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Curiouser and Curiouser

April 21, 2018

This spring just gets weirder. I am struggling mightily to stay on my medication and sleep schedules, I feel all racy and overstimulated inside, and NONE of it shows on the surface. Not even my family can tell how scrambled my brains are. In the past, I might have called this a mixed episode, though I can’t say I’m either manic or depressed. It’s not an episode at all. It’s just, well…weird.

Sleep is really hit-or-miss these days. I’ll sleep nine hours one night, and four the next. I dream all sorts of interesting dreams too. Last night I dreamt that Will and I were in Walmart and I was buying all kinds of plastic cups and plates in blues and greens, colors that remind me of the waters of the Caribbean. I was racing around the store grabbing whatever appealed to me, and he was smiling indulgently as if to say “that’s my wife, and I love her”. It was such a comforting dream, and one that was entirely realistic because I used to do that exact thing, especially in the spring and fall months. I was actually tempted to run to Wally World today and pick up plastic cups and plates in summer colors, until I remembered that my family has a little more class than that and we don’t  use plastic cups and plates. LOL.

As for meds…I’ve taken them religiously for six years, and then in March I got a wild hair up my butt and experimented with them ever-so-briefly. No Bueno. Now I’m taking them, but every day, twice a day, I open up those pill boxes and stare at the meds, resenting them, wishing with all my might that I didn’t need them, and then literally forcing them down. I don’t know why all of a sudden it’s such a big deal, but I suspect it’s because enough time has passed since my last major bipolar episode that I think maybe I don’t need all of them. Then I end up feeling guilty for not wanting to take my pills, because I have the privilege of access to good psychiatric care and medications and there are a lot of people in this country who don’t. It’s kind of like the starving-children-in-China argument for finishing your dinner. I’m blessed to have the chance to CHOOSE whether I want to be sane or not—even though going bonkers really isn’t an option because I like my family and friends.

Then there’s this other curious notion about going back to work. As a nurse. No, I know in my heart of hearts that I can’t do it and nobody, not even the federal government, believes I should have to, but I wish I could make real money again. I don’t miss the politics or the physical labor or being treated like a child, but I do miss taking care of people. I miss the opportunities to be creative in solving problems. I even miss working with women, although that definitely has its drawbacks. My RN license renewal is coming up in January, and I know I’m going to have to let it go because I’ve had zero practice hours in the past four years. (You have to have at least 900 in five years, and I don’t.) That just makes it so…final. Then I come back to reality and realize that the job would make me crazier than a shithouse rat—again—within a few months, and I’m way better off now even though I have a very diminished role in life.

So here I am, and for whatever reason, whether it’s spring and/or a touch of mild mania, I’m restless and fidgety and I want to shake things up. Now, I don’t have the slightest idea why, or what “shaking things up” looks like, but it’s been this way since I almost went off the rails a month ago. My job is to figure it out before something goes sideways. Maybe I should try writing for one of the online mental health journals, like The Mighty or Healthline or Psych Central. They’re always looking for contributors. Or maybe I should take up chair yoga and learn to meditate (if I could just get my brain to shut up for a few minutes!!). Who knows?

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Shower Power, Revisited

April 11, 2018

I’m having trouble showering again.

What the hell is the problem here? you might ask. Well, if you Google “bipolar disorder and showers”, you’ll find all kinds of information about it—most of it anecdotal to be sure, but it’s a genuine phenomenon that defies rational explanation. It’s most often a symptom of depression, although with me it really doesn’t matter, I can be manic AF and still not want to shower. I can also be perfectly stable, like I am now, and I still have difficulty shucking off my clothes and jumping in. And as always, I wonder: why??

Well, for one thing, it’s a pain in the ass. First you have to make the conscious decision to do the deed in the first place, then you have to gather up all your stuff and head for the bathroom. You have to find a towel, then take off all your clothes (and who wants to look at oneself naked?) and turn on the hot water. Then you step in and proceed to wash as far down as possible, then as far up as possible, and then the possible. My son-in-law Clark does my hair at the salon each week so I at least don’t have to wash and dry it at home, but I do have to exfoliate every time because I get in there so infrequently and my skin is really dry. That takes awhile and involves being bent over for a significant amount of time, which does not make my back very happy.

Once done, it takes another five minutes to dry off more or less thoroughly and then moisturize, which is something I rarely do in between showers because I don’t like the greasy feeling of lotion. THEN I get to try to wiggle into a sports bra and slide on leggings over skin that’s still slightly damp. None of which is a big deal to anyone else in the house, but for me it is, and by the time I’m finally dressed and ready to face the world, I’m exhausted. Not surprisingly, I also feel like I’ve overcome a big obstacle and I probably pat myself on the back a bit too hard, but you’ve got to take your triumphs where you can, right?

