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The Incredible Shrinking Woman

October 26, 2016

Good news: the weight loss continues. I’m down 38.3 lbs. as of this morning. I’ve never dropped weight like this in my life, not even with strict dieting and exercise, neither of which I’m doing. I haven’t been at this weight in over three years. Needless to say, I’m tickled pink!

What a difference a few pounds off can make, even for a person as big as I still am. All my clothes are loose, and I’ve gone down two sizes. I can fasten my seat belt without getting winded or half-strangling myself. I can cut my own toenails and tie my shoes, which is really a good thing since Will isn’t here to help me. I can bend over and pet the dogs or pick up something off the floor. I can get into (and out of) the back seat of a car. Even my freaking bifocals fit better. Who knew?

I still don’t know quite how I got here. I mean, I’m not drinking soda or eating much in the way of sweets, and it’s no big deal. I don’t crave those things. I’ve got half of a chocolate shake in the freezer from a week or two ago; it’s like I eat part of something and forget about it. I have a box of Sugar Babies and a bag of cookies in the pantry that I’m not eating. I drink lots of water too. The funny thing is, I eat whatever I want…but for the most part, I’m making better food choices.

None of this was intentional. Where did this blessing come from, and why is it happening?

My appetite is better nowadays, but my stomach capacity is about half of what it was and it shows no sign of expanding. It really doesn’t take too much food to satisfy me; I don’t like the feeling of being too full, so I only eat till the hunger goes away. Fast food makes me feel gross, as does too much sugar. I still love burgers, fried foods, and Chinese and Mexican cuisines, and I indulge those cravings periodically.  The difference is that I always end up taking at least half of my leftover food home and eating it a couple of days later.

So, I’ve become the Incredible Shrinking Woman. Being almost 40 lbs. down from a weight that wasn’t even the highest it’s ever been—I’ve been as much as 60 lbs. heavier than I am now—means I’m going to take up less space on the airplane than I did when we went on our vacation last year. It means being able to walk around Walmart without needing to sit down every 100 feet or leaning on the shopping cart.   It also means that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to go on some rides when we go to Disney World next December. Wouldn’t that be awesome?




Let There Be Light

October 21, 2016

My light box arrived the other day. I’ve been looking forward to getting it because I want to prevent the winter depression altogether, rather than wait till it hits me like a ton of crap. The weather has been really dreary this fall and ordinarily I’d be in a funk already, but with any luck this contraption will be the answer to a perennial problem.

I was a bit concerned that my new HappyLight (great name!)  would be broken by the time I got it—this happened to someone I know—but it was so well protected by cardboard, styrofoam, and bubble wrap that an orangutan could have done jumping jacks on it and not harmed it. Needless to say, getting it out of its cocoon was a challenge, and by the time I peeled off the last layer of insulation I was worn out! Then there were no instructions for putting it together, which annoyed me as I am NOT good at mechanical things, but it turned out to be pretty simple.  I sat down on the sofa and gazed at the thing for a little while, wondering where I was going to put it (something I probably should have considered before I bought it) and imagining what it would be like to sit in front of the device every single morning for the next six months.

And then, because I like to play with new toys, I turned the HappyLight on. It hit my eyes like a flash of lightning. HELLO! Was it ever bright! I’ve been under tanning lights that were duller than this. I didn’t even look directly into it (the directions caution against doing this) but it was almost overwhelming. I even got a minor headache after sitting in front of the light for about ten minutes.

Nevertheless, I finally figured out what I was going to do with it and cleared off a table in my room. I placed the light box on it and turned it on again. Yes, I could live with this. It was right next to Will’s old chair, and I could be comfortable while playing on my phone and soaking up the artificial sunshine. Next morning I got up a little earlier than usual and plopped into the recliner, then turned on my HappyLight. I’d read that you should start out with 15 minutes and then work your way up to 30 minutes; I hoped the headache wouldn’t recur so I limited myself to that time while perusing the book Winter Blues, which had come with the HappyLight.

This morning I decided to go for the 30 minutes. It was funny because the Dish Network guy was working on my receiver as I sat in front of the light, just as if it was the most natural thing in the world. So far I haven’t noticed any effect, but as the book says, it can take as few as two days or as long as several weeks. The only danger in using a light is that some bipolar patients may become hypo/manic…but I know exactly what to do if that occurs, so I’m not too worried about it. (And who couldn’t use a little dose of hypo on these damp, gloomy days?) I’m not taking the HappyLight on vacation though; I’ll be getting plenty of real sunshine during the cruise. It’s only three weeks away!


