Cyclothymia- A Milder Form Of Bipolar Disorder

“I am bipolar, and I am a full manifestation of it in terms of my speech, in terms of my energy.” -Mauro Ranallo

After several years of being called, “bipolar” by endearing family members, I set aside my judgment of them and often wondered if there was some validity in the criticisms.

The depression persisted from my teens up until now, however, the mania wasn’t fully manifested until later in life. I can recall one friend telling me that I was the only person they’ve known that exhibited both a melancholic and hyper disposition simultaneously.

As a female, my moods have always been further compounded by the fluctuations in my hormones (i.e., “pms”, and postpartum).

About 7 years ago, I went to my doctor who diagnosed me with depression and PMDD. Every visit since then, the depression notes remain on my summary. Once, when I tried to contact one of my doctor’s, she stated that none of my conditions weren’t applicable because I wasn’t re-evaluated for them- I had missed an appointment and she seemed harsh and unhelpful.

When I went back for a yearly appointment in 2017, the doctor assumed I was there specifically for a prescription. I told her I wanted to have a thorough diagnosis- that meant I had to get blood tests to rule out physical conditions. It also meant she would refer me to a psychiatrist for the full evaluation.

I met with two psychiatrists- the first might have had a different certification because he made my second appointment with the doctor who conducts evaluations. Again, I think I was scheduled with him first because the staff thought I just wanted counseling or pills.

When I had my evaluation, she told me I was, “a little bipolar.” I told her I didn’t want pills, just a diagnosis so I could manage my disorder on my own. She prescribed something that I never took. Weeks later, I requested my records and discovered the notes about my mood disorder- which didn’t explicitly state that I had bipolar disorder.

This diagnosis leads me to research more about bipolar disorder. More specifically, I wish to learn more about cyclothymia- or, as some people refer to it- “mild” bipolar (a “little” bipolar!).

Cyclothymia is a somewhat rare mental disorder, affecting about 0.4-1% of the population, with women being more frequently diagnosed than men by a ratio of 3:2.

“Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by hypomanic and mini-depressive periods that last a few days, follow an irregular course, and are less severe than those in bipolar disorder; these symptom periods must occur for more than half the days during a period of ≥ 2 yr. Diagnosis is clinical and based on history. Management consists primarily of education, although some patients with functional impairment require drug therapy.” (Merck Manuals)

Many people, such as myself, enjoy the hypomania component of the disorder allows me to be “high-functioning”.

It helps those who are achievers, leaders, or those with an artistic bent, to be productive and creative, even influential and admired by their peers. On the other side of the coin- the “depressed” element of cyclothymia, wreaks havoc on relationships and can create conflict due to erratic behavior in the workplace and otherwise.

Many people afflicted by cyclothymia (or other forms of mood disorders) often turn to drugs and alcohol to a feeble attempt to quell their moods.

How can somebody get help if they think they may have cyclothymia? There is no test for cyclothymia. A doctor usually refers to your medical history and sometimes will refer you to a psychiatrist. Since the symptoms of cyclothymia are similar to bipolar 1 and bipolar 2, it is important to seek an evaluation from a psychiatrist.

Since cyclothymia is less severe than other forms of bipolar disorder, you may decide to examine various methods of treatment, with or without medications.

What works well for one individual isn’t always ideal for everybody else.

You can choose to see a therapist at regular intervals, join a support group, etc. Still, many psychiatrists prescribe medication.

Medications Often Prescribed

Lithium– a mood stabilizer

Lamictal– an anticonvulsant

Tegretol– used to treat seizures and bipolar disorder (anticonvulsant)

In conjunction with working with your doctor and psychiatrist, you can find online resources to provide you with information. The ADA has a screening tool to help guide you.

References:

  1. https://ada.com/conditions/cyclothymic-disorder/
  2. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/mood-disorders/cyclothymic-disorder
  3. https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.lamotrigine.html
  4. https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.cyclothymia.html
  5. https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB01356
  6. https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/tegretol

The 3 Most Important People In Treating Anxiety Disorders

“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt, and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.” -Eckhart Tolle

In the US, over 40 million people are affected by an anxiety disorder. Although it is highly-treatable, it’s reported that only about 37% of affected individuals receive treatment. (ADAA).

6 Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When you consider the various sub-categories listed under “specific phobias”, one can conclude there is a multitude of anxiety types. These subtypes are broadly-defined:

3 Types of Phobias

    1. Agoraphobia– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of non-specific situations where one may not be able to escape or get help if a panic attack occurs.
    2. Specific Phobia– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of specific situations or object (i.e, a fear of flying, a fear of needles, or the fear of spiders qualify as specific phobias).
  • Social Anxiety Disorder– A fear, anxiety, or avoidance of social situations. Intense fear in social situations includes the fear of appearing foolish, which can physically by way of blushing, shaking, sweating, etc.

Scientists believe there are a complex variety of factors that cause anxiety disorders, but they can be simplified into two broad categories.

  1. Genetics– A family history of anxiety disorders is a significant indicator of being predisposed.
  2. Environment– Traumatic, stressful, or exposure to violence can cause individuals to develop anxiety disorders. (NAMI).

Identifying the sources of anxiety disorders can be complex and confusing, hence why it is especially important to first see your doctor to eliminate the possible physical cause that mimics anxiety disorders.

It is also important to do whatever you can to reduce or eliminate sources that cause you to feel more anxious or nervous. For instance, you can opt to drink decaffeinated coffee instead of regular coffee. Some dietary choices can improve the physical aspects of anxiety. Simple choices are only the beginning of managing anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Disorders Originate In The Recesses Of Our Brains

“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are two parts of the brain that are key players in the production and processing of anxiety – the amygdala and the hippocampus.” (Neurocore Brain Performance Centers).

Our brains- and our specific human experiences- are complex and vast, but the good news is that only you fully understand yourself! Conversely, others on your mental health “team” (i.e., your family doctor, your nutritionist, your spiritual advisor, therapists, counselors, and other qualified mental health professionals).

The Family Doctor

You may opt to schedule an appointment with your family doctor before or after you’ve had time to reflect and write down information on your anxiety disorder. You may have learned from school or work that you don’t like public speaking or crowds. It will be most beneficial of you to have notes and information to offer your doctor when attending your appointments.

Don’t be discouraged if your family doctor seems to focus on the “externals” more than the “internals”. The doctor may offer you unwanted advice, such as losing weight, getting more exercise, or reducing the amount of caffeine or alcohol you consume. These are important steps in the management of your anxiety, although, they are often not the only steps to pursue.

Therapists

As I mentioned earlier, each individual has their own unique and complex brain and set of experiences. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to anxiety. Medications may work for one person but may be ineffective for another. Many individuals prefer to manage their anxiety through therapy. Therapy types are as varied as the individuals seeking treatment, so be sure to have a solid good understanding of each type.

Traditional  Psychotherapy

  • Interpersonal therapy
  • CBT (Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

Non-Traditional Therapies

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction model (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
  • EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitization Resolution (Often for individuals suffering from PTSD).
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)- Developed to understand and improve moods, based on biological and social rhythms. (“Taking Charge”, University of Minnesota).

There are other therapies, which include group therapy, family therapy, and emotion-focused therapy. (Types of Therapy).

Help Yourself (And Others) Treat Your Anxiety Disorders

You may be limited in your choices of family doctors, based on where you live or the type of medical insurance you carry. Additionally, your medical insurance may limit the type of therapy or mental health services you can receive. Be sure to obtain a provider directory and handbook from your insurer to ensure you choose providers your insurance will cover, or you may end up paying more than you can afford for your treatment.

Consider what your own preferences are along with what your insurance will offer. Is your local family doctor in your network? If not, you may have to choose another or decide if it’s worth it to pay out-of-pocket.

In addition to receiving medical care and therapy, be sure to consider your own interests, and how they can be applied to help you manage and treat your anxiety.

