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!

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)

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.