Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Mind and Body, Again

We know that the body affects the mind affects the body in various ways, especially when it comes to mental illness. Many of us who live with anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another condition experience physical symptoms like tremors, nausea, hives, and diarrhea.

The last one is my particular curse, which no one wants to hear about, but there you have it. Or rather, there I have it.

I didn’t even know that this was a problem related to my mental state for many years. All I knew was that whenever my mother or father was taken to the hospital, I would invariably and eventually find my guts in an uproar – usually when I got home, but sometimes in the waiting room. I thought that my bowels were my “attack organ,” as the saying went, and that I was merely reacting to the stress of the situation.

Of course that was true, but it never occurred to me that this was not just a physical problem, but a mental problem manifesting physically. At the time I was undiagnosed with bipolar disorder and knew little about the condition or how the mind and the body were connected.

The severity of the problem was impressed on me years later, when I was having severe anxiety, just after coming out of a severe and lengthy spell of depression. The more anxious I got, the more episodes I would have, sometimes up to six times a day. I lived with Immodium within easy reach at all times. During the worst of it I didn’t dare to leave the house. When I applied for disability, it was this affliction as much as my bipolar disorder that was the basis of the case.

Naturally, I told my primary care physician about the problem, and he sent me to a gastroenterologist. The specialist thought I might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but then again he wasn’t sure and didn’t seem to give it much more thought.

My psychiatrist, though, had a different idea. He suggested that the upset in my guts was caused by upsets in my mind – not that I was imagining it (there was ample evidence that I wasn’t), but that my nerves were overstimulated by anxiety and that caused my gastric symptoms. It was a feedback loop – anxiety caused diarrhea caused anxiety and so on and on.

I don’t know if it was the anti-anxiety med he gave me or if my anxiety just calmed down on its own, but the episodes became fewer and less frequent. I no longer stayed strictly at home, within easy reach of a bathroom, or feared going out. (I did make sure I knew where the bathroom was any place I did go.) I even stopped carrying a change of underwear in my purse. And my disability claim was denied. (I was also making so much money at my at-home freelance work that my lawyer said the judge’s head would explode.)

I still get anxiety-related diarrhea at times, but nothing like the biohazards I used to have. It’s no longer an everyday (or many-times-a-day) occurrence. I still do keep a supply of Immodium in my desk, my purse, and the bathroom, though, just in case.

I hesitated before writing this post, as it’s a difficult and unpleasant topic. But I know that a suffering mind can make the body suffer too, and I thought there might be people out there who have similar problems and needed some reassurance that they weren’t the only one. I don’t know what your “attack organ” may be or what your particular symptoms are, but do keep in mind that the interaction of the mind and the body can produce unwanted results. And that you are not alone in dealing with that.

Anxiety, Fear, Panic, and Phobias

I’ve heard it said that you know when you’re a problem drinker when your drinking causes you problems, whether of the emotional, legal, financial, or several other varieties.

Similarly, I think anxiety, fears, panic, and phobias are problems only when they cause you problems.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Phobias are considered to be a type of anxiety disorder or panic disorder. For example, social anxiety is sometimes defined as social phobia. Everyone has anxieties. Many people have at least one phobia. And most people can avoid these triggers with little or no effect on their daily lives. There are habits they can cultivate to avoid the things that make them anxious or phobic.

For instance, someone with acrophobia, a fear of high places, isn’t usually incapacitated by a stepladder, and can fairly easily avoid standing on cliff edges, rotating top-floor restaurants, and hotel rooms over the first or second floor. (When the anxiety/phobia extends to fear of flying, or aerophobia, the person can limit or eliminate air travel from their lives, usually without much difficulty.)

Crippling phobias, however, are generally classed as mental illnesses. My panic around bees (apiphobia) does not rise to that level; I would call it an anxiety reaction or a panic attack, not a phobia. It usually only manifests as bodily stiffening, tremors, and immobility, and pleas for anyone in the area to shoo away the offending insect. (I once took a beekeeping class to try to get over my phobia. Big mistake. Didn’t work.)

Agoraphobia (fear of unfamiliar environments or ones where you feel out of control), however, can be socially and psychologically crippling. The Mayo Clinic says that agoraphobia “can severely limit your ability to socialize, work, attend important events and even manage the details of daily life, such as running errands.” (Technology has made these constrictions less onerous, what with doorstep delivery and Skype.)