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” -Socrates.

  • Are you artistic? Why not try painting when you need to calm down?
  • Are you a kinetic person? Do you have lots of energy? Why not try jogging to release some negative energy?
  • Are you an emotional or sensitive person? Why not channel your inner-poet and write something expressive?

When you know yourself, you have insight and wisdom about yourself, and thus, can make better decisions on how to treat yourself. You will not be able to treat anxiety effectively- at least, not in most circumstances, without the help of others. For some, that includes doctors and therapists. Many people wish to augment treatment by using their faith and spirituality. The most important thing to realize is that you can get the most out of managing anxiety if A) you understand yourself and B) you allow others to help.

Anxiety People

References:

  1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
  2. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/specific-phobias-and-social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia/
  3. https://www.neurocorecenters.com/blog/depression-anxiety-stresseffects-of-stress-anxiety-on-brain
  4. https://keltymentalhealth.ca/types-of-therapy
  5. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-types-psychotherapy-are-helpful-anxiety-and-depression
  6. https://www.2knowmyself.com/The_kinesthetic_personality_type
  7. https://sciencing.com/kinetic-energy-potential-energy-apply-everyday-life-15430.html
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201603/know-yourself-6-specific-ways-know-who-you-are

Simple Ways To Manage Anxiety And Depression

Woman sitting behind green bars, smiling innocently.

“Once a week, I like to slip into a deep existential depression where I lose all my sense of oneness and self-worth.” -Bo Burnham

The most helpful part of managing my mood disorder is the fact that my moods are fairly predictable. In more severe cases, it is much more difficult to manage, at least not without the help of doctors. I’ve battled these moods since I was a teenager.

I’m almost certain, however, that I experienced strange things when I was younger. These things I’m talking about are the symptoms one sees when they have experienced trauma. Dissociation, depersonalization, and even involuntary, but subtle, nervous ticks.

So, I’ve battled these moods for many years- anxiety, depression, GAD, OCD. I am familiar with the alphabet soup of mental illness- although, that doesn’t qualify me to dispense medical advice. It simply means, my conditions are much more manageable, so manageable now that I can tell the psychiatrist I don’t want to take the Lamictal or any other drug.

And, I’ve spent so many years on the prescription-drug rollercoaster, to no avail. Well, that’s not entirely true- Prozac wasn’t too bad, except for the occasional electrical surge. Lexapro wasn’t so bad, either. Definitely a pass on Paxil, Buspar, and Serzone.

You might be able to pick up on the fact that I haven’t written regularly for the past few weeks. Today I began to see an improvement in my mood. Soon I will be scribbling away, hopefully finishing some artwork. Now that I am feeling better, I wish to share some simple things that help me feel “at peace.”

Simple Ways To Manage Anxiety & Depression

Thrive Mindful- Ways To Feel “At Peace”

Shop when the stores are empty.

Get a haircut.

Study a free online course through Coursera.

Play board games with family.

Prank-call a family member.

Play a musical instrument.

Enjoy an open-air, free concert.

Organize photos.

Visit the library.

Ride a bike.

Adopt an animal from a shelter.

Call a long-lost family member.

Wash the car.

Donate unwanted clothes to charity.

Do some yard work.

Explore other WordPress blogs.

Read a good book.

Write a poem.

Organize computer files.

Go for a car ride at dusk.

Watch the sunrise.

Make a list of goals.

Write down 3 things you enjoyed when you were ages 9-12.

Do a free, online personality assessment.

Draw (or doodle) some pictures for your poetry.

Draw a self-portrait.

Rearrange living room furniture.

Invite the opinions of others on topics with universal appeal (i.e, favorites lists of anything)- Promotes diversity and fresh ideas!

Take the family or a friend out to lunch.

Watch a band at the coffee shop.

Schedule a yearly health exam.

Play tennis with some family or friends.

Mental Health Communities And Forums

Finding relevant information and maintaining privacy are key issues for individuals suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. I’ve included some resources that may be helpful for questions and answers.

www.uncommonforums.com: Topics include psychology, depression, anger management, addictions, eating disorders, and anxiety/panic attacks.

www.dailystrength.com: Online support groups for anxiety, addiction/recovery, mental health, men’s health, women’s health, teens, children’s health/parenting and many other health issues in general.

www.sane.org: An Australian mental health website that includes a well-organized forum area. The aesthetic appeal and non-spammy feel make the website worthwhile.

www.beatingthebeast.com: “Beating The Beast” touts itself as an online depression support community, but I’ve discovered useful advice on anxiety disorders, as well as bipolar and other mental health issues.

If you were to write a list of things that make you feel happy or relaxed, what would it include? Is there a pattern in your list?

My list includes a little socializing, some solitude, and purging of unused things that others might want to use. Note that much of my joy comes from reading, writing, and drawing.

No matter how depressed or anxious I become, I try to make an effort to pursue my faith (reading the Bible, watching or reading content online about my faith). One key difference between how I handle my moods now, as opposed to when I was younger, is the fact that I pursue my spirituality. Even when I feel I’ve lost hope or control, there is always something more that governs life and the world around me.

How To Give Dignity To Your Emotions!

Man sitting against a wall.

Today, I desire to be unencumbered by organizing my thoughts and structuring my paragraphs before my words settle upon this glowing screen. Sometimes writing requires capricious expression, and other times, it requires much mental effort. What I have to say doesn’t need much research. I just want to draw today. I completed a portrait of Sigmund Freud. It’s somewhat minimalistic, but to me, there is beauty in simplicity.

I also want to write today, simply to express myself- not to impress anybody, not to sell anything. And when I write today, I want to say what a special weekend! My daughter turned 14 yesterday. I am the parent of two teenaged creatures!

I’ve been pretty lucky in the parenting stage of life because my kids have remained, by and large, decent human beings, free of any major character flaws. But, I’m weary in this journey. My emotions are tossed about with conflicting feelings. On one hand, I fear the day when they are grown. Conversely, I also can’t wait for the days when they are grown.

Being a parent with mental health issues is a bit different from being a “regular” parent. No doubt, I experience the same dilemmas as other parents. But what makes my job more complex are the following factors:

When my kids have a problem, the first thing I attribute it to is myself. Did my anxiety cause them this problem? Did my depression bring them down? Did I spoil them when I felt guilty about “not measuring up” to societal standards?

One thing is for sure- I’ve been humbled by my illness, and also by the task of parenting. I am well aware of the way my mind working of my brain-

(my psychiatrist noted my thought process as “circumstantial”)-

Circumstantiality- (also circumstantial thinking, or circumstantial speech) – An inability to answer a question without giving excessive, unnecessary detail. This differs from tangential thinking, in that the person does eventually return to the original point

And as an individual with this type of thought pattern, I do tend to elaborate on insignificant details. My mind wanders in many directions, but it always returns to the original point. I’m a little disturbed that somebody that has spoken to me once can make so many assertions. I guess that’s what a college degree empowers an individual to do (not meant to sound snarky, just expressing an observation).

Today, I write because I feel the need to express myself- my hopes and dreams, and my joy and sadness. For without writing, or even drawing Sigmund Freud today, I’d be riddled with the impulse to start purging stuff in my house again. Anxiety, exhaustion, joy, sadness- it’s too many emotions permeating my mind at once.

Today, I could spend the day trying to improve myself through studying or exercise. Or I can simply reflect on the gift of human emotions. I will honor my emotions by giving all of them the consideration they deserve and require. That’s much healthier than suppression or denial.

How To Channel Anxiety In A Positive Way

Abstract art

Where Are You On Maslow’s Pyramid?

“We may define therapy as a search for value.”

