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The Perfect Storm

I’m writing this three days fresh out of an acute treatment unit. It’s a locked facility similar to a mental hospital, but smaller. 

It’s not the first time I’ve voluntarily admitted myself to this unit due to extreme symptoms and personal safety issues, but it’s been at least two years since my last visit. 

Finding a workable med combination and being committed to therapy has kept me on track for the most part. Any episodes I’ve experienced over the past couple of years I’ve been able to manage at home with the support of family. 

Sometimes though, things start slipping out of control. Have you heard the saying, “a perfect storm?” Well, that’s what happened to me during the month of June. 

I’d been looking forward to our family vacation to Florida for months and it didn’t disappoint. Trips to theme parks and the beach were fun and just what we all needed. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 

However, the two hour time change, getting slightly off track with my meds and too many tropical cocktails were not a good combination. 

Upon returning home I learned a family member was extremely ill and was hospitalized. I ended up caring for my 13-year-old cousin while other family members went to help. I now had another kid to take care of in addition to my own two, with extra sporting activities, orthodontist appointments, etc. I love my sweet cousin and didn’t mind at all, but I had no recovery time after vacation. His five-day stay with us eventually turned into three weeks. 

Because of some family dynamics going on during this time I was extremely triggered and began having flashbacks and nightmares of abuse I suffered as a child. The trauma was so bad that four years ago I spent 35 days at a residential treatment program trying to make peace with the past. To say the intense flashbacks were a surprise is an understatement. 

During this time we had a week from hell. My son developed walking pneumonia right before he was to travel to Boston for a once in a lifetime opportunity to play with a marching band in a 4th of July parade. 

Our backyard caught on fire when a stray spark ignited some very dry branches and weeds. The fire department was called and my son suffered some smoke inhalation from trying to put it out. 

A water main broke in the street outside our house and we were without water for a day. 

And the next day a transformer blew, which knocked out our power and gave us no way to cool our house in the 95 degree heat. 

By my birthday on June 30, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I had been running on automatic pilot for weeks. I was entirely and completely numb. I had become severely depressed and was at the point I had given up. I was very suicidal. 

It was the perfect storm. Four weeks of incident after incident. 

Those of us with bipolar disorder are incredibly sensitive to stress. Any one of these incidents would have been enough to set me back a little. Combined together it was a recipe for disaster. 

I look back at last month and recognize that most things I had no control over. Some things, however, I did and could have done differently. I could have listened to my doctor who strongly encouraged me to enter treatment a week before I actually did. She also wanted me to increase my medication dosage but I refused because I feel it makes me too foggy. I could have taken more time for myself and forced myself to do more healing activities. I could have avoided alcohol. And, I could have stopped beating myself up for having difficulty with the stress and accepted I was having a hard time. 

The six days I spent in the treatment unit seemed to reset my system. I did finally agree to the medication adjustment and I willingly participated in many DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) groups which was a good refresher for me. 

All in all, the month of June was a reminder to me how important it is to be mindful of moods and stress levels. Finding yourself with severe symptoms of bipolar disorder is only one perfect storm away. 

But, hanging in there, pushing through and being willing to get help can turn disaster into strength. I hate this illness, but I find again and again it’s made me stronger than I ever believed I could be. 

Read the rest of Paula’s posts here


Such a scary, lonely and suffocating illness. Always an outer body experience for me and even the mini panic attacks I get still set me one step back. Thankfully my medication combination has worked well for nearly 10 years and I can get the panic attacks under control fairly quickly.
You are an amazing lady! Don't ever forget that xx

Bioplar depression,which is what I suffer from, is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. It is such a lonely, illness, and, like Nicki, my combination of meds are working for 10 years now, still getting some panic attacks from time to time..but managing.. I feel for you and your illness, but am proud of you, Paula. You give us all hope xox

I can really relate to you. The heat of summer adds to any other stress that goes on. My cat of 13 years died June 12th, my 30 year dr retired, I hurt my shoulder......Thank you for reminding me how mean bipolar is. We must take time for ourselves and get professional help. I need a new Dr now!

i am sorry but you so brave. Have faith and take your medication.Be with people who can lend a hand. l hope you have some one around you always. l think you a great person. I send you my love and prayers . layla hammam

It's just too much risk to drink when you live with bipolar. If you need help relaxing learn belly breathing from yoga on YouTube. Try prayer, calming music or a hot bath. Too many chemicals in the brain to add alcohol to the mix. Be Well.

How do you avoid stress completely in your life? I have a job that requires that is pretty stressful and everytime my stress levels get out of control I can feel my control slipping. I cannot always be checking into a psych ward. How do you live in the real world with this illness?

Good stress can have as bad an effect as bad stress…one year I passed my driving test.. got a new home.. and got a place on a music course..too much happiness sent me sky high...

I struggle with this illness also. Good for you for admitting yourself and getting back on track

My biggest trigger is having too many doctor's appointments in a week. Two is my top end and next week I'm scheduled for four. That's what having multiple diagnoses and having lived to be 54 with 25 years of bipolar meds is about. I'm not crazy about the meds I take. In fact the one I have to take for Tardive Dyskinesia is in same class as other atypical antipsychotics....and it's three times more likely to promote weight gain, metabolic syndrome, hyperinsulinism and diabetes. I'm researching the why and the how to of prevention. The science is getting better on this front. When society saw that children and young people put on the 'latest, greatest, newest' class of antipsychotics and were becoming diabetic, the drug companies plunged head first into research and development. In the meantime I wear extra weight and take my despised meds. The only thing I dislike more than the side effects of my meds is having to go to the hospital. My last visit was involuntary...I was hauled off by the police. Yuk. Good thing you voluntarily checked in. I would too if I had to. I thought your piece was captivating and wonderful.

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