I’ve had a bad day today. Unfortunately I’ve let it set me back a little, which just goes to prove that my recovery is still pretty fragile despite the strides I’ve made over the past few weeks. Of course, getting served with court papers for our impending eviction didn’t exactly make for happy thoughts, and the court date is set for December 26th. The day after Christmas? Really?
Then I looked around the house at the bare walls, the big picture window where the Christmas tree should be, the floor where brightly-wrapped packages used to be piled on top of each other. This year, there are no lights, no decorations, no gifts, no big holiday dinner at home, no anticipation. No traditions. And when you get right down to where the cheese binds, it’s ALL MY DAMN FAULT.
Well, it is. Or rather, it’s my failure to beat my demons into submission that’s to blame. As hard as I try to keep this thought at bay because it can be dangerous, I’m too weary and too discouraged to fight it at the moment. There’s just no denying the fact that none of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me. If only I could have stuck with that surveyor job…..if only I’d been able to keep working…..if only I hadn’t let this illness get out of control…..everything would be the way it used to be. We could have had another Christmas like last year’s, which was as close to perfection as a family Christmas can ever be. Of course, it would have been a hard act to follow, but I would’ve busted my buns to make it at least as good because that’s what I do.
Or at least, that’s what I used to do. Now that I can’t even buy gifts for the grandkids—and my soon-to-be ex-house is dark and cold—I don’t know what the hell to do. I feel like the holidays are magnifying what has become a stark reality: I am poor, I am sick, and I am to blame for this entire mess.
One step forward, two (or ten) steps back. Yes, I know I shouldn’t beat myself up; for one thing, it doesn’t solve the problem, and for another, I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to—taking meds, sticking to my sleep schedule, seeing Dr. Awesomesauce on a regular basis. I’ve also done a hell of a lot of hard work in therapy, because he knows I’m smarter than I act sometimes and he does NOT let me get away with any kind of intellectual laziness.
But it’s a whole different ballgame when I look around me and find chaos everywhere—chaos caused directly by me, or at least by my illness. But my illness is part of me, isn’t it? I can’t blame it without blaming myself, can I? Where does it end, and where do I begin?
Sorry about the pity party…..I’m just tired of losing so many battles with this thing. I’ll get over it. I always do. But for today, I’m giving myself permission to wallow because every time I look around my sad, empty house I see my hand at work, destroying everything I touch. And nothing I do will put it back together again.
So along with the upcoming holidays comes the time to renew my nursing license. It’s a biennial requirement, and even though I’m not planning on using it, I want to have the option in case I’m ever asked to volunteer someplace. You just never know…..and besides, there’s always the possibility of finding one of those work-from-home jobs.
However, I’ve been dreading the renewal process because the questionnaire part includes a rather invasive query as to the licensee’s physical and mental health, which of course is a sensitive subject for me. The question reads: “Do you have a physical, emotional or mental condition that impairs or may impair your ability to practice nursing safely? Explain any Yes answer in the space provided.”
I didn’t want to be less than honest, because getting caught lying to the Board of Nursing is one of the worst things that can happen to a nurse. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to disclose my bipolar 1 diagnosis, even though it most certainly has impaired my ability to practice. The trouble is, answering truthfully might mean having to go into a monitoring program that’s designed more for nurses with addiction issues, DUIs, and drug diversion than those with mental illness.
Any nurse unfortunate enough to be placed in this program is basically treated like a criminal—she must call the automated check-in system daily, see the program’s psychiatrists and counselors, and do random observed urine drug screens. She can’t even take a sip of champagne at a wedding or go on vacation without permission from the powers that be. Of course, all of this is at her expense, and it goes on for up to FIVE YEARS.
It’s a tight place to be in, but I knew I couldn’t get around it. I’ve been hospitalized; in some states, psychiatrists are required to report inpatient admissions of health professionals to their licensing boards. I have no idea if my state is one of them, but why take a chance? Besides, it’s a matter of integrity: I might get away with it, but it just wouldn’t be right.
So I took a deep breath and answered the question with a Yes. Where it asked for details, I disclosed my diagnosis, said I was being treated for it (didn’t elaborate on how) and that I haven’t been working. Then I answered the rest of the questions, paid my $150, and hit the Finish button with a silent prayer that the BON wouldn’t hold up my renewal.
The BON site said it would take three to five business days for verification, so I settled in for the long haul and tried to forget about it. But when I went to check my E-mail this afternoon, there it was: the confirmation that my license is active until January 18, 2017!
To say that this was a huge relief would be an understatement. I may not be working as a nurse, but I earned the title of R.N. and I still want to be able to call myself one. Now, unless the stars align in such a way that allows me to work again, I won’t have enough practice hours the next time I need to renew my license, so I’ll be gracious and retire officially. But the fact that the BON doesn’t have a problem with me holding a license despite my “nonconformity” just goes to show that honesty really is the best policy. :-)
I realized something today as I was “chatting” with some of my friends on Facebook about yesterday’s blog post. Several of them mentioned that I might still be in a bit of denial about my illness, as I tend to perseverate on the idea of reducing my medications in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is NOT a good idea. At first I was somewhat defensive—getting that bipolar 1 diagnosis put an end to any illusions about the nature of the disease—but then it occurred to me that there is a subtle difference between merely not being in denial and fully accepting a thing. And I am stuck in the middle.
