This month marks my time of late onset bipolar disorder.
What has changed over the past seven years? I often ask myself that same question!
Dear Abuser, I have hated you for more than 6.5 years.
By now, since the launch of our website and blog in March/2016, I hope that many of you have taken a moment to read at least one of the blogs or browsed through the resource library that I have found of value.
As I write this entry, I’ve just noticed that my launch coincides with my 6 year anniversary of my Bipolar Disorder onset. Subliminal? I wonder…
I realize many of you will “get this” as we all tend to do the same; wear the proverbial mask. For others, family, friends, and colleagues, they may not truly understand.
Knowing that, in this day and age, I SHOULDN’T have to wear one but nevertheless must.
In times of anxiety or stress (which is often) when my body would be riddled with every physical, emotional, and mental symptom, I had a pill for that.
When sleep would elude me and I would stare at the clock, willing my fatigued mind, to slip me into a slumber, I had a pill for that.
I was tired however of taking these pills on a regular basis, as to me, it wasn't a healthy coping strategy, it seemed to be the easy way out. In my opinion, this had less to do with my bipolar chemical mix-up but more of a coping issue.
I learned about mindful breathing and focusing on the breath in my cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) classes. Hey, it sounded simple enough! I sat there with my eyes closed and breathed right? Haha! Um, no. Mindful breathing actually takes practice in order to filter out the background noises and thoughts and to refocus on my breathing.
The mindfulness of breathing makes you aware that during the process, that your mind will bounce around from thought to thought, to acknowledge that thought, and bring yourself back to the present.
There are 4 progressive stages of mindful breathing; from beginners to advanced. Practicing mindful breathing is set for 1 minute. In stage 1, you count, breath in, breath out, up to 10 and start over. In stage 2, you begin to "notice" your breath while still doing the counting exercise. In stage 3, you no longer count but just follow the breath in through your nose, down your trachea, as it touches your diaphragm, and the reverse process on the out breath (very lovely feeling). Stage 4 involves only noticing where the breath first touches the tip of your nose.
Even though I've been using mindful breathing for 4 years now, I'm still at state 3, but I'm okay with that as I find that stage very relaxing. I CAN however, breathe like this, without judgement, for extended periods of time, and with my eyes open.
Using mindful breathing is how I put myself to sleep at night, every night. It comes in handy when stuck in traffic or in a customer service lineup when I begin to feel stressed or anxious. My family often asks me how I manage to keep my calm when I am stuck in a grid lock on the 401 or patiently waiting 45 minutes at customer service as they messed up my recent BBQ purchase and couldn't locate it! I stand there or sit there and calmly follow my breath. I've greatly reduced my meds just by appreciating my breath.
There are many free apps (type in mindfulness meditation) on your phone or tablet, that you can download for mindful breathing exercises as well as many YouTube videos that you can follow along with. These sources really help when someone is first learning.
Who knew that when I was 43 years old that someone would teach me how to breathe again but I'm sure glad she did!!
After my onset, I went through a lengthy period of deep depression. Many days were spent either curled up in bed crying or on the couch with the inability to do the simplest of tasks. Personal hygiene flew out the window and I had to be reminded when to shower (still do occasionally).
I can't remember who's bright idea it was to get a puppy but the discussion came up. Everyone was excited to get one and everyone promised to help take care of it.
It had to be a hypoallergenic dog as I had allergies. We knew we wanted a small dog as our home and yard weren't very large. Also, due to my mental and physical state, at that moment, I didn't feel like doing multiple marathons a day to meet the requirements of a larger dog. Everyone did agree that they would help me with walking it though.
We knew we didn't want one from the pet store as around here the stores are provided with their dogs from puppy mills. We started looking online and found an older gentleman, living 4 hours north of us, that had Yorkie puppies for sale.
I was actually EXCITED en route to see our potential new addition to our family! When we got there, the gentleman was walking around his yard; 1 beer in his hand and 1 in each of his side pockets haha! The pups however were in great shape; needed a bath and grooming but were well fed and happy. I saw a tiny male Yorkie and he said, "You don't want him, he's a dud". At that moment I knew he was MY dog! A dud? All because his right ear was bent?
It was love at first site for me; I had a little man to take care of. We brought him home and while sitting around the dining room table with him ON the table, we all threw out names until we unanimously chose "Boomer".
Now when everyone left in the morning for school and work, I HAD to get up and bring this little guy out for his business and I HAD to ensure he had food and water. Boomer is a very sensitive and emotional dog. Not only does he sense and respond to my emotions but he visibly displays his own. He has become a true companion animal for me. I can't help but not laugh over the silly things that he does. I can't help but not melt over the unconditional love that he gives me. I can't help but not be forever grateful that he is in my life as he truly gave me the motivation and the reason to get up. I love Boomer to pieces!
One final note: the family promise to help out with him never happened!!
When we received my confirmed diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II, I'm embarrassed to admit that the first book we purchased was...well..."Bipolar For Dummies". I know it has the word "dummies" but we honestly knew NOTHING about Bipolar Disorder, except the basics, even though Mental Illnesses were in my family.
At one point in my life, before my Bipolar Disorder kicked in, I use to be a fairly eloquent writer. Most people found me to be very intelligent and I was well educated. Now, I was in no means a "Shakespearean-style" writer, with pretty prose, nor a "Steven King-type" writer, using words that could captivate his "faithful readers", but at least I could write.
Graduating with 4 diplomas, with one being an A+ with distinction, would somewhat indicate that I could write intelligent and well formulated essays, independent studies, and assignments. I could prepare and deliver lengthy presentations to audiences, from 10-300, AND be in control and confident!
When my Bipolar Disorder surfaced, I was in tears, mortified, so very deflated, as public speaking was my passion and reading was my love (being a lifelong learner). In the beginning, I couldn't even pick up a book. When I looked at a page, it was like I was reading a new language. Crosswords? HA! Are you kidding me! I had lost my thought processing capabilities for simple things like reading and writing.
Demoralized, I resorted to word search puzzles. Now, they may seem easy for you, but for me, I had a game plan. I would study the page as a whole, just opening my mind, and miraculously words would appear before my eyes. Over time, when I fulfilled and mastered my personal obligation with this brain exercise, I tried another whack at reading, but now I COULD read, one paragraph at a time, AND it made sense!
Soon, I was reading "mind candy" books, just to relish the fact that I could once again read. Then I got hungry for knowledge about Bipolar Disorder; what causes it, treatments, biographies, memoirs, self-help books, you name it I read it and LEARN! If I am to have this disorder, I want to learn EVERYTHING!
Writing was still a major obstacle. Even while I am writing the material for my blog, it is on paper, double-spaced, using a pencil and eraser! I still have a real difficult time with "word processing" and "word finding". I find I'm grasping for the right words when I speak or write. So, I write down, in plain text, of what I want to say, leave it alone (as it will frustrate me to no end), and when I'm doing something mindless (like folding laundry), a better phrase or word will come to me. I drop everything, and head to my journal, and either erase or insert in one of blank spaces.
Since I have challenges now with my frontal lobe (the front portion of your brain for executive functioning), I lose my train of thought easy, requiring total silence, and found that I've turned into a "kinesthetic" learner (hands on) rather that my old visual/auditory learning styles. So typing a rough draft in a word document has "0" benefit for me; I just see a screen with words. Hey, my methods work for me! I've made progress!
I'm hoping, over time, you will also see an improvement in my writing skills and style. That's my hope :)
See you soon!
Laura Marchildon will blog honest and true posts about her real life experiences.