When Anxiety Overwhelms: Rules for Purging Things

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, United States

Problem: It is difficult for me to identify what causes me to purge things compulsively. It is something I do when I feel anxious and overwhelmed. Decluttering- throwing away or giving away things seems to temporarily relieve my anxiety.

Some of the things I’ve discarded or have given away have been perfectly good items, and perhaps, they didn’t take up much room or appear distracting in any way.

In retrospect, I realize that I wasn’t always this way, although I can easily see that I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, emotions, and disordered eating. Likewise, I can see the times in my life when things were ideal, or when I’ve felt like my true self (euthymic).

Support Systems

During those times, I have coped well and I’ve expressed myself through visual art and writing, exercise and sports. Solid (but imperfect) relationships carried me through adolescence, except for the years when I struggled with anorexia (age 14-18). My grandmother was of great emotional support when I was entering adolescence. Luckily, my sister and I lived with my grandparents during the summer that my parents separated. I was encouraged to draw and go outside to ride my bike while under their roof. Previously, I did not feel free to be a child while living in a dysfunctional home with my parents.

Deciding To “Disappear”

Having a few good friends in high school helped me overcome the misery I experienced in middle school. I was awkward, chubby and lonely before tenth grade. With my friends, I experienced camaraderie and belonging. At home, with the discord of my mom and her boyfriend, I felt invisible at best. At worst, I was awoken by the alcohol-fueled verbal assault of my stepfather towards my mother.

Sometimes I felt I was supposed to be in charge of tending to the emotional wounds of the narcissist in my life who tore me apart with names that caused me to starve myself. I controlled myself and my appearance (at least) by starvation.

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The more invisible my body became, the more people started to pay attention to me- I was “admired” for my slender physique by the very people I wanted to look like in high school.

From the time I started to become an “adult” (i.e., the period in life that becomes more complex- more responsibilities and learning to focus less on self), my minimalist ways have become the primary thread in the tapestry of life. It is also important to note that at the same time I was becoming an adult, I was more isolated from friends and family.

In reflecting, I realize the following things about being a minimalist (if that is actually the broad stroke that can be applied):

Minimalism and purging for me are cyclic and may be attributed to hormones. During a monthly “cycle” (menstrual), I am wrought with a multitude of emotions and my eating habits become unhealthy. It is during a “cycle” in a woman’s life that we must reflect, regenerate and prepare for the new “phase” in life.

Sometimes simply feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed, at any time in the month, brings me to the point of purging things. Two weeks ago, I wanted to chop off my hair for instant relief and regeneration (of a “new” me).

Does purging/decluttering specifically equate to a minimalist lifestyle? When I ask myself about the appearance of the “minimalist” style- the clean lines, simplicity, and functionality of minimalism, I believe the answer is “yes”. But not all minimalists tend to their lifestyle and philosophy because of emotional wounds. Some minimalists don’t soothe their anxiety by way of design choices. Many people choose to live minimally due to religious beliefs, cultural upbringing, even because of thrift, frugality, or poverty.

Going through my “things” (sorting) allows me to think about the needs of myself and family.

For instance, I understand my daughter’s clothing style and choices change over time. It is beneficial for us to go through her closet and decide what should stay and what can be donated. In doing so, I can help her manage her belongings while listening to her needs. Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize that my son will never wear the brand-new jeans in his closet because he doesn’t like the cut- or perhaps I overlooked the fact that his pants are becoming too short!

As a parent, I subconsciously want my kids to remain children forever.

Perhaps sorting and getting rid of stuff- even clothes or toys that are in great condition- is a way to allow them to grow, while allowing me to process this “growth”. Maybe purging and sorting things makes me feel more in control of the process?

 

Not Everyone Approves Of The Minimalist Lifestyle

There are times when other methods or mechanisms may have been better employed. I have purged things of my children’s without discussing it with them (knowing they probably would want to cling onto what I was ready to part with). I should have allowed them time to process the “loss” or have a voice in the matter. In those instances, I could have boxed up the item(s) until a later time.

My minimalist ways have conflicted with the hoarders in my life.

My minimalist ways have also conflicted with the toxic people in my life.

