Hi, my name is Meghan and I have bipolar disorder. In many senses, I’ve had it a lot easier than others that have my diagnosis. I’ve never been hospitalized. With the right medication, I can lead a relatively normal life. I’ve only had a few major episodes – in high school I had a major bout of depression, during my first attempt at college I had a manic episode with some mild psychosis, between my first and second attempts at college I had a pretty bad mixed episode that was followed by a moderate stretch of depression, during my (ultimately successful) try at college I had a fairly major depressive episode, and since then the episodes have mostly been mixed, and only one could be considered any kind of major.
But right now, my anxiety is through the roof. My husband noticed a trend that I tend to go through this during any major life change – in this case, I just finished my MBA and am looking for a new job. I have a lot more time, and you would think a lot less stress. I’ve been trying to keep busy (see my last post about the socks and the kitchen, but at the end of the day my mind isn’t kept constantly engaged as it once was (which I’ll admit, was part of the impetus for starting this blog). When my mind isn’t constantly focused on something, it starts to run wild. It’s like a small child – as long as they’re occupied everything is fine, but as soon as they lose interest or whatever they were doing ends, that’s it. It’s off to the races. Like that small child, when my mind is left unattended and unengaged, it gets into trouble.
So, my anxiety (and to be honest, I don’t have a formal anxiety diagnosis, but when it quacks like a duck…), when it begins, manifests as negative, intrusive thoughts. And my brain is like a dog with a bone with them – when it latches on to them, that’s it. They don’t go away. Everything from my husband is having an affair and is going to leave me and take the cats, to I’m going to get fired from my job, to someone is going to break into the house when we’re not home and disembowel all of the cats. Academically I know these thoughts are not true. But I literally cannot convince myself of this. To me, they’re actual pieces of my reality, and no amount of rational thinking will make them go away. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I’m already keeping busy (the few times I’ve been off since classes ended I haven’t had a whole lot of down time, although slow times at work are the worst as it just becomes a constant stream of negative thinking that I can’t turn off). The bipolar part is under control. But I know from history that if this isn’t tempered I could be on the edge of something bad. And that is the last thing I need right now.
As with any mental illness, having bipolar disorder (and just for transparency my diagnosis is bipolar II) means keeping a constant assessment of my mood and thought process. Not getting enough sleep can trigger an episode, getting two much can trigger in the opposite direction. Eating well and trying to stay healthy can be important. Sticking to a routine – bedtime at a certain time, getting X hours of sleep, regular meds morning and night, getting out of the house and being around people, not drinking too much (or at all), not doing drugs, etc. It doesn’t sound like much, but for people with mood disorders, these things can be incredibly important. Keeping to a schedule can be hard for me – I currently work 4 days on, 4 days off, 12-hour shifts job. On those four days on it’s nearly impossible to get anything done – there just isn’t enough time and by the time I get home I typically don’t have the energy to do anything. Getting the right amount of sleep can be difficult too – when I’m working daylight I’m in bed by 9 up by 5:15/5:30 and I’m typically exhausted for the first three-four hours of the day. When I’m working nights, though, I’m in bed by 8 up normally around 2/2:30, and I’m wide awake and totally fine on six hours of sleep. Sure, I’m getting tired by the end of the shift, but nothing that I can’t work through or make it home at the end of the day. But I try to eat right, take my meds on time, get at least some exercise every week, get out of the house and see people other than Mike and my parents. But sometimes the episodes come despite doing everything right.
And it sucks.
But it’s the nature of the beast. And it’s something that those of us that have bipolar disorder – and those in our lives – have learned to live with and deal with as they come. I know Mike’s gotten to be a bit of a pro at this. All the same, when these intrusive thoughts pop up I hate talking about them – I feel like a legitimate crazy person. Mainly because I know that they’re not real, but not being able to convince yourself of that is probably the worst part. So, Mike and I talked about them, and for whatever reason, my brain was more willing to listen to him than it was me (traitor), so for today at least they seem to have subsided somewhat. And I already had an appointment with my doc on Wednesday, so he and I will talk about it then. But for now, I’m taking a win when I can get one.