Monday, January 27, 2020

Fooled Again

I hate... hate... hate having bipolar disorder. It's so sneaky and even though you know you have it and know what it does, it still can fool you.

Last week I had some really bad things happen. However, I used what I've learned in the 12-step program, support groups, and counseling, and dealt with them all. Unlike my norm, I didn't stress too much over it or worry constantly on how I could change each thing that happened. I worked very hard at letting go and surrendering.

This time was the most peaceful time I've had in a while - a long while. I was on cloud 7 (cloud 9 is still just a little too much right now). I got together with a friend for lunch early in the week (my social anxiety usually doesn't let that happen - I might make plans but often can't carry them out). I got a lot done at my desk and even though nothing I did was for pay, I didn't stress. To top it off, on Saturday I went out with some friends for lunch and I realized I was participating in the conversation and even found myself laughing. Not fake laughing because I'm tired of being sad, but honest-to-goodness find-something-funny-and-laugh kind of laughing.

The mood stayed through Sunday. I signed a song for the deaf church I attend and even though I messed up some, I didn't beat myself up. I did rideshare for a little bit in the afternoon but when I wasn't getting rides, I didn't worry about it. When a ride took me close to home, I didn't analyze to death whether I should quit earlier than planned or not - I just went on home.

But the real kicker was this morning. In my journal, there's a prompt that asks what I am excited about. When I first got the journal about 3 weeks ago, I wrote things that I was looking forward to, but never could say I was "excited" about them. Later I couldn't even name anything I was looking forward to, as my depression got worse. However, this morning, I actually said I was excited over some possible upcoming opportunities. I wasn't lying one bit about it - I actually FELT excitement over those things.

So when I started a nose-dive into a depressive cycle later this same morning of finally feeling excitement for the first time in a while, I was truly caught off guard. I know that my bipolar won't just go away. But I thought that the things I was doing - finally committing to an eating addiction 12-step program and an eating plan; drinking more water and much less soda; hanging out with friends; making a major effort to not stress about things I couldn't control (think Serenity Prayer) - would keep it away a little longer. I thought that as long as I kept doing all of these things that I assumed had made the depressive cycle lift in the first place, it would stay gone.

 I was wrong.

I've never thought about it this way, but maybe my bipolar is also one of those things I can't control. Maybe the mania and depression will come no matter what I do. Maybe I'll never get consistently  "well".

I already wrote about a very similar experience last September in "Realization About Progress Not Perfection." I'm trying to remind myself now what I realized then - I may never get "well" but I can keep trying to make each day the best it can be, no matter whether I'm depressed, manic, or one of those rare times I'm stable.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A New/Old? Mental Health Issue... Really?!

So... I'm working on a document and in it, I'm describing some of the mental health issues I had when I was in my early 20s. I thought one condition I had was called agoraphobia but I get all of the phobias' names mixed up so I decided to research it to make sure.

Some background... My panic disorder started at that age (or my late teens, I can't remember exactly). It got so bad that I developed a mild version of agoraphobia. I would leave my house only to go to work and to church but wouldn't go anywhere else. Even work and church were difficult but my sense of responsibility somehow prevailed during those times.

As many of us with mental or physical health issues do, I was a good actress and acted like I was okay when I was away from home, but I was a basket-case otherwise. Looking back, I was already displaying signs of both my addictive-prone personality as well as bipolar disorder, but then I had no clue mental health was really the issue.

You probably think, "How could she NOT think that mental health was the issue with panic disorder and agoraphobia?" The times were very different then. Most people didn't believe you if you had major depressive or anxiety disorders (which I also had) - they thought you just needed to think more positively or "just let go and let God."

Actually, I guess times haven't changed that much, as many people still believe those things about mental illness. But there are many who are learning about it and there are so many more systems to help now than there were then (mid- to late-80s) - from counselors, to medical professionals, to support groups, to online publications and communities.

During that time, I was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) which is greatly associated with two conditions - a form of dysautonomia and panic attacks. It was treated much more from a medical (physical health) viewpoint than a mental health perspective. I took meds to help regulate my heartbeat. I drank lots of water with electrolytes to raise my blood volume (another issue with these conditions). I also tried to find patterns on when I usually had panic attacks - which for me were too little sleep and/or too much caffeine.

