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Peace and Quiet

September 9, 2019

It has occurred to me over this short, mild summer that for the first time since I don’t know when, I haven’t had the slightest inclination toward becoming manic or even hypomanic. I’m calmer on the higher dose of antidepressant, and I have the Klonopin as backup. But I haven’t needed it except for a couple of nights ago, and that was only because I couldn’t shut my brain up long enough to go to sleep.

More importantly, there has been a subtle shift in the way I view all of the crap that’s happened to me in the past 7 1/2 years, and I don’t think it’s going back. You can’t un-know the known. I’ve reached the point in my bipolar life that I no longer see mania or hypomania as something to be sought after. I hate depression like nobody’s business, but mania truly is not my friend. It’s been long enough since my last big hurrah that I’ve gained some perspective and I remember how little control I had when I was full-blown manic. I did so many stupid and foolish things; spent money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need, endangered life and limb flying low on the interstate, and screwed myself out of jobs because I couldn’t keep myself stable for longer than a couple of months.

As a result, I’ve had many, many medication adjustments over the years which have brought me to this place of peace and acceptance. It amazes me to look back over the years and see how much has changed. How much being in control has changed me. I’m sure some of it is plain old-fashioned maturity, but I have to credit my treatment for at least part of it. I was somewhat of a case of arrested development before I got sick. I didn’t have enough insight at that time to know that, though. I just thought I was a little slow at this adulting business…if I thought about it at all.

Then there was the diagnosis, and all hell broke loose. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time know what I’ve been through with this illness; I invite newer readers to check out the archives for stories about my difficulties with reining it in. I still have very minor episodes of depression and maybe a little hypomania once in a while, but I haven’t been suicidal in five years and I haven’t alienated anyone by my outrageous conduct at the top of the mood scale.

It’s not perfect by any means, and sometimes the process slips a bit. I still tend to think people are mad at me when they don’t speak to me or when they make vague complaints about something that involves me; but I have just enough emotional IQ now to think about it and understand that not everything has to do with me, so I don’t take stuff personally like I used to. This has saved me countless times when Ben snaps at me or my other kids don’t call or text me as often as I wish they would. (Lately, however, I’ve been in frequent contact with all three of the others and we have had some great conversations. I love it!)

Hell, I’m not even tempted to mess with my meds anymore. I didn’t do it back in the spring when I usually lose my shit, and I’m not doing it now when it’s September and this is the OTHER time of year when I tend to be a little wacky. I know deep down that they are the only things keeping me from destroying myself, and obviously I don’t want that to happen. Other than recent (and ongoing) stresses, my life is pretty good, and who wants to screw that up?

The other significant thing that’s happened is my sister Louise has moved in with her daughter in Maine. She flew out early yesterday morning with her little dog, who was understandably upset about being confined to a carrier. It’s for the best; she will get more attention there than Ben or I were able to give. I will miss her, and it was an awful realization when I hugged her that it would probably be for the last time. Maine is about as far away from Oregon as you can get and still be in the continental U.S. I wish her well and hope she and my niece will be able to get along OK. I think they’ll do fine, my niece is a tough lady who can stand up to just about anyone. It’s a skill she’s developed over years of a hard life. She’ll need it, because one of Louise’s little personality quirks is to make a fuss over something—often something trivial, like being handed a dessert fork instead of a regular fork—and then outwit, outplay, and outlast her opponent. (Ben and I both know this from experience.)

Anyway, I hope life will be gentle as the summer fades and the leaves change colors. I’m thankful that the bipolar bear is hibernating. And I welcome the peace and quiet that not struggling with it brings.

Anxiety, Be Gone!

August 24, 2019

I saw Dr. Goodenough last Friday, and rather than the decrease in meds I’d been hoping for, we actually INCREASED one of them. But you know what, it’s OK; I’ve made up my mind that this is how it has to be, and every now and again the shit is going to hit the fan. It happens, and I’m no longer going to beat myself up for needing an adjustment.

