Moving on Up

I was ready for Halloween.  This is unusual for me.  I don’t generally do much for Halloween, but this year I was excited for it months in advance, thanks to my obsession with Pinterest.  I had made a few craft and décor type purchases post-Halloween last year then started slowly adding to my collection as soon as the first skeletons and ghosts hit the shelf of my local Dollar General.  I purchased spooky black cheesecloth, white cheesecloth, skulls, skeletons, ribbon, and more all in anticipation of creating a scary-fun atmosphere.  (You’ll notice I did not say I purchased spiders.  Spiders are terrifying.  Horrifying.  Yes, even the plastic kind.  The only kind of spider I like is the dead kind).

 

But wouldn’t you know it?  I didn’t get to use any of my goodies because…the house we’re living in sold!  Yep, we’re moving.  Physically moving to a higher hillside with an even better view.  So in this case, the good news (the move) definitely outweighed the bad (no Halloween crafting for me).  While I couldn’t decorate for Halloween because, you know, packing, I will have fun decorating for Christmas.  I might do a little for Thanksgiving, but I need to focus on unpacking rather than decorating.  The official move is this coming Saturday, but we’ll be bringing stuff over there during the week in anticipation of making our new house our home.  I’ll feel a little sad at leaving our current home, but mostly I’m feeling excited!   To paraphrase Sheryl Crow: A change will do us good.

So now I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just go ahead and put the tree up now.  I mean, after all, why store it away when we’ll be using it soon, anyway?  Right?  And yes, it’s an artificial tree.  John has asthma and real trees set it off.  But why not go ahead and put up our tree?  And the new-to-us-house has a beautiful banister to decorate with greenery and ribbon.

At the moment, though, my current house is stacked to the rafters with full packing boxes.  I’m a little embarrassed (no, not really) to say the majority of the boxes are my crafting supplies.  But you see, one of the great things about this move is that I’m getting a she-shed!  A dedicated place to work on my crafts to my heart’s content without worrying about cleaning it up to make room to sit down to dinner.  Or having someone drop in and find my crafting supplies strewn all over the living room.  No more looking throughout the house for crystals, wooden dowels, or lace because it will all be in my shed.  And what a great place to hide “stuff” I don’t want DH (dear hubby) to know about, like birthday and Christmas gifts.  I think they’ll be perfectly safe there.

Well, I need to get back to work packing.  I may be able to get one more post in before we make the big move.  Soon I’ll be truly enjoying an even better “The View From the Top of the Hill”.

Don’t Rush Me! I’m Thinking!

psychiatristIt was a few years back and I had been seeing my current pdoc (psychiatrist) for some time.  I was trying to make a point about an issue I was having, but just didn’t feel I was adequately explaining my dilemma.  In a moment of desperation I reached down, grabbed my purse, opened it up, and thrust it towards my pdoc, saying, “Here!  This is what my brain feels like!”

My mom was the epitome of neatness.  The house was always maintained.  Shoot, she vacuumed and dusted every day because one of my brothers had asthma and the doctor had prescribed she do so.  It didn’t help that we lived down a dirt road.

Did you see what I did there?  I was explaining something and went down a different path altogether!  Anyway, my mom’s purse was also neat as a pin.  She liked purses and wallets with lots of pockets to keep all the contents organized.

contents of purseI, apparently, am not my mother’s daughter.  I used to be able to keep my home fairly neat, but I have difficulty with that these days.  And my purse?  Well, it’s packed full of receipts, lists, a few tubes of lipstick, a pen or two, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam.  I don’t know where it all comes from. I know right now I have some sari silk ribbon hanging out, chillaxin’ in my bag.  I know where it came from, but I don’t know how it found its way to my purse’s interior.  (Actual photo of my purse’s contents.)

I subscribe to a publication called BPHope.  It’s for people with bipolar disorder and those who love them.  Besides the regular magazine are daily emails with articles and I just happened to stumble across one entitled, “Straight Talk on Racing, Obsessive, and Cluttered Thoughts”.  According to this article, under the subheading “cluttered thoughts”, some “…describe this experience as having part of their attention on the task or conversation at hand while another part of their mind is scampering from thought to thought.”  Halleluiah!!!!  That’s exactly what I experience!  And why I started out going in one direction with this post and seemingly started to switch gears.

synapsesNow, the article doesn’t give any answers to this problem, other than to bring it up with my pdoc.  Shoot!  I thought I already had when I shoved my purse in his face!  But in any case, I see my doc next week and will bring it up.  I’m not sure what can be done.  At least, though, he’ll know of my concerns and we’ll talk about neurotransmitters, synapses, and the like.  That’s always fun.  Makes me feel like a moderately intelligent adult for a while.  While I’d prefer no one else have to cope with bp disorder, the article was a reminder that I’m not alone…problems processing thoughts are pretty common within the bp community, though I’m sure there are those with healthy brains who have problems from time to time, as well.   I don’t lay claim to anything as being strictly within the purvey of the bp community with the exception of, you know, having bp disorder!

