Ten seconds to catastrophe

The first blog post I ever wrote about mental health was back in April 2011. Entitled A Tale of Two Beasts it was written at the point where I had finally had to admit defeat and take sick leave. I hadn’t really recognised or understood the mild hypomanias I’d been having and I was yet to experience more serious highs. My life felt dominated by the swift, nippy Little Beast (anxiety) and the slow, lumbering Big Beast (depression) and I wrote about them more as a means of coping than anything else.

I recently had cause to revisit this post when writing for the International Bipolar Foundation. I was interested in trying to tease out whether my anxiety was part and parcel of my bipolar, or something separate. As my moods remain stable I am becoming firmly convinced that my anxiety is comorbid, occurring alongside my bipolar rather than being a feature of it. I had extreme anxiety years before I developed bipolar, and the less I am now troubled by hypo/mania and depression, the more anxiety seems to have room to flourish. I have been more anxious in the past few weeks than I remember feeling for years; it’s becoming a struggle. A minor event or chance remark causes a debilitating spike of anxiety and the belief that something truly terrible is going to happen.

I recently wondered my daughter had a mild infection. I didn’t even know if she had any kind of infection at all, yet the following train thought immediately arose:

She is going to get really sick > it’s going to cause permanent damage to her body > I should have noticed and sought treatment > because I didn’t, I am guilty of neglect > my kids are going to be taken into care > I am going to arrested for neglect and go to prison

All within about 10 seconds!

At the weekend there was a very minimal confrontation between my son and my partner (my children’s stepparent, not their dad) over what to buy at the supermarket. My mind immediately started up:

They are never going to get on > my son moving in with us was a terrible idea > he’s going to feel unwanted and unhappy > he’s going to get depressed and maybe this will trigger the emergence of bipolar > he’s going to drop out of school > he’ll struggle to have a career.

Again, 10 seconds, although this one was a real delight since it had an additional element:

My partner and I are going to fall out over this > the three of us will be unable to live together > my partner and I are going to split up and I will lose my biggest support in dealing with my mental health.

Other potential catastrophes include:

  • I am going to completely relapse and I will never work again
  • Even if I do work, I am going to embarrass myself by have a panic attack in front of clients or failing to meet deadlines
  • I am getting fatter and fatter and I no one will ever find me attractive again and so (of course!) my partner will leave me
  • My partner will leave me for one of many reasons and I will end up taking my own life
  • Even if I am well enough am never going to attract more work and I am going to run out of money and we won’t be able to pay the mortgage

Disaster after disaster.

I am trying to fight back, to look for evidence for my beliefs, to challenge thoughts of calamity by remembering the reality of my circumstances; the full on cognitive counter-attack. The trouble is, by the time I hit back, some damage has already been done. So far I have been able to stop myself from spiralling higher and higher towards a full-on panic attack, and believe me I am very grateful for that, but nevertheless having once imagined myself imprisoned, dead or in penury it takes me hours to recover.

I’m not sure what to do about this. I’m looking into primary care options for short, focused CBT or other simple interventions, but I don’t know if they will take someone with a bipolar diagnosis, even if though I have been discharged from psychiatric support. I would prefer not to go back to my consultant if possible, and I am even less keen to tinker with my meds after taking about two years to get the drugs and dosages right. But I need to something. I can’t carry on living ten seconds away from catastrophe.


About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards 2013. Winner of the World in Mentalists Mood Disorder blog 2012. Regular guest blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation http://www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org/ Expert by Experience working with Mind training department. Working on The Incoming Tide, a bipolar memoir. Find me on Twitter @BipolarBlogger or at my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BipolarBlogger
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11 Responses to Ten seconds to catastrophe

  1. Paul Winkler says:

    You have captured the debilitating nature of anxiety to a tee! Thanks for the excellent blog.

  2. I’m not sure if you’ve had CBT before, but I’ve found it really useful with those trailing thoughts of catastrophe. I’m pretty sure it’s available on the NHS (I had mine through uni). Anywho, I’m sure you know more about it than me, but good luck!!

    • Thanks Georgia, I have had both CBT and CAT (hence the bit where I talk about chucking cognitive techniques at it) but I think the problem is they were never specifically for anxiety and I think I do need something just for that. However, I have checked today and found I am eligible for short duration talking therapies locally on the NHS, I just need to ring up and see what they can offer and how long I have to wait. Problem is, of course, one of the things I struggle with is…using the telephone, argh!

