Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Can I Do This?

Last Monday, I facilitated a group.

On Monday afternoons, I attend the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance support group, because I have bipolar II, which I’ve mentioned before.  I’ve been going for about 3 years now.  I’ve worked through the book more than once.  I know the answers, haha, as if I could know the right answers to mental health when it’s different for everyone.

The regular facilitator was having a hard day and asked me if I would lead.  None of this is surprising, since he is a peer and the group could be led by any peer.  I said yes, and I was happy to do this favor for him.

It went surprisingly well.  We worked our way through 2 pages in the book.  That may not be much but it included some conversation and it was the end of a section.  Didn’t make sense to start a new section with only 15 minutes left.  The group appreciated the chance to chat during the session.  It was a little more active than the usual facilitator likes, but we have different philosophies.  He is trying to get through the book, whereas I use the book as a jumping-off point.  Nothing wrong with either one, just different.

At the same time, I have been hearing about women who lead seminars to help other women.  I think I could lead one about vision boards and creating goals.  It would be maybe 3 hours, give or take.  Part of it would be about setting goals, where do you want to be in, say, 5 years?  Or indeed, ever?  Part of it would be making the actual vision board.  And part of it would be about sharing our dreams and visions.  I think I could manage about 10 women, and they would have to bring their own scissors since I don’t own that many pairs.  Glue and magazines I’ve got, scissors not so much.

So I am looking for goal setting exercises.  They are surprisingly hard to find.  There are a lot of sites devoted to professional development and goal setting in that regard but really almost nothing about personal goal setting.  The principles must be the same however so I just need to tweak them.  Of course I would need to tweak them in any case to make them my own.  I’m about being inspired by other people, not stealing their work.

I believe I can do this.  It seems very do-able.  It also doesn’t overlap the government job so there should be no conflict of interest.  The first one or two would be free while I get my feet under me, then I would have to start charging.  I wonder if I could even do it monthly.

Words of encouragement and suggestions only, please.  I have enough nay-sayers in my own head as it is.  I could stand some support around this idea.


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I am not alone

I know I’m not alone in my disorder. I actually know of at least 6 other bipolar people who are in my current or past circle of friends. I’m not the only one.

But sometimes it feels like it.

So as an American how am I handling it? I’m looking for a support group.

Do you have any idea how many support groups there are for functional bipolar people? Surprisingly few. I guess folks figure we don’t need support.

I am running into two difficulties. Well, no, one difficulty that presents two ways: timing.

I work during the day, so no I cannot attend your 10:00 am group. I need my job. That’s how I have health insurance and pay my rent. I can’t blow off the job for your group, even though I need to hear from people who get what I’m going through. I also can’t go to your group that meets at 7:30 pm. I get up for work about 5:00 in the morning, I need to be home in bed by 9:00 or so, not saying good night and thinking about driving.

Of course the driving after dark is a whole ‘nother issue, as you might recall from my issue with fog.

There are no weekend groups, at least not that I’ve found for adults. And there are very few evening groups so they seem to be competing. Why are they all on Thursday? If you know the DBSA has a regular Thursday evening group, why is the MHA starting another one on the same night? Surely it would make more sense to meet on a different night. Some people might even go to both, you never know.

But I need to be able to talk about what it’s like to struggle with this disorder, with other people who are also facing it. So I will soon make a decision and we’ll see what happens.


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Being Bipolar

This is actually a draft of a paper I’m writing for my abnormal psych class. Enjoy.

My Experience with Bipolar Disorder

Over the years, I’ve known several people with bipolar disorder. Most of them were men. Joe is a research biologist who had a psychotic break in college that resulted in being fished out of a tree on the quad in nothing but his underwear. He now takes almost the lowest possible dose of lithium that even doctors don’t agree is therapeutic but if he misses a dose, he feels like he’s losing touch with reality. Pete was a musician with a tender heart who chose electro-convulsive therapy, known as ECT, to treat his bouts of debilitating depression. This is a rather extreme therapy that involves running electrical current through the brain. Doctors are not entirely sure why this works but in some percentage of cases it’s very effective. Jim was my ex-husband. He did not take his medicine regularly and this past fall he committed suicide. I wonder if he felt this would make things better for the rest of us or if he just got tired and overwhelmed, and wanted to rest. I think the difference would be whether he was manic or depressed at the time. There is one woman I know through work named Mary. Mary takes her medicine and lives alone with her 2 dogs. She comes into work daily and has what appears to be a normal if solitary life.

