Why I Never Get Used to Being Stable as a Person with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder

Not barely one month ago I wrote here about my mental illness, and praised the universe for my glorious period of stability.  Months of relative non-dramatic and chaos and anxiety-free days left me to do as I pleased with family and friends; with hobbies and productive work.  I even made money doing something I absolutely love to do!  ME!  Someone on disability, making a dime doing a creative job for people that I would be doing anyway on my own.  It was a dream come true this summer, I tell you, a dream come true!  And then IT happened.

One day, all of a sudden, I dreaded the next paid gig that I was so eager to do just weeks prior.  The thought of having to do it; of being obligated to do it now weighed so heavily on me I started feeling panicky.  I was overwhelmed at the thought of all it entailed and so, so unmotivated to go through with it.  All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide for the next … well, indefinitely.  I couldn’t focus on the amount of steps the whole job called for and I especially couldn’t cope with the social interactions it forced me to have.

Then two weeks later, the kids went back to school and things only got worse from there.  My depression plummeted to another level as I spent every day at home alone in bed with no purpose other than to get up when they came home seven hours later.  I came across this awesome mental health pain scale put out there by Rori, the Graceful Patient, and thought, “By God, I am already at a solid 6 going on a 7 here, and I was a fricking 1 five weeks ago!”

mh-pain-scale

As an aside, before my stable period this summer, I was in a mild depression for several months through the end of spring.  This is me.  This is the life of rapid cycling bipolar disorder.  It is not pretty or fun or predictable.  Although, many times the depression does coincide with transitional events like the kids starting school in the fall and ending the school year in the spring, so there is some predictability in that sense.  But, for the most part it is riding a mood wave that ebbs and flows over the course of weeks or months, sometimes even days when it gets really ugly.

So, here I am, turning to the thing I always turn to when I start to feel crazy: writing.  I get into that darkness and I write myself out (i.e, “write into the light” = this blog’s name.)  I also went and saw my doctor, of course, and told her what was going on.  So, I’m starting yet another new med this week.

I have been on so many medications I couldn’t even name them all.  No joke!  I seriously wouldn’t remember all of them that I’ve tried over the last 17 years.  I do know we make changes or adjustments at least a couple of times a year due to my rapid cycling.  She told me one time she has some patients with bipolar that go years without a med adjustment but not me and my rapid cycles.  I’m what they call “hypersensitive”…to people, to meds, to situations, to changes, to seasons, to temperature, to noise, to lights, crowds, to smells.  I also fall under the description of an “empath” as well, which explains a lot of my ills after being around certain people and large crowds.  It also explains my excellent intuition.

All of this just makes me realize this whole mood disorder, sensory system, personality thing is very complicated and intertwined.  Who’s to say what one thing is and what’s another or where one thing begins and another ends?  People are complex.  Don’t judge or compartmentalize, if you can help it.  We are all so much more than our labels.  Kind of makes me want to retitle my post.  But, for Google’s sake I won’t.  Google search likes labels. 🙂

Do you or anyone you know experience rapid cycling moods?  How do you cope with it?  What helps you manage?

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What it is Like to Be Mentally Stable

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I was sitting here thinking about how I haven’t thought about the fact that I have bipolar disorder in a while.  About two weeks ago I had a day or two of feeling depressed and it reminded me of the “old days” of when I was in a true clinically depressed state of being unable to get out of bed or eat or shower for weeks on end; of when I didn’t know how I was going to make it through another day of living; of how I hoped I didn’t make it through alive.  I just wanted to die.

Thankfully, I don’t get that low for that long anymore.  I also don’t get high enough to be up until two or three (or four) in the morning writing or painting or working on any other various creative projects that always turned out to be a waste of time.  Many of the projects I start these days I finish, and they have some sort of functional goal or purpose to them as opposed to being just some sort of random jibberish.

Some major medication trials until the right combo was found and a complete overhaul in therapy to treat my childhood traumas both played a role in the stability I am enjoying today.  It takes work, effort, and the help of good and caring doctors and therapists, but mental stability can happen.

I am fully aware that one of these days I may wake up and find myself in a depressive or hypomanic state once again that lasts more than a day or two as they have been.  I dread the day if it ever comes.  However, luckily, my anxiety disorder is also under control enough that this thought is something I can let go of and simply go on living my life as is until further notice.  Thanks be to God!

