Tag Archive: Bipolar disorder


A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Stigma


I’ve watched the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge with some interest.  At first I didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t clear as to how dumping  buckets of ice water over people’s heads was raising money for ALS.  A friendly discussion enlightened me as to how the awareness had raised millions of dollars, as well as giving people a brief glimpse into how an ALS patient feels.  Both goals of the Ice Bucket Challenge intrigued me, being a sufferer of another sometimes deadly and underfunded disease, bipolar disorder.  I also have friends who suffer from clinical depression.  Was there a way to mimic the effects of that disease, or at least depression?  Mental illness research is underfunded in large part because people don’t understand it, and people always fear what they don’t understand.  If there could be a way to make a neurotypical person understand what it’s like to be depressed, or autistic, or schizophrenic, people might be more sympathetic.

Even if there are ways to simulate the effects of various mental disorders, there still remains the stubborn refusal of a large portion of society to accept that mental illnesses are diseases just like illnesses that cause physical symptoms.  Mental illnesses also have their origins in physical processes: their symptoms just manifest in the mind instead of the body.  And some people do have physical effects because of their mental illness: body aches and pains, fatigue, and clumsiness are just a few.  Yet there are still those who insist that taking medication is a weakling’s solution to a problem that can be fixed with diet and behavior modification.  This attitude typically manifests as, “If you only did more of activity X, you wouldn’t be depressed.”  Part of this problem is perpetuated by the fallacious assumption that most people get depressed.  No, most people get the blues.  Having the blues is an entirely different animal than having clinical depression or other mental illnesses.  Its effects may be somewhat mitigated by diet and lifestyle changes, but you cannot cure mental illness with those things.  Nor is it appropriate to compare the effects of the blues and those of depression.  One is a temporary state of lowering of mood that can generally be affected by making some basic changes in one’s life, while the other is a debilitating state of existence that can generally only be helped with therapy and/or medication, and sometimes even then it is nigh on impossible to get to a place of stability because psych meds work differently on everyone.

It’s bad enough to deal with a public perception of being weak or just lazy, but it’s quite another to deal with unfounded fears fed by mass media.  Tell someone you’re bipolar, and they’re likely to take a step or two back from you, because there’s a societal presumption that bipolar people are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous.  This myth is propogated by media that focuses on the most isolated, sensational stories they can find about mental illness.  Fear of other people’s judgment causes a great number of bipolar people (and those with other mental illnesses) to not say anything to anyone about their illness.  This causes isolation, which is not healthy for people with mental illness, moreso than with neurotypical people.  We need support networks if we’re going to stay healthy and balanced, and we don’t get that if we have to hide.

The only way to combat the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it, which makes most people very uncomfortable.  People don’t like the notion that something could go wrong in their brains that would cause them to behave in abnormal ways.  However irrational, there is still a public perception that mental illness can “catch”.  Which in one way can be true: it can be maddening to deal with the mentally ill.  They display behaviors that neurotypical people classify as things that can be changed with behavior modification and lifestyle changes.  And for most people, that’s true.  An attitude adjustment, a shift in diet, some exercise, and maybe some counseling will set most people back on the path of happiness.  Unfortunately that’s just not true with the mentally ill, some of whom do display behaviors that can frighten others.  People’s fears and assumptions combine in a way that essentially shuns the mentally ill from greater society.

This societal attitude manifests partially as a lack of funding for mental illness research.  Despite being one of the most costly and prevalent causes of missed work and disability, mental illness gets very little attention unless a pharmaceutical company is marketing another antidepressant or antipsychotic.  True research into the causes of mental illness falls far below that of other chronic illnesses.  Until this situation is rectified, mental illness will continue to be one of America’s biggest and least talked about problems.

Prevailing social attitudes are slowly shifting as more people are diagnosed with mental illness and public education increases, but there still remains the stubborn perception of many that the mentally ill are just making excuses for wanting to be lazy, that we could be doing more to “cure” what they don’t see as a legitimate disease, just a fault in the human spirit.  We are asked stupid, rude questions like, “Have you tried not being depressed?”  As if we want to be this way.  Even loved ones of the mentally ill will make erroneous assumptions about someone’s behavior and attribute ALL of a person’s actions to their mental illness, constantly asking them if they’re on their meds.

