Like a lot of bloggers, I often enjoy looking back over past blog entries to see what’s changed over time and evaluate my progress (or lack thereof). And what I can’t believe is how different my life is from what it was a year ago.
Back then, I was a severely depressed, anxious hot mess of a woman whose life was falling apart all around her: I’d lost my job and much of my dignity, I’d run out of unemployment benefits and had absolutely no prospects for another job, and was in the process of losing my home and the lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed. Worse, I’d come to see myself as a burden on my family and friends, and in my twisted thought processes I believed that everyone would be better off if they didn’t have to worry about me anymore. The gun in the drawer was beginning to look like a promising option, as did the 80 or so Ativan tablets in my medicine cabinet.
As always, I didn’t want to admit I was depressed. It was situational anyway, which (to me) meant it wasn’t worthy of being taken seriously. I didn’t even call Dr. Awesomesauce until the morning of Halloween, when I finally gave up and realized I wasn’t safe to be at home. It was the proverbial dark night of the soul…and if I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here today writing this post.
Now, I’m not only stable mood-wise but have been for nine months, even though the days are growing shorter and there are things going on in my life that I’m not thrilled about. Will’s cancer is progressing and he’s getting tired, as well as having trouble adjusting to his new medication. Sometimes I wake up anxious for no particular reason; fortunately it doesn’t last long and I’m easily able to talk myself down. Nevertheless, I’m planning to discuss it with Dr. A about this next week…if I learned anything from last October, it’s not to put off contacting him when I have a serious issue.
I’ve also learned that a bipolar cannot look too far into the future. We have to take things one day at a time, one crisis at a time, sometimes even one white-knuckled minute at a time. So much of my own anxiety and depression results when I forget this simple principle. Granted, one has to plan ahead for some things, like budgeting for anticipated (and unanticipated) expenses, but trying to plan one’s whole life can be overwhelming. Besides, we don’t know how we’re going to feel next week, let alone six months or a year from now!
Yes, I’ve come a long way in the past year, and the fact that I’m not in some kind of autumnal mood episode for the first time in years is a tribute to my own internal work as much as it is to my medication regimen. I know better than to think I’m done with this illness, even though this comparatively long period of remission gives rise to fantasies about going the rest of my life without ever experiencing another mood episode. That’s probably not going to happen. But while I miss my hypomania, it’s worth it not to struggle with bipolar disorder as much as I have over the past few years. Life is good.
This piece is written by a friend of mine over at a mental health support site. She is brutally honest about this condition we both have and I couldn’t possibly have said these things better.
Originally posted on Bipolar First Bipolar Together:
If there is anything I hate more than the term “mental illness,” it is being called “mentally ill.”
I mean, yes there is something rather “messed up” in our brains. And for no reason at all it can randomly make us feel…. sad/bad/crappy/anxious/terrified/awful/full of broken glass/aching/deadened/agitated/unsettled/enraged/flattened/hopeless/numb/broken/lost/needy/emotionally destitute/dysphoric/mixed/depressed………
and I guess “ill” is as good a word as any to use to cover all of that.
Except. it is not.
It would be a good word if it at least made people think that we have physical illness in our brains. And that this would inspire them to give us the same understanding and compassion that they give other physically “ill” people.
But we all know that is not the case.
If anything “mentally ill” has a more stigmafying effect. It makes people uncomfortable. It conjures up unpleasant images.
I know it does for me. I see a blurry…
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It’s late September and it’s looking like my usual fall festivities have been cancelled this year. I often get a little manic in the early autumn, and there is no sign of it whatsoever. Neither is there any hint of the depression that landed me in the hospital on Halloween last year, for which I am eternally grateful. In fact, with the exception of a little hypomania in the spring, nothing has changed since way back in January when that awful episode finally ended.