Anxieties as a symptom of mental illness are harder to define. While some anxieties have triggers, others simply don’t. “Free-floating” anxiety comes on unexpectedly, like the depressions and manias of bipolar disorder. This doesn’t mean that the anxiety isn’t real. It certainly is. It just means that the anxiety has no identifiable cause such as high places or bees. It is simply (or not so simply) a panic attack, which the Cleveland Clinic says is “sudden, unreasonable feelings of fear and anxiety that cause physical symptoms like a racing heart, fast breathing, and sweating. Some people become so fearful of these attacks that they develop panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.” They add, “Every year, up to 11% of Americans experience a panic attack. Approximately 2% to 3% of them go on to develop panic disorder.”

Sometimes I have anxiety that is attributable to triggers, such as financial difficulties, which are relatively easy for other people to understand. Who wouldn’t be anxious when the bank account is dry and a bill is due?

Other times, free-floating anxiety or panic simply descends on me, with nothing that triggers it. It’s an awful feeling, like waiting for the other shoe to drop when there has been no first shoe. Like a cloud hovering around me with the potential for lightning bolts at any time.

The thing is, I don’t know how to get rid of my anxieties, fears, or phobias. There are desensitization procedures that are supposed to work by getting one used to the trigger gradually. (I think that was my idea behind taking the beekeeping class. One of them, anyway.) There are antianxiety medications, including antidepressants and benzos, designed to take the edge off, if not remove the anxiety. (I take antianxiety medications. I’m still afraid of bees. Not that it affects my daily life much, but I’m never likely to visit that island off Croatia that’s covered with lavender.) For phobias, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as well as exposure therapy, has been recommended. This is usually a short-term procedure, according to the Mayo Clinic. But I have an aversion to CBT.

Still, despite my therapy and medications, I have to live with my anxiety and phobias. I’ve probably not reached the point where the anxiety causes me severe problems, like bankruptcy, though I have been known to overdraw my checking account on occasion and run my credit card up too high. These, of course, are signals that I may have a problem or am beginning to have one. It’s something to explore with my therapist, anyway. Maybe she can suggest ways I can deal with my anxieties before they turn into more significant problems.

Coming Down From a Manic Jag

I have been manicky lately, and it has expressed itself, as it does for so many people, with spending money we don’t have. Or at least spending money we’re supposed to be getting but don’t have yet on things which we can’t afford until we get it.

The thing is, we have a nice lump sum of money coming, but we don’t know when it will arrive. And instead of sensibly waiting for it to arrive, I have already begun spending it. A new-old truck for Dan; passport applications for us both; tattoos for us both; concert tickets; clothes and maps and guidebooks and airline tickets for a trip we plan to take next year; a short getaway vacation last week; gardening and home improvement supplies. Just to name a few.

All this leaves us very little for necessities like mortgage, electricity, internet (essential for my work), and even food. We can probably live on our credit card for a while, but I know that’s only a temporary solution, and a bad solution at that, even though the credit company increased my credit limit so we could pay for the airline tickets.

Of course, I am mostly responsible for all this spending. Some of the expenditures wouldn’t wait – the airline tickets, which we had to buy immediately to lock in the current price, and the passports, which I understand can take months to arrive and we shouldn’t wait till the last minute to apply for.

But for other purchases, Dan has been enabling me – “You know you want to go hear Emmylou Harris,” for example. “She’s one of your heroes.” “Might as well get the ticket for Rodney Crowell, too. How likely is it that he’ll be playing in this area again, at least anytime soon?”

Now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Last week I had to deal with a guy at the door who was there to shut off our electricity unless I gave him a check for the past-due balance on the spot. The credit card company may come to regret the limit increase. I’m sure they gave it to me because I regularly paid them more than the amount due, and I can’t do that anymore.

I realize this is relatively minor compared to some spending jags that people in the manic phase of bipolar have gone on – gambling debts, for example, and even ones that end in homelessness. But the spending adds up, and we are strained past our limit until that windfall finally arrives.

Naturally, because that’s the way things go, now that I have come to and realized the reckless spending, it has triggered my anxiety. Financial troubles have always been one of my triggers, but it’s appalling to realize that I have dug this hole myself.

And naturally, because that’s the way things go, that anxiety triggers my depression – maybe not a full-blown depressive episode, but enough to affect my life and actions. I isolate. I grow surly with my husband. I have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.

