How Sleep Apnea Changed my Mental Health Outlook

Sleep and I never got along. I am not sure exactly when it started to affect my life, but since my childhood, I have never put much stock into the idea that sleep is possible in my life. Sleep is very important to mental health.

In 2016, my diagnosis became mild sleep apnea, and I was told it was affecting my mental health. My anxiety at the time was at an all-time high, but trouble with the CPAP machine, mainly that it was causing severe dry mouth that was keeping me from using the machine, made my insurance take back the machine before I could get the right mask. It sucked because I needed it, but I decided that it was too much trouble to keep dealing with the insurance and the machine.

Fast forward to 2019, where I began to once again get very little sleep, little did I know that it was worse than I believed. In the first sleep study, I found out some troubling news. One, I was not getting any REM sleep. That is bad for anyone wondering. The worst part? My sleep apnea was now severe to the point that, as an average, I stopped breathing around 87 times an hour. If you do the math, in eight hours, I was not breathing half the time. One of the worst was when I stopped breathing for approximately 57 seconds. That scared me to death. It meant I was waking up so many times a night it was borderline that I could die in my sleep.

In the second sleep study, about a month later, I got sick in-between studies, they added the mask and the CPAP machine this time around. I saw better improvement. It was interesting how advanced the devices had gotten since 2016. I still had sleep apnea events about 32 times an hour, but that was a significant improvement. Things could realistically look up in my life.

In September, I got my CPAP machine. I was hopeful that I could finally start conquering this sleep issue and at the same time, improve my mental health. What amazed me about the machine was that it starts out at a low level of air pressure. As you begin to sleep, it increases to the number that they found during the second sleep study as the best pressure for me to sleep. It starts out at a four, and increases all the way to 15, which is very high but necessary.

Nothing happens overnight, but I could tell in the first week that I was sleeping more through the night and waking up less. The dry mouth was no longer an issue as my new machine had a better dehumidifier. It was gradual, but within a month, I was sleeping around seven hours without waking, which for me, is out of this world. The best part? My sleep apnea events went all the way down to less than one event per hour. I don’t have to tell you how amazing that is, and since I have bought into the idea.

It is not a perfect world. I still have some issues getting to sleep, and the mask is cumbersome. But it works. Slowly the dark circles are disappearing. Its December and I am getting seven hours of sleep. I feel rested. I am more productive and alert. It was something I needed to commit to, and I have more than fulfilled the goals I set this time around. It is amazing what sleep can do for a person.

My point is that in this mental illness life, find things that will help you. I feel as if my anxiety is something I can work on, and my panic attacks will become less of an issue the more rested I am to start the day. I can finally start immersion therapy for my panic disorder. On occasion, I oversleep something I never did before, and it feels good! I will continue to stay committed and who knows where I will come in December 2020.

If you have any questions about sleep studies, sleep apnea, and CPAP machines please leave a comment and I will share my wisdom further.

Always Keep Fighting

James

P.S. If you have time, please purchase my book. You can find it on Amazon by looking up my pen name James Edgar Skye. The name of the book is The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir. It is available in print and Kindle edition. Thank you for your support. I will also link my Amazon page below.

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Vaping & Anxiety – My Experience

I want to preface this blog post with this, the choice to use vaping as a tool for my anxiety was a personal choice and one that I made for myself. I am not saying that vaping is the answer to all my problems or that it is any better than smoking. Instead, I will explain how vaping has helped curb some of my anxiety, especially at night.

Back in May, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I was looking for ideas on how to get through some of my night-time anxiety. A fellow blogger and mental health advocate talked about how she used non-nicotine vaping as a way to help her anxiety. She explained that there are so many types of vape pens out there, and some have nicotine, and others have none. It was a personal choice for her to use one without nicotine, and it was helping her anxiety immensely.

