I have typed the first sentence of this blog entry twelve times. So I've decided that it isn't going to have a first sentence and you will just have to join me midway through the post.
...more difficult when you know that there are coworkers, family members and friends who read the blog.
Here is the tricky thing about tickling out the truth from beneath whatever place it's hiding: it's messy. Messy truth.
I mean, when someone asks you the reason you did something, is there every really one answer? Probably not, and probably the one you come up with is just what your conscious brain knows about.
When your subconscious is driving the bus (and it is, whether you know it or not) your reasons for doing something might sound really dumb. But you are not exactly lying. Your brain just hasn't figured out how to tell you the truth.
I had a student the other day say, "Well, everybody is bipolar. It doesn't mean anything." Which is often my take on the whole bipolar thing. And I wonder if they are right. I wonder if I am one of a number of people who have been conned by big pharma or big psych or big whatever into believing that I have an illness.
And even when I've had a fairly recent episode (like the one in May when Pscyh NP put me on the Lithium because my hypomania wasn't looking so hypo at the time) I can be quite dismissive of my mood spells once I am doing better.
I'm sure it wasn't that bad.
I was probably just having a bad day (or week, or month, or season).
I should just snap out of it.
Maybe these people are right?
These strangers who don't know me at all can be surprisingly convincing when they dismiss bipolar as a fake disease. And if they can't even tell that I have this disease/disability it sure seems like they are right. It must be fake. I must be faking. I am a liar.
Because everybody does have ups and downs and mood swings. And everybody has more or less energy. And everybody sometimes gets pulled into projects that take up more of their time and attention that usual.
I listen to the words of strangers (with no connection to the mental health community as a whole or bipolar in specific) because they are the unspoken words that live in my head. When my conscious brain conveniently forgets any incapacitating incidents.
Like now, for instance.
Because I am doing well overall (with occasional blips) I want to become one of those strangers who believes that bipolar is fake. That I can just get over myself. That everyone is "bipolar" since it is just a way of describing someone's moods.
When I try to explain how my bipolar works it seems banal. Ridiculous. Trifling. And I think about people with much more severe bipolar, uncontrolled bipolar, uncontrollably bipolar and I feel like a fraud.
But the same thing happened when I tried to explain a student outburst to my boss. I knew (having been there) that it was a very stressful, unacceptable incident that affected the entire class and caused people to leave the room (and consider quitting the class) rather than deal with the stress precipitated by the student's behaviors.
When I wrote what the behaviors were they seemed... insignificant. So she didn't want to do the work, big deal. She wanted other students to be quiet and told them so. Okay. She spoke rudely to me and other students. And all these things can be no big deal. Or they can be HUGE. And unless you are there in that moment you don't know.
And I likely will not be able to explain how bad things are because, just like with this student, they might be obviously out of control in real life, but on paper it looks fine.
I made a lot of bracelets.
I spent a lot of time in my garden.
I had no patience for my children when they came home from school.
I was too tired to even think about dinner.
And see, this is a ridiculous looking list of symptoms. FRAUD FRAUD FRAUD. But I am not asking to be sicker, so what is my deal?
I want people to know and recognize that mental illnesses are real. That they are treatable. That when I am getting the appropriate treatment and on the right meds, I am largely asymptomatic. But it doesn't mean I am faking an illness.
I want to be able to tell people that I am living with bipolar and haven them accept that without attempting to convince me that I (and my doctor and my psychiatric nurse practitioner, and my psychiatrist, and my psychologist) am wrong.
I want people not to be surprised that someone living with a mental illness is functional and employed and has friendships and a family and gets out of bed and does what needs to get done.
Thus ends my manifesto
Ugh. Scattered and awkward. I'm out of practice.
Took my meds, made a bunch of appointments, talked to family, napped with daughter, wrote...
I suddenly feel like the entire summer has slipped through my fingers and there are all kinds of things that I need to get done and there is no way that I will ever do them and my lack of doing-ness will be the un-doing of everything.
I seem to spend a lot of time lately trying not to get upset about stuff. And it is the little stuff, not the big stuff that throws me for a loop.
