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Note To Self…

May 31, 2017

…Never feel so great that you think you can skip your nighttime meds and not suffer the consequences.

Yes, I was “up” last week. Yes, it made me want to try going without meds to see what it would be like. And yes, I was awake all night long and felt like I was going to freak the righteous hell out.

I don’t really know what gave me the idea that stopping meds—even as a brief experiment—would be a walk in the park. Like I said, I was definitely on the high side of the mood spectrum and sometimes that makes me think I’m invincible. But I’m also one of those people who feel the effects of med withdrawal within hours of a missed dose. I forgot about that. This damned disease of mine doesn’t have me on a short leash, it’s got me in a chokehold, and the punishment for my transgression was swift and severe.

I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I tossed and turned in bed trying to go to sleep and succeeded only in getting the blankets all twisted up. My thoughts were racing at warp speed, making it impossible to focus on the breathing exercises I do when I’m anxious or stressed. It felt like my eyes were bulging out of my head, my hair was standing on end, and the top of my head was going to fly off. I would have given up the “experiment” at that point, except it was 4 AM and I had to get up for church in only a few hours, so I didn’t want to take my meds then for fear that I’d oversleep.

Not that I was in any danger of that. It’s been a long time since I missed out on an entire night’s sleep, but I was reminded of days past when, in the throes of manic episodes, I went weeks without sleeping more than three or four hours a night. (That in itself is unusual; many people don’t sleep at all during manic phases.) It actually seemed as though I was going to tip over into full-blown mania. Amazing how well I remember how that feels, even though it’s been several years since my last hurrah. But I didn’t, and in the morning I took my daytime meds vowing I’d never pull a stunt like that again.

I can’t promise that, of course. No one with bipolar disorder can, because we cycle in and out of moods even on meds, and when we’re manic we tend to think we can do anything we want. I simply fell prey to the idea that I could skip a dose or two and be fine, even though I’ve tried it before (and it didn’t work then, either). I think deep down I still wish I could be “normal” and not have to take meds; being hypomanic and somewhat impulsive, I made a bad decision.

But it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’ve made much worse mistakes, especially in the area of finances. I have been spending a little too much money recently but I’m still able to pay my bills and rent, and most of the spending is actually for a good reason (smaller clothes for the trip). I’m now down almost 85 lbs. and am close to the goal I’d set for myself to be reached by the time we leave. I’m six months ahead of schedule!

Anyway, that’s an example of what can happen when my illness comes out to play. (Yes, I know better, so please don’t yell at me.) The only reason I’m telling this story is to show readers that a) I’m only human, and b) no matter how much fun hypomania is, there’s always a chance of doing something dumb.

And so it goes.

Round And Round

May 27, 2017

…What goes around, comes around and so on. Or so claimed the song by Ratt, way back in the ’80s when music still made sense. (Well, it did to me. But then again, Will and I were smoking a lot of weed in those days.)

Spring has at long last arrived, and with it comes some much-welcomed energy. I’ve been out a lot lately for shopping trips in preparation for our big vacation in December, but I haven’t quite gone beyond what I call pre-hypomania despite what my Psych Central mood tracker says. I do sorta feel like I’m chasing my tail though. My attention flits from subject to subject and I haven’t been able to write, hence the lengthy interval since my last blog post. We also had a few days of tension in the house which, for reasons best left unexplained, sent my anxiety through the roof and I’m still a little shaky…thank the Lord for Klonopin!

But, I’m writing this piece now and I was able to pay attention to a whole movie this afternoon. It was the final Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales. I don’t want to include spoilers; suffice it to say that for fans of the series, the ending is highly satisfying. It also brought to mind the ride at Disneyland, which is a lot of fun. I can’t WAIT to go to Disney World though. My son-in-law Clark has this great idea of having all the family wear Disney T-shirts on our first day there, so I bought the first Mickey Mouse shirt I’ve owned since I was in high school. Who says you can’t be a kid again?

