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The Chicken Or The Egg?

July 20, 2017

Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most.

Seriously. My short-term memory is virtually non-existent nowadays, and it’s supremely frustrating. I can quote you the lyrics from a song that came out in 1975, but I can’t remember what I ate for lunch this afternoon…or even if I ate lunch at all. I’ve had memory issues since I was in my early 40s, but I blamed them on perimenopause then; now I realize that they were probably due to bipolar. At any rate, STM loss is a pain in the ass and I hate it.

A couple of years ago, I asked Dr. Awesomesauce if I might be developing dementia. I had trouble with word-finding, and sometimes would even forget what I was saying in mid-sentence. He was certain it wasn’t dementia, but possibly a combination of meds and brain damage from repeated bipolar episodes. Lamictal is notorious for this, and I take a crapload of it; I’ve also had many, many episodes of mania and depression throughout the course of my life. I still worry about early-onset Alzheimer’s, and I should get a second opinion from Dr. Goodenough, but I do wonder…which came first, the brain changes or the forgetfulness? And what, if anything, do meds have to do with it?

I mean, this is embarrassing. I’m apt to tell the same story to the same person at least twice; I try to read books but can’t remember the first part of a chapter by the time I get to the end of it; I can’t memorize phone numbers. This is one of the main reasons why I’m on disability, and why I lost my last job working with the state: I had to memorize large amounts of material, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even learn the stupid computer program I was supposed to use. And while I’m confessing, here’s this: on my blog posts, I always have to scroll back up to see what I’ve written lest I repeat myself. Pathetic.

It’s becoming harder to cover my faux pas. Or maybe I just think it is because I notice it and I’m self-conscious about it. My son Ethan thinks it’s funny: “Mom, you’ve said that three times in the past two days. You sound like a broken record!” (Yes, he does know what a record is. That’s what happens when a kid grows up with older parents.) I also miss some things and have to be reminded several times. However, the fact that he doesn’t seem to be concerned about it makes me feel slightly better; he works with elderly patients and knows what dementia looks like.

I strongly believe that meds have a lot to do with it, even though it feels like a cop-out. I’ve been maxed out on Lamictal since my hospitalization in November 2014, and the doctors warned me that this would probably happen. That too is somewhat reassuring, but it doesn’t make life easier. I also seem to fall a lot; I’ve had two of them in the past two weeks and four in the past year. It’s like I forget to lift one foot high up enough and trip over myself. They also told me that lack of coordination and poor balance are other side effects of large doses. But what can I do? I obviously need the medication…

Anyway, that’s my complaint of the day. I’ll scroll back up to see if this post makes sense, and then tonight I’ll crush it on Jeopardy! because I can remember all sorts of trivia as long as it happened in the past. Haha!

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Sigh of Relief

July 14, 2017
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I made it.

The year of firsts is finally over, and I got through it. The night of the 12th was the hardest, although yesterday was rough too. I cried a lot, lit a candle, and wished all the voice mails I’d saved hadn’t been lost when I got a new phone last weekend. I heard from all of the kids except my oldest son, who hasn’t adjusted well to the loss of his father and is doubtless deep in his own funk. Neither did I hear from my sister. But otherwise, I feel very much loved, and my mood has remained steady throughout…thank God for good drugs.

What a relief it is to be done with this year. It doesn’t mean that future anniversaries won’t be difficult—I’ve got our wedding anniversary coming up and I know it will be a difficult day—but maybe it’ll be just a little less difficult than the first one was. Or not. The key is, I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through these tough times and come out stronger. It’s what Will would have wanted, and I comfort myself with the idea that he’s watching over me and is proud of me.

I miss him so much. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I half-expect him to come in with a nice strong cup of coffee and a loving smile. He was an early-morning person and was always cheerful because he’d been up for hours; this caused some friction in the early days of our marriage because I am definitely NOT a morning person. But over the years I came to appreciate his sunny outlook and tried to emulate it (with very little success, I might add). This was only one of the countless ways he loved me, and he made me a better person. I will always be grateful to him for that.

 

A Blast From the Past

July 7, 2017
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Well, the “year of firsts” following the loss of my husband is about to come to an end.

The anniversary is next Thursday, July 13th, but it’s the night of the 12th that will haunt me forever. I remember, as if it happened yesterday, the horror of watching him writhe in pain and throw up frank blood, and knowing that this was it—there was no coming back from this active dying process. I remember the trip to the hospice house where he finally got relief from the pain, which allowed him to rest peacefully. And I remember being at his side when he reached out his hand to me and breathed his last.

I can’t believe it’s been a year already. You know, I never thought I could be strong; in fact, I used to joke that the kids would have to drop me off at the psych ward after the funeral. I was only half-kidding. But I am strong, and have stayed that way because being strong is the only choice I have. Just days before he died, Will made me promise three things: that I would stay sober, stay on my meds, and stay alive.

