My Journey to Stability, Pt. 3

by Shara Adams

A circle of blurred faces surrounded me, all talking at once. The level of chaos outpaced my own mind and I struggled to keep track of what was going on. Drugged and intoxicated beyond capable cognition, the world began to slip away once again. In the mess of voices, the realization of my fragile state caught the action of the paramedics and I was whisked down the stairs from the apartment to the ambulance. Because of the design of our place, a stretcher was worthless. They half carried, and half walked me down the precarious stairway. Once I was inside the bus, one of the paramedics joined me and began a pleasant conversation with me.

Blonde hair and blue eyes watched me intently. It may have been my lost mind, but at that moment, he had the most beautiful eyes that I had ever seen. Smiling, I was lost in his hypnotizing gaze. His voice was soft and inviting. I felt like I could listen to it forever, and I did listen to it the whole way to the emergency room. He conversed with me to keep me awake and cognitive of what was around me, and it worked perfectly. It also kept my mind off the fact my husband had not come with me. I did not notice this fact in the middle of everything going on; he was completely absent from my side.

Once inside the ER, I was forced to drink charcoal from a small cup, and it did not take long for it to make a reappearance. It was absolutely disgusting, and my toxic stomach contents were having none of it. Frustrated nurses yelled at me for throwing it up and then gave me another cup – but I never touched it to my lips. Without something to focus on, I was slipping away from the bright lights of the room. Metal walls of the elevator were my final memory before losing consciousness. I have no recollection of being in the ICU or being ‘asleep’. No dreams or thoughts; it was as if I went to bed and woke up the next morning but waking up this time was a much different experience.

Stirring in the hospital bed, my eyes opened several days after my arrival. I felt lost and confused at my surroundings, but my eyes fell on a familiar face and relief washed over me. I am sure she felt the swell of relief as well. My mom had driven about 740 miles in eight hours to be by my side. We later calculated that she had averaged about 95 mph the entirety of the drive, never being pulled over. There was always a driver going faster than she was, and they were the ones to get caught. Her foot never left the gas pedal, and I will never make fun of her panic.

Once awake and somewhat aware of where I was, I noticed the lack of a certain person from the room: my husband. This was something my mom attempted to fix, but it was only mildly successful. He came to visit me once during my entire stay, but never said a word and refused to look at me. He sat on my bed and I rubbed his back, but nothing I did to interact with the stone-faced body made any difference. His blatant resentment was more than I could overcome. I began to wonder if I went too far to prove my point, but it also seemed to be working.

The chaos from the apartment had compartmentalized in my mind, blurry and distant memories, just like that night.

by Shara Adams

For more stories by Shara Adams, visit http://pennedinwhite.com.

Too Close To Home

Okay, so I wasn’t going to write anything about the pandemic. However, I’m in the middle of a very personal experience with COVID-19. I knew I’d be a little bit paranoid about this virus – especially because I work with the public. I never imagined my fear would actually come true. I haven’t gotten my test results yet, but I want to share our story thus far.

On Monday, March 16th, my 7-year-old daughter developed a cough. At first, I assumed it was her asthma cough since she was running around outside. However, the cough had gotten more persistent and deep by Tuesday. Tuesday night, at 11:30 pm, she spiked a fever of 104.2. We made a Dr. appointment the next day. I wanted her to be tested because, it turns out, we’ve been exposed to the virus via 3 positive cases at my brother’s work. He also just flew to NYC a few weeks ago and was in 3 different airports (Pittsburgh, NYC, and Dallas). The Dr. refused to test her and I had to force her to at least test for the flu.

When I left the Dr.’s office, I called the department of health to see if we could get tested without the Dr.’s referral. They put me on a mandatory 14 day quarantine and said I needed to go get her tested. I called a testing site in Pittsburgh, who told me they wouldn’t test her because her fever had broke. Fine. We’ll just finish the quarantine. But, by Thursday night, she was taking 40 breaths a minute, which is twice the norm. Her pulse was 107, which is 20 beats per minute faster than norm. And her cough was even worse.

