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Christmas Time Is Here

December 8, 2018

…and I’m feeling pretty darn nostalgic.

It happens every year. The tree goes up, the lights are lit, and carols from long, long ago are playing on my CD player (thank God I made several CDs from an old collection of albums I used to have). I watch the same beloved holiday specials I’ve been watching for over 50 years. Fact is, I’m racking up quite a few Christmases, and the older I get, the more I appreciate them.

I can’t believe this is my 60th Christmas. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I really am getting up there and I don’t think I’m quite ready for it. Not that I have a choice, of course, unless you consider the alternative and I refuse to. I’m not leaving this world a minute sooner than I absolutely have to. Life has become very precious to me since Will passed away, and sometimes I wonder whatever possessed me to think I wanted out. I’ve lost the love of my life and my reality is that I’m an aging single woman, but what matters is what’s in my heart and soul…and memory.

Yes, there is a wistfulness that accompanies the holidays, and having so much time to myself allows me to indulge in it to a point that may or may not be healthy. I listen to Christmas music from my childhood and think of the magical holidays I had growing up; I also reminisce about the Christmases with my own children and Will, which somehow always turned out well even when we were as poor as Job’s turkey.

I remember one year where we had no money for presents and had no idea what we were going to tell the kids about Santa Claus (most of them were still young enough to believe still); but between our church, a community organization, and the kids’ school—which “adopted” us as one of the families it chose to help with food and gifts—it was a holiday miracle. I still smile when I think of the looks on their little faces when they saw all the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

I remember the tradition we had of driving around town looking at the lights, then going home to Will’s hot cocoa and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the VCR. (This WAS a long time ago.) We also went to the Family Mass on Christmas Eve when there must’ve been 500 little kids running around yelling, crying, and wiping their snotty little noses on everything and everyone around them. Getting them together to do the Nativity scene was like herding cats, but the sweet church ladies always managed to corral them and avert disaster when seven-year-old “Mary” tentatively laid the infant Jesus—always played by one of the new babies—in the manger. Then we’d go back home and open one present each, set out some cookies and milk for Santa (even though by that time, the kids were all well past the age of belief), and send them to bed so we could fill the stockings and wrap some last-minute gifts before we ourselves fell exhausted into our recliners.

Now all of that is nothing more than memories. But I treasure them, because they really happened and they were wonderful times; and even the kids, now long grown, enjoy talking about them. After all, these are their memories too. And while we don’t really have any set way to celebrate the holidays in the house where I live now, I get to look back on 60 Christmases with love and laughter, and embrace the new traditions the best way I know how.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

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DX: Bipolar I. Again.

November 28, 2018

So I had my three-month visit with Dr. Goodenough last week, and I continue to be amazed at how much ground we cover in 30 minutes. It’s supposed to be a med check, but we usually use up the entire half hour talking about all kinds of stuff: Family. Church. Death. Sex. Grief. Other matters of consequence. And yes, meds.

Thanks to some weight gain, he’s considering switching me from Zyprexa to Latuda. My liver function, lipid profile and kidney function are all outside the norm too and he’s concerned about it, which tells me he cares about being a doctor and not just a specialist. I appreciate that he looks out for me medically as well as psychiatrically; I’ve been with him just over two years now, and he continues to amaze me with his intellectual acuity and knowledge. I probably should give him a different name, because he’s more than good enough…I’ll have to think about that one.

While we were discussing antipsychotics, I voiced some concerns about them because I’m going to be 60 in about seven weeks, and medical providers often take older people off APs due to higher risk of strokes or even death. It was something I saw frequently in the nursing homes where I worked with almost universally poor results, as the behaviors and moods the drugs were meant to treat came back with a vengeance once they were cleared from the patients’ systems. I cherish my stability and while I don’t want to be on any more meds than absolutely necessary, I’m afraid of what may happen if in the future a doctor decides to decrease, or even discontinue, the APs.

He reassured me that this isn’t always the case. In fact, he called my remission “fragile” and would not even consider taking me off them even if I were old enough for this to be an issue. This surprised me; I thought I was rock solid, at least as much as someone with bipolar can be. Maybe after I get through next spring without a manic episode he’ll think it’s for real, but for now I guess I’ll have to live with the sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Then we got into the subject of diagnosis. Dr. G has changed it several times over the past year, and most recently it was just “bipolar affective disorder”. No numbers, no specifiers. I thought maybe he’d changed his mind about my being bipolar 1; I still question it from time to time as the memory of my manic episodes has largely faded, and sometimes I think I must’ve overstated their severity. After all, I’ve never stripped off all my clothes and walked down the middle of the street, nor have I ever thought I was God (although there have been times when I believed I was on a mission from Him). We won’t talk about the episode where I was galumphing up and down the halls at work singing at the top of my voice, or the one where I was howling at the moon on Halloween night…

