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At times, the anxiety was excruciating. It was a knot in my chest that grew along with the sense of impending doom as the anxiety deepened. Sometimes it came with depression. Most of the time it showed up all on its own. Often, it was connected to an upcoming event: a trip, a family or friend’s visit, going to church or other places with lots of people or anything else that makes this introvert uncomfortable.

There used to be a time that I would accept anything strange or new easily enough even though it might be a bit uncomfortable. Not so anymore. Over the last year or so, I was feeling a low level anxiety constantly, except for the times it became overwhelming. I was afraid to take the clonazapam (Klonapin) that my psychiatrist prescribed because I would have to be taking it everyday and I didn’t want to get addicted. I finally got tired of suffering and told my psychiatrist (Pdoc) what was happening. He had a solution—another medication (i mentioned this in last month’s post), which I was not thrilled about but I said I would try it. I was to take it three times a day (gradually working up to that amount.) Three times a day felt like overkill so I backed off to two times a day, at breakfast and before bed and it was enough. I started to feel a slight difference on the third day. It took about two weeks to fully kick in and it has been a lifesaver.

The constant low-level anxiety is gone. I sometimes feel a very mild anxiety over some upcoming event but it is tolerable. My Pdoc said I could take the clonazapam if I feel the anxiety is too uncomfortable but I am afraid to take them together. I ran my drug list for interactions on Drugs.com and it advised against taking the two together. It hasn’t been necessary anyway. If it became overwhelming, perhaps I would try it.

I’m a bit overly cautious about mixing meds because I almost OD-ed on pain meds due to a MD’s recommendations to take different pain meds together, ones that he prescribed for me along with a pain med a surgeon had prescribed for a week. I called the MD to get his advice about dropping his meds temporarily while I took the meds the surgeon prescribed. The MD said “no, don’t stop. Take them all together”. After a couple of days when the full effect of all those meds kicked in, I started to pass out. I fought it by keeping moving back and forth while hanging onto a door for dear life. I knew if I sat down, I’d pass out and I thought I was going to die if that happened. I had to keep moving and breathing. I vowed that would never happen again so now I research all my meds and the interactions.   Occasionally I also ask the pharmacist if he’s run a check when I get a new med.

The important thing right now is that I no longer suffer with anxiety. The new med is not meant to use long term so I am wondering when would be a good time to wean off. Probably when I don’t have any events coming up for several months. Perhaps the cycle of constant anxiety has been broken so I’d be able to deal with the occasional bout of it again while just use clonazapam if it becomes a bit overwhelming as I used to do.  I’ll talk with my Pdoc about this in a couple of weeks when I see him again.

On March 28th, 2017, I was prescribed a new medication, Buspirone, to treat anxiety. This is in addition to other medications I take for Bipolar disorder. I have only been on it for 2½ weeks but I feel a significant difference already. I started at 15 mg and am now up to 45 mg ( 15 mg 3 x a day). I haven’t had any significant negative side effects except on the first dose 20 Minutes after my first dose my hands, feet, face and tongue felt tingly but that disappeared after a few hours and never returned. My nose runs a bit more often than usual. I do feel energized, clear minded and happy. It has also heightened my libido a bit, which had been low. I take it that the constant low-level anxiety with frequent bouts of moderate anxiety were sapping my strength and dulling my mood and mind. I will be careful to stay aware just in case the med causes me to become hypomanic. I experienced a slight elevation in mood for about 3 days. I believe that was a reaction to the sudden absence of anxiety. Right now everything is at a safe, normal, level. It feels strange to not be able to worry about anything but it is, most of all, a relief. I can think about upcoming responsibilities or events and what should happen and what could go wrong and there is absolutely no tension or anxiety. I can process the thoughts with a clear mind. It’s amazing.  I am very thankful.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I am balancing precariously on the brink of depression. We had one of our sons visiting for two days, which was a joy to me. Then, on Thanksgiving Day we all drove to our oldest son’s home and spent the day with him, my daughter-in-law, our two grandsons and their family friend. It was a wonderful day and exhausting. I had been up at 6:00 am to cook our contributions to the feast. Then we left at 9:30 am to travel to our son’s place. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and an exhausting one at the same time. We didn’t arrive back home until nearly 9:00 pm.

