…..until you can’t LEAVE, that is.
It’s Day Six of our captivity, going into Day Three without water. We’re getting Hulk muscles from lugging 5-gallon buckets full of water around, we’re rationing our drinking water so we don’t have to use the bathrooms as often, and we’re beginning to smell funky. On top of that, the weather forecasters are expecting an ice storm before it finally warms up, so we’ll be fortunate to keep the electricity on in that event.
The misery index is rising with every day. The temperature struggled mightily to make it to freezing for about five minutes today, which is progress of a sort but of course did nothing to thaw the pipes, and tomorrow isn’t supposed to be much better. What’s sad is that even if we’re able to get out of the driveway tomorrow, neither of us really wants to because we’d be too self-conscious about the stink! Of course, if we could get out we could go to our son’s place to shower, which is what our daughter and her family did this past weekend when THEIR pipes froze.
Yes, the “off-the-grid” lifestyle is way overrated. I want to shower whenever I feel like it (and even when I don’t). I want to be able to wash my hands with hot water and real soap, instead of relying on hand sanitizer and the bowl of ice-cold water I’m keeping in the sink to rinse my hands in when things get too real. I want to be able to flush the toilet—EVERY time I use it—without having to heft buckets that weigh almost as much as the amount I’ve lost in the past year. I want to mop the bathroom floor with bleach water where one of my grandsons missed the mark.
I want this whole ordeal to be over with already.
As I may have mentioned before, I am soooo not the pioneer-girl type. I like my conveniences, thank you, and if I’d been around back in the days when the West was young, I’d never have left St. Louis. I don’t even like to camp. I went once, and when I dropped the big five-cell flashlight down the hole after stumbling a quarter of a mile to the outhouse in the middle of the night, I decided that “roughing it” wasn’t for me. (The damn thing is probably STILL down there, lit.) Now my idea of roughing it is a Motel 6.
Eventually, of course, all of this will end and we’ll be back to the notorious gloom and cold rains of winter in our little corner of the world. At this point, forty-five degrees sounds positively balmy, and I can hardly wait till the rain returns so that the pipes can thaw out and life can go back to normal.
Speaking of which: I have once again managed to strike a balance between mood states, which is downright handy under the circumstances. I could’ve been a total bitch if these hardships had happened in October and November when I was riding on the crazy train, but we all lucked out on this one. As it stands now, I feel completely sane, and even though my patience is being tried pretty severely I’m being relatively reasonable. It’s nobody’s fault that I’m sitting here on a snow-covered hill without water……
I know what you’re probably thinking: “Uh-oh, she’s ‘normal’ again……next thing you know she’ll think she’s cured”. Umm, no. Those back-to-back mood episodes coupled with the hallucinations I experienced during the manic part have pretty much laid that idea to rest for good. Maybe that’s why I had them in the first place; I must’ve just needed a little more convincing is all.
In the meantime, life goes on, and it’ll be a lot more pleasant once we can get a shower and stop smelling like goats. Honey, can you go out and see if the road is clear? Maybe we can stay at the Motel 6 in town till the water comes back on…….
And now, back to our regularly scheduled topic: bipolar disorder. Mine, in particular.
Since I got the news that I’ve been hired for the state inspector position, I’ve undergone a seismic shift in the way I feel about my life and my illness. I’m not saying the sky’s the limit—and I’m sure as hell not saying I’m cured!—but this has given me a badly-needed lift and it’s turned my thinking around on a dime.
I am NOT done. I still have possibilities. I desperately needed to know this.
So I’ve taken a couple of measures to keep my “nonconformity” a little more private. I’ve already changed my name and profile picture on Facebook, and I’ve resolved to never disclose my bipolar at work. It’s just too big of a risk. I’ve been burned twice now and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it happen a third time if I can help it. Which means I’ve got to avoid becoming manic at all costs, because that’s the hardest mood state to hide. With depression, I just become quiet and withdrawn…..but we ALL know what happens at the other end of the spectrum.
