One of the stupid little tricks my mind plays on me once in awhile is trying to fool me into believing that my psychiatric issues are caused by other processes. Today I was reading something about the cognitive changes that sometimes strike people in late midlife, and one phrase stood out like a sore thumb: “Some patients may experience not only a decline in memory, but problems with word-finding and mood regulation”.
First reaction: a-HA! Second reaction: oh, no, not that old argument again.
Oh, yeah. The maybe-I’m-not-bipolar argument, which should have been put to rest long ago but keeps resurfacing every now and again. Now, why does my mind tease me like this? Every fact points to the BP diagnosis, and I’m reminded twice daily of it when I take my meds. There’s even an official label on my medical chart that’s going to be there forever and ever. What further proof do I need?
Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time I’ve entertained the idea of asking Dr. Awesomesauce for cognitive function testing. I already know I’d have difficulty passing some parts of the exam, because my short-term memory is poor and my attention span isn’t so hot either. Those questions where the tester gives you three to five words and you’re supposed to recall them five or ten minutes later? Ain’t gonna happen. The one that requires counting backwards by sevens…..are you freaking KIDDING me??! (I couldn’t subtract in my head even when my brain was in better shape.)
Obviously, none of this is reassuring. I don’t want to be demented any more than I want to be bipolar, even though it might help me with my Social Security disability case. The truth is, I have problems with my memory AND I’m bipolar. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have to scroll back to the top of my blog posts to see what I’ve written in previous paragraphs so I can make the piece “jell” and not repeat myself. This is also why I don’t read books anymore; by the time I get to the end of a chapter I’ve forgotten what the first part was about.
What were we talking about again? Oh, yeah—grasping at straws. Which is ridiculous given the preponderance of evidence proving the validity of my diagnosis. I’ve already fooled myself more than once. Time to knock that shit off.
I have a sneaking suspicious that Dr. Awesomesauce reads this blog once in a while.
I mean, I didn’t even get the chance to bring up cutting back on the Zyprexa at our session this morning. When the topic turned to meds, he shook his finger sternly at me and said “Stay on your meds as they are—no messing with them.” Naturally I did my best to look innocent, even as I confessed to being tempted sometimes because I’m jonesing for some hypomania. He shook his finger again and said “I know, and NO!”
Damn. I’d gotten kind of attached to the notion of backing off on the Zyprexa and was actually looking forward to giving it a shot. So much for that idea.
Granted, there are a lot of advantages to staying on my medication cocktail as is, maintaining my current level of sanity being first and foremost. I also won’t have to cut pills into teeny-tiny pieces or try to remember to titrate down on a given date, IF I’m having no ill effects from the change to begin with. And Dr. A and I both know that my relative serenity in the face of all the current adversity is not a natural thing for me—nope, it’s been made possible through the magic of chemistry, and it would be silly to try to fix what ain’t broke.
Still I was surprised that last month’s discussion of maybe reducing the Zyprexa someday was nowhere in today’s. He was a little worried when he saw that I’d changed my hair (my son-in-law straightened and colored it for me last week) and asked if it was my new version of the yellow toucan shirt, but I think I was able to reassure him that it most certainly wasn’t. After all, I haven’t been manic all summer, and thanks to my faithful medications it doesn’t look like the usual early-autumn festivities will occur this year either.
It’s amazing how my mood charts have flattened out over the past year, and especially since I went on the Z full-time. I’m half-afraid I may be stuck with it for good, unless I can get through this life crisis with all my marbles intact AND maintain some semblance of a normal existence for a while after it’s over. And it’s the latter which challenges me. A lot. In fact, I’m not sure I even know what that is. But I have the feeling that if I stick with this chemical soup, I just might find out.
At any rate, med changes are not on the table right now and I’d best forget about it. As tempted as I may be to fool around with my psych meds sometimes, it’s the one thing I won’t do; I have a lot of respect for what they can do—especially if misused—and I have even more respect for the doctor who prescribes them. Whatever his flaws (and I’m sure he has some), he knows his stuff, and he knows ME. And just in case he is reading this blog, I’d like him to know that I really do appreciate that…..even if he never lets me live down that ridiculous yellow shirt. :-)
Every now and again, the irony of losing my compulsion to overeat and yet being unable to shed my excess weight just amazes the hell out of me. I don’t eat any more than the average person, I don’t eat when I’m not hungry, and I go through periods when I couldn’t care less about food. But still, I remain morbidly obese.
