Category Archives: bipolar

My Fight with Anxiety

I have been in a constant state of anxiety for several days now.  My heart and thoughts are racing, I’m grinding my teeth, my sleep has been broken, I’m irritable and I can’t stop catastrophizing every situation I think about.  The most worrisome part of my anxiety is that my hallucinations are working overtime.  Not only am I hearing my ‘people’ (voices) again; I am also dealing with moderate visual hallucinations.  All I want to do is escape and find a quiet place where the world can’t touch me and I can curl up in a ball and be left alone.  I don’t want to deal with anything right now and I don’t want to face any of my fears.

The voices I experience have been with me as far back as I can remember.  The best way I can describe them is that one is a male and one is a female and they sit at the base of my brain just waiting to make life difficult for me.  They don’t have faces or anything like that; the way I see them is as silhouetted heads something like this…

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They are always there facing one another but I never see their lips move when they talk however I can always tell whether it’s the male or female communicating with me.  My voices never tell me to harm myself or others or do things that I normally wouldn’t do; they just like to have an input into my thought pattern when I’m stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.  We do have two-way conversations but no one would ever know this just to look at me.  The dialogue only goes on inside my head and my lips only actually move from time to time.  It sounds funny but that’s how our relationship is.  No, I am not psychotic nor do I suffer from any sort of schizophrenia.  I just experience these voices because of my bipolar disorder and my anxiety.

My visual hallucinations are not as significant as my voices.  Basically I see things move and run across the floor or dart across my field of vision.  I see things with my peripheral vision that aren’t there but I still turn to look as though they are as a knee-jerk reaction.  I have trouble with my visions, too, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed or when I’m overstimulated like I tend to be in the grocery store or large department stores.  All the colors and images and different sounds and smells make it a chore for me and it becomes nearly impossible for me to concentrate in this type of environment.

I can start feeling anxious out of the blue, however I have learned over the course of my mental illnesses to identify certain situations that may make me anxious.  I don’t like to be around a large group of people whether I know them or not.  It’s not so much the people but the barrage of images and movements that make me anxious when I’m around a lot of people.  I can also be anxious in a small group of people if I don’t know the people in the group.  Unlike a large group, I can get to a point where I’m relatively OK in a small group once I get to know the other people though I still experience some anxiety.  New situations or how I perceive a new situation might go are two more times when I will experience a lot of anxiety.  I have to use a lot of self-talk when I’m going into a new situation so that I can get to a point where I can still function.  This is a fairly common situation for me seeing as new experiences are a part of daily life but because of this I’m often preoccupied and inside my own head.  I get anxious when I have to make a phone call I’ve never made before, opening new mail, driving to a destination I’ve never been to, watching the news on television and even praying.  I know right; yes, praying can cause me a great deal of anxiety.

It would seem that it would be easy to combat my anxiety if I know when I might be anxious or I can identify it when it comes but it’s not that easy.  Having anxiety and being aware of it doesn’t make it that easy to deal with.  Life would be so sweet if I could just identify the anxiety, label the source of it and then take the necessary steps to make it go away.  NOT!  It doesn’t work anything like that.  For some years I was on Xanax to help combat my anxiety however that was the worst thing that a not medicated, bipolar alcoholic/addict with borderline personality disorder could possibly do.  When I made the serious decision to get sober and deal with my mental illness I had to make the decision to go at my anxiety from a different direction.  Now I use both CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) tools to combat my bouts of anxiety.

The tools that I have been taught are not foolproof however they do help me to get a better hold on my anxiety when it comes.  I still shy away from many people and situations because of my anxiety but, at least now, I know that I can get passed it when I’m ready to.  I say ready because no matter how hard I may try to combat anxiety in any of its many forms, unless I’m ready to face whatever situation is giving me anxiety that anxiety will still be there.  Anxiety keeps me from experiencing many things in life that I’m positive are probably pretty amazing and I want to be a part of any number of them however my battle with anxiety will be ongoing and on my terms.  I just have to be patient with myself and that’s the best I can do.

 

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Running In Place

My bipolar disorder causes me to experience something called racing thoughts.  Actually, racing doesn’t even begin to define what my brain is doing every waking moment of every day of my life.  Even when I say I’m going to lie down for a bit and rest or take a nap my mind is still racing.  I have racing thoughts while I’m showering, while I’m cleaning, when I’m feeding the dogs even when I’m talking on the phone.  My mind and thoughts are always racing and it gets to be pretty damned exhausting.

