OK, I’ll admit it: my mood has taken a dip. The mild mixed episode I had last month has settled into a moderate depression, and now I’m utterly lacking in motivation. It’s not bad as depressions go; I’m able to enjoy things and people given the opportunity, and I can comfort myself with the fact that this will pass. There are no suicidal thoughts, no feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness. I have plenty to live for, family most of all, and of course there’s that trip in December to look forward to. I’m just blue.
Dr. Goodenough says it’s classic seasonal depression, and wants me to use my light for 45 minutes in the morning now rather than 30. He is a wee bit concerned that it might turn me around to the point where I become hypo/manic, but is giving me the discretion to back it off if I do. (Well hell, I could use a dose of mania right now, but that’s no more acceptable than depression and I know it.) He also wants me to get up just a little earlier in the mornings to take full advantage of my artificial sunlight, but thank God he’s understanding about my night-owl nature. I was never meant to be a day person, but staying up till two or three in the morning and then sleeping fitfully until 11 is ridiculous.
It’s amazing how much ground Dr. G and I can cover in a half-hour session. We go over meds, but most of the time is spent asking and answering questions. He asks very good ones—some of which I really have to think about—and listens to me before adding his ideas. (Yes, I know psychiatrists are supposed to do that.) I’ve learned things from him too, like today when we talked about thyroid testing and how the measurement of thyroid hormone can be normal medically, but for psychiatric purposes the range is a lot narrower. I may even have to go on thyroid medicine although my level is within normal limits. Who knew?
We’re back to monthly appointments again. I was able to go six weeks before, but he’s going to watch me a little more closely since I’m a bit unstable. That is comforting in its own way. He has the same theory as I do about medications: they mask the symptoms, but I’m still cycling even if I don’t feel it. Then of course I have grief to deal with on top of my moods, though I don’t know if grief complicates depression or if depression complicates grief.
I guess it’s a little of both. I had a down-and-dirty sob-fest last night in which I cried till I thought I was going to throw up; I was by myself, thank goodness, and I just let it all hang out. I miss Will so much it physically hurts, and apparently the only way I can express it adequately is in tears. I still hate crying, but it must’ve done me good, because I feel somewhat better today. My grief counselor, Ginny, is coming on Friday and I’ve got a lot to tell her…strangely enough, that undignified episode was something of a breakthrough. I realized that although I have a long way to go before I’m through the worst of it, I am healing. And that is encouraging.
I was looking back over my blog posts from a year ago, and I could have written those entries today. It was the same setup—winter was in full swing, and so were my moods. Like Dr. G said, it’s classic SAD and I can probably look forward to some elevation once the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
I can’t wait. 🙂
I’m a little scattered and screw-loosey again. Up and down, up and down, sometimes in the same day. It’s not as bad as it was a few weeks ago, and I’m able to hide it for the most part, but I’ve got to watch it lest it turn on me and become a full-blown mixed episode. Those are hell on Earth and if I never have another one, it’ll still be too soon.
I’ve been thinking about Will a lot lately, and doing quite a bit of crying even when the memories are sweet or funny. The feeling of profound loss is pervasive and haunts me in my dreams as well as during my waking hours. All the dreams in which he makes an appearance are good ones—he always looks healthy and happy—but then I wake up and see the empty recliner next to mine, and it all comes rushing back. Especially that last night, when he suffered so much before we got him to the hospice house. In my mind’s eye I still see him as he lay comatose; hear the priest giving him the last rites; watch him slip away right before my eyes.
Thank God I have a wonderful grief counselor from hospice. They give you 13 months of aftercare, and I decided early on to take advantage of their services. My counselor is named “Ginny”, and she’s better than a therapist (she makes home visits too). She knows how to elicit gut-level feelings without manipulating, and we have grown quite fond of each other during the past few months. On this most recent visit, I was encouraged to share memories of my marriage—how we met, what the early years were like, and so on. I felt a lot better after that. She calls me every other week or so, and we make arrangements for the next session. She also reads this blog, so if you’re out there, Ginny, thank you for everything!
On a happier note, I’m getting excited about the next vacation even though it’s still 10 1/2 months away. Especially the Disney World part. My son-in-law is a HUGE Mickey Mouse fan, and his enthusiasm and love for all things Disney is infectious. We’re going to be there on Christmas Day, and it’s supposed to be full of lights, fireworks, and amazing decorations…to say nothing of what else the park has to offer.
