Category Archives: Recovery

Taking a Look Around

I did not go to the hospital for ECT this morning, for all the reasons given in yesterday’s post. I just don’t think the presence of suicidal thoughts that are part of my mind’s landscape on a normal day – given the lack of intent and concrete plans – warrants an ECT treatment. I’m not ruminating on suicide as I do when the pathology is present.

Today I’m taking a look around the landscape of my thoughts and feelings in this new and dazzling place of “somewhere in the middle.” What does it look like to have a sad thought but not be depressed??? I don’t know! But I had one today. What is it like to feel content and happy but not be euphoric and taking risks??? I don’t know! Yet I would use those words to describe my mood today: content, happy.

What else is going on in this mood state? I popped out of bed rather quickly this morning. I’m being more kind and helpful than ordinarily with grocery shopping and cooking and chores around the house. I made extra coffee just because instead of thinking I had no energy for extra anything.

I’m noticing that I have negative self-talk about myself and that I don’t believe the negative things any more. How weird is that? A coping skill since diagnosis over 8 years ago has been positive self-talk and changing negative self-images and thoughts to positive ones. I have found this skill elusive most of the time. I just don’t believe the positive stuff. But today! Today and this week so far, I have only positive things to tell myself. Even when I notice something negative, I’m quick to do a reality check and change what I’m telling myself. What is this new persona, that I tell myself positive things about my image and personality and worth as a human?

Holding Steady Or Hypomania?

It has been 4 days since my last ECT treatment. I’m not scheduled for another treatment for 2 more days. And my mood will probably hold steady as it has been  more or less during the last 4 days. Yesterday I was talking with someone at church about bipolar and moods and my mood was still stable and elevated even, but I had persistent thoughts of suicide, the way I used to get when I was living alone in Chicago-land. Something about church, or about opening up to people more at church, or something, brings suicide to the forefront of my mind. It hasn’t been this obvious in months maybe? So the mood is still elevated but the thoughts are disordered and considering suicide. I know my brain is lying, as it is wont to do, so I can talk myself out of any intent to follow through on the thoughts. But I am thinking about suicide more than I want to be. The thoughts are intrusive and annoying, and I can easily talk myself out of any intent. There’s a plan, but then there’s always a plan.

My mood is elevated enough that I’ve wondered about hypomania. Energy, ideas, motivation, good cheer – it adds up to possible hypomania. The good news is that I’m not depressed. Hooray! Can this be what a stable, middling mood is for me? If so, it’s higher than I would have expected. Huh.

While I’m getting ECT treatments, I’m not supposed to make big decisions. Nevertheless, I’m thinking big thoughts about my life and how I want to spend it.  A side effect of an elevated mood, that I want to spend my life – and do things that bring me joy?

I’ve been considering the options for where to live: staying in the family house, or moving to the next town, or back to Chicago with a roommate, or even to California where my soul lives (again with a roommate). My family has stepped up to be more supportive as I go through this last hospitalization and ECT.  I’m doing well and maybe that is because I have had all this extra support and therefore I need to accept the current living situation and embrace living in community with my family as I would if I had one or more roommates. I have more discretionary spending power that I could use to fulfill my dreams of travel. And since I’m doing well, I should be able to travel which means I can check out areas to live as well.

Following the travel bug, today I signed up for RewardStock.com that keeps track of all your airline, hotel, and travel miles/points/rewards and helps you put together trips using miles and points and paying next to nothing. So I also signed up for a ton of airline and hotel reward programs, and I applied for my first credit card that earns miles. Hope I get it!

It would be nice to think that maybe I could actually live in community as I have always wanted to, and do it with family and not have ruffled feathers with my family any more (long, long story). And I could travel each year, at least one big trip, or two little trips, and even do it with my mom, too, as a good travel partner.

Other Life Decisions I’ve Been Thinking About But Not Making Final Decisions On: 1. I have a half-full storage unit I pay on each month on the off chance I move out of this family house. Maybe I can have a storage-unit/garage sale or donate the stuff if I’m staying here? 2. I’ve put $3000 into car repairs this year. It’s a 17-year-old Honda Accord and it might be time to trade it in for a car that doesn’t need repairs?

Hypomania anyone?

 

Brighter Affect

Not only am I feeling better – much less depressed – but I am also _looking_ better too. Doctors and nurses are noticing that I look like I’m feeling better. My appearance matches my reported mood. People at church are also noticing my increased mood in how I present myself and speak. In general people are saying I have a brighter affect and more positive aura.

