The Ugly Demon and the Crafting Sword

You know that I have bipolar disorder, right?  I mean, I admit it in virtually every post!  What you may not realize is that the bulk of my time is spent depressed rather than hypomanic.  At one time I would have said deeply depressed, but now…fortunately…it’s just depressed.  The difference, you ask?  Well, deeply depressed is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, some shame as a bit of seasoning, sadness, and a belief that it will never, ever end.  Depression is bad enough.  Deeply depressed is like drowning in air.  It’s staying in bed because there’s no energy to even get up.  With depression, the feeling is that there is a life preserver out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.  You might note that I didn’t say anything about being sad.  It’s my belief, not a fact, just my own belief, that clinical depression has little to do with sadness.  I’ll talk about that in another post.  I found my life preserver in the hands of a compassionate, skilled psychiatrist and an outstanding therapist.  Well, that and the right pharmacological cocktail.  But it took the pdoc (psychiatrist) understanding how neurotransmitters work to come up with my cocktail.

Depression world cloud

But wait!  There’s more!  I also craft!  Yes, even while depressed, I craft.  Crafting gets me into another world for a while.  When I get into the zone, the depression is pushed to the side.  I become happy, hopeful, excited even!  And I’m learning there’s a whole bunch of people who feel the same way.

You see, I belong to a Facebook group for craft hoarders.  Yep, you got that right.  Craft hoarders!  We can’t pass up craft supplies without buying something.  We sneak it in in the middle of the night, or mixed in with groceries or such.  We’re that bad!  Actually, we’re pretty good.  Pretty good at hiding our crafting obsessions from others!  HA!  We may have a designated crafting space, but that doesn’t stop the supplies from tumbling out all over the house.  As if a mere designated space could hold the bounty of our supplies!  But we use these supplies!  Or we will.  Someday.  Someday soon.  Glitter. Paper. Fabric. Deco mesh. Buttons. You name it, I and others have it.  And it will all be put to good use.  I will soon be getting a good sized she-shed with an attached shop.  No, not the shopping kind of shop.  But the kind where my youngest will no doubt work on cars, motorcycles, and such.  But it’ll make a good overrun area for supplies!

Artist painting.

I was surprised the other day when one of these dear people…a woman, as are most of the group’s members…mentioned being depressed.  I was relieved when she received so much support.  Sadly, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness.  However, I was astounded at the number of other members, literally dozens, who admitted to struggling with depression and anxiety.  This one thread was so full of positive energy as admissions were made to the difficulties of life with depression, and the benefit of creating in keeping the ugly demons at bay.  Also, the positive affirmations to one another to keep crafting.  I was actually in tears.

I am not my illness.You might have noticed one of the categories on my blog is “crafts”.  If it’s a blog for mental illness, why add crafts, you may wonder?  Because while I might have bipolar disorder with a heavy emphasis on the depression, that’s not who I am.  It doesn’t define me.  I’m multifaceted and one of my facets includes creating.  Actually, since reading some of the comments within that FB group, I’m pondering the possibility that a great deal of creating comes from those who suffer, in one way, shape, or form.  Could it be we’re given these talents to help us cope?  I do know I want to reach out to these women and see if any of them are willing to share how they create.  I’ve seen the work of some of the people in this group and it’s astounding!  I’d love to show it off on my blog.

Anxiety Rears Its Ugly Head

I just wanted OUT!!!   I wanted to run out, screaming at the top of my lungs!  And if I hadn’t been (at that time, anyway) such a quiet, reserved person, I might just have done so.  But at 15, I was very quiet, very reserved, and did not in any way want to call attention to myself.  I couldn’t even tell my parents what I was experiencing.  Yet here I was, attending a big sale at a local store with my parents and about 75 to 100 other people, all of us in a small building, waiting to hear who won the door prize.  By that time, I was almost hyperventilating.  I guess it must have shown a little because when we finally left that horrid setting, my mom asked if I was okay.  I mumbled something and we headed for home.

I now know this was a panic attack.  I also know that my panic attacks began at a very young age.  You see, I used to have what one doctor termed a “delicate system”.  I hated that term.  I didn’t want to be “delicate” as this was the era of “Anything a boy can do a girl can do better” and I was one of the girls determined to prove this adage correct.  However, it was true that I got sick a lot, mostly with ear and sinus infections.  As a result, I missed quite a bit of school.  But, if not for my old friend anxiety, I would have missed far less.

