Dealing with migraines, anxiety and bipolar

Placeholder ImageI’ve had migraines since I was a child. As long as I can remember I’ve been dealing with them. My earliest recollection is laying down in the nurse’s office in 4th grade, with one hand on my stomach and the other flung across my forehead and eyes. Even though it was dark, I could still sense light trickling in from somewhere. And it hurt. The nausea was excruciating and I just wanted my mom to come to the school and make everything better for me. That was the beginning of my long history with migraine headaches.

For years, those headaches were the only complaints I had. Being active in sports and social activities didn’t allow me to notice anything extra. But then I was diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. My life drastically changed. Things weren’t only different because of the mental health diagnoses. But I also had to adjust to how my mental and physical health were so intertwined; both symptom and treatment-wise.

It seems like everything about my illnesses and medication regimen intersects. Sometimes I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel, trying to keep up with it all. if I get a migraine, I have to be careful which meds to take to alleviate it. The wrong ones can send me into a depressive episode. Or into mania. And just having the migraine itself is a threat to my mental wellness. If it lasts too long, I’ll get sick mentally. And the headache always brings a bout of anxiety and panic symptoms with it. Which is another assault to my system.

My body just can’t handle the weight of physical and mental illness together. It’s too stressful. So I’m always vigilant, making sure to take care of my neurological health so that I don’t have any mental side effects. It’s a unique and specific dance I do every day just to stay healthy. And it’s extremely exhausting at times. But lately, I’ve been well on all fronts, which makes me very happy.

When Spring Brings More than Flowers


It’s only mid-February. Winter is here in almost full force in the DMV area. But I’m already looking ahead to spring. Not so much in a good way though. It’s more a feeling of dread. Mania hits me every single spring. No matter what I do. I can take all the vitamins and minerals that are supposed to alleviate mental health issues. I can fast or drink only water. Consume nothing but juices and berries, restrict carbs, and take my psychiatric meds…. nothing helps. And most things make it worse, so much worse.

One doctor finally explained that my circadian rhythm just doesn’t adapt well to the extra hours in the day. Well, great. I feel like the only person on earth allergic to sunlight in this way. Ok I know that’s not true at all. But when I’m feeling sorry for myself or hating my bipolar illness, it seems to be so.

It’s happened each spring since I was a teenager. As soon as the time moves forward an hour and I’m exposed to more sun, I have a pretty major episode. I’ve even started to notice physical changes during those times. My skin glows, my eyes and hair are extra shiny, it’s crazy. Sometimes my eyes actually turn more hazel than dark brown during spring mania. I remember having a kind of ‘glow’ when I was pregnant. This is like that glow, but on steroids. It’s that much more pronounced.

A good friend of mine commented on my change in appearance once during an episode. She said she couldn’t put her finger on it but that I looked noticeably different. Possibly younger, even. She asked what had caused me to radiate like that. She was suspicious, I sensed. She didn’t ask any more questions and we just let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air until I left. It normally would have been embarrassing but since I was in the throes of mania, I took it as a complete compliment. I thought everything was simply wonderful and I was happy everybody else thought so too.

One time in college during one such episode, I was racing to a job interview. And I do mean racing! I was going so fast that I sped past a cop while blowing through a yellow light that turned red. Of course I got pulled over. I remember the officer was so annoyed that I was in such a ‘good mood’. He kept trying to bait me into an argument about why I was going so fast. And he insisted on repeating that he should give me a ticket. I just kept saying, “Ok” to whatever he said, and smiling like I had gone mad. Finally he threw my license back at me and stormed off. To this day I don’t know if he understood what was happening or not. But at least I didn’t get a ticket.

I’ve recently begun to read articles about spring mania. I’m glad that others know what this is like, though I hate that we all go through it. Nothing good comes from my springtime mania, and I almost always end up in the hospital. The last major episode I had was when I went to Los Angeles one April to visit a relative. That was a mistake. Not the trip, mind you, but the timing. I should have paid more attention to my symptoms. By the time I got on the plane to LA, I was already fully manic. I know that now. When I got home, I’d stopped sleeping and eating. I had the inappropriate cravings I only get during mania. And my mood was off the charts. Needless to say, I had to get sorted out at inpatient. I’ve since learned that changing time zones during travel can cause a manic episode. Good to know!

I keep looking outside and seeing the gloom winter brings with it as an unwelcome +1. I know that we have a ways to go until the time changes and spring comes blossoming in. But I’m still preemptively nervous. I hope this time things go well and I am thinking positively. But I’m also prepared for what usually occurs. I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but that’s how I feel sometimes. Here’s hoping the upcoming season only brings showers and flowers for me and those who experience spring mania.