And then there is me. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I treat it with medicine and therapy. I have never been depressed enough to be suicidal and I do not have the extreme mania where I lose touch completely with the everyday world. I do have long stretches of time that feel hopeless and stuck combined with more energetic periods of little sleep and poor decision making. I believe part of the reason this wasn’t noticed when I was younger is that it follows a school schedule. I tend to be depressed during the summer months, which I find too hot in way that saps energy. The energetic period generally runs during the holiday season, from about my birthday in the beginning of November until sometime in January when Christmas shopping probably hides the true extent of retail therapy in which I engage. The rest of the time, I am what I consider to be normal. I am not sure my understanding of normal is correct so it’s hard to be definitive about it.

I had originally planned to look at the individual diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and talk about what those look like in my life. I think that may be beyond the scope of this short paper. Suffice to say, I was surprised to find out that things I thought were, I don’t know, charming or quirky were actually signs and symptoms. Apparently eccentric is a good way to describe bipolar II and it is a description that’s been applied to me for most of my life.

I take Prozac and Abilify. The Prozac makes me a bit jittery and I need to watch my eating with it. I need to be sure both that I eat enough and regularly, and that I don’t eat too much. It’s not that I’m hungry so much as that I tend to interpret other problems like tiredness as needing to eat. The Abilify I take at night and usually I’m asleep about a half hour after taking it. Good sleep hygiene is also very important for me, things like maintaining regular hours even when on weekends.

What I have learned in my brief research is how lucky I am. I have been more or less functional until into my 50’s so I really am not hugely afflicted by this disorder. I was born at a time when medicine is available to treat my struggles, which is really only since the mid-1950’s, about 10 years before I was born. I have a small experience with other bipolar people whose lives can be object lessons of what to do and what not to do. The great strength of people like Pete, Joe, Mary and even Jim remind me of our common resilience and simple human weakness. I have options for support groups if I feel like I need one, and a therapist who knows me, who is capable of letting me know if I’m heading into mania often before I realize what’s going on. That’s important to me because I find the mania harder to manage than the depression.

I am still learning to navigate this strange and amazing disorder. I am learning to build a life that makes me happy and takes into consideration that I am very changeable over the course of a year. My guideline is not “what is normal?” so much as “what is healthy?” In a world full of choices, I choose to pursue health.


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First World Problems

I’m pretty sure I have mostly first world problems. Maybe “New World” but definitely not Third World.

I live in a mobile home with 2 friends. We have heat and air conditioning, running water, toilets and pets. There is a dishwasher and a washing machine and a microwave and a fridge. The stove is having issues but that’s mostly an age factor. Everything needs to be replaced eventually and this one is over 20 years old so . . .

Meds are sometimes an issue; they cost a small fortune. My daughter’s meds are over $600 a month out of pocket. However, she has assistance through a state government program. I have actual health insurance and I will add her to it shortly. It’s a paperwork issue.

I forget to take my meds sometimes, but I think that’s human. When I miss them, I have actual physical pain the next day but it goes away when I take them again. Could be worse. I suppose I’ll never miss more than one dose.

I am hoping to go back to school in less than a week. I’m still waiting on a final approval from the college but that should be here today or tomorrow. Considering how my disability affects me, I think the degree is the only way out. I need to do something that frees me from the strictures of production, which means credentials are important.

This all feels very hopeful today. Which seems wrong but is really true. I could use a remission period.


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Manic Much?

I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I posted anything.

I have been busy being manic.  Which pretty much means I have been busy vibrating at a high frequency but not able to focus and getting nothing done.

I thought bipolar people are supposed to enjoy our manic phase, but I find mine annoying.  When I am in the down cycle, all I can do is get through the day so I stay out of trouble.  When I’m in the up cycle, well, full of ideas and intention and plans and and and . . .  so none of it gets finished because, oooooh, shiny.

I call it down the rabbit hole; my therapist calls it going down the bunny trail.  It feels more like the rabbit hole though and if that makes you think of Alice in Wonderland, well, it should.  When I’m manic, I spend a LOT more time down the rabbit hole.

I have made some amazing art.  On the other hand, I have no income because I’ve been off work to get the meds settled.  I think we’ve gotten there and I go back to work in 5 days but it still seems like forever from now.  I never thought I’d miss work, but I do.