We went to the emergency room at UPMC Northwest at 2 am on Friday, March 20th. The triage nurse didn’t warn the hospital that a possible COVID-19 case was coming in, so they sat us in the waiting room where we put our germs on the chairs. They had me use the check-in kiosk, so that my germs were on the screen. They had me sign a paper with a pen that all other patients use. They took us to a room that wasn’t set up for the virus. They weren’t wearing proper PPE. However, they did take good care of my daughter. Turns out, she developed pneumonia from whatever virus she has. The hospital wouldn’t test her. They sent us home with a note saying that the Wolfe Center would contact us about a test.

I waited a week for a call, and it never came. I waited so long because I’d already been told by a testing site that they won’t test unless all of the symptoms are present at that time. Well, I started to cough on that Friday (March 20th) we went to the hospital. And, a week later, it hadn’t gotten better. I was short of breath and I was wheezing. But I didn’t have a fever, so I didn’t try to get tested.

By Sunday, March 29th, I decided that I wanted to try one more time to get tested. I decided to call Meadville Medical Center. They decided to test me because of the exposure I had, the symptoms I had, and the symptoms my daughter had. Even though I didn’t have a fever. That’s exactly what should have been done to begin with. Not everyone shows the same symptoms. Turns out, I did have a fever when I went to the testing site, and my pulse was 125. My lungs sounded “junky”. They stuck the test swab so far in my nose it felt like they were scraping my brain. It is terrible. The results will be in sometime in the next 72 hours – 2 weeks, depending how backed up the lab facilities are.

Throughout these 14 days, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions. Not only do I have to deal with the fact that I have no income right now, but I don’t know when I’m returning to work, and I still don’t know if I have the virus. I had to deal with the panic of watching my daughter struggle to breathe and hear her coughing 24/7 and have her temperature be 104.2 for 24 hours. It was terrifying and I live alone and am quarantined, so I went through all of it by myself. I started having trouble sleeping. I lost my appetite. All while being sick with whatever I have. It’s been tough. Let’s not forget, I’m bipolar, and this is definitely a stresser. I have been on top of my mental symptoms and went back on my anxiety and sleeping meds for the time being.

I’m here to say that, maybe we shouldn’t be panicking about the pandemic, but we most certainly should be taking it seriously. If this is what I have, it is no joke. People who have any kind of respiratory issues (we have asthma) are at a higher risk, and it’s no fun watching someone you love struggle to breathe. Even if you will be fine if you catch this virus, your vulnerable family member or friend may not be. Please take this seriously, stay home, and fight for your right to get tested if you have reason to believe you have symptoms or exposure.

Different Types of Panic Attacks

This is not a scientific post. There are no references cited. This is solely based on my own experiences. Depending on my mood, emotions, and sensory stimuli, I never have the same kind of panic attacks. There are many factors that combine to bring on an attack. There are other instances where the same situation causes no panic. It’s unpredictable. Even which kind of attack I will have is unpredictable. I have identified three kinds of attacks I’ve had, each one a different form of panic. There could be more, but these are mine.

Normal Apprehension as Panic

These are the normal things that cause anxiety for anyone. Things like stage freight and public speaking, talking to your crush for the first time, or doing anything for the first time. On occasion, I get so worked up I can’t do the thing. Sometimes, forcing myself to keep going works and I get stuff done. This doesn’t always work, and I abandon all hope until the next time around. Not everyone has issues with this sort of anxiety, but those of us with anxiety disorders struggle a little more than others. This is the easiest type of panic from which to come down and doesn’t ruin your day.

Fear as Panic

Anyone who feels their life is in danger will have a slight panic attack. This is a normal reaction to danger. What do you do when you’re lying in bed, nothing is happening, and your heart starts racing? What do you do when you feel like you’re in danger, but there’s no danger around you? This type of panic attack is the most unpredictable because it can happen anywhere, anytime, and with no probable cause. This is also the most difficult panic attack to get over. I think it’s because the lack of a cause creates more anxiety.