You see, when it came time to go back to school, my heart would pound and I would literally feel weak.  I was terrified, despite having plenty of friends and being an “A” student.  I didn’t know what I was afraid of, just that I was afraid.  I’d tell my mom that I still didn’t feel well and I’d get another one or two days’ reprieve.  And it wasn’t like it was fun and games to stay home.  I had to stay in bed and in my pajamas.  I certainly wasn’t doing anything wild and crazy.

It was easier to go back on a Monday, when everyone else had had a weekend off.  I felt that my reemergence into the classroom wasn’t as dramatic as it would be on, say, a Thursday.  Now, I don’t know that that’s true, but that was my perception back then. Even now, if I’m absent a Sunday or two at Church, while I miss the people there, my heart beats hard in my chest when it’s time to return.

The difference between “then” and “now” is twofold.  One, I’ve discovered a name for what’s wrong with me.  Anxiety.  It has a name!  Hurray! Giving it a name means it has a definition and, yes, my symptoms are right there.  “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”.  It would look better if my flavor of anxiety had a cooler name, but my flavor is pretty gross…I’d had to take on some of the other flavors.

And two is coping mechanisms.  I know no one is going to call me names or try to hurt me if I miss a Sunday or two. I remind myself of this.  I know when I meet someone that he/she is possibly just as nervous as I am, so deep breaths and a big (forced) smile help put the other person at ease and his/her ease helps me feel at ease.  (Did that whole sentence make sense?) Deep breaths, as I’ve told my youngest on many occasions, deep breaths slowly in through the nose…hold…and slowly out through the mouth.  This helps the physical symptoms of anxiety and the physical kinda tricks the mental.

Knowing when to leave is key, also.  I knew when to leave at that sale I attended at 15, I just didn’t know I truly needed to just get outside the doors into the cooler, quieter air.  I know this now, so I leave even if it means walking away from a cart full of groceries.  Now, don’t act like you haven’t done that.  LOL!  I know at least a few of you have done this, or maybe completed the purchase, but in such high-stress mode that you wish you had walked away.  Like many things, there are times I think I have to be the only one, but I later discover there’s a whole bunch of other people who have done the same thing or felt the same way. Knowing when to shop and when to stay away from stores is another, for me, essential coping mechanism.

Now, some may consider this separate from coping mechanisms, but I add my medication to this list as without it, I’m a mess.  A big, ol’ anxiety ridden depressed mess.  I’m grateful to the mini-pharmacy in my upper right desk drawer for helping to keep me on relatively stable terms.

I recently submitted a brief questionnaire to BPHope magazine which essentially asked if there were any external stimuli that contributed to a mood.  Oh, my goodness!  I could have typed forever, but for me the biggest is sound or noises.  Being in that cramped, very noisy room at that sale brought on a full scale panic attack.  Going back to noisy, generally cramped classrooms after the quiet of home was also a trigger.  Now I know this and knowing, they say, is half the battle.

Do crowds bother you?  How about being in a noisy environment?  How do you cope?

On Life, Death, and Birthdays

birthday candleToday would have been my sister’s 45th birthday.  She died five years ago.  We weren’t speaking at the time of her death.  Was it a suicide?  She’d attempted suicide before.  Was it an accidental overdose?  Or was it one of the ailments that plagued her, including Hepatitis C?  I’m saddened to know that…I don’t know.  I’m saddened that we were not speaking to…could not speak to…one another at the time of her death.

My sister was beautiful.  Always a bit on the heavy side, but beautiful with natural blonde hair and blue eyes.  When she was little and got her hair cut, the beautician asked to keep her hair so it could be made into wigs.  My sister was outside all the time, and her best friend was our aunt and uncle’s pure white Samoyed, Gus.  Gus, despite his size, could wriggle through the wires separating our properties like nobody’s business.  Anything to be near his little girl.  All summer long they played in the sprinkler.  Sometimes my sister would have to push Gus off the sprinkler so she could play, too!  Living in the central valley of California, summers were HOT and I’m sure Gus, bred for cooler climes, was grateful for the sprinkler, as well as my sister’s attention.  OH!  Back to my sister’s hair.  All that time in the sun created natural streaks that many women, even today, would spend a fortune to replicate.  And there they were in the thick, naturally wavy hair of my sister.