A friend of mine says, the next time I get stuck in my own head, I should let her know so she can play along.  I replied that nobody really wants to be in my head with me, and some days even I don’t want to be there, and it’s true.  My head seems to be full of unpleasantness and some days it’s all I can think about.  I try not to follow those thoughts, it’s not productive.

Doctor says I am also ADD.  He said that not all ADDs are bipolar, but almost all bipolars are also ADD.  Maybe ADD is just bipolar with no down, like  bipolar 2 seems like bipolar with no real high.  Maybe not.

But I am SO looking forward to ladies’ lunch with my work friends on Friday and I will be happy to go back to work on Monday.

 


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What Is Identity?

Lately one of the family history websites has been running a series of ads about finding your “true” ethnicity by sending them a DNA sample.  The one I remember best is a man in lederhosen talking about how he was raised believing he was German but DNA testing showed his heritage was more Scottish, so he traded in his lederhosen for a kilt.

Part of me says, both are non-pants ethnic costumes, not a big change.  Part of me says, Celts settled in Germany and France as well as Ireland, so not such a leap considering that there has to be a common base culture underlying it all.  At least the Romans thought so.

And part of me wonders, how did it turn out that he “thought” he was German but he’s “really” Scottish?  Are we now supposed to worry that the culture we thought our family embodied is somehow wrong because it doesn’t match our genes?  Doesn’t this sound a lot like the eugenics that are fundamental to Nazism?   If someone moves to another country, are the children the ethnicity of their parents or of the adopted country?  

But what interests me here is the idea that ethnicity can change.  Just like that, you’re not Black Irish, you’re actually Spanish.  Which is historically accurate, since the Black Irish are descended from the remnants of the Spanish Armada.  So trade in your whiskey, shamrocks and St Patrick for sangria, bull fights and St Anthony.  Because somehow you are wrong about who you are.

So for me, as I’m dealing with this new diagnosis, the question has been whether I am still me.  Which is silly because of course I am the same me I have always been, or at least the same me I was before the diagnosis changed.  My internal process isn’t any difference.  My values have not changed.  I love the same people, enjoy the same activities, face the same dilemmas.  Nothing changed except a label, and those change all the time anyway.

Labels change.  I am no longer anyone’s daughter, since both my parents are deceased.  I am also no longer a wife, since I am a divorced person.  Don’t call me Mrs. because I used my father’s last name not my ex-husband’s.  Labels can tell us something about a person but therein lies the risk of stereotyping.

Stereotyping is a slippery thing.  In some ways, it’s useful because it allows our lazy brains to categorize people in ways that can be surprisingly accurate.  However, it is also limiting and it can be very wrong.

Story about that:  I was at a party where there were people of various ethnicity present.  Several black people were comparing notes on their childhoods:  “Do you remember eating beans and rice for dinner and going to the food pantry?  Did you ever go to school with your sneakers taped up because they were coming apart but you couldn’t afford new ones?  And what about hand-me-downs?”  Their point was that black Americans live in a very different country than white Americans do, and the larger context was white privilege.  (Black experience is different from white experience, and I’m not saying white privilege is or isn’t real.)

The hostess, who passes for white but recently discovered she very much embodies her Native American heritage, overheard their conversation.  “I remember those things,” she said, “but I thought that was because we were poor.  I didn’t know I was black.”  (And of course in American there is a huge wealth/class divide that breaks along lines of race, but that also isn’t my point here.)

So I have a new label now:  bipolar.  (Hey!  Earth and I have something in common, we both have two opposing poles!  *eye roll, cuz I know I’m a dork*)

It does tell you something about me.  It says I can have big changes in my mood and ability to handle life.  It tells you I can be obsessed today and listless tomorrow.  It tells you I might be a good listener because I have nothing to say or a bad listener because I keep interrupting you.  It tells you I can be changeable.

But it can also cause you to stereotype me.  I am not suicidal, nor do I get that high euphoria and sense of invulnerability that they tell me mania can cause.  I have times when I feel like I might be able to be successful if I just keep at it, and other times when I can’t find the energy to get out of bed let alone get dressed or eat something.

Labels give the illusion of understanding, but really we don’t understand as well as we like to believe.

So I have a new label and it makes me wonder if I’m any different.  And it reminds me that a label doesn’t capture the full reality of something, just an aspect.

I am not just my label.

I am still me.

 

 

 


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12 Every Day

I saw a statistic the other day that 12 men commit suicide every day.

