Overwhelmed By Positive Emotions

Normally when I think of being overwhelmed by emotion, I think about my day to day life and the fear, anxiety, and depression that I experience. These emotions often make me feel overwhelmed by the world and everything it entails, from social gatherings to daily living. One thing I had forgotten however (up until recently) was the feeling of being overwhelmed by positive emotions.

Looking back on my life up to this point, I can remember small snippets in time where a joyful sort of emotional floodgate opened and I found myself, almost drowning, in whirlpools of joy or appreciation or beauty. When I was younger, most of these moments took place where something as simple as hearing a song (that I had only heard on a recording) played live for the first time swept over me; when something powerful that I already had an emotional connection to came close enough to me that we came as close to becoming one as possible.

In these moments I found myself so overwhelmed by beauty and joy I could not speak, and my heart often felt like it was trying eagerly to escape my body. I would cry uncontrollably, but not out of fear or sadness or desperation; simply tears of love and appreciation and joy.

I can recognize well enough that this sort of reaction to something beautiful or profound can be just as jarring to the innocent bystander as my typical negative emotional reaction. In fact, many people can’t tell the difference from the outside when they see me overwhelmed in either a positive or negative light; they see simply someone who is overwhelmed.

Becoming emotionally overwhelmed in a positive way is something I don’t hear many people talk about, and for me it has been one of the most profound experiences I have associated with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, for every thousand days I experience being overwhelmed in a negative way, I only seem to get that positive overwhelmed feeling once or twice. For me it is exceptionally rare, and as I’ve gotten older the moments have become few and far between. I also can’t orchestrate them anymore, many years ago live music stopped producing this tidal wave of emotion for me… so I slumped into a dark depression for several years without that punch in the face of joy or beauty.

The moment this concept and these memories came flooding back to me was last week. Through an odd turn of events I witnessed one of my childhood heroes give a talk and sign autographs for charity. I know people say you should never meet your childhood heroes (because they will be sure to disappoint), but all I saw was an aging man who was genuinely interested in doing something kind for others.

I spoke to him for a couple minutes (as best I could with my throat closing up anxiously) and he was very sweet. When I walked away it hit me like a ton of bricks; the joy, the appreciation, the beauty, the hope and compassion I don’t normally feel toward others. Within moments I was running for the bathroom because tears were spewing out of my face and I had no way to control them.

For the next two days, every time that memory came up I would start crying and grinning like an idiot. On the bus, down the street, at home, talking to my sister, it didn’t matter. I normally spend so much time trapped in a place where I can only ever seem to see the negative things in the world, being afforded a moment, even a split second, where I could see something wonderful felt extraordinary.

Happiness and I have not been the best of friends this year, but I am very appreciative that it is something I’ve been afforded (even briefly) this holiday season, even if it came at me like a tidal wave. Here’s my wish for each of you; if you’ve got to be subject to feeling completely overwhelmed over the holidays, I hope the tidal wave approaching carries joy and love and hope.

And maybe a personalized surfboard.

Leaving on a High Note

If you’ve ever watched Seinfeld you may remember Jerry (a comedian) advising his best friend George that the best thing he can do is to “leave on a high note.” Lately I’ve been trying to change some of my habits to reflect this idea.

A big problem I have been facing is that no matter what my mood is like during the day, it often takes a big downward spiral (even more downward in the event I am already depressed) in the evening before bed. Going to bed feeling so negative has lent itself to trouble sleeping and nightmares for me, so when I first discovered that the specific mindset I am in when I go to bed plays a big role in my ability to be fully rested the next day I began to do some experimenting.

Lately I have been trying to go straight to bed during a brief moment of contentedness. Sometimes that means booking it to the bathroom immediately after watching a show that has made me laugh or smile, or even going to bed earlier than I normally would (to cut off my emotional nosedive before it gets too out of control). Sometimes that means picking a moment where my rapid cycling is affording me a breath of fresh air from the depression I was experiencing moments earlier.

