The “C” Word

No, no, no, not THAT “C”-word……I meant The “C” Word. As in “crazy”.

I can’t speak for all bipolar people, of course, but I’d have to guess that most don’t particularly like having that term applied to them. It sounds so “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-ish. Who wants to be associated with images of straitjackets and padded rooms?

Part of my personal issue with the “C” word is the fact that it’s slung about so carelessly. There is actually a bedroom-furniture store in my area of the country that calls itself “Mattress Mania” where, according to the commercials, their customers “save like CRAZY!!” I’d like to think that the suits who run the company came up with this out of ignorance, but there are times I feel like writing to them and asking them if they ever once considered how it might come across to people who suffer from real, live mania (and don’t want to be called crazy).

So…..are bipolars crazy?

Natasha Tracy, a bipolar blogger of considerable repute, says she is. She wears her BP colors proudly, even defiantly, and has no problem calling things as she sees them. I want to be her when I grow up. But somehow I doubt I’d ever be comfortable with using “crazy” to describe what I go through with this illness. Sometimes I’m out of control, strung out, not in my right mind, even desperately ill…..but I am not, nor have I ever been crazy. Capisce?

Fortunately, I don’t face this situation often….for one thing, I’m able to maintain at least SOME dignity even during a mood episode, and have thus far managed to refrain from swinging from the chandelier or mooning some poor schmuck driving down the interstate. (Well, except for this one time when I was with some friends and we were all pretty wasted……)

In fact, the only time I’ve been called crazy was a few months ago, back when I was still employed, and my assistant and I were taking a break and talking about some unusually heavy stuff. She was aware of my ‘nonconformity’ and tried very hard to understand, even when I was off my rocker and behaving erratically, and when she used the “C” word, it was in the context of trying to explain my own illness to me: “But it’s not your fault that you’re crazy, it’s the bad genes you got and the brain chemistry that’s out of whack.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to use a few of my choicest adult words in response; luckily, I was pretty stable at that time and I was able to swallow them, realizing in that same instant that her intentions were wholly benign—she had no IDEA of how much I dislike that word. That’s one of the aspects of stability that I really love and wish I could experience all the time….the nanosecond or two between an act or a statement I consider insulting and the knee-jerk reaction, which has enabled me to save several relationships since I’ve been medicated.

So my sweet little helper went on her way, believing she’d offered something of value to the dialogue and never knowing that for an instant, I’d wanted to belt her over the head with a copy of the DSM-IV.

Now THAT would’ve been crazy!

My Meds, My Self

And now, a few words about the wide, wild world of bipolar medications.

Now, I am in awe of the few BPers I know who manage their illness with nothing more than a healthy lifestyle. Yes, they still have their ups and downs, and some I quietly suspect would do better if they’d take at least a mood stabilizer. But after 15 months of tweaking, adjusting, discontinuing, adding, and otherwise messing with some very powerful drugs, I often wish I had the grit (to say nothing of the self-discipline) to take bipolar in my own hands and tell it, once and for all, to go to hell.

Alas, my version of the disorder is serious enough that it requires multiple medications to wrestle it under some sort of control. Four, to be exact, unless you count the over-the-counter melatonin tablets my psychiatrist recommended to help me sleep better. I’ve got ’em all—a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant, an anxiolytic, and even an antipsychotic, which is really only to prevent mania, and the dose gets increased when I have a breakthrough episode.

Not that I’ve ever been psychotic. Well…OK, I have been. Once. But only when Wellbutrin (a different kind of antidepressant) made me bat-shit crazy a couple of years ago and I threatened to kill a co-worker’s abusive boyfriend…among other illegal and despicable acts. That damned drug is the ONLY reason the term psychosis is noted on the same page as my name and date of birth, and it looks terrible there. And that pisses me off.

Fortunately, my current regimen seems to be working well. It took me a long time to accept that I have to take pills—several of them—just to be normal. In the beginning I really resented this and fought it tooth and nails. But then, I’m still having trouble accepting the fact that I am, and will always be “mentally ill”, though there are nice periods of stability in between episodes when I’m not sick at all. It’s a great feeling to not be actively battling the disorder…..Big Ugly, as I call it, and I have simply called a truce.

And it’s times like this that I find myself absurdly grateful for the handful of sanity I gulp down every morning and night. I’m grateful for the scientists who invented them, the wise physician who prescribes them for me, and the fact that they pretty much keep me from hunting for the snub-nosed .38 I asked my husband to hide from me during my last bout with suicidal ideation.

I’ll talk more about my love/hate relationship with bipolar medications some other time, but right now, it’s time for my ‘nightcap’ of Lamictal, Geodon, and Klonopin. Sweet dreams!

For Rent: Used Nurse. Dirt Cheap!