-Abraham Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970), an American psychologist best known for “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”- a theory that employs the notion that in order to achieve one’s highest potential, one must not be lacking in any of the four essential needs of the pyramid. Of these four needs that precede the self-actualization level of the pyramid, the following must be satisfied:

  • Esteem- The desire to be valued and accepted, power, recognition.
  • Love/Belonging- Family, friends, intimacy, inclusion.
  • Safety- Money, health, stability, and a sense of personal and family safety, property, employment.
  • Physiological- Air, clothing, food, water, shelter, rest.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps outline the components needed to ensure happiness and self-actualization.

Maslow, who referenced his own work as, “positive psychology”, called the four bottom levels of his five-level model, the “deficiency needs.” These needs are called deficiency needs because, without them, we feel uncomfortable and anxious. However, when these needs are met, we are not likely to notice, or feel any different, simply because they are innate needs.

The highest of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” is self-actualization. This tier includes things such as morality, creativity, problem-solving, and spontaneity. Self-Actualization is the ability and desire to meet one’s fullest potential or to accomplish as much as one’s ability allows. Self-actualization is achieved when we are equipped and ready to “level up.” In other words, when we don’t have to worry about the basics, we have more resources available to consider our growth and development.

What Things Hinder An Individual’s Personal Growth?

When a person is living with constant fear, it is more difficult to get their needs met. For instance, when an individual feels threatened, their brain prompts the fight-or-flight response. At that state, it is unlikely that the person who is plagued by fear will have to ability to effectively utilize problem-solving skills. Additionally, that person will be so focused on meeting their safety needs, as well as the need for love/belonging and esteem.

In an effort to subdue distress and anxiety, people often use what Freud called, “defense mechanisms.” Furthermore, many individuals who suffer from anxiety may also substitute their deficiencies. Instead of adopting healthy habits that will help us achieve our needs (and thus, self-actualization), we may feel compelled to feel a sense of love/belonging by controlling our appearance or employing unhealthy eating habits. Another example would be family dysfunction or a dysfunctional household. The teenager who lives in an alcoholic family may undertake the role of the nurturing parent. Another person may take a different route- perhaps by running away or seeking solace by withdrawing from the family.

The How And What Of Defense Mechanisms

While Maslow focused his work on the study of what makes humans happy, the Austrian neurologist, and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud explored other elements of the human psyche, such as sexual energy being the driving force behind our unconscious behaviors. Freud noted several defense mechanisms people use to protect themselves from anxiety.

  • Repression
  • Denial
  • Projection
  • Displacement
  • Regression
  • Sublimation

Freud's Defense Mechanisms

Sublimation: A “Mature” Defense Mechanism

Psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, George Vaillant, contends that many of the aforementioned defense mechanisms can be harmful to us, but concluded that more “mature defenses”, like sublimation, can be productive. Vaillant proposed four layers of defense mechanisms:

  • Narcissistic
  • Immature
  • Neurotic
  • Mature

Some common examples of sublimation include channeling aggression into a sports activity, or painting when one wishes to express, in a socially-acceptable behavior, the pain they feel from a broken relationship.

Sublimation can be used to control negative impulses associated with anger, jealousy, disappointment, sadness, and mistrust.

Many notable creative and literary work have been bestowed upon humanity, most likely, as a result of the use of the sublimation defense mechanism. Van Gogh is reported to have painted one of his most prominent paintings, The Starry Night, while hospitalized at Saint-Remy. The painter Jackson Pollock, employed “action painting” into his creations. The use of movement and expression involved in this type of pursuit likely utilized the sublimation defense mechanism to deal with his own internal conflicts and anxieties.

 

While both artists had personal struggles- Van Gogh had mental health issues and Pollack had a tendency to become violent when drinking, it can be surmised that their ability to express themselves artistically may have helped them channel at least some of their negativity into more positive ways of dealing with their problems. Possibly, life could have been better for these artists, but we can truly never know the depths of their psyches.

Maslow’s pyramid indicates that one characteristic of self-actualization as the ability to be creative and spontaneous, independent, and honest. Pollock was widely regarded for his authenticity in his painting style. Was he true to himself? Could he have been even more successful as an artist, or even, as a husband to fellow artist Lee Krasner?

Other psychologists theorize that self-actualization involves fulfilling an altruistic need, that is, the ability to serve humanity. Perhaps by using sublimation defense mechanisms (sports, art, science, etc.), we can manage our anxieties until all our hierarchical needs are fully met. We can “fake it ‘til we make it.” Although it is challenging at times to consider altruistic endeavors, once we can find a way to overcome ourselves, we can be equipped to use our gifts to serve others.

References:

  1. https://outre-monde.com/2015/10/01/a-philosophical-cure-for-anxiety/
  2. http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/abraham-maslow/
  3. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-monroecc-hed110/chapter/theory/
  4. https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html#why
  5. https://www.verywellmind.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524
  6. https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defense-mechanisms
  7. https://psychologenie.com/understanding-concept-of-sublimation-in-psychology
  8. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jackson-Pollock

 

Riding The Wave of Depression (Again)

Black and white photo of a pensive-looking person.

A tidal wave- the perfect metaphor for depression. My life seemed like a simple and joyful day at the beach, with no worries. Suddenly, I’m overtaken by this wave of depression, sweeping over me, tossing my feelings around as I clutch to some vague sense of security. Security in what? I try to grab for what I know will calm me in such tempestuous times- spirituality. Yes, at least now when the tidal wave sweeps over me, I can grasp for spirituality.

I turn my radio stations in between 3 different Christian channels. A renown pastor was preaching on Moody Broadcasting. Air1, the alternative Christian music network, resonated with me as a listener spoke about her personal struggles. On WFHM, I listened to MercyMe and cried as I finished my drive home from Walmart on my day off work. The boss finally gave me a day off after working so many weekends. It was supposed to be so joyful. I went shopping at 7:00 am, right after I dropped my kids off at school. The store was quiet and I was able to shop with relative ease and peace. I spent way more money than I had budgeted!

Signs of Depression

I should’ve seen my depression developing. I was irritable and short with my family last night. After being cooped up every day, listening to my kids chew LOUDLY- the cracking and popping sounds emanating from the bowels of their braces and jaws, I just howled, “Stop!”

For the past week, I’ve felt as though life could never be dismal. My thoughts and ideas swirled around my head- I have felt inspired. Now, I feel devoid of anything.

If only I had been attuned to my emotions better, I could’ve taken better care. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much money at Walmart today.

  • Feelings of hopelessness, as though, no matter what you do, nothing will change or improve.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that once brought joy.
  • Weight/appetite changes. An increase or decrease of 5% of your body weight in a month is significant.
  • Sleeping too little or too much, or waking up too early, or oversleeping.
  • Irritable and Angry. Your fuse is much shorter, people tend to get on your nerves easily.
  • Self-hate- feeling guilty, worthless, overly-critical of self.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling sluggish, or slow. Tasks take longer to complete.
  • Recklessness- Engaging in risky or dangerous activities or behaviors or abusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Unable to concentrate.
  • Frequent physical pains in the muscles, stomach, or headaches.

Risks For Depression

Unfortunately, many people who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, have fewer emotional, social and financial reserves. Many people who suffer from mental illness have fragmented social and family ties. As a result of their mental illness, they may be alienated from friends and family. Many of these people may come from an abusive family or have been affected by alcoholism. Certain factors increase your risk of depression.

  • No social support (family and friends, or other support systems)
  • Isolation, lack of mobility.
  • Unemployment or underemployment (not living up to full potential, not being recognized at work).
  • Relationship problems/marital issues.
  • Poverty, crushing debt, not enough money to live comfortably, unable to meet needs.
  • Early experiences with trauma, childhood abuse.
  • Health problems.

Interestingly, this week I’ve experienced several episodes of anxiety. From nearly passing out at work, to the agony of managing my workload, I also recall feeling diminished and invisible at work. It seems everything else is expected to take a backseat to my job. The moments I get to spend with my family seem fleeting, and at times, my aspirations to be a successful writer/illustrator and entrepreneur, seem hopeless. Last week, however, my dreams were soaring. I tried to imagine being successful and getting another job.

