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What Am I To Do?

I’ve been well for two years now with just 2 or 3 slight dips in mood. I handled the dips well and they didn’t escalate into desperately depressed episodes. What I am desperate for is something to do since I am retired, have too much time on my hands and I don’t think I can handle the stresses of a full or regular part-time job.

Before my last deep, dark episode 2 years ago, I was volunteering for Hospice doing data entry for 4 hours once a week and I liked my job. I did it very well. While I was sick in the hospital, my husband called in for me telling my supervisor I was ill and I wouldn’t be back. I didn’t have any interaction with people there but I liked my work. My husband and therapist felt that having no interaction wasn’t healthy and maybe they were right. But now that I’m doing so well, I am desperate for something productive to do. I have too much time on my hands.

I tried volunteering at the Sheriff’s office doing fingerprinting. I had a 4-hour shift one day a week. The problem was that only one or two people came in to be fingerprinted during my shifts. Sometimes no one showed up. I would have to sit there doing crossword puzzles since they didn’t have any other work for me to do. I was bored out of my skull. I quit after only a few months.

I also tried helping out at our church office one morning a week answering the phone and doing some copying. I thought it would be fun but it was boring—no people interaction since I was covering for staff while they were in a meeting every week. I stopped signing up for hours (there were a few ladies who volunteered).

For a while I would go to the church café on Friday mornings and help six or seven older ladies stuff bulletins for the coming Sunday’s service. I was bored. The ladies were (and are) very nice people but the work was boring and the interaction didn’t grab my attention.

A number of years ago, I tried working at the animal shelter socializing the cats. The dander bothered me so I had to quit that.

My husband and former therapist felt I should sign up for classes at Joanne’s Fabric Store.   They have classes to make jewelry, knitting, decorative painting, crocheting and sewing. They even give occasional classes on cake decorating. The classes are one or two sessions long, are for beginners, which I would be one, but once you’ve taken the class where is the support to improve your skills at your newfound hobby?   Learning to knit hats and scarves in Florida is not practical. A sweater would be but you’d need an advanced class to learn the skills to do that and they aren’t offered. You need to pay for these classes plus the tools and materials. I don’t see the point in shelling out the money when the classes are so limited and I can’t completely learn a skill. Decorative painting sounds nice but you have to buy the items you want to paint plus the various brushes, the paint and the varnish/sealer. It’s expensive and I don’t have room in my house for clutter—I have everything I need—I live simply. You can only make so many gifts for people before it becomes clutter for them too.

So this is my dilemma: what do I do with my spare time? I can only clean my house so much. Once it’s clean it’s clean. There are only 2 of us so it doesn’t get too mussed up or dirty. I need something fairly stress free since stress is a trigger for anxiety which is a trigger for a mood swing.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

I’ve done quite a bit of traveling and visiting with family in the past month and a half. One trip to Kentucky to visit a son, a 3 day getaway with our oldest son, our daughter-in-law and our two grandsons, and a 7 day cruise to the eastern Caribbean. There were 6400 people on that ship although it didn’t seem like it, but I did have contact with a lot of strangers.

Among many of the recommendations for living well with bipolar disorder are keeping a consistent sleep schedule, having routines and structure for daily life, taking ones meds, using your coping skills and limiting stress. Travel requires disrupting one’s routine, a loss of structure, a change in sleep schedule, possibly a change in time zones, a strange environment, the noise and confusion of airports, ship terminals, customs and dealing with people—both loved ones and strangers. It all can be quite stressful and was. I tried to set up a morning routine and bedtime routine in each location so I wouldn’t forget to take my meds. I have to say I had to deal with a lot of anxiety but I coped with it all successfully and didn’t have any mood swing episodes in spite of there only being 1 ½ weeks between the first and second trips and two weeks between the second and third trips. I had just about recovered from one trip and off we were on another. I don’t think I’ll let us book that many trips so close together again. I have to say that it wasn’t very long ago that I couldn’t have dealt very well with that amount of travel in such a short span of time. I’ve come a long way.

But it was all good. We got to see most of our family and that time was precious. And the cruise was a special time set aside for my husband and me and we enjoyed ourselves. We met some truly nice people and even a few celebrities on the ship who were very down to earth.

