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Time Of The Season

August 14, 2019

Well, it’s happening—the change in the angle of the sun’s light that is so subtle that very few people notice it. I am one of those people. It’s not affecting my moods, I’m just more aware of the shift than most. The weather still gets hot, but it takes a little longer to reach the hot part of the day and it doesn’t stay quite as warm, quite as long as it did a couple of weeks ago.

We haven’t had much of a summer, anyway. It’s hit 90+ degrees on only eight days, and most of the time we’re in the 70s or low 80s. It’s pleasant enough, but there have been too many clouds for my taste. I live for summer every year, so I feel kind of deprived. Hopefully we’ll have a heat wave or two before fall arrives next month, but then, that’s only MY hope—the rest of the family likes it cooler.

Speaking of family, I’m having a great time visiting with my daughter, Mindy, who’s been staying with us for the past two weeks. She is figuring out her life in her inimitable manner, going right for what she wants with no muss, no fuss. She is a remarkable woman who’s been through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both as a soldier and as a civilian contractor, and only now am I learning of what she really had to deal with during her deployments. She had always emphasized to me that she was perfectly safe in her control tower on base; now I’m finding out how dangerous it really was over there. I’m so glad I didn’t know. But she’s also chock full of funny stories about her adventures, and I love her resourcefulness (ever try to drive away jackals with a BB gun? She has). It’s such a gift, to have a daughter like her. I will miss her desperately when she leaves next week to move to Minnesota, of all places. She’s found a job that pays well, bought a car, and even has a house picked out. So life is going her way again, and I’m so happy for her. She rocks!

Then there’s the issue that has caused a great deal of stress in the family, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. Thanks to the distraction posed by my daughter’s visit, the anxiety has been down to a dull roar, but every week something different happens and it just ratchets up my distress that much more. I’m sleeping OK but my slumber is filled with distressing dreams that make me almost as tired as if I’d done what I dreamt about. Most of the nocturnal festivities have to do with working in the hospital and the patient I didn’t know I had till the end of the shift, which is my default dream when I’m under pressure. I also dream about my kids being in trouble with the law, and recently I’ve experienced my first two nightmares about Will. In both, he told me he didn’t love me anymore and left me. I’ve never had those kinds of dreams in all the time since he’s been gone, but given everything that’s happening—plus the recent anniversary of his death—it’s easy to figure out where they came from.

Yes, this has been a strange summer, and it’s not over yet no matter what the weatherman says. Ben and Clint were supposed to be on a cruise right about now, and they had to cancel due to what’s going on. (I wish I could come right out and share, but this is something I can’t discuss until it’s resolved, and perhaps not even then if things don’t go our way.) We’re still scheduled to go in March; only time will tell if we can make that trip. I hope so, because that’s when I’m sick to death of winter and need some warmth and sunshine.

In the meantime, I continue to hang in there and try to navigate my way through this miasma of suck. (Forgive me for sounding pretentious, but I’ve long been fascinated with the word miasma and I finally got a chance to use it. Huzzah!) What else ya gonna do?

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Behind The Mask

July 18, 2019

I made it through the anniversary.

In fact, I was pretty much OK with it. When I lit Will’s candle and said a prayer over him, I didn’t even cry—all I felt was peace. I looked over at the chair he used to occupy and remembered what he looked like relaxing in it, watching TV and cuddling with a puppy or two. Not those final hours of agony in the same chair. I thought about it, of course, but my grief has mellowed to the point that I think far more often of the good times we had, and I was able to put that awful night into perspective.

To be fair, I have to admit that there were some distractions from the solemnity of the day, one of which has shaken me to the core and has no easy answers. Someone I love dearly is in deep trouble and there is absolutely NOTHING I can do about it. I have felt this helpless on only two other occasions in my life: the death of my second child, and of course the night of Will’s supreme suffering. I can’t go into details because of the highly sensitive nature of this crisis, but while I’m smiling and optimistic on the outside for my loved one’s sake, I’m really hiding behind a mask and silently battling with anxiety. I can’t help it. It’s a situation that has the capacity to change absolutely everything (and none of it is good), and it scares the living daylights out of me.

