Tag Archive: suicide


The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

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.

Anhedonia


Cover of "The Wall"

Cover of The Wall

From the Greek ‘an-‘ meaning against or not, and ‘-hedone’, meaning pleasure.  Therefore, a lack of pleasure.  One of the hallmarks of depression.  Not to mention something I’ve been suffering from to one degree or another for months (years?) now.  Really, I can’t tell how long anymore.  When was the last time I was truly happy and enjoying my life?  I don’t know.

I define happiness as an overall contentment that makes a person pleased when they wake up in the morning and eager to get out of bed to meet the day’s challenges, whatever they may be.  Those challenges are not met with anxiety but with fervor and gusto.  Episodes of unhappiness or down feelings are fleeting and do not last long, unless something big like a death has occurred.  A happy person has things that they work on that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s their job or their home or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

I’m missing these things, and I can’t tell anymore if it’s because of my brain chemistry or because the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Worse, it’s entirely possible that my brain chemistry causes me to think that the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Like a horrible trick is being played on me from inside my head.

Then the shoulds come marching in, like Pink Floyd’s hammers in The Wall.  I understand that double-album so intimately now, from end to end.  I get it in a way I really wish I didn’t.  But there they are, those hammer-like shoulds.  You should be happy because you have a beautiful family.  You should be happy because you live in a great city.  You should be happy because you have great friends.  You should be happy because you have so much freedom.  You should be happy because your husband takes such good care of you and makes sure you have what you need.  You should be happy for a billion reasons that you must be ignoring or else you’d be happy, and therefore you should feel bad because you are not happy.

The shoulds spiral around in an ever-tightening circle that inevitably leads back to me, laying the blame of everything in my life that should make me happy but doesn’t at my weary mental feet.  Guilt, shame, and blame: the staunch guardians left over from a childhood of watching the hammers beat down the other people surrounding me.

I would give anything to want to get up in the morning and to greet the day with enthusiasm about what it may bring, rather than weariness or fear.
I would give anything to go through my day with ease and contentment, addressing each task in a relaxed way that did not tense my body and mind.
I would give anything to deal with my family with a serenity that did not treat every problem as though it may be earth-shattering.
I would give anything to lay my head upon my pillow each night feeling good about the day, knowing that there was another one on the other side of my dreams.

I would give anything to be freed of this demon that has followed me for so many years and has only relented when I’ve been able to travel, have been in school, or have been in a position to have goals, dreams, and hopes bigger than myself.  Perhaps I have these things and I just can’t see them for whatever reason, and need to clean those shit-colored glasses I seem to find myself wearing so often.  Is this one of those places where it’s difficult to tell where I stop and where my illness begins?  If so, I truly hope the answer is found soon, as my tolerance for the medication dance is already wearing thin.  “Nope, that didn’t work, let’s try another one!”  This can go on for years for some people.  I’m not sure if I have the stamina for that.

In the meantime, I wait and tell the appropriate people when I’m feeling particular ways and try not to do too much damage along the way, to myself or anyone else.  And hope that I am bigger, stronger, and more patient than anhedonia.

Bad Feelings


I got a letter from a large insurance company the other day informing me that they had a policy for my grandmother that might possibly be something I was the beneficiary of.  I raised my eyebrows at it in surprise.  I had remembered finding the policy (from 1934) in her folder of important papers and put it in the growing stack of Things I Ought To Do that sprouted after my mother, and then my grandmother, died.  Then I remembered why I never dealt with it.  I didn’t want to deal with the morass of paperwork that was very likely going to accompany the task of proving family lineage.  An easy task in thought, since I am indeed the last person who actually knew her that was also related to her.  A difficult task in practice due to the fractured nature of the family and the fact that my mother had her name legally changed in the late seventies, which is going to snarl the proceedings mightily in the absence of that paperwork.

I first need my mother’s death certificate, a task that will either be super easy, or a serious pain in the ass due to not knowing exactly which name is on all those records.  I may have to file that request two or three times before I get it right, and I’ll have to pay for every one of them.  Easy or hard, getting that will be accompanied by a lot of bad feelings given the nature of her death and because I have to utter the name and think about the horrible man that she lived with when she decided to shuffle herself from the mortal coil.  I have to think about the inequities of our country’s social service system, which would have essentially made her live under a bridge for two years before granting her the benefits that might have saved her life.  I have to think about our own relationship, which by then precluded any good feelings whatsoever: we hated each other.  I hated her because she was abusive and selfish, and she hated me because I refused to let her forget it or behave that way around me anymore, particularly since I had a brand-new baby only months old who was too important to be tainted by that bullshit.  Mom flat out told me not to offer her any help anyway, so I didn’t.

Following her death, her charming husband shunned my sister and I, dumped her ashes in his backyard, and later gave away the rest of her possessions, leaving us nothing, not even a coffee cup, to remember her by.  I let him know just what the rest of us thought of him and tried to move on.  It was the one and only time I’ve had the opportunity to tell someone to shove a red hot poker up their ass.  Hopefully it isn’t too difficult to see why dealing with anything regarding my mother’s death got shoved to the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile.

Fast forward five years.  I had had the blessed opportunity to actually spend some time with Gram after dangling the prospect of a visit in front of her since Mom died (don’t taunt old people, they don’t like it).  I spent several days with her in May 2007 and then again in September, when I brought the whole family out and she got to meet her great-granddaughter.  I didn’t know it would only be a year later that she would die.  In fact, her last year would take her away from her beloved cabin in the canyons of Orange County, though it was really for her own safety and that of the other people who lived there.  She just didn’t move fast enough to escape a brush fire.  Specifically, this one, the Santiago Canyon Fire of 2007:This fire would come within a single mountain ridge of utterly decimating Trabuco and Holy Jim Canyons, where Gram and her neighbors lived.  She went to stay with friends but her health precluded her ever living there again.  Less than a year later, she died in her sleep.  She was 85, just a few days shy of her birthday.

