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No-Drama Mama

May 4, 2019

That’s me these days…nothing to complain about, nothing to get worked up about, and everything to be happy about. The weather is gorgeous and spring is in full bloom, but there is no hint of the insanity that tends to grip me at this time of the year. I’m back in the habit of going to Mass every Sunday thanks to the self-discipline of Lent. I’m not overspending, and my bank and credit card balances show it. And Lord knows how grateful I am to be rid of that horrible anxiety that came with my recent depressive episode. I haven’t even had to pop a Klonopin in weeks. Shit happens, I deal with it, and then move on to the next thing.

Not that there’s a whole lot of “next things”. Life is pretty routine these days, even boring to a point (and I’m NEVER bored). Bipolar 1 seems very, very far away and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was over and done with. I still don’t have a lot of energy, but then I rarely do, although I’m showering regularly, doing laundry when I need to, and I clean up the kitchen almost every day. Sometimes I wonder if my vim and vigor would return if I weren’t on so much medication; in fact, I’m toying with the idea of asking Dr. Goodenough at my next visit on the 15th if we might try reducing the load a little bit. Just to increase my get-up-and-go, you know?

I can almost hear y’all yelling “Are you f*cking CRAZY??!!” Well, no, and that’s why I’m not experimenting on my own. I have no desire to upset the apple cart by messing with my meds like I did last spring. I only want to see if coming down on a couple of them might bring some of my old motivation back. I want to garden now that the weather is so great, but I lack the oomph to dig in the dirt and lug heavy water hoses around. I want to tear my room apart and clean it top to bottom and then rearrange it, but again, the energy just isn’t there. I don’t even seem to have the wherewithal to clean the freaking bathroom; God knows it needs it, and I’m the only one who’ll do it after Ben declared his independence from cleaning the one Shelley and I use. But every day when I wake up and look at the grime, I do my best Scarlett O’Hara impression and say “I’ll think about it tomorrow”.

Of course, Dr. G would probably greet me with a resounding NO if I were to propose cutting back. I got to be a No-Drama Mama by taking my meds in the exact manner in which they were prescribed, and tweaking the magic formula is fraught with danger. I know I only recently got to this point and the reason it happened is that my meds were adjusted. So it might be argued that I’m stable at this time only because of those increases, and reducing the dose could set me back. I certainly don’t need that!

Reading back over this post, I just realized that maybe getting my lead butt off the sofa isn’t worth the chaos that could result. That’s what a mental “disorder” is—chaos in the brain. I’ve had about all of that I can stand. It’s only the meds that make it better, so it might behoove me to stay the course and not risk everything going to hell in a bushel basket by tinkering with them…even with Dr. G’s knowledge and approval. Which, of course, I’m not going to get.

But that bathroom’s gotta get cleaned somehow.


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The Doctor Is In

April 16, 2019

I’m on a roll. I’ve had to go to Dr. Goodenough three times in the last three months, and I’ve already got another appointment next month. I think Dr. G is managing me very conservatively and would rather be safe than sorry. I don’t think anything is afoot—I had absolutely NO hint of March Madness, and the first half of April has been quiet—but my sleep has once again gotten a little wonky and I know he worries about that.

So he wants me to take melatonin, an OTC supplement I used for awhile some years back and didn’t work for me, and of course use the amber lenses in the evenings. I’m not so good with that, they’re a pain in the ass and they don’t fit well over my glasses. But I can take a(nother) pill, so I bought a bottle and am taking it according to his instructions. The idea is to make my sleep aids more effective without increasing any of my other meds, and so far it’s working. I’m going to bed around midnight-1 AM instead of 2 or 3 in the morning, and I’m ready to get up around 9 AM rather than 11:30. (Although I love to lie in bed in the mornings and play with my phone, because nothing hurts and I’m nice and warm.)

I am SO glad to be 100% out of that depressive episode. I never realize how bad they are until they’re over. This one wasn’t terrible—at least I never had any suicidal thoughts—and I was able to function, albeit minimally. But it was a drag, and it lasted way longer than it should have. However, I’m doing better about taking showers and getting the laundry done, and I feel lighter and almost triumphant, as if I’d lost weight (I haven’t) or made it up a steep hill to check out a spectacular view. Dr. G was pleased to see my progress, and it pleased me that he was. I like to make him happy, just like I did with Dr. Awesomesauce. He’s always upbeat and smiles a lot, and he never makes me wait; in fact, at this last appointment he took me ten minutes early. I still don’t know anything about him even 2 1/2 years into our relationship, but I think it’s supposed to be this way. No transference or countertransference going on here: we are strictly professional.

