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And Down Again

Here I go again. I felt so good, the meds were working, I had peace in my mind. Positive thoughts, ambition, energy and even joy! Now, well, not so much. Up and down. Shit. My ups are so brief. Sound like I’m whining and feeling sorry for myself? Yup. That’s why many of us don’t talk about this stuff.  You can bitch about the pain of a broken bone, but not this. Just the way it is.

Up, and fucking down. Mostly down. Well, duh, that’s just what being bipolar is all about, right? Why do I keep expecting something different?

But keep fighting I will (I just sounded like Yoda.)

Potatoes on the Ceiling

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My mom had a pressure cooker just like this one when I was growing up. It was kind of a scary piece of goods, not at all like today’s pressure cookers with programming and safety features. It worked fine, but you didn’t dare leave the room in a multi-tasking frenzy and risk forgetting it was on your stove, building up heat and pressure. You had to watch it and turn it down at the right time, and within five or six minutes, you’d be rewarded with beautifully cooked potatoes, rather than the mushy mess with lost nutrients you get when you boil them in water. Mom used it a lot, and as much as she encouraged us to learn to cook, this pot was off limits to me, because, well, she knew me. I’ve had 4 foot flames licking up off the stove, thinking I could quickly go grab the laundry out of the dryer while waiting for the oil to heat up (it’s such a waste of time-and boring standing there for a whole minute watching a pot, you know?)  Even being grown up in a kitchen of my own, it has often been referred to as the burn unit and my hilarious sons love telling everyone that I never had to call them for dinner. Our smoke detector going off let them know that dinner was ready. Hilarious.

Smart-asses.

So in my last blog entry, I closed by telling you that I ended up in Psychiatric care for a while. What happened was something akin to the exploding pressure cooker scenario. It had to do with dicontinuing my stabilizing medication and my old, bad habit of waiting too long to get help when my bipolar symptoms get out of hand. Old habits like that tend to have a way of sneaking back now and then. So I locked down the lid on those potatoes and just let the pressure build.

What kills me everytime, on hindsight, is that I know better! I have no reason to try and hide things with a loving husband who understands and supports me and a best friend-besides my husband, that is-whom I can always confided in…and she’s a psych nurse! Come on! Who understands me more and who do I think I’m fooling anyway? But I did it again, not wanting to be a burden, not wanting to be depressing or sound like a broken record saying day after day, month after month that I’m not okay. I didn’t want to worry them or my family. by sharing my thoughts. They’re not thoughts one wants to hear about! Anyway, I would find a psychiatrist soon, and I’m sure I’ll feel better once I’ve adjusted to being off the lithium and am back on track with my normal cycle. (Normal really isn’t the right word when describing a bipolar cycle, is it? Where’s that googly eyed emoji with it’s tongue sticking out when I need it?) In the mean time, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do to keep me busy. It’ll get better. Blah blah blah.

Bipolar friends, let me tell you, procrastination is not your friend. The importance of having a professional support system in place to help you stay on top of things and manage your symptoms is the difference between living a successful life and losing your shit. Over and over. (I can sure talk the talk, can’t I?)

But once again, I followed my perfect recipe for disaster and lied to myself while doing it. I know what I’m doing. I’ll be careful and wean myself off the lithium slowly, just like I read about. And I can relax with an occasional glass of wine to take the edge off. Or two. I convinced myself I had it under control. The intensity continued to build, my thoughts tormenting, anxiety, sadness and frustration building and building.

I’ve been through this before. I can get through it. I’ve got this.

Wrong. An emotional trigger, a vodka binge, and BLAM! Fucking potatoes everywhere. Off to the psych. ward (and not willingly, at first, let me tell you) with this broken pressure cooker. The first couple of days they kept me fairly heavily sedated. I stayed in my barren little room-just a bed, a desk, a chair and a little bathroom. No computers or cell phones allowed. No electronics, not even my kindle. I welcomed this unplugged solitude and for the first few days I mostly slept. I really didn’t know what to do with myself, so I gladly gave in to the exhaustion and sedatives. I had to join everyone in the common room for meals and there were group sessions to attend. I went where I was supposed to go, but kept my head down. I hated being there at first, but realized soon that a part of me was relieved. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I didn’t have to fake normal anymore. I didn’t have to spend all my energy on trying to keep myself together. I was in the right place to be a mess and nobody expected anything more of me.

The morning after I was admitted, I met with the Psychiatrist who was assigned my case to discuss our new plan of action; the meds we would keep and the new ones we would try, therapy, etc.  I had made it clear I would not go on Lithium again. He changed the Citalopram to Escitalopram, kept the Wellbutrin, and added an antipsychotic, quetiapine. This turned out to be the magic combination that would clear my head and pave the way for some serious healing.

