How do I know what’s real?

Some of us are perfectly content with normal life. And some of us feel like we’re destined for more. But how do I know if that feeling isn’t the bipolar talking? Do people other than me actually feel that way? Or is it the delusions of grandeur that come along with the manias putting ideas in my head?

Can I even trust what I think? I don’t know what other people with bipolar go through, but I swear, I question every thought, every feeling. Are the genuine? Or are they the product of the disorder? I talked a bit a few weeks ago about negative thoughts and understand that they aren’t real, but can’t the same be said of positive thoughts? Of positive feelings? How do we know what’s real and what’s not?

It’s exhausting going through every day questioning everything that goes on in your head. The paranoia that comes from it is brutal. It makes you question all of your decisions – did I make this decision based on good information or was it a mild delusion? It makes you question all of your feelings – is this a normal feeling for this situation or is this not the proper reaction?

It’s no wonder I have anxiety. I question everything, second guess everything, worry about everything. I’m just so tired.

Things like this make me think I need to be back in therapy. It’s like having an existential crisis every day.

Maybe, though, these kinds of questions are a good thing. It means I can recognize that the disorder can put thoughts into your head. That it can create realities that just don’t exist.

I don’t know anymore. I feel like inside of my head is an interesting and exhausting place to be. On some level I wish it wasn’t like this – I wish it was easier.

It’s time to meet the kids

It’s time that I introduce you to the fuzzballs in my life – Darwin, Watson, Newton, and Rosie. You’ll notice that all of them are named after scientists (Rosie’s “real” name is Rosalind Franklin, her name just happened to already be Rosie when we adopted her). This is due to a number of things – I was a biochemistry major in college, we wanted different names for the cats and decided scientists we admire would a different idea. So there you have it. Darwin, Watson, Newton, and Rosie.

 

Darwin

Darwin turns 11 in August, and he was originally my parent’s cat (they let me name him, and my brother named his brother). They got Scruffy and Darwin right around the time I started college again, so 2006. In 2008 they decided they just didn’t have time for them and gave them to us. At that time we had another cat (Elmo, AKA Momo, but he’s a whole other story), and while they weren’t all BFFs, they tolerated each other and shared our 900 sq foot apartment with us mostly in harmony. Scruffy passed away due to cancer last October, so we were left with Darwin all by his lonesome.

When Darwin was younger he was a bag of nuts. He used to get on top of the door in our bedroom and stretch out and sleep. We had to be careful when we came home that we didn’t open the door too fast and knock him off (it happened a few times before we learned to be careful). Now, though, that he’s older. He generally prefers to lay around and be lazy. Unfortunately, due to two of the other three he doesn’t get much peace and quiet. But he joins in on the fun sometimes and is generally enjoying life. Except when someone is in His Spot.

Watson

Watson. Oh, Watson. When Scruffy died, both Darwin and I got depressed. Darwin showed his depression by walking around the house howling at the top of his lungs day and night. After a phone call to the vet, we decided to get him a friend. I found Watson one Sunday night at work on Petfinder. I immediately fell in love with him. It was just a matter of convincing Mike. Watson came from a hoarding situation and was bonded to a younger cat (Newton) from the same house. We couldn’t bear the idea of splitting them up, so we took both.

Watson has no teeth. When he was rescued from the house he had a horrible infection in his mouth and all of his teeth had to be pulled. Because of this he normally looks slightly disapproving of everything. He eats like a champ – dry food doesn’t bother him! And he drools. He rarely makes a sound, just opens his mouth to meow but nothing comes out. He’s the cuddle bug of the four. He loves to be smothered in cuddles and is the calmest of the four cats. He can normally be found sleeping either on the bed or on the couch. They estimate he’s between 3 and 5 years old, but our vet thinks he’s closer to 3. It’s hard to tell because he has no teeth.

