Welcome to Part 2 of my 3-part series on anxiety. I’m sure I’ll be talking a lot more about anxiety in the future but a general set up always helps me.

During an anxiety/dysphoric episode, I find it hard to focus on any one thing. I’m having trouble focusing on writing. I find no irony in this. It’s predictable, but it provides inspiration. I write what I know. Now, let’s focus. See what I did there?

It’s incredibly difficult to function at anything when you can’t focus on anything. Overall, those of us with bipolar disorder have attention deficit problems, (not necessrily ADHD) though it turns out that with short-term focus, we still do fairly well. It’s actually when we need to focus for long periods that we really struggle.

It frustrates me to no end when I have something that absolutely needs to get done but I’m not able because of my anxiety. It’s not an “I need to clean the kitchen but instead I’m going to check Facebook. Oh look! There’s a squirel in the bird feeder!” kind of attention problem. It’s an anxiety-induced, anxiety-producing state of mind. It’s not that I am distracted from doing something. It’s almost as though I can’t remember how because there is a disconnect somewhere in my mind. At times I even have moments when I can’t remember a word or I just feel like I have no access  to my memory. Some of this can be attributed to medication, but some of it is just plain brain function.

For those of us with BPD, our brains legitimately do not function the same way as in the general population. Now, everyone has a different brain, bipolar disorder or not. Cells develop in different places and ways. It’s not abnormal. It’s life. However, in bipolar disorder, we over-all have a noticably structural difference. Our brains are less active in the places associated with self-control, emotional functioning, response patterns and addictive behavior. (Response patterns are basically the quick sub-conscious reactions that happen in the brain all the time.) Let’s not forget poor performance on memory tasks, anxiety and the ability to focus. Sound familiar?

I’ve mentioned several times that being aware of your symptoms is incredibly important. The frequency and severity of these focus and anxiety problems can be partially predicted by the number of manic episodes one has, the duration of their illness, the number of hospitalizations the number of psychotic episodes.

Now, let’s break it down by subgroup symptoms. As far as depression is concerned, the focus problem tends to be worse in those of us with BPD in a depressive state than those with unipolar depression. We’re not paying attention well enough to respond quickly to stimuli.

In a manic state, we kind of over-respond to stimuli. Our brain thinks there is something it needs to respond to, but that particular thing is not there. This happens on a very small level, so you’re not actually seeing or hearing things, it’s just signals bouncing around in your brain. This also  happens more frequently with bipolar I.

With bipolar II, it actually gets a little more complicated. When symptoms are subclinical, we may not realize why we feel the way we feel. We may have to take a step back and realize everything is not out of order. It’s just the bipolar talking and it will be okay. My kitchen can still be cleaned and I will be able to do it. Writing may be hard, but I will still be able to do it.

The thing is, even when we feel “normal,” we still have it worse with attention problems. It’s incredibly frustrating and hard to deal with on any level.

For the final installment of this little trilogy, I’ll give you some ways to deal with anxiety and focus so you might be able keep yourself calm. That’s next time!