I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type 2 in October 2015. Since then I’ve had hundreds of hours of therapy to undo 20 years of harmful thinking and tried about 10 different medications and have finally found the one right for me (Lamictal). I’ve had to “reprogram” my brain to learn effective ways of thinking so that I suffer less and have a life worth living. It’s been a slow process but it’s working.
I’m going to attempt to describe this process and what it’s like to live with Bipolar Disorder over the course of the next few weeks. Perhaps this will, in a small way, de-stigmatize the disorder and provide education to dispel harmful myths.
Because of the success of my treatment I’ve been able to obtain and maintain a job for over a year now. I work at the service desk for a company that does background checks and compliance tracking for students and faculty in health care programs for the majority of universities in the U.S. I’ve taken over 5,000 phone calls. Five THOUSAND. (I checked yesterday – there were 5091 inquiries that I documented, of course this doesn’t count the non-documented calls with general questions which probably bumps it up to about 6,000).
This is pretty, no VERY, incredible. I would have never expected this from myself, considering my social anxiety and agoraphobia. For years I would only leave the house if I had no other choice and it would cause me panic attacks that made it nearly impossible to focus on whatever it was I was supposed to be doing.
But even worse than leaving the house was talking on the phone! What was I afraid of? Tripping over my words, forgetting what needed to be said, the person on the line misunderstanding me.
In person at least I could see the other person’s facial expressions. I would avoid answering the phone (though I still do because, well…I’m selfish about my privacy and my time) and I would never call anyone back, even when it was necessary. I would rarely even call my loved ones because it caused me so much anxiety.
My breakthrough occurred when I was in an outpatient therapy program. The counseling center facilitated a 10 hour-a-week intensive program as an alternative to hospitalization due to mental health crisis. In my situation it was mostly as a preventative measure, for others it was a step-down from having just been released from a hospitalization. Part of program was a required test call to the crisis/coaching hotline to make sure we felt comfortable calling if we needed any assistance. I avoided it because I just couldn’t seem to make myself do it and then I admitted that I had been avoiding it so they made me call. Ya know, exposure therapy.
That shit works.
I was in the program for several weeks and made a phone call once or twice a week. I realized that what helped was having a specific focus for what I wanted to communicate and then writing it down before making the call. And then when my anxiety would pop up I’d write down all the things I was hoping to communicate and listed out what was the most important and told myself I could always call back if something was missed.
I started using this technique to be able to inquire about employment opportunities, to make doctor appointments, or to facilitate interactions with my kids’ teachers or other parents. I realized by keeping it focused on the main message I had hoped to communicate (which I would write down) I would be able to get through it even though I’d feel dizzy and nauseated.
What I have realized is that I simply need to focus my thoughts, think of my intention, prepare for details, check the facts, and realize that most people are not thinking about how I’m feeling. I’m fortunately enough to be able to hide my anxiety. The caller doesn’t know I’m feeling anxious about the call (this is much easier to hide over the phone) and most people are thinking about themselves and their own world and not analyzing my speech patterns to detect my insecurities and flaws!
And so, my exposure therapy has worked so well that now I work in a call center. No one knows I have anxiety. No one knows I have a mood disorder.
They just think I act in ways that are “cute.” I can’t count how many times people people have commented how something I do is cute and it seems to be said in affectionate way and not a condescending way. They don’t quite get me but they like me.
What they don’t know is that most of things I do that are “cute” I do to control my anxiety. Some examples are:
- I have to park in the same parking spot everyday and I do so even though it’s far away so I don’t have to think about where I parked.
- I have a white board that I write on so that when I caller tells me their name I can write down how to pronounce their name or remember their issue.
- I document their inquiries very thoroughly so that if the caller calls back the next rep can understand exactly what they talked about – it also acts as communication to the caller to remind them of what we talked about. I regularly buy dry erase markers and typically have about 5 I’m cycling through so I don’t get bored of the color.
- I also carry a note pad to every meeting – even though I never reference it – somehow writing it down helps me absorb the information and helps me focus on what I am intending on sharing.
- I have my desk outfitted for my comfort: a back pillow, padded arm rests, a step stool, and wrist pad. This is essential as if I don’t have these things I’m in severe pain by the end of the day.
- I have lots of sticky notes for reminders so I’m prepared for caller’s questions. There are some schools that have names I can’t pronounce so I have them spelled out phonetically. I also have notes on my computer of folders within folders and can easily access information I need to know and can use when documented my inquiries.
- I have organized my emails in folders that are color coordinated.
- I over-explain things which makes my call times longer because I’m trying to save the caller’s future headaches.
- My screensaver is full pictures of my kids in silly poses and images and messages that coworkers have left for me on my whiteboard.
- I ask a ton of questions not because I need an immediate answer but because I want to know EVERYTHING. I want to be an expert in what I do.
- I also ask exploratory questions and my peers don’t seem to care about having the same depth of knowledge or big picture of how things can be improved. They think it’s cute that I must know how everything fits together and that I can’t think be content with the answer of “I don’t know, just do it.”
I have chosen not to be ashamed and in fact, be proud, of who I am and my ability to create and use tools that I came up with all by myself to be able to thrive at my job and in the world. ::Pat on the back, ‘lil Quixie::
Next week, How having a regular, consistent schedule is essential for emotional regulation and how this plays out in my chaotic and adventure-seeking life.
What I’m reading:
- I finished Ready Player One, which was SO GOOD.
- A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, James Comey
- I’m still reading Moby-Dick, though I lost interest for a few days during the sermon about Jonah and the whale, but I intend to pick it back up.
What I’m watching:
- Nexflix: Lost in Space (2018 series), I’m a few episodes in and it’s kept my interest but the majority of the characters annoy the crap out of me (except the Robot and Will Robinson) and the show feels like it’s been done before (and I don’t mean the ’60s series) so I may give up on it
- YouTube: Bad Lip Reading, “Interrogating Zuckerberg”
- YouTube: Key & Peele channel, I’ve watched every episode – hilarious but I especially love this episode and this episode.
What I’m listening to:
- Scream, Michael and Janet Jackson (I’m having some serious mid-90s nostalgia right now and this video is SO COOL!)
- Word Crimes, Weird Al Yankovic (my kids LOVE this song/video and have wanted to listen to it at least once a week since it came out)
- Hard Out Here, Lily Allen (Warning: this is very crude. Fun game: count how many times she says “bitch.”)
- Lion Heart, Girl’s Generation/SNSD (These girls are so cute! I sing this out loud like I know Korean, which I definitely do not.)