For instance: I had a VERY DISRUPTIVE student last week. I teach adults. I have never had to deal with a disruptive adult before. When I worked in K-12 I could send them to their advisor to deal with the problem. The principal may or may not be involved. Parents might also be called in.
Not so in Adult Basic Education. I think I handled myself pretty well in the situation. My heartbeat didn't even speed up. I didn't get upset. (Okay, I did get upset later on behalf of the other students who needed to deal with the disruption-- but I didn't take things personally.) And I remarked to someone later that my time working with junior high students prepared me well for situations such as these. Ha!
So I manage to get through this potentially upsetting situation relatively unscathed.
But what do I get upset about?
Gardening, House Stuff, Beading Stuff, Writing Stuff and Family Stuff
The garden box (which last year was so bountiful) is kaput. I planted it with beets and lettuce and brussels sprouts and corn. The lettuce did okay until it got too hot and bolted. But everything else just kind of withered and sulked.
I am also disappointed in my potatoes that I am growing in containers this year. And the ones that I am growing in the ground. I didn't hill them up enough. I am sure they will be a disaster. I told my family it was a good thing we would not be relying on the garden for our sustenance.
I have neglected the tomatoes-- which have vine out and taken over entire sections of garden. The front garden (not in the box) has become a wild tangle of tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, soybeans and (hopefully) beans. Of course I look at the explosion of plants there and I end up focusing on my failed crop of peas that I planted too close. And the tinker-toy lattices I built that were stolen this year.
I didn't have anyone come over to watch me clean last week. Which has caused me to conclude that I will never have anyone come over again and that I am doomed to either wallow in stuff or throw everything away and nothing in between. This is, of course, ridiculous.
I worry that I am not able to devote the full amount of attention to my beading that I would like to. I am still enjoying it, but I still have in the back of my mind the feeling of sinking into the work to the exclusion of all else. And I am nowhere near that level of manic beading, I miss parts of it. Only the fun parts. Not the crappy parts-- which are the parts I normally remember.
Family stuff is just the usual crap. And it isn't anything that everyone else doesn't face when dealing with extended families on both sides. Not connecting with people as often or as well as I should. Gotta love the shoulds. I hear they are really good for you.
I am also super stressed about the fact that I am not keeping up with my writing. Either on the blog, on my first trashy romance novel or my second trashy romance novel. But all of these things take TIME.
And I don't ever have as much time as I want. This does not make me unique. This is not a new thing, either. When people are amazed at how many things I do (or how little I actually manage to get done) I must remind them (and myself) of two things:
Oh, AND I am stressed (once again) about not staying current with my email/facebook/phone messages. So my lack of contact, f/Friend, is not intended to be some weird passive aggressive slight on my part. I'm working on it.
I must tell you that it was very enjoyable to spend time at the family cabin without getting sucked into any ridiculous projects. No throwing rocks. No obsessive beading. I went swimming, played backgammon, read, beaded and talked with friends and family. Treatment (and not being on the wrong medication) made last year's visit and this year's visit night and day. Yippee.
P.P.S. I have submitted some of my beadwork to the State Fair. Because what the heck, right? I also have a website but I am not going to tell people what it is yet because... I don't know why.
The OFP had me come up with a list of things that I might notice right before a mood episode starts. But I'm not really sure when one has started until I'm in the middle of it and then it is to late to go back and notice. Sleep is a big thing, I know.
The typical pattern is this:
Prior to (or concurrent with or just after) more manic phases I stay up really late working on things because I am not tired. And because I can't convince myself to stop working on whatever I'm doing at the minute.
Then I may be either super-energetic, super-irritated, or super frenetic. Which will continue until it stops and goes the other way. Caused by something or caused by nothing.
Prior to (or concurrent with or just after) more Depressed phases I am tired all the time. I go to bed some time in the afternoon and sleep through the night.
Then I am very lethargic, mopey, down and disconnected. And my thoughts come irritatingly slowly. I do not feel able. I do not feel smart.
Right now I am WANTING to stay up really late working on things, but I am getting tired. Which kind of pisses me off, but I should be happy that I am not stuck in the anxiety-spiral. Looking back now I just remember all the things I liked about it: the fantastic amount of work I was able to do on my garden and the many many beaded cuffs I was able to complete.