How do I Cope

How do I cope with bipolar, depression and anxiety? One way is through writing. Through writing I can examine m feelings, symptoms, my successes and failures. I can keep a running record of my mental health journey by keeping a journal. It helps me in three ways:

  1. I am able to vent my feelings
  2. It provides a record of how my condition is affected by my inner and outer world
  3. It helps me to recognize my triggers.

My journal serves as a mirror of my progress as I navigate life. I notice what triggers a depressive or hypomanic episode. Sickness often triggers a depressive episode.   Sleep deprivation can trigger either way but for me it’s usually depression so I go to bed and wake up the same time everyday.  Too many social events or traveling too often in a short span of time can trigger anxiety. And that’s where I have to be careful—anxiety can trigger a depressive episode. My meds don’t let me experience hypomania anymore in this past year. I’ve recorded coping skills, what works and what doesn’t. I keep a daily mood graph for my psychiatrist where I chart not only my moods but also sleep, activities and meds changes. It gives a truly well rounded view of my progress and triggers.

Both the writing and mood charting help keep me self-aware. I try to always be aware of any changes in my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being, both positive and negative. The sooner I am aware of a negative change the sooner I am able to able to deal with it to ward off a full blown mood swing. If my thinking is becoming negative I consciously begin to think positively. I’ll avoid situations that cause me excessive stress or anxiety when possible. Meditation and prayer are a big positive factor for me. I find solace in reading the Bible. Music often lifts my spirit. Talking with my husband will often help me maintain a positive perspective.

Keeping a positive outlook and living intentionally go a long way to helping me manage my mental health.

It is a given that having bipolar complicates relationships. We feel our emotions to the nth degree. We can leave our loved ones wondering why a simple disagreement can set us off to the extreme. Through it all my husband and I learned how to communicate and become stronger through all the ups and downs.

To have healthy lives and relationships we need to develop good communication skills sharing our thoughts, how we think and how we feel. Explaining what impacts us, what makes us feel bad or good, what disappoints us, what scares us, what disgusts us and why is necessary for us to be understood by our love ones. We need to share our experiences and what we have learned. We need to share about new people or doctors we have met, what impressions they made on us, how we feel about them and why.

It is important to share these feelings and not just the facts to help our loved ones connect in an empathetic way, strengthening our bonds. It’s okay to ask our partner to help us sort out our feelings if we are unsure of how we feel, feel confused or have mixed emotions. We need to make the effort to describe our feelings to the best of our ability and let them help us figure it out.

Sometimes topics that impact our relationships trigger fear of rejection or being abandoned or some other possible awful reactions from our loved ones. It is important to go deeper than just skimming the surface on these topics. Our partner or loved one needs to know how we feel about these things. It may have to do with health, behavior, finances, sex, other family members, etc., but no one can even try to understand how we feel about these things unless we describe our feelings.

Sometimes the issues or topics strike a sensitive chord and lead to rising anger or even a shutting down on our part or theirs. This is a symptom of deeper issues, which are imperative to resolve.   It helps if there is an agreed upon plan in place ahead of time to help a couple to get to the core of the issue in order to resolve it.

I call this plan Rules of Engagement. It helps partners get through the tough discussions and is something my husband and I have used. Here are the basics:

  • One person talks at a time
  • No interrupting while the other person is talking
  • Listen attentively
  • Respect each other’s opinions and feelings
  • Agree to disagree when something cannot be resolved

Having good relationships with our loved ones helps bring balance to our lives and nurtures our spirits and emotions. Healthy relationships are imperative to our living a healthy life.

I am happy. For the first time in ages I actually feel happy. My mind is clearer, sharper. I’m not elated—not hypomanic. It’s like my mind has had a great weight lifted off of it and the fuzziness has diminished.   And the tremor when I write is gone. My beautiful handwriting is back.

I had a medication reduction. My psychiatrist agreed to decrease one of my meds 3 months ago by 5 mg. I found little relief so six days ago he agreed to reduce it by 5 mg more. That’s 10 mg total. It’s a powerful antipsychotic and you don’t need much to get results. I originally was on 20 mg. I couldn’t think clearly, had memory issues, fuzzy thinking and had a tremor in my hand when writing. Cooking was a major task because of having to multitask. Cooking dinner was a little easier today. God heard and answered my prayers.

