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The Merry Widow

December 4, 2017

It almost seems disloyal to title a post this way, but I think Will would understand: I’m really enjoying life these days. Part of it is anticipating the trip that’s coming up in nine days, 22 hours and 48 minutes (but who’s counting, right?); I’ve also been bitten by the Christmas bug. The holiday itself looks radically different from all my previous Christmases—who could’ve guessed that I’d be spending it at Disney World?—and there will be no presents to open that morning. But the spirit is still strong, and I spend most of my days listening to Christmas music instead of watching TV.

However, my current state of mind is that of gratitude, and I’ve realized to my amazement that I am as happy as I can be given the loss of my love. I miss him terribly and always will, but I’m learning to go on. Yesterday I went to Mass, watched football, and went out to dinner with Clark and Shelley (Ethan was at work). These things make me happy. So does a cup of hot, rich coffee first thing in the morning…writing my blog…being responsible with money. Could it be possible that I’ve become content with my lot in life?

It’s times like this that inevitably make me question my diagnosis. Were things really that bad, I wonder? Bad enough to be labeled bipolar 1? I know the medications are what’s keeping me sane and I’m not even tempted to mess with them, but I’ve been stable for so long now that the nightmare of the first few years after I was diagnosed seems like it never happened. Or if it did, it wasn’t as serious as it felt at the time. Back then, I was excruciatingly aware of all things bipolar, and had no idea of where the illness ended and where I began. That’s changed a lot. Now I can experience the full range of emotions without wondering if it’s the beginning of another manic or depressive episode. I can be sorrowful or sad, but I can also be joyful and optimistic. What a gift!

I haven’t even had to use my HappyLight this year. I’ll probably need it desperately in January, but so far none of my usual late fall/winter depression has shown up. Again, that’s probably because I’ve been looking forward to this vacation all year and now it’s very close. But it’s so nice to NOT have to deal with the usual dark moods that match the early darkness of these long nights.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Lessons In Self-Care

November 25, 2017

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Time to watch football, eat ourselves into a coma and enjoy togetherness with family and friends. Oh, and yes, to be thankful for what we have while knowing that other people are out catching the early Black Friday sales and running over each other in the process. (I did Black Friday shopping once. ONCE. Never again.)

It was also time to try out some coping mechanisms to help myself deal with the stress of having a houseful of folks over for the festivities. If you know me at all, you know how hard being in a crowd is on me—I quickly become overstimulated and overwhelmed, and I must find a way to deal with it or lose my shit. I love everyone who was here, and I do enjoy having company from time to time (even if some of them spend much of that time drinking). But 12 people in a medium-sized house is a bit much, and I noticed myself getting agitated. So, without explaining myself or apologizing, I left the party and went to my room for a time-out at several strategic points during the day.

It helped that my favorite football team was playing on TV, which was a great distraction. Bouncing back and forth between game and dinner preparations kept me sane and made me a much more pleasant person when I was out there. (It didn’t hurt that my team won by a decisive 28-6 score, either.) I don’t drink, so the fact that everyone else does is a sore subject with me. I never realized how obnoxious I must have been in my own drinking days until I quit. Not that anyone was being ridiculous, but it’s another source of stress and I don’t deal with it well. I try not to be judge-y about that, because I realize my idea of normal ETOH consumption is one or two drinks, and only once in a while. Other people can handle much more than that and not be alcoholics. Not me.

So dinner was finally ready and we all gathered, buffet style, to get our food. It was funny how little conversation there was as we ate; the turkey was amazing and the side dishes, including my homemade stuffing, were delicious. But the L-tryptophan in the meat soon did its work, and several of us lazed on sofas fighting drowsiness. It wasn’t long after dinner was finished that folks started getting ready to leave, and once everyone was gone, all four of us breathed a big sigh of relief, happy that they’d had a good time but oh-so-glad to have our quiet house back again.

Soon Ethan and Clark, and then Shelley decided to go to bed, leaving me alone to watch TV and surf the ‘Net as usual. But then something went wrong: I suddenly became over-amped and the feet started tapping, the thoughts started racing, and I was all over the map emotionally. It was like a mini-mixed episode. I muted the TV and began listening to all kinds of music on the iPod in the hope of soothing myself; I played Bach and Elvis and Lawrence Welk. It didn’t help. I forced myself to go to bed at midnight after checking my pillbox to make sure I’d taken my meds; I had, but I couldn’t settle down. The last time I looked at the clock, it was almost three in the morning and I still wasn’t ready for sleep, but I must’ve drifted off shortly thereafter because the next thing I heard was my alarm going off. Thankfully, I’m back to normal today though.

