I’m frustrated and angry at myself. I’m frustrated with my relationship with focus and energy. Often, when I become really angry, it’s a great motivating influence to get me to take action, to change my mood, to make my situation different. Sometimes my anger helps me to get out of bed. Sometimes it will wake me up from a sleep-like state mid-day, and it helps me to make something of my day. Other times, I don’t respond to my anger proactively, and I get overwhelmed and choose to sleep, watch TV or do something that takes minimal effort and thought power.
It can be difficult to be kind to yourself, especially when you’re angry, overwhelmed, frustrated, emotionally and mentally exhausted and physically tired.
For about the past 9 months I have been observing myself not behaving like my usual self. Before that, my energy and focus would cycle, from good to not so good every other week, every other month, every few months, but for the past 9 months it has cycled in a more negative state. The past 9 months I have felt like I have just been struggling, grasping at focus.
Over the past 9 months, my self-talk and self-perception became more negative, and I wondered why. In January, I was writing self-love posts and actively working on self-love, but I felt somewhat empty, and I remember it feeling like an odd paradox. Something wasn’t matching up. I remember during that time constantly working on myself, on self-love, on balance, on structure, and feeling like it was working, but I still felt empty. I often described it as my “spark” missing.
I thought I had lost my passions. I didn’t feel passionate about anything, although I tried to. I went on a journey to rediscover my passions, and it didn’t really work. There were brief moments and periods where I thought, “Ah-hah! I got my spark back!” – but they were fleeting.
I’ve been meeting with my ADD doctor for the past year because I noticed it was getting harder for me to cultivate and maintain my focus. About two weeks ago, I met with my ADD doctor, and the next day I met with a therapist for the first time to follow up the conversation I was having with my ADD doctor, and they said I likely have bipolar 2.
I started reading this bipolar survival guide book. A lot of what I’m reading in the book rings true for me. There’s still a lot that I don’t know about bipolar. I have a lot of questions still. The more I read, this past year, and further back, is making a lot more sense.
I’ve been taking this human relations class. Another title for the class could be called, “Increasing Your Self-Awareness.” There are chapters on self-esteem, creativity, styles of communication, stress and a lot of really great basic life skills that a lot of people don’t utilize, talk about or know about. My self-awareness has increased a lot since week one of the class. When reading the chapter on self-esteem, during January and the Self-Love Writing Challenge, I realized that my self-esteem was a lot lower than usual, and I couldn’t pin point a reason why it should be. I began to notice a growing list of uncharacteristic things about myself that puzzled me. I would have conversations with myself about my self-esteem, self-love, confidence and so on. I knew that I loved myself. I remembered that not too far in the past I had felt that love for myself. I went over a list of things that I loved about myself, and expanded on each one. I knew that I was capable, intelligent, loving, caring, and so forth, and I told myself these things, but I didn’t feel it. Occasionally, when I had these conversations with myself, it felt kind of like a strange out of body experience. My emotions weren’t connected logically with my thoughts.
After reading more of the bipolar book, these past 9 months make sense – all of those fleeting thoughts about something being amiss and all of the conversations that I had with myself about not feeling like myself – I was falling into a depression that was slowly growing deeper and deeper. After learning more about the bipolar terminology, I learned that there were different expressions of it outside of really high highs and really low lows. I think these past 9 months I was experiencing rapid cycling of mixed episodes.
Prior to these past 9 months, why I originally went to see my ADD doctor again, I was experiencing extreme highs and lows. For a month I felt extraordinarily depressed, not sad depressed, but frustrated depressed. I wasn’t functioning. It was a struggle to get out of bed, to brush my teeth, to eat, to do anything. My work was being harmed because of it, and I became so angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to focus, not just well, but on any level.
