Category Archives: Coping Skills

Decisions, Decisions

I am living with anxiety: I have coping skills. I have reminders from my therapist. I have a benzo I take 3x/day.

My anxiety was at a 10 on Thursday morning as I met with the doc for the second opinion on ECT, and then with the regular team I see before ECT to talk about the anesthesia trauma and the unbearable anxiety I’m living with. Man, I used every possible coping skill that morning, and I still blubbered all over the place as I talked about what I’m living with.

Ultimately that morning, no final decision was made about ECT. I Did Not Have a treatment that morning. I did not schedule a treatment. I only agreed to talk about the future of ECT and me at a later time when I was calmer an in my own home, not staring at the ECT trappings that reminded me of bad experiences. So Monday I will talk with a person who understands where I am coming from – knowing both the benefits I’ve experienced and the trauma and anxiety I cannot live with.

I was told that there is a med I can take that would drastically reduce my anxiety the day of ECT. And there is something (not sure what – find out Monday) that can be done to prevent anesthesia problems.

I am in the driver’s seat, and I am left with a horrible decision: Do I trust the ECT team with the things they can now do to earn my trust back for smooth ECT experiences, even though they were not offered when I had talked about my experience and great anxiety BEFORE? OR do I stop all ECT, and possibly never do it again, choosing instead to play medication roulette again should my mood waver again or I get suicidal again?

Decisions, decisions. I will get more info Monday.

How Best to Take Care of Myself

Anxiety has been my constant companion at an elevated state since the f*** up at ECT nearly 10 days ago. If my anxiety was at a 9 last week at therapy, it was an 8 this week. Ooooo – totally getting better. Not. I cried through most of the session again this week. And off and on the rest of the day afterward.

This is what I am holding on to. My therapist reminded me that it is my decision whether or not to have ECT. I have been through trauma related to the anesthesia of ECT that I keep reliving every.single.day multiple.times.a.day. Leading to panic and anxiety going up and down all the time. I no longer feel safe in my home or alone. The anxiety is waiting to get me, sometimes as an anxiety attack or as people or things waiting to jump out at me. While ECT has helped my mood like no drug ever did – I found baseline for me! – it has now ruined my life, in my mind. I might be exaggerating, yet I’m miserable now.

Before my next treatment, I have a second opinion appointment which is designed to see if ECT is helping and still beneficial for me. I promised my therapist and mom, I will tell him everything, from how much better my mood is, to the plan to do maintenance treatments so the results last longer, and now how the anxiety from the anesthesia gaff has traumatized me and the anxiety is nearly unbearable.

While I want the decision from me and the second opinion dr to be to stop ECT, I will keep an open mind. Maybe I need to stop for now so the anxiety can subside. Maybe I would need to start up again in the future. Maybe I will ever do it again, and will play pharmaceutical roulette with my psychiatrist if I need it. I just know I Need To Take Care Of Myself. And I’m holding on to ECT being OVER.

Anxiety Blows

I deal with anxiety on a daily basis, besides the bipolar disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder including some form of OCD. I take meds for it, and I use a lot of grounding and mindfulness skills to work through the moments of unease and of panic.

The whole process and concept of ECT weirds me out and makes me anxious, starting several days before treatment. I have trouble managing the anxiety. And then I had the unfortunate experience of waking up after anesthesia was administered and before the procedure started to a feeling of not being able to breathe and not being able to move or talk to tell anyone because of the paralytic administered for the treatment. The experience lasted only a handful of seconds but scared the bejeezus out of me. And so now I Really Hate ECT and get super anxious leading up to treatment. Doggone it that it works for me!

This experience happened to me again last Thursday. I talked to my psychiatrist and to the ECT team about my anxiety-attack-level of panic, but it was my therapist the next day who Finally had something sympathetic and helpful to say! My anxiety is normal and doing what it is supposed to do – warn me of danger – he said. And all the coping skills I’ve learned and practiced for mood shifts and crises Will Work for this anxiety too. Now that my mood is stable, I have the opportunity to use these skills for naturally occurring emotions, and to deal with my anxiety disorder.

