I was reading through some of my friends’ posts on Facebook last night when I ran across a link to a site dedicated to providing information to bipolar caregivers. This is an aspect of dealing with the disorder that I’ve never thought about much, mainly because I’m the person with the condition and it takes pretty much everything I’ve got just to fight it. But as I perused the articles, it began to dawn on me that life as a caregiver for someone like me must be fraught with danger….there are literally a gazillion ways in which things can go sideways in a hurry, and they don’t always work out in real life the way they do on TV.
Naturally, my first thoughts while reading a commentary on how to handle extreme behaviors were of my poor husband and how I must scare him sometimes when I’m out of control. I’ve made him hide the gun and my pills; talked of wishing I could just go to sleep and not wake up; spent us into bankruptcy not once but twice; taken an overdose of Ativan and slept for fifteen solid hours while he watched me to make sure I didn’t stop breathing. How helpless that must make him feel!
I know it doesn’t do the rest of my family any good either. I once texted my oldest daughter in the middle of the night to tell her I was thinking about OD’ing (I didn’t). I’ve nearly burst blood vessels while screaming at the kids, risked life and limb by peeling out of the driveway and speeding off in a rage, thrown things against walls and punched refrigerators. Never hurt a soul while doing any of it, but that’s only been through God’s grace and plain old dumb luck.
I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of living with someone and never knowing when their next mood swing will blow in and disrupt life all over again. Yes, bipolars need love too, and those of us lucky enough to have found it secretly live in fear of losing it, because deep down we don’t think we deserve it. But it must take a special kind of strength to love a person with this disorder because of our sheer unpredictability: while we love with the same intensity that we approach everything else in life, we are not necessarily good companions.
We are often too self-absorbed with our woes to be able to offer anything of value to a friend or family member with troubles of their own. We make all sorts of social plans when we’re “up”, only to break them when we crash and the last thing we want to do is be around others. We are well-intentioned and begin projects with great enthusiasm, but are also notoriously unreliable when it comes time to do what we said we would, or to finish what we’ve started.
Now that I’ve tried stepping into the shoes of the people who love me—my husband in particular—I find myself looking at the issue with new eyes. Love is a gift even under normal circumstances…..but for someone with bipolar disorder, it’s nothing short of miraculous!
So I was trying to explain this newfound perspective to Will as we were settling into bed, and true to form, he was genuinely puzzled. “But I love you,” he said, just as he has for the last thirty-three years. “You’re my wife, and I’m here to take care of you. That’s what a husband does. I would never leave you.”
That is an incredible reassurance in a world which always seems to be shifting under my feet. If I must have a caregiver, I’m thankful it’s Will, because his love is almost like God’s—I can rely on its always being there, strong and pure, ready to defend me to the death….even against a disease which he will never be able to understand.
Summing up today’s visit with Dr. Awesomesauce, I am reminded of the old MasterCard commercials:
Psychiatric Visit: $349.00
Gas to get to office: $3.19/gal.
Validation of your worth as a human being: Priceless.
I hate it when people blame their parents for everything that’s wrong with them, but I wish to high heaven that mine had made me feel I was worth something when I was growing up. Maybe I wouldn’t have to pay someone to do it if there hadn’t always been conditions attached to their love for me, and I learned early in life that their goals would remain unfailingly out of my reach (hence, my lifelong fear of other peoples’ expectations). That was why I didn’t recognize the kind of love and acceptance Will offered me when we got together; it took me literally years to allow for the possibility of it, and even longer to understand it a little.
Even so, I don’t think I’ll ever grasp the concept of unconditional love entirely, despite the fact that I love my kids that way. They never had to do anything to “earn” my love, it was theirs from the first breath they breathed; and with the possible exception of that oldest boy of mine, they knew it. No matter how rotten I could be (during a mood swing or otherwise), no matter how angry or selfish or petty I got—and sometimes I was pretty bad—they never questioned whether or not I loved them. They have told me this, and I believe them.
So with all this love surrounding me, how is it that I need a mental health professional to tell me that I myself am loved that way—by more people than I realize—and what’s more, that I’m worthy of it, even though I have this condition that frustrates me endlessly and makes me hard to live with?
Because I’m sick. Because I’m a mess. Because I’m rotten at my core and I have this stinking cesspool at the bottom of my soul.
