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There Oughta Be A Law

February 18, 2018

Another mass shooting has occurred in the United States, and as always the issue of guns has come to the forefront. These days, the bodies aren’t even cold before people start politicizing it. One side wants gun control; another wants to put guns in the hands of teachers and other persons in positions of authority…and still another wants to blame the whole mess on mental illness.

As a citizen who happens to have both a psychiatric disorder and a gun, I strenuously object to the latter. I didn’t leave my Second Amendment rights at the door to my psychiatrist’s office, and neither did the millions of other Americans who have depression, bipolar, and other mental health diagnoses.  While there certainly are mentally ill people who shouldn’t have access to firearms, not every mass murderer is mentally ill, and not every mentally ill person is a potential killer. Far from it. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we are ten times more likely to be the victim of a crime than a perpetrator. Just look at the crimes that are committed against the homeless, many of whom suffer from mental health conditions; in one U.S. city, for example,  there is someone who’s going around killing homeless people for no reason. And they call us dangerous?

Part of the problem is that Americans are intellectually lazy and usually want to take the path of least resistance. We are stigmatized in this society, and of course the general public doesn’t want to deal with something it doesn’t understand. It’s all too easy to blame the world’s evils on people who are less able to defend themselves than others. And who really understands mental illness, anyway? Not even doctors and scientists really know what causes the brain to go haywire. No wonder there’s so little interest in funding mental health research…it’s just too complicated.

Me, I have other ideas. If I were in charge of making laws, I would require every state to have mental health clinics in all counties. People often don’t get help when they need it because they live too far away from psychiatrists and hospitals. I would make sure these clinics were fully funded and staffed (I know, I live in a dream world) and they had  income-based sliding scale fees for services, thus increasing access to care. They would also take all insurances, even Medicare and Medicaid, and be available 24/7/365. In addition, I would make sure there were enough nurses to make follow-up calls to patients who have recently been in crisis or needed hospitalization in order to help decrease readmission rates.

But enough about my fantasy. I don’t believe preventing those of us with mental illnesses from exercising our Second Amendment rights is the answer to mass killings. Of course, I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe—perish the thought—there isn’t one. Personally, I think efforts to ban guns would be better aimed at addressing social stigmas that isolate and marginalize people. How do we become better at including the loner, the rejected, the sick in our society? How do we learn to accept them as fellow humans, not something to be tossed aside like garbage? Has anyone ever considered that there might be fewer shootings if vulnerable people didn’t feel so alienated?

Just a few of my thoughts on this snowy Sunday, with the Olympics on in the background and my family sitting in front of a cozy pellet-stove fire. Life is good, but as recent events remind us, we can’t take anything for granted. Not our lives, not our souls…not even our freedoms.

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DX: Acute Stress Reaction

February 10, 2018

I swear, I really do learn something new every day.

My appointment with Dr. Goodenough was on Wednesday, and like I said I would, I brought up the subject of my disturbed sleep and morning anxiety. It had not yet occurred to me that it might be due to the series of unfortunate events I’ve experienced over the past six weeks or so; all I knew was that it had absolutely nothing to do with my bipolar. My underlying mood is rock solid, and if it weren’t for the fact that I have a psychiatric history I’d call myself normal in every sense of the word.

So I told Dr. G all about the injury at Disney World, the fact that my nephew died recently, and that my son Ethan and my sister Louise have been fighting like cats and dogs (which I think stresses me out even more than it does the two of them).  I didn’t think this all added up to anything, but Dr. G said there is an actual diagnosis called Acute Stress Reaction. It’s even in the DSM-5 (I know—I checked). This can be a precursor to PTSD, but it doesn’t have to be; in fact, it tends to be self-limiting. The trick in my case is to make me sleep without having distressing dreams so I don’t wake up anxious, so he added two weeks’ worth of Ambien, a powerful sleep medication, to my med regimen to break that cycle.

I couldn’t help chuckling inwardly when he pointed out he was adding this diagnosis, not changing it from the original Bipolar 1. He must have remembered my “dumb question of the year”. Come to think of it, I’ve noticed that he does recall things I’ve said, as well as past discussions about all sorts of things. I’m glad to see that. Dr. Awesomesauce was always so good with the caring thing, and it makes me feel like Dr. G cares about me too. It’s funny, he reminds me so much of Mister Rogers, but every time I see him I spill my guts. I mean, I don’t hold anything back. I’ve even talked to him about sex, for crying out loud, so coming to him about my stress levels over what seem like minor things is easy. (Well, the fact that my poor nephew passed away and my sister has now lost a child isn’t a minor concern, but…you know.)

