What Bipolar Disorder Has Given to and Taken Away From Me

In honor of World Bipolar Disorder Day I am going to discuss numerous things bipolar disorder has given to and taken away from me. I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar type 2 disorder 15 years ago. I knew nothing about the disorder or how it would affect my life for the next 15 years. While there are positives that have come about due to having bipolar, the negatives far outweigh them.

What Bipolar Disorder Has Taken From Me

The ability to work a paying job

Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have tried various ways of staying gainfully employed. I have worked full-time outside of the home and part time from home for a healthcare employer, as well as part time outside of the home and from home for myself. In each situation my bipolar symptoms, especially anxiety (social, general and panic), anger/irritability, and depression, have left me unable to cope with the demands.

I even started a photography business since photography is my favorite hobby, but the business side of it and dealing with people was more than I could handle and bipolar symptoms were triggered. So, I had to quit or continue to suffer the negative health consequences.

My ideal body weight

Bipolar medications have caused me to gain at least 20 pounds over the last 10 years. Couple that with the fact that my previous career involved a lot of exercise that I no longer get and the weight keeps piling on. My rapid cycling moods make sticking to an at-home exercise routine or diet regimen nearly impossible.

The ability to be a stable parent

Unfortunately, my bipolar disorder has negatively affected my children. There have been times where, because of anxiety and depression, I have been unable to get out of bed to be there for them or to attend their activities, and even worse, times where I have been hurtful with my words to them due to hypomanic irritability. I worry that they have picked up their own anxieties from growing up in a household filled with mine.

The ability to socialize and be in public places without extra medication

Bipolar anxiety has left me with an extremely sensitive nervous system that becomes overstimulated with what is typical input for most people. For me, the noises are always too loud, lights too bright, smells too strong, and people too close. I have to take one or two additional medications to cope with all of these stimuli.

Spontaneous changes in my routine

Maintaining mood stability requires that I adhere to fairly strict schedules with my sleep, medications, food intake, and social calendar. I go to bed at the same time each night. A rare late night out can wreak havoc on my mood for days afterwards.

I take my medications on a strict schedule. Forgetting a dose can cause troubling side effects such as light-headedness and nausea.

I eat three meals a day because going too long without eating can affect my moods greatly.

Finally, I have to plan ahead for social events. Any last minute plans or changes to plans can send me into a tailspin.

Parts of my creativity

Before going on certain bipolar medications, I was prolific at writing, especially poetry and mental health blogs. I also painted a lot. I believe antipsychotics dried up those creative wells for me. I just don’t have the same drive and imagination for it anymore.

The ability to stick with something long term

I will often enthusiastically start projects such as writing a book, starting a new blog, beginning an exercise program, creating a house cleaning schedule, starting a new diet, reading a book, or learning a new skill, but after a few weeks my mood will shift and I will abandon whatever it is I began. It’s a pattern I’ve had for nearly my whole life, starting long before I even knew I had bipolar disorder.

Outdoor summer fun

Some of the bipolar medications I take make it difficult for my body to regulate its temperature. Therefore, I’ve had to give up many once enjoyed outdoor activities when the weather is too hot, such as spending the day on the lake with friends, watching the kids’ baseball games, lounging for hours at the pool, going for walks, and doing yard work.

Friends

The irritability that comes along with bipolar mood fluctuations has caused me to do or say things that most people might think but never act on and this has caused rifts in some of my friendships.

I also think that because of bipolar disorder my inhibitions can be lower at times in a way that makes it feel like I can’t control what comes out of my mouth and I find myself blurting out comments or answers that are inappropriate.

Paranoia has also caused me to embarrassingly ask friends if they are mad at me or don’t like me anymore which is just awkward for everyone.

Peace of mind

With bipolar disorder’s mood changes and the secondary emotions that can come with it, such as anger, irritability, and anxiety, I am always on edge and wondering what is coming next. Everything internally feels so unpredictable that I can barely ever relax and feel secure about my health. Even when things are going well I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lasting peace of mind seems to forever elude me.

What Bipolar Disorder Has Given to Me

An opportunity to stay home full time and work on my physical, mental, and spiritual health

Because I am home most days by myself, I am able to spend a lot of time learning, reading, writing, reflecting on things, and participating in hobbies, support groups, spiritual groups, and going to as many doctors’ appointments as I need to to reach towards my fullest potential in all areas of my health. If I did not have bipolar disorder, I would be working full time and not have the time to do all of these things.

