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Scrambled Letters, Scrambled Brain

October 1, 2014

You know you’re in for a bad night when even your most effective means for shutting down your brain doesn’t work.

I have this mental picture I use when I’m having trouble getting my mind off something unpleasant: I visualize a giant stop sign right in front of me and say STOP out loud. It usually works by distracting me and forcing my thoughts to go in another direction. However, last night was one of the worst I’ve had in a long time—I was wide awake till after one AM—and when I tried to utilize my ace-in-the-hole, the letters were all scrambled and they slid to the bottom of the stop sign in a heap.

What the hell??!

This has never happened before. With few exceptions, this has been a reliable way to divert my thoughts from the endless loop they get caught in sometimes, and I couldn’t make it work to save my soul. I tried multiple times and just could NOT unscramble the letters. Which meant going around and around with the same theme and being unable to think of something less disturbing than “I’m running out of unemployment. We’re going to be homeless in another month. I’m running out of unemployment. I can’t find a job and there are no extensions any more. Where are we going to go?”

The bitch of it is, I’m not catastrophizing here. I’ll be out of benefits by the end of this month, and there is no way we can even afford an apartment on Will’s Social Security check. Yes, I have the writing job, but that’s not going to be steady enough to keep the wolf away from the door we won’t have much longer. I don’t know what we’re going to do. There is no Plan B. I’ve always had a Plan B, but now I’m fresh out of ideas and the panic is perilously close to the surface.

So last night I lay in bed, trying to pray, trying to avoid boarding the crazy train, trying to make myself STOP, and failing utterly. Well, I’m not exactly crazy—at least not yet—but the stress level goes up exponentially with each week I go without a regular job. It’s hard to look into my husband’s eyes and not have a resolution to this crisis which threatens us both. He doesn’t deserve this. Hell, even I don’t deserve it.

But of course, I blame myself for it. Who else is there to blame? Yes, I know I can’t turn the clock back and be young again. I can’t get rid of my mental illness, even though it’s reasonably well-managed now. I can’t go back into nursing, nor can I make something out of nothing. Almost every job I’ve looked at requires the ability to multi-task and manage competing priorities, and everything is fast-paced…..and those are things I cannot handle.

Somewhere, there must be a nice little job where I can sit in a quiet office and do data entry all day. I don’t care about the pay, I don’t even care if it’s boring; I just need something that’s low-stress and that I can leave at the door when I go home. Something that keeps a roof over our heads, even though it won’t be this roof. And something that suits a scrambled brain which doesn’t know when to STOP.

 

 

Fear Factor

September 30, 2014

Did I ever tell you that I’m afraid of everything?

Pantophobia is its formal name, which makes me feel a little better since I know I’m not the only person on earth who experiences a deep and abiding fear of life, particularly its more unpleasant aspects. I’m serious. I’m afraid of spiders. I’m afraid of birds. I’m afraid of heights and enclosed spaces. I’m afraid of the telephone. And I’m absolutely petrified of failure.

I was always fearful, even as a child. I remember having night terrors way back when I was kindergarten age, and it never got any better. I take that back: the nocturnal festivities eventually ended, but I’ve basically gone through my entire life being scared of a hell of a lot of things.

That’s not to say I haven’t faced down my fears and even conquered them in many instances. I may be a fraidy-cat, but I’m far from timid, and that has served me well in life. Sometimes I can even use the fear to my advantage, such as the times when I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone and benefited from the experience. Nursing school comes immediately to mind, as do getting married and having kids—all of which were as exciting as they were terrifying, and vice-versa. I’d never call myself an adrenaline junkie, but in craving excitement I also have to deal with the fear factor, and there’s something ultimately satisfying about doing something because it’s scary.

Some say it’s a bipolar thing, that it’s “normal” for someone like me to be afraid of so much. Well, I know a few people who don’t have a mental illness of any kind, and yet they lack intestinal fortitude even more than I do. In fact, I have one friend who has never married because she’s too afraid of being vulnerable; of course, growing up in a home where her father treated her mother like crap didn’t help, but she’s had a grand total of two boyfriends in her entire life and she’s pushing 40. It’s awful when your fears keep you from having the life you want.

Unfortunately, being afraid of everything means taking a lot of risks, especially with your heart and your emotions. I have trust issues because of the way I was brought up—if you can’t trust the woman who gave birth to you, who CAN you trust?—and am skittish about relationships, even ones which have proven to be reliable and good for me. It’s like I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop…..like what am I going to do if my husband dies? If something bad happens to one of my kids? If Dr. Awesomesauce leaves his job at the clinic? How am I supposed to carry on?

This is where the wee little bit of bravery allotted to me comes in. Some things in life have to be faced; there are no exceptions to this rule. I take the chance every day that something awful might happen, because it would be hellish not to have the people in my life who make it worthwhile. My nursing career may have imploded, but I don’t regret for a minute having had those 17 years (even though the last two really sucked). And every time I write something that opens my ‘self’ up to scrutiny, I’m risking having my fragile psyche crushed under criticism….but I do it anyway because not to do it is unthinkable.

Yes, life is scary. But I’ve never known anything different, and as long as I can stand up to the fear, I have the feeling it will all work out in the end.

 

 

 

 

Living The Dream

September 29, 2014

Yes, folks, it’s official: I got the writing job!!