Anyway, the past two nights’ sleep has been marvelous. I take my usual meds at 9 PM, but save the Ambien till closer to bedtime because it doesn’t take long to kick in. I’m not waking up in the middle of the night, I haven’t had disturbing dreams, and guess what, I’m not in a lather of anxiety. It doesn’t make me any groggier in the mornings than I already am, which is a very good thing. And I only have to take it for two weeks, which is great because I don’t want to be on another med indefinitely. Lord knows I consume enough meds at night to make me sleep like the dead. But it hasn’t been enough to stop me from waking up at the same time of night that I got the call about my nephew, or stressing out over stuff I can’t do anything about.

We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll work on my stress during the daytime and try to let go of the things I can’t fix. Wish me luck!

Hodgepodge, Second Edition

January 26, 2018

Let’s see how this post turns out. A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks and I don’t know if I can pack it all into a single coherent piece. But I’ll try.

First of all, my birthday was last Friday. I’m 59. Only fifty-one weeks left until I hit the big 6-0! In a way I’m dreading this milestone, but I’m also looking forward to it. My 50s have been a hodgepodge of good things, like becoming wiser and learning to really cherish my many blessings; but some of it has really sucked, like being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and losing my husband. My 40s were tame compared with this decade. And who knows what my 60s will hold? Will I even live through them? My family isn’t known for its longevity. My father died at 59, as did my grandfather before him. My mother died at 66. But both of my grandmothers lived to almost 75, and one aunt made it to 93. (Unfortunately, there was some dementia with all three.) Who knows, maybe I’ll be a tough old bird who survives to age 80.

There’s the ongoing issue of my leg injury. I developed a nasty cellulitis infection and the skin on top of the wound died, which necessitated surgery to remove it. This was not my idea of a good time. But with proper care (which I can do myself, thankfully) and tincture of time, it should heal. It’ll scar horribly, but nobody sees my legs nine months out of the year, and besides, I don’t really care what people may think. It makes for a good story, anyway…it’s not every day that a stupid fall on Christmas at Disney World creates such drama!

I need it to heal by summer, that’s for sure. I like going to the beach and playing in the water. I like cruises even better, and we’ve got another one scheduled for early  September. I’m so excited! We’ll be going to some familiar destinations, like Cozumel, Belize and Honduras, plus a new one in Mexico. And we’re doing it on the Carnival Magic, which was the ship Will and I were on during our first and only cruise together. She holds a lot of great memories and I’m looking forward to being on her again.

Meanwhile, my mood is holding steady, although a new wrinkle has developed. It’s mid-winter and I’m not waking up depressed; instead, I’m waking up anxious. I’m not sure why. It’s not worth taking my PRN for—it’s usually over by the time I’ve had my morning coffee without any intervention. But it’s weird. I’ve heard that anxiety sometimes is a symptom of depression, but honestly, I’m not depressed at all. Bipolar is far, far away and it no longer seems like a part of me. It’s amazing how much progress I’ve made in that department. I don’t even feel bipolar anymore, like it was just a nightmare that I lived with for several years. I can still be triggered by stress (or sometimes, just for the hell of it) but it goes away so quickly it barely registers in my brain. Kind of like normal people.

Don’t worry, I’m not the slightest bit tempted to go off my meds. I know they’re what’s keeping me sane and I will continue taking them as prescribed. It’s the complete absence of bipolar symptoms that amazes me. I’ve never been more stable in my life. The anxiety isn’t bipolar-related, it comes from somewhere else and is generalized; I can’t name a single thing that’s making me nervous. I will, of course, mention it to Dr. Goodenough during my next appointment in a couple of weeks, unless it goes away between now and then. Even if it does, I still should bring it up…only I’ll probably forget, which wouldn’t be unusual. Haha!

So, that’s been my January. How’s yours?

The Rest of the Story

January 17, 2018

I’m back home after having surgery on my leg wound, which got infected and needed to be cleaned out, and managing the pain with oxycodone and stool softeners. The meds make me stupid and constipated, so I’m apt to be found on the sofa sound asleep at any time of the night or day, and we won’t talk about what goes on (or doesn’t) in the bathroom. ‘Nuff said.

