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The Springtime Crazies

March 23, 2018

…have definitely struck. I’m not off the spool, but I’m restless and have all this energy I’m having a hard time channeling, and having just a great time not doing anything! The weather sucks hugely—it’s only 39 degrees and there’s snow mixed in with the rain, but it doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned it might as well be 80 degrees and sunny out. Music sounds especially good these days; I just wish I could sing! The other day when it WAS sunny, I was rocking out in the car with the stereo cranked way up and playing air guitar at stoplights. Shelley was with me and actually got caught up in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, tapping her feet and lip-synching right along with me. I love days like these, when everything, even the clouds are so bright and the world holds limitless possibilities.

I’m sure ready to take that cruise though. Seven days under the Caribbean sun sound really good right now. And oh yeah, I got some really exciting news the other day: we’re all going to Europe next year! Ten-day Mediterranean cruise to Greek isles Mykonos and Crete, then to Athens; better yet, we get to go to Rome! As a good Catholic girl, I’ve always wanted to go there. We’re also going to Florence while we’re at it. Places with centuries of art and music and food to be savored. The trip is booked for August of 2019, so that gives us plenty of time to plan ahead (and pay!). I want to get back on the wagon and lose some more weight; I haven’t really lost anything in six months, but then I haven’t really been trying either. I may not be able to climb the stairs to the Acropolis, but I’d like to at least be able to wander around Rome and visit the Vatican, pray at St. Peter’s Basilica, see the Sistine Chapel. How fabulous are my dreams?

Thing is, they only used to just BE dreams. I never thought for a minute that I’d ever actually see Europe. Then again, I never thought I’d get to visit the Caribbean, and I’ve been all over the place there and am going again. I remember thinking of that first cruise as the Trip of a Lifetime…well, it was, and it was certainly Will’s. But there have been and will be more. Dreams come true after all.

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Sweet Relief

March 16, 2018

The news I’ve been waiting for arrived this morning: Social Security has decided they don’t need to review my disability case after all. Evidently the form I filled out along with my statement about my various medical problems was sufficient for them to continue benefits. Hallelujah!

Now maybe those stupid dreams about working in the hospital will go back to whatever rock they hide under most of the time. I’ve had them for years, but they increased when I first got the letter about the review and they really are distressing. I literally wake up thanking God the nightmare isn’t real. You don’t suppose PTSD exists in nursing?? I never put two and two together until a friend of mine pointed out that she thought the dreams were related to my stress about possibly having to go back to work (at what, who knows?). It makes perfectly good sense when you think about it; how come I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out? I don’t suppose it matters; what does matter is that I’m going to be OK for the foreseeable future.

They (SSA) didn’t say when they would look at my case again, but if it’s the usual three years I’m home safe because I’ll be 62 then, which I’ve been told is when disability reverts to normal Social Security. So in theory, I might never have to worry about finding and holding down a job again in this lifetime. Doesn’t mean I won’t try if at some point in the future I feel I’m capable of working; it just means that I won’t HAVE to. I’m not going to assume that’s the case, of course, but the truth is, they probably think I’m too f#@%ed up and too old to rejoin the rat race, and to be honest I have to agree.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times if I really, really needed to be on SSDI because I’m not blind or in a wheelchair…I was always a hard worker, sometimes to my detriment, and I still believe anyone who CAN work, should. I wish I didn’t have all this nonsense that prevents me from thinking clearly enough to work, I wish I didn’t have physical limitations either. It’s embarrassing to have to tell the front desk girls at my doctors’ offices that I’m on Medicare because I get disability. I look fine, I’m able to get around under my own steam…how come I can’t work? I bet people wonder about that, at least for the brief time we spend discussing it. You’ve heard the term “invisible disability”, well, that describes me perfectly. You can’t see arthritis or bipolar disorder. You can’t see joint damage or memory loss or anxiety. But they exist just the same.

Thank God the SSA acknowledges this, even though the burden of proof with an invisible illness is pretty heavy. I’ll never know how much paperwork my psychiatrist and primary care doctor had to submit on my behalf because I had an attorney to deal with all of that, but it obviously was enough to merit disability payments. And now I won’t have to worry about being cut off with no income and no health insurance to pay for the medications that keep me sane and alive. It’s all good.

