More Panic

I woke with a jolt at 1 AM last night. My heart was pounding harder than I could imagine possible. I had been dreaming that I was being executed by electric chair.

In my waking life, I feel OK. I manage to get through the days OK. When I look in the mirror, I generally feel OK. OK? Waking with a pounding heart? OK?

On one level, I’m fine. On another level, I feel awful. It’s not an unreasonable feeling after the tumultuous January I suffered through. My parents disowned me. My job is changing radically, and my salary is being slashed.

I really would like a month off.

I have no idea what else to say. I feel awful right now.

Panic upon Waking

I realized yesterday as I was carefully going through my day that I’ve been waking in a panic often the past six or seven weeks. It’s just a sign of the trauma my parents caused by disowning me. I know I have much to be thankful for even in that awful experience. I know that I am better off without their judgmental attitudes in my life, but I cannot escape the ideals that I hold inside.

I have ideals that American culture gave me about how parents and children are supposed to relate to each other. They’re part of my core. I can’t get rid of them, but I can hope to soften them with time and education.

Last evening, I meditated before bed, and I did not wake up panicking this morning. I have no idea if there’s causation there, but I’m going to keep doing it.

Today, I’m back at work, and I’m being very careful what I allow into my scope of consciousness. As my best friend put it, “curate” your experiences. I’m choosing what I’m giving my attention to. I’m open to surprises – I have to be – but there’s a lot I can control about what I give my time to. This is more of being gentle with myself.

My meditation this morning was medium length, and it was good. I used the guided visualization again like I’ve been doing, but it led me to a quiet place where I could sit and just breathe. It’s so healing.

If you think you want to try meditating, it’s not as difficult as most of us imagine. You don’t have to be a guru. Here’s how:

Sit in a chair with a good back. Close your eyes, and relax as best you can. Breathe in deeply, exhale forcefully three times. Then just breathe normally. Count your breaths. An inhale and its exhale are one breath the way I count.

Now, your mind is going to start wandering and maybe even bombarding you with thoughts. Don’t get upset. That’s the mind’s job. Recognize the thought. Actually give it thanks for the reminder. Then return to counting breaths starting at one again.

A new thought will interrupt your counting. This is not a failure. Recognize the thought, thank it, and return to counting breaths. Do this over and over. You may want to set a timer. Start with five minutes. Over the course of weeks or months, you can increase the time. Do what feels right for you. This is not a race. You are not in competition with anyone.

Eventually over the course of months, you can stop counting and just breathe. I’ve been meditating for years. I still get thoughts in the middle of breathing. I recognize them, thank them, and quietly return my attention to my breath.

That’s it. That’s all meditation is. It is incredibly helpful.

To keep it honest, I have to tell you that I’ve returned to using a guided visualization technique in my morning meditation because of the traumas I suffered in January. I need the structure to help me keep my mind focused and still.

A long time ago for meditation, I created My Happy Place. I wrote about it on this blog ten years ago. You can read about it here. Basically, it’s a place I can go in my mind that is required to always be pleasant. There are elements in it that allow me to refresh myself, and there are other elements where I can pass through gates, over bridges, or through doors that allow me to gradually become even more relaxed and gain more focus.

You can create your happy place and furnish it just exactly as you want. Give it a try. It’s incredibly refreshing. I always feel better after imagining a visit there.

Dating Again

Last night, the man I call my ex came to dinner. I invited him earlier in the week, and he agreed.

I didn’t cook anything elaborate: pasta with pesto, garlic toast, and salad.

I began to get nervous in the morning yesterday, and by the afternoon, I was scared. The fear was coming out in lots of very odd ways. It was focused on all different kinds of objects. I was afraid of stuff at work. I got worried about retirement, which is a long way off.

I was able to chat with my best friend, and just being heard helped me calm down for a while. Then, I got home, and I was honestly panicking. I was certain I was going to lose my job and live on the streets. I was positive that all the changes I’ve made in my life in the past 3 or 4 years were disasters. I told myself I should have never taken my present job and should have stayed on disability.

All of this was redirected anxiety about the date. The truth was I was scared of seeing him again. I was scared of rejection.

My best friend helped me remember to concentrate on one thing at a time. All I had to do was prepare the garlic toast and salad and cook the pasta. That’s all I had to do. So I concentrated on preparing dinner. It was very simple to cook the pasta. The whole thing was easy, but it felt good to get into the actions in the kitchen.

And it paid off nicely. We had a good evening. I kept the conversation light. We had some laughs. The whole evening was good.

The result is he’s no longer my ex. We’re dating. Now comes the hard part for me. I have to allow this relationship to develop slowly and at its own pace. I can’t rush.

I’m going to have to allow. Allow. That word is foreign to me.

Allow.

I’m going to have to use meditation techniques to the fullest.

I’m going to have to breathe through this.

Try

Few clichés make me angrier than Yoda’s “Do or do not. There is no try.” I sit here in my imperfection, and I want the world to know that sometimes simply trying is heroic.

I remember one bout of depression that was so profound the only effort I could make was to lie on the sofa and sing “la la la” over and over. I barely had enough energy to brush my teeth. Singing “la la la” to myself while I was prostrate and immobile was all the effort I could muster.

I will not apologize for not being a superhero.

If you try to do one simple thing to take care of yourself today, you’re my hero! If you sit up on the side of the bed and stand up and walk to the sink to brush your teeth, you’re my hero! If you put on clean clothes despite the voices in your head telling you it’s not important, you’re my hero! If you wash one dish from your pile of dirty ones so you can look at a pretty plate under your cheese sandwich, you’re my hero!

All you have to do today is try! Don’t let Hollywood tell you that if you’re not a super-model or superhero, then you’re worthless. Don’t listen to the news. Don’t listen to the internet.

Don’t listen to Yoda!

If you’re breathing despite all the anxiety or depression or mania or voices, you’re a hero!

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.

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.