Cautious optimism

I’m not an optimistic person. At best, I’m a realist. At worst, I’m a pessimist. It depends on the day, really. Any optimism that I feel is cautious, at best, like I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. But I’m starting to feel the beginnings of that cautious optimism. I have an interview on Tuesday for a part-time job, and I had a recruiter contact me about a job at one of the local hospitals (which I have applied for and am hoping to hear something this week *fingers crossed*). After how many months of fighting to stay afloat, let alone on top, could the end be in sight?

I don’t know if it’s a product of the bipolar, or if it’s just how I am, but I never expect things to work out. No one was more shocked than me (well, I may have been the only one that was shocked) when Mike actually married me. I’m always surprised when things go the way they should – that I finished college, got married, got a good job, bought a house, finished my MBA… I’m always waiting for something to go wrong. And don’t get me wrong, things haven’t been totally smooth sailing, but things generally have gone well.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism so I’m not disappointed when something doesn’t happen. Maybe I just expect things to go wrong because I feel like that’s what I deserve. Maybe that’s something to look more into in therapy.

In the meantime, fingers crossed, anxiety begone.

World Bipolar Day, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and other things

It has come to my attention that World Bipolar Day was this week. I did my part and came out very publicly on Facebook. While it wasn’t a well-kept secret and most of my family and close friends knew, I had never literally announced it to everyone. But I did it, and it’s out there, and I’ve gotten some interesting responses. Mainly, “really? Never would have guessed.” I should be nominated for an Oscar if people really had no idea. “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

I was listening to the NPR Ted Talk podcast recently, and they had a gentleman on who started the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Going through some of it was eye-opening – these were things that I was feeling that I had never found a way to put into words.

One definition really stuck out for me:

paro

I experience this literally every day. I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never the right thing. I often wonder how people seem to go through the world with such ease while I struggle at every step. I never feel like I get ahead, I never feel like I’m safe in the decisions I’ve made (things like fear of getting fired from my job at all turns, fear of Mike leaving or worse, dying), I’m always waiting for something to go wrong. And by that I mean I’m waiting for my life to go up in flames. Generally speaking, I have a normal, good life. There’s nothing special about me or my life. But I always seem to be on edge, waiting for everything to fall apart. My therapist and I have talked about this at length, and while I do all of the things that I’m supposed to – identify irrational thoughts, engage in positive thinking, do things that make me happy. That little voice is still there telling that I’m going to lose everything.

Dear Anxiety,
Fuck you.
Best,
Meghan

I wish it were that easy. But it’s not.

On that note, I’m going to kick my feet up, make a White Russian, and continue my re-watch of The Newsroom. Because that makes me happy. And chances are I’ll get at least one cat that wants to cuddle.

PS – I started some social media accounts for this blog. If you’re interested, the Twitter and Facebook links are over in the sidebar. There’s not much on them now but I’m hoping to be more engaging.

That’s not real…is it?

So… I was doing a little research this week on a problem I seem to have (that my therapist claims everyone has, I just have it a little more often than “normal” people). He calls them intrusive thoughts. I call them scary as hell.

These are the thoughts that come along seemingly randomly. Things like, while you’re driving, “I wonder what would happen if I wrecked my car into that pole.” Or (among my personal favorites) while holding something sharp, “I wonder what it would feel like if I stabbed myself in the stomach.” Another good one is while standing at the sink getting ready, “Mike could easily come up behind me with the shotgun.” Not that he’d ever do that. But there it is.

Yeah. Not fun. Fucked up. Creepy. And totally jarring.

I do have ones that aren’t quite as violent. The thought that I’m going to get fired is a common one. They’re still unsettling even if they aren’t as violent.

My therapist claims that everyone to some degree or another has these thoughts, but the regularity and severity of mine are definitely a symptom of my anxiety. It’s unsettling to have these thoughts, even if I don’t act on them. And I know they’re not based in reality.