Anger as Panic

This is the one I struggle with the most. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s never fun when it does. Usually, when my senses are overwhelmed, and I have less control than I’d like, I get frustrated. When this happens, I have to move around and handle things within my control to calm down. When I can’t do this, and I feel things are not being done the way they should, I get angry. I snap at others or have an attitude when I don’t need one. It used to be a lot worse, but as long as I don’t allow myself to get frustrated, I can avoid this kind of panic.

With all three of these panic attacks, I have the same symptoms; pounding chest, the shakes, irritability, and the need to avoid all humans. Sometimes the attack and symptoms last a few minutes where other times they can last for hours. I’m still learning about mine and figuring out how to avoid having them. I try to avoid stressful situations. Easier said than done. If I can’t avoid them, I focus on things I can control, even if all I do is rearrange furniture. It keeps me focused and I can avoid getting too angry or having to leave to catch my breath.

When Fear Cleared I Found Anger

Fear has caused me to avoid certain situations, like long lines in the grocery store. I feared a panic attack and being stuck with no way out. Trapped. With therapy and self-awareness, I have started to realize a lot of the fear was attached to learned responses. My brain says “Holy shit, man! Panic! Something bad is going to happen. Get out now while you still can!” Truth is, I’m just waiting in a really long line that is moving slow. I have not had a panic attack in years, yet the feeling is still fresh. It is horrible and debilitating – and embarrassing. I learned that losing control like this feels like I’m dying; therefore I concluded that the potential risk of having a panic attack is good enough reason to avoid anything that could result in one. However, that fear is dissipating.

Previously I wondered what would replace anxiety when I was “cured.” Let me be clear, I do not believe that you can CURE anxiety. I do think you can relieve yourself from its grasp and live a productive life full of joy and sorrow and anger, all that ordinary life stuff without flipping out. Anxiety is low these days, but it will always be a part of me, even if it’s lying dormant. With fear at bay, I am discovering anger and frustration. Now, when I’m in line at the grocery store and no one is moving; the thoughts that rock through me are full of straight up hate: What the hell is taking so long? How stupid can you be? Just scan the friggin item and put it in the dang bag. Move people! Move! I have better places to be.

This recognition came as a surprise to me. The lid of fear is peeled back; what little prize do I find inside – anger. I wonder how fear and anger are connected? When I see my temper is rising, I try to suppress it, but it leaks out in shameful ways. I am short with people I care about. My husband, my kids, my family, friends. Self-care starts to suffer, I eat horrible, drink less water, don’t exercise, go to bed late and then don’t fall asleep, a dull headache plagues me for days.

Hello, internet. Seems there are a few things I can do to get ahead of the funk. Supplements, eating better, avoiding excess carbs and alcohol, be more active, taking breaks when life gets too stressful. All solid advice, easy to read, not so easy to put into motion. I think the most beneficial thing I have learned from therapy is that you don’t have to conquer all your vices today. It’s the small steps (sometimes microscopic) that have ultimately lead to success.

So, today I am drinking more water and setting a bedtime for myself. A time for bed with no excuses. I have recognized a direct connection between treating my body well and my mental health.

I’m even joining the gym – I hope I go.

Introduction

If you have ever ridden a roller coaster, you understand the excitement and fear that courses through your mind and body as you burst through the track. You experience such an intense jolt of so many emotions as your breath is stolen from falling and you only have enough time to take another breath as you ascend. In a lot of ways, bipolar disorder seems to share many similarities. It seems to change a person drastically in mere moments and can even span episodes for days at a time. You never know how you will feel when you wake up in the morning. You never know what will happen to send you spiraling into a depressive episode. I often like to call it a “Jekyll and Hyde” effect in my personal blog.

