I have bipolar II disorder. And when people talk about the accompanying symptoms, they rarely mention anxiety. For me, anxiety is a large part of my condition. It spikes when I feel the most unstable—when I’m in the midst of a depressive or manic episode. And it is far less present when my bipolar cycles are stabilized and managed. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are already very difficult to manage, and the anxiety I experience on top of it can feel completely debilitating.
I’ve experienced anxiety attacks where I become so overwhelmed I feel as if I’m overtaken by pain. I cry, have trouble breathing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even know where I am. I’ll be at work and suddenly feel like my whole world is crashing in around me. At the same time, I’m trying to just hold on enough so that no one will notice. I run to the bathroom and cry until I can’t cry anymore, and then pretend as if nothing happened; trying desperately to get my breathing back on track. Or I’ll be out with friends and excuse myself from the table to find a quiet place in the restaurant hoping none of my friends will see me panic.
There were times I wouldn’t go out because I was afraid of having an anxiety attack. I worried that people would see it, and I would feel ashamed. Anxiety used to rise in me like water rises in a river after a heavy rain. As it happened, I would desperately try to hold on while gasping for air. For the longest time, my anxiety managed me and I simply worked my life around it.
In the past two years, I’ve learned to manage my bipolar disorder and accompanying anxiety better through cognitive behavioral therapy and electroconvulsive therapy. I also use coping skills daily, such as mindfulness practices and journaling. These skills have allowed me to release pent up feelings on a regular basis.
For mindfulness, I practice deep breathing. This practice is what truly helps me in the midst of an attack. It helps me center myself and focus on my breath, so I am no longer focusing on the overwhelming burden of thoughts that overtake my mind during an anxiety attack. In years past, when my anxiety set in, so would the avalanche of harsh thoughts. My mind would take me to scary, cruel places that I felt like I couldn’t escape. Now, I use deep breathing as a way to escape the avalanche. Yes, I still have anxiety, but it’s no longer the center of my world.
I feel it’s important to address the symptom of anxiety—as a part of bipolar or for anyone who experiences anxiety—so people know it does not have to consume your world. There are many treatment options out there and there is hope. Now that I’ve received proper treatment, I rarely have full blown attacks anymore. I no longer live with that river rising in me, desperately feeling the need to gasp for air. I breath freely every day enjoying what life has to offer.
Caitlin Regan is a 31-year-old living with Bipolar II disorder. She was diagnosed in 2012 and has been living successfully in treatment for two years now. She receives Electroconvulsive Therapy and participates in CBT therapy as her treatment plan. Caitlin is a high school teacher currently studying to become a counselor. She realized two years ago when she became healthy, she wanted to help others live healthy who deal with mental illness. She finds the support of her family to be a strong resource and loves spending time with them. She also enjoys spending free time with friends and her two dogs.
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