Tag Archives: relationships

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.

Viewing the Past Through Someone Else’s Eyes

While I’ve met many people who have had symptoms of mood or anxiety disorders appear in their 30’s or 40’s or 50’s and can only imagine how jarring the result must have been, I find myself at the other end of the spectrum.

Many of my childhood memories involve big emotional explosions (good and bad) and frankly, the anxiety I feel today spans back to as far back as I can remember.

Though my emotional journey has been somewhat complicated, it seemed to me (as an adult) that my experiences with anxiety haven’t been. The anxiety is something that has always been there, but for a long time I didn’t see it. The feelings I had were typical for me (for lack of a better word), I really didn’t know anything different.

I think the difficulty in this route (vs the sudden, immediate cresting of symptoms later in life) is that the realizations I have had about the depth of my anxiety have happened slowly over time. There was no one moment where everything became clear, it has been more like a trail of discoveries.

Discovering, for example, that I have been having panic attacks since I was in 5th grade and I didn’t know it (because it was something that just became part of my life).

Or discovering that my unruly digestive tract and IBS is related to the anxiety I have always experienced.

This time, a few weeks ago, I was cleaning up some papers before moving and found a note written to me by my boyfriend my sophomore year in high school. The note was one of distress, and he said I was acting completely different at school than I did when we were hanging out otherwise. Apparently in the setting of school, I could hardly speak to him, let alone do things like typical teenager hand-holding in public.

Though I don’t remember any of this taking place, I admit I was a little shocked when I read about it. What I do remember was that this boy’s interest in me finally detached the creepy tentacles of the teacher who had been sexually harassing me for the last two years, and for that I felt an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders.

Apparently even without that weight, my social anxiety was practically paralyzing. I admit, I don’t remember feeling terribly anxious about school, but based on that letter (and others) everything I did and felt was within the realm of what I already knew: a world based on anxiety.

It isn’t very often I find things like this that can lend such a different perspective on the past, but when I do I am thankful they can give a little insight about things that took place (and the status of my mental health at the time).

Moving; Looking at Life in Hindsight

This Friday I thought I would start by leaving you with some good news; after a very lengthy application process and some big hiccups we’ve been approved for the apartment we wanted!

Living in Seattle has involved a lot of moving for me. Since moving here in 2006 I’ve moved 8 times, and the last three years at our current place is the longest stretch I’ve gone in one place since moving away from home at age 18.

When I got to the city I was moving around so much I didn’t accumulate much (in terms of stuff) but having been staying put the last 3 years has meant diving into a much more intense packing process. Beyond the usual stuff I’ve gleaned (boxes and boxes of fabric, more rik-rak ribbon than any one person rightfully needs) I have also accumulated an extraordinary amount of paper goods.

Part of the anxiety I have involves keeping pieces of paper that I deem “important”. Apparently… this means everything. Like, a doodle I did of a dog, or our light bill from the 8th month we lived here. Looking back while packing, I can see clear periods where I attempted to clean some of this up and then slumped back into depression, leaving behind piles representing particular periods of time scattered throughout the apartment.

Most of the papers I’ve gone through in the last week have been repetitive. SSDI paperwork. DSHS paperwork. Insurance (or lack-thereof) paperwork. Yes, important at the time, but now a year or more later… useless.

Every so often I strike gold and find something useful.

“Oh good, I’m glad I really DID put a forbearance on my student loans!”

Because… who knows at this point. I can’t remember a whole lot!

In one of the piles I hit the equivalent of a gold nugget; the workbook I filled out during my last hospitalization in 2011. 

I leafed through it knowing I had scribbled crap down in there right before being released because I had found out filling out the pages was required rather late in the game. One loose page fell out though, and this one looked genuine. It said:

Positive Momentum

1.) On the left side of the page, identify which one of these areas you are struggling with the most and write it out. (Think about why you came in the door).

(I didn’t have the left side of the page, but what I wrote seemed pretty self explanatory.)

“Wearing the mask – I don’t normally express my feelings in a daily setting.”

2.) Ask yourself how you might be able to think about or do things differently to get some kind of positive momentum going for yourself?

“I would like to see a talk therapist again and continue gradually letting my boyfriend in.”

***

A few days ago when I read that, bells and whistles went off in my head, particularly the response to question one. Frankly, even though my symptoms have gotten noticeably worse since then (overall) I feel eons better after dropping the act, “the mask”, and allowing myself to show real emotion (even if it is out of proportion at times) instead of trying to keep it contained internally or just in journals.

I was happy to see that the response to question two is one that I have followed through on. Not only do I have a therapist (which has helped me continue to express those feelings from question one) but I have talked a lot to Corey about the things I am dealing with and he is usually the first to help me brainstorm a workable solution (even if that solution is to do nothing).

