When I get really emotional the bipolar makes my rational brain shut off. What I mean by shut off or down is "leaving conscious thought & influence". All the rational parts and my ability to interpret things and be logical shut down. The emotional parts of my brain seem to have free rein. Its not that I am more emotional, its just that I can't regulate my emotions as much/well (ie: this is inappropriate to say, or this feeling is dangerous if you act it out) so I say and do things based on my emotions that I would normally prevent myself from doing because I'm not able to think about why I shouldn't say/do it (like any rational, stable person does). When I get really emotional and my rational brain shuts down, I often don't know WHY i'm upset/happy/whatever either. The conscious recognition is gone. Often I can't even identify that I am having an emotion. I just am upset or happy or angry, etc. Someone has to say something before I consciously realize it. This shutting down causes me to have a quick temper because if something triggers me to be overemotional, its like pushing me off a steep hill covered in snow in a sled. I am emotional, my rational brain starts shutting down, and I spiral downhill unable to stop being sucked into the emotion and acting it out. A funny side effect is if I am in an argument and I am saying something that is really important to me but I am interrupted, then I won't be able to remember what was important to me that i was talking about. I only have the feeling of what i was saying, like a ghost. The thought seems like its locked up somewhere that I can't get to anymore. I usually don't find it funny at the time, but thats a different story.
Unfortunately, when I have a panic attack my EMOTIONAL centers shut down. They shut down in the sense that I am thinking about WHY I'm emotional, but I don't feel the emotion itself. Panic attacks are normally characterized by a stream of "over-thinking" and "analyzing" and your so called "rational" brain is over-rationalizing and changing its mind about what course of action to take too quickly. It then sends these conflicting signals to the emotional brain to regulate the emotions associated with the topic from which the brain is dealing with but the emotional brain freezes cause it can't deal with so many conflicting messages. Those same conflicting signals about how to act out the thought are sent to the "action" center of the brain, a more primitive "automatic" center of the brain. PTSD symptoms are often accompanied by breaking out in a sweat or faster heart beat or other bodily signs of distress as well, which are controlled by this action center. This part also controls your automatic functions, like heart beat, body temperature, etc. It starts tweaking out because of the conflicting messages too. Thats why people having a panic attack sometimes cant breathe rhythmically or are twitching.
When I'm having a panic attack, in a way I can "feel" what I am thinking through my bodily reactions, but I cant feel them in my heart, so to speak. For example: if I am sad I normally feel depressed, maybe like crying, sometimes helpless. I will have a down turned mouth, "sad" eyes, maybe tears, change in body temperature, etc. If I am sad during a panic attack, I will notice my mouth is pulled down and my eyes will sting as they do right before you cry, and I will be cold but I won't have the heavy heart of depression and need for the emotional release to cry.
So, what happens if you combine Bipolar and PTSD. For me, if a PTSD trigger is an emotional event, my rational/logical center starts malfunctioning cuz of the PTSD and shutting off consciousness due to the bipolar. My emotional center (because of the PTSD) freezes up. When my rational and emotional brain are shut down I often can't even recognize that I'm having a panic attack until I realize that my body is showing a ridiculous number of distress signs/symptoms all at once. My body is freaking out and I am not able to comprehend it emotionally or logically. I can only work backwards from, oh!.... my heart is beating fast, and i'm fidgity, and wow! there are a lot of things to see in this room.... oh my, my thoughts are racing really fast, why am i breathing so heavy?, what is going on? omg, I can't sit still or breathe slower, i am not feeling comfortable.... etc, etc. It spirals downhill from there. Its hard for me to realize when it is happening until I am desperately trying to get the uncomfortable bodily sensations to go away.
My rational brain is still going a mile a minute and I'm only able to think of how my body is freaking out and what is in my environment around me in a hyper-stimulated way. The PTSD is preventing me from being able to connect the thoughts together and use logic as to what is even going on because like I said before, the rational/logical center is short circuiting and subsequently is then sending out all these conflicting messages to the emotional and action centers. The Bipolar subsequently makes it difficult to figure out what has triggered the attack in the first place (ie: an emotional event, someone touched me the wrong way, etc). But then the PTSD naturally prevents me from being able to get the emotional clues as to whats causing this either, cuz it has frozen up from all the conflicting signals coming from the rational/logical brain. Its terrifying to be having a panic attack and not know that you are having a panic attack cuz u are not getting emotional or logical signals, only bodily signals.
