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True Confessions

June 10, 2018

Well, I did it again—talked Dr. Goodenough’s ear off and confessed to all sorts of things I had no intention of disclosing. I told him how I’ve been flipping in and out of what I call pre-hypomania all spring, wanting to drink, sleeping poorly, and messing with my meds. I also had trouble sitting still while I was talking to him, and that combined with bright clothing and sparkling eyes (I’d just gotten my hair highlighted, and even I could see it in the selfie I took to show off my new ‘do on Facebook) led him to decide I was, indeed, a little hypomanic. I managed to talk him out of increasing my Zyprexa, but he did up my thyroid medication in the hope of getting things back under good control and advised me to try the amber glasses we’d talked about a few months back. And my days of going four months between appointments are over for the time being, now it’s back to monthly.

As I think I’ve said before, I don’t know what it is about this doctor that makes me spill my guts every time we meet. Maybe it’s because we have only 30-minute appointments, even though there’s rarely much ground to cover in that time. My life is pretty boring most of the time. The notable exception was our last session, when my nephew had just passed away and I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. That’s gone now, but this spring has been really weird and I have energy I can’t seem to channel in any meaningful way. I’m still sitting on the sofa in front of the computer day in and day out, the only outward sign that anything is amiss being my wiggling feet and the constant posting on FB, Psych Central, and my nursing forum at all hours. Speaking of which, my sleep is still messed up. Some nights I sleep nine hours, on others I’m lucky to get two or three, and when that happens I don’t miss the shut-eye and I’m not tired in the morning.

And I’m taking my meds. It’s difficult because I REALLY would like to come off some of them, but given the circumstances that’s probably not in the cards. The first thing Dr. G mentioned when I stopped talking long enough to take a breath was the possibility of bumping up the Zyprexa, which is the last thing I want. He thinks raising my Synthroid dose may take care of things so we don’t have to do that. That’s an interesting concept which I don’t totally understand, but I’m reasonably sure the medication kept me out of depression all last winter and I’m only too glad to take it for that reason. I didn’t even have to use my HappyLight.

Now it’s three days later and I do feel a little calmer on the inside. Of course, it could be another short-lived cycle and the next warm, sunny day or poor night’s sleep may start it up again. Dr. G is well aware that I’m highly sensitive to light and seasonal changes, hence the recommendation for the amber glasses. I’ve had trouble finding clip-ons; the regular ones don’t fit over my regular lenses and I refuse to go from 6 PM till bedtime not being able to see the TV or computer. But just like his predecessor, Dr. Awesomesauce, he has a solution to almost every problem, and he found some on eBay for only $35. So I’ll order a pair and see what happens. I’ve got a vacation coming up at the end of the summer, which is another dangerous time of year for me, and I really don’t need to be going ape shit on the cruise ship. (Ya think??)

In the meantime, he is not telling me to go to bed and get up earlier. I appreciate that, because I’ve never been and will never be a morning person. I can get up if there’s a reason to, like for hair appointments and church, but my usual pattern is sleeping from around 2 to 10 AM and there’s no reason on earth to change it. I’ll modify it a bit when I need to adapt my sleep hours to Eastern time, which I’ve done before with positive results.

Speaking of having to get up in the morning, I have jury duty next Thursday. I didn’t have the option of getting out of it this time, so I’m stuck going in at 8. I could have gotten out of it if I’d given the court a letter from Dr. G saying I have a mental illness and can’t serve, but unlike the last time I was called and I was really unstable, I think I could do it. They’ll probably ask that question during the interview process anyway and I’ll be dismissed, but at least I’ll have showed up and I won’t be summoned again for another couple of years.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

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The Eyes Have It

June 2, 2018

One of the funny/strange things about bipolar disorder is the way people’s eyes change when they’re in a mood episode.

Seriously. I can always tell when I’m manic, even when I don’t think so otherwise, because my eyes actually sparkle and change colors. My hazel irises turn green and there’s this slightly mad look in them that tends to make others wonder just what I might be up to. My eyes also widen and the pupils dilate; friends call this phenomenon “psycho eyes”. If you’ve ever seen the Vraylar commercials on TV, they show a woman whose eyes do pretty much the same thing, which is about the only realistic part of the ad (come on, when you’re really manic you don’t even know where the sticky notes are, let alone have them lined up neatly on your office window).