The takeaway lesson here is, I still have some work to do in learning self-soothing techniques to use whenever I feel overwhelmed and/or anxious. I’ll face the ultimate test next month at Disney World, where I won’t be able to escape the crowds. But I give myself some credit for having come this far; it wasn’t so long ago that I’d become angry and snap at people when they got in what I considered to be my space. I don’t do that anymore. 🙂

 

 

Leap of Faith

November 17, 2017

Well, I’ve taken a big new leap into life: I just became a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line. Or rather, a trainee for the Crisis Text Line. This is a volunteer position, which is great because I’ve been looking for something I can do from home. A friend of mine from another website, who is a new counselor herself, encouraged me to apply for it. This is serious business; the application had a number of essay questions, there is a training period of six weeks, and I have to pass a background check (which I’m not the least bit worried about). In other words, it’s a real job, and not everyone who goes through the application process is accepted.

I love the idea of helping others experiencing mental health issues. Obviously, I have lots of lived experience and am in a good place right now, so I think I might be pretty good at this. The schedule is very flexible; counselors work no more than 12 hours per week, and I can work in two-to-four hour shifts at any time of the day or night. The only caveat is the time commitment; it’s a minimum of 200 hours or one year. I’m a little leery about that because I tend to start something when I’m feeling well, and then am unable to maintain interest in the project. My last job turned out to be a disaster for the same reason. But it’s time I took a chance at doing something meaningful to help my fellow man…that’s what I miss about nursing.

I know it’s going to be intense at times, working with people who are standing on the edge of the abyss and needing reasons not to jump. My job will be to listen and encourage; it will not be about me or my own issues. They don’t need to hear my story, they need to be heard. And I’m sure they’ll tell me things that will make my hair stand on end, things that may anger me, things that may be triggers. That’s why the Crisis Text Line has supervisors available to the counselors to help with difficult cases. They care about the counselors’ mental health and want to avoid compassion fatigue, which is very common among workers in the helping professions. (I ought to know.)

Yes, I have my reservations about all this, and I’m going into it with my eyes—and my mind—open, but I’m going to take a leap of faith and see if I can do it. That last job dealt a crushing blow to my self-confidence, but in working to build a new life, I feel the need to venture out of my comfort zone a little. I want to think I’m making a difference, which is another thing I miss about nursing. I know there will be texters that I cannot help, but who knows…I may even save a life someday.

It’s worth it to try, anyway. And I really believe I can be good at it. I start training after the first of the year. Wish me luck!

The Remains of the Day

November 11, 2017

My son and I finally cleaned out Will’s closet and dresser drawers today.

It took me almost 16 months to be ready for this day, but it was definitely time. I’ve been looking at his things and steeling myself for the inevitable. I knew it was going to be hard. As we went through the clothes, I remembered how he looked in each shirt, each tie, each pair of pants. It was so sad…and so necessary.

It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Ethan is a git-r’-done kind of guy, and he swiftly emptied the closet as I went through the drawers. We were finished in less than an hour. What broke my heart was using trash bags to hold everything…it just seemed so undignified, even disrespectful. If it had been possible I would have put it all into gold-plated boxes to take to Goodwill. I just hope those items will be of use to other men who need nice things.

I did save a few of his shirts. They have a lot of sentimental value and they still smell like him. There was a yellow-and-blue striped polo shirt he wore a lot in the summer, and one rather ratty winter sweatshirt that bears the name of the community college where I got my nursing degree. He virtually lived in that for much of the winter. I’m also hanging onto a grey T-shirt with the Carnival Cruise Line’s logo on it, a gift from Ethan and Clark on the one trip we all took together.

Now I have room in the closet and the dresser for more of my own things, something I naturally have mixed feelings about. I’ve acquired a pretty large wardrobe in the past year due to weight loss and anticipation of the coming vacation. Clark says I still don’t have enough. But my closet is crammed full and my drawers are stuffed to capacity, so the extra room is welcome. However, I’d give up the entire space and donate all my clothes to charity if I could just have Will back. In fact, I’d give up everything to have him back.