Memories of the Santiago Fire haunted me, and fire season was rapidly encroaching, so I knew I had to get out there to save what was in her cabin as quickly as I possibly could.  A couple of weeks later, I flew out and her dear friends Doug and Scarlett got me out there and later helped me pack up the UHaul that I was going to have to drive back to Texas.  Alone.  For 1700 miles.  First I would have to clear out the cabin of a woman who had been raised during the Great Depression and never.threw.anything.away.  And I do mean anything.  I had laughed and teased her about it when I had visited before, but all of those extra sheets, towels, paper bags, and other things actually came in handy.  Given the circumstances, I was reluctant to get rid of any of it anyway.

I still felt bad about it all, of course.  I had been unable to come and visit her again as I had wanted to, and Gram was one to hold a grudge.  I felt it was my duty to preserve what was left of her with as much dignity as possible.  These were important things, if not to the world, then to me.  They represented a family past that I had never, ever been privy to due to the fractured nature of her relationship with Mom.  It seemed the entire family was filled with women who were difficult to get along with.  I wouldn’t know anything about that.  *looks around and whistles*

Miraculously, and I mean that completely, the loads of her belongings were jolted down a 5 mile pitted washboard dirt road in the back of pickup trucks, packed into a UHaul, and then driven from Rancho Santa Margarita in California to Austin Texas without a single thing breaking.  Not even the three massive mirrors or the fragile glass and pottery.

And so began the long and arduous process of first, finding a place for it all somewhere in the house or garage, and second, going through it all, as it was all packed in boxes and Rubbermaid trash cans (one of the items about which I could hear her saying, “See? I told you so, that’s useful!”).  I found a pair of red canvas shoes that apparently I had worn as a baby.  I found her letters and pictures.  I found so many things that were wonderful to me but useless to anyone else that I did nothing but go through her things for the next two months.

Then I crashed.  There were so many questions in those boxes amidst the photo albums and books.  It became overwhelming after a while and I just couldn’t bring myself to go through any more of it.  Even today, there are a few boxes and a trashcan in the garage that still need to be gone through, which I’m sure Doug would love if I would get around to that, as he is now the owner of her little cabin in the canyon and they hold papers relevant to it.

I also found the aforementioned insurance policy, and knowing that I would have to drag all that bullshit about Mom back up from the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile, I did nothing about it.  I came to the proverbial screeching halt.  Now I have to start my engines again and try not to let it all bother me, too much anyway.  There’s just so much there, the mad and the sad and the disgusted and the raging and the depressed and so on and so forth.  Like a bubbling cauldron that no one in their right mind would ever want to stir.  But I have to.  If I want those last questions answered and those last connections forged, I have to.  It’s not even about insurance policies anymore.

Anger


Anger and I are very, very old friends.  Anger came into my life when I was a baby.  I got to listen to anger through my father in what must have sounded like a monster as he drunkenly attacked my mother.  She told me I would stand up in my crib, holding the bars like a little jailee, screaming at the top of my lungs as my precious tiny ears were assaulted by the noises of her having the shit beaten out of her hard enough to send her to the hospital, more often than not.  My brother was introduced to anger at these times as well, though he was far too small to do much but lay there and cry, often in pain due to the problem he was born with: strangulated hernias.  Which is apparently a not uncommon problem for babies to deal with upon their introduction to life, but for him, it must have been especially grievous.

Anger became a fixture in my life again later, long after my father’s suicide, as the impact of that act slowly colored my mother’s behavior, as did the behavior, and lack thereof, of the man who married her following my father’s untimely death.  The man who I would be young enough to call “Dad” as I grew older and all memory of my father slipped from my young brain cells.  “Dad” was nothing more than a metal rectangle in the ground at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI.  After a while I didn’t understand why we would go to visit him.  Thankfully I remembered as an adult, and the last time I visited his spare grave was ten years ago.  It was the first time anyone had visited his grave since we left Michigan in 1981.  Something about that just seems wrong.

Anger would never leave my life.  In fact, anger gained an ever-increasing presence as time went on and it became apparently that Richard, the stepfather, was nothing more than an abusive little boy, causing my mother to become increasingly bitter and angry herself.  She resorted to understandable coping mechanisms: drugs, drinking, and sex through casual relationships outside the marriage.  Which is not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with open relationships, but more than any other personal relationship we humans decide to pursue, those extracurricular relationships are the ones that must be undertaken with utmost care and precision.

Again, I got to bear witness to the fruits of anger between my now-parents: the drunkenness, the beatings, the shouting, and more and more frequently, the blood.  Slowly and deeply, those same seeds were planted inside me.  They would not bear fruit for many, many years, mostly because it just wasn’t safe for me, and deep down I knew it.  Anger and violence amongst adults is not just a game of seeing who can hurt the other the most.  It’s a game of control and power, and I knew only subconsciously that I was not old enough nor powerful enough to be able to engage in this game safely, let alone win it.  I continued to wear my mantle of anger hidden far beneath the much more palatable mantle of “good student”, which got me good attention at school, and at home it served as a buffer that kept much of the violence away from me.

Then came adolescence, and I began to blossom into the full human being that I was rightfully entitled to be.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe to do so.  Not only was I prey to my stepfather, who only had lewd and horrible things on his wretched mind, I was also prey to my mother, who was hellbent on controlling my life in almost every way, shape, and form in an effort to keep me from repeating the perceived mistakes of her own youth.  Which weren’t her mistakes: they were her own mother’s.  I’ve always wondered if she realized she was doing the exact same things that she had so often said she never would.