In truth, I am angry with myself and with this damned disorder. When I get manicky, I generally am able to limit my spending to amounts of $25 or less, if sometimes for several such items (or meals). But this time I have overwhelmed myself, and my husband as well. I know we’re not supposed to use bipolar disorder as an excuse for bad behavior, but I can’t help thinking that hypomania is involved at some level. The idea of live music and foreign travel were just so irresistible. I couldn’t make myself wait until a better time.

We’ll get through this, I know. Someday the expected check will come and I can start straightening out some of the mess I’ve created. But until then, anxiety and depression will be my companions. I hope the mania stays fully tamped down until then. At least, I’ll take my meds and hope so. And not skip my therapist appointment in a week and a half. We haven’t had much to discuss lately, but now I’m sure we do.

Good News, Anxiety (and a Little Hypomania)

My husband and I have been waiting for various pieces of good news for several weeks. If they come, and the money associated with them, we could accomplish a few things, both necessary and frivolous, that have been on our minds.

Naturally, the waiting that triggers my anxiety isn’t over yet. One of the good things that we’re hoping to indulge in is a trip abroad, in the early part of next year. Since I learned of this, I’ve been preparing for it like it was the Normandy Invasion.

I got a travel agent (my husband’s nephew) and spent a lot of time with him, going over what we wanted to see (scenic things, not big cities), what we wanted in the way of accommodations (guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts), airline details, passport details, COVID details, birth certificate details, and more.

Though the trip is over six months away (which should be about right for getting passports), I’ve fallen into a morass of hypomania/anxiety. I’ve been checking what the weather will be like, how much local money we’ll need, any language difficulties, etc. I’ve started ordering things we’ll need, like rain slickers, a road map, power converters (I found ones with USB ports), extra underwear (I have a fear of running out), and so on. I’ve been poring over suggestions that our travel agent sent detailing interesting sights along the route he roughly mapped out for us, given that we’re going on a fly-drive plan. I suppose I’ll settle down at some point and just wait for everything to come together, but then again, maybe not.

Another anxiety-producing (or really, dread-producing) thing that may happen in the near future is getting my teeth fixed. I have a major phobia regarding dentists and have avoided them for far too long. I now have an appointment for a consultation. Even for that, I’ll probably need Ativan. If I make it through the anxiety and phobia, I perhaps will have done something that will bolster my sometimes-quite-low self-esteem. I’ve had problems with my teeth for years, but I am determined (well, sort of determined) that this will be the time that I will conquer them.

Our other new addition is a work truck for my husband, who needs to haul gardening equipment (including dirt and rocks) and timber and large tools around. This is also a piece of good news for me. Because of his work schedule and our one car, I have been unable to go out during the day. Not that I usually need to go out during the day, as I work from home, but it’s nice to have the choice.

Plus, I’ll be able to schedule appointments not just on Mondays, when my husband has off work, but during the rest of the week as well. With only one car, if I have a medical appointment, I’m limited in my choices of appointments and times. I have to drop my husband off at work at 6:00 a.m. to have the car for most of the day. Now I can have much more freedom and don’t have to feel trapped in the house. If I want or need to go somewhere, I can.

If we were sensible people (we aren’t), we would settle for using the infusion of money to fix my teeth and buy the work truck, then put the rest away for a nest egg. But, damn it, after all we’ve been through in the past few years, frankly, we need a break. I know that many people with bipolar disorder are not able to travel, even outside the town where they live. I know that I am lucky to be able to. I imagine I will still have some anxiety when we get there, such as when trying to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the road. But we’ve built rest and self-care into the plan.

Another time when we traveled, I gave myself permission to be depressed if I felt it coming on. It was a revelation. I didn’t have to force myself to participate in all the activities. I could sleep late if I needed to. I didn’t have to resort to “smiling depression” to seem “normal.”

I hope that on this vacation I can do the same. I hope I won’t get depressed very much, but if I want to skip part of the many activities that our travel agent has found, or sleep late in the b-n-b, I can choose to do that. And that’s part of how I practice self-care when traveling abroad.

Manicky June, Anxious July, Overwhelmed August

Once upon a time, when I was diagnosed with unipolar depression, I wished I had bipolar disorder so that at least I could get things done when I was manic. Then I met someone with bipolar disorder and learned how foolish that wish was. Her manic phase led her to begin projects she would never finish, make loud, inappropriate jokes, and have difficulty with social interactions.