Public perception of mental illness is unlikely to change until the mass media stops latching onto every isolated incidence of violence that MAY be due to mental illness (and not all are: some people are just mean).  There need to be more stories sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill, that shed light on the various conditions instead of pushing them back into the shadows.  More research needs to be done on the brain to determine the causes of mental illnesses so that they can be treated more effectively.

I do my part by writing these blog entries (that very few people probably read) and not letting my shame and embarrassment about being mentally ill impede my ability to write and talk about how my illness affects me.  I have a zero tolerance policy with people that treat me with kid gloves or avoid me because I’m bipolar.  Fortunately, I have friends with mental illness, and my friends who don’t are very supportive, educated, and understanding.  Not all people are so lucky, though.  It’s those people who need our help the most.

If you know someone with mental illness, in particular one of the more misunderstood ones like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, don’t be afraid of them.  If they’re doing things that frighten or upset you, tell them: they may have no idea that they’re misbehaving.  Talk to them about their disease and ask them how it affects them.  It will help ease your own fears and make the other person feel understood and not so alone.  If they’re unable to talk to you about their disease, do your own research.  Be a good advocate for their health, and if they’re a danger to themselves or someone else, don’t be afraid to call the police if they’re unresponsive to communication.  Most of them will thank you for your concern afterwards.  The ones who don’t are in some ways the people that deserve our sympathy and understanding the most, for they are living in hell.  That is probably the most important thing for neurotypicals to understand about the mentally ill: we do live in hell and would probably cut off limbs to be right in the head again.  We don’t want to be this way, and most of us are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of our illness.

I leave you with this handy graphic that will hopefully illustrate how silly it is the way we treat people with mental illness.

Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

Tired


Hello depression, my old friend. We’ve written and called several times in recent months, but we haven’t been bosom buddies in quite a while. We seem to be having a right and proper visit at the moment, though. I can’t say I’m happy to see you. You tell me I’m a loser and take away what precious little motivation I have. Not to mention my libido. You make me dwell on things that are long past, and on things I can do nothing about. You make me worry about the future and envision one that is dark and filled with dread. You take away my hope and replace it with despair. You stain my shirts with tears. You worry my family. You make me hide my pain from others to keep them from that worry. You dull my emotions and twist my inner vision until I can no longer appreciate love and praise from those around me. Every now and then, you even make me think about death, oh so briefly.

But most of all, you make me tired. Tired of dealing with the same issues over and over and over again. Tired of feeling sad. Tired of feeling hopeless. Tired of worrying. Tired of feeling joyless. Tired of having no motivation. Tired of feeling worthless. Tired of crying. Tired of having my senses dulled. Tired of wishing I could be like everyone else. Tired of yearning for happiness.

Tired, of being tired. Please, go back the way you came, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I have so many things beckoning me, so many people ready to engage with me, and you’re ruining it all. You’ve ruined so many things over the years, I don’t have enough words or tears for them all.

I won’t let you ruin one more thing by making me dwell on all of those other ruined things, though. They’re past, and they’re not my fault. My best weapons against you are the little army of brown bottles in the medicine cupboard designed to correct my faulty brain chemistry, and dwelling in the present and the good things and people that are here. Exercise and some time sitting in the quiet with the wind on my face wouldn’t hurt, either.

So consider yourself warned, depression. Yes, I’m tired, but I still have some energy left and a lot of tools in my toolbox. Your days are numbered, buddy.

 

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

Reading and Writing


Things have been quiet around here the last couple of weeks, with the exception of the blatting cat, who still misses her mother.  She’s slowly getting quieter, though, and is settling into a one-cat routine.  We all are.  Samadhi gets a lot more attention than she used to.

I’ve been making myself read.  I do this dumb thing where I tell myself I can’t read because there must be something more important that I have to be doing, even when there isn’t.  I have plenty of time to read, in actuality, but don’t utilize it.  I’ve been trying to change that this week, using my backlog of Stephen King books as the hook.  Of his 50+ books that he’s published (just the novels, mind you), there are 34 that I haven’t read.  I own 8 of them, because I have a tendency to buy books and then not necessarily read them.  Such is the life of a bibliophile.