Dr. G almost laughed as he informed me that OF COURSE I have bipolar 1. In fact, he was so sure of it that he gave it a specifier and changed it in the computer and on my paperwork. He apologized for confusing me and reiterated his reasons for the diagnosis, number one being the fact that I have indeed experienced full-blown mania, as evidenced by repeated episodes of out-of-control behavior, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. (I keep forgetting about that last item—I’ve kept my curtains closed for days or weeks on end, believing my neighbors or the government was spying on me.) He’s only seen me hypomanic at worst, but the history I gave him at my intake appointment two years ago was enough for him to make the determination.

Now it’s been settled once and for all. I think. Knowing me, I’ll probably question the diagnosis again, especially when I’m particularly stable (or hypo) and it feels like bipolar doesn’t even exist. Haha!

And These Thy Gifts

November 13, 2018

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time for my annual reflection on what I’m thankful for. I believe an attitude of gratitude is the best way to go through life, and while I often take people and things for granted just like everyone else, I think it’s important to take time to appreciate what God has given me.

I’m thankful, first and foremost, for family. I don’t know what I would have done these past two years without my son Ben and his husband Clint, both of whom have told me they want to be known by their given names in this blog. I also appreciate the love and support of my other three children, all of whom are in their 30s and have become my favorite people. My oldest daughter and her husband have all their shit together and she’s a phenomenal mom and an inspiration to me; youngest daughter has made a career out of being an Army veteran and is now helping other vets who need durable medical equipment; even my older son is feeling the effects of being over 30 and he’s trying earnestly to grow up, and now he’s anticipating the birth of my seventh grandchild.

I’m thankful for a warm and welcoming roof over my head. I’ve come so close to homelessness that I can never take housing for granted. Being homeless and out in the elements is my biggest fear in life, other than losing one or more of my kids, like my poor sister who has lost two of her own only 10 months apart. I can’t imagine…I thought the death of my baby Melissa 34 years ago was the worst thing that could happen to a person, but I’ve since learned that there are things that are MUCH worse. I pray for Louise to find comfort and peace in the face of tragedy.

I’m thankful for friends. I’m blessed with so many! While I know most of them online, there are some I went to school or worked with, and if I needed something they’d fall all over each other to help me. Having friends means I’ve done something right in my life, which helps with my shaky self-esteem. I figure I can’t be THAT screwed up if I have people in my life who value me.

I’m thankful for the simple things: a cup of hot cocoa, a good TV show, warm blankets, a hearty meal. I enjoy how fallen leaves crunch underfoot and the way smoke from different fireplaces fills the crisp autumn air with wonderful aromas. I like early Christmas lights and pumpkin pie-scented wax cubes in my Scentsy warmer. And I love it when the family dogs all gather around me on the sofa and give me licks and cuddles; their affection is unconditional and they know I adore them in return.

I’m especially thankful for stability. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, I continue to enjoy full remission from bipolar symptoms, and most days I feel like I don’t even have the disorder. What a blessing it is to not have racing thoughts or wild mood swings! Given the tempestuous life I lived even before I was diagnosed, I have to say that this is the steadiest I’ve ever been. And all it took was a little adjustment in one medication to put things right. I see Dr. Goodenough tomorrow and have nothing but good things to report. I’m also thankful for him; he knows his bipolar stuff REALLY well and I’ve benefited from his wisdom in countless ways.

That’s my short list of people and things for which I’m truly grateful. In the words of a favorite prayer:

Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

At Long Last, Acceptance

October 30, 2018

The end of October is here, and with it comes the memory of where I was four years ago tomorrow night. Back then, I was a broken shell of a woman, suicidal, and utterly without hope. Needless to say, I’ve come a long, long way since then; while the process slips from time to time, I feel I’m progressing nicely. I’ve come to accept my lot in life, and if sometimes I find myself missing my old life, I have the ability to banish those thoughts and focus on the blessings I have today.

There are times for reminiscing, however, and the memories are some of my most prized possessions. I still miss my husband something fierce, but the bitterness of the early days of widowhood is gone and now I remember the good times far more often than the bad. The change in my outlook has been subtle, much like the difference in the angle of the sun’s light as summer bakes its way into fall. Now I look around and no longer expect to see Will in the big chair in the living room; I don’t hear his snoring anymore or anticipate that first cup of coffee that he always brought me in the morning. Of course, his absence is still felt and I’m always disappointed when I wake up after dreaming of him; but the world just keeps spinning and my life goes on as it has for the past 27 months.