When I shared physical and emotional space with these types, there have been problems with my purging/decluttering compulsion. Compulsion or a lifestyle choice? It is a bit of both for me, hence the compulsion that is the primary aspect of a minimalist lifestyle. The toxic relationships in my life may have exacerbated my habit/disorder (?). It is apparent that it was for the best that the relationships be altered. The process of purging, albeit MINDLESS purging, served as a catalyst for changes in the relationships.

Regret: The process of purging is often sudden and mindless for me. Many things I have discarded have had to be repurchased. Some of the things- drawings, writings, photos and things that have taken time and money to make it into my space- can’t be (easily) replaced. In life, I can sometimes make amends. Other times it is out of my control. But simply “holding onto” things (or relationships, feelings, grudges, wounds) for sake of fear, is unhealthy as well.

Grief Still Remains If You Don’t Handle The Emotional Aspect Of Certain Possessions

I wish I could hold onto some things a little longer. For instance, I would like to keep papers and duplicate photos longer before discarding them. Better yet, I would love to be the kind of person that manages such things creatively- such as making a scrapbook and utilizing them into space, walls, artwork. For this reason, I stay away from talented women on Pinterest. Sometimes I peek into their lifestyles. Other times I follow the other minimalists to see how their managing life. In any event, they may or may not have the same emotions and complexities going on in their minds.

My Minimalism Rules

  • Don’t throw away things when feeling depressed or manic. Wait until moods are “euthymic”.
  • Discuss with children before discarding or donating some things.
  • Read a book on anxiety, stress, spirituality, etc. when feeling the urge to purge.
  • Some notable choices include:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns

My Age Of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, And The Search For Peace Of Mind by Scott Stossel

Acceptance, Improvement, And Letting Go

Finally, it is often hard to accept myself when I fail others. When I disappointment those around me with flaws- what seems rational to me is irrational to others. I can’t push my beliefs on anybody else, but when I hurt them through my actions (purging), I need to seek amends, if they are willing to accept my peace offerings. My kids have forgiven me when I got rid of a book of a toy they wanted (I often have re-purchased some items $).

The toxic people– those who value possessions above people, or those who hold others to unattainable standards- I’ve let them go for now. I can’t work on myself if I am trying to contend with somebody else’s personality/character flaws. There is no clarity or benefit in such situations.

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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

Simple Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

Simple Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

“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.”

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 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 Leaving an Abusive Relationship Helped Me at Life

“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.

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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.

 

Understanding Moods at Various Life Stages

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.

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.

 

The Importance of Following-up After a Diagnosis

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 the 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.

How OCD Nearly Destroyed My Creativity

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.

Why I Love My Bipolar Mania!

Mania Can Feel Like Euphoria At Times

Although experiencing “flight of ideas” in of itself is not a mental disorder, it is a symptom of those with bipolar disorder. All that mania and energy needs to be channeled somehow- it is best used in creative endeavors. When I experience the highs of mania, I become the idea person– the person who conjures up dozens (or more) ideas, concepts, processes, etc., only to never really follow through any of them. By the time the idea(s) is(are) manifested and it is time to develop the ideas, my mind is off somewhere else…perhaps I am so down again that I can barely find any desire to become “goal-directed”. This is not a particularly desirable quality for my vocation.

As a result of the flaws of my manic episodes, I can use my moments of mania to augment my work life, but I can’t allow myself time to pursue anything loftier than my menial job. As a middle-aged worker, I am able to look back upon my vocational lifespan and know that I don’t consistently have all the qualities necessary to get the sweet, 9-5 job in an ad agency. Those people, as far as I can see, have a different kind of attitude when it comes to creativity. 

In the arrogance of my youth (or the ignorance of my youth), I figure I would benefit from going to college. I never obtained even a two-year degree in any one course of study. I was neither inspired or encouraged as a young person- I had a desire to go to school, but I lacked the tenacity to finish the one class that was standing in the way of my moving on in college.

Drawing for me is a release- I am able to focus and generate some clarity through these lines and shapes. Through these seemingly benign and naive patterns, I can somehow see the patterns of my life, even if they are mere fragments of a shattered lens.