So how about you?  Do you struggle with thought processes?  Focus? Attention?  Obsessive thoughts? Rambling thoughts?  Drop me a line.

Hypomania, Wherefore Art Thou?

alone-in-fogI’ve talked a lot about the depression, the ceaseless days and nights spent in overwhelming darkness and despair.  That’s because, for me, depression has been a near constant companion over the past 13 years.  I’ve broken out from time to time, but generally speaking, depression has literally shadowed me.  Episodes of “normality” (whatever that is) and occasional periods of hypomania have let me know, fortunately, that I can go into a period of remission.  And, I believe that’s where I am now.  Thank goodness!

But what of this hypomania of which I speak?  What is it?  Well, for people with bipolar II, hypomania is…generally…a period of elevated mood.  It’s not as extreme as it is for those with bipolar l, but it is usually a happy, energized time.  A period where the world is charming, we’re charming, and life is grand and wonderful.  Generally.  I’ll get to the conditions in a bit.

amusement park ridesI’ve mentioned before how I had these periods of being down, usually just physically, followed by periods of euphoria.  That euphoria is something to be craved.  It’s like the best kiss ever, the most exciting carnival ride, the most fun time even during mundane tasks.  It’s the energy to work all day, put together a decent meal, play games with the family after dinner, and follow it up with an amazing romantic episode with your significant other.  All that and more.  Smiling the whole time.  Conversation comes more easily, witty remarks flow from your lips, creativity is at its max, we love more deeply, and the desire to do something…anything, really…is strong.

lots-of-money

All of this comes at a price.  Sometimes that price is literal.  Mania and hypomania are noted for spending sprees, often with money that’s borrowed.  Credit card debt is not uncommon, at all.  Later, during periods of relative sanity, someone with bipolar disorder will look at the purchases and wonder, “Why?”  I know I have.  Anxiety can be enhanced during mania and hypomania, as well.  During hypomanic spells, angry outbursts may be common.

However, we don’t remember this.  Or at least some of us don’t.  We remember how good we felt, perhaps because of how nice it was to not be depressed!  And the hell of mood stabilizers is that while they are intended to prevent those deep, dark periods, they also tend to prevent the up side.  I mean, what’s the fun of having bipolar disorder if you can’t have a little hypomanic spell once in a while?  (wink, wink)

This is a very brief, very generic outline of hypomania.  Ask two people how they experience it and you’ll get some similarities, but there will also be differences.

Then there are mixed episodes.  Oh, boy.  What fun (she says in her most sarcastic voice).  I’ll get to that in another post, along with discussing a plethora of other mood disorders.  Did you know it’s estimated that 25% of the population have or will experience a mood disorder at some point in his/her life?  Hopefully I’m passing along some information you see as valuable.  And, as always, if you have any questions, please pass them along.

The Quiet Room (First Published 12/12/2013)

So, where was I?  Back a couple of posts or so ago…?  Oh, that’s right!  I crashed and burned.  Yep.  First, a correction.  This occurred at the end of Block III in the teacher ed program, not Block II.  The next semester would have been the final Block then student teaching before hopefully passing the Praxis test and entering the classroom as a teacher.

College classroom

Now here I was, three weeks left to spare in Block III, and I was crashing.  I managed to complete the semester.  I had to!  I’d invested too much, and had watched the investment my family had also put into my education, to quit at that point.  And I believed I just needed a little break before hitting the books again in the fall.  I had a whole summer.

That’s not the way it went, though.  A month later I was sleeping almost non stop.  When I wasn’t sleeping I was crying.  Or that’s the way it seemed to me at the time.  Looking back I recall so very little.  Just that things were very dark.

John had been attending some of my counseling sessions with me in an effort to better understand my illness.  We made an emergency appointment with *Flo (can you see being in therapy with Flo as the therapist?  J ) and had to make a decision.  Was I able to cope?  Was I in danger of harming myself? Was I able to care for myself and/or my family? Was a more intense effort needed to become stable?

I know John wanted only what was best for me, as did Flo.  I’m also sure he must have been terrified at that point.  We decided that the best course of action would be for me to be briefly hospitalized in order to be stabilized, a decision I’d make again today if necessary.