In Dreams

March 12, 2018

Sleep is getting wonky again. Maybe it’s the change of seasons (yay, we’re on Daylight Saving Time again!) or just because my brain likes to shit the bed every now and then. I get enough sleep overall, but I keep waking up several times a night and in between I have some of the strangest dreams…ones that make me feel almost as tired on awakening as if I’d really done the stuff in the dreams.

There is one recurring dream that is at once interesting and disturbing. In the dream, which has several variations on a theme, I’m back working at the hospital on the medical/surgical floor. It’s not unusual for nurses to have nightmares about forgetting a patient or running nonstop for an entire 12-hour shift, but in this one I not only have both situations but I’m dealing with an undercurrent of weirdness among my managers and co-workers. There are whispers and side glances, and I can tell no one really likes or trusts me. I also have one boss who is literally out to get me, and that’s based in reality—when I was working acute care, there was this one assistant department manager who REALLY didn’t like me for some reason, and she was always up my butt for one minor thing or another. She even tried to get me in trouble once for not signing out a narcotic…the only problem was, I wasn’t on duty and I had no narc keys.

So here I am flying around the floor, knowing I’ve neglected a patient all night but unable to get to him for one reason or another. Somehow, this manager always catches it before the end of the shift and I know I’m going to get fired, but the dream ends before it happens. Other times, I’m just running frantically behind and getting more stressed and frazzled by the minute, and this version of the dream is so realistic that I often wake up in a sweat and panting like a dog.

Obviously, I’m trying to work through something in my sleep that’s bothering me on a subconscious level. But what? I haven’t worked in that hospital for over a dozen years, haven’t worked at all in almost four. I know I’ve been a little stressed lately thanks to my disability case being reviewed by Social Security, but this is ridiculous. Sometimes even Will shows up in the dreams as a nursing assistant—isn’t THAT strange! He’s featured in some of my other dreams too, but those are almost always joyful; he invariably looks happy and healthy like he did back when he first retired, and we just do what we always did on a day-to-day basis: love and live and learn together. Oh, how I miss those days!

I think that’s why I’ve been listening to so much ’80s classic rock lately. When I hear those old tunes, it takes me back to when I was a young wife and mom—times that weren’t always great, but have taken on a luster they didn’t have before Will passed away. It’s hard to think of the ’80s as being three decades ago, but three of my kids are in their 30s and another one’s going to turn 30 later this year. Even the youngest is approaching that age at the speed of sound. How did that happen?

But all that sure didn’t matter yesterday when I was flying down the freeway before and after church, playing old Def Leppard and B-52s tunes with the bass cranked up and rocking out in the car. The weather was perfect and it was one of those days when everything seems possible. I could easily imagine Will sitting next to me and the kids in the back seat, captives to “our music”. (And I’m not old—it’s just that their music really DOES suck. Sorry.) Sometimes that was the only entertainment we had; we couldn’t afford to go to the movies, and even cable was too expensive when Will was the only one working. But we could always find enough change to fill the gas tank and cruise town with the radio on and the windows down, while our kids ate soft-serve ice cream cones with a warm summer breeze blowing in their sticky little faces.

Well, I’ve kinda strayed off the subject, but reminiscing about the good old days is a lot more pleasant than having nightmares about an old job I thought I’d long since forgotten. Maybe tonight my subconscious will STFU and let me dream about walking on the beach with my love or something similarly delightful. I hope!

 

 

 

 

 

Six Years

March 7, 2018

That’s how long it’s been since I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s hard to believe because it seems like I’ve lived the longer part of my life since then, but that’s because I had it for many years before the official label became part of my medical record. I didn’t know it at the time Dr. Awesomesauce pronounced the words that changed my life forever, but as I look back over my life it has been littered with episodes of one kind or another.

It all started more than 50 years ago, when I was a little girl plagued by night terrors and depression. A little later, around age 10, I had my first thoughts of suicide; at 13 I went through a year-long depression following the death of my beloved grandmother. I can’t quite recall when the mania showed up, but I do remember times in high school and beyond when I had much more energy than usual and couldn’t shut up. Once I got sent home from work because I was telling my life story to my co-workers, starting with earliest childhood; that was during the memorable summer I spent in what I know now to have been full-blown mania. I worked 14-hour days and drank Jack Daniels to go to sleep for about three hours before getting up and doing it all over again; unfortunately, my work performance was consistent with my diagnosis and I got written up, I don’t know many times, for erratic behavior and not playing well with others.