  3. Sam Candour says:

    It’s like you’re in my head, I do this all the time. So sorry you’re struggling with it.

    • Hello lovely! I’ve always done it, but not to this extent. Anxiety was there in my childhood long before bipolar symptoms, but now it really feels like now that the “volume” has been turned down on mania and depression, the anxiety’s going, “TADA! LOOK AT ME!” and taking centre stage in a way it hasn’t before. Obviously I’m still glad my moods have evened out, but it’s depressing to go through all that work of getting the highs and lows in check, and now…. THIS. Grrr! xxx

  4. wow, it’s like a look into my own head, I have always acknowledge that I had some kind of illness but I never accepted it was bipolar coz it is permanent. I had around 10 yrs of anxiety as an immigrant in UK waiting for my papers to be processed and fearing deportation. I always thought my problem was residency and never saw the slide into negative patterns. I moved back to Africa to get away thinking the change will do me good but it got worse as the change disconnected me from my friendship network. Just had a suicidal episode of 8 months with the “10 seconds” light on. So now I’m here in Rwanda, just started a business, cannot travel back to the UK for treatment, cannot get help here, I live in a paranoid little gossiping town so it gets worse. I am Christian and prayer helps to an extent, the best way would be to mix the faith and science to get a good treatment/lifestyle. I am against meds, I tried before and it made me a zombie, often even more depressed but numb. I want to have a wife and family but I’m scared of the monster, love can help cure me, but how do I open up enough to tell someone, and trust that they’ll be there. And the fear of fighting this my whole life is daunting. Blogs like this are a lifesaver, up to 5% of people are affected, I’m not alone and neither are you. Keep it coming

    • Thanks so much Rama. When I started this blog it was supposed to be about books I enjoyed, but then when I got my new bipolar diagnosis I found other people’s blogs so helpful and I think that’s how this one morphed into a mental health blog! Although I have worked with many people without leave to remain I know can’t imagine how much anxiety that would generate, especially over such a long period of time. Personally I have found meds a lifesaver, but ONLY after a period of a couple of years finding which ones I can tolerate and grown use to the sedation. Are you following me on Twitter? (@BipolarBlogger) Take care, Charlotte

  5. Chloe says:

    Reading this post really struck a cord with me…I haven’t suffered from severe anxiety for a long time, however I remember it well! I wondered if you’ve ever tried any form of complementary health, I don’t mean as a substitute for your meds I mean alongside them. Homeopathy can be useful in helping acute situations where you feel a panic attack could result and can be beneficial in the long term for anxiety. I readily admit to being bias as a homeopath myself – however I’m talking from personal experience and just thought I’d mention it as a possible option. Great blog, seems like you’ve achieved something really positive – an inspiration!

  6. I find that challenging and writing about my Anxiety helps greatly but strange as it may seem, accepting is just as important. When I am tolerant and unjudgemental of my random thought processes, when I accept that as how I currently feel, when I allow myself to have that thought, I am, ironically, less Anxious. Like the previous commenter, I also use Alternative Medicine for these issues and found it helpful. 🙂

  7. Naomi says:

    I also have terrible anxiety attacks, and I only discovered recently I am comorbid with both Bipolar and Autonomic Failure. I had to see a autonomic specialist/cardiologist to get tested for the latter. In my case what is happening is i am not getting sufficient oxygen to my brain and other organs, especially when standing, due to low blood pressure and low blood volume. Adrenal surges kick in when I am standing (the body’s attempt to increase oxygen flow), so that my heart continually races then slows down, with frequent palpitations or “jumps”. This heart pattern is known as bradytachycardia or infantile heart syndrome. The adrenaline causes near constant panic and anxiety unless I am laying down. I often fly off the handle at little things because I forget why I’m panicking! This syndrome is known as Orthostatic Intolerance. Do you notice a difference in your anxiety standing versus laying down? You can in fact give yourself a quick and dirty Tilt Table Test if you can access a blood pressure monitor: Compare your calm laying down blood pressure to your standing bp. if there is a change in your pressure, it may indicate that you should see a cardio to check for abnormalities. Normally the body should regulate the pressure, regardless of your position. I find having my dog with me wherever I go helps me calm down.

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