Category Archives: Panic Attacks

A Day in My Life!

Like most people with a mental illness, I spend way too much time in my own brain. That’s where a lot of the anxiety breeds as I focus on my own thoughts and ideas. In fact, one tactic that I use to prevent panic attacks is to start to point out specific visual things around me. For example, “The clock says it is 9:10 in red numbers; there is a small red light in the bottom right hand corner to show that it is PM”

So for this blog I thought I’d post some photos of a “day in my life”.  These past few days I’ve been paying more attention to life around me wondering “hmm…what should I take pictures of”. I would recommend trying it for a few days and see if it helps get you out of your brain into the world around you.

 

So what do you think? Do you have other ways to help me get out of my anxiety filled brain?

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Sounds of Bipolar

Here’s the transcript of the audio that I posted Sunday.  Hubby said I needed to add it for the “people out there who are visual”.  Gotta love being married to someone who is completely opposite of you. 

When I read the Word Press weekly writing challenge, The Sound of Blogging, I was intrigued, but wary. So many questions began rushing through my head, “How can I use this to connect more with my readers?” “Do I even want to?” “Is the sound of my voice too personal, or too vulnerable?” The answers were “No—I don’t really want to” and “yes, it seems too personal and vulnerable”. And, like a lot of things in life—that meant I should probably do it. Like “no I don’t want to eat my vegtables” and “yes it would be good for me” One of the goals of this blog is for me to grow in the confidence and openness of a woman who ‘surfs’ the waves of bipolar. This seemed like a good stretch for that.

Once that was decided, I had to answer the next series of questions—how does sound affect my journey? So many great, wonderful, fantastic ideals zoomed around my brain! The sound of my breath, guided imagery tapes, frequency music, tuning forks, my husband’s voice, my voice, chanting.  WOW I could do them all, they are all such great ideas how could I just choose one—WAIT! Slow down. As you can tell, I’m feeling a bit manic today. 

And they are all great tools and techniques, that I will probably share at one point. But the sounds that most affect my journey are the ones that other’s don’t hear. The voices and sounds in my head.

First, there are the voices that do not sound like my own. The voice that said, “Don’t take that medicine, your parents are trying to poison you”. “Hide behind that couch, someone outside might be looking to shoot you” “Don’t go near that person, remember when they abused you?” Thank goodness the medicine and therapy have helped me get these under control. They are terrifying and dehibiltating. And I only had a very very minor experience with them compared to many others I know.

Then there is the noise my brain creates. While you might think of them as just thoughts, for me during panic and anxiety attacks they are so much more. They are literally noise clamoring in the back of my head for attention. I grasp pieces here and there as each screams to be heard over the others. The words sound louder than any I am experiencing externally.

Finally, I find the last one hardest to explain. It hits me during times of anxiety and it sounds like very loud white noise. Static, beeping, sirens. Sounds that block out everything else. Which is sometimes good since they are more pleasant than the anxious thoughts—but they give me a headache in less time than it took you to listen to this post.

I’m sure this is not what the writers of the challenge were thinking of? But when do I ever do what’s expected or normal? They probably were thinking of an uplifting song, birds chirping in the spring time, or the sound of your lover’s voice whispering sweet nothings.  Now, I like and appreciate all of those—but sometimes they don’t seem as overpowering as the sounds I discussed. I’m hoping they will become more prominent in my mind as I move along in my journey.

It’s like that question (which I always hated and never thought I’d find a purpose to use)—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it—does it still make a sound?  If the noise is just in my head and no one else can hear it—does it still make a sound?

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How I like to spend my weekends: Part Four (aka: The END!)

I know I try to post Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday–but I had a bad two days so you’ll have to excuse me. I know everyone has been waiting to hear about the conclusion of the emotional meltdown I had a few weeks ago….

Well hold onto your paddles because here it is!

The events of last weekend reminded me that I often take my awesome support system for granted.  My sister is in medical school so she’s always there to remind me that my “neurotransmitters just don’t communicate the way other people’s do” (usually more technical than that) and my husband is so attractive that just looking at him can make me feel less depressed.  However, my mom is the one who knows how to handle me the best.  She knows how to handle me depressed, during a panic attack, anxious, manic, hormonal…you get the drift.  Her support seems so natural now that sometimes I forget how hard we had to work to get to that place.

At one point last weekend Sidney said “Nicole everything you’re saying is ridiculous!”.  Which my mind translated as “You are being an overly emotional female and I don’t care about your feelings” (few neurotransmitters remember?!).  So I yelled at him: “Don’t ever say that again…put that on your ‘no-no’ list.” Sidney mumbles: “…if only I had one of those”.