My general desire in these moments is to stay up later (because I may feel, for a moment, a bit better) but experience, at this point, has taught me that if I do the waves of depression and pointlessness can wipe out those small, good (or even just neutral) moments and leave me stewing for the rest of the night.

So far this experiment has provided me a slightly easier time falling asleep, and though I am sleeping slightly less, I am feeling more rested from the time I am asleep.

I have also been working to incorporate the idea of “leaving on a high note” with my therapy sessions. Let’s face it, they can get pretty… well… glum (is a nice word for it). Spending five minutes at the end of the session bringing the mood back to a happier or funnier place has helped me leave therapy sessions feeling slightly less like a sack of discarded potatoes.

This idea is also something that has made a big difference for me in terms of communicating with friends and family members as well. Leaving a conversation in the middle of something serious or even triggering without bringing things back around to a happier place has been extremely detrimental to my overall mental health. It is almost as if those negative topics, if not contained, spread through my system and drain me of all my energy. Encapsulating those moments in specific conversational bubbles (and moving to another lighter  bubble after hitting a dark one) seems to make a big difference for me, in terms of becoming triggered.

One of the things I like most about this idea is that no matter how dark, or weird, or awkward things get, there is always opportunity to make things a little lighter before moving on. While this is something I tend to do with humor, even something as simple as apologizing to the store clerk who I’ve just been short with has been enough to help me leave a potentially negative situation feeling slightly better. Sometimes it feels really important to me to recognize that I can’t always keep situations from being negative (or keep myself from feeling negatively about something), but if I do what I can to turn things around before walking away, that negativity seems to have much less power over me and doesn’t linger the way it might otherwise.

Maybe this holiday season a good option might be to leave on a high note. A polite goodbye before a party or gathering turns into total chaos could be the difference between a short, sweet appearance and that dreaded stressed out holiday meltdown. Not only that, but leaving when you feel good might also help keep you from feeling negatively about your friends, relatives, and yourself!

Circling America to Block Intrusive Thoughts

For a long time I have been falling into a pattern with mental health professionals (and, let’s face it, general folks as well sometimes) who seem to believe they hold the answer to my blight. The answer, it seems, is to let it go, “it” being whatever it is that is nagging at me for the moment.

Unfortunately, that has been about as helpful as telling me to solve my problems by digging up pirate gold. I have no map, and not one person I’ve asked who has made this kind of suggestion to me can seem to convey exactly how one lets something go. 

No matter how many children I see on the news singing the Frozen theme song I can’t seem to pick up this skill via osmosis. Likewise, I have never suddenly been able to perform an ollie after someone handed me a skateboard and said, “just do it, man!”

Seemingly more helpful suggestions have been to “focus on something else,” or “push the thoughts out of my mind.” I have been able to accomplish the pushing skill about four times out of the several hundred I’ve tried (but at least I know it can work if I put up enough of a strong arm) but trying to focus on something else has also been… spotty at best.

For whatever reason, I seem to live with the voices of all the rude, horrible people who have ever said hurtful things to me swirling around in my head. Try as I best to let go of them, they always seem to linger like flies and fail to allow themselves to be relinquished. They don’t seem to be interested in being set free, not when there is fresh meat (like me) around.

So what do you do when you let go of something that wont let go of you?

Well, first I discovered that if I shouted, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!” I could drown them out a little.

From there I moved onto using the chicken dance song as a personal mantra, singing it at various intervals to block out the scathing internal conversations. This helps, but is decidedly obnoxious to anyone around who can hear (as is the random shouting).

Last week I finally met with my new therapist who brought to my attention a technique where you move your eyes in the shape of the United States, along the border all the way around over and over again. I’ve tried it with my eyes both open and shut, and for whatever reason after two passes the noise and horror in my head seems to die down.