Needless to say, bad things began to happen as I grew and stopped being an academic wallflower.  I was never beaten, but I was kept under a tight rein that was often suffocating in its ability to control a willful adolescent.  When things came to a head in 1988, rather than attempt to manage things in such a way that I could finish school and then go out into the world on my own, Mom felt I was a danger to myself and had me hospitalized for two months.  Really, I was a danger to her own mid-life crisis driven lifestyle, and I was a mirror that reflected back at her every sordid voice and behavior that she herself was spewing out into the Universe in the name of “having fun”.  She was the walking definition of irony.

Anger has followed me these long years since I was finally able to escape her direct influence, and I finally let out my own anger in 2001 when I let her know just how I felt about oh so many things.  Our relationship was never the same after that, but I was certainly a healthier person.  I was breaking free, finally!  It took me to the age of 29 to do it, but I was doing it.

I wish I could say anger slowly slid away from my life, but it didn’t.  It found a comfortable place to sit and hunkered down, reminding me of all of my parents’ transgressions and how badly I had been fucked over.  Anger was right, though I can’t say it was truly doing me any good.  Rather, I can say that anger was an outstanding protector.  Anger stood over me with a very sharp sword and would whack off the head of anyone who dared to transgress my borders without my permission ever again.  Anger made me feel safe.  I kept him around, though I was leery because I knew the power that he had.  For the moment, though, it was refreshing and empowering to have this newfound power to wield against anyone or anything that might try to put me down, take control of me, or do anything else to hurt me.

Slowly, though, anger himself took control of me, or tried to anyway.  I recognized what he was doing, and I knew that I had to rip out those claws no matter how tightly they were dug into my psyche or how much temporary good they had done me.  Anger became a very powerful tool to keep cleaned and sheathed in the corner, only to be pulled out when absolutely necessary.  He could not be a constant companion.

Fortunately, I had begun my path towards Buddhism and yoga, and it was relatively easy to put anger into a manageable corner that left me free to rebuild the rest of my life.  He reared his ugly head again, though, not long after Zoe was born.  In retrospect I realize that was the ever-present specter of bipolar illness rising up from time to time, in combination with a very real and justifiable anger that had finally achieved emotional awareness and really wanted to talk about all of the things over the course of my life that I was perfectly justified to be pissed off about.  I pushed him down each time and tried to move forward.  I had a child to raise, after all, and if I could help it, I did NOT want anger to be walking with her hand-in-hand as he had with me.

It was impossible, though, and I realized that my only recourse was to make sure that she wielded her sword with more skill than I had done thus far.  That all by itself made me angry.  I suddenly found my inner psyche pitted with volcanoes of anger that had always been there, yet had lain dormant, waiting for just this moment.  Some of them oozed their lava across my soul; others exploded without warning, generating tsunamis of emotion that wreaked havoc upon my inner shores wherever they landed.

It was incidents like this that finally drove me to the psychiatric emergency room.  Each time one of these volcanoes released its load, I could see the fear in the eyes of anyone around me.  More frightening, I could see the potential for them to take hold of my daughter.  I steadfastly refused to allow anger to wield the sword.  If anyone was going to be holding that sword, it would be me and my daughter.  Skillfully and patiently, we would both lay to rest that horrible specter that had caused so much damage for the last nearly 40 years in my family.  I refused to allow it to take hold in us the way it had in those who came before us.

And so here we are, students at the finest karate school in Texas, learning bit by bit how to be the master rather than the mastered.  I’m still angry, though.  Every time I think I’m done being pissed off, another volcano erupts for me to deal with, which makes me sad and angry all over again.  Perhaps I will not truly be done until having those volcanoes go off simply does not bother me.  Because that will mean they no longer control me: it is I who control them.  When that happens, nothing will ever be able to stop me.


I haven’t had a whole lot to say since my last post about being oversaturated, understandably.  Plus, I’ve just been busy.  I proudly work at my karate dojo and have been trying to catch up on the hours I lost last month to my various doctor appointments and medication adjustment issues.  I can easily say my karate family has been a very important part of me being as healthy as possible lately, and I don’t just mean physically.  Unrelatedly but not unappreciatively, I was rewarded with a new (to me) computer to work on, which always rocks.  🙂

It’s also prime gardening time here in Central Texas.  If there’s a rush hour of gardening in these parts, it’s now.  Particularly if you like tomatoes.  They have to be started indoors and then put in the ground as soon as the last freeze passes.  Any later and you risk not having any at all because the summer heat kills the blossoms (mind you, summer starts in May around these parts some years).  Consequently, every nursery and garden is a flurry of activity right now.

I guess you could say I’ve been doing the “chop wood, carry water” bit and just going about my life.  In fact, it’s felt a bit plain.  As I was thinking about it earlier, it struck me that this may be some of the “flatness” that a lot of people with bipolar illness complain about.  It’s a dangerous flatness, one that makes people go off their meds.  That way, as they say, lies madness.

This gives me a great deal of pause, because I don’t like the flatness.  And as soon as I talk to my new psychiatric nurse, I’m going to tell him that, because I’d rather not be one of those bipolar patients.  The ones who go off their meds only to flip out and have to go back on them.  Sometimes forcibly.  I really, really, really don’t want to be one of  those people (if for no reason other than the age old “dear Lord don’t let me be like my mother” baggage so many women have, bipolar or not).