Then for about 2 1/2 months after that, everything was going really well. Now that I know the symptoms of a hypomanic state, not sleeping, not needing sleep, a lot more confidence than usual, etc. – I realize that I was likely in a hypomanic state after I experienced that depressive state for a month. Looking back, it was hard for me to know that something was different from my norm during that hypomanic state because I practice self-love regularly, and I am naturally confident and outgoing, and for a handful of years I would just go through periods where I didn’t need sleep, and I would become hyperfocused on something and absorb myself into my passion for a project. That was my norm.
But then, there was a month where I noticed my self-esteem lowering. I was becoming more self-critical and negative. My focus and upbeat mood were waning, and then there was a one to three month period where I was back in that depressive non-functioning state. It was especially hard after experiencing hyperfocus for a couple of months. I was comparing my focus and functioning ability from where I was to where I was just a month before, and it was drastic. I was constantly frustrated with myself because I knew my potential, and what I was capable of, and I knew that I was nowhere close to meeting that. My passions drive me, and to feel passionless – I felt empty. I felt lethargic and unmotivated and incapable of doing anything.
At some point, I got out of that really low depressive state, which was then followed by the last 9 months. From reading, The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know, I learned that there are other forms of hypomanic states aside from the everything-about-life-is-amazing state. There are hypomanic states characterized by lack of sleep, racing thoughts, ruminating negative thoughts and so forth. I remember a lot of the 9 months feeling like that, going back and forth between that and depression and being symptom free. Although, I don’t really remember experiencing symptom free moments during those 9 months, but I know that I must have. I some gut level, I know that I did.
About 3 weeks ago, a week before my scheduled ADD meeting, I noticed the symptoms characterized by the non-fun hypomanic state increasing. I had a work deadline that I was having difficulty focusing on, and it was coming closer and closer. My head was a hurricane of thoughts that I was struggling to turn off. I was pacing around my house, enveloped by thoughts, and I wasn’t being productive. My whole body became overwhelmed with frustration. Earlier that morning, from frustration, I yelled in my room a few times, and I threw a plastic bottle of tums (anti-acid tablets) against my wall. The plastic bottle broke open, and plastic bits and explosions of colorful tums decorated my bed and floor.
That afternoon, I became overwhelmed by frustration again, and I began to sob out of anger and frustration for not being able to focus. I hit this low breaking point, where I was so consumed by anger that I knew something had to change. I experienced that feeling before, about a year ago, towards the end of that first period when I was experiencing extreme apathy, depression and frustration, and a few times towards the end of that second period when I was experiencing the same.
When I experienced that extreme depression the second time this past year, my oldest sister told me that I could talk to her about anything and to come to her whenever I needed. So, three weeks ago, when I was experiencing that anger from my lack of focus, I called her and then drove to her house and shared with her everything that I was experiencing. I was worried that if I continued down the path that I was going that I would experience another one of those really low depression and non-functioning periods, and I didn’t want that to happen.
About a month or two before I hit that breaking point, I had an increasing awareness that something wasn’t right. My apathy towards life was growing. I started to introduce more structure and healthy habits into my life then. I started to exercise regularly, I focused on drinking more water, on flossing, using my planner, simple things. But my focus got worse and it felt like a huge struggle to get myself to do anything.
After I hit that breaking point three weeks ago, I added a lot more structure into my life, and I also began to open up more. After I talked with my sister about what I was experiencing, I shared the same with my parents that night. A day or two later I told my other sister. Shortly after, I scheduled a walk with my best friend and told him, and when my brother came to visit recently, I told him. There were other things that I was experiencing that felt out of character, and that scared me. I started to get some paranoid thoughts that weaved into my negative hypomanic states. For a bit, that was just happening without me being fully aware of it. I was just struggling so much to focus and to get my work done that I wasn’t really aware of everything that I was experiencing. But then a lot of the things that I was experiencing became more prominent, and it didn’t seem normal. At first, I was ashamed to admit that I was having paranoid thoughts. I don’t often cry, but I cried a lot that week.
