Tag Archives: Bipolar disorder

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.

Writing, Gardening, Spirituality


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.

Wind and Fire


Praise Buddha, the heat wave has finally broken.  Not before we matched our hottest temperature ever: 112F.  Y’know, if I wanted to live in the fuckin’ desert, I would have moved to Las Vegas.  Now it’s a much more normal 90F-ish, but we traded almost living on the surface on the Sun to actually being there: wind and fire.  Tropical Storm Lee stirred up what lay dormant all summer with fierce winds, setting ablaze to places very close to home.  Many people have lost their homes over the last few days, and one of the closest state parks has been all but decimated.  The air is filled with the smell of the world’s largest campfire, and the sky is white with smoke.  My little girl is afraid that fires are going to sweep our city, and I’m having a hard time convincing her otherwise.

I know everything will be okay, but it’s hard to tell myself that when virtually every square inch of the city and areas surrounding are the color of toast.  The combination of one of the worst droughts in history and one of the worst heat waves in history has done very, very bad things to Texas.  I was brought to tears in recent weeks as I wondered when the heat would end.  I am still brought to tears occasionally as I wonder when it will rain again.  I swear that when it does, I may very well strip naked and raise my hands to the sky in gratitude and supplication to whatever deity has sought to bring us water.

In the personal meantime, my exercise routine has gone to complete and utter shit.  I can’t imagine why.  I mean, who wants to go jogging when it’s 105F or more outside?  The heat completely sapped my energy and I have been waiting and waiting for Hell to leave what is usually our little slice of Heaven here in Central Texas.  And it finally has!  The temperature dropped to the 60s at night and mere 90s in the day.  I never thought I’d be grateful for 93F.  It feels heavenly.  My little girl requested a sweater this morning!

And so it is time for me to get my shit together again.  I have returned to karate class, where I have finally gotten a couple of my kata right after weeks of working on them.  I haven’t returned to running or the gym yet, but I’ll get there.  You might wonder why I couldn’t get myself to an air-conditioned gym, but then again you’ve probably never experienced heat like we have.  It changes everything.  All you want to do is curl up on the couch.  No more, though.  I actually feel like doing something again, so I will.

Headmeat-wise, I’m still not entirely happy, and I realize I may not be for many more months.  It takes more than a year for some people to stabilize and get their particular cocktail of drugs just right.  Mostly I’m dealing with a lot of resentment, and sometimes it spills over into the rest of my life.  I’m approaching my 40th birthday, and I’m not happy about it at all.  I feel I have absolutely nothing to show for all of these years trodding about on Planet Earth, with the exception of my daughter and husband.  My henna art business is shot, I can’t afford to go to school, I can’t afford to go anywhere, jeez, I can’t even afford to replace the light on my fishtank right now.  And I’m dealing with some of the same problems that dogged my parents.  I feel like a complete and utter failure.

Then again, I look outside and see the smoke rising from the nearest large town and think that I’m being selfish for thinking that way.  Many people now have nothing, and would probably be very happy to have what I do.

That’s me: always able to find a way to flog myself.

I have the sensation that the Universe is removing various things from my life to make room for others, and when it’s done, it will start filling it up again.  I also think I should focus on what I do have and enjoy.  Family.  Cats.  An approaching birthday that will be filled with friends.  A job where I am well and truly appreciated.  A mostly healthy body that is very strong.  An outstanding mind.  Good health practitioners that are taking good care of me.  Doctor Who.  😀

The fires of my mind and the fires of my homeland will go out soon.  As I reminded my friends on Facebook with a picture of our city from just last February in which our fair town was blanketed in snow, it will end.  Money won’t always be the bane of our existence, my brain won’t always be the bane of MY existence, I’ll get that fishtank light replaced, and it will rain.  By Goddess, it will rain, and I’ll sit on the porch and watch it come down.  Though I probably won’t be naked.  🙂

Hot Hot Hot


“I tried not to think about the words SEARING.FLESH.” – Fight Club

It has been blazingly hot lately.  On Tuesday, I measured a temperature of 110F on my back porch.  Some people get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)  in the winter.  I get it in the summer.  After all, there’s not much going outside.  Not if you don’t want to spontaneously burst into flames.  And it’s depressing.  Everything is dead and brown.  I hate it.

Seriously though, I have taken up jogging with my friends.  We don’t go until the sun is nearly down, but I’m going.  This is remarkable for someone who used to laugh at joggers and runners for doing so without being chased.  And it does somehow make the heat more bearable, because it’s not going to rain for another month at least.  *cries*

On the plus side, my headmeat seems to have stabilized, but not until after a really unpleasant episode a couple of months ago during which I learned I really can’t fuck with my sleep.  That’s the trouble with having bipolar.  The only way to know your meds aren’t working is to feel like shit.  Ah well.  I have a small army of pharmacy bottles to take from each day, and a basket full of vitamins and supplements to counteract the side effects (mostly muscle twitches).  Two mood stabilizers, one antidepressant, one sleep aid, two antianxiety agents, and one thyroid med to counteract what one of the mood stabilizers does.

A calcium-magnesium-potassium supplement is crucial to stave off the muscle twitches, which aren’t nearly as bad as the ones trazodone gave me.  I don’t take that anymore, thank the gods: akathisia really, really sucks.  B-vitamins, fish oil, and a host of others.  Obviously, I found a headmeat doc (nurse, really) that does me a lot of good and is on tap via smartphone virtually any time.  Plus, he’s really funny.

Everything else I have allowed to sliiiiiiide.  I haven’t been to the Buddhist center in two months.  I haven’t done yoga in quite some time.  The only thing I’ve done is karate, which I will probably do more now that I know I don’t need that many more classes to get my next ranking.  I’ve gone to the gym more, though.  I have to adjust my diet, though, or those 20 pounds are never going to come off.

Obviously due to the heat wave, I’ve done no gardening.  It’s crispy out there.  I allowed my community garden plot to slide: who wants to put in community hours when it’s over 100 outside?  I hate the politics anyway.

Some things are good though, or at least better.  I’m enjoying things a little bit more.  I got the henna out for a friend last week and I was very pleased I haven’t lost my touch.  I haven’t had to lie to anyone about how I’m feeling, which also pleased me.  My memory is for shit, though, which my headmeat caretaker assures me will improve the happier I get.  I haven’t taken care of all that death paperwork to collect my grandmother’s ancient life insurance policy, but I actually want to, along with some remaining boxes that her friends in California were interested in.  I mean, it’s only been three years.  *sigh*

Other ways I know I’m better: I’m not murderously angry about the non-stop machinery I can hear from my house for the last, oh, year and a half?  I don’t feel like killing every asshat driver in South Austin (trust me, that’s remarkable, we have a high asshat density down here).  I’m a bit annoyed about the massive fence the neighbor behind us put up, but I haven’t thrown anything at it.  😀

There are other things that still need improving, but I’m hoping that they improve with more sleep and exercise and with an abatement of the heat.  It’s like a freakin’ blast furnace out there.

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.