I Still Have Bipolar Disorder

My bipolar life is a storybook success at present. I’ve just finished a period in which I received free job training and then a three-month paid internship, for which I was highly rated. I am actively involved in community theatre where I live, and I’m well-respected for it. I acted in a play recently, and now I’m directing another one that will hit the boards in November. Plus, I will be directing Shakespeare next summer, and that takes a year-long preparation. It’s a major undertaking. On top of it all, I’m writing and reading. I have dreams of a book with my name on it.

Last weekend, I went to see a play produced by the community theatre organization I work with. The play is a true smash hit. Eight of the nine performances have been totally sold out, and they are trying to figure out how to extend the run one more weekend.

My daughter and I arrived early to get good seats in the theatre. We took our programs and sat in the front row. I put on my reading glasses and buried my head in the very informative program made for the historical drama we were about to watch.

After reading the program, I put my glasses away and looked at the stage before us. Then I felt it. The theatre was nearly full, and the house manager was looking for empty seats for people waiting at the door. There was a crush of humanity around me. I didn’t have to turn around and look. I could feel them.

My stomach churned; my chest tightened. I began to squirm in my chair, and my thoughts began to race.

I was getting very near a panic attack, and I haven’t had one in ages. I thought of the Klonopin at home in my medicine chest. It was useless to me in my situation.

So, I thought of WRAP. I tried to remember what was on my Triggers Action Plan for just these situations. Crowds can cause me to panic, and they are listed as a trigger for me. Thankfully, WRAP does not stop with the knowledge of what hurts us, but we make an action plan for each item in case they arise. In the case of panic due to a crowd, I remembered to concentrate on slow breathing and to feel my body .

I took methodical breaths, and I placed my mind on exactly where my feet were and then how the chair felt and then the temperature in the room. I soothed my racing mind by giving it clear, concise things to think on.

My panic was not rising, but it was not easing either. Luckily, the play began, and the action whisked me away with its story.

I came away from the experience enriched. I survived a near panic attack.

I can see now that I have built strategies for dealing with triggers. For example, I hate large parking lots. I have an unreasonable fear of them. As a result, I learned many years ago to visualize driving into the parking lot, going down a certain row, and taking the first available space. It works for me. As a result, I am able to enter large parking lots without the unpleasant emotions.

My last post may have sounded smug. I was reminded that while things may be going well, I still have an illness. More importantly, I learned I have strategies to help today. They may not be foolproof, but they give me hope.

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I Braved the Movie Theater

I have written in this blog about not being able to watch television for unknown reasons. It makes my brain twitch uncomfortably. I have avoided movies for the same reason. My brain throws a switch that makes my skull itchy inside. (You can find the blog entries by typing “I can’t watch TV” in the little search window on the right.) The crowds in movie theaters are also a deterrent.

I have seen three movies in the last month. It’s been amazing. I had to practice some deep breathing at points during each one, but I made it through. Last night was the most difficult. I saw Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about a bipolar man and his budding relationship with a troubled woman.

The movie begins with words on the screen announcing the upcoming scene as taking place in a psychiatric hospital. I tensed instantly. A group therapy circle unfolded on the screen with someone speaking gibberish about his hair. Another patient sat in his chair but had physical tics. The lead actor was composed but spouting loudly about finding good things in bad circumstances.

The movie twists and turns through the life of the lead actor. He moves back to his parents’ house, and immediately begins to obsess about his estranged wife. He meets an interesting, troubled woman, and they begin seeing each other. Their relationship revolves around his learning to dance. There are scenes finding the man up all night pouring through books only to toss them through a closed window into the street. He wakes his parents at odd hours to rant about wild things. He jogs a lot. The pair spark off each other, though their relationship remains platonic since the man insists he’s still married.

Some points of the movie were particularly wrenching for me to watch. When the lead actor maniacally reads, I was reminded of myself engrossed in books all day long. A crowd encircles the man at one point, and I found my heart pounding in real fear. I have been in the middle of crowded department stores and had to leave to breathe. He went on a painful, angry hunt for his wedding video, and I understood the drive, the single-minded mania. I have been in the situation where I had to accomplish a minor task at all costs and was thwarted.

There was quite a bit of violence in the movie. I’m very lucky that I’m not given to violent outbursts. I withdraw inwardly and use a great deal of negative self-talk.

The movie talked a lot about medication, and the lead character refused to take any. Some of his more egregious explosions prompted him to take medication, but the subject was treated poorly. Regular readers here know I am a strong advocate for taking medication to treat bipolar illness. I only speak for myself, but there’s no amount of prayer or meditation, no distance of running or walking, nor any length of talk-therapy or doctor visits that can control the hallucinations, the rapid thinking, or the burning brain. I need medicine. It’s plain and simple.

The movie ended happily. The boy got the girl. There was no hint of disability. All was right with the world, and I call, “Bullshit.” I’ve been manic about love in the past. If a relationship would fix me, I would be on every dating site around. People can’t fix me. If a relationship could fix the lead character in the movie, then why couldn’t his loving parents help?

Bipolar illness is tricky. I appreciate this cinematic portrayal. I intend to get the book and see if it may be different. I wish my happy ending would be so simple. I’d pay $10 for that.

I Survived the Trip

Doing things one step at a time proved the answer to my anxiety about my weekend away. I made it through security both going and returning. I sat in crowded vehicles in very heavy traffic. I maneuvered through crowded streets and slept in strange beds. I was in odd places and didn’t panic. In fact, I didn’t have a panic attack once.