After I opened up to my sister and my parents three weeks ago, I began to make a lot of changes. I scheduled the majority of my Curve Magazine Facebook posts before I would go to bed so my first thoughts and actions each morning wouldn’t have to revolve around work. I made my bed each morning to make my personal space seem more clean and calm. I began each morning with QiGong or exercise, instead of going to my computer and publishing posts to Curve’s Facebook page or checking my email. I also called my sister, Kristina, and asked if we could go for walks together. We walked and jogged about 4 times together that week, which gave me a reason to wake up early, and thus to go to bed early. I focused a lot on getting to bed earlier and giving myself reasons to get up early so I could be on the same sleep-wake schedule as everyone else. I used my planner more and created to-do lists for myself, and I only gave myself one or two things to do each day. If I did more, great, but if I didn’t, then there was no need for me to get frustrated with myself for not getting things done.
There were a few days where I struggled to get one thing done, but I kept on repeating to be kind to myself. Berating myself wouldn’t help me. When I caught myself telling myself that I couldn’t focus, or more negative thoughts, I stopped myself, and began to repeat things like, “Love is your focus today,” “Love is your intention today,” “When starting something new, be polite to yourself,” and “Be kind to yourself.”
When something was causing me anxiety, or when I felt myself becoming more resistant than usual towards something, I made myself confront it.
Before I hit my breaking point 3 weeks ago, and before I went to my sister’s, that same day, I was aware that I was slipping into this weird and unhealthy space, and the paranoid thoughts that I was having were becoming more prominent. I knew that I had an upcoming appointment with my ADD doctor, but I couldn’t remember when. I thought it was in two days, and I had kept on putting off finding the date and time of my appointment. I felt that I had a large resistance towards clarifying that date, and something inside of me just clicked, and I knew that I needed to push through that resistance. So I looked for a reminder note of the appointment that I got in the mail, but I couldn’t find it. So I went to my email to login to my Kaiser profile, something that I hadn’t done in a while because I lost my password, and I had built up in my mind that fixing that would be an impossible task to do, although that’s not true. I reset my password, logged in and sent my doctor an email, asking her when our appointment was, and I also included that I was having some paranoid thoughts that concerned me. That was the first major resistance that I pushed through that day. I knew that if I didn’t mention it in the email, I wouldn’t have brought it up in our appointment, and that if I mentioned it in the email, that I would have to talk about it when we met.
The second major resistance I pushed through that day was going to my sister to share with her what I was going through. In the moments leading up to my break down, I was going back and forth between feeling highly emotional and apathetic. I was going back and forth between thinking that I needed some kind of support and thinking that I could manage whatever was happening myself. I remembered that my sister, Renee, said to come to her, and I imagined what it would be like to talk to her about what was going on. And I was going back and forth between it being easy and highly uncomfortable. I held onto those moments where I imagined a scenario where I could talk to Renee about what I was experiencing, and I made the decision that I had to do it, and I had to do it in that moment. I called her, my voice breaking, and asked if she was home and free to talk, and then I drove over and we talked.
When I got back home, I told my parents. I knew I wanted to tell my other sister, Kristina, and my brother and my best friend. I texted Kristina, asking if she wanted to go for a walk in the morning, and then the next morning I told her what I was going through, and asked her if we could walk regularly during the mornings.
One thing I became increasingly aware of as I was digressing deeper into these non-fun hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes over the last 9 months was that I was growing distant from myself. How I knew myself to be and how I identified as and how I saw myself changing – I was growing further away from the person I knew myself to be. One of those growing distances was that I was losing my voice. Although what I had been experiencing wasn’t related to my sexuality, I felt like I was going back into some metaphorical closet; I was becoming more withdrawn and I was losing my voice. When I thought about talking about what I was experiencing, sometimes I would go mute. I couldn’t speak about anything, similar to when I was struggling with coming out of the closet about my sexual orientation. I hung out with my best friend a couple of times after I experienced that break down, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth to tell him what was going on. That was another one of the big resistances that I wanted to push through. One day, after I spent the majority of the day with him, I sent him a text that something was going on and that I wanted tell him about it, but that I was having trouble talking about it and could we meet in-person soon for some share time. I knew that if I brought it up before via a text, then I would have to address it when we next met. It felt so relieving to talk to him about it, and so easy once I started.
