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Hodgepodge, Second Edition

January 26, 2018

Let’s see how this post turns out. A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks and I don’t know if I can pack it all into a single coherent piece. But I’ll try.

First of all, my birthday was last Friday. I’m 59. Only fifty-one weeks left until I hit the big 6-0! In a way I’m dreading this milestone, but I’m also looking forward to it. My 50s have been a hodgepodge of good things, like becoming wiser and learning to really cherish my many blessings; but some of it has really sucked, like being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and losing my husband. My 40s were tame compared with this decade. And who knows what my 60s will hold? Will I even live through them? My family isn’t known for its longevity. My father died at 59, as did my grandfather before him. My mother died at 66. But both of my grandmothers lived to almost 75, and one aunt made it to 93. (Unfortunately, there was some dementia with all three.) Who knows, maybe I’ll be a tough old bird who survives to age 80.

There’s the ongoing issue of my leg injury. I developed a nasty cellulitis infection and the skin on top of the wound died, which necessitated surgery to remove it. This was not my idea of a good time. But with proper care (which I can do myself, thankfully) and tincture of time, it should heal. It’ll scar horribly, but nobody sees my legs nine months out of the year, and besides, I don’t really care what people may think. It makes for a good story, anyway…it’s not every day that a stupid fall on Christmas at Disney World creates such drama!

I need it to heal by summer, that’s for sure. I like going to the beach and playing in the water. I like cruises even better, and we’ve got another one scheduled for early  September. I’m so excited! We’ll be going to some familiar destinations, like Cozumel, Belize and Honduras, plus a new one in Mexico. And we’re doing it on the Carnival Magic, which was the ship Will and I were on during our first and only cruise together. She holds a lot of great memories and I’m looking forward to being on her again.

Meanwhile, my mood is holding steady, although a new wrinkle has developed. It’s mid-winter and I’m not waking up depressed; instead, I’m waking up anxious. I’m not sure why. It’s not worth taking my PRN for—it’s usually over by the time I’ve had my morning coffee without any intervention. But it’s weird. I’ve heard that anxiety sometimes is a symptom of depression, but honestly, I’m not depressed at all. Bipolar is far, far away and it no longer seems like a part of me. It’s amazing how much progress I’ve made in that department. I don’t even feel bipolar anymore, like it was just a nightmare that I lived with for several years. I can still be triggered by stress (or sometimes, just for the hell of it) but it goes away so quickly it barely registers in my brain. Kind of like normal people.

Don’t worry, I’m not the slightest bit tempted to go off my meds. I know they’re what’s keeping me sane and I will continue taking them as prescribed. It’s the complete absence of bipolar symptoms that amazes me. I’ve never been more stable in my life. The anxiety isn’t bipolar-related, it comes from somewhere else and is generalized; I can’t name a single thing that’s making me nervous. I will, of course, mention it to Dr. Goodenough during my next appointment in a couple of weeks, unless it goes away between now and then. Even if it does, I still should bring it up…only I’ll probably forget, which wouldn’t be unusual. Haha!

So, that’s been my January. How’s yours?


The Rest of the Story

January 17, 2018

I’m back home after having surgery on my leg wound, which got infected and needed to be cleaned out, and managing the pain with oxycodone and stool softeners. The meds make me stupid and constipated, so I’m apt to be found on the sofa sound asleep at any time of the night or day, and we won’t talk about what goes on (or doesn’t) in the bathroom. ‘Nuff said.

Despite all that went sideways during Vacation 2017, there were so many wonderful experiences that it was well worth the difficulties. There was that moment I love so much, when the ship actually sails…it always feels like the launching of a new adventure. I remember how it was that first time, when Will and I went, and I couldn’t help saying “I can’t believe we’re doing this” over and over.  Even after three cruises, I still feel that way. It never gets old, and I love it that yet another one is in the works.

We got to see all new islands, for me anyway. I missed Curacao because I was at the peak of my illness and felt lousy, but we’re going again so I’ll get another chance. There is something about Caribbean islands in winter that is almost magical…you can literally forget your troubles, or at the very least they’re so far away that they may as well not exist. And speaking of magic, I felt like a little kid at Disney, like I was seeing everything for the first time. (Most of which I was—I’d been to Disneyland before, but this was my first trip to DW.) There were lifelike lightning bugs in the trees, Christmas lights everywhere, and Cinderella’s Castle was covered with “icicles” just like the castle in Frozen. (Notice how everything seems to be about lights? I’ve been fascinated with them ever since I can remember, almost to the point of obsession. I had a Lite Brite toy when I was young that gave me endless hours of creative play.)