The hell of it is, I like being clean. I don’t know why I forget that in between showers. I enjoy smelling nice and wearing fresh clothes, and I feel a sense of accomplishment much like I do when I clean up the kitchen after a big meal or straighten up my room. I don’t want to stink or offend the noses of family and friends, I really don’t. It’s embarrassing when it’s been so long that I can’t remember the exact day when I last bathed my entire body and my kid has to call me out on it. After awhile, PTA baths just don’t cut it and you’ve got to discipline yourself and get the f##k into the stall. But still, I struggle.

Perhaps I need to make a deal with myself, say, if I can make myself shower twice a week I’ll go to a movie I’ve been wanting to see. Of course, I’ve got to watch my pennies so I can’t do anything too expensive, but a reward may be all I need to motivate myself in the interest of better hygiene. This may have a lot to do with bipolar and I can’t change that, but I don’t have to smell like a goat either and my family (to say nothing of the world) deserves better. So do I.

Silly Season

April 5, 2018

This is sure one weird spring. Weirder than usual, even. On the inside, my mind and heart are racing, which manifests itself in incessant leg-bouncing and shortness of breath. I don’t show any other signs of mania on the outside, but it’s there, just under the surface, like lava threatening to boil over the side of the volcano. My sleep has become fitful and on the mornings when I have to get up earlier than usual, I’m not tired. Last night I was so bored trying to sleep that I almost got up and emptied the dishwasher at two AM. The temptation to skip my meds is almost more than I can resist, but I really don’t want to blow three years of relative stability. Besides, I did that already and it didn’t go well. I want to drink, too, for absolutely no reason that I can think of other than I’d just like to have a beer.

What the F is going on here?? I haven’t felt like this in, well, I don’t know how long. At the same time, I don’t have any more motivation than usual to get off the computer and, you know, clean something. I can’t be manic because I don’t feel like taking off to parts unknown and I haven’t been driving any faster than usual (although I do crank up the stereo as soon as I’m on the freeway). Even though my thoughts race, I can still string a few together and make normal conversation. I’m not spending money either, not that I have any to spend (and I’m leaving the credit card alone so I’ll have something for the trip in September). That’s one good thing about being on a fixed income—you learn very quickly how to manage it, because otherwise you have waaaay too much month at the end of the money.

The sleep thing is perhaps the most puzzling part of it. I take enough drugs to put a rhino out, but lately I couldn’t sleep through the night if my life depended on it. I’m still a slug in the morning because I get the best quality sleep from about five or six AM, which is frustrating because I get up so much later than the rest of the household. But even though I go to bed around midnight, I’m awake till at least one or two in the morning, and then I keep waking up every hour or so just for the hell of it.

So why haven’t I called Dr. Goodenough yet, you may ask? Because I’m not manic, and I  don’t want MORE meds. I don’t want to go back on Ambien because my insurance doesn’t pay for it, and besides, it’s just one more pill and I’m having enough trouble sticking with the ones I’m already taking. I don’t know why that is, but as we’ve established, I’ve tried fooling with them on previous occasions and no good ever comes from it. I guess it’s just silly season, and like everything else, it too will pass.

It sure makes things interesting in the meantime, though. I’ve been so steady for so long, but these little hiccups serve to remind me that I’m still bipolar and need to be on guard at all times. It’s so easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that my diagnosis isn’t as serious as my providers have made it out to be. I don’t feel bipolar, I simply feel…normal. A little flat emotionally, to be sure, but then “normal” people don’t get the extremes that I used to. I do remember the screaming fits and crazy highs and black depressions. They just seem so far away now. And at times like this, with the flowers in bloom and April showers falling softly on the land, it almost feels as though they never even happened.

Almost.

World Bipolar Day, March 30, 2018

March 29, 2018

Since tomorrow is also Good Friday and I’ll be going “off the grid” for the day, I thought I’d mention the fact that the fifth annual World Bipolar Day will be taking place. In past years I’ve discussed the background and general purposes of the celebration, so if you’re a new reader you can always check the archives for an explanation. But for those of you who know about this event, I invite you to take a few moments out of your day to think about how much we’ve gained by bringing attention to our illness, and how far we have yet to go.