My mid-and-late 20s were also a mess, and I drank like a fish during most of those years. I drank when I was happy. I drank when I was sad. And I drank just for the hell of it. There are entire six-month periods I don’t even remember because I was self-medicating  with booze. I do recall being chronically angry, however, and I think that was the driving force behind the drinking. It masked the anger and reduced the number and intensity of my mood episodes…at least, I think it did. My late husband and my kids might see it a little differently.

Then in my late 30s and 40s, hormones began to rear their ugly heads and my family thought I was losing my mind. I once quit a job and took several months to “find myself” at the expense of financial stability. (I don’t remember doing this, but Will told me it happened so it must have. He wouldn’t have made that up.) I went on birth control pills to deal with my excessive menstrual cycles, and they turned me into a psychotic bitch with a capital B. So I stopped those, and a few months later my internist put me on Paxil for depression.

I remember waking up one morning about three weeks into it and HELLO! I was manic AF. Didn’t recognize it as such, of course, but suddenly I was racing around my house and workplace with my hair on fire. My boss was delighted: “Whatever you do, don’t stop taking your Paxil!” It was the first of several that pooped out eventually, which is another sign of bipolar. Finally, after Wellbutrin made me severely manic, my doctor essentially said “that’s it, you’re going to have a psych eval before I prescribe anything else.” And on March 7, 2012, I was finally diagnosed properly.

Now, six years later, I’ve learned a great deal about what makes me tick. The process slips badly every now and then (hence the occasional tinkering with meds) but for the most part I’ve grown a lot since then. It’s true that aging brings maturity, as does loss, although I certainly could have done without that. I still have some trouble with acceptance of this beastly disease as part of me, especially since I’ve been so stable for most of the past three years; often, it’s almost as if I never had it to begin with. But I know that’s just stinkin’ thinkin’, and I can never go back to the days when I was innocent (and ignorant) of having a serious mental illness.

And it’s OK.

 

 

 

March Madness

March 4, 2018

It’s almost spring, and with the change in seasons comes my semiannual experimentation with my meds. I don’t know why I do this to myself, except it always happens around the beginning of March (and the early fall as well) and each time I do it I think it’s going to work this time.

It didn’t, of course. It started out with actually forgetting my AM meds, and by early afternoon I was buzzing. It felt GREAT!! Sometimes I get sooooo tired of being this calm, almost emotionless person, and as the day progressed I felt life flooding back into me. My conversation became somewhat more animated than usual, and I took more interest in my surroundings. I was alive for the first time in what seemed like forever. Yippee!

I decided to take only my blood-pressure meds and Trazadone last night. I wanted to sleep but I also get sick of being a zombie in the morning, so I left the antipsychotics and the mood stabilizer in the pill box. Later in the night I started worrying about having a seizure since that’s one of the effects of abruptly stopping Lamictal, so I got up and took that. Not surprisingly, I was awake well into the night even though I’d gone to bed at my usual time, and my mind was on fire! Thoughts upon thoughts raced around the inside of my brain as I stared wide-eyed into the darkness. I knew I was going to be up earlier for church, but I believed I wouldn’t need the sleep…stinkin’ thinkin’ for sure.

But as the night went on, I began to ponder the possible consequences if I continued on with my experiment. My mind was fragmented, but I was still able to piece together some coherent thought. And the truth is, I may be boring, but I’m steady, and there are so many things that can go sideways when I’m manic. I spend money like it’s going out of style. I start arguments with friends and family, and act inappropriately in public. I thought about my church ladies and wondered what they would think if I suddenly stood up and began shouting about gun control. I could see myself doing it, too. I’ve done much worse, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

That must’ve been about the time the Lamictal kicked in. Even though I was still pleasantly high, I knew I’d have to take my meds in the morning. I just can’t do this to the people I love—they deserve me at my best, even if my ‘best’ means being a bump on a log. Finally I drifted off into a broken sleep, my conscience at rest for the time being.

Now, with all meds on board, I marvel at the fact that twice a year this same thing happens. I get a wild hair and decide I want to be more exciting, and the only way to accomplish this is to mess with my pills. Ordinarily, I know better than this and am religious about taking them; in fact, I kind of thought I’d skip the festivities this spring because I haven’t been depressed at all during the winter, and up until this weekend I hadn’t even thought of not taking my meds. Fortunately, it never takes long for me to get myself back in line, not just because I feel guilty but because being unmedicated is really quite uncomfortable. My heart races almost as fast as my thoughts; I’m agitated on the inside if not on the outside; I visualize myself flying out of control. I’ve been out of control before, and it was frightening at the same time that it was exhilarating. Does that make sense?

