Monthly Archives: July 2014

Anxiety; The Emotional Loner

When I told my therapist last week I wasn’t feeling any emotions (only anxiety) I was shocked at his response.

“Anxiety is an emotion,” he said, “it is an emotion based on fear.”

I don’t know what was more shocking, his response, or the fact that I was shocked by it!

I guess in my experience, anxiety has never been a member in my usual emotional club. This might have something to do with the fact that I have bipolar disorder, though it might have more to do with the fact that I also have generalized anxiety disorder.

Er… let me explain.

Because I have bipolar disorder, my moods are very erratic. They aren’t typically logical, but they can be reactive at times. I’ve been tracking my moods for three years now and they jerk around all over the place.

And then there’s anxiety.

My feelings of anxiety don’t follow the other emotions, or the other types of responses I have due to bipolar disorder. On the contrary, I’ve been tracking my anxiety levels for three years as well and they most often have nothing to do with my other mood swings.

While the bipolar mood swings will build up and die down (for me somewhat rapidly) my anxiety level almost always remains relatively constant (minus panic attacks). It has for as long as I can consciously remember.

Sure, it will get worse if something stressful is going down, but even when something stressful isn’t going down, or something fun is going down, it is there. It is like a feisty leprechaun inside my chest who holds onto my spine, takes a deep breath, and then holds it to take up as much space in there as possible.

Most of my anxiety these days is almost purely physical, I’ve learned to cope with the serious quantities of dread I’ve felt every day since childhood (or, at least, I thought I did). I think this is another reason why I haven’t been considering it an emotion, because it feels much more physical these days.

On top of that, I’m sure the fact that all my other huge emotions have been overshadowing any emotional aspect of anxiety for a while now. Like I said, it pops up every once in a while (that dread) but for the most part, I’m too busy feeling depressed, or elated, or a horrible mixture of the two to notice it.

I know that this “overshadowing” of emotion put on by bipolar disorder is another reason why when all of my emotions (except anxiety) disappeared last week (we are still looking into why that happened, you can expect more on that odd situation later) I quickly felt like that little leprechaun was working overtime.  There was nothing to dampen his smug little escapades.

Ultimately, the concept of not feeling my typical barrage of emotions made me… well, anxious. It didn’t matter much, considering that anxiety was already present. Still, I wanted to demand my therapist explain to me why that emotion remained when all the rest (many of which I typically enjoy) were gone.

The answer?

Still a mystery, but I feel like I am getting closer to figuring it out every day. We still need to run more tests, I need to take more notes, and though my other emotions are returning (sporadically) I feel totally confounded by the whole situation.

Have I ever felt nothing except anxiety before?

If I have it has been too long for me to be able to recognize the feeling, since childhood, perhaps… probably more specifically before the 6th grade. Even then, most of my anxious memories are littered with anger. A substantially pissed off kid, angry for not knowing why I felt so afraid all the time.

“At 28 you think you’ve felt every emotion there is? You don’t think there are any you haven’t experienced?”

My therapist brought up a good point. I have gotten used to feeling so many emotions that it can be easy to feel like there couldn’t possibly be any beyond the ridiculousness I’ve experienced. I’m sure that isn’t true though, heck just last year I had a manic episode unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and found myself in the same kind of uncharted territory two weeks ago.

I guess I find the notion of unlimited emotional possibilities a bit tiresome… frankly it can be very difficult with the ones I’ve already got.

At any rate, once I know more I’ll share it. This whole thing has been a big learning experience, and while it can be rather disconcerting getting thrown a curveball I am someone who is always eager to learn something new. I can’t say this is the way I wanted to learn it, but it is too late to look back now.

The Heart of July 4th

Propaganda of the American Colonies

Propaganda of the American Colonies

I would never refer to myself as an ardent patriot, but I do (on occasion) have the opportunity to spend time researching history and then living in a manner that our forefathers (and mothers) were accustomed to. The time of the American Revolutionary War is one that is of particular interest to me.

What is it about the period leading up to the war and the transition into a unified country I find so fascinating? Well, while others are roasting their hot dogs today and lighting off fireworks, I’m thinking about why July 4th is a holiday in the first place.

It is a story of a group of people being taken advantage of; an example of a true tale of the underdogs fighting for the rights they believe they deserve until they have achieved them.

This is an important story, and though it is one that comes up again and again in US history focusing on many different groups of people, this is a story that is still in its early stages when it comes to our story.

The American Revolution itself faced difficulty in reaching unity within the colonies. It provided a period of thought and contemplation about what basic rights should be afforded to all people, and (what people usually remember) also included a brutal struggle through the physical act of fighting.