It’s wonderful that I’m looking as good as I’m feeling. In the last week I’ve had to put a number, a percentage, to how I’m feeling. I think I’m about 90%! I still feel a little depressed, lethargic, tired, difficulty concentrating, not enjoying activities. Yet overall my mood is uplifted, nearly happy, and I’m finding some enjoyment and motivation.

I’m dumbfounded at how well ECT is working, and I’m wondering if I chickened out the three times I tried it at Linden Oaks and didn’t get beyond three treatments. I stopped after 8 treatments while at Good Sam because of side effects and memory problems. Now I’m not getting side effects or memory problems, thank goodness. I do have some aphasia, not being able to think of or come up with words for thoughts I get. I’m told it will go away after ECT treatments are over.

Bow-Tie Ending

What do you want a bow-tie ending to look like for you? said my therapist. We were talking about the memoir I restarted this week. I struggle with what the take-away should be. Surely it’s not a neatly wrapped bow-tie ending. My moods still cycle. I’m not stable. I still end up in the hospital. Bipolar still defines my activities. So in the book, what’s the message I have?

I decided the take-away is living with bipolar. My story is not nice and pretty. I thought I had an original story from the other bipolar memoirs that are out there because mine is not a neat and tidy ending. I originally thought Acceptance of Bipolar in My Life might be the ending, but I revisit acceptance regularly, as I am again this summer. Acceptance is not the end game.

In real life I don’t think I’d settle for Acceptance of Bipolar in My Life either. That was my gut instinct when my therapist asked. I immediately dismissed the thought however. I want a cure. Or remission. Or years of a stable mood. I want meaningful, compassionate work (paid or volunteer) that gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to love animals and nature. I want to have friends to enjoy life with. I want to travel.

Accepting bipolar won’t make these possible. A cure, remission or years of a stable mood just might make all of these more possible. So, should I answer the question at the beginning of this post with “a stable mood”? Or is there something more within my power out there? My therapist wants there to be some goal we could work toward. I’m not sure a stable mood is something that is within my power.

Broke Lady of Leisure

I can’t find anywhere to volunteer that floats my boat, so to speak. One I’m still waiting for the background check. The rest? Who knows. I RSVP’d to another postcard-writing event for one of the political candidates I’m supporting. I have a blood drive to attend next weekend.

Not a whole lot to do except Wait, and Self-Improvement. So I’m basically a Lady of Leisure right now. I read. I watch HBO shows I’ve recorded or funny late night  shows the day after they aired. I watch streaming shows like Orange Is the New Black’s new season. I read a lot more. I exercise. I go to spiritual direction, NAMI, and my therapist. Oh, and I have no money to spend, so it’s not like I’m at Starbucks (my ONLY local coffee place in 15 miles, WTF Texas!) or going shopping or ordering up meals from GrubHub to try some new places.

I guess I’m taking care of bipolar by self-improvement? The days run together though. I try to get outside the house everyday, but a day like today is a fail. I watched shows and read all day, except for the hour I exercised and took a shower. Oh, boy! The highlight of my day tomorrow is the color and cut at my new salon – waaaay cheaper than my last salon. I suppose that would be the highlight for most women though. Getting a fresh ‘do is always good self-care.

I would have thought spending my time in meaningful pursuits was a better way to use my time as a disabled person than simply doing things for myself. My mood is stable again, thank goodness! It would be a good time to make the world a better place, I thought. Instead I’m stymied in that department. So I’m stuck with leisure, and I’m making the best of it by exercising my brain with challenging subjects to read – nonfiction and controversial-contemporary fiction. And appointments that give insight to my current struggles.

I’m trying not to be bored – another reason to volunteer. But good grief! Without money to spend, I’m not liking the lady of leisure lifestyle very much. And even with money, how could I be so selfish as to spend so much on me? I’m a little ashamed that I have so much free time and not a lot worthwhile to say I did with the time. I know I can’t hold a job. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to hold volunteer jobs and failed miserably too. It’s hard when my moods have been so variable and hospitalizations have been so frequent. I hate calling in to say I can’t be there just because of a mental health reason that crops up more than a cold or flu might.

How I spend my time troubles me. That so much depends on my mood troubles me more.

 

Trusting Myself

In this time of mood stability – a month now! – I’ve been trying to observe what being in between mood states is like. I haven’t been doing a very good job of observing. I keep anticipating the next mood shift to depression or to mania (August is the time of year for a manic episode), instead of focusing on what is happening now, what this mood state in the middle is like. I’m not at a pole; I’m not even trending toward a pole. I’m feeling a range of feelings. In fact I felt depression for a couple days earlier this week, and it passed quickly. I feel anxious now with all the social anxiety of trying to meet new people. The anxiety brought on racing thoughts, which are not a symptom of mania for me, but of anxiety, something I live with every day.