How to stay well in the spring with bipolar disorder:

  1. Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Regardless if your body wants it or not.
  2. Eat a well-balanced diet. Food definitely plays a role in how our episodes play out.
  3. Take your meds exactly as prescribed and be sure not to skip any doses. *If you take medication, that is.
  4. Monitor any symptoms that may occur, as soon as you notice them. Then check in with your health care provider.
  5. If all else fails, and you end up getting sick, please be kind to yourself. Get the appropriate help needed for the situation and don’t get frustrated with any setbacks.

When Talking About Mental Illness is a Blessing

Anxiety  take-2

Something happened when I participated in the Twitter #ThisIsHowAnxietyFeels hashtag. I realized how similar people are in their mental health journey. And I saw that what I experience isn’t as unusual as I thought. I know it sounds cliché and it would seem after all these years I would have already surmised that point. But this was different. 

I’ve met a ton of bipolar & depression sufferers over the last decade or so. All of their stories mirrored mine in some way. So I’ve felt a sense of solidarity. But anxiety is something that I’m still learning about. As is OCD. Bipolar disorder has taken a front seat, pushing aside all my other struggles. Even when talking to doctors and therapists. Anxiety just sits in the back, huddling in a dark corner, waiting to be recognized or acknowledged in some way. Anxiety for me has been like a lonely wallflower at a raucous party. 

Anxiety is really the root of many of my daily occurrences, when I think about it though. I’d wager it’s more troublesome than my bipolar issues, because I know those so well at this point. And I know what to do when I have a setback. But reading what people had to say about their life with anxiety really made me rethink how I look at this illness. I understood, probably for the first time, how anxiety impacts my relationship with others. And how I react to different situations when my anxiety is running amuck. I didn’t think I had many light-bulb moments left when it comes to mental illness. But I was mistaken. 

I had no idea that anybody else would relate to cleaning a floor meticulously by hand during an anxiety attack. Or that anyone would ‘get’ the feeling of isolation to the point of thinking you’ll die alone. I couldn’t have known people would understand my habit of checking things repeatedly even when it doesn’t appear to make sense. Actually anxiety made me believe that I had nothing noteworthy to contribute to this entire sharing session. It turns out that wasn’t true. 

If you deal with anxiety in any form, I highly recommend that you check out this hashtag and interact with other anxiety ‘practitioners’ 😉 You’ll gain so much insight, and if nothing else, you’ll see first hand that we’re not alone. 

Speech Therapy For Those With Mental Health Challenges

I often find it hard to express myself. The word I would use is muted. Whether I’m depressed or manic, or even in a mixed state, it’s the same no matter what. The words just don’t come sometimes. It feels like I can’t tap into my language or expression center properly. As if my brain can’t connect with my emotions. At those times it’s like the elevator in my body can’t reach all of the floors. That’s the only way I can describe it. During periods of depression, I feel too blunted to find the words that correctly express the way I feel. So I often end up remaining silent. When I’m manic, I definitely can’t find the right words to convey my thoughts. My words are always jumbled due to the fact that my brain is going haywire. The thoughts are moving too quickly and all at once. So I end up speaking faster than I mean to, and saying things in ways that have unintended consequences. I hate it and yet I can’t seem to stop it.
It just always feels as though people don’t understand what I’m trying to say, no matter what state of mind I’m in. And it’s extremely frustrating. But the other day I came across an article about speech therapy for people with mental health issues. Right off the bat, the author mentioned that those with a mental illness often feel alienated from their peers due to an inability to communicate their thoughts and emotions effectively. I felt so relieved when I read this. I thought I was the only person that was affected by this and I’ve felt so ashamed for so long. I thought this was a personal flaw of mine, and yet another way in which I was somehow deficient. It made me feel so terrible. The article went on to state that speech language therapists help mentally ill individuals improve their communication skills and implement recovery plans in order to help make their speech more fluent and to help them express their truth and improve social skills. All of these are areas in which I could use assistance, and I feel empowered knowing there are professionals that can help in this way.
I recently stopped using social media because of this inability to communicate. I just couldn’t find the words to say what I felt, so I took a short break. But now after reading this, I have hope. I am looking forward to finding a speech language therapist in my area to work with in order to begin to tackle some of my communication and social skills issues. And I hope it will make me feel less anxious about expressing myself no matter what mental state I am in or what mental health challenges I face. And now I don’t feel so different or afraid.

Fighting My Demons


In the shadows

Nobody ever sees what you don’t do. The things you know are wrong & shouldn’t do, the things you’re tempted to do… But don’t. What you almost did that time. The close calls. The near misses. The internal struggle between right and wrong. No one can see that.

They can’t appreciate how hard you work to silence the ghosts calling you to revisit old habits. Those pesky things sneak up out of nowhere trying to catch you off guard. Oh the tricks they play… But sadly, no one understands this private journey. Because it’s invisible.