Sometimes I amaze myself with the ability I have to pretend everything is normal. No one here knows that I’m on the verge of losing my mind. I’m doing the best I can to be cheerful, but I’ve seen things like this go sideways in a hurry and again, there is nothing I can do to fix it. That’s the worst part of it. I can’t turn the clock back, I can’t contribute money to the cause, and I can’t go to the powers that be and convince them my loved one isn’t responsible for what happened. I have to put my trust in God and whoever is working for Him that everything will work out. But that’s easier said than done.

This is not my bipolar brain talking. It’s gone to wherever it goes when I’m not actively ill, and other than the anxiety and weird sleep patterns, it may as well not exist. No, this is fear—not only for my loved one, but for myself as well. It feels like my place in the world is being threatened, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if worse comes to worst. I know that sounds selfish, but my options are VERY limited and I need to be prepared for anything.

But out of all this, the one I feel the sorriest for is, naturally, my loved one. They are living behind a mask too, and it must be hard to remain upbeat and positive when they’re also quietly terrified of what may await them. I can’t imagine what they must be going through and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. We don’t talk about the future if the matter doesn’t go our way; in the meantime they’re moving on, starting a new job and doing their best to take care of the family. In the meantime, I’ll just keep my angst to myself, pray, and pop the occasional Klonopin. And maybe, just maybe, everything will be all right.

Off-Kilter

July 8, 2019

I’ve been a little worried about myself lately.

For a couple of weeks now I’ve felt anxious and depressed in the mornings, which doesn’t last throughout the day but is concerning to me. I am rarely if ever depressed during the summer; usually I’m fighting off mania and staying up all night, and that’s just not happening this year. But as glad as I am to not be waiting for the other shoe to drop, I don’t welcome mania’s opposite number either.

And then I remembered: This is July. And this coming Saturday will be the third anniversary of my husband Will’s passing. Actually, the night of the 12th is the most difficult time to get through, because that’s when he was in such agony and it killed my soul to watch him suffer; his official TOD was 3:10 AM. I even pronounced him—unofficially—as the nurse wasn’t in the room when it happened. It’s the time that went on the death certificate, anyway.

I can’t believe it’s been three years already. My doctor and others have said that this is the approximate point when grief is lessened, if not resolved (and is it EVER resolved? I don’t think so) and life returns to some semblance of normality. Yes, it’s a different normality because something deep inside us has changed forever with the loss of our loved one, but we generally have settled into what remains of our own lives with a measure of equanimity. For me that point came somewhat earlier, when I fully accepted the fact that Will was gone and I had to carry on by myself. It helped a great deal that I was surrounded by so much love from my family and friends; in fact, I think that was why I adjusted relatively quickly after my loss. Besides, I had my kids to think of, it wouldn’t have been right to add my sorrow to theirs as they too had lost someone very important to them. And they, too, have adjusted.

Three years. It’s been three years since I last heard his voice and felt his strong arms around me; three years since I’ve had one of his wonderful back massages that kept me out of severe pain; three years since I saw him sitting out on the deck smoking his medicine in his traffic-cone orange shirt and plaid pajama bottoms. He had more fashion sense than that, of course, but toward the end it just didn’t matter—comfort was of the utmost importance.

So I’m a little off-kilter, and somehow knowing what’s causing these uncomfortable feelings (and believing that they will end soon) makes me feel a little less undone. Self-awareness is such a gift…and I’m pretty sure I would never have found it if I hadn’t developed bipolar disorder. I was still somewhat emotionally immature when I was diagnosed, even though I was 53 years old and a grandmother several times over; the medications and therapy have gone far toward making me slow down and actually look at things before acting on them.

