Bipolar disorder and why anxiety is almost worse

bipolar

Hi, my name is Meghan and I have bipolar disorder. In many senses, I’ve had it a lot easier than others that have my diagnosis. I’ve never been hospitalized. With the right medication, I can lead a relatively normal life. I’ve only had a few major episodes – in high school I had a major bout of depression, during my first attempt at college I had a manic episode with some mild psychosis, between my first and second attempts at college I had a pretty bad mixed episode that was followed by a moderate stretch of depression, during my (ultimately successful) try at college I had a fairly major depressive episode, and since then the episodes have mostly been mixed, and only one could be considered any kind of major.

But right now, my anxiety is through the roof. My husband noticed a trend that I tend to go through this during any major life change – in this case, I just finished my MBA and am looking for a new job. I have a lot more time, and you would think a lot less stress. I’ve been trying to keep busy (see my last post about the socks and the kitchen, but at the end of the day my mind isn’t kept constantly engaged as it once was (which I’ll admit, was part of the impetus for starting this blog). When my mind isn’t constantly focused on something, it starts to run wild. It’s like a small child – as long as they’re occupied everything is fine, but as soon as they lose interest or whatever they were doing ends, that’s it. It’s off to the races. Like that small child, when my mind is left unattended and unengaged, it gets into trouble.

So, my anxiety (and to be honest, I don’t have a formal anxiety diagnosis, but when it quacks like a duck…), when it begins, manifests as negative, intrusive thoughts. And my brain is like a dog with a bone with them – when it latches on to them, that’s it. They don’t go away. Everything from my husband is having an affair and is going to leave me and take the cats, to I’m going to get fired from my job, to someone is going to break into the house when we’re not home and disembowel all of the cats. Academically I know these thoughts are not true. But I literally cannot convince myself of this. To me, they’re actual pieces of my reality, and no amount of rational thinking will make them go away. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I’m already keeping busy (the few times I’ve been off since classes ended I haven’t had a whole lot of down time, although slow times at work are the worst as it just becomes a constant stream of negative thinking that I can’t turn off). The bipolar part is under control. But I know from history that if this isn’t tempered I could be on the edge of something bad. And that is the last thing I need right now.

As with any mental illness, having bipolar disorder (and just for transparency my diagnosis is bipolar II) means keeping a constant assessment of my mood and thought process. Not getting enough sleep can trigger an episode, getting two much can trigger in the opposite direction. Eating well and trying to stay healthy can be important. Sticking to a routine – bedtime at a certain time, getting X hours of sleep, regular meds morning and night, getting out of the house and being around people, not drinking too much (or at all), not doing drugs, etc. It doesn’t sound like much, but for people with mood disorders, these things can be incredibly important. Keeping to a schedule can be hard for me – I currently work 4 days on, 4 days off, 12-hour shifts job. On those four days on it’s nearly impossible to get anything done – there just isn’t enough time and by the time I get home I typically don’t have the energy to do anything. Getting the right amount of sleep can be difficult too – when I’m working daylight I’m in bed by 9 up by 5:15/5:30 and I’m typically exhausted for the first three-four hours of the day. When I’m working nights, though, I’m in bed by 8 up normally around 2/2:30, and I’m wide awake and totally fine on six hours of sleep. Sure, I’m getting tired by the end of the shift, but nothing that I can’t work through or make it home at the end of the day. But I try to eat right, take my meds on time, get at least some exercise every week, get out of the house and see people other than Mike and my parents. But sometimes the episodes come despite doing everything right.

And it sucks.

But it’s the nature of the beast. And it’s something that those of us that have bipolar disorder – and those in our lives – have learned to live with and deal with as they come. I know Mike’s gotten to be a bit of a pro at this. All the same, when these intrusive thoughts pop up I hate talking about them – I feel like a legitimate crazy person. Mainly because I know that they’re not real, but not being able to convince yourself of that is probably the worst part. So, Mike and I talked about them, and for whatever reason, my brain was more willing to listen to him than it was me (traitor), so for today at least they seem to have subsided somewhat. And I already had an appointment with my doc on Wednesday, so he and I will talk about it then. But for now, I’m taking a win when I can get one.

The Art of Choas… and lots of socks

My life is generally in some state of chaos. Up until the last few weeks I was juggling working, classes, keeping up with house chores, grocery shopping, a husband, and four cats. Classes are over and I’m done with my MBA (hooray! Now I just need to find a job), so that frees up a lot of time in any given  week. So what do I do? Fill it with more chaos!

My husband recently came home from work to find me standing on the kitchen counter with everything that had been in the counters spread all over the counter, table, sink, stove, and in a few cases, floor. When we moved into our house two years ago everything in the kitchen just kind of got put somewhere. Most of the placements didn’t make sense, things that were of the same kind of thing (think pasta),were often found in different cupboards. This, more often than not, led to me buying more of things we already had just because I couldn’t find anything when I’d start planning meals for the week. So what did I do? Rip it all out and put it all back together again. Once the cupboards were done I did the same with the pantry racks, and the fridge. I drove Mike nuts for the better part of three hours as I planned and  then talked to myself as I put everything away again.