I get it now.  I so totally and completely understand why some people decide to throw the meds in the trash so their life can be the kaleidoscopic landscape of mental color that it can be sometimes.  It’s intoxicating and makes you completely forget the times you’re in a hole so black no light gets in, or are so agitated you really can’t control yourself even if you want to.  Life on meds, in comparison to the near delirium and incredibly creativity and productivity of a hypomanic or manic state, can seem lifeless and dull, almost unbearably so, ironically.  It’s this sort of attitude that is probably what often causes people around us to get a little disgusted.  After all, it’s really just regular life that you’re disparaging as being pedantic or boring or useless or just too goddamned slow.  It’s all yet another reminder that you don’t think like everyone else does.

As much as I dislike the flatness (which may in fact have some remedies), I dislike more the extremes in mood fluctuation.  I still have them, though not as severely.  Really, the height of each peak and the depth of each trough are progressively lower and higher, respectively, the more time goes on.  Which is not to say I am not still occasionally gripped by a frustrated agitation that makes me cycle between murderous rage, pathetic weeping, suicidal despair, and exhausted melancholia.  I prefer the latter state of mind, really, because it means whatever cycle I’m in is over, for the moment anyway.

Until that happens, though, my thoughts in these cycles often frighten me, and I am struck with the horrible irony that in my parents’ suicides, I learned firsthand the aftermath that follows such a terrible thing, and as such seem to be blocked by my own personal morals from even contemplating my own end beyond natural causes in far old age.  I know there are many friends who are worried about me, so I try not to go too long between posts.  Thanks to the internet though, I’m never too far away.

I still hold out hope for that magic place between dark despair, crazed productivity, agitated madness, and flat apathy.  Truly, there has to be a place that allows for balance.  If there isn’t, and I have to choose a bit of moodiness by altering or removing meds to avoid that flatness, then that’s my choice, but only to a point of course.  I’d rather have more color in my life, even if they’re awash in darkness on occasion, than live in a world of emotional taupe.

For now, though, my job is still to try to wrangle as much stability out of my schedule as possible and to fall into healthier patterns of living.  I can’t tell you how frustrating this process is.  Sometimes all I can do is simply track my moods and behaviors from day to day, which has its usefulness in that the more time goes on, the more I can predict how I might be feeling from day to day.  That’s actually extremely valuable, because if I know it’s going to be a shitty day, I can try to avoid stressors.  Someday I hope to have as little fluctuation as possible while still feeling like a “colorful” person.  Until then, I am still my own experiment and as such, I am still collecting data.

I get it now, though.  I get a lot.  And I don’t like a lot of it.


It’s taken me four days just to start writing this post, though it’s had a title for that entire time.  My posts to date have been more upbeat, or at least introspective without being too depressing.  For whatever reason, I decided I needed to keep the truly depressing and frightening posts to myself or to a very select group of readers over at Livejournal, where I have kept a semi-private blog since 2001.  After unleashing a black spew over there this morning, I decided to edit it somewhat.  Submitted for your approval, then: a look into the bleaker corners of my mind.

Bleaker?!  Did she say bleaker?  Good gods, I better get my emo hipwaders on.

While there has been some improvement in my mood since I began the bipolar journey about 5 weeks ago, it has been with growing dismay that I’ve descended into some deep, dark holes of late.  Some are merely depressing.  Some are very angry.  And yet a few more are just downright destructive and filled with nothing but hate.  Illogical, unfocused, unfiltered hate for whatever and whomever is unlucky enough to tweak my brain’s nerve cells in just the wrong way at that particular moment.

I.hate.it.  Ihateitsomuch.  The irony of hating my hate is not lost on me, but we have gone way past the land where logic and reason are the rulers.  Here, they are just words.

It’s a weird state of mind that thinking about death puts people in. That book I now consider my bipolar bible, “An Unquiet Mind“, talks about it quite extensively. The author and a friend of hers, on a good night, made a deal with each other to call the other one and let them take them wherever for a week before they killed themselves, if they indeed still felt like doing so. Each was to give the other a week of reasons not to do it, to go back on their meds, to call their doctor, etc. Despite this deal, the author’s friend didn’t keep their end of the bargain, with predictable results. Neither did the author on several occasions that she was feeling suicidal. She admits that in those darkest of hours, the thought of calling anyone else just didn’t occur to her. Which doesn’t surprise me. Logic changes its rules in the mind of a suicidal person. What makes sense to everyone else doesn’t make sense to someone who wants to die, or is at least thinking it might be better.

I dislike having this kind of knowledge about humanity, and about myself. I don’t like knowing how the dark clock ticks in the minds of the disturbed. It has many hands and many chimes, most of them as loud as a klaxon horn, blaring one’s misery in cacophanous tones that are unignorable. Interspersed are the rings of guilt, which serve to amplify all of the others.

What’s wrong with you? How can you possibly feel this way? You’re broken. You’re bad. You should be punished for feeling this way because it doesn’t make any sense, you whiny fucking baby.

A hundred years ago, you’d find someone crouched in a corner with their hands over their ears screaming, “SHUTUP!” Today, you find them like me: parked in front of the television watching Doctor Who for as many hours as it takes to dull the sharp bite of a monster I *know* is meaningless and powerless. Then trying and failing to stay asleep as anxiety attacks set in *during* sleep, making me feel as though I’m suffocating. When sleep does come, it’s punctuated by very strange dreams that always involve swimming in dirty water and being at risk of being eaten by large industrial machinery, also underwater. Talk about waking up with the heebie fuckin’ jeebies. Let’s add a sprinkle of the constant doctor search anxiety, too, just for flavor.

