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My Big Fat Bipolar Life

September 24, 2016

One thing about losing my husband, it’s made me reflective of the years we spent together. This coming Tuesday would have been our 36th wedding anniversary and I’m prepared to have a difficult day, although I don’t intend to wallow in it. I’m ever-so-slightly hypomanic now that one of my favorite times of the year has arrived, so it might not be as bad as I fear. I hope.

Having had a lot of time to look back over my life in recent months, I’ve also come to realize that despite not being diagnosed until age 53, I’ve had bipolar disorder for most, if not all of my life. I think it started with the night terrors, which came about after a traumatic family crisis when I was only five. They were so frequent that my parents took me to a child psychiatrist, who told them he thought there was something wrong with me; naturally they dismissed it and never took me back. Of course, doctors weren’t diagnosing little kids with what was called manic-depressive illness back then, and perhaps I didn’t have it at that point.

But something was definitely not right, and by age 10 I had developed full-blown depression. I distinctly remember feeling awful about myself and wanting my life to be over; what I don’t recall is how it was triggered, or even if it was triggered by life events. I used to sit out in the cold rain, hoping I’d catch pneumonia and die. Then when I was 13 and my wonderful grandmother died, I fell into a year-long depression that was resistant to all efforts to dispel it. I was trotted around to several doctors and nurse practitioners, who examined me for all sorts of medical problems and found nothing. However, I always came home with medications which I now believe were antidepressants. I remember being jerked around by the different drugs—the blue pills made me sleepy, the yellow ones made me throw up. the green ones made me crazy. Eventually, however, the depression went away on its own and I was back to being a “normal” teenager.

I’ve also realized that many, if not most of my “high” times—when I had abundant energy, felt FABULOUS and talked people’s ears off—were hypomania or mania. I can recall one whole summer when I did nothing but work because I was so keyed-up that I couldn’t relax, let alone sleep; and it seemed like I was always in trouble because my co-workers couldn’t deal with my constant chatter. One supervisor even sent me home for disrupting the workflow with nonstop tales of my childhood through my young-adult years, which is something I don’t remember doing. (It was probably one of my manic blackouts.)

Then there were the times I was so full of rage I made everyone’s lives miserable, including my own. I went after a couple of people who pissed me off with garden tools, and screamed at my husband and children for hours on end. I drank like a fish and behaved even worse when I was hammered. Obviously, I always felt guilty after these incidents, but I couldn’t seem to help myself…or stop.

Years later, when I actually had stopped and been sober for awhile, I happened to pick up a book at Costco that opened the door to the possibility that I might have something more serious than recurring bouts of depression and times of increased energy. It was Jane Pauley’s book Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue, about her life as a newswoman and her experiences with bipolar 2. My sister was also leafing through a copy, then she looked over at me and said “I think you might have that”. I couldn’t disagree. But I promptly dismissed the idea because I didn’t want to take lithium, which was all I knew then about the treatment of bipolar disorder. I didn’t know anyone with the disease either, so I had no frame of reference.

It wasn’t until another 10 or 12 years after this that I was finally forced into a psych eval and received my initial bipolar diagnosis. And you know the rest.


Football, Weather, Missed Meds, Etc.

September 18, 2016

I forgot my meds last night.

I haven’t done that in over a year, and the last time I did it I experienced the entire bipolar spectrum in one day. This time, I’m kinda numb around the lips and my head is buzzing, but other than feeling a bit on the hypomanic side I’m OK. I was wondering why the hell I wasn’t sleeping; usually I’m asleep by 1 AM, but it was probably 4 before I figured it out. Then it was too late to take them, so I dozed fitfully until I finally gave up around 9. Now in the middle of the day, I’m almost hyperalert and am perched on the edge of my seat on the big sectional. Not good.

Speaking of the sofa, that’s my favorite place to watch football. I’m currently watching Denver play Indianapolis and keeping track of my own two teams (Seattle and San Diego) via the Internet. I miss having Will beside me during the games; he was never as interested as I am, but he always enjoyed them…mainly because it was time spent together. My family, on the other hand. literally hates football and will scatter to their various bedrooms while I’m watching the Sunday game. So now it’s “laugh and the world laughs with you”; cheer for your favorite NFL team and you cheer alone.