It’s interesting, while I was doing some research for this post last week, really the only mentions I could find of these types of thoughts were women who postpartum. They talked about having thoughts that you couldn’t take care of your baby, or that something bad was going to happen to you or your baby, etc. But none of these websites dealt fully with the fucked-up-ness that these everyday thoughts bring with them.

Anyway, my therapist (his name is Sean, I don’t feel like typing out ‘my therapist’ every time I mention him) and I came up with a plan. I would develop some kind of mental totem, if you will, to remind myself that these thoughts are irrational. This works most of the time, mainly because my totem is so absurd. It started out as Leonard Nemoy wearing a crossing guard vest, holding a stop sign, saying “this is illogical.” Then I watched a whole lot of Futurama and it became that Leonard Nemoy. I think it works so well for me because it is absolutely ridiculous. But it’s a visual I’ve trained myself to create quickly, and it makes me stop and really address that the thought isn’t logical or true, and I can dismiss it.

It can be hard to realize that these thoughts aren’t real, or aren’t something you would do. But they AREN’T real, they AREN’T true, and you AREN’t crazy for having them.

Job stress and the job hunt stress

Me working my job should not be possible. Especially not for six years. I work 4 12-hour shifts, 4 days off. Every month I switch between day shift and night shift. I’m sure one thing we all know by now is that routine is the key to dealing my bipolar disorder. As such, I literally should not be stable working this job. At least that’s what my psychiatrist says. He’s not wrong. My sleep schedule is all over the place. My body doesn’t know when it’s supposed to sleep, and I can sleep almost anywhere. And while there is a routine, of sorts, switching between shifts is rough. My days off include sleeping for 11 hours, trying to find the motivation to get off of the couch and out of the house, confusing days of the week, and dealing with everything from laundry to paying bills to grocery shopping and everything in between. My schedule literally should not work. For now, for some inexplicable reason, it does. I can feel it wearing on me, though. This type of lifestyle is just not sustainable, and I’m really starting to feel the toll its taken on me for almost six years. If for nothing else other than my mental health, I need to find a new job. And fast.

But the job search has its own set of problems. The stress of looking for a job, waiting for a call that may never come. Searching week after week for something that might be a good fit for me. It always leads me down the path of wondering if I did the right thing by going back and getting my MBA. But I never would advance or even get out of where I am if I didn’t do something. I didn’t have a lot of options. But what now? What comes next? It’s an anxiety that practically rules my life now. And this? This isn’t sustainable either.

I hate social media

Social media seems to have become a kind of necessary evil. If you don’t have Facebook, you miss out on plans being made, jokes being shared, events that only advertise on Facebook, you name it.

For about four months last year, I deleted my Facebook account, burned and salted the earth. In a lot of ways it was freeing. My phone wasn’t constantly dinging with stupid notifications. I had real conversations with people. But I missed out on a lot – there are a lot of events that are only advertised on Facebook, and while some friends would pass along, a lot I missed. I eventually caved and signed back up. To be fair, I still kept active on Twitter and Reddit, but only a select group of friends know my Twitter handle, and no one knows my Reddit handle except Mike.

But it got me thinking a lot about what we share on social media. We only put our best selves forward. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is leading a better life than you – they’re more successful, happier, have their shit together. But most people don’t broadcast their struggles, their battles with mental health, their failures. It’s easy to feel alone on social media.

For those of us with mental illness, feeling alone or inadequate can be a death knell. If you’re depressed it can easily push you further down the hole. And if you’re manic it can push you higher. Not to mention the bullying that goes on. I recently left a biopolar disorder support group on Facebook. At least half of the posts were people talking about going off of their meds (and other people encouraging them), and the rest, while they were about questions people had, or people looking for a place to share their successes, there was always in the comments people bullying other people for a myriad of reasons. While the original purpose of the group was laudable, there wasn’t enough policing by the mods. I remember one girl, in particular, was really struggling with depression. She reached out to the group because she was suicidal and just wanted someone to talk to, almost a third of the posts were people encouraging her to do it or bullying her for feeling the way that she did. She ultimately attempted suicide, but a smart group member figured out roughly where she lived and called the cops on her. It was horrifying to watch the whole thing unfold.