*headdesk*

I *am* getting things done today, though. I’ve already made a few necessary phone calls, and now I’m doing what is probably the most important task for the day: “write down analysis of moods for last 2-6 weeks, and further if possible“. Really I should analyze back to getting on lithium and trazodone, then back to quitting smoking, then back to getting rid of the IUD. These things all come to bear and I feel it’s crucial to figure out how and when and in what way they interact. For instance, obviously a hormonal IUD was doing some good stabilizing things to my mood, but wasn’t fixing the problem since I felt vaguely PMS-y pretty much constantly, and some of my worst episodes happened while I had it. So obviously that’s not the only issue. Then there’s the quitting smoking, which I feel had a much more deleterious effect on my mind than getting rid of the IUD. Indeed, on my bad mental days, I still feel a super strong urge to smoke that I feel is indicative of far more than a mind dumping nicotine receptors, and I have felt very unstable since I quit. Those who have been supportive of my effort to quit smoking really have no idea of the Herculean effort it has taken not to smoke again, because I know it will make me feel better mentally.  My mouth and brain ache with desire to smoke sometimes.

Then there’s the last 5 weeks, which is how long it’s been since I took myself to the psychiatric ER after the mother of all PMS episodes. According to my reading, it’s completely possible for one’s worst episodes to occur during PMS time, but for them not to be directly attributable to hormonal influences. Everything gets ranked in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary effects. The PMS is just secondary for me, with the supposed bipolar disorder being primary (although I’m beginning to question if that’s really my problem, or if I’m on the right meds, or if I’m on *enough* of them). I definitely have some unaddressed symptoms, though, which I would very much like to go away right about now, thanks very fucking much. I do not enjoy having a head filled with suicidal and otherwise violent thoughts (which had gone away for a while but have returned). I do not enjoy having to construct my day so that I avoid certain kinds of stimulus, or else I’ll lose my temper. I do not enjoy not knowing which days these things will occur on. There’s a whole lot about this ride that I really don’t like, and if I had my druthers, I’d have a bottle of PRN Haldol sitting around for when I’m feeling just a wee too crazy. Or something like it. Let’s kick it old school with Thorazine! I’ll pass on the modern atypical antipsychotics that give you horrible weight gain, diabetes, or high cholesterol, though. No thanks.

I’ve been doing a shitload of reading, though. I may very well have bipolar disorder, but I’m pretty damn sure there are some others glommed on there too. PTSD from growing up in such a fucked up house and never, ever having a childhood, for starters. The two parents dead of suicide don’t help that one, either (you should have seen the looks people at the clinic gave me when I told them that). I’m not sure if my OCD-like tendencies are actual OCD or if that’s just how hypomania and mania manifest in my life, because it’s certainly not in the stereotypical “I’m awesome, let’s shop and fuck!” sort of way many manics manifest that phase. I would really like to be tested for adult ADD or plain old high-functioning autism given my complete inability to look at anyone in the eyes, along with some other behaviors (don’t move my shit. really, don’t move my shit). Hell, I’d even take the epic-length MMPI if it would figure out what’s wrong with my brainmeats. I took that once for a grad student friend who needed volunteers to finish her degree. My results were apparently……strange. She asked her professor what she would do with the results: “Hit her with a battery of tests.” Maybe it’s time for the battery, so to speak. I don’t care what the answer is, I just want to KNOW so I can take care of it.

*sigh* Some of the websites are nice enough to admit that it may be several weeks before anyone bothers to get back to me due to the high demand for psychiatrists (maybe *that’s* what I should major in at UT, if I ever go back: people are like cellophane to me, they’re so transparent – perhaps it’s my karmic duty to use this knowledge and ability to help other poor crazed individuals like myself). I’mma keep on callin’, though. *sigh* I should really get paid for this shit, it’s a lot harder than most people’s jobs, and it’s certainly a lot less enjoyable.

Today, though, hopefully my GP and/or his nurse will call back and either schedule an appointment for me or just call in something to help me feel less hostile and like breaking things. I love my family and I really do love the world, but right now it’s all buried under a burning pile of hate and dissatisfaction that doesn’t listen to logic or reason, it just wants to destroy and it’s on a very unpredictable hair trigger. My other option is going back to PES and going inpatient in a building that looks, sounds, smells, and feels like every hospital Mom ever stayed in. I don’t think that’s the right place for me. I think just being around that shade of green for more than a few hours would send me right over the edge.  The view is frightening enough, thanks: I don’t need to ride that merry-go-round.

Whee!


First, a bit of happy news: I got my yellow belt in Seido Karate last night!  W00t!  😀  My daughter got her advanced yellow belt, and this Saturday she will be competing in the regional science fair with her model of an electrical motor.  My little girl is not quite *8*.  🙂  Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

So it’s been almost a month since I was driven to the psychiatric ER in an effort to alleviate my increasingly agitated brain.  In that time I’ve been from one extreme to the other, although I’m extremely happy to say that lithium apparently puts a lid on suicidal thoughts no matter how sad I get.  So that’s a good thing.

I’ve also learned that my particular bipolarcoaster (one of my new favorite words, thanks to friend Dianne Sylvan: she writes fabulous vampire books, look her up) is heavily linked to my womanly cycles.  So I’m like that character Chameleon in Piers Anthony‘s Xanth series: when it’s fertile time, she’s dumb and happy, but when the other half of the cycle comes, she’s ugly and mean.  Okay, maybe I’m not dumb when I’m happy or ugly when I’m mean, but you get the idea.

I was happy to discover that the website Crazy Boards is still around.  I found them back in 2006 when I had my “holy crap I’m at home alone with the kid for the first time EVER” freakout.  I doubt there is a finer discussion forum for mental illness of all flavors.  I love them for their forum descriptors.  Here’s the one for bipolar:

Bipolar Spectrum Disorder – The Pole Dance

If life is a ride, BP’s a fucking theme park. Whether you’re riding the roller coaster, spinning ’round the demonic carousel, buying souvenir toenail clippers for the population of Rhodesia, or weeping on the sidelines as some kid pukes on your head, we’re here for you.