Except my life. In spite of missing my mate, I’m generally enjoying it and feel content with my current situation. It’s drippy and dreary here, which usually throws me into depression, but this year I seem to be skipping the fall festivities. I haven’t even needed my HappyLight yet. Yesterday, I forgot my Breakfast of Champions and was bouncing off the walls by late afternoon, so I guess I can’t afford to miss those meds any more than I can afford to miss the nighttime ones, even though that little taste of mania sure felt good. And once again, I am amazed at how well these substances control my bipolar illness, and how thin the line is between sanity and disaster.

Anyway, I’m glad the grim business of giving away Will’s clothing and shoes is done. One more step in the process of moving forward. I hate it. But it has to happen; as fondly as I remember the past, I can’t live there.

And so it goes.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 3, 2017

Thanksgiving may still be three weeks away, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I have to be grateful for. Life hasn’t always been awesome to me, especially not in the past five years or so; still, I have been blessed with many good things. Here are some of them.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for family. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for them and their support. No matter how bad I feel on a given day, there’s always someone to offer a shoulder to cry on. Recently my daughter Mindy told me on Facebook Messenger that she was reading my blog and had come to the conclusion that I was “fucking incredible” (her words) and that “you need to be told you’re awesome”. Coming from her, that is high praise and it made my year. She is admittedly not good with talking about feelings, but I think she did a great job with these!

I’m thankful for nature and its connection to God. I love to watch the trees turn to red and gold and orange, to feel the brisk wind in my hair, to listen to the rain on the roof. (Even though the rain gets old after the first couple of days.) I love the green of spring and the golden summer days. I’m not wild about winter, but even that has its beautiful moments. Sometimes I look at nature in all its glory and say “Lord, you make such cool stuff!” Well, He does.

I’m thankful for the roof over my head. Once upon a time, Will and I came within a whisker of being homeless, and believe me I appreciate not have to worry about sleeping in a car or living in a cardboard box behind the strip mall. I love it that I live in a warm, comfortable house with people I adore. I think I’ll always be somewhat insecure in this area because of the trauma of losing my own home, but I take that one day at a time.

I’m thankful to be on Social Security and Medicare. I’d rather be able to work, and the amount is barely enough to survive on—I couldn’t live on my own even if I wanted to—but it does pay my rent and bills and leaves a tiny bit for fun. I’m still amazed that now I have little money to manage, I do a good job of it. I wish I’d figured this out when I was making 60K a year. I haven’t had an overdraft in years. I even have a credit card which I pay faithfully each month. It took some doing and some time, but my once-Very Poor credit rating has improved to Fair. I’m proud of that.

I’m also thankful for the medication that keeps me stable for the most part. It’s what makes the rest of my life work. I don’t like having to take so many pills, but the reason I am on six psych meds is because five weren’t enough. Thank God for the wisdom of the doctors who have prescribed them for me! I was just looking back at a post from 2014 in which I wrote of my dismay at having to be on two anti-psychotics, and I laughed because it was so ridiculous. Truth was, I wasn’t making it on one, and Dr. Awesomesauce knew it. Now, years later, I’m still on two APs and there are no plans to change that anytime soon. There’s a certain amount of security in that, so I just consume my meds twice a day and enjoy the fact that my moods aren’t all over the map.

Most of all, I’m thankful that I have so much to be thankful for. I miss my husband something fierce and I will yearn for him for the rest of my life, but in this second year without him I feel nothing but gratitude for having had him as long as I did. He visits me in my dreams on most nights, and in all of them he is happy and healthy, and he looks just like he did in the prime of his life.

Happy early Thanksgiving!

It’s Halloween

November 1, 2017

…and boy, am I ever glad I’m not where I was three years ago tonight.

The hospital was the best place for me then and I knew it, even though I’d have given almost anything to take my grandsons out trick-or-treating instead. I had never fallen so far down the rabbit hole before, and I don’t recall ever feeling so lost and alone in my entire life. My husband Will, as dear as he was, didn’t understand and there was no way I could describe it to make him understand. I remember telling him that I wanted to hurt myself; his response was as emphatic as it was unhelpful: “No, you don’t! Don’t say that!!”