Yesterday I was a bit on the Down side. Not Depressed. But mood wise a bit sunken. I tried to find reasons for it, but trying to think of reasons that you might be sad is kind of a depressing activity. My thoughts were that I was sad because: the class that I am teaching is boring (because of me), that I am stressed about summer and not getting things done and changing plans and... stuff? But I decided that I was just having a normal down sort of time and I could cut myself a break.
This also followed, however, 2.5 nights of being off my mood stabilizer. And while it varies widely, it looks like 25 hours or so might be the elimination half-life of lamotrigine. So I guess I can't discount the variance in medication when considering the mood crap. Back on, by the way.
took my meds
tap danced on days I did not go to the YMCA
did some writing
did some beading
did some gardening
plan to spend time with friends and family
I had all kinds of other s words that I was going to use. None of them vulgar or anything. Seratonin, SSRIs, socializing... simplicity.
And simple. Apparently when your brain is a chaotic place (and this chaos need not be related to bipolar), having the physical space chaotic MAKES THINGS MUCH WORSE. Along with eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, having a tidy home seems like such an easy answer. A quick fix. A "cure" for the fidgety bipolar brain. And of course nothing is really that simple.
Tangent: I was thinking the other day of something that a friend pointed out to me some time ago. She said that I do better when I am seeing people socially. And there certainly is something to that. Even when I am not feeling social, if I force myself to interact with people I like there can certainly be an improvement in my mood and overall functioning. And I think usually this is the case.
But sometimes there are things that "I do better when..." that are just symptoms of my actually being better.
You seem to do better when you prepare for classes long in advance.
You seem to do better when you make sure you have clean clothes for the week.
You seem to do better when you get enough sleep.
And sometimes they are things that it seems I just CANNOT POSSIBLY DO. And sometimes I really cannot do them. And sometimes I am just being whiny and self-pitying. And I'm the only one who can tell the difference.
Regardless, it probably doesn't matter if it is a chicken or egg thing. It is probably good to remember all the things that I do when I am doing well. And then just start doing some of them even if it seems hard (read: impossible).
I thought about this for a while: what if bipolar episodes were more like a physical injury. Like a broken bone. And people would say that your leg seemed to be doing much better when you could walk up and down the stairs without a cast on. Or you your leg seemed to be doing much better when you weren't using crutches. And in those cases, removing the cast and crutches would not ACTUALLY help the leg to heal.
Back to the whole simplicity thing now:
Unfortunately, a wildly overactive and messy brain does not lend itself well to making sense from chaos. And so I have employed my bosses to help out.
Simplicity is a central message of the Quaker faith. And everyone interprets it in different ways. But it is something that has appealed to me since before becoming Quaker. But it is not easily done.
As I am going through the (even slower than I thought it was going to be) process of cutting back on the crap and clutter-- I see evidence of past and future hardships with respect to simplifying things.
Last week I went through one set of cupboards with a friend. I got rid of many things that were broken, missing parts, no one liked, and things that made you say, "Dear lord what is that thing?!??" That was easy. That was just the physical labor of removing item from shelf and placing said item in box for the Goodwill.
The hard part came in the form of REALLY COOL things that I always meant to use, or that I used once ten years ago and hope to one day use again. Or things that are very lovely and I got as gifts and doesn't that mean I need to keep them? Or things that my grandmother would have thought were a necessity in a kitchen so even though I never use it I really ought to hold on to said widget.
The price of having a simple home, a space that is ABLE to be clean (because things can actually be put away) is sacrificing unused items and letting them move on to someone who will use them.
But I must say... the places that have gone through the bossy friend declutter tactic have remained under control (not perfect, mind you, but functional). And the sacrifices are worth the results if I can slowly let the chaos creep out of this space.
Now comes the part where I remember that I have three children. And me. And chaos will follow wherever we go. Don't worry. I am not planning to have a home that could ever be featured in some home and garden magazine. I just want one that can feel like a calm space from time to time.
took meds (need to renew lamotrigine. Ran out last night. Pharmacy closed for the day? CRAP. Calling now.)
