Author Archives: Real Life with Bipolar Disorder - Blog

There’s No Big Red Warning Sign on Toxic People

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Who are toxic people, and how do you keep them out of your life? Toxic people are different for everyone. Psychology Today states, “the hallmark of being in a toxic relationship is about feeling bad after being around the other person.”

Do you have someone in your life you think is toxic? They may well not be toxic to someone else, but the key is knowing what is toxic for you. A toxin is a poisonous substance. So who in your life do you need to keep at a distance? Who makes you feel upset, tired or down. Who brings out poor behaviour in you? These people are probably toxic for you. It can be difficult to determine who is toxic. There’s no big red warning sign on toxic people. You have to figure it out yourself.

Probably the biggest character trait that comes to mind when you think of toxic people is negativity. Negative thinking and negative talking are damaging to your own psyche. People like that can suck your energy and bring you down. You need to be careful when being around negative people. Negativity is contagious. You can absorb it like a sponge. And worst of all, negativity creates stress. Stress is one of the most detrimental triggers for those with bipolar disorder.

Though negative people are perhaps the most well-known toxic people, other character traits to be careful of include people who are overly controlling or are demanding. These types of people can also wreak havoc on your daily life. Other toxic people are those who are jealous, liars or gossipers. These people can continue to cause harm. You should keep these people at arm’s length.

Avoid drama in your life. Drama is over-the-top behaviour and reactions to situations. The overly dramatic person is an attention-seeker who often causes problems where none exists. As a person with bipolar disorder, you have enough challenges in your life without adding to them. Reduce regular contact with the dramatic person in your life. Too much drama can increase your anxiety and, therefore, make it difficult to be relaxed.

Judgmental people are negative thinkers. They can put you down and bring you down. These people will judge you and your disease. And they judge others. That can be equally distressful. Maybe they just don’t understand, or don’t want to understand. Bullies are toxic people too. Bullies create a hateful environment for everyone.

Toxic people can be manipulative and unsupportive. They make you feel uncomfortable. Toxic people tend to be self-centred. Recognize that this is all about them. Not you. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. Choose like-minded people who understand you. When negativity rears its ugly head, don’t let it make a home in your head.


The Necessity of Hope

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“Hope does not deny the present darkness, but it reminds us that dawn is coming” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope is an important aspect of everyone’s life, but even more so for those of us stricken with bipolar disorder. Buried under a mountain of covers, blinds drawn to hide the light, perhaps it’s difficult to see the ray of hope through the eyes of depression. Depression robs us of so many things but hope and our connection to the world are paramount.

So how do you have hope when the world seems to be falling apart around you? When all you can manage is a trip to the bathroom? When you feel lost and frail with nothing to believe in? How do you feel hope then?

Hope is a choice. It empowers you. It gives you a reason to go on—even when you think one doesn’t exist. There’s the hope that comes from inside and then there’s the hope that comes from others. Others can instill the sense of hope in you. They can give you hopeful words and remind you of what is good in your life. But the work of hope needs to come from within.

It’s crucial to focus on the positive. I don’t mean for that to sound like a cliché. I mean it literally. Find something positive, anything. For me, it was the hope to lose weight. It was the hope to spend more time with my family. Hope can make all the difference when the road to recovery seems so long.

Having bipolar disorder is like a psychological trauma. It produces emotional scars. Hope is the key emotion to rehabilitation from this disease. Find that spec of light and follow it. Where will it lead you? There’s hope in that. Seek help for your affliction. There’s hope in that. Hope is the power of possibility. Believe in yourself. There’s definitely hope in that.


Does Anxiety Run Your Life?

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It’s morning. It’s a nice morning. The sun is even shining. I have my mug of Earl Grey tea in hand and I scroll through my Facebook feed on my phone. Something I do pretty much every morning. I stare out the window and my mind begins to wander. It doesn’t go to happy places. It doesn’t enjoy the sunshine as it beams through the window. Nor does it take pleasure in the beautiful blossoms on my neighbour’s tree. Instead, it begins to torment itself.

My mind doesn’t deal well with quiet time. What should be peaceful, turns into its own plague. The worrying begins. My heart starts to race. Before I even finish my tea, I have already created several horrific situations that could arise in my life. My breathing quickens. Mostly, I worry about my children. I worry about what they’re doing. I worry about what they might do. And I worry about every little thing that could go wrong in between. If they are in a vehicle, I stress over will they be in an accident.

I brood about future events—things that may not happen for years. My son wants to be a police officer. That gives me pride, yet great anxiety. And my daughter—well, she’s only 15—15 going on 21 and every little thing that goes on there. She has an allergy to nuts, so that is a constant presence. Their lives unfold in my brain and the anxiety continues to rise. My neck tenses. Sometimes it gets so bad I can feel the pressure behind my eyes—the pressure of my tears trying to escape.