And I’m OK with that.

It’s been a long road, but I’ve come to accept that life will never be the same and that I will never be someone’s Number One again. I miss that—being the major priority in Will’s life meant a great deal to me, but I never knew just how much until he died. I look around at my family, and all of them have spouses and/or kids that take the top spot in their lives. That is as it should be. It wouldn’t be right if they chose taking care of me over taking care of their families. I’m glad to be a part of their lives, but I know my place and do my best to stay there. There are so many lonely people out there who don’t belong anywhere, who dine alone in restaurants on holidays or hang around senior centers for companionship. I thank God I’m not one of them.

I’ve been told that it takes, on average, two to three years after a spouse dies for life to return to some semblance of normality. I think I’ve reached that milestone now. I wish with all my heart that Will were still here, but I’ve accepted the fact that he’s not coming back and I won’t be able to touch him until we meet again in Heaven. (I hope. I worry about my eligibility sometimes.) There’s a part of the Mass in which we Catholics say “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”. Boy, do I ever. I’m in no hurry to get there, of course; I treasure every breath because I’ve seen how quickly—and how ugly—life can end. But while I’ve questioned my faith from time to time since Will passed, I have to believe there’s something better than this life, as precious as it is to me.

Yes, there have been a lot of changes since my hospitalization four years ago, and even more since my husband left this earth. It hasn’t been pleasant, but acceptance has made it easier and my restless soul is at peace…at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing To See Here

October 23, 2018

It’s been two months since Dr. Goodenough increased my Zyprexa dose, and I continue to be utterly without bipolar symptoms. It’s even hard to write about it because there is nothing happening other than blessed remission. I don’t remember EVER being this calm before. It’s amazing!

I’m sleeping well too. I dream some pretty interesting dreams though. Last night I dreamt that it was the day before Thanksgiving and I had waited literally till the last minute to buy the makings of the traditional dinner. So I went to the grocery store and couldn’t find 90% of what I needed. There were no turkeys. There were no pumpkin pies or even the ingredients to make one. There was Stove Top stuffing mix on the shelves, and there was butter, but there weren’t any yams, potatoes, cranberry sauce or veggie trays. Needless to say I was panicked, and I ended up driving to several other stores where I couldn’t find a place to park, let alone the items I was looking for. The dream ended when I woke up, but the frustration remained for a few minutes as I processed it. I don’t always remember my dreams, but this one was so realistic I was as tired as I would have been had I actually done the things in the dream.

As always, I wonder about its meaning. I like to analyze dreams, and some of them are easy to figure out, like the ones about Will which are always pleasant, and he always looks like he did in his prime. I love those dreams. But this one…other than the obvious lesson not to delay getting the stuff for the holiday meal, I’m baffled. Yes, I have some unresolved angst from being broke most of the time (but all the bills are paid!) and living in a house with some very complex personalities, but the latter is endlessly interesting and I enjoy being Switzerland in a world of frequent conflicts.

Which is a place I never thought I would occupy. I’ve always been hot-tempered and easily agitated, but since I began taking bipolar medication I’ve become really mellow. There’s just not a lot to get worked up about. I do get anxious when I’m triggered, but my triggers are fewer and farther between than they used to be. I love that. I sometimes think about my parents and how shocked they would be to know their tempestuous daughter is no longer an angry person. Of course they would be ashamed of the fact that I have a mental illness, but I bet they’d approve of my choice to take meds that make it almost non-existent.

Then again, I’m three months shy of turning 60, and I’d like to think that some of this is due to maturity. Most things are not worth fighting about, and even those that are can usually be dealt with rationally. I’ve also learned to avoid most of what does upset me, which means staying away from people and places that make me uncomfortable. While I feel sad that this has caused me to walk away from a couple of relationships, my mental health requires that I do so. I just don’t have it to give anymore…I hate drama with a passion, and I’m too old and tired for the theatrics.

So there really is nothing to see here, just an experienced woman who lives a rich life, even though it may not seem so to the outside observer. In the meantime, Fall is here and the trees are beautiful, and that beauty feeds my soul despite knowing that winter is coming.

It’s all good.

Why “Recovery” Doesn’t Work For Me

October 3, 2018

I’ve thought about this for some time, and I’ve got to confess that the word ‘recovery’ doesn’t work for me when it comes to my mental health. That’s fine. It may work for plenty of other people, and that’s fine too. But when I think of my bipolar 1 disorder, I know it’s something that is lifelong; there is no cure for it and it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with over the course of the past six and a half years. To me, that means that I can’t ‘recover’ from it.