I believe this technique is based on the same school of thought that EMDR comes from (a therapeutic technique that uses eye movement to help the brain become desensitized to traumatic experiences), and though I am still looking into this method for my own PTSD symptoms I don’t currently have the finances to be able to afford to see someone who practices it.

Realistically, I can’t walk around and do everything with my eyes spinning around in my head but if this works I am certain there must be other silent, less obtrusive methods of blocking intrusive thoughts. When I find them, I’m sure you will be the first to know…

Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

If there is one thing I could say is my least favorite thing about living in the city (and that is putting it mildly) it would be living in an apartment building.

To say that sharing walls with other people is enough of an inconvenience for me that it blows past trying to avoid stepping on used needles, people entering and exiting the bus without any concept of keeping other people from being on time, and parades for “most annoying city thing” might be something of an indication that my real problem is this; the people thing.

No, people on the streets in Seattle aren’t nice. They call it the “Seattle freeze,” people here will honestly just pretend you don’t exist when it is convenient for them to do so. Even worse is that these folks, when snuggled into their apartments at the end of the day, seem to also believe that whatever happens in the walls of their little unit has no effect on anyone else -and why should it? This is my home.

This is not something I can pass off like a torch and say, “ah, well, this weird and overwhelming rude-neighbor-noise-problem has nothing to do with me!” I know very well that it does.

You see, most of the time I have a very hard time asserting myself. I realize that might sound odd to anyone who knows me because I tend to have a bit of a controlling reputation, but it is true. I really struggle in situations where I feel like my boundaries are being violated and I need to stand up for myself.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to assert the boundary in the first place, especially with a neighbor. So when my neighbor spends two or three weeks encouraging their children to scream as loud as they can over and over again and I do nothing (“just ignore it,” right?) a precedent has been established; screaming all day and all night is ok.

At my last apartment, that was my method… and not because I have a great time ignoring horrible sounds, oh no. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t have access to that part of my brain, or it broke, or never quite grew in. This is especially true with repetitive noises, nothing will make me psychotic faster than a repetitive sound that I cannot avoid.

At the same time, I was terrified of what might happen if I did say something. If I waited to reach out to my neighbor when I was already agitated from the noise, wasn’t there a risk I might have a panic attack at their door or, even worse, snap at them? What if the psychosis brought on a moment where I couldn’t control myself? What if I acted like such an asshole it made things worse? What if they called the police on me for not making sense and seeming threatening?

Ultimately, no matter where I tried to go with this, the final result seemed thus; no matter what I do, pissing off my neighbor could be the biggest mistake I could make. An angry neighbor can make your life hell. 

The truly funny part was that right before I moved some gentleman went to some of my neighbors and asked them about me. I figured that since I hadn’t ever approached any of them, their responses would probably be neutral.

Nope.

The responses they got were overwhelmingly negative. I was a hermit. I was cold. I was rude. I was constantly on autopilot.

And while these things are probably true (because I was always pissed off at those people for making stupid amounts of noise) it became clear that avoiding confrontation was not making people like me. In fact, they probably liked me about as little as I expected they would if I had said something to them about the noise!

One of the things I really took away for my hospitalization a couple weeks ago is that I need to work harder at being assertive and setting up boundaries with people. Again, this is something that is pretty easy to put on the list, but following through with it can seem like a daunting task.

My first day back from the hospital I approached neighbor-with-screaming-kids (I call him the butcher since it constantly sounds like he is murdering children two doors away -I dare say I would be more nervous if the kids didn’t seem to keep multiplying or answering the door grinning) when I couldn’t rest because (you guessed it) his kids were screaming.

Though he seemed somewhat incredulous that seven blood curdling screams happening simultaneously could be heard in my apartment (really?) he kept the kids quiet for a good 12 hours before the screaming started up again.