I need to say a couple of things about scooters. Well, it’s more about people and scooters. Shelley and I rented one each because as much walking as I can tolerate now, I couldn’t possible do as much as required to get around the parks. I found out quickly that people are reckless and foolish, and they don’t seem to see folks on scooters, often to their own detriment. They will walk out in front of you and have the nerve to be surprised when you nearly run over them. Worse, they let their smalls do the same thing and expect that you’ll be able to slam on the brakes in time to avoid hitting them. Needless to say, this got old after about half a day and I became quite irritable, shaking my head at people when they deliberately got in my way and at one point I even said, “I haven’t killed anyone in this thing today. But the day ain’t over yet.”

But even with that annoyance, I loved Disney and want to go back someday. I’ll never forget the Pandora: World of Avatar ride, which for my money is the Best. Ride. Ever. It took us on a bird’s-eye flight over exotic lands, swooping along narrow passages and through trees, barely missing obstacles like mountains and diving into water. It was incredible. As was this magnificent vacation. I can’t wait for the next one!



Hip, Hip, Hurray for Christmas Vacation!

January 2, 2018

Hello, dear readers, and Happy New Year!

My family and I just got back from our 18-day vacation in the Caribbean, Disney World and Sea World, and boy are we tired. We didn’t even stay up till midnight to usher in the new year. But it was truly the trip of a lifetime, like three vacations in one, and what a time we had! We swam in the sea on Grand Turk…shopped in the Dominican Republic…explored Curacao…walked through the streets and took in the sights of Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital city. Then it was five days at Disney World (and there’s a story about my clumsy ass that’s kind of long, but it’s a really good story) and we finished with a full day at Sea World before flying back home.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few hitches. I came down with bronchitis on the very first day of the cruise, and I must have been running on pure adrenaline because in spite of all the coughing and wheezing, I only missed one day of our Caribbean adventure. If I’d been home, I’d have been sick as a dog. Several other family members acquired the crud as well, but we didn’t give in to it until the limousine ride home, where we all just sort of wilted.

Now, the story about the first night at Disney. We were all parked in front of the Cinderella Castle waiting for the fireworks and light show when Shelley and I decided we needed to use the restroom. There were what seemed like millions and millions of people and we had to fight our way to the bathroom in Tomorrowland. I never made it, because I tripped over something in the dark and fell, hard, on my right side. At first I thought I’d just scraped my leg and went on as if nothing had happened, when my son said, “Mom, you’re bleeding.” I said something along the lines of “It’s OK, I’ll clean it up when I get to the bathroom.” He stopped me and repeated himself emphatically, “No, Mom, you’re BLEEDING!”

I looked down and saw that he was right. Actually, I was gushing. My shoe and sock were literally full of blood. I squished over to what turned out to be a break room for the cast members, who were aghast at the sight of my lacerated leg and called the medics. In the meantime I was trying to stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound, which was pretty much useless as I continued to hemorrhage. When the medics got there, even they almost panicked and insisted that I go to the hospital. Of course I didn’t want to go to the hospital, I just wanted them to put a few steri-strips on the cut and let me go back to the festivities. But then I got a good look at it and knew a bandage wasn’t going to fix things; even so, it was Christmas night and I didn’t want to spend it in an ER. So I reiterated my objections, but the medics came right back with, “You’re going to the hospital. We’ve already called the ambulance to take you.”

Then commenced a wild wheelchair ride through the crowds, with the medics commanding people to get out of the way as they rushed me to the waiting ambulance. At one point during the drama, we passed by the area where I’d bled and there were workers spraying bleach all over the place. It must’ve been 50 feet between the place where I fell to the break room where I’d been evaluated, and I knew they were scrubbing the floor as well because I’d gushed blood all over it.

Long story short, I missed the fireworks show. Instead, I spent the entire evening in the ER getting 22 stitches and being upset that I’d ruined my shoes and kept the family from seeing the fireworks too. (I did finally get to use a restroom, thank goodness.) I think I was more worried about that than the leg. But by this time, I was beginning to find the humor in the situation and had Ethan take pictures of the injury before and after it had been sutured, and I posted them on Facebook. It was incredibly gruesome—it actually looked like I’d been bitten by a shark—and even though he’s a nurse, he got a little woozy when the PA started sewing me up and had to leave momentarily. I found that funny too. But he came back in after composing himself, and the three of us chatted like old friends during the procedure.

