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It’s My Life

March 11, 2019

Well, another visit to Dr. Goodenough has come and gone (dear Lord, will I ever find a better name?) and he increased my Lamictal from 400 mg to 500 mg/day. I was concerned at first because that’s higher than the norm for bipolar, but he said people with seizure disorders can take up to 1000 mg/day so 500 is safe for me. Of course, I trust him, so I started the new dosage the same night. As I expected, it hasn’t made much of a difference yet, in fact I’m a little more depressed than I was, but then things have been somewhat stressful at home so it’s as much situational as anything else.

And I find myself wondering: is this what my life is now? More and more meds, in higher and higher doses? I’m on EIGHT drugs for psychiatric reasons, six of them actual psychotropics, and I still have breakthrough episodes. I also never seem to be able to decrease the dosages once I’m stable again. What’s up with that?

On top of it, I’ve started feeling faint stirrings of March Madness, even though nothing’s changed on the outside. My thoughts are racing again, I’m jumpy and slightly irritable, and I’m having trouble focusing. It’s taken me over an hour to get this far in this blog post, though I think it’s making sense. I hope to high heaven this isn’t the beginning of a mixed episode. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m just a wee bit paranoid, though I’m able to talk myself out of it. Sometimes I feel like my family is mad at me, ignoring me, when it’s really only that they are dealing with their own shit and it’s not about me. In fact, Ben and I had a great chat a couple of days ago, which made me all warm inside for a few hours. But even though I know on an intellectual level that everything is more or less OK, I’m not convinced emotionally.

One thing I’m not doing is messing with my meds. On the contrary, I’m religious about taking them as prescribed and not fantasizing about stopping them. I know I need them—all of them—and while I wish I didn’t need so much, I’m cooperating. That’s different from the past few Marches, when I’ve gone off the rails and experimented with dosage reductions. I’m not even tempted. I hope that doesn’t change, because I really don’t want to be unwell either way.

In the meantime, we’re already on Daylight Saving Time, which means it’s light later in the evenings, and spring is coming. I’ll be all right soon. And if I’m not, I’ll call Dr. G. I promise.


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The Seven-Year Itch

March 7, 2019

Well, here we are…the seven-year anniversary of my first bipolar diagnosis. I remember it as if it was yesterday: the long questioning session with Dr. Awesomesauce, the many reasons he cited as to why I might not be bipolar, and then the surprising diagnosis of bipolar NOS. In retrospect he might have given it to me because I thought I had it, and of course I did, but it took a couple more visits for him to figure it out. When I showed up at his office one day wearing bright blue eyeshadow and colorful clothes, he knew instantly that I was manic, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have mixed feelings about this anniversary. I’m still dealing with mild depression and that’s discouraging, but I know enough about my version of bipolar to understand that it’s seasonal and will go away. March Madness hasn’t set in yet, and it may not come at all as heavily medicated as I am. Usually by now the trees are budding and there are cherry blossoms everywhere, but we had a cold February and snow is still in the forecast. I’m SO ready for spring I can taste it, but the flowers and trees are still dormant except for one little confused daffodil in the front yard that’s survived heavy rain, snow, and a hard freeze. I bet it hopes for warmer weather too.

Even after seven years, I still struggle with acceptance of my diagnosis. I know on an intellectual level that I indeed have bipolar and have always had it, even though it wasn’t labeled as such until I was 53. I recall many, many phases in my life that weren’t recognized as episodes at the time; in retrospect I’m amazed that I never figured out what was wrong until I finally lost my shit in 2012. Not that it was the first time I’d lost my shit—there have been some spectacular flameouts, especially in my adult life—but it was a defining one. That was when my internist washed his hands of me and said he would not see me anymore if I didn’t get a psych eval. He led me to believe he was referring me to a therapist; when I found out I was to be seen by an actual psychiatrist, I was livid.

“I’m not crazy!” I told my doctor, “I just have really bad mood swings.” I learned later that I wasn’t crazy/loony/nuts/bonkers at all, and I didn’t want to be referred to as such. It’s a stereotype that has no place in modern society. I’m not easily offended, and I have a pretty thick skin because I’ve been teased so much throughout my life…but them’s fightin’ words!

Looking back at the course of these past seven years, I mourn the destruction bipolar has wrought upon my life. Seven years ago I was a reasonably successful nurse manager, wife, mother, and grandmother. Yes, I struggled—a LOT—but I was able to work, live in a big beautiful house on a couple of acres of lush forest, have my very own car, and enjoy the company of my loving husband. Now all of those things are gone, and I can’t help missing them.