I did all this with less than the normal amount of the medication I take for anxiety. If there’s one thing I learned from this short trip, it’s to double check the number of pills I take with me. I took too few, but I made it through with a bit to spare.

I came away from the weekend with more than that. I spent the time in close contact with family and enjoyed myself. I got to experience a grand, Broadway-style musical, and it reinvigorated my passion for something I love: theater. I’d been so tired for a long time, and now I’m excited again. I love making theater happen. Being in it and working behind the scenes brings me life.

I’m home now in my little town, dreaming of how to make theater happen. We can’t bring Broadway here, but we can have fun and learn to make the best shows possible. We can grow to be better at acting and building the technical aspects of theater.

I face much of life looking through a veil worried about my emotions. Is this elation the beginning of a manic phase? Will this melancholy lead to depression and all its wretchedness? I can’t let my emotions run rampant. They will literally kill me.

Still, I can enjoy myself. I can manage difficult situations. I have tools that enable me to live stably. I have people working on my behalf to make my life manageable.

I am working to make my life manageable.

Adding a New Medication

I saw my prescribing nurse practitioner, and she’s added a mood stabilizer to my regimen of medication. It’s called lamotrigine. I don’t know what the non-generic name is. It seems that the past two times I’ve seen her I’ve been manic. It’s a concern, because I make rash decisions when I’m manic. I can’t think things through in a calm way. I rush headlong into projects and take on more than I can handle.

I noticed that I’ve spent a lot of money buying books on Amazon lately. It’s money that I shouldn’t have spent that way, but it’s done now. Spending sprees is an unfortunate symptom of bipolar disorder. The upside is I have a lot to entertain myself with for quite some time.

I continue to be surprised at the way readers discover this little blog. Most people find it through Google searches, and the one search I see often is a bipolar sufferer’s inability to watch television. I am amazed that this symptom is not talked about by researchers.

I can’t watch television, and it seems I’m far from alone. I’m allergic to it. When I try to sit down and relax in front of the TV, I last for five minutes at most. I start to squirm during those minutes, too. If I manage to keep the TV set on, then I start to pace around the room. Finally, I’ll end up turning it off.

Many people I’ve explained this to laugh and say I’m better off for it, but they’re missing the point. I can’t watch TV. It’s physically impossible. My mind won’t be still. The racing thoughts come like an itch at the back of my head that spreads like ants making me jittery. I miss out on shows that I would honestly like to see. Many of my friends watched “Downton Abbey” regularly, and I wanted to join. My brain won’t let me. Their discussions about characters and plot twists are lost on me. It’s a real loss.

I have trouble reading, too. I can only do it in short spurts. Gone are the days when I could sit and lavishly lose myself for hours in the pages of great writing. I complained about that for years to my psychiatrist and then to the nurse practitioner. Nothing seems to help. I’ll just have to take my time working my way through the stack of books from Amazon.

I almost forgot to mention I’ve had two panic attacks in the past month. What joy!

Agoraphobia

A simple definition of agoraphobia is “a pathological fear of being in public places, often resulting in the sufferer becoming housebound.”

Yesterday was supposed to be a happy day of sorts for me. Instead, it was what I would describe as one long panic attack. I had to take my full daily prescribed dose of my anti-anxiety medication to make it through. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of my sobriety. Instead of feeling happy, joyous, and free, I experienced an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and thoughts of impending doom. The panic-attack-like symptoms lasted nearly all day.

I was extremely uncomfortable at the noon meeting I went to and had to sit on my hands to keep from standing and rushing out of the room. I was again uncomfortable during the evening meeting and could not keep my feet still. In both meetings, I had a hard time concentrating.

I have for many years had an unreasonable fear of parking lots. I hate them. I overcome this by having certain rows I go down at certain places, and I never vary. If I can’t park in my regular row, I don’t shop that day.

I have quit my volunteer position at the library’s learning center. I have quit another club I was a member of.

On a continuing note, I can’t watch TV. I simply can’t sit still for it, and I get feelings of high anxiety trying to watch it. I can’t even watch videos on the internet. They make me antsy in the extreme.

I don’t feel like I’m winning against my brain today. I feel broken.

Panic Attack

I had a panic attack this afternoon. I felt my chest tighten, and then it was as if some hand reached up from my gut and clutched my throat. I found it difficult to breathe. Next, the hand reached up and grabbed hold of my brain and squeezed. I was in the throes of a monstrously huge pile of emotions, and I couldn’t begin to make sense of any of it. I simply knew that everything was wrong. Nothing was right.

My thoughts were scrambled. My breath was short. I was crying. All I could do was pray and doubt the validity of prayer at the same time.

I’m calm now but exhausted. I’d say the whole thing lasted 20 minutes. Those were hellish minutes.

I want to withdraw from everything. I don’t want to see anyone right now.

What is it like to have a normal, functioning mind? No racing thoughts. No hallucinations. No grandiose ideas. No suicidal ideation.

I’m tired.

Words. Words. Words.

Anxiety. All the time.

In crowded restaurants.

At the movies.

Wanting to bolt and run and

Scream.

Tears that won’t come.

Welling up.

Behind my eyes.

In my brain.

Wanting to pour forth and drench my face

While I scream.

There’s nothing there.

No reason.

No sound reason.

Just the gut churning

Racing thoughts.

If I had hair,

I’d pull it out and

Scream.

It’s not like ants crawling on my skin.

It’s like ants in my soul.

Soul.

Scream.