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The Winter Of My Discontent

February 23, 2017

Have I ever told you how much I hate winter?

Oh, it has a few charms, like the rare snowfall that sticks around for a day or two and then melts. This year, however, we’re having a long, cold, snowy, wet winter and the perpetually grey skies over our Pacific Northwest home make it hard for my HappyLight to keep up. I want sun. I want warmth. I want it to be 80+ freaking degrees every day. And sometimes I wonder why on earth Will and I moved up here from sunny Southern California.

Then I remember that we were poor as church-mice and had no opportunities to better our lot in life there, so we packed up everything we owned (which fit into an 11-foot U-Haul truck) and moved to a place we’d never been to live among people we’d never met. I look back at that time, now half a lifetime ago, and wonder how we’d had the guts to do it. Neither of us had much of a sense of adventure, but this was one we never regretted…except for missing the sunshine we’d taken for granted.

This time of year is the worst. I was over winter two months ago, and of course spring is usually an extension of it except for warmer temperatures and budding leaves on the trees. I keep watching for clues that portend a change in seasons, but of course it’s only late February and as cold as it’s been this year, I don’t expect to see them for weeks yet.

Obviously, this doesn’t do my mood a bit of good. I’m not actually depressed as of this moment—the artificial light is helpful—but I wake up every morning wishing it were summer and being resentful that it isn’t. I curse the rain and the cloudy skies, and picture myself working in the garden in front of the house. I think ahead to our family’s next trip, and fantasize about sunning myself on a beautiful Caribbean beach and frolicking in 80-degree temps on Christmas Day at Disney World. I peruse my Woman Within catalogs and dream of wearing shorts and T-shirts instead of sweats and thermals.

Speaking of sweats and thermals, I am also sick of being cold. Despite my abundance of adipose tissue, I’m always cold no matter what I wear, and it’s expensive to keep me warm—my entire rent check went toward paying the electric bill. I get chilled in October and don’t thaw out until June. There doesn’t seem to be anything to be done about it; I’ve had my thyroid checked and it’s fine, so all I can do is wear layers and use my electric blanket, which Will got me a year ago and is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

So I’m looking forward to better days, because winter WILL end and life will begin again. The leaves will return to the trees, flowers will bloom, and birds will sing once more. I can’t wait. How about you?

 

 

Status Report

February 18, 2017

I’m a bit bored today, so I thought I’d pass it along and give you all an update on how I’m doing.

I’m saddened by the loss of a good friend from church. He was my reading partner for two years, and he and Will were also friends as they were both battling cancer. This man didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and he had a lovely family. I feel so bad for his wife, who is at least a decade younger than I, because I know what she’s going through and there’s nothing I can do other than to be there for her if she wants me. It feels so weird to suddenly not be the newest widow on the block.

But I have yet to go through more “firsts”, and the next one is Will’s birthday on the 26th. I’ve decided to make it a day of celebration of his life, complete with chocolate cake. It’s for the same reason I asked everyone not to wear black at his funeral…he wouldn’t have wanted us to go around moping and looking somber.

I try hard not to be glum. Some days are better than others, and I make the most of them. On Valentine’s Day, Ethan and Clark took Shelley and me to the coast for the day, and I enjoyed that as much as I possibly could. Will loved the ocean as much as I do, and we used to walk on the beach and prowl the antique stores before stopping at the candy shop to pick up some saltwater taffy. Our kids wouldn’t let us come home without it. Of course I couldn’t help reminiscing about our happy times over there, and thankfully the rest of the family allowed it.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however. I think all I’ll need is a few days of sunshine and the appearance of daffodils and I’ll be in a better place. A LOT better. I can feel the faint stirrings of hypomania deep below the protective layer of medications, and it won’t take more than a breath of spring to bring it up to the surface. I think using my light for 45 minutes rather than 30 is making a difference. I don’t want to back off on it because I’m still slightly depressed, but if I start getting manic I hope I’ll have the wisdom to do so. (Historically, I haven’t been so good about that, as I love my hypo and miss it terribly. But it has a way of turning on me and progressing to mania, which must be avoided at all costs.) I guess Dr. Goodenough is right about cycling even when I’m not acutely ill.

Yes, you could say I’m a little mixed-up. Nothing to worry about, I’ve been here before and it’s nowhere near as ugly or confusing as the actual mixed episodes I’ve had in the past. When I’m sitting on the bathroom floor at 2 AM, scrubbing the tiles and bawling my head off, THAT’S when to worry.

