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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.

 

 

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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.

Silly Season

April 5, 2018

This is sure one weird spring. Weirder than usual, even. On the inside, my mind and heart are racing, which manifests itself in incessant leg-bouncing and shortness of breath. I don’t show any other signs of mania on the outside, but it’s there, just under the surface, like lava threatening to boil over the side of the volcano. My sleep has become fitful and on the mornings when I have to get up earlier than usual, I’m not tired. Last night I was so bored trying to sleep that I almost got up and emptied the dishwasher at two AM. The temptation to skip my meds is almost more than I can resist, but I really don’t want to blow three years of relative stability. Besides, I did that already and it didn’t go well. I want to drink, too, for absolutely no reason that I can think of other than I’d just like to have a beer.

What the F is going on here?? I haven’t felt like this in, well, I don’t know how long. At the same time, I don’t have any more motivation than usual to get off the computer and, you know, clean something. I can’t be manic because I don’t feel like taking off to parts unknown and I haven’t been driving any faster than usual (although I do crank up the stereo as soon as I’m on the freeway). Even though my thoughts race, I can still string a few together and make normal conversation. I’m not spending money either, not that I have any to spend (and I’m leaving the credit card alone so I’ll have something for the trip in September). That’s one good thing about being on a fixed income—you learn very quickly how to manage it, because otherwise you have waaaay too much month at the end of the money.

The sleep thing is perhaps the most puzzling part of it. I take enough drugs to put a rhino out, but lately I couldn’t sleep through the night if my life depended on it. I’m still a slug in the morning because I get the best quality sleep from about five or six AM, which is frustrating because I get up so much later than the rest of the household. But even though I go to bed around midnight, I’m awake till at least one or two in the morning, and then I keep waking up every hour or so just for the hell of it.

So why haven’t I called Dr. Goodenough yet, you may ask? Because I’m not manic, and I  don’t want MORE meds. I don’t want to go back on Ambien because my insurance doesn’t pay for it, and besides, it’s just one more pill and I’m having enough trouble sticking with the ones I’m already taking. I don’t know why that is, but as we’ve established, I’ve tried fooling with them on previous occasions and no good ever comes from it. I guess it’s just silly season, and like everything else, it too will pass.

It sure makes things interesting in the meantime, though. I’ve been so steady for so long, but these little hiccups serve to remind me that I’m still bipolar and need to be on guard at all times. It’s so easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that my diagnosis isn’t as serious as my providers have made it out to be. I don’t feel bipolar, I simply feel…normal. A little flat emotionally, to be sure, but then “normal” people don’t get the extremes that I used to. I do remember the screaming fits and crazy highs and black depressions. They just seem so far away now. And at times like this, with the flowers in bloom and April showers falling softly on the land, it almost feels as though they never even happened.

Almost.

World Bipolar Day, March 30, 2018

March 29, 2018

Since tomorrow is also Good Friday and I’ll be going “off the grid” for the day, I thought I’d mention the fact that the fifth annual World Bipolar Day will be taking place. In past years I’ve discussed the background and general purposes of the celebration, so if you’re a new reader you can always check the archives for an explanation. But for those of you who know about this event, I invite you to take a few moments out of your day to think about how much we’ve gained by bringing attention to our illness, and how far we have yet to go.

I personally am pleased with the progress we’re making. Five years after the inaugural World Bipolar Day, people are a little less afraid to talk about it, and about mental illness in general. Even bipolar 1 has gone mainstream. There’s a commercial for a new antipsychotic medication named Vraylar, featuring a busy woman who manages manic episodes on top of her office job and family. Now, as you know I have my misgivings about drug advertising on TV, but this is groundbreaking in that it’s the first one where mania is discussed, instead of being tucked away in the dark like a dirty secret. All the other ads for bipolar meds only talk about depression. Vraylar is recommended “because you’re more than just your bipolar 1”. Nice catchphrase. And I see it as a good sign that the illness—my illness—is being normalized. It’s about time!

Of course, the increased openness is a double-edged sword, as the recent focus on mental health matters shows. Far too many members of the public are willing to believe that psychiatric conditions are the cause of so much of the violence we’re seeing these days. Too many politicians are buying into the idea that long-term institutional care is the answer, but they have also proven themselves unwilling to put funding into the mental health system for more psychiatrists, nurses, and services. In fact, the word is that Congress is going to consider cuts to Social Security Disability and Medicare, which would be disastrous for folks like me who depend on these programs to stay well (and alive).

Even so, the fact that society is finally talking about mental health is a GOOD thing. For too long it was like the crazy aunt in the attic: we knew it was there, but it was much easier to ignore it than bring it into the living room and deal with it.

So on this World Bipolar Day, let us celebrate the people of the bipolar community and continue to raise awareness and acceptance of the disorder. Let us lift each other up and be proud of our accomplishments in the world. And let us lead the way in teaching others how we need and want to be treated. WINNING!

 

 

 

 

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.