Now it’s time to talk about the weather. I don’t know why, it’s just that I never think of talking about it except when it’s been raining for three weeks straight and my SAD kicks in. While it’s still technically summer until later this week, the weather has done a 180 and fall has definitely arrived. It was 85 degrees and sunny Friday, and yesterday it was 65 and raining. But although I’m sorry to see the last of the 80s and the soft warm breezes, the change of seasons means it’s that much closer to our trip in November. My boys seem to have this idea that the family needed to go on another cruise this year, and they won’t leave me behind so guess where I get to go this time? Belize. And Mahogany Bay (Isla Roatan, just off Honduras). And Cozumel (again). Where it’s summer all the time. I could get used to this…and I might as well, because next year we’re going on a cruise AND to Disney World.

In the meantime, the lack of appetite that occurred when Will passed continues, as does the weight loss. I’ve shed 28 lbs. in a little over two months and I’m not even trying, although I think it has a bit to do with the fact that I’ve developed something of an aversion to soda and am no longer eating bacon, sausage, butter, or sweets on a regular basis. Nice to know my metabolism still works, despite the fact that I also have an aversion to exercise.

Believe me, I’m grateful that I can once again go around a grocery store without my back killing me or me leaning over the cart because I’m winded just from walking. Anything more than that is just not in the cards right now because everything hurts, including the newest spot where my arthritis has settled (both shoulders). Who knows, maybe next spring I’ll be down another few pounds and can handle some gardening, which is the only form of physical activity I enjoy, other than swimming (and lovemaking, but that sure ain’t happening anymore).

Did I mention that I miss my husband? So much that I caught myself the other day searching through old voice mails on my phone just so I could hear his voice again. Thank God I saved them. Of course I cried like a baby, but it was so comforting in a way that I did it again and again until I’d wrung all the joy and pain out of the experience.

And life goes on.


I’m So Confuuuuuused!

September 9, 2016

Whoever said “Old age is not for sissies” must have been talking about Medicare insurance plans. Well, I’m not old yet, but I’ve spent the better part of three days trying to figure out the hows and whys of this incredibly complex program. I’ve also been to a meeting in which a caseworker explained the basics, and I ended up more confused than ever. Which makes me wonder, if I’m having such a hard time, what must it be like for people who are doing this completely on their own, and perhaps with less understanding of the overall health care system than I have?

I have two full-sized publications about Medicare and how to choose the right plan for the individual. My main concern is, of course, about prescription medications and the outrageous prices I’ve been paying for them, so finding a Part D (drug coverage) plan was of the utmost importance.  The counselor I saw was trying to get me to go with a Medicare Advantage plan which would have covered Part A (hospital) and Part B (doctors and other health services) in addition to Part D…one-stop shopping, as it were.

But as I delved into the meat and potatoes of the thing, I found that I’d be limited in my choices of providers, and with a new psychiatrist who only accepts patients with Original Medicare I couldn’t take a chance on losing out. I can’t find a psychiatrist anywhere in my local area, so I’m going back to the clinic where Dr. Awesomesauce used to work; luckily, I was able to find one who not only takes Medicare and is open to new patients, but I was able to get in as soon as early October.

This is a good thing. I’m still very stable underneath all the sadness, but having lost both my therapist and psych nurse practitioner, I need to be under somebody’s care ASAP. I hope I like him; he’ll never be Dr. A, but maybe he’ll be as good in his own way as Dr. A is in his.

Anyway, after spending an entire afternoon researching the recommended Medicare Advantage plans and finding them wanting, I decided to go with a Part D plan for the time being and keep Original Medicare. Because I qualify for what’s called Extra Help, which is a low-income subsidy, my meds will cost me only about $80 a month, rather than $800. Yippeeee!

I still don’t really know what I’m doing. Nor do I understand why this process has to be so damned complicated. I feel sorry for anyone trying to navigate the system without guidance. Even the (biased) assistance from the Medicare counselor was of some use. But it was my ability to utilize the Internet that got me this far into the maze of programs that make up this vast government entity, and I’m really, really thankful for it. I used to be afraid of it, you know…before I graduated from college, I was required to take a computer course which involved Internet usage, and I was terrified of breaking something or messing up the computer beyond repair. I needn’t have worried, because I’ve owned several computers and haven’t killed one yet.

It remains to be seen how successful I’ve been with enrolling myself in Medicare. I’m just glad I’ll have it on October 1st, as I’ve blown through what little savings I had paying for meds. Whew!