My racing thoughts make it hard for me to complete tasks despite how sincere my intentions are to finish them.  I can’t even begin to count the number of projects and personal commitments I have on my plate right now that are only half done because of my racing thoughts.  It doesn’t help that there are some things that I must do every day no matter what; record blood glucose readings, record what I eat, complete DBT diary cards, take my medication, I could go on but that’s enough to get an idea of what my day is like and to see how all of this contributes to my racing thought issues.  Just having to do these things daily is enough to send me into a tailspin of racing thoughts and it would seem that this would be enough for me but it never is.  In addition to the things I do daily I am always taking on more and more tasks to do, sadly many of them go unfinished.   Right now I have a half-finished blanket I’ve crocheted, I have my first novel that I started editing sitting unfinished, without finishing my first novel I’ve already started on my second one, I’ve been working on a book of short stories that consists of two undone novellas, and so on and so on.  I really do want to finish all of these things unfortunately my racing thoughts and mind only let me get to a certain point and then it seems that I just run out of steam.

It’s funny; you would think that a racing mind would be conducive to finishing things but, quite the opposite.  My mind races so much and so often that when I try to do something the myriad of musings that bombard me constantly has me throwing up my hands in frustration rather than crossing the finish line over and over on a regular basis.  Sometimes I just sit looking around in a stupor because I don’t know where to begin trying to tame and satisfy the constant buzzing in my brain.  Now everyone gets a little overwhelmed from time to time having things to do but nothing compares to true racing thoughts.  I have even tried using daily planners, hourly planners and setting alarms on my cell phone to try and make some sense and put some order to my racing thoughts but, often, this tends to have the opposite effect.  I get so worked up trying to stay on task or being on edge knowing that one of my many alarms may be going off at any moment that I find myself abandoning one thing after another out of sheer anxiety.  This just makes my racing thoughts move that much faster.

Racing thoughts are frustrating to me because they make me that much more distracted in general.  Already battling against myself to stay focused, racing thoughts make staying on point a Herculean task.  I have a hard time watching a movie or television program, reading, writing, holding a conversation to name only a few things that my racing thoughts interfere with.  Life is hard enough with all that we are told to like, buy, do, see, acquire, listen to and such but pair this with chronic racing thoughts and the world is a rambling chasm of constant overstimulation.  A lot of the time I wish I could just put my hands over my ears and close my eyes and make it all go away, unfortunately that wouldn’t help to calm my racing mind.  I’ve only found a couple of things to help me with this; medication and working on mindfulness.

Since I take medication for my bipolar disorder I already have a tool available to me to help quell my racing mind.  Another tool that I’ve learned I can have at my disposal, if I work at it, is mindfulness.  Mindfulness includes a lot of different things such as meditation, focusing on the moment, experiencing my feelings without judgement and, most importantly, working with one thought at a time.  This is not something that is a quick fix; I have to constantly work on being mindful so that I can gain some sort of control over my racing thoughts.  Under my breath I’m constantly telling myself to focus, sit still, do one thing at a time, finish this first, stop moving around and the list goes on.  At this moment, I’m trying to write, listen to a program on the National Geographic channel, absorb the smell coming from a fragrant candle, get ready for a visit from a longtime friend, drink a cup of hot chocolate and watch the birds eating bread outside my window; all this going on as a result of my racing thoughts.  Needless to say my focus level is on the negative side right now but I’m pushing on ahead like I do all the time.

It has taken me a matter of hours to write a measly thousand words all because of my racing thoughts and what they do to me.  Popping up and down like a jack-in-the-box and moving from one thing to another several times over these few hours has made getting this done pretty hard.  Though my goal the whole time was to complete this I’ve been unable to just sit in one place and work from start to finish.  Now that I can look back and see the progress I’m capable of it lets me see that even with this handicap I’m still quite a peach!

 

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Grateful for Gratitude

A few weeks ago I decided to start a gratitude journal.  Instead of getting caught up in the highs and lows of my bipolar disorder I figured I’d redirect my focus and look at the good things working for me in life.  There was just one problem; I didn’t count on something getting in the way.  That something is borderline personality disorder.