However, I’ve learned to appreciate what I have now, and perhaps that is bipolar’s greatest lesson. I live with family who loves me and whom I adore, I have a comfortable room and a living area that’s always warm and cozy, I have good food to eat and I can use a car whenever I need it. I have four little dogs to love (and I don’t have to pay vet bills!), cable and Internet, and this blog, which keeps me sane and not too bored. I hope to grow in my writing and maybe even get paid decently for some of it, and even though I can’t work, one day I might be able to write consistently.

Still, I’m glad it isn’t seven years ago today. I’d hate to have to go through all that and learn those life lessons all over again. Perhaps the next seven will be a little kinder, although there is still a lot to learn about living with a serious mental illness.

It’s all good.


The Name Game

February 26, 2019

Well, I’m not quite out of the woods yet, but I’m getting closer to being done with this depression with every day that passes by. I don’t know if it’s due to the new little pill Dr. Goodenough prescribed for me, but it sure isn’t hurting, and each night for the past week when I’ve written in my mood journal, I’ve been able to report improvement. It’s light later in the day than it was for some time, and I’m sure that’s helped; like the confused daffodil in my front yard, I feel the approach of spring even there’s snow on the ground. It’s still too soon to imagine a time when I’ll have to work to keep a lid on the mania, but better days are ahead.

Speaking of Dr. Goodenough, it’s been mentioned to me by several folks that he might need a better name. After all, he’s brought me out of some tough moods and been my rock through some tough times, including those terrible months after my husband’s death. He is wise and good, and he deserves a moniker that more closely fits him.

That’s where y’all come in. How about a name-the-doc game? I can’t offer any kind of prizes for the best nickname chosen, but the author of the one I pick will get a big shout-out on this blog. I’ve tried but just can’t come up with a name that both fits and bestows dignity upon the man. He’s not Dr. Awesomesauce, but in many ways he’s proven to be even better for me, and he’s got a handle on my illness that unfortunately eluded Dr. A throughout our four years together. No, we don’t banter back and forth or tell each other funny stories, and I do miss that about Dr. A; still, there’s more to a therapeutic relationship than one-liners and tales of the wilds of Australia. (Of course there was a lot more to it than that, but what I remember best is the fun we had during most of our sessions.)

Is that disloyal? Maybe, but for better or worse, my therapeutic alliance is with Dr. G. now, and will be for the foreseeable future. God help me if he retires before my family and I move to Texas in a couple of years. I’ve been with him for almost 2 1/2 years already; he’s quite a bit older than me so I worry about losing him. I remember looking for a psychiatrist when I went on Medicare back in 2016 and found NO ONE in this city of 170,000 people who accepted Medicare patients. Dr. G did, and he was in the same clinic where Dr. A had worked, so it wasn’t like I had to get used to a different practice on top of a new doctor. It’s 45 minutes away, but definitely worth the drive.

So yeah…won’t you help me find a suitable-but-catchy name for this incredibly smart and patient psychiatrist? Thanks in advance. BPNURSE

Something Old, Something New

February 18, 2019

Did I ever tell you Dr. Goodenough rocks?

I called last Monday to change my February 13th appointment to a later date because I have no transportation at the moment (long story) and left a message with the receptionist that I was dealing with some depression. I didn’t really want to do that, but I’ve been dinking around with this for weeks and I’m tired of it. She was very kind and understanding and said she’d make sure to tell Dr. G first thing Tuesday morning (he doesn’t work on Mondays). Feeling somewhat relieved at having got that off my chest, I went on about my day, and didn’t really think about it again till 8:10 the next morning when my phone belted out my ringtone, Ode to Joy.

I was still half-asleep, but I knew who it was. Bless him, he’d probably been in the office for all of 10 minutes before he called to ask me how I was. I woke up the rest of the way and gave him the Cliffs Notes version of what’s been going on in my life and how long I’ve been dwelling at the South Pole. He listened carefully and let me whine for as long as I needed, but he already had a battle plan that told me he’d already researched my records, including my most recent lab values. (That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about both Dr. Awesomesauce and Dr. G: they care a lot about being physicians and not just psychiatrists.) Since my thyroid levels are still a little low, he came up with the idea to try a new thyroid medication; well, it’s actually an old drug, but it’s new to me. We didn’t even talk about upping my antidepressant because I knew damn well he’d veto any such suggestion…it’s way too easy to flip into mania, and God knows I don’t need that.

He explained his reasoning and how the med is supposed to work, all in professional terms. I appreciate that he talks to me as a clinician and not just another effed-up bipolar patient. We know that the thyroid pills help with my depression; I didn’t have an episode at all last winter. Of course I agreed to try it, even though it’s another freaking pill and I get soooo tired of taking pills. But I’d go far and wide to get out of this funk, so what’s one more?

