I’ve mentioned my bipolar before. I may have mentioned my unspecified anxiety disorder as well. Though I am on medication for the bipolar, and I have mindfulness and theraputic methods I can use to control the anxiety without medication, these both affect my life adversely, and neither has proven completely conquerable.
Most of the time, thanks to my medications, my bipolar remains relatively stable. I can’t recall if my bipolar is considered to be rapid or slow cycling, but it is consistently mixed-state, meaning I present and endure symptoms of both hypomania and depression at the same time. Only occasionally do I notice one, the other, or, sometimes, both become more prominent.
The unspecified anxiety is a bit more difficult to endure. I can’t predict what will trigger it and have known anything from filling in forms, to cooking something, to meeting new people to come with a palpitating heart and inability to perform the challenge I face. Last week, I quit the coffee-and-donuts hour following the church service after eating my donut and drinking my juice because I couldn’t find the courage and confidence necessary for approaching any of the groups of people I saw at a few of the tables through my anxiety. Most of the people seemed to be in family groups, and that intimidated me to the point where I couldn’t even force myself to ask if I could share their table, never mind talk to them.
To be honest, facing people has long been a major difficulty for me, and socializing with people I don’t know or haven’t yet met is one of my demons. Sometimes I can do this with ease, and I’ll strike up an unimportant conversation with someone at the grocery store; generally speaking, the fewer people I have to talk to, the more confident I am, the more capable I feel, and the easier it is for me to convince myself to approach someone. It also helps, particularly when I’m meeting a group, if we all have some sort of activity, besides holding conversations, to do. When I first joined the square dance club I’m secretary for, I found it easy to get involved because we spent most of the evening learning to dance, and I felt reasonably confident that I wasn’t required to socialize between tips, so I felt free to go sit by myself until the next lesson.
I don’t tend to reach pure panic-attack heights with my anxiety, which I’m glad for. However, I have noticed that the more social stress—that’s purely just social (without other activities) stress—that I experience, the greater my anxiety becomes. I tend to avoid parties. I have been known to have to retreat to bed after intensive social interaction with people I know, never mind people I don’t know well or at all. Usually, spending a little time laying in bed, listening to a favorite song on repeat, with my eyes closed in a state similar to meditation sets me right again, because sometimes, after interacting with people, if I come home and try to do other stuff, even though I’m now alone again, I have difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly. I don’t feel calm unless I take the time to lay down, close my eyes, and let music flow into my brain for a while.
My anxiety is also the primary reason why I wear headphones almost all the time outside. I have to have some sort of upbeat song going when I’m out most of the time in order to distract myself from my nervousness. Silence is another thing that tends to drive up my anxiety, unless I’m about ready to drop off to sleep, so I usually have music playing all the time when I’m up (unless there’s a thunderstorm or heavy rain on the windows), and when I first go to bed. I even play music when I shower—which, oddly, tends to drive my anxiety up into greater heights if all I hear is the water, and no, I can’t explain why this is necessary; it’s just one of my little anxiety tics.
I think, sometimes, to some small extent, my bipolar disorder drives my anxiety. Usually at times when I’m feeling more manic, I’ll suffer stronger anxiety, and that tends to drive me to retreat. I avoid going out, I talk to only a few select people on the phone, I lay down daily to recover from the stress of socializing online. Going out can aggravate the moody, bitchy temperament I develop when my mania is up (I’m not a bipolar person graced with the happy, confident, I-can-do-ANYTHING manic phases, which I’m actually kind of grateful for; I can only imagine what stupid crap I’d do with that kind of mania influencing me), and that in turn can drive my anxiety up, because not only am I dealing with general being-out-among-people anxiety, I’m also suffering I-don’t-want-them-all-to-realize-I’m-a-bitch-right-now anxiety.
And, there’s even times I’ll get anxious just reading a book. And I don’t mean the average anxiety everyone feels for the character. I have known myself to put down a book when it reaches an intense situation, or one which I fear is dangerous for the MC, and not pick the book up again for up to several months, because the thought of reading through that situation or danger frightens me so much. I think I do this because, unlike with watching a movie, I’m able to more deeply immerse myself in a book, so I tend to “feel” the danger or intensity more deeply than I do when watching a movie. I have to mentally prepare myself for such depth of intensity.
Overall, I consider myself pretty lucky. I may have some anxiety, but it’s not severe. It’s manageable without medication, and there are so many others who aren’t so blessed. Though it may not be predictable, it’s also not so debilitating that I’m unable to come back to something that previously caused anxiety and do it again later. A little mindfulness about my anxiety and what’s causing it and some meditation and self-coaching generally take care of my anxiety.