Ever since my bipolar depression lifted last year, I've felt I've been tumbling around in my dryer. Maybe that's not the best analogy, but it has been a long, strange, emotional trip! I’ve been holding my breath both literally and figuratively.
I’ve always been an anxious person, and once bipolar disorder entered my life, my anxiety skyrocketed. Several years ago I became addicted to benzodiazepines, but I was able to successfully wean myself off them with my doctor’s guidance. (I read Death Grip by Matt Samet, which chronicles his weaning off benzodiazepines; his memoir was very inspiring!)
Do you find yourself holding your breath when you become anxious? I do. I hold my breath in part to irrationally control something in my life and it's a nasty habit. I’ve also been holding my breath in the figurative sense because of my fear that the depression will return at any moment. Growing up in a household full of worrywarts, I was taught to fear the very worst, and that tendency remains with me. I think self-defeating thoughts such as, "Now that my depression is finally gone, something really bad is going to happen!" This way of thinking is fruitless. Let's face it - I can't control the universe. I don't like that reality one bit! Having a family obviously compounds my worrying, and gives me more to fret about.
My psychiatrist advises me to add meditation (not to be confused with medication!). He practices what he preaches and has meditated for many years. After I shared with him that I used to attend church, he also encouraged me to pray. I'm still not at the point of daily meditation, but praying is easy, quick and free, so I sometimes do that. I've never been a deeply religious person, but I believe in a higher power.
All my troubles were put into perspective recently when I had to report for jury duty selection for the first time in my life. I was completely freaking out about the process. My worry was so strong that I became unable to do anything but sit on the couch. I called the jury office, and listened to the jury commissioner's phone recording explaining what would happen to those citizens who did not report for duty. The penalty was a fine up to $1500.00 and up to five days in jail. Hearing about these penalties sent me over the edge. Even though I had two sick kids home from school and I hadn't showered for three days, I ran out the door in a dirty sweater and sweat pants with no makeup and messy hair. I drove to the courthouse. (Thankfully my husband was able to watch our children and work from home. I felt very lucky to have his support.)
To my complete surprise, it turned out that it was a very interesting experience, although it was tedious at times. I realized that the reason I was so resistant to attending the selection was my fear of the unknown. I was scared I wouldn't know where to park. I was scared I wouldn't find the right building. I was scared I'd be grilled by the judge and by the lawyers in front of everyone. In the past, before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, none of these logistics would have frightened me to such an extent that I felt paralyzed to take action.
Sitting in that sterile courtroom I watched a young person on trial for a crime and that triggered sadness in me. It was sobering to witness, despite the fact that the judge had a sense of humor and he humanized the proceedings. Moreover, the room had such an intense and scary energy. I was relieved that I was simply an observer, not on trial. I also could sense the anxiety of some of the prospective jurors - one of them began sobbing when she told the judge she had a financial hardship.
It turns out I did figure out everything I needed to do, and I wasn’t quizzed in court; in fact, I was excused. To my amazement, I felt a little disappointed I did not get to participate on the jury. When I left the cave-like courtroom and walked outside into the beautiful, sunny day, I was grateful. I was on my way home to a loving family that was proud of me facing my fear of the jury process. I am glad that I have my freedom and that the "shoe" I'm so petrified of is suspended in air for now.
Like everyone else, I have no idea what the future will bring, but being in the moment as much as possible can only help. In the weeks to come I will be incorporating brief daily meditations to reduce the intensity of my "dropping shoe syndrome". I will also be reading a book that examines how meditation specifically helps bipolar disorder symptoms: The Tao of Bipolar: Using Meditation and Mindfulness to Find Balance and Peace by C. Alexander Simpkins and Annellen M. Simpkins. I’ll let you know how it all goes, and thanks for reading!
Dyane’s blog is www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com and she is currently at work on her book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.
Dyane with her biggest supporters: her cuties Marilla and Avonlea at Squaw Valley, CA - 2013