When I went to the ADD doctor two weeks ago, I brought my mom with me, which my dad recommended when I was telling them what I had been going through. That helped a lot. It helped to encourage me to tell my ADD doctor everything that I had shared with my parents, and my mom also was able to contribute what she had noticed going on with me, aside from what I had shared with them. That day, my ADD doctor recommended that I see a therapist to further hash out what was going on. We had talked about bipolar disorder a year ago, but then disregarded it. A year ago, my mom thought that I might have bipolar disorder and wanted me to bring it up to my ADD doctor. This past appointment, my doctor brought it up and said that what I’ve been experiencing might point to bipolar and that talking to a therapist could help to clarify things and to figure out what was going on.
When I initially shared with my parents what was going on, they brought up seeing a therapist, but I shut down the idea. I know therapists are amazing, helpful and extraordinarily beneficial. My mom’s a therapist. I work with a lot of her therapist colleagues since I’m involved with the non-profit that my mom founded, EDRS (Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc). My resistance stemmed from that residual closeted effect, where I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my feelings or about things that were really bothering me. I had just started to open up to my family about what I was going through, and I knew that I would talk to my best friend soon, and I thought that I would feel more comfortable talking to people that I already know and trust, as opposed to a therapist.
When my ADD doctor suggested that I see a therapist, that was the next big resistance thing that I pushed through. I said that I was hesitant about it, but I agreed. And then she told me that the next day an opening was available for someone she recommended I see, and I said yes. When I met and talked with my therapist, it was surprisingly easy, and I was glad that I pushed through my discomfort to take an action that I knew was loving. He said that I have bipolar two, and that we could test out a lot of different factors to adding structure and so on into my life and that he was hopeful that I wouldn’t need medication to manage it.
Since meeting with them about two weeks ago, my ADD doctor asked me to stop taking adderall and to track my mood for the following month, and then I’d meet with her again in a month. She also mentioned not having caffeine, but then said as long as it doesn’t impact my sleep that I could still have caffeine. My therapist, he added to also track my sleep each day for the month, and he wanted me to cut back on my caffeine and to track my caffeine intake each day. And we’re meeting again next week, two weeks from our original meeting.
Last week, that first week of not taking adderall and having considerably less caffeine, I was having major withdrawals and I was sleeping most of the time. That’s when I started to read the bipolar book. I started to question what symptom free states felt like. What was “normal?” I went through some of my past self-love posts, and noticed how almost all of them revolved around my focus and energy levels, and whether I had focus or not. I started to think about my sleeping and focus cycles and looked through some emails over the past 3 years where I noticed notable changes and cycles in my mood, sleeping habits and focus ability that I noted changing every couple of months. I began to recall specific periods and how I was behaving during those periods, and my thought process during those periods. With the new bipolar terminology that I had, I was able to match the symptoms that were described in the book with my own experiences. I was able to recall what a high energy hypomanic state felt like, as well as a non-fun hypomanic state and a depressive state. Because I was going through the caffeine and stimulant withdrawals, I was exhausted, and I couldn’t remember what “normal,” symptom free felt like.
It was either the end of last week or the beginning of this week where my headaches were less and my energy was picking up, and I realized that I was experiencing life free of symptoms. My thoughts weren’t racing at a thousand miles per an hour and I didn’t feel like this pressure was pushing against my brain making me feel lethargic and apathetic. I was tired, but my head felt clear and my thoughts were calm. In that moment, I knew that was what symptom free felt like.