Anyway, there’s a lot more to the story of our Christmas Vacation, and I’ll tell it in a future installment of this blog. And even with jet lag and a LOT of overstimulation, I stayed on an even keel mood-wise, making life easier for everyone concerned. Bipolar? What bipolar? 😉



I’ll Fly Away

December 12, 2017

T-minus 1 day, 23 hours and 19 minutes.

Can you tell how ready I am for this trip? In less than two days I will be on an airplane headed for Florida, the first leg of our magnificent vacation. We’ll have a full day in Miami, to go explore or just hang out in the infinity pool on the roof of our hotel. Then on the 16th (which is also my youngest daughter’s 32nd birthday) we will board the Carnival Vista, the largest ship in the fleet, for eight days on the Caribbean Sea. Wheeee!

But wait, it gets even better: we also have six days at Disney World and Universal Studios. Two vacations in one! I have clothes appropriate for the Magic Kingdom—LuLaRoe sells all kinds of Disney items, and I have a shirt, leggings, and even a dress. Who knew that at the age of almost-59 I’d be running around in Mickey Mouse gear? But this trip is different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my life, and it’s time to cut loose and really enjoy things. Time to let my burdens slide off my shoulders and be a child again, full of wonder and joy.

This is my last post of the year. We don’t get back till New Year’s Eve, so I’ll share my adventures with you after the first of January. In the meantime, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate. I look forward to seeing you next year!


The Merry Widow

December 4, 2017

It almost seems disloyal to title a post this way, but I think Will would understand: I’m really enjoying life these days. Part of it is anticipating the trip that’s coming up in nine days, 22 hours and 48 minutes (but who’s counting, right?); I’ve also been bitten by the Christmas bug. The holiday itself looks radically different from all my previous Christmases—who could’ve guessed that I’d be spending it at Disney World?—and there will be no presents to open that morning. But the spirit is still strong, and I spend most of my days listening to Christmas music instead of watching TV.

However, my current state of mind is that of gratitude, and I’ve realized to my amazement that I am as happy as I can be given the loss of my love. I miss him terribly and always will, but I’m learning to go on. Yesterday I went to Mass, watched football, and went out to dinner with Clark and Shelley (Ethan was at work). These things make me happy. So does a cup of hot, rich coffee first thing in the morning…writing my blog…being responsible with money. Could it be possible that I’ve become content with my lot in life?

It’s times like this that inevitably make me question my diagnosis. Were things really that bad, I wonder? Bad enough to be labeled bipolar 1? I know the medications are what’s keeping me sane and I’m not even tempted to mess with them, but I’ve been stable for so long now that the nightmare of the first few years after I was diagnosed seems like it never happened. Or if it did, it wasn’t as serious as it felt at the time. Back then, I was excruciatingly aware of all things bipolar, and had no idea of where the illness ended and where I began. That’s changed a lot. Now I can experience the full range of emotions without wondering if it’s the beginning of another manic or depressive episode. I can be sorrowful or sad, but I can also be joyful and optimistic. What a gift!

I haven’t even had to use my HappyLight this year. I’ll probably need it desperately in January, but so far none of my usual late fall/winter depression has shown up. Again, that’s probably because I’ve been looking forward to this vacation all year and now it’s very close. But it’s so nice to NOT have to deal with the usual dark moods that match the early darkness of these long nights.

Happy Holidays!




Lessons In Self-Care

November 25, 2017

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Time to watch football, eat ourselves into a coma and enjoy togetherness with family and friends. Oh, and yes, to be thankful for what we have while knowing that other people are out catching the early Black Friday sales and running over each other in the process. (I did Black Friday shopping once. ONCE. Never again.)

It was also time to try out some coping mechanisms to help myself deal with the stress of having a houseful of folks over for the festivities. If you know me at all, you know how hard being in a crowd is on me—I quickly become overstimulated and overwhelmed, and I must find a way to deal with it or lose my shit. I love everyone who was here, and I do enjoy having company from time to time (even if some of them spend much of that time drinking). But 12 people in a medium-sized house is a bit much, and I noticed myself getting agitated. So, without explaining myself or apologizing, I left the party and went to my room for a time-out at several strategic points during the day.

