Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘Ativan’

The Overwhelming Problem

It’s been said that time is nature’s way of keeping one damn thing after another from being every damn thing all at once. I know that taking things one at a time – eating the elephant one bite at a time – is a sound idea.

However, every now and then the damn things gang up on you. The elephant is starting to go bad and you have to eat all you can right away – to use a disgusting metaphor that I will not take any further. (You’re welcome.)

screaming (Uma painting)

Last month was one of those months. They happen every so often. But if they happen very often, I tend to get overwhelmed. And when I get overwhelmed for too long, my brain breaks. I have a meltdown, or I decompensate, or whatever the proper psychiatric term is. In practical terms it means that I’m severely depressed and non-functional, for longer than usual. Months. Even years.

The things that overwhelm me are quite predictable – financial difficulties, health problems, relationship glitches, and free-floating anxiety of all sorts, either my own or my loved ones’. I know that these are situations that cause difficulty for everyone, but to a person with bipolar disorder, they can seem – or even be – insurmountable. Especially when they cluster and refuse to go away.

Over the years I have become good (or at least better) at recognizing when I am about to be overwhelmed. I know the symptoms – the whirling thoughts, the jumping-out-of-my-skin feeling, the insomnia, the inability to concentrate, and the feeling that doom or disaster is impending.

There is little I can do to stave off these feelings. But I know I have to. I have to keep functioning at some level, higher or lower, to maintain the things that I want to have – productive work, a loving relationship, a nice house, caring friends, and so forth. At the time of my last major breakdown I came uncomfortably close to losing much of that.

I try my usual remedies for anxiety, of course. I distract myself. I color. I watch mindless TV. I play stupid clicky games on the computer. I turn off my phone. But if the anxiety builds up too much, if the feared disaster is real and really is impending, none of these works. The anxiety shreds my last nerve, and the depression starts to settle in. I isolate. I stay in bed. One task at a time, I stop being able to function.

I have taken one step that has helped, however. Ativan is one of my daily medications – one in the morning and one at night. A few years ago, as the stress was building and approaching overwhelming, I asked my psychiatrist if I could have permission to take one more Ativan a day if I needed it.

He agreed.

I have not needed to take the extra pill every day. Sometimes I take one in the mid-afternoon if I start feeling jumpy, twitchy, or panicky. Sometimes I take one at night if I haven’t gotten to sleep within 2 – 3 hours after taking my regular nighttime pills. I know it sounds strange that a depressant helps me stave off depression, but my diagnosis is actually bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. The Ativan catches me at the point where the one starts to turn into the other.

I’m glad my psychiatrist trusted me not to abuse what I consider a privilege as well as a necessity. By the time I made this request, of course, we had been working together for a number of years and had built up a certain trust. I think there have been only a couple of times when I have had to take two extra Ativan in a day – one in the afternoon and an additional one at night. And both times, I felt guilty about it and made sure I didn’t make it a habit.

I don’t want to start gobbling pills at the least sign of difficulty. All I want is to be able to eat my elephant in peace and in pieces.

Why I’m Not Like Sheldon Cooper

Obviously, I’m not a man or a theoretical physicist or a character on The Big Bang Theory. But also, I can’t say, as he often does, “I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested.” I’d like to have that t-shirt, but it would be false advertising.

I am crazy and my childhood was entirely free of psychological testing.

It probably shouldn’t have been, because the crazy had taken full hold during my tender years. Crippling depression. Massive anxiety. But both my parents were ordinary folk from Kentucky transplanted to a bland Ohio suburb. They stayed true to their roots and never considered testing or counseling for me or my sister. According to their upbringing, having crazy relatives might be upsetting or embarrassing, but that’s just the way it was. You tried to shelter them from the outside world – and vice-versa – but you didn’t involve agencies or doctors or hospitals.

My crazy got too obvious to ignore when I was in junior high school. I developed a nervous tic – my head would jerk up and to the left uncontrollably. This was very distracting, not only to me, but to whoever was sitting behind me in class. It got me noticed.

It did not, however, get me to a psychologist or other mental health professional. I didn’t want to see one anyway, because I had the irrational notion that being “shrunk” would go on my permanent record and I would never get into a good college.

Instead, I was taken to our family doctor. He prescribed Valium, which did stop the twitching but did absolutely no good for my depression.

Later, during my college years – at a good school, I might add – I had another run-in with Valium. This time my symptom was pain like a railroad spike being driven into the side of my head. Naturally, I thought it was a brain tumor.

I went to the doctor, who said, “I can do any test you want, but I can tell just by looking at you what your problem is. Your jaw is crooked.” He diagnosed me with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, explained that tension made my muscles contract unevenly and cause excruciating pain in my temples. He sent me away with a prescription for Valium. Which helped with the stabbing pain, but again not with the depression. (Also, I was self-medicating with wine, which just made the crazy train run faster.)

It was not until years later, after college, that I got half a diagnosis – depression – and a non-Valium prescription – Prozac. And many years after that until I got the more accurate diagnosis (bipolar 2) and an appropriate regimen of drugs, which does include Ativan, but not prescribed alone or with wine.

And that’s another thing I don’t have in common with Sheldon Cooper. He’s not taken any psychotropics (or wine) and is happily stuck in his supposed non-craziness. I’ve accepted my craziness, gotten help for it, and am slowly rising, if not above it, at least to where I can peek over the top of it.

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