I can’t help blaming some of it on Zyprexa, which I must confess no longer drives me to eat everything in sight and really hasn’t caused that much weight gain this go-round. But even though I’m still not anywhere near as heavy as I was a couple of years ago, I feel heavier than I did even at my highest weight. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because these pounds seem to be concentrated in my mid-section and butt. Maybe it’s because my diet is full of processed crap. Who knows, maybe it’s just because that’s where the weight wants to go.
No matter how you slice it, though, the weight is neither welcome nor appreciated. I hate looking like a beach ball with legs. I’m so firmly packed in the middle that my hips are smaller than my waist…..assuming I could find it amid the fat rolls. I cannot lace my fingers together and rest my hands in my lap, even if I had one. I cannot cross my legs, nor squat, nor kneel (although that has as much to do with my knee operation as anything else). I can, however, tie my shoes and cut my own toenails because my pride won’t let anyone else do it for me. I also refuse to use those go-carts in the grocery stores, because almost every person I see driving them is massively overweight and I don’t want people looking at me and thinking I’m too lazy to walk around the store. So there.
But the image I saw the other night in the full-length mirror at my son’s house scares me, and though I’ve certainly weighed more, I don’t remember ever having been fatter. My clothes don’t really fit any differently, and the numerical value of my gravitational pull, like my moods, is pretty stable. I just feel thick and slow, and my ass looks like the south end of a northbound elephant.
So why am I trying to blame it on an innocent, little, round white pill? Actually, I don’t blame ALL of it on Zyprexa, because I’ve been severely overweight since my early 30s and I never even took the stuff till my early 50s. I just need a scapegoat for my unwillingness to give up burgers for tofu and kale, as well as my dislike of cooking. (Hey, at least I’m honest about it…..)
Actually, I think I might get a little help from Dr. Awesomesauce as to weaning off the Vitamin Z, maybe even as soon as tomorrow. I’m doing well and neither of us wants me to be on two anti-psychotics a day longer than I have to be. Of course, he just ordered another three months’ worth, and we both know what happened the last time I tried to cut back. But I like to think that I’m in a different place than I was three months ago, even as I wish I could turn the clock back five years, before all of…..well…..THIS happened. Before I became “ill”. Before I ever really knew what bipolar disorder was, let alone that I had it.
Yeah, I guess my “big bum theory” is a little lacking in substance. Oh well, you can’t blame me for trying!
…..are definitely NOT on the agenda for this weekend. My daughter, son-in-law, and the grands are coming for a barbecue tonight, and Will’s sister from Seattle arrives later this evening and will be here till Sunday. Then the two of them are going to the air museum tomorrow for an all-day event, while I’ll be visiting my own sister for her birthday. Sunday is church and football….and all I can think of is how glad I am that I don’t have to work on Monday. I do have an appointment with Dr. Awesomesauce that day (as long as I don’t get canceled again!) but that’s more like a treat than an obligation.
Maybe I ought to listen to people when they tell me that not working at this time of my life is a GOOD thing. There’s no question that I’ve been more stable, even though everything around me is falling to pieces; under normal circumstances I’d probably be manic, and my anxiety would be off the charts. (Then again, what are normal circumstances? Being medicated and in remission IS my new normal.) I would also be driving Will up the wall with my constant worrying, fretting, and complaining, even if I were working and finances were not an issue.
I’m also beginning to see that our lack of money isn’t a fate worse than death. We’ve been poor before, but now that it’s just the two of us it doesn’t matter as much. I will miss our middle-class lifestyle, but at least we had it for a good number of years; and far better than that, we’ve still got each other.