I told him about the constant anxiety, how I was waking up every morning with dread and going through the day feeling like my nerves were about to snap like the strings on a violin. I also told him I wasn’t depressed, just worried and agitated, and I needed some relief even though it’s mostly situational. He agreed that Klonopin would be helpful and gave me a new prescription. Then he proposed something I thought would never happen: doubling my Celexa. This is my antidepressant, and doctors have been extremely resistant to raising my baby dose to a therapeutic one for fear of inducing mania. Dr. G doesn’t seem to think it will be a problem, in fact he told me it may be better for my anxiety in the long term than anything else. What he was mostly concerned about was how my state of mind was affecting my bipolar, which it really isn’t…I’m not depressed, and I’m certainly not manic. I’m just anxious!

I hope he’s right about the Celexa. I’m not worried about mania—going from 10 mg to 20 mg (the standard dose) isn’t likely to send me to the moon. In the meantime, I’m taking Klonopin every night until the Celexa kicks in, and I’ve noticed a considerable decrease in my feelings of impending doom. The stress is still there, and I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I can see daylight from here. It’s nice to have my heart beat at a normal rate instead of pounding so hard it feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest. It’s good that the shortness of breath I’ve been having is gone. And I love it when I can go right to sleep at night without all the worries in my head converging on me at once. The Klonopin also has a nice half-life of some 15 hours, so when I take it at night I’m not waking up in a lather in the morning, and it lasts well into the day at which time my other coping mechanisms have taken over.

It’s also helped having my daughter Mindy visit us for the past three weeks. She’s on her way to a new job and a new life in Minnesota, and I swear we talked more in those three weeks than we have in the past 15 years. She is an amazing woman, and she reminds me so much of her Dad that it’s almost heartbreaking. Like him, she has a way of turning even negative experiences into positive ones, and she’s a pro at figuring stuff out when there’s no one else around to fix things. Her main problem is being unlucky in love, but ever the optimist, she’s still willing to try.

The other good thing that’s happened is that our puppy is recovering from his parvovirus infection. He’s still a little weak, but for a dog who was at death’s door just a few days ago, he looks fantastic. It’s like with people, you never know what you’ve got until you almost lose it. He belongs to Shelley, but he’s wiggled his way into all our hearts and we were sick with fear that we’d lose him. Now he’s eating and drinking and eliminating and being his cute little affectionate self, and life is good again.

So that’s all the news that’s fit to print, as the saying goes. And yes, I’m finally at peace with the idea that I MUST take this many medications to remain stable. This summer, I haven’t had the slightest bump up in my mood, and I haven’t been tempted to mess with my meds. I don’t even want to be hypo/manic anymore–there’s just too many ways it can go haywire, and who needs that drama? Not me!

Time Of The Season

August 14, 2019

Well, it’s happening—the change in the angle of the sun’s light that is so subtle that very few people notice it. I am one of those people. It’s not affecting my moods, I’m just more aware of the shift than most. The weather still gets hot, but it takes a little longer to reach the hot part of the day and it doesn’t stay quite as warm, quite as long as it did a couple of weeks ago.

We haven’t had much of a summer, anyway. It’s hit 90+ degrees on only eight days, and most of the time we’re in the 70s or low 80s. It’s pleasant enough, but there have been too many clouds for my taste. I live for summer every year, so I feel kind of deprived. Hopefully we’ll have a heat wave or two before fall arrives next month, but then, that’s only MY hope—the rest of the family likes it cooler.

Speaking of family, I’m having a great time visiting with my daughter, Mindy, who’s been staying with us for the past two weeks. She is figuring out her life in her inimitable manner, going right for what she wants with no muss, no fuss. She is a remarkable woman who’s been through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both as a soldier and as a civilian contractor, and only now am I learning of what she really had to deal with during her deployments. She had always emphasized to me that she was perfectly safe in her control tower on base; now I’m finding out how dangerous it really was over there. I’m so glad I didn’t know. But she’s also chock full of funny stories about her adventures, and I love her resourcefulness (ever try to drive away jackals with a BB gun? She has). It’s such a gift, to have a daughter like her. I will miss her desperately when she leaves next week to move to Minnesota, of all places. She’s found a job that pays well, bought a car, and even has a house picked out. So life is going her way again, and I’m so happy for her. She rocks!