Now in the situation, I did not realize the genius of the “no-no list”, but the next morning I began thinking about it, bemoaning that he didn’t handle the situation as well as mom could have.  Poor poor me…and then in the middle of my pity party, I began to remember.  Mom did not come by that naturally.  In fact, it was a lot of hard work to get to a point where she can help me.  It involved a lot of trial and error, where she said something that made the situation worse, I yelled, we misunderstood, we argued, cried.  You know—tried to ride the waves together….

But one thing that we both strove to do was communicate on our feelings and what was going on in our heads.  To someone who never has had a mental illness it’s nearly impossible to understand the disjointed thinking that occurs during something like a panic attack.  That is where your openness with your support team comes in.

The next morning, when Sidney and I were both feeling better, we had what I like to call a “de-briefing” . I made him take me to IHOP for it as bacon makes everything better!  So over some yummy stuffed French Toast, I tried to explain as clearly and detailed as possible what I was feeling during that time and what was helpful/unhelpful.  I like using analogies and images that others will be able to relate to (I find animals quite useful — a woodpecker picking at your brain, a hamster spinning a wheel, a panther stalking a gazelle….).

My advice? Be patient. Lucky for your support team, they likely have never experienced what you’re going through…so hopefully during these “de-briefing” times you will be able to work with them to develop a “lessons learned” list. Keep in mind, our relationship with everyone is different and what works for one person will not always work for the others (for example: kissing me till I forget about it only applies to Sidney).  Keep your expectations realistic: they’re human too.  Remember, they do love you and they do want to help—so working with them will hopefully make it easier on everyone….

Lastly, remember a “de-brefing” is also a time for you partner to share with you what they were thinking/feeling/observing and for you to develop your own “no-no” list. Listen for that!

So funny quote to conclude–after that incident I related to this Text from last night (please tell me you know what that is!)
(406): Dude, so much s*** has happened to me, I had to make a list to take to therapy so I can remember it all

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How I like to spend my weekends….Part Three

The overly used phrase “It takes two to tango”, is very applicable in most situations, and this one is no exception (maybe that’s why it’s so overused…). But the goal of this post is not to detail Sidney’s role in the conflict. While I get his approval and blessing on every blog related to him, he is not the one who chooses to reveal his personal life on the internet.  He’s just the lucky one to be married to me (oh and he’s the Corporate Director of Brand Strategy—it says so on his business cards. Or it will, when I -aka “he” – designs them).

Anyway, what I want to explore in this post is how his actions in the conflict affect my relationship with him. I am having two key struggles: How do I trust him again? And, how do I control my actions regardless of his response?

Question One: How do I trust him again?

I believe I was hurt more than Sidney in this particular conflict (he’d agree). Each person has vulnerable areas that hurt more than others when poked; my illness is mine (along with my funny bone…that hurts like **** when it gets poked). Some of Sidney’s actions that evening hurt me deeply, and put a crack in the trust I have in him. As a result, I question my commitment to allow Sidney to see and be a part of my illness.

Part of me is tempted to let him go to bed next time and then break down in the guest room and hide my pain from him. Besides there’s less clothes in the guest room for me to throw around and that would make clean-up easier. I want to handle the situations myself so he does not have the opportunity to hurt me. But the other part of me knows my husband loves me dearly, wants to help, and it takes time to work through the best ways to handle these situations.

God says there is no limit on forgiveness; but is there a limit on the number of times I open myself to hurt? And how do I determine what that limit is? After hours of thinking, reading, and discussions with my therapist I developed these guidelines:

  • Is there an underlying theme that causes their poor reaction? For example, are they close-minded, stubborn, or insensitive?
  • If yes, is this characteristic evident in other areas of your relationship? Watching for this charateristic in other situations can help you determine if it will continue to affect their reaction to your illness.
  • Is it simply a lack of understanding? If so, are they willing to listen and learn? Do they express a desire to do better in the future?
  • Most importantly, do they understand they hurt you and regret their actions?

Exploring these questions is tough, not a lot of fun, but important (say like eating your veggies or exercising)! But it can be useful in your relationships with your spouse and also others in your life.

Question Two: In a meltdown, how do I remain in control of my actions regardless of his?

When my therapist first asked me this question it felt like I was inviting Sidney to be a part of my illness, but expecting him to fail. Not a good attitude for any situation in marriage and I have more faith in Sidney than that. But after more talking I was able to identify a healthier view of the question.

Here’s an analogy of that view—Suppose I’m going on a road trip alone. It’d be important for me to know how to change a tire in case I got a flat along a deserted highway (and let’s pretend I had lost my cell phone so there was no way to call AAA—which is not that hard to pretend knowing my history!). So as I’m driving merrily along singing “Baby Baby Baby, oh Baby baby baby” (Justin Beiber—don’t pretend you don’t know that song) at the top of my lungs, I hit a broken beer bottle (I’m on a deserted highway after all!) and my tire goes flat. I pull off to the side of the road annoyed, but prepared. I know how to handle this problem by myself. But then, I turn around and riding in on a white horse (deserted highways in my fantasy world are the best!) is a ruggedly handsome cowboy. He swings off his horse in one fluid motion, removes his beat up Stetson and says “It’d be my pleasure to help ma’am?”. Of course my plan of doing it alone is abandoned and I let the cowboy help me out.