That has not been easy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sorely tempted to drink as I have in this past year, and I admit that there have been times when I wished I could go to sleep and wake up in Heaven with him. I’ve also toyed with the idea of stopping meds because I’m tired of taking them and I haven’t had bipolar symptoms in quite some time. However, those thoughts are banished quickly and I move on to other things; there is no point in dwelling on it.

Yet with all the suffering, something wonderful has begun to happen: I’m remembering more and more of the good times Will and I had. Sometimes a little snippet of our past randomly wanders into my head, and I find myself laughing spontaneously at these memories. Like when the kids were little and he playfully allowed our daughters to put ribbons and bows in his hair. Or when we had the snowball fight of the century and he threw one clear over the roof of the house, which smacked my sister right on the top of the head. (She was not amused, but we certainly were!) Or the times we went to the grocery store, making jokes and laughing until people must’ve thought we were crazy.

This is not to say I’m over it, because I will NEVER get over it. I will miss Will every day for the rest of my life. And I’m frankly dreading this upcoming week. But as the year has passed and the grief has lessened somewhat, I’ve discovered some truths about myself and my place in the world—even as a widow on Social Security Disability who can’t live alone, I belong here and I have value to others. I’ve also learned that I’m not the only one who’s experienced a profound loss; my kids are still struggling with their Dad’s death, and while none of them really wants to talk about it, they know I’m available to listen and help them process it.

Still, I know I’ll feel better when I wake up in the morning next Friday, because I will have made it through this rough passage. See you on the other side of the 13th, my friends.

 

The Top 100

June 29, 2017
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I just found out today that bpnurse has been named as one of the top 100 bipolar blogs on the Internet. In fact, my blog is ranked #63, and I’m in the same great company as my idol Natasha Tracy (who writes Bipolar Burble, as well as a couple of other blogs for Healthline), Psych Central, and Kitt O’Malley to name a few.

To say that I’m flattered would be the understatement of the month. Even though I don’t post as often as I should, my readership is loyal and you’ve elevated this blog to heights I never envisioned when I started it back in June of 2013. I have readers from around the globe, which would never have been possible before the advent of the World Wide Web. I have Facebook friends and followers who read me regularly, most of whom aren’t even bipolar. I like to think that I’m educating people who don’t know a lot about mental illness but are willing to learn, as well as advocating for others who do suffer.

As always, I want to give you credit where credit is due. Thank you for putting me on that Top 100 list! I’ll do my best to continue providing you with perspectives on living with bipolar disorder, information, and even the occasional bit of humor.

You rock!!

 

Loose Lips

June 9, 2017

…sink ships. Or do they?

Had a visit with Dr. Goodenough the other day, and for some reason I got to talking and couldn’t shut up. I mean, I SPILLED. MY. GUTS. I talked about my recent bout of hypomania. I admitted having tried to give myself a “drug holiday” and the chaos that resulted. I discussed my marriage and how much I miss my husband. I even confessed that I’m having almost constant thoughts (and dreams) about sex and feeling terribly guilty about it.

I was amazed to discover that I trust Dr. G more than I thought. These were things I never even told Dr. Awesomesauce in all the years I was with him, and you all know how much I trusted him. I don’t know why I didn’t share them with him; maybe it was because I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me. He wouldn’t have been, of course, because he’s a psychiatrist and they aren’t supposed to judge their patients. I know he never judged me. But he was almost more of a friend than a clinician, while Dr. G is very kind but has strict boundaries that are so evident they don’t need to be discussed—I just know. I’ve been with him for eight months now and I have no idea if he has a family, what he likes to do in his spare time, where he’s traveled. But I get the feeling that’s the way doctor-patient relationships are supposed to be, and I have to respect him for it.

Anyway, this discussion was most productive, even though our sessions are only 30 minutes and Dr. G could hardly get a word in edgewise. I kept saying “I can’t believe I’m telling you this!” but I couldn’t help feeling that it was the right thing to do. It was good to be able to get it all out in the open. He took advantage of the rare times when I stopped talking long enough to take a breath, and encouraged me to be gentle with myself (he’s figured out that I’m harder on myself than anyone else could ever be).

“You’re a human being, remember that,” he said. “You need to start treating yourself like one.”

That was the same thing Dr. A always used to tell me. Damn it, why can’t I get this simple concept through my head? And look, there I go again…I really DO need to be easier on myself.

In the meantime, we are not changing meds anytime soon because they work, even though I’ve been a little high lately. I’m also supposed to try the amber glasses we talked about last fall in order to block blue light in the evening hours and thus tamp down any budding mania. The only problem with this is that they don’t fit over my bifocals, and I’m blind as a bat without them. I even looked on Amazon for the clip-on type that Dr. G recommended, and I couldn’t find any. So either I spend the hours from 6 PM till the time I go to bed unable to watch TV or work on the computer, or I continue to rely strictly on meds. Since I only seem to become hypo/manic in the spring and early fall—and I’ve already had my “spring fling”—it’s going to be the latter. I’d rather take my chances than be bored out of my skull for a full half of my day/night.

Next on the agenda: short-term memory loss. I wanted to talk about it on Wednesday but I forgot. Haha!

 

 

 

 

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. 🙂