I have bipolar 2, and am fairly well controlled on medication, so I don’t get hypomania often, and when I do, it doesn’t usually last very long. Last month, however, I had a manicky time, and the results of it will affect me for several months. In June I also started on a new medication – though one for my physical health, not my mental health. My primary care physician doubled my dose of thyroid supplement. It had an almost immediate effect. After about a week, I became stronger, steadier, in less pain, and – oh yes, – rather manic.

I tend to have the rapid cycling version of my disorder, so when I do get hypomanic, it seldom lasts more than a few days. This time, however, I have had a longer time to experience the hypomania in a way I can’t remember having had before.

Some good things happened and some bad things happened. I got tickets to two live music events that I desperately wanted to see, one in August and one in September. We went out to eat at least twice. I made appointments for tattoos for both myself and my husband, both also in August. I booked us for a weekend getaway vacation in August. I bought myself a pair of earrings to replace ones I had lost.

In other words, I spent a lot of money.

Then July came and I don’t know if we will have enough money to get through it all. I snapped out of the hypomania and reverted to anxiety, which is how my depression often expresses itself. I paid the major bills during the first week. I put us on a strict budget for groceries. I put a little money aside so that I could possibly get a t-shirt at one of the concerts. I determined that the tattoo studio takes credit cards. (I don’t really want to take this option, but if we run out of cash, I may have to.)

Money worries are among my triggers for anxiety and depression, along with thunderstorms, overscheduling, noise, and too many people. When August comes, I will certainly need the bed-and-breakfast getaway, because my nerves will by then be frazzled.

The real question, though, is will I have enough energy to enjoy all the plans I have made for August?

A friend, who goes to DisneyWorld fairly often, learned that he should not do what he calls the “Bataan Fun March,” trying to cram every possible attraction and experience into a single visit. Now he prefers a more leisurely Disney experience, visiting a few of his old favorites and a few new attractions, while leaving time for relaxed dining and time in the pool.

This would probably have been a better approach for me to apply to August. A few events then, a few in September.

It would be convenient if my hypomania returned in August, to allow me to do all the fun things I have committed to. But as we know, bipolar disorder is an unpredictable beast. In the past, I have missed concerts that I had no more spoons for. I have rescheduled appointments that I wasn’t physically or psychologically in any shape to attend. (Most of these were appointments with my therapist, who sometimes agreed to a phone session instead.)

But these commitments are ones that I can’t phone in. All of them require my actual, physical presence. I don’t want to cancel any of them, some I can’t cancel at all, and I can’t phone in any of them. My best hope is that my symptoms will allow me to both attend and enjoy, if that’s possible.

Maybe the new pep I am experiencing from the thyroid meds will help. It does seem to help regulate my moods a bit, as well as affecting my body. Maybe it will allow me to have more spoons for August. Maybe in September I can decompress. Maybe in October, I will be back somewhere near level ground.

Functioning While Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is a funny thing. Mine leaves me alone part of the time. Until it doesn’t.

I have had full-blown depressive episodes, with the sobbing and the immobility and the wretchedness and everything else associated with it. I have had one major episode that lasted for three years straight, plus everything else from minor breakdowns to that vague, lingering miasma that comes when you’re untreated and you don’t know that what is really happening to you is clinical depression.

I have also had full-blown anxiety attacks, the sort that leave you twitching all over, feeling like you’re about to jump out of your skin, gasping for breath, and imagining that every driver on the road is swerving into your lane. I’ve twitched and shaken and stammered. I’ve scratched myself. I’ve hidden under the covers until I can’t breathe. I’ve taken anti-anxiety meds that did nothing at all.

Right now I am sufficiently medicated and have been relatively stable long enough that I think what I have is functional depression or maybe high-functioning depression, or whatever you want to call it. I have enough wherewithal to work part-time from home, do other writing-related projects (like this blog and my other one), and do assorted tasks like paying bills and making business-related phone calls. (Occasionally, if the phone tree is lengthy enough and the person on the other end is uncooperative enough, I have a small-scale meltdown. My voice goes up in pitch and tears start rolling down my face. My husband takes over the transaction when he notices that.)

But secretly, I know depression is lurking and can rear its ugly head again with little or no provocation – a trigger or nothing at all. So can anxiety, which is how my brain usually responds to hypomania. It’s a little like those commercials for psychotropic meds you see on TV, where the person has a little sign with a smiley face and hides behind it. Except that’s not quite accurate.