I’ve been on the new/old drug for five days now, and I think I’m ever-so-slightly better. I realize that this perceived improvement is probably due to the fact that something is being done about it, rather than any real effect of the medication, at least not yet. It’s kind of like being sick for a while and you finally decide to go to the doctor, and you find yourself feeling a little better just knowing there will be an end to it. This hasn’t been a particularly harsh depressive episode, that’s why there’s no urgency, but since I had to reschedule my appointment anyway I figured I’d let Dr. G know I’m not at my best. I think he appreciated me calling; he’s asked me several times in the past to pick up the phone if I felt myself going too far in one direction than the other, but as you know I have that thing about the phone and I almost always wait almost until things are out of control.

Not this time. I’m proud of myself.

He also wrote me a new script for Klonopin. I’ve had a lot of free-floating anxiety along with the depression, and I’ve been out of the drug for almost a year. I never abuse benzodiazepines. We have an agreement that I have to ask for them, he doesn’t just refill the prescription. And once again, I am amazed at how lucky I’ve been with psychiatrists. I have friends who have never had a really good p-doc, and here I’ve had two. (Plus a great psych nurse practitioner, but I had to stop seeing her when I went off Medicaid in the summer of 2016. That’s how I ended up with Dr. G.) I think that’s half the battle when it comes to fighting bipolar disorder—you’ve got to have competent care, and if that doctor or NP also cares about you as a person, you’ve got it made.

Of course, you’ve got to want it too. You have to take the meds and be honest and do the work, or your provider can’t help you. Just remind me of that if/when March Madness sets in…

Dirty Laundry

February 11, 2019

I’ve never been one to discuss the details of family problems in this blog, and I don’t intend to this time either. Suffice it to say that things have been about as tense as can be around here, and I’m doing my best not to lose my shit. I was depressed before all this started, but now I’m both depressed AND anxious…and I have to postpone my Wednesday appointment with Dr. Goodenough because I’ve got no way to get there. The timing couldn’t possibly be worse—I need him to help me sort things out and give me a new script for Klonopin—but other than renting a car for the day, which I can’t afford to do, I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and reschedule.

Now don’t get too worried about me: I’m taking my meds exactly as prescribed, and I’m not having any sort of dark thoughts. In fact, I can even hear the ever-so-gentle whisper of March Madness in the background; like Shelley’s confused daffodils which are already flowering in some spots, my brain isn’t sure which direction it’s supposed to go. It’s not a mixed episode, at least I don’t think it is, but it’s been so long since I’ve had one that maybe I’m not recognizing it. But I certainly don’t have the energy that usually comes with it; I spend my days on the sofa with the computer and Netflix, as the TV is out of commission (long story) and bestir myself occasionally to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Otherwise the only activity I get is walking from the sofa to the kitchen to the bathroom, and then to the bedroom at night. My primary care provider would be so thrilled. NOT.

I also have laundry that I just can’t seem to do anything about. It’s sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor—all I have to do is pick it up, dump it in the washer, toss in a Tide Pod, and turn on the machine. Why is that so difficult? I have trouble showering too, but at least I can do that a couple times a week without it being sheer torture. Now I’ve got to get that laundry done because I’m running out of underwear and leggings…but it still sits there in front of my closet, judging me.

Speaking of leggings: I live in the things. I swore I’d never wear them because of my size, but Clint talked me into trying a pair, and I’ve never worn anything so comfortable in my life. I wear them and a T-shirt to bed and change them when I shower; no pajamas necessary. They are form-fitting, but that’s good because they hold in my sagging thighs and butt. Now I own like 12 pairs and I haven’t worn jeans in a year. The only place I go where I don’t find leggings appropriate is church, but then I haven’t even been there in two weeks. My church attendance has also been dicey for awhile…sometimes I just canNOT drag my sorry ass out of bed. Did I ever tell you I hate winter?

So no, I am not having a good time. I believe things will get better and life won’t always be like this; even though I’m depressed, I know this too shall pass. And somehow, somewhere, I’ve got to conjure up the energy to get that pile of laundry done!

The Winter Blues

January 31, 2019

Well, now that I’ve landed safely on the other side of 60, it’s time for the winter blues to hit, and they have. The mantle of depression has settled softly on my shoulders like a dusting of snow, and I find myself alternately wistful and sad, and determined not to let it get in the way of everyday life. I also find it more difficult to shower and do laundry, self-care tasks that I move through slowly, like I’m wading through peanut butter. Everything takes so much effort that it’s almost not worth throwing myself against that wall to make myself do it.