In some ways, I resent it that I can’t be forthcoming about my illness. If I had to take insulin every day at lunchtime, I wouldn’t think twice about taking my kit with me into a private area and injecting. But with a brain disorder—something that strikes at the very heart of a person—one must keep it to herself or risk being branded. I know this better than anyone. I don’t know HOW I’m going to hide it, or how I’m going to remain stable when I’ve been all over the map for two solid years. Nor do I know how it’s going to be different this time……but I’m going to do my best to make sure that it is.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as confident as I appear on the surface. Inside, I’m scared to death that my superiors and co-workers will find out, of decompensating and being unable to hide it, of being seen as unstable and unreliable. These are all things that have happened to me before, so I think I can be forgiven for being a little anxious. BUT…..I am sick and tired of living in fear. I have had it up to my hairline with the “what if’s”. I am just shy of 55 and this is the best chance I’ve got to find out what I’m really made of—bipolar or not.
A couple of family members and friends have expressed some concern with my taking this job, which I understand because they’ve been right alongside my husband and my doctor, picking up pieces of my shattered being off the ground and patching me back together. They’ve seen me go down in flames, only to rise and dance on the moon, and then crash again. I really don’t know how to address their concerns, except that I MUST try this last time to reach for the proverbial brass ring, rather than settle for my current circumstances—which are pitiful indeed—or worse.
……and winter is still over a week-and-a-half away. Bleah.
We woke up this morning to frozen pipes, thanks to the weather service which told us the low would be 18 degrees last night. God knows how cold it really was, because when I woke up at 8 this morning with the sun brightly shining, it was zero. According the local news, it’s still zero……I think their thermometer’s busted. It doesn’t GET that kind of cold here. And I don’t care what people from harsher climes may think: this is just. too. damned. cold.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve got a bad case of cabin fever. I haven’t been able to get out of my driveway and go anywhere in four days. Now, there are times when I voluntarily don’t go anywhere for four days—in fact, I usually enjoy not going anywhere for four days. But now that I CAN’T go anywhere, I’m feeling claustrophobic and crabby. Go figure.
So, having no water means we can’t take showers, do the dishes, even flush the toilets. And since we can’t get our car up the ice rink that passes for our driveway, there’s no way to go to the store and buy any. For some reason, the city folks didn’t believe the weather people either and thus didn’t prepare for the snow and ice; so the roads have been dicey, and with our lack of 4-wheel drive and traction devices we might as well be marooned on a desert island. (Which would be just fine…..at least it would be warm there.)
Necessity being the mother of invention and all, we took buckets outside and filled them with snow, which is turning out to be useful stuff after all. Will even made coffee with some melted snow this morning, filling my heart with gratitude as it warmed my poor frozen innards. I am NOT one of those hardy pioneer women who can chop a cord of wood before sunup and have a roaring fire going in the stove while fixing breakfast…..let alone do without coffee!
So now Will is dozing, being rather weary after his exertions this morning in his unsuccessful attempt to thaw the pipes, while I managed to eat some cold cereal, lug the nine boxes of Christmas decorations we decided not to use out to the garage, and light a fire log before settling in here. I have buckets of snow in two of the three bathrooms and the urge to pee. I know the old adage about “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”, but I wasn’t raised by wolves and I never had brothers so I flush each and every time. And I hate, hate, HATE not being able to wash my hands, even though I put out hand sanitizer in each bathroom—yecccch.
I know…..for someone who’s anything but prim and proper, I’m pretty fussy about hygiene. In the meantime, the sun has largely disappeared and the sky is beginning to turn that dirty-aluminum color that suggests more snow might be on the way. It’s certainly cold enough still……it’s struggled to the 21-degree mark thus far and is expected to stay below freezing today (again), but if we’re lucky we might be able to graduate to only two layers of clothing by tomorrow.
You KNOW it’s bad when I start looking forward to rain and 45-degree temps. It’s coming, though….it’s coming. And I know I ought to be careful what I wish for, because I will probably get it, and by January I’ll be sick to death of it and wishing for some “interesting” weather. There’s just no pleasing some people, you know? ;-)
So today I decided that since it snowed and we can’t get out of our driveway, it was time to tackle the Christmas tree decorating chores.