So, I never completed my Marketing & Sales certificate- or the Graphic Design degree in which I transferred. The Sociology degree I desired to obtain was just too impractical and unlikely. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on education or enrichment. I simply had to change the way I sought these things.

Mania- it can make me feel more creative. Bipolar disorder isn’t as simple as many are led to believe. It’s can be difficult to focus on complex tasks without the help of notebooks, post-its, and my trusted computer. These tools serve as ways to process many simultaneous thoughts and ideas.

When it comes to employment, the volatile and changing nature of the bipolar disorder can limit one’s career choices and success, no matter how much skill or talent one possesses.

Many people who struggle with mental health issues (like myself), may find menial jobs comforting- for they are predictable and help us to feel anchored in some regards. I find that my mind has time to wander, instead of being consumed by mental-overload.

I try to make the most out of an otherwise undesired and limiting aspect of my life and choices. I still have dreams and creativity.

 

When I Realized I Was Addicted to Bipolar Mania

The Calm Before The Storm

When I am feeling “level”, that is, “cool-headed”, or balanced and mellow, I am neither depressed nor elevated and manic. I sometimes wonder when I will become manic or depressed, which will come first. I might have taken good care of my health during these times of feeling balanced. I may have felt in control of my environment and circumstances. It sometimes is a chance that everything is balanced in my life- I might not have been actively involved in shaping my level mood. I sometimes miss the rush from feeling manic.

Sometimes this surge in energy helped me through a tough day at work, or I was particularly motivated to take my family on outings…which is usually a seldom occurrence because I am introverted and do not like to be out with at places where there are crowds of people. I get elated when I see an empty theater or restaurant- makes me feel safe and cozy!

Addicted To Mania?

I surmised that maybe I am addicted to my manic moods. When I say “addicted” I mean that I am aware of the fact that my moods get elevated, as well as depressed. I am aware of this fact, yet I ride the proverbial wave of mania each episode, savoring those elusive times of feeling “on top of the world.” I do nothing to manage my mania or depression before the moods overwhelm me. When I am exposed to environments, situations, behaviors or people that may influence my moods, I do not mindfully assess my triggers. Sometimes, I think certain things are good because they contribute to making me feel happy…these things can also overstimulate my mind, sending it into chaotic bliss, as well as a chaotic abyss.

In my chaotic bliss (mania), I become more extroverted and talkative. I also talk louder and am prone to using an edgier tone (I curse more). It was more intense when I abused alcohol in my youth. People that have mental health issues need to take special care of their minds and be more diligent to steer clear of drugs or alcohol, as these things tend to worsen symptoms of mania and depression.

Medications Diminish Desired Mania

I have tried several variants of antidepressants from the SSRI classification. Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, all to no avail (The Journey Begins). I never wanted to be on medications forever and it seemed that the pharmaceutical industry wants us to use the medications indefinitely. Doctors would tell me, “You have to give it time for them to work effectively”. A few years ago, I tried using medications one more time. This time, I had very bizarre nightmares– morbid in theme, disturbing in context.

I felt I was being disobedient to God by continuing the drug. Also, I did not feel happy- ever! Just one, single, solemn and dull, level mood. I could not even bring myself to crack a smile because my face felt like a somber mask. A mask of plastic- I felt like I had a lobotomy! My thoughts started to become disordered too. I quit the medication cold-turkey and suffered painful withdrawals for a few days. I was agitated and mean and couldn’t wait to overcome the medication!

Self-Awareness To Tame The Beast

In my past, I have been with depression and anxiety disorders. I have always suspected that I may have bipolar disorder (my mother and sister can attest to my moods as well). I feel like there are three energy forces within me- balanced and cool, dark and depressed, and excited/manic. I am not sure if these “forces’ are all attributed to my moods or are components of my personality.

I enjoy my level moods, although they are far and few in between. I loathe my depressed moods and wonder why I am plagued by them periodically. When I haven’t had a manic episode in a few days or weeks, I start thinking about how I can induce happiness in some other way. I do not drink or take drugs. I do listen to music- very manic music. Sometimes I shut off the music and enjoy the clarity that comes through silence. I am learning to recognize music as a mood trigger and limit the time I am being influenced by exciting music, but oftentimes, I want to be the person experiencing the excitement. Excitement- yes, I can manage excitement. Mania, it is my addiction to an unhealthy level of excitement, or so I am beginning to discover.