Goddamn, that’s fucking perfect! Theme park indeed.  In fact, some bipolar oriented websites seem to play off the whimsical sounding nature of bipolar disorder.  Bipolar World!  Which makes me think of Benny’s World of Liquor from the movie From Dusk Til Dawn.  Or a retail store with sales from hell.

Sale, sale, sale!  Get your mood swings right here!  We got ’em all!  Up, down, sideways, whichever mood flavor you want today, we’re here for YOU!

What else have I learned?  A LOT about pharmaceuticals.  It’s a good goddamn thing I took so many freakin’ science classes between the ages of 10 and 20 and that I’m blessed with critical thinking skills or I’d be lost in a pharmaceutical morass from which there is no escape.  Mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics (typical and atypical), antidepressants, anxiolytics, so on and so forth.  Let’s not forget that in large part, scientists still have zero fucking clue, or at least very limited clues, about how any of this shit works on the gray matter.  They can guess, and that’s about it.  Length of time on the market makes absolutely no difference.  Lithium is probably the oldest psychiatric medication still in use and the only true mood stabilizer, and they only just very recently have begun to figure out how it works (probably by regulating DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, which reduces inflammation in the brain that leads to the mood swings).  Which is why so many people wind up spending months if not YEARS figuring what meds work for them because all you can do is try one and see if it works.  Not to mention that you have to wait several weeks or months for each one to really stabilize before making a judgment as to its efficacy.  Fun!  Not.

Then there are the side effects of many if not most of these drugs.  Tardive dyskinesia (a Parkinsonian-like tremor that never goes away, even after you stop taking the offending medication).  Akathisia (an inability to sit still).  Dry mouth.  Kidney and liver dysfunction.  Diarrhea and/or constipation.  Tremors.  Sexual dysfunction.  Weight gain (probably the most common side effect of all of them other than sexual dysfunction).  Fortunately I don’t have any of these problems (yet: the weight gain was because of those damned birth control pills), and I don’t want them, which is why I research the fuck out of everything.  Hopefully the doctors that have to deal with me in the future will appreciate this tendency and not find it annoying or infringing upon their God complex (and there are still quite a number of psychiatrists who would prefer you describe your problem as briefly as possible and then STFU so they can write you a prescription).

I still have to find a psychiatrist, a task that daunts me for some reason.  Same with a therapist.  I at least have a general practitioner to check my blood levels, but I need to get going on those other things.  The first task causes me the most anxiety because I really do NOT want one of those God complex shrinks who just wants me to shutup, and goddammit, shrinks are EXPENSIVE!  I try not to think about it too much and how mental health is only for the rich and those lucky enough to have just enough to take care of such things to the detriment of things like replacing broken washing machines (raises hand).  I’m glad I have the resources available to me that I do, but there are so many who don’t, and the way our country treats and thinks of mental illness in general is just loathsome.  Oops, got on a soapbox there.

I am also on a quest for books for children with parents with mental illness, particular bipolar.  I’m finding a lot of books about kids with bipolar illness (which strikes me as odd: aren’t mood swings just one of those characteristics of childhood?), but that’s about it.  So I may have a writing project in my future, because I want to help my daughter, and other children, understand what’s up with Mum (or Dad), and since I seem to have a gift for the written gab, not to mention a Bodhisattva’s heart, I feel obligated to use my talents and knowledge to help others.

But first, let’s finish helping me.  *sigh*

I Am Awake


As I detailed in my post “Avoidance and Acceptance”, one of the reasons I failed to get any real assistance for my mental health over the years was because of my parents.  I didn’t want to be like them.  However, in learning about my bipolar disorder, I’ve discovered that it very likely has a genetic component, and as such, I probably wouldn’t have been able to escape being bipolar, even if I led the most perfect and balanced of lives.

I was also led to curiosity by reading An Unquiet Mind, the bipolar memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison.  At one point she is sitting with a friend and colleague, putting together a mental health pedigree.  Circles for women, squares for men, and each blackened for those with bipolar disorder or some other kind of mental issue.  Suicides and attempts were also noted: asterisks and slashes.  In my head, I began to fill in my own pedigree.

My mother had mental troubles my entire life.  She was in and out of mental wards constantly, her worst episodes typically triggered by the holidays, by remembering old family hurts, and by her husband, my adoptive father.  Each time she would go on medication and try to get stable, my “father” would ruin it.  I’ve learned that it’s common for relationships to suffer a lot of misery when someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or any other mental trouble.  They’re formed under unhealthy circumstances, so once someone decides to get healthy, the entire dynamic is disrupted.  Often, the newly healthy person sees the other’s unhealthy behaviors more clearly and is unable to put up with them any longer.  Unless the other person gets on board, bad things happen.  Over time, he would wear her down back to the weakened state that served him better, and it would all begin again.

She was set up for failure nearly from birth, though.  Her own father was abusive.  Her mother divorced him after a few years for “cruelty”, and later when she would visit him or stay with him during visitation, he would beat her.  Her mother’s second husband wasn’t any better.  They divorced after only a few years when discovered that he was “getting after” my mother.  Which is 1950s parlance for discovering that he was molesting her.