I talked to a friend about it, and she told me about one that she uses that is also helpful. As I have expressed on this blog, I quit smoking several years ago, and I used smoking as a coping mechanism to combat anxiety. It really sucked, and I have only seen my anxiety increase since I decided to quit smoking. It was the right decision, but I knew eventually there was a possibility I would go back to smoking.

I did my research, and I found some vape pens that have no nicotine and some that just a bit of nicotine–and I decided on a pen that had some and I bought it hoping for the best. So far, my experience has been a good one, and during some of my panic attacks at night, using my vape pen has helped me get through some tough nights. I do use it throughout the day, which is also helpful. I have seen a curb in my anxiety since about June of this year.

I am not saying for you to go out and get a vape pen means you will no longer have anxiety. With the pressures of graduate school, writing my book, and my freelance work it helps to have something to turn to when my anxiety spirals. It is not a cure-all, and I am working on reducing anxiety and depression with working on my sleep. Vaping is just something I have found that works for me, and I am always honest here on my blog about my experiences. If you go down that route, do some research, and make a decision for yourself. Stay strong in the fight.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Sleep, Is it the Cause of it All?

Last week I saw my sleep doctor where we talked about my sleep apnea. It was not good. The results I will keep to myself, but basically, it means that my sleep apnea, which I knew was terrible got worse over the last few years. I never got to the rim sleep that night, and it is most likely the cause of my increased depression, panic disorder, and social anxiety.

Sleep has always been an issue in my life since I was a young kid. I can’t remember a time when I truly got a good nights sleep. Sure I get so tired that occasionally I will sleep okay for a few hours a night, but I wake up regularly, and it sucks because there is a chance that the root of all my mental health issues is sleep. Sleep apnea is no joke as I have found out over the last week.

So tonight I go for my second sleep study this time they will connect me to a sleep apnea machine. For those who have never gone through a sleep study, the nurse hooks you up with a ton of wires all over your head, neck, and legs. It’s a very long process, and it makes it harder to sleep.

This is not the first time that I have done these tests and got a sleep apnea machine. I had issues with the mask, and eventually, my insurance decided that they would not pay for something that I was not using. Since the masks have improved and I am hopeful that tonight’s sleep study that things will work out better and I will finally be able to conquer this insomnia thing.

Part of this process will lead to my therapist helping work on my panic disorder, and I think overall, it will really help me get better. Depression, panic disorder and social anxiety along with insomnia have been kicking my butt lately, and I want the next five months to be the catalyst to finally finding myself and be in a better place with my mental health.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Mania, My Favorite Subject to Write

Mania is such an interesting part of my Bipolar 1 diagnosis because its not so bad during. Sure, my behavior is extreme. I go through outrageous spending sprees on things that I don’t need. I tend not to sleep. My behaviors can be reckless, and I can feel on top of the world. It is such an opposite of deep depression that I tend to like it, even when the crash is worse at times than hitting rock bottom with depression or a panic attack.

I was asked what is it like to have a bad manic attack, and I have to admit it was tough to think about because when you’re in the moment, it feels like you can do anything. Recently I went through a bad manic episode, and I say bad because of the ending was horrible, and it was the actions that led to the conclusion that it was a manic episode and both good in a way and bad for my mental health.

One of the worst parts of my manic episode is when my list of things I want on my Amazon account begins to balloon into what I call “things I don’t need but really want.” Even worse is when those things start becoming boxes coming to my house. It is always small useless things that I want more than actually what I need. It has always been that way when it comes to the manic side. I spend way too much money on needless things when I am manic. This is just one bad thing about mania.

The Feeling on Top of the World

One of the bad parts for me with mania, and one that gets be in trouble when the manic episode is over–The feeling that your on top of the world.

My recent manic episode saw me write on average 5-8 thousand words on my fantasy fiction novel that I completed in roughly five months from start to finish and ended at around 200k in words. I have never been productive for weeks on end. I was writing every day and not missing a beat. It was all great, but it was my manic side taking over.