Eyes also tend to change when you’re depressed, although not as dramatically. Mine will darken and take on a sad, dispirited look that gives me away even when I tell people “I’m fine”. My parents told me my face was way too easy to read, which is something I’ve spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to overcome because I was often punished for letting my emotions show. It’s tough facing the world sometimes when you know anyone with the emotional IQ of a seventh-grader can tell that something’s wrong.

My youngest son, Ethan, could assess my feelings even when he was three years old. I remember one evening in particular when I was putting him to bed, and he began asking me questions. “Mom, are you sad? Mom, are you mad?” he inquired, obviously concerned about me. At the time I didn’t think I was either, but sometimes my resting bitch face causes people to assume I’m upset and trying to hide it. Rather than try to explain my apparent funk, I told him I had a headache, and he said “You need an aspirin!” His ability to ‘diagnose’ problems has also served him well in his nursing career so far. LOL.

But it’s the mania that really brings out the crazy in my peepers. I have been told at various times that they almost glitter, and that it’s kind of frightening for the people who know me well. Others mistakenly believe I’m just super happy, and for the most part I’m content to let them think that. Believe it or not, I have a few friends who have NO idea whatsoever that I’m bipolar and I’m not about to let that cat out of the bag. They all came from a time when mental illness was something to be ashamed of and thus wasn’t often talked about, so I simply let them think I’m perfectly normal…and if by chance someone remarks about my wide-open, sparkly eyes, I only tell them I’m having a really good day.

Julie A. Fast, a well-known bipolar expert who herself suffers from bipolar 2, has actually posted pictures of herself in both mania and depression in BP Magazine, and it’s very easy to tell which mood state she’s in. I’ll do the same here one day if I can ever think to take photos when I’m one way or the other.

Speaking of moods, I seem to have returned to baseline for the most part…just in time to see Dr. Goodenough this coming Wednesday. I will, of course, have to fill him in on how I’ve been flipping in and out of hypomania this spring, and he may not be very thrilled with me given his repeated requests that I call in to report any deviation from stable and I haven’t done it. I will also have to tell him about my screwy sleep patterns; I sleep nine or 10 hours some nights, and two or three hours on others. Wednesday night I didn’t sleep at all, and last Friday I was up for 36 hours straight. And I wasn’t even tired. That’s never a good sign. So it’s probably going to mean an increase in meds, and not a decrease like I would have liked. We shall see.

 

 

 

Work Ethic

May 16, 2018

Here’s something I haven’t talked about in a long time: my life on Social Security Disability Insurance. Or rather, my life without work.

Four years after that spectacular flame-out at my last job, it still blows my mind that my career is over. I was supposed to work till at least age 66—70 if I’d had my druthers. I loved being a nurse, even though there was a lot NOT to love, like micromanaging managers, poor staffing, and heavy physical labor. Taking care of people and making them better was all I’d really ever wanted to do since I was a small child, and I sailed through nursing school without difficulty. Later on I moved up to management, and proceeded to go back and forth between it and floor nursing for the rest of my career, unable to commit more than a couple of years at a time to one course of action or another. I didn’t know why that was at the time; all I knew was that I’d get restless at a job after a year or so, then quit (or be fired) when I’d had enough.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have a work ethic. Oh, no—I worked HARD and was totally dedicated to the job, often at the expense of my family and personal life. I lived, ate, and breathed nursing, no matter what the job was. I was the first to clock in and the last to leave (often because I, like most nurses, had a lot of charting to do at the end of the shift). I was so devoted that I seldom took breaks or lunch, and sometimes I didn’t even pee for eight or 12 hours at a time. And what did I get for all those years of hard work and sacrifice? A broken body and a broken mind.

Still, it took me a lot of time to accept what was obvious to everyone in my life, including my psychiatrist. My family and friends kept telling me I should file for disability, and finally so did he. I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten so wound up in my career that I couldn’t distinguish between what I did for a living and who I was as a person. What would I do, who would I be if I couldn’t be a nurse? Be a waitress? Work retail? I couldn’t imagine not working, even though I certainly wasn’t fit to work at anything at that point in my life. But I decided to file anyway, thinking I wouldn’t get it even with the bipolar 1 diagnosis and hospitalization, and continued to look, fruitlessly, for any employment I could find.