Doctor and patient in hospitalI was fortunate in that my then-doctor was affiliated with an amazing hospital in St. Louis.  Fortunate because the psychiatric ward (now THAT’s a shocking term, isn’t it?) there was for those like me…not for those waiting to dry out between drunks or drug highs or those who were criminals.  Just for those of us whose neurotransmitters were taking a hiatus. And I hafta say, except for the whole crying and sleeping thing, and being horribly depressed, it wasn’t half bad.  Staff was amazing, I had no responsibilities except to get better, the food was great (Hey, that’s important!), and there were plenty of snacks on hand.  We were well cared for.  If called to give it a rating, I’d say five stars.

I have to add I was a little antisocial.  Okay, make that a LOT antisocial.  I didn’t want to attend group therapy, or activities, or anything else that involved other people.  I wanted to be left alone with my book and be allowed to read or sleep.  I was there because I was depressed, not to make friends over arts and crafts.

Then came the first night and the discovery that my roommate snored.  Like a truck.  I absolutely could not sleep through that.  I made my way to the nurses’ station and begged to be allowed to sleep in another room.  All the rooms were full, though.  I then begged to be allowed to sleep on the sofa in the common room, or even in a chair!  Against regulations.  The despair I felt made my earlier despair look like joy, and apparently it showed, ‘cause I was informed that there was the “quiet room” and it was unoccupied!

Girl says shhhhWhat??!!  A quiet room??  Why wasn’t I told about this room before?  Quiet!  That was exactly what I wanted! I almost-happily gathered up my blankets and pillow and tip-toed my way to the room. I wanted that room and didn’t want anyone else to claim it!  My precious!  It was adjacent to the nurses’ station with a window between them.  I noticed the mattress was on the ground but, hey, I didn’t care.  There was no one in the room but me!  Quiet time, here I come!

As I snuggled down, I noticed something on the floor at each corner of the bed.  They were kind of like bent over, u-shaped bolts but each side was bolted into the floor.

The bed wasn’t bolted down. It was just a mattress.  So what could it be?  Then it dawned on me and I actually laughed out loud.

The room could more appropriately be called a “time out” room and was usually for those who needed to be quieted, not for those needing quiet.  I’m still laughing about this, though my husband and doctor were not too thrilled with it (read: horrified) when they found out.  The u-shaped bolt thingies were in case a patient needed to be restrained.  Oh, my.  I’m so un-violent.  The irony is just too much.  But, hey, I’m just grateful the room was empty while I was there because it meant I got to sleep at night.

I was placed on lithium, which is generally a drug of choice for depression, assuming the patient doesn’t develop a toxicity.  I did, but not for several weeks.  It works quickly and had me pretty much stable by the time my three day stint was over. Actually, I felt pretty darn good at that point.

Blood work conducted at the hospital indicated my iron level was dangerously low and that my thyroid had taken early retirement.  Two more potential causes behind my exhaustion and contributing factors to the depression.

So, I did gain some answers.  But better yet?  I got to sleep in the quiet room!

The Great Depression and Stimulus Programs (a history lesson) (Originally published December 16, 2013)

Sorry to disappoint, but this is not a history lesson about the Great Depression in terms of world history, but in terms of my own history.  Me.  The Great Depression of ’06.  Yikes!  Something just occurred to me.  How long did it take the nation to get back on track following the initial stock market crash?  OMGOSH!  I hope it doesn’t take that long for me to become mentally stable.  Seriously, this thought just occurred to me.  All righty, then.  Yeah.  Okay.  Need to take a breather.

Okay.  I’m back.

My crash didn’t quite rival that of the stock market back in 1929, but it sure as heck felt like it to me.  The lithium injected into my system was like a fake market stimulus, one designed to quickly turn the tide, but in the end…ineffective.  No government project works a la President Roosevelt.  Not even a government bailout a la President Obama!  Just a switch to another med.

Keep in mind, this was back in ’06.  2006.  Though my kids might argue the point, I wasn’t around in 1906.    And when I first started this journey I had no idea I would be one of the lucky ones (yay, me!) who has hard to treat depression.  It’s kinda like my thyroid.  Apparently it and my neurotransmitting (no, it’s not a word but I can pretend) system took off for the Bahamas together.  I do hope they’re having a good time.  Goodness knows they left a mess behind for me and my docs to try to fix.

So, anyway, my mom was the one who was great at keeping notes and keeping track of stuff.  Remember me saying that I actually thrust my purse at my psychiatrist to show him what it looked like, comparing it to the way my brain felt?  Well, my mom was at the other end of the spectrum.  She loved purses with lots of pockets and compartments.  Everything had its place and there was nary (I pulled that word out of my hat.  Pretty cool, huh?) a scrap of stray paper in sight.  She kept track of all of my brothers’ illnesses and that of my sister and me, noting medications that worked and treatments that didn’t.  She kept track of which bills needed to be paid and when.  She was that kind of person.

