OK, I’ll admit it: I am mildly depressed.
As I said in another post, it’s hard to look forward to the holidays when you’ve lost the love of your life. It’s hard to look forward to anything, to be honest. My birthday, his birthday, etc., both of which are coming up soon. And of course winter, my least favorite season, is on its way with its grey skies and rain and the occasional snowflake. My light box is keeping the worst of it away, but still…I am not having a good time.
I’m just about convinced that I suffer from major depressive disorder, rather than bipolar. I haven’t had a full-blown manic episode in three years, but I have had several nasty depressions since I was diagnosed and I can’t help wondering if the BP diagnosis is really the right one. If I sound confused, it’s only because I am—how is it that the meds keep the mania away, but not the depression? And here’s another thing: I’m sick to death of taking pills. Twice a day, every day. It gets boring. I know better than to go off them, but I sure get tired of dealing with them.
I realize this is all situational, therefore I’m not particularly worried about myself. I just need to vent. I don’t have any suicidal thoughts; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt less like wanting to end it all. (Well, other than when I’m high.) I have a family that would be devastated if I were to make an early exit. And as much as I miss Will, I only wish he were here with me—I’m not ready to be with him. There’s a big difference.
But I am definitely down in the dumps, even if it IS situational. And I know there’s no medicine that can ease this pain…I just have to go through it. Dr. Goodenough says it takes an average of three years for a widow/er to get back to whatever passes for “normal”, and even then life is never the same.
I believe it. It’s only been five months since Will passed, and while I’ve gotten somewhat used to the idea that he’s really gone, I’m nowhere near ready to move on with my life. Tears are never far from the surface, although I’ve gotten better at controlling them. It won’t do to have my nose perpetually buried in a handful of Kleenex. I allow myself to indulge in crying when there’s nobody around, although there are times when a song or something on TV catches me by surprise and I can’t help it.
That happened last Sunday as I was driving to church; I was listening to the car stereo when “Where Are You Christmas” came on. The lyrics that got to me were “My world is changing, I’m rearranging, does that mean Christmas changes too?” Boy, does it ever. Of course, I lost it and boo-hooed all the way to the church. I had to sit in the parking lot for some fifteen minutes to glue myself back together.
That’s why I treasure every moment spent with family. I love it when we’re all sitting around the living room talking and/or eating; it takes my mind off my sadness. I know Ethan and Clark make a special effort to spend time with me, and I bless them for it. They work hard and for long hours every day, and they can’t possibly know what it means to me. So I’ll say it here, and maybe they’ll read it so they know how very much I love them.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. What is yours?
I’m beginning to like Dr. Goodenough.
He wants to keep me close while we’re getting to know each other, meaning he wants to see me monthly until we both feel comfortable going longer in between visits. He also doesn’t want to mess with my meds, thank God. They work just fine, and he’s going to leave me on them for the foreseeable future. He’s even going to prescribe me Klonopin, which all but one of my previous providers wouldn’t, even though I took myself off of it and only use it in extreme circumstances (like when I’m sitting on the tarmac waiting for my plane to take off. LOL.)
I saw him for a med check Wednesday, and instead we spent most of the session talking about my feelings regarding the upcoming holidays. I’m having a difficult time—in fact, I’m dreading them—because they’ll be the first ones without Will. I’ve been missing him a LOT lately; the joy I used to experience during the Christmas season is nonexistent this year, and frankly it just seems to amplify the grief.
As you all know, I’m quite self-aware, and I realize this is all completely normal for someone in my position. I know where bipolar ends and I begin. Doesn’t make it any easier though. Tears are never far from the surface nowadays, and I spend a great deal of energy controlling them when I’m around people. I don’t want to burden others with my sorrow; they all have their own to deal with. The only folks who really understand my pain are other widows, some of whom have adopted me at church and we always chat after Mass, which gives me something to look forward to each week.
I’m not depressed; I still find magic in the old Charlie Brown and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoons of my childhood, and I’m particularly grateful for my family, who makes me feel warm and safe and cared for. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them…probably six feet under, or scattered to the four winds.
But I miss my husband. And I miss our old holiday traditions: Decking the halls the day after Thanksgiving, which actually took the entire four-day weekend to accomplish. Draping lights over everything that would stand still (and having my annual conniption over the electric bill in January). Going out with the kids to look at other Christmas displays around town. Attending the Family Mass and then going home to open one gift on Christmas Eve. We also watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on that night and drank cocoa by the fireplace. What’s not to miss?
At least I have a command performance at church on Christmas morning. I’ve been assigned to read Scripture from the lectionary on that day (even though I didn’t ask for it), so I HAVE to go. This will prevent me from sitting around all day feeling sorry for myself. There will also be a Christmas dinner prepared by loving hands. It’s not all bad.
Still, as we head into the thick of the holiday season, I look wistfully at the past, which wasn’t so long ago, and reminisce about the way Will and I used to “do” Christmas and New Year’s. How were we to know it would all come to an end before any of us were ready?
