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!”

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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!

Mental Health and the Highly Sensitive Person

Do you ever find that noises are just too loud? Lights are too bright? Scents that don’t seem to bother others are noxious to you? You’re always either cold or hot? You find yourself exhausted after spending time with people? If so, you may be what psychologist, Elaine Aron, calls a “Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).”

About Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

HSP have super sensitive nervous systems that pick up on external stimuli more easily than most other people’s do. They also have a hard time filtering out or ignoring cues in their environment that are irrelevant to their situation.

For example, when having a conversation with someone at a party, a HSP may become distracted by the other conversations going on around them instead of being able to tune them out. Or they may not be able to concentrate on reading a book in a quiet room with a clock ticking softly nearby.

Cluttered countertops, the noise level of a cheering crowd at a sporting event, a crying baby, a windy day, a sunny day, a hot day, tight clothes, or a dirty bathroom can all send a HSP over the edge into an anxiety attack or severe agitation.

HSP also tend to over respond emotionally to situations. They can easily pick up on the emotions of others and can even feel drained or stressed out by negative emotional content portrayed on television or in movies.

Because of their decreased ability to regulate their emotional response to stimuli, HSP often have mental health disorders such as bipolar, depression, and anxiety.

What to do if you are a HSP?

  1. Recognize the warning signs. Take notice when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, anxious or agitated. Ask yourself, “Am I having a highly sensitive response to some neutral external or internal trigger right now?”
  2. Identify the trigger. Is it something outside of yourself like noise, light, temperature, or smells? Or is it something internal like fatigue, hunger or physical pain?
  3. Have a plan in place to counter act your triggers. Use headphones to block out irritating noises; sunglasses to mute lighting, cold compress to cool off, if hot. Bring a sweater or dress in layers, if cold. Spray perfume on the back of your index finger and inconspicuously bring to your nose to block out environmental odors. Drink green tea for fatigue; carry healthy snack for unexpected hunger pains and pain medicine for unexpected flare ups. Take time outs from social gatherings in your car, in the bathroom or back bedroom or leave early. Drive yourself so you can leave when you need to. Wear comfortable clothing, get a simple hair style, stay organized, and keep a routine.

All of these things can help a Highly Sensitive Person thrive. Are you a HSP? How so? What helps you cope?

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?

When Panic Attacks Here is What You Can Do

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Racing heart
  • Shallow, rapid breaths
  • Tunnel vision
  • Sweaty palms
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Crying
  • Shaking, tremors
  • Irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to sound, lights, touch
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

There is usually a precipitating factor or something that has caused or is causing the panic attack to occur. Or fear about future events or a future incident can incite an attack. 

One way of dealing with it is to distract yourself from thinking about said event by reading a book, watching a show or playing a game. Draw, paint, listen to music or go for a relaxing walk. Find something to distract youself from your anxiety producing thoughts. 

Another way to cope is to take a short nap. Sometimes your brain just needs a break and it is okay to give it one. Just make sure not to overdo this one as it can become chronic and unhealthy. 

Talk to a trusted friend or professional to get the thoughts and feelings out of your head. Releasing them decreases the power they have over you. Also, problem solving ways to reduce anxiety is way more successful when you work on it with someone else. Keeping it to yourself only intensifies it. Trying to figure it out on your own only makes the anxiety worse. 

When possible don’t.do.anything.  Panic attacks are the body’s response to overstimulation. Resting in a quiet calming room may help tremendously. Experiment with what works best for you and take the time and breaks you need to let your system return to normal. 

Panic attacks are scary. Uncomfortable at best. Not your fault. Be kind to yourself when they come. Get through them the best you can and move on. Talk to a healthcare professional if they become chronic or significantly interrupt your life or cause you serious adverse effects.  There is medication and other treatment options that can help. You are not alone. 

Mental Illness is a Surmountable Obstacle

~ Guest post by Jackie Cortez

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. And while treatment is available, it’s often underutilized.

For many people, mental illness can be something that troubles them periodically in life but never something that incapacitates them. For others, mental illness can be completely debilitating. What’s important is recognizing mental illness and treating it with the best approach for people so they may live healthy, productive lives.

Inner turmoil

While there are social stigmas attached to mental illness, it is the self-stigma that can be the most dangerous to a person’s overall well-being. A person with a mental illness may feel ostracized from his peers and turn to outward or inward destructive behaviors to cope. These may materialize as bursts of aggression, depression, or isolation or as reckless actions including sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse and drug abuse. A mental illness makes it difficult to see past the negative aspects of today to the bright and beautiful possibilities of tomorrow. It is estimated that more than 90% of suicides are committed by persons with a diagnosable mental disorder. Approximately half of these individuals will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse before their death.

Physical self-care

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, you should take extra care to take care of yourself. Stress takes a toll on the body and can cause headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, upset stomach, and fatigue. These symptoms’ impact can be lessened through protecting your physical health. It is easier to maintain good mental health habits when your body – your foundation – is strong.

It is important to exercise daily. This may be done individually or in a group setting as exercise provides the body with natural stress relief hormones. Maintaining a balanced diet devoid of processed foods, including sugars, additionally goes a long way toward whole-person health. Sleep is essential and most adults require between seven and nine hours each night; a brief 30 minute nap in the early afternoon can also offer a person with a mental health disorder a bit of a boost. Most importantly, drugs and alcohol should be avoided completely as, despite common belief, these substances actually exacerbate stress and depression.

A mental illness will not go away overnight. However, many people find they are less affected when they practice these good mental health habits:

Avoid guilt

Negative emotions happen and it is important not to dwell on them or pass judgment. Understand that it is how you react to these emotions that matters. Recognize them but don’t get caught up in the moment.

Pay attention to the positive

Even in your deepest, darkest hour, positive things are going to happen in your day. It could be as small as a glimpse of the mountains or fresh ocean breeze. When they happen, pause and enjoy. It may help to keep a journal and write down one good thing that happens each day. You can go back and read about your happy days when you’re feeling sad or stressed to remind yourself that not everything in life is bad.

Find strength in numbers

There are virtually countless support groups in every city in every state for people struggling with mental illness. You can perform a quick online search for groups in your area. Know that you cannot solve things on your own and there are people out there who, like you, are dealing with invisible and taboo issues. Spending time with others will not only help you get things off your chest but will keep you connected to the world around you.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression or drug abuse, get help. Always remember there is no shame in asking for assistance from others, be they medical professionals, family, or friends. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

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~ Jackie Cortez works with The Prevention Coalition to identify and highlight resources on every aspect of substance abuse, ranging from prevention to addiction treatment. Her mission is to use her writings to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

Keep the Pace – A Meditation

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When it comes to mental illness, often our moods are “all or nothing.”  We are either on top of the world or in the pit of despair.  If we are not careful, our behaviors can reflect our emotions, leading to chaos in our lives and problems in our relationships with others.

When it comes to the emotional ups and downs of mental illness, we can fight the temptation to act on them by remembering the phrase “Keep the Pace.”  In other words, let’s keep doing what we do when we are stable.  Let’s keep showering and going to bed at a decent hour.  Let’s keep eating as healthy as we can and exercising moderately.  Let’s keep our social activities up, but not excessive, and our verbal and physical boundaries intact and closely moderated.  Let’s maintain an appropriate number of projects, neither dropping them all due to inertia nor starting too many.

When I feel myself slipping into either an elevated or a depressed mood state, I will remind myself to “keep the pace” and not feed into the insanity of my disorder by changing my behaviors too drastically.  Just like a marathon runner, who neither sprints nor ceases to run at all, I must pace myself to participate fully in the race, and then I will know peace.