So it came as a complete shock when I received my first check six months later. The government had agreed with my doctor and family and friends that I was indeed too impaired to be able to work. I didn’t even have to see a SSA psychiatrist. I’m sure my poor physical condition was part of the decision, but the memory loss, the anxiety, and the medications had rendered me pretty much useless for economic purposes. Now here I am, four years after losing my last job, still wondering if maybe—just maybe—I gave up too soon, even as I realize that my life works only because I lead a relatively low-stress lifestyle.

After all, I don’t have to struggle with getting my butt out of bed and trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain before 10 AM. I don’t have to face other people at an hour when I can barely stand to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I don’t have to try to memorize things (and fail miserably) or deal with the confusion of multi-tasking and multi-line phones. I don’t have to run in 15 different directions at the same time or manage competing priorities. And that’s a GOOD thing, because I can’t do any of that anymore.

I guess it’s time to stop wishing for something that can never be, and to be content with what I have and who I am. It’s not a bad life, and in fact it’s been a lot better since I stopped throwing myself against a wall every day. I have very little money, but I manage what I do have quite well, and that’s a lesson I might not have learned any other way. When I had money I spent it recklessly, most of it on stupid crap that didn’t last, and never got to do anything really fun like go on cruise vacations. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family say things like “you’re so lucky, you don’t have to go to work”; well, I wouldn’t call it lucky, but it’s a damn sight better than trying—and failing repeatedly—to do what most people can do without difficulty.

It’s all good.

Just So You Know…

May 12, 2018
tags: ,

…you can’t reason with someone who is manic.

I mean, you can sit there with them and try to rationalize everything, but they don’t know they’re being irrational. They’re sick and have absolutely NO idea they are; in fact, they’ll deny it to the death and become highly offended that you’ve even dared to suggest it. Now I know why everyone in my life fears my becoming that way again, and it makes me more determined to stay on my meds and play well with others.

Being around people in this condition is triggering, and tiring. I have to fight my own demons even as I watch the manic person go ape shit. The whirlwind of activity, the loud and pressured speech, the frenetic bouncing from one project to another…I recognize all of it because I’ve been there. It’s hard to admit that I’m capable of the same kind of mayhem, and worse. No wonder I feel such a kinship with the person who is zipping madly around the world like a Tasmanian devil, even as I wish they’d take some meds and settle down. It’s not so bad, being bipolar; what’s bad is refusing to acknowledge that the disease exists. But how do you do that when you don’t see the havoc it’s wreaking on your life?

I remember how tough it was for me. My internist was the first one to bring up the fact that I had a mental health condition that was more serious than he could handle; I was PISSED and had no problem telling him so. I wasn’t crazy, I said, I just had mood swings…didn’t everybody? It took my first psychiatrist, Dr. Awesomesauce, all of 90 minutes to diagnose me.

But you know, it’s STILL tough. I go through long periods of stability now, and I get to thinking that maybe the label is wrong, or maybe it’s not as severe as my providers have made it out to be. You’d think after being diagnosed four times with bipolar 1 that I’d get it through my thick skull, but there’s this stubborn little voice that says “No, it’s not that bad, look at how well you’re doing now”. It doesn’t recognize that I’m only doing well because my stress level is relatively low, and because I take a lot of meds that make it seem like the illness has gone away and I’ll never have to deal with it again.

Bipolar is crafty like that. The bitch lures you into thinking everything is just hunky-dory (or horrible, depending on the prevailing mood) and you don’t have the foggiest idea that it’s lying to you. You don’t know, and don’t care, that you’re building a house of cards and the whole thing is going to collapse on you at any moment. All you know (in the case of mania) is that your feelings are stronger than they’ve ever been, and you are certain they’re going to go on forever and ever. You make expansive plans because you are always going to have this level of energy and the sky is the limit! You flit from project to project, starting one or several enthusiastically, only to abandon them for something else within days or hours. You race through your days with your hair on fire, thoughts swirling wildly through your mind like leaves on the wind. And then one day, it’s over: your high times come to a screeching halt, there’s all sorts of stuff left undone, your life is scattered in pieces all over the place, and you’re left wondering just what the fuck happened.