One thing I wish I did know is his age. He’s clearly a good deal older than me, and I’m 60 so I worry about him retiring. He’s never said anything about it, and he is still relatively new at the mental health clinic, but you never know. I hate change. It’s going to be nightmarish when we move to Texas in a couple of years—I’ll not only have to find a new NP or physician but a new pdoc, and getting in to see one often takes months…that’s IF I can find one who takes Medicare. So many of them don’t. I have actually lost sleep over this. I want to move, don’t get me wrong, but the idea of being in medical limbo without a doctor and meds scares me.

But, that’s a story for a whole other post. For now, I’m glad to be well again and I really think I may get through this spring without a hypo/manic episode. It’s been almost six years since I had my last full-blown mania, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever have another. It doesn’t look that way, but you can never tell with bipolar; meds sometimes stop working and need to be increased, or even changed to something else. But this is just like staying clean and sober: you can only take life one day at a time. (Which is harder than you might think, but that’s yet another story for a different day.) I think that’s what the good doctor would say, anyway.

I Can Has Cheezburger?

March 31, 2019

It’s March 31st, and there has been no sign of my usual March Madness. I’m 95% out of the depression and feel considerably better about life these days, and the weather has cooperated as well for the most part, bringing us sunshine and the warmth I crave so much. I even wore sandals for a couple of days! But there isn’t the least hint of the insanity that often grips me at this time of the year, and for that I’m thankful.

One thing I’m NOT happy about, however, is the fact that I’ve gained back almost half the weight I lost in the year after Will died. It all started when my Zyprexa dose went up last summer, and it hasn’t leveled off yet. I don’t know exactly what I weigh right now, but my clothes aren’t as roomy and I feel fat and sluggish. My back and knees are definitely more painful than they were when I was lighter. And I don’t know what to do about it.

Well, I do know what to do about it, I just don’t want to do it. A couple of days ago I was sitting here eating a cheeseburger and trying to keep the barbecue sauce off the keyboard as I typed. I had absolutely no reason to eat a cheeseburger except I wanted one, and Ben was going out for food, and I had money. I couldn’t have a cheeseburger yesterday because it was a Friday and it’s Lent, so what did I do but buy a fish sandwich from Arby’s?

I have also fallen into the unfortunate habit of starving myself during the day and then eating a huge dinner. I don’t get hungry till around 2 PM so I just have a few bites at lunch, which means I’m ravenous by 5:30. Tonight I ate three slices of pizza and finished it off with cake and milk. I didn’t need three slices of pizza, two would have done the job, but I was so hungry I couldn’t help myself. I know better than that. But it keeps happening, and I feel powerless to stop it. Why can’t I crave healthy stuff like kale, and why can’t I make myself exercise (other than the fact that it hurts)?

Even a few minutes of stretching in the morning and a low-carb diet would help tremendously, yet I seem strangely resistant to change. I don’t want to gain ALL the weight back—I’ve got a cruise coming up in 356 days (but who’s counting, right?) and don’t want to have to use a wheelchair at the airport. Been there, done that, and it’s humiliating. People tend to regard you like you’re stupid or something, and if you’re fat, you can practically see the judgment coming off them in waves, even if no one says anything. I need to at least get back to where I was in 2017, when I could ride on theme park rides and not need seat belt extenders on the plane. I don’t need another tragedy in my life to spark weight loss, so I need to figure things out, and soon.

In the meantime, I’d better get the hell off the Internet and go to bed. That cake is looking awfully good again…

It’s My Life

March 11, 2019

Well, another visit to Dr. Goodenough has come and gone (dear Lord, will I ever find a better name?) and he increased my Lamictal from 400 mg to 500 mg/day. I was concerned at first because that’s higher than the norm for bipolar, but he said people with seizure disorders can take up to 1000 mg/day so 500 is safe for me. Of course, I trust him, so I started the new dosage the same night. As I expected, it hasn’t made much of a difference yet, in fact I’m a little more depressed than I was, but then things have been somewhat stressful at home so it’s as much situational as anything else.

And I find myself wondering: is this what my life is now? More and more meds, in higher and higher doses? I’m on EIGHT drugs for psychiatric reasons, six of them actual psychotropics, and I still have breakthrough episodes. I also never seem to be able to decrease the dosages once I’m stable again. What’s up with that?

On top of it, I’ve started feeling faint stirrings of March Madness, even though nothing’s changed on the outside. My thoughts are racing again, I’m jumpy and slightly irritable, and I’m having trouble focusing. It’s taken me over an hour to get this far in this blog post, though I think it’s making sense. I hope to high heaven this isn’t the beginning of a mixed episode. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m just a wee bit paranoid, though I’m able to talk myself out of it. Sometimes I feel like my family is mad at me, ignoring me, when it’s really only that they are dealing with their own shit and it’s not about me. In fact, Ben and I had a great chat a couple of days ago, which made me all warm inside for a few hours. But even though I know on an intellectual level that everything is more or less OK, I’m not convinced emotionally.