Then there’s the issue that has caused a great deal of stress in the family, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. Thanks to the distraction posed by my daughter’s visit, the anxiety has been down to a dull roar, but every week something different happens and it just ratchets up my distress that much more. I’m sleeping OK but my slumber is filled with distressing dreams that make me almost as tired as if I’d done what I dreamt about. Most of the nocturnal festivities have to do with working in the hospital and the patient I didn’t know I had till the end of the shift, which is my default dream when I’m under pressure. I also dream about my kids being in trouble with the law, and recently I’ve experienced my first two nightmares about Will. In both, he told me he didn’t love me anymore and left me. I’ve never had those kinds of dreams in all the time since he’s been gone, but given everything that’s happening—plus the recent anniversary of his death—it’s easy to figure out where they came from.

Yes, this has been a strange summer, and it’s not over yet no matter what the weatherman says. Ben and Clint were supposed to be on a cruise right about now, and they had to cancel due to what’s going on. (I wish I could come right out and share, but this is something I can’t discuss until it’s resolved, and perhaps not even then if things don’t go our way.) We’re still scheduled to go in March; only time will tell if we can make that trip. I hope so, because that’s when I’m sick to death of winter and need some warmth and sunshine.

In the meantime, I continue to hang in there and try to navigate my way through this miasma of suck. (Forgive me for sounding pretentious, but I’ve long been fascinated with the word miasma and I finally got a chance to use it. Huzzah!) What else ya gonna do?

Behind The Mask

July 18, 2019

I made it through the anniversary.

In fact, I was pretty much OK with it. When I lit Will’s candle and said a prayer over him, I didn’t even cry—all I felt was peace. I looked over at the chair he used to occupy and remembered what he looked like relaxing in it, watching TV and cuddling with a puppy or two. Not those final hours of agony in the same chair. I thought about it, of course, but my grief has mellowed to the point that I think far more often of the good times we had, and I was able to put that awful night into perspective.

To be fair, I have to admit that there were some distractions from the solemnity of the day, one of which has shaken me to the core and has no easy answers. Someone I love dearly is in deep trouble and there is absolutely NOTHING I can do about it. I have felt this helpless on only two other occasions in my life: the death of my second child, and of course the night of Will’s supreme suffering. I can’t go into details because of the highly sensitive nature of this crisis, but while I’m smiling and optimistic on the outside for my loved one’s sake, I’m really hiding behind a mask and silently battling with anxiety. I can’t help it. It’s a situation that has the capacity to change absolutely everything (and none of it is good), and it scares the living daylights out of me.

Sometimes I amaze myself with the ability I have to pretend everything is normal. No one here knows that I’m on the verge of losing my mind. I’m doing the best I can to be cheerful, but I’ve seen things like this go sideways in a hurry and again, there is nothing I can do to fix it. That’s the worst part of it. I can’t turn the clock back, I can’t contribute money to the cause, and I can’t go to the powers that be and convince them my loved one isn’t responsible for what happened. I have to put my trust in God and whoever is working for Him that everything will work out. But that’s easier said than done.

This is not my bipolar brain talking. It’s gone to wherever it goes when I’m not actively ill, and other than the anxiety and weird sleep patterns, it may as well not exist. No, this is fear—not only for my loved one, but for myself as well. It feels like my place in the world is being threatened, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if worse comes to worst. I know that sounds selfish, but my options are VERY limited and I need to be prepared for anything.

But out of all this, the one I feel the sorriest for is, naturally, my loved one. They are living behind a mask too, and it must be hard to remain upbeat and positive when they’re also quietly terrified of what may await them. I can’t imagine what they must be going through and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. We don’t talk about the future if the matter doesn’t go our way; in the meantime they’re moving on, starting a new job and doing their best to take care of the family. In the meantime, I’ll just keep my angst to myself, pray, and pop the occasional Klonopin. And maybe, just maybe, everything will be all right.

Off-Kilter

July 8, 2019

I’ve been a little worried about myself lately.

For a couple of weeks now I’ve felt anxious and depressed in the mornings, which doesn’t last throughout the day but is concerning to me. I am rarely if ever depressed during the summer; usually I’m fighting off mania and staying up all night, and that’s just not happening this year. But as glad as I am to not be waiting for the other shoe to drop, I don’t welcome mania’s opposite number either.