In contrast, the last two weeks since finishing my first draft, I have seen a deep decline in productivity. Depression has pushed me into the unfocused part of my illness. It also affected my overall school work. When I am manic, I tend to be overzealous and think everything I do is perfect. I got a rude awakening during my manic episode in the form of the worst grade I have ever got, and it panicked me to a point where I wanted to quit school. Good thing I can still be reasonable even when in a manic episode and things got better.

The “top of the world” feeling is great in the manic episode, but it can be dangerous. I was not eating right. Sleep was non-existent. I was heading down a dangerous path, and the manic fall always leads me into a depression cycle.

Mania is tough to define, and to really say it is an unfortunate part of my illness feels false because I feel more productive. It might be spurred on by mania, but it feels good. I have been on the side of trying to write when I am depressed, and it is considerably harder to find my motivation. Still, mania is something that needs to be fixed in my life, and I have a new medication that might solve many of my issues with my manic side. Is it good or bad? I would say a bit of both.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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My Next Big “The Bipolar Writer” Project

I am nearing the end of writing my first fantasy fiction novel entitled Rise of the Nephilim. I am proud of this project and the first-draft will be done end of July.

With that said, I am always looking for my next project, and with my first novel is in publishing limbo, it is important to think “what is next, James.” The answer came to me, it is time to expand on my “Interview Feature” series into a book. So, what does this mean? I am looking for volunteers!

I am coming up a large number of questions and that each interviewee will take up a chapter. There is no telling where this will go. I have reached out to at three potentials with one getting back to me. I want to give back and writing the stories of others will be one thing that will bring me joy. I would like to know if you interested, and if you are, please email me @ jamesedgarskye22@gmail.com

This a not yet a “works in progress” so I am only taking serious people who want to share their story. In an ideal world, I would build my Patreon account and travel, doing the interviews in person, but there is enough money in my life right now to write this book on the road, but it can still be done!

Always Keep Fighting

James

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My First Time Dining Out in a Year

So, I don’t dine out. The last time was a year ago when I moved to my new place (which by the way, I have been here for exactly a year.) We celebrated the move, but I felt anxious and on the edge of a panic attack. It sucked.

I decided no more dinner out, and I eat in when I am hungry or eat food here. I still go to coffee shops and breakfast at the place that I have been to forever, and the crowds are less when I decide to go.

Today I took a leap and considering that I have a ton of summer plans it is better to get it out of the way now before things are busy again in my life. So I went to dinner to celebrate some family leaving town that was here for a couple of weeks. I was okay at first, and it is always important that I get my water so it is there and its the first mental hurdle when I am out dining. It took longer than I would have liked but, it is not like I can control the waiting staff.

I took my Clonazepam at my regular time at 1pm, but I knew there was a chance I would need it sooner and halfway through dinner I needed it because I could feel the panic rising. I was able to calmly go to my car and take my dosage at 7:45pm which was sooner than the 9pm that I need, but it should last me until early morning which fine.

One issue that I have is a deep seeded fear that I will have a panic attack in the middle of a crowded place, and this was a very crowded restaurant. Crowds are just another issue to go along with my panic disorder issues. I usually eat in, or order take-out preferring the comforts of home. For the last year I have turned down dozens of dinner invites, and most of my limited amount of friends do not ask me to go places anymore.

I have created this world of fear of going out, but I have been feeling left out, and it is easy to blame my mental illness, but there come a time and place where you have to find the courage and figure out what the causes.

For so long now I have hidden in my safe places like coffee shops or the place where I always eat breakfast every three to four months with my best friend. Crowds scare me, and they used to not be that way. I used to go to concerts and hang out with friends. But that was 20 years old me and before I knew about depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. The knowing, and actually experiencing having a panic attack in the middle of a crowd I have some basis for that fear.