One thing I’m not doing is messing with my meds. On the contrary, I’m religious about taking them as prescribed and not fantasizing about stopping them. I know I need them—all of them—and while I wish I didn’t need so much, I’m cooperating. That’s different from the past few Marches, when I’ve gone off the rails and experimented with dosage reductions. I’m not even tempted. I hope that doesn’t change, because I really don’t want to be unwell either way.

In the meantime, we’re already on Daylight Saving Time, which means it’s light later in the evenings, and spring is coming. I’ll be all right soon. And if I’m not, I’ll call Dr. G. I promise.


The Seven-Year Itch

March 7, 2019

Well, here we are…the seven-year anniversary of my first bipolar diagnosis. I remember it as if it was yesterday: the long questioning session with Dr. Awesomesauce, the many reasons he cited as to why I might not be bipolar, and then the surprising diagnosis of bipolar NOS. In retrospect he might have given it to me because I thought I had it, and of course I did, but it took a couple more visits for him to figure it out. When I showed up at his office one day wearing bright blue eyeshadow and colorful clothes, he knew instantly that I was manic, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have mixed feelings about this anniversary. I’m still dealing with mild depression and that’s discouraging, but I know enough about my version of bipolar to understand that it’s seasonal and will go away. March Madness hasn’t set in yet, and it may not come at all as heavily medicated as I am. Usually by now the trees are budding and there are cherry blossoms everywhere, but we had a cold February and snow is still in the forecast. I’m SO ready for spring I can taste it, but the flowers and trees are still dormant except for one little confused daffodil in the front yard that’s survived heavy rain, snow, and a hard freeze. I bet it hopes for warmer weather too.

Even after seven years, I still struggle with acceptance of my diagnosis. I know on an intellectual level that I indeed have bipolar and have always had it, even though it wasn’t labeled as such until I was 53. I recall many, many phases in my life that weren’t recognized as episodes at the time; in retrospect I’m amazed that I never figured out what was wrong until I finally lost my shit in 2012. Not that it was the first time I’d lost my shit—there have been some spectacular flameouts, especially in my adult life—but it was a defining one. That was when my internist washed his hands of me and said he would not see me anymore if I didn’t get a psych eval. He led me to believe he was referring me to a therapist; when I found out I was to be seen by an actual psychiatrist, I was livid.

“I’m not crazy!” I told my doctor, “I just have really bad mood swings.” I learned later that I wasn’t crazy/loony/nuts/bonkers at all, and I didn’t want to be referred to as such. It’s a stereotype that has no place in modern society. I’m not easily offended, and I have a pretty thick skin because I’ve been teased so much throughout my life…but them’s fightin’ words!

Looking back at the course of these past seven years, I mourn the destruction bipolar has wrought upon my life. Seven years ago I was a reasonably successful nurse manager, wife, mother, and grandmother. Yes, I struggled—a LOT—but I was able to work, live in a big beautiful house on a couple of acres of lush forest, have my very own car, and enjoy the company of my loving husband. Now all of those things are gone, and I can’t help missing them.

However, I’ve learned to appreciate what I have now, and perhaps that is bipolar’s greatest lesson. I live with family who loves me and whom I adore, I have a comfortable room and a living area that’s always warm and cozy, I have good food to eat and I can use a car whenever I need it. I have four little dogs to love (and I don’t have to pay vet bills!), cable and Internet, and this blog, which keeps me sane and not too bored. I hope to grow in my writing and maybe even get paid decently for some of it, and even though I can’t work, one day I might be able to write consistently.

Still, I’m glad it isn’t seven years ago today. I’d hate to have to go through all that and learn those life lessons all over again. Perhaps the next seven will be a little kinder, although there is still a lot to learn about living with a serious mental illness.

It’s all good.


The Name Game

February 26, 2019

Well, I’m not quite out of the woods yet, but I’m getting closer to being done with this depression with every day that passes by. I don’t know if it’s due to the new little pill Dr. Goodenough prescribed for me, but it sure isn’t hurting, and each night for the past week when I’ve written in my mood journal, I’ve been able to report improvement. It’s light later in the day than it was for some time, and I’m sure that’s helped; like the confused daffodil in my front yard, I feel the approach of spring even there’s snow on the ground. It’s still too soon to imagine a time when I’ll have to work to keep a lid on the mania, but better days are ahead.

Speaking of Dr. Goodenough, it’s been mentioned to me by several folks that he might need a better name. After all, he’s brought me out of some tough moods and been my rock through some tough times, including those terrible months after my husband’s death. He is wise and good, and he deserves a moniker that more closely fits him.