It’s what I’ve dreamed of all my life. To do something I’m passionate about AND get paid for it is all I’ve ever really wanted, and today, that opportunity arrived in the form of a welcome letter and a contract. The money won’t keep the wolf away from the door, but that’s not the only reason for doing it…..it’s also because the offer is a huge sign of respect. For my contributions to nursing. For my ability to capture in words complex situations and emotions. Heck, even for my twisted sense of humor (that I got from being a nurse). I feel so honored; the fact that I was one of a few selected from over a hundred applicants amazes me, even though I’ve worked my tail off for years and done some of my best writing for little or nothing.

It also shows how far I’ve come in a little less than three years. I was once almost banned from the website for repeatedly insulting other members, and while some of that was related to being under the influence of Wellbutrin, I can’t excuse my behavior for the rest of the time I was acting like a jerk. In retrospect, this was one of the major turning points in my life—it was when I received a formal warning that I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong and I needed help—and in many ways I credit the administrators for forcing me to get it. And now look at the rewards!

This will be the first time writing under my own name. I’ve always used my screen name for my articles, just as I do here, but this is the real deal and I’m actually OK with it. I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I write. What I AM is proud, happy, nervous, excited, and humbled…..and I can’t wait to get started. Woo-HOO!!

 

 

 

 

The Anniversary Waltz

September 26, 2014
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What a difference a year makes…..fourteen months ago, we weren’t sure if Will and I would make it to our 33rd wedding anniversary, and now here it is late September again and we’re about to celebrate Number 34 tomorrow.

It’s amazing how much things change during a long marriage. You start out with honeymoon dreams and very little else, but as you build a history together, the dreams are replaced with something of substance that you can lean upon when times are tough. That’s when you learn the difference between loving someone and merely being “in love” with them. The mushy stuff—the sickly-sweet Valentines, the Kama Sutra oil, the hearts and flowers—all of that goes away with time, but if you can look over at your mate and feel safe and secure, that’s really all that matters.

And I do feel safe and secure with Will. I always have. For 34 years I’ve been loved unconditionally and supported in whatever I wanted to do, no matter how challenging my behaviors or how complicated it must be to love me. I didn’t know that kind of love when I was growing up, and it took me about 20 years to figure out that this was the real deal; sometimes I still struggle with the concept of receiving unconditional love, even though I have no trouble loving him and our children that way.

But whatever the reason, I know Will does love me utterly without reservation and always has. I don’t have to do anything to earn it…..it’s almost like God’s love in that way. Then again, God does work through ordinary human beings, and maybe Will is His instrument because I’ve always had such a tough time accepting love, let alone believing I deserve it. I still have my doubts on that score. However, the statistics say otherwise, and the proof is sitting right over there at his desk, working on his model airplane engine.

Happy Anniversary to my soulmate of 34 years! Realistically, I can’t wish for another 34, but we’ll continue to take life and love one day at a time, and that’s good enough for us. <3

Moody Blues

September 25, 2014

One of the things I like to do occasionally is pull out the mood charts I’ve kept over the past two years and compare them. This makes me appreciate how far I’ve come since I started keeping records, and is a great reminder of why I take all these medications that make me slow and stupid. I get down about that sometimes; I miss my brain, even though it was FUBAR before I started on this journey toward wellness. I miss passion and intensity, and as I’ve said before, I miss my hypomania. But then I look at my charts and see the progress I’ve made, especially in recent months, and I realize that the results are well worth the sacrifice.

I also can’t help noticing that the flattening of the line graph and the lower scores on irritability and anxiety correspond with my state of unemployment. Before I left my last job, those scores were off the charts; since I’ve been out of work, they’ve dropped to near normal levels despite the ever-present worries over finances. I never realized how badly job stress affected me until I no longer had any. Even with impending homelessness looming over Will and me, I’m not as freaked-out as I would’ve been if my moods were still largely uncontrolled.

It’s even more impressive when I line up my charts side-by-side. I don’t even have to look at my notes to see the improvement over the six months I’ve been on Zyprexa; it’s obvious that the drug has pulled everything else together for me. And when I compare the line graphs from 2012 and 2013 with those from this year, the difference is amazing. No more wild swings from mania to depression and back again, no more frequent cycling. And there are a lot of flat lines between the blips, indicating longer and longer periods of wellness.

This is the evidence I needed to convince myself that my medication regimen should indeed not be messed with. It’s my nature to question everything, especially authority, and as much as I trust Dr. Awesomesauce I wasn’t sure he was right to leave things alone. But here it is in black-and-white, and I can’t deny that my quality of life has improved since my moods settled down…..even if I do feel dumber than a box of rocks at times.

Some times are worse than others. Since getting up this morning I’ve forgotten my meds (but took them as soon as I remembered), the letter I was supposed to mail out days ago, the day of the week (I keep thinking it’s Friday), and the phone number to my internist’s office. I’ve also lost my place in this post several times and had to go back over it to make sure I’m not repeating myself. As the saying goes, “Some days it’s just not worth chewing through the restraints.” Today is one of them. Good thing I’m in a decent mood, yes?

 

Won’t Get Fooled Again

September 24, 2014

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.

 

 

Shrink Wrapped, Redux

September 23, 2014

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. :-)

 

 

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