Clark certainly can. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Disney fan and it’s so much fun to watch his eyes light up whenever he talks about it. He owns all manner of Disney souvenirs, clothes, even a very large (and expensive!) Mickey Mouse watch. He even loves the cartoons, like Lilo and Stitch and The Little Mermaid. You can’t help but love a guy like this…especially when he can almost make crusty ol’ bpnurse believe in magic again. Who knows? Maybe this trip will prove he’s been right all along.

Another exciting development is the big promotion my son Ethan got at work. He’s still an LPN but has been elevated to a management position complete with his own office, computer, and a Monday-thru-Friday schedule. He will be occupying the same position I’ve held at a couple of different points in my own career, and getting paid more per hour than I ever made as an RN. And this is only the beginning: he starts his RN program this summer. He’s doing it online, which makes it possible to work full-time while going to school at his own pace. Amazing what nursing students can do these days.

So that’s what’s going on in mi vida loca. Life can be overwhelming at times, and I’m still grieving for my dear Will. I miss him more every day he’s gone. We’re coming up on the first anniversary of his death in July and I am NOT looking forward to it; the only good thing I can say about it is that the “year of firsts” will at last be over. But with God’s beautiful warm sun shining down on me, I can make it through just about anything.

OK, good—on review, this post reads better than I thought it would when I sat down to write it. Hmmm…maybe what I need in order to focus is simply to WRITE and see what the hell comes of it. As long as there’s something to write about, that is. 🙂

 

 

 

Out Of Focus

May 13, 2017

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. It’s been more springlike lately and I seem to be having some difficulty keeping my grey matter together. I guess I’ll just have to post whatever pops into my head. So here goes:

I’m getting more and more excited about the upcoming trip in December. My sons Ethan and Clark have gotten me more stuff in preparation; this time it’s a hot-pink suitcase that I’ll never have trouble finding at the baggage claim, plus more tropical-flavored T-shirts that ought to be perfect for beachcombing and long hot days at Disney World. I’ve lost enough weight now that I can actually shop at Aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters, which may not mean much to the everyday person but is just a huge accomplishement for me.

I’m also happy that I’m able to do some walking. I have long avoided outlet malls and big stores because I couldn’t walk more than a few hundred feet without my back and feet killing me. It’s all baby steps (literally), but it’s SO much better than it was. I don’t know if I told all my readers this, but I’ve now lost over 80 pounds. I look like a melting candle. But I’ll take it as long as I can keep going. I’ve almost reached the goal weight I’d wanted to get to in time for the vacation, so anything on top of that is pure cream.

Oops, a food metaphor. I use metaphors a lot. Sometimes I’m afraid I do it too frequently. On my nursing website there’s a thread about how management types turn them into clichés, and I had to add a couple of the ones I hate the most (“we’re gonna knock this right out of the park” and “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team'”). I so don’t miss that about working. All that team-building shit. I always worked better alone. No wonder I had trouble hanging on to jobs…but then as we all know, there’s a lot more to that story.

Sometimes I tease myself (well, OK, it’s more like torturing myself) with the idea of finding a little part-time job to make a few extra bucks. Disability covers my bills but very little else. The trouble is, I still have the same problems I did when I first went on SSDI—I still can’t do much physically, even thought (as I said before) it’s better than it was, and of course there’s my lovely bipolar illness to deal with. I have decompensated because of work I don’t know how many times, even before I was diagnosed five years ago. How do you get around that?? I was out of Geodon for several days and I’ve totally felt weird and wired without it, so I’m reminded that my stability is based on a foundation of sand, not concrete. All I need is job stress to make the whole house of cards collapse again, and I’ve worked too freaking hard to build it up.

Anyway, it’s messy but it’s a blog post. Too much and too little stuff going on in my life at the same time, know what I mean?

Mental Health Awareness Month

May 1, 2017

As some of you might know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time for open dialogue about mental illnesses and elimination of the stigma attached to our conditions.

This was started in 1949 by Mental Health America, a national advocacy organization. But almost no one knew about it because psychiatric illnesses were a taboo subject and often accompanied by shame and embarrassment. We have made progress since then, but not enough. Too many people still believe that “mental patients” are dangerous and prone to violence, along with “crazy” behaviors. Yes, I’ve seen street people yell at trashcans. Yes, I’ve had a few psychotic experiences myself. It doesn’t mean we’re going to shoot up a school or go after strangers with a knife.

