*Story may contain triggers and sensitive topics*
I am a creative wife, mom and daughter. I survive day-to-day with Bipolar II Disorder, Hypomania, Unspecified Depressive disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], General Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia. Though I have since decided to be open about my struggles and successes, people that meet me for the first time likely have no idea of my struggles.
I was always described as a talker, an outgoing person, a social butterfly. My report cards and my job reviews always said things like “needs to learn when it’s appropriate to talk”, “talks too much”, and “competent in job skills but too talkative”. I would often be able to focus on a task for a long amount of time but always had issues in learning when it was ok to take a break, or put it away for the day. I was not able to multitask. Turns out, these are symptoms of ADHD, but because I was a girl, wasn't a “hyper” or “destructive” child, and got great grades, it was all over looked as quirky personality traits.
In February of 2017, I was having high anxiety to the point of nightly nightmares, and daily panic attacks from just thinking about the amount of socialization I had to encounter that day. The anxiety built and built until I was unable to handle socializing with my own children. I finally recognized I couldn’t live this way, and sought out my family doctor who diagnosed me with general anxiety disorder, ordered 2 scripts for me (Paxil and Xanax), and gave me suggestions on how to find a psychologist.
My husband was able to secure me 3 free visits with his Employee Assistance Program. [Seriously, look into this if you have it and need to see someone.] I called in February and got the first available appointment in April. (This also involved me calling five different locations, and four of them not taking new patients.) My first visit was an overview of my history, the medication I was on and a very long questionnaire about my daily habits. My second visit is when I received my diagnoses. My long list of diagnoses. I left that appointment feeling confused. At first, I was thrilled to have labels to research, learn and figure out how to best help myself. I was overjoyed that finally I had something [ADHD diagnosis] to explain my lack of focus/hyperfocus, my issues with memory, etc. A disorder that has been [and still is being] researched heavily and had a lot of options for treatment. In another part of my brain, the labels were turning into stigmas and statistics- bipolar disorder being the scariest to me. Did you know 1 in 5 people diagnosed with Bipolar disorder completes suicide? That bipolar disorder ranks at the 6th leading cause of disability in the world? Bipolar disorder can shorten a person’s life span by almost 10 years? My brain had turned myself into a statistic.
The first medication I was started on was Paxil. Within 2 weeks, the nightmares stopped, the constant buzzing stopped- I was able to function somewhat normally. My social phobia was still through the roof but I was working on resolving it with exposure to new situations. After my psychologist visits I was referred to a psychiatrist, but couldn’t afford the cost so I went back to my primary care doctor. With the new set of diagnoses he wanted to stop the Paxil and start me on Welbutrin (can work for both ADHD and Anxiety) but I declined because at the time Paxil had made a remarkable improvement in my life and I did not want to mess with it. He added Adderall to my medication plan to help with my ADHD and hoped that it would help clear out the remaining fog that was left in my head.
About three months after that I ended up worse than I was at the beginning of my journey. I was paranoid, not sleeping, had to keep one eye out the window at all times- it got to the point where I wrote out a letter, and made a plan to end my life. I was going to be going to a wine/concert fest and knew I would be able to drink a large amount. I did research on what and how much I needed to take mixed with alcohol- got both my Paxil and my Xanax refilled so that I was sure to have enough pills to complete my plan. I am forever thankful to my husband who was the one that I finally felt comfortable enough to show the letter to before I had a chance to make a mistake. I begged him not to put me into inpatient care, as I was scared to death, but agreed with him that it was time to see a psychiatrist.
I got my appointment and found out that Paxil often times can make anxiety worse. Though it worked for the first few months, my body was rebelling against it. I was tapered off the Paxil and onto Lexapro. Instead of Xanax as needed, until I was able to even out, I was told to take it twice daily. I have been able to wean off Xanax so that it is back to as needed.
Currently I have kept up with this medication schedule: Lexapro daily, Adderall 2ce daily and Xanax as needed.
I have found help in yoga and regular exercise. I used to do yoga daily, originally as a way to get in some physical activity, but found that I actually used that time to reflect on myself and those around me. It helped create a head space for me to breathe and it evened out my energy levels each day. I have since fallen off the routine of daily practice but I have every intention of starting again. My biggest breakthrough at the beginning was learning to be open and honest about myself. Even if I knew people wouldn’t agree. It was stressful and made me too anxious trying to hide certain parts of me to make those around me more comfortable. I have found that just getting my story out there in a raw and real way has helped me feel less anxious day to day and more at ease with myself and my diagnosis.
Most days are indifferent at this point for me. I have opted to stay medication free for my bipolar ii disorder as I honestly worry about what a mood stabilizer would do to my art. After my own research, I have read a lot about the effects a mood stabilizer can have on creativity. My personal photography is my mental escape- my reset- and currently I am not willing to give it up in favor of medication. Most of my inspiration stems from my emotions and moods. If ever there came a time when my health or the safety of those around me was affected by my disorder then I would definitely reconsider this option. Most days the anxiety is the worst of my struggles. Mornings are slow going [and I am usually agitated fairly easily] until I get my coffee and then I try to center myself and prepare for my day. I struggle remembering what I need to accomplish each day and I can tend to get caught up in something and be unable to pull myself away from it. Because of this, I will often forget to eat. Which you think would be impossible to do when I have two growing boys in the house, but I will typically feed the kids and use the time they are occupied to really focus on something I think I need to get done. I can't handle repetitive sounds or actions and I am thankful my kids are really starting to understand this. After the kids are in bed I try to do something that relaxes me or helps me to zone out so that I can fall asleep a bit easier .
Bad days for me go one of two ways. On my depressive bad days [my downswing], I get next to nothing done. I make it out of bed and sit in my seat fading in and out of sleep for a lot of the day. I have no desire to go outside, to socialize, to eat or drink. My kids struggle on these days, and I basically have just said "Mommy doesn't feel well today". These days the mom guilt piles on top of everything else and it takes a long time after to come out of my funk. My husband travels for work so during the week I am a single parent. It can be really difficult to make sure I am at least functioning at a level where my kids are safe. My mom helps when she can, and my neighbors are amazing at helping me with the kids. I don't cry much during these days and I mostly feel numb to everything. It's hard to explain, but these types of days I feel like I am merely existing. Robotic even.
On my hypomanic bad days [my upswing], I get agitated, restless and snappy. I wake up with a ton of energy that seemingly comes out of nowhere. I end up not eating that day because I can’t stop long enough to even grab a granola bar. On these days I end up starting a few different projects and never end up focused enough to finish them. [Hence my remodeled kitchen, still is not done despite starting the project in July 2017]. If I am trying to work on something and I get interrupted or derailed, I can get very angry fairly easily. These days I can't stand to be in type of place that is remotely crowded (including my house) because the constant energy surging through me makes me feel like the walls are closing in. I don't end up getting much sleep during these episodes and I don't feel exhausted because of it. My body just feels like it needs less sleep to function. Typically my upswing lasts around 3 to 4 days in a row and I end up sleeping around 8 or 9 hours total during this period and eat maybe 2000 calories total during the 4 days. This period is usually followed by a day or two of my downswing.
It's like I go from feeling everything in every part of my body in the strongest way, to feeling literally nothing at all. These days are rare now as it's been awhile since I have had true episodes like that. But there are still glimpses of them here and there.