I think maybe this is the lesson I am meant to learn, and the calming influence of medication and therapy is enabling me to be open to it…..that, and the benefit of having lots of time to think. I’ve been unemployed for almost five months—the longest I’ve been without a job since 1995—and I’ve needed every minute of it to begin to make sense of the situation. I look over at Will and thank God he’s still here, and that I have the time to be with him and grow with him as we fight our respective diseases. I couldn’t have done it with that last job I had…..not with all the travel and the late nights and the intensity of the work. So many things have happened with him during these five months that it would have been hell not to be close by. What if I’d been across the state when he got pneumonia, or when we found out about the blood clots in his lungs?
They say that there’s a reason for everything, and as more of the puzzle is being revealed I’m beginning to accept that God has plans for my life that may not be what I want, but what I need. I still have a lot to learn. Maybe this is my chance to get it right……after this weekend, of course. :-)
No, not to worry—I’m not the least bit depressed. Today I’m going to talk about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short, which is not a “bipolar thing” but a common affliction among people living in the northern latitudes.
That’s not to say that folks living in the tropics don’t get it, but in places where it’s cloudy, dark, and grey during the winter, even people who don’t ordinarily suffer from depression or anxiety can be affected. The most common symptoms are excessive sleep, weight gain from indulging carbohydrate cravings, and low mood. We also tend to develop a cozy relationship with the sofa and watch a lot of TV. Dr. Awesomesauce has a nasty case of SAD and has to go to Hawaii every year to get a break from our long, dreary winters, but for us mere mortals, it’s important to get creative in dealing with it.
I have SAD pretty bad myself. I usually get through the holidays and my birthday all right but then it slams into me with hurricane force in mid-winter, rendering me dull, grumpy and depressed. I feel like a bear—all I want to do is hibernate until spring, and my disposition is unattractive at best. The only thing that helps me is a device called a dawn simulator, which is plugged into my bedside lamp. It turns itself on 15 minutes prior to the time I wake up and gradually grows brighter, just like the morning sun, so that by the time I have to be out of bed the room is illuminated as if it were mid-July.
It sounds silly, but it’s a hell of a lot better than getting up in the dark. There are also light therapy devices that provide full-spectrum lighting, which is believed to be effective in many cases of SAD. You sit under the device for 30-60 minutes or so first thing in the morning, which improves mood by tricking the brain into thinking it’s outside in the sun. A couple of friends of mine swear by their light boxes; they’re a bit out of my price range right now, but at some point I hope to get one. Note: if you purchase a light box, be sure to get one that provides full-spectrum bulbs and at least 10,000 lux (units of light); anything less will probably not be therapeutic.
Some people actually get SAD in the summer instead of the winter. They generally have to do everything back-asswards and avoid the heat and light the rest of us crave. I have a couple of relatives who loathe summer and adore the cold and damp; to say I don’t understand them would be the understatement of the week, but I respect their suffering and wish there were a cure for it.
Of course, lifestyle modifications such as proper diet and exercise are also helpful, although it’s tough to get excited about taking a walk when it’s 40 degrees and raining, and broccoli doesn’t hold much appeal unless it’s in a hearty cream soup. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone does it. I just know that it’s a good thing…..although personally I’d prefer to stow away in Dr. A’s suitcase and spend the last two weeks of February on the sands of Waikiki!
The official Social Security papers arrived yesterday.
I’m looking at the envelope right now. I’ve read through the documents, and once again I can’t believe that I’m really doing this. I don’t WANT to do it. I feel like such a weakling, using a mental illness as a reason why I have so much trouble with working. Yeah, I know—it’s not the mild case I’d prefer to believe it is, and it’s caused me untold misery both in the workplace and out. But even though I know better, I still harbor this insane notion that I could return to nursing if I’d simply be stricter with myself.
I find myself thinking back to the time just before I was diagnosed, when a series of adverse events turned me into a hot mess. I was struggling with depression and anger, and it spilled over into work. I remember sitting in my office and staring at the stack of paperwork on my desk, completely unable to do anything about it, my thoughts racing at the speed of light; I didn’t know what was wrong then. And when I found out, it blew me away, even though I shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.
