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.

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!

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.