Whenever I read, it makes me want to write, and my brain writes in my head as I go about my day.  This both amuses and irritates me because it reminds me how shitty I am at writing fiction.  I get a little nugget in my head and try to make it go somewhere, and after about a page, it sits there like a dog turd needing to be picked up from the grass.  Maybe I just don’t read enough.  Maybe I’m really not good at writing fiction.  I don’t know.  What follows is an attempt at a fictional style of writing the ongoing narrative my brain generates when I read.  Enjoy, or try.

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She did the same thing every time she read a decent book: she began narrating her life inside her head. Actually, narrating her life was something she did constantly, but when she read, it had a bit more clarity and definition. The increased narration also made her want to write. What, as if people want to read about the minutiae of your life? Well why not, she muttered to herself. My favorite authors frequently write about the minutiae of life to great effect, if not to great length. She went back to stirring the kid’s lunchtime macaroni. Lunchtime? Maybe in Seattle, sweetheart. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Fuck off, it’s summer vacation, she once again muttered to herself. She wondered if she didn’t need to call the crazy whisperer to have her bipolar meds upped.

 

Once her daughter was happily ensconced with a book behind the bowl of macaroni, she went back to her own book, or at least tried to. She was having a hard time maintaining her concentration and couldn’t decide if it was her or the short story she was trying to read. It was something by a favorite author, but that didn’t mean she swallowed everything they wrote. This particular piece was hard going so far, and she was about to give up on it.

 

Eyes wandering from the page, her thoughts strayed to her constant inability to finish anything she wrote. At least, anything that was fictional. She wished fervently that the same muse that struck her so hard in non-fictional matters would strike her as hard fictionally. Alas, her creative spark had always been one dependent upon being stoked by others. She could play musical instruments with great competence, but could not compose music. She could draw beautiful patterns and designs, but only ones that were inspired by others. She could write essays on specific topics that bowled over readers with their depth of research and clarity of writing, but couldn’t muster a decent short story to save her life.

 

Got those shit-colored glasses on again, dontcha. Fuck you, she thought, though she knew perfectly well that quiet voice in the back of her head was correct. It was the one she knew she shouldn’t ignore, the one that she had ignored in the past, to great peril on occasion. Whatever other crap life had dealt to her, at least it had given her a really great bullshit detector. It was up to her to pay attention to it, though.

 

She was jerked from her silent reverie by the yowling cat, who had been in some distress since the death of her mother a couple of weeks beforehand, and her brother a few weeks before that. Sucks getting old, doesn’t it, she thought to the cat. She felt bad for her. At fifteen years old, she was alone for the first time. It made her trepidatious about her own approaching old age, being in the late stages of one’s seemingly mandatory mid-life crisis. Oh don’t even go there today, girlfriend. She pushed the thoughts away and went back to addressing the distressed cat, who was finally silenced by some ardent ear-scratching.

 

She gave up on the book, which had become more of an annoyance than anything else. Better to bookmark it and put it aside before it got flung across the room. Book abuse was inexcusable, even if a story was bad. It was too hard to try to read above the yammering in her brain anyway, which was one of the more delightful (not) effects of her bipolar illness. So was book throwing. Or throwing in general, though it had been a while since that had happened, thankfully. She wasn’t sure what suffered more damage when her mood devolved to throwing things: the thrown object, or her own self-worth. She was quite certain there was very little in the world that could make a person feel worse than being angrily destructive. At least, there was very little in the world that could make her feel worse. It could take days, or even weeks, to recover from such episodes, and she did everything in her power to keep them from happening. Just thinking about them made her feel bad.

 

You’re not like her, she thought. Are you sure? another part of her asked. She steeled herself for another internal debate over how similar or dissimilar she was to her mother, who had been, to put it mildly, batshit crazy. For fuck’s sake, do we really have to go through this again? You are neither batshit nor crazy, she told herself. She once again thanked her lucky fucking stars that her mother wasn’t around any more to make her crazy, and then immediately felt guilty for being happy that someone was dead. Some people just really need to reincarnate and do it all over again, hon, and that’s okay. She tried to remind herself how much fucked up baggage went with having a parent kill themselves, let alone both of them.

 

You’re upright, breathing, not addicted to anything other than chocolate, have a family and a home, a big circle of real friends, and take much better care of yourself than anyone else in your family before you ever has. Give yourself some credit, and a break.