Mixed Feelings

August 31, 2016

It’s been eight weeks since Will passed away, and all I can say is that I’ve got a shitstorm of emotions going on. Which isn’t surprising, or even all that awful, it’s just weird…like bipolar on crack. I can go from happy and smiling to a weepy mess in a matter of seconds, and vice-versa. I can enjoy dinner out with my family and cry over a Humane Society commercial an hour later. I go from almost desperately wanting people around to wishing I could just disappear and blow away like a feather on a breeze.

All of this, I’m told, is completely normal. After all, mixed feelings are to be expected during these early months of widowhood—whether one is bipolar or not—and I need to just let them happen. There’s no time limit on grief. I hate it that I’m apt to burst into tears anytime or anywhere, with or without provocation, but I’ve already learned to allow it because I feel SO much better afterwards. It’s a lot like throwing up: nobody likes doing it, but the relief is incredible when it’s over.

This is so different from the way I imagined life would be after losing Will. I always thought I’d be deeply depressed and suicidal in the early going, and I used to half-jokingly tell the kids to drop me off at the psych unit on the way home from the funeral. But I’m not. In fact, suicide is about the last thing on my mind these days; I’m too invested in making sure they don’t have to lose their second parent any sooner than is absolutely necessary. I may feel differently in another few months when it’s been raining for three weeks straight and my seasonal-affective BS kicks in, but I’m not going to worry about it now. And I know Will wouldn’t want me to worry about it either.

I talk to him a lot, you know. I consult him on both major and minor decisions, and sometimes I can almost hear him answer. Sometimes it feels like he’s an eternity away, while at others it seems as though he’s standing right next to me. Recently my son-in-law booked another cruise for this November, and when I asked Will about it, I could practically hear him whisper, “Go for it!” I know he’d want me to go and have fun, even though I’m as poor as Job’s turkey and the boys are picking up the tab (willingly, I might add—they want me to enjoy myself after what I’ve been through this year).

One other thing I’ve found comforting is church. I’ve gone every Sunday since the funeral, and each week it gets a little easier. The ancient rituals are calming and reassuring, and after Mass I have coffee and donuts just like Will and I did in the past. Happily, I’ve been “adopted” by a group of women, most of whom have lost their husbands too and know exactly what this is like. I have also been drafted back into reading from the Scriptures in front of the congregation, as I used to do before he got really sick and I couldn’t commit to a schedule anymore.

The idea is for me to read on one Sunday a month for the next three months, and see if I want to continue. I’ll probably end up doing it for the entire year, just because the gal who oversees the lectors wants me to, and I’m actually pretty good at it. But like everything else these days, I have mixed feelings about making that commitment…maybe by the end of November I’ll be ready to make up my mind.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for these turbulent days. Thanks for reading.







Sticker Shock

August 21, 2016

Now I understand why psychiatric patients go off their meds.

Some bureaucrat in his/her infinite wit and wisdom drew an arbitrary line that determines whether a person is poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Well, my monthly income is about $30 too high, so I’m left to struggle with my medical care on my own…at least until Medicare kicks in on the first of October. I’ve already had to cancel three different appointments. And I’ve found out the hard way how bloody expensive my psych meds are.

Geodon 60 mg: $250+change for 30 capsules (one month’s supply). Geodon 20 mg: over $400 for 60 caps. Zyprexa 5 mg: $235 for 30 tablets. Lamictal 200 mg: $350 for 60 tabs. The cheapest is Trazadone 50 mg: $60 for 90 tabs, and Celexa 10 mg is a little less than $10 for a 30-day supply. And all of these are generics!

Now tell me, how the F is this affordable for a person receiving less than $1500/month in disability benefits? If I hadn’t had a few bucks in savings and help from family, I’d never have been able to purchase this month’s supply, and that’s without the Geodon 20 mg. (I figured that was the one I could most easily do without, and I was right—I remain stable and have avoided withdrawal because I’m still taking the 60 mg). But God knows how I’m going to get next month’s meds…and I’m literally in fear of what could happen if I’m forced to go without most of them.

I never realized how badly not having insurance affects everyday people. I’ve gone without it before, but I was always able to get my meds somehow and they weren’t THIS costly. In fact, I never paid more than $165 for one prescription in my life, and that was at my old pharmacy for the Geodon 20 mg. (Will somebody please tell my why the 20 mg version costs more than the 60 or the 80 mg?) I’m thinking about going back to that pharmacy temporarily, even though it’s in another town 25 miles away, because their prices for most of my meds are a little lower, except for the generic Zyprexa. But I like the convenience of the new one, and I’d go back to them in October anyway, so it seems like a lot of hassle to change pharmacies for only one month.