Used to be that I’d have the thing up and decorated by dinnertime the day after Thanksgiving, but this year I’ve been dragging my feet for some reason……partly because I was in that depression, but I’ve also been busy with other stuff. Namely, trying to wrap my mind around the concept of actually having gotten my dream shot at becoming a state inspector for long-term care facilities. Or, as my name badge will read, a Client Care Surveyor.
Even now, two days after getting the call, I can hardly believe it. I was so down on myself there for awhile that I couldn’t even imagine anything beyond my current station in life, which is what I’d call humble to say the least. And it’s not that I’m going to get a big head or anything, but it is so sweet to have attained this long-desired position at a time when I desperately needed objective affirmation that all my struggles in this profession have been worth it.
Now I’ll have the chance to bow out gracefully from clinical nursing and put all these years of experience to work for the vulnerable elderly and disabled citizens in nursing homes all over the state. You see, even as old and jaded as I am, I still have some idealism left, and in this position I’ll be monitoring the quality of care they receive, as well as enforcing state rules and regulations governing the delivery of that care. That’s right: I’ve gone over to the “dark side”. And God willing, I ain’t coming back. They’ve got cookies AND hot chocolate!
Now where were we? Oh yes, the Christmas tree. Being rather OCDish, I’m pretty particular about the way I put the lights and decorations on, and tonight I reached a level of annoyed that under certain circumstances would have made me positively apoplectic: I don’t have enough colored twinkle lights.
I’m SERIOUS. I have three big plastic boxes full of lights, and not one single strand of colored twinkle lights. To my dismay, several strands have gone to wherever dead Christmas lights go, and then I have colored lights by the score….but none of them twinkle, and I must have twinkle lights all over the tree, not just on 7/8ths of it. All I have on the very bottom of the tree are white lights, and none of them twinkle. This is, to say the least, totally unacceptable, so I can’t finish decorating the tree until I obtain another strand of colored twinkle lights!
There’s just one problem with jumping in the car and running down to Target for more: We have several inches of powder snow covering our looooooong, sloping driveway, and under that snow is about an inch of packed ice. It’s also about 18 degrees out and it’s not going to warm up until next week; and from everything I’ve heard today, the roads are all but impassable. I know for sure that the only vehicles going up or down our road have been 4-wheel-drive, and there have been maybe a half-dozen all day. In other words: nobody is going ANYWHERE.
So now I’ve got a Christmas tree that’s not decorated because I don’t have the proper number of lights, I can’t get out to buy more, and I can’t put the 10 boxes of decorations away that are cluttering up the dining room and driving me crazy. It’s a fine fix we’re in, and all because I refused to put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving like I have every other year but this one……and yeah, okay, because I’m anal-retentive about the lights. Craptastic!
What is it about the prospect of snow that turns me into an instant eight-year-old?
I HATE being cold. If I had my druthers, I’d live in one of those little stick houses out in the water in Bora Bora, where I could go swimming every day and lie out in the sun until my skin turns to a gorgeous warm brown. How can I help disliking the cold when I grew up in Southern California, where no one knew what a parka was? We all bundled up in fake-fur coats whenever the temperature dropped below sixty degrees…….my blood just never had the chance to ‘thicken up’ like those who live in more extreme climes.
So the first winter that Will and I were up here, it snowed like crazy for three days and the daytime HIGH temp never got out of the teens. What’s more, the wind-chill was something like 15 below, and since I personally had never been in anything colder than 15 above, I was not a happy camper. I mean, who knew that snot freezes?
Other than the fact that it has to get so damned cold in order for it to snow—and dear God, don’t ask me to actually GO anywhere in it—the white stuff has no negative qualities. I love standing at our picture window on a cold winter’s morn, looking out at the snow falling gently on the evergreen trees and drinking the hottest, strongest coffee I can stand. I enjoy going out and playing in it, too, at least for the five minutes that I can stand the chill. I even like having snowball fights and making slushies out of Coca-Cola and a handful of the clean snow on the top of the car.