And then I remembered: This is July. And this coming Saturday will be the third anniversary of my husband Will’s passing. Actually, the night of the 12th is the most difficult time to get through, because that’s when he was in such agony and it killed my soul to watch him suffer; his official TOD was 3:10 AM. I even pronounced him—unofficially—as the nurse wasn’t in the room when it happened. It’s the time that went on the death certificate, anyway.

I can’t believe it’s been three years already. My doctor and others have said that this is the approximate point when grief is lessened, if not resolved (and is it EVER resolved? I don’t think so) and life returns to some semblance of normality. Yes, it’s a different normality because something deep inside us has changed forever with the loss of our loved one, but we generally have settled into what remains of our own lives with a measure of equanimity. For me that point came somewhat earlier, when I fully accepted the fact that Will was gone and I had to carry on by myself. It helped a great deal that I was surrounded by so much love from my family and friends; in fact, I think that was why I adjusted relatively quickly after my loss. Besides, I had my kids to think of, it wouldn’t have been right to add my sorrow to theirs as they too had lost someone very important to them. And they, too, have adjusted.

Three years. It’s been three years since I last heard his voice and felt his strong arms around me; three years since I’ve had one of his wonderful back massages that kept me out of severe pain; three years since I saw him sitting out on the deck smoking his medicine in his traffic-cone orange shirt and plaid pajama bottoms. He had more fashion sense than that, of course, but toward the end it just didn’t matter—comfort was of the utmost importance.

So I’m a little off-kilter, and somehow knowing what’s causing these uncomfortable feelings (and believing that they will end soon) makes me feel a little less undone. Self-awareness is such a gift…and I’m pretty sure I would never have found it if I hadn’t developed bipolar disorder. I was still somewhat emotionally immature when I was diagnosed, even though I was 53 years old and a grandmother several times over; the medications and therapy have gone far toward making me slow down and actually look at things before acting on them.

This is why I’m not panicking at the idea of having a bit of a downswing at a time when I’m usually up. Summer hasn’t really begun yet anyway; the weather has been uncooperative and we’re lucky if we have a few bright, sunny days in between the cloudy and cool ones. I’ve just got to get through the next week. I can do this.

Three Things People With Bipolar Don’t Want You to Know

June 27, 2019

Just when I thought I was in a solid remission…

Things have been rather tense in my world recently, so naturally I’m stressed out and anxious. Usually anxiety is a feature of depression for me, but I’m not depressed at all. Just…antsy. Like something’s coming down the pike that I know I’m not going to like, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Which got me to thinking. There are some matters we bipolar folks don’t particularly like to discuss with others, and while we know it’s not good to keep the lid on so tightly, it’s instinctive. For example:

Our “recoveryis only as good as the circumstances surrounding us. As I’ve said in the past, I prefer the term ‘remission’ over ‘recovery’, but whatever word you use, the fact is none of us is immune to triggers, and they have a lot of say in whether we maintain our mental health or succumb to a mood episode. I have a HUGE insecure streak and it doesn’t take much to rattle me in certain situations, even though I know on an intellectual level that what I’m afraid of is not likely to come to pass. I also have some wariness of people and institutions that I’m supposed to trust, and when I’m anxious I tend to become somewhat paranoid about their intentions. This does not contribute to mood stability, to say the least.

Sometimes our symptoms embarrass us. Whether it’s hypersexuality, excessive flamboyance, or even stripping down to the skin and waltzing down Main Street, our behaviors can easily end in humiliation. We don’t like to talk about it because we know we are being judged harshly. “Normal” people don’t go around their workplace singing loudly and galloping up and down the halls. They don’t harangue others on a singular topic for over an hour on the bus. Nor do they spend money on stupid stuff like a neon-yellow tank top with a giant neon toucan splashed all over the front of it. (Dr. Awesomesauce never did let me live that one down. I wonder if he still thinks about it now and again.) I don’t even think “normal” people freak out at what freaks me out: the idea of being homeless. It’s by far my worst fear. I came within a whisker of it back in 2014, and it’s like I have some weird kind of PTSD from that experience. And lately, since I’ve been dealing with anxiety, that fear has come back to haunt me even though there is little reason to be afraid. It’s my default whenever I feel insecure in life, and it embarrasses the shit out of me. Besides, how the hell am I supposed to make someone else understand it when I don’t even understand it?

