Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

When Anxiety Attacks

I was grocery shopping and when I came to the cereal aisle, I found myself light-headed and breathing raggedly.

My husband dropped a knife in the kitchen; I jumped and all my muscles tightened up.

We were driving down the highway, when suddenly I flung my arms out to the side and gasped loudly.

In none of these cases was anything actually wrong. (Although the incident in the car nearly caused an accident when my husband turned and yelled, “What? What?”)

My depression has always been accompanied by anxiety. That’s one of the reasons I was later given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, type 2. It seems that, where other people get hypomania, I get anxiety. (There is a thorough explanation of bipolar disorder and anxiety (or “mixed states) at

I have had generalized anxiety, where I have no idea whether anything specific is actually wrong or doom is impending. I have had phobic-type anxiety, where I imagine that any bee in the neighborhood is going to choose to sting me and I freeze up. I have had anxiety reactions to loud noises or sudden movements, where I feel like I’m jumping out of my skin and actually do physically jump. And I’ve had irrational moments of anxiety, as when I can’t sleep because I don’t know where I put my passport. (Naturally, I have to get up and look for it.)

Now that I am relatively well controlled on medication, the various anxieties don’t plague me nearly as much. And I’ve developed coping mechanisms for a number of them. For example, when I get anxious in the car on the highway I no longer fling out my arms and gasp. My husband notices my tension and asks if anything would make me feel better. “Drive in the other lane,” I say, “and not next to the concrete divider.” I take an extra Ativan (which my doctor allows) before social events I can’t avoid. My husband warns me if he is going to hammer a nail in another room, or reassures me that the cat just knocked over a glass.

I still don’t know what was going on in the cereal aisle. I thought it might be the imposing wall of large, brightly colored boxes, visual noise that seemed to overwhelm me. My therapist at the time said that it was likely that I was just having a random anxiety attack and happened to be in the cereal aisle when it happened. After that I associated the two.

Now I’m not sure. I may have been right about the visual noise. Auditory noises certainly provoke anxiety in me, and I know that some people on the autism spectrum can be overwhelmed by visual stimuli. (I’ve never been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, but I do share certain traits with Aspies.)

I think the anxiety will always be with me, to some extent, just like the depression. My meds make them bearable and my ways of handling them improve. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the fact that there are bees, wasps, and ticks in the world, all of them with a thirst for my blood.

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