It’s all good. How are you doing?

Valentine’s Day: The Struggle Is Real

February 13, 2017

I’ve never really liked Valentine’s Day.

I’ve long suspected that it’s a fake holiday invented to fatten the wallets of the CEOs of the chocolate and florist industries, so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Will, on the other hand, always bought me a card and roses, and in good years we went out for dinner and a movie. Now that he’s gone and my first Valentine’s Day without him is tomorrow, I find myself feeling nostalgic for it even though there’s no one to bring me flowers anymore. Why didn’t I appreciate it when I had it?

I miss romance. There wasn’t a whole lot of it towards the end of Will’s life—we were too busy battling the cancer juggernaut—but for the vast majority of our marriage there were thousands of little moments, like when he’d brush by me in the kitchen and kiss me on the back of the neck for no reason. Or bring me a candy bar just because he thought I needed one. Or walk through the shopping mall holding my hand.

It’s been seven months today since he passed. In some ways it’s like it happened yesterday, but in other ways it’s as if I’ve lived the longer part of my life since then. Naturally, the subject of relationships comes up between me and Clark’s mother Shelley every now and again, and we are both in agreement that we don’t want to look for another one. We both had the greatest husbands on earth—how do you top that?? Besides, I’ve got several strikes against me: who would want someone as old and fat as I am? What’s more, who would want to be with a bipolar person? That would be a deal-breaker for me if I were a guy. And even if I did want a relationship someday, I don’t think I could go through losing another one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here; I have no intention whatsoever of getting into the dating scene. I don’t even know what the dating scene really is. So I will probably spend all future Valentine’s Days alone, and as bad as it hurts right now, I know I’ll eventually make peace with it. Ethan and Clark are taking us out to the casino buffet tomorrow night, which is a sweet gesture as they are giving up their private V-Day (and one of Ethan’s rare nights off) to get us out of the house. Tomorrow is also Shelley’s wedding anniversary, so this means a lot to both of us. There’s nothing better than family!

 

 

Taking A Dip

February 9, 2017

OK, I’ll admit it: my mood has taken a dip. The mild mixed episode I had last month has settled into a moderate depression, and now I’m utterly lacking in motivation. It’s not bad as depressions go; I’m able to enjoy things and people given the opportunity, and I can comfort myself with the fact that this will pass. There are no suicidal thoughts, no feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness. I have plenty to live for, family most of all, and of course there’s that trip in December to look forward to. I’m just blue.

Dr. Goodenough says it’s classic seasonal depression, and wants me to use my light for 45 minutes in the morning now rather than 30. He is a wee bit concerned that it might turn me around to the point where I become hypo/manic, but is giving me the discretion to back it off if I do. (Well hell, I could use a dose of mania right now, but that’s no more acceptable than depression and I know it.) He also wants me to get up just a little earlier in the mornings to take full advantage of my artificial sunlight, but thank God he’s understanding about my night-owl nature. I was never meant to be a day person, but staying up till two or three in the morning and then sleeping fitfully until 11 is ridiculous.

It’s amazing how much ground Dr. G and I can cover in a half-hour session. We go over meds, but most of the time is spent asking and answering questions. He asks very good ones—some of which I really have to think about—and listens to me before adding his ideas. (Yes, I know psychiatrists are supposed to do that.) I’ve learned things from him too, like today when we talked about thyroid testing and how the measurement of thyroid hormone can be normal medically, but for psychiatric purposes the range is a lot narrower. I may even have to go on thyroid medicine although my level is within normal limits. Who knew?

We’re back to monthly appointments again. I was able to go six weeks before, but he’s going to watch me a little more closely since I’m a bit unstable. That is comforting in its own way. He has the same theory as I do about medications: they mask the symptoms, but I’m still cycling even if I don’t feel it. Then of course I have grief to deal with on top of my moods, though I don’t know if grief complicates depression or if depression complicates grief.

I guess it’s a little of both. I had a down-and-dirty sob-fest last night in which I cried till I thought I was going to throw up; I was by myself, thank goodness, and I just let it all hang out. I miss Will so much it physically hurts, and apparently the only way I can express it adequately is in tears. I still hate crying, but it must’ve done me good, because I feel somewhat better today. My grief counselor, Ginny, is coming on Friday and I’ve got a lot to tell her…strangely enough, that undignified episode was something of a breakthrough. I realized that although I have a long way to go before I’m through the worst of it, I am healing. And that is encouraging.