I’m not sure why this is, and I’m not going to ruminate on it for long because that won’t get me any closer to resolving it. But knowing I still have some acceptance work to do is something of a disappointment. So many times I’ve thought that battle was over, and yet evidence keeps surfacing that it isn’t. Good Lord, you’d think that after almost three years of fighting this thing, I’d have surrendered to its reality. But while I am no longer denying the presence of the illness itself, I have yet to come to terms with it.
As usual, my friends reminded me that it’s not how many or how few pills I need to control the beast. The fact is the meds help me, and messing with dosages would be foolish, which is why Dr. Awesomesauce is leaving them the way they are. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Yet I still dream of a day when I’ve been stable for long enough that we can try cutting down…..not wanting to admit that day may never arrive. It shouldn’t matter. It does. And I don’t know what it’ll take to get me to the point where it won’t.
What I do know is that I’m grateful for the wisdom shared by so many wonderful people. They’ve seen me through both depression and mania, darkness and light, thick and thin. I take their counsel seriously because they want only the best for me. Sometimes they are sympathetic, and sometimes I get my butt handed to me, but at no time have I ever had to question their motives. I’m pretty choosy about the people I allow to be close to me, but overall, I have the best support system on the planet…..and it’s because of them that I’m still here, trying to figure out how to get unstuck. :-)
Sometimes I have to laugh at the stuff Dr. Awesomesauce comes up with during our sessions. Today’s theme was Let’s Get BPNurse Involved—in other words, once I get through this moving business, he thinks I should do a bunch of volunteer stuff, like attempting to restart the parish nurse program at my church and/or maybe giving some time to the prayer shawl ministry.
One small problem with the latter: I don’t knit. I’ve never felt even the slightest desire to learn how. I have neither the patience nor the eyesight for it. And, well…..I just don’t want to. Naturally, Dr. A seized on this and ran with it throughout our session, mentioning it several times just to watch my reaction, which was invariably “No”. I don’t mind the idea of doing volunteer work once my life gets settled down, but that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think it’s going to for awhile. Besides, as I told him, I’m something of a commitment-phobe.
He snorted. “And how many years have you been married?”
Basically, what he wants me to do is keep myself busy. He has this idea that I’ll get into trouble if I have too much time on my hands—who, me??—and this, of course, must be prevented at all costs. It reminds me of the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy, who charges five cents for “psychiatric help” and tells Charlie Brown “We need a director for our Christmas play. You need involvement.”
But I must’ve been in a rebellious mood today because I shot down almost every one of his suggestions. I know why he wants me to get out and do things, and ordinarily I’d go along with it because his advice is almost always good. But I don’t want to be involved, I want to stay at home and grieve for my old life. I want to stay at home because I’m still a little depressed and I’m jonesing for just a wee bit of hypomania to give me some energy during these dark and gloomy days.
“I haven’t had a good old-fashioned manic episode since last year,” I reminded him.
“Please don’t,” he replied, straight-faced but with eyes twinkling. So much for reducing the Zyprexa now that I’m out of the woods, which was something I’d planned to bring up. Instead, he ordered three more months’ worth of the higher dose. Good grief, am I ever going to be able to cut down on any of this?! If I could just remain stable for longer than a few months…..Like me, he wasn’t particularly worried about this minor depression, but he did want to know if I’ve ever felt like I needed a little more time “downstairs”. To which I said something along the lines of “absolutely not”, and that I hoped I’d never have to repeat the experience (even though it was a positive one).
“Hey, if you do, you do,” he said casually. “We’ll deal with it if and when we need to.” Well, even I have to admit the possibility can’t be ruled out, knowing the cyclical nature of bipolar as well as I do now. And what the hell, at least I’m not afraid of the place anymore. But I haven’t got time to fall into another major depression…..there are still things to be packed, moved, and unpacked someplace else.
Yes, there are lots of things I do that I don’t want to do, and I’m trying hard not to make too big a deal out of it. But I’m still not gonna take up knitting.
We’ve gotten a bit of a reprieve from being evicted, even though the paperwork paints a very dire picture: we received our 72-hour pay-rent-or-quit notice Friday night. That doesn’t mean we have to be out in three days; in fact, it gives us more time because a court date has to be set, and even after that we should still have at least a couple of weeks to move out.
Which means we’ll still be here for the holidays, if not for very long afterwards. I don’t want to be a stinker about all of this, but we still don’t have a place to live and we’re not going onto the streets a minute sooner than we absolutely must. That gives us one more Christmas in this big old house full of memories, even if there’s not a single decoration in sight and we’re going to our son’s for the holiday itself.
So much of our lives has happened here. This is the home where the kids finished growing up, the home that once welcomed our first grandchild, the home where holidays and birthday parties and anniversaries were celebrated. It’s the yard which sheltered our big above-ground swimming pool, the garden where tomatoes, pumpkins, and flowers grew. It’s also the place where Will and I fell in love all over again. I wonder sometimes how either of us will be able to bear leaving here.