I also mentioned in my last blog that something big happened to me while I was in there. It was really a combination of a whole lot of things in the end that turned everything around for me, but there was one night that something happened unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was my second night in CAP (Center for Adult Psychiatry) and I was feeling restless and agitated, waiting for my night meds to kick in so I could sleep. (Sleep had become my escape for a long time. It’s a nice respite from relentless thoughts.) I paced back and forth in my room, feeling more and more anxious and frustrated as I buffed the floor with my slippers. My panic building with an endless stream of thoughts, how did I end up here? Why am I such a mess? Is this what my life is going to be? Up and down, in and out of hospitals? I sat down on the bed, closed my eyes and tried to take some deep breaths to slow my racing heart rate and strangled breathing. As I calmed down, I had a moment of complete silence, then I became aware of a strange feeling of separation-not like before, where I felt separated from life, emotions and others around me, but from myself. For the first time in my life (that I can remember) I was aware of my consciousness, separate from the broken mess sitting on the bed. I looked at my hands, my bandaged legs, and at that moment I felt the horror and shock of what I would feel like if I caught myself kicking the shit out of a puppy. My mind flooded with thoughts-and not the usual guilt-laced, negative hammering i was used to, but with an unfamiliar calmness, asking, what are you doing? Why do you hate this woman so much? What has she ever done to deserve your cruelty? Then I suddenly saw myself as a child of my youngest granddaughter’s age (4) with herpudgy hands and  knobby kneed little legs, and that was my final undoing. It was clear then that all the hate and abuse I have been directing at myself, was also abusing that little girl, still a part of me, still in me.  I’m hating and hurting her, too. I have a picture of my big sister sitting on a fence and holding me at about that age. That image might as well have physically been there in front of me, I was seeing it that clearly. I looked so happy and safe and so perfectly content sitting there in my sisters arms, with the sunshining on us (and damn, Iwe were cute, too!) An explosive flood of grief came out of me. I wrapped my arms around my legs and let it all go. Once I was good and wrung out, I made a promise to myself and to that little girl. No more abuse. No more indulging self-destructive thoughts and behaviours. I would take this time in here to do whatever it takes to heal. I was ready to do the work and to squeeze everything out of the help available to me in this place. I wouldn’t waste anymore time.

I had my husband bring me my yoga mat, yoga magazines, and coloring books (he visited me every day and his unwavering support and love dispite the hell I’ve put him through make me pretty much the luckiest woman alive. He’s a beautiful soul.) I spent hours alone in that room, devoting my time and attention to thinking, reading and learning how to live a new lifestyle rooted in mindfulness practices. Forcing yourself to think and be in the present moment when you’re used to either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is a heck of a new habit to develop. It’s worth it, because there is tremendous freedom and peace in letting go of things you can’t do a thing about anyway! I meditated and practiced yoga daily, focusing on deep breathing and just being.

I began to look at the others around me-a lot of haunted eyes in there. I came to love many of them. It wasn’t the kind of place where you openly ask, “So, what are you in for?” But you recognize things in each other and are drawn to those with the same struggles. A misconception one often has if one has never been in a place like that is that it’s a place full of weak people. A very big misconception. Those people have a lot of pain, but they have an indescribable strength and depth and resilience you don’t see in many people on the other side of that wall. It radiated from each one I spent time with one-on-one or in our group sessions. I was in awe of it. They inspired me and gave me strength I never expected to find in a psych ward.

By the end of the first week, the psychiatrist asked me how I was doing and if I felt ready to go home. I still felt pretty raw and believed I was in the right place to get help with that, so I asked him what he thought was best. He said he’d like me to stay another week. I didn’t argue.

As I adjusted to the new meds and as the dopiness gave way to new energy, I had the little pessimist in my head popped up occasionally, cautioning, “There is no way this can last! Don’t get your hopes up!” But the tormenting voices were gone; the lifelong crap in my head, the guilt, self-loathing, all of it was gone and everything looked different. It was as if an ugly, dirty, bunged up filter had been removed from my brain.

I went home after two weeks and happily took my new clarity and peace of mind with me. That was the first week of November. It is now the first day of February and I can still say I’ve never felt this good, even with signs that I’m losing steam a bit, which is normal for this time of year in my cycle, but it’s managable. I have given up alcohol completely. I drink tea. Lots of tea. If I start feeling some negative intensity or have an explosive reaction to something, I make myself stop and breath. I make sure I get at least one form of exercise in daily. Getting run down is a big trigger so I make myself get lots of sleep. If I need a nap, I’ll take one.

At risk of sounding cheesy or cliché, I feel like a new person, but what’s really happened, is I’ve finally been able to find the real me. It took some serious pruning and shedding of layers. 50 years worth! That me is far from perfect of course, but I refuse to beat myself over the head with my flaws anymore. I still has a wide range of emotions, (I’m still bipolar, after all!) moods and eccentricities, but I not only accept those, I have every intention of rocking that shit! I know my battles are not over, but I have a whole new arsenal to help me with that. Scheduled regular visits with my new psychiatrist, (who actually listens…there’s a novel idea for my last one. Like one of my eloquent sons would say, he was a total bag of dicks) whom I can talk to and will help me manage my meds. I will keep to my new self-care plan not just for my sake, but for those around me. I owe it to all of us.

I started a scrapbook of quotations and lyrics I find truth in, during my stay in what I sometimes like to refer to as “The Home for the Bewildered” (because the real me is still, at her core, very silly, and humour will always be my main coping mechanism.) I’d like to share a few of them with you.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen

“Nothing in life causes more pain and suffering than the judgements we hold against ourselves.” -Iyanla Vanzant

“The soul usually knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”                                                                                                                                         -Caroline Myss

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffereing.” -Ben Okri

“I already know what giving up feels like. I want to see what happens if I don’t.”                                                                                                                                                     -Neila Key

“Remember you can’t reach what’s in front of you until you let go of what’s behind you.”                                                                                                                                    -Chinna Sharma

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.”                                                                                                                                                 -J. Lynn

“I know what it’s like to be afraid of your own mind.” –Dr. Reid, Criminal Minds

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”  -Robin Williams

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm. It is peace within the storm.”  -Unknown