On an intellectual level, I know that’s bullshit. I used to NOT know that on any level, so understanding it with my brain is progress of a sort. I only wish my heart didn’t still believe it a little, and that I could stop confusing my psychiatric issues with a deficiency of personal integrity. I mean, I know right from wrong, I’ve always had a strong sense of morality, and of course as a clinician I don’t judge anyone else for having a disease that they didn’t cause and didn’t ask for. So why do I judge myself?
Today, however, I may have taken the first baby steps toward wholeness. I was discussing my exasperation with losing bits and pieces of me to the illness when Dr. A smiled sympathetically and said in the most sincere tone I’ve ever heard: “I’m sorry”. My immediate reaction was to say “It’s not your fault”……and then it occurred to me that it wasn’t mine either. And I even admitted as much.
That’s when he told me that my mood swings were becoming less extreme and that I was actually making good progress. “Well, I’m glad you think so because I’m so OVER this I could scream,” I protested. ”I can’t keep living like this—I’m sick and tired of it, and I wish I wasn’t like this.”
Ever the realist, Dr. A gave my shoulder a squeeze and said “I know…but then, you wouldn’t be you, and we LOVE you!” Uh-oh—there’s that unconditional acceptance thing again! But as he walked me to the desk to check out, I realized that it was the very same kind of acceptance I get right in my own backyard for free……the kind that’s available to me every single day of my life because of the people in it.
Today has been a better day. I took advantage of having an unusual Sunday off to go to Mass with Will, which never fails to give me at least temporary respite from my cares and worries. Being in church reminds me that there is a life outside of work and bills and health issues, and the more often I go the more I realize I need to.
Faith and spirituality have always been important to me, even during the years when I wasn’t actively practicing a religion. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in a God of love and mercy; my grandmother began my education in matters of the Divine bright and early in life, and other than a couple of brief periods in my youth when I questioned His interest in me, I have always turned to Him in both bad times and good.
Even Dr. Awesomesauce has urged me on multiple occasions to stay in touch with my spirituality and to remain faithful to the teachings of my religion. In fact, one of my recent “homework” assignments was to go to Mass twice a week…..something that I haven’t been able to manage, but I have made it to church every week except for last weekend, when I was too depressed and anxious to deal with people. And it’s done me good, even if the effects don’t always last until I can get the next infusion of God’s goodness.
Not to be dismissive of those who hold different beliefs than mine, but I honestly don’t know how anyone makes it through life—bipolar or not—without faith. There have been times that I’d have done away with myself if I hadn’t been afraid that this one unforgiveable sin would separate me forever from God’s love. Even though a part of me realizes that He would probably understand the pain that drives some of His children to suicide, I don’t want to take the chance of being wrong…….there are so many questions I want to ask Him, and so many people I want to see again in Heaven!
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that my faith is very childlike, and never more so than when I am depressed. I need to trust that there is a reason why I was given this particular cross to bear, that all suffering has a purpose, and that one day I will know only peace, love, and joy. Believe me, sometimes that’s the ONLY thing I have to hang my hat on when life is kicking me around like a badly made hacky-sack and I get to thinking that there are a lot worse things than dying……like living without hope.
Fortunately, I am something of an optimist, and it only takes a tiny flickering light of hope to keep me going when my world is darkened. Here, again, is where faith is of so much value, because I do have hope—that someday there will be no more pain and that I will finally be able to reach out and touch the face of my Lord.
That’s why I’m determined to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground here on Planet Earth no matter how badly I may feel at a given time, even though I know I can’t make any promises. I’m only human, after all, and all human beings have a breaking point. I pray that I may never reach mine.
I’ve reached two milestones with bpnurse: this is my 200th post, and Sunday is the blog’s six-month anniversary. Go me!
I do have mixed feelings about this. In some ways, I’m frustrated because after six months, I only have 84 followers; but in another way it’s “Oh, cool! I have 84 followers!” It’s the same with likes, views, and comments; in some ways it’s disappointing, but then I’m also used to blogging for a well-known nursing website and getting thousands of views per post. And in the blogosphere, it can take a writer a year or more to get established and develop a following, so for someone with only six months in, I think I’m doing pretty well overall.
Besides, as I often remind myself, this is very much a niche-market kind of blog. There are a LOT of bipolar blogs out there, and truth be told, they are interesting mainly to bipolars and the people who love us. (Although I do let my psychiatrist read it.) I still want to be Natasha Tracy when I grow up—she’s the blogger with over 35,000 followers who writes for Healthline as well as maintaining two other blogs. But for now, I’m just happy that out of all the similar blogs out there, 84 people have chosen to follow mine, and some of them even mention bpnurse on their blogs.