The ability to truly help my children, who also suffer from mental illnesses

My kids have had multiple physical and mental issues over the years that have required many daytime doctor and therapy visits that I would have not been able to do if I was working a full-time job. Bipolar disorder has forced me out of the work place thereby allowing me to be home for them during some of the most critical and crucial times of their lives.

The ability to support others with mental health issues in real life and online with greater compassion and open-mindedness

Sometimes you can’t imagine what others are going through unless you’ve been through it yourself. I have been through a lot of trauma and heartache including hospitalizations due to suicidal behavior thanks to bipolar disorder. You just can’t help others in the same way when you haven’t experienced these depths of despair as you can when you have. I have something valuable to offer others because of my trials.

What About You and Bipolar Disorder?

What are some things bipolar disorder has taken from you and/or given to you? Share your experiences in the comments.

Differences Between Depression and Sadness

Everyone feels sad at some point in their life but not everyone gets depressed. Usually sadness is a result of some specific external event or reason going on in someone’s life from something as serious as the death of a loved one to something less serious like failing an important exam. This is not to say that some things that cause sadness such as these cannot lead into depression if it goes on for a long period of time.

Main Differences Between Sadness and Depression

  • A person with sadness can usually find some relief from crying, venting, or talking out frustrations. Those with depression can do the same thing but often don’t find the same kind of relief. They continue to feel very sad with the added symptoms of hopelessness, lack of motivation, and loss of interest in activities that they once found enjoyable.
  • Sadness usually passes with time. Depression tends to last weeks or months and may lead to those with it thinking about or attempting suicide. They may also no longer feel like spending time with family or friends and might become disinterested in their usual hobbies and feel unable to attend work or school.
  • Sadness is just one part of depression. Other symptoms of depression that aren’t necessarily seen in sadness include a daily depressed mood that lasts for most of the day, nearly every day, with signs of hopelessness and sadness. There’s also a loss of interest in normal activities for an extended amount of time, significant and unintentional weight loss or gain, insomnia, sleepiness, or increased amounts of sleep that affect normal schedules, tiredness and low energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt on a daily basis, inability to concentrate or make decisions, and recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts or plans. A person who experiences any five of these symptoms for longer than two weeks would probably be diagnosed as having depression rather than a prolonged experience of sadness.

If you feel like you are experiencing depression rather than sadness, contact your medical professional as soon as possible. There are many treatment options available for people with depression including medications and psychotherapy and counseling.

Comorbidities in People with Mental Illness

Comorbidities in people with mental illness means they have another disorder in addition to their mental illness. This is quite common. I, for example, have bipolar disorder and chronic migraine.

Comorbidities do not have to be a mental disorder paired with a physical disorder. They can also be two or more mental disorders or two or more physical disorders.

Having more than one disorder has its challenges. For example, a person with both multiple sclerosis and depression would be treated for both conditions, but it would be important to take into consideration the overlap between medications that would be prescribed by different doctors.

For this reason, people with comorbid disorders should take good notes of their symptoms, medications and their side effects, and anything they and their doctors discuss at each appointment so that unwanted interactions are avoided. It is also important to have excellent communication with all providers so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

If you have comorbidities, you must be a persistent advocate for yourself to get the proper treatment plan in place to treat all of your disorders so that you can reach and maintain optimal health, both physically and mentally. By following the aforementioned suggestions you can be on your way to better health no matter how many comorbidities you have.

Depression Basics and Where to Get Help

Depression is a clinical disorder that is very treatable. It is more than feeling sad for a short period of time and can increase feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness for days, weeks or months at a time. Clinical depression also keeps you from living your life the way that you used to before you became depressed. There’s no cure for depression, but your symptoms may go away over time and you may become stable again with treatment and medical care.

Depression Symptoms

Depression symptoms include:

  • Your mood is depressed for most of the day, especially in the morning.
  • You feel tired or have a lack of energy almost every day.
  • You feel worthless or guilty most every day.
  • You feel hopeless or pessimistic.
  • You have a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions.
  • You can’t sleep, or you sleep too much, almost every day.
  • You have almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day.
  • You think often about death or suicide.
  • You feel restless or slowed down.
  • You’ve lost or gained weight.

You may also:

  • feel cranky and restless
  • lose pleasure in life
  • over eat or stop feeling hungry
  • have aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment
  • have sad, anxious, or empty feelings. (WedMD)

Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms and some people may experience other ones not listed.