While a long-winded analogy—the short version is this. I have plans and tools to handle my mental illness alone. Yet, God blessed me with supportive family and friends who, during some of my more difficult moments, will ride in to assist me.

Final thoughts:

I’m pretty comfortable with my answer to the second question. I’ve started working on adjusting my mindset to including the possibility (but not guarantee) that assistance might be available. And while Sidney doesn’t have a white horse, he looks damn sexy stepping out of his sports car.

The first question I’m still working through.  I know my husband loves me (he married me after all!) and sincerely wants to help me so I’m not giving up yet.  It might take a while, but fortunately marriage means we have “till death do us part”. I personally think him purchasing a white Stetson would be a great start.

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How I like to spend my weekends….Part Two

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to speak to anyone else’s mental illness or situation. Each individual is different and I know there are many whose disease and struggles are much more severe than mine. As I am not a mental health professional, I do not claim to draw lines in the sand regarding personal responsibility and control in mental illness.  Now—that sounds the laundry list of side effects read on drug commercials as the patient skips happily through the meadow picking flowers with her dog–but in plain English I mean this.  Supporters—I do not know the consumer in your life and I speak only for my own condition. Do not make any assumptions or create expectations for your family/friend based on my ramblings.

Now, please take a moment to silence all cell phones and enjoy the show.

As much as I’d like to deny it, I played a role in the marital conflict that resulted from my meltdown. Looking back as a completely objective third party, there are a few small tiny things I could have done differently (haha ok…big things I needed to change!).

Turn on loud, obnoxious neon signs or red alerts!

Have you ever seen the app for guys that sends warning messages when the lady in their life is beginning their cycle? It sends messages like “red alert” and “bring home flowers”. While humorous, I think there value in the app. How much easier is it to handle things when you are expecting them? For example, I know to expect Sidney to be in a bad mood when Virginia Tech football loses a game. Therefore, he more likely to be irritable if I ask him to say—admire some new lip gloss, than he normally would be.

Sidney is working with me to learn the signs and trace the symptoms of upcoming panic attacks and melt downs. But, it’s still my body, I still hide things from him, and much to my frustration-he can’t read my mind (as he continues to remind me)!  I saw the signs of a meltdown coming and I should have pointed them out to him to prepare him for a possible incident.

The answer all guys love, more communication!

When I was spiraling into the depression during the evening, I should have communicated to Sidney what was happening. On some level I tried to, but I did not use our agreed upon “code words” to really clue him into seeing this was my mental illness. During the early stages I still realized what was going on around me and had enough control to communicate to him what was wrong. Not as concisely as I would be able to during our “debrief” (more on that later!), but more clearly than I did.  Code words make us sound like mental illness geniuses, but are less than helpful if I don’t use them!  (Oh BTW: our “code words” are certain words we use to describe emotions or events to distinguish “normal” from “mental illness” )

Affirmation, Affirmation, Affirmation

God said, “It is not good for man to be alone, so he created woman”.  I love reminding Sidney of that verse when he wants alone time and I want attention…but it might be a bit out of context then!

In a marriage, we are meant to walk together. We are meant to ride the waves of challenges, success, struggles, joys, and even VT football losses together.  God made me so Sidney wouldn’t have to be alone (pretty awesome for him!), but I left him alone. I retreated into my own mind and left him outside of the situation. In his aloneness he assumed I was mad at him, or blaming the situation on him. This misunderstanding resulted in challenges later in the night; challenges that might have been avoided if I had simply reminded him that I loved him and was not blaming him. Guess God knew what he was talking about when he said “it’s not good for man to be alone”…go figure right?!

Practically: I could have held his hand, faced toward him not away, or asked him to pray with me. I did not need to focus all my attention on him (I did need to focus on using my tools), but I could have included him more in the beginning stages.

Hindsight is 20/20?

There are all good lessons to learn, but a key question is—with my mental illness did I have the capacity to do these actions? A really hard question I struggle with during these moments is: “Where is my personal level of responsibility?”  I have an illness, my brain wiring got put together by an intern—and sometimes under the right amount of pressure, instead of turning into a diamond, it combusts. Somewhere in all of that, I have to take responsibility for my actions, but at when do I pass the point of my “control”?

