controlling woman who is known for doing what she wants when she wants regardless of what the rest of the group says or needs. I stood up to her, we had words, she cut me off mid-argument and refused to talk it out with me, stating that she was “setting a boundary” when I think she was merely, once again, taking full power over the situation. I was left reeling with overwhelming anger, hurt, and frustration, not to mention embarrassment from the witnesses who were present.

Looking back, I was not in a good state of mind when I went to the meeting. I have been anxious about the kids returning to school today, as this major change in my daily schedule usually brings about some level of depression in me each year.

Also, like many, I have been negatively affected by the suicide of Robin Williams. It has been on my mind; has made me cry; has reignited a immense fear of my own illness, and has sent me to my knees in prayer for his family, for those who die everyday from suicide that we don’t hear about and their families, and for myself and for all who live with mental illness.

I was extremely tired and had also skipped dinner before I went. (What was I thinking?!) Before the meeting even started and she bullied me, I was irritated about something else as well.

All is all, I ignored 3 out of the 4 rules of H.A.L.T. –

Never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

I always add an S. to the end of this for Stressed and Sick as well…and in my case Smoking because I am trying to quit and going through nicotine withdrawals.

Hmmmm…come to think of it, that woman’s lucky I didn’t slug her! ;)

3 Simple Ways to Combat Worry

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I am a worrier. Worry is one of the major symptoms of depression, and I have come to accept the fact that worrying is a part of who I am. Some days are better than others, but overall, my mind is usually running amuck with worrisome thoughts. Here are some ways in which I try to combat the worry in my life:

1) Practice Mindfulness

I try to stay focused on what is happening in the present moment. I asked myself, What am I seeing right this very second with my eyes? What do I hear? What task am I performing and how does that feel? For example, the laptop is hard and flat on my legs. The keys are small and black, and the cursor blinks methodically as I sit and think of what to type next. I am staying in the moment, not thinking of past or future events – not worrying! Being mindful by engaging in productive activity is one of the best ways I know of to stop worrying.

2) Prayer

I am not a religious person, per se, but I am a spiritual person. I believe in a higher power that gives me strength to deal with what comes my way in life. I have a plaque hanging on my wall that says, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle, He helps us handle what we are given.” I truly believe this, if we only ask for His help via prayer. It has always worked for me. Not always in the time frame that I want, but has worked eventually, nonetheless.

3) Talking with others

When I share my worries with others, especially others who have had similar fears, it seems to unburden the worries from my mind. It’s as if naming them aloud releases the power they have over me. By telling trusted friends how I am feeling, I also get the benefit of their insight and wisdom on how they dealt with the same worries, and their now broader perspective on the issues. It is also just nice to know that I am not alone in my struggles.

Are you a worrier? Is there a particular worry you can’t shake? How do you cope with worry?

This post is linked to Write into the Light’s Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Worry.

Daily Meditation – Fear Not

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Fear can dominate our lives. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the past. Fear of the future. Fear of all that is, of all that isn’t. It is an agonizing state in which to live. It is a state of mind, not a state of reality, in most cases.

If we can train ourselves to stay in the present moment, in the moment of what task is at hand, then fear cannot survive. What are you doing right this moment? Reading this meditation perhaps. What fear is there in this task? When you are making your bed, doing your dishes, taking your shower, what fear is there in that? None. It is the thoughts you have outside of those actions that cause you fear.

Keeping our minds focused on exactly what we are doing in the moment can eliminate much of the fear in our lives. It is not easy, but it is simple. It is worth striving for if only to gain a little peace in our day, minute by minute.

Daily Meditation – The Present Moment

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Life sometimes seems life a series of accidents, like things are spinning out of control. Scary, anxiety-producing, unknown. It can cause us to freeze in our tracks like a deer in headlights, just waiting for the impact take us out. Rarely does this ever happen. Our fears build up scenarios in our heads that make things more unbearable than they really need to be.

If only we could take a moment to stop our thoughts and concentrate on our breathing. Take a deep breath. Do the next right thing. Take it one step at a time. Have faith that if we only take care of what is in front of us – whether it be a daily task, a job responsibility, a self-care activity, a social commitment – the future will take care of itself.

For the future is never with us, only the present moment is. It is only in the present moment where we can take the actions that will make a difference in our quality of life. It is only in the present moment where we can find peace.