This is what they call “stable”. It’s the Holy Grail of bipolar. No extreme mood swings…actually, there are no mood swings whatsoever, unless you count those mornings when I wake up anxious and feeling as if I’ve got to do a million things before noon or my head will explode. It doesn’t happen often. Most of the time, I wake up and enjoy my coffee and Internet surfing session. I spend my days enjoying the company of my husband Will, who is still with us even though his liver is full of cancer and the new medication he’s on is kicking his ass. We go to Mass on Sunday mornings and watch football the rest of the day. Life at our son’s place has been good for us, and we are doing OK financially despite being on fixed incomes.
is that all there is to normality?
For the first time in my life, I feel what I think “normal” must be like. I enjoy things, but I don’t have the fire or the passion or the enthusiasm I used to. I also don’t get as angry as I once did, which is a good thing because there are no more screaming fits or thrown TV dinners. But as much as I hate to admit it, it seems as though my treatment has taken the edge off life and I no longer get to experience the full range of emotions…and dammit, I miss it.
So again I ask…is that all there is?
It’s not that I want to go back to the utter chaos my life was in before I was diagnosed and put on meds. I wouldn’t go through that again for love or money, nor wish it on my worst enemy. I know full well what a mess I was and how much I’ve suffered on account of this rotten disease. But would it be too much to ask to have a little excitement in my life again? Meds may have stopped the endless cycling and repeated crises, but they have also created a void that I find increasingly unacceptable.
I feel as if something vital has been taken away from me and I don’t know what to do about it. Messing with my meds is obviously not an option, although I have an appointment with Dr. Awesomesauce in a couple of weeks and can discuss it with him then. However, he probably won’t want to change anything because otherwise my life is going quite well in spite of the fact that there’s a lot happening in it, and if it ain’t broke…well, you know the drill.
Besides, things are about to get interesting…my son-in-law and I just became the co-owners of a cute 2012 VW Beetle (there’s a story there, but it would take too long to tell here), and of course our cruise trip is coming up in just a couple of months. Maybe THAT will stir up this sluggish old soul and put a little spring back in my step!
Well, I’ll never do THAT again.
I forgot to renew my Klonopin prescription last week and was out, completely, for several days. I didn’t know for sure that Vitamin K was actually what puts me to sleep; I thought it was the anti-psychotics. Needless to say, I was wrong. I’ve been up till after 2 AM for the past three nights, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I’m not manic, I’m not mixed, and I’m certainly not depressed. But what I went through last night will not be forgotten soon.
I was lying in bed, wide awake despite having taken all my other meds, when a squeamish, squirmy feeling came over me. Suddenly I couldn’t get enough air; my legs became restless and I kept moving them around, unable to get comfortable. I was hot and cold at the same time. I was also itchy all over, but it was the kind of itch you can’t scratch—it felt like it was internal, like bugs crawling under my skin. I felt as though I was on the verge of a panic attack. In short, I was a hot mess, and if I hadn’t figured out what the trouble was I probably wouldn’t have slept at all.
The answer came as I was staring wide-eyed into the dark, racking my brain for possible causes. I’d had only two Klonopin tablets left when I filled my med minders Sunday night, which meant I didn’t take it Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I’d renewed my prescription on Monday but forgot to put the pills in the boxes; the new bottle was still in my purse, unopened, as of three o’clock this morning. That was when I finally remembered. Unwilling to wait long enough to get a glass of water, I dry-swallowed that sucker in the blink of an eye; it took over an hour, but eventually the medication worked its magic and I fell asleep around 4.
Now I realize that I was experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal. It’s no wonder; I’ve been on benzodiazepines for over a dozen years and you just don’t go off them cold turkey, even if you’re purposely trying to stop. Which of course I wasn’t. I may not always like having to take meds, but obviously if I’m going to forget one, Klonopin isn’t the one I want to skip. Not that I want to miss ANY of them—I still remember the night back in April when I didn’t take my nighttime meds and experienced the entire bipolar spectrum in one day. What a cluster that was…up and down and all around, all at the same time. That was another misstep I never want to repeat, so I’m extra careful to make sure I take my bedtime meds. And now I need to make sure I take all of them.
