Nothing To See Here

It’s been two months since Dr. Goodenough increased my Zyprexa dose, and I continue to be utterly without bipolar symptoms. It’s even hard to write about it because there is nothing happening other than blessed remission. I don’t remember EVER being this calm before. It’s amazing!

I’m sleeping well too. I dream some pretty interesting dreams though. Last night I dreamt that it was the day before Thanksgiving and I had waited literally till the last minute to buy the makings of the traditional dinner. So I went to the grocery store and couldn’t find 90% of what I needed. There were no turkeys. There were no pumpkin pies or even the ingredients to make one. There was Stove Top stuffing mix on the shelves, and there was butter, but there weren’t any yams, potatoes, cranberry sauce or veggie trays. Needless to say I was panicked, and I ended up driving to several other stores where I couldn’t find a place to park, let alone the items I was looking for. The dream ended when I woke up, but the frustration remained for a few minutes as I processed it. I don’t always remember my dreams, but this one was so realistic I was as tired as I would have been had I actually done the things in the dream.

As always, I wonder about its meaning. I like to analyze dreams, and some of them are easy to figure out, like the ones about Will which are always pleasant, and he always looks like he did in his prime. I love those dreams. But this one…other than the obvious lesson not to delay getting the stuff for the holiday meal, I’m baffled. Yes, I have some unresolved angst from being broke most of the time (but all the bills are paid!) and living in a house with some very complex personalities, but the latter is endlessly interesting and I enjoy being Switzerland in a world of frequent conflicts.

Which is a place I never thought I would occupy. I’ve always been hot-tempered and easily agitated, but since I began taking bipolar medication I’ve become really mellow. There’s just not a lot to get worked up about. I do get anxious when I’m triggered, but my triggers are fewer and farther between than they used to be. I love that. I sometimes think about my parents and how shocked they would be to know their tempestuous daughter is no longer an angry person. Of course they would be ashamed of the fact that I have a mental illness, but I bet they’d approve of my choice to take meds that make it almost non-existent.

Then again, I’m three months shy of turning 60, and I’d like to think that some of this is due to maturity. Most things are not worth fighting about, and even those that are can usually be dealt with rationally. I’ve also learned to avoid most of what does upset me, which means staying away from people and places that make me uncomfortable. While I feel sad that this has caused me to walk away from a couple of relationships, my mental health requires that I do so. I just don’t have it to give anymore…I hate drama with a passion, and I’m too old and tired for the theatrics.

So there really is nothing to see here, just an experienced woman who lives a rich life, even though it may not seem so to the outside observer. In the meantime, Fall is here and the trees are beautiful, and that beauty feeds my soul despite knowing that winter is coming.

It’s all good.

Why “Recovery” Doesn’t Work For Me

I’ve thought about this for some time, and I’ve got to confess that the word ‘recovery’ doesn’t work for me when it comes to my mental health. That’s fine. It may work for plenty of other people, and that’s fine too. But when I think of my bipolar 1 disorder, I know it’s something that is lifelong; there is no cure for it and it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with over the course of the past six and a half years. To me, that means that I can’t ‘recover’ from it.

I’m aware that ‘recovery’—whatever one may consider it to be—isn’t linear, and that it means something different to everyone depending on their illness and circumstances. It can mean that you are stable and functioning well, that you’re in remission from your illness, which is completely valid if it works for you. I have no problem with that, but it doesn’t feel right for me. For me, the goal for my treatment is to be as stable as I can be for as long as I can be, and to reduce the amount of time my mood swings last and the severity of my highs and lows.  Along with that, my other goals for my life in regards to my illness are to function as best I can with it, to be happy, and to work around it.

To me personally, ‘recovery’ would mean that my illness isn’t part of my life anymore, and that’s far from the truth. I have to deal with bipolar every day. The moment I wake up in the morning, I have to do a gut-check for symptoms. The rest of the time, I must monitor myself for the side effects of medication; be cognizant of my mood; know when to ask for help; be aware of triggers; maintain something of a routine; attend appointments; ensure I have adequate supplies of meds; actually ask for help when I need it; and avoid things I know will cause my mood to shift. This is part of my daily life and always will be, so I don’t see it as ‘recovery’…and that isn’t a bad thing.