I’m back home after ten days’ vacation, seven of them at sea in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. My family and I also spent a couple of days in New Orleans and had the French Quarter experience…what a crazy place! I walked further than I thought I was capable of, shopped on Bourbon Street, sampled deep-fried alligator. There was always something going on, tons of people walking around, and street entertainers doing their thing. I got showered with Mardi Gras beads, and I didn’t even have to bare my “girls” for them. Haha!
The cruise itself was delightful. The Carnival Dream is a lot like the Magic, but we had a better stateroom this time. We went all the way down to Central America, which was absolutely breathtaking with lush jungles and white-sand beaches. I bought a handbag in each port—yes, I’m touristy enough to carry purses with “Belize” and “Roatan, Honduras” embroidered on them—and dipped my toes in the spectacular blue-green waters of the Caribbean. I dined on filet mignon and drank virgin tropical drinks as well as non-alcoholic beer. And of course, Clark’s mother Shelley and I spent a lot of time laying out on the deck by the pool, and we all watched movies on the big screen just like we did the last time.
Then there was Cozumel. You see, this was the place where Will and I bought our new wedding rings and my Mexican wedding dress, so we had something of a bond with this particular island. While Ethan, Clark, Shelley and I were shopping, Clark persuaded me to come inside a jewelry store to look at Pandora bracelets. I didn’t know why, as he’d already bought me a beautiful rose gold overlay tennis bracelet on the ship. Thinking I was a little too old for charm bracelets, I demurred at first, but Clark was insistent. He proceeded to pick out a bracelet and a charm with the letter W, for Will, and told me that before he died, Will had asked him to get something for me in Cozumel as a remembrance. This was Clark’s fulfillment of that request.
It was all I could do not to cry. And I did have some tears during the trip, because Will had loved that first cruise as much as I did and wanted to be there for this one. I ached for him, dreamed of having him by my side once more to wonder at the magnificent waters and other visual delights of God’s creation. But overall, these were very happy days and I enjoyed them tremendously.
And my bipolar didn’t even make so much as a squeak during the entire time. No bursts of mania due to jet lag and time changes, no depression, no irritability, and very little anxiety. (I do get nervous during flights, though, which is why I pray before takeoffs and sometimes pop half an Ativan for good measure.)
Coming in December 2017: another cruise—this time on Carnival’s largest ship, the Vista—to a different part of the Caribbean, followed by Disney World. I can’t wait!
I miss Halloween.
It used to mean dressing up in my pirate costume and taking the kids/grandkids trick-or-treating through dark streets, where ghosts and kittycats and superheroes gathered at houses with decorations that lit up the night. I loved the mingled aromas from chimney smoke and the leaves that crunched delightfully underfoot. I also enjoyed the occasional candy bar from people who thought Mom/Grandma deserved a treat too.
But that all changed two years ago. Life has a way of playing tricks on us, and on that Halloween night in 2014, when I should have been out with my grandsons, I was instead being driven through streets teeming with costumed toddlers on my way to the psychiatric hospital in a neighboring town. You see, I was suicidal and no longer safe to be at home, and both my psychiatrist and the one who saw me in the ER agreed that I needed to be admitted right away. I agreed too. I was so depressed I literally couldn’t stand myself anymore; and though I’d always feared the hospital, I knew that whatever awaited me there couldn’t possibly be worse than what I was going through inside my own head.
It’s weird, but I barely remember many details of the hospital now, except for the admission process and being horrified that I’d been diagnosed Bipolar 1. I’m glad I wrote about my experiences there right after I got out, or those memories would have been lost to me…memories that held some very valuable lessons for me. I had a lot going on in my life at the time, and much of that time is a merciful blur. But I met some good people on the inside, and I still correspond with two of them on Facebook. None of the three of us has had to go back; we’ve all gone on to bigger and better things. However, we also know there’s no guarantee that we’ll never have to return, because of the cyclical nature of our illnesses. One of us has major depression and PTSD, the other has Bipolar 2 and PTSD, and then of course there’s me with BP Numero Uno. But we are managing, and for the most part we are managing well.
Still, it bothers me that Halloween has changed, and there’s no unringing that bell. Last year my grandsons spent the holiday in Vermont with their parents; this year they’re older, and while they’ve returned to Oregon they’re still too far away for me to take them out. Besides, I can’t drive at night anymore…I’ve been pretty much flying by the seat of my pants for the past several years, and I really shouldn’t keep pushing my luck. I’d hate to have gone through all the shit life’s thrown at me in recent years, only to get myself killed in a traffic crash. No way…I’ve got too much to do and too many things to see before my life is over. I have no idea what they are, but I’ll figure it out someday.
However, I’m not anywhere near as downbeat as that last paragraph may have sounded. On the contrary, my HappyLight is doing its job and keeping the SAD away. Obviously, looking forward to my vacation next month is part of it, but the dreary weather that never fails to send me into a tailspin hasn’t even made a blip on my radar, except for about two days just prior to starting light therapy when I felt myself slip a little. I sit in front of it for 30 minutes each morning, and I feel noticeably better in the AM than I’ve felt in months. Now that’s a treat!
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?
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!
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.