Live and learn…sigh…
…about never having known someone who committed suicide.
I have now.
What’s worse is, he took his family with him. Lord knows I understand what kind of desperation it takes to follow through on the urge to self-destruct, but for someone to go into rooms and summarily execute his spouse and children, one by one…well, I can’t even wrap my head around it.
There have been several news stories about possible financial problems and a huge lawsuit, but none of us who knew and cared about this man would have thought for an instant that he was capable of doing this. He was kind and generous to many people, myself included; he was creative and smart and funny; and even when he had to tell you something you didn’t want to hear, he did it with such gentleness that you couldn’t help being grateful he was the one to deliver the bad news.
But something drove him mad, and now we will never know what it was.
I know everyone has a dark side. We never really know for sure what we are capable of until we face a situation that we can’t control and lose ourselves in that darkness. I remember feeling that way last fall when life had become so unbearable that I came thisclose to killing myself. But I wouldn’t have taken anyone else out. The thought never even crossed my mind. All I could think of was how the rest of my family would be better off if I were out of the picture…if they no longer had to worry about me.
Maybe my friend took those thoughts a step further. Maybe the legal action would result in his losing much of his wealth, which he might have believed would cause utter ruin for him and his family. He had created a huge Internet empire, and he enjoyed the fruits of his labors; the family took frequent vacations to exotic locations and lived in a multimillion-dollar mansion with an eight-car garage. Maybe he just couldn’t bear the thought of being disgraced in the media and the virtual community he founded and built with his own two hands.
And, maybe that darkness that resides in all of us overwhelmed his defenses and led him to destroy his beautiful family. Who knows what was going through his mind as he went from bedroom to bedroom, shooting each of his sleeping children and his wife in the head before turning the gun on himself? I just can’t reconcile the man I knew with the one who did this.
Obviously, no one will ever know for sure why it happened. We who cared about him can speculate until the cows come home, but the answers to this mystery died with him and his loved ones on that September night. There will be no closure. One day you’ll probably see it on one of those true-crime stories on the ID channel where they have shows like “Forensic Files”, or you’ll read about it in an Ann Rule book.
In the meantime, I mourn his loss and that of his family—especially his three teenaged children—and I think I finally understand that I don’t have the power to see another person’s heart… and thus cannot judge what is inside it.
Rest in peace, friend. May you find forgiveness, and may you find the peace that eluded you in this life.
…or so went the theme song to TV’s M*A*S*H*. Truth is, it’s painless only for the one who completes it; for everyone left in its wake, it’s a clusterf##k of epic proportions.
A friend of mine discovered this recently when a close relative, an untreated bipolar who was having marital problems, suddenly and shockingly took his own life. Now the family is left to wonder if they missed signs of impending disaster, if there was anything they might have done better or differently, if they could have stopped him from doing the deed. Now, not only do they have to adjust to their loss, they have to fight off the inevitable feelings of guilt and ask themselves the question that has no answer: “Why?”
Then there’s the anger. My friend told me that he and the family were so pissed off at this relative that they couldn’t begin to grieve properly. I can’t blame them. I’ve never been related to or friends with anyone who committed suicide, but I can imagine my first reaction—other than the initial shock—would be anger. How could he/she have done it? And how dare he/she leave me without saying good-bye?
But the main reason my friend told me all this (which has not been discussed on social media) was that he is concerned about me and wants me to take special care of my health. He says I’ve been on his mind since the incident, which rather surprised me since I’ve been stable for a good eight months. I guess it never occurred to me that my own close shave last fall might have made people worry far beyond the immediate crisis. I’m certainly not worried; suicidal ideation is the furthest thing from my mind these days and has been for quite some time. Not that it couldn’t happen again, but I really can’t imagine anything other than the loss of my husband that would be serious enough to justify thoughts of taking my own life. And even then, I think I’ll manage to hang on, though I’ve warned our kids (only) half-jokingly that they’ll probably have to drop me off at the psych hospital after all is said and done.