Sometimes it can be hard for me to look back, I normally don’t allow myself to read my own journals because I find them triggering and my blog posts are structured much more differently than my everyday sort of casual, emotional writing. It can be hard to know if things have really gotten any better, but this one piece of paper (found in thousands) was a nice reminder that I have moved forward and by continuing to do the things I’ve set out to do, I am continuing to help myself.

In a stressful situation, it is amazing how finding a needle in a haystack has helped bolster my confidence about getting things done and moving on to something different. After all, this single page is a real reminder of how different can be great.

Curbing Bipolar Overreactions

When it comes to bipolar disorder, it can be hard to discern which type of mood episode is more harmful in any given situation; the moods that pop up sporadically without warning or the big overreactions that can happen in response to a stressful situation.

I think for most people, understanding that bipolar disorder includes un-triggered mood episodes outside of our control is simple enough to attribute to the disorder itself.

But what about overreactions? These big mood flare ups have often been a bigger source of trouble for me when it has come to my relationships with other people, because it can become easy for others to write these actions off to “a dramatic personality”. It can be difficult for people to separate a mood disorder from what our culture has been putting on a pedestal (via reality television); the drama queen.

For this reason, it has become important over the years for me to learn to adapt in situations where big emotional overreactions might take place and find a solid method to curb those overreactions (or express them safely) so that my boss, my co-workers, my family, and friends aren’t subject to a toxic emotional blow-up.

Having said that, I don’t claim to have a 100% success rate. I definitely still blow up at people, but having a strategy in mind when these situations come up has helped me funnel most of my blow ups in such a way that I’m no longer destroying as many relationships because of them. Obviously, this is a system that tends to work for me, and though I can’t say for certain that it will work for everyone else, it is a good place to begin if you are interested in putting your own system in place to curb overreactions.

Alright! Here we go!

Step 1: Isolate

A lot of the time I am lucky and experience a delayed reaction when it comes to overreactions. I can put on a serious face while getting bad news, and it isn’t until 10-60 minutes later that I often experience the explosion of emotions that come after. This has been helpful because in that time I can seek out a “safe place” to be when the emotional wave hits me. In public or at work that generally means finding a restroom as quickly as possible, but that could also be as simple as removing myself from a group and stepping outdoors, or into a garage; any space where I am alone.

This tends to be a bit more difficult when I am in a situation where I am extremely reactive, or immediately angry at something someone has said to me. Though my success is not quite as good when it comes to curbing these types of overreactions, it can still be extremely beneficial to just turn and walk away. Walk away and isolate, again; garage, the front porch, or a restroom can all help out.

Step 2: Purge (safely)

Once alone I move on to the “purge” phase, which simply means expressing my emotions in a healthy way. The idea is to get as much of that excess emotion out as quickly as I can and do so in a safe way. 

Here are some of the safe ways that help me express my emotions in these situations;

  • crying
  • screaming into a pillow
  • punching a pillow
  • crumpling paper or leaves
  • writing out my feelings in a journal, on paper or a napkin
  • calling the crisis line to talk to someone
  • calling my therapist to talk to someone
  • calling my boyfriend (who is good at diffusing these situations)

These are just a few ideas, but there are many more ways to express what you’re feeling in a safe way. Personally, in these situations I tend to avoid calling most friends or relatives because when I am upset I can often say some very upsetting things. I have learned from experience that it is best for me to express my frustrations (or whatever I’m upset about) to a licensed professional who is familiar with mental illness, or to someone who knows that I am just having a blow-out and (usually) not a full-blown crisis.

There are days where crying is enough and I feel good enough to resume whatever my previous activity was afterward. Other days I need to do more (especially if there is anger or desperation involved) or I might need someone to talk me down.

Step 3: Walk

Getting out the emotion and the swirling vortex of thoughts is important, but for me I usually need to also expel a big wave of physical discomfort/energy as well. Failing to rid myself of the energy or tenseness that came with the emotions often results in the emotional wave coming back around for a second go. The easiest way I have found to do this is to go for a walk.

Walking gives my body a chance to relax through gentle exercise. The fresh air often makes me feel more calm, and being outdoors can change my perception from feeling “trapped” in a bad situation or with bad news to feeling much more free.

Certainly it is possible to combine steps 2 and 3, and sometimes I do (though I usually wear sunglasses in the city so people can’t tell I’m crying). Typically though I like feeling like I’m in a “safe place” while letting my emotions out, and it can be a big bummer when you’re trying to release an emotional meltdown and someone with a clipboard is trying to get you to fund a program for rescued dogs (oh the city!).

Usually I can see a drastic improvement in my mood after even as little as 15 minutes of walking. I tend to go on a lot longer than that if I have a choice (just because it helps me so much) but I know when folks are working or in school it can be difficult to be away too long.