In addition to my bipolar disorder I have a daily struggle to keep myself balanced because of my BPD.   In short, having borderline personality disorder means that I have a hard time living a life of balance.  It is my disorder inside a disorder and it can make life very complicated for me.  BPD is the reason I often overreact to any given situation and have ongoing unhealthy relationships and thought patterns.  I typically only see life in terms of black and white not realizing that life is full of areas of gray.  I tend to fly off the handle at seemingly benign situations and my interactions with people are often based on pure emotion which, in and of itself, is quite detrimental to living life on an even keel.  Borderline personality disorder can also make it hard for me to balance my emotions and react appropriately to them.  For instance, I can get happy about something good happening to me and instead of just being content with the situation; I may go out and spend money that I really can’t spare as a reaction to it.  If something upsets me I may go into a deep depression and start toying with thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.  Often when a relationship is unhealthy or toxic I may still try to keep the relationship going because; in my thought process, some relationship is better than no relationship.

Earlier I said that this is my disorder inside of a disorder; let me explain.  Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense highs and lows, mania and depression, light and dark.  Well borderline personality makes these instances even more intense. I often suffer from extended periods of anxiety and I have trouble with major bouts of low self-esteem and overall self-loathing.  The mania and depression of my bipolar disorder are made more intense as a result of my BPD.  Already being overly stimulated, borderline personality disorder can make me appear like the Incredible Hulk when it comes to emotions.  One minute I’m fine and the next minute, after seeing a disturbing story on the evening news, I’m a wasted pile of tears and despair.  I know, this may sound extreme but that’s the nature of borderline personality disorder.  BPD is a constant struggle to maintain emotional equilibrium and avoid unhealthy situations and relationships.

I say all of this to make the point that starting a gratitude journal was more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be.  Because my view of reality is often skewed, it’s hard for me to be mindful and find things to be grateful for since I’m always in an extreme emotional state.  This being true, I was even more determined to be able to use mindfulness and find things in life to be grateful for no matter how small or mundane.  Even though mentally I tend to be in a state of flux, I have to realize that if I can compose myself and focus I’ll be able to see that there is just plain good in life.  I’ve decided that I will be grateful despite my diagnosis and I’m going to start that journal no matter what.

 

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Back At It

Bipolar disorder can be a bitch, thus the reason I haven’t posted anything to my blog since last July.  I was doing great and the ideas were flowing and I loved seeing the results of my productivity and focus and then, BAM, without warning; nothing.  It was like all the potential and creativity that I had in me just dried up and flew south.  Frustrating does not begin to describe the feeling of sitting down in front of the computer all set to peck out my next great revelation only to find that all the thoughts in my head were a garbled mess of nothingness.  I wanted to write, really I did, but nothing would happen.  I would wake up in the morning with the mindset that today would be the day and, just as quickly as it came; it was gone, back to the endless chasm of emptiness.   I ranted, I screamed, I cried, I did it all from one end of up to the dark side of down but nothing would make the ideas or expression come to fruition before my eyes.  I couldn’t understand what was happening.  I had been on a roll and I was so proud of myself.  I had endless reserves of gumption and I enjoyed what I was doing, I had the upper hand against my mental illness.  I had ‘mastered’ bipolar disorder and I vowed bipolar disorder would never again keep me paralyzed and confused and lost in a sea of uncertainty.  Hell, just looking at my blog I knew that I could beat this beast.  Surprise, surprise I couldn’t have been further from the truth.  That’s not the nature of bipolar disorder and that’s really not the way it works.  Even with all my reading and researching I didn’t want to realize that I would forever battle with bipolar disorder.  For a minute I believed that maybe it had gone away to the furthest recesses of my mind to be stored as an afterthought.  No.  Bipolar disorder will forever be my Achilles heel and I’m going to have to get to a place where I’m OK with that.  Having bipolar disorder doesn’t make me any less of a person than anyone else and the pitfalls that come with it don’t make me a failure.  I just have to work a little bit harder at life than some people and, actually, that’s OK.  That just strengthens my character and enhances my already engaging personality.  All I have to remember is that I have bipolar disorder, it doesn’t have me.

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Perseverance in Doubt

All of a sudden, out of the blue, as a seriously messed up thing I woke up with no desire to write or create.  Really, I woke up yesterday morning and it was like a horrible grey cloud had descended upon me taking all of my artistic vibes and creative juices with it.  I have to admit that more than being frustrated, I was afraid.  For a moment I was scared to death that who I am at the core was fading away.  I thought to myself, this can’t be happening to me, I’m an artist.  I was absolutely distraught and beside myself the entire day well into the night.