It’s only been 6 days and I’ve had such good results. I’m wondering what another week will bring. Perhaps my mind will become even clearer. I can feel happiness again and that’s great. My emotions had been blunted for a very long time. I’m still holding a steady normal mood level so far. I just need to maintain it if I want to continue to enjoy these wonderful results.

Accepting Change

I’m different than I was 8 years ago. I had a sharp mind and a physically strong body. I moved around with great balance and my mind was creative, sharp as a tack. I felt things intensely, love, joy, pain and I laughed more. I found humor in life more. A couple of years of severe stress changed me. It triggered a severe depression and then bipolar swings. The hypomania presented as irritability at that time.

I miss the old me before the bipolar kicked in so strong. I don’t feel things the way I used to. My emotions are blunted and my mind isn’t nearly as creative and sharp as it was. I have memory problems.  I have to write everything down.  I know the bipolar is responsible for some of the changes as well as the medication I must take to help me remain in the state of wellness I’ve finally achieved. I know this but it is another thing to fully embrace it. It is hard for me to accept that I am less than I was, that I cannot do or feel as much as I did 8 years ago. My balance is a bit off physically.   I remember the old me and how capable I was. Now, multitasking is quite an undertaking. I no longer do it well.

I miss the old me. I am finding it hard to accept my new limitations. I know that the limitations are better than the alternative if I was unmedicated.  It’s just that I used to be able to work circles around people. I could achieve anything I put my mind to mentally and physically. I miss that freedom, the ability to create. I want it back.

I know someone is probably thinking, “Well change your meds.” I’ve tried everything out there and nothing worked until this combination I’m taking now. It’s a matter of acceptance and I have a hard time doing less than I used to be capable of. It makes me feel that I am less than the person I used to be. It’s something I struggle with when I think about it. I know I’m not less of a human being. I know I should feel good about having gone through the fires of bipolar and overcoming even if it is with the help of meds. I do feel some satisfaction in that. It’s changed me.   I guess if I lost my hearing or lost a leg it would change me too. My life would be changed and limited by what I could no longer do without helps like sign language and a prosthetic leg. I would still be able to do things but not in the exact same way. But life goes on. I guess what I am rebelling against is the loss of mental acuity.   Our minds are who we are. I know we are always changing physically as we age. I can accept that. But to lose mental acuity, cognitive abilities, for those to diminish is like losing a part of myself.

Please forgive my rant. I’m tired and sick with a respiratory infection today so I’m more vulnerable to succumbing to being a little irrational. I know I must accept myself the way I am and make the best of it. I know I have a lot to be thankful for and truly I am grateful. Things cannot go back the way they were—I must keep moving forward and try to do everything to the best of my ability the way I am now.   If I don’t work my brain and body, they will just get stale, inflexible. So I will just keep plugging along and be the best me I can be.

I’ve recently decided to undertake the mission of losing weight. I’m supposed to start today and already I’ve failed. I just don’t have the focus or willpower. Why? I’m battling feelings of wanting to die. Not suicidal, just the feelings of the need to escape life for a while.

I feel like there are two opposites of me in my body. The one is rational and logical; the other is feelings/emotionally driven. The rational me knows that the feelings and emotions are driven by a lie—I don’t really want to die.   The emotional me is trying to drag me down into a dark pit and tells me there is nothing worth living for, there’s no hope for a normal life and I don’t want to have to deal with people or my having to put on a normal face. It’s as though my bipolar brain is attempting to kill me with all these dark thoughts. But I’m not really depressed—just very tired. We had houseguests for 5 days and now that they’re gone I feel fairly spent. I know that the tiredness is behind all this negativity and I won’t let it take me down. I know how to deal with it and I’m remaining at a stable normal level mood-wise in spite of all of this.

I won’t burden myself with guilt over failing my mission to lose weight already. I’ll deal with getting rested and getting my thoughts and emotions in order. Once that’s done I’ll be in a good, strong frame of mind to tackle my eating habits.

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