On the other hand, I’m able to enjoy things and appreciate what’s good in life. I’ve been in a mild funk since the holidays actually, but I’ve been able to keep up appearances for the most part, and I think I’m doing a good job of not taking my angst out on my loved ones. I haven’t even talked to Ben or Clint about the depression; it’s just not all that important. I’m in no danger whatsoever, if I think of suicide at all it’s just to marvel at how much I DON’T want to harm myself. I know without a doubt that life is worth living, and mine isn’t over by a long shot.

Strangely enough, I like to analyze my depression like this. I always learn from it, and I’m thankful to be self-aware enough to know that it will pass. It’s just part of being bipolar. I was explaining this to my sister the other day, because she (understandably) worries whenever I’m in a mood swing, but this one is nothing to be concerned about. It’s only worthy of discussion because it’s mid-winter, a time of year I absolutely hate with a purple passion, and these things are as inevitable as the tide. I can take meds and use my HappyLight and dream of lying on a beach all day, but I can’t quite get past the fact that it IS winter and the only cure for that is time. January has like 793 days in it, and February’s only saving grace is that it’s short. Though it’s been relatively mild and dry for an Oregon winter and we’re gaining daylight every day, it’s just not enough to stave off the blues.

The companion animal to my depression is, of course, anxiety. I often wake up in the mornings with a jerk, thinking I’ve got to tend to something urgently, only to realize that I’m just anxious over NOTHING. I have my insecurities, but this goes beyond them…this is just aimless anxiety, with no purpose other than to make me feel even more insecure. I worry over the damnedest things, like cooking dinner (a Herculean task when I’m down), or whether someone is angry with me, or even what to write here. It’s literally crazy-making. Today our TV has been off all day due to an outage somewhere, and here I am already getting frazzled because what if it’s still out on Sunday, when the Super Bowl is on? I guess I could just go to the bar and watch it there, but that involves dealing with a gazillion people who are drinking heavily and getting obnoxious before the game is half over, etc., etc., etc.

See how I made a problem out of something that hasn’t even happened yet? That’s depression.

But it’s good to compare and contrast this with past depressive episodes I’ve had. I still have a sense of humor about all this despite my sorry state; at other times, I’ve had to fight hard just to get out of bed in the morning. I sleep more than I probably should and definitely am doing some emotional eating, but that’s better than feeling like I want to do a swan-dive off a hotel balcony. I have the energy of a slug and it takes an act of God to get me off the sofa, but I can still go out and enjoy a good meal and conversation.

I see Dr. Goodenough next month and of course will mention this; it’s not distressing enough to require a med adjustment or an extra appointment. Besides, it’s only going to be a couple more months until March Madness sets in, and this will all be in the past. Haha!

The Last Day of My 50s

January 18, 2019

Well, folks, this is it—the eve of my 60th birthday. I’m going out tonight with family and friends to celebrate a mutual birthday with another family friend, and tomorrow…well, that’s up to Ben and Clint.

Strangely enough, I’m not dreading the 60s, even though everything in/on your body basically falls apart. (It’s been doing that all through my 50s anyway, so whatever.) I like the idea of being wiser, even if no one takes advantage of my wisdom because they’re too busy making their own mistakes and they don’t listen. There’s so much I know now that I didn’t know even when I was 50 and thought I’d reached the pinnacle of sagacity. Like, I’m never gonna know everything. I’m never gonna come CLOSE to knowing everything. But at least now I know what I don’t know, and that’s a big advantage when you’re still trying to figure stuff out.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all my shit together. I have yet to decide what to do with whatever time is left to me, and if I stay on my meds and do what my doctor tells me to do I should have at least another 15-20 years in me. That’s a long time to sit around waiting to die. So I need to get serious about my writing career, even though I’m absolutely terrified of putting myself out there. I mean, I do that with this blog, but bipolar blogs are a niche-market thing that almost nobody reads except for other people with bipolar disorder and maybe their friends and families (plus the occasional mental health professional).

I’ve dipped my toe into the waters over at Allnurses.com, the nursing website where I’m a longtime member. I used to write for them years ago when I was still a working nurse, but I rather thought my usefulness as a nurse-writer ended along with my career. Not so, said the top administrator, and she gave me some ideas for articles. I seized upon one of them and dashed off a 700-word piece in like an hour. It felt good to write a nursing story and flex my author muscles in a different direction. And I get paid for these…I guess I just needed a boot in the backside to give me a start.

So wish me luck as I head into a new decade, and if you’re a praying person please throw one in for me. If you listen to my son and son-in-law, they’ll tell you that we “old people” need all the prayers and good thoughts we can get so we can plague them for many years to come. Haha!