I understand that high-functioning depression is also called “smiling depression.” That’s not my experience of it. I’ve almost never been able to “fake it till I make it,” slapping on a happy expression when inside I’m dying. Besides, it doesn’t work, as far as I can tell. The depression or the sorrow always leaks out around the eyes. I’ve seen this in myself and in other people.

Before I was treated, I used to have what you’d call “resting sad face.” Once a boss of mine encouraged me to smile more (and is there anything more annoying?). I didn’t feel particularly sad at that moment, though I’m sure that I had at least a low-grade depression, like a low-grade fever. But I was at my job, and functioning even then, if not very well or cheerfully.

The phrase “high-functioning” gets used a lot to describe certain varieties of autism. I don’t have autism and I’m not an expert on it, but my suspicion is that high-functioning depression is similar in some ways. I don’t always react the way other people expect me to. I feel out of my depth a lot, especially in environments with lots of people or lots of noise. But that doesn’t stop me – or lots of other people – from carrying on with what I need to do to be a functioning member of the populace.

But back to bipolar disorder. Even if someone seems to be “high-functioning” doesn’t mean he won’t have a meltdown sooner or later. Even someone who “slaps on a smile” may let it drop once she is alone. Even someone who is “coping well” may not be coping at all tomorrow or next week or next year. Sometimes you can’t tell on the surface what someone is going through inside. Like I said, bipolar disorder is a funny thing.

My Triggers

By shane / adobe stock.com

Bipolar disorder is a funny thing. It can come on with no warning. One moment you’re fine, and the next you’re in the infinite doldrums or jagging on a spike of enthusiasm. Most of the time, it’s like that. The moods come on unexpectedly and stay as long as they want.

Sometimes, however, there are things in your life that seem to trigger a bout of depression or mania.  This isn’t quite the same as what’s commonly called a trigger. In the usual sense, a trigger is something in your past, like a traumatic memory, that comes bursting through when you read, see, or otherwise encounter a reminder of that memory. Suddenly, you are thrown back into the situation that triggered you, reliving the trauma, feeling as if you were still there, re-experiencing it. Triggers are most commonly associated with PTSD (or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Many people associate PTSD and its flashbacks with veterans and war, but other traumas, such as rape, assault, and natural disasters can also cause PTSD.

Trigger warnings are controversial. Some people need a warning that the content – especially books, blog posts, or films – may trigger a suppressed or otherwise traumatic memory and leave the person caught up in the sensations during a public moment, such as in a classroom. Obviously, people with traumatic memories would prefer to avoid this, so a trigger warning is placed at the beginning of a story, novel, or even a song that deals with rape, domestic abuse, or other traumas, especially ones depicted in a particularly graphic manner.

To other people, reacting to a trigger is an admission of fragility, at best, or at worst, an excuse for avoiding content that most people can easily handle. This is part of the mindset that leads to calling the severely traumatized “snowflakes” for their perceived inability to deal with stimuli that “normal” people take for granted. They do not understand the power of traumatic memories or the power they have over people who have been through trauma. They consider such people weak. They consider themselves strong, even if – or especially if – they have been through traumas themselves.

In general, my life has been less traumatic than some, more traumatic than others. There are memories that invade my dreams, situations that cause me panic, and stimuli that rev me up. I am not in control of these stimuli, or what they do to me.

Most of the stimuli trigger depression in me, as my bipolar disorder is heavily weighted towards depression. (In fact, I was diagnosed with unipolar depression before a psychiatrist finally recognized my condition as bipolar 2 with anxiety.) When I encounter one of these “personal” triggers, I am panicked, unable to communicate, and immobilized, or nearly so, and must rely on the help of others, especially my husband, to get me through. There’s no telling how long that depression will last.

Primary among my triggers is what I call “the rotten ex-boyfriend who almost ruined my life.” It was a toxic, gaslighting relationship that left my soul sucked dry and my emotions shattered. Fortunately, I do not often encounter anything that reminds me of those days. A friend I met during that time, in fact, has helped me heal both then and for many years thereafter.

Still, I have dreams – ones where I am traveling to the man’s house, ones where I am in the house but he is not present, and ones in which he is. I wake feeling vaguely seasick and nervous. The feeling persists like a hangover through most of the next day. It interferes with my ability to do work and to interact with people. My reactions used to be much worse, with specific words even able to throw me into panic and depression.