Now, had I known the journey I would be on with regards to medication I might have at least made an attempt to keep track of medications and side effects.  I’ve been on a bunch over the years, and several combos.  Sadly, my former docs had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathtub.  “Let’s try something entirely different!” rather than “Let’s tweak this and see if we can make necessary adjustments.”  My current doc does the latter.  I’m crazy about him.  Note I said I’m crazy about the doc, not crazy in general, though a case could be made…

Anyhow, since my crash and hospitalization, I haven’t been stable enough to finish school, let alone be able to work.  I’ve changed my dream from having that teaching career to just having a good idea how I’m going to feel from one day to the next.  And hopefully feeling decent from one day to the next.  My dream is to now have the energy each day to care for my home and family, a dream that, sadly, doesn’t come true more often than it does.  I feel that I fail my loved ones on a regular basis.  Hubby says that’s the depression talking, and anyone who’s suffered from depression knows depression lies.

But enough of the negative stuff.  After several days of sleeping almost nonstop I’m actually awake!  And it’s a glorious feeling.  Youngest son put up Christmas trees and I think I may actually do some decorating today.  Hoooo-ray!!!

Have a wonderful day.  I’ll meet ya back here soon!

No, It Isn’t (First published December 19, 2013)

No, it isn’t (Not to be Confused with “No, it’s not.”)

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No!! It isn’t!”

“Yes! It is.”

Every few weeks I’d have this “discussion” with my hubby who insisted that my mood and energy swings were related to PMS.  To be honest, I was finally starting to see it that way, too, just before being diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder.  Of course, this was after about 15 years of marriage, so there was plenty of time to have this “discussion”.

And face it, ladies, don’t you hate having any bad mood or angry outburst attributed to being “that time of the month”?  Talk about feeling invalidated!  Like I we can’t be legitimately angry or be in a bad mood.  Since we’re women it’s only because of all these wacky hormones flowing through us.  So, naturally I wasn’t happy having any and all bad moods attributed to PMS.  And as much as I adore my husband (and I did and really, really do…couldn’t get through this without him and his support) I did occasionally actually get angry about something and became even more angry when he felt it was “just my PMS talking”. Besides, there were so many other weird symptoms that went along with the bad moods/depressive states such as sleeping a lot, feeling achy like a bad case of the flu, ear/sinus pain, and just generally feeling sick.  Well, I know now these symptoms aren’t uncommon with the downside of BP, and even with unipolar depression.

But I did know there was something else going on. I just didn’t know what it could be.  Mental illness never crossed my mind, though I knew I had extended periods of depression.  Still, bipolar disorder is portrayed as the wild and crazy bipolar 1.  Very little is publicly known or publicized about BP II, or other numbers on the spectrum trail.

So, we “discussed” it periodically.  The thing was, I knew my symptoms didn’t follow a PMS course.  My symptoms were regular, but not on a monthly cycle.  My episodes were much briefer then, as is more typical of bp.  Short episodes of mania/hypomania and periods of depression intermixed with periods of feeling “normal” (again, whatever that is).  I loved the hypomanic state…calling it my “euphoric” period.  I was brilliant, exciting to be around, charming, creative, energetic.  These periods always followed the down period when I just couldn’t get enough sleep and felt like I was in a fog.

I remember for our family’s 10th anniversary planning on going to dinner at a restaurant in a town about 45 minutes away.  At the time, I worked as an on-air personality and news director at a small radio station in my hometown.  After my morning shift that day, I went home and slept until about 10 minutes before my afternoon shift.  (We lived about 5 minutes away from the station.)  I went back in without doing any additional news work, completed my afternoon shift and went back home to sleep until the family came home.  The thought of driving 45 minutes to a restaurant was so tiring…just the thought was tiring.  But we did it.  It turned out to be a not so wonderful experience, but not because of my state of mind.  Just a very expensive dinner for mediocre quality Italian food.  One of those stories we can tell and understand in the family, though.  However, it was my introduction to bruschetta, and for that I am happy. It’s like Italian salsa.  Yummmmm.

I have to wonder how many other women suffer from bp and are told it’s just hormones.  Is it more prevalent than we think? Would something a little stronger than Midol help more women deal with those energy/mood swings?  Research grant time!