Why? you may ask. Among other really good reasons, I want to stay safe and live because I don’t want anybody to be angry with me. I also don’t want my loved ones’ last memories of me to be traumatic ones. I want them to be able to remember me with smiles and laughter, and to talk about all the silly things I did to amuse them. I want them to reminisce about the holidays we spent together…the celebrations of milestones in our lives…the things I accomplished during the course of my own. I don’t want them to be haunted for the rest of their days, wondering if there was something they could have done to prevent me from taking that final, desperate step off the cliff.
So the edge of that cliff must be avoided at all costs. This is why I’m compliant with treatment and doing what I can to strengthen myself for the next time my world explodes in flames. Suicide is NOT painless, not for the survivors anyway, and I won’t do that to mine.
Thank you for the reminder, my friend.
It happens to all of us: we’re smack in the middle of a mood episode and a family member or friend, in an effort to be helpful, utters some platitude about how we need to cheer up in depression, or to settle down when we’re manic. But while we know they’re only trying to make us feel better, there are some phrases that are most UNhelpful, and if we never hear them again it would still be a day too soon. Among them:
“Just smile and think positive.” Now, if that were all that was required to pull ourselves out of an episode, don’t you think we would? Nobody chooses to be depressed; believe me, we’ve thought about this one and it’s just not as easy as it looks.
“Have you tried yoga?” Personally, I haven’t because I can’t get down on the floor, let alone do all those contortions—er, poses. I’ve heard that it can be a good adjunct to medications so I wouldn’t dismiss its benefits, but again, if all it took to manage bipolar disorder were a few exercises, the illness wouldn’t exist.
“You need to pray more. God can cure you.” Yes, I’m sure He can, but so far He hasn’t chosen to, and besides, my prayer life is my own business. I have spoken with Him many times about all this, and He’s been silent on the matter.
“You don’t need pills. They’re poison.” I don’t know about anyone else, but my “pills” have saved my life on more than one occasion. I know they can have bad side effects, and yes, I have some of them. I’ve gained weight and have tremors in my hands. I get dizzy when I stand up too fast and I have brain fog. Sometimes I worry about the long term because I’m going to be on psych meds for the rest of my life. But I’m still here. ‘Nuff said.
“My _____ (sister, aunt, grandfather, fill in the blank) had depression, and they just used vitamins and a healthy diet to cure it.” For one thing, there is no “cure” for mental illness, and for another, if diet and supplements were enough to control it they probably didn’t have a very bad case. These things can help, but for most of us, other measures are necessary.
“Why would you pay for therapy when you can talk to me for free?” Because—bless your heart—my psychiatrist is an objective observer who can give me the tools I need to cope with all this. He has the training, experience, and skills to deal with complex psychological problems. But I still like talking to you too.
“You need to mellow out. Take some deep breaths and quiet your mind.” That’s like asking a volcano to shut off the lava flow instantaneously. The only non-drug method that works at calming me down was initiated by my husband Will, and he’s probably the only person on earth who can get away with it. He takes both my hands in his, puts his face up close to mine and gently (but firmly) encourages me to focus on the sound of his voice. He will repeat the same mantra over and over, until he sees that I’ve internalized it, and then he strokes my cheek and reminds me that he loves me and that he really wants me to calm down. It’s almost as effective as a PRN Zyprexa.
“Mental illness isn’t real. It’s just a scam to make money for Big Pharma.” This one renders me speechless. Seriously. You can’t reason with people who think like this. Fortunately I’ve been given this line only once, and my quietness must have been taken the way it was meant because the person shut up and a VERY awkward silence followed. If I could have spoken, it would have been along the lines of “WTF is wrong with you?!”
These are a few of my personal issues with the advice given to us by well-meaning “normies”. What are yours?