Another thing that triggers me is disastrous financial matters, or at least ones that I perceive that way. IRS dealings are by far the worst. A letter with that return address throws me into a panic. Once I even collapsed on the street after an IRS engagement and was unable to get up without assistance. Overdue bills and dealing with personal finances are triggers, exacerbated by the fact that I pay most of the bills, despite the fact that I make less than half the money. This is one of my contributions to the household since there are many things I am unable to do. Such situations leave me with my head in my hands, shaking and catastrophizing, unable to do what must be done until I calm down. (My husband is by now adept at helping me do this.)

And I have one of the more “traditional” trauma triggers – a natural disaster. A year and a half ago, our house was destroyed by a tornado. At the time it hit, I was upstairs in the bedroom. I remember the roof coming off. I remember putting a pillow over my head and hoping for the best. For many months I suppressed the trauma. But now it has come out. When the wind blows very hard or the rain blows sideways, I panic. Despite the fact that upstairs is the very place I shouldn’t go, that’s where I end up – in bed with a pillow over my head. (I also avoid movies like Twister. I’m not even sure I should try The Wizard of Oz.)

As for hypomanic triggers, I have few. Most of my hypomanic flights are unexpected, lifting me up with no warning. Although they can be exhilarating, they are also dangerous. One of the hazards is unwise spending, which of course can lead to the aforementioned financial depression triggers.

One trigger that takes me as near as I ever get to hypomanic sexuality, though, is a sensory, rather than a situational, trigger. For some reason, the smell of Irish Spring soap brings up the heat in me. I distinctly remember the first occasion on which I noticed this. A coworker walked past me and I smelled the distinctive scent. It started my juices flowing. Later, we became lovers. My reaction to Irish Spring is less extreme these days, but it still triggers a memory of the feeling. I seldom encounter the scent anymore, as my husband prefers Zest.

At any rate, it is my experience that triggers can arise from sensory memories, from dreams, from upsetting situations. I have few triggers related to textual representations, though I am not immune to those in films (I left the movie “What Dreams May Come” before it was over and waited in the lobby until it was over).

What I can say is that people’s triggers do not make them “snowflakes.” Triggers elicit visceral reactions that are no less real for not being visible to outsiders. While I don’t advise purging any possible triggering material from, say, academic curricula, I do think a trigger warning on syllabi or blog posts is only polite, and possibly psychologically necessary.

 

Distance Psychotherapy: Is It for You?

By Alice / adobestock.com

I will make a confession: I have never used distance therapy, except for when I couldn’t drive to my therapist’s office, my husband wasn’t available to drive me there, or when I had the last-minute I-just-can’t-go-today feelings or I’m having-a-crisis feelings. This was in the days before teleconferencing, texting, and other long-distance forms of therapy, so occasionally my therapist would agree to do a telephone session, which I appreciated greatly. In general, they didn’t last as long as the standard psychotherapy 50-minute hour, but at times they were lifesavers.

Now, when everything seems to be online, and especially during pandemic lockdown, quarantine, or simply fears of going outside, tele-psychotherapy seems to be becoming a thing. Many services are now available via the internet, smartphones, and whatever way you pursue your online life.

I’ve been looking at these services, not because I need one now, but because I want to know what’s available in case I ever should. The APA (American Psychological Association) provides a lot of helpful information on the subject. Their site has provided a list of pluses and minuses regarding telehealth for psychology. They note: “With the current research and with the current technology, mobile apps and text messaging are best used as complementary to in-person psychotherapy…Research does show that some technological tools can help when used in conjunction with in-office therapy,” though “There are cases in which Web-conferencing or therapy via telephone does seem to be a viable option on its own for some people.”

Inc.com provides a helpful list of the pros and cons of online therapy. Some positive aspects are that:

  • People in rural areas or those with transportation difficulties may have easier access.
  • Most online therapy services cost less than face-to-face treatment.
  • Scheduling is more convenient for many people.
  • Individuals with anxiety, especially social anxiety, are more likely to reach out to an online therapist.

among the negatives are:

  • Without being able to interact face-to-face, therapists miss out on body language and other cues that can help them arrive at an appropriate diagnosis.
  • Technological issues can become a barrier. Dropped calls, frozen videos, and trouble accessing chats aren’t conducive to treatment.
  • Some people who advertise themselves as online therapists might not be licensed mental health treatment providers.

