“They say ignorance is bliss, some other people with mental illness don’t see their descent but I do. I can see myself slipping. I can see the rational side and the logical side but I don’t believe it, I still believe the irrational side and I’m afraid of losing myself” I say to my psychologist and she replies “Good! That fear is what always drives you to get help. Your insight is what has kept you out of hospital this long.” I’m back in her office to see whether or not she thinks I should make a trip back to see The Doc, to see if she has tips on how to not be completely swallowed up by my symptoms. “See your psychiatrist in the next week or two” she tells me, she wouldn’t leave it longer than that she says.
She is right. My insight and fear of losing myself to mania or even depression serve a great purpose. I fight very hard to stay functional because I simply cannot afford to stop working. As much as I may need a break sometimes and desperately want to stop working, I know that the world does not stop turning and it won’t stop for me. Life keeps going and I have to be able to function. I cannot afford to strain my marriage; I cannot let my life fall into disarray because now I am accountable to someone. My husband is tremendously affected by my mental health and for the sake of our marriage I have to be able to function. Being high functioning while afflicted with bipolar, OCD and ADHD is very important to me. My psychologist told me that the fact that I was able to move out of the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a tremendous achievement. I may still have Borderline Personality traits but I was able to get better. I was able to break away from the turmoil of the disorder. Don’t get me wrong; in my teenage years and early 20s my BPD was terrible and extremely strenuous on my romantic and family relationships in particular. My bipolar was also a struggle. I was on and off medication and not taking care of myself. I was also unable to work for about two years.
I’ve been asked how it is that I can fight through the OCD, the anxiety, the psychosis and the depression. This post was going to be about the worsening of my symptoms but what is the point of a blog to help empower those with mental health issues if I don’t share how I empower myself? I’ve been told many times that I have come a long way; that I am so much stronger than I know. I’ve also been criticised for not trying hard enough at times, for being a bit stubborn at times with my medication. I’m telling you this because it’s important to stress that I am not doing things perfectly 100% of the time, I am not always living up to other people’s expectations or my own, I do make mistakes and sometimes I do get engulfed by the variety of mental illnesses under my belt. But this is how I try to stay above it all.
The past 6 months or so have been a struggle for me in terms of my OCD which is generally treated with anti-depressants. As someone who has Bipolar 1 and suffers from manic episodes I cannot take anti-depressants. So the only treatment available to me at this time is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP is where you expose yourself to your trigger; mine are really old people’s hands, germs, my irrational fear of God and things not being in any of my systems, such as colour coding. Basically you have to try and ignore the compulsion (i.e. washing your hands or putting all your paper clips in back in the system you’ve created). This kind of treatment works by breaking the habit of easing your anxiety with these compulsions or actions. People get caught up in the anxiety that surrounds our compulsions, if you just wash your hands the anxiety eases. That’s not true. Over time the anxiety aren’t as easily done with and the compulsions have to be performed more frequently and sometimes much more intensely. I’m not always successful when it comes to ERP, at the moment my paper clips are arranged according to size, type and colour. But I do try very hard not to wash my hands or pray obsessively. I do that by reminding myself that it only temporarily helps the anxiety and I distract myself until the anxiety subsides.
Anxiety can be very crippling, anxiety kept me out of work for two years but I cannot afford to let that happen again. Anxiety stops me from socialising, keeps me from seeing friends, keeps me from going to certain places but I still try and push myself bit by bit, inch by inch closer to being more in control. I have anxiety when it comes to large social gatherings but I push myself to go. I had anxiety attacks leading up to my work conference and the social events that were a part of that conference. I pushed myself to go to those as well. My first conference was interstate and up until that point I had never flown before. I find it very difficult to do this and most unpleasant but as the saying goes, time waits for no man and I’ve already wasted several years of my life because of anxiety. My approach won’t work for everyone, but I get through it by reminding myself that anxiety won’t kill me, the anxiety WILL go away after the flight, party or meeting is over. The anxiety will ALWAYS go away eventually.
Most of the time, I can convince myself that the anxiety attack won’t last. Most of the time, I can convince myself of the logical and rational points and other times, I find it very hard to. And now we come to why I am sitting in my psychologist’s office. For the past 2 months or so I have been increasingly paranoid. At first it seemed as if it was a result of trauma therapy, now it looks like it may be more related to the Bipolar, but I guess that is a question for The Doc. At first it started with me being hyper vigilant, locking car doors while I’m driving at night, checking the back seat of the car, the things everyone should be doing at night. Eventually I was paranoid that if I did something too often, like go to the gym at the same time every morning, that someone would figure out my routine and attack me one day. That paranoia grew to me thinking people at work are spying on me so that they can run to the boss when I do something wrong, something I believe whole heartedly, and I am told that is where the problem lies. My psychologist tells me that when you believe in the paranoid theories with full certainty and no room for doubt, that’s where it becomes a delusion. I’ve begun making irrational connections between events and my paranoid thoughts. The most frightening thing is that I can see they are irrational, I can laugh at how ridiculous it sounds but I still believe, with all certainty that I am right. I still feel that I am right.
So, how do I push through the paranoia? Well, one way is not to react right away. When my paranoid delusions lead me to believe people are out to get me or want to deliberately harm me, I don’t react right away and tell myself that I am probably being paranoid. I speak to Rob about it because he will always challenge me to see reason. I have faith in the fact that Rob would not steer me in the wrong direction, he will never just agree with me. So, I always use him as a sounding board. I do the same with hallucinations. I remind myself that what I’m seeing is not real. Last night I saw that figure in the dark again and felt myself being pulled by it when I tried to face away from the dark. So, I turned towards the area I fear most and forced myself to stare into it and the figure disappeared. I reminded myself it’s not real.
My battle with OCD and Bipolar is fought by constantly reminding myself that the anxiety, the feeling of impending doom will pass and that the delusions and hallucinations are not real. Like I said, I am not perfect. I still stumble and fall, and at times it looks like I may not be trying hard enough but I always am. I have come a long way in the past few years and especially so in the last year. I continue to fight every day, it’s incredibly tiring but I keep fighting. I refuse to be swallowed up by my symptoms, I refuse to lose myself.