I’ll figure it out. I usually do. It’s just that this is yet another source of stress at a time when my life is already loaded with it. I’m still very early in the process of adjusting to an existence without my husband; in fact, it’s been so stressful that I’ve dropped 17 pounds without trying. I have no appetite—I only eat when I absolutely have to—and I get full so fast that I can only hold about half of what I used to. Not that weight loss is a bad thing, but this isn’t exactly the best way to do it.

Other than all that, life goes on and I’m trying every day to honor Will’s wishes in all I say and do. In the months before he passed, he made me promise several things, among them that I’d stay on my meds, stay sober…and stay alive. None of those are particularly easy tasks right now, but I understand why he wanted me to take those vows seriously: I tend not to make the effort on my own behalf, but I’ll do almost anything for someone I love. He knew this. I don’t think he anticipated my having such a hard time keeping that first promise, but if he’s watching me from above like I hope he is, he knows I’m doing the best I can.


A Year of Firsts

August 13, 2016

It’s been exactly one month since Will passed away. To say this is a difficult day would be an understatement, but I’m facing a whole bunch of them so this first “anniversary” is only the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve been warned about this by other widows. There is an entire year of “firsts” to get through—the first wedding anniversary, the first holidays, the first birthday, the first Father’s Day—all without him. We would have been married 36 years next month, a date I’m dreading…couples are supposed to celebrate together. We’re supposed to go out to dinner and maybe a movie, eat cake, and drink Martinelli’s sparkling cider. What am I to do on that day now that he’s no longer here?

The one thing that’s holding me together is the love of my family. Ethan and Clark have taken to spending evenings with me instead of going to bed early like they usually do; Clark’s mom Shelly shares with me wisdom gleaned from her four years without her husband; my other kids are keeping in close contact except for Mandy, who’s still living out in some forest without a home to call her own. That situation distresses me to no end, even though she and her family are planning to come back here after Labor Day. I’m still disappointed that they didn’t come out at least for the funeral…her Dad wanted nothing more than to see her before he died, and it didn’t happen.

But it is what it is, and there are no do-overs. I’m so glad I was there for Will at the very last, and I’m proud of the way I put the funeral together. I’d never done such a thing before in my life (and hope I never have to do it again!). And I’m pleased to say that underlying all the sadness is a stable mood; there is nothing pathological about grief, and self-harm is the furthest thing from my mind. I just could NOT do that to the family, and to be honest I’m too afraid of spending eternity separated from God—and from Will.

So I’ll be here to endure this year of “firsts”. There’s no way around it but straight through it. I know that. But it sure doesn’t make days like this any easier.

The Funeral and Other Things

August 11, 2016

We laid Will to rest Monday in an (almost) perfect funeral Mass. My older son delivered the most beautiful eulogy I’ve ever heard, and I’ve never been so proud of him as I am now. The music and Scriptures I chose flowed together better than I thought; the flowers were gorgeous, and the dessert reception was wonderful.

For my part, I was more or less OK until the very end of the Mass, and then I lost it. I didn’t sob or scream, but I was near it for a few minutes and only sheer force of will saved me. It all seemed so…final.

As indeed it is. The realization that Will is really gone has hit me like a ton of bricks, and I spend a lot of time in tears or close to it. I hate crying. I know it’s perfectly normal and even necessary, but it’s distressing to be fine one minute and weeping the next. I feel overwhelmed by everything I need to do—cancel doctor appointments, apply for the Social Security death benefit, figure out how to get Medicare Part D so my meds don’t cost me hundreds of dollars like they do now that Medicaid has run out. Talk about sticker shock! I’ve paid over $600 for just this month alone, and I can’t even afford all of them. Needless to say, this is a bad time to go without even one of my psych meds, and I hope I can remain stable.

But even though I’m hurting, I am thankful beyond words for the support system I have. My family and my many friends have been here for me in ways I never expected, and I know their prayers are heard because despite my pain, I feel very much loved. It’s not the same as being loved by a good husband, but Will and I had thirty-six years together and the last three were the best, even though we lived under the shadow of cancer the entire time. That love will never die…and it will sustain me for the rest of my days.