It’s 9 PM, time to take my meds. All of them. Because there but for the grace of God—and that handful of pills—go I.

 

 

A Really Good Day

April 26, 2018

Well, if there was ever a time to be reminded of the necessity of my continuing existence, yesterday was it. It was one of the BESTEST DAYS EVER! Not only was the weather perfection itself, I got to go to lunch and I heard from different people during the course of the day who made me feel that my life really matters.

First of all, I spent most of the day and evening texting back and forth with my oldest daughter, who is going through some tough stuff following the sudden, grisly death of her father-in-law. She never really knew him, but the circumstances of his death are so sad that it really got to her, and it made me feel good to have her reach out to me in her distress. She has so much compassion and she’s all about family, and I love the fact that this amazing woman is my daughter. We didn’t always get along so good when she was a teenager, but at 35 she has long since forgiven me my transgressions as a mother, and I think everyone should have someone like her in their life.

Then I got a Facebook Messenger message from a childhood friend I haven’t talked to in some time who, for some reason, was thinking of me. She lost her son 11 years ago, and we share the bond of mothers who have had to say good-bye to a child. She proceeded to tell me I was an inspiration to her, having lost my husband as well and surviving as best I can, and ended the conversation by thanking me for letting her vent and being a friend. We go back to the third grade, though we weren’t that close in junior high and high school, but we found each other on Facebook several years ago and she is one of the people I admire most. Needless to say, this made my day.

So did the post from a complete stranger in my online bipolar support group. The question in the original post asked if we felt ashamed of not being able to work, to which I answered honestly. I went on to note that I used to be a nurse, but the only thing I’m capable of now is writing, and even that is hard to commit to. This fellow responded by saying that as a nurse I’d already given the world plenty of my time and talents, and that I was helping people in another way by sharing my story. He also said even my simple post was well-written and hoped I would go on to write for publication in a larger market. This didn’t hurt my feelings either.

The capper to my awesome day was a private message from an administrator at my nursing website, where I’ve been for over 15 years and am a site guide. (I used to be a moderator there, but bipolar got in the way and ruined things for me.) She wanted to know if I would like a free shirt from the company. These are nice collared polo shirts that the admins wear to nursing seminars and expositions, and they don’t give them away. I was flattered that she had thought of me and said I’d love to have one. Now, this administrator and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and once she gave me an official warning for insulting another member. Which I indeed had done, and I deserved the warning, but I was angry about it for months. This was just prior to being diagnosed. Eventually I got over it, and she got to where she felt she could trust me again, but this gesture of friendship years later means a lot.

So, that was my day. I just hope I can remember it the next time I get down on myself and/or depressed. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Curiouser and Curiouser

April 21, 2018

This spring just gets weirder. I am struggling mightily to stay on my medication and sleep schedules, I feel all racy and overstimulated inside, and NONE of it shows on the surface. Not even my family can tell how scrambled my brains are. In the past, I might have called this a mixed episode, though I can’t say I’m either manic or depressed. It’s not an episode at all. It’s just, well…weird.

Sleep is really hit-or-miss these days. I’ll sleep nine hours one night, and four the next. I dream all sorts of interesting dreams too. Last night I dreamt that Will and I were in Walmart and I was buying all kinds of plastic cups and plates in blues and greens, colors that remind me of the waters of the Caribbean. I was racing around the store grabbing whatever appealed to me, and he was smiling indulgently as if to say “that’s my wife, and I love her”. It was such a comforting dream, and one that was entirely realistic because I used to do that exact thing, especially in the spring and fall months. I was actually tempted to run to Wally World today and pick up plastic cups and plates in summer colors, until I remembered that my family has a little more class than that and we don’t  use plastic cups and plates. LOL.

As for meds…I’ve taken them religiously for six years, and then in March I got a wild hair up my butt and experimented with them ever-so-briefly. No Bueno. Now I’m taking them, but every day, twice a day, I open up those pill boxes and stare at the meds, resenting them, wishing with all my might that I didn’t need them, and then literally forcing them down. I don’t know why all of a sudden it’s such a big deal, but I suspect it’s because enough time has passed since my last major bipolar episode that I think maybe I don’t need all of them. Then I end up feeling guilty for not wanting to take my pills, because I have the privilege of access to good psychiatric care and medications and there are a lot of people in this country who don’t. It’s kind of like the starving-children-in-China argument for finishing your dinner. I’m blessed to have the chance to CHOOSE whether I want to be sane or not—even though going bonkers really isn’t an option because I like my family and friends.