Once I did those things, the panic attacks didn't go away, but they lessened in frequency and severity. No one told me that I needed to get to the root of the problem, which was my anxiety disorder. But the agoraphobia got better as the panic attacks lessened and I assumed that I no longer had agoraphobia because I was again able to leave my house without too many issues.

Jump to this week and my realization... When I looked up what agoraphobia was, just to confirm it was the phobia that deals with not leaving the house, I found it was so much more.

Mayo Clinic's website defines it as "a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd." ( That alone answered my question about it being the correct term, but that last line nudged me to look more into it.

What I discovered blew my mind... My go-to medical site, WebMD has lists of causes and symptoms.  (
Their site states:
               "With agoraphobia, you might worry when you are in:
                        - Public transportation (buses, trains, ships or planes)
                        - Large, open spaces (parking lots, bridges)
                        - Closed-in spaces (stores, movie theaters)
                        - Crowds or being in line
                        - Being outside of your home alone
              Symptoms may include:
                        - Fast, pounding heart
                        - Sweating, trembling, shaking
                        - Breathing problems
                        - Feeling hot or cold
                        - Nausea or diarrhea
                        - Chest pain
                        - Problems swallowing
                        - Dizziness or feeling faint
                        - Fear of dying"

I still have this! I can't stand crowds and avoid them at all costs. I have to sit on the end of the aisle or the front row when in an audience, and I need space between me and the next person (not always possible, which freaks me out). Online shopping was a God-send for me because I can't stand going into stores. I always try to sit where I can see the door and/or most of the room at a restaurant or event where we sit at tables. I will wait if there is a line (I try to be either first or last) and don't go to areas like amusement parks on days they will be crowded, both because of the crowds and because of the lines.

I have attributed all of these things to other issues, such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Where one starts and another stops is a mystery. I'm not even sure if a person can technically have all of these disorders or if everything would actually fit into one - like my bipolar disorder.

In my research, I found out that agoraphobia is one type of anxiety disorder, with some of the others being social anxiety disorder and panic disorder ( I did also find out that a person can be diagnosed with more than one anxiety disorder ( but I'm still not sure how that fits with the bipolar.

It really doesn't matter in practical terms, though. Anxiety disorders all have very similar symptoms and treatment options. The reason I'm glad I came to this realization, though, is that it explains more of the behavior that has become so much a part of me that I didn't even realize it needed to be addressed. Now that I know that it didn't "just go away" when I was young and I'm still dealing with it at times, I can bring it up in counseling and maybe one day the fears I have that are associated with this disorder will be much more manageable and I can live a better life, with a few less fears.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It Sounded So Simple...

I went to a dietitian yesterday. That in itself, is somewhat of a small miracle. I can't afford a dietitian, though I've needed one for a very long time. But in December my numbers finally got bad enough to technically become a type 2 diabetic. Though that's not a good thing, something else happened at the same time.

My insurance company started including dietitian services for those who are diabetic. I think that started in January of this year, though I may be wrong about that. But anyway, because of this change, I could afford to go to this dietitian and get some help.

Since my very first meeting with a food addiction 12-step group, I knew it was the answer I was looking for. I have known and seen success in my other 12-step group and knew that it was possible. But from the way everyone was defining abstinence (though I knew in this program you come up with your own definition), I wondered if I could ever deal with being so strict.

We are talking MAJOR food issues with me. I've never had a normal relationship with food, not even when I was very young. My older brother wrote an essay for school about his "red-headed little sissy" who would "burn the soles off her shoes if she heard someone in the kitchen because they might be getting out something to eat," talking about when I was a toddler.

And there are so many barriers to not being able to make this work now. My bipolar isn't under control; I live with my parents which brings major stress; I'm trying to start a business and I'm always in major stress from that; my mom is a food hoarder and there's literally no room in the pantry, the kitchen refrigerator, the refrigerator in the garage, and the very large deep freezer for me to keep some foods that I like or want to cook; cooking is difficult because I have to keep the kitchen clean and my mom wants to be involved (which translates as "wants me to prepare stuff her way"); there is always junk food laying around; my schedule is constantly changing; I'm extremely picky on what I like to eat and don't; I am nauseated most days... I could keep going but I'm sure your eyes are glassed over by now.

Needless to say, it's not the time to start something that will be an added stressor on top of an already incredibly stressful life. But I can't wait.