I’d better explain that. I am not, of course, a ‘lady of the night’ who dresses up in a nurse costume and gives bed baths to her, um, patients for money. What I AM is a newly unemployed, 50-something nurse who’s showing her age, and as such, does not suffer fools gladly. Although I was fired, essentially, for working while bipolar, it became evident that I had to go when I stopped co-signing peoples’ bullshit.

As a nurse in 21st-century America, I’m more like a glorified food server than a skilled technician. Nurses in almost every healthcare setting are expected to fluff pillows, bend straws, suck up to administration, doctors, patients and their families, and even use scripted messages when addressing their “customers”: “Is there anything else I can do for you right now? I have the time.” Oh, sure, by all means let me fetch that warm blanket for you while ignoring your roommate who’s turning blue…..

It’s even worse in management. At least when you’re a wage slave, you get to clock out, go home, and let somebody else deal with the irate family member who’s making completely ridiculous demands on behalf of his relative. As a salaried executive type, you not only have to listen to the jerk, but you must bend over and take whatever he dishes out, fix whatever led him to complain, and then apologize profusely so that maybe—just maybe—it will raise your Press-Ganey (customer satisfaction survey) scores. Or failing that, you might be able to convince him not to file a lawsuit against the facility for not giving his 300-lb. diabetic grandmother a piece of cake.

Yes, it’s that bad. And I’ve got to admit that after several years of dealing with this sort of thing every day, I finally marched in to my boss’s office and refused to handle any more of it. By that time I was literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown (which I proceeded to have a couple of weeks later) and no longer cared what he or anyone else said: I was done catering to idiots. He was more than welcome to continue doing so himself; I, on the other hand, was over it. In fact, I’d already decided that the next 70-year-old “child” who got in my face about Mamma’s laundry getting mixed up would be informed that she a) had obviously mistaken me for someone who gave a shit, and b) might want to take that up with the poor woman who was actually in charge of that department.

But it wasn’t until the nervous breakdown happened that someone decided that I was no longer fit to work in the capacity to which I was accustomed. I could’ve understood it if I’d been fired when I declared my freedom from petty crap and verbal abuse, but having panic attacks and going out on medical leave? Really??

So here I am, healed up and ready to go back to being a worker bee…..but nobody’s hiring. And at my age, my prospects aren’t exactly dynamite (even if my temper is). Now what do you suppose a used nurse with a bad back and a sketchy work history is to do?

You know what, I should become a waitress! I’ve been slinging hash and kissing ass for years……and I never even got any tips for it. Where’s the closest Denny’s?

I Hate Being Bipolar. It’s AWESOME!

If ever a bumper sticker needed a beverage alert, it was this one. I saw it a few months ago on the back of an old Honda that was held together with prayer and duct tape—kind of like my life—and promptly spewed Diet Coke all over my dashboard.

Then I went home and told this story to my family, only to have them stare at me like I was wearing red ribbons in my hair. I keep forgetting that people who are not cursed/blessed with a serious mental illness can’t quite wrap their intact little minds around the humor inherent in carrying around a big, bad ol’ DSM diagnosis like bipolar disorder. They don’t get the jokes. You know, like Foghorn Leghorn saying, “Boy, I say Boy, you’re exceeding the limits of my medication!”

Then again, those of you who are too young to catch the reference to a 1960s-era cartoon chicken might not get that one either. ‘S okay…..sometimes, you just have to get to know me to understand my peculiar brand of warped. The fact that I’m a registered nurse of some years’ vintage also has done things to my sense of humor that would make a sailor blush. Poop stories? Nurses know ’em all: we’ve seen it, smelled it, cleaned it…..and they’re made fresh daily. Ba-da-boom!

All kidding aside, being a health professional who just happens to have a nasty case of manic depression really sucks sometimes. Well, it sucks more often than that, but I digress. It’s a difficult thing to hide when you’re working side-by-side with other nurses, doctors, patients, and the assorted characters who populate healthcare facilities. These people usually know each other’s business only slightly better than they do their own, so when you experience a bout of mania or depression, everyone in the building knows about it almost before you do.

I’m a rather unusual case, seeing as how I wasn’t even diagnosed until the age of 53. Now I look back and can see that I’ve had bipolar for most, if not all of my life; it explains the melancholy of my childhood, the tempestuousness of my 20s and 30s, the crazy things I did (like throwing a change of clothes and a pack of cigarettes in the bed of a co-worker’s truck and driving down to Ensenada, Mexico on a Friday night). But like too many people with the disorder, I thought I was merely defective and didn’t deserve any better, and I was also terrified of mental illness. My parents used to talk about people who were “loco en la cabeza” (IOW: nuts) in hushed tones, and of course there weren’t any crazy people in OUR family……no, we just had parents who drank like fish, and aunts, grandmothers, and sisters who had quiet nervous breakdowns behind closed doors.

So I got to be the ‘special’ one. I don’t get what my mother called “the vapors” or pass out drunk in the parlor; I have a MENTAL ILLNESS. And sometimes the label seems to weigh more heavily than any patient I’ve ever lifted.