Another day was my closet and dresser – I haven’t worn most of that stuff in years. And with me in the process of revamping my wardrobe, I likely wasn’t going to. That turned into an all day ordeal as a number of things I had to try on before I made a decision one way or another. Nothing was safe from my purge. Haven’t worn this shirt in two years? Gone. Vera Bradley bag from 2014? In the bag. Again Mike came home to an absolute disaster, this time in the bedroom, as it looked like the contents of my side of the closet had barfed all over the bed.  And then there was the socks. I should explain that I hate white, cotton socks. All of the socks that I wear on a day-to-day basis are those thinner (not quite dress socks, but not as thick as athletic socks), mostly acrylic socks that have things on them. Doctor Who, Lilo and Stitch, Slytherin, owls, etc. The only white socks I own are no-show socks, and even then only because I couldn’t find them in fun colors or
prints. I wear scrubs to work, and funky socks make me feel like at least a little of my personality is showing through. That being said, as you can see from the picture, I have far too many socks. The picture was taken after my sock drawer regurgitated its contents all over my bed. I finally did the smart thing and got rid of all of the ones that I don’t wear, the ones I don’t like, the ones that have holes in them. I’m still left with over 30 pairs of socks, but progress is progress. Maybe later in the year I’ll start
retiring some of the Doctor Who socks – I’ve had some of them for 2-3 years.

(This is just not necessary. Watson for scale.)

Anyway, now that I’m totally off topic.

I seem to thrive in chaos. I grew up in an Italian household with my grandparents, my mom, my uncle, one aunt, and one aunt who didn’t live there but was always around. It was generally madness. When I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, I normally took 16-20 credits a semester, and worked at least three jobs in a combination of an on-campus job, tutoring, and a retail job where I worked 25-30 hours a week. I was constantly under crazy deadlines, but I made it through in three and a half years with above a 3.0. After college I worked two jobs for a number of months just to try to make ends meet as my first job paid jack but it gave me a lot of really valuable lab experience and skills. About two years into my current job I decided that my bachelor’s in science really wasn’t going to help me climb any ladders, and I could already tell that the kind of schedule I was working was not something I wanted to be doing long-term, so I figured hey, let’s go get an MBA while I work full-time.

My point is that if you don’t like where your life is or the direction it’s going in, there’s always the opportunity to change it and make it better. Get a new job, get a new degree and a new career, move to a new city. Chaos isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes the best ideas are borne from chaos. At least personally I’ve found that when things are chaotic and hectic is where I really challenge myself and test my limits. I refuse to be one of those people who sit around and wait for things to happen to them.

Because in my experience they just don’t happen. You have to work for them and make them happen.

A bit of an introduction

I think it’s common for people in their 20s to assume that they have it all figured out. How to succeed, what they want to do, even who they really are. But I’m turning 35 in a few weeks and I’m just now starting to get it. Sure, I’ve got a wonderful husband, a great little house, a good job, and I just finished up my MBA, but it wasn’t until I started making some real changes in my life that I started to think, “Wow, I’m really starting to like the person I’ve become.”

I’m a nerd. I don’t make apologies for it, nor do I expect everyone to have the same interests as me. I love Doctor Who, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, old school Nintendo, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and on and on and on. But I also like to do things like crochet and cross-stitch. One of my greatest pleasures is making something for someone that they truly appreciate and will either use or display. A lot of my hobbies are sedentary, individual things. I love my cats – we have four of them, all named after scientists. Darwin, Watson, Newton, and Rosalind “Rosie” Franklin. I prefer spending time with them and/or my husband over most people.

But I had a kind of awakening in January. I was hitting the thick of my mid-30s, I was about to finish a master’s degree, and I still dressed, acted, and thought like I was in my mid-20s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not who I wanted to be. I had definitely changed over the last 10 years, grown up. Why didn’t I embrace that? Why didn’t I let that person shine through? I was still dressing in beat up jeans, hoodies, and geeky t-shirts. No makeup. My skin was a mess. And I was often mistaken for someone ten years younger, and not in a good way. Mike and I make good money, why was I still dressing like we were broke?

So I resolved to make a change. I signed up for StitchFix because I just didn’t know where to start with my wardrobe. I went to Sephora and had a makeover where they taught me the basics. I started listening to podcasts instead of just the radio. I started eating better, going to the gym (I take my first taekwondo class on Wednesday!). The result? I look my age. I look like I have my life together. I look accomplished. And I feel like a better version of me. I have more self-confidence. The prospect of leaving the science world and entering the business world doesn’t seem quite as intimidating.

I still crochet and watch Doctor Who. I still spend most of my time with my cats and husband, but I’m getting out of the house more with friends.  But I’m more involved in diversifying my interests. I’m not as afraid to try new things or go out and meet new people.

The reason I’m writing this blog is to put my thoughts and experiences down on paper. Sometimes I’m sure they’ll be very stream of conscious-like. Other times I’m sure I’ll rant about some political thing or another. I’ll talk about crafty projects or projects around the house that I’m working on. I’ll talk about my hunt for a new career and the ups and downs of that. I can guarantee that I’ll talk about Mike and the cats. If you chose to take this journey with me, welcome aboard.