(Warning: This blog post actually makes sense and flows in a decent order.  This may not be the experience on very many of my posts.  J)

The Darkness Comes (Originally published December 31, 2013)

getting darkThe darkness threatened to close around me.  I felt the tentacles stretching towards me, reaching, snaking their way through to my body and soul.  I could see them, slowly moving in, becoming stronger, increasingly darker as they approached.  The fogginess in my head deepened, making me feel ever more lethargic, fatigued…any effort to do anything was almost too much.  My spirit began to sink, interest in anything I enjoyed was slowly diminishing.  I wish I could say my feelings towards those I love was unaffected, but that would be a lie.  I knew that love was there, but it was becoming separated from me by the darkness.  That’s the way depression works.  It’s a wall between all that you love and enjoy and yourself.  In the end, when it’s at its worse, nothing exists but the darkness.

Sometimes that’s a relief.  Does that sound strange?  I know some of you understand.  Just to let the darkness have its way…to sink, curl up, sleep, and close out the world.  It hurts less. That twilight, in between state prevents enjoyment, but you’re still very much aware of all you cannot do, don’t want to do.  You don’t care about much, but somehow care that…you don’t care.  You’re supposed to care, and you know that. But the energy, the strength it takes to accomplish even the minutest task simply isn’t there.  And it’s frustrating, aggravating, demoralizing…here it is again.  At least with the full darkness everything is shut out.  That’s not to say full depression is a good thing.  It definitely isn’t.  I’ve spent more than my share of time curled up in a fetal position, blanket over my head, too tired to even cry, and just wanting it to stop.  In that in between, twilight state, though, is the belief that you should be able to carry on as if nothing was wrong.  As if you were walking in the light.  As if all was well in your world when there may only be enough energy present to take a shower, get dressed, and watch TV.  And sometimes there’s only energy to choose one from that list, like choosing dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

The tentacles have been stretching towards me since early October.  I woke up one morning and all my interests were simply no longer interesting.  I felt flat, emotionless, yet not depressed.  Slowly, little by little, I could feel the cold, misty-gray tentacles moving towards me, grasping me lightly, just enough to be aware.  The tentacles were getting stronger, darker, squeezing harder.  I managed to fake my way through Christmas and prepared a separate, second dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate with a son and daughter-in-law who had been out of town at Christmas.  I managed to get through, and was aware enough of having met the challenge to even give myself a little pat on the back.  “Good work. Success.”  The fact that I was in bed by 6:30 New Year’s Eve wasn’t important…I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

despair or hope signpostThen on New Year’s Day, somehow, for some reason I don’t want to even question, the tentacles’ strength lessened, they became a bit thinner, less dark.  I’m not yet back in the light, but I have managed to vacuum and mop my living room, dining room, and entryway, shop, run a couple of other errands, and still feel like writing this blog post.  That’s pretty good and I’ll take it as a sign that perhaps I’m moving towards the light instead of away from it. I feel I’m beginning to care again, and I take that as a good sign, too.  I had hoped I wasn’t experiencing a long, slow, spiraling decline into that dark place from which it is so very difficult to escape.

I feel blessed to be able to say I appear to be climbing out of that hole.

How Did I Get So Lucky? (Originally published March, 2013)

Before delving into the more wacky side of bipolar disorder/depression/generalized anxiety disorder (That’s right, forgot to tell you about the latter, didn’t I? Silly me!), let me take a moment to say how grateful I am for this, that, and the other.  Not for the illness.  No, never for that.  But for other things.

Starting with “this”: I’m grateful for you, my readers.  When I started this blog I had no idea how it would be received.  Face it, a lot of people out there still make wide circles around us “mentally interesting” people.  (Wish I could take credit for the “mentally interesting” comment. Credit fully goes to Jerrod Poole at Crazy Meds.) I’ve had it happen to me at a time when I really needed some support. But overall, I’ve been embraced!  I’ve spoken about my battles at Toastmaster meetings. (Funny thing, social situations ramp up the anxiety probs, but public speaking rocks!)  I’ve been very open on Facebook about the wars I fight and have not had one single negative comment.  Not one!  And as far as I can tell, no one has “unfriended” me, thinking I’m some kind of loony-tune on the verge of creating mayhem.  Heh-heh.  And you…you have given me such support.  Okay, I’m getting teary here, and probably more gushy than you’d like.  I’m so incredibly humbled by your comments and your messages to me.  I’ve discovered there’s a bunch of us mentally interesting people as well as people who don’t ordinarily hack at the demons of a challenged neurotransmitting system, but are having temporary problems.  Whether brought on by environmental causes or physiological issues, it doesn’t matter.  Even brief travels into the world of the demons is harrowing.  So thank you.  Again, I’m humbled and honored.

Next is “that”: my doctors.  I live in a community of 17,000 people in a rural county of 40,000 inhabitants in SE MO.  Get the picture? Small community, poor rural area…not a place where one would expect to find stellar health care.  Yet I have!  I’ll start with my medical doc.  When we moved to our little corner of the world we had no idea who to choose for a primary care physician.  Should we just open the phone book, close our eyes, and point a finger?  Seemed the best way…in fact the only way.