Road Rage

Today, I felt an uncomfortable surge of anger when I was driving to Walmart. The car tailgating me rushed over into the next lane when the road changes to two lanes. It had been raining out, my tire treads are choppy (only $500-$600 to get all new tires). When the light turned green, I floored it to prevent the other driver from getting in front of me. The “slippery conditions” icon was activated on my dashboard, yet I persisted. I could see the other driver turned right just after passing through the intersection.

Feelings of apathy, flatness, are dominant when I’m depressed. My body feels aching, my mind is becoming drained. It will soon become that time when I can do nothing more than “reflect”.

On a positive note, my supervisor informed me that he understood my issues because he experiences anxiety too. When I asked him how he manages, he told me he takes Lexapro. He had to stop using Paxil because it made him feel like a zombie.

I think I tried Lexapro when I was in my thirties. I had to stop taking it because I couldn’t afford it. The doctors offered me the generic alternative, Celexa, which upset my stomach. The Lexapro seemed to work okay back then. I didn’t take it long enough to note anything else.

SSRI’s are not effective in treating bipolar depression. I found this out when I went to my doctor in 2017. She prescribed Lamictal, which is used for both bipolar disorder and seizures. The dosing schedule she gave me seemed unusual. I didn’t want to take any more medications, and I failed to follow-up.

I feel drained at the end of the day. It’s after 5:00 pm by the time I remember to call to make appointments. I hate talking to receptionists. So many times, I’ve been talked to in a condescending manner.

I don’t always know when my depression is going to manifest. Who could know, especially when your mind is busy or clouded by other thoughts? Although I feel hopeless, I want to keep fighting. Every battle scar has a story, and every story has an ending. I know I can rewrite it if I make the effort.

References:

  1.  (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.htm/).
  2. (https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/bipolar-disorder-anxiety-often-follows-mania).

When Anxiety Makes You Faint!

Speeding light corridor.

Every once in a while, something triggers my anxiety so intensely that I become physically and emotionally ill. Yesterday was one such day where I felt like I was going to faint. My skin was clammy, my stomach was churning- I initially thought the fruit I ate at lunch was causing the mild cramps in my stomach. I felt so weak and sick that I had to retreat to the bathroom and rest for a few minutes.

What set off the series of unpleasant symptoms was that I got cut on my finger at work. My co-worker was talking to me and I was feeling a little tired and distracted. This proved to be a recipe for disaster, at least, in my mind. As I was talking and working, the cutters slipped and sliced through the middle of my fingernail, drawing blood and stinging like crazy. I quickly wrapped the finger tightly and tried to continue working.

My co-worker suggested the cut may need stitches. When I told her I had cut through the nail and I didn’t think they could “stitch” my nail, she proceeds to offer vivid details about how the doctor might “rip my nail off”. She also mentioned they may apply “New Skin” to the nail, but since she already polluted my anxious mind with details of ripping my fingernail, I grew weak and dizzy. My skin got colder. I told her I had to go for a few minutes to look at the cut and sit down.

Eventually, I found a more helpful co-worker who provided me antibiotic cream. She told me the doctor might stitch under the nail, and apply the liquid bandage to the fragmented nail. I opted to wrap the finger as tight as possible and deal with a more thorough examination at the privacy of my home later that day.

I’ve had a few times in my life where anxiety- and the sight of blood or other bodily fluids, organs and things of that nature, have triggered the same symptoms.

The first time was when I was in elementary school. Our class had to walk down the corridor to look at the science fair entries. One project appeared to be a mason jar with the contents of an animal’s brain. The kids were enthralled by the “brain”. They kept talking about it, and suddenly, everything looked blue and surreal. The next thing I recall is waiting for my mom at the nurse’s station in the school office. The staff doted on me and seemed concerned.

In high school, my mind was occupied about various issues. At this time in my life (age 17), my grandmother had passed away. The funeral and surrounding events- the drinking binges my mom went on after my grandmother’s passing, may have contributed to my episode. It seems like I started getting more depressed as a teenager. I felt I was losing everybody and everything from my life. My friends were all struggling with problems too. Some of them spoke about their experiences with substances. To compound issues, the type of music I listened to at that time was very dark and depressing. This was undoubtedly a confusing and emotional time.

One day, I started to walk to school as usual. I hoped my friend was going to school that day because I could meet up with her and walk together. I remember that there were a Catholic church and school on my path. Every day, I’d pass and gaze at the statues. They seemed eery to me- they didn’t elicit the same emotions I’d feel when admiring art. In fact, they always gave me a morose feeling.

As I continued past the church, I focused my eyes on the Veteran’s Memorial. Suddenly, everything looked unreal and I felt faint. I kept walking and passed a morning jogger who mouthed, “Good morning!” as I dredged on. It dawned on me that I shouldn’t go to school, and I went home.

The final memory of fainting and dizzy spells comes from when I had an appointment at the doctor. I had blood drawn from that visit and I recall the details of blood work seemed vivid and overwhelming.

So what does anxiety have to do with these fainting episodes? I wanted to understand how something that originates in the mind can cause so many repercussions.

Fainting, otherwise known as syncope, is a “sudden loss of consciousness from a lack of blood flow to the brain.” (www.verywellhealth.com). There are a number of factors they can cause an individual to faint-

  • Dehydration
  • Heart Beat
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Anxiety

Before fainting, these symptoms are present:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Blurred or Tunnel Vision
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of Breath

Psychological Triggers

Although less common than other triggers, anxiety, stress, and panic disorder can all stimulate the vagus nerve- the nerve which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. “The parasympathetic nervous system regulates organ and gland functions during rest and is considered a slowly activated, dampening system.” (www.lumenlearning.com).

Hyperventilation and Hypoventilation

Too much or too little oxygen changes CO2 levels in the blood, which activates the feeling of passing out that often accompanies anxiety, stress, and panic disorder. (www.anxietycentre.com).

Our stress response prompts a release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that is supposed to equip humans to better manage threats and dangers. These hormones cause emotional, physiological, and psychological responses that signal us to respond- fight or flight.

Maybe, in the recesses of my mind, I perceive “blood” as a warning because I am not prepared for such accidents (i.e, I don’t usually carry bandages and first aid equipment). Who will take care of me if I can’t take care of myself? The vivid details of cuts and wounds really disturb my mind. Ultimately, I am reminded that this body of mine will eventually perish.

 

Doodling Is My Brain’s Dumpster- And That’s Not A Bad Thing!

A man is sitting down and writing or drawing on white paper.

My goal today was to draw a few illustrations. It is my goal to have enough artwork to publish a book of quirky drawings and musings. Previously, setting goals was difficult for me because I’d throw away all my artwork when I get depressed, stumped, or lose focus. Somehow, I have been able to finally manage my compulsion to discard things, although I am unsure how I’ve “recovered.”

So I drew and scanned an image, then I wanted to have the cartoon tell a story. Well, I’m not a comic-book artist and I don’t create graphic novels. This project started to inspire me in unexpected ways and my thoughts were organized, yet tangent-like.

I used to draw faces and write poems, songs, and stories next to the images. I don’t know what it is about doing this, but it is cathartic to me. As a matter of fact, doodling and creating a story about the character’s life is something I did as a kid. Back in middle school, some kids hovered around me as I drew “fake” school yearbooks, with fake people. They asked me how I made them. The stories and drawings were personal to me and I became embarrassed when others watched me draw.

What artists inspire you? Here are a few of my favorites:

Find some cartoon artists whose style inspires you and give it a try! You should be able to see your defining style or theme when you start drawing and writing. Do you see pain? Where does it come from and where does it take you?

 

Artwork by tkblogs

How Early Trauma Caused Much of My Anxiety

I am inclined to believe that living in a stressful environment triggers OCD. As a new mother who suffered from depression and anxiety, the compounding factor of being in a dysfunctional relationship seemed to be the trigger in the development of my OCD.

