Various Interventions for Stress?

Plans to take my daughter to college next week are leaving me stressed with a capital S. I have scheduled an extra appointment with my therapist for tomorrow. I have gone up a little on my Clozapine. Perhaps not enough…? Everything feels very stressful. Making plans for wisdom teeth removal in December. Making plans to board the dog. Consider changing meds – this will be held off until September. Making sure my daughter is OK during move-in. Friends and family say this stress is normal when sending a child off to college. OK so it’s normal. Why do I feel so un-normal?

I have been taught not to be afraid to ask for what you need….. I am asking now for your understanding and support. The more “yeah it’s normal” s I get the better I think I will feel. Brother can you spare a dime? Or a least a word of support that this too will pass?

Graphic Visualization of Moods: Does It Help?

It is helpful to me to have a graph of my moods for the day and for long-term.

For bipolar illness it is pretty common to visualize two parallel lines with moods going up and down between those parallel lines. So a person with no bipolar disorder has the same set of parallel lines but the lines are only say 6 points apart – 3 up from zero and 3 down from zero. If 6 units wide is a “normal” mood range, a person with bipolar illness might experience a range twice that wide at 12 units – this is 6 units up from zero and 6 units down from zero. As I have said before, this image of more accentuated mood swings is a pretty standard way of talking about the highs and lows of bipolar illness. Also it has been said that bipolar illness mood swings are similar to normal mood swings – it is only a matter of degree. I might contest that assertion in that bipolar mood swings may be accompanied by anxiety and/or psychotic experience.

So if bipolar mood swings are say twice as high and twice as low as regular normal mood experience, what does the graph look like on any given day? For me there is a pattern to most days that is helpful for me to visualize. Generally, the first moment I wake up is the most anxious. I would start this day’s curve on the high end. As I take my morning meds and wake up to face the day, my mood starts to level out. Late morning and early afternoon are when my day starts to become more productive and with that my anxiety tends to get more under control. Dinner is often a chore to get together but typically this is something I enjoy, so the anxiety seems to be at a low point at dinnertime. After dinnertime is usually my time to watch the news and part of a movie or a TV series. This time is spent with my husband and is generally very relaxing – my anxiety is at a low point in the day. Around 8:45 to 9:15 on a weeknight I go to bed early. On a weekend it may be a couple of hours later. It should be mentioned that this pattern is generally the same whether or not it is a weekday or a weekend.

So for a visualization, my anxiety starts at a peak in the morning when I awake and typically falls as the day progresses. Depending on the day there may be small dips here and there as the anxiety dissipates or spikes here and there as the anxiety surges. By and large this curve maps the moods of my day. If I am able to get something done on my todo list in the mid day to afternoon timeframe, my anxiety abates pretty regularly. It is as if I have to get past a small spike in anxiety in order for that anxiety to continue to drop as the afternoon and the day progresses.

This post would be that much better if I could provide readers with a picture of what I am talking about — so sorry that my blogging abilities do not incorporate importing a picture of parallel mood lines on the one hand and an anxiety curve dissipating generally as the day progresses on the other hand.

Does this graphic description seem relevant for others with bipolar and/or anxiety disorders? What is the same and what is different about your mood curves?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Becoming a Mom

Becoming a Mom has been the greatest gift God has ever given to me.

I got married at 38, got pregnant at 39 and had my child at 40.  I often talk and think about how as a person with a behavioral health diagnosis I have done everything “late.”  I have to talk with myself about how life events like graduating from Ivy College or graduating from Business School or obtaining my professional project management certification may have occurred on God’s timeline rather than on my own.

Perhaps I am not late in achieving these life events any more than I am early in my perceptions or thoughts about time and matter and anti-matter.  Perhaps all of these thoughts and events and timelines are under control with the ultimate project manager – God himself.

Still, I have a hard-time accepting that these successes are on God’s timeline rather than my own.  I want to be able to say “I’m normal” and therefore “my successes have occurred in the way I have prepared for, planned and executed.”  In reality these successes are contingent upon allowing myself some “grace” and the opportunity to pursue my accomplishments in an elongated timeframe.  There are many goals that I have currently that I continue to pursue – the message to myself along these pursuits is that God is in control of these developments, even though I would prefer to be in control myself.  I would prefer to be in control just as that ten-year-old child within does so as perhaps despite myself to take full blame when things don’t go according to plan.  If my child within is six and/or if God is in control, I am no longer in control of the outcomes of my life.  If I give my life over truly to God, then every outcome including the potential for child abuse at age six is part of his plan for me and I need not accept any particular outcome as “my doing” or “my fault.”  Perhaps my role in God’s eyes is to tell my story of abuse so that others will not have to endure such happenings or at a minimum can feel some solidarity surrounding those events.

So it was with having my daughter — the biggest accomplishment of my life.  For years, I heard that Lithium was contra-positive toward being pregnant and carrying a child.  For years in my twenties and my thirties, I asked to change my meds so that I might be ready once I got married to carry a child.  When I met my husband, we talked at length about the fact that bipolar illness has a huge genetic component and that there would be some risk of passing the illness along to my child.  I considered this strongly and even looked into the idea of surrogate eggs and surrogate Moms.  In addition, there was a study occurring at a local university hospital which posited that risks to the fetus for heart impacts associated with lithium use by the mom were grossly overstated. My husband was not keen on the surrogate or adoption alternatives, so about 7 months after we were married, we started to try through traditional methods to get pregnant.  I was 39 at the time.  I believe that prior to this time, I may not have been ready to be a Mom, at the same time I do not really advise people to wait too long to have kids.  My husband and I were very blessed to become pregnant within two months of trying.  For most people at the age of 39 in vitro and other pregnancy/fertilization tactics would have been needed.

Even amidst the throes of postpartum depression and related problems, having my daughter in my life and experiencing her as part of my family with my husband continues to be the greatest blessing in my life.  Even now in the midst of the teen years and our occasional head-butting, my daughter continues without a doubt to be the love of my life tying with my husband.