The apprehension doesn’t stop at the kitchen table. Being in a vehicle can be unbearable. It’s not a matter of whether or not I trust the driver. It’s more just a matter of the potential for what could happen. For years I was at the mercy of others to drive me places because being the driver was even more than I could stand. The level of my anxiety left me unsafe to drive.

I seem to worry about every little thing. My family jokes about it, but really it’s quite distressful. For example, I stress out over technology. If I’m doing something out of the ordinary on my computer or phone, my blood pressure seems to rise. A panic feeling sweeps over me. I just imagine losing everything on my computer or my phone becoming inoperable. I know it seems funny to others, but really it’s not.

The nights are just as bad as the mornings. I lay awake at night with my busy brain. My thoughts running wild, again with the worries of the day and the paranoia for tomorrow. If my children are out late, I can’t sleep until they’re safely home. If they’re sleeping elsewhere, I worry about what they’re doing and are they safe. I worry about the last to come home—will they put the house alarm on properly? Of course they will. They always do. Yet I fret.

This is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There is no blood test for an anxiety disorder. And an anxiety disorder cannot be cured. Rather it can only be managed. Predominantly, anxiety is managed by medication. It can also be aided through psychotherapy and relaxation.

I have now begun a high-dose regime of anti-anxiety medication. This, along with my on-going psychotherapy and relaxation techniques, has made a huge improvement. My life has changed because of it. My mornings are more relaxing and I fall asleep with greater ease. I even drive about town on my own. Anxiety is not something to be taken lightly. It can be debilitating—stealing from you the right to a peaceful and relaxing existence. Breathe.

Symptoms of Anxiety (provided by WebMD)
Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
Problems sleeping
Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
Shortness of breath
Heart palpitations
An inability to be still and calm
Dry mouth
Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
Nausea
Muscle tension
Dizziness

My Personal Bipolar Emotions At Work

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This is a weird blog. It’s weird because I’m really writing about something I cannot share. I told you it was weird. I probably won’t be advertising this blog as much as usual for that reason, but if you do come across this blog you’ll notice how different it is from my usual blogs. This blog is mostly about me. For me.

I’ve found over the years, that those of us with bipolar disorder feel things deeper and more strongly than the average person—that’s certainly true for me. It’s harder to deal with things like grief, sadness and anger. I’ve been struggling with sadness and anger for the past year. I thought it would have subsided by now. It hasn’t. Not really. I suppose the fiery edge has been lessened but the underlying feelings have not.

They say it takes time. How much time? And who are “they” anyway? I’m trying to fight my emotions by staying busy and keeping healthy. I’ve just started editing my first fiction novella. It’s called Imagine. It is a romance tale about a woman with bipolar disorder. It’s your typical romance, but it has the added element of bipolar being woven through it. It will likely take a few months to edit and prepare it for publishing. I will be sure to let you know when it is available.

As well, I have joined yoga and line dancing at our local recreation centre. Not only are these two classes great exercise, but they also give me a chance to socialize with others—something I find very difficult. Every time I head out to a class, I feel the anxiety build. But I push through it, and so far it’s been for the better.

And finally, I spend a lot of time during the day with my Mom. We go out for breakfast or lunch and run errands together. It’s fun. We enjoy each other’s company. She’s a good outlet for my feelings—just as good as any therapist I think. I also spend time interacting with friends on Facebook and Twitter—some of which I know personally, others only on-line—either way they are friends. And you can never have too many friends. I also have a couple of real-life friends I actually visit from time to time. My evenings are generally reserved for my family—when everyone is home.

All of these activities help keep my mind off my troubles. They serve as a distraction to my sadness and anger. I wear a mask of sorts. On the outside, I’m doing well. I’m up, dressed, out of the house and interacting with the world. On the inside, I’m suffering. Anniversaries heighten feelings. They have a way of making the wounds so fresh. I sincerely hope that someday this pain will dissipate. I suppose “they” may be right. Perhaps it will only take time. I hope I have enough.

My Mom’s Perspective

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The following post was written by my mom …


My daughter suffers from bipolar disorder. This illness has an impact on all family members (and some close friends) of a person with this disorder. Each family member would experience the impact differently. This is how her illness has affected me.

She was diagnosed about ten years ago at the age of 41. At first there was shock and a lack of understanding. Where did this come from? What caused it? Should I have recognized it long ago? Did I do, or not do, anything that caused it? These are just a few of the questions that went through my mind.

As a mother, I immediately felt the need to fix it. I couldn’t! I could, however, learn everything I could about the illness in general, and her case in particular. I talked to her a lot. I went with her to one of her psychiatrist’s appointments. I read books and searched the internet.

I wanted to be there for her, but what should I do to help? I supported her as best I could by encouraging her and not judging her or her behaviours. When she was overwhelmed by dirty dishes, I washed them. When she couldn’t drive places I took her. I listened to her fears and hopes.