Tonight I just got by, and I was lucky everyone was a quick eater. I want to live again. I have plans after graduate school, and that means this summer I have to take the help that I was given and get my recovery moving forward with my panic disorder, because like is passing me by. I am going to be a published author this summer. Things are good, but I need to take this next step in the process. More to come as always.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Panic Disorder or Social Anxiety? Maybe Both

I had an interesting conversation with my therapist the other day.

Officially, in my mind, my diagnosis is Bipolar 1 with seasonal component and social anxiety. I learned that is not my official diagnosis (the social anxiety part, my diagnosis is Bipolar 1), and I thought that was well enough. Officially, my diagnosis is Panic Disorder.

That is not to say I don’t have social anxiety, it is just that my therapist is considering the last year with my increase in panic attacks to focus on this diagnosis. The main part of my “social anxiety” as I have called it over the last three or four years is the “fear” of having a panic attack in a public place. It is the most terrifying thing, and it is the cause of the anxiety the moment I leave my house. That preoccupation with the “panic attack” on my part has lead to a change in my diagnosis–panic disorder.

It makes sense to say I have panic disorder, and when my therapist read out the criteria of both, I fit panic disorder better than social anxiety. Interestingly enough, it is possible that I could be agoraphobic, but we can discuss that another time. It is interesting that “panic attacks” have been central to my anxiety since 2016, and while I am still working towards positive outcomes it is still there, and the medication only takes me so far.

So when it comes down to it, is it social anxiety or panic disorder. My therapist says that we would attack the issue from the same position and I may have panic disorder and social anxiety. Right now it is the most important thing to attack the one that is strongest.

So this summer, as I move towards becoming a published author, I will be working with my therapist in creating situations that cause my panic attack and attack the reasoning behind the thoughts behind the fear of having a panic attack in public. It will be a long road ahead, that is for sure, but things can always get better. If I have proven with my recovery (never fully but a functional Bipolar 1), this will be one more thing.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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A Swim Upstream And Lessons Learnt

As the year comes to an end, I would like to recap what 2018 has been for me. This year was filled with so many ups and downs. Tears have been cried and my faith has been tested on so many occasions. There were a lot of lessons learned, despite my heartache.

It has been a year since I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and My Bowel Disease. This time last year, I was so malnourished because my gut was extremely damaged and I couldn’t absorb nutrients. It has been such a struggle to get to a point were my bowel disease was at bay. I was also diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and panic disorder about three years ago. I struggled to keep the ship sailing since my malnutrition and my bowel disease made my mental health conditions worse.

I lost so many friends due to us growing apart. I was no longer helpful in their journeys and them in mine. I grew into what I am today because I was shaped by my circumstances and experiences. I became who I was destined to be. I fell in love with myself again, despite having lost myself in the storm of circumstances I had no control over. I gained new hope and I started traveling the world again, with friends and on my own.

For the first time in a year, since my diagnosis of CPTSD. I started living for myself and not being defined by doctrines that people tried to instil in me. I overcame my self harming strategies, my suicidal thoughts and most importantly the guilt I have carried for so many years. I always struggled with guilt and self-hate. Because I was taught by my abusers that I was not worthy of love and that I wasn’t deserving of life. I still struggle with my negative inner critic from time to time but I learnt how to cope and tackle this negative inner critic.

I am grateful for all that Life had to offer me in 2018. Most importantly, I found the new me!

Thank you for being with me. I look forward to seeing you here again soon Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Love,

Francesca

My Last Panic Attack – An Anxiety​ Story​

aaron-blanco-tejedor-768029-unsplash.jpgA Christmas Eve Panic Attack Story

Last night sucked.

I found myself lost in the clutches of a panic attack–again. I hate the winter months. I am not sure if it is the cold or something else, but my anxiety spirals worse at this time of the year.

Last night was a culmination of a lot of things, but my thoughts were the all-consuming the previous night. I could not find a place where things were good. The main issue on my mind… my ongoing struggles with my Seroquel. It has been on my mind a lot lately. I rely on it do the most important thing when it comes to my mental health–sleep. Sure, it helps keep my mania and depression in check as well, but as I can track my thoughts over the past year, it has become clear that a part of my night time panic attacks happen after I take my Seroquel for sleep.