I was looking back over my blog posts from a year ago, and I could have written those entries today. It was the same setup—winter was in full swing, and so were my moods. Like Dr. G said, it’s classic SAD and I can probably look forward to some elevation once the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

I can’t wait. 🙂

 

 

All Over The Map

February 1, 2017

I’m a little scattered and screw-loosey again.  Up and down, up and down, sometimes in the same day. It’s not as bad as it was a few weeks ago, and I’m able to hide it for the most part, but I’ve got to watch it lest it turn on me and become a full-blown mixed episode. Those are hell on Earth and if I never have another one, it’ll still be too soon.

I’ve been thinking about Will a lot lately, and doing quite a bit of crying even when the memories are sweet or funny. The feeling of profound loss is pervasive and haunts me in my dreams as well as during my waking hours. All the dreams in which he makes an appearance are good ones—he always looks healthy and happy—but then I wake up and see the empty recliner next to mine, and it all comes rushing back. Especially that last night, when he suffered so much before we got him to the hospice house. In my mind’s eye I still see him as he lay comatose; hear the priest giving him the last rites; watch him slip away right before my eyes.

Thank God I have a wonderful grief counselor from hospice. They give you 13 months of aftercare, and I decided early on to take advantage of their services. My counselor is named “Ginny”, and she’s better than a therapist (she makes home visits too). She knows how to elicit gut-level feelings without manipulating, and we have grown quite fond of each other during the past few months. On this most recent visit, I was encouraged to share memories of my marriage—how we met, what the early years were like, and so on. I felt a lot better after that. She calls me every other week or so, and we make arrangements for the next session. She also reads this blog, so if you’re out there, Ginny, thank you for everything!

On a happier note, I’m getting excited about the next vacation even though it’s still 10 1/2 months away. Especially the Disney World part. My son-in-law is a HUGE Mickey Mouse fan, and his enthusiasm and love for all things Disney is infectious. We’re going to be there on Christmas Day, and it’s supposed to be full of lights, fireworks, and amazing decorations…to say nothing of what else the park has to offer.

This boggles my mind. I’ve been to Disneyland, but never Disney World, which Clark says is so full of wonders that it totally eclipses the California version. (He’s been to both parks, so he knows.) I hope I’ll be up to the challenge, because we’re going to be there for seven days after the cruise and I imagine I’ll be exhausted at least some of the time. The cruise itself is eight days and goes to the southern part of the Caribbean, where islands such as Curacao, Grand Turk, La Romana and Aruba await. I’ve never even heard of three of those islands, but I’m sure I’ll have a good time exploring them…or at least shopping and dipping my toes in the sea. In December.

I just went back over this post to polish it and make it presentable for publication (how do you like that bit of alliteration?), and gosh, I really AM all over the map. Literally. Oh well, this too shall pass, and if it doesn’t I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Goodenough next week. It’s all good.

 

Still Another Trip Around the Sun

January 22, 2017

My 58th birthday has come and gone, and it was a good day despite missing Will acutely. I got to go out to dinner with the family, and they made me a cake that they didn’t set on fire this time. I heard from all of my kids as well as my sister, who calls precisely at 10:27 AM every year because that’s the time I was born. I love that; my mother used to do the same thing until she passed away, then Louise took over where she left off. It’s tradition, which means more to me the older I get.

Birthdays always lead me to indulge in another tradition, and that is my annual reflection on how the past year went and what I’ve learned during my latest trip around the sun. Obviously, Will’s death has taught me a good deal about becoming more self-sufficient—I’ve re-learned how to do laundry, cook for myself and the family, and so on. But the biggest surprise is discovering that I can be brave, and carry on with life despite a grief that permeates every aspect of my existence.

I remember when I turned 50, how I thought I’d finally “arrived”. I held the key to the meaning of life, and I walked around dispensing what I believed to be superior advice gleaned from a half-century of living. Now that 60 is on the horizon, however, the only thing I know is what I don’t know; I have more questions than answers. Like, what IS the meaning of life, and why do we humans have to suffer catastrophic losses? Is there some reward for slogging through it? And if we do manage to get past the worst of it, will we really see our loved ones again someday?