This boggles my mind. I’ve been to Disneyland, but never Disney World, which Clark says is so full of wonders that it totally eclipses the California version. (He’s been to both parks, so he knows.) I hope I’ll be up to the challenge, because we’re going to be there for seven days after the cruise and I imagine I’ll be exhausted at least some of the time. The cruise itself is eight days and goes to the southern part of the Caribbean, where islands such as Curacao, Grand Turk, La Romana and Aruba await. I’ve never even heard of three of those islands, but I’m sure I’ll have a good time exploring them…or at least shopping and dipping my toes in the sea. In December.
I just went back over this post to polish it and make it presentable for publication (how do you like that bit of alliteration?), and gosh, I really AM all over the map. Literally. Oh well, this too shall pass, and if it doesn’t I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Goodenough next week. It’s all good.
My 58th birthday has come and gone, and it was a good day despite missing Will acutely. I got to go out to dinner with the family, and they made me a cake that they didn’t set on fire this time. I heard from all of my kids as well as my sister, who calls precisely at 10:27 AM every year because that’s the time I was born. I love that; my mother used to do the same thing until she passed away, then Louise took over where she left off. It’s tradition, which means more to me the older I get.
Birthdays always lead me to indulge in another tradition, and that is my annual reflection on how the past year went and what I’ve learned during my latest trip around the sun. Obviously, Will’s death has taught me a good deal about becoming more self-sufficient—I’ve re-learned how to do laundry, cook for myself and the family, and so on. But the biggest surprise is discovering that I can be brave, and carry on with life despite a grief that permeates every aspect of my existence.
I remember when I turned 50, how I thought I’d finally “arrived”. I held the key to the meaning of life, and I walked around dispensing what I believed to be superior advice gleaned from a half-century of living. Now that 60 is on the horizon, however, the only thing I know is what I don’t know; I have more questions than answers. Like, what IS the meaning of life, and why do we humans have to suffer catastrophic losses? Is there some reward for slogging through it? And if we do manage to get past the worst of it, will we really see our loved ones again someday?
I want reassurance that Will is OK. That he’s somehow able to watch over me, and that he misses me like I miss him. On the other hand, I don’t want him to be sad, I want him to be supremely happy with God and our little girl. If what I believe about the afterlife is true, I needn’t worry, but there’s always that nagging feeling that it’s not possible for someone to be in two places at once. How can Will be in Heaven and yet here with me in spirit?
These are the questions that keep me up at night. Although I’m better than I was a couple of weeks ago when I was having something of a mixed episode, my sleep is still erratic and I can’t seem to get to bed before one or two AM. Last night I was up until about 3. I make up for it in the mornings, but staying in bed till 10 or 11 isn’t good either, even though I have absolutely nothing to get up for. I’ve never been a morning person anyway so I don’t feel too bad about sleeping late, but I know I’m supposed to feel bad because my sleep pattern doesn’t conform to society’s. Why?
Well, I’ve strayed pretty far away from the original topic, which is my birthday and what has taken place since the last one. Suffice it to say that I no longer believe I know everything, like I did when I was a newly-minted 50-year-old. Now I’m just a sadder and—in some ways—wiser version of that woman. But I’ll never again think I’ve got life by the balls, because I don’t. No one does.
I’m feeling decidedly off-kilter these days, so please forgive me if this post reflects that. But I have stories to tell, and I hope you’ll read them. That’s why I write this blog—not only to help myself sort out my life, but to educate and hopefully entertain you, the reader. (At least sometimes.)
I’m still having trouble with excessive irritability. I bite my lips almost until they bleed in order to avoid yelling at people indiscriminately, knowing it’s no one’s fault I’m in this state of mind. Besides which, the family is doing their best to support me at this challenging time (for which I’m eternally grateful!), as I’m all at sea trying to process this stage of grief. I’ll be damned if I know what stage it is—depression? Anger?—but I know I’m in one of them…probably the anger part.