Instead, we actually went to the trouble of asking our neighbors who they saw.  Turns out their doctor was a geriatric doc, but their office steered us to the office of a young doctor.  Doc C.M. is a genius.  Seriously.  For my husband’s neuropathy, a pain specialist in a fancy hospital in the big city of St. Louis told us our doc was treating it just exactly as he would and he wouldn’t change a thing.  Doc C.M. is always on the lookout for new treatments, as well.  He’s treated one son’s ADHD beautifully and another’s anxiety perfectly, in addition to the myriad other health issues we call on him to solve.  He’s actually cared enough about me to “yell” at me that I need to accept that I have a medically recognized ailment.  And yelled at me when I discovered the extent of my anemia.  He didn’t know a nurse practitioner who worked with him at the time had seen the test results but only mentioned that my iron was a little low and I might want to consider taking supplements.  I hope you know he doesn’t actually raise his voice, but it’s possible to yell without actually doing so.  We do it to our kids when they act up in public.  Anyway, he’s great.

Now, I’m even more blessed with my pdoc (psychiatrist).  Do you know how difficult it is to find a good pdoc?  Hmmm?  I went through two at a fancy hospital in a big city (recurring theme here).  The first ditched me when he no longer accepted our insurance.  I fired the second when he said there was no possible way I could have a certain side effect from a particular drug.  Bullhockey.  I was quite easily able to find that side effect online in the drug’s information sheet.  Geez!  Anyway, I was in tears and, quite frankly suicidal, when I went to see a nurse practitioner who shares office space with my MD.  She’s great.  She made a phone call to a friend who’s a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I had an appointment less than a week later.  My depression is apparently quite difficult to treat and she wasn’t really getting anywhere, so she referred me to my pdoc, whose office is next door to hers  I loved him immediately.  I was so low I could barely respond to his questions, but I appreciated how he didn’t just go over a checklist as my former pdocs did.  He listened.  He paraphrased.  He genuinely wanted to know what I was experiencing.  Then he explained how the various neurotransmitters work with regards to mood.  Wow!  I was getting therapy, a pdoc’s expertise, AND an education all in one meeting.  It was fabulous.  And rather than throwing the baby out with the bathtub as my former docs did, he suggested tweaking the mood stabilizer I was on.

And at later appointments, as I described how and what I was feeling, he explained what he wanted to do and why…which neurotransmitter a particular drug would affect and why he wanted to make an adjustment.  He doesn’t like to prescribe medical cocktails, but has found it necessary to place me on four different medications, all very carefully monitored and adjusted.  He admits my case is difficult to treat, partly because I respond atypically to most antidepressants.  In other words, Prozac should send me on a wild rampage when instead it causes me to become one with the couch.

Each time I’ve seen him, he goes back over what I told him before, reviews notes made by my therapist, then carefully listens to what I have to say.  And when I’m doing well he appears to genuinely be happy!  His eyes actually sparkle.  And he seems to enjoy chatting with me about the medical side of drugs, brain cooties, etc.  He also reassures me that in his practice he sees a wide variety of people, including professionals, so I shouldn’t feel inferior.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  And here he is, a Pakistani native, living and working in a small rural town in Southeast Missouri.  What a blessing.

My therapist is another blessing.  She listens, she talks with me, she explains the how’s and why’s of what I’m experiencing.  She shares little bits and pieces about her own life.  She never rushes me (neither does my pdoc).  She’s genuine, sincere, professional, approachable, funny, and a great listener, even when I ramble, which, sadly, is often.  J  Kind of a bipolar trait.  She explains well the byproducts of my various brain cooties and why some things are difficult for me, like maintaining order in my house.  Like finishing projects (anyone want to decorate a tree for me?).  Like skipping appointments because I’m just not able to leave the house.  Stuff like that.  And she’s non-judgmental.  Better yet, she’s helped me let go of a lot of baggage.  Very simple suggestions and comments that absolutely ring true.  She’s a true blessing in my life.

Medication.  ‘nuff said.

My family for patiently and lovingly enduring my ups and downs.

