Uniquely, Bipolar-ly, Me

Bipolar disorder.  There.  I said it.  It’s what I have…my particular flavor of brain cooties.  I have ups.  I have downs.  I also have a somewhat “normal” state.  One thing I’ve learned over the past few years, though, is that bipolar disorder is different for each person who suffers from it.  My own variety is mine, unique, particular to me.

turbo-roller-coasterI didn’t understand this for a long time, to tell the truth.  When I was first diagnosed roughly 13 years ago, I didn’t even realize that there are two distinct “varieties” of bipolar disorder.  There’s bipolar I which is what most people think of when they think of bipolar disorder.  The manias are wild, bright, colorful rides without needing much more than a nap.  Of course, there are also the lows.

Then there’s bipolar II, which I have.  With bipolar II, the highs are less intense, in general, but the lows

…oh, those lows.  They’re killer.  Literally.  The successful suicide rate of bipolar II is very high.  Everything is drained of color, like a black and white movie that’s been colorized to shades of gray.  Or an abandoned amusement park.  There are other types of bipolar disorder, and many within the medical community are now seeing bipolar as being on a spectrum rather than being distinct types.  Personally, from what I’ve learned, that would make more sense.

 

I cohabitated peacefully with my diagnosis for a few years.  I mean, I had lived with it for all of my adult life and then some without even realizing I had it.  Once diagnosed, I did seek treatment. But that treatment didn’t stop me from having my little mini-highs and two to three day lows.  As I mentioned, the rest of the time I was pretty much even keel.  But then something began to change.  I was in school full time, and loving it.  Have I told you I adore being in school?  Well, I do.  But suddenly I had no energy.  Taking a shower was a monumental task.  Completing assignments for school, well, it got done, but just by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

depressedThen the semester ended.  And I crashed.  I never had crying spells before during my mini down periods.  Suddenly, though, I was crying non stop.  And this was going on for weeks!  There were a lot of external sources of stress adding to my organic plague and it all came together in a perfect storm.  I crashed.  I was hospitalized in what was fortunately a marvelous facility with staff that cared.  And I’ve already written about the “Quiet Room”, so you know something of my experiences there.  It’s too bad all psychiatric facilities aren’t as good as that one.

This occurred ten years ago and I’ve tried to go back to school, but my focus is off.  My memory is pitiful.  Until I feel that little nudge saying “It’s time”, I’ll hold off.  Meanwhile, I’m actually fairly stable, and it scares me to say that!  I haven’t been stable in ten years.  Now that I am, I’m scared of going off track again.  Plus, I miss the feeling of hypomania.  Such a wonderful, euphoric feeling most of the time, but I absolutely do not miss the lows.  Those killer lows.  I’m on a mood stabilizer which keeps me from feeling the extremes.  I think our recent move is also a positive thing for me.  I miss the trees around our previous home, but I do like being able to look out the window and see neighboring cows wandering the hillside and Christmas lights on a nearby house.  I can do laundry without having to trek down into the dungeon, whoops, I mean basement.  (Lifting imaginary glass.) Here’s to you.  May you be finding success at what passes for stability in your life, too.

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)

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.

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.