Daily Archives: December 19, 2011

Just Another Manic Monday

I am flying close to the sun my friends on wings made of wax: that’s right, we’ve got some mania up in here.

I noticed it around noon when I suddenly experienced the most elated sense of panic ever. That may sound contradictory, but I both felt an immediate sense of panic and success for knowing the correct solution to alleviate my panic: shopping. Becuase what solves all Christmas flavored problems? Shopping.

I almost never shop, or to be more precise I shop sometimes but buy never. Spending money causes me way too much anxiety to be able to do it well, but mania is one of those few times where shopping is fun. Shopping is fun because everything is fun.

Another sign of mania for me is feeling like I’m trapped in a box. Whatever room I am in becomes a box, which gets smaller and smaller until I enter the hallway (which is just a larger box) and then find my way outdoors. I don’t like being in small areas while manic, so that means I am usually outdoors.

Once outdoors things level out a little bit, I feel slightly less ridiculous and more on top of things. I’m no longer holding long conversations with my dog (which is already a pretty good sign) and any task has quickly become insignificantly easy.

I have several systems for ranking my mood to help be get a grip on where it is in the spectrum of what I normally experience, and in one of them I use a 1-3 system for both mania or depression. That would be mild (1), moderate (2), and intense (3). An example for me might look like:

1 (mild) mania (hypomania) might involve increased energy and generally unnaturally optimistic attitude.

2 (moderate) mania (still in the realm of hypomania) might include rapid speach, quickened thought process, impulsive behavior, feeling elated, etc.

3 (intense) mania is where things start to get out of control (and usually I should seek pretty immediate medical attention). I begin to bob in and out (or fully submerge myself) into a fictitious world and my grasp on reality becomes been severed.

Lately I’ve been hanging out kind of around a 1, but today is definitely a level 2. For about 30 minutes I was probably more of a 2.5, but going outside helped pull me back down to a 2.

Anyway, that is a pretty significant increase in the episodes I’ve been having lately, so I will need to be pretty careful to make sure I keep an eye on it.

Feel Like a Mess? It’s Holiday Stress!

A week before Thanksgiving my therapist told me that every single client that week had walked through the door with one complaint: The Holidays.

For those of us with round the clock anxiety, the holidays are the time of year when that anxiety gets taken up a notch. The knob gets turned to the proverbial “11” if you will, and the reason behind it can usually be pinpointed straight away: family.

Families cause even the most sane people stress during the holidays, and as decades of films have shown us, there is no such thing as a “normal family”. I’m sure everyone knows by now that the idea of a “normal family” is a bit of a joke, but I think that the real message here is that there is no such thing as a stress-free family.

The thing I have heard repeated as the number one tool to help combat holiday anxiety:

You have the right to say, “no”.

This concept is extremely difficult for me, I don’t like saying no. I don’t like people thinking I am generally disagreeable! Most of us also feel extremely obligated to participate in family events over the holidays, but if you aren’t feeling up to it or know that you will potentially have to deal with family members who aggravate your symptoms it is alright to say no.

Ideally, our health should be our top priority. Mental health doubly so.

Honestly the most difficult part of saying no to anything (for me) is feeling incredibly guilty after. My ideas to combat this?

  • Send cute Christmas cards in lieu of attending festivities
  • Bake or buy treats to send to friends or family
  • If possible, schedule times to see the family members you’d like to see individually throughout December or January so that the potential crowd isn’t there
  • Volunteer at your local soup kitchen/etc.
  • Give the family a call on Christmas and allow them to pass around the phone so you can say hello!

If you’ve ruled out the family holiday altogether some great things to do instead:

  • Go to the movies
  • Eat out (I had sushi once on Thanksgiving, it was excellent!)
  • Travel
  • Go camping or skiing
  • Volunteer
  • Curl up by the fire with a good book
  • Meet with other friends in the area that are also potentially spending the holidays alone -a casual environment will usually mean a less stressful holiday.

Alright, so the family asked, and you’ve already said yes. You’re going to the family event, but fear not! There are still things you can do to help combat the stress.

  1. Take the time to do something relaxing before the event. Sometimes this means driving into town an hour early to stop at your favorite coffee shop for a hot chocolate, drive around to look at Christmas lights, or go for a short walk. Anything that will help ground you a little bit will help with the nerves before that event, so try to plan ahead to give yourself that opportunity to calm down.
  2. Eat something healthy before going to the event, it doesn’t have to be much. This way your body wont have to rely on the cookies and other sugary treats that are inevitably going to be there. I am by no means suggesting not eating cookies at all, just that by having a healthier base meal earlier the sugar will hopefully have less of an impact on mood and you’ll hopefully eat less of it.
  3. Allow yourself a time-out (or many!). If things start getting too hectic and uncle Milton (though lovingly) begins to refer to your “mental issues” it is perfectly fine to excuse yourself. Find refuge in a bathroom, spare room, or go for a walk to help ground yourself.
  4. Try to avoid rocking the boat. There are topics that might send some families into a heated argument, whether that is family drama, politics, you name it. That might include the topic of mental illness, even if that has more to do with you and less to do with them. My suggestion is to stick to more family-friendly topics if possible.
  5. Have a “safety zone”. If you can afford it (and you are spending several days with your family) get a hotel room  instead of staying at a relative’s house. Having a separate space where you can unwind and regroup can make all the difference when it comes to coping with family over an extended period of time.
  6. Arrive late or leave early. Or both! Putting in a brief appearance at a family event might be more realistic than spending a whole day (or more) at one. If this is the case, it is perfectly acceptable to make a brief appearance. Why not? In that situation, your family still had the opportunity to see you even if it was just for a short time.

Below I’ve included a few good articles about coping with holiday stress that are worth checking out as well, if that is indeed something that you’re having to deal with.

So there are two things I want you to take away from this post:

1. Families are stressful, but there are things you can do to help cope with that stress.

2. No matter what obligations you feel you have, it is always ok to say no.

And I hope that with a little thought and planning ahead of time the holidays stress will be a little less daunting this year!