One winter, I decided to make a snowball, wrap it in a plastic bag, and keep it in the freezer. (I don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.) Naturally, Will and the kids made fun of me for doing it, but soon the snowball was shoved to the back of the freezer and forgotten.
TWO YEARS LATER, I was digging through the freezer for the last pound of hamburger we had when I ran across the snowball. Only it was an ice-ball now, and thus absolutely useless for any purpose other than to throw through a window like a baseball. Since I wasn’t about to do that—and didn’t want my boys to get any ideas either—I tossed it outside onto the lawn to melt. A little bit later, I saw my younger son out there talking to one of the neighbor kids, and to my embarrassment he was holding the dripping thing and telling the kid about how his Mom had saved it “YEARS ago!” so she could make slushies with it.
Other ways I humiliate myself with the white stuff: I have a tendency to lose my balance easily and fall in it, which causes it to wind up in places that snow was never intended to be. I also eat an inordinate amount of it, which causes me to pee about every five minutes for hours. Because even in this neck of the woods, snow is something of a rarity—we usually have only one or two minor ‘snow events’ each winter, and then everyone goes ape-shit buying out the stores in case we get more than a couple of inches.
People from places like Minnesota just laugh at us, because snow makes us behave like Southern Californians do in the rain—like it’s something we’ve never seen before and don’t quite know what we’re supposed to do with it. I mean, we CLOSE DOWN when there’s more than three or four inches on the ground—schools don’t open and nothing moves unless it’s headed for Starbucks.
Will and I happen to live on the one single large hill in town. We are exactly at 500 feet, which sometimes means that we’ll get snow while our neighbors at slightly lower elevations get nothing. Or, the valley floor will skate by with a dusting to maybe 2-3 inches, and we’ll get six. Or—like what happened during the early spring a couple of years ago—the town proper got four inches of snow, while we were trying futilely to get up our long, sloping driveway with over a foot of fresh powder covering it.
And I loved it.
Snow in my little corner of the universe means snuggling in with a warm, cozy fire in the fireplace, a mug of hot cocoa, and a bowl of popcorn. It means turning the lights down low so you can watch the woods turn into a marshmallow world. It means exchanging snowballs with your mate of three decades, and trying to catch snowflakes on your tongue like the kids in the Peanuts specials. (And yes, I taught all four of mine NEVER to lick the flagpole at school during a hard freeze.)
In short—snow is magic.
And now that I’ve made a big deal out of it, it probably won’t snow at all. Meh.
I was reading through some of my friends’ posts on Facebook last night when I ran across a link to a site dedicated to providing information to bipolar caregivers. This is an aspect of dealing with the disorder that I’ve never thought about much, mainly because I’m the person with the condition and it takes pretty much everything I’ve got just to fight it. But as I perused the articles, it began to dawn on me that life as a caregiver for someone like me must be fraught with danger….there are literally a gazillion ways in which things can go sideways in a hurry, and they don’t always work out in real life the way they do on TV.
Naturally, my first thoughts while reading a commentary on how to handle extreme behaviors were of my poor husband and how I must scare him sometimes when I’m out of control. I’ve made him hide the gun and my pills; talked of wishing I could just go to sleep and not wake up; spent us into bankruptcy not once but twice; taken an overdose of Ativan and slept for fifteen solid hours while he watched me to make sure I didn’t stop breathing. How helpless that must make him feel!
I know it doesn’t do the rest of my family any good either. I once texted my oldest daughter in the middle of the night to tell her I was thinking about OD’ing (I didn’t). I’ve nearly burst blood vessels while screaming at the kids, risked life and limb by peeling out of the driveway and speeding off in a rage, thrown things against walls and punched refrigerators. Never hurt a soul while doing any of it, but that’s only been through God’s grace and plain old dumb luck.
I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of living with someone and never knowing when their next mood swing will blow in and disrupt life all over again. Yes, bipolars need love too, and those of us lucky enough to have found it secretly live in fear of losing it, because deep down we don’t think we deserve it. But it must take a special kind of strength to love a person with this disorder because of our sheer unpredictability: while we love with the same intensity that we approach everything else in life, we are not necessarily good companions.