This is why I’m not panicking at the idea of having a bit of a downswing at a time when I’m usually up. Summer hasn’t really begun yet anyway; the weather has been uncooperative and we’re lucky if we have a few bright, sunny days in between the cloudy and cool ones. I’ve just got to get through the next week. I can do this.

Three Things People With Bipolar Don’t Want You to Know

June 27, 2019

Just when I thought I was in a solid remission…

Things have been rather tense in my world recently, so naturally I’m stressed out and anxious. Usually anxiety is a feature of depression for me, but I’m not depressed at all. Just…antsy. Like something’s coming down the pike that I know I’m not going to like, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Which got me to thinking. There are some matters we bipolar folks don’t particularly like to discuss with others, and while we know it’s not good to keep the lid on so tightly, it’s instinctive. For example:

Our “recoveryis only as good as the circumstances surrounding us. As I’ve said in the past, I prefer the term ‘remission’ over ‘recovery’, but whatever word you use, the fact is none of us is immune to triggers, and they have a lot of say in whether we maintain our mental health or succumb to a mood episode. I have a HUGE insecure streak and it doesn’t take much to rattle me in certain situations, even though I know on an intellectual level that what I’m afraid of is not likely to come to pass. I also have some wariness of people and institutions that I’m supposed to trust, and when I’m anxious I tend to become somewhat paranoid about their intentions. This does not contribute to mood stability, to say the least.

Sometimes our symptoms embarrass us. Whether it’s hypersexuality, excessive flamboyance, or even stripping down to the skin and waltzing down Main Street, our behaviors can easily end in humiliation. We don’t like to talk about it because we know we are being judged harshly. “Normal” people don’t go around their workplace singing loudly and galloping up and down the halls. They don’t harangue others on a singular topic for over an hour on the bus. Nor do they spend money on stupid stuff like a neon-yellow tank top with a giant neon toucan splashed all over the front of it. (Dr. Awesomesauce never did let me live that one down. I wonder if he still thinks about it now and again.) I don’t even think “normal” people freak out at what freaks me out: the idea of being homeless. It’s by far my worst fear. I came within a whisker of it back in 2014, and it’s like I have some weird kind of PTSD from that experience. And lately, since I’ve been dealing with anxiety, that fear has come back to haunt me even though there is little reason to be afraid. It’s my default whenever I feel insecure in life, and it embarrasses the shit out of me. Besides, how the hell am I supposed to make someone else understand it when I don’t even understand it?

And, some of us run on what seems like a primitive part of our brain, and any deviation from our routine can throw off our whole day…or our whole life. I’m not totally rigid about it, but I have to have most of the little details lined up so I can do them in a predictable fashion. Like my morning regimen: I get up, clean my glasses and check Facebook for a few minutes before going to the bathroom and immediately taking my meds with a full glass of water. I use the facilities, wash my hands, brush my teeth, and last I brush my hair. I do these tasks in the same order every single day; if I try to change things up, it throws me off and I feel like I’m missing something. The rest of the day isn’t so tightly structured, although I like to surf the Net for awhile before (and after) doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. I also shower some days. The rest of the day is spent however I choose, unless somebody in the household wants to go out to dinner and/or a movie or shopping. I can adjust to changing situations with some ability to roll with the punches, but that I owe to meds (and aging). Bottom line: if I don’t have to think about it too much, I can carry out my activities of daily living without getting stressed for the most part.

Trouble is, this isn’t a winning strategy for success in life, and one of the reasons I can’t hold a job (which is another thing that makes me self-conscious) is that I can’t manage competing priorities. It was what killed my nursing career. Whatever part of the brain that makes that aspect of life work is lost to me, perhaps forever. But that’s a story for another post; in the meantime, I’ll just fight the anxiety and keep on keeping on. Which is something that I AM good at.

Spoon Theory

June 16, 2019

Have you ever heard of the Spoon Theory?