Depression and Suicide

You should take anyone who thinks or talks about hurting themselves very seriously. In the US call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433); 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255); for hearing impaired, call 800-799-4889. Or you can contact a mental health professional. If you intend to or have a plan to attempt suicide, go to the emergency room immediately.

Do you identify with any of the symptoms of depression? If so, please talk with your doctor or mental health professional about them right away.

Should You Take Medication to Treat Your Mental Illness?

To take medication for a mental illness is a very personal choice. For me, medication has allowed me to live a life with some stability in my moods and has helped me to be a better wife, mom, and friend. 

I have severe symptoms that do not subside without medication because I believe my brain is imbalanced with regards to certain neurotransmitters, such as Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine.  There are side effects, such as drowsiness and weight gain, but these need to be weighed against the benefits to decide if the medicine is worth taking or not. 

Some people can manage their symptoms with non-medication interventions such as counseling, lifestyle changes, diet, prayer and meditation, exercise, and journaling/keeping mood charts to stay on top of their mental health status.

It is up to the individual whether or not to treat their mental illness with medication and it is none of everyone else’s business to criticize what they decide to do. 

Any thoughts? Join the conversation and leave a comment.

Being a Mom with Anxiety

I became a mom almost 21 years ago. I was not yet diagnosed with mental illness. About six months into motherhood when postpartum depression had a strong hold on me, I went to my doctor for help and she put me on an antidepressant. About six years later, after the birth of my second child, I was diagnosed with bipolar type 2 disorder. It is at this point that I think my anxiety developed into something that I could not handle without professional help or medication because I began to have panic attacks along with generalized anxiety and eventually severe social anxiety.

Play dates were difficult at best and attending sporting events were and still are extremely stressful and anxiety producing (hint: wearing earbuds playing calming music helps a lot!) Having children who are growing up with their own anxiety and depression issues only increases the stress of motherhood exponentially for a mom with anxiety. On the up side, having an anxiety disorder has better equipped me to completely empathize with my children and help them in ways I would not be able to if I hadn’t already learned skills to deal with my own anxiety.  Some of these skills include the following:

  • Setting healthy boundaries by saying no to things when I feel I am reaching my threshold for responsibilities and daily activities. 
  • Asking for help with daily responsibilities from my partner, family, and friends.
  • Taking time for self care activities like reading a chapter of a book, journaling, taking a bubble bath, listening to calming music, watching an episode of a series I enjoy, petting my dog or cat, taking a nap, sitting in the sun for a few minutes, doing my nails, getting my hair done, meditating, or doing some stretches or simple yoga exercises.
  • Not being hard on myself when I can’t do things I wish I could. 
  • Accepting my limitations.
  • Praying for the strength to do as much as possible without making myself sick.
  • Being thankful for all I can do and for all I have instead of focusing on the negative aspects of having an anxiety disorder. 

Being a mom with anxiety has its challenges, but with an awareness of and honoring what your limitations are and following the suggestions above, you can thrive as a mom and a person with anxiety. 

Looking Back at Ten Years of Blogging at Write into the Light

Ten years ago today I posted my first blog here at Write into the Light. Ten years!  I feel like that is such a long time.  

I started off writing daily meditations because I couldn’t find any meditation books specifically written for people with mental illness or mental health issues. Over the years my writing has evolved from those meditations to journal-type entries and poems, to essays and opinion pieces, and finally, reports on mental health research articles. 

Regardless of the type of writing I post, all of it helps me process and cope with my own mental health symptoms and I hope helps others with the same. Writing has been one of my biggest coping skills when it comes to my mental illnesses, hence the name of this site. 

There were many months I was inactive and even full years where I only wrote a few blogs at most depending on my health status. Several times I almost closed the site down but I never did because even though I would go periods without writing, the stats showed that people were still viewing my posts on a daily basis.  And I thought, if the blog was helping someone by just being there then it was worth leaving up even if I wasn’t adding anything new to it at the time. 

Over the last 10 years I’ve written over 360 posts and have had over 44,000 visitors and 65,000 views. I have close to 900 readers on WordPress, a tad over 300 Twitter followers, 1200 and something Facebook fans, and 25 email subscribers. Definitely not a big outfit by any stretch of the imagination, but a small little part of the mental health community that I hope is contributing enough in a way that is making a difference in someone’s morning, afternoon, or evening every once in a while. 

I wonder who is out there who has been blogging for ten years or more. I am in contact with no one from my early days of blogging because their blogs have been dead for years and I miss some of them so much.  