Last night I had a panic attack while trying to eat dinner because I could hear an adult over there encouraging the kids to scream louder. This unit is not next door to me, it is on the other side of the building! So, for a second time I approached my neighbor, this time with the blank pallor and the uncontrollable twitching that accompanies a panic attack. After he smiled and laughed a little a six inch Bugs Bunny sporting a pink beret, a shaggy pink sweater, and a green pencil skirt appeared on my shoulder,

“And of course you know this means war!”

Maybe my neighbor doesn’t like me, but chances are he probably wouldn’t have liked me anyway.

I’ve made the first step in establishing a boundary. Screaming at that level = inappropriate. Having established this idea with my neighbor, I feel much more relaxed about calling my building manager or the police if (or when) the screaming starts up again.

There are often times in my experience with bipolar disorder where it feels like I’ve suddenly woken up. They don’t last long anymore, but when it happens I look around me and see how much of my life has been reduced to nothing… then I spend the better part of the next few days trying to set something up again. Just enough that the ball will keep rolling without me pushing it every few feet. Practicing being assertive and setting boundaries (um, no, pizza with no sauce is not pizza!) while I briefly have the frame of mind to do so will hopefully help it stick when I don’t.

The Number You Have Dialed Has Been Disconnected

I don’t know if you have ever spoken and felt like nobody could hear you, but for me this feeling can potentially trump symptoms like delusions and hallucinations for the most maddening feeling I’ve ever experienced. Even when I am experiencing hallucinations or delusions (and maybe even don’t recognize it) I can talk to someone about it; but the times when my mouth and body do not convey what I want them to (or they do but in such a way that nobody can understand them) have left me (the innermost me) feeling like a phantom limb.

Last weekend, in a matter of days, I became engulfed by that feeling. Everything I was trying to say, the jokes I was making, the observations I attempted to casually convey, became hostile. It seemed no matter how I spoke or stood or gestured, people were genuinely afraid of me. Those desperate sorts of pleas hoping to convey my intense sorrow came out, instead, angry.

My manic episode from the week previous had turned dark, and as the depression I was experiencing became more and more intense, so did my apparent rage. The rage left me incapable of conveying the depression, and being unable to express myself left me feeling so isolated and alone that I could feel the depression feeding on it and growing exponentially.

When Monday rolled around I tried everything I could think of to crawl out of the disconnected, suicidal funk I was in. I emailed my psychiatrist only to find out he was on vacation. I called the intake coordinator for the new clinic I’m trying to access therapy through but she did not have time to talk. I called the crisis line (as I’ve been calling them a lot lately) but all the phones were busy! This, if nothing else, seemed like a sign, so I grabbed my purse and a book and went straight to the emergency room.

It can be very confusing to watch yourself begin to destroy your own life (your job, your relationships, maybe even yourself through impulsive drug or alcohol use) and feel like you are a passenger during the whole experience. Unfortunately, this is a feeling I am familiar with so I knew that the only real card I had left to play was hospitalization.

What I didn’t know was that I would be spending all day and all night in the emergency room before reaching that inpatient bed. I was awake for 36 hours and extremely alert and energetic (as I said, mixed episode) fueling those depressive and hostile waves that kept coming until I was (somehow now in an inpatient room) crying uncontrollably for hours, and periodically ripping up anything in my room I could find to rip up.

My goal was to outlast the episode until it switched into depression or stability (whichever came first), a fairly easy goal I figured, since my episodes cycle so rapidly and I was already 12 days into the mixed episode. Though it wasn’t fun (but hospitalizations never are) I seem to have outlasted the hostility and was expelled through the other end of the hospital Friday experiencing severe depression instead.

So I am home now, and though my decision-maker seems to be broken and I had a panic attack trying to go into the grocery store I am, seemingly, a free woman again.

My mind has still been trying to whisper all manner of horrible things to me, but I can eat food that wasn’t produced in a hospital now… so it makes all that a bit easier to live with.

Needless to say, my posts may be somewhat spotty for a bit. I’ve been very overwhelmed by a lot of the things that have happened this year, and several more big things are scheduled to go down this month.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves! I’ll be doing the same.