My husband was an alcoholic and often abused me, verbally, physically, emotionally and financially. I became consumed with the compulsion to discard things in my home. I look back with regret when I realize the importance of things I threw or gave away. Sometimes, I even re-purchased similar items to replace things I threw out or donated.

The process of getting rid of purging became cyclic. I recall, getting rid of items I had stored in plastic boxes, then I got rid of the boxes. I would feel “better”, or just get a desire to purchase something. Then I had to move other things around to “purge” myself when I became overwhelmed by the ritual of shopping.

 

Other times, I got rid of “things” when I was overwhelmed with emotions and did not realize I was not finding a proper outlet for my emotions. My husband only made my condition worse by calling me “crazy” or “unstable.” Sometimes I purged items when I was experiencing symptoms of PMS. He called me “hormonal” when he discussed such issues to my in-laws (who also called me “crazy” and “unstable”).

I was diagnosed with OCD and GAD several years ago. At the time when I was diagnosed, the two disorders were listed in the same category in the DSM. In 2013, the fifth edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) remains under the section under anxiety disorders, OCD is under a section labeled as “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. Included under this category are hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), and body dysmorphic disorder. Though individuals suffering from GAD and OCD tend to spend much time worrying, the difference is that people with OCD rely on physical or mental rituals (compulsions) to relieve stress caused by an obsession. Those with GAD tend to worry about “real” problems, while those with OCD are plagued by intrusive thoughts that are somewhat illogical or unrealistic, such as unnecessary counting, or a preoccupation with symmetry.

Though my GAD may have progressed into OCD during my marriage, I recall other stages in my life where I have been afflicted by one or both of these disorders. In my twenties, I attended college despite my impairing social anxiety disorder. I rarely made any social connections during my academic pursuits. I managed to take several drawing classes as part of my graphic design course load. I became repulsed by using pencils in my drawing classes. I was unable to pick up the charcoal sticks to complete my work because I was focused on the trail of dust left behind from the materials. The dust was attached to my artist’s toolbox and my portfolio. I spent a great deal of effort obsessing about the dust and eraser crumbs in my tools and supplies. Years after I dropped out of my classes, I tried to save the pieces I had labored over, but like everything else that had some sentimental value, I discarded them too (OCD Almost Destroyed My Creativity!).

Exposed To Adult Life

As children, my sister and I became fixtures at the local bars. From ages 10 until about 12, we were dragged along to a number of bars near our house so my mom could drink and be with my dad. The bar was a dive and quite disgusting. My mom bought us pop and Slim Jims, and I sat at the booth with my sister. Sometimes we were allowed to pick songs on the jukebox (I played, “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac and “Rapture” by Blondie on a loop!).

At times, it felt glamorous to hang out in bars. Other times, it was unsettling to see adults become less inhibited, argumentative, and repulsive. I could get a sense when people were getting too “loose”…almost an innate vide to warn of impending danger (in my adult life, this “sense” was clouded by my own self-doubt and afflictions).

My mom got annoyed when I sat on the barstool next to her, spinning around, so she sent me off with a constant supply of quarters to play arcade games and the pinball machine. When I 12, I was old enough to not have to sit at the bar. At some point, it was decided that I was old enough to take care of everybody else.

I was appointed the neighborhood babysitter- my mom offered my babysitting services to her friend so they could go out drinking. I was given no instructions on how to feed, entertain, or comfort the kids. The house in which I cared for them didn’t appear to show signs of toys, books or anything that could help me occupy the kids while they left us for hours on end. We sat in front of the TV, bored, tired and hungry until they returned after the bars closed at 2:30 AM. Sadly, when I became a mother, I was haunted feelings of inadequacies due to these experiences.

Help! I’m Starving Myself (To Get Control And Acceptance!)

At age 14 I developed an eating disorder. When I stood in front of the mirror, I would section off the parts of my body I deemed too fat. Within six months I had dropped down to size 2 in jeans. I survived by drinking soda and eating just one item per day, usually a school lunch item, as to not draw too much attention to my disorder.

At dinner time, I covered food in napkins, moved food around on my plate, or I simply gave the food to the dog. Eventually, my mom realized my tactics and I had to eat more of my dinner. I still rationed my food, or only ate half servings. This went on for four years. When I overcame one element of my disorder, it manifested in some other way, as in discarding things. Sometimes I purged the food I ingested, but mostly I purged “things”.

My compulsion to discard things is more manageable now. I have limited contact with people that may provoke or trigger anxiety and OCD symptoms. I try to be more mindful by writing in a journal and meditating on my faith. I also keep a few empty boxes out of sight for those times when I feel compelled to purge. My rule is that I must wait a few days before deciding the permanent home for all the “things”. This time allows me to sort my thoughts, gain clarity and determine the reasons why I feel the intrusive thoughts.

 

References:

Glasofer, Deborah R., Ph.D., “What Is the Difference Between GAD and OCD?”

www.verywell.com, July 28, 2016, accessed August 21, 2016.

 

How I Overcame Anxiety

Never Stress

“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” -Andrew J. Bernstein

The word “stress” often gets a bad rap, thanks to “anxiety.” Since stress is often the precipitating trigger in anxiety disorders, it is perceived as a negative experience. Stress is defined as your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t resolve itself once the triggering event has subsided.

Anxiety is prolonged and debilitating. Disorders, such as GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) leave individuals feeling a sense of doom. Although stress can trigger anxiety, more often than not, the causes of anxiety are not always easily identified.

Years ago, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and GAD. I felt somewhat relieved to know that a “fear of the marketplace” (agoraphobia) was a logical explanation for some of my distress about running errands or going shopping. In retrospect, I was afraid of being around a lot of people, in situations where I might find it hard to get away if needed. I especially feared being judged when I was a new mother. I feared people might say rude things to my kids, or criticize my parenting style (they did!). A simple comment on how to manage my children when they cried in the long lines, or how I should discipline then if they misbehaved often left me feeling depressed and apprehensive. My head often grew heavy when I even thought about going out in public!

GAD, on the other hand, is a more mysterious anxiety disorder. GAD is defined by WebMD as, excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worries about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school.”

So, what is the proper amount of worry about everyday life events? How much is a normal amount of worrying about important things such as health, money, family, work, or school? Possibly, is it an abstract amount of worry that can only be defined by the extent of uneasiness it causes to an individual? Why do some handle such pressures effortlessly, while others are plagued by apprehension or displeasure?

When I experience agoraphobia and GAD as a new parent (who possibly was afflicted by postpartum depression), I was limited into tapping into a source of support, and sources of guidance and encouragement. However, I took advantage of reading and talk therapy in some support groups. I lacked supportive family and friends, so I had to seek out my tribe. Only those people could understand me. Such groups offered a reciprocal dynamic.

What differentiates my ability to cope with stress now compared to those years?

  • Closer to a supportive family (father and stepmother)
  • Stable job
  • Having a reliable source of income (see above)
  • Wisdom, experience, maturity, insight, perception
  • Ability to reframe events and experiences
  • Writing in a journal when I have a difficult problem
  • Knowledge and implementation of nutrition and exercise
  • Stable environment for my children
  • Work schedule that allows me to maximize time with my family
  • Seeking spirituality each day

For me, changes in environments, income, neighborhood- physical resources, have contributed, I suppose. Experience, wisdom, maturity, insight, and perception have helped me significantly. These things do not occur overnight, nor can a prescription cure all elements of anxiety or stress. Understanding that we live in a dynamic, cyclic and rhythmic world, and forming internal and external patterns to accompany this understanding is a crucial step in coping with stress.

Break Into Smaller Tasks

I have also learned to break up problems and tasks into smaller pieces. If I am faced with a vast amount of tasks that need my attention at once, I can only delegate- to myself, that is, I must assign myself different steps to complete the tasks. And, most of all, I ask for help, even when I think others might judge me.