I know one of the 12.

That is, I knew him. Past tense. Past tense in a couple of ways.

He was my ex-husband and the father of my daughter. I was his first wife of 3. We weren’t close, but since his choices affect our daughter, I kept tabs on him, at least a little.

Jim memorial

I spoke to him about a week before it happened. Our daughter was worried about him so I checked in. He said he didn’t want to talk, then he talked for a few minutes. Not much, but clearly he was struggling with his life. He wasn’t doing well at work; wife 4#2 was hitting him up for over $2000 a month in child support, alimony and other incidentals; he had just totaled his car in a drunk driving situation that was likely to result in having his license suspended; he’d been checked into mental health facilities at least twice and released with Xanax even though he’d had a recent suicide attempt; he wasn’t going to make bankruptcy payments for the second month in a row; and wife #3 had just told him she was filing for divorce and moved out. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with when they are doing well and frankly, he wasn’t strong. He didn’t seem to possess much fortitude. Then he said again that he didn’t want to talk about it and hung up.

My daughter called me the next Sunday to let me know he’d been found dead in a hotel room.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. He was bipolar. He’d tried to kill himself in the past. He was overwhelmed. Although he’d obviously had relationship problems before, usually there had been financial security and success at work to balance out the difficulties. The totaled car was a Porsche. He wouldn’t sign custody of our daughter over to me unless I signed a document that I wouldn’t seek child support, but somehow he had $800 a month for a car. But that had been important to him, having an impressive car, and now he didn’t have that either. He must have felt like he was failing and he’d lost everything, but I’ll never know.

Our daughter told me later that she would climb into bed with him because he was crying and so lonely. No child, even an adult child, should have to watch a parent go through that. But she was glad to be there for him, and I know he appreciated it even though he probably never told her so. He would have been too limited by his own emotional state to think of it.

I talked to wife #3 a few times. Once she told me how he was generous and happy and how she loved that about him. I was happy for him that he’d found someone who saw the good in him even though he had struggles. Then I figured out that she didn’t really understand his situation. Another time she told me that they were in therapy because he had become a husk of the man that he was and all she wanted was her husband back.

Only, it’s all him. When you marry someone who’s bipolar, you get the depressed part as well as the manic part. Happy and generous husband is the same person as crying and doesn’t-get-out-of-bed husband. It isn’t simply a tough time, it is the cycle he continues to experience. It’s hard. It wore me out until I couldn’t do it any more, and he divorced me because he thought I was dragging him down. I needed a more stable situation, but I eventually lacked the ability to create that for myself or think about how to leave. I was what he made me, then he didn’t want it. Funny, ironic funny.

The day he took his life, he’d gone to weekly therapy with wife #3. About noon time they parted ways. She didn’t think anything was wrong, or at least, no more wrong than it had been lately. He didn’t go home. She tried to call him several times with no answer. I also tried to call him, but it didn’t surprise me that he didn’t pick up. I mean, who wants to talk to their ex when they feel crappy? She eventually called the police and had them make a welfare check. They’d been out to the house so many times in the last month that they knew where the key to the back door was. The house was empty. Nobody knew where he was.

The next morning, he still hadn’t shown up. Wife #3 called his mother, who had also called the police. Then she suggested to the police that he might have gone to a casino about an hour away. The bank account had been emptied and she thought he might be going to blow some money and try to feel better. The police widened their search and eventually found him.

Apparently when he left therapy, he headed in the direction of the casino but he didn’t get that far. He checked into a hotel room about 1:30 in the afternoon. He left his phone in the car. I know because I went with my daughter to pick up the car and we found the phone. That wasn’t like him. He was usually attached to his technology. There was an empty Xanax bottle in the hotel room. It had originally been filled for 90 tablets within the past week. A half-drunk bottle of everclear was also there. He’d finally found the combination that did the job.

I don’t know what he was thinking. I’m mad at him for doing this to our daughter and to his son with wife #2. And yet, I have an unexpected tenderness for him about this. He was difficult. He made my life difficult. I often wished he would just fall off the face of the earth, but mostly I just avoided contact with him because he didn’t seem to understand how his choices hurt our daughter.

Maybe he was tired of it all. Maybe it seemed like the only way out with so much going wrong. Maybe he thought he was doing everyone a favor. We’ll never really know, he took that answer with him when he went.

I wish the depression hadn’t won this time. I hope he finally found peace, wherever he is.