Accepting the fact that I will have this illness for the rest of my days isn’t me being negative; it’s me being realistic and self-aware. Accepting the fact that because of my illness there may be limits to what I can do, or that I need to do things differently in order to remain as stable as possible, is not me being negative or not fighting. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s me being aware of my illness and its effects; it’s me being completely determined to deal with it head on and not let it beat me. It’s me learning what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s me figuring out what will be best for me and what will keep me healthy for the longest period of time possible. It’s me fighting my condition with knowledge, therapy, research and experience to be able to live my life in the best possible way and be as happy as I can be.

None of these things mean that I have given up or that I am not fighting; they don’t mean that I lack hope, and they certainly don’t mean that I don’t have a positive attitude. They simply mean that I know my limits, and I am aware of how to manage my illness the best way I can. These are good things, but they are not ‘recovery’; they are my way of playing the hand life has dealt me with as much grace and dignity as possible.

So no, I haven’t ‘recovered’ from bipolar, and I never will. But I AM in remission, and that is the absolute best I can expect. Life is good.


38 Years

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary.

I don’t know why, but this day is even harder on me than the anniversary of Will’s death. I spend it feeling absolutely horrible, and I teeter on the edge of tears all day. This year I didn’t cry, but felt empty and sad, and if it weren’t for the distraction of having the guys hang out with me for some of the day I would have been in even worse shape.

Thank God for the good memories, though. I reminisced about how exciting it was to marry the love of my life, and our sweet little hippie wedding. I also remembered our brief honeymoon at Disneyland and meeting another couple who had gotten married the same day. Strangely enough, that led me to thinking about buying our waterbed shortly thereafter. It came with a beautiful velvet bedspread that the cats promptly peed on, and it cost $500, which was a lot of money in those days. (Hell, it’s a lot of money now.)

Man, did we enjoy that bed…not just in the marital sense, but it was the most comfortable one we ever slept in. It was a HUGE pain in the butt to move; we had to drain it completely, then fill it back up and sleep on a cold water-mattress for a couple of nights before the heater kicked in. But it was a great bed, and even though we ended up replacing it with a conventional bed when we moved to an upstairs apartment, I still wish I had it.

I also thought back to the difficulty we had squeezing into our wedding garments. We had both gained weight since our fittings, and we were taking half-breaths all day. It wasn’t just nervousness! I looked at some of our pictures yesterday, and I can’t believe how young we were…I was 21 and he was 29, and he appeared even younger. I remember when we’d go out for drinks; sometimes he’d get carded and I wouldn’t, which pissed me off. He didn’t even start aging until he hit 50, and even then he never really showed his years until the cancer robbed him of his vitality.

I recalled the wedding gifts we received, one of which was a set of stainless steel bowls which I still use on occasion. Among other things, we got a Mr. Coffee maker that lasted 10 years, an electric skillet that lasted even longer, and a bread box we used until we moved to the manufactured home in 1998. Now I see these kinds of items in antique stores, and it’s rather shocking to think of anything purchased in 1980 as “old”…but 38 years is a long time.

Today is a better day; the sun is still shining, the weather is perfect, the trees are changing from green to red and yellow and gold, and I’m in a good mood. I continue to be amazed at the complete absence of bipolar symptoms, and marvel at the difference that increase in Zyprexa has made in my life. I feel optimistic and grateful for the blessings of good people, good meds, and good surroundings. Yes, I’m lonely, but I’m learning to live with it; there are folks here who keep me from feeling too alone, and I have role models at church who are teaching me how to do widowhood gracefully.

It’s been a long time coming, but even with all the heartache of missing my mate, I’m OK.


Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jog

I’ve actually been back for a week, but things have been kind of crazy around home and I simply haven’t had much time to write. It’s all OK though, so no worries.

The trip was wonderful as always, even though we had some stress due to one of our party losing her passport temporarily (she accidentally dumped her purse in the hotel room and it slid under the bed—thank God housekeeping checked there and turned it in at the office!). We ate way too much rich food and drank too many tropical drinks, and I personally gained 12 pounds during the trip, which I’ve since lost thanks to the fact that we’re cooking at home and I’m not eating sweets or drinking soda. (I’m also taking my water pills again, and a lot of that weight was due to bloating.)