 

She acknowledged the quiet, small voice in the back of her head that never lied to her, and went back to trying to read before the mental dinner party really got out of hand.

Clueless, Part Two


A while back I wrote an entry called Clueless about my inability to tell when people like me and want to be my friend. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of friends, it’s just that in some part of my mind I assume they’re there merely out of habit rather than desire. Which the rest of me knows is just fucked up and somewhat insulting to the people who do call me their friend.

It came up again the other day when someone very stressed out by finals said that they missed spending time with me and my daughter, and I remember feeling somewhat surprised that someone actually missed me, other than my daughter and husband. I mean, if people are my friends, then of course they would miss me when I’m not around or if they haven’t been able to see me for a while. It would be stupid (and again, insulting) to assume otherwise.

I don’t know why I do this, really. Enough time has passed between now and when I was incredibly insecure in my early 20s that I think I shouldn’t feel this way any more. I have achieved what I had sought for so long: to have a stable and long-lived community of friends, something my parents were never able to maintain. They couldn’t help but to offend people eventually, and the people they didn’t offend were just as fucked up as they were.

I need to work on appreciating my own worth. I’ve solved many other of my baggage issues, which is a fucking miracle considering how much of it I was hauling around. Seriously, if mental baggage had to be carried in something physical, I would have occupied an entire FedEx 747. I’m down to a small two-engine plane these days: just a few bags. One of the last ones, though, is the one marked “Poor Self Esteem”, destination code SOL. That’s a tough one. I have a mantra that I tell myself when I think I suck:

“I cannot suck.
I am surrounded by intelligent people who would
not spend time with someone who sucks.
Therefore, I cannot suck.”

It’s my personal Dune fear mantra (which is another fabulous one: I need to memorize it). I’ve told it to myself enough times that I think I suck much less than I used to, but it still needs tattooing on the inside of my eyelids, along with a Zen koan I recently read:

Let go or be dragged.

Amen. Perhaps I should see the baggage as being what’s in motion, rather than myself, and it’s dragging me along. Or flying the plane. That seems dangerous if I want to be mentally healthy. I wouldn’t let someone who’s delusional drive me around in a car: I shouldn’t let tenacious negative delusions drive my life.

Speaking of delusions, news on the headmeat front is fairly positive lately. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that the lithium went away last year (thank the gods) along with a couple of other meds that were causing skin and breathing problems (I like air, I’d like to have as much of it as possible, thank you very much). They were replaced by Lamictal and Ritalin, of all things. I used to think that disorders that “required” things like Ritalin were a bunch of trumped up hooey made up by teachers who just wanted a quiet classroom. I know differently now. Ritalin lets me focus and think. Without it, my mind meanders here and there, like that dog in “Up”.

“Squirrel!”

Recently I’ve added another: Saphris. Which unfortunately is incredibly expensive. Like $13 a pill (FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!!!), but unlike the other drugs in its class, it doesn’t cause severe sedation or weight gain (which is a misnomer: these drugs don’t cause weight gain, they cause uncontrollable munchies). Fortunately, it’s pretty new so the headmeat folks are still drowning in samples.  If I can float on samples for another year, I’ll be able to actually afford it since we’ll be done paying off an old debt. And I’ll probably keep taking it, because it’s outstanding at shutting off the constant mental chatter and musical jukebox going on in my brain (you only think you know what an earworm is like). A good friend calls it the Mental Dinner Party. Sometimes the guests are all happy and enjoying their meal and conversation. Other times they’re really angry and are throwing dishes and wine glasses at each other. Or knives, if it’s a really bad day (those are just analogies: I do not throw things at people). Saphris makes everyone get along.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry. But it’s a normal-in-the-way-others-get-angry sort of thing. It’s hard to describe how to tell the difference between good angry and bad angry. It’s a mental quality that’s impossible to tell someone about unless they’ve experienced it. It’s the difference between being in control, and being out of control. And the latter is very frightening, let me tell you. I’ll take anything that puts a lid on that happy horseshit.

On that note, I’m going back to working on my spiritual journal. It’s the most fun I’ve had creatively in a very long time.

Reflection


I spent some time today reading over the previous year’s worth of blog entries over at Tempest. I’m struck by how much better I feel compared to the way I was feeling when I wrote a lot of those entries. There was still a lot of up and down, and I wasn’t really on the right meds, so things weren’t improving as quickly as they might have.