I hate social media. And I really wish I could delete my presence, at least on Facebook. But since I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to annoy my right-wing family. =D

Goals and an incident this week

Hello fair readers,

I’m trying hard to adhere to my goal of posting more often. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Anyway, on to an incident this week that made me realize that despite my apparent stability over the last five months I’m still walking a tightrope of emotions. I’m not sure if anyone heard about the CNN/Apple glitch this week that sent the same push alert multiple times. If by multiple times they mean almost 50 alerts in 20 minutes, then sure. Between my iPhone and my iWatch I got the same CNN news alert that the guy that had triggered the inbound missile alert was fired almost 50 times in 20 minutes. But at the time I didn’t know this was a glitch. I was at work and the two would not. stop. dinging. My coworker estimated that I was getting an alert every 8-20 seconds. Turning both the watch and the phone off didn’t help. By five minutes in, I could feel the rage building. By ten minutes I was practically shaking. That same noise repeated over and over and over again was pushing a button that hasn’t been pushed in a long time. I could feel the rage in my chest. My heart rate was increasing. I was starting to sweat. It was the beginnings of a massive panic attack that had a really pissed off component to it. I wanted to break my phone, my watch. I wanted to slam something off of the desk. I probably should have taken an Ativan and in the moment I did have that thought, but I was clear-headed enough to know that I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go into that blissful fog. It was almost time to leave and I knew if I took one I might not be okay to drive home. So I breathed. I took off my watch and put it and my phone in a drawer. The alert sound was still there, but it was muffled. I could deal with that. At the end of the day I dealt with what could have been a big trigger, and I survived. Clearly, therapy and all of the tools that it put in my toolbox are working.

One important thing that my therapist and I talked about today was goals. I always set myself goals every year. I write them down in the back of the TARDIS notebook that I haul around with me everywhere so I have a reminder of them. But goals, when you have a mental illness, can present challenges. Some everyone who sets goals experiences, and some that might be more specific to those with mental illnesses.

Everyone procrastinates. It’s a normal part of life. But sometimes that procrastination isn’t really procrastination. How are you supposed to accomplish anything when getting out of bed and getting a shower are extreme challenges? Procrastination goes hand in hand with motivation. Sometimes you have to put your goals aside and ride through those times the best you can. It’s ok to say “I can’t do this right now” and set other things aside and focus on the small things – getting a shower, getting through a work day, eating regularly, having a conversation with someone.

Fear is another component. For me, at least, that fear is bourne of the thought “what if I don’t accomplish this?” Am I setting myself up for another failure? Can I handle this kind of failure? How will I feel about myself if the end of the year comes and I haven’t accomplished this? Am I willing to take the risk of trying and not succeeding? Fear goes hand in hand with doing things outside of your comfort zone. There’s always a fear of doing things outside your comfort zone, I don’t care who you are. There’s a reason that it’s called a comfort zone.

So here’s some of my goals for this year:

  1. Find a new job – this is the biggest and scariest thing on my list. I’ve been at my current job almost six years. I know how it runs, I know what to expect, it’s familiar. But I went back and got my MBA so I could move on to something new. I need to put aside my fear of the unknown, and the fear of changing careers, and get on with it. Someone told me recently that the first job is always the hardest to get. And I think that’s very true. I have the education, I just may not have as much experience as a new position might call for. It’s time to start small. Maybe apply for jobs that might be a step below what I actually should be doing, but instead focus on getting in with a company where there’s room to grow.
  2. Lose ten pounds – this isn’t going to be easy. One of the medications I’m on has a side effect of increased appetite. I definitely get that. At times I get ravenously hungry and eat everything in sight. So I need to work at making better food choices, and probably eating at least light snacks more often to curb that. I put on ten pounds in four months last year after I started it. We just bought an Instant Pot so I’ll be cooking more at home now that I can cook things a lot faster.
  3. Continue learning French – I started using Duolingo last year, and made great progress on it until the Great Depression of 2017. I kind of fell off using the app during that and never got back into it. Time to pick it back up. I at least want to make progress this year as the goal next year is to go to the Benelux countries. At least passable French would be helpful.
  4. Quit smoking – at the very least I want to get back to vaping rather than smoking. Baby steps.
  5. Read 35 books – I’m on book number 2 right now, so I’m a little behind. But I’m going to work on catching up over the next few weeks. Maybe I should start posting book reviews.