They only see when you actually do stumble. Maybe you’ve resisted for the longest time, say 20 years. And then 1 day you finally slip. Someone will always be there to laugh and say ‘I saw that!’, with a disapproving glare. It’s so frustrating. All you can do is hope for the day when someone sees all sides of you and still wants to interact.




My kids used to live in West Africa. They moved there with their father’s family when I got sick. Staying in contact with them was easy enough; if the phone or skype was working. We used magic jack to talk, but sometimes it was out of service. For the most part though, I could talk to them whenever I wanted.

One time before they were set to return, I hadn’t been able to contact them for about 2 weeks because their phone was broken. I happened to be going through a dark depression that was made worse because of my mom’s ordeal with cancer. I really wasn’t well. Out of the blue, I started feeling paranoid that my family was tricking me about the kids. I had this sinking feeling that maybe I hadn’t talked to them because they had actually passed away. I thought that Senegal or ‘in Africa’ was just a euphemism for them being dead.

Maybe people thought I was too unstable to handle the truth and so they made up this elaborate story to try and protect me. Maybe they weren’t going to tell me until I was safe and not going to hurt myself. These are the thoughts that raced through my confused mind. I started grieving for my kids as though they were truly gone. I actually felt the empty pocket where my heart once was, and the negative space in my soul that one feels when they have lost a loved one. Everything hurt in a way it never had before. I walked around the house like a zombie for most of that day; touching their things and sobbing. I didn’t know who to trust to figure out what was happening. I spent hours trying to piece together the memory of when I last spoke to my children. Nothing came. I was in panic mode all afternoon. Why couldn’t I remember? Who would tell me the truth? Nobody, I felt that everyone I knew was in on the ruse.

Finally at some point in the evening, I got a phone call from my ex-husband telling me that he had just spoken to the kids and that they were doing well. He updated me with the latest goings on and how school was progressing. I wasn’t sure he was telling me the truth until he said that I should call and talk to them. I don’t think he had any idea about my thought process, but he must have sensed that I was apprehensive. Of course I rushed to call the kids as soon as we were done talking. At that point, even before the phone connected, I felt like everything was ok. I knew he wouldn’t go that far with whatever story I had concocted in my mind. He just wasn’t like that, alhamdulillah he’s a nice person. Talking myself through the paranoia helped calm me down and start to think more clearly. Then, of course, I was able to talk to my kids. This stopped the delusion altogether and I started to feel a bit better.

An interesting thing. Even though my fears were unfounded, I was extremely exhausted by the end of the night. I had spent the whole day grieving for my children, trying to get a hold on my memory and sanity, and trying to understand how long I had been in this state of confusion. It was one of the worst days of my life. I was so tired after talking to the kids that I had to rest and sleep for a few days just to get my strength back. This doesn’t happen to me often. But in a depression that includes psychosis or in mania where you lose touch with reality, this can happen. Thankfully, I haven’t had an experience like this in several years. By the will of Allah, I’m hoping to keep it that way.

Learning to Accept Mania

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“Sakinah, can I ask why you got another tattoo? I just want to understand.” Someone said this after I had gotten my latest ink during a bout of mania. A simple “I don’t know”, had been my answer then. Regretful, and filled with shame, I thought I owed this person an explanation. But I didn’t have one. I mean, hey, I was manic. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Everything seems like a good idea when you’re in that mode. But I couldn’t say that. Nobody I know would understand what that means. Considering I’m a pretty ‘by the book’ Muslim, how could it seem like a good idea to do any of the things people do during mania? Those things are forbidden to me. But what people don’t get is that brain disorders like bipolar don’t discriminate. Mental illness is an equal opportunity disease. It can strike anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

I remember having an interesting conversation with an intake nurse at NIH a few years ago. She was screening me for a clinical trial with bipolar patients. I really wanted to participate in this trial because I wanted one on one care from NIH specialists. I also thought it would be good to see if a new treatment regimen would work for me. The nurse started asking about my episodes and how my behavior changed. “Do you binge on alcohol/drugs? Do you spend a lot of money? Are you impulsive? How long do typically you stay awake? Have you gotten tattoos? Do you dress differently?”…

The questions got more and more embarrassing and hit too close to home. I firmly told her that I was a Muslim and so some of those things couldn’t apply to me. I was wrong of course, I was just too ashamed to admit what I had done to a stranger. I couldn’t admit it to myself really. She corrected me saying, “That’s what mania is. If you haven’t done these things, not only is your diagnosis wrong, but you also don’t qualify for the study. Bipolar doesn’t care what religion you are.”

Needless to say I felt a bit sheepish after that. It bothered me that I had tried to mask my illness with my faith practice. I’m not sure why I did that. I knew what she was saying was true, I just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the toll bipolar disorder had taken on my life. After talking with the nurse, I started looking at my diagnosis differently. I no longer wanted to shy away from what happened to me during an episode, because I knew I was sick. I’ve since decided to forgive myself for my past, and hopefully over time, the people around me will forgive me too.