How I Refresh When I’m Depressed

A smiling woman, standing near trees.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”- George Harrison

For several weeks, I have neglected my writing, my drawings, my dreams, and my passions. Why? Because I am depressed. As a result, I feel hopeless and unmotivated. It is the same reason why I buy things and throw them out a week later, I suppose. When I feel ambitious, I buy things to “make changes”, to pursue a hobby or some other “worthy” cause. I become overwhelmed and depressed, and I figure my plans and abilities will fail, I simply discard my purchases.

Writing is my faithful outlet- I won’t throw away my laptop, but I may edit some of my ideas on the computer. I have written essays to process my feelings, to aid in my research and recovery of mental health issues. When I have a problem, I turn to the internet or books to help me understand; I usually feel compelled to write while researching a topic.

But even now, I have only recently begun to feel like writing again. I had hoped to be making progress in composing a collection of essays to be published, either independently, or otherwise. I don’t like waiting months for a response and I feel I want control over my work. I have been feeling like I’m drifting, sailing mindlessly, with nothing to do but observe the grim scenery. I’ve come to realize, despite my depression, bipolar people can still do some things, even when they are crippled by mood fluctuations.

How To Work On Your Dreams Even When You’re Depressed:

Work on smaller tasks that help you achieve your goals.

When I feel too depressed to write, I should accept the fact that I won’t probably compose a novel in that state, but at least I can make an effort to put my thoughts, ideas, or any other “fragment” down on paper. The mind can gather and begin to subconsciously work in a way to move me to write once again.

Peruse the internet to find support groups and tips.

Many people are in the same place, looking for answers and support.

Remind yourself of your dreams and how they are a great part of you!

No matter what others think of me, no matter how lousy life has become, I am grounded in at least one passion. I don’t seek approval from others when I am depressed because people tend to view depressed individuals in a negative way. Thankfully, I’m an introverted person- I don’t need other people to make me feel better. It is a boost to my ego when I do feel accepted by others, however.

Get some fresh air and some fresh perspective.

Maybe circumstances and people are creating a climate that is toxic. Get around new people, go for a walk, listen to music to drown out some of the toxicity.

Read!

Being a writer means I must be a reader too. When  I am uninspired, I read inspirational stories of other writers. In the midst of feeling depressed, I read articles about how to improve my mental health. I understand that with my mood disorder, I am prone to bouts of depression- I have almost accepted this fact of life. Reading about mood disorders helps me to feel less anxious and isolated.

Recently, I bought myself a Kindle and I’ve discovered a wealth of free ebooks on self-improvement, mental health, productivity, and creativity. Every chance I had a break at work, I read a few ebooks, got inspired and more motivated.

Sometimes, acceptance is a great way to overcome depression. When I’m depressed, I tend to consume too much caffeine. I drink coffee compulsively, sometimes to fill the emptiness in my time, or to curb physical hunger. This behavior wrecks my eating patterns, as I often “crash” from this caffeinated-diet and I supplement my diet with junk food. I don’t always accept my poor eating habits- but I make concessions for them.

Acceptance, a positive attitude about something that can’t be changed- but I can change my shopping, cooking and eating habits. There is often an issue with anxiety that I am unwilling to exchange for a healthier habit (such as eating right). With depression, there are often many layers of behavioral issues that need to be managed. If I am too overwhelmed to pursue healthier choices, I have enabled internal and external factors to influence my life. Despite living with unresolved issues, but because one can choose to acknowledge that which is “unresolved”, acceptance is authentic. Choosing acceptance doesn’t mean I am free to mull over poor choices, rather, it is a way a life sometimes.

How Journaling Helps Bipolar Disorder

A woman sitting alone in nature writes in a journal.

For those suffering from bipolar disorder, much of their life is filled with chaos and the uncertainty of when they will experience another episode of mania or debilitating depression.

