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This Is It

January 14, 2019

My nursing career is officially over.

It was time to renew my license, which of course I had no intention of doing because I haven’t worked since 2014. You have to have 960 practice hours in the past five years to be able to renew without taking a refresher course, and I don’t. So it was time to apply for either Inactive or Retired status, and I chose the latter because it allows me to retain the title of RN as long as I put “Retired” behind it.

I cried a little as I filled out the form. I’ve known for years that I would likely never work as a nurse again, but this drove the point home because it means my career is irrevocably over. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. And unbidden, an old anger washed over me as I signed the form and popped it into an envelope. Bipolar disorder did this to me, I said to myself. It killed my career and then it almost killed me. Fuck you, bipolar!!

I haven’t really thought much about my illness in awhile. Even my blog posts are usually about other things going on in my life and I may feel fleetingly depressed for a few days because it’s winter, but it’s been some time since the BP has been a major focus. There’s just too much going on in my head to worry about it much. This is a good thing. It was years into my diagnosis before I stopped allowing the illness to consume me, so to have the old feelings return with a vengeance was disappointing. I don’t want to think about bipolar. I’ve gotten so much better and other than the mild hypomania I had last spring and summer, I’ve been stable.

But the truth hurts, and the truth is, I feel like I’ve been robbed. I should have been able to work till I’m 70. I shouldn’t have had to go on disability when I did. I look back on the last few years, and I never expected to be where I am today. Yes, it could be much worse—I’m sane, I have a place to live and family and a great support system. But five years ago I was a nurse-surveyor for the State, making great money, and living the good life in our beloved house in the woods with my husband, dog, and our three cats. I know I’m idealizing it now because if you go back and read my blog posts from 2014, you’ll see how much I actually hated the rat race. I wanted a simpler life with fewer demands on my time; wanted a smaller house with a yard I could keep up; wanted a JOB, not a career.

I never found what I was looking for, but then I never did during my career either. I was always searching for my “forever” job, and it eluded me to the very end. Part of my trouble with hanging onto jobs was the restlessness that comes with bipolar disorder, but it wasn’t just that…I simply never found a place for myself in the working world. Oh, there were plenty of times I thought I had, and sometimes I’d go as long as a couple of years thinking I’d finally landed in a sweet spot, but I’d either grow restless and bored and quit, or I’d become depressed or irritable and be shown the door. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a work ethic; I just never learned how to be consistent. Being a good nurse isn’t the same as being a good employee.

And I was a good nurse. I loved taking care of people and helping them solve problems. If that’s all there was to nursing, I’d have worked till I dropped dead. But it’s not. It’s short-staffing and impossible workloads and politics. It’s nurses eating their young and managers bullying those lower on the food chain. It’s slogging through a 12-hour shift lifting 400-lb. patients and not having the time to eat or even pee sometimes. And of course, the documentation was ridiculous, and from what my nurse friends tell me it’s only gotten worse in the years since I left.

Still, it about broke my heart to sign a paper saying I will never practice again…and as I’ve learned to my sorrow, “never” is a very long time.


What It Was, Was Football

January 7, 2019

And now, a few words about football.

I have to admit, it’s the nearest occasion of sin: I didn’t even go to Mass yesterday because a game I’ve been looking forward to literally all year was on. My team, the San Diego–oops, Los Angeles–Chargers were playing in their first playoff game in years, and even though I had a bad feeling about the outcome, I was most pleasantly surprised when we held on to win it, 23-17.

I like to coach them from my perch on the edge of the sofa. I also do a LOT of cussing during a football game, mostly at the bad calls made by the refs, but I tend to yell quite a bit about stupid plays on offense when my opinion differs from that of the head coach. When I used to smoke and drink years ago, I’d go through an entire pack of cigarettes and a pitcher’s worth of beer during a game.

The Chargers and I go way back to the 1970s; in fact, I’ve pretty much lived and died with this team every fall and winter since then. We’ve only been to the Super Bowl once in all that time, but every season starts out like “THIS is the year!” Any of you who know anything about football knows about this optimism which is built into us fans, no matter how bad our team sucked last year. I have a friend who goes for the Arizona Cardinals, which is an incredibly poor team that went 3-13 this season. But even bad teams have their moments, and each game is like a robin with one end of a ten-foot worm in its beak: a little nibble, like a touchdown here and there, keeps you trying.

Now, not everyone loves football the way I do; in fact, my family thinks it’s stupid and can’t understand why a reasonably intelligent woman wants to watch a bunch of burly guys in tight suits run around a big green pasture with a pigskin. (Of course, part of the attraction IS a bunch of burly guys in tight suits.) But football is nothing if not a game of strategy, and that’s what draws my interest…and if that isn’t intelligent, what is?