My sister was loving and forgiving, at least at that time.  I’m almost ten years older than she was…ten years ahead of her on getting out of the house and away from our mom.  You see, I loved…and love…my mom.  But she had serious mental demons of her own and they weren’t treated back in the day.  No doubt my mom didn’t even realize anything was wrong, that is until she came very close to having a breakdown when my sister was a tweenager.  She was placed on medication that did seem to tame her inner devils, but those devils didn’t completely go away. There was no therapy or ongoing help aside from medication.  But this was in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  Only those truly considered to be mental cases received more intensive care, or so we thought.   My sister and my dad were on the receiving end of her wrath.  Oh, it wasn’t physical, but it didn’t have to be.  When told over and over how stupid, dumb, and idiotic you are…when as a little girl you’re called a little bitch and worse, well, let’s just say it took its toll.  I married early.  It was one way out.  But I left my sister behind.

My sister battled her weight all through school, but it ballooned the last couple years of high school.  Even so, she was a genius at putting looks together and doing her hair and make up.  We were quite poor, so my sister didn’t have an extensive wardrobe, but she excelled at putting pieces together in unique ways, and always had friends she could swap out clothing with.  Yes, she was also very social whereas I was very quiet and reserved.  I envied my sister in many ways.  Perhaps I should have told her this.  I don’t know that I ever did.

Fast forward several years and my sister married her high school sweetheart.  They had three kids, a girl and two boys.  Life for them was rough…for all of them.  Eventually my sis and her hubby split up with my sister retaining custody of the kids.  I did try to step in and be a sister.  I tried to insert myself into her life and supported her as she tried to get a foot hold.  By this time, she knew she had bipolar I.  There were several issues at play which I won’t go into details about, but eventually she lost custody of her kids to the state.  John and I were living in a mobile home in a home owners’ association and because of the rules couldn’t take any of the kids.  I just knew the daughter was my hero for bringing abuse issues to the attention of administrators at her school.  My sister battled for two years to regain custody, failing to follow through at times on requirements.  Eventually John and I managed to sell our home and rented another.  My parents had the kids at that time, but it wasn’t a good situation for anyone.  After a while, my mother fell and broke her hip.  My dad’s emphysema was crippling.  John and I took the two boys.  It broke our hearts to not be able to take the daughter, but she was 14 and out of control, sneaking out at night to party…drinking and using drugs, not to mention having sex.  Smoking openly at home.  And we knew that if we attempted to place boundaries around her, all she’d have to do would be to claim that John and touched her inappropriately and our lives would be ruined, along with her brothers’ lives.  I still feel broken hearted about it.  It wasn’t fair!  But everyone from their caseworker to their therapist to the social workers advised us against taking her.  So, we took the boys.

Interestingly, John and I had already purchased a home in the Midwest with the intent of moving a few years down the road.  That was the sole purpose.  I wanted to graduate from college first, as I’d been attempting to go to school for decades and life kept getting in the way.  Or maybe I should say school kept getting in the way of life.  Life needed to come first.  But these two boys, oh how they needed us.  And needed a fresh start.  Making the decision to go ahead and move wasn’t easy.  The State of California encouraged us, surprisingly.  They wanted to make sure my sister’s contact with her children was limited.  But…but.  I had no idea just how difficult the move would be and how all these changes would affect me.  However, I didn’t know.  We didn’t know.  So, we moved.  But not before my sister divulged during a visit that an uncle had molested her when she was young.  I believed her.  He had molested me, too.  I didn’t say anything to anyone.  I was disgusted with myself, him, and the situation.  I was horribly embarrassed. But my family relied on him and my aunt for many things, so I kept my mouth shut.  I didn’t realize that my sister would pay the price.  I didn’t know.

While my sister was married, she developed Hepatitis C.  She claimed she didn’t know where it came from.  Well, there are only a couple of sources, since she wasn’t a nurse.  According to officials, Hepatitis C “…does not spread through casual contact with affected individuals” (https://www.reference.com/health/causes-hepatitis-c-fbede6c6c2897adb?aq=the+cause+of+hepatitis+c&qo=cdpArticles

Later, a niece…who was also one of my sister’s best friends…told me about some of the risky behavior my sister engaged in.  I was heartbroken.  Was it the BP I?  The symptoms can cause a sufferer to engage in risky behavior plus there was the possibility of self-medicating.  Was it years of being told she wasn’t good enough?  Was it a combination?  Did she feel she didn’t deserve any better?

