My Story – a little bit Bipolar

MY STORY

Health care professional can suffer from mental illnesses too, and I stand proud to announce that I am one of them.

Don’t ever be afraid to share your story!

Where do I even begin?

In my teens, I was treated as an outcast; I was bullied and made to feel small and unimportant. The kids judged me before they even took the time to get to know me.  They said and did hurtful things that still sting to this day. Shouting crude comments, teasing, taunting, harassing, pointing, whispering, eye-rolling, laughing, criticizing, or they left me in silence with no one to turn to, no one to talk to. I was easily rejected because people didn’t want to associate with me. When I did make friends, they weren’t the type of friends that you wanted. They were the type to subject you to the world of drugs and alcohol.

Life became risky, and I became rebellious. I gave little avail to how I was hindering my life and future.
I didn’t care because for once, I was finally feeling something besides hopelessness, fear, and sadness.

FORTUNETALY, a light bulb went off in my brain towards the ending of high school and I made it a goal to at least obtain my High School Diploma.

It was those younger days, when I felt what actual depression felt like. It was sometimes an internal battle of wanting to stay alive and wanting to end all the suffering.

Once high school was over, I entered into a state of equilibrium and it has only been disrupted if triggered by specific incidents, such as a breakup, death, failed friendship, major life change, etc. This state of equilibrium only lasted for a few years, and then as I entered my young adult life, I suffered from constant low-grade depression, with the occasional relapse into Major Depression.

In nursing school, I suffered from debilitating panic attacks. There was nothing worse than feeling like the world was closing in on you; my hands would begin to tremble; my heart would begin to race. My heart would beat so strongly that I was certain that it was going to explode or just stop from extreme exhaustion. My breathing would quicken and my hands would begin to tingle. I would feel like I was breathing but yet no air was getting into my lungs. the lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow. I was more afraid of having another panic attack then of death itself.

Once nursing school finished, so did the panic attacks…. Go figure! Actually, I think they ended up transitioning into generalized anxiety and eventually I was diagnosed with this disorder. At the height of my anxiety driven moments, I remember feeling constantly on-edge, irritable, and constantly worrying about every thought that came into my head. I would make big deals out of minuet things, things the average person would shrug their shoulders too and forget about in the next second.  Everything seemed like a BIG DEAL. And god forbid something ever had to change in my daily routine. It felt like it was the end of the world in most cases. I was fixated on an unfixable schedule. My anxiety ended up getting so bad that it prevented me from attending social gatherings, or even hanging out with friends for that matter. The very thought of having to go to a social event made me want to vomit.

My moods kept cycling between anxiety and depression, but eventually I had enough and decided to reach out for help. I had hit my absolute lowest point in depression and knew I needed help. Lying on the couch, not eating or showering for weeks was a sure sign I was giving up. I needed help!

I pulled myself into my doctor’s office, she knew right away what the problem was when I opened my mouth to speak and all that would come out was a flood of tears.

I was immediately started on an antidepressant, referred to psychiatry, and put on a medical leave of absence for work (which lasted a month and a half).

Something very interesting happened when I was put on the antidepressant, I became activated.

My mood drastically improved. I had an abundance of energy, but my anxiety had returned with vengeance. This was the start of my journey with Bipolar Type 2.

It all started to finally make sense.

My overdriven capacity for change, flood of ideas and tasks, over indulged and hyper focus on new projects, irritability, impulsivity, and the late nights and early mornings. I would get lost in my own thinking. When I had an idea, it had to be done NOW. The lack of impulse control led to purchasing cosmetic procedures and spa treatments, a whole whack of pink stuff, my dog, my vehicle, way too many dresses and books, and a bedroom makeover. I am sure there are more examples, but I think you get the point.

I was started on anti-psychotics, which only made me feel like a zombie.

I do admit, the medications did help to stabilize my mood. I stayed in a neutral state, but I was determined to do it on my own, without chemical medications.

Now please note, I am not discouraging medications by any means. There are many people that require to be on medication for a lifetime and that is perfectly okay. You have to do what is right for YOUR BODY and BRAIN. Before deciding to go off your medication, please consult your doctor first. And NEVER go off of them without tapering the dosage down. Stopping psych-medications abruptly can (and almost always does) result in NASTY side effect, commonly known as withdrawal effects. [Trust me, I learnt the hard way, don’t make the same mistake I did]

My decision to stop taking chemical medication led me to embark on a holistic journey to overcome my own mental health challenges a natural way.

I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU SOME TIPS I HAVE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY THAT I HAVE USED TO MANAGE MY ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION.

  • Educate yourself (about your disorder)
  • Eat a healthy, Well Balanced Diet
  • Get active, get fit
  • Get enough sleep
  • Natural Remedies
  • Practice Mindfulness
  • Pick up a hobby
  • Lean on your Support Network
  • Establish a Daily routine
  • Indulge in Self-Help Books
  • Clear your mind with Journaling
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy, self-guided
  • Consider a Coach or Counselor
  • When in a crisis, seek professional help (ie. doctor or psychiatrist).
  • And so much more.

Having gone through what I went through with my mental health and having to navigate the health care system by myself, was exhausting, if not frustrating, to say the least. It was a lot of trial and error to figure out what worked and what didn’t. I am not going to say it will be easy for you either, but with the help of a coach (like myself), they can direct you and go through the process with you.

You are not alone.