How to S.T.O.P. Anxiety

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When I have a stressful event coming up, such as a holiday, a trip, or out-of-town company coming to visit, I usually spend the days leading up to it preparing myself physically and mentally by scheduling very light, easy days. I make sure not to book any doctor’s appointments or other trips too far away from home. I make sure to get plenty of rest, and may even get a massage. I leave plenty of time to clean my house, pack, or prepare meals for the event, or whatever may need to be done; always asking for help from others, and always doing a little each day and not all at one time or at the last-minute.

Well, this weekend we are going out-of-town for a stressful social event, and due to circumstances out of my control and to prior commitments made I have major plans every day this week, leaving me not one day to rest my body and mind in preparation for our trip. Because of this my anxiety level is through the roof!

I fear I may not be able handle this weekend very well because I will not have had the proper time to prepare mentally and physically for it.

My anxiety plays out in funny ways. It makes me a bit hypomanic. I can’t sleep. I become obsessed with cleaning and organizing my environment, as if by making my surroundings perfect I will somehow feel more put together on the inside, too. I become irritable and agitated; I start eating poorly, and I get headaches.

I suppose I could go through the rest of the week like this OR I could S.T.O.P.

Sit still.
Take a deep breath.
Observe my feelings.
Permit them to be.

I tend to “run away” from uncomfortable feelings like fear. I used to run from them by abusing alcohol. Now, I become too busy cleaning or shopping or doing things for the kids to pay attention to my feelings, and become just as sick as when I used to drink, only you could call it an “emotional hangover” instead of a physical one.

I find that when I am able to take a conscious moment to be quiet, breathe, acknowledge what I am feeling, and allow myself to feel it, the feelings lessen, if not dissipate all together. It is when I ignore them, run away from them, or fight them that they become more intense, and sometimes unbearable.

It is now time for me to S.T.O.P.

How about you?

What to Do When the Holidays Trigger Mental Illness Symptoms

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I am facing the peak of the holiday season as today is my children’s last day of school before their two week winter break. Not only does the stress of Christmas shopping, increased social engagements and family get-togethers, and the intense hustle and bustle of the general public wreak havoc on my mental health, but having school-aged children home for two weeks cooped up indoors is enough to drive a mama crazy! What to do? Here are some borrowed sayings I try to live by:

First Things First

My first instinct is to climb into bed, draw the covers up over my head and go into hibernation until it is all over. Obviously, I can’t do that so instead, I ignored the dishes in the sink and the presents needing wrapped, and took a two-hour nap this morning. I’ll do the dishes and the presents this afternoon after I write this post. No big deal.

Easy Does It

Tomorrow I am going to get a massage. I think it will help me de-stress and also prepare my body for the upcoming added stress of family engagements, especially since I am hosting Christmas dinner at my home. I plan on drinking a lot of water, and getting plenty of rest as well.

K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Stupid

I plan on cleaning one or two things/rooms a day and not the whole house in one afternoon as is my tendency. That way I don’t overwhelm myself to the point of tears and a complete mental breakdown; that and a crabby attitude toward the rest of my family, including playing the martyr role. Oh yeah, and I will not be doing everything myself…I will ask my family to help!

Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

I did a wonderful guided meditation on gratitude yesterday. I’ve never felt so relaxed while awake and not on some kind of drug! I will try it again throughout this week, and I will also be making gratitude lists whether on paper or just mentally each day to keep my thoughts positive.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Overall, I have learned that I have to take care of my body, take care of my thoughts, protect my time and my personal space, take my meds, abstain from alcohol, exercise, get plenty of rest, and keep some PRN Ativan on hand at all times.

How do you cope with holiday stress? I hope everyone is doing well. I know the holidays are a rough time for many. Please reach out if you are struggling. I would love to hear from you.

Four C’s of being a Parent with a Mental Illness

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I was driving my ten-year-old daughter home from her friend’s house one cool summer night. The car windows were down, and the wind whipped through our hair as the radio blasted one of her favorite songs. We sang along at the top of our lungs, laughing and screaming with delight. Just behind the excitement in her eyes I saw a touch of hesitation, a worry, and rightly so. I was manic, and while she didn’t know specifically about my bipolar disorder, on some level she recognized the signs, and it scared her…

Read the rest of my guest post today over at Dispatches From the Mad Parenthood Front.