For me, in this conflict—I had the cognitive capacity (maybe not 100% but still enough) to make healthy choices up to the point of getting out of the car and walking into our house. Now granted, the expectations were lower than when I am healthy—for example, giving Sidney a basic explanation of the situation but not all the details I gave him in the “debrief”. Or holding his hand to prevent aloneness, but not initiating in a long intimate conversation. But at the point of entering our apartment, I needed an external influence (ex: medication, time, Sidney’s help) to re-ground me in reality and pull me out of my head. I never want to be the victim, but I do believe when I began destroying my room I had lost a significant amount of cognitive capacity and needed help.

Now with more severe diseases like schizophrenia and psychosis it might be clearer when the illness takes over. But for me and my support team, the lines are fuzzy. When am I at full capacity and therefore, full responsibility? When am I slightly in control, with lower levels of responsibilities? And at what point do I cut myself some slack and understand that the bipolar had taken over my brain? I have not been able to generalize answers to these questions; instead it seems to be very situational. But I do think they are important questions to consider and discuss with my team.

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How I like to spend my weekends….

One phrase I love to quote is, “Make sure you pass the test the first time, so God doesn’t have to give it to you again.”  Well, I will most definitely be taking that test again. Let’s rewind to last weekend.

The signs were all there: I was on a manic swing the beginning of the week and not sleeping, and then I crashed hard towards the weekend. Work was stressful, circumstances had led me to question my ability to EVER hold a job (clearly some dysfunctional thinking going on there!), and family life was a bit crazy. It was the Perfect Storm, and just like the movie, no one was coming out alive.

My husband is awesome and very supportive. We had recently gone to therapy together to develop a plan for handling this swing season (July and August). We’re both smart people (after all we have master’s degrees from the Mecca of the Midwest), so we totally had this.  My husband had excelled in his strategic management class so he was ready with a SWOT analysis to tackle these next few months. Bipolar had nothing on us.

Um…how quickly we were humbled.

So Saturday arrives, I had to drive two hours to a cousin’s bridal shower—sit through all my older aunts asking me when I was having kids!—and then drive two hours home. When I got home, I had some extra stress energy rolling around and thought Sidneywould be willing to help um “release” some of that (trying to keep it PG here!). He kindly and gently turned me down, which is a perfectly natural and acceptable part of marriage. However, to my imbalanced mind that “rejection” was the final tear in the rope of mental stability I had been desperately clinging too.

As I plummeted towards the raging rapids below, I realized I had to pull myself together to go to dinner with an old professor and then a movie with some friends. I didn’t have time to do any cognitive behavior therapy, work out, get a slushie, or use any of the other wonderful tools I have. I simply touched up my make-up and put on a nicer outfit. Now, a piece of wonderful advice my sister passed down to me was “when you’re having a bad or long day, looking cute always helps”. It’s great older sister advice, really. And normally it works. But my husband had just turned me down remember? So in my mind, I was clearly not attractive.

And so the evening went, constant thoughts were swirling around in my head of my worthlessness, the desire to hurt myself, feelings of anxiousness, panic, etc. I was a walking DSM diagnosis of a crazy person. Sidney was concerned and asked what was wrong several times. I briefly tried to explain to him that I was feeling worthless and disliking myself and anxious but did not use our code words or a detailed explanation.  Instead, I crawled into my own head to have a party with the dysfunctional thoughts. Lots of beer and vodka shots being passed around up there.

He realized I was not going to let him in and we rode home in silence. I walked in the front door, straight into my room, and proceeded to have a melt down. I wanted to hurt and destroy myself, but knew that wasn’t an option. So instead I began destroying my room (clearly the rational thing to do)—I have done it before, but very very rarely. I emptied all my dresser drawers on the floor (and not in neat piles either). Took off my clothes, threw them across the room and collapsed into a naked ball on the floor. All the while mumbling to myself.

Sparing you the details, the next two hours consisted of closet time on my part, ignoring me on Sidney’s, and yelling on both. It finally culminated when I had enough sense to take my medicine and crawl into bed (needed my mom bad then, she always seems to remember to give me medicine as soon as it starts. Do moms ever stop being right?!). I then proceeded to cry myself to sleep and not move for 12 hours.

At first glance, it can sound like a temper tantrum I likely threw when I was five. I was quite dramatic even at an early age. In fact, one time when I was two I cried and cried and cried when my dad put me to bed. Finally, I stopped and when he came to look in, I had taken off all my clothes (including my diaper!) and curled up to sleep on the floor….sound familiar?!

But here there were a few key differences. I was not mad—I didn’t try to break anything, I purposely avoided hurting Sidney or throwing anything in his direction. I cried, but never yelled anything hateful at Sidney. The feelings were directed at the “voices in my head”. I was not crying or tying to get my way, I was just channeling intense unexplainable feelings of depression and anxiety into action. As the case with many of these “episodes”, I do not even recall the actual events. Majority of what I remember are glimpses here and there but primarily the feelings leading up to and after it.

All in all, quite a fun night for us both….

Now that I’ve set the stage, the next three posts will look at this “episode” from a few different angles!

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