Prior to my diagnosis and starting my treatment, I spent countless hours each day stuck in a cycle of worry and panic. I would ruminate, the worst moments of my life and every single mistake I’ve ever made surfacing in my mind and stuck in an infinite replay. This led to mental anguish and daily panic attacks, which went on for some time. It got to the point where I couldnt leave my house, I couldnt talk on the phone, I couldnt do much of anything. Everything was a trigger. I did not know I was stuck in bipolar depression, along with generalized anxiety disorder.
The statistics surrounding comorbid bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders are high. In my own experience, the severe anxiety episodes are mostly confined to depression, though it does sometimes carry over into periods of stability. I rarely have severe anxiety in mania. I am too wired, not thinking things through enough to be affected by it to the same degree. I suspect others may identify with that experience, too, though everyone has a different story to tell and it may vary from mine.
At its worst, my experience with anxiety and bipolar depression felt like a bottomless pit of worry and despair. I started to slow down, dropping my responsibilities one by one, living more and more inside my head until I became trapped there. I became stuck in the past, in my fears and phobias, and my life started to pass me by.
Living with untreated anxiety and bipolar disorder feels like lugging around an invisible weight, mind heavy with thoughts, joints aching from the pressure. You may not even realize it is there, or you may feel it in profound ways. Maybe you only know the crushing nature when its grip starts to lessen.
I’ve far from mastered living with anxiety and bipolar disorder, but I’ve learned a few things in my personal journey that have helped to hoist that giant weight off my shoulders, or at least decrease the impact.
I am not alone.
It sounds cliché, but this has been a great comfort to me. I have my husband, my dog, and my treatment team. I have the countless others that deal with the same struggle, and though for the most part we’ve never met or do not even know one another, their very presence and passion is inspiring. It is not easy to make it through each day. Sometimes that is our greatest success.
If you are reading this and find yourself bearing the weight of anxiety and bipolar disorder, know that I am walking with you. Without realizing it, we all share the weight, and we can make that load a little lighter.
I do not have to succumb to my anxiety.
I can fight it. I can put it in its place. It is not easy. Sometimes I have to work through some painful situations, while other times I need to distract myself to prevent further harm, but I have learned through experience and therapy how to stand up to my anxiety instead of letting it take over. There are ways to fight, and that journey is individual in that we all have to figure out what works best for us, but know that you do not have to be bullied by your anxiety. It doesn’t have to rule your life.
I celebrate all successes, even if they seem small.
I spend some time each week evaluating any “wins”. It may be something big like being published and daring to put my voice out there in the world, or seemingly small, like answering a phone call or pushing away a negative thought. Some days those acts – the answering of a call and talking on the phone – are monumental depending on where I am. These accomplishments are important and should not be overlooked. They can be motivating and encouraging. I look at my list when I start to feel low or think I don’t have any fight left.
I reflect on how far I’ve come.
I am not the girl cowering in a corner, or peering out the window, chest tight and heart racing anymore. If you are, then that’s okay. You have to start where you are. But I’ve come a long way over the past year since my diagnosis. I thought I’d never leave my house without falling apart. I thought I would always have panic attacks at the sound of the phone ringing, fight or flight kicking in as adrenaline rushes through my body, heart pounding. I thought I would have to relive my every failure and mistake for the rest of my life. But now I leave my house without those thoughts creeping in and I am no longer trapped inside my head. I still feel those tinges of panic when the phone rings and my thoughts race – Who is it? What do they want? Will my words come out right? – but I answer. I push through it.
There is no magical cure. I’m not here to tell you it all just goes away and you’ll never deal with it again. But I can say it does get better. It takes a lot of hard work and there may be setbacks, but you can get ahead of it, and those thoughts can fade.
Will I face crippling anxiety again? Perhaps. I am especially vulnerable during depression. But I do all that I can to prevent that, from taking my medications to attending therapy and doing the work to combat these thoughts in my head, and practicing those skills daily in real life.
Know that while it is not easy, there is hope, and you can find a life you never knew existed when you come out the other side of depression and anxiety.
Read more from Charlie on her personal blogs, Decoding Bipolar and Accepting ADHD. She has also written forThe Mighty and New Life Outlook ADHD.