Then there’s this other curious notion about going back to work. As a nurse. No, I know in my heart of hearts that I can’t do it and nobody, not even the federal government, believes I should have to, but I wish I could make real money again. I don’t miss the politics or the physical labor or being treated like a child, but I do miss taking care of people. I miss the opportunities to be creative in solving problems. I even miss working with women, although that definitely has its drawbacks. My RN license renewal is coming up in January, and I know I’m going to have to let it go because I’ve had zero practice hours in the past four years. (You have to have at least 900 in five years, and I don’t.) That just makes it so…final. Then I come back to reality and realize that the job would make me crazier than a shithouse rat—again—within a few months, and I’m way better off now even though I have a very diminished role in life.

So here I am, and for whatever reason, whether it’s spring and/or a touch of mild mania, I’m restless and fidgety and I want to shake things up. Now, I don’t have the slightest idea why, or what “shaking things up” looks like, but it’s been this way since I almost went off the rails a month ago. My job is to figure it out before something goes sideways. Maybe I should try writing for one of the online mental health journals, like The Mighty or Healthline or Psych Central. They’re always looking for contributors. Or maybe I should take up chair yoga and learn to meditate (if I could just get my brain to shut up for a few minutes!!). Who knows?

Shower Power, Revisited

April 11, 2018

I’m having trouble showering again.

What the hell is the problem here? you might ask. Well, if you Google “bipolar disorder and showers”, you’ll find all kinds of information about it—most of it anecdotal to be sure, but it’s a genuine phenomenon that defies rational explanation. It’s most often a symptom of depression, although with me it really doesn’t matter, I can be manic AF and still not want to shower. I can also be perfectly stable, like I am now, and I still have difficulty shucking off my clothes and jumping in. And as always, I wonder: why??

Well, for one thing, it’s a pain in the ass. First you have to make the conscious decision to do the deed in the first place, then you have to gather up all your stuff and head for the bathroom. You have to find a towel, then take off all your clothes (and who wants to look at oneself naked?) and turn on the hot water. Then you step in and proceed to wash as far down as possible, then as far up as possible, and then the possible. My son-in-law Clark does my hair at the salon each week so I at least don’t have to wash and dry it at home, but I do have to exfoliate every time because I get in there so infrequently and my skin is really dry. That takes awhile and involves being bent over for a significant amount of time, which does not make my back very happy.

Once done, it takes another five minutes to dry off more or less thoroughly and then moisturize, which is something I rarely do in between showers because I don’t like the greasy feeling of lotion. THEN I get to try to wiggle into a sports bra and slide on leggings over skin that’s still slightly damp. None of which is a big deal to anyone else in the house, but for me it is, and by the time I’m finally dressed and ready to face the world, I’m exhausted. Not surprisingly, I also feel like I’ve overcome a big obstacle and I probably pat myself on the back a bit too hard, but you’ve got to take your triumphs where you can, right?

The hell of it is, I like being clean. I don’t know why I forget that in between showers. I enjoy smelling nice and wearing fresh clothes, and I feel a sense of accomplishment much like I do when I clean up the kitchen after a big meal or straighten up my room. I don’t want to stink or offend the noses of family and friends, I really don’t. It’s embarrassing when it’s been so long that I can’t remember the exact day when I last bathed my entire body and my kid has to call me out on it. After awhile, PTA baths just don’t cut it and you’ve got to discipline yourself and get the f##k into the stall. But still, I struggle.

Perhaps I need to make a deal with myself, say, if I can make myself shower twice a week I’ll go to a movie I’ve been wanting to see. Of course, I’ve got to watch my pennies so I can’t do anything too expensive, but a reward may be all I need to motivate myself in the interest of better hygiene. This may have a lot to do with bipolar and I can’t change that, but I don’t have to smell like a goat either and my family (to say nothing of the world) deserves better. So do I.