Mom spent her entire adult life in a series of abusive relationships.  The last, her sixth, killed her, for all intents and purposes.  After finding herself in yet another abusive marriage and with no way to support herself should she choose to leave, she chose the final exit in the backyard with a gun.  She told me she wouldn’t come to stay with me.  Our relationship was too volatile.  One of the most horrifying things about mental illness is that it really isn’t the ill person’s fault, but their behavior is unacceptable to “normal” people, and compassion and understanding only go so far.  After a while, you just have to distance yourself from someone who is abusive and mean, even if it isn’t their fault.  So you feel guilty and the other person feels angry but you both know perfectly well there isn’t anything to be done except maintain the distance.  This is one of my biggest fears about having bipolar as it relates to my own family.  I think I would die on the spot if my daughter decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Then there’s my father.  Dad was the last of seven children, and the only child from his particular parental combination.  I have no idea what life was like for him growing up, although I know he grew up in River Rouge, probably THE poorest, and certainly the dirtiest, part of Detroit.  River Rouge is where the steel mills are.  They turned the sky a devilish orange-red at night when they were firing the steel.  A drive through River Rouge is a drive through despair.  It’s no wonder that Dad’s first move upon turning 18 was to join the Marines.  He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California until he was shipped to Southeast Asia for a year from 1963-64.  He returned with a case of PTSD so bad that, once married, Mom only woke him up by shaking his foot at the end of the bed.  Standard methods of awakening resulted in his launching out of bed prepared to choke the Viet Cong.  Not a good way to start the day.

In an effort to deal with his shellshock, he started drinking.  After a while he joined a rehab cult called Synanon, which is where he met my mother, who had her own substance abuse problems.  They left after a couple of years, got married, and had me.  Things were great for a while but then he began to drink again and abuse my mother.  Things grew worse after my brother was born in July of 1974.  After a particularly bad beating in October, Mom packed up us kids and left.  Two days later, during a fireworks show at the nearby high school, Dad shot himself with his service rifle, two weeks before my third birthday.  I sometimes wish he had at the very least waited a few years so that I could have some memories of him.  As it is, the only thing of my father’s that I possess, is my name.

I wish I could say it was just them, but there don’t appear to be any healthy people in the family, whether current or past.  Of them, I seem to be the healthiest, which makes me break out in great guffaws of laughter.  My grandmother’s father was extraordinarily physically abusive.  After beating all of his children with the cord of an iron (mind you, this is the 1920s, electrical cords were big and thick) for a few years, he left in 1929.  He left a legacy of sadness and gave his descendants a forehead crease that you can see in my brother and I when we’re focused or angry.

Gram lived longer than anyone in her family, mostly because she did not commit suicide.  She hardened her heart, though.  She and my mother did not speak, ever.  I think that was her way of not succumbing to the mental demons that plagued both of her siblings, apparently, and certainly her daughter.  It was her opinion that they had both killed themselves; her sister in a “traffic accident” involving a tree and no other cars, and her brother by “accidentally” overdosing on his heart medication.

I know little else about the family history other than what I’ve been able to glean from Ancestry.com.  There is so much hurt and fracture in my family’s history that I am occasionally amazed that people managed to have children together.  I’ve counted two definite (four possible) suicides, literally dozens of suicide attempts between my mother and brother, several cases of physical abuse, at least two of sexual abuse (bet there’s more), not to mention rampant drug abuse and alcoholism going back at least a century.

I think it’s a fucking miracle I’ve reached the age of 39 and don’t seem to have some of the worst problems in the family history.  I’ve never been a drug addict or an alcoholic, I’ve never been beaten by a man (by Mom though, that’s another story), I’ve been in the same healthy relationship for 15 years, and I don’t have any of the health problems that have plagued the family due to their inability to take care of themselves (bad teeth, bad joints, bad hearts).  I should probably get my cholesterol checked, but that’s about it.  Yes, I’m bipolar, but I seem to be a more pastel shade of crazy, while others in the family have been brightly technicolor crazy.  Brightly technicolor drunk crazy wielding dishes and flying fists.

Of course, there is the long-standing psychiatric question of nature vs. nurture.  Are people born mentally ill, or are they made that way?  I think it’s both.  I think our genetics make us more likely to be certain ways, and if our environments growing up push us in those directions, then we wind up with some headmeat issues.  Even if we grow up in environments that push us in healthy directions, we may wind up with headmeat issues, but perhaps not as severely.  Or it’s easier to work on them because you don’t have to worry about all the extraneous bullshit of life.

It must be horrifying to be diagnosed with a disease that alters your thinking and then realize, once you’re healthier, that you’ve built your life on things that are unhealthy.  My mother made this realization several times but was too damaged to try to live on her own, so she always wound up sabotaging her health for the sake of her husband and marriage.  Kind of like an alcoholic who’s trying to stop who has people tell them, “You know, I liked you better when you drank.”  Wow, what a confidence booster.  In fact, I believe my “father” told her that a few times.  I won’t lie: I rejoiced when he died last year.

I have had a very long-standing goal to act as the chain breaker in the family.  For whatever reason, I’ve been given the life-long ability to look at other people’s behavior and say to myself, “That’s fucked up, I’m not going to do things that way.”  I’m not always successful, because like it or not, I was raised in a fucked up place, and it left its marks here and there.  But I have awareness, and I am able to identify those places in myself and say, “You need to work on that.”  In that way, I’m my own Buddha, because that’s what Buddha’s all about: being aware.  When a passerby saw the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, he asked him a series of questions trying to figure out who and what he was.  After a series of “no”s, he finally asked, “Well what are you?”  To which the Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

And so that is my job, my dharma, in my family, what little of it is left.  To be awake.  To be aware.  To not be so wrapped in my ego that I cannot see my own mistakes, particularly if I am repeating any of the big, old ones.  To begin the family threads anew with my own family.  To dismantle and rebuild the foundation from which my own daughter will build her own life.  I pray that she escapes this illness, but if she doesn’t, she will have a much softer landing pad than I did, and she will have someone to gently point out, “Hey, have you considered things this way?” without making her feel bad about herself.  And hopefully in a couple of generations when my great-grandchildren, should I have any, are thinking of their own pedigrees, hopefully there will be fewer blackened squares and circles, and few if any asterisks and slashes.