Was I helping too much? Should I do less, or more? I tried hard not to over react to mood swings. I did not want to enable behaviours that were not helping her but it was not easy to know what was appropriate and what was counter productive.

As difficult as this experience has been for my daughter and her family, I am so proud of her. She has climbed out of a dark hole and works diligently to stay on top of her symptoms. The silver lining (I believe) is that our relationship, which was always good, has grown and developed enormously. We are more than mother and daughter, we are friends!


A Spring Face-lift

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Yes, you’re in the right place!

Real Life with Bipolar Disorder has received a face-lift. If you are one of my followers who receives blog post updates automatically via email, you may be receiving multiple previous blog posts. This is because as I make changes to each blog, unfortunately, they are re-posted and you will receive the blog again. I apologize for this. I’m sure it is frustrating. I am trying to find a way to avoid this.

I have not completely worked out all the bugs yet, so this site is still under construction. As always, I welcome your comments either by leaving them here on the blog, or by sending me an email. Go to the contact page to see which way is easiest for you.

I guess you could say I had the spring bug and wanted to freshen up the page. I hope you like the changes.

Cynthia


Friendship

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I’ve lost a lot from bipolar disorder, not the least of which has been friends. I’ve lost money, a career, and my physical and mental health, but it’s been the friendships that I’ve lost that have hurt the most. I lost numerous acquaintances, and that hurts. But to me, the heartache came with the loss of true friendships. Or at least what I thought were true.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a friend as someone you like, someone you enjoy being with; a person who helps and supports someone. It’s that last part that is tricky. If my “friend” helped and supported me, I guess they’d still be my friend. Everyone needs friends. I think even self-proclaimed loners need at least one good friend. Maybe that friend is their spouse. Friendships are important in life. They give us a lot—as much as we give to them.

Maybe that’s where the inherent problem comes from. Someone with bipolar disorder is not always in a state to give. First there’s the likely self-esteem issue and, of course, the potential social anxiety—both of which can make friendships difficult. Adding fuel to the fire comes in the form of depression. When the person with bipolar is depressed they tend to push others away. They are low-energy and often times will hibernate in their homes, or even their bedrooms. They are very non-social and frequently cancel plans.

Then comes the mania. At first blush, it may appear that a manic time is when the friendship would blossom—and it can. At least at first. There is the partying, the shopping, the loud music, and the joking; but then comes the risk-taking, the irresponsibility and the dangerous side of mania. And worse yet comes the rapid-cycling. Swinging moods from one extreme to the other. How can that do anything but wreak havoc on a friendship? 

I guess for me the question is not knowing why. For me, why did I lose three extremely good friendships? One of 5 years, one of 10 and one of 17. I think it was the cycling, the irresponsibility and the unpredictability that went along with it. But it was sad. It was sad how such deep and meaningful relationships could be set a fire. How they could be thrown by the way-side without even an explanation. For me, it was so devastating that I took to my bed and didn’t rise for two years. It was like the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. It was simply more than I could handle.

Now, I have a few new friends, and two awesome best friends—the kind of friends that everyone dreams of. And surprisingly, they both have bipolar disorder. I think that kind of friendship works best. We understand each other’s ups and downs. We get each other. There are no demands and no expectations—merely friendship.

If you’re a friend to someone with bipolar disorder please don’t dismiss their friendship. There’s a lot you can do to help them fight their illness. Read my blog on How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder. Don’t be a statistic—another loss to bipolar disorder. Maybe your friend doesn’t know how to articulate it to you, but they need you. They need their friend.

I consider myself a good friend. I’m caring and attentive. I’m compassionate. I’m giving and accepting. I don’t judge. I just don’t know how I didn’t warrant that in return. I expected understanding and patience. It’s sad that people dump their friends—especially when they need them the most. I expected loyalty. Despite my health. Despite anything.



Happy Anniversary

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March marks the first anniversary of Real Life with Bipolar Disorder. When I started writing this blog, I never thought for a moment that I’d still be writing it a year later. I’ve covered so many topics—from weight gain to sleep issues, from self-harm to self-medicating—and so much in between. I’ve seen 40 blogs hit this page in the year that has passed. That’s about 39 more than I planned—not a bad first report card.

I don’t know if it’s something to be happy about or not—that is, the fact that there is a need for this blog—the fact that bipolar disorder actually exists. But it does, and there definitely is the need. So many people are searching for information and support. I’m happy to be able to provide that, at least in some way. And I’m happy for all the new people I’ve met along the way. There are so many wonderful bloggers out there. Some new ones, and some that have been doing this a lot longer than me. I learn from other bloggers every day. And for that I’m happy.