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.”  -Lori Deschene, tinybuddha.com

“Your Peace is more important than driving yourself crazy trying to understand why something happened the way it did. Let it go.”  -Mandy Hale

“I used to live in a room full of mirrors. All I could see was me. Well I took my spirit and I smashed my mirrors. Now the whole world is there for me to see. I got a whole world that’s there for me to see.” -Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders

 

Pharmaceutical Roulette

Hello everyone! It’s been a while as you can see from the date of my last blog entry. I’m not a very prolific writer when I’m down. I get started, then give up, tapped out of ambition and unable to focus. My limited energy and mental strength basically goes into daily functioning during this time in my cycle, so it’s just a minimal output time, as I’m sure many of you understand. I also decided to discontinue one of my meds this summer, and that can mess up one’s frame of mind as well, even extend the duration of one’s depressive state. I began this blog entry during a brief spurt of energy and clarity after the first drop in my Lithium dosage:

I have decided to go off lithium this summer. Why? Because I hate it. I’m not saying it’s a bad medication-this stuff has saved lives for many years- it’s just not a good fit for me. I gave it a fair run; been on it for a couple of years but found the cost has been greater than the benefits. I have adjusted it this way and that and still felt depressed. It’s leveled me off alright, but I don’t like where it’s kept me. I feel dull, detached, foggy and I’m nauseated a lot. I don’t want to do anything, and have absolutely no libido. I’m sluggish, achy, overweight (I’ve gained over 20 pounds, which is a lot for my small 5’3 frame) and I also ended up with an underactive thyroid, a common side effect of lithium use. Now I need medication for that as well. A medication which has been known to have a side effect of -guess what? Depression! Are we running in circles here or what? I have mentioned the mental medication crapshoot briefly in a past blog; the endless variety of medications, combinations and dosages. Those that work for some, may not work for you and often when you do find one that works it only works for a while. Then it’s back to the drawing board-or the prescription pad. It all has to be customized to our unique brains. (Makes you feel kinda special, doesn’t it?) It’s constant trial and error.

And it’s frustrating as hell.

Let me give you a very quick rundown of my twenty-five years of this pharmaceutical roulette. I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible so I don’t bore you to tears. I’m ADHD, darlings, I feel the pain of slogging through lengthy narratives. It began in my mid twenties when I was falsely diagnosed with chronic depression, so what followed was a series of antidepressants over the years in an effort to find the right fit. The first and most interresting was Immipramine. That stuff worked great for the depression-once it started working; it usually took a few weeks. But it didn’t stop there. No sir, that immipramine snowball just kept on rolling all the way to ….hello mania! Wow! I had never experienced anything like it before, nor have I since. I was a crazily energetic, invincible, super-sexual, creative, confident ball of awesomeness! I would almost like to go on that stuff again just thinking about it!

I’m kidding, of course.  There were other side effects I would definitely pass on, plus things eventually would escalate to a much less fun intensity. It would reach a point where I felt like I was going insane. And that shit, I can tell you, is very difficult to put a mask on. I alienated friends, lashed out at family members,  and oh, my poor kids. I still drag around the guilt. Another story.

I can’t think of a more terrifying feeling than believing you are going insane. The only comparision I can think of  would be how you might feel while falling off a very tall building, watching the pavement getting closer and closer.

Over the next few years I was given other anti-depressants. Some helped, some didn’t, but none did much for my anxiety and irritability during my hypo-manic time.

Then one day it happened.

The clouds parted. The angels sang. And from the heavens descended my saviour…

…and they called it Effexor. Instant relief for the anxiety. As it relieved my depression (this took a little longer) I could notice my thoughts actually changing. This was the first medication that gave me some peace.  I remember thinking, wow! This is what it feels like to be normal! I loved this medication. The only side effect I had was more vivid dreams, and they were usually awesome. I was on and off this stuff for several years. I had a fear, not just of being on medication for a long time, but of the constant need for an increase in dosage, so I would go off when I felt I good. I would think hey, I’ve got this now. I can fight this naturally. But nothing worked, so I’d go back on.

Why did the Effexor work so much better for me? The antidepressants I had been on previously were SSRIs, (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which work on Serotonin, of course. Effexor, or venlafexine, is an SNRI, which kicks in a little help with norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) as well. Apparently, noradrenaline plays a key role in my deal, but  rather than going into all the details here, I will leave you some  links at the end of this blog entry; compelling stuff about these neurotransmitters and the roles they play in depression, anxiety and ADHD.

Years later when I was diagnosed BP II , the first doctor to diagnose me advised that as long as the Effexor was working for me, I might as well stay on it. Once I got to 300 mg not much later, I was told that’s it. I was told doctors are generally not comfortable with higher doses of this drug than that. So, there I was at 300 mg for the next couple of years, feeling worse and worse as it lost it’s efficacy.

During this time, when my coping mechanisms were at an all time low, a family crisis hit and alcohol became my medication of choice. As you probably know, alcohol is a depressant, so… not a smart choice, is it? But damn, those first couple of drinks calmed the mental noise and eased the anxiety. And briefly, just briefly, I would feel normal. And confident. Up to the point, that is, where it got away on me. There were times I’d drink until I blacked out, and my poor husband (my rock and my best friend) would be stuck trying to hold me together. My darkest shit came out at this time. The day after a binge like that I’d want to die. The shame and the guilt was overwhelming and that’s where the depressive effect of alcohol really did me in.

So don’t drink if you’re even remotely suicidal! Bad idea! And if you have a mental illness be careful. It’s a good idea and generally advised to abstain completely.

