Hello again, my lovelies!
Welcome to another episode of the saga of Elle the Space Unicorn. In today’s episode, I’ll be talking about mental health. Specifically, what I deal with, the stigma I have encountered, and how I manage to keep myself traversing the plains of the Serengeti of my life.
***Trigger Warning***: I do speak about mental health and trauma in this post, so for those of you who feel squeamish around this topic, I recommend skipping this post.
For all others, I hope you enjoy!
Like most organisms of the planet, I deal with anxiety. About mostly anything and everything. I’ve been anxious about things from crowds to eating in public. It’s one of the many reasons that I tend to refuse to socialize and/or leave the house. My particular case of anxiety has led to dealing with bouts of OCD that are somewhat manageable.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can vary. They may include:
- Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
- Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
- Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
- Difficulty handling uncertainty
- Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
- Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
- Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Physical signs and symptoms may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trembling, feeling twitchy
- Nervousness or being easily startled
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
There may be times when your worries don’t completely consume you, but you still feel anxious even when there’s no apparent reason. For example, you may feel intense worry about your safety or that of your loved ones, or you may have a general sense that something bad is about to happen.
Your anxiety, worry or physical symptoms cause you significant distress in social, work or other areas of your life. Worries can shift from one concern to another and may change with time and age.
I also don’t allow others to use my things including pens, pencils, cotton balls, lotion, clothing, and shoes. I have my own toothpaste, my own wash cloths, my own towels, etc. It’s difficult to exist in a world where people may say they have anxiety but they exploit it. They actually may be just nervous, or perhaps even bothered by a situation. In my experience, my anxiety never truly leaves my thoughts. It can be lowered in severity but there is still always that little twinge of fear of the unknown.
Let’s get back to mental health exploitation. Unless you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder, you can’t assume you have it. Speak with a licensed professional.
Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take an extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.¹
Until you look at the numbers on paper, you can’t imagine that this is our world.
While anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., depression isn’t far behind. Here are the latest depression statistics:
- 300 million people around the world have depression, according to the World Health Organization
- 16.2 million adults in the United States—equaling 6.7 percent of all adults in the country—have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year
- 10.3 million U.S. adults experienced an episode that resulted in severe impairment in the past year
- Nearly 50 percent of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
- It’s estimated that 15 percent of the adult population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime.²
So many of us are suffering from depression and reading the statistics could cause even more depressive thoughts. (Again, trigger warning is listed above, so don’t come for me.)
Now, onto the main event. My greatest foe, the Joker to my Batman, the Lex Luthor to my Superman, and one of my greatest motivators. Bipolar Disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression. Also, just a joke to some people. If the weather doesn’t go right, the cat is acting weird one day and fine the next, people say, “My cat is bipolar.” “The weather is bipolar today.” Unless the weather has a central nervous system that I didn’t know about, don’t call it bipolar. It’s just different, that’s it. But, as for the animal kingdom, an article from BBC.com sheds light on animals and the existence of mental disorders. (Read more on animal mental health here: Many Animals Can Become Mentally Ill. Fair warning, there is a story of a chimpanzee who lost his mother.)
There are several types of bipolar and related disorders. They may include mania or hypomania and depression. Symptoms can cause unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, resulting in significant distress and difficulty in life.
- Bipolar I disorder. You’ve had at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. In some cases, mania may trigger a break from reality (psychosis).
- Bipolar II disorder. You’ve had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but you’ve never had a manic episode.
- Cyclothymic disorder. You’ve had at least two years — or one year in children and teenagers — of many periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms (though less severe than major depression).
- Other types. These include, for example, bipolar and related disorders induced by certain drugs or alcohol or due to a medical condition, such as Cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis or stroke.
Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but a separate diagnosis. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be severe and dangerous, individuals with bipolar II disorder can be depressed for longer periods, which can cause significant impairment.
Although bipolar disorder can occur at any age, typically it’s diagnosed in the teenage years or early 20s. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and symptoms may vary over time.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 2012 at the age of 25 after a traumatizing experience. I have been to countless therapists, psychiatrists, in-patient programs, out-patient programs, and group therapy. I have been on many medications to try and get the perfect dosage. It doesn’t always work so easily. Trial and error is the name of the game. My current psychiatrist is so dope. He gives it to me straight, no chaser. I love that.
While my particular case includes bouts of hypomania, most people are familiar with the term mania. Hypomania is just a bit less extreme than mania. Although it is categorized as “less than”, sufferers can still have trouble coming down from that “high”. Being hypomanic makes me feel more social than normal, overconfident, light as a feather, and actually gives me an intense warm feeling. While it’s great to be confident and social, it isn’t in my DNA. As a person who tends to cringe in social situations, you can easily tell when I am manic based on my interactions with people. I tend to laugh harder and more frequent. I speak so fast that people get lost. It’s a whirlwind.
And then there is the dark side of this disorder, the depression. As I have mentioned depression earlier in this article, I won’t repeat it. Just know, that while Bipolar disorder sucks on its own, it can be an even heavier weight on your shoulders to deal with the deep depression that comes with it.
Another thing about Bipolar II that no one ever mentions is the creativity aspect. So many people around the world who suffer from Bipolar disorder are also incredibly creative. Artists, painters, writers, actors, directors, musicians. The disorder doesn’t discriminate, but it does allow some very interesting things to occur in the brain. I have been able to hone my creativity in art, writing, music, and even organization of our house. While others may not have this particular trait, it doesn’t mean hat they are doom and gloom. A large number of us are fighting as hard as we can to find what interests us, what makes us happy, what triggers us, and where we want to be.
I started writing this post thinking that I was going to make a quick snippet and go on about my day. It has taken me three days to finish this. I hope you all enjoy it, and for those who are struggling with mental illnesses, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I’m here for you, I love you, and I want the best for you.