I like to walk to music but I’ve made special playlists limited to upbeat, positive songs for these situations. I try to avoid any music that is too emotional during these times because they tend to have a big impact on my mood, and the whole point of this exercise is to improve my mood, not shift it to an equally dubious place.

Step 4: Distract

The one thing I can do to undo everything I have done up to this point is allow my focus to shift back to what upset me in the first place. That means when I return to whatever it was I was doing before the overreaction, I need a distraction. Really, it can be anything that keeps my mind away from obsessing about what just happened.

This could be anything from…

  • a game
  • a conversation
  • a piece of work that requires my full attention
  • music (again, upbeat)
  • art
  • cooking
  • giving blood (I used that as a distraction once at the office, it worked great!)

Seriously, anything that takes my mind off of what upset me is a winner. Ultimately, if I don’t distract myself well enough, I run the risk of having another overreaction triggered solely by the thoughts I have about the original situation!

I know this system isn’t perfect, but when I use it I find that I often feel much better anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour later. I know that might still sound like a lot of time, but when these overreactions were causing meltdowns for me that were lasting all day (or triggering bigger episodes lasting days or weeks) I can safely say I’ve seen a big improvement overall in rational time after overreacting vs. irrational time overreacting.

Sometimes it is also important to remind those around us that massive overreactions can be an equally difficult part of bipolar disorder. Even my boyfriend (who has six years of bipolar-girlfriend experience at this point) asked me on Friday why I spent an hour crying, and then an hour walking after we got some distressing news about our prospective new apartment. Somehow he was still baffled that I reacted that way after all this time… all I could do was explain that overreactions like this just come with the territory. It is one of those things I wish I could stop (before it even begins) but it has never worked that way for me.

Instead I have to do the things that I can to get those overreactions out of my system in a safe way so I can move on to doing the things I’d rather be doing!

The Long Shot

Yesterday’s adventure (of trying to hunt down an emergency Lithium prescription) started out with an electric jolt to my need to find a solution. It ended with what might be the biggest miracle I’ve experienced since 2014 rang itself in 4 months ago.

Being threatened with only having five days of lithium left (and no refill or psychiatrist to speak of) I kicked it in to high gear yesterday morning.

pleaded with my primary care doctor’s receptionist to land me an appointment at the end of the week (as a last resort) to which she generously complied.

I asked my pharmacy to send a request to my old psychiatrist’s office for another refill, even though I knew that would be a big shot in the dark.

Finally, after running some errands in the sunshine (wasn’t it supposed to rain all day yesterday?) I stepped into the clinic where I see my therapist (and should eventually be seeing a psychiatrist).

My therapist, a contemplative woman who is a great listener and empathizer, is a little lacking in the area of organization. She had no memory of leaving me a voicemail last week that said, “oh yeah, come in Tuesday at three and I’ll write you in for an appointment, only call back if you want to cancel.” Thankfully (considering my frustration around the Lithium issue) she agreed to see me despite never having actually made the appointment.

She told me she was 99% sure that the house psychiatrist would not be willing to refill my medication, something I expected to hear anyway. She told me to try calling my old psychiatrist’s office and pleading with them, something I didn’t feel so great about.

When I asked when I would be able to make an appointment for an intake with the clinic psychiatrist there (I gave them my paperwork a month ago) she said they didn’t make appointments. They just went through whatever people had applied in the order they were received. For that reason, she claimed she could not give me any idea of how long I would be waiting (“at least a month” was all she could say) or any indication of exactly when I would be seeing this phantom psychiatrist.

This sent up some BIG red flags for me. I have never associated my therapist’s personal disorganization with the clinic itself, having seen other therapists there that had no trouble calling me back or being on time or scheduling my appointments, but having to put the faith of my future mental health treatment in the hands of someone who isn’t willing to give me anything more than their word that I’ll eventually see them… well, I don’t operate on a currency made of promises. To me an appointment is an agreement (which exists on paper or in a computer somewhere) on both ends that we will meet, and without that I have nothing.

On top of that, how can I be expected to know how long I need my new Lithium prescription for if I have no idea when I will be able to see the doctor who is supposed to write the next one? That doesn’t make sense.

I walked out of the clinic feeling totally defeated, and in a small fit of hysteria (overlooking the busy freeway) I called my old psychiatrist’s office.

That’s when I’d remembered something I’d been told a few months earlier. An anonymous tipster revealed to me that the psychiatry department of my previous psychiatrist (which did not take any of the insurance plans I was now forced to apply for through the healthcare reform) was considering taking one, JUST ONE, of the plans available. They told me to select that plan, and then call at the end of April to see if the plan would be accepted. I knew this was a huge long shot, but if you remember… I was extremely upset about having to leave my previous (kick ass) psychiatrist. Because of this tip, I had selected the plan in question and yesterday (as April had ended) I found myself in a position to ask their office if something miraculously had changed.