I didn’t buy a single thing except for a couple of drink containers from Universal Studios and Roatan (Honduras), and pretty much maxed out my credit card, but the sight of those incredible blue and turquoise waters of the Caribbean were well worth the financial struggle. I spent a good deal of time out on the balcony watching the waves and the lightning storms (they are spectacular on the high seas), as well as on Lido Deck, where the action is. People-watching is a lot of fun. And believe it or not, I read a book—well, it was three short novels in a book, and I read it over the course of a week and a half, but I had enough of an attention span to get through them rather easily. I can’t even remember the last time I read an actual book!

There’s yet another good thing that’s happened as a result of increasing the Zyprexa. I continue to be amazed at how quiet my brain is, how well I’m sleeping, and how much less anxiety I have. I still have my moments when I become a little paranoid and insecure because there’s tension in the house, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. Shit happens. It doesn’t make it pathological.

I’ve also noticed that my usual September restlessness has not made its appearance this time, even despite jet lag and the excitement of the vacation. I’m not even tempted to fool with my meds, which is usually my undoing at this time of the year. I still have to watch myself for signs of mania, but I don’t think that’s going to happen this fall. Nor do I feel the slightest bit depressed, despite the fact that the weather has been rather gloomy since we got back. I’m not ready for summer to end yet (am I ever?), but I do like to watch the leaves turn colors and feel the crisp bite in the evening air that tells me pumpkins and Thanksgiving and the holidays aren’t far off.

The one sad thing is that we’ve had to cancel our Mediterranean trip for next year. Nobody has that kind of money, and the guys want to hike in Hawaii with their friend next summer. I don’t begrudge them that trip…they need to go by themselves for a change. I wouldn’t want to go anyway because they’re going to be doing athletic things, and I am most decidedly NOT athletic. So while there won’t be any more cruises for a while, it’ll give me a chance to save up some money for the next great adventure.

It’s all good.


Bon Voyage

It’s approximately two days, eleven hours and twenty-three minutes till my family and I leave for our vacation, but who’s counting, right? So I thought I’d check in and let everybody know I’m outta here on Monday and will be gone through the 10th of September. I can’t wait!

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I’m sleeping well and have gotten used to waking up a little earlier in the mornings, and my mood is as level as it ever gets, except of course for being excited about the trip. I take ALL my meds at the same times every day and wonder, as I always do when these episodes are over, why I ever thought experimenting with them was a good idea. I hope I can learn from this last go-round and not repeat that mistake…but I know enough now to realize that springtime will come again.

In the meantime, our weather pattern has shifted from hot and dry to a taste of fall, but not to fear—we’re going places where it’s endless summer. I’ve never experienced Florida and the Caribbean in the warmer months, but I hear it’s really, really hot down there. Mandy and Mike live in Pensacola now and they’re sweltering, mainly because their air conditioner is kaput and you don’t want to be without A/C in Florida at this time of year. They’re also dealing with that notorious Southern humidity, which they aren’t used to. I can do without that too, but I’m going to be having too much fun to care.

So off we go on another adventure. This will be my 4th cruise in three years, and it never gets old. Free food, luscious tropical drinks, lounging by the pool and watching movies on the Dive-In Theater screen, shore excursions…you can’t beat it. I just hope I can avoid face-planting somewhere and tearing up some part of my body this time!



Bipolar IN Order

Had my visit with Dr. Goodenough last Wednesday, and as I’d expected, he wants me on the new Zyprexa dose for good. It’s OK, because I’m over the idea that I’m on too much medication (an idea he thought was quite laughable when I mentioned it) and I don’t have the slightest wish to mess with the magic formula. We chatted about how much I’ve settled down since the last time he saw me and how quiet my brain is now, and I thanked him heartily for being so on top of my illness. He was happy things had worked out, but he also decided that we would forever after meet in the late winter, before the annual springtime festivities commence.

But best of all was the note he left in my chart: In full remission. As in completely well. Mentally healthy. Dare I say it? Normal.