Back to Lithium. From the information I have gathered from medical research and testimonies of a lot of bipolar I and II peeps, lithium is very effective and its main strength is to manage mania. My hypo-mania is short lived, and isn’t as much of a concern for me as is the depression and anxiety. And in my case, it did diddly-shits for that. 

At first when I began weaning myself off lithium, I felt like I was coming alive again. The mind fog cleared, I got more energy, I even had some ambition and desire to do things again. I could feel myself going up in my cycle, as I used to do this time of year, and I thought, yes! I’m on track again! But that didn’t last long. Now, I am in a weird place. The positive thoughts are gone, the anxiety is off the charts, everything is too intense, and that includes the sadness. And still that ever-present sense of detachment from normal feelings and everything and everyone around me. Damn. Just when you think you’re finally headed for that hypo-manic you’ve been waiting for. That desert rain as you’re shrivelling up into a dry husk.

So here I am. I need to find some serious help for my biplar stuff. I feel lost and out of control. I want to live a long life, enjoing it’s beauty and wonder, my incredible family and everything the future holds, but I emotionally dead and separated by this muddy filter that turns everything grey. Nothing sexy about the shades of grey in my life, let’s be clear. I feel like I’m caught some place between the living and the dead.

Once again, to be clear, this blog is a discussion and sharing forum. I’m not advising-other than saying don’t make the mistakes I’ve made. I am openly sharing in hopes of reaching out, finding some souls out there that can relate. I find it helpful reading about other people’s experiences and ideas. I would love some feedback on the topic of medication treatments, non-medication treatments, or hey, even just a “ Yo, how you doin’, bipolar buddy?”

Please first and formost, find a doctor you can work with. Don’t get discouraged if you land in the office of an arrogant ass hat who has his mind made up about you after 3 minutes.  Dont let yourself be intimidated. There are shitty doctors out there, but there are also amazing, caring, dedicated ones. If you find one-and it’s seriously worth the search-your life can depend on it. I’m still looking. I’m between psychiatrists right now. My last one was an absolute douche bag. My GP, a very good doctor, is advising me to find a BP specialist, because it’s just over his head. He has helped me a lot since my BP diagnosis, but now he’s kind of at wits end. 

A lot has happened since I started this blog  entry last summer.  I hit a new all time low shortly after, completely lost my shit and ended up in Psych. care for a couple of weeks. In that time, something in me changed. Something big. I’ll leave that for my next entry. Until then, take care of youselves and keep fighting!

Some sites to check out with information on the many drug treatments for BPD:

https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-disorder-causes#1

https://www.webmd.com/depression/how-different-antidepressants-work#1

 

https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/drugs-medications-overview

 

Death by Killer Ball

 

I grew up in a small country town. I mean a really small town-it was almost too small to be called a town. It had a feed mill, a lumber yard/hardware store, and a gas station, all in a row, surrounded by a light sprinkling of houses. And those were surrounded by farms. So I went to school with healthy, robust country kids. Strong, big, athletic, tough, tough damn kids. We played hard. The girls in my school played tougher, rougher, better football than the surrounding towns’  high school teams, without padding. Those kids ate their Wheaties.

Me? Um, not so robust. I was definitely not made for sports. I didn’t have the strength of my tough peers, and I couldn’t run very fast (which is not a good thing if you are also a smart ass. I usually couldn’t outrun those I pissed off.) I was small. I mean, I was really small. I hated being small (which I now think is sad.) Sports were just not my thing. The only one I didn’t hate was floor hockey. I rather enjoyed it because I had a stick and there were a lot of shins in there, belonging to the kids I disliked. What I lacked in athletic aptitude, I made up for with aggression. But mostly, I hated sports.

There was one game we played that I absolutely hated more than all the other sports and games combined. And we played it a lot. It was called Killer Ball. We were split into two teams, one at each end of the gymnasium. The balls were set out on the center line. The teacher would blow the whistle, and everyone raced to the center of the gym to get a ball. The object of the game was to hit members of the other team (without going over the center line) until they were all “out.” So of course the biggest, fastest and strongest kids got to the center line first, and gathered up the ammunition before the rest of us had a chance. There are a couple important facts you need to know before we go on. 1.) Being a small country school with multiple grades per classroom up to grade 9 meant there was a wide range of age and size of kids playing. 2.) We did not use the soft little foam balls kids use today; we used fully inflated, rock hard volleyballs. 3.) The gymnasium, just like the school, was quite small, so when those big guys stood on the line and fired that ball, it would hit the cinder block wall sounding like a gunshot. (A boy will always put all his energy and strength into throwing the ball as hard as he possibly can. The risk of knocking out a little kid or even blowing a nut in the process is less detrimental than looking like a wuss.)

That game scared the absolute shit out of me, and the times when those balls hit the wall inches from my head, there would be a terrifying moment where I’d fear that this was also the case literally. I’d be paralyzed with fear (of death or humiliation-one is as bad as the other for an adolescent) then wait a moment before moving again until I was sure I hadn’t crapped my little Adidas shorts. My coping strategy? Turtling. (Microsoft Word does not accept this as a word, but I assure you it is. It’s a defense technique utilized in a state of terror where, as all your innards drop into your lowest nether regions, your shoulders pull up to your ears, your chin hunkers into your chest and your arms wrap around your head while you are screaming and swearing.)