I am happy to have found new bloggers throughout the years, however, and thank every one of you for taking the time to follow, read, like and comment on my posts. I appreciate you and always enjoy connecting with you. 

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Can Being Too Busy Cause Anxiety?

The short answer to this question is yes, for sure. All it took was four doctors’ appointments in the span of two weeks and planning a birthday party for my mom on top of my normal daily tasks of running the kids to school and activities and keeping up on housework to bring me to DEFCON 1 anxiety.

My anxiety tends to present itself as irritability towards anyone whom I hold near and dear to me, most notably my beloved husband, poor guy.  I not only become dissatisfied with everything that is going on in the house, but I also can’t stand the way anyone is doing anything around me. 

It is usually best if I retreat to a quiet room on my own to chill out with something to read, watch or listen to. Sometimes it does help to talk it out with my husband as well. 

Also here is a great list of dos and don’ts when I find myself too busy and filled with anxiety. 

  1. Don’t over commit.  For example, I rescheduled some of my doctor’s appointments for a time when I wasn’t so busy. 
  2. Do prioritize.  I found that I could let laundry pile up a little that week and catch up on it the following week when I wasn’t so busy so I could make it to my appointments.
  3. Do delegate so you don’t have to push yourself so hard.  I asked for help in driving the kids to some of their activities that week to give myself a break. 
  4. Don’t forget to treat yourself for working so hard.  Mocha lattes every other afternoon for two weeks!

So, as you can see being too busy can cause anxiety especially in someone who already has an anxiety disorder.  However, there are ways to cope with it and decrease it if you take the time to make the appropriate adjustments to your schedule and approach. 

Keep an eye on your busyness before anxiety has its eye on you. 

When Mental Illness Takes Away Your People Skills

Part of combating a mental illness is making sure that you have meaningful activity to participate in on a regular basis. Even those without mental health conditions need to have meaningful, purposeful tasks in their life to make life worthwhile.

There are very few tasks that don’t involve interacting with other people. Even something as solitary as writing a book eventually involves submitting it to editors and publishers and dealing with them, as well as critics and readers.

As a result of my bipolar disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, and severe social anxiety disorder, I have the most difficult time interacting with people. This limits my range of productive activities that I can do outside of the home. I cannot hold any job that involves interacting with others for any length of time outside of my immediate family. I do short stints of volunteer work, an hour here and there, and that is it.

It makes me sad to think my life will be void of being of sustained service to other people for the rest of my life due to my mental health conditions. However, I can do nothing else but accept this reality and move on.

I do take satisfaction in the fact that I can at least blog here and write about my experiences and provide information and encouragement to those who may be in the same situation as myself.

Serotonin: What Is It and How To Get It Naturally

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is related to depression. It is thought that those with depression are lacking in serotonin. Some antidepressant medications block the reuptake of serotonin leaving more available for use by the brain, thereby decreasing depression symptoms or so the theory goes.

Besides medication, which has been proven in clinical trials to have a significant effect on depression symptoms, there are anecdotal treatments some people say increase serotonin in the brain. These “treatments” aren’t always backed by scientific studies and should be discussed with your doctor before being tried especially if they involve any sort of supplement or exercise, but most appear relatively harmless and may even be helpful in relieving some depression symptoms in some people. These serotonin-producing ideas include the following:

  • Get more tryptophans from foods like lean meats, eggs, and dairy.
  • Get a massage.
  • Boost your vitamin B.
  • Soak up the sunshine or use a light therapy box.
  • Add more magnesium to your diet with dark, leafy veges, fish, bananas, and beans.
  • Be more positive, practice gratitude.
  • Reduce sugar intake.
  • Meditate.
  • Increase exercise.
  • Increase vitamin C.
  • Practice self care to reduce stress.
  • Keep a journal or practice some form a regular writing.

Don’t try to make all the changes at once, if it seems overwhelming. Tackle one or two items a month. Eventually you will get to feeling better and better and before you know it all of these things will become second nature, if you tackle them like a marathon not a sprint.

Play the long game. These changes are lifetime goals. You have all the time in the world to reach them, but start making them one or two at a time. You can do it and will be glad you did as you begin to feel better and better little by little until it adds up to be quite a lot!

It took me over ten years to get to some real solid stability in my bipolar depression. I did it by addimg a lot of coping skills and healthy habits to my life year after year. Trauma work in therapy and constant medication management was a huge part of it, too, but the anecdotal cures were essential and still are. They may be for you, too.

As always, comments are open for any questions you may have for me and for any shares you have regarding your experiences. Thanks for reading.