This past week, my energy has picked up a lot. It’s not 100%, but it’s a lot better. I notice myself drifting away from some of the new structured habits I created for myself, in relation to sleep, exercise, meditation and other areas, but I’m still doing pretty good with that stuff, and I have been getting sufficient sleep consistently for two weeks.
Focus is still sometimes a struggle, for the most part it is, but I’m pushing through it, and I had a couple of really strong productivity periods. A plus, this past week I have increased to a low to medium functioning level, with a couple of high functioning moments. I think due to the caffeine withdrawals and recently getting out of a hypomanic state, this past week I have been struggling with, “What does symptom free feel like?” Is my struggle with focus related to my ADD solely, or am I slipping into some bipolar episode? Am I experiencing normal ranges of frustration or bipolar frustration? Is this normal lethargy, or bipolar lethargy? And then there’s the 5% of me that doesn’t believe that I have bipolar. How does anyone know? Where is the line drawn between an uncertain diagnosis and a confident diagnosis? What is bipolar exactly? How does it develop? How do you successfully manage it? When I was in my hyperfocused periods, was that because I was having a bipolar episode or was that fueled by my passion and excitement for life? All of the bigger projects that I took on in my life, were those undertaken during hypomanic episodes? The focus and productivity that I experienced then, am I capable of experiencing that level of focus and productivity when I’m symptom free? What am I capable of in a symptom free state?
I believe that our thoughts lead our lives. I believe that thoughts are one of the most powerful tools for happiness and creating change. I believe that we have control over our thoughts. No matter our circumstances, or what life brings our way, we choose how to respond to life, and we choose how to perceive life. I believe that human potential is limitless because what we are capable of stems from the thoughts we choose to cultivate.
I struggle with the idea of having bipolar disorder because it signifies a chemical imbalance in the brain that influences one’s mood, which impacts one’s thoughts. I struggle with the idea of having bipolar disorder because it creates this large uncertainty for me. These past handful of years, I’ve gone back and forth between having focus, grasping for focus and not having it at all. Since I’ve graduated from college, almost three years ago, I feel like I’ve made tremendous leaps with my personal and work goals, but I’m consistently taking large steps backward, and I feel like due to my struggle with focus, I’m consistently limiting myself. Before learning about bipolar disorder, one of my largest worries has been being limited by my focus, and having trouble with reaching complete financial independence due to my struggle with focusing.
Deep in my core, I know that these worries are unfounded, but maybe I have to change my perception of how quickly I can do things. I have been able to create an online community in a week and a website in a day, but maybe that’s only when I have less on my plate or only when I’m experiencing a hypomanic episode. I’ve struggled with focus, and at times with functioning on a day-to-day basis, but overall I have gone through life doing really well. Maybe the expectations that I have for myself are unrealistically high, and so when I struggle with focus, I can learn to let go of some of the frustration because I’m comparing low focus me to hyperfocus me, which is not sustainably realistic.
In my human relations class, we write chapter responses for each chapter, and I usually use my chapter responses as a journaling process to help me figure things out that I’m currently experiencing. In one of my recent chapter responses, I wrote about where my thoughts were with having bipolar disorder. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter response:
I’ve always been big on self-love and before these past 9 months, I always felt like I had a strong sense of self and could genuinely say that I loved myself. These past 9 months, I’ve mainly felt frustrated and upset with myself for not meeting my, and sometimes others, expectations, and for not meeting my potential. If I do have bipolar, I have to realize that it impacts my energy, my mood and my focus and I have to redefine these words and my relationship to them. I also want to continue my self-love journey, with the goal being loving all of myself, and the difference being that I would have changed my self-perception and I would need to learn how to love new aspects of myself. I would need to be kinder to myself when I feel depressed and unmotivated about life. I would need to be kinder to myself when thoughts race through my head and I become more pessimistic about life. If those episodes became a regular part of my life, I would need to learn to love myself in those moments, be kind to myself and teach myself new self-love and self-awareness techniques to help counter the pessimism, depression, etc. as much as I could.