So that’s that for this week. What could have been a major setback turned into a small victory. And I’ve set some pretty lofty goals, but go big or go home, right?

It’s time to start taking my own advice

For years, through hardships and bouts of mental illness, through both bad times and good, my unofficial motto has always been “keep moving forward.”

I haven’t been following that. At all.

I’ve let my anxiety cripple me in a number of ways. I haven’t applied for a job in months – there’s always some excuse. My cover letter needs work, I’m not happy with my resume, it’s the holidays and no one is really hiring. There’s always an excuse. A reason not to do it.

I’m worried that I won’t find something. I’m worried that I spent all of this money and time on a degree that I’m never going to be able to use for one reason or another. Now it’s to the point where I’ve worked myself up so much about the whole thing that I’m literally crippled with fear about the whole process.

What if I’m not good enough? What if all of the work that I’ve done, all of the sacrifices I’ve made, leave me with nothing but huge student loan bills? What if I let my husband down? What if I do get a job and I’m really not cut out for it? What if, for the past three years, I’ve made nothing but bad decisions?

At this point, I don’t know what’s worse – failing at everything and letting everyone down, or facing my fear and actually succeeding. Because succeeding means facing all of my fears and powering through them. And that’s a terrifying thought.

It’s times like this I really hate mental illness and the fact that I’ve been burdened to carry the load. Sometimes I think I’m not strong enough to handle it. Sometimes I want to curl up in bed and wish the world away. But I don’t have that luxury. I manage to keep up with everything that needs to be done, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time facing this.

But I have to face it. It’s time to stop letting the fear run my life. It’s time to take the reins again. It’s time to keep moving forward.

Finally got the official anxiety diagnosis

My shrink for years has been wary of adding an “official” anxiety diagnosis. He believed that it was really a minor problem that reared its head only now and then. But I think the depressive episode that was literally brought on by anxiety opened his eyes a little bit. Not that in the grand scheme of things it matters, but on some level, it’s almost nice to know that it’s a recognized thing and not just a minor annoyance. My team recognizes that it’s actually a problem. Just having it acknowledged makes me feel less like I’m making something out of nothing. If that makes sense.

The Zyprexa has been a godsend. We upped the dosage a little bit at the last appointment, to 7.5 mg as I’m still getting what I call flashes of mood aberrations. Hours where I’m irritable to the point that I retreat back to the house and try not to interact with anyone as little as possible /(including the cats – yes, I can get irritable with them). Or maybe half a day of mild depression where the negative thoughts start to creep in. I’m able to beat them back for the most part, but the underlying feeling is still there. So we decided to increase the dosage by 50% to try and even that out.

Something happened recently that put my life in stark relief. Last year a friend of our’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma. She’s spent the last year in treatment, but at this point, she’s literally dying. The cancer has spread to the point where there’s nothing that can be done. It would give her a few more months at most. So she’s decided to stop treatment and just treat the pain. Part of me feels like such an asshole, thinking about all of the things that I’ve been worried and fretting about over the past few months. Money, jobs, all of the normal things that people worry about. But our friend is about to face the reality that he’s going to lose his wife. I know that people’s pain is an individual thing, we can’t quantify how much we love or how much pain we feel based on other people and their experiences. But I feel like my problems are so trivial compared to theirs. I feel guilty for being depressed for four weeks over nothing compared to what they’re going through. I know I really shouldn’t, but I do. I feel like despite all of our problems and worries, I still have a husband that loves me who I’d move the moon for, a nice little house, four great cats, supportive families, I don’t know. I feel like I don’t have the right to be depressed.

 

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.