Despite all that went sideways during Vacation 2017, there were so many wonderful experiences that it was well worth the difficulties. There was that moment I love so much, when the ship actually sails…it always feels like the launching of a new adventure. I remember how it was that first time, when Will and I went, and I couldn’t help saying “I can’t believe we’re doing this” over and over.  Even after three cruises, I still feel that way. It never gets old, and I love it that yet another one is in the works.

We got to see all new islands, for me anyway. I missed Curacao because I was at the peak of my illness and felt lousy, but we’re going again so I’ll get another chance. There is something about Caribbean islands in winter that is almost magical…you can literally forget your troubles, or at the very least they’re so far away that they may as well not exist. And speaking of magic, I felt like a little kid at Disney, like I was seeing everything for the first time. (Most of which I was—I’d been to Disneyland before, but this was my first trip to DW.) There were lifelike lightning bugs in the trees, Christmas lights everywhere, and Cinderella’s Castle was covered with “icicles” just like the castle in Frozen. (Notice how everything seems to be about lights? I’ve been fascinated with them ever since I can remember, almost to the point of obsession. I had a Lite Brite toy when I was young that gave me endless hours of creative play.)

I need to say a couple of things about scooters. Well, it’s more about people and scooters. Shelley and I rented one each because as much walking as I can tolerate now, I couldn’t possible do as much as required to get around the parks. I found out quickly that people are reckless and foolish, and they don’t seem to see folks on scooters, often to their own detriment. They will walk out in front of you and have the nerve to be surprised when you nearly run over them. Worse, they let their smalls do the same thing and expect that you’ll be able to slam on the brakes in time to avoid hitting them. Needless to say, this got old after about half a day and I became quite irritable, shaking my head at people when they deliberately got in my way and at one point I even said, “I haven’t killed anyone in this thing today. But the day ain’t over yet.”

But even with that annoyance, I loved Disney and want to go back someday. I’ll never forget the Pandora: World of Avatar ride, which for my money is the Best. Ride. Ever. It took us on a bird’s-eye flight over exotic lands, swooping along narrow passages and through trees, barely missing obstacles like mountains and diving into water. It was incredible. As was this magnificent vacation. I can’t wait for the next one!

 

 

Hip, Hip, Hurray for Christmas Vacation!

January 2, 2018
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Hello, dear readers, and Happy New Year!

My family and I just got back from our 18-day vacation in the Caribbean, Disney World and Sea World, and boy are we tired. We didn’t even stay up till midnight to usher in the new year. But it was truly the trip of a lifetime, like three vacations in one, and what a time we had! We swam in the sea on Grand Turk…shopped in the Dominican Republic…explored Curacao…walked through the streets and took in the sights of Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital city. Then it was five days at Disney World (and there’s a story about my clumsy ass that’s kind of long, but it’s a really good story) and we finished with a full day at Sea World before flying back home.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few hitches. I came down with bronchitis on the very first day of the cruise, and I must have been running on pure adrenaline because in spite of all the coughing and wheezing, I only missed one day of our Caribbean adventure. If I’d been home, I’d have been sick as a dog. Several other family members acquired the crud as well, but we didn’t give in to it until the limousine ride home, where we all just sort of wilted.

Now, the story about the first night at Disney. We were all parked in front of the Cinderella Castle waiting for the fireworks and light show when Shelley and I decided we needed to use the restroom. There were what seemed like millions and millions of people and we had to fight our way to the bathroom in Tomorrowland. I never made it, because I tripped over something in the dark and fell, hard, on my right side. At first I thought I’d just scraped my leg and went on as if nothing had happened, when my son said, “Mom, you’re bleeding.” I said something along the lines of “It’s OK, I’ll clean it up when I get to the bathroom.” He stopped me and repeated himself emphatically, “No, Mom, you’re BLEEDING!”

I looked down and saw that he was right. Actually, I was gushing. My shoe and sock were literally full of blood. I squished over to what turned out to be a break room for the cast members, who were aghast at the sight of my lacerated leg and called the medics. In the meantime I was trying to stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound, which was pretty much useless as I continued to hemorrhage. When the medics got there, even they almost panicked and insisted that I go to the hospital. Of course I didn’t want to go to the hospital, I just wanted them to put a few steri-strips on the cut and let me go back to the festivities. But then I got a good look at it and knew a bandage wasn’t going to fix things; even so, it was Christmas night and I didn’t want to spend it in an ER. So I reiterated my objections, but the medics came right back with, “You’re going to the hospital. We’ve already called the ambulance to take you.”

