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.)
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.
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.