Hallelujah! Something to tell myself in the moment, as well as “tricks” to try when the anxiety prevents me from being in the moment, such as writing about the anxiety, both to get support from my support system, as well as to sort out what I’m feeling, and get some distance from what I’m feeling. And What Am I Feeling? Vibrating in the center of my solar plexus. Shallower breathing than I should be doing. Thoughts jumping from partially-formed thought to an awareness of panic that stops all thoughts. Fear. Paranoia. Failure.

Anxiety Blows.

Living with Bipolar, Even When Things Are Good

Well, it’s been a month since I posted! Wow! The good news is that I haven’t had something so pressing, so bothering me, that I needed to write it out and get feedback. ECT is slowing down a bit as we move into maintenance of a stable mood instead of treatment for depression and suicidality. Again, good news! My mood is stable and good – happy even. I want to stop doing ECT because it makes me anxious, but the last time I stopped when I was feeling good, I only had a few months of a good mood. And I’d like to have longer – hence, doing maintenance (once a month ECT for a while).

During this good, happy, stable mood period, I’ve been working on motivation by   exercising in the pool some, taking a short personal enrichment class online, reading a bit more, and working on becoming conversant in Spanish instead of just a reader of Spanish who needs a vocabulary lesson or two. Hooray for me! And yet I still watch way too much tv and have little to do and feel so very unmotivated. I’m giving myself credit for all that I am doing though, and for using my support system to help me with all of it.

Then there’s the anxiety I struggle with. I’ve cancelled get togethers or not gone to my support group because of anxiety. I’m trying to get help with living with the anxiety from my therapist and my mom. I’ve struggled to commit to a self-enrichment class (online) that lasts for 8 weeks because of anxiety about whether it was too much for me to accomplish at this time in my life. I finally came to some peace about it and committed to it. I think it will help me A Lot with finding joy and peace and motivation.

Then there’s the ongoing anxiety concerning the community college chemistry classes I signed up for – and paid a pretty penny for. Back when I was feeling good in January and February, I applied to the local community college, signed up for a summer class (which I ultimately dropped because the syllabus was boring), and signed up for fall and spring’s chemistry 1 and 2 with lab. I was trusting myself that my brain could learn again (there’s been some question) and remember things in order to learn again, and that I could handle the schedule of driving, class time, and lab right after class too.

In reality, I have anxiety about all of this, ongoing, that I have to talk myself out of, that this week became almost debilitating. And then in April I had a huge setback with my mood so that I was hospitalized and started ECT again. NOW I’m feeling better and stable again (yay!) but still anxious about these dang chemistry classes!

Long Story Short: I found science classes on Coursera.org – for free! – that started this week where I will get short lectures, readings, occasional quizzes, and discussion opportunities. I get the chance to study chemistry, etc. – with professors – at home. Anxiety drastically lessened as pressure on schedule, brain ability, and even pocketbook was reduced. So I dropped the community college classes and await my refund – and come to terms with how mental illness has yet again changed my plans, and I am again taking care of myself to avoid problems later. Maybe when I’ve been stable for longer, and maybe anxiety isn’t triggered by stress so easily, I can take traditional classes, if that’s a path I want to take in the future (cough, cough – my dream of a ph.d).

 

An Interview

Hello, Dear Readers!

As promised, here is the link to the interview I did with Rachael of a5ylumpodcast.com. https://a5ylumpodcast.com/episodes/

On her site she says, “In our first episode, we take an in-depth look at Bipolar Disorder, addressing the myths and stereotypes, while discussing the diagnostic criteria, causes, risk factors, and treatments. We also get the opportunity to talk with Deborah Matthews about her personal experience living with Bipolar Disorder.