At around 10:15PM I was still thinking about my plight and it hit me; WRITE.  Yes, I didn’t feel like writing and it finally hit me that this was the exact opportunity to write.  As I sat watching ‘Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip’ trying to figure out what I had a taste for as a late-night snack, I found my inspiration.  As I wrote I tried to figure out the reason for not wanting to write or do anything creative.  The first thought I had was that my bipolar disorder was getting ready to take me down into a bit of a depression.  I did a quick self-evaluation and realized that my bipolar disorder had nothing to do with it.  As much as I wanted to be able to blame my slump on something, I couldn’t blame it on my mental illness.

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Well, crap, I thought, what the hell is the problem?  I still couldn’t figure it out.  I’d write then pause, write then pause, write then pause; I did this for nearly an hour.  Then it hit me.  My drive hadn’t gone anywhere, I’d just overwhelmed myself.  I realized that I had been overthinking the Blogging 101 assignment for day four as to a target audience for my blog.  I’d never thought about a specific target audience for my blog.  I write because that’s what I do and I enjoy sharing my life and my art and poetry with other people.  Now I may target a specific audience based on a certain blog post but I just consider my target audience anyone who likes poetry, short stories, relating to my struggles with bipolar disorder and the like.

Something else that I realized in the brief time I thought I couldn’t write was that I have an issue with people judging me.  I was worried about what other people might think about me when I talked about my target audience or what they might think of what I do as a whole.  I had to get past this and not worry about what anyone may say about me or think about my blog.  I had to stand up for myself and realize that my blog is my blog and what I do should not be dictated based on what I think someone else might or might not think about it.  I had to realize that I can’t please everyone and if my blog or blog posts are liked by a certain audience; fine, if not that is also okay.  All I’m required to do is write and share.

Once I got around all of this self-doubt and apprehension I was able to go ahead and finish the assignment without a problem.  I’m proud of what came out of this hiccup and if my story helps someone else I’m happy.  If no one reads it that, too, is fine.  Whatever audience I touch through my art is a plus regardless of what audience it may be.  This is who I am and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.

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Medication and Mental Illness

To those of you, who have been recently diagnosed with any sort of mental illness, riding the roller coaster of medication regulation; hang in there.  I know how frustrating and nerve wracking it can be those first months trying to find the right medication or combination of medications to get you stabilized.  Let me tell you that, in the beginning, you will most often feel worse before you feel better.  You will feel like giving up and going off your medications altogether; don’t do it.  Finding the right recipe for your illness and circumstances will take time.

I know too well the ups and downs of medication management.  One drug is meant to stabilize your mood and is supposed to make you feel better while causing you to gain ungodly amounts of weight which just makes you feel horrible all over again.  Then there are those medications that zoot you out so much you can barely keep your eyes open causing you to spend hours in bed.  During this time you wonder how in the world these medications can be helping you.  You ask yourself why you even bother to keep up with something that can make you feel so bad.  This is par for the course unfortunately.  Fortunately, the longer you still with the prescribed medications the sooner you’ll start feeling better.

Initially all I had to worry about was finding the right medications for my bipolar disorder but during this time I developed several physical ailments which have made my journey quite challenging.  I suffer from diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension, hypothyroidism, pernicious anemia, severe acid reflux in addition to my bipolar disorder and anxiety.  I also had a neuroendocrine gastrinoma causing me to need major surgery during which a portion of my stomach and small intestine was removed and now I suffer from major nausea and vomiting at one time or another.  Because of all of this, finding the right combination of mental health medications has been an ongoing battle for me.  Since I have to take medications for what is wrong with me physically there is a delicate balance that must be reached in managing these medications and any medications I take for my bipolar disorder.

To date I have been on all of the following at one time or another; Effexor, Paxil, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Prozac, Latuda, Saboxone, Geodon, Cymbalta, Haldol, Lamictal, Trazadone, Topomax, Risperdal, Invega, Abilify, Saphris, Depakote, Xanax, Buspar, Pristiq and Neurontin (for my mood and pain).  I’m quite sure that this list will change and probably increase as my bipolar disorder and other physical ailments change their faces.  I say this simply to encourage you and let you know that you’re not alone and to appeal to you to stick with your medications.  It may take some time but the right medication or combination of medications is out there for you.  Try to look at the big picture and not get so consumed with how you may be feeling at this moment.   Over time you will find that you are feeling more balanced and you will see the benefit to sticking with your prescribed medication(s).  It may not be easy at times but, trust me, it is worth the fight.

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