Starting Over


I’ve learned an awful lot about myself and my new chronic illness over the last couple of weeks.  It feels much longer than that.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. I have a disease that has a 1 in 5 chance of killing me.  Rather, a disease that gives me a 1 in 5 chance of killing myself.  I’m not an expert on chronic illness, but something tells me those odds are kind of high, whether death is self-induced or not.  Good thing I made a pact with myself a long time ago not to do that.  I know what it does to everyone else left behind.  It certainly explains some of my thought patterns, though.

2. The medicine I’m taking (lithium carbonate) may only be good for 3-5 years, depending on what it does to my kidney function.  Though if my kidneys aren’t unhappy, I may be able to take it for the rest of my life.  I hope so.  Lithium is still the best treatment for bipolar illness, not to mention the simplest and cheapest.  In the meantime, it makes me ravenously hungry 4-5 times a day, particularly for protein.  Something tells me I’ll have to up my exercise.  For now, I’m tolerating what is in essence a poison salt fairly well.  Aside from the odd hand tremor, everything’s good.

3. The hunger: if I don’t pay attention to it, bad things happen to my brainpan.  Low blood sugar seems to be one of the absolute worst things I can do to myself.  I’m finding this to be the most annoying aspect of my journey so far.  I’m terrible at paying attention to my diet, which seems to be something I have to change immediately, particularly if I don’t want to completely pork out.  I’m already twenty pounds heavier than I was a month ago, something that all by itself just about makes me suicidal.  I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, and to be where I am now makes me incredibly sad.  A year and a half of work, completely ruined.  😦

4. Sleep is the other thing that, if unbalanced, will send me spinning very quickly.  If it was just depression, or just mania, that would be one thing, but since I get mixed episodes, I have to stave that shit off as best I can.  Mixed episodes are a peculiarly nutty generation of the human mind that makes someone depressed and manic at the same time.  That’s all kinds of fun, lemme tellya.

5. People are going to be insensitive and rude on occasion when they find out I’m bipolar (which means I’m probably just going to keep that to myself for the most part).  It’s only been two weeks and it’s already happened once.  They probably didn’t even realize they were being rude.  I imagine it’s something that anyone with a chronic illness has to deal with sometimes.  I just have to get really good at identifying such people and saying, “You’re bad for me, go away.”

6. Waiting for my meds to settle in and even out is not fun.  I’ve missed several hours of work because of it, but if I can’t think, then I can’t work (or worse, I can’t work if I’m sitting sobbing at my desk).  I won’t be done with this dance for at least a couple of months and not until after several blood tests and possibly dosage changes.  I have to tell myself it’s all temporary and that better things will be on the other side.

7. Apparently I have to be hypervigilant about staying hydrated.  Lithium is one row above sodium in the periodic table and as such can screw with the body’s sodium and water levels because it has the same valence (aka charge: gosh I’m glad I was paying attention in chemistry class).  Which means if I’m exercising and get dehydrated, my serum lithium levels can get too high, aka TOXIC.  Which means a trip to the ER, two days of no lithium, and treatment with a lot of salt and water.  No thank you.

8. Caffeine is no longer my friend, mostly because of #7.  Caffeine is a diuretic, and its stimulant properties can bring on mania, in sufficient amounts of course.  It doesn’t meant I can’t ever drink caffeine again, but I have to do so in moderation.

It’s hard not to be discouraged by the list of things I can’t or shouldn’t do anymore.  On the other hand, there are a lot of things that are better now that I’m taking proper medication, and have stopped taking birth control pills.  My skin is clear again, I sleep relatively well and regularly, violent/suicidal thoughts came to a screeching halt, mood is about 60% stabilized, anger is down about 40-50%, I’m getting more done, taking much better care of myself, I’m less anxious/more calm, more in tune with mental boundaries (i.e. what I can and can’t do without “triggering”), more thirsty, and more hungry.

Then there are the more nebulous effects.  The ones that make me think I may have had this disease since my late teens, because that was the last time I remember experiencing life with the vividness that I have lately.  Colors and sounds are just a bit MORE, feelings are sharper, my brain seems more HERE.  At first I thought I was feeling nostalgia, but it’s not that: it’s just been that long since I felt life this way.  I do think of things that I haven’t thought of for a long time, but they’re neither good nor bad.  Just experiential, like the way my mother’s apartment looked, or the way Lucia’s Garden, a store in Houston, smells.

I wonder how long I’ve been “asleep”.

Then there are the philosophical implications of it all.  Where do I stop?  Where does the illness begin?  Is there a difference?  If not, how do we judge which of my behaviors are “normal” and which ones are not?  Psychiatry has been asking these questions for over a century, and there are some who believe that all psychiatric “illness” is created as a way to pathologize anyone not conforming to the current standards of “normal”.  I disagree.  I believe someone goes from being eccentric to being diseased when they can no longer function in life, or they become a danger to themselves or someone else.

I’m sure I’ll be asking myself these questions for a looooooong time to come along with a lot of others.  In the meantime, I keep trying to Zen-ify my life.  It really does need to be as simple as getting good sleep, eating good food, getting a lot of exercise, doing things that make me happy (gardening, karate, yoga, cooking), and staying as stress-free as possible.  I imagine that means some things and perhaps people will have to be pared away, but perhaps for the first time in my life, I am the most important person in my life, and when I am done taking care of myself, then and only then will I make room for others.  Obviously there has to be some leniency when it comes to the husband and daughter, and we’ll all need help through this transition, but after 39 years, I’m done being second fiddle to anyone.  It’s a pity that it took a near mental breakdown to get here, but I’m finding an awful lot of silver linings in this black cloud, and I feel as though the Universe is watching over me for the moment.

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