This is long. You've been warned. And, its not about running, or training, really at all.
I have a secret. And, it's kind of a big one. And, I've been keeping it to myself. Haven't told a soul. In fact, I've been straight up lying to
people EVERYONE, afraid of what their reactions will be - for MONTHS. But, unfortunately for me, lying and keeping this secret is no longer a possibility. I told the first person a week ago last Saturday, a friend on the team. That same day I told my psychiatrist (who I usually refer to as my doctor, he's the only one I see regularly). It was time someone knew, and it was creating a problem that I needed his help to fix. I then kept the information to myself for a week, and lied to everyone even more about what was going on, afraid of what people would say. And then, my head went nuts in the middle of the night on Saturday night, and I knew I had to tell my mom. I prayed she wouldn't be mad. I've been lying to her for months. Then I told my dad. Neither of them was mad. They were great actually. They always are. Then, I finally came clean with my coach, cause, well, it explains a lot. And, last night I told a couple of my closest girlfriends. And, now here I am, ready to tell any one else who cares, my stupid dirty secret.
Here's the thing, I am supposed to take three medications every day to help manage my bipolar - lithium, welbutrin and lexapro. I pretty much hate taking medication and wish I didn't have to, it sucks, the side effects suck, its just a pain in the ass on many levels. So, sometimes I stop taking it. I stop taking it because I feel better. What winds up happening is, I'll feel like I've been well for a long time and maybe I don't need the medication anymore. This is stupid because at some point, the world starts to come crumbling down around me when I do this. And, I always swear when I go back on it that I won't go off of it again. But, then I do, because I feel better. Its a vicious cycle. The medication does such a good job of making me feel better that I think I'll be better without it too. And then the other shoe drops.
I'm guessing you've figured out my secret. Yep, I stopped taking my medication. Months ago. Like a lot of months ago. And I've been doing great. I've been feeling good, no anger, no depression, no issues, maybe sort of slightly on the edge of hypomania. But I'm not gonna lie, the edge of hypomania, its kind of a good place to be. I feel productive and happy and like I could do anything, but yet I'm not full blown manic. Hypomania is kind of happy. Its an easy place to be. Unfortunately I can't always live in that place. No, the ugly side tends to rear its evil head after a while.
And, well, the ugly side (one of the ugly sides) has come roaring back with a vengeance. It's no secret that my bike and I have not been getting along all that well. I try to love it, it tries to kill me. Another vicious cycle. But, I think the problem is actually not the bike. The problem is me. There, I said it. Its not the bike's fault. So, I was always a little nervous about the bike. I was exhibiting some natural fear, clipping in, riding next to traffic. But, the problem is, that fear started to spiral out of control. Especially after I got the concussion. That made matters significantly worse on the bike front. And then I fell again a couple of weeks later. Every time I fell it compounded my fear. And, that fear and nervousness has turned in to full blown anxiety every time I ride. Crazy panic attacks even thinking about being on the bike. This is not normal, clearly.
One of my biggest issues I've dealt with over the years with bipolar is extreme anxiety. At one point in my life the anxiety got so bad I was afraid to leave my house. I let it control me. I've been trying very hard not to let the anxiety control me on the bike. Truthfully, I was trying really hard to pretend that what was happening wasn't anxiety, that it was just extreme nerves. And, then almost two weeks ago, I realized that I couldn't keep pretending. This was full blown anxiety and I needed my doctor's help to deal with it.
So, off I went and back on two of the three medications to start, adding the third if the anxiety didn't clear up. I was doing really well all week. I was tired, but my body was busy adjusting to the meds again, so I wasn't really surprised. I had a good swim on Thursday night that seemed to sort of shake the life back in to me. I was feeling good. I ran on Saturday and while it wasn't the speediest run, it felt good. I was feeling like me again. I was nervous about the Sunday bike ride, but feeling prepared and not anxious at all. I stayed in on Saturday night, prepped my bottles and bike, laid out my clothes and watched some tv with the dog. I went to bed early, deciding a full night's sleep would help me in preparing for the next day's ride. I was asleep by 10:30. Perfect.