It helped that my favorite football team was playing on TV, which was a great distraction. Bouncing back and forth between game and dinner preparations kept me sane and made me a much more pleasant person when I was out there. (It didn’t hurt that my team won by a decisive 28-6 score, either.) I don’t drink, so the fact that everyone else does is a sore subject with me. I never realized how obnoxious I must have been in my own drinking days until I quit. Not that anyone was being ridiculous, but it’s another source of stress and I don’t deal with it well. I try not to be judge-y about that, because I realize my idea of normal ETOH consumption is one or two drinks, and only once in a while. Other people can handle much more than that and not be alcoholics. Not me.

So dinner was finally ready and we all gathered, buffet style, to get our food. It was funny how little conversation there was as we ate; the turkey was amazing and the side dishes, including my homemade stuffing, were delicious. But the L-tryptophan in the meat soon did its work, and several of us lazed on sofas fighting drowsiness. It wasn’t long after dinner was finished that folks started getting ready to leave, and once everyone was gone, all four of us breathed a big sigh of relief, happy that they’d had a good time but oh-so-glad to have our quiet house back again.

Soon Ethan and Clark, and then Shelley decided to go to bed, leaving me alone to watch TV and surf the ‘Net as usual. But then something went wrong: I suddenly became over-amped and the feet started tapping, the thoughts started racing, and I was all over the map emotionally. It was like a mini-mixed episode. I muted the TV and began listening to all kinds of music on the iPod in the hope of soothing myself; I played Bach and Elvis and Lawrence Welk. It didn’t help. I forced myself to go to bed at midnight after checking my pillbox to make sure I’d taken my meds; I had, but I couldn’t settle down. The last time I looked at the clock, it was almost three in the morning and I still wasn’t ready for sleep, but I must’ve drifted off shortly thereafter because the next thing I heard was my alarm going off. Thankfully, I’m back to normal today though.

The takeaway lesson here is, I still have some work to do in learning self-soothing techniques to use whenever I feel overwhelmed and/or anxious. I’ll face the ultimate test next month at Disney World, where I won’t be able to escape the crowds. But I give myself some credit for having come this far; it wasn’t so long ago that I’d become angry and snap at people when they got in what I considered to be my space. I don’t do that anymore. 🙂




Leap of Faith

November 17, 2017

Well, I’ve taken a big new leap into life: I just became a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line. Or rather, a trainee for the Crisis Text Line. This is a volunteer position, which is great because I’ve been looking for something I can do from home. A friend of mine from another website, who is a new counselor herself, encouraged me to apply for it. This is serious business; the application had a number of essay questions, there is a training period of six weeks, and I have to pass a background check (which I’m not the least bit worried about). In other words, it’s a real job, and not everyone who goes through the application process is accepted.

I love the idea of helping others experiencing mental health issues. Obviously, I have lots of lived experience and am in a good place right now, so I think I might be pretty good at this. The schedule is very flexible; counselors work no more than 12 hours per week, and I can work in two-to-four hour shifts at any time of the day or night. The only caveat is the time commitment; it’s a minimum of 200 hours or one year. I’m a little leery about that because I tend to start something when I’m feeling well, and then am unable to maintain interest in the project. My last job turned out to be a disaster for the same reason. But it’s time I took a chance at doing something meaningful to help my fellow man…that’s what I miss about nursing.

I know it’s going to be intense at times, working with people who are standing on the edge of the abyss and needing reasons not to jump. My job will be to listen and encourage; it will not be about me or my own issues. They don’t need to hear my story, they need to be heard. And I’m sure they’ll tell me things that will make my hair stand on end, things that may anger me, things that may be triggers. That’s why the Crisis Text Line has supervisors available to the counselors to help with difficult cases. They care about the counselors’ mental health and want to avoid compassion fatigue, which is very common among workers in the helping professions. (I ought to know.)

Yes, I have my reservations about all this, and I’m going into it with my eyes—and my mind—open, but I’m going to take a leap of faith and see if I can do it. That last job dealt a crushing blow to my self-confidence, but in working to build a new life, I feel the need to venture out of my comfort zone a little. I want to think I’m making a difference, which is another thing I miss about nursing. I know there will be texters that I cannot help, but who knows…I may even save a life someday.

It’s worth it to try, anyway. And I really believe I can be good at it. I start training after the first of the year. Wish me luck!