So, that’s my little spiel about the game of football. In the meantime, I’m eagerly anticipating the next one between the Chargers and the Patriots, as well as the other games this coming weekend. I don’t even have to have a dog in the fight–I love it all.

First and 10!

All Is Merry and Bright

December 27, 2018

…well, not really. Two different people have told me I seemed depressed in the past two days, and the way I felt when I woke up this morning confirmed their suspicions. It’s not at all bad, but I’d better start using my HappyLight so it doesn’t get worse.

Funny how the holidays can bring out both the best and the worst in people. I was disappointed that there were to be no gifts this year, but I don’t need more stuff, and there’s not even a whole lot I want. (Oh, it would be nice to have my own car and an iPad, but those certainly aren’t necessities.) No, I’m just sad that not one thing about Christmas went according to my family traditions, and every year that passes I miss those traditions even more than the year before.

Now, I’ve had a few stern conversations with myself about this, and I realize that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to develop new traditions and put the old ones in the past, along with the family and friends who shared them with us but have since passed on. But the older I get—and I’m turning 60 in about 3 1/2 weeks—I appreciate the past more and more, and part of me desperately longs to return to the days when my kids were young…and even further back to the days when was young. I think of my parents, who weren’t exactly the greatest in the world, but who made Christmastime special every year. I think of my grandmother who loaded up her Rambler with tons of wrapped gifts and came to our house on Christmas Eve. And then I think of Will and how much fun we used to have getting ready for the holidays…well, he cursed when he inevitably fell off the ladder trying to hang up the outdoor Christmas lights, but the spirit was on him and he always finished the job with a smile on his face.

I miss him so much, and never more than at holiday time. This year it seems to be a little harder for some reason. It makes sense in a way because the path of grief recovery is twisted and long, and just about the time you think you’re done with it, it does a hairpin turn and you regress some. I’m not sure if I really have some underlying depression that I just haven’t acknowledged or what, but I’m keenly sensitive to others’ moods these days and tend to jump to the conclusion that they’re angry or depressed themselves. They call that projection, and I’m a pro at it.

But you know, this is where self-awareness comes in, and I’m damn glad I have some. This is the darkest, dreariest time of the year, and we all know my history of “winter blues” goes back decades. Dr. Goodenough doesn’t call it seasonal affective disorder, but he is VERY aware of how easily influenced I am by the dark and the wretched weather. I hibernate (I hate the cold), I sleep more, I eat way too much rich food, and carbohydrates especially. No wonder people think I’m depressed. I’ve probably been this way for a couple of weeks, but now that family is noticing it, it’s time for me to recognize it and act on it. I don’t want to slip so far down that I get to doing some stinkin’ thinkin’ about how the world would be better off if I wasn’t in it.

OK, I know what to do. I’ll start the HappyLight tomorrow, and if that doesn’t help I’ll call Dr. G and let him sort things out. In the meantime, I’ll try to get up a little earlier than 11 in the morning and see about eliminating some of those carbs I love so much. It’s hard to believe that in only a few months I’ll probably be fighting to keep my mood from swinging the other way…but that’s bipolar disorder for you.

It may not always be merry and bright, but it’s life, and sometimes it rear-ends you even when you’re looking in your mirrors and driving carefully. I’ll be OK.


Christmas Time Is Here

December 8, 2018

…and I’m feeling pretty darn nostalgic.

It happens every year. The tree goes up, the lights are lit, and carols from long, long ago are playing on my CD player (thank God I made several CDs from an old collection of albums I used to have). I watch the same beloved holiday specials I’ve been watching for over 50 years. Fact is, I’m racking up quite a few Christmases, and the older I get, the more I appreciate them.

I can’t believe this is my 60th Christmas. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I really am getting up there and I don’t think I’m quite ready for it. Not that I have a choice, of course, unless you consider the alternative and I refuse to. I’m not leaving this world a minute sooner than I absolutely have to. Life has become very precious to me since Will passed away, and sometimes I wonder whatever possessed me to think I wanted out. I’ve lost the love of my life and my reality is that I’m an aging single woman, but what matters is what’s in my heart and soul…and memory.

Yes, there is a wistfulness that accompanies the holidays, and having so much time to myself allows me to indulge in it to a point that may or may not be healthy. I listen to Christmas music from my childhood and think of the magical holidays I had growing up; I also reminisce about the Christmases with my own children and Will, which somehow always turned out well even when we were as poor as Job’s turkey.