Allow Time For Issues To Improve

Just as we need time to adjust our internal rhythm, the problems and external forces surrounding our stress need time. Time for resolution, time to plan, time to delegate, etc. Time doesn’t have to be considered an enemy. When we are mindful about stress, we should actively pace our breathing to reset our bodies from a “fight or flight” response to a response that is confident and able to handle challenges.

Stress and Relaxed

References:

  1. (https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/depression-stress-anxiety/how-is-anxiety-different-from-stress/)
  2. (https://www.psycom.net/stress-vs-anxiety-difference)
  3. (https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/generalized-anxiety-disorder#1)

 

Better Parenting: Escaping Abuse And Recovering From Depression

“One thing I know for sure – this motherhood thing is not for sissies.” -Jennifer Nettles

Working on the weekend while my kids were home without me gave me much time to worry about them. Running parts on a machine weren’t especially challenging, which is why my thoughts drift. While most of my thoughts centered on my family, there were momentary lapses of reflection on my career goals, my limitations, and what topics to write about for my blog.

I’m almost certain that I was experiencing mixed episodes yesterday, and my thoughts continued to race all day. I hadn’t felt depressed much, mostly manic. This made me wonder if I was cured of my bipolar depression. If I was cured of depression, did that mean I was now “unipolar?” I read a little about unipolar disorder, and how it’s sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD. I wanted to write a post about unipolar disorder, then I switched gears and wanted to explore the concept of mood disorders diminishing of changing with various life stages.

Societal Ideals And Social Stigma of Motherhood And Depression

But, when I was considering the components of each life stage in my own experiences, I got stuck on the stage in my life when I suffered from postpartum depression. I never had the chance to talk about that time until now. There seems to be even more stigma attached to postpartum depression than any other disorder. The most obvious reason is that mothers are supposed to level-headed, nurturing, patient, self-sacrificing, etc. When a woman feels she lacks in these qualities, she doesn’t disclose such information. In my case, I would ask other women open-ended questions that were loosely related to postpartum depression. If the recipient wasn’t receptive, engaging, or seemed to show an unsupportive attitude, I dropped the subject. I usually moved on from my own issues and start to talk about marriage and relationships- to see if my thoughts about a matter were substantiated by others.

One of the things I would mention was how much my husband drank and how he behaved when he returned from drinking. I was in a fog about my relationship problems because I was so wrapped up in getting help for my depression, and learning how to be a new parent. My husband used to ridicule me because I tried to sing to my kids, and he scoffed at the notion of “real” women having a necessity to read books on how to take care of your children.

Seeking Refuge, Finding Nothing

Sadly, he wasn’t the only unsupportive person during those years of depression. When I had to leave the house because of the violence, I found it very hard to feel supported at the women’s shelter in which I and my kids took refuge. The shelter had very strict rules, which didn’t bother me too much until they showed little compassion for women suffering from depression. Their primary focus was to check-in with me every couple of days to find out how my job search was going. My kids were still very young (ages 2 and 4), and my mind wasn’t organized at that time. I wanted to spend time with my kids. My oldest showed signs of ADHD or some other behavior disorder. I needed help with my depression, but the shelter lacked knowledge and resources for women needing any type of recovery services. On the second day at the shelter, I had a conflict with one of the staff members who was scolding my son harshly. He had difficulties transitioning and being around new places and people, but they didn’t care.

Like many women entering a shelter, I had no money, but I had my own car. Although I had a little Suzuki that needed a lot of work and I lacked the means to get the repairs, the staff treated me poorly because I had a car. Many of the women that stayed there relied on public transportation. Gas for my car and passes for a bus both required money. The money required a job. To get a job, you need somebody to watch your children. Social Services programs and daycare for women entering or reentering the workforce will give you a voucher for childcare…once you have secured a job.

Living far from my own family and friends- and lacking mobility and social support, it was difficult to get help with brief interludes of childcare to apply for jobs. Eventually, I obtained a job and apartment, though car repairs proved to be devastating to our livelihood for many years!

Bye, Felicia!

We were kicked out of the shelter after a 2-week stay simply because my husband’s process server knew the location of the shelter and came knocking on their door. The process server- the man paid to track me down, block my car at an intersection, and throw the divorce papers at me, was familiar with the staff members, as he had once been an attorney. The location of the shelter was well-known to many people- but the staff insisted that I breached a privacy law and ejected us anyway.

Once my children and I returned home (and until I got my own job and apartment), we lived in the dysfunctional environment a little longer. During this time, a number of things helped me stand on my own, despite my depression and anxiety.

Support Groups

Catholic Charities helped my family immensely when I was living in a domestic violence situation. During their support groups, they offered childcare while mothers had the chance to meet with other women who were experiencing similar situations. Additionally, the groups were led by social workers who not only offered wisdom, they treated the women with dignity and compassion.

Individual Therapy/Counseling

The therapist helped me see my blind spots with regard to the toxic people and behaviors in my life. They also can recommend you to psychiatrists and psychologists if you need to take medication. Sometimes it seemed a little awkward talking to a stranger, but they can offer much-needed guidance, especially if you’re lacking in this area.

Reading/Insight/Learning

A trip to the library often reaps many interesting discoveries. Kids can play with other kids quietly, and you can pick up your books and read a little while your kids are being entertained by storytellers, playtime friends, or colorful puppets and toys. I used to grab a calendar of events and circle the dates when my kids could be entertained for free by the library staff.

Solitude

Take any and every chance you get to enjoy the silence. When babies are young, they often have a predictable napping schedule. I used this time to read about depression, boundary issues (Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend), parenting, and money management. I also tried to pursue creative interests, such as drawing and painting, after my kids went to bed for the night, or before they woke up in the morning. I wasn’t always able to stick to this routine, especially when there were chaos and dysfunction in the home, but I tried to draw and paint with my kids too, and get them interested in art.

Quality Time With Children

Even a simple trip to McDonald’s with a play area can be quite enjoyable for young children! When you have little time or money (or emotional resources), you have to simplify. We visited local parks, the library, kid-friendly restaurants. A few grocery stores offer childcare while you shop- my kids thought it was a treat to go in the “Eagle’s Nest” at Giant Eagle while I shopped for groceries.

Things have evolved significantly since my kids were toddlers. There are probably new and better ways in which to find support for depression, domestic violence, and other issues. Which leads me to one other place that helped me.

Listen To Inspirational Audiobooks

My local library was a treasure trove of learning resources. Check out some audiobooks on self-help, parenting, marriage and family relationships, and much more!

Find A Good Church

And by good, I mean a church that is attuned to the needs of their community. Luckily, our church had many support groups and classes- for Christians and non-Christians alike. DivorceCare offered kitschy videos about life after divorce, but during the times when the facilitator paused the DVD, we had lively discussions and developed strong friendships with others among the class.

Better Parenting_

Can Mood Disorders Change Over Time?

A lady with long, dark hair stands outside on a cloudy day.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” -Pearl S. Buck

The complexities of the mind never cease to fascinate me! With so many factors to be considered by the medical community, it’s no wonder the DSM-IV lists over 297 disorders!

I’m no doctor or therapist, but simply a person with an intense curiosity about mental health issues. As I look back on my own mental health history, I’ve noticed many changes. Parallel to my mental health history, I must consider my environment at each stage. Was I surrounded by supportive people?

No- in the most difficult times in my life, I was either isolated or surrounded by negativity. I use the term “negativity” loosely, mostly because in many instances, I lived in a dysfunctional environment. In the case of my teenage years, I lived with an alcoholic mother from whom I sought approval. Every time I skipped a meal, it was to win her approval. It was also an erroneous effort to remain fragile and adolescent.