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The worst part for me when it comes to panic attacks is losing who I am, and a part of me leaves me–hope. I can feel myself losing control, and when I can’t breathe, I feel helpless. I hate anxiety and panic attacks because of the loss of control. I need to be in control of myself to feel right. It is the only way that I survive the daily grind of anxiety.

From the moment that I wake up in the morning, I fight a battle with anxiety. I have the occasional moment of peace, but these are a rare thing. There is something about this time of year. It has been that way the last three years. The crazy thing is my anxiety was not always consuming; there was a time where anxiety was just something that happened on occasion.

I can trace my current issues back to 2016. I had my first massive panic attack in years. I was driving, and I lost control. I was hospitalized. It sucked in the worst way. Before that moment I had relative peace with my anxiety. As I began to conquer my depression, my old friend anxiety decided it was time to come back into my life.

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I remember early on in diagnosis when my anxiety was this bad. I understood anxiety less than I do now, and what worked was an increase in my Ativan. I eventually got to a place where anxiety was not an everyday thing.

I know this is not a forever thing. I know I have to do better in 2019 to finally tackle these issues head-on because there are so many positive things for me coming in the new year. There is always hope and fighting for better mental health. Yesterday is not today, and I can only go up from here.

Stay strong in the fight.

Always Keep Fighting

James

Photo Credit:

Jéssica Oliveira

Aarón Blanco Tejedor

Hailey Kean

Jon Tyson

When Things Don’t Sparkle Like They Used To

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We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same. – Trent Shelton

This is a letter to anyone who has been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness or a mental illness. This  letter will contain all the things I wanted to hear from someone when I initially got diagnosed. When I needed to be comforted and when  I was experiencing inner turmoil and conflict. I hope this letter comforts someone in need of a shoulder to cry on.

Dear Lovely Friend,

It took me forever to get a diagnosis. For all the hospital trips that I made whilst seeking help made me feel worthless. I was being told from time to time that what I thought or felt “was all in my head” and that it meant nothing. That all the pain that I felt will be melted away by the pills that I was prescribed. Deep down in my heart, I knew I meant more than a diagnosis and a hand full of prescription pills. I thought that I would be happier after knowing what was wrong with me. Little did I know, I had so much work to do, so much healing to do. Not only was I unwell but I had no sense of self and I had no idea about who I was.

After being diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), Depression, Panic Disorder and chronic migraines. I really felt like my past did define me. That I never knew who I was outside my trauma. For a while I felt like a label predicted my future and I felt so much shame because of it. “I am a failure and I would never amount to anything in life“, my inner critic would scream at me from time to time. I never knew who I was outside of what my abusers thought of me and outside the seed they decided to plant in me. I had never used my own voice for such a long time, I became so familiar with speaking in silence that I really expected other people to interpret my silence and have them possibly “read my mind“.

I was living most of my life feeling benumbed and not understanding how I could exist each day without true connection with my body, mind and soul and also with other people. My soul ached and craved to connect to those who have walked in my shoes, to those who were in similar situations as me but still I struggled to find them. I had felt so disempowered for so long that I forgot that I was my own safe haven and my own source of strength. I had lived a lie for so long because of what I had been told I would amount to, and how much of a failure I was. That I lost sight of my life purpose,most importantly I lost my spark, my self-esteem and my voice. I longed to be comforted and held by someone who could sympathize with what I was going through. I truly needed healing from someone’s soothing words. I needed a hero but little did I know I was the hero I was searching for my entire life.