Fabulous info about bipolar disorder in the first part of the podcast. I hope you’ll listen and maybe learn some about this disorder we live with. Stay tuned for my musings at the end of the podcast.

Day By Day

I’m living each day as it comes, whether it’s an ECT day (had a couple of those days) or a day trying to make it through the cognitive and mood fluctuations that come with living with bipolar. The great news is that suicidal ideation is infrequent and not intense. Depression symptoms are less and less, but I’m not feeling happy or uplifted as I did after ECT last fall. So, day by day, just a little better each day, and focusing on coping skills.

I have started some new endeavors. (1) I am clicker training my cat to do a few things: come reliably when called, sit, sit up, shake, high five, and we’ll see what else he wants to do. I found treats he LOVES so that’s the reward for the operant conditioning I’m doing with him. He’s responding well! (2) I’m walking in the pool with my mom several days a week, and might add some bike riding or treadmill walking. (3) I start an online class at my local community college next week, so I’m learning how to use the online class system. (4) I’m doing a lot of reading, for book club and for my reading challenge for the year. I’ve read 16 of the 35 books I want to read by the end of the year. With classes starting up, we’ll see if I still have as much time to read. Plus reading is still hard, accessing both the concentration needed and the memory.

In other news, I was interviewed as a blogger who talks about the daily life of living with bipolar by Rachael at https://a5ylumpodcast.com. I’ll be the first episode of the podcast coming out in a few days. I’ll post a link when it comes out! Meanwhile, show Rachael some love at her website!

Stress Kabob

I’m juggling stress again. It’s like meat skewers or kabobs that I’m juggling. And the juggling is actual items tossed in the air, as well as just plain managing the stress that is tying up the ability I have to manage at all. Stress kabobs!

I went to the Office of Disability Services at the community college to get signed up for extra time on tests and help with notes and absence leniency as needed for hospitalizations or bad days. So talking with that staff member about what accommodations I could get was making school more real to me as well as programming new tasks to do to ask for the accommodations at the beginning of each semester.

I tried to look up classes for the spring to take, and I couldn’t find a way to register. Stress! I tried to log in to my online profile and school email and make some edits. I tried to learn how to use the online system for taking an online class. Which kinda makes sense but I’m sure I won’t remember all the details. Stress!

I’m wondering how many little things I need to remember and how to do things to just take one class at a time. Plus the cognitive challenges from ECT and from bipolar that will make those things hard. Stress! So I’m struggling with (1) changes coming up and (2-3) school adaptations in general and for disability and (4) maybe learning some new things. I’m stressed out by all this and it’s making my anxiety worse and mood stability harder. Juggling is one way to deal with it so it’s a little less overwhelming. Help!

The Power of Community

Yesterday I posted about how I experience suicidal ideation. I have followers on WordPress, and the blog crossposts on Twitter and Facebook with followers in both places. On all three platforms I got responses concerned about my safety.

Thank you everyone!!

Even though I always have a plan, and the impulses, thoughts and feelings are usually present, yesterday I was not worried about my safety. But I did feel Very Alone. I know people who have suicidal thoughts every once and awhile, and I’ve met people who deal with chronic suicidal thoughts like I do. Heck, psychiatrists have told me about patients like me. But it’s so easy to feel alone when suicidal ideation takes over multiple times an hour!

But yesterday You, Dear Readers, helped me feel seen and heard and not alone. You contacted me, commented, reposted, gave contact info and made sure I had the suicide prevention lifeline number (800-273-TALK). You reminded me that others have this experience and make it to the other side.

I wear a ring that goes around my finger three times. I say it is my “power of community” ring because the three rings remind me of how powerful community has been for keeping me alive and safe. It’s so easy with suicidal ideation to feel lost and alone.

Now, if y’all could point me to people with chronic ideation, that would be great! No one has ideas about how to live with it.