Postpartum Depression

After I had my children, I experienced postpartum depression. Being a new parent is hard enough, let alone being a new mother with no happiness emanating. My depression made me feel unworthy. I didn’t measure up to what I felt a new mother should look like or feel like. The mothers I observed were smiling, singing to their kids, and they had energy. I often felt catatonic but through prayer, I was able to push through the sadness. I tried to get enough rest and get my kids out of the house- even when it meant I had to face what felt like a harsh world.

Reflecting On The (Painful) Past

My first-born had colic and cried frequently for the first few weeks. Although I read books and scoured the internet for information, I couldn’t escape feeling at fault. Babies with colic love white-noise, music and motion. They also like a change of scenery, so car and stroller rides were key to help ease my son’s symptoms.

Walking helped me and my kids get away and connect with each other, away from the toxicity of alcoholism and unsupportive people. I remember getting a double-sided stroller for my kids- right before I knew the time was nearing for us to move on from our home. In 2007, during our stay at the women’s shelter, we used it quite often when the staff arrived at 8:00 A.M each morning.

Children playing outside in the Fall season.

My children and I lived in utter chaos for many years as a result of my husband’s drinking and verbal abuse. At this juncture in my life- with very little emotional resources (or resources of any kind), I couldn’t overcome my depression and anxiety issues, become the kind of parent I desired to be in a marriage riddled with so much strife.

My mind couldn’t take anymore. I wasn’t getting enough rest, and as a result, I wasn’t always attentive to my children’s needs. Fast-forward ahead, divorce, new job, and relocation. It’s hard to believe how much has changed in life, and with my health.

Looking back, I was very withdrawn, anxious, and depressed for 15 years. Then I suffered from postpartum depression and recovered. I went to the doctor and tried Lexapro, then switched to Prozac. I took it sporadically because I felt fine sometimes. I quit taking it when I started to experience electrical surges in my brain. Sometimes I felt like it was too much medicine, even though it was the lowest dose and I usually broke it in half!

In 2017 I was told by a psychiatrist that I was “a little bipolar.” My speech was sped up when I spoke to her, but I honestly didn’t feel I fit into all the typical patterns of a person afflicted with bipolar disorder. She prescribed Lamictal, which I never took.

When Joy And Sadness Are Natural Reactions

At this point, I’m betting that I need to go get an MRI to see if I have something else wrong with me. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with joy and laughter. Then there was that time at church a few years ago that I couldn’t stop crying at the Mother’s Day service. Maybe the crying has to do with actual grief of the loss of relationship with my mother, or that motherhood itself has many strong memories- memories of my personal failures attributed to my depressed mood- the times that I isolated my family from what I perceived as a harsh world.

Over the years, my moods have seemed to improve, with a few exceptions (when exposed to conflict, harsh conditions, and disrespectful attitudes). I am not subject to the empty, hopeless feelings of my twenties. The anxiety- GAD and agoraphobia, that I was plagued by in my thirties has diminished significantly. Consequently, I am no longer under the influence of certain family ties.

A woman covered in a blanket sits by the ocean in the morning.

Sometimes I feel that I have been delivered from the depths of depression and anxiety. I often prayed to have any other affliction except those dueling monsters of invisible mayhem! Maybe all the years of taking SSRI’s have chemically altered my brain. But I took the medicine sporadically- if at all. I relied more on prayer than human wisdom during those years, so I am a little biased to feel it wasn’t pills that helped me.

I rarely have bizarre nightmares. I feel happy or at least, content, most of the time. Sometimes I get bursts of mania and creative energy. Seldom, I get depressed and can’t find the desire to write or draw.

With my moods taking shape in different ways, I’m becoming more curious about the human mind. As I get a little older, I certainly cling to the hope that I never lose my mind.

Can Mood Disorders Change

When A Diagnosis Is Confusing

A natural-looking woman rests her face in her hands while smiling.

I had hoped for clarity when I requested my paperwork from the psychiatrist’s office. Instead, I am more confused. All day today I have experienced “mixed episodes” with my moods. Mixed moods, ranging from happiness and mischievous to sadness and despair, to obsessional thoughts of the darkness in the world. Now I am obsessed with records and details again. It has only been a week or so since the clinic mailed me my paperwork- I haven’t had time to ruminate until now.

When I was a kid, I recall my mom commenting on how sensitive I was, and now I read the doctor’s notes and find he made this same observation. It’s not all the time that I feel sensitive. Sometimes I can feel quite apathetic, or envious and bitter. The clinic offered me paperwork from both doctor’s that I met to discuss my mental health issues.

The first doctor (the one that observed that I was sensitive) gave me a primary diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder, NOS (Not Otherwise Specified).

The second doctor noted on my mental status “Excessive elaboration on insignificant issues.”

She observed my speech to be “circumstantial.”

My thoughts were logical, my grooming and eye contact were average. My insight was deemed to be “fair.”

Affect (Mood): Constricted/Blunted. I believe that means a restriction in my display of emotions, but not so much that my expression of emotions would be considered “flat.”

The second doctor’s primary diagnosis: Persistent Mood (affective) Disorder, Unspecified. She had told me that I was a “little bipolar.”

I found some information on this disorder at http://www.gpnotebook.co.uk

Persistent affective disorders are a lifetime diagnosis in patients with recurrent mild symptoms. The main persistent affective disorders are:

  • cyclothymia: (resembles a mild form of the bipolar affective disorder, with cycling between hypomania and mild depression).
  • dysthymia: (chronic low-grade depression, the symptomatology does not meet the full criteria for major depression and is not the consequence of a partially resolved major depression).

There is no resolution of the information contained in this paperwork. My mood disorder does not fit neatly into any specified category. It was noted that I was a sensitive person. It was also indicated that the previous medications caused me much distress. Yet, I was prescribed Lamictal for management of my moods. Lamictal is used to treat neuro-patients. My sensitivity and a low threshold for any nuances of chemical restructuring and balancing hinder me from taking medications.

Oppression

Sorrow and pity often accompany my thoughts when I do not have the answers. It seems I lack answers and help of “natural” man and anything temporal- I have a rudimentary existence, no true social support system (i.e., family and friends) in place for myself or kids. We have, for the most part, only each other. This may be a bit suspicious or presumptuous of me to conclude, but when people are poor, they are less inclined to have very many friends. My obvious barrier to having strong relationships is my mood disorder. When you are dealing with a myriad of emotions, it makes it difficult for others to accept you. Also, it makes it hard for you to sustain the energy and desire to handle some people.

Despair and Obsessive Thoughts

Focus on others- I think my family would be fine without me. In fact, maybe they would benefit more without me, but then I realize that being a parent means you do not back out, even if your kids would be better off without you! It means that you need to quit devaluing yourself. When I am mulling over such thoughts of hopelessness, I try to pinpoint where such negative thoughts originated in my thought pattern.

Guilt

As a parent, you feel sometimes that your kids expect too much. Too much money, too much energy. When these expectations are not met, some of us less-hearty moms feel guilty. Mothers with less emotional reserves have less to give at times. I was easily manipulated by my own guilt and insecurities. More often than I’d like to admit, I purchased things on my credit card just to “feel” better. Although the amount I spent wasn’t astronomical, it most certainly wasn’t a wise choice.

Not Otherwise Specified

The doctor said my speech was circumstantial. I discovered that means that the individual elaborates on insignificant or unrelated issues, but always returns to the primary issue.

Circumstantiality (also circumstantial thinking, or circumstantial speech) – An inability to answer a question without giving excessive, unnecessary detail.[9] This differs from tangential thinking, in that the person does eventually return to the original point. Wiki

My primary issue with this subject is “Not Otherwise Specified”. Knowing whether or not I have a particular anxiety disorder or mood disorder is a SIGNIFICANT detail towards my healing. I only wish they could have elaborated on the details. In fact, the psychiatrist who authorized the record’s release advised me to talk to her about the diagnosis. I haven’t given proper attention to prioritizing follow-up visits, mostly because I don’t want to be prescribed medication again, or I will be judged- by others and even myself.