Inspiration from Struggle (On being suicidal & surviving)

I told him I had no intention of sharing this story. The person who inadvertently helped save my life one night. So far, I’ve told him and no one else. I don’t like talking about this subject. But I know that it’s necessary in order to help people understand the struggle of mental illness. I’m talking about this incident both to show how humans can help one another by sharing their experiences, and to highlight suicidality.

To begin, I mentioned in another post that I mostly feel suicidal when I’m in a mixed bipolar state. A mixed state is when you are manic and depressed at the same time. Suicidality usually rears it’s ugly head during those episodes. I would estimate that I have about 2 mixed episodes per year. One night in February, I was feeling extremely low. I was totally empty and my soul felt such a void that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I thought my children would be better off without me. I actually thought they didn’t need me in their lives, and that I was like a cancer to them. It’s crazy, right? But that’s what this type of episode does to you. It clouds your thinking and makes you almost delusional.

That night I had decided that it was time for me to stop living. It wasn’t a conscious or rational thought. I just knew my time on earth was finished. I planned to jump out of my bedroom window. Even that wasn’t a full thought out thing. I just had a sense that I would take a leap at some point that night. It was over, I thought. I can’t really explain it. Anyway, I happened to have my laptop open on my bed. I remember saying my goodbye’s in my heart and silently deciding it was time. When I turned over, I glanced at my laptop screen for some reason. I saw a post about someone in prison who I had been writing to and supporting. The woman who wrote the post said that for those of us waiting for justice for the man, we had only been following his story for about 2 years; while he had been waiting for 17. In other words, we should be patient. This hit me really profoundly. I couldn’t reconcile how this person had been going through his ordeal for 17 years, yet I had only been having problems for a few years. If he hadn’t given up, how could I? At that point, I knew I couldn’t go through with my plan. It just didn’t make sense.

This was the first time something like this happened. Other times I’ve been suicidal, I went to the hospital and the doctors had to help me recover. This time, the problem resolved on it’s own after being reminded of someone else’s issues. It happened again recently, as I’ve blogged about. I don’t quite understand how. But it’s like that with mental illness. Sometimes things work out without much intervention and others, you need help from doctors and other professionals to get better. It just depends. I’m happy for how things ended up that night, and I’m happy I decided to give life another shot. My kids definitely aren’t better off without me. I know that now. Nor is my family. I’m grateful to Allah to be thinking clearly.


It happened again (On Suicidality)

I think I’m experiencing a mixed episode. I haven’t slept in 2 days and I feel pretty out of sorts. I’m not eating much either. It’s usually when I’m in a mixed state that I experience suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I can feel like I don’t want to live, however I don’t have a plan and I know I won’t hurt myself. Others, I need to get to the hospital ASAP because I feel impulsive and I know I might make a fatal mistake at any time. Currently, I still feel in control. I don’t have a plan and I don’t want to end my life. For now, I just feel bad though. Being hyper, excitable and agitated while depressed is a very unusual feeling. It’s my least favorite part of having bipolar disorder.

Yesterday, I was feeling very much like I didn’t want to be here. I was trying to be positive and think about my children, but nothing was helping. My medication was not doing anything for me either. It was awful. I was tempted to take myself to the hospital but at the same time, I was determined to tough it out. I happened to be scrolling through my twitter timeline when I saw a tweet from a friend of mine, updating people about her cancer treatment. She included a moving tumblr post about her experience. It stopped me in my tracks. Here I was, not wanting to live, (not really wanting to die though) and this pops up on my screen. I was so grateful. Reading about my friend’s ordeal made me very sad, don’t get me wrong. But it stopped the suicidal thoughts for the moment. I wanted to live and fight for my life so desperately when I read what she’s going through. It wasn’t that I was grateful to have my health or thankful to God that I’m not battling cancer, nothing like that; though that is true. But it was that I was so inspired by watching her fight to get better. I felt like, I can do that too! It was a good moment and I’m grateful to Allah that He knew how to fix my errant thought process with such a story.

This has happened once before. Me feeling like I wanted to leave the planet and then reading something which changed my thinking (I’ll talk about that in another post). Suicidality is like that. You can be so ready to go one moment, but then rational and wanting to stick it out the next. That’s one of the tragedies of suicide. When people are successful at taking their life, I wish they could know that things do get better. I wish they could realize that those bad feelings pass, and it doesn’t always feel so hopeless. Maybe if people could see to the other side of that awful emptiness and pain, they’d think twice about ending their life. Maybe. I’m addressing myself as well when I say this.

I’m happy that I don’t feel suicidal right now. And I hope that this episode passes without incident. I really don’t want to have to go to the hospital if I don’t have to. For now, I’ll try to fix things myself and talk to my therapist. But I know the hospital is there if I need it.

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