I remember one year where we had no money for presents and had no idea what we were going to tell the kids about Santa Claus (most of them were still young enough to believe still); but between our church, a community organization, and the kids’ school—which “adopted” us as one of the families it chose to help with food and gifts—it was a holiday miracle. I still smile when I think of the looks on their little faces when they saw all the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

I remember the tradition we had of driving around town looking at the lights, then going home to Will’s hot cocoa and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the VCR. (This WAS a long time ago.) We also went to the Family Mass on Christmas Eve when there must’ve been 500 little kids running around yelling, crying, and wiping their snotty little noses on everything and everyone around them. Getting them together to do the Nativity scene was like herding cats, but the sweet church ladies always managed to corral them and avert disaster when seven-year-old “Mary” tentatively laid the infant Jesus—always played by one of the new babies—in the manger. Then we’d go back home and open one present each, set out some cookies and milk for Santa (even though by that time, the kids were all well past the age of belief), and send them to bed so we could fill the stockings and wrap some last-minute gifts before we ourselves fell exhausted into our recliners.

Now all of that is nothing more than memories. But I treasure them, because they really happened and they were wonderful times; and even the kids, now long grown, enjoy talking about them. After all, these are their memories too. And while we don’t really have any set way to celebrate the holidays in the house where I live now, I get to look back on 60 Christmases with love and laughter, and embrace the new traditions the best way I know how.

Merry Christmas.



DX: Bipolar I. Again.

November 28, 2018

So I had my three-month visit with Dr. Goodenough last week, and I continue to be amazed at how much ground we cover in 30 minutes. It’s supposed to be a med check, but we usually use up the entire half hour talking about all kinds of stuff: Family. Church. Death. Sex. Grief. Other matters of consequence. And yes, meds.

Thanks to some weight gain, he’s considering switching me from Zyprexa to Latuda. My liver function, lipid profile and kidney function are all outside the norm too and he’s concerned about it, which tells me he cares about being a doctor and not just a specialist. I appreciate that he looks out for me medically as well as psychiatrically; I’ve been with him just over two years now, and he continues to amaze me with his intellectual acuity and knowledge. I probably should give him a different name, because he’s more than good enough…I’ll have to think about that one.

While we were discussing antipsychotics, I voiced some concerns about them because I’m going to be 60 in about seven weeks, and medical providers often take older people off APs due to higher risk of strokes or even death. It was something I saw frequently in the nursing homes where I worked with almost universally poor results, as the behaviors and moods the drugs were meant to treat came back with a vengeance once they were cleared from the patients’ systems. I cherish my stability and while I don’t want to be on any more meds than absolutely necessary, I’m afraid of what may happen if in the future a doctor decides to decrease, or even discontinue, the APs.

He reassured me that this isn’t always the case. In fact, he called my remission “fragile” and would not even consider taking me off them even if I were old enough for this to be an issue. This surprised me; I thought I was rock solid, at least as much as someone with bipolar can be. Maybe after I get through next spring without a manic episode he’ll think it’s for real, but for now I guess I’ll have to live with the sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Then we got into the subject of diagnosis. Dr. G has changed it several times over the past year, and most recently it was just “bipolar affective disorder”. No numbers, no specifiers. I thought maybe he’d changed his mind about my being bipolar 1; I still question it from time to time as the memory of my manic episodes has largely faded, and sometimes I think I must’ve overstated their severity. After all, I’ve never stripped off all my clothes and walked down the middle of the street, nor have I ever thought I was God (although there have been times when I believed I was on a mission from Him). We won’t talk about the episode where I was galumphing up and down the halls at work singing at the top of my voice, or the one where I was howling at the moon on Halloween night…

Dr. G almost laughed as he informed me that OF COURSE I have bipolar 1. In fact, he was so sure of it that he gave it a specifier and changed it in the computer and on my paperwork. He apologized for confusing me and reiterated his reasons for the diagnosis, number one being the fact that I have indeed experienced full-blown mania, as evidenced by repeated episodes of out-of-control behavior, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. (I keep forgetting about that last item—I’ve kept my curtains closed for days or weeks on end, believing my neighbors or the government was spying on me.) He’s only seen me hypomanic at worst, but the history I gave him at my intake appointment two years ago was enough for him to make the determination.

Now it’s been settled once and for all. I think. Knowing me, I’ll probably question the diagnosis again, especially when I’m particularly stable (or hypo) and it feels like bipolar doesn’t even exist. Haha!

And These Thy Gifts

November 13, 2018

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time for my annual reflection on what I’m thankful for. I believe an attitude of gratitude is the best way to go through life, and while I often take people and things for granted just like everyone else, I think it’s important to take time to appreciate what God has given me.