I guess I’ll have to forgive myself for doing this yet again. Like I said, I KNOW better, but bipolar does some very weird things to a person and this March madness is one of the things it does to me. It’s become predictable and I don’t know why it always catches me off guard. The one positive thing is that as quickly as it comes on, it goes away and common sense returns. Yay me!

 

Sweating the Small Stuff (and the Big Stuff Too)

February 28, 2018

Well, the time I’ve been dreading for months is here: my Social Security Disability claim is undergoing review to assess whether or not I’m still disabled according to their standards.

To say that I am anxious about this is a major understatement. I’m better than I was both physically and mentally when I first applied and was awarded benefits; of course that’s due in no small part to living a relatively low-stress lifestyle. Not having to throw myself against a wall every day allows me to remain stable. What would happen if Social Security says I’m fit to go back to work? It was an impossible task four years ago, and I was younger then…I’m almost 60 and there isn’t a big market for people in my age group, to say the least. I couldn’t go back to nursing practice even if I wanted to since I’ve been out so long. And I’m way overqualified for most non-nursing jobs, many of which I can’t do because of my physical limitations. What’s a gal to do?

Hospitalization helped me get SSDI last time. It’s never happened again, so how impaired will they think I am? Then again, I’ve been re-diagnosed with bipolar 1 three more times by three different providers, and I’m sure that diagnosis helped my cause along when I applied. I still take a slew of meds and see Dr. Goodenough on a regular, if infrequent, basis. If I were to go off my meds I would almost certainly lose my shit and be completely useless as a human being; maybe they’ll take that into consideration.

I’ve asked some of my fellow SSDI recipients how these reviews go, and they’ve told me I should be fine. I may have to see their doctors and/or get validation from Dr. G that I’m still disabled; I had to go to their medical doctor last time in order to evaluate my physical capabilities, which have NOT gotten better even with the weight loss. I still can’t stand and walk for very long, and my knees are even worse than they were three years ago. I can’t kneel or squat either, and my balance has become precarious (hence, six falls in the past year and a half). Then there’s the memory loss issue. How can I keep a job if I can’t remember the basic stuff? I can just imagine contending with multi-line phones in an office—I’d be so confused I wouldn’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt.

I’m even having trouble learning the volunteer position with the Crisis Text Line. I had to drop out part way through the training because I just wasn’t getting it and I was embarrassed and ashamed; though I signed up for a new session beginning in early April, I have the feeling I won’t go through with it. It’s a lot harder than you’d think, and I floundered even though I had plenty of support from my coach. It reminded me of how I lost my last job, and how dysfunctional I still am despite being on an even keel and reasonably happy.

Now, I know I shouldn’t stress over this because I can’t do anything until they get back to me. I wrote a letter outlining my main difficulties and sent it with the form I filled out; I hope it will be enough. I also know that there are allowances made for age, which I qualify for because I’m over 55. But I can all too easily imagine the horror if my SSDI were to be taken away…whatever would I do with NO income and NO health insurance? Those are the only things holding me together, at least financially and medically. I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent or bills, which would be awful since I’ve worked hard the past two years to get my credit score out of the toilet, and I like where I live.

OK, I’m catastrophizing now. Like my friends said, I’ll probably be fine…the worst thing that can happen at this point is having to produce documentation of my ongoing disabilities from either my doctor or theirs. And if the review does go my way, there’s every chance that it’ll be FIVE years till my next one, at which time SSDI will have rolled over into regular SS since I’ll be past age 62.

Hopefully I’ll soon get a letter saying it’s all good, I’m still eligible for SSDI. I never thought I’d say this, but in my situation it’s a blessing. I may be as poor as Job’s turkey, but at least it’s left me with some dignity. It’s hard not being able to work in this society; people look down on you and accuse you of taking food out of their kids’ mouths because you’re too lazy to get a job. SSDI isn’t welfare, it’s money I earned through many years of hard work. I don’t feel a bit guilty about that. I just need to stay on it. So wish me luck, y’all. I need all the good thoughts I can get.

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.