Category Archives: Recovery

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.

Reflections #13

Last day of writing to see what I’m thinking! I’m sure you’re bored of my drivel every day… I would be!

My mood is still stable though I’m feeling irritable today. Could be a shift in mood, or just an off day with normal fluctuations of feelings. I think the irritability has been slowly growing, mostly because I’m not doing enough to satisfy my values. I would be volunteering more, yet I can’t seem to get a call back from any of the 3 places I called. Hmmm.

What I’ve learned from two weeks of daily blogging: my mind might be empty instead of racing; I can string a thought into a paragraph with enough effort; and I’m searching for ways to fill my time that fit with my values. I could say that I have jumbled thoughts since I go from random topic to random topic. I think I am prompting thoughts though. The thoughts are more about things that happened in the day because I’m prompting myself with a probe about what I did in the last 24 hours.

I’ve got a NAMI meeting tonight. I don’t have anything to talk about since my mood is so stable right now. So glad for that!

Reflections #12

Almost there! Just today and tomorrow in the quest to see what I’m thinking in this either very full, racing brain, or a very-empty-until-I-put-in-a-prompt brain.

My mood is still stable, thank goodness. I’m loving my new cocktail! I’m actually happy most of the time. I’m pretty sure that one of my meds is overkill though. I hope the next psychiatrist nixes it.

I drove on a lot of unfamiliar roads today to get my parents’ cat to an imaging center for a radioactive thyroid scan. The scan is a precursor to next week’s radioactive treatment to cure hyperthyroidism. He doesn’t take the medicine well, chasing him all over just to rub his ear for 10 seconds, twice a day, even with a reward of fresh baked chicken each time. So my family is paying a lot to get the treatment. He’s old at 14, but in ok health. Might have an inflamed bowel that is causing his vomiting instead of the thyroid. Treatment for that??? You guessed it! Daily medicine. Sigh. I hate being recruited to help grab him, since my family can’t give my cat another hoot. And that cat doesn’t like me anyway.

I finally called again at the refugee agency where I want to volunteer. I had to leave another message. I hope this time I get a call back.

I did some art therapy today. This time it was a picture of my inner and outer life. My inner life is full of desire and want – a busy life, meaningful activities, a relationship. My outer life is like calm waters – a calm demeanor, the appearance of nothing going on – compared to the large, rough waves of my inner life. I think it’s an accurate depiction. How do you draw desire though? I tried.

I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World And Me. Very excellent book. So much about how black people’s bodies are so vulnerable because of people who like to think of themselves as white’s culture that is built on the bodies of black Americans – ghettos, redlined housing districts, police brutality, just to name a few. I knew about this, and Coates explained in a clear way. This racist’s eyes are more open again. How can I help change the culture?

The Handmaid’s Tale is also finished, with a good cliffhanger at the end. I won’t spoil the ending in case you are watching it. The last episode dropped today, and now there won’t be any until when? Anybody know? Is it a summer series?

Reflections #11

Another day of trying to see in print what I’m thinking. Mood is still stable at happy, a midpoint where my emotions go up and down in a usual fashion. I’m still uncertain whether my thoughts are racing so fