It’s been more than a week since my anxiety cycle began. I’ve been super wired. I have to remind myself to breathe and take time to close my eyes and try to de-sensitize. Basically, my anxiety is causing anxiety. It’s an ouroboros. Anxiety feeds on itself and it’s incredibly difficult to break the cycle to get yourself down to my baseline.
If you have bipolar, you know what this means. Not that you can actually control your moods. You can’t. If it worked that way we wouldn’t be talking about this. What it does mean is that you recognize what is happening so you can deal with it more effectively. Increased awareness is vital. For me, it works better for anxiety than it does depression. I’m not always fully aware that my anxiety is out of control, but if I take the time to just recognize how I’m feeling I can take the steps I need to at least give myself a little help. Depression is a whole other ballgame.
I am not the only one that has to deal with added anxiety. Actually, over half of people with bipolar disorder (either I or II) can be diagnosed with at least one additional anxiety disorder. That’s right. I said at least one. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all considered anxiety disorders in this case. Predictably, GAD is the most common anxiety disorder that gets packed on to bipolar. There’s a reason it’s called generalized. Then, about 28% of bipolar patients have two anxiety disorders and about the same percentage have three.
Generalized anxiety disorder is what I get to call my own. It’s been a hard diagnosis to balance. I got the GAD diagnosis first. That was 12 years ago. The medication worked well, until it wasn’t enough. It took several more years before I would get the bipolar II diagnosis. That was six years ago. In between I was prescribed several different medications. First more SSRI’s then SNRI’s, just in case there were other receptors floating around in my brain that needed lassoing.
Nothing was working. I was getting frustrated and hitting bottom. Some of that was actually a side effect of one of the drugs I was trying at the time.
I started seeing a new therapist. At one point she stopped talking, listening and taking notes. She just looked at me for several seconds. Then she took a breath and told me she wanted to refer me to a psychiatrist. I might have bipolar disorder. Turns out, she was right. He saw it almost immediately. I was given new medication. I tell you no lie and give you no exaggerations when I say it changed my life. I felt like I could breathe again. A mood disorder is a different animal than an anxiety disorder.
But the anxiety disorder can still lurk in the shadows, as mine has. It has started peaking through in the past few years so I’ve had to start the fight back over. Back to the anxiety medication but as an addition to the bipolar medication instead of each working on their own.
But where do the lines cross? Bipolar II disorder is often characterized by dysphoric mania. You get to be depressed and euphoric all at the same time! Basically, the brain gets confused and has absolutely no idea what it’s doing. I’m fairly certain everyone has had this experience in their life, bipolar or no. You get worry, irritability, changing sleep patterns, and problems concentrating. Basically, dysphoric mania sounds eerily like anxiety disorder.
So how do you treat it? Well, my doctors and I are still trying to figure it out. Until more conclusive research emerges, it’s a guessing game at this point. The same symptoms present, but are caused by different problems and those problems are treated differently. Sounds like a line from Lewis Carroll. Unfortunately, it makes about the same kind of sense. It’s there if you look for it, but sometimes you have to get through the nonsense to find it.
This is the first of a three-part series on anxiety. See you next time!