And, some of us run on what seems like a primitive part of our brain, and any deviation from our routine can throw off our whole day…or our whole life. I’m not totally rigid about it, but I have to have most of the little details lined up so I can do them in a predictable fashion. Like my morning regimen: I get up, clean my glasses and check Facebook for a few minutes before going to the bathroom and immediately taking my meds with a full glass of water. I use the facilities, wash my hands, brush my teeth, and last I brush my hair. I do these tasks in the same order every single day; if I try to change things up, it throws me off and I feel like I’m missing something. The rest of the day isn’t so tightly structured, although I like to surf the Net for awhile before (and after) doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. I also shower some days. The rest of the day is spent however I choose, unless somebody in the household wants to go out to dinner and/or a movie or shopping. I can adjust to changing situations with some ability to roll with the punches, but that I owe to meds (and aging). Bottom line: if I don’t have to think about it too much, I can carry out my activities of daily living without getting stressed for the most part.

Trouble is, this isn’t a winning strategy for success in life, and one of the reasons I can’t hold a job (which is another thing that makes me self-conscious) is that I can’t manage competing priorities. It was what killed my nursing career. Whatever part of the brain that makes that aspect of life work is lost to me, perhaps forever. But that’s a story for another post; in the meantime, I’ll just fight the anxiety and keep on keeping on. Which is something that I AM good at.

Spoon Theory

June 16, 2019

Have you ever heard of the Spoon Theory?

It’s a metaphor for living with disabilities from chronic illness, and it makes all kinds of sense to me. I became familiar with it when I was seeing a therapist a few years ago. Say you’re given 12 spoons at the beginning of each day; they represent the difficulty of activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, cooking, going to work, even getting out of bed. For example, a shower costs you two spoons. Making and eating a meal uses up three spoons. Grocery shopping and exercise are four spoons apiece…see where I’m going with this?

You also have to give up spoons when you don’t sleep well, skip meals, forget your meds, or get sick (physically OR mentally). This will put you behind for the day and you may even get shorted the next day if you borrow from tomorrow’s supply of spoons.

The thing with the spoons is, you only get a certain amount of them per day, 12 being the operative number here, and when they’re gone, they’re GONE. There is no substance left for anything else. So you have to be careful where you use your spoons (spend your energy). Like today, I got out of bed and performed my morning routine. One spoon each. Did dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, three spoons. Watched TV and surfed the Internet, two spoons. Cleaned up frequent puppy “accidents” and washed and folded two loads of laundry (which is a real chore for me thanks to my back), three spoons. Sat down to squeeze out this post as I can’t come up with anything else to write about, two spoons. See, I’m already up to 11 and the only really productive thing I did was the wash. And I’m done. I’ve had enough day today. I’ll use up my last spoon when I take my meds tonight and go to bed, and then tomorrow I’ll get another 12 to use as I see fit.

Let’s see, I’m going to church. Driving 25 miles to get there is three spoons, attending Mass and socializing afterwards is four. That leaves five for the rest of the day, and it’s only noon. Don’t forget, getting up and dressed and taking meds uses two…well, you see what I’m up against.

I did not make any of this up. The Spoon Theory was invented by a woman named Christine Miserandino at ButYouDon’tLookSick.com. She has lupus and she came up with the idea as an explanation for her friend as to why she has to ration her energy and can only do so much in a given day. “Spoonies” don’t have to be physically incapacitated, of course; the theory works for those of us who have mental illnesses too. Sometimes it takes a great deal of vitality that we don’t have just to complete our ADLs. I’m not kidding. There are times when it feels like taking a freaking shower uses up the whole dozen spoons all by itself and I laze on the sofa for the rest of the day; other times, like today, I had enough spoons to do what I needed to do, and I’m grateful for days like this because I don’t feel like a total failure.

I’ve actually been doing pretty well spoon-wise; sometimes I even have one or two left to spare at the end of the day and I use them to get more done the next day. But I am always aware of the need to conserve my strength, not only for the things that must be done but for the things I enjoy.