I’ve never been here before. Even Dr. Awesomesauce, as dear as he was, never gave me a clean bill of health. I was always “in partial remission”, or “depressed”, or I exhibited “manic behavior”. It almost gave me a complex: what did I have to do to earn that blessed pronouncement of full remission? But looking back over the years, I can see why he was so stingy that way, because I really WASN’T well. Maybe not sick, but definitely not where I should have been. Who knew that all it would take to get there was a tablet and a half of the miracle drug known as Zyprexa?

I look back over the last few months and wonder what on earth made me think that not taking all my meds as prescribed was an option, or that not sleeping was a good thing. Yes, I enjoyed my hypomania even though it was mild compared with past episodes, but I don’t enjoy spending money with nothing to show for it, or having racing thoughts 24/7, or dealing with excessive energy that had no place to go but through my feet and legs. I couldn’t even channel it into something productive, like cleaning or cooking. Instead of talking a mile a minute, my mind was so cluttered that I couldn’t really speak at all. Everybody thought I was just being quiet, but my brain was like a sky full of shooting stars—brilliant but utterly disorganized. I wrote my blog posts only on days when it all slowed down enough for me to make sense.

All that’s in the past now. The rapid cycling is gone and relative serenity has taken its place. That’s not to say everything is perfect; in fact I had a couple of VERY bad thoughts this evening due to tensions in the house, but they were easily dismissed as I realized that the feelings were coming from an entirely different place. I’m lonely, dammit, and sometimes I need to acknowledge that fact. I miss my husband, and never more than when I see couples loving, laughing, fighting, and living together.

But I’m well, and for the most part, I’m safe and comfortable. And for once, I don’t have bipolar DISorder, I have bipolar IN order.

Thanks, Doc.


You Mean My Brain Has an OFF Switch?

I’m four weeks into the Zyprexa experiment, and I think this is the quietest my head has ever been. I’m serious. For the first time in ages my thoughts aren’t zipping around at 100 MPH, and there are times I actually catch myself thinking about absolutely nothing at all.

This must be what Will and the kids must have meant when I’d ask them what they were thinking and they’d say “Nothing”. How does anybody think about nothing?? I used to wonder. I couldn’t understand that most people’s brains come with the ability to shift into a lower gear when not actively being involved in something requiring their attention. I also never knew it was possible to think only one thought at a time; unlike a lot of folks, my mind races whether I’m manic, depressed, or stable.

Who knew that a small increase in the ingestion of a simple chemical could make my brain slow down to the point where it’s even become a bit sharper? It may not be noticeable to anyone around me, but I’m remembering things better, like where I put my phone and how to navigate my new Facebook page. I’ve even bought a book to try to read on the plane to Florida later this month; it’s a book of short stories which I hope can hold my attention for longer than five minutes. (It’s a long flight.) Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but without a barrage of thoughts flooding my head all the time there are all kinds of possibilities!

I’m sure Dr. Goodenough will be delighted, too. I see him day after tomorrow and I expect to stay on my new dose of Vitamin Z for at least the rest of the summer, or even beyond. That’s OK, I’m over the angst about the meds. The hypomania is gone and the world is making sense again. I’m obviously taking the right number and the right kind of medications in the right amounts to keep me happy and stable. I’ve noticed too that the free-floating anxiety I was experiencing has taken a leave of absence, and I don’t miss it. My blood pressure has even dropped a little, though it wasn’t high before, and sleep—oh, the sleep has been amazing. I’ve only had a couple of sleepless nights since I started taking the higher dose, and I don’t have any more difficulty waking up in the morning than I did before. (I’m still kind of a slug, but I can get up early for church or appointments when I need to.)

It’s all still new to me, but I think I could get used to it. I love it that the incessant buzzing and conversations in my head have been muted. I love it that I’m not as distractible as I was. I also love it that I’m starting to not feel like the village idiot. I doubt I’ll ever be the intellectual I used to be—there’s still quite a lot of brain fog to deal with—but I can live with that. Now, if I can just remember this the next time I get a bee in my bonnet about coming down or off meds…


Heavily Medicated For Your Protection

The Zyprexa is working.

Dammit. I should have known how much I needed it.

Like I said a couple of posts ago, I’d really hoped to come down or even off some of my meds. But the truth is, the higher dose of Vitamin Z is taking care of both my sleep and my racing thoughts; with rare exceptions I’m getting to bed by 1 AM, and I sleep through the night. What astonishes me is how much my brain has quieted down…the static in my head has faded out, and I’m not chasing stray thoughts all over the universe. I didn’t know there was anything that could do that.