A few years later I saw an image of what I always pictured would happen if one of those volleyballs didn’t miss my head. It was in a movie I saw at the drive in theater when I was in high school, called “Deadly Friend.” There was a scene where the psycho-zombie-teen-aged-girl-robot got revenge on the mean old lady on the block who stole her friends’ basketball. The psycho-zombie-teenage-girl-robot threw the basketball at the old lady’s head and it exploded on the wall. Her head, that is, not the ball. Well shit, I jumped in my seat and pointed at the screen where this decapitated lady was flopping around and her head was just a big splash on the wall (gotta thank Wes Craven. The movie sucked hugely, but that scene was probably one of the best gross-but-funny murder scenes of the day) and I yelled, “That’s it! That’s It! That is the shit I pictured happening to my head when we played that stupid game! And that declaration, of course, would have been peppered with profanity. It’s the way we talked when we were 17 ‘cause it was cool. And badass. It also got much, much worse when we were drunk, which everyone usually was at the drive in theater. Drive ins were awesome.

So back to killer ball. Maybe somebody got smart somewhere between then and now, and went to the school board with a convincing argument involving a scenario with a 30 lb 4th grader, a cinder block wall, and a grade 8 boy throwing a rock hard volley ball. I don’t know. They use foam balls now.

 

No Dirt Nap Today

A while ago my brother asked me to describe my thoughts when I’m depressed. I was caught off guard-very few people have asked me that. I stammered and fumbled and finally said I couldn’t, but that maybe someday, I could write it down. He encouraged me to do that. I’ve given it a lot of thought since then. How does one describe something like that? I tend to over communicate a lot, so where do I draw the line? I don’t want to be too graphic and upset anyone. It’s some pretty naked, soul-bearing stuff. And it’s dark. As much as I promote opening up to your loved ones (at least one. Don’t have anyone in your life you can confide in? Find yourself a great psychiatrist. You will have no greater ally) and being honest about your symptoms and feelings, there might be some things better left unsaid until you see your psychiatrist. Grandma might not want to know there are times you have a strong urge to stab yourself and watch your blood circle the drain. So it’s a bit of a conundrum. What goes on in my head? Hmm…I just had a vision of myself spilling my guts to my wide eyed, horrified brother, while the rest of the family is sneaking up behind me with a straight jacket and a syringe.

So what the hell. Here I go.

Let me start with a couple of metaphors from the movies. The first one is a scene in “The Never Ending Story II.” The main character, a young boy named Atrayu, has to travel through the swamp of sadness on his journey with his horse, Artax. He was warned to never stop, to keep going and not give in to the sadness or he would sink into the bog and die. Well, it was the horse that ended up being overcome with sadness and sank while Atrayu screamed and begged it to fight. The first time I saw this scene I bawled and the kids bawled and we were just an inconsolable mess (we’re a sensitive lot.) They thought I was crying about the horse pegging out (you will find me using many of Robin Williams’ death metaphors that he used in one of my favorite movies ever, Patch Adams. If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately. You may finish reading my blog first,) which I was too, but more than that, I was identifying with it (man, how did they make that horse look so sad?) It was a powerful scene, and it hit home.

Harry Potter’s dementors are probably the clearest and strongest metaphor for depression I have found to date (Courtesy of the brilliant J.K. Rowling, whom I am a huge fan of, as are my boys who grew up with Harry Potter). These guys are dark and cold and they suck all the joy, light, and hope out of you, leaving you feeling nothing but hopeless despair. They can even suck out your soul. As I go down in my cycle, I start feeling more and more like my soul, my personality-everything that makes me me-is gone. Detached from everyone and everything, a dead hollow thing, but with huge, overwhelming emotions. Negative ones. I had chills the first time I saw the episode of Harry Potter when Harry and Ron had their first encounter with a dementor and Ron said he felt like he would never feel cheerful again. That’s exactly what it feels like. Everything is dark, grey and shitty.

The dementors also guard the prison, Azkaban, where the prisoners inevitably go mad from always being in their presence and the constant barrage of horrible thoughts the dementors put in their heads. The feeling of going insane is terrifying. It’s a helpless, horrible place to be. I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that J.K. Rowling has experienced depression. You’d have to have been there, I think, to be able to come up with such a perfect metaphor.

Combine these two concepts and you might get a bit of an idea. Dementors circling and swooping around you while you are slogging through that depressing swamp. Everything in and around you is telling you you will never feel sunshine again, never stop feeling heavy, sad, hopeless, worthless, so just give up, stop fighting it, lay down and let go. The idea of giving up becomes more and more appealing the longer you slog along, because you’re just so damn tired. Tired of fighting, tired of trying to be the person you are supposed to be, used to be. It takes such a tremendous amount of mental energy to function normally when inside you are panicking and screaming and wanting more than anything to hide away from everything and everyone (yes, this people person is quite unsociable for a good chunk of the year.) And sad. So damn sad, all the time. Decision making is difficult and brings on chest crushing anxiety. Thoughts are distorted, feelings are too intense, emotions are inappropriate (explosive anger over nothing, guilt for no reason etc.) and that constant self-loathing berating, critical, inner voice, beating you over the head with every mistake and regret in your memory.

I think the hardest thing for people to understand, is that circumstances are not responsible for this kind of depression. You can have the most perfect life possible and have great things happening, but when it’s that time in your bipolar cycle to go down, you will go down. Bad circumstances at this time certainly make it suck more, because your coping skills have buggered off along with all your happy thoughts.

And here I am again. This is my time of year in the swamp.