When a diagnosis is confusing (as most often are), it is even more important to follow up!

What You Should Know About Mania

A man leans against a wall, looking confident and mysterious.

Know The Difference Between Hypomania and Mania

The symptoms of hypomania and mania are very similar. You may feel more social, excited, confident and creative. However, the two conditions differ in severity and length. Hypomania is a milder form of mania and lasts a shorter period of time- days, instead of weeks. Mania is a condition that is more severe and lasts longer than hypomania- generally, mania lasts a week or more.

Often, those who experience hypomania enjoy the bursts of energy and creativity. On the other hand, individuals who experience mania may feel quite uncomfortable with their symptoms. A person experiencing hypomania may simply be more friendly and active. The sudden burst of energy often leads them to take on many projects at once, or accept more risks and responsibilities.

Somebody experiencing mania will also feel excited, but it is much more difficult to manage the sudden bursts of energy. Instead of simply feeling more creative, the manic individual has difficulty harnessing their energy. Their words pour out quickly and frequently, thus making it difficult to engage with others and allow them to interject. Accompanying that desire to talk frequently and quickly, they feel overly confident, grandiose- as though others don’t have the capacity to understand their special abilities and talents.

The person experiencing hypomania feels that they can perform tasks more efficiently and better than normal. They feel happy, have boundless energy and creativity, and seem to be able to manage their energy, racing thoughts, and ideas.

When somebody is experiencing mania, however, it is difficult for them to organize and direct their energy.

Key components of mania may include:

  • Jumbled, unorganized and racing thoughts.
  • Inability to concentrate on tasks and/or easily distracted.
  • Lack of insight, which hinders the ability to mania as problematic.
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things others can’t observe (psychosis).

Managing Hypomania and Mania

Boundless energy, feeling more attractive and social- people often enjoy hypomania and mania and seem no harm. Their distorted beliefs about hypomania and mania may lead to an incorrect diagnosis, or they fail to follow-up on their treatment.

The first step should be to get a physical to rule out other potential causes. If you are taking any medications, your doctor needs to assess if these medications are the cause of your symptoms, or if any medications or other health issues are affecting your treatment.

Many patients are advised by their doctors to take antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. If you are taking medications, it is essential that you take the medicine as prescribed and follow-up as needed with your doctor.

In combination with taking medications, or instead of taking medications, many people are advised to participate in therapies that involve talking.

Talk Therapy includes:

  • Family-Focused Therapy, which involves working with members of your family to identify certain behaviors and traits that need attention. Problem-solving methods are employed as part of therapy.
  • Interpersonal Therapy examines your relations and how to improve and interact more effectively.
  • Psychoeducation is a type of intervention that helps people learn to cope, either on their own or as part of a group.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)- Therapy that focuses on living in the present and becoming more attentive.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- A type of therapy program that is practical and short-term, that helps people identify and change behaviors associated with hypomania and mania.

How To Help Yourself

Learn to identify triggers:

  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Not allowing yourself downtime to enjoy rest, pursue recreational activities, or enjoy time with family, friends or solitude.

Make a plan to manage hypomania/mania episodes.

A management plan may address your triggers. An example of a management plan may include:

  • Keeping track of your moods. Record the day, time and other factors important to the event.
  • Avoiding situations, places, and people that may put you at risk to engage in dangerous behaviors (such as taking drugs, spending too much money, etc.)
  • You may opt to avoid places that are over-stimulating, or too chaotic, busy or crowded.

Apply daily routines to help manage episodes of hypomania and mania.

  • Get plenty of sleep and try to go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Practice proper nutrition and eat regular meals. Avoid skipping meals.
  • Keep balanced! Avoid taking on too many responsibilities. Seek relaxing activities to counteract the stimulating/stress-inducing activities. Relaxing activities include meditating, journaling, reading, working on puzzles, etc.

Support System As Part Of Treatment

Many people who suffer from mood disorders lack quality relationships with family or friends. Take steps to correct this if possible! Many family members or friends don’t have specific knowledge about hypomania and mania, and they may reflect this lack of knowledge in the way they deal with their loved ones!

Clearly, but kindly, express your frustrations with them. Educate them on your symptoms so they don’t falsely attribute every “good” day to hypomania/mania. Tell them how much you appreciate their efforts to make sure you are getting enough sleep, nutrition, etc.

Family and friends can play an important role in treatment. They may be able to let you see your blind spots (this theory can be applied to all people- not just individuals with mood disorders).

Conversely, if you lack quality friendships or family relationships, you may prefer to find a group that deals specifically with mood disorders. Such groups can be found locally, but more often, people with mood disorders enjoy connecting with others online- for example, online forums, or online therapy (if covered by insurance).

OCD Almost Destroyed My Creativity

Person holding a paintbrush and a click pen.

One of the things that helped soothe my mind as a child was art. I had a special affinity for drawing people. Teachers noticed my skills and would shine the spotlight on my artwork sometimes. I became known as a good artist by my classmates. I always believed I would choose a career path that utilized my artistic talents. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I started to become disenchanted with the concept of art. In school, art was never very disciplined. Once I took art classes at college, it was very different. I hated using charcoal pencils, pastels, and paints. My artwork no longer represented my creativity, but rather, it reflected “mental clutter” and oppressive memories. I started purging my pencil and charcoal sketches that I had devoted so much time and energy. I did not want these remnants of my past, for whatever reasons.

In my early thirties, I began favoring a more minimalistic home environment, much to my family’s dismay. I was unable to have any kind of clutter. This meant I could not pursue my art anymore, though I tried to keep my interest in art alive by doing art with my kids. I would buy art supplies, make arts and crafts, then throw the supplies and designs away. It also meant that my husband and I would have arguments over what he wanted to save and what I wanted to discard or donate. He wanted the basement to remain undisturbed. He did, in fact, want to hoard too many things, but the truth is told, he had a point. My thoughts were impeding on the liberties of others in my home.

OCD or A Bipolar Trying To Control External Stimuli?

It’s odd that I started to favor a minimalistic theme in my life. I loved to see art, I loved to be surrounded by cozy objects in other people’s homes- just not my own. My mind became cluttered with stimuli if I allowed any empty space in my house. My kids said our house looked like we just moved in. I tend to agree with them! The mission to maintain a clutter-free house consumed me- OCD Decluttering! Absolute madness, yet disregarded by many that do not see the damage caused by this disorder.

Assigning Values To OCD Stress & Triggers

I don’t know what has caused my OCD symptoms to lessen. Perhaps the passage of time, or maybe I have become more mindful of the destructive ways of OCD. When I have become overwhelmed, I have purged “things”…clothes, paper, the pantry, anything I could get my hands on! I try to minimize things that trigger OCD. For instance, I try to avoid doing too many things I dislike in one day. I won’t grocery shop and drive excessively on the same day if I can help it. Maybe somebody should try to assign numbers to indicate varying degrees of stress for daily activities. I know there are such systems for monumental stressful life events (such as jail, divorce, job loss, etc.). For people suffering from anxiety or OCD, this would be ideal.

Reconciling OCD, Rekindling My Creativity

My OCD symptoms have diminished in the last few years… I haven’t thought too much lately how far I have come with my anxiety and OCD because I have been distracted by other issues. Visiting an art museum has helped me to become inspired by art once again.

In my previous post, I wrote about being happy when I am out in nature. Nature is beauty in its simplest form, no clutter or embellishments. Art is the creation of man (and woman). It is not necessarily simple, yet I find it beautiful and edifying. I have become less focused on intrusive, unimportant worries about clutter, and more concerned about what is involved in the making of the things that are in my surroundings. Processes, engagement, activity: things that are relational help make the visual beauty in a way that has depth. This is beyond what was once shallow. Everything that is material or visual is not superficial to me any longer.