Whatever the reason, my sister died way too young and probably alone.  Instead of my hurt getting better as the years go by, it gets worse.  What could I have done to help her more than what I tried to do?  And I did try.  But could I have done more?  What could I have done that would have made a difference?

I don’t have any answers.  I do know, though, that she’s aware her boys…our boys…have grown to be men she can be proud of.  They’re good men, with good lives.  One is in the military and the other is working for the state, just a year out of high school and is wanting his parents to give him advice on investing.  Sheesh!!

I’ll quietly celebrate my sister’s life.  Try to keep from crying.  And will do my best to let her know I love her, always loved her, and hope she’s at peace.

The Lies of Mental Health

fruit trees in bloomI feel good.  I mean, I really feel good!  The clouds have parted and the haze has burned off and finally I’m feeling the way I imagine most people feel most of the time.  I’m ready to do things…fun things but also not so fun things.  We just sold our home and are in the process of buying another.  You do know what that means, don’t you?  Yeah, packing.  Oh, how I hate packing.  But I’m doing it and once I’ve completed this post I’ll do some more.  I have a bunch of clothes to get rid of.  Between menopause and psych meds I’ve really put on the weight so I have a bunch of really nice things to donate to a local charity.  Sell them, you say?  Yes, I could, but then I’d have to take pictures, post the pictures, make arrangements to meet, and hope the buyer shows up.  I think I’d rather donate them and let someone get a good buy.  Selling is just too much work.

When I feel like this, which is rare but does occasionally happen, I start thinking that finally I’ve broken the back of depression.  Finally the clouds, haze, fog, and rain are gone and it’s nothing but blue sky from now on, to paraphrase a Willie Nelson song.  With depression beaten, well, I could take the semester’s worth of classes I need to graduate.  I could go back to work, volunteer somewhere.  There’s no end to what I could do!

However, mental illness lies.  My bipolar disorder lies.  I’ve been here in this sunshiny spot before.  I’ve seen the clouds part, felt the haze lift, enjoyed the sunshine on my shoulders (sorry, John Denver) before.  I used to live in that land, more or less.  After adolescence, my depressions were generally short lived.  There were a couple of longer spells in there, but nothing on a critical level.  Over the past 12 years, though, depression has been a near-constant companion.  I say near-constant because I do have these periods of what can only be described as clarity.  And no, it’s not mania or hypomania.  I just feel good.

I was driving down the road today, singing along with the radio when I began thinking about volunteer opportunities in the area.  There are so many wonderful causes, but I thought it would be kinda cool to volunteer at the local Humane Society.  Give animals baths, walk dogs, take pictures…whatever needs doing.  Yes, it would be a difficult thing to do as I am an animal lover and would want to take all of them home with me, but who better to help care for these creatures?

But mental illness lies.  While my bipolar is telling me everything’s good.  Everything’s under control.  I can come out from under the table where I’ve been hiding and rejoin society, I finally know better.  I’ve been fooled before.  I know this is but a brief reprieve.  And no, this isn’t a pity party.  While I’d like to be this way all the time, the fact is…I have bipolar disorder.  I will crash and I don’t want to just not show up for an obligation. Making phone calls is difficult when I feel good.  It’s impossible when the depression hits.

I’ll enjoy this period.  A friend badly sprained an ankle.  I’ll go see her tomorrow.  I’ll pack some more.  I’ll make preparations for moving.  But most of all, I’ll just enjoy being in the sunshiny place.

My Appreciation for Robin Williams

This was initially published in a different blog.  As we’ve just passed the second anniversary of Williams’ death, I felt it was timely to republish it here.

Williams-2

One look in his eyes and the suffering was there for all the world to see.  Despite being one of the world’s premiere funny men, Robin Williams was tortured by demons many of us, myself included, have battled.  Shocked is a good way to describe much of the reaction to his death.  Shock first of all that he’s dead, but that shock is compounded by the manner in which he died.  And as the details are revealed, the mourning deepens.