I would like to see my readers share some of their own stories during May. You all know mine. Be part of the Awareness movement!

 

Bipolar and Loss

April 13, 2017

Being on disability, I’ve had a good long time to process what has happened to me in the past few years, and finally some clarity has emerged. Not only am I dealing with the loss of my husband, but I still have unresolved grief for the life I had before my bipolar diagnosis.

As those of you who have followed bpnurse for a while know, I’ve suffered a number of losses due in no small part to this damned illness. It had actually begun to destroy my life long before I received the official label, but in my innocence I never put two and two together. I thought my job-hopping was a result of being restless and bored, and I was completely flummoxed by my problems with money. I was grateful for my blessings, but I couldn’t figure out why I was unable to enjoy them fully. In fact, I didn’t really connect the dots until relatively recently. And now that I know the truth, I’m faced with the task of putting my life back together somehow.

But first, I’ve had to acknowledge that even after three years, I’m still mourning for a world I no longer live in. I sorely miss my home, my career, my status as a solidly middle-class wife and mother. I miss having my own car and my independence. It hurts, dammit. I love my family that I live with and am thankful beyond words for all they do for me; I simply wish I didn’t have to depend on them for so much. I wish I didn’t have to depend on anyone, except of course for Will. I also wish I hadn’t had to lose almost everything in order to appreciate what I have left.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as happy as I can be under the circumstances, given the fact that my love is gone in addition to all my other losses. Some days, particularly on our rare sunny days, I feel almost giddy, a sensation that reminds me of springs past when I danced on the edge of hypomania. Oh, for a dose of that! I know I’m not supposed to want it, but I can’t help it—I need that burst of energy and the motivation it gives me, to say nothing of pure joy. It’s been a long time since I felt joyful. I miss that too. Maybe it’ll come along when the weather improves and I can get outside.

So how do I learn to live with what’s happened and make peace with myself again? I’m beginning to suspect that my anger and sadness about what bipolar has cost me is why I’ve had so much difficulty accepting the illness as a part of me, though it doesn’t define me. Perhaps if I can get past the feeling that I’ve been betrayed by my own brain, I’ll find out what I’m still capable of, whether it’s work, reading a book, or being able to remember things. We shall see.

A Little Bit of Everything

April 5, 2017

Sorry it’s been almost a month since my last blog entry, but lately several topics have crowded my brain and I can’t decide which one to write about. So I’m just going to cram all of them in this one and hopefully it’ll make sense.

I think the most important thing is the subtle change in my grief process. I am starting not to see Will around every corner or expecting him to be in the big chair in front of the TV. In other words, I’m getting used to his not being here…and while that makes me sad in a way, I also recognize it as progress. There are times I’ll think I hear him, like the other day in church when someone behind me coughed just like he used to and the time my son Ethan came out of his room wearing a striped shirt and I thought for an instant that he was Will. But otherwise, I’m beginning to let go of the idea that he’ll come back if I only pray hard enough.

I’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately. It’s a torment because there is absolutely NOTHING I can do about it, and the prospect of living the rest of my life without it is not a happy one. Almost daily I have daydreams about the times when we were young and made like bunnies at every opportunity. Lovemaking sessions got to be few and far between in the later years, but we never stopped being attracted to each other and there was plenty of satisfaction in just being together. That’s the wonderful part of a long marriage…things inevitably change, but it’s the small miracles of everyday life that make you happy and content.

Speaking of small miracles, I’m getting around more easily these days. I’ve now lost 72 lbs. and yesterday I walked for approximately 45 minutes around an outdoor shopping outlet. I’m not fast and I certainly can’t do as much as I should, but it, too, is progress. It hasn’t been too long since I avoided going in the grocery store because I got out of breath just hanging on to a shopping cart. My family and I were out shopping for our December trip, and Clark bought me two pairs of shoes. He spoils me rotten, I tell you. I’m having a tough time with clothes, though, because almost everything I got last year is too big for me now, and I’m between pants sizes so I really can’t justify buying any. It’s OK, there’s plenty of time to do it and I expect to be at least one size smaller by midsummer so I don’t really want to buy anything now. Actually, I have plenty of clothes, but my son-in-law insists I need new stuff for the trip. And no Walmart specials, either!