That’s where y’all come in. How about a name-the-doc game? I can’t offer any kind of prizes for the best nickname chosen, but the author of the one I pick will get a big shout-out on this blog. I’ve tried but just can’t come up with a name that both fits and bestows dignity upon the man. He’s not Dr. Awesomesauce, but in many ways he’s proven to be even better for me, and he’s got a handle on my illness that unfortunately eluded Dr. A throughout our four years together. No, we don’t banter back and forth or tell each other funny stories, and I do miss that about Dr. A; still, there’s more to a therapeutic relationship than one-liners and tales of the wilds of Australia. (Of course there was a lot more to it than that, but what I remember best is the fun we had during most of our sessions.)

Is that disloyal? Maybe, but for better or worse, my therapeutic alliance is with Dr. G. now, and will be for the foreseeable future. God help me if he retires before my family and I move to Texas in a couple of years. I’ve been with him for almost 2 1/2 years already; he’s quite a bit older than me so I worry about losing him. I remember looking for a psychiatrist when I went on Medicare back in 2016 and found NO ONE in this city of 170,000 people who accepted Medicare patients. Dr. G did, and he was in the same clinic where Dr. A had worked, so it wasn’t like I had to get used to a different practice on top of a new doctor. It’s 45 minutes away, but definitely worth the drive.

So yeah…won’t you help me find a suitable-but-catchy name for this incredibly smart and patient psychiatrist? Thanks in advance. BPNURSE

Something Old, Something New

February 18, 2019

Did I ever tell you Dr. Goodenough rocks?

I called last Monday to change my February 13th appointment to a later date because I have no transportation at the moment (long story) and left a message with the receptionist that I was dealing with some depression. I didn’t really want to do that, but I’ve been dinking around with this for weeks and I’m tired of it. She was very kind and understanding and said she’d make sure to tell Dr. G first thing Tuesday morning (he doesn’t work on Mondays). Feeling somewhat relieved at having got that off my chest, I went on about my day, and didn’t really think about it again till 8:10 the next morning when my phone belted out my ringtone, Ode to Joy.

I was still half-asleep, but I knew who it was. Bless him, he’d probably been in the office for all of 10 minutes before he called to ask me how I was. I woke up the rest of the way and gave him the Cliffs Notes version of what’s been going on in my life and how long I’ve been dwelling at the South Pole. He listened carefully and let me whine for as long as I needed, but he already had a battle plan that told me he’d already researched my records, including my most recent lab values. (That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about both Dr. Awesomesauce and Dr. G: they care a lot about being physicians and not just psychiatrists.) Since my thyroid levels are still a little low, he came up with the idea to try a new thyroid medication; well, it’s actually an old drug, but it’s new to me. We didn’t even talk about upping my antidepressant because I knew damn well he’d veto any such suggestion…it’s way too easy to flip into mania, and God knows I don’t need that.

He explained his reasoning and how the med is supposed to work, all in professional terms. I appreciate that he talks to me as a clinician and not just another effed-up bipolar patient. We know that the thyroid pills help with my depression; I didn’t have an episode at all last winter. Of course I agreed to try it, even though it’s another freaking pill and I get soooo tired of taking pills. But I’d go far and wide to get out of this funk, so what’s one more?

I’ve been on the new/old drug for five days now, and I think I’m ever-so-slightly better. I realize that this perceived improvement is probably due to the fact that something is being done about it, rather than any real effect of the medication, at least not yet. It’s kind of like being sick for a while and you finally decide to go to the doctor, and you find yourself feeling a little better just knowing there will be an end to it. This hasn’t been a particularly harsh depressive episode, that’s why there’s no urgency, but since I had to reschedule my appointment anyway I figured I’d let Dr. G know I’m not at my best. I think he appreciated me calling; he’s asked me several times in the past to pick up the phone if I felt myself going too far in one direction than the other, but as you know I have that thing about the phone and I almost always wait almost until things are out of control.

Not this time. I’m proud of myself.

He also wrote me a new script for Klonopin. I’ve had a lot of free-floating anxiety along with the depression, and I’ve been out of the drug for almost a year. I never abuse benzodiazepines. We have an agreement that I have to ask for them, he doesn’t just refill the prescription. And once again, I am amazed at how lucky I’ve been with psychiatrists. I have friends who have never had a really good p-doc, and here I’ve had two. (Plus a great psych nurse practitioner, but I had to stop seeing her when I went off Medicaid in the summer of 2016. That’s how I ended up with Dr. G.) I think that’s half the battle when it comes to fighting bipolar disorder—you’ve got to have competent care, and if that doctor or NP also cares about you as a person, you’ve got it made.

Of course, you’ve got to want it too. You have to take the meds and be honest and do the work, or your provider can’t help you. Just remind me of that if/when March Madness sets in…