I can now say, without a doubt, that I am feeling my absolute best. I feel healthy, both mind and body. I feel mentally strong, and empowered by my own self-determination.  I feel calm, content, and happy. I feel like I can accomplish any obstacle that comes my way. I have learned to become more aware of myself so I can recognize when “warning” signs or triggers are present. I am able to prevent a relapse from taking hold. I have discovered more about myself and what my body and mind need to stay in a state of equilibrium. I have learned to love myself whole heartedly.

And I learned all this through self-discovery.

I smile again.

And so can you!

~ Rachel Page

Social Anxiety Disorder | A personal story

Social Anxiety, another disorder I am familiar with.

It began in my earlier years, right around the time when the bullying began.

It instilled such fear that I refused to present in front of the class. My assignments would be presented in front of only the teacher at the end of the day. I become isolated, and alone. I was probably thought of as a ‘loner’ at one point. Eating lunch alone, even then I would sit there and worry about what the other kids were thinking about me. If they didn’t speak ignorant words, I knew they were thinking it; rolling their eyes as they walked by.

This fear has followed me throughout my life, and had affected multiple areas of my life.

My greatest challenge was in nursing school, and having to work in groups and present in front of the class, later it was working with ‘actual’ patients. Come to think about it, this is probably when the panic attacks started. Having to face my fears was terrifying, but I knew if I ever wanted to have a career in nursing, and practice safely, then I would just have to ‘suck it up’ and do it. I remember the first time I had to call a doctor. I wrote out everything, according to SBAR, quickly rehearsed it in my mind, then called the doctor. I maybe got 4 or 5 stuttered words out, panicked and hung up.
I made my preceptor call back.

With practice, it has got easier. I still get anxious when having to discuss a patients care with a doctor, but I manage (what choice do I really have?). I usually get anxious with anyone with higher ‘authority’. Probably because I am afraid of saying something incorrect, or not making sense, or afraid of what I ‘look like’. When I get anxious in social situations, I become flushed, I blush, and my body temperature rises. At work, I know I can’t avoid those situations, or else I could compromise the patient, and could lose my job.

The repeated exposure has helped drastically at work, but I still have avoidant behaviours in my personal life with family and friends. I have been known to avoid gatherings with large groups, including family functions. A “large” for me is any gathering consisting of more than 3 people. Usually when I gone out with friends, at most, it has only been with 2 other people. I have missed weddings, parties, birthdays, and random gatherings out of fear. It has affected my relationships with friends and boyfriend’s along the way, and made it difficult to make new friends.

A million thoughts will occupied my mind, and repeat over and over again.

“What if I say something silly? What if I look uncomfortable and awkward? Will they notice how nervous I am? What if my face goes red? What if my voice trembles? What if I don’t make sense or ramble? Will people ask me questions I don’t know the answer to? Will people think I am stupid? Will I have to initiate the conversations? What if I can’t relate to the conversation? What if people wonder why I am being so quiet? What if people think I’m wierd? What if?” Literally the thoughts never end, it’s exhausting.

And simply telling me, “I’ll be fine, suck it up, who cares what they think, or have a drink” or get angry or upset at me, only makes me more anxious. And it’s totally screwed up to think anyone could get upset at you over something you have no control over.

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a 100 foot cliff, and the only way back down is going over the edge, and climbing down a rope latter with some of the steps broken or missing. That is the same intensity of fear I get in some social situations. Sometimes it is easier to just sit down where you are (where you feel comfortable), and not move.

I definitely feel the most comfortable at home; I call it my safe haven. I do go out, maybe once every 2 weeks. Each time is always a struggle, my initial reaction is to cancel plans as the anxiety starts to build due to negative anticipations. It’s frustrating because I love my friends and family, and I should feel the most comfortable around them but my anxiety usually hinders over my trust.

I once had an ex friend get so angry at me because “I could go out with complete strangers (on dates), but I couldn’t hang out with my girl”. Anxiety is a weird thing, it is totally F’ed up. Meeting with strangers felt so much easier because they knew nothing about me, I had an opportunity to only allow what I wanted them to know, when I wanted them to know it. I could put an abrupt end to things if the relationship lacked a connection. I cared less about what they thought. I was in control of those situations.

With my friends, I am an open book. They knew every raw detail. I cared so much about what they thought. I valued their opinions, perhaps too much. I’m not sure why, but I felt like I always had something to prove. My mindset was very damaging to my relationships. Only the strongest relationships were able to survive.

I knew I wanted to change. I needed to changed. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy has really helped me gain back control, and is helping to change my way of thinking. I’m still a ‘work in progress’ but things are changing for the better. I also had to make some difficult decisions with ending some friendships. The purpose was to eliminate the people in my life that held me back, or no longer supported me or served me, grew with me, shared the same values or interests, able to understand me (or took the time to understand) or ride the highs and lows with me. Hardest, but best decision I ever made. Took a very heavy weight off my shoulder.

My journey to self-improvement began with the formulation of specific goals.

1) Decrease social anxiety and gain control
2) Build and sustain meaningful relationships

Then I came up specific tasks to complete each goal.

An example could be, decrease social anxiety by challenging catastrophic or distored thoughts, or slowly integrating different levels of exposure. You really have to be your own cheerleader when it comes to purposely exposing yourself to anxious situations. I’ve had to force myself, but each time always got easier, and I always ended up having a great time. I use reflection to remind myself of the positive experiences I had.

Before you jump into CBT or Exposure Therapy, I would advise that you talk with your doctor to develop a plan together that would work best for you. If it is decided that you would benefit from this type of therapy, you can either purchase a self-help workbook, or you can complete a plan under the care and supervision of a psychologist or trained therapist. I would advise the latter for more severe types of social anxieties or phobias, especially if they are causing significant distress.

-Rachel Page