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Gratitude Journal: The Bipolar Edition

November 28, 2015

Well, this post is a little late for Thanksgiving, but I’m nonetheless thankful for a number of things (and people) I tend to take for granted the rest of the year. Here are a few of them:

I’m thankful for stability, which in all the time I’ve been actively battling bipolar disorder, I never thought I’d find. It may not be perfect, and some days I still struggle with a bit of anxiety and/or depression, but it’s NOTHING compared with the nightmarish episode I was in a little over a year ago. Then again, almost everything is better than it was a year ago…I still have my husband and he’s healthier now than he was for some time. We’re also no longer on the verge of homelessness, we are warm and comfortable, and we don’t ever have to move again if we don’t want to.

I’m thankful for my medications. I finally got over resenting the fact that I needed them to feel “normal” when I realized I would never be normal, but I could manage and even enjoy my life if I stuck with them. Now I just take them and forget about it until it’s time for the next batch.

I’m thankful that we have a newer car and reasonable payments. Our Ford Taurus was a good car that lasted us for eight years, but age finally caught up with it and our son-in-law came to the rescue in the nick of time, helping us finance another car before we had to say good-bye to Old Faithful. He told us awhile back that he and our son wanted to take care of us; and by gosh, he’s been as good as his word. I’m still having trouble getting used to this thanks to my old trust issues, but I’m oh so grateful for the help!

I’m thankful for the magic of the Internet. I miss my daughter Mandy and her family something fierce, but even though they’re physically in Vermont, she’s really only a text or a Facebook post away. I also get to “chat” with my other daughter who’s half a world away in Afghanistan. Plus, I can (and do) reach people all over the globe with this blog. I’m not always a fan of what modern technology brings us—Top 40 “music” and the Kardashians come to mind here—but I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the World Wide Web.

Mostly, I’m thankful for life, family and friends. I love being with my “boys”, and knowing there is no shortage of folks ready and willing to have me in their lives makes me wonder why I ever wanted to end my own. Not even on my “down” days does that even come up as an option. Granted, there’s always the possibility that I could bottom out like I did last fall, but I’m learning not to anticipate the worst-case scenario, while at the same time being mindful that I have a chronic illness which can sneak in and slap me flat with any or no provocation.

And now it’s only a week until we leave the clouds and the cold for our Caribbean adventure. Yep, I’m pretty thankful for that too!



1st And 10

November 20, 2015

(Don’t you just love my football metaphors?)

Will is suddenly much better. We’ve gotten his vomiting under control and his blood sugars are beginning to even out. He’s even had enough energy to walk Zinnie, clean up the kitchen and play with the puppies. It’s like he’s returned to where he was before he went on that awful medication…and now it’s a whole new ballgame. Huzzah!

He also finally—FINALLY—got his passport. It took six months of wrangling between the vital records agencies in both California and Colorado to get it, thanks to the fact that he was born under a different last name and all the people who could have confirmed that he was one and the same person are dead. It also took a loooong drive to the passport office in Seattle and a LOT of help from our son-in-law, who cut right through all the bullshit and pursued the case when we had just about given up in frustration.

Now that we can actually look forward to our trip next month (actually, we leave in 16 days, 14 hours, and approximately 10 minutes, but who’s counting, right?) we’re getting really excited. We are hardly seasoned travelers, so even the plane ride to Houston sounds like an adventure, even though we know it’s really not. I personally haven’t flown since 1989…guess I have a few things to learn, judging by the TV news shows I’ve seen about the way the TSA has been treating airline passengers since 9/11.

It’s OK. Whatever I have to do to see the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean, I’ll do, even if it’s invasive and undignified. This is the trip of a lifetime, and a new beginning of sorts for Will and me as we are going to renew our wedding vows on a romantic beach. I can’t wait!!


Keeping Calm On 4th and Long

November 16, 2015

Well, it’s been an interesting week. Will has been sick with nausea and vomiting almost since he began a new cancer drug three months ago, and now we’ve thrown low blood sugar into the merry mix. Finally, he reached a crisis point where he became disoriented and even somewhat combative, fell in the driveway, and I had to call 911. He should’ve been admitted to the hospital right then; instead the ER gave him some fluids, anti-nausea medications, and a bit of sugar water and called it good before sending him home with me.

Next day he was supposed to have an MRI, but by that time he was so weak that he couldn’t tolerate the procedure even though he was lying down. The MRI tech was so worried about Will that he called the oncologist, who told my son and me to get Will to a different hospital ASAP. He was seriously dehydrated, and his blood sugar was so low that he could have slipped into a coma and died. Thankfully he’s as tough as they come…I’ve seen my share of people in similar circumstances who didn’t make it. But after only two days in the hospital (and discontinuation of the cancer med that was making him sick) he felt well enough to come home, and today he’s almost back to normal.