Now for “the other”: my husband.  Oh, my goodness.  I seriously don’t know what I’d do without him.  Two hospitalizations (I know, I’ve only blogged about one.  Part deux will be forthcoming.  Don’t touch that dial!), depression so dark that I couldn’t get out of bed, depression not quite that dark but deep enough that I can barely function, half-finished projects, an inability to keep up with laundry and housekeeping, hypomanic spending (Be honest…you know what I mean.), and more.  He endures patiently, lovingly, and with worry.  When my downs appear to be darker or lasting longer than usual, he begs me to call the doctor. He has no problem with eating grilled cheese sandwiches or frozen pizza (heated, of course) for dinner.  He’s asked me over and over to not apologize, to the point I had to make a pact.  I’m sick, he says, and he knows what illness does to a person’s ability to carry out responsibilities.  He also understands when I spend “good” feeling days doing something I enjoy rather than something necessary.  Well, except for laundry.  He kind of likes having clean underwear and shirts.  I don’t have to worry about my feelings being “validated”.  He gets it.  And when he doesn’t, he tries to understand.  And sometimes I need a reality check which he gives with love and concern.  I could go on and on.

And as awful as it has been, can be, and may be again, maybe I should be grateful for my illness.  It’s taught me to be patient with myself.  Actually, no, that’s a lie.  I’m still not patient with myself.  But I am more patient with others.  I feel I’m more compassionate and I’m learning to accept my God-given gifts for what they are.

I am, indeed, one lucky woman.

No, I Don’t (Originally posted March 1, 2014)

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No! I don’t!”

“Yes! You do!”

This was my exchange with the therapist who first diagnosed me with having bipolar disorder.  You know Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials?  That’s who she reminded me of even down to her appearance. Except she didn’t dress in white.  I’m talking about physical appearance.  In fact, I’ll call her “Flo”, as I really don’t want to mention anyone by name without his/her consent.

bipolar graffitti

So, anyway, there we were in Flo’s office (the “yellow room” she called it) with me completely denying I have bipolar disorder.  I don’t jump up and down on chairs a la Tom Cruise.  I don’t demolish walls in my home in the middle of the night to remodel.  I don’t stay awake for days on end and do wild and crazy things!  Shoot, 10:00pm is a late night for me, so obviously I couldn’t have bipolar disorder.  I just needed help with the hellish depression I’d been in for months.  Since leaving my home state of California, in fact, and a job, family, and friends I loved.

Au contraire.  Flo went down a checklist and I sat there across from her, nodding my head most of the time, shaking it once in a while, but it soon became apparent she knew what I was about.  Relief?  Fear?  I wasn’t sure what I felt, but I did realize I would be getting an answer to a question I’d long held: Why did I have these “energy swings” and what do they mean?

Turns out there is not just one type of bipolar disorder, but two!  Lesson one for me.  In fact, since then I’ve learned there are many who believe there’s a bipolar spectrum.  Bipolar I is what we typically think of as bipolar disorder.  The wild and crazy highs intermixed with periods of depression.  Bipolar II is more subtle in some ways.  The “highs” are termed “hypomanic” and oftentimes it’s a feeling of euphoria.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though, but that’s something I’ll address in a whole ‘nother post.  (BTW—I’ve been told ‘nother isn’t a word.  Humor me.)  For me, though, it represented the good phase of my energy swings.  Plenty of energy to work, do the laundry, clean, and even have energy left at the end of the day to play board games with the kids.  Life was good in this state.  A feeling of “Ahhhh…”  But I didn’t recognize some of the down sides of hypomania, like making unnecessary purchases or making plans I couldn’t fulfill.

bipolar sign

The flip side of bp II is a deeper depression than that experienced by bp I, and generally longer lasting. I read a report a few years back that the fatality rate of people with bp II is greater than that of all cancer patients combined due to the high suicide rate of those with bp II.  Hmmm…now THAT’s cheerful, isn’t it?  🙂 Until I crashed all those many years ago, this was just my low energy cycle.  Couldn’t stay awake and felt as if I had the flu or a bad sinus infection.  Occasionally I’d enter a deep depression, but always came out of it after a few weeks. Not suicidal but deeply depressed.

So after all those years of asking various docs about my energy swings I discovered I was having mood swings.  Lovely.  I was one of “those people”.   But all I needed was a pill to fix it, right?  Right?!

Oh, how naïve I was!

A Cruel Mistress (First Published March, 2014)

Bipolar disorder is a cruel mistress.  Now, don’t jump to any conclusions and think I believe other mental illnesses are easier to live with.  I don’t feel that way at all.  But bipolar disorder can be especially cruel.

Imagine this:  Life is wonderful.  You’re happy, singing along with the radio, sunglasses on, and driving down the road.  You have a smile on your face and just know it’s going to be one of the best days ever.  A wonderful day to be alive and experience all that God has created for you.  Even though it may be the bleakest of winter days, there’s always something to appreciate.  The shape of a particular tree, your dog’s joy at seeing you, the sunlight streaming through clouds.  Something.  And on this day, everything good and enjoyable is noted.  Happy dances are offered up to the heavens in gratitude.  Shopping is an enjoyable experience.  It doesn’t matter that people keep blocking the aisles and you have to do the WalMart two-step to get around them.  Nope.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s not a huge inconvenience that there aren’t enough check stands open and only mildly irritating when the woman with the screaming kid gets behind you in line.  All in all, it could be worse.  Chores somehow take care of themselves, it seems.  Dinner is almost a masterpiece.  Or at least it’s a fully cooked meal.  And it’s no problem that sleep is limited.  Just don’t feel very sleepy.  Yep.  Life is indeed wonderful.