I’m thankful, first and foremost, for family. I don’t know what I would have done these past two years without my son Ben and his husband Clint, both of whom have told me they want to be known by their given names in this blog. I also appreciate the love and support of my other three children, all of whom are in their 30s and have become my favorite people. My oldest daughter and her husband have all their shit together and she’s a phenomenal mom and an inspiration to me; youngest daughter has made a career out of being an Army veteran and is now helping other vets who need durable medical equipment; even my older son is feeling the effects of being over 30 and he’s trying earnestly to grow up, and now he’s anticipating the birth of my seventh grandchild.

I’m thankful for a warm and welcoming roof over my head. I’ve come so close to homelessness that I can never take housing for granted. Being homeless and out in the elements is my biggest fear in life, other than losing one or more of my kids, like my poor sister who has lost two of her own only 10 months apart. I can’t imagine…I thought the death of my baby Melissa 34 years ago was the worst thing that could happen to a person, but I’ve since learned that there are things that are MUCH worse. I pray for Louise to find comfort and peace in the face of tragedy.

I’m thankful for friends. I’m blessed with so many! While I know most of them online, there are some I went to school or worked with, and if I needed something they’d fall all over each other to help me. Having friends means I’ve done something right in my life, which helps with my shaky self-esteem. I figure I can’t be THAT screwed up if I have people in my life who value me.

I’m thankful for the simple things: a cup of hot cocoa, a good TV show, warm blankets, a hearty meal. I enjoy how fallen leaves crunch underfoot and the way smoke from different fireplaces fills the crisp autumn air with wonderful aromas. I like early Christmas lights and pumpkin pie-scented wax cubes in my Scentsy warmer. And I love it when the family dogs all gather around me on the sofa and give me licks and cuddles; their affection is unconditional and they know I adore them in return.

I’m especially thankful for stability. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, I continue to enjoy full remission from bipolar symptoms, and most days I feel like I don’t even have the disorder. What a blessing it is to not have racing thoughts or wild mood swings! Given the tempestuous life I lived even before I was diagnosed, I have to say that this is the steadiest I’ve ever been. And all it took was a little adjustment in one medication to put things right. I see Dr. Goodenough tomorrow and have nothing but good things to report. I’m also thankful for him; he knows his bipolar stuff REALLY well and I’ve benefited from his wisdom in countless ways.

That’s my short list of people and things for which I’m truly grateful. In the words of a favorite prayer:

Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.



At Long Last, Acceptance

October 30, 2018

The end of October is here, and with it comes the memory of where I was four years ago tomorrow night. Back then, I was a broken shell of a woman, suicidal, and utterly without hope. Needless to say, I’ve come a long, long way since then; while the process slips from time to time, I feel I’m progressing nicely. I’ve come to accept my lot in life, and if sometimes I find myself missing my old life, I have the ability to banish those thoughts and focus on the blessings I have today.

There are times for reminiscing, however, and the memories are some of my most prized possessions. I still miss my husband something fierce, but the bitterness of the early days of widowhood is gone and now I remember the good times far more often than the bad. The change in my outlook has been subtle, much like the difference in the angle of the sun’s light as summer bakes its way into fall. Now I look around and no longer expect to see Will in the big chair in the living room; I don’t hear his snoring anymore or anticipate that first cup of coffee that he always brought me in the morning. Of course, his absence is still felt and I’m always disappointed when I wake up after dreaming of him; but the world just keeps spinning and my life goes on as it has for the past 27 months.

And I’m OK with that.

It’s been a long road, but I’ve come to accept that life will never be the same and that I will never be someone’s Number One again. I miss that—being the major priority in Will’s life meant a great deal to me, but I never knew just how much until he died. I look around at my family, and all of them have spouses and/or kids that take the top spot in their lives. That is as it should be. It wouldn’t be right if they chose taking care of me over taking care of their families. I’m glad to be a part of their lives, but I know my place and do my best to stay there. There are so many lonely people out there who don’t belong anywhere, who dine alone in restaurants on holidays or hang around senior centers for companionship. I thank God I’m not one of them.

I’ve been told that it takes, on average, two to three years after a spouse dies for life to return to some semblance of normality. I think I’ve reached that milestone now. I wish with all my heart that Will were still here, but I’ve accepted the fact that he’s not coming back and I won’t be able to touch him until we meet again in Heaven. (I hope. I worry about my eligibility sometimes.) There’s a part of the Mass in which we Catholics say “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”. Boy, do I ever. I’m in no hurry to get there, of course; I treasure every breath because I’ve seen how quickly—and how ugly—life can end. But while I’ve questioned my faith from time to time since Will passed, I have to believe there’s something better than this life, as precious as it is to me.

Yes, there have been a lot of changes since my hospitalization four years ago, and even more since my husband left this earth. It hasn’t been pleasant, but acceptance has made it easier and my restless soul is at peace…at last.