And I’m happy for my current health. I’m in a state of recovery or remission—though those terms are controversial in the bipolar world—I certainly am in the best place I’ve been since being diagnosed in 2005. Ten years ago! It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I’ve been through so much since that time. I’ve been manic, I’ve been depressed, and I’ve even lived through a mixed episode. So, I suppose I should be happy for the state that finds me now. The state that has me up and dressed most days, out of the house doing things, and actually being productive most of the time.

I’m happy for my readers and for all the support and encouragement along the way. I’m always happy to receive your comments, emails, tweets, likes and shares. Please keep them coming, for some days they really keep me going. So, I guess then, it is really full of “happy.” So, Happy Anniversary to me!

PS/ Today is World Bipolar Day—a day to raise awareness and stomp out stigma.



How to Explain Bipolar  to Someone

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I guess it depends who you’re talking to to determine what you say. If you’re explaining bipolar disorder to your neighbour who has somehow found out, that would be a lot different that explaining it to your best friend or close family member.

If I were explaining bipolar disorder to my neighbour – which actually I wouldn’t since I have lousy neighbours – but say it was an acquaintance, I would keep it simple. Just the basic facts. I would probably say something like, bipolar disorder is a condition of the brain that effects your mood.

Now, if I were explaining it to my best friend or a close family member, I would definitely add more detail. I would explain about the neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain that don’t fire correctly or are at a deficit. And that these transmitters are responsible for controlling mood, feelings and behaviour. I would also explain that it’s a life-long, chronic, progressive disease and that it requires medication and therapy to control. I would explain about the mania – oh the mania – the euphoric highs and what they look like, but also, sometimes the dysphoria and the anger and aggression that goes with that. Then, of course, are the lows – the deep, dark depressions that can be all-consuming.

You would also have to explain that medication doesn’t always work. That it can take years to find the right blend, or “cocktail” of meds that work particularly for you. And then, that changes can occur in your brain that can stop your cocktail from working. And most importantly, though there are triggers (and you should explain your particular ones), sometimes these changes occur for no reason. And that you can’t control the triggers or the changes. I think that’s an important part for people to understand. People with bipolar disorder absolutely cannot control the changes in their brain chemistry. However, you should explain that this condition can be managed. It can be managed by self-care – things like proper sleep, routine, nutrition, exercise (see my blog on self-care) – knowing your triggers and avoiding them, seeing your therapist and psychiatrist and remaining med-compliant.

But most importantly the person needs to know that it’s not your fault. That you didn’t ask for this disease. And that they can help (see my blog on helping someone with bipolar). They can help in so many ways, but particularly in understanding the illness. Have them read a book on the subject or direct them to particular websites. Knowledge of bipolar disorder is paramount in understanding and caring for someone with it. If nothing else, I would encourage (or plead) for them to read about bipolar, for that is where the real understanding will come from.



How to Explain Bipolar  to Someone

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I guess it depends who you’re talking to to determine what you say. If you’re explaining bipolar disorder to your neighbour who has somehow found out, that would be a lot different that explaining it to your best friend or close family member.

If I were explaining bipolar disorder to my neighbour – which actually I wouldn’t since I have lousy neighbours – but say it was an acquaintance, I would keep it simple. Just the basic facts. I would probably say something like, bipolar disorder is a condition of the brain that effects your mood.

Now, if I were explaining it to my best friend or a close family member, I would definitely add more detail. I would explain about the neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain that don’t fire correctly or are at a deficit. And that these transmitters are responsible for controlling mood, feelings and behaviour. I would also explain that it’s a life-long, chronic, progressive disease and that it requires medication and therapy to control. I would explain about the mania – oh the mania – the euphoric highs and what they look like, but also, sometimes the dysphoria and the anger and aggression that goes with that. Then, of course, are the lows – the deep, dark depressions that can be all-consuming.

You would also have to explain that medication doesn’t always work. That it can take years to find the right blend, or “cocktail” of meds that work particularly for you. And then, that changes can occur in your brain that can stop your cocktail from working. And most importantly, though there are triggers (and you should explain your particular ones), sometimes these changes occur for no reason. And that you can’t control the triggers or the changes. I think that’s an important part for people to understand. People with bipolar disorder absolutely cannot control the changes in their brain chemistry. However, you should explain that this condition can be managed. It can be managed by self-care – things like proper sleep, routine, nutrition, exercise (see my blog on self-care) – knowing your triggers and avoiding them, seeing your therapist and psychiatrist and remaining med-compliant.

But most importantly the person needs to know that it’s not your fault. That you didn’t ask for this disease. And that they can help (see my blog on helping someone with bipolar). They can help in so many ways, but particularly in understanding the illness. Have them read a book on the subject or direct them to particular websites. Knowledge of bipolar disorder is paramount in understanding and caring for someone with it. If nothing else, I would encourage (or plead) for them to read about bipolar, for that is where the real understanding will come from.