My wise therapist – I have a knack for picking them that way; I’m lucky! – asked me why I haven’t blogged about acceptance of this stable mood state, what it is like, what I’m feeling. He also asked how much uncomfortability I could tolerate to accept it and examine it so that we would know what it was like when I switch, eventually, to another mood state. He also asked me how much I trust myself.

The last time I fully trusted myself was in college, lo! these 25 years ago. I was in the throes of bipolar coming on with mania, hypomania, psychosis and a little depression. No one saw it and thought I should get treatment. I wasn’t in an environment that saw mental illness or sometimes even disbelieved in it entirely. It was a spiritual problem, if recognized as a problem, and all that meant was that a person needed to get right with God, confess sins, and do the right thing. Not a helpful response to a serious mental illness. But I digress.

I was in the throes of bipolar onset in those tender years of 17-20 when I was in college. I ran headlong into jobs, changes in majors, a new life direction, a new worldview, relationships and friendships, and political and religious shifts toward the progressive. I was behaving all the ways young, naïve, energy-driven, immortal people behave. I just had a mental illness on top of it. But I trusted myself. I didn’t second guess what I wanted. I mooned over guys. I debated with friends, knowing my position well. I yearned for the future I was working toward. I made decisions with little thought of consequences. I trusted myself to make good decisions. I didn’t second-guess myself.

That all changed after I got engaged, married, went to seminary, had an internship and then worked as a youth director. I was a pastor that second-guessed all my decisions, from the smallest to the biggest. I felt an imposter in my whole adult life.

I didn’t trust myself during my protracted illness for the last 8 years. I learned – and practiced! – coping skills. I built-in a rhythm and routines into my life. I always took my medication, even when I was severely depressed and suicidal, or when I was manic (and didn’t know it, cuz that’s how mania works…). I went to the hospital when I was suicidal. I expected a lot in return for the efforts I made to change my life for bipolar. I expected to find stability, somewhere in the middle where I felt good and could take on the driving forces to DO something again. Because I was trying so hard, I was disappointed every day that nothing changed. I was at one pole or another, never in the middle experiencing a range of emotions and life experiences.

Now my mood is in the middle, because of medications, or because of the routines and rhythms, or because I expect less of myself (e.g., work, volunteer jobs, socialization). A combination of all three probably, though being on the right cocktail is probably the most effective since I’ve been doing the others For Years! I’m at a place where I should trust myself because I have done all the right things to take care of myself. I can trust myself to continue doing the right things.

But it’s a 25-year-old problem of not trusting myself to make the right decisions. The second guessing I’m doing is that I will slip back into a mood pole for no reason, and there won’t be anything I can do to bring it back. This middle place is so unfamiliar. How do I enjoy it without questioning it every morning when I wake up? How do I find it again if (when???) I slip back into a mood pole?

Join me the next week as I try to unravel what this stability is like and how I can enjoy it, not pressing too hard to take advantage of it, but to lean into it and enjoy it.

A Unique Time

My mood has been stable for 3 weeks now. No depression, no mania. Just somewhere in the middle, rather happy. I also still have a clear mind, no more racing thoughts, a highly irregular occurrence. I can’t remember EVER when my thoughts haven’t been racing. (Like the double negative there? I couldn’t figure out how to say it otherwise…)

I’m really loving this feeling of happy. I wish I had been in this place before. It’s been 8 years since diagnosis, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital with depression or mania since then. Depression has been my most common companion. When I started feeling depressed last month, I knew the feeling. I was used to the feeling. I could function well enough with that feeling although it wasn’t a pleasant existence.

Before diagnosis I don’t remember when I was happy. I was manic right before the first hospitalization for suicidal depression that led to diagnosis. Before mania, I was frustrated with work and frustrated with my marriage. Those were regular and recurring frustrations. I was frustrated with myself for making decisions I wasn’t sure about. Looking back I don’t know when I wasn’t striving for something to be going better. I was never happy. I also always had racing thoughts. Always striving, always thoughts racing, except for the couple times in my life when I was depressed.

This is a unique time in my life when my mood is stable and my thoughts are still. I can tell what I’m thinking and I’m happy. I don’t know this place. It’s uncharted territory for me. Plus l have time to figure out who I am in this new place. Maybe it’s good I don’t have any volunteer jobs right now. Focusing on places to volunteer or where to go to church is a way of striving again. Instead I can spend the time pondering my values and seeing what I like. I’m good at introspection. But I don’t want to just be navel gazing all day. I’m not sure how to do this. And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? I can make decisions in this clear place, such as how I want to be and how to do things. I’m scared.

Stay tuned for more about being stable.