This morning I woke up emotionally exhausted which also leaves me feeling physically exhausted. I am experiencing a dip in mood treacherously balanced on the edge of falling into a depression. This, after being hypomania and depression free for two years and 3 months, feels like a fairly new experience again. I haven’t thought much about the pain and agony of depression for a long time. What I know is that if I dwell on what I am feeling for too long I give it fuel to grow into a full-blown episode. I remember enough that I know I don’t want to go there again.

Right now, my body is craving sleep and I slept eight hours last night. There is no reason for me to need more sleep. I also have fleeting thoughts of wanting to die which alerts me to the fact that if I’m not careful I’ll slip into a dangerous black hole of despair.

So what am I to do in response to what I am feeling? I’ll put on some Christmas music and push myself to get a few things done around the house. Then I’ll take out a few things that are comforting to do to pass the time like doing puzzles, coloring, making tangle patterns, crocheting or playing my guitar. By that time my husband should be back home and this morning, before he left, he suggested we go out for lunch or dinner. I don’t feel like it but I know once we are out that it will be a nice distraction. During the evening, I’ll either get lost in a book (if I can concentrate) or the TV.

I’m not as worried about it as I used to be. I know it will pass and I know what to do about it. I’ll use the time to glean what nuggets of wisdom I can from the experience and keep myself moving forward at whatever pace feels comfortable. What I will not do is burden myself with guilt or stress because of it.

Today is very special. It’s our anniversary. My husband and I have been married for 44 years. He stuck by my side through the best and worst of times. He’s a gem.

During the worst of times, when my bipolar was out of control, I didn’t feel I deserved him. I felt I was ruining his life. I wished I could die so he’d be rid of me and wouldn’t have to put up with my roller coaster moods anymore. During the worst depressions I would often think of ending my life. I figured that he would hurt for a while but then he’d realize that he was free from living through my hell with me. I tried to shield him from my moods but he could read me.

There were four occasions where I actually planned how to commit suicide and was ready to go through with it. I had promised my husband, that should that day come, I would tell him. I kept my word on each occurrence and he took me to the hospital for help. The last time was the charm—the doctor in that hospital put me on a combination of meds that nearly eliminated the cycling moods. The hypomanias have been eliminated completely. The depressions are now very few and shallow. They are pretty easy to control and keep from escalating. It’s been two years now and I’m still doing very well.

My husband fought this battle right beside me. He never gave up even when I wanted to. Communication was the key in our getting through it. He kept me talking and sharing what I was feeling and going through even when I didn’t want to but wanted to shut down. Those talks gave me the strength to dig deeper for tools to overcome and push through.

I know there are a lot of people out there with bipolar who feel alone, unlovable and that you will never know what it feels like to be well again. That is the greatest lie this disorder can tell us. It is the depression talking. It’s also the frustration talking. If you have a family member or close friend who you can talk to, share what you experience with him or her but initially do it when you are in a semi-controlled state if you can. You’ll be less emotional and make more sense. Our loved ones can’t help us if they don’t understand. The only way they can get a sense of what bipolar or depression is like is if we share and give them the information so they can learn. Direct them to websites that educate about bipolar. Let him or her come to an appointment with your psychiatrist for therapist so s/he can ask questions and learn. We need all the help we can get otherwise it’s a long and lonely journey.

I’m tired. Tired to the core. It doesn’t matter that I’ve had two nights of a solid 8 hours of sleep. The weariness paralyzes me from tackling any big chores around the house. I know depression is knocking at my door but hasn’t quite taken a full hold on me yet. The lack of energy and inability to act on my motivation to get things done is a warning that depression is on my doorstep and is waiting to make an entrance. It’s frustrating because there is so much I want to get done. I have a basic weekly routine and I’m unable to follow it today. So I will work on the little things with the hope that my inertia is brief.

There is a tendency for me to feel guilty for my lack of accomplishment but I keep telling myself that at least I can pay attention to the smaller details for now, getting the house tidier than it already was. The big things will get done tomorrow or in the near future. This is a battle I don’t need to beat myself up over. Guilt accomplishes nothing but fostering a lack of self worth and I don’t want or need that.  I’ll be kind to myself, do what I can, and wait for better days.

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.

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