My grief counselor came by on Friday, which was terrific timing given the fact that it was the six-month anniversary of Will’s passing. She is a licensed professional counselor who knows my difficulties and helps me suss out what is my illness from what is simply emotional suffering. Even though I’m very good at that under ordinary circumstances, I’m more than a little confused these days because I’m definitely feeling a stirring underneath all the emotions that reminds me of past episodes…mixed episodes. And that is no bueno. Nothing good has ever come from a mixed episode. Those are the kind I fear most of all, and if things go any further down that road I’m going to call Dr. Goodenough. I’d rather deal with depression.
This is a bad time for all this shit (not that there’s ever a good time for it). My birthday is this coming Thursday, and I’m trying to be happy about it. I’m turning 58. Might as well be 60, Lord knows I’m getting close enough. But my son-in-law Clark has already spoiled me rotten by buying me my first honest piece of luggage, a beautiful London Fog carry-on bag with wheels for our next trip. He also got me a dressy top (only a 2x!! I was too big for 4x just a few months ago) and a tiny purse that was outrageously expensive, but with 70% off it wasn’t too bad. That’s for Disney World, where I won’t want to carry around a big bag. Clark says, “You deserve nice things”. I’ve only heard that from one other person in my life, and that, of course, was Will.
Oh yeah, I renewed my nursing license for one final time. I had enough practice hours in the last five years to qualify, so I went ahead and renewed just for the hell of it. I can’t see any situation that would enable me to use it, except maybe for volunteer work, but there’s something so satisfying in calling myself an RN. I’m proud of it.
Once again, I had to disclose the fact that I have “well-managed bipolar 1” and am not practicing at this time, but I had no trouble with the Board of Nursing. Sometimes they can be stinky about nurses with mental illnesses and tend to lump us in with addicts and alcoholics; I’ve been lucky twice in not being mandated to enter a so-called “rehabilitation” program. I don’t even want to go into detail about how horrible these programs are, especially for nurses who have only MI and don’t deserve to be placed in one. Suffice it to say that I’m in the clear, and though I’ll have to give it up the next time my license comes up for renewal, I should be able to apply for RN Emeritus status and be officially retired.
So, that’s my verbal incontinence for the day. Lot of words in this one. If you’re a praying person, I ask you to put in a good word for me with the Lord that I can get past this whatever-it-is, and continue to mourn my husband without my illness complicating things. If not, positive energies and good vibrations will do. Thank you.
This is a vent post, so if you don’t want to read further, I’ll understand. I didn’t really want to write it either. But there’s some stuff I need to get off my chest, and it’s far better for me to do it here than take it out on the people I love, who are innocent of any wrongdoing. It’s just me.
First complaint: Wonky sleep. This is NEVER a good thing. I’m having trouble falling asleep again, and I’m waking up during the night as well. The hours between seven and 10 AM provide the best sleep of the night, and I often end up not emerging from my room till after 11 because I’m so reluctant to leave the comfort of my warm blankets. (Well, and I use my light for 30 minutes every morning so I have to include that time in the equation.)
This makes me appear lazy, and to some extent I am. What nobody really knows is how late I’m up at night…most of the time, I’m not ready for sleep till two or three in the morning. I take my meds at the same time every night, but they don’t kick in for hours. Maybe I need to take Klonopin for a little while to help kick the insomnia; it’s right handy at making me sleep. I just hate the idea of getting back into the habit (if only for a short time) because it took some doing to get off of it, and I’m proud of myself for that.
Second complaint: I’m irritable and bitchy. Ordinary sounds bother me; more intense noises, such as video games, make me crazy; and neither TV nor music drowns them out. I don’t mean to be such a grouch, but almost everything bugs me these days and I am apt to go off. I even started an argument with my sister-in-law over something totally stupid, like a magazine I wasn’t done with that she’d accidentally tossed in the recycle bin. I’ve been really uptight lately about my things being moved around, and I sort of lost my shit. (No screaming fits though.)
It’s OK now, we kissed and made up so to speak, but I wish I’d kept my freaking mouth shut. It’s all I can do not to scream when there’s two or three teenagers going in and out, in and out, all day and half the night, but one of them lives here and has the right to have friends over. Again, nothing against anyone else, it’s just me.