I’m going to fight it though, like I always do. I have a lot of living to do before I cash in my chips. I know my cycle. I know I will begin going up again by the end of summer. I am working with my doc to get the meds right. They work for a while, then they stop working and I have to try new ones (he says I am very resistant to medication. I’ve kind of noticed that, thanks doc.) I have fought against taking medication and tried to go without. It never went well. It’s different for everyone, but I am pretty sure they save my life. Without medication, I go down to a level where everything I previously described increases to an intensity that is unbearable. Thoughts and reality become warped and self loathing becomes hatred to a degree where you want to hurt yourself. Suicide becomes a real threat when you get low enough to believe that even your closest loved ones would be better off with you gone. That is the bottom of my pit that medication keeps me out of.

With the medication, I’m in the swamp. Without it, I’m in Azkaban.

I am continuously striving to add new coping mechanisms to my arsenal. I’ve started yoga and meditation (any idea how hard it is to meditate when you have ADHD?) and I try to replace bad thoughts with something good, like the names of my loved ones repeated over and over. It’s hard to think about death with those faces flashing through your mind. I listen to others on Youtube, picking up bits of wisdom from their experiences. I read books and I do research continuously. And I lean on my family.

Writing about this has been harder than I thought. It brings back some tough memories. It hurts me to think how close I’ve come to ending it and hurting my family in that way. I would have missed my son’s wedding, my youngest son’s graduation, the birth of my first grandchild-a lifetime of love and experiences that could have been lost. And I have been thinking of you all, my bipolar friends, and how many of you are experiencing this stuff and hurting. I hope you are well and hanging in there. We can thrive and be happy, you know, but we have to fight for it. Take good care of yourselves. Make sure you are getting help, even if it takes going through ten doctors before you find the right one. You deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect so don’t take any shit. Be kind to yourselves. And don’t give up. Get through the swamp so you can get on with your life. Don’t take that dirt nap yet.

Move over, Moses

Growing up in a religious home in a religious town meant everything in our lives was, well, religious. The church was the hub of the community. It hosted not only all your typical church services, programs and ceremonies, but also community activities, special events, revivals and meetings to discuss and plan these events. For our social needs there were bible study groups, prayer groups (men’s separate from women’s) fellowship groups (also separate for men and women) and youth groups. In the summer, we had Bible camp.

Oh, yeah, we were immersed. It was all part of our shaping. It takes a whole community to hammer a kid into a mould, you know. I went to all the kid and youth group functions, as did all the other little lumps of clay I grew up with. (If you aren’t up on your biblical metaphors, we are the clay, God is the sculptor. I’d say he took more time with some than with others, don’t you think?)

One time at Bible camp (I recommend you read this introduction with Michelle Flaherty’s flair when she introduced one of her band camp Stories in “American Pie.” It’s just more fun that way) I saw something that shook me to my core and dropped me to me knees. It was not a religious revelation brought on by a miraculous event such as the parting of the sea or the tumbling walls of Jericho or Moses and his burning bush (if you’re not up on your Bible stories, I am referring to a shrub, not his bush.) I saw a bush all right, but not the kind that bursts into flame and strikes up a conversation with you.

We were all packed into tiny, one room cabins and there wasn’t much privacy. I had major anxiety over being seen naked as a kid, so I’d change in my sleeping bag (which required some skill and was awkward as shit.) Well, there was a particular fellow camper with no such concerns. She had shucked every bit of her clothing and was sitting on her bed nonchalantly as you please, talking with another girl. I did my best to respect her privacy and politely avert my eyes but something caught my attention. I didn’t want to risk offending her by looking, but you know how insistent curiosity can be. It’s in our nature to look at the bad, the ugly and the bizarre. I simply had to ascertain the validity of what I thought I saw.

So I looked. I know! I know! I’m shameless! But be assured my punishment came immediately, because damn, you sure can’t un-see that shit either.

I looked at my naked cabin-mate and ho-leeeee, did that girl have a bush! No, there is no shrubbery you could compare that to. More apt would be the amazon forest. I have never seen anything like it before or since-not even in ‘70s porn. She didn’t seem to be aware of my open mouth stare, praise Jesus, but there I was, incredulous, comparing my little 6 haired treasure trail to that mass. Horrified beyond reason, I thought oh dear God, is mine going to get that carried away? It looked like she had a small animal cradled in her lap. I am not exaggerating. That would be lying, and what the hell do you think we were learning in Bible camp?

All I could think to do while forcing myself out of my paralyzed state and fleeing the cabin was send up a quick prayer to my creator. “Please, dear God, no. Please don’t let me get that hairy. Please. I’ll do anything. I’ll try harder to be a better Christian. I’ll read my bible more. I’ll be good. I’ll stop looking at my brother’s magazines.

Oh, and about those tits I’ve been asking for. I’m still waiting. No pressure, just when you have time.”

On Ranger Rick…and Tits

When we’re little kids, we think our bodies are cool. As soon as we are able, we are checking things out. There’s some cool stuff going on here! Fascinating stuff! Wow, hey, what does this do? What’s this for? We weren’t afraid to check things out, play with them, and we certainly weren’t ashamed (we would learn all about shame and guilt later.) Things just needed to work, we didn’t care what they looked like.

Enter puberty. Puberty changes everything.  Around the time puberty hits, (or you’re waiting for it to because everyone else’s has) there is a shift. We start looking at other bodies. We compare ours to theirs. For some of us it becomes an obsession leading to all kinds of body and self esteem issues.