Sometimes I look back and wonder what my life would be like today if those events had never occurred. Would I still be working and living a successful life? Or would I be sitting here with Social Security documents on my computer table? I don’t suppose there’s any way to know; it’s not like I can unring the bell. But I do find myself thinking now and then that things might be different if I could turn back time to 2011 and take an alternate path. Which begs the question: would I be so hard on myself if the illness were a physical one?
It’s not as if I don’t face physical challenges as well. I’m severely overweight and have some pretty gnarly arthritis, in addition to being diabetic, asthmatic, and hypertensive. The obesity alone would probably qualify me for SSDI, as there are a whole lot of jobs I can’t do as a result of it. I have always refused to let it get in my way, but I’m up against the realities of aging now and I simply can’t perform the same activities I could 10 or 15 years ago.
Oddly enough, this eases my guilt a little bit. I’m not happy about it, but I’m less upset about having a physical disability than a mental disability, even if that particular disability is self-inflicted (while the bipolar is not). I know it’s weird, but it’s the way my mind works thanks to living in a society which still views mental illness as a curse borne by “those people”. Does that sound crazy?
So here I am with a big, fat envelope from the Social Security Administration on my computer desk, wishing I didn’t have to fill out papers and gather documentation and give permission for Dr. A and Dr. L to give SSA the down-and-dirty on me. I wish I didn’t have to avoid the temptation to make light of my difficulties. And I wish more than anything that I could still be a nurse making thirty bucks an hour, instead of barely existing on $360 a week and worrying about what will happen when those unemployment benefits run out.
In the meantime, I’m still awaiting the results of my interview last Friday, so there’s hope for at least a little extra money if I get the writing job. Keep your fingers crossed for me—I need all the luck I can get.
I want to go off Zyprexa.
Well, I do. I’m in a major creative dry spell and I want to feel something strongly enough to be able to write about it. I also want to throw off this lassitude which is keeping me from shaking up my job search and thinking outside the freaking box. It’s weird how I can get so excited about a football game and yet have so little enthusiasm for everyday life (although I’m still pretty stoked about the possibility of that writing job). Maybe if I weren’t on so many medications…..
Of course, that might be a tough sell with Dr. Awesomesauce, as much as he doesn’t want to keep me on Z forever. I’ve already been on it for six months, and was on more than off of it for the three months prior to that. However, he just reordered three more months’ worth of it so I don’t think he’s going to take me off anytime soon. Still, he may be OK with me trying to cut back a little, even though it didn’t go so well last time. I hate being such a slug in the mornings…..it practically takes a crowbar to pry me out of the bed, no matter how early I take my nighttime meds or how well I sleep. That won’t do if I get a day job. I remember having difficulty staying awake at my desk during my last job, and it’s never really gotten better. Dialing back the dosage might fix that.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything without Dr. A’s knowledge and approval. I know only too well what he’d say, and I don’t want to disappoint him. He can shame me almost to tears with a certain facial expression, and I don’t want to see that. (Funny how he keeps me on the straight and narrow even between appointments.) I also know I’d be risking the reappearance of Manic Barbie…..but sometimes I just can’t help missing her, or wanting a taste of the wild, wild world I used to live in. The depressions are awful, and mania itself carries its own set of problems; but a little hypomania would be so refreshing!
I know even THINKING about this is like playing with fire, and when I think of how bad my mood swings used to be, I wonder why I’d want to take a chance of going back to those days. I remember the time I crashed and burned after a particularly severe manic episode; I sat up in bed long after Will had gone to sleep, crying in the dark and swinging one leg over the side for hours. I ended up sneaking into the bathroom around four AM and calling the suicide hotline because I needed someone to talk to and I didn’t want to wake Will up and scare him.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. It hasn’t happened in a year and a half, and it seems even longer ago than that. I keep telling myself that a brief, delicious ‘high’ isn’t worth going through something like that again, and that the Vitamin Z is responsible for this relatively long period of remission. What kind of fool would even think about screwing that up just to chase the high?
Thinking about it, however, is all I’m going to do. I won’t strike that match, no matter how tempting it is. I promise.