To the everyone who struggles to get up in the morning, to the old me that was seeking comfort from all the wrong places because I could not find my own way. Here are the things I wish I knew then :

Nothing is more powerful than your own voice:

The biggest mistake I made was to allow my own voice to be drowned by the opinions of others. This was mainly due to my low self-esteem and the programming one endures during  trauma or prolonged trauma.beach-dark-dawn-39853 I learnt not to listen to my own voice, and I deemed my voice as something that was illogical or absurd. I did not understand that one uses their voice to express emotions, that emotions were meant to flow like water in a river. I was always surpressing my emotions and I had issues expressing negative emotions. Looking back now I wish I never bottled up any emotion. Emotions are meant to come and go and if one delays that process, emotions tend to lead to psychosomatic symptoms or other health problems in the future. Emotions are not abnormal, they are peculiar but they deserve to be expressed. Let them sift through your body without hindering that process. This most definately had to be the most difficult thing I had to relearn, I still to this day, struggle with handling my emotions.

Healing is not linear:

Living with chronic or mental illnesses entails dealing with flare ups. There will be bumps along the road, I mean this is part of life and life is very unpredicatble. It was really difficult for me to accept the fact that I have no control over certain situations in my life, especially with my health. art-artistic-bisexual-1209843The uncertainty made me feel uneasy, I wanted to feel safe. My constant need to control things was due to my fear of being harmed. I always felt a need to look out for myself even when it wasn’t necessary for me to do so. I do experience sparks in my life, where im really happy and content with my life. I have always tried to embrace those experiences. When I feel blue, working with a team of mental health professionals and a support system that are in sync with my personality often improves my optimissim and helps me create a frame work that keeps me sane. Meditation, soundness and yoga have helped me calm my mind and have helped me become more aware of how I present myself in this world. I became more aware of all the people around me and my surroundings. They have also helped me realise that I shouldn’t allow the future to collapse under the burden of my memory. The battle of man to seize the ear of his kind is one of the most important things I learnt. People with Mental health issues and Chronic illnesses deserve to be heard, they deserve to be understood and not cirtisized for their suffering. They should not be judged by the chapter of their stories (their lives) that people walk in on.

Missing who I was before My diagnosis:

I will admit that at some point in time I had issues accepting my diagnosis. This was due to the stereotypical and cultural stigma that forced me to discredit my diagnosis. This hindered my healing and led me to spiral out of control.city-lights-close-up-dark-1096060 At some point I was filled with so much anger and wanted to work towards being the person I was before my diagnosis. I also thought that what happened to me was not part of me at all. I battled against so many people that tried to help me. I pushed so many people away because I could not trust them; even when they meant no harm. I lost so many friends and this made me feel lost and lonely. I thought something was wrong with me. I truly yearned to be who I was before my diagnosis. My life had changed so drastically after a couple of labels that were thrown my way and were now apart of my life forever. It was only when I grew to realise that everyone is a little broken; some people hide their brokeness by disparaging how broken other people are. I decided to begin loving myself, loving how my body was unfolding, loving my empathetic and altruistic way of living despite what people had to say to me and about me. But most importantly, accepting my diagnosis. Looking back now, I realise there was truly nothing I did wrong. I am only human, failure and success are birth rights and there’s absolutely nothing I could do to change these. I am choosing to never let a stumble in the road be the end of my journey. I will not believe everything that I think because some of my thoughts were programmed in my brain to ambush me of my dreams. These thoughts contributed to my loneliness, led me to further isolate myself from people and led to my feeelings of unworthiness. I will follow my intuition and live my life the way I know how.

To the old me that was recently diagnosed, to the person who needs to hear this right now. Please note that:

Children never look back and this means that we must never allow the future to be weighed down by memory. For children have no past, and that is the whole secret of the magical innocence of their smiles. – Milan Kundra, The book of Laughter and Forgetting

Embrace your inner child and remember to laugh is to live profoundly despite whatever you go through.

i love our story. sure it's messy, but it's the story that got us here. (1)

Thank you for being with me. I look forward to seeing you here soon. Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Francesca

i love our story. sure it's messy, but it's the story that got us here.