In a post at the health and wellness website http://www.sharecare.com, Dr. Thomas Jensen, answering on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation, states,

“The mood state that we want a bipolar person to spend as much time as possible in is the euthymic state, which translates from Latin into ‘true mood’ or normal mood.” (https://www.sharecare.com/health/bipolar-disorder/what-euthymic-state-bipolar-disorder).

Unfortunately, this “normal” euthymic state is not the predominant mood in those suffering from bipolar disorder.

In a 2002 study by Lewis L. Judd and colleagues at the University of California at San Diego, “people with bipolar I experience depression three times as often as mania. For bipolar II, the ratio of time spent in depression versus mania is a whopping 40:1.” (http://www.bphope.com/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-bipolar-depression/).

Journaling is a form of writing that goes beyond the elements of keeping a diary.

While a diary merely allows individuals to record events, writing a journal involves self-expression and creativity. “Journaling allows you to dialogue with parts of your psyche that are frozen in time,” states Laurie Nadel, Phd., and author of Zen and the Art of Windsurfing.

The art of journaling helps organize thoughts, purge the mind of mental “clutter”, and gain insight into your perceptions of your moods and life experiences- a type of creative, and safe, inner-dialog.

Journaling can be viewed as an interactive way in which individuals can process their moods and emotions. Once the words are written down on paper, the writer has power over those feelings, and they may opt to keep the pages of their journal or destroy the pages after processing and reviewing their entries.

Although writing can help everybody manage anxiety and depression, it seems particularly beneficial to the 2.6 million people over the age of 18 suffering from bipolar disorder. (National Institute of Mental Health). Often, the stigma associated with bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) makes it challenging to find support and talk to others. Furthermore, people suffering from episodes of bipolar depression may become so debilitated by their moods that, not only will they physically isolate themselves from others, but that they may withdraw emotionally from family and friends as well.

Here are some ways to motivate yourself to keep a journal:

Integrate journaling into your daily routine

Just as you should make time to eat, bathe, and exercise each day, setting aside just a few minutes each day will help you become more disciplined recording events, as you would in a traditional diary. Journaling moves beyond keeping such records, as it allows for self-expression and creativity. However, recording events and experiences is a necessary part of the journaling process.

Choose your own method of writing in your journal. Sigmund Freud “free association” with his patients, that is, he allowed them to sit on the couch and speak of their dreams and experiences.

Free association as used in the realm of psychotherapeutic technique, allowed Freud to unlock insights from a deeper level when he engaged patients in this type of spontaneous dialog. (http://aycnp.org/Self_Help_Writing_Journaling_Mental_Health_Self_Help.php).

Control Your Audience.

Opt to share your journal with whom you trust, or share it with the world by creating a blog. Use the journal to help organize thoughts when you visit your doctor, or simply, throw away any negative entries. Once you have processed the emotions and experiences, they are yours to share or discard.

References:

What is a euthymic state in bipolar disorder? Sharecare.com. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. https://www.sharecare.com/health/bipolar-disorder/what-euthymic-state-bipolar-disorder

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About BIPOLAR DEPRESSION. BPHope.com. Retrieved on September 3. 2017. http://www.bphope.com/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-bipolar-depression/

Writing Your Way Out of Depression. WebMD.com. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression#1

Journaling For Mental Health Self-Help. AYCNP.org. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. http://aycnp.org/Self_Help_Writing_Journaling_Mental_Health_Self_Help.php

Journaling For Mental Health. Urmc.rochester.edu. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4552

Understanding the Causes of Burnout

When everything around you seems to deplete you of energy, it’s time to do an assessment of your environment, your mind, and your body. If you suffer from a mood disorder, such as bipolar, you may become manic or depressed as a result of any precipitating factor. Take special care of yourself from the very moment you realize you are becoming stressed or ill.

Your body:

Do you have cramps, have a headache or feel nauseous? If it’s any of those things, plus you feel tired and moody, watch out for PMS. PMS can make a logical person act irrationally. Women feel more sensitive and self-conscious during their cycle.