Gripe number three: my weight is in freefall, and so is my hair. I won’t shed any tears about the 60+ pounds I’ve dropped since Will passed away, but it seems to go hand-in-glove with the hair loss. Even my son-in-law Clark is officially worried, because the stuff is coming out by the fistful to the point that we both wonder how it is that I am not bald. I can’t blame it on thyroid problems; my recent test showed normal function. Nor is it due to malnutrition—my labs came back fine in that department as well. That leaves only stress as a potential cause, and unfortunately it makes sense. Stress? What stress? I’m only a widow of six months who’s lost her mate and a good portion of her independence. I don’t even have my own car anymore, thanks to the wreck I had in November. Not that I go many places by myself…I just wish I had the option.
So that’s my little pity party. I have to admit I feel a little better after whining for a bit. Now if I can only get a couple of nights’ decent sleep, who knows, the irritability might go away and all will be well. And by the way: if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading!
This has not been my favorite year. Other than my cruise vacation in November and the fact that tonight marks 25 years since I stopped drinking, it’s basically sucked and I’m glad it’s over. Not that the flip of a calendar page will make everything OK again…but it sure makes one feel like it will, at least temporarily. There’s nothing like a fresh start.
I have always thought that fresh start should be in the spring, however. It seems to me like ringing in a new year in the winter is counter-productive; after all, January has little to recommend it (except for the fact that I was born in it). The glitz of the holidays is gone, everybody’s broke, and the weather is dreadful. Of course, I don’t like winter anyway, so I’d rather begin the year when everything is made new.
In the meantime, I get to celebrate my sobriety birthday tonight. A quarter-century since I took my last drink. To this day, I accept the fact that I am an alcoholic and not just a problem drinker. Which makes me wonder why it’s so difficult for me to believe that I really have bipolar disorder and will have it for the rest of my life, just like alcoholism. I go back and forth with it, and I wonder what it’s going to take to convince me once and for all: another hospitalization? A suicide attempt? A manic episode which destroys my life?
Lord, I hope not. It’s taken so much work to bring my illness under control. I keep forgetting that it’s the treatment that makes it possible for me to question my diagnosis. There are times when I get discouraged and tired of taking pills, but I don’t dare experiment with them because of the potential for dire consequences. Besides, I don’t want to disappoint Dr. Goodenough, just like I didn’t want to disappoint Dr. Awesomesauce. He’s a good guy and knows a lot about bipolar, and he’s already helped me a great deal. The light box is definitely working to keep me out of depression, and I’m sure the amber glasses I’m going to try this spring will help prevent the annual hypo/manic festivities.
Going back to the original topic, I am really looking forward to watching the ball drop at midnight. Any year in which you lose the love of your life is an ugly one, and between that and saying good-bye to so many bright and talented people—two of whom were amazing mental health advocates—the impact is staggering.
Good riddance to a lousy year, and welcome to 2017. May it be your best year ever!
As everyone but the proverbial three-toed sloth knows by now, actress and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher has died at the age of (only) 60. From the early reports from sources close to the dramatic events that occurred aboard her plane, I knew she was probably not going to make it; few people survive cardiac arrest outside the hospital. But of course I hoped she’d pull through, and for a couple of days I thought she might defy the odds. She was nothing if not resilient.
Alas, it was not to be. Now that she’s gone, she has left a gaping hole where a champion once stood. Carrie’s acting career was long and profitable, and her writings have been widely read. But what really made her shine was her support of the mental health community. “I am mentally ill,” she said once. “I can say that. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve survived it, but bring it on. Better me than you.” She and Patty Duke talked about bipolar disorder long before most people were even ready to acknowledge there was such a thing. They truly were pioneers in that they faced down stigma and shame, and basically told the world to go to hell if it didn’t like what they had to say.
Carrie’s life wasn’t only about her bipolar, however. She battled alcohol and drug problems as well, giving hope to those of us who struggle with substance abuse issues. She had a wry sense of humor that kept her going through bad patches, showing people that living with serious mental illness didn’t ALWAYS have to be serious. She shared the most personal aspects of her life with us, even though being in the public eye couldn’t have been easy for her.
A few years back she had a manic episode while on vacation, and there was all kinds of speculation as to whether she had gone back to drugs and booze. I would have been mortified, but Carrie just went on with life, continuing to be a voice for the mentally ill, and especially the bipolar community.
She is a hero who will be greatly missed.
May the Force be with you, Carrie Fisher.