How can one be so funny while (my own term) dangling over the Jaws of Hell?  And not dangling just out of the reach of demons, but dangling and having flesh shredded by those demons?  Look at video of Williams performing.  The humor is there.  The genius is evident.  But look at his eyes.  Really look.  Do they look happy?  Does the smile reach them?  Generally, no.  His well-documented struggle with alcoholism was a dual-edged sword.  It was an attempt self-medicate the demons into submission but since alcohol is itself a depressant, it just made matters worse.  While drunk, though, at least the demons can be ignored.  Their collective voices, the taunting, the jeers, can be ignored.

Humor is frequently used as a mask.  Think of Chris Farley and his own brand of fat jokes, making funny at his own expense.  Make people laugh “at” him while making them believe they’re laughing “with” him.  Does that make sense?  Beat them to the punch.  No doubt he honed this humor while growing up.  The weight was the gorilla in the middle of the room.  Bring it up first, make people laugh, put them at ease about it, and gain acceptance.  Otherwise, become the butt of jokes and ostracized.  Everyone likes to hang out with the funny guy.  Forget that each joke carves another wound.  The wounds are invisible.

Williams’ humor wasn’t directed at himself, but might be considered a wall.  I know people who suffer from profound depression yet are extremely funny.  I recently read a great article (sorry I can’t cite it as I can’t find it now) that describes the process very well. Depression and the resulting pain (both emotional and physical) are uncomfortable for others to be around.  What does one say?  How does one react?  How does one treat and talk to someone suffering from deep depression…or even mild depression?  Easier to ignore it.  So, create a mask.  People like those who are funny.  Most of us like to laugh and someone who can make us laugh on a regular basis is a treasure.

But if that mask is dropped, what then?  If the emotional despair is allowed to peek out, discomfort sets in in those around the demon-haunted.  “Wait.  This person is funny.  How come he/she seems so down?  And how am I supposed to act?”  The situation is uncomfortable and the humor is pulled back out of the hat to dispel the discomfort.  A sigh goes up among the “friends”.  (Insert name here) is back to normal!  Let the good times continue. Do they see the pain in the eyes?  Do they realize or even care that the humor hides a damaged soul?

I’m not going to write about what should or should not be said to someone who lets down his/her guard and drops the mask, even temporarily.  You have to decide for yourself how comfortable you are with hearing the unvarnished truth.  You see, the problem isn’t when someone is being serious.  It’s when the chronically depressed is being funny.  That’s when he/she feels there’s no option, no one around who can take the truth.

No.  I’m not going to write about that.  The situation is as individual as, well, an individual.  Instead, this is about the demons faced by Williams, myself, and others like us. You see, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, the demons steal.  They lie.  They steal joy, family time, appreciating the waves breaking on shore, and a beautiful sunset.  They steal enjoying a rare family gathering as children grow up and go their separate ways in life.  They steal enjoying a quiet moment with a spouse.  They steal hope.  They steal peace and comfort.  They also lie.  They say there’s no chance of anything becoming better.  They tell you it’s hopeless, nothing will change.  They speak unmentionable things to the depressed.  Mainly, they say the only way out of the pain is to just check out of life.

Oh, I could go on and on about the demons.  And that’s why Williams’ suicide has affected me so much.  Unlike many of us, he had everything, including the means to obtain the best medical care money can buy, yet he could not run away from his demons.  Those demons.  I know them.  I’ve battled them.  Right now my arsenal is keeping them at bay.  They’ve helped me win the battle, and hopefully they’ll help me win the war.  Williams lost his war.  It’s the knowledge of what he was facing, how far down in the hole he was, how hopeless it all seemed that hurts me.  I would hurt just as much for anyone in such a position, it’s just that Williams was a public figure with a very public death.  But knowing what he faced, how utterly alone he felt, how hopeless the situation appeared to be, that’s what’s affected me.  I’ve been there.  And I sincerely hope and pray I’m never there again.

 

Since this time, I have faced the demons again.  Fortunately, even though I live in a small town, I have a fabulous psychiatrist.  A very early morning quasi emergency appointment led to a prescription for an old-school med with great properties.  I’m not going to mention this medication as I don’t want anyone to feel I’m advocating for it.  I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV.  For me, though, a small dose of this medication as adjunct therapy was just what was needed.  Another more recent change is helping me face the “blahs” that can accompany milder depression.

Do you face demons?  Do you battle against what they tell you, knowing they lie?  Do you have a favorite memory of Robin Williams?  I would love to hear about it.