It was interesting to see the range of emotions I went through over the last 16 months or so. At first I was desperate to stop whatever was wrong with my addled brain. Then I was relieved to finally have some kind of treatment. My next task was to bury myself in as much information about bipolar disease as possible. After a few weeks of that, I’d had enough and returned all of the books to the library. Quickly. By then I was resentful about having to deal with it at all, which wasn’t helped by not getting better as quickly as I had hoped. Then again, I was reminded of the many people on a bipolar forum I visit sometimes who had spent literally years finding the right med combo and then restabilizing. I’m not surprised it took so long for my own boat to level out and not be going up and down such large waves. You get a broken boat and probably sunk that way.

Then summer came. Gah. God I hope that never happens again. It’s one thing to deal with a drought, and it’s one thing to deal with a heat wave. To deal with them both at the same time is just pure and sheer misery. Just leaving the house is like a slap in the face with a hot blow dryer. Then everything started catching on fire, giving my lungs no end of grief. Having been through that, I was struck by a post almost exactly a year ago talking about how I was surveying my lovely, green garden, something that I’m doing again right now. It was an eerie moment of deja vu.

Later in the year, I finally got off the lithium along with a couple of other things, so I didn’t feel so “chemical”. My new meds are much better: Lamictal, aka lamotrigine, along with Neurontin, aka gabapentin. For some strange reason, anticonvulsant medications do wonders for bipolar illness. Go figure. I hope that I get to do what I want in the afterlife, which is just wander the Universe, coming back to Earth every now and then to see how humanity is progressing. It would be wonderful to see a time in the future when science has learned most of what there is to know about the human body, enabling them to be much more precise in how mental illness gets treated. Just as we see the treatment of mental illness a hundred years ago as barbaric, I imagine a similar attitude will be thought about this century’s method of treating mental illness. All we can do now is throw one drug after another at something, try to give a patient as much therapy as possible, and try to get someone to adhere to lifestyle changes that will also benefit their mental, and physical, health.

That last bit is the hardest, really. I have 40 years of habits under my belt that need undoing, and it’s going to be really difficult. A lot of these habits are comforting mechanisms I developed over time to deal with my stressful environments or general life misery. And I still find them comforting. I have much less need to escape from something dangerous or stressful, but it’s like wearing your favorite ratty, but comfortable, clothing around the house. Maybe you don’t need it for its purpose anymore, but damn they’re cozy. Woe betide the person who throws them away or takes them to Goodwill.

Well, like every other habit I’ve ever needed to change, I need to put a solid plan into place. It took me two months to lay out my quit smoking plan. It should take me at least that long to plan out the various life changes I still need to make in order to say I’m doing everything I can to mitigate my condition. Drugs only do so much. The rest has to come from things that I do myself. So far I haven’t been very good at that job. But last year was really hard for me and I spent most of my time and energy keeping my head above emotional water. Now the waves aren’t so high and the water isn’t as turbulent, so I don’t have to work so hard. In fact, it’s kind of pleasant here. Pleasant enough to feel like I can really get back to the task of living life as it’s meant to be lived. With ease.


I’ve been neglecting my little blog here.  It started as a way to explore my particular spiritual journey and then morphed into a venue to spew my thoughts about being diagnosed as bipolar.  That was just over a year ago.  Since then I’ve found a set of meds that really help but don’t cause any side effects, that I can tell.  My job is more stable and steady now that I’m not having to essentially create it out of whole cloth (I’m the first official employee at my dojo: everything had been mostly done by our Sensei, who isn’t exactly thrilled about administrative work).  I’m even (gasp!) saving money!  I’ve been taking money out of each paycheck and stowing it in the savings account so that the next time something big comes along (like the terrible squealing noise my husband’s car is making) it won’t be a financial crisis.

Now that things in my life are a bit better, I’m trying to pick up the writing habit again.  So I’ll be using 750 Words a lot more and posting what I write there, here, depending on the day’s topic.  With a typing speed of 80-90wpm, 750 words only takes me about 15 minutes to write.  I know I can make 15 minutes available every morning.