I want reassurance that Will is OK. That he’s somehow able to watch over me, and that he misses me like I miss him. On the other hand, I don’t want him to be sad, I want him to be supremely happy with God and our little girl. If what I believe about the afterlife is true, I needn’t worry, but there’s always that nagging feeling that it’s not possible for someone to be in two places at once. How can Will be in Heaven and yet here with me in spirit?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. Although I’m better than I was a couple of weeks ago when I was having something of a mixed episode, my sleep is still erratic and I can’t seem to get to bed before one or two AM. Last night I was up until about 3. I make up for it in the mornings, but staying in bed till 10 or 11 isn’t good either, even though I have absolutely nothing to get up for. I’ve never been a morning person anyway so I don’t feel too bad about sleeping late, but I know I’m supposed to feel bad because my sleep pattern doesn’t conform to society’s. Why?

Well, I’ve strayed pretty far away from the original topic, which is my birthday and what has taken place since the last one. Suffice it to say that I no longer believe I know everything, like I did when I was a newly-minted 50-year-old. Now I’m just a sadder and—in some ways—wiser version of that woman. But I’ll never again think I’ve got life by the balls, because I don’t. No one does.

Out Of Sorts

January 15, 2017

I’m feeling decidedly off-kilter these days, so please forgive me if this post reflects that. But I have stories to tell, and I hope you’ll read them. That’s why I write this blog—not only to help myself sort out my life, but to educate and hopefully entertain you, the reader. (At least sometimes.)

I’m still having trouble with excessive irritability. I bite my lips almost until they bleed in order to avoid yelling at people indiscriminately, knowing it’s no one’s fault I’m in this state of mind. Besides which, the family is doing their best to support me at this challenging time (for which I’m eternally grateful!), as I’m all at sea trying to process this stage of grief. I’ll be damned if I know what stage it is—depression? Anger?—but I know I’m in one of them…probably the anger part.

My grief counselor came by on Friday, which was terrific timing given the fact that it was the six-month anniversary of Will’s passing. She is a licensed professional counselor who knows my difficulties and helps me suss out what is my illness from what is simply emotional suffering. Even though I’m very good at that under ordinary circumstances, I’m more than a little confused these days because I’m definitely feeling a stirring underneath all the emotions that reminds me of past episodes…mixed episodes. And that is no bueno. Nothing good has ever come from a mixed episode. Those are the kind I fear most of all, and if things go any further down that road I’m going to call Dr. Goodenough. I’d rather deal with depression.

This is a bad time for all this shit (not that there’s ever a good time for it). My birthday is this coming Thursday, and I’m trying to be happy about it. I’m turning 58. Might as well be 60, Lord knows I’m getting close enough. But my son-in-law Clark has already spoiled me rotten by buying me my first honest piece of luggage, a beautiful London Fog carry-on bag with wheels for our next trip. He also got me a dressy top (only a 2x!! I was too big for 4x just a few months ago) and a tiny purse that was outrageously expensive, but with 70% off it wasn’t too bad. That’s for Disney World, where I won’t want to carry around a big bag. Clark says, “You deserve nice things”. I’ve only heard that from one other person in my life, and that, of course, was Will.

Oh yeah, I renewed my nursing license for one final time. I had enough practice hours in the last five years to qualify, so I went ahead and renewed just for the hell of it. I can’t see any situation that would enable me to use it, except maybe for volunteer work, but there’s something so satisfying in calling myself an RN. I’m proud of it.

Once again, I had to disclose the fact that I have “well-managed bipolar 1” and am not practicing at this time, but I had no trouble with the Board of Nursing. Sometimes they can be stinky about nurses with mental illnesses and tend to lump us in with addicts and alcoholics; I’ve been lucky twice in not being mandated to enter a so-called “rehabilitation” program. I don’t even want to go into detail about how horrible these programs are, especially for nurses who have only MI and don’t deserve to be placed in one. Suffice it to say that I’m in the clear, and though I’ll have to give it up the next time my license comes up for renewal, I should be able to apply for RN Emeritus status and be officially retired.

So, that’s my verbal incontinence for the day. Lot of words in this one. If you’re a praying person, I ask you to put in a good word for me with the Lord that I can get past this whatever-it-is, and continue to mourn my husband without my illness complicating things. If not, positive energies and good vibrations will do. Thank you.