That being said, I realized today that I had 3 full blown panic attacks this week and several mini ones. Why am I having panic attacks?
I don't have my emotional life in order. Its a mess. The smallest thing with a friend or expectation or pressure tips me over the edge. Last week I reached a point where I wanted to say that I was starting to be on the upswing of dealing with my stressors of the last few months. But of course, the body releases/deals with past trauma only when you are "ready" to deal with it and it tends to shows up only after you have acquired the skills to handle it. SO, apparently its time again. I'm starting to get triggered by PTSD triggers that are "deeper" and I suppose are more of the root cause of many of my problems in the first place. Funny thing is, I haven't had panic attacks for 2 years. I had very thoroughly dealt with it in a general sense 2 years ago already. I knew it wasn't nearly all addressed then and I knew that I would have to revisit it. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that I'm also starting to get into the deeper parts of my therapy (after 4 months!) which is uncovering a lot. I feel that the fact that I can identify the root causes of the PTSD AND identify more than one is saying a lot in my opinion.
School is overwhelming me. Publicly coming out as transgender for the first time is overwhelming me. Publicly facing being transgender openly is overwhelming me. Accepting and learning how to function in public versus in private with a mental illness is overwhelming me. Accepting and learning how to function in school with a mental illness is overwhelming me. Being in the last dying throws of a incompatible and not functioning 2 year relationship gone friendship is simply twisting the knife in my fragile emotional heart further. Attempting to come to terms with a relationship that you ended years ago but the other party wants to restart and you don't want to trust that person again is maddening, not to mention the drama surrounding it with other people too.
My first instinct is to say that all these things that happened this week have been easier to deal with and its been a pretty easy week compared to the last few weeks. But when I think about it and write it out, I realize that given I've been breaking down into panic attacks and the magnitude of each of those events individually are a pretty big deal, I think is is safe to say that my brain has been doing a pretty good job of numbing and shutting down. And knowing that makes me feel more appreciate of who I am and how I function.
I'm also realizing as I write this that one of the reasons why I find written communication so much easier, and subsequently blogging is that it is somehow a partial exception to the rule. When my bipolar is interfering with my ability to reason or think straight, especially when someone is talking, writing it out helps me make sense of it. Blogging gives me a way to reason out my emotions and even be conscious of them instead of just acting on them blindly. Its hard to believe what a difference it makes to be angry and to recognize that you are angry. If I don't recognize that I'm feeling a certain way, I can't encourage or discourage it or change it. I can't adapt to my environment. When my emotions and thinking centers of my brain don't continually communicate I can't tell someone that what they are saying or doing hurts me or crosses a boundary. I can't interact with groups of people, only individuals, because they can adapt to my inability to adapt. Its sad.
But you know what, reasoning my way through this makes me feel like I have more control. Next time I have a panic attack, I will be prepared.
Maybe next post I can blog about how ingesting gluten makes me feel and how it causes a double bipolar EPISODE (not just having bipolar what it naturally does). The I can describe what happens when it is at the same time as a panic attack. :-) jkjkjk Seriously though.... I'm not sure I can describe the sheer terror it is to experience it. And you thought what I just wrote was frightening. I compare it to what I imagine it would feel like to have rabies and be drugged on a strong sedative after 6 cups of coffee.... as in completely losing you mind nearly instantaneously and going crazy, acting crazy, loosing your ability to hear, feel, see, smell, taste, and even move your limbs & digits correctly, feeling so tired that you want to pass out but completely tweaking out and not capable of resting either AND completely clueless as to how you ended up like this, how to make it stop, and how to prevent it from happening again, only that you want to scream from the agonizing pain, disorientation, confusion, and distress and want help but no one thinks anything is wrong with you. If you are lucky, you end up in the ER or a pysch ward where they force feed you more gluten and the cycle starts again! FUN. and that is only the beginning of days of inside out gut wrenching pain, the deepest & most hopeless induced depression possible, the wish to die, inability to sleep, your nervous system short circuiting and your body constantly twitching, complete loss of the ability to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients from food or water, and gaining 10 lbs in water weight while loosing 5 lbs in actual weight. Don't forget what I described in the rest of this blog entry in addition to all this.
Almost makes a "normal" panic attack with a bipolar altered brain seem like a walk in the park. And guess what, it only takes one nibble of a roll or piece of bread to cause all that.