But it had to happen sooner or later. We are two older people who don’t need three thousand square feet of house, and although I wish we didn’t have to go under these circumstances, we’ve known for a long time that we needed to downsize. We have been rolling around like two small peas in a very large pod, and it’s the right time to start living a little more simply. No, make that a lot more simply—we don’t feel the need to entertain big groups of people anymore, and we certainly don’t need the amount of furniture and other possessions we’ve collected over the years.
This is what I meant when I said I wanted out of the rat race. The pace of the life I had to live in order to maintain all of this was soul-crushing, and I don’t ever want to return to that. I can’t return to it. That last full-time job was my undoing, and there’s no going back to pick up the pieces that were lost when life as I’d known it for so many years ended. I didn’t know that at the time, but it’s been made very clear to me over the past six months that the “productive” part of my life is over…..and that’s not necessarily all bad.
Maybe one day when this uncomfortable phase is over and we’re back on terra firma, I’ll want to give back to the community that has nurtured us all these years. Maybe I’ll volunteer at church when I feel well, where they understand that I’ll hide myself away when I don’t. And who knows, maybe I’ll find my voice someday and be able to write for a modest living.
In the meantime, there’ll be one last Christmas under this dear old roof, and money is coming in to help us find a new one…..even if it’s only a room in the inn.
Yes, I know, that’s a big turnaround in a very short time. But it’s not incipient mania that’s making me feel a bit like George Bailey these days; it’s finding out how much I really am loved. There has been such an outpouring of support from so many different people and places that I’m overwhelmed! I never dreamed I’d touched so many lives, even though my friends list is fairly long and I have followers both here and at the nursing website I frequent. But when my friend, “K”, spread the word that Will and I were in dire straits, the response was tremendous and continues as I write this.
Now I think I know what this struggle was designed to teach me. When Will and I were doing all right financially, we spent money casually and seldom thought about the less fortunate—a $20 bill tossed in the collection basket at church on Sundays and a few cans of soup for the annual food drive were pretty much it. We wanted only to forget our own humble beginnings, and it never occurred to either of us that we might need help again someday.
How arrogant we were in our big house on the hill. And how wrong.
Well, that day has arrived, and my friends and family have come to the rescue in more ways than one. We haven’t found a place to live yet, and there’ll still be a lot of misery to be endured before we’ll have anything resembling a normal life. My moods are dependent on what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, and my baseline is still somewhat depressed. But I’m rediscovering my faith in God and humanity; and even though there’ll be no presents for Christmas, just knowing that people care is a gift all unto itself…..one that won’t wear out or be forgotten after the holidays are over.
Funny how the brain likes to chew on bits and pieces of information without really doing anything with it…..well, other than spitting it out at random moments. My thoughts are scattered all over the place and don’t seem to have a beginning or an end…..they all seem to start in the middle. Like this one: I just put my name along with Will’s on our church’s prayer list. I never thought about it before today, but I figure since I’m still struggling with depression I can use all the help I can get. He’s been on the list for over a year, but I guess I never thought of my own disease as being “worthy” of having people send up prayers on my behalf at every Mass. I may have been wrong.
Speaking of the Almighty…..it’s beginning to dawn on me that these trials and tribulations might be intended to teach me a few things about compassion. I used to be a very compassionate person, but all that just seemed to slip away as I became more and more burned-out in nursing. I have to confess that I’ve been judgmental toward those who didn’t have their act together like I did <laughs> and even contemptuous of people who don’t believe the same way I do about politics, religion, and the economy. Well, karma is a brass-plated bitch, and I can’t help wondering if God sent me all these hardships in order to turn my thinking around.
I wish I could say “OK, Lord, I get it now!!” and be allowed to go back to my comfortable life…..but somehow I don’t believe that’s part of the plan.
Went to the housing authority this afternoon. The waiting list is two to three YEARS. As always, the preference is for young families with kids, but they do consider disabled adults and people with terminal illnesses as something of a priority as well. Here’s where our health issues might help us, at least in the long run—Will with his stage IV cancer, and me with my “serious mental illness”.
Speaking of disability: my case seems to be moving along pretty swiftly. I’ve gotten through the first three batches of paperwork, and now Dr. Awesomesauce’s office says their part of it has arrived and I need to fill out a form granting them permission to send my records to Social Security. That’s easily done, as I see him next Monday. At least a couple of things seem to be going right—the fundraiser my friend is running for me has done well so far. As for SSDI, I expect a long wait, and I expect the misery index to be extremely high in the meantime; but I’ll take whatever encouragement I can find.
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell my attorney about my hospitalization and the new diagnosis. How stupid is THAT?? So I sent him an E-mail that went “Oh, by the way…..” That information may not be of great help to my case, but it damn sure won’t hurt it; silly me to blow it off for over a month!
But then, that’s life in limbo. I’m having trouble finishing what I start, and it’s a challenge for me to think in a linear fashion. Bleah.