Newton

Newton was the younger cat of the pair. He’s a trip. He’s about a year old and has the energy to prove it. When we adopted him we thought ‘we can handle a 1-year-old, no sweat.’ Nothing prepared us for him, though. He’s into everything, runs around like a loon, and is the sweetest little thing on four legs. He’s very insistent when he wants to be pet – he has no problem reaching out and grabbing your pants as you walk by or putting himself directly in your path if it means you’ll pet him. Over the past 8 months, I admit, he’s gotten a little fat. The vet thinks that he wasn’t used to having access to food whenever he wanted it and as such took to overeating. But we’re working on it – he’s at least stopped gaining at this point. But he’s a tubby little guy.

Rosie

And then there’s Rosie. She’s about 10 months old, and when we found her we had no intention of adopting another cat. But Mike and I were at a pet store in February killing time before we went to see a movie and Mike fell in love with a little kitten named Ginger. The next day he couldn’t stop talking about her, so I told him to go put in an adoption application. We were the second people to put in an application, so we didn’t get her. But Mike kept in touch with the lady that ran the rescue, and she texted him about a week later that they had Ginger’s sister. We had always said that if we got a female cat we would name her Rosalind Franklin. Well, after a day or two of Mike talking to this woman we were ready to meet her. And then I asked about the cat’s name. Her name was Rosie. It was fate. So we decided on the spot to adopt her, without even having met her.

She’s been a wonderful addition to the house. Her and Newton get on like a house on fire, and she gets along really well with Darwin and Watson too. She’s definitely become a pampered little house cat, and her favorite place to be is on someone’s shoulders. She rules the boys and they all tend to defer to her. It’s kind of funny – when we adopted Watson and Newton, Darwin wasn’t too thrilled about it but he accepted things. When we brought home Rosie he became the crotchety old man that meets his new granddaughter for the first time. She grooms him and chases his tail and cuddles up to him, and he just accepts it. It’s really kind of funny.

So those are our cats. They are definitely more family than pets and are great therapy for me. They all seem to know when I’m a bit down and are more cuddly and attentive than normal (don’t get me wrong, we’re usually surrounded by cats when we’re home – they’re all very personable, but when my anxiety is acting up or I’m feeling a little depressed I don’t get a minute alone). It’s also nice to have them around when Mike’s working late and I’m home – I’m at least not the only thing in the house. I’m sure over the course of this blog I’ll talk about them a lot, so I figured it was time to give them a proper introduction.

Depression, anxiety, and the job search

And we’ve now reached the portion of the game where a touch of depression rears it’s ugly head and causes me to question all of the decisions I’ve made.

The theme this week is should I have gone back to get my Masters? Was it really worth the time and the money? Am I going to be able to get a job?

On some level, I realize that that’s the anxiety and depression talking. It’s normal to question decisions, especially decisions that will affect the rest of your life.

But I also realize that I had to do something – I couldn’t continue to work in my current job if we wanted to have kids, if I wanted to work a normal 9-5 schedule, if I didn’t want to have to be at work at 4 AM on a regular basis. I didn’t have a lot of options. Going back to school and getting the MBA seemed like one of the only viable ones. I don’t regret it. I know that with enough effort I’ll find a job and will get started down a new career path.

It can be hard, though, when you get into these mindsets to not start questioning everything or to not start doubting yourself and everything that you’ve done. The trick is to think past it, to realize that not only is this the illness talking – the part of you that skews your thinking into negative pathways – but also that everyone goes through this, even those that are neurotypical. It’s normal when coming to the cusp of your life where everything changes, to wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Or if you made the right decision. It’s normal to overanalyze and stress and worry. But if you’ve got that underlying mental illness, these same normal things can start a cascade that’s hard to stop.

Don’t let that cascade start.

You have to believe that you made the right decision. You have to believe that you’ll land on your feet. You can’t let the negative thinking slow you down or stop you from doing something, especially something new. If you do you’ll be sitting in the same place in ten years that you are now wondering why you didn’t do more with your life, why you never took risks. I don’t want to be that person. I want to look back on my life someday and see that I challenged myself, didn’t let myself sit idly by and let opportunities pass by. I want to tell my kids and grandkids how I took life by the balls and didn’t sit back and expect things to happen to me – I made them happen myself.