Bipolar Disorder and Chronic Pain

The Bipolar-Pain Connection

According to recent research, about 14% of people with bipolar disorder experience migraines and another 24% experience some other form of chronic pain. That’s almost a third of people with bipolar disorder who are in some sort of serious pain!

In particular, migraines affect 1 in 7 persons with bipolar disorder, which is 3 times more likely than the general population. I’ve been living with chronic migraine for ten years now. Some days I feel like it’s a death sentence. Some days I wish that sentence was carried out. My doctors are still trying to figure out a way to decrease the frequency of my 8 to 12 migraines per month. Apparently, “bipolar disorder and migraines are multifactorial in etiology—there appear to be vascular, cellular, molecular, neurochemical (serotonergic and noradrenergic), and genetic (KIAA0564) components in common between bipolar disorder and migraine conditions.”

Pain and Mental Illness’s Affect on One Another

In general, people with mental illness who experience chronic pain tend to have worsening symptoms of their illness. Often doctors do not take seriously the complaints of physical pain from those individuals who have mental illness. A lot of times people with mental illness have increased sensitivity to pain because they are experiencing depression. Also, because they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, many times people with mental conditions do not seek the medical care they need to address their physical pain. This leads to greater functional impairments, poorer quality of life, increased disability, and increased risk of suicide compared to those without pain.

Treatments that Address Pain and Mental Illness

Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants or other select antidepressants can be used to help minimize physical pain symptoms as well as address depression symptoms in some patients. Care needs to be taken in patients with bipolar disorder, however, due to the increased risk of triggering a manic episode in those who take antidepressants alone. Often times, a mood stabilizer will be used in conjunction with the antidepressant in these patients.

This is exactly the treatment I am currently receiving under the care of my physician. I am excited to see if it will decrease the frequency of my migraines while addressing my depression and anxiety symptoms at the same time.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments for physical pain and some mental illness symptoms can include things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer, talk therapy, and diet modifications.

Work with your doctor to figure out what may be the best course of action for you. The most important thing is to not give up hope and to never give up trying to find a way out.

Things are Getting a Little Personal

I noticed over the past year my posts have become somewhat generic and distant, like making small talk with someone at the water cooler. I haven’t offered much of anything in the way of myself or my personal struggles with mental illness. It’s not for lack of having symptoms, trust me! It’s just been easier to report the facts and keep anything extra under wraps.

My fear is mostly that my anonymity will be compromised, so I hesitate to write about anything in too much detail. I suppose my paranoia could be considered a symptom of my anxiety disorder, so there’s that.

I have recently become more open with family and friends about the limitations my anxiety disorder places on me as far as the things I can’t do, the places I can’t go, and the physical pain it causes me, especially if I push myself beyond my limits. I think this has surprised them some these last few months. I’m not sure they understand, but they seem supportive.

I feel blessed that I haven’t had a major depressive episode in quite a while. I do a little dance between hypomania and a brief down fall every spring turn summer, but other than that my mood disorder is fairly stable. It’s just this darn anxiety mixed with intermittent panic attacks.

I’ll continue to write what I know, sharing knowledge about mental health and mental illness, incorporating my voice a little more than I have been lately.

In the meantime, I’d like to know what you would like me to write about. I’ve written meditations, essays, writing prompts, poetry, and reported on research articles. What would you like to see more of?

5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. 🙂  Then she asked me if I loved myself.  My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:  I love my true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully, she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.  It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.  She looked at me like I was crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.  🙂

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors – the depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.  A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”  If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.  Don’t stress over it.  Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.  In a second column challenge those thoughts.  For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”  She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.  Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.  It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.  I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!  Keep trying.  Have faith that it will work and that your joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

How to Deal With Complex PTSD Triggers

Dealing with PTSD Triggers

Current Symptoms

Racing thoughts. Obsessive compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, organizing, exercising. Increased negative coping behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, and drinking. Physical pains, such as upset stomach, migraines, muscle aches and fatigue. Early morning waking. Increased irritability. Forgetfulness. Tightening chest. Racing heart rate – literally hearing my heart pounding in my ears. Shallow, rapid breaths. Dissociation or feelings of having an “out-of-body” experience.

These are common occurrences for those of us with anxiety disorders. This week, I experienced all of them (except for the drinking.) Only after forcing myself to sit down long enough to do some journaling was I able to identify the source of my anxiety…

Triggers

There is always a cause for anxiety. Did you know that? It just doesn’t come because “we are crazy.” There is always a root cause, and it serves me well to sit down and face the fear of finding out what it is, because once I realize what is causing it, I can deal with it, and the symptoms will subside.