Despite the concerns, research consistently shows that online treatment can be very effective for many mental health issues. Here are the results of a few studies:

  • 2014 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that online treatment was just as effective as face-to-face treatment for depression.
  • 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavioral therapy is, “effective, acceptable and practical health care.” The study found the online cognitive behavioral therapy was equally as effective as face-to-face treatment for major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • 2014 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that online cognitive behavioral therapy was effective in treating anxiety disorders. Treatment was cost-effective and the positive improvements were sustained at the one-year follow-up.
  • A recent review of studies published in the journal World Psychiatry compared people who received CBT treatment online with those who received it in person.  The two settings were shown to be equally effective.

One possible pitfall, warns APA, is that “online therapy or web therapy services are often not covered or reimbursable by most insurance providers. If you plan to be reimbursed, check with your insurance company first. Otherwise, prepare to pay for the full cost yourself.” The services I explored charge about $35 to $80 per week for unlimited messaging and one live session per week. MDLive provides a psychiatrist at $284 for the first visit and $108 afterward. (They have lower rates for seeing a therapist rather than a psychiatrist, and do accept insurance.)

Business Insider, in its article on the subject, dealt specifically with a service infelicitously known as Woebot. Unlike the other services, Woebot is a “chatbot” that substitutes artificial intelligence and natural language processing for a real, live therapist. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy. Their website claims that Woebot “is the delivery mechanism for a suite of clinically-validated therapy programs that address many of today’s mental health challenges, from generalized anxiety and depression to specific conditions like postpartum depression, adult and adolescent depression, and substance abuse.” Like a non-directive therapist, it asks probing questions and responds to questions and answers from the user. For now, it is free to users, though they seem to be exploring a paying model.

Other telehealth counseling services include:

Amwell

Betterhelp

Brightside (depression and anxiety, not bipolar or mania)

Online-Therapy.com

ReGain (couples therapy)

Talkspace

teencounseling (will consult with parents)

If you decide to try online therapy, it’s best to compare services and determine what services they offer, at what price, and what the credentials of their therapists are. If you have already tried it, I would be glad to know the results. Feel free to comment.

 

 

A Letter From the Future to Bipolar Me

by sosiukin via adobestock.com

Dear Me:

You’re 13 years old now, and there are a few things you should know.

You have bipolar disorder. No one knows this, not even you. But a lot of people notice that you act “weird” at times. You have decided to embrace your weirdness, which is fine, but what you really need is psychological help. And medication.

Don’t pass up any chance to get that help. Your high school will recommend to your parents that you get counseling. When your parents leave the choice up to you, take it. It will not go on your permanent record, and you will still get into a college. A very good college, in fact.

I know that at times you sit alone and cry. Other times you laugh at things no one else finds funny. This is not just “weirdness.” This is a mood disorder, called bipolar disorder, type 2. Your mood swings will make it difficult for you to make and keep friends. Keep trying. The friends you will find are worth it and will stand by you when you really need them. You will not be alone in dealing with this.

Your choice to go to college out of state will be a good one. There you will have a variety of experiences that will make you grow in unexpected ways. Your mood disorder will go to college with you, though. Leaving Ohio will not mean you will leave bipolar disorder behind. You will still feel the mood swings, and most of them will be depression.

It’s a good idea to take that year off between freshman and sophomore year. I know it will feel scary, but at that point you will be in no shape to carry on with academics. Instead, you will get a job which, while not great, will introduce you to more new people and new ways of life. At least one of those people will stick with you till you are old and gray.

Returning to school will be a good decision. Your parents will support you in that decision. They won’t object to your year off, because they know you will go back. It still won’t be easy, but you will have a core group of friends that accept you, even though you are different from them.

Your bipolar disorder will follow you back to college. It will make you miss some opportunities and choose others that will not be good for your mental health. You will be unhappy most of the time, but you will find that music helps you through it.

Try not to self-harm. I know you will feel numb and want to feel something else, but cutting yourself is a bad decision and will not help. You will carry those scars forever.

When you meet Rex, though, you will be encountering a problem too big for you to handle, and the relationship will leave you scarred as well. It would be best if you were to steer clear of him altogether. But then again, you will find some true friends in his circle, and it would be a shame to miss them. Try your best to hold yourself together, remember what I said about self-harm, and don’t give up on who you are. You are not your disorder, and you will get through this, despite everything.