A good step one is to change how I view myself and my relationship with my energy levels, mood and focus. A good step two is to strengthen useful techniques, like diaphragmatic breathing and using the thought, feeling, action loop to change my thought patterns. A good step three is to continue to increase my system of support, the structure in my life and to continue educating myself about bipolar disorder, and a good step four is to create strategies to help me better deal with bipolar and to help me function better or be more at ease when I have the most difficulty with functioning.
The chapter I was responding to was titled, “Individual and Organizational Change.” One of the things that the chapter addressed was the seven stages of personal change, which describes how people respond to change. There are 7 steps: Emotional Standstill, Denial, Anger, Helplessness, Bottoming Out, Experimenting and Completion. I feel like during my negative state of mind cycles I experienced this, with bottoming out being the breaking point where I was consumed with frustration and knew something needed to change. Maybe during symptom free periods that were recently preceded by some kind of episode, there are transition periods. On that spectrum, I think I am in the experimenting phase. I’m tinkering with my sleep, the thoughts I cultivate and so on, trying to get myself back to a balanced state of mind, to completion.
In relation to recently being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I think the seven stages of personal change still applies, but I’m at a different stage. I think I’m between denial and anger. There’s still some doubt in my mind, but when I fully accept that I have bipolar disorder, I’ll be able to view it as an aspect of myself, instead of this invading “other” that exists to tear me down. When I learn to see it as an aspect of who I am, and not something that dominates all of who I am, I can learn to love that aspect of myself and I can learn to love all of me again.
I can also learn to use it as a tool to further increase my self-awareness, self-exploration and self-evolution. In the long-run, I think this will be really good in helping me to more easily create balance for myself, as well as focus. I’ll have to learn to let go of beliefs that no longer serve me. I’ll need to learn how to slow down my pace of life, which I think will help me to live more in the present moment. I think this will help me to strengthen my observer, which will help me to objectively view what I’m experiencing, and that will help increase the strength of tools like visualization, diaphragmatic breathing and purposefully choosing my thoughts to help cultivate the feelings that I want to experience, which will in turn influence my actions.
Since graduating from college, I feel like I have been on this constantly-evolving journey of growing into myself. I think growing as individuals is a constant process that doesn’t change, and I’m in the midst of a new stage of my journey.
This photo is a good reminder for me. When I get frustrated with where I am in life, it will be helpful to remind myself that although in the moment I am not where I want to be, that I am also not where I used to be, and that I have come a long way.
Another good reminder comes from my mom’s book, Self-Love Diet: The Only Diet That Works. I’ll end with her excerpt below:
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love, a young man named Giovanni teaches Elizabeth how to speak Italian. When she becomes frustrated by not being able to think of a word in Italian, Giovanni tells her, “Liz, you must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.” I pass on Giovanni’s advice on to you. When reading Self-Love Diet: The Only Diet That Works, you may be learning something new.
My minimum prayer is that you will become more polite to yourself from reading this book, which will lead you to increased self-acceptance. My maximum prayer is that you will begin each day, from this day forward, with the intention and action of loving yourself, which will extend healing into our world.
– Emelina Minero
Michelle Minero, the Co-Founder of this blog and the overarching Love Warrior Community published her book, Self-Love Diet: The Only Diet That Works. You can buy her book online or at stores in Petaluma, Sonoma and Healdsburg, California. For upcoming events and book signings, starting May 25th, visit Michelle’s Events page.
Emelina Minero writes for Curve Magazine and EDGE Gay Media Network, and is Curve’s Social Media Manager. She’s launching her own progressive LGBTQ publication, The Human Experience. She’s a Connection Connoisseur, Networking Maven and Self-Love Enthusiast. She founded Community Bucket List and co-founded the Love Warrior Community. Find her on Twitter, @CommKr8veWriter.