We are often too self-absorbed with our woes to be able to offer anything of value to a friend or family member with troubles of their own. We make all sorts of social plans when we’re “up”, only to break them when we crash and the last thing we want to do is be around others. We are well-intentioned and begin projects with great enthusiasm, but are also notoriously unreliable when it comes time to do what we said we would, or to finish what we’ve started.
Now that I’ve tried stepping into the shoes of the people who love me—my husband in particular—I find myself looking at the issue with new eyes. Love is a gift even under normal circumstances…..but for someone with bipolar disorder, it’s nothing short of miraculous!
So I was trying to explain this newfound perspective to Will as we were settling into bed, and true to form, he was genuinely puzzled. “But I love you,” he said, just as he has for the last thirty-three years. “You’re my wife, and I’m here to take care of you. That’s what a husband does. I would never leave you.”
That is an incredible reassurance in a world which always seems to be shifting under my feet. If I must have a caregiver, I’m thankful it’s Will, because his love is almost like God’s—I can rely on its always being there, strong and pure, ready to defend me to the death….even against a disease which he will never be able to understand.
Summing up today’s visit with Dr. Awesomesauce, I am reminded of the old MasterCard commercials:
Psychiatric Visit: $349.00
Gas to get to office: $3.19/gal.
Validation of your worth as a human being: Priceless.
I hate it when people blame their parents for everything that’s wrong with them, but I wish to high heaven that mine had made me feel I was worth something when I was growing up. Maybe I wouldn’t have to pay someone to do it if there hadn’t always been conditions attached to their love for me, and I learned early in life that their goals would remain unfailingly out of my reach (hence, my lifelong fear of other peoples’ expectations). That was why I didn’t recognize the kind of love and acceptance Will offered me when we got together; it took me literally years to allow for the possibility of it, and even longer to understand it a little.
Even so, I don’t think I’ll ever grasp the concept of unconditional love entirely, despite the fact that I love my kids that way. They never had to do anything to “earn” my love, it was theirs from the first breath they breathed; and with the possible exception of that oldest boy of mine, they knew it. No matter how rotten I could be (during a mood swing or otherwise), no matter how angry or selfish or petty I got—and sometimes I was pretty bad—they never questioned whether or not I loved them. They have told me this, and I believe them.
So with all this love surrounding me, how is it that I need a mental health professional to tell me that I myself am loved that way—by more people than I realize—and what’s more, that I’m worthy of it, even though I have this condition that frustrates me endlessly and makes me hard to live with?
Because I’m sick. Because I’m a mess. Because I’m rotten at my core and I have this stinking cesspool at the bottom of my soul.
On an intellectual level, I know that’s bullshit. I used to NOT know that on any level, so understanding it with my brain is progress of a sort. I only wish my heart didn’t still believe it a little, and that I could stop confusing my psychiatric issues with a deficiency of personal integrity. I mean, I know right from wrong, I’ve always had a strong sense of morality, and of course as a clinician I don’t judge anyone else for having a disease that they didn’t cause and didn’t ask for. So why do I judge myself?
Today, however, I may have taken the first baby steps toward wholeness. I was discussing my exasperation with losing bits and pieces of me to the illness when Dr. A smiled sympathetically and said in the most sincere tone I’ve ever heard: “I’m sorry”. My immediate reaction was to say “It’s not your fault”……and then it occurred to me that it wasn’t mine either. And I even admitted as much.
That’s when he told me that my mood swings were becoming less extreme and that I was actually making good progress. “Well, I’m glad you think so because I’m so OVER this I could scream,” I protested. ”I can’t keep living like this—I’m sick and tired of it, and I wish I wasn’t like this.”
Ever the realist, Dr. A gave my shoulder a squeeze and said “I know…but then, you wouldn’t be you, and we LOVE you!” Uh-oh—there’s that unconditional acceptance thing again! But as he walked me to the desk to check out, I realized that it was the very same kind of acceptance I get right in my own backyard for free……the kind that’s available to me every single day of my life because of the people in it.