You might be surprised to hear it, but I see a lot of similarities between the fight for American independence and the fight for fair, competent mental health services in our country and the need to bring people together on this issue. I don’t expect our journey to involve a navy or muskets, but I’m sure that is for the better!

The snake, for example, in the propaganda banner above is broken down into pieces representing each of the colonies that needed to come together to create a unified force. I think we face similar issues when attempting to unify people behind the cause of mental health because many of us have different viewpoints, different backgrounds, different disorders, different symptoms! Still, if we can find a way to work together we will find we are a force to be reckoned with; a snake you’d better not step on again!

Guerilla Warfare

Guerilla Warfare

During the American Revolution the British soldiers greatly outnumbered the colonist militia, so the militia changed the rules of war; hiding in wooded areas in an attempt to shield themselves while making an attack.

Most of us with mental illness have felt like we have needed to hide in order to keep ourselves safe, and being smart about when we share our experiences or staying calm and choosing our battles is a strategy that has already began to show some improvement in our nation’s social dialogue.

I know that while I feel comfortable coming forward and being open with everyone in my life about my experiences, I understand there are others in situations (like in a questionable workplace, family, or school environment) who have to be very careful about the battles they choose to fight and when they can fight them. I know these situations can be distressing, but I don’t consider this to be a drawback because when a hidden warrior chooses to finally make themselves seen there is a big impact.

Community

Community

One of the things I’ve found is that the act of hiding makes discovering a sense of community ten times more rewarding. This is part of what makes us strong; we truly appreciate much of what each other has to offer. Though I know there is still a little work that needs to go into unification for our cause, our community is constantly growing.

I expect that this 4th that there will be picnics and a sense of community and giddy children lighting off fireworks in the streets, but I hope that today you will also think about the reason behind it all.

No, it isn’t our right to bear arms, nor our hatred of paying taxes. It isn’t about guys in powdered wigs or military prowess. July 4th is about being someone who has struggled, someone who has been walked on, and demanding a better life.

If nothing else, that thought inspires me because I see myself in itIf that is what it truly means to be an American, maybe I’ve been a patriot all along?

Grass

Language and Mental Illness; A Different Point of View

I’ve been reading a lot of pleas and rants about how important it is for people to conform to one standard of language when it comes to discussing mental illness… this is not one of them.

Personally, I believe expecting everyone to adhere to strict conformity when it comes to discussing mental health is a step in the wrong direction, and while that is a notion that may boggle some minds, I’m hoping to make a clear case today for my (potentially less-popular) point of view. I am not here to call anyone out, just to express my concern and why I feel that way.

I’d like to start by stating the obvious:

People have different beliefs.

In fact, they’re allowed to. That is a big part of the idea that America was founded on, and globally it is even more apparent that our cultures and environments have produced many different ways of looking at the world. These many viewpoints include those that effect how people look at mental health.

If you haven’t already, you may want to take a second to check out The Icarus Project. This is a national community of people (largely artists) who don’t believe in taking traditional psychiatric medications (for the  most part) and instead try to embrace themselves in their current state, largely funneling their emotions into art.

Do you agree with this? Maybe not, but whether you or I agree with their beliefs doesn’t change their right to believe them.

A big part of our ability to live our lives comes from tolerance and the ability to get along with people with different viewpoints. It seems like such a large part when it comes to “battling stigma” has become pushing others to believe the things (and act the way) we want them to instead of focusing on being open and being treated with respect.

Language is Imperfect. 

I have gotten a lot of flack from my therapists for jumping back and forth between psychiatric verbiage when describing my mental state and regular descriptive language. What they don’t seem to understand is that most words don’t seem to describe what I’m aiming to describe very well at all, and I wind up with the oddest mish-mash (I’m sure you’ve read some here if you’re familiar at all with my blog) of language.

Language is imperfect, not all of the words we might want or need have been invented yet. Describing something that isn’t tangible (like something in our minds) can often be frustrating enough, and on top of that different groups of people have different feelings associated with different words. One word in English very rarely means one thing straight across the board (I guess maybe “buttress” is an exclusion?), and a word spoken in the city might have an entirely different connotation in the country (let alone from region to region).

Language is not something we can expect to lasso and subdue until it is uniform. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way language has ever worked (from the time it was invented) so it seems ludicrous to me to expect that it will now.

Language is a form of self-expression.

If we consider other forms of self-expression (music, painting, etc.) it seems ridiculous to walk up to someone painting and tell them they can’t use the color blue. Or they can’t use the “c” note. Or they can use the “c” note but only when followed with an “e flat”.