I’m aware that ‘recovery’—whatever one may consider it to be—isn’t linear, and that it means something different to everyone depending on their illness and circumstances. It can mean that you are stable and functioning well, that you’re in remission from your illness, which is completely valid if it works for you. I have no problem with that, but it doesn’t feel right for me. For me, the goal for my treatment is to be as stable as I can be for as long as I can be, and to reduce the amount of time my mood swings last and the severity of my highs and lows.  Along with that, my other goals for my life in regards to my illness are to function as best I can with it, to be happy, and to work around it.

To me personally, ‘recovery’ would mean that my illness isn’t part of my life anymore, and that’s far from the truth. I have to deal with bipolar every day. The moment I wake up in the morning, I have to do a gut-check for symptoms. The rest of the time, I must monitor myself for the side effects of medication; be cognizant of my mood; know when to ask for help; be aware of triggers; maintain something of a routine; attend appointments; ensure I have adequate supplies of meds; actually ask for help when I need it; and avoid things I know will cause my mood to shift. This is part of my daily life and always will be, so I don’t see it as ‘recovery’…and that isn’t a bad thing.

Accepting the fact that I will have this illness for the rest of my days isn’t me being negative; it’s me being realistic and self-aware. Accepting the fact that because of my illness there may be limits to what I can do, or that I need to do things differently in order to remain as stable as possible, is not me being negative or not fighting. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s me being aware of my illness and its effects; it’s me being completely determined to deal with it head on and not let it beat me. It’s me learning what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s me figuring out what will be best for me and what will keep me healthy for the longest period of time possible. It’s me fighting my condition with knowledge, therapy, research and experience to be able to live my life in the best possible way and be as happy as I can be.

None of these things mean that I have given up or that I am not fighting; they don’t mean that I lack hope, and they certainly don’t mean that I don’t have a positive attitude. They simply mean that I know my limits, and I am aware of how to manage my illness the best way I can. These are good things, but they are not ‘recovery’; they are my way of playing the hand life has dealt me with as much grace and dignity as possible.

So no, I haven’t ‘recovered’ from bipolar, and I never will. But I AM in remission, and that is the absolute best I can expect. Life is good.

 

38 Years

September 28, 2018

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary.

I don’t know why, but this day is even harder on me than the anniversary of Will’s death. I spend it feeling absolutely horrible, and I teeter on the edge of tears all day. This year I didn’t cry, but felt empty and sad, and if it weren’t for the distraction of having the guys hang out with me for some of the day I would have been in even worse shape.

Thank God for the good memories, though. I reminisced about how exciting it was to marry the love of my life, and our sweet little hippie wedding. I also remembered our brief honeymoon at Disneyland and meeting another couple who had gotten married the same day. Strangely enough, that led me to thinking about buying our waterbed shortly thereafter. It came with a beautiful velvet bedspread that the cats promptly peed on, and it cost $500, which was a lot of money in those days. (Hell, it’s a lot of money now.)

Man, did we enjoy that bed…not just in the marital sense, but it was the most comfortable one we ever slept in. It was a HUGE pain in the butt to move; we had to drain it completely, then fill it back up and sleep on a cold water-mattress for a couple of nights before the heater kicked in. But it was a great bed, and even though we ended up replacing it with a conventional bed when we moved to an upstairs apartment, I still wish I had it.

I also thought back to the difficulty we had squeezing into our wedding garments. We had both gained weight since our fittings, and we were taking half-breaths all day. It wasn’t just nervousness! I looked at some of our pictures yesterday, and I can’t believe how young we were…I was 21 and he was 29, and he appeared even younger. I remember when we’d go out for drinks; sometimes he’d get carded and I wouldn’t, which pissed me off. He didn’t even start aging until he hit 50, and even then he never really showed his years until the cancer robbed him of his vitality.

I recalled the wedding gifts we received, one of which was a set of stainless steel bowls which I still use on occasion. Among other things, we got a Mr. Coffee maker that lasted 10 years, an electric skillet that lasted even longer, and a bread box we used until we moved to the manufactured home in 1998. Now I see these kinds of items in antique stores, and it’s rather shocking to think of anything purchased in 1980 as “old”…but 38 years is a long time.

Today is a better day; the sun is still shining, the weather is perfect, the trees are changing from green to red and yellow and gold, and I’m in a good mood. I continue to be amazed at the complete absence of bipolar symptoms, and marvel at the difference that increase in Zyprexa has made in my life. I feel optimistic and grateful for the blessings of good people, good meds, and good surroundings. Yes, I’m lonely, but I’m learning to live with it; there are folks here who keep me from feeling too alone, and I have role models at church who are teaching me how to do widowhood gracefully.

It’s been a long time coming, but even with all the heartache of missing my mate, I’m OK.