I personally am pleased with the progress we’re making. Five years after the inaugural World Bipolar Day, people are a little less afraid to talk about it, and about mental illness in general. Even bipolar 1 has gone mainstream. There’s a commercial for a new antipsychotic medication named Vraylar, featuring a busy woman who manages manic episodes on top of her office job and family. Now, as you know I have my misgivings about drug advertising on TV, but this is groundbreaking in that it’s the first one where mania is discussed, instead of being tucked away in the dark like a dirty secret. All the other ads for bipolar meds only talk about depression. Vraylar is recommended “because you’re more than just your bipolar 1”. Nice catchphrase. And I see it as a good sign that the illness—my illness—is being normalized. It’s about time!

Of course, the increased openness is a double-edged sword, as the recent focus on mental health matters shows. Far too many members of the public are willing to believe that psychiatric conditions are the cause of so much of the violence we’re seeing these days. Too many politicians are buying into the idea that long-term institutional care is the answer, but they have also proven themselves unwilling to put funding into the mental health system for more psychiatrists, nurses, and services. In fact, the word is that Congress is going to consider cuts to Social Security Disability and Medicare, which would be disastrous for folks like me who depend on these programs to stay well (and alive).

Even so, the fact that society is finally talking about mental health is a GOOD thing. For too long it was like the crazy aunt in the attic: we knew it was there, but it was much easier to ignore it than bring it into the living room and deal with it.

So on this World Bipolar Day, let us celebrate the people of the bipolar community and continue to raise awareness and acceptance of the disorder. Let us lift each other up and be proud of our accomplishments in the world. And let us lead the way in teaching others how we need and want to be treated. WINNING!

 

 

 

 

The Springtime Crazies

March 23, 2018

…have definitely struck. I’m not off the spool, but I’m restless and have all this energy I’m having a hard time channeling, and having just a great time not doing anything! The weather sucks hugely—it’s only 39 degrees and there’s snow mixed in with the rain, but it doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned it might as well be 80 degrees and sunny out. Music sounds especially good these days; I just wish I could sing! The other day when it WAS sunny, I was rocking out in the car with the stereo cranked way up and playing air guitar at stoplights. Shelley was with me and actually got caught up in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, tapping her feet and lip-synching right along with me. I love days like these, when everything, even the clouds are so bright and the world holds limitless possibilities.

I’m sure ready to take that cruise though. Seven days under the Caribbean sun sound really good right now. And oh yeah, I got some really exciting news the other day: we’re all going to Europe next year! Ten-day Mediterranean cruise to Greek isles Mykonos and Crete, then to Athens; better yet, we get to go to Rome! As a good Catholic girl, I’ve always wanted to go there. We’re also going to Florence while we’re at it. Places with centuries of art and music and food to be savored. The trip is booked for August of 2019, so that gives us plenty of time to plan ahead (and pay!). I want to get back on the wagon and lose some more weight; I haven’t really lost anything in six months, but then I haven’t really been trying either. I may not be able to climb the stairs to the Acropolis, but I’d like to at least be able to wander around Rome and visit the Vatican, pray at St. Peter’s Basilica, see the Sistine Chapel. How fabulous are my dreams?

Thing is, they only used to just BE dreams. I never thought for a minute that I’d ever actually see Europe. Then again, I never thought I’d get to visit the Caribbean, and I’ve been all over the place there and am going again. I remember thinking of that first cruise as the Trip of a Lifetime…well, it was, and it was certainly Will’s. But there have been and will be more. Dreams come true after all.

Sweet Relief

March 16, 2018

The news I’ve been waiting for arrived this morning: Social Security has decided they don’t need to review my disability case after all. Evidently the form I filled out along with my statement about my various medical problems was sufficient for them to continue benefits. Hallelujah!

Now maybe those stupid dreams about working in the hospital will go back to whatever rock they hide under most of the time. I’ve had them for years, but they increased when I first got the letter about the review and they really are distressing. I literally wake up thanking God the nightmare isn’t real. You don’t suppose PTSD exists in nursing?? I never put two and two together until a friend of mine pointed out that she thought the dreams were related to my stress about possibly having to go back to work (at what, who knows?). It makes perfectly good sense when you think about it; how come I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out? I don’t suppose it matters; what does matter is that I’m going to be OK for the foreseeable future.

