Please advise my girlfriend about overcoming her anxiety over times when I’m not there (I’m bipolar, she has panic disorder and OCD).
January 25, 2007 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I have bipolar disorder and although I have been stable for more than a year I have had several manic episodes in the past (when I was very ill and she was unable to contact me) and my girlfriend worries I may have another when she’s not with me at night. We would like for me to be able to stay at home for a few days every now and then but this is currently not possible, as she gets too anxious and distressed. How can we make this happen?

The anxiety began last March when I was staying at home for a couple of days a week but for the past few months I’ve been temporarily living with her (she also stays with her mother who has to work). My girlfriend dealt with the anxiety for several months but eventually found it too much to bear on her own. We think this was a delayed reaction to my being so unwell for several months in 2005 (I was hospitalised for the second time since we were together).

We would like for me to be able to stay at home sometimes but just forcing herself to do it won't work. Her psychiatrist says that would be counterproductive as she has forced herself to do many things in the past with negative consequences for her health and state of mind. His suggestions to move towards the time when I can stay at home overnight are:-

* My girlfriend spending more time on her own in general, especially when her mother and I are both out, to build her confidence. She is fine when I am out in the evenings, it’s just overnight she has a problem with, so this could be an intermediate step.
* For her to get back to pursuing hobbies that she used to enjoy, and which would occupy her mind when I wasn’t there, prior to her doing those when I’m not there at night. She has M.E. so her options are somewhat limited typically to things she can do in the house.

She is happy to try both of these but we were wondering if anyone has encountered anything similar and how they overcame it, either mental strategies or practical suggestions. Thanks in advance for any help Mefites!
posted by AuroraSky to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First of all it is hard to say that her aniexity arises from YOU or from her being unable to be alone. Saying it is becasue of your difficulties may be pushing the "reason" off on something external. Whatever... that is almost secondary, but needs to be at least brought up.

I would set up a schedule wherein the two of you spend increasing time periods apart. If she is fine with you being out in the evenings, slowly push that back to staying out (or at your place alone) longer. With anxiety I would make sure clear guidelines are followed. "I will be back at 11pm" and make sure it happens. Try to get to the point where you arrive after she has gone to bed/sleep, make sure she knows you have returned on time. Then work up to being able to sleep on your own and come over early in the morning.

Each step will take quite awhile, and I would think you are looking at a year or more investment, if it works. Also realize that THERE WILL be setbacks. Try to differentiate between a setback and something that just isn't going to work.

In reality this is not an issue for strangers. Find good therapy, find good boundaries, be kind to yourself and her equally.

posted by edgeways at 1:37 PM on January 25, 2007

As someone whose anxiety sometimes spirals out of control, I find that being reminded that it's anxiety, not reality, talking helps a lot. Something along these lines.

"We're doing really well. Calm down. It's going to be OK. Remember, you go through this anxiety sometimes. It's happened before. It will probably happen again. But you can deal with it." Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Eventually it gets through my skull, and I tend to be filled with enormous relief.

I only got to this point after learning some anxiety management skills from a mix of life experience and cognitive behavior therapy. It's not as good as avoiding anxiety altogether, but having people to help me recognize patterns and comfort me during freak-out moments is enormously helpful.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:32 PM on January 25, 2007

As someone who also has bipolar disorder (although I have the type two form) can you get her to do a little reading up on the subject? Manic episodes do not magically appear out of nowhere all of a sudden-there are always red flags. If she knew the subtle little signs to look out for maybe she would chill when the signs weren't there? has a bipolar section that has articles that would be helpful-I am sure googling would turn up other sites as well.

Sounds like she has her own issues. Are you two doing any couples therapy? Might be a good idea.
posted by konolia at 4:25 PM on January 25, 2007

What konolia said. Episodes normally build up over some time, with pretty clear warning signs, although the time varies from person to person. Some people can cycle very very rapidly (manic to depressive within 24hrs), but I think this is quite rare. You should know from your own experience how long it takes for a mild hypomanic episode to develop into full-blown mania.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 AM on January 26, 2007

Best answer: I have anxiety disorder (more specifically, panic disorder with mild agoraphobia) and my mother has bipolar. So I'm intimately familiar with both disorders. Also, I used to have anxiety attacks when my boyfriend was late coming home.

Her psychiatrist is right on - baby steps and distracting oneself are both effective methods of coping. I can get lost in a good novel and forget I was ever anxious to start with, or lose track of time. Medication has also helped me to get over the physiological hurdles. Even if I know in an intellectual sense that everything will be okay, my body does not know that, and its responses can lead to more panic. Medication (in my case, Klonopin) that tones down the body's response is crucial to stepping out of the downward spiral of panic. Also, are you on medication for your bipolar? Are you taking it regularly? The doctors had to experiment with my mother's dosages for years before they got it right, but once they did, she was able to live a very normal life.

The key for me was becoming confident that I can take care of myself, no matter what. All her actions should be geared towards that. I'm not sure what "M.E." is but I gather it's something that leaves her housebound. Could she work from home? Could she be a member of a club that meets at her home? If she's a member of a religious group, can church members see her at home? Contact with the outside world is crucial to becoming confident that you can handle that world on your own.
posted by desjardins at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2007

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