I know you never gave a thought to marrying, but you will meet a man and in a few years you will marry him. This, I assure you, is a good decision. He will stick by you no matter what and help you find help.

Going into the building that says “South Community Mental Health” will be a good decision. Whatever you will be feeling at this point – most likely misery – it’s not mentally healthy. This will be the place where you will start to climb out of the hole you have found yourself in.

At last, a doctor will tell you that you have bipolar disorder – most often depression, but also anxiety. He will work with you to find a combination of medications that will help you. When that happens, you will become reacquainted with your brain and relearn how to function in the world at large. Your brain will function in a new way, one with fewer out-of-control feelings. You will experience life more fully and be glad of your new outlook.

It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but you will have therapists, and friends, and work, and love, all of which will help see you through. You will have bipolar disorder all your life, but it will not be your life, though it seems that way now.

Reach out for help whenever and wherever you find it. Cherish your friends. Keep trying, even when you want to give up. Better times are on the way.

I promise.

Love, me (older and maybe wiser)

Bipolar Conversation

This morning a podcast called Bi-Polar Girl was uploaded, and I was the interviewee. (You can find it on Apple, Amazon, and other podcast sources.) Here’s a look at what was like.

  • Prepping. Before we recorded the podcast, my anxiety kicked in, and I tried to overprepare. I bombarded the hosts with emails asking what I should be prepared to talk about or what questions they were going to ask me. Basically, they told me we were going to “wing it” and have me tell my story.
  • History. The thing we talked about most was when I started showing signs of bipolar and when I was diagnosed. I explained that I was showing signs of it as early as my high school years, how I decided to seek treatment after college, and how I was mistakenly diagnosed with major depression for years before receiving the proper diagnosis and medication.
  • Meds. We discussed medication in some detail – pill-shaming, how every person reacts to meds differently (so it’s useless to “recommend” a particular drug to friends or support group members). We talked about the side effects of various medications, including the fact that the most-feared one seems to be weight gain. One particular point of discussion was how many people are afraid that taking medications to treat their disorder will stunt their creativity or turn them into “zombies.” Snowflake (one of the hosts) and I agreed that our creativity and ability to work were actually improved while on medication, because it enabled us to focus and do more creative work.
  • Family. We also talked about the fact that I have no children and my reasons for that. (We also introduced some of our pets during the Zoom call, or they introduced themselves. Just try to keep an animal out of a Zoom call.) I shared that I felt it would be unfair to a child to have a nonfunctional mother, that I was afraid of going off antidepressants while pregnant, and postpartum depression afterward. Snowflake shared her story of medications, potential side effects, pregnancy, and postpartum depression.
  • My publications. I talked about my blog and my books, Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us. In particular, we discussed gaslighting, which features in my second book, and how people with bipolar are more susceptible to it. Both Snowflake and I shared how we had encountered gaslighters in our own lives.
  • Groups. Chacoman, the other host, questioned me about whether I was involved in any local or regional support groups, and I had to admit that I’m not. Now, during the pandemic, group meetings are problematic at best, but I don’t react well to groups at any time, due to my anxiety (which is how my hypomania manifests). In my case, outreach is limited to my blogs and books, and membership in online support groups.
  • Miscellaneous. We got off topic a number of times. I don’t want to make it sound like the interview was all serious or grim. We also talked about our pets, positive relationships, college memories, and even politics.
  • Plans. I talked about how my next book will be a mystery, with a bipolar main character, and received positive feedback on the idea.

All in all, it was a good experience, worth overcoming my anxiety for. I had only participated in a podcast once before, a not-altogether-successful interview about my first book with an interviewer who had obviously not read it and was more interested in whether any of my family members were also creative. (It was supposed to be a podcast about first-time authors.)

This was not the same sort of thing at all. I told my story, as the hosts had recommended, and we had a genuine, far-ranging conversation about not just my own experiences with bipolar disorder, but with how others cope with it as well. Actually, I learned a lot about myself, from how much my anxiety – and especially social anxiety – still affect me, to how much my teen years illustrated my journey into depression.

So, here’s a big thank you to Snowflake and Chacoman for the opportunity to share with them and their audience. I would absolutely do it again. It helped me step out of my comfort zone and, I hope, will help the listeners as well. It’s a form of outreach that I had never considered, but one that I found valuable – and just plain fun!

 

 

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