450mg bupropion, 200mg lamotrigine
been seeing my acupuncturist
need to schedule appointments with OFP, with person to evaluate me for ADD and for older son.
When I am doing well (like right now, knock wood), it is kind of impossible to remember how things felt when I was not doing well (like a month ago or so). And vice versa. For instance.... I remember being super overwhelmed at the idea of... well anything really. I remember that I would come home from picking up the children from school and closeting myself away in my room. But I cannot imagine doing that now and it makes no sense to me that I took those actions.
Because when I am having a "mood episode" I am actually impaired. Much as I hate to admit it. So if I translate it into the more obviously physical world...
I have a broken leg. So I can't run or jump or walk or go swimming. Because MY LEG IS BROKEN. But when it heals I can do all these things again.
I recently read that some people experience long stretches of "normal" in between mood episodes, but that most people with bipolar have low level underlying symptoms all the time. With occasional (or frequent) flare-ups. Not that I remember where I read this or if it was a reliable source. But it feels true. Precarious.
So maybe not to think of the episodes as a broken leg. But a pulled tendon. Bones heal stronger as they reknit themselves. Tendons, ligaments and muscles are not so forgiving. And once injured, easily susceptible to re-injury.
Because I plan ahead (when I plan at all... hmmm, another all-or-nothing behavior?) I am starting to get things set up to sell my beadwork at an art expo to be held in December. But here is the thing... I will slowly get things set up. Responsibly. So that I am not scrambling at the last minute.
I have energy today. My kitchen is clean. I took the children to swimming lessons. I did not feel TERRIBLE about the fact that the class I am teaching is boring. (Operator error, no doubt.)
My acupuncturist told me that I should not have stress because:
I'm gonna go write on my trashy (but hopefully not too trashy) romance novel now.
I have been doing (what I think) is a relatively good job of not getting stuck on one thing and obsessively doing that over and over and over and over.
Spent some time in the garden.
Spent some time with F/friends.
Largely maintained the Great Clean that was begun earlier in the summer.
I have been good about having one person come over each week to assist (as a general contractor of sorts) as I get rid of a bunch of crap. Some darn good crap. But crap, nonetheless.
I went to the YMCA today and worked out for the first time in a really long while. The reasons for this are threefold (maybe more folds that I am not thinking on right now.)
I went to a doctor appointment today and mentioned that I should not take prednisone... wondered if it was on my chart per my primary care physician. It wasn't. So I had them stick the info in there.
Are you allergic?
No. It is just contraindicated because of my bipolar disorder.
What does it do to you?
It can induce mania.
Okay. So what should I write? Should not be administered prednisone due to... a mood disorder?
I found it interesting that although I have a bipolar diagnosis ON MY CHART and was openly talking to her about this she was hesitant to write BIPOLAR DISORDER.
For some reason, "mood disorder" is considered culturally acceptable. Politically correct. Inoffensive. But bipolar is scary and should be only hinted at or whispered. Are there really other "mood disorders" or is it just a straight-out substitution? I don't care to look at them moment.
This summer (going quickly) is to be filled with: beading, writing, gardening, teaching, swimming, laughing, walking... and other stuff.
went to y
took my meds (200mg lamotrigine, 450mg bupropion)
went to see acupuncturist (the one I saw fifteen years ago instead of the one I'd seen recently. She is awesome)
tried the whole "not feeling terrible about things that aren't terrible" thing. It seems oddly comforting.
Grateful Crap: Health insurance. I'm just saying.
Q is for Questions.
Have you filled out the PHQ-9?
Have you filled out the MDQ?
Have you had your fill of questionnaires?
Are you doing this because you are Depressed?
Are you doing this because you are Manic?
Are you doing this because it's what you damn well want to do right now so back off?
Are you experiencing a Manic Episode?
Are you experiencing a Hypomanic Episode?
Does it matter what it is called if it is sufficiently interfering with life/work/family?
Are you blaming your condition/disability/illness when it's your own dang fault?
Are you blaming yourself when it's really due to your condition/disability/illness?
Are you overthinking the whole dang thing (per usual)?
Does this run in your maternal family?
Does this run in your paternal family?
Does it run in one or both sides of your family but there has been no history of treatment?
Quaker, teacher, parent,