The Value Independence

Happy Pi Day! (March 14, 3/14 for 3.14, the decimal approximation of the mathematical concept of pi)

OK, now that I’ve displayed my nerdiness for the day…

I’ve written before about how I have valued living independently very highly among my values. Learning to live with family has been hard, and deciding several times in the past year to continue to do so has been even harder. I’m still learning to live with family, especially sharing my schedule of outside activities. I want a sense of independence. And being able to follow my own whims and schedule is part of what I value about independence. How much independence do I have to give up by living with family?

I am reading a book about the needs and desires of people as they age, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. At one point today I read these sentences about the two meanings of autonomy: “One [meaning] is autonomy as free action – living completely independently, free of coercion and limitation,” and “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy – the freedom – to be the authors of our lives.”

I believe I have been thinking about living independently in the first sense of autonomy described in the book. I want to live alone, keeping my own household, because I believe that kind of independence shows that I am adult and have learned to live with my limitations. But, as many people have discovered as they age or as part of disability or even as part of enlightenment, we humans live dependently with one another, sometimes with personal and/or household needs taken up by others, sometimes with emotional cares shared with others, sometimes just sharing the rent with another person for financial needs to be met. Over this past year I have come to realize that I am a better human being? or my best self? when I am living with other people. I think I have always been that way, even though I consider myself an introvert who enjoys time in the company of others A Lot. During this year, I realized that I will never be able to live alone anymore, whether with family or with a housemate.

What does not living alone mean for my value “independence”? I still want to follow my own whims and schedules. I’m having a hard time sharing that info or part of myself with others. I still want autonomy, but perhaps I’m thinking about it now in the second sense above: I want to be the author of my life, even as household, financial and emotional needs are met to some degree by housemates. I’m having an epiphany, or becoming enlightened, about the dependent nature of my very human self, which includes living with bipolar and its needs. I no longer feel the need to live alone to show my adultness or ability to manage my limitations. But I do still feel the need to be the author of my life, to make decisions about how I spend my time to enrichen my life. That is what I value about independence.

Living with Bipolar

“Bipolar is just one part of me.” “You are brave and courageous.” “You are feeling good! You can get to this place again.” These are the post-its I see several times a day as I take medication for many things, including bipolar disorder. I’ve been thinking for a few days what it means to live with bipolar disorder, and these three post-its are part of the deal of living with bipolar.

  1. I am many things – compassionate, smart, funny, passionate, nerdy – and bipolar. And though bipolar colors ALL of my existence, it is just one part of me. It is easy for me to say “I am bipolar” instead of the more socially acceptable “I have bipolar.” What my mood and thoughts are doing, and the routines I use to contain them, shapes my whole life. I cannot escape my bipolar brain. When I’m feeling well, like right now I can see how there are parts of me that would be there even if I didn’t have bipolar, like a snarky sense of humor or being passionate about social justice.
  2. I have to be persistent, routinized, and brave Every.Single.Day. Each day I wake up to thoughts that second-guess my mental well-being and my ability to even face a day without causing harm to myself. Courageously I choose to get up and start the routine that will get the day off to a better start. Courageously I take my meds, brush my teeth, drink my coffee and check my calendar. Eventually I can face the day, if it’s a good day. Some days I can only think of suicide and can only feel anxiety and fear. On those days I have still made the choice every minute to keep on living. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” applies not only to U.S. Senators who keep talking despite pressure to shut up and sit down, but also to my choosing life day after day, moment after fearful moment of thoughts of death that won’t stop. I am brave and courageous.
  3. I am living in a euthymic phase right now – a good, stable, middle point of my moods. And I can get there again if/when I become depressed or manic again. I need the reminder both that bipolar is cyclical and that I am in a good phase. It’s time to take a look around! Smell the flowers and trees and other pollens I am violently allergic to. Play with my cat. Sip coffee. Really discover what I am capable of when I am feeling well! It’s time to enjoy this time I have, and trust that it will come again.

What are some insights you have uncovered about living with bipolar, either from your own life, or from watching me live mine?