So I got what I called a pre-sponsor until I was entirely ready to tackle this. During that time, my pre-sponsor would give me some encouragement when I told her I didn't know how to do this. She was there to support me before I was ready to take any real steps towards abstinence. This gave me time to try to think through some of the above issues and see if I could figure anything out.

Then after the holidays were over, I told my pre-sponsor I was ready to get to work, even though I was terrified of doing so. We planned to meet tonight but ended up having to cancel. So this past week I was trying to get ready for this first meeting.

Like I said before, within this program, you define your own abstinence. Most choose foods that they tend to eat compulsively and avoid them. Many have a meal plan where they weigh and portion their food and even might email it to their sponsors each week. Some avoid entire categories of food - like no sugar or non-whole-wheat breads.

I knew none of those wouldn't work for me. For me, it's not a particular food that causes me to eat compulsively. I have had times where I had a half-eaten candy bar in my desk for weeks and other times I thought I would die if I didn't eat peanut butter every night before bed. So I do have foods that I want to eat compulsively but they constantly change.

I finally figured out that it was situational. I will compulsively grab a doughnut off the counter if there's a package of them sitting out. I will grab something to munch on to keep me from falling asleep at my desk or will run through a drive-through for the same reason if I'm out late at night. It could also be if I'm bored, or stressed, or depressed, or on the flip-side, manic.

Because of this realization, I had already planned to go into the meeting with my sponsor wanting to discuss having times when I could eat and when I can't. This would mean that if I'm extremely exhausted but it's not during a planned time to eat, I would have to figure out a way to get through it without food... and the same with the other scenarios. I didn't know how that would go over but it just felt right to me.

Back to my dietitian (you probably wondered if I had forgotten about her). She was amazing. She listened to me and I didn't feel at all condemned by my weight. After listening to all of what could be taken as excuses, but are just my reality, she said that we needed to start simple. She wanted me to focus on two things.  1 - drinking water instead of diet sodas through the day (which she blew my mind about, telling me that your brain thinks diet soda is the same as regular and even though there are no calories and no direct weight gain, your brain tells your pancreas to shoot out insulin, which messes up everything). And 2 - eat every 4 hours, and don't eat between those times.

WHAT?! She basically told me, as far as food goes, to do exactly what I had already come up with for my abstinence plan. I was riding high. I was hyped. I had thought I could do this and now I had a professional to back me up. How hard could this be?

Turns out, very. It's my first day trying this out. I drank only one soda this morning, though I did have tea with supper (very, very watered down). I woke up super early and had forgotten to eat supper last night so I was so hungry I could barely stand it. I ended up eating breakfast about 5:00am. Four hours after that would just be 9:00am, which is way too early for lunch. So I compromised and ate a snack around then and ate lunch about 1:30pm. Supper was a little late for the four hour rule - 6:00pm - but my stomach has been torn up all day and it was hard to think of something I could get down. My plan is to eat a small snack before I go to sleep.

So far I've been able to do it. I got super stressed and depressed earlier today and it was during an in-between time. I wanted to grab something to eat so badly I could hardly stand it. But I made it through. The water has been a bigger issue than I thought. I go through phases where all I want to drink is water and other times I can't stand it. I'm much more towards the latter at this point. But other than the watered-down tea, I've been faithful to drink my water through the day.

It's not going to be easy, but I know it's possible. I do plan to add more parameters as time passes - probably drastically stopping or eliminating sugar for example. I also want to build up to almost never eating in the car, which is a huge problem for me. But this is where I can start and with the help of my  a food addiction 12-step group friends and the 12-steps, I'm hoping I'll learn how to deal with life without food being my go-to. Maybe one day I'll be at least mostly free of this horrible disease.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Exhausted and Overwhelmed

So many "shoulds"... I should be resting. Or I should be out making money with Uber and Lyft. Or I should be doing one of the myriads of other items on my current To-Do list...

But I'm not doing any of those things. I need to process this day and this week even more than those things. I'll get them done eventually.

It's been a rough week. My depression has been at one of the lowest places it's been in a while. I often don't cry much when I'm depressed (though it happens sometimes), but this time I've felt like crying almost constantly for several days.

After thinking about it a lot, I've realized there are several reasons that may not be the cause but are at least likely to be contributors. One of my best friends has been mostly MIA for various reasons, none having to do with me. I understand why he hasn't been available but I've missed him terribly anyway. It also made me feel so helpless because there was nothing I could do about the situation.