It’s a metaphor for living with disabilities from chronic illness, and it makes all kinds of sense to me. I became familiar with it when I was seeing a therapist a few years ago. Say you’re given 12 spoons at the beginning of each day; they represent the difficulty of activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, cooking, going to work, even getting out of bed. For example, a shower costs you two spoons. Making and eating a meal uses up three spoons. Grocery shopping and exercise are four spoons apiece…see where I’m going with this?

You also have to give up spoons when you don’t sleep well, skip meals, forget your meds, or get sick (physically OR mentally). This will put you behind for the day and you may even get shorted the next day if you borrow from tomorrow’s supply of spoons.

The thing with the spoons is, you only get a certain amount of them per day, 12 being the operative number here, and when they’re gone, they’re GONE. There is no substance left for anything else. So you have to be careful where you use your spoons (spend your energy). Like today, I got out of bed and performed my morning routine. One spoon each. Did dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, three spoons. Watched TV and surfed the Internet, two spoons. Cleaned up frequent puppy “accidents” and washed and folded two loads of laundry (which is a real chore for me thanks to my back), three spoons. Sat down to squeeze out this post as I can’t come up with anything else to write about, two spoons. See, I’m already up to 11 and the only really productive thing I did was the wash. And I’m done. I’ve had enough day today. I’ll use up my last spoon when I take my meds tonight and go to bed, and then tomorrow I’ll get another 12 to use as I see fit.

Let’s see, I’m going to church. Driving 25 miles to get there is three spoons, attending Mass and socializing afterwards is four. That leaves five for the rest of the day, and it’s only noon. Don’t forget, getting up and dressed and taking meds uses two…well, you see what I’m up against.

I did not make any of this up. The Spoon Theory was invented by a woman named Christine Miserandino at ButYouDon’tLookSick.com. She has lupus and she came up with the idea as an explanation for her friend as to why she has to ration her energy and can only do so much in a given day. “Spoonies” don’t have to be physically incapacitated, of course; the theory works for those of us who have mental illnesses too. Sometimes it takes a great deal of vitality that we don’t have just to complete our ADLs. I’m not kidding. There are times when it feels like taking a freaking shower uses up the whole dozen spoons all by itself and I laze on the sofa for the rest of the day; other times, like today, I had enough spoons to do what I needed to do, and I’m grateful for days like this because I don’t feel like a total failure.

I’ve actually been doing pretty well spoon-wise; sometimes I even have one or two left to spare at the end of the day and I use them to get more done the next day. But I am always aware of the need to conserve my strength, not only for the things that must be done but for the things I enjoy.

Happy Anniversary, bpnurse!

June 1, 2019

I can hardly believe it: today is the 6th anniversary of the blog you have come to know as bpnurse. I started it on a dare back in 2013 when a good friend of mine told me about a blogging contest she wanted me to enter with her. I don’t remember what the prize was; the contest was simply 30 blog posts in 30 days. I signed up just hours before the deadline, and thus began an adventure that’s still creating itself even as I try to live my best life with bipolar 1 disorder.

I did manage to post the 30-in-30, and by that time I was hooked. My friend had bugged out in the first week and enjoyed a few chuckles at my expense because she knew I’d start writing and never stop. She was right. I don’t post anywhere near as much as I used to when the illness was still new to me and I was trying to navigate life with it, as well as cope with a sick husband, a bad job situation and other personal problems. It wasn’t a fun time, although when I scroll through my older posts I can see I was able to find some humor in it all. That’s always been my go-to coping skill: if I don’t laugh about it, I’ll cry, and I hate crying.

(Hold on a minute, I’ve got two fluffy Pomeranian puppies trying to get my attention by climbing up my legs and yipping. They’re so under-loved, under-fed, under-privileged…said no one ever.)

