Kiss5Tigers

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


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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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Yay, Fog

I left the house early Friday morning to drive to work. I leave before the sun comes up, which already is not my favorite time to drive. But that day, there was fog. Not mist, not haziness, actual fog. I couldn’t see the house across the street. The streetlight at the end of the street appeared suspended like the moon in the sky; it did not illuminate the area like usual.

I tried to drive, but I wasn’t out of the neighborhood before I realized I couldn’t do it. I went home and waited a half hour before trying again.

Now let me be clear. I am not a fan of horror movies so this isn’t like I believed monsters were going to get me. I felt like I could not see well enough through the fog to be safe. I didn’t want to hit anyone and I didn’t trust my reflexes due to the early hour.

At the second attempt, there was fog the way most people think of fog. I got on the highway, creeping along at 50 mph, feeling like I was going too fast for what I could see. However, other drivers felt that 65 or 70 was a better speed. I realized I was a hazard and pulled over, waiting until the sun was fully up.

I called my employee assistance program and they talked me down, I was so freaked out. I wanted to cry. I was unprepared to be so afraid of driving in less than sunny weather.

Of course I was late for work, which is a different problem, but still a factor.

After work, I went to my doctor. I would have gone to the psychiatrist but he is closed on Fridays. I was shaking and upset. I actually did cry in his office because I am so frustrated by this situation. I just want to go to work, nothing unusual.

Doctor asked if I thought this would happen again. Well, we are coming up on 2 weeks of bad weather, so yes it very much could happen again. He prescribed me some rescue meds to take the edge off. Catch 22: they may make me too sleepy to drive. So I have meds to take to calm down during stressful driving that could stop me from driving at all. I hope that doesn’t happen because I can choose not to drive without taking meds if it comes to that. I want to drive and get on with normal life.

So I have put new tires on the car and during the bad weather, I’m taking the train to work.

I just want to live life without freaking out over things.


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A Different Rabbit Hole

Here it is, spring, and I’m entering a down cycle. No fun, this. All I want to do is sleep or maybe go shopping. Only I have no money or transportation for shopping, so sleep it is.

I want to get out. I want to get out of my skin and escape and sleep and fly. It makes no sense, just up and down, contradictory feelings. I want an adventure. I have one coming up in a month but I want one now.

I bought canvases but I don’t know what to paint. Hey, 8 for $20, then 30% off, they were less than $2 each, very cool. I have 3 that need a topcoat, then I’d like to take them down to Cafe Brazil and see if they’ll post them for sale. Right now they have a matte finish and I think gloss will be better, it gives the brown tissue more depth.

I have no focus. I feel like I’m struggling with basic things like homework and filling my day. I can’t stay on task. A month ago I had SO MUCH to do, now I don’t even want to check my email.

I just hope I can make it through work tomorrow. I don’t feel like I’m doing well and I don’t know how to fix it. Hopefully this downshift will be speedy then heading back up again.


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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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Therapy and Religion

I had therapy yesterday. It was the first time in, what, a year? that my therapist got all-out Christiany on me. And I’m not actually happy about it.

I don’t want to hear that good mental health is biblical. Given, for example, King Saul, insanity is also biblical. God is supposed to meet us where we are and that includes the downside as well as the upside. I’m not always convinced that biblical is healthy. I’m trying for healthy here, God and I can work out the rest. I’m a bad Catholic, but I’m still a Catholic and I know my God is big enough and his arm is not too short.

Anyway

The thing is, I don’t go to therapy for spiritual guidance, I go for therapy. I have other resources for spiritual guidance if I feel like that’s the area of difficulty. Again, I’m Catholic. We have whole cadres of folks who’d be happy to give me some guidance if I ask, not to mention retreat houses and seminars. None of which are therapy.

They are not therapists; she is not a spiritual counselor.

Clarification: she is a counselor who is spiritual, but she is not the person I consult for faith crises.

I don’t need her to be a pastor, I need her to be a therapist.

I believe that good art, good science and good religion all point to truth. I also believe that good therapy, good philosophy and good spirituality all point to a healthy life, but I don’t believe they are the same thing.

I guess I am one of those people who likes things separate.

And I guess I’ll have to bring that up to my therapist. (See? First world problems.)


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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.