When the receptionist said (what sounded like) yes (I could barely hear over the roar of the traffic) I ran to the nearest building and popped inside to make sure I hadn’t imagined it.

You mean, I thought, not only can I begin seeing my previous psychiatrist again, but he can also then refill my medication in the next couple days?!?

I hadn’t, in my wildest dreams, imagined that scenario would have worked out! It is not very often I have two large, looming problems solved with one phone call, and I thanked the receptionist profusely.

It is so nice to know that these two big issues are now taken care of, and that I don’t have to rely on what seems to be a particularly flaky system to try to receive care. I was extremely upset to have to give up my whole healthcare team when everything changed over with the health care reform, and now (through a couple good tips and a lot of good luck) I am back to having my original healthcare team back.

The trick at this point will be to keep them, because Corey and I will need to move within the next few months. In order for me to keep this insurance and these doctors, I have to remain in King County, something that is another long shot (as housing prices have skyrocketed) but something I also feel more and more compelled to make work since it will be worth the work!

Taking a Vacation from Mental Illness

As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder, I take pride in being able to share my experiences as well as educate others about mental illness. Unfortunately, being unemployed (and this blog being the primary source of my attention lately) I had been starting to feel very two-dimensional.

After all, it seemed like all I ever did was talk about mental health, write about mental health, and think about mental health. I admit, I started to wonder if I was even capable of carrying on a normal conversation (particularly with strangers or people around my age) without talking about this (now, several years in, slightly tired) topic.

A week ago I was lucky enough to find myself beginning a journey to go on vacation to Florida. Being sick and tired of my normal, anxiety-driven controlling behavior I decided that for this vacation I would do something different. I would relinquish control of all the activities involved to others and simply be “along for the ride”.

For someone like me that is difficult, at best. Still, I was determined to spend this vacation worrying as little as possible, something that became tricky when I hit a bit of a road block.

I was in Florida at a friend’s house attending a barbeque. I had also been awake for 36 hours because of the way my flights had worked (and my inability to sleep on an airplane due to general discomfort and terror) and there was that moment that I always dread, the one where I meet someone new and they are about to ask me what I do for a living. I had just finished answering the lead in, “where are you from?” question when the woman I was talking to said, “oh, that’s nice,” and walked away.

This was like a get-out-of-jail-free-card. She didn’t care what I did (or didn’t) do. I went to bed with a smile on my face, not just because I hadn’t slept in thirty-something hours, but because nobody had cornered me into telling them my life story.

It felt so good being able to focus on other people’s lives and stories that I felt relieved when, three days later, the issue of my mental health still hadn’t come up. I was lucky that no big melt-downs had occurred on my end (thus not requiring me to explain myself) and though I was concerned for a minute that I was hiding in some way, the truth was that the big draw was not constantly feeling the need to explain (or defend) myself.

In addition to how much time I spend thinking about myself and mental health in general, it can be hard in my daily life to see people tip-toeing around my needs, or taking time out of their lives to take care of me. As much connecting as I have done with the mental health community, I have kind of drifted away from everyone else… leaving me feeling estranged from what it means to be simply human, no more, no less.

In the last several years I have a hard time thinking of any milestones where my own mental health wasn’t an issue, so being able to take a vacation from the constant worry and explanations that surround my own mental illness was an extremely significant experience for me. Basically, going to Florida was, for me, like being able to step out of my own head and focus on the world around me again. I really must say, it was magnificent. 

Asking For Help

I’ve been seeing an alarming number of blog posts in which people discredit the notion of asking for help, or claim that asking for help is for the weak.

I find this claim wildly disturbing. Not only has this idea been deterring people across the globe for seeking help for mental health treatment for ages, but it says something that I believe is entirely false.

The truth is that asking for help draws on many traits that are incredibly far from weakness, such as:

Courage

Stepping forward and making your needs known, even just asking a question takes courage. Since when was courage ever synonymous with weakness?

Trick question, it never has been! Courage requires:

Strength 

Something which is the very opposite of weakness!

It is one thing to have courage, but to use it one must have the strength to move forward and take action.

Intelligence

Have you ever heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one?” Asking for help is essentially the intelligent act of asking for two heads to take on a problem instead of just one. Double the heads means double the chances of finding a solution.

Asking for help can be difficult, but overcoming fear shows a display of courage, strength, and intelligence. These traits are not traits of weakness, but traits that most human beings would hope to portray in their lifetime.

I wanted to take a second to also note that asking for help can feel much easier when faced with many options of people to speak with. A parent, friend, or doctor might seem like an obvious choice, but teachers, co-workers, HR department representatives, local crisis phone lines, even sending an email to a blogger (like me) is an option.

If you don’t get the response you are hoping for when asking for help the first time, consider it a practice run! There are other people you can talk to, so don’t give up!