Your environment:

Being around people that drain you, as opposed to people that nourish and encourage you, can deplete your energies in many ways. I work with toxic coworkers, one in particular who complains when she is directed to do something other than making copies or sweep the floors. She has a penchant for gossiping about me and telling others I’m having a “bipolar” day (I made the mistake of confiding in her that I have bipolar disorder). When I am sick or having my cycle, it is challenging to bite my tongue around this woman. I  find it helpful to meditate and pray when circumstances feel beyond my control.

Your mind:

Have I been neglecting to feed my mind good things? Like the physical body, our minds can only bear good fruit when we feed it with enriching things. When we give our mind a steady diet of garbage tv, vile images, words or music, nothing positive can become of such things.

Others do not need to deal with my crabbiness, either. I must retreat from people when I am being stressed. Solitude refreshes many people, especially introverts like myself. It’s rare that I have much quiet time. Small blocks of time seem to help me quelch the crankiness. A heating pad, good music, and 15 minutes to myself, much needed mental and physical rest not only benefits me, but it helps my family, my co-workers and others.

When I get overwhelmed by stress, my moods or emotions, and I have nowhere to “dump” that which exacerbates my bipolar disorder, I turn to mindless purging- purging of material things, or purging of documents, papers, receipts, and even things I was trying to save (old report cards from my children, school programs, newsletters, etc.). I have not been diagnosed with OCD, but I feel such behaviors are compulsive. These behaviors are rooted in an anxiety disorder.

Sometimes when I do not pay attention to my diet and I drink too much soda pop or eat junk food, I feel ashamed and unhappy with myself. I have wanted to purge on a few occasions, but have avoided this by distracting myself with writing or some other activity.

When we fail to nourish ourselves, our mind and body will cry out for attention. Poor nutrition, overeating, alcohol abuse, and many other unhealthy habits will manifest and cause us more harm in the long run.

When People Pretend to Understand Bipolar Disorder

A woman wearing dark clothes and hat walks in a field of daisies.

Don’t assume anything about Bipolar Disorder.

It is much easier for me to tell people I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder now that I have had an actual psychiatric evaluation. It has taken me years to be led in the right direction for such a diagnosis. Five years ago, I believed I suffered from PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). A few times a year, when I would become so distraught over my moods, I would schedule a doctor’s appointment. I believed my periods were causing me such psychological problems that they were the major culprit in any interpersonal relationship conflict I had with family, friends or co-workers.
In 2016, I penned an email to my family doctor:

“I am no longer taking Lexapro. I tried for 3 weeks and had some nightmares and discovered I grew a tolerance for it. I felt really hostile on it the final week. I was seemingly fine until my period this week.”

She gingerly replied:

“Unfortunately you did not follow-up at your scheduled appointment where we would typically re-evaluate symptoms of anxiety, depression, PMDD, and any side effects. Therefore none of this is actually documented.”

I had been to the same office for “mood” problems since 2012 when the doctor tried to put me on birth control pills. The “pill” was not effective in treating my mood disorder. Each time I visited the doctor, they tried to give me another antidepressant. Mostly, I was given medication in the SSRI class of antidepressants. Then, I was prescribed Wellbutrin, a medication in the NDRI class (norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor). My doctor determined that I was “sensitive” to medications, which is why she tried me on Wellbutrin.

I was afraid to mess with the new prescription she recommended. Then, my mood would improve, I’d get a euphoric feeling. I felt creative and happy about half of my life, then I descend into depression. It was always with that period of depression that I sought help. My doctor’s office replaced the previous physician with a new doctor. I explained that I was not there for “meds” as the nurse remarked on my intake form. She reviewed my symptoms and gave me a referral to their partner clinic- the clinic that deals with mental illness, therapy and psychiatry. A wave of embarrassment and shame poured over me. The psychiatrist asked me many questions. As I spoke to her, my speech became more rapid. “Do you realize how fast you are talking?” I said I was moderately aware of how my speech changes but nobody else has ever remarked about it.