As I was saying (dogs have decided to turn their attention elsewhere and are now outside chasing their mammas around the deck), I’ve been through some dark, dark times and humor was the only thing I had left to fight them. There have also been times when nothing on earth could make it better, like when I became suicidal in the fall of 2014 and landed in a psychiatric hospital. The only reason I made it was because I went to the hospital; if I hadn’t, I would have at least attempted to take my own life. I am certain of that. Thank God it’s never happened again, not even with the loss of my husband in 2016, and with any luck it never will. But like with all things bipolar, I can’t trust that, so the best I can do is be prepared to deal with it if/when it does happen.

In the meantime, my battle with medications appears to be over, for now anyway. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of decreasing my meds; let’s face it, the “cocktail” works and with this disease, it’s so hard to regain your footing once you step off the cliff. I do miss hypomania and the energy that comes with it, but I definitely don’t miss mania itself and I live in fear of having another ruinous episode. If I have to experience a little depression once in awhile, it’s better than going completely ape shit in front of God and everybody. Been there, done that, got the resume to prove it.

So I say Thank You to my 530 followers and everyone else who comes to this website and reads my stuff. You’ve kept me engaged, even when I thought I would never want to write again, and you’ve supported me when I’ve gone off the rails. I hope to continue bpnurse for many years to come. God bless you all!

A Day In the Life

May 25, 2019

And now, a few words about cognitive dysfunction. Or, as I call it, bipolar brain-fade.

It’s like my mind is swallowed up by the mist engulfing all my neurons and synapses. It’s there, to be sure, because I couldn’t function even as well as I do if I didn’t have SOMETHING going for me upstairs. But oh, mercy, the ridiculous things that happen every freaking day because I’m so foggy.

Here’s what happened today. I was sitting on the sofa, playing on the computer, when I noticed a foul stench emanating from the general direction of the kitchen. Knowing that one of the puppies must have taken a dump somewhere, I got up to search for it and grab a paper towel. All was well and good, even though I got distracted by the refrigerator door which was open. I shut it and resumed my appointed rounds, cleaned up the poop and disposed of it in the appropriate receptacle. No problem.

That’s when my choo-choo jumped the tracks. I remembered that I needed to write a check and went to my bedroom for a pen because there are never any pens in the living room or kitchen. They get stolen, or the dogs run off with them and chew the hell out of them before discarding them on the sofa or hiding them under the entertainment center. So I got one and went back to the living room without my checkbook, which was in my room where the pens were. I put the pen down on my computer table and again went to my room. On the way there one of the puppies decided to run in front of me, causing me to stop so suddenly that I almost slammed face-first into my door. It was then that I realized I had to pee…

By the time I’d finished that little chore, I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to do. The dishes needed to be done and the kitchen cleaned, so I loaded up the dishwasher and wiped all the counters down with disinfecting wipes. Ben and I are so anal-retentive about that (well, we are both nurses!) that he’ll come home and wipe everything down again, even when I tell him I’ve already done it. Then I swept the floors because the girl-dogs who had the babies are shedding like nobody’s business and there are tufts of hair everywhere—even in my room, where the dogs are never allowed and the door is always closed.

Notice that I’d forgotten my mission entirely . I sat down on the sofa and got all comfortable, feeling satisfied with my contribution to the cleanliness of the house, and then I spied the pen and remembered the check I still hadn’t written. Sheesh!

THAT’S what I deal with, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the price I pay to be sane (and to not be an asshole). Like I’ve said before, I’ve talked to two separate psychiatrists about this and both were absolutely certain it’s not dementia, but the combination of repeated manic episodes and especially side effects from the medications I’m on. Lamictal and the two antipsychotics are notorious for causing brain fog, and there’s just not much that can be done about it because I sure as hell can’t stop taking them.

So goes a day in the life of bpnurse. I have to laugh at this stuff, because my family gives me shit about it all the time and once in a while the teasing stings a bit. I don’t mean to be a dingbat, and it’s embarrassing sometimes because I never used to be like this. I wonder at times what people I once knew would think of me now—people I’ve worked with and taken care of. I was a good nurse. Now I just have to work on being a good person. And I can do that even with half a brain. 🙂