I am SO looking forward to this vacation. I have to make myself stop thinking about it because it is still so far away, but I’m ready to go yesterday. I especially can’t wait till we go to Disney World, where I’ve never been before. We’ll be there on Christmas Day and for a week after, and Clark says there’ll be about a zillion lights and fireworks and other visual and musical delights.  We’re also going to go to Universal Studios to finish out this grand adventure. Do I live a charmed life, or what?

I’ve been spending a little too much $$ lately, although the purchase of a new computer was a necessity because my old one died and I couldn’t fix it. This wiped out my reserves and now I really will have to live within my means. I’ve gotten pretty good at that, however, which is ironic because when I had money, I couldn’t save a dime; now that I don’t have any, I manage it beautifully. I have one credit card with a low credit limit, and I pay it in full each month to avoid interest charges. I pay my bills, I pay my rent, and I pay my student loans. Why couldn’t I have figured all this out when I was well off?

There’s more, but I’ve rambled on long enough. I have an appointment with Dr. Goodenough tomorrow and I’m sure that will provide even more to talk about. Thanks for bearing with me, folks.

Five Years

March 8, 2017

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my bipolar diagnosis. In some ways it seems like yesterday, while at the same time it’s like it happened half a lifetime ago.

I’ll never forget how I felt when Dr. Awesomesauce pronounced the words that changed my life forever. “I’m diagnosing you with bipolar disorder not otherwise specified,” he said, clearly wishing he didn’t have to. “We need to talk about getting you on some meds.” I thought about it for a minute and then asked what that meant. Even as an RN, I knew little about bipolar at the time and thought there were only two types of the disorder, so this diagnosis was confusing to say the least.

“It means that you have what looks like bipolar, but we don’t know yet what kind it is,” he told me. “Depending on what I see in the next couple of visits, I may change your diagnosis back to major depression. We’ll see.”

When I left the office that day, I felt like I had a big banner plastered across my forehead that labeled me as MENTALLY ILL. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t suspected it, but to have it confirmed by a well-qualified mental health professional was something else entirely. I went home and told my family, who were not surprised in the least, and proceeded to research the condition. I never realized there was so much information out there, and how little I really knew about mental illness in general.  Dr. Google was my best friend; I read everything I could get my hands on and recognized myself in almost all of it.

My first medication was Lamictal. It took what seemed like an awful long time before my depression lifted, but as the dose went up I started feeling better. Then summer came, and with it my first full-blown manic episode. One day I sashayed into Dr. A’s office wearing a bright turquoise outfit and blue eyeshadow, and one look at me made the diagnosis official. He still didn’t want to speculate as to what kind of bipolar I had, but the fact that I had it was never again called into question.

Now, five years, six medications, four mental healthcare providers and an equal number of bipolar 1 diagnoses later, I’ve come to terms with the illness, even if I’ve never become comfortable with the idea of having it. For the longest time I treated it as if it were an alien that lived in the house with me and ate my food; I mistakenly thought I could make it behave if I distanced myself from it. Now I give it the respect it deserves, and I can usually discern what is me from what is the disease.

Yes, I’ve learned a great deal in the past five years. Back then I was still somewhat emotionally immature; I’ve grown up a lot. Thanks to medications, I’m also mellower than I ever was in my former life; I rarely get worked up over insignificant things and I’ve learned how to pick my battles. There are no more screaming fits, no more breaking things or slamming full plates of food against the kitchen wall. And I’ve developed a deeper compassion for other mentally ill people that I wish I’d had when I was nursing.

I’m glad it’s not five years ago today. I know now that this is a lifelong illness, and as someone much wiser than I once said, I’ll die with it but I refuse to die from it.

It’s all good. 🙂