The other night I was lying in bed thinking (not obsessing) about all of this. It’s kind of like sleeping in the most comfortable bed you’ve ever been in, and waking up every 90 minutes or so to marvel at how comfortable you are. I have actually done this. Will and I once stayed in an exclusive hotel that was right on the beach, and I remember this huge queen bed with down pillows, a down mattress topper and down comforters. It was like lying on a cloud. I barely slept at all that night because I was TOO cozy. Does that make sense?

Yes, the fire of hypomania has been banked, and as much as I hate to admit it I feel a lot more settled. It’s nice not to lie in bed at 4 in the morning, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if I should keep trying to fall asleep or if I should just get up, drink some coffee and start the day. It also doesn’t hurt that I made it through the second anniversary of Will’s passing and am on a more even keel emotionally. I don’t like being groggy in the mornings and I’m definitely more so than I was, and I average about 9-10 hours’ sleep now. But it’s better than 2-3 hours a night, and I really do enjoy the slower pace of my thoughts. You just don’t know how bad the noise and the disorganization are until they’re not there anymore.

Of course, this probably means I’ll stay on the increased dose for awhile, maybe even for good. Or maybe it’ll just be through the summer…all I know is that I have three months’ worth of refills. After fielding some slings and arrows from friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that it really shouldn’t matter how much medication I’m on, I have to take the amount that works. And Dr. Goodenough is more on top of things than I gave him credit for. He wanted to increase the Zyprexa a month sooner, and I refused. Bad decision on my part. I was starting to spend too much money and my checking account was overdrawn for the first time in years, and I wasn’t sleeping well at least three nights out of the week. I may have only been mildly hypomanic, but if I hadn’t regained some control of my sleep I would have gotten a lot worse. I know. I’ve seen me do it.

Now, all I have to do is get past this notion that I’m overmedicated. Sometimes in the mornings when it takes an act of God to propel me out of bed, I want to chuck the whole kit and caboodle. I HATE being so drowsy when I wake up. I’d rather be able to pop up like I do when I’ve slept only a couple of hours. But as we all know, sleep is crucial when one is grappling with bipolar disorder, and historically I have not done well when I don’t get enough of it.

The extra Zyprexa has also been helpful in keeping my anxiety at bay during the past few days. Some things have happened lately that are causing all of us to worry, and of course I go from 0 to 60 in seconds when I’m stressed AF by events beyond my control. It’s hard not to freak out when everything seems to be going to hell in the proverbial bushel basket. But so far I’ve been able to stay relatively calm and be something of a voice of reason. Who knew?

Follow Up

Well, I got the news this morning that I wasn’t looking forward to: I have to stay on the higher Zyprexa dose for the foreseeable future. Dr. Goodenough is even faster at returning phone calls than Dr. Awesomesauce was; I called the office to leave a message on how I was doing at 0935, and he was on the phone by 0955. I continue to be impressed by how responsive he is. However, I was not thrilled about the terminology he used to describe my problem, e.g., he called it “rapid cycling”. I don’t want to be one of those patients who rapid-cycle. But with all the flipping in and out of hypomania these past four months, I don’t know what else he’s supposed to call it. I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.

I’m also not thrilled about staying on the 7.5 mg, even though it obviously works because I’ve been sleeping like a baby for the past week and am settling down nicely. It’s just that I’m going through one of those phases where my brain has betrayed me again and I’ve had it up to my ass with this stupid illness, and it wants me to do something that’s totally against my best interests. I want to DECREASE meds, dammit, but it’s not going to happen.

I posted a little whine to this effect on Facebook, whereupon a number of my friends brought it to my attention that my behavior is following a pattern they are all too familiar with, seeing as how (as one put it) I go through these episodes two or three times every year. They want to know why I wish to be on less medication since I tend to decompensate when my needs change. They also want to know why I seem to see it as a failure on my part when something quits working well and I need more medication, not less.

I had to think about that one.