It was at that point that he demanded I call Dr. Awesomesauce or he would do it for me. At first I refused, because I knew Dr. A would put me in the hospital and I was terrified of being locked up. Then it dawned on me that what was going on in my life outside those doors was more terrifying than whatever awaited me on the inside, so I agreed to go. I was so depressed that I truly could not stand myself any longer, and I said as much in the brief blog post I published that day.

I remember sitting in the “suicide room” at the ER for six long hours, waiting to be transferred to the psych unit in a neighboring town. Will stayed with me until I insisted that he go to the cafeteria for something to eat; that’s when a security guard came in to watch me from the nurse’s station. I didn’t understand why they considered that necessary; anything I could have harmed myself with was at home. There was absolutely NOTHING in that room I could’ve used—all the medical equipment was locked away in the cabinets, there was no call light, not even a TV. It was the same when I got to the unit; I couldn’t have a fan or TV because of the electrical cords, and of course there were no outlets so I couldn’t have plugged in anything anyway. It’s all about safety…and that was exactly what I needed.

It was also a turning point in my illness. I have never again experienced such profound depression, nor have my manic phases been anything but mild mood elevation. My meds were adjusted in the hospital and they’re in just the right doses to control the worst of my symptoms without making me flat and uninterested in life.  I’m not under any illusions that I’ll never have another bipolar episode, but it sure feels good this Halloween. Even if I don’t get to take my grandsons out again this year…I can’t drive at night anymore, and they’re almost getting too old to take to the streets in search of candy. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. Right now I’m winning!

 

 

 

The Interview

October 28, 2017

So I just got off the phone after talking with an East Coast graduate student for almost an hour about my bipolar disorder. She is with a group doing research for the University of Virginia, part of which is reaching out to people with the illness and asking them a lot of questions about how it affects them. I found out about the study from a reputable source and thought I’d participate for the fun of it. I also get a $20 Walmart gift card for my trouble, but that’s not the reason I did the interview. I did it because I am passionate about mental health and I want to do whatever I can to further understanding of brain disorders…mine in particular.

I was asked first about when and how I came to be diagnosed with bipolar NOS, and why it changed to bipolar 1 a couple of years later. How did that feel? Well, gobsmacked was the first word that came to mind, and I said as much. Then it was relief that there was a name for what ailed me and a way to treat it, even though it was incurable. Then came the denial, which I still fight even today, because I’ve felt so good for so long that I forget how bad things really were in the past. It’s a good thing I have this blog to remind me of how it used to be when my illness was raging out of control, and it was even worse before I got help.

She asked me about my medications, and what I call my love/hate relationship with them. I think I’ve finally gotten over the temptation to tinker with them, but I had to admit I still hate having to take so many for just this one reason. (We won’t even talk about the blood-pressure meds or all the supplements I take for various health concerns…suffice it to say that I’m on a hell of a lot of pills.) I think she was actually impressed with the quantity because she let slip a “Wow” while I was giving her my  statistics.

We also discussed in depth the impact that BP has had on my life. I don’t think I’ve ever really put it all together before, but it boiled down to this: in the short term, the disease  ruined me. I used to be a high-functioning, employed, successful nurse holding down a very responsible job, maintaining a household, and participating in society. Now I’m on disability, unable to even imagine going back to nursing, relying on my family to help support me. At first glance, my life looks terribly depressing…and yet, there is incredible optimism in my heart.

After all, I’ve learned to appreciate my many blessings, like my current stability, the aforementioned family and the fact that I have a safe place to lay my head at night. My husband is gone, but I am used to it now and while I will always love and miss him tremendously, I know he wouldn’t want me to mope around feeling sorry for myself and crying for him (well, I still do that on occasion, but I think he understands). I have friends, both online and in real life. I have four little dogs to love and play with who tend to bark at unfortunate times, like during this interview. (She got a kick out of that.) My blog is doing well and I’m getting a lot of page views these days. I even get to go on nice vacations like the one coming up in December. What’s not to love about my life?

This all came tumbling out as we neared the end of the survey. I don’t know how useful my story will be to the research project, but to me it was worth the 45 minutes out of my day. I think she thought so too; “awesome” was the word she used.

I’m encouraged. 🙂