They (SSA) didn’t say when they would look at my case again, but if it’s the usual three years I’m home safe because I’ll be 62 then, which I’ve been told is when disability reverts to normal Social Security. So in theory, I might never have to worry about finding and holding down a job again in this lifetime. Doesn’t mean I won’t try if at some point in the future I feel I’m capable of working; it just means that I won’t HAVE to. I’m not going to assume that’s the case, of course, but the truth is, they probably think I’m too f#@%ed up and too old to rejoin the rat race, and to be honest I have to agree.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times if I really, really needed to be on SSDI because I’m not blind or in a wheelchair…I was always a hard worker, sometimes to my detriment, and I still believe anyone who CAN work, should. I wish I didn’t have all this nonsense that prevents me from thinking clearly enough to work, I wish I didn’t have physical limitations either. It’s embarrassing to have to tell the front desk girls at my doctors’ offices that I’m on Medicare because I get disability. I look fine, I’m able to get around under my own steam…how come I can’t work? I bet people wonder about that, at least for the brief time we spend discussing it. You’ve heard the term “invisible disability”, well, that describes me perfectly. You can’t see arthritis or bipolar disorder. You can’t see joint damage or memory loss or anxiety. But they exist just the same.

Thank God the SSA acknowledges this, even though the burden of proof with an invisible illness is pretty heavy. I’ll never know how much paperwork my psychiatrist and primary care doctor had to submit on my behalf because I had an attorney to deal with all of that, but it obviously was enough to merit disability payments. And now I won’t have to worry about being cut off with no income and no health insurance to pay for the medications that keep me sane and alive. It’s all good.

In Dreams

March 12, 2018

Sleep is getting wonky again. Maybe it’s the change of seasons (yay, we’re on Daylight Saving Time again!) or just because my brain likes to shit the bed every now and then. I get enough sleep overall, but I keep waking up several times a night and in between I have some of the strangest dreams…ones that make me feel almost as tired on awakening as if I’d really done the stuff in the dreams.

There is one recurring dream that is at once interesting and disturbing. In the dream, which has several variations on a theme, I’m back working at the hospital on the medical/surgical floor. It’s not unusual for nurses to have nightmares about forgetting a patient or running nonstop for an entire 12-hour shift, but in this one I not only have both situations but I’m dealing with an undercurrent of weirdness among my managers and co-workers. There are whispers and side glances, and I can tell no one really likes or trusts me. I also have one boss who is literally out to get me, and that’s based in reality—when I was working acute care, there was this one assistant department manager who REALLY didn’t like me for some reason, and she was always up my butt for one minor thing or another. She even tried to get me in trouble once for not signing out a narcotic…the only problem was, I wasn’t on duty and I had no narc keys.

So here I am flying around the floor, knowing I’ve neglected a patient all night but unable to get to him for one reason or another. Somehow, this manager always catches it before the end of the shift and I know I’m going to get fired, but the dream ends before it happens. Other times, I’m just running frantically behind and getting more stressed and frazzled by the minute, and this version of the dream is so realistic that I often wake up in a sweat and panting like a dog.

Obviously, I’m trying to work through something in my sleep that’s bothering me on a subconscious level. But what? I haven’t worked in that hospital for over a dozen years, haven’t worked at all in almost four. I know I’ve been a little stressed lately thanks to my disability case being reviewed by Social Security, but this is ridiculous. Sometimes even Will shows up in the dreams as a nursing assistant—isn’t THAT strange! He’s featured in some of my other dreams too, but those are almost always joyful; he invariably looks happy and healthy like he did back when he first retired, and we just do what we always did on a day-to-day basis: love and live and learn together. Oh, how I miss those days!

I think that’s why I’ve been listening to so much ’80s classic rock lately. When I hear those old tunes, it takes me back to when I was a young wife and mom—times that weren’t always great, but have taken on a luster they didn’t have before Will passed away. It’s hard to think of the ’80s as being three decades ago, but three of my kids are in their 30s and another one’s going to turn 30 later this year. Even the youngest is approaching that age at the speed of sound. How did that happen?

But all that sure didn’t matter yesterday when I was flying down the freeway before and after church, playing old Def Leppard and B-52s tunes with the bass cranked up and rocking out in the car. The weather was perfect and it was one of those days when everything seems possible. I could easily imagine Will sitting next to me and the kids in the back seat, captives to “our music”. (And I’m not old—it’s just that their music really DOES suck. Sorry.) Sometimes that was the only entertainment we had; we couldn’t afford to go to the movies, and even cable was too expensive when Will was the only one working. But we could always find enough change to fill the gas tank and cruise town with the radio on and the windows down, while our kids ate soft-serve ice cream cones with a warm summer breeze blowing in their sticky little faces.

Well, I’ve kinda strayed off the subject, but reminiscing about the good old days is a lot more pleasant than having nightmares about an old job I thought I’d long since forgotten. Maybe tonight my subconscious will STFU and let me dream about walking on the beach with my love or something similarly delightful. I hope!