We Are Family

October 10, 2016

It’s coming up on three months since Will passed, and his absence is still so keenly felt that it takes my breath away sometimes. The enormity of what I have lost is overwhelming; I see all these couples everywhere, and for a moment I often find myself filled with rage that it’s not US anymore…it’s just me, going on alone.

But I’m not alone.

I am blessed with what is arguably THE best support system ever created by human beings. I have a great many friends both in real life and online, but my family—especially the part of it that I live with—is particularly awesome. They are here for me whenever I need them, and even when I think I don’t. They’re the reason I’m doing as well as I am…there is always a shoulder to cry on, and strong arms to hold me when I fall apart. Clark’s mother, Shelley, is also a valuable asset as she is well-versed in widowhood, and she often has the perfect answers to my questions about what to expect as I learn to go on without Will.

I have other family members who have also been wonderful to me as we mourn him. But they have their own lives to live, and we don’t communicate as often as I would like. I have to remember that they, too, have lost an important person in their lives, and they are probably struggling with it just as I am. I remember how it was when my own father died, how bereft I felt of the parent who had made family his priority too. People like that are irreplaceable, and often the remaining parent doesn’t measure up.

Even so, being in the warmth of kith and kin fills me with contentment. I love nothing better than evenings spent together in front of a roaring fire from the pellet stove, sharing a meal and talking about the issues of the day (or our next vacation, which is one of my personal favorite topics!). I miss Will’s presence at these gatherings sorely, but I’m learning to accept that this is as good as it’s ever going to get. Works for me.


Dr. Goodenough

October 8, 2016

Yesterday, I had my first visit with my new pdoc, whom I shall call Dr. Goodenough. He reminds me of Mister Rogers—he is warm and kind, and he wears a tie with a cardigan sweater. He’s an older gentleman, so I’m a little worried he’ll retire within a few years; but since he’s new to the clinic I think I might be able to keep him for awhile at least.

Dr. G took a VERY thorough history, from earliest childhood to now. He wanted to know what life was like for me before I became ill, and how I knew I needed help (I didn’t—my primary care provider forced me into it). We talked about my parents, my kids and grandkids, my alcoholism, even the time I was date-raped in my very early 20s. And I discussed my marriage to Will at length, from our whirlwind courtship up until the night he died. It’s amazing how much of a relief it was to be able to talk about it to someone besides family…and this time, I didn’t cry.

We also talked about using a light box during the fall and winter to prevent the seasonal depression I usually experience. This is a bright light that you sit in front of for 30 minutes every morning to fool your brain into thinking there’s more light than there really is. I’ve always been really sensitive to changes in the angle of light from the sun, and Dr. G thinks this light box will correct that. So I’ll be doing some shopping, probably on Amazon because they have absolutely everything and I should be able to find one for a couple hundred bucks or so. Then in the spring, we’ll change tactics to avoid mania.

I think this guy knows his bipolar stuff.

As for my diagnosis, Dr. G said it was “very clear” that I have Bipolar 1, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. That’s the fourth mental healthcare provider who’s labeled it as such, so I guess I’d better start believing it. (Ya THINK??) <<insert sarcasm here>>

I’m pleased that he’s not going to mess with my meds, not yet anyway. I think he subscribes to the philosophy that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Despite all the chaos in my life, I’ve still got a good thing going and I’d probably have pitched a fit if he’d wanted to change anything. Maybe later on down the road, but certainly not now.

In short, I’m back in business. Dr. G may not be Dr. Awesomesauce—no one else could ever be—but he’s good enough for me.



At Last…

October 4, 2016

I’m covered by Medicare! It was official on the first of this month, and now I can buy all my meds without giving up an arm, a leg, and my firstborn male child. I was chatting with the pharmacist this morning about my new insurance, and she warned me that I would have co-pays with the meds…most of which are $2.95, and the other is a whole $1.88. Considering what a financial cluster-f##k it was to get most of them (I’ve had to skip the smaller dose of one of my anti-psychotics because they’re even more costly than the larger dose), I’m hardly upset. In fact, I’m ECSTATIC. I blew through all of my savings buying meds over the past two months, and it was getting downright scary.