In one sense, it was an exciting time for me. I was thrilled to become a woman! I wanted curves! I wanted nice clothes, high heals, a boyfriend and a fabulous set of tits! And I knew what great tits looked like. My brother’s under-the-bed stash of magazines was very enlightening in this department. So I waited.

And waited.

In the mean time, I continued shopping in the girls’ section of the store while the other girls in my grade (and several up to 3 grades below me, to my utter shame) were buying clothes made for women. And Bras. I waited. Finally there seemed to be a little growth in this department. Very little. Years passed and my disappointment grew. I looked down at my double A’s again and again and thought, this is it? Seriously?

Clearly my brother’s magazines misled me.They also got me into a fair bit of trouble. I found them under my brother’s bed while cleaning his room-yeah, you read that right. I cleaned my brother’s room. Sometimes. It wasn’t that I was actually forced or even expected to, rather, I was encouraged to develop my domestic skills by utilizing my need to please and my adoration for my brothers. “You know what would be a nice thing to do? You could clean your brothers’ rooms! You could iron their shirts! They will be so happy! They will adore you! Shower you with praise and gratitude!” Likely not even close to my mother’s words, but that’s how things were translated by my mind.

After I found his treasure trove of literature,  I volunteered to clean my brother’s room a lot. Mom was proud, my brother was impressed, and I was learning stuff. Everybody was happy.

But alas, as it always eventually does, the excrement hit the cooling device (as my most beloved writer, Stephen King would say.)  I got busted. I always did (damn it!) I got cornered by my mom and brother for what would be a most humiliating interrogation. Mom, armed with her most guilt inducing stink-eye, asked me, “Have you been looking at your brother’s magazines?” Well, shit. How was I going to get out of this one? Paralyzed by that withering glare, I scrambled for a viable explanation. This is what I came up with: “Um, well, I saw a pile of magazines and thought I’d see if he had any…”-and this was the tricky part, as at that time I had a very limited knowledge of magazine titles (I lived a sheltered life; more about that later) and even less of what a guy might like (other than Play Boy, Penthouse and Hustler, that is.) I could think of only one I saw in school,“…uh, I wanted to see if he had some Ranger Rick* magazines.”

Ranger Rick? Ranger Rick? How lame is that? My brother was like, twenty! Why would an old guy like that have Ranger Rick magazines? Shit!  I’m totally screwed. They know I’m lying and God knows I’m lying on top of looking at dirty magazines.

Everybody hates me. And I’m going to hell.

So my early years sex education came primarily from Porn. Sex was not discussed much in my community, and when it was, it was a topic shrouded in shame and secrecy. Neither extreme is good, and I most certainly don’t recommend dirty magazines for reference manuals. But hey, I was a curious 13 year old with a ton of questions and nobody was talking.

A girl’s got to start somewhere.

*Ranger Rick was a kids’ magazine we had in school. I loved it, but there comes a time where publications of naked people doing the stuff naked people do just trumps those of wild animals and conservation issues. It’s nothing personal, Rick. Your mag was great.

I’m Nobody’s Chicken Soup

Being a teacher has given me the opportunity to observe a lot of kids over the years. Even with the huge variety of personalities, temperaments, talents and behaviors I can basically sort them into 3 main categories, type I, type II and type III (pretty catchy, huh?)

The type I kid is your garden variety typical kid, fairly even tempered, not difficult to reason with, usually does well in school, and respects authority. There will be the occasional bad decision or judgement call, but this kid learns quickly from mistakes. Raising these kids is not a huge challenge.

The type II category features your “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul” kid. This kid is a sensitive and gentle soul; quiet, slow to anger, and super mellow. The chances of a type II child developing any stress related illness in his or her lifetime is very unlikely. They rarely challenge authority and don’t need much discipline. They step back and watch when their peers do stupid things, rather then succumbing to peer pressure. I have a kid like this and honestly, I’ve had houseplants with more attitude. Type II kids are easy to raise. They respect your authority and on the odd occasion when they are out of line, all it takes is a solid parental stink eye to make them tremble and correct their path.

That brings us to the third category. The kids in this group can give the average adult a full blown anxiety attack in under five minutes. (I also had one of these. He was a real peach. More about him later.) They are hot-tempered, excessively energetic, disruptive, wilful little balls of fire. Their volume levels? Just two. Loud and louder. They make teachers take sick leave or find other careers altogether, and it is not uncommon for their haggard parents to seek comfort in alcohol. These kids are intense.

I was in this group.

When I was very young, I thought I was a normal kid-you know, just like other kids. I made mud pies, climbed trees and played with snakes. I tore jewellery off the necks of ladies in church (their reflexes were no match for my lightening fast ninja toddler hands-hiiyaaah!) and made those same ladies scatter, screaming, at our church picnics with fists full of frogs. Any time there was something stupid or dangerous for kids to do, (often both)  I was either the driving force behind the whole operation, or the first in line (often both.) I also had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. You know that filter people have between their brains and their mouths? I wasn’t born with one of those. I was more than willing to share whatever was on my mind, the very second it popped up. This got me in a world of trouble wherever I went, especially where a certain amount of decorum was expected. Let’s just say I was not a hit at birthday parties.  What was funny to me, was just wildly inappropriate most of the time. It was during the course of my school years that I became aware of the fact that I was different. Kids have a way of letting you know what your “flaws” are. Humiliation , isolation and regret are good teachers. I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. All I wanted was to have friends and for everyone to like me, so I tried hard-too hard-and in all the wrong ways to make this happen.

