Category Archives: dual diagnosis

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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Finding Myself in A Dual Diagnosis

My life with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance abuse is a challenging one but I am glad that I am, again, on the road to recovery.

I can remember, looking back, being a young child exhibiting bipolar characteristics but not being able to verbalize to my mother what was wrong.  I remember getting up in the middle of the night at five years old remaking my bed so that it was neat and orderly then getting back in it in such a way as to maintain perfection.  I remember organizing and reorganizing my toy chest putting toys in complete order then not wanting to pull anything out because it would mess up the order of things.  At any given time I could be found cleaning and creating order around me; I started helping my mother clean the house as early as seven years old.

When I became a teenager my bipolar disorder changed its face and I spent night after night crying, throwing fits in private and engaging in self-mutilation.  I was a latch-key kid so I was home alone for hours before my mother came home from work.  Being alone gave me the chance to totally demolish my bedroom taking my clothes out of drawers and the closet throwing them all around.  I would tear pictures off the walls; break all my fingernails off, engage in cutting myself and screaming at the top of my lungs.  I was able to hide all of this from my mother because I had time to throw a major tantrum then clean up from it before she got home.  My mother was, however, able to see some of my pain because of the numerous occasions when I would just break down into tears in front of her.  I could never really put into words how I was feeling; the closest thing I could think to say was that I was ‘tired’.  Throughout the years my need for order in my surroundings escalated so I did a lot of cleaning late into the nights which, unbeknownst to me, was a sign of the manic side of my bipolar disorder.

In my late teens my mother started taking me to the doctor to try to figure out what was wrong with me.  At that time bipolar disorder was not a common diagnosis so I was simply diagnosed with depression.  I was switched from one antidepressant to another trying to get me well.  At the same time I was diagnosed with pernicious anemia; an inability to process B12 in the body due to a lack of intrinsic factor in the stomach.  Ironically a lack of B12 can cause major disruptions in the nervous system which, in turn, was actually making the undiagnosed bipolar disorder worse.  Over time I was on and off B12 injections.  Eventually I was taken off these injections all together and this just helped my bipolar disorder to quickly progress.  I am currently on a regular schedule of B12.

Another aspect of my life that was a symptom of my undiagnosed bipolar disorder was the fact that, at the age of twelve, I’d started experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  Of course I hid this from my mother for years and years.  Any time I could get a hold of any type of drug or alcohol I did it.  I did this on quite a regular basis well into my teenage years and early twenties.  Before I was old enough to purchase alcohol on my own I had adults who would provide it to me.  As for drugs, I often got them from friends who lived in my neighborhood.  I did drugs and alcohol throughout my high school years and into college.

When I entered college I was very heavy into my addictions.  I had advanced to drinking and getting high every day.  My drink of choice was gin and I would smoke marijuana and snort cocaine every chance I got.  At this point I’d still not been diagnosed with more than depression.  Though I was typically under the influence at all times I was able to get my degree in communications.  During this time being under the influence of drugs and alcohol was my normal and I couldn’t function without them.  For many years after college my drug and alcohol use escalated and I eventually got addicted to pain killers along with the drugs and alcohol I used on a daily basis.  My life continued to spiral out of control for many years until my mother came to visit me.

When my mother came to visit she questioned me about my alcohol use; she was not aware of my addiction to drugs.  At this point I had graduated to drinking a case of beer and a fifth of whiskey a day every day.  Though I was always under the influence of something I managed to maintain my home, handle business and hold down a job.  After questioning me about my habits my mother took it upon herself to get me help for my addictions.  It was at this time, in my early thirties, that my bipolar disorder was finally diagnosed.  Because of my drug and alcohol abuse along with my bipolar disorder I have what is known as a dual diagnosis.

Over the years I have struggled with my bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol abuse on a daily basis.  I have had many periods of sobriety as well as suffering relapse after relapse.  I have been in intensive therapy and I have been on several different depression and bipolar medications.  Currently I am coming up on a year sober and I think that, with the help of my doctor and psychiatrist, I may be onto a promising path of stabilization with my bipolar disorder.  I attend group therapy three days a week and I go to individual therapy at least two to three times a month.  I do get overwhelmed from time to time but I know I have to continue doing what I’m doing if I want to overcome my addictions and my mental health disorder.

This road to recovery is not always easy but I will continue to put in the work so that I can finally find success.  A dual diagnosis is not a diagnosis for failure; life can go on with hard work and dedication.

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