Then, I woke up, in the middle of a panic attack at 3:30am. It was awful. By far one of the worst panic attacks I've had in years, in fact I can't even remember the last time I had a panic attack that bad. Even on my medication I occasionally get a little one, but I can work my way out of it and calm myself down. This, was on a whole other scale. I was crying hysterically, my breathing was erratic, my heart was beating a mile a minute. I felt like I was going to die. My logical brain knew I wasn't going to die, but that's not the part of my brain that was in control at that moment. My illogical brain went to thoughts like, "I'm going to die here, alone, and no one is going to find me for days, and the dog is going to run out of food and he's going to have to eat me." Ridiculous, I know. But, it felt very real. It's hard to explain a panic attack and how real everything feels in the midst of one, if you've never had one, count yourself lucky. This carried on for about an hour and a half. In my hysteria the dog cuddled up very close to me, which he doesn't always do, and that actually seemed to help calm me down. It was awful. Being alone, feeling that out of control, it was a breakdown of spectacular magnitude. (My parents asked me the next morning why I didn't call them or come over to their house. I'm not sure why I didn't.)
I finally fell back asleep. I woke up for the morning and it seemed really bright in my room. Too bright for the 6:30am alarm I had set. Hm. I looked at my phone and realized I had turned off my alarm in my sleep and it was 9:30. Fail. That meant I wasn't going to make the ride, that started at 8:30. Shit. I called my mom, and was crying, she had me come over. She and I talked and got coffee and breakfast and I finally told her the truth, that I had been medication free for months and the anxiety is what made me decide to go back on it. She was understanding and listened as I cried some more. She said I should probably tell my coach, since it would explain a lot of what's been going on with me. I disagreed. And, then realized she was right. So I told my secret.
I spent a lot of Sunday morning crying and worrying. I'm worried that I'm falling behind in the training and that I won't be able to catch back up (I know I'll be okay, I just need to put in the work). I was crying because I hate that this is happening again. I am a little embarrassed, mostly because all of this is my own fault, and I know better. I knew the risk when I stopped the medication. I just thought I was stronger than this illness. I am stronger than it, but not by myself, I need help to live with it.
And, training for an ironman is stressful, too much stress for my brain to deal with alone. I need the help. I need the medication. So, now I'm back on all three medications and hoping I have put the anxiety monster away for a while. The way I have been feeling over the past couple of weeks, and the memory of Saturday's panic attack, coupled with the training and the fact that I know better, will keep me on my medication.
I'm not going to say that I'll never go off of it again. Because that's not really realistic. I will say that I was on it much longer this time before I went off, and I went back on faster than I have in the past. Maybe I am learning. I just know that at some point I'm going to be tempted to go off it again. I just need to try to remember this moment, what this felt like. (That's part of why I'm sharing this here, so I can remember if the day comes that I want to go off it again.)
I had another restless night's sleep last night. Awake again at 3:30am. Not filled with anxiety this time, but awake, my brain racing. I know that this is what starts to happen, its the edge of mania, beyond hypomania. I am grateful I've started the medication again, and will take something to sleep through the night tonight, and stave off the mania. It's a delicate balancing act and I'm ready for it again. Even if it does make training for an ironman more complicated.
I will ask you not to judge me for this. It's not easy to live with mental health issues. It's not easy to take all this medication that can, at time, wreak havoc on your body while helping your brain. It's not easy. None of it is. There's nothing I can do to change this part of me. Please know that going off my medication is never an easy decision. I know the consequences. I know I've done this to myself. But, I know that sometimes I need to know if maybe my brain is better.
For now, I am back on my all three medications, and being honest about everything. Hiding it and lying about it only makes things worse. I am writing this to tell the truth and hold myself accountable. Now, its time to get back to life, anxiety free, living in honesty and truth, accepting my issues, taking my medication, ready to tackle the world.