Years later when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I connected a few dots of my own. After answering “yes” to every single question on the diagnostic checklist for him, (the kid was a textbook case, and a thrill for the group of paediatricians and psychologists that had him under their microscope. A fine little specimen he was.) I couldn’t help but notice how many of those questions got me thinking about my life. I could only conclude that the kid came by it honestly.

Looking back, knowing what I know now about ADHD, I was a fairly cut and dried case. I was immature for my age, impulsive, and my emotions were intense. I had a crazy imagination, a very inquisitive nature, a strong will, and the energy to fuel these characteristics relentlessly. So you can guess that more often than not, this combination of traits proved to be disastrous in most social settings or interactions with folks who liked order in their universe.

One of the main problems was my lack of control over my emotions. Everything was too intense. My mother always said I was like a raw nerve, that I felt everything twice as intensely as other people. When I was sad, I wanted to fling myself out the nearest window. Happiness was difficult to express adequately, having lacked the gymnastic skills to lunge into a fantastic layout of forward handsprings, aerials, back handsprings and cartwheels to convey my joy. And when I was angry, well, I just lost my shit. I could bring on a nosebleed, screaming. Coping skills were yet to be learned, and all those around me waited for the acquisition of these with great anticipation. And desperation.

My overall lack of social skills conflicted with one very important thing. My love for people. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong. I had an extreme need to love and be loved. I suppose everybody has this need to a certain degree, whether they think so or not, right? Don’t you think? Other then sociopaths, maybe. And dead people.

So I’ve learned a lot from observing kids, having my own, and reading. All the information available today is a tremendous asset. I can look up brain differences between ADHD brains and non ADHD brains and learn about the structural and biochemical differences I was born with. The more I dig, the more I can see that I was not entirely responsible for my actions, and that’s helping me hate that little kid in my memory a little less every day.

“Iceberg, straight ahead!”

I decided to start a blog because I believe that what the internet needs most is another blogger. I’m doing my part, folks, to make the world a better place.

So, blogging. Why? I love writing, obviously, but even more, I love people. I love interacting with people and connecting with them. Blogging offers the opportunity to combine these wonderful things, with a heaping side dish of creative freedom! What’s not to love? Of course it took me a while to jump in, with me shlepping along my old faithful sidekicks, Anxiety, Procrastination, and Mr. Attention Deficiency Humungous. Those silly ADHD-shirts out there? Those are me. Not always fun and games. I tell my frustrated loved ones if they think I am a pain in their asses, they should try being me for a day.

Finally, what really kicked me in the pants was the strength and encouragement I got from other writers and people speaking out on videos I discovered during one of my recent and lowest pits of bipolar depression. People sharing their struggles, openly speaking about mental illness and accepting who they are, neuroses and all, the way they are. I was in awe of these people! For the first time in my life, I was laughing and yelling “Holy shit! That’s me! I totally get that!” I couldn’t get enough. It was therapy. I have spent most of my life fighting against myself, using all my energy to hide my, uh, “intensity.” I didn’t even know what I was fighting, as I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar 2 until my mid 40s. I just thought I was really weird and wound a little too tightly. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, so this discovery was huge. I felt understood, like I finally belonged somewhere (no, I’m not talking about a psychiatric facility, smartass.) I felt like the ugly duckling finding its family! That is you, my bipolar friends! Beautiful swans, welcoming me home! I couldn’t help but think about the difference it would have made in my life 20 years ago, if I could have understood what was going on, had someone to talk to and most importantly, relate to.

But wait! There is a flip side to this pancake, and as the theme of my blog is balance, I am compelled to tell you about it. Blogging also scares the absolute crap out of me! What good can possibly come from me opening up to a gazillion people? This is a legitimate fear, my friends, because when I open up, I really open up. And that has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I have no brakes-it’s all out full steam ahead. Fuck the iceberg. When I start, the floodgates of my brain open and everything comes out, along with a lot of stuff I didn’t plan on letting out and stuff I didn’t even know was in there. Then later, I go, shit! I did it again! I opened my mouth, and all that shit came out! Again! My whole life I agonized over this. Will I ever learn? Why can’t I just shut the hell up? All those nights, as far back as I can remember, laying awake in bed swaddled in regret. Everybody hates me. I’m never talking again.

So I’m scared. I’m a big fat chicken. Of course I’m not literally a chicken, because chickens don’t write. One needs opposable thumbs and a considerably higher IQ than a chicken to type. There, see, I’ve already made enemies and I’ve barely started. Everyone who loves chickens hates me now. But I do love chickens! They’re delicious! Shit! Now along with the chicken enthusiasts, vegetarians and vegans also hate me.You see how this goes?

So as you read, know that I do not intend to offend anyone (except for those individuals who have been carefully selected for a proper roasting.) I am loud and impulsive and a little vulgar, but harmless. Most of the time. I use humour to deal with almost everything; it’s my main coping mechanism (next to some key pharmaceuticals.) I find writing to be very therapeutic, so as my brain works, this blog will be all over the place. I’m going all in, full steam, and you know what I said about that iceberg. I invite you to join me and my ADHD/bipolar II brain and have a laugh, share a thought, and if you have a mental illness, know you’re not alone. You may identify with me a bit or you may think, wow, this woman is a mess and walk away feeling better about yourself and your sanity. So if you do find my blog offensive, please accept my apology. And if you absolutely hate it, please don’t send me death threats. I might just jump off a building, then how would you feel?