We talked about my family history, specifically, how members of my family used alcohol to mask what was possibly their own mood disorders. In the past, there was more stigma against mental illness. People kept problems hidden from others, or at least they tried. The alcoholism simply created additional problems. My grandfather was a WWII survivor (USS Indianapolis). He was quiet and held his liquor well. It was socially acceptable to throw down a few beers. He was dealing with traumatic memories that he wanted to suppress. Grandma, on the other hand, was a talker. She was also a drinker, as was my mother. As a child, I witnessed interesting discussions when they all drank together in the kitchen. My grandfather seemed to have much composure. I can’t say the say for the rest of the family.

I told the doctor about my experiences with Lexapro, and how I had very disturbing nightmares. These nightmares dealt with the macabre- death and decay. I found it very difficult to shake these dreams from my waking moments. When I quit taking the medication abruptly, I experienced unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. I prayed that I would avoid getting into trouble or jeopardizing any relationship. The other medications made me feel dull but balanced. While on the meds, I was neither happy nor sad. My face felt like a mask. Any creative inclination I had previously experienced during my “manic” episodes had all but diminished.

My psychiatrist said that my periods likely trigger my underlying condition of bipolar disorder. She told me that more than likely, my mother and grandmother had mood disorders and drank to cope with their issues. The nightmares that I experienced while taking antidepressants was common in bipolar patients.

“Your family doctor sent you here because she didn’t know what else could be wrong”, she explained. I read that in order to be diagnosed with PMDD, the doctor must rule out any mental health issues that could possibly be causing the symptoms. Although I was not thrilled with being diagnosed with any mental disorder, bipolar disorder was less-embarrassing than PMDD. PMDD is not socially-acceptable and most people misunderstand the meaning of “being bipolar.”

When I need to tell people about my disorder (so they don’t think I’m speaking rapidly because I’m strung-out on drugs), I am met with a dismissive attitude. The term “bipolar” has become synonymous with being “edgy”. The term “bipolar” is used to broadly define any rebellious, hip, or bold attitude. Mood disorders are NOT attitudes.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a serious mental illness in which common emotions become intensely and often unpredictably magnified. Individuals with bipolar disorder can quickly swing from extremes of happiness, energy, and clarity to sadness, fatigue, and confusion. These shifts can be so devastating that individuals may choose suicide.”-APA.org

As a society, we have all but surpassed the days of unrelenting stigmatizing of mental illness, at least for bipolar disorder. In fact, we now must contend with the ignorance associated with bipolar disorder. Much of this ignorance is due in part from people not recognizing bipolar disorder as a real medical condition.

During a manic episode, people suffering from extreme cases of this illness may indulge in risky, foolish or erratic behavior. They may spend money and put their family in debt. They may become promiscuous and wreck their marriage by having affairs. During a depressed cycle, they may experience psychotic episodes, or attempt suicide and/or self-harm. While I have not experienced those elements of bipolar disorder, I have become so depressed that I have ruminated over my own death. I am certain that such dark moods are not appealing to my family.

Bipolar disorder affects each person differently. My variety of this trendy illness doesn’t involve getting tattoos, drinking and driving, or staying up all night like a rock star. Rather, my bipolar can be managed most days, and I have been given the ability to function enough to hold down a full-time job.

Others are not able to work or even manage to get out of bed and get dressed when they are debilitated by depression. When weekends arrive, I am partially relieved because I can rest at home, or so I believe. Often, I become so manic in the afternoon that I am not able to sit down. Weekend mornings, when the kids are still asleep and my worries are quenched for a little bit of time, are the only times I can spend writing. I “binge,” write during such times, except when I am depressed, or when I am trying a new medication.

When I was in my twenties, I started to become aware that something was not right about my moods. Listening to music from Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana opened my mind to certain mental health issues (i.e., “Manic-Depression”, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge”). I was old enough to drink and I drank exceedingly to suppress or to accelerate my mood shifts. Those were some of the worst years of my life!

When people passively listen to me talk about my mood issues, they appear to be dismissive or they appear to “know it all” about manic depression/bipolar disorder. They do not care or they wish to remain blissfully ignorant. After a while, I let them stew in their ignorance or I pretend to not have a mood disorder. Such people love to use a broad lens when depicting bipolar disorder. The lens they prefer to use, however, does not liberate, it merely conveys a broad, generic perspective of the term “bipolar”.