To say the least, it’s been hard to stay calm and cool during all this. I have been so worried about Will that I couldn’t maintain my customary clinical distance; I’m just the wife and suddenly it feels like I know nothing about “medical stuff”. I have to check his blood sugar every morning at 4 AM and we’ve learned very quickly that it tanks around that hour and he must eat. This makes neither of us happy, but we don’t want a repeat of the festivities! We’re leaving for our trip in 17 days and there have been times I was uncertain if we were going to make it. I’m still not sure we will. But we’re certainly going to do whatever we can to make it happen.

Obviously, my own illness has had to take a backseat to all this, and in a way I’m glad of it. I can’t very well think about being depressed when my dearly beloved is in trouble. He is my everything and I’m not ready to be without him. I’ve cried more in the past week than in the past year. The nights when he was in the hospital were long and lonely, and more than once I pictured myself spending the rest of my nights without hearing him snore or worrying that my cough is keeping him awake. I know that time is coming…but I’m not ready for it, even though I know it’s getting late in the game, it’s fourth down and long, and we have no real chance of winning.

In the meantime, he is sitting in his favorite chair in the living room watching a funny show on TV, grinning and laughing occasionally, just like on any of a thousand evenings we’ve spent together in our long marriage. His cackling is music to my ears. He looks much better, his sugars have been decent today, and it’s been more than 36 hours since he last threw up. It’s all good…for now anyway.





Black Dog

November 7, 2015

As the days have grown grayer and shorter, the usual downward shift in my mood has set in and I am once again under the influence of Winston Churchill’s black dog, AKA depression. It’s not a bad one, and there are extenuating circumstances that make it entirely understandable, e.g. the stress of watching my husband’s health decline and the fact that my oldest daughter and her family are moving far away from us. Add to that the recent discontinuation of prednisone that I was given to combat my asthma, and I’m a bit of a mess.

But this is nothing compared with what I went through last year at this time.  I remember with utter clarity how close I came to giving up then. Gruesome fantasies played themselves out over and over again in my mind’s eye; even though I never actually went into the bedroom to get the gun, I imagined what it would feel like to hold it in my hand, look down the barrel, then caress my temple and my chest with the cold gray steel, wondering where I should place what I hoped would be the fatal shot. The alternative scenario was where I would gobble down as many Ativan as my stomach would hold and slip away quietly, without making a mess for my family to find or waking up in the ICU with tubes up my nose and down my throat.

If those mental images scare you, join the club. They scared the hell out of me too.

Thankfully this story had a happy ending. And as strange and ugly as life can be sometimes, I have no desire whatsoever to leave it. Last fall I was cold and scared and on the verge of homelessness; this year I am warm and fed and I know where I’ll be spending the winter. The possibility that I may spend it without my husband is what worries me…Will is not doing well at all and he may not be able to make the trip next month. And of course if he’s too sick to go, I’m not going either. This makes it hard to anticipate the vacation with any excitement. Part of me knows he’s hanging on for it, so I say nothing to him of my worries; he doesn’t need my negative energies. But I notice the small things that whisper of the coming changes…the increased amount of time he spends sleeping; the frequent nausea and vomiting; the fact that he hasn’t even touched his beloved models in over a month.

So yeah, I’m a little depressed. And this time I’m prepared to tell Dr. Awesomesauce if I need help. None of this “it’s only situational” nonsense—if I even start that stinkin’ thinkin’ again, I’ll be on the phone. I don’t want another hospital stay. I don’t want to feel like I did a year ago ever again. It’s expected, and even okay for the black dog to visit for a little while, but he’s not going to take up residence. I promise.

Going Inpatient: One Year Later

October 31, 2015

I will never again be able to think about Halloween without remembering where I was on October 31st, 2014. I’d written a short post here saying that I’d hit bottom and was going to the hospital, then after my psych eval I sat in the “safe room” in the ER for six looooong hours waiting to be transported to the inpatient psychiatric unit in the next town. I remember riding through the tree-lined streets, watching all the happy trick-or-treaters from my cramped space in the back of a car that had doors that didn’t open from the inside, and missing my grandsons with whom I’d much have preferred to spend the evening.

I remember being greeted by the security guard who searched me and the admitting nurse who showed me around the unit. Both of them were very kind and non-threatening…and then, horror of horrors, I met a nurse I used to work with on the medical/surgical floor at another hospital. I didn’t recall her especially fondly—she was not the warm fuzzy type of nurse at all—but she was the one who put on my wristband and took my vital signs while we made what small talk I was capable of on that night.

I remember being quite dismayed that I could not have a fan in my room (it was HOT in there) and that there wasn’t even a clock by which I could tell the time. Oh yeah, duh—electrical cords were a big no-no because you could hang yourself with them, and of course there were no outlets anyway because some long-ago patient somewhere had probably managed to electrocute himself. Suicidal people can be tricky that way, and I was reminded of this fact when I tried to hang a sweatshirt and jeans on the hook in the bathroom only to have it bend down and dump everything on the floor. My room was searched for contraband at least once daily, usually in the early morning hours—the CNA smiled and called it a “safety check”. And when I tried to save a spoon for cocoa, I was nicely but firmly instructed to go get it and bring it to the nurse for counting. All of which served to remind me that in the inpatient setting, I was someone who couldn’t be trusted…and believe me, when you’ve spent a good part of your life holding others’ lives in your hands, that feels really, really weird.