The Dreaded Job Search

Now that we’re back from the beach, it’s time to tackle the thing that is causing most of my anxiety right now – the Job Search. I’ve got the fancy piece of paper that says I graduated, I’ve started paying on some of my student loans, it’s time.

I have a number of anxieties – money being the first. My student loan payments are intense, and I need a job that will cover them. If it doesn’t? I guess I’ll be working a second job. Which is exactly what I don’t want to do.

But I’m also terrified that hiring managers will look at my resume and immediately toss it in the no stack and think that I’m not qualified. I mean, sure, I’m new to the business side of things, but I have marketable skills. I have the MBA. I can do this. I know I can do this. But after five years at the same job, doing the same thing, I’m terrified of the change. But this is what I’ve worked for for the last two and a half years, isn’t it?

It is.

So it’s time to put on the big girl pants and do what I need to do.

I’m off on Friday. It begins then.

PS – I turned 35 last week. It’s time for a new chapter.

Some random ramblings

Thanks to my husband for talking me through the fog, and thanks to my psychiatrist for upping my dosage of Risperdal, the negative thoughts have mostly subsided. In the meantime, I’ve developed an eye twitch. Also probably anxiety related. But it’s a lot better than the alternative. This is just mildly uncomfortable when it starts up, but it only lasts a few seconds and then goes away. Sometimes it comes back right away, sometimes it’s a few hours later. At one point I actually thought it was gone as it had been so long since it had twitched, but no, on my way home from work it started.

But in talking to both Mike and my shrink I’ve come to realize that despite classes being over and being done with my degree there’s still a lot to be anxious about. I’m going to be entering a new phase of my life. Most likely I’ll be leaving science behind and entering the business world in some capacity. It’s a total change from everything I know and I’ll be going into the unknown. (Although if we’re being honest I’m most definitely not going to miss working night shift and weekends.) Lab work is all I’ve known for the past seven years – eleven if you count undergrad. I’ve been at my current job for five years. That’s a long time by any stretch, but it’s the job that I know. The job that I’m comfortable in. Leaving it and entering something new is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

There’s a thousand questions – will I work downtown? Will I have to work crazy hours? How will my life change? Will it be for the better? What direction is my life going to go in?

But I’m trying to be optimistic in the face of all of the anxiety I feel about it. I have to believe this will be a change for the better – no more night shift, no more 12 hour shifts, no more stress of making a mistake could kill someone, hopefully more time at home and more with Mike, more time with friends… I have to believe that this will be a good thing.

I think I’ve finally got my resume under control. So I’m hoping Friday to sit down and start applying for jobs. I have to move on this soon – student loans are going to be coming due soon and I can’t afford them on my current salary. And aside from that I’m incredibly not happy at my current job. They’ve known for awhile that I’d be leaving most likely this summer, so they already have my replacement hired and trained. I swear they’re looking for one good excuse to fire me and get me out of there so they don’t have to pay both of us. I voiced this to one of my coworkers who claims that they would never do that if only because morale would drop so much because they’d all know the real reason I was fired. On some level I honestly expected to be fired on Monday, but that didn’t happen so that’s good.

In other news, Mike and I are home improvement city. We had the furnace and air conditioner replaced about a month ago (our old ones were 25 years old and when they came out to service each of them last year the tech told us that they’d last us through that season, but after that they weren’t going to hold out much longer, we just decided to get ahead of the curve and replace them before they blew. We got a nice discount for doing both at the same time, so that was nice). Since then we’ve had a roofer come out and give us an estimate on putting in a roof vent or two, a concrete guy come out and give us an estimate on fixing the concrete pad that makes up the floor of the front porch (it leaks into the basement), etc. (These are all things that were budgeted for before the student loans and desperately need to be done.) Hopefully after this round nothing new pops up and we can go a year without a major project.

I just need to put my life back in order – a new job, get everything that needs to be done around the house done, and settle the hell down.

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.