Then commenced a wild wheelchair ride through the crowds, with the medics commanding people to get out of the way as they rushed me to the waiting ambulance. At one point during the drama, we passed by the area where I’d bled and there were workers spraying bleach all over the place. It must’ve been 50 feet between the place where I fell to the break room where I’d been evaluated, and I knew they were scrubbing the floor as well because I’d gushed blood all over it.

Long story short, I missed the fireworks show. Instead, I spent the entire evening in the ER getting 22 stitches and being upset that I’d ruined my shoes and kept the family from seeing the fireworks too. (I did finally get to use a restroom, thank goodness.) I think I was more worried about that than the leg. But by this time, I was beginning to find the humor in the situation and had Ethan take pictures of the injury before and after it had been sutured, and I posted them on Facebook. It was incredibly gruesome—it actually looked like I’d been bitten by a shark—and even though he’s a nurse, he got a little woozy when the PA started sewing me up and had to leave momentarily. I found that funny too. But he came back in after composing himself, and the three of us chatted like old friends during the procedure.

Anyway, there’s a lot more to the story of our Christmas Vacation, and I’ll tell it in a future installment of this blog. And even with jet lag and a LOT of overstimulation, I stayed on an even keel mood-wise, making life easier for everyone concerned. Bipolar? What bipolar? 😉

 

I’ll Fly Away

December 12, 2017

T-minus 1 day, 23 hours and 19 minutes.

Can you tell how ready I am for this trip? In less than two days I will be on an airplane headed for Florida, the first leg of our magnificent vacation. We’ll have a full day in Miami, to go explore or just hang out in the infinity pool on the roof of our hotel. Then on the 16th (which is also my youngest daughter’s 32nd birthday) we will board the Carnival Vista, the largest ship in the fleet, for eight days on the Caribbean Sea. Wheeee!

But wait, it gets even better: we also have six days at Disney World and Universal Studios. Two vacations in one! I have clothes appropriate for the Magic Kingdom—LuLaRoe sells all kinds of Disney items, and I have a shirt, leggings, and even a dress. Who knew that at the age of almost-59 I’d be running around in Mickey Mouse gear? But this trip is different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my life, and it’s time to cut loose and really enjoy things. Time to let my burdens slide off my shoulders and be a child again, full of wonder and joy.

This is my last post of the year. We don’t get back till New Year’s Eve, so I’ll share my adventures with you after the first of January. In the meantime, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate. I look forward to seeing you next year!

The Merry Widow

December 4, 2017

It almost seems disloyal to title a post this way, but I think Will would understand: I’m really enjoying life these days. Part of it is anticipating the trip that’s coming up in nine days, 22 hours and 48 minutes (but who’s counting, right?); I’ve also been bitten by the Christmas bug. The holiday itself looks radically different from all my previous Christmases—who could’ve guessed that I’d be spending it at Disney World?—and there will be no presents to open that morning. But the spirit is still strong, and I spend most of my days listening to Christmas music instead of watching TV.

However, my current state of mind is that of gratitude, and I’ve realized to my amazement that I am as happy as I can be given the loss of my love. I miss him terribly and always will, but I’m learning to go on. Yesterday I went to Mass, watched football, and went out to dinner with Clark and Shelley (Ethan was at work). These things make me happy. So does a cup of hot, rich coffee first thing in the morning…writing my blog…being responsible with money. Could it be possible that I’ve become content with my lot in life?

It’s times like this that inevitably make me question my diagnosis. Were things really that bad, I wonder? Bad enough to be labeled bipolar 1? I know the medications are what’s keeping me sane and I’m not even tempted to mess with them, but I’ve been stable for so long now that the nightmare of the first few years after I was diagnosed seems like it never happened. Or if it did, it wasn’t as serious as it felt at the time. Back then, I was excruciatingly aware of all things bipolar, and had no idea of where the illness ended and where I began. That’s changed a lot. Now I can experience the full range of emotions without wondering if it’s the beginning of another manic or depressive episode. I can be sorrowful or sad, but I can also be joyful and optimistic. What a gift!

I haven’t even had to use my HappyLight this year. I’ll probably need it desperately in January, but so far none of my usual late fall/winter depression has shown up. Again, that’s probably because I’ve been looking forward to this vacation all year and now it’s very close. But it’s so nice to NOT have to deal with the usual dark moods that match the early darkness of these long nights.

Happy Holidays!