A lot of the things I’ve seen lately about mental health verbiage has sounded like that sort of bizarre notion me. While I understand that people feel concerned about how others are expressing themselves (something I will get into momentarily), the act of telling someone what they can and can’t say or write quickly falls into the realm of censorship. While I understand that is not anyone’s intention, that doesn’t change the fact that that’s where this attitude is heading.

In addition, self expression is as individual as… well… the individual! There is no such thing as a “right way” or a “wrong way” to express oneself. Surely, there are ways that may be more pleasing to the senses (which, again varies widely from person to person), or ways that our society deems more acceptable than others (also varies depending on many factors like age, location, race), but that normally doesn’t bar forms of self-expression that falls outside of these categories.

Do the actions or words of one person discredit the rest of the group?

This is the big question that I think has been fueling so many of these negative comments and posts. Certainly when one blogger appears sloppy or ignorant about mental health, we all suffer, right?

I read an article once about how a large group of lesbians (around the time the gay rights movement was really heating up) were shunning any woman who had identified herself as a lesbian but had slept with a man because they believed it made them all look bad. Instead of helping their own cause, it created tension and animosity among a group that should have been fighting along side one another for the same rights.

I feel like this is a very similar situation, and people who should be scooped up and cared for to bolster a strong mental health community are instead being ostracized and attacked (for often doing little more than using a word incorrectly).

This particular idea is one that has been weighing heavily on my heart for quite some time, not because of the language situation (that is really a secondary symptom for this issue) but because of how quick much of the mental health community is to jump on board with ostracizing or shunning anyone who has a mental illness and also committed an act of violence.

Does a seemingly “poorly written” blog post make us all look bad? (Really?)

To take it one step further I have to ask; does an act of violence from one person with mental illness make us all look bad?

If it does, it is not for the reasons you are probably thinking of. From my perspective it all comes down to the reaction of the mental health community, and whether our reaction is one of solidarity:

“This is an example of a very extreme instance of mental illness and is an important indicator about the help that is sill needed in the mental health community.”

or, more often, one of dismissal:

“People with mental illness are almost never violent. I am never violent, this has nothing to do with me.”

The issue of including (or being supportive) of someone in the mental health community who might need extra help is an issue ten times larger to me than being nit-picky about the language in a blog or on twitter. How can we expect people to be supportive and accepting of us when we can’t support or accept the people within our own mental health communities? Can we take a look at the bigger picture please?

This conversation has only just begun.

The conversation about mental health has only just began to heat up. I believe whole heartedly that putting our focus on the statements that don’t match up with our own beliefs and attacking them is incredibly foolish. At this point, I think it is less important what is being said as the fact that people are saying it.

Think about it, more people than ever before are beginning to talk about mental health, and that is truly remarkable! No matter what people are bringing to the table in this conversation, it is important to remember that people have different beliefs and the way we learn and understand is to have a conversation with many different points of view. We can’t expect people who are just starting to explore this topic to have the vocabulary or understanding that someone who has lived with these issues for many years to have, and attacking anyone for being ignorant or for having a different perspective will likely create an enemy instead of a friend.

Understanding wont happen overnight, and we can’t force people into seeing from our point of view. All we can do is share what we have, and be patient and tolerant with everyone else.

What can we do to help?

1. Express yourself! Express yourself with words, photography, paint, clothing, music, whatever it is that you do best. Use the language that suits you best to tell your story, the story of how you (an individual) live your life!

2. Practice patience. I know this can be a tough one (especially with a mood disorder), but if you see a comment or post that upsets/frustrates you, skip it. If you want to respond, maybe wait until the emotional reaction has gone and see how you feel then.

3. Practice positivity. The internet is one place in particular that I try to practice the phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Try pledging yourself to leaving positive comments only and skipping writing negative ones. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help your own mood and feelings of positivity while blogging.

4. Focus on you. Try focusing on your own self expression and making it the best it can be instead of focusing on the perceived faults of others. When in conversation (online or in real life) and you feel you need to respond to a point of view you don’t agree with, start the dialogue by focusing on yourself. “I find this particular use of words offensive because ____. ” or “disagree because ____.” This leads to a more open conversation that feels more honest and less accusational.

5. Be open. In the mental health community, a lot of importance is placed on the portion of being open that involves sharing our stories, but it is equally as important to be open to what others have to say or questions they might have. Remember, this is a time for mental health conversation, and conversations are a two way street. It can be amazing how being open to a new idea or point of view can lead us to profound places; all it takes is a willingness to listen!

Anyone with works of self-expression coming from a mental health perspective who might be interested in seeing one pop up on this blog, shoot me an email at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com