I am also proud of the fact that yesterday I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 14, when only a week ago I wanted to stick my head in the oven instead of the turkey! I even managed to do it without losing my marbles, and a good time was had by all. The food was all prepared from scratch by my oldest daughter and me, and it was delicious if I say so myself. I only fix this one big meal each year, so I do it up right from handmade stuffing to candied yams to the big bird itself…….and every year I’m thankful for the results. `urp`
At least my appetite has returned to normal and I actually have a limit as to how much I can eat. That insane hunger that comes along with taking Zyprexa is long gone, and while I can still overdo it, at least my stomach is no longer a bottomless pit that cries out to be stuffed every three or four hours! I was miserably full last night after dinner, but everybody eats themselves into a coma at Thanksgiving and I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about the Zyprexa weight until today. So what did I just eat? Turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Ah, who am I kidding…..I’m not gonna worry about taking off the Zyprexa weight until Monday. Or until all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone. Or until New Year’s. Whatever works!
And Happy Thanksgivukkah to all my Jewish readers as well! I am thankful for each and every one of you who reads and/or follows my blog. No matter how you celebrate it, I wish for you a holiday filled with everything and everyone you love. See you back here tomorrow.
OK, so today I don’t feel quite as much like crawling into a hole and pulling the dirt up over my head. I’ve only been back on Celexa for two doses, and there is no way that’s done anything for me yet; but the fact that something is being done helps psychologically if nothing else. It’s like when you’ve got bronchitis and you finally decide to go to the doctor, then you start feeling better in anticipation; I’m reasonably sure I WILL feel better, and probably sooner rather than later because I wasn’t off the stuff all that long.
That’s not to say I feel particularly good, but I’ve accomplished a decent amount of pre-holiday cleaning/organizing and I’m proud of myself for that. I cleaned up the dining room, washed the table with Murphy’s Oil Soap, then polished it to a shine. I’ve also cleaned one of the bathrooms and done two sinks full of dishes……not bad for someone fighting depression. The physical activity is good for me, and the act of making my home presentable gives me at least SOME feeling of accomplishment, which is something I need desperately right now.
I also had a couple of interesting thoughts last night as I was trying to go to sleep, and I’m going to explore them a little bit here to see if by writing them down, I can figure out how to work through some of my problems. It occurred to me that establishing some facts would be helpful to start:
1) I have a terrible habit of getting down on myself, for any reason or no reason;
2) I am indeed in the middle of an existential crisis;
3) I have a confidence problem;
4) I’m not sure where I belong in the world anymore; and
5) I have bipolar disorder.
Now, which came first, the proverbial chicken or the proverbial egg? I know why I have a confidence problem, and I’m reasonably certain of where my self-esteem issues came from. That leaves the other three issues which seem unrelated, but I’m beginning to believe they might be linked after all.
First of all, not knowing where I’m supposed to be at this point in life IS an existential crisis, although there is much more to it than that. I’m questioning EVERYTHING: Who I am becoming in this autumn of my life. How to deal with the fact that my longtime career is basically over, and what to do to stay afloat till I can figure out my next act. When and where to move since our finances have taken such a hit that we can no longer afford the house we’ve lived in for over a decade. Whether I should even try for full-time employment because I’m so afraid of not being there for Will if/when he needs me, because I’ve been so ill in my own way…….and yes, because I’m terrified of peoples’ expectations.
It REALLY gets complicated when you throw in manic depression, which I still tend to regard as some sort of beast that attacks me on a whim rather than something that’s part of me. It’s healthy that I don’t let it define me, but it makes an already shaky existence even more so. I want to know if I’m going through all this stress and agony because I’m sick. Or if I got sick because of all the stressful events that led up to the crisis. And what exactly was it that turned a subthreshold state of bipolarity into a roaring full-blown illness that has wrecked my career and changed absolutely everything about the way I live and work and relate to others?
However…….the fact that I’ve got enough brain-power to even think about these things on a deeper level now is cause for optimism. I’ve heard of people afflicted by my disorder who are able to anticipate and ward off trouble almost all of the time, leaving them free to pursue lives of purpose; could it be that solving these mysteries might lead to a similar outcome for me one day?
It’s not very bright and it doesn’t generate much heat, but there is a tiny pilot light of hope that still burns way down deep inside of me. I think I just felt the flame jump a little.