Another best friend has also been missing but it's a very different context - my 20-year-old daughter. She in her first serious relationship and is spending any free time she has with this person. I knew in my head that this empty nest thing would be coming up soon, but I honestly thought it was when she moved out. I never realized it could happen while she technically still lived in the same house I do.

Every time I talk about her being one of my best friends, I can hear the chorus saying that you need to be a parent to your child and not a friend. I see the wisdom in that. But she and I have been through some major hell the past few years together and it's bonded us in ways that aren't just a very close mother and daughter relationship. We have a lot in common and have had a lot of both fun times and really, really bad times together. So I'm no ashamed to call her one of my best friends... and one with whom my relationship is drastically changing and there's once again nothing I can do about it.

So many other issues like finances or my health keep my anxiety at a moderate level under the surface constantly, even if life is going great otherwise. So this doesn't help.

If you've read my blog much at all, you know that my bipolar disorder, anxiety, and addictions affect every aspect of my life. The paragraph before this one isn't new information. Even the way I'm handling missing my friends isn't unusual.

But combine it with yet another week of dealing with my parents' health issues and it's just been too much. Again, if you have read my blog at all, you know that doctor and even ER visits are not uncommon in this house. There is never a week that goes by without at least 2 doctor visits (usually many more), and I'm not counting ongoing therapy or support groups in with that.

So when my mom falls again or my dad has another health issue pop up, I know the drill. The majority of the time I'm calm and collected. I know what needs to be done and I get it done. I gather up needed supplies or information; I inform my family; I take care of what needs to be taken care of.

Today when my mom had another issue (not quite a full fall, but she was so weak she might as well have), I felt like a basket case. I don't think I really let it show but I had a hard time figuring out what to do. I felt very scattered as I gathered up the things she, my dad, and I would need for an ER visit and possibly a hospital admission. I was mentally and physically able to drive to the hospital but if I had been just a little more upset, I wouldn't have been.

I'm at a loss about what to do now. I feel like I've been through a wringer. I had planned to do rideshare but I'm not sure if that's the best idea, given my physical and emotional state (my financial state is yelling at me to go and get to work though). The longer I sit here doing this, the more I realize the way I feel right now, it's just not safe for me to do rideshare. Maybe I could do it a little later tonight. But for now, I need to just be and let God take care of that particular worry.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Year... Recording My Life

Well... I had planned to post so much sooner than now.  I've sat down to post several times but other things kept interfering.  Even now I really need to get out of here but I just wanted to write a little bit.

I don't make New Year's resolutions but this year I have tried to do a few new things once the holidays were over.  One is that I bought a guided journal and I'm trying to work through it each day.  It took a good bit of searching before I found one that I thought I would like and I'm so happy I took that time.  This one has some wonderful prompts that make me think about things I need to ponder on before I start my day.  It has a few prompts that I don't use so I fill in those areas with other things I want to record.  I'm actually proud of myself for not being so rigid that I feel I have to fill in each area with the dedicated prompt.

I'm also proud of myself that I didn't beat myself up when I missed a day.  I found it right around New Year's but shipping took some time so I just got it last week.  I had only written in it a few days when I had to be at a shoot (I'm a professional photographer) super early so I decided it wasn't worth the stress to scribble something in it before I left just so I could say I did.

I didn't realize until I got it that it has some questions for the end of the day too.  That's a great thing as I can look back over my day for just a moment before I go to sleep and reflect on what happened during the day.  I can go back over emotions I had a hard time processing and try to figure out why.  I can think about where I currently am in the wonderful cycling that bipolar disorder causes.  I can list concerns and worries that are eating up my brainpower with the thought that putting them on paper gets them out of my head so that I can go to sleep.

Eventually, I hope to have enough information from this record to be able to track my moods along with what happened during the day.  When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I used an app on my phone to do the same thing but it didn't have the detail that a written record will have. 

Along with this, I'm dedicating the time each morning to read some type of recovery information - from an informational book or meditation book about one of my addictions.  I write about what I read.  This keeps me accountable to do the reading as well as the writing.

Not to be too much of a pessimist, but I just hope and pray I can keep this up.  It hasn't even been a full week so it's way too early to say it's going to be a habit.  But I can hope...