Ironically, since my Social Security benefits have gone down due to the premiums for Part B and Part D, I’d probably be eligible for Medicaid again because my income is below the line now. But it would go back up again if I didn’t have to pay the premiums, which Medicaid covers, thus kicking me back up to where I was to start with. So I’m not going to bother, for obvious reasons.

This is also good because I see my new psychiatrist this Friday. I really hope I like him and he likes me. No one can ever replace my beloved Dr. Awesomesauce, but hopefully this doctor will at least be kind and compassionate, and know his stuff. If Dr. A had a fault, it was that he wasn’t always up to date on bipolar, hence his long-running ambivalence on my bipolar 1 diagnosis; the other three mental healthcare providers I’ve seen were unequivocal about it. We’ll see what the new guy has to say, anyway.

The one fly in the ointment is that Medicare covers only 80% of medical expenses, and I can’t afford a supplemental plan that pays for the rest.  That means I’m not going to be following up with the referrals my primary care provider, a Nurse Practitioner (NP), has already given me for podiatry, diabetic education and sleep medicine. He probably won’t be very happy about that, but hey, what can I do? I’ll barely be able to afford my co-pays for him and my new pdoc. Guess I can’t have everything. Besides, I don’t need diabetic education anyway—I already know what I’m supposed to do to control it and I’m doing very well, as evidenced by my lab work and random blood sugar checks.

Except for exercise. Try as I might, I can’t get motivated. Everything hurts. I’m still morbidly obese, and while I continue to lose weight, I’m really deconditioned from when I was heavier and NEVER got off the sofa except to go to the bathroom. I consider it a triumph when I’m able to walk through a grocery store, or go clothes shopping without having to sit down. Maybe when I’ve lost another thirty pounds or so I’ll be ready to do something…or not. I’m just not going to pressure myself about it when I’ve got so much else to deal with.

Anyway, Medicare has kicked in and I’m in business. I’m not a big fan of government, but I’m grateful for Social Security and its associated programs. I don’t even like to think about where I’d be without them, especially since Will passed away. It’s all good.







September 30, 2016

My thoughts are all over the map today, so this is going to be one of those posts that meander. Hope you don’t mind.

Well, I’m through with the first “first” of a year that’s going to be full of them. Our wedding anniversary was on the 27th, and it was a tough day to say the least. There are so many memories of that wondrous day that couldn’t help but squeeze through the armor I’d put on to protect myself from the worst of the pain. I wanted to drink for the first time in years. But my family was great—my son brought me coffee just as his father used to do, my son-in-law took me out to dinner, and his mother spent a good amount of the day with me. Shelley knows what this is like; she was widowed four years ago and still has her rough days.

I’ve lost 30 pounds in the past two-and-a-half months. It just keeps falling off even though I eat whatever I want; I simply get full really fast and I’ve never gone back to drinking Coke, diet or otherwise. I’ve gotten better about fixing food for myself, but I haven’t been eating much bacon and sausage and cinnamon rolls like I used to. Will always cooked breakfast for us, and those foods were at the top of his list. Strangely, I don’t miss them…I only miss the man who fixed them.

With all of this going on, I continue to marvel at the fact that I’m stable underneath the sadness. It’s hard to remember that I have a mental health diagnosis when I feel so good otherwise. Maybe I wasn’t as far off as everyone thought when I came up with the idea that my “illness” was really an existential crisis that was taking a long time to resolve. I also don’t understand how a person can be considered mentally ill when he or she is perfectly well. On one level, I know my meds are keeping the bipolar at bay and that’s why I’m doing so well; on another level I wonder why, if this really is an existential issue, it’s getting better rather than worse. After all, I’m a brand-new widow and must learn to re-define both myself and my life without my husband. I dunno…it’s all really weird and I don’t have all the answers. I somehow doubt I’m supposed to. But I’ll keep taking my meds just in case.

Then there’s the Presidential election. I can’t stand Donald Trump and think he really screwed the pooch with his poor performance in the first debate. On the other hand, I fear for the nation if Hillary Clinton gets to select the next Supreme Court justice(s), and her stances on abortion and immigration are deal breakers even if I were inclined to vote for her. I have never seen this country so divided as we are now; I think these candidates bring out the worst in everybody. It ought to be an interesting four years, no matter which one of them wins.

So go my thoughts on this last day of September. It’s only 40 days till our cruise, so I’m actually looking forward to the misery that is November. A week of pure enjoyment at sea, with a couple of days in New Orleans thrown in for extra fun. I can’t wait!


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.