A Rare Form Of Dwarfism May Protect Against Bipolar Disorder

While researchers are on the hunt for exactly which genes are causing illnesses, research is also being done to search out genes that can protect against them.

An article in The Boston Globe’s science section recently reported that researchers have discovered that a rare, genetic form of of dwarfism called Ellis-van Creveld (a form found relatively commonly among the Old Order Amish of Pennsylvania) may actually cause a genetic mutation that prevents bipolar disorder.

Though researchers don’t want to reproduce the exact mutations, they believe it may be possible to explore new forms of treatment through this discovery.

This has been a very short summary, if you are interested in reading more check out the full article in The Boston Globe here!

One Good (Manic) Turn Deserves Another

The last thing my (ex) therapist said to me (jokingly) was,

“…and I never got to see you manic!”

In my depressed state I shrugged and replied,

“it is rare these days… euphoric mania, anyway. It hardly ever happens anymore, frankly I can’t even remember the last time it did.”

Little did I know, within a week I’d be hunkered over my chest of drawers urgently rearranging my shirts because, well, is it better for them to be grouped by print or by sleeve length?? And, no, no, no, the underwear needs to be arranged in descending order of favoritism and then by color!

As much as I would like to say I saw this swing coming, I would be lying to you. Generally I would say I have a tendency to become manic in October, however I find that when I say that ahead of time it never actually occurs.

This time around I think I would like to blame the aggressive head cold that has been going around for my lack of catching the warning signs. Normally euphoric mania comes on largely in a physical way for me first, but I can’t say I felt any kind of awesomeness, electric humming, or skin-crawliness that I normally experience until much later on. This time around (because of the cold) I felt sinus pressure, ringing ears, a sore throat that lingered on much longer than I anticipated, and initially much more lethargy than I normally would when mania strikes. By the time I started to realize things were getting out of control it was a bit too late to divert it.

Of course, in hindsight I can say, “ahhhhhh, ok,” to the series of odd and rather impulsive actions that led up to my frantic laundry situation and subsequent hours of laying in bed awake, chest pounding, having rapid conversations in my own head. One would think I might have had a clue when the series of somewhat depressing situations I’ve found myself in lately became increasingly hysterically funny to me, or when I stopped each of five consecutive movies I was trying to watch halfway through because I no longer felt interested (and then the only movie that did hold my attention was The Silence of the Lambs), or when I cut all of the instances of the number “2” out of a cosmo magazine to see which one was “the best,” or when I spontaneously maxed out my credit card buying tickets to see The Who. I was even having trouble writing, many of my sentences were coming out backwards.

Contrary to popular belief, these are not things I normally do. I’m the kind of girl that usually just likes to wad her shirts up in a ball and shove them in the drawer, or look at the prices and fluid ounces of every bottle of shampoo in the store to make sure I am getting the absolute best deal before buying one. I know I usually claim I don’t do the “spending” thing with mania, but apparently this was an exception. (Boy, I hope I’m not inadvertently picking that habit up!)

To be fair, I think normally these are things my boyfriend would probably notice, however he was out of town for work all last week.

The episode seems to have peaked Saturday night and then turned to the dark side, leaving me experiencing four swings of “crazy girlfriend” type, hostile-agitated-mixed chunks appearing between mildly euphoric moments throughout the day.

I’ve been having trouble getting my thoughts together long enough to complete anything I’ve been trying to write, but I have a few ideas that I hope to get down soon. Thankfully I have been lucky not to experience any psychosis in the last week (knock on wood), however the sort of hostile, “I hate you” mood swings I’ve been having haven’t exactly been a walk in the park either.

I have my intake appointment with my new psychiatric clinic on Friday (hooray!) and though they are usually somewhat grueling, I will be happy to have someone around to help me untangle the big ball of emotional spaghetti in my brain again.