Am I My Illness?

I’ve started this place on my phone where I keep blog post ideas and rough drafts because I have so many bits and pieces of information flying through my head at one time that I get completely overwhelmed at the thought of sitting down and writing something out.

I attribute these rapid thoughts to my anxiety disorder or to possible depressive symptoms such as the inability to focus or concentrate long enough to organize disjointed ideas into a single theme.

Then I get to thinking, is this it? Is everything always because of my mental illnesses? Is my difficulty writing or remembering or socializing or driving or losing weight or parenting or making friends all due to mental illness? How do I distinguish that which is part of my personality from that which is my illness? Are they one in the same?

I’m not going to pretend to have the answer and quite honestly this is not a rhetorical question. I would love for some feedback here because I have read on numerous occasions well-meaning memes that state “you are not your illness” when I think sometimes maybe I am.

Because I Journal…

I’ve been closely tracking my moods for the past four months because I slipped into a depressive episode back in August of this year. I keep an online journal that is password protected so that I am sure it is for my eyes only. This allows me to be as candid as I want to be, which I find to be extremely therapeutic.

I typically write in my journal every other week or so, making note of my mood or state of mind and writing all about what is going on in my life with regard to myself and others and my feelings and thoughts regarding all of these things. I also write about my hopes and fears and goals as they come to mind in random ways.

It has been a rough couple of months as looking back on my journal entries will reveal, peaking with a practice-go at writing a suicide note. I didn’t plan on writing one, but I got to writing about all of the hard things I’ve been through in my life and it just kind of turned into one. Then the weirdest thing happened: the next day I felt great and my mood has steadily improved since then. It’s like I just had to get the bad thoughts out of my head and on to the paper for them to no longer have power over me. I can’t say that it will work for you like this, but for me, it just does sometimes.

I am going on two weeks of an upswing in my mood and I’m real happy that things don’t seem so bad these days. They’re not wonderful, but they’re not unbearable like before, and you can bet I am writing praises about that!

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?

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.