In fact, I’m still thinking about it. This is why it’s good for people to have friends and loved ones who can see clearly and ask the hard questions. Why DO I see it as a personal failure when my brain shits the bed and the antipsychotic dose goes up? As my constant  readers know, it’s long been an issue for me that I need to be on more than one of those drugs…it’s like I’m stigmatizing myself. I keep thinking that I should be like a lot of bipolar patients who manage the condition on a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant and one AP.

And I guess on some level, I’m still in a bit of denial. It’s been two years since I’ve needed a med increase, and it’s been relatively easy to forget how serious bipolar 1 can be. Even though these recent dalliances with (hypo)mania have been minor, they remind me that I have a dangerous illness which can flare out of control at any time, and the only things standing between me and disaster are these fistfuls of sanity. I don’t mind taking the extra dose so much as I mind what it stands for—the fact that without heavy-duty psych meds, I would probably be a hot mess. Or worse.

It’s been so easy during the stable times to become complacent. It happens to a lot of bipolar people, even though we almost always get slapped upside the head by reality. I take some comfort in the fact that I am far from being the only one to fall victim to this kind of stinkin’ thinkin’. There are many, many tales of unfortunates who, believing they’re cured, stop taking some or all of their meds; or who (like me) get enough relief  that they think they really aren’t that bad off, and can act like so-called “normal” people who can stay out late or be up all night watching TV and playing on the computer.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep taking the pills in the doses prescribed for me and try not to look at the situation as a reason to beat myself up. I was raised in a family where mental illness either didn’t exist or was the patient’s fault, and it’s hard to get past that. I guess I’ll have to do a better job of it.

Been A Long Time Gone

Well, I got through it—the second anniversary of my husband’s death. I don’t know why, but it feels in some ways like I’ve lived the longer part of my life since he’s been gone. So much has happened, so many things to learn about myself and my place in this world. I’m still working on that one; I’m still not sure where I belong in life, but I think that’s par for the course for someone who’s only been widowed for a couple of years. I’m not too worried about it though, because I think this exactly is where I’m supposed to be at this stage.

Naturally, I’ve been thinking about Will a lot. I was listening to the classic country station on cable one night when our wedding song came on; but instead of crying, I felt a sweet sensation wash over me, and I could almost sense his presence in the room. I imagined myself caressing his handsome face and running my fingers through his thick hair. I remembered his smell, a slightly musky scent with a generous splash of Old Spice. I saw once again his big hands with their work-roughened palms and gnarled veins that I used to joke about trying to get an IV in. I thought of us, newlyweds at ages 29 and 21, and how we had NO idea of what life was going to be like as a married couple. We didn’t know that one day we’d have children and jobs and money troubles. We couldn’t foresee that I would go on to develop the mental illness that cost us so much in the long run. And we never imagined that three and a half decades later we’d have to say good-bye, long before either of us was ready.

All of which served to remind me of how much I’ve lost and how much I miss him. The night of July 12th was the worst; it was the night he suffered so terribly and it took what seemed like an eternity to get him the pain relief he needed so desperately. I will never forget his screams or the question which had no answer: “Why do I have to suffer like this?” As a medical professional, I have the technical knowledge to understand that one or more of his tumors probably exploded that night, causing massive internal bleeding and the agony that turned him inside out, but as a loving wife it doesn’t comfort me much. I still wonder sometimes if there was something more we could have done for him at home…but in my heart of hearts, I know that battle was over before it began.

In a few ways, reliving it makes it seem like it happened only last week. But I’ve gotten used to Will not being here, and it feels—shall I say it?—normal. I’m used to making my own coffee in the morning, although my son Ethan made it for me on a couple of recent occasions. I’m used to looking over at Will’s chair and not seeing him there in his bright orange T-shirt and blue plaid pajama pants (usually with a puppy or two). His voice, alas, is fading from my memory, although I can still recall his cackling when something really funny happened. I haven’t even watched Pawn Stars since he passed, and we used to watch it almost every day. I wonder if he’s run into The Old Man yet.

So I got through the 12th and the 13th, feeling anxious and tearful but not depressed, and now I’m OK again. Those days will always be difficult, but I’ve accepted that. I went out and had a great weekend celebrating Ethan’s 27th birthday, and today everything is business as usual. I’ve been sleeping well (more on that in the next post), I’m smiling and laughing, and life is being kind for the most part.

I think this is what healing looks like.