Depressed woman in bed.

Turn the page to the next day. Before you open your eyes, you know you have a problem.  The aches and pains are real.  Not a figment of your imagination.  The fact is, you feel as though you have a bad case of the flu.  Your head is foggy.  Thinking is such a chore.  Bed.  Bed is the only place you want to be.  If it was the flu, you know you’d have that luxury.  But because it’s not, you have to somehow crawl out of bed.  There are kids to get off to school.  Maybe even a job to go to.  Maybe.  If you’re one of the “lucky” ones.  The day drags by.  All you want to do is sleep…stay in your pajamas and sleep.  Then you realize you have to leave the house, if you haven’t already.  The problem is there’s no energy for a shower.  It’s just too much work.  Showering.  Drying off.  Getting dressed.  And for those of us females, doing something with our hair.  It requires more energy than is stored in the ol’ battery.  Dinner.  Frozen pizza again, that someone else has to put in the oven?  Minimal exchanges with family.  Talking is just so difficult.  The least little thing sets you off in tears.  You find a corner as far away from the family as possible.  You feel terrible that you can’t join in, but you may just as easily feel irritated by the noise.  Finally you can go to bed.  And you wonder if there’s any hope tomorrow will be different.

Bipolar disorder.  The best of the best and the worst of the worse.  It’s like having each foot firmly planted in a different world.  And the worlds ARE different.  The hopelessness of major depressive disorder and the jubilation of hypomania or mania.  Yes, negatives DO come with the mania/hypomania, but we’ll address those in a different post.  For now, let’s look at the black and white of bipolar disorder.

Before I knew my condition had a name, I called my hypomanic periods my “euphoric” times.  Truly, that’s what it was like.  Everything was tinged with gold and I could accomplish twice as much in half the time and do it better.  Then there was a period of “ordinariness” followed by a period of not being able to stay awake and feeling as though I was getting sick.  Really!  My sinuses and ears would hurt and I’d be achy.  And teary.  Oh, and I’d want to tear the head off of the hubster for no reason at all.  I knew I was being irrational, but couldn’t help it.  The anger would be accompanied by sadness…kind of a pity party, in a way.

So I’ve driven both roads plenty of times.  I’ll finish part two of my personal journey into crushing depression and awareness of my illness later.  Right now, it’s about those roads.  You see, I’ve been on them for years.  In fact, for the past ten years I’ve been on one road or the other.  No periods of ordinariness in between, more’s the pity.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the hypomanic states, but I flip flop more than a politician in an election year!

But there is one benefit to having been on these roads.  This, too, shall pass.  That’s it.  No magic chant or upbeat slogan.  Just “This, too, shall pass.”

Let me explain.  During hypomania, as long as I’ve been dealing with this I’ve come to expect the eventual let down that occurs.  Hypomania cannot be sustained for long periods of time.  At least, that’s my experience.  Because of that, it’s bittersweet.  It’s like when you’re a child and realize that there is an after-Christmas.  All the anticipation and build up occurs then, wham! It’s over.  You learn to enjoy the season while you can, but there’s always that knowledge that it won’t last forever.  With bipolar disorder, there is no “cure”.  You have bipolar disorder and what goes up always comes down.

But the other side to the coin is the knowledge that depressed states will also come to an end.  I will come out of it.  The reprieve may not last long, but it will be there.  I used to panic when I’d slide back into the darkness, fearful that my medication was no longer working.  I don’t fear that anymore.  The question is in the back of my head, but I don’t fret over it.  I know even with the best of care I’m going to have downs with the ups.  I have bipolar disorder, after all.  Yes, it sucks.  But the good times are all the sweeter for my knowledge and acceptance.  I’ve also learned that if my down periods last very long, I need to see my pdoc (psychiatrist).  Something needs to be adjusted.  It may be due to seasons, sunlight vs. darkness, or even just becoming accustomed to my medication, but a little change can do wonders.

With “This, too, shall pass” comes patience.  Maybe that’s the disorder’s purpose.  To teach patience.  To give us compassion.  The down times are a time to regroup, recharge.  Good periods are times to do good.  To capitalize on the energy to work magic on the world around us.  And I don’t just mean “out there” in the world.  I mean with our own families at home.  After all, they go on this journey with us.