With that in mind, here are today’s words:

My hands and arms are a little sore today. I spent a couple of hours yesterday trimming the neighbor’s peach tree, pecan saplings, and Lady Banksia rosebush that were all intruding upon my yard and shading the grass so much that it died. I’m not quite done with the project, either: there are still several tendrils of the rosebush waaaaay up in the pecan saplings (I don’t know if I can still reasonably call them saplings if they’re 10-15′ high). I’ll try to finish that today, but I’ve noticed that now that I’m a little bit older, I can’t just launch myself into a project for days at a time, every day. I have to have at least a little rest.  That could be because my fitness level isn’t what it should be right now, and I’m still quite overweight from last year’s spate with various medications.

Speaking of work and rest, I wish I knew why I can’t just pass out at the end of a day of hard work like other people seem able to. I can whack bushes all day long, but at night I’m still doing my usual routine of watching tv until I fall asleep around 1 or 2 in the morning. Which Reid tells me is a bad thing to do to my brain. I wish I didn’t like tv so much! I really like watching shows and movies, though I admit that I should probably watch less and read more. In fact, I just gave ‘read’ a point bump in Joe’s Goals so that I have more incentive to do just that. It’s not like I lack for books!

I’m considering doing something similar to the Julie & Julia blog, where I slowly go through ALL of my books and blog about each one when I’m finished with it (or chuck it aside in boredom). Obviously I won’t be reading a book a day (though in the absence of anything else to do, I can) and it will probably take me at least two years, if not a great deal more, to get through our entire collection. Some books I won’t care to read, like my husband’s Christianity books, but others I really do want to read. I have an astounding collection, compared to most, of spirituality books of a wide variety, not to mention several Stephen King books I have yet to read (bad fan!). During this time, I really should refrain from checking more than one book out from the library, and only when I really need a book on something that I don’t have in the house, which shouldn’t happen very often.

Something else I’ll be doing every day, hopefully, is writing about the Spiritual Nomad series I’m taking from my friend Sylvan. There are lots of assignments and projects to do, and we are encouraged to blog about them so she can link to them. So I’ll be trying to re-establish my writing habit that lithium killed, while expanding my spiritual horizons at the same time.

In the meantime, I still have a shitload of gardening to do. There’s the aforementioned tree trimming that needs to be completed, and the fence needs to be “shaved and topped” of the shrubbery that has grown out of control in the presence of too much sun, now that those giant trees behind our house are gone. 😦 I still have a whole garden bed to plant, and it’s going to be filled with the “three sisters”: the Native American tradition of planting corn, beans, and squash together. The corn goes in the middle with beans surrounding it, and then squash (or melons) around all that. There’s supposed to be a minimum of 4′ of space between each corn hill, which I have in one direction, but in the other it’s only 3′. I hope that’s not a problem later on.

The only thing I’m really worried about garden-wise is the wildlife. I have squirrels all day long, and then at night there are possums and raccoons. All of which are happy to divest me of my vegetables, usually before they’re even ripe, little fuckers. I’m trying to figure out how to protect the plants from the critters while still letting in the sun and making it easy for me to get to the plants. I think I’ll probably wind up going with the PVC-in-hoops method and get bird netting. I don’t want to block any sun to the beds, so shade cloth will obviously be too much. Though we’ll have to see how the summer pans out. If it’s too hot and dry, I may very well need shade cloth.  Yay Texas!  :/

Experiment


I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks.  I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects.  Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment.  It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly.  Riding a stationary bike?  Straight out.  Karate?  Not much better.

Then there were the memory issues.  I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing.  I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it.  Fun times.  Never mind tv shows, what about my life?  My daughter?  Memories are what make a human life.  Without them, what’s the point of living?  It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore.  Something was terribly amiss.  A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.

So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc.  So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks.  I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero.  600mg seemed to be okay.  I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful.  I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible.  I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.

This really upset me.  I had really wanted to be off that particular drug.  It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take.  I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought.  But I was.  I really was, or am.  And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.

But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do.  She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help.  And that clearly wasn’t true.

I have bipolar illness.  I am not bipolar.  That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder.  It’s tough to make that distinction.  I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it.  And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic.  Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here.  It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it.  I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But what absolutely does NOT work is denial.  I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while.  I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day.  I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life.  Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.

Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog.  After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud.  They hide it as much as possible.  That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me.  And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding.  Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth.  People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Why not these?  Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass?  Not likely.  So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.

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