I am Shelton Fisher and recently I have been given the privilege to be a contributing writer for The Bipolar Writer. I am a 25 year old with a full time job, an amazing wife, and the two best dogs in the world. I used to be a decent musician and writing has become a passion of mine. Amid the wonderful things that life has provided for me, I have mental health issues that fight me tooth and nail on a regular basis. Anxiety has been a familiar part of my life since I was a child, but alcoholism and panic attacks made me realize that I needed to finally address these problem medically. In September of last year I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and began a regimen of serotonin inhibitors and recently I have began seeing a therapist. After several sessions addressing my childhood behaviors and my current behaviors, we have discussed that I may be bipolar and the symptoms honestly surprised me.

As I continue the journey into my mental health to confirm a diagnosis and discover how to live a better life, I want to include you through personal stories, free verse poetry, and the occasional informative post. I am not a professional by any means, but I am living proof that mental health is a war to be won. If you have ever been afraid to speak, afraid to make a move, lost motivation and hope, hurt yourself because you couldn’t find the right words or felt trapped inside your body, screamed at the top of your lungs with tears rolling down your boiling red cheeks, self medicated with alcohol or drugs, fallen into depression for no apparent reason, or just want to know how I am handling things, my posts are for you.

The First and Last of the Dark Days

I learned from another blogger that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think many of us with mental health concerns find the stigma around it to be truly terrifying. It can push us inward and leave many of us feeling unwanted or hushed. Suffering in silence and alone is not healthy for anyone, including those around us. Today, I wanted to share with you a quick glimpse of my first darkest of days and my last. There have been many times in between, but consistently I pull myself through, and each time I do, the darkest days come less frequently, and are not as dark as the previous.

September 1996. The pressure to choose a major, before I returned for my third year of school, was being hammered upon me. The weight of this decision was unbearable. I saw many friends easily sticking with a major, planning out projects, collaborations, and internships. The feeling of not belonging created a snowball effect and caused me to fall into classic avoidance behavior.

On the first day I was late to class, probably not by accident. I can’t remember what class it was, but I do remember the feeling of standing outside the door, hearing the professor already speaking, that hallowed silence from the rest of the students, and I knew I couldn’t go inside. My first panic attack occurred outside of that room. I felt like a heavy blanket was thrown over me, I couldn’t breathe or concentrate. My legs felt weak, thoughts in my head were disjointed, and flight or fight kicked in. Flight won.

I dropped out of school that week. This was the beginning of the anxiety and panic attacks that I kept hidden from friends and family. I choose at that time to suffer in silence because I was confused, scared, and embarrassed. The darkest days turned into months and years, eventually it seemed I grew out of it, and was hopeful it was behind me for good. I think what occurred was I learned to avoid triggers and found confidence in areas I didn’t have before through life lessons and eventually returning to school.

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May 2017. The last time I felt this way was after my third child was born. By now I had learned some coping methods and found professional help on and off, though the feeling of shame still prevented me from being open with loved ones. I had this beautiful healthy baby, and I’d done this two times before. This should be easy. So, why was it so hard? Lack of sleep, constant breast feeding, and lack of overall care for myself, all played into my downward spiral. I was becoming very short tempered with everyone around me, I insisted on keeping my house spotless, and controlling every detail of the family. I believe I was on the borderline of OCD, accompanied with postpartum anxiety.

One day my parents and my sisters were being indecisive about something, what it was I can’t recall. I screamed at one of my sisters over the phone, something I never do. My blood pressure must have been through the roof, something rose up inside of me and clicked, I have a problem! This is not normal. I need help.

Being that it had been 20 years since my first panic attack, anxiety was not new to me. I recognized that I needed help ASAP and if I didn’t get it all of those around me would be feeling the brunt of my actions. It wasn’t fair to them. I found a new therapist through postpartum online hotline, one within my insurance network. I did research online to my symptoms, read articles about diet and supplements that would be helpful; I researched other medications as well, continued with acupuncture, started to be more physically active. Most importantly, I caught myself when my temper was rising. I knew it was due to anxiety, just knowing this helped me curb it.

The first of the darkest days was the hardest for me, it was so new and confusing. Over the years I have learned to overcome so much. The journey is ongoing. Anxiety is a part of me, but I fight it. It doesn’t control me like it used to, and I will take that as a WIN.