I didn’t like being in this situation. I didn’t like being locked up. But in a rare moment of clarity early in my hospitalization, I realized that I was safe, and that if I didn’t take a breather from my life on the outside and let people help me for a change, being in there wouldn’t do me any good. So I went to groups and attended all the meetings and talked to my treatment team every day. I listened to other patients’ stories and didn’t feel as bad about my own predicament after hearing some of theirs. And as time went on, I began to feel like maybe there was hope after all and found myself taking pleasure in small things, like a shared laugh with my peers on the unit and a good cry during “The Fault In Our Stars”, a movie the nurses had rented for us.

Now, a year to the day after my admission, I know that I have come a long, long way. Even though nothing is perfect (and Dr. Awesomesauce STILL doesn’t agree that my bipolar is in full remission), life is one hell of a lot better than it was then. Much of it has to do with the fact that God and/or the Fates have evidently chosen to smile on me a little more often, but also that I’ve made peace with the illness as an ongoing part of life—it’s not something that will ever go away entirely, and I will have to be on guard against relapse forever. I’m fully cognizant that more hospital stays may be in my future, and that this whole thing will probably have to be fought out all over again.

But I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made over the past 365 days. After all, the road to recovery is long and hard…and sadly, some folks don’t get there.


If You’re Healthy And You Know It…Thank Your Meds!

October 28, 2015

Just about the time you get to thinking your immune system can fight off the squirrels in the back yard, something like this happens.

I got the crud. It’s been going around since Fall began in earnest. Half my family has been walking around the house sneezing, wheezing and barking like seals, and like everything else I’ve been exposed to for the past couple of years, I wasn’t worried about catching it. Then last Thursday I went to bed with both a tight chest and a sore throat, and with me that is ALWAYS a bad thing, because it usually means having a horrendous asthma attack right along with it.

I spent the next three days holed up in my room binge-watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and sleeping the rest of the time. I got out of breath merely by walking to the bathroom. Putting on clothing took more energy than I had. Even eating and chewing were exhausting. Today is the first in almost a week that actually been able to stay up for a good portion of the day, although I’ve barely moved from the sofa. The family was trying to get me to see a doctor, but I was avoiding going to the urgent care because I frankly was too sick to get dressed and go out, plus I knew they’d only put me on prednisone for the asthma, which has the tendency to make me manic. It was when I developed severe lower back pain on the right side with an accompanying sharp pain that stabbed me in the chest every time I tried to take a deep breath that I knew I was in trouble, so off I went on Monday morning.

Turns out I had some pneumonia and bronchitis in the mix, and this doctor who saw me was amazing. He bounced into the exam room as if on springs, and talked to me as if I were the most exciting patient he had. Of course, prednisone did come into the picture, and I was honest with him as to why I don’t like taking it. He didn’t even do that slight backing-away thing that so many people do when you tell them you’re bipolar—he never missed a beat and in fact, told me he would let ME decide how to adjust the dose in order to avoid mania. He also gave me the option to taper off on my own schedule. In other words: he listened to me!

So I went home with a sack full of breathing treatments, antibiotics, and of course my old pal, prednisone. I’ve now taken two doses of it, and so far, so good. Maybe it’s because I’m not taking as much as I have in the past (I’ve taken as much as 80 mg, which is a high dose, and this time I’m only on 30 mg for three days and then I taper down from there). Not that I would mind having a little extra energy, but I don’t get happy manic on this stuff, I get irritable and angry manic…and then when I crash, I cry my eyes out for absolutely no reason. None of that is enjoyable or fun. I hope I’ll be able to skip the festivities this time!

Meanwhile, my ankles are wrapped in warm puppies as I hang out in front of the pellet stove, wondering when I’ll be able to sleep lying down again and hoping I’m not up half the night hacking up a lung (again). It could be better, but with the combination of antibiotics and the prednisone, I’m already feeling like I just might live to fight another day.

Now, if only I could just stop coughing so hard that I have to wear incontinence pads…

Don’t End Your Song Too Early (For Those Contemplating Suicide)

October 21, 2015


I’m reblogging this post from a great blog called Stuff That Needs to be Said. This man is a genius who really captures the essence of depression. Read it and be amazed.

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

guitar hands
Pain in the present can blind you.

It can obscure the future so fully that you’re no longer able to believe anything beautiful is still possible, that joy is ever going to be within reach, that tomorrow is even worth waiting around for.

Suffer long enough and you begin to think the only direction left for you to go—is out.

If you’re there right now; if exiting is all that you can see from where you are, may these words give you breath and pause and rest.

I know that you might be holding on to the very last strand of your rope in these moments; so tired, so completely worn out from this day and all that you’ve carried through it to even think about going on another minute more—but I hope you will.

I know from where you’re standing right now it feels like far too much to ask that you would keep going, but I’m asking you to because…

View original 385 more words


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