Sometimes finding the cause isn’t as simple as it can be with straight-forward Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, which are caused by specific events such as accidents and natural disasters. Sometimes the events are actually an accumulation of events occurring over a period of months or years, where the person is subject to long-term, repeated trauma as in the case of child abuse. In such cases, the term “Complex PTSD” is often used even though it is not officially a diagnosis included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This week my three-day anxiety attack which culminated into a full-blown panic attack was triggered by a few things. First of all, I posted my BPD story last weekend, which set my anxiety level higher than normal, but in and of itself didn’t cause me too much stress. However, add that to the fact that on two different occasions last week I unexpectedly ran into different individuals with whom I went to high school, and then the kicker was an unplanned evening of looking through my high school yearbooks (at my daughter’s request.) She wanted to see what her dad and I were like back in the day, and I didn’t think twice about taking a trip down memory lane. Next time I will.

Past Trauma

High school was a very traumatic time for me. My parents’ alcoholism was at its peak; dysfunction and emotional neglect were at an all time high in our home. Memories of those years are clouded with my own drunken states filled with self-harm behaviors and untreated bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms.

Before going to bed that evening, I made a passing comment to my husband about feeling a little anxious after looking through those yearbook, and then I thought nothing more of it.

Three days later, I had my first panic attack in many, many months.

After quickly figuring out the cause of my anxiety (due only to writing about my feelings, which is why “Write into the Light” is my mantra) I began to ask myself many questions:

  • Is knowing the cause of my anxiety enough to make it go away?
  • Do I need to worry that these memories triggered me the way they did?
  • Is this a sign that I need to work out some more stuff in therapy with my counselor, who I haven’t needed to see in six months now?
  • Does this mean I am not healed all the way like I thought I was?

Healthy Coping Skills

I was a mess at this point. But, here are the skills I used to cope with my state of mind at the time. My hope in sharing these is that it will give you some ideas to try when you find yourself experiencing extreme anxiety.

First, I left messages for two friends who I knew would understand, and I also left a message for my therapist.

Next, I tried sitting with and observing my feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judgment; trying not to push anything away nor hang onto anything. Just noticing and observing as if I was an outsider looking in.

I tried soothing myself by rubbing scented lotion on my arms and hands, which didn’t help much.

Then I decided to call my doctor to get an emergency refill of my PRN anti-anxiety medication. Luckily, the pharmacy filled it in ten minutes and also luckily, my husband was due home for his lunch break and was able to pick it up on his way.

While waiting, I wrapped myself in a warm blanket and sat in a fetal position on the couch in a quiet room. This helped calm me immensely.

I also said some simple prayers.

I took my medication at the same time my therapist called back. After telling her what happened, she said that I might need to try some “exposure therapy” meaning that I look at the yearbooks when I am in a good place emotionally and mentally, and even then only for a short time, and maybe not with my young daughters.

Integration

I made the comment to her that I thought I had gotten past this part of my life, that my negative feelings about it were gone. She said they are always going to be there; that the goal is not to get rid of the bad memories, which is impossible, but to instead integrate them. Integration is the goal. (Integration: The organization of the psychological traits and tendencies of a personality into a harmonious whole.)

She also said that I should try to dig up a few good memories from that time. She said they are probably there, but are just overshadowed by the bad ones. At first I didn’t think she was right, but then I made a conscious effort to get out of my black and white/all or nothing thinking, and started thinking dialectically – where good and bad memories can co-exist. And guess what? She was right!

Discussion Questions:

When you’re anxious do you dig deep to find out what the root cause is? It may be something more than what it appears to be on the surface.

What physical symptoms do you have when you are feeling anxious? Do you take the time to sit and notice your body’s sensations and your mind’s thoughts during these times? Why or why not?

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Until next time…

Wil

My True Self is NOT Mentally Ill

A list of what I like about my self:

  • caring
  • loving
  • smart
  • creative
  • funny
  • attractive
  • willing to learn
  • a good listener
  • compassionate
  • driven to improve my spiritual life

 

What is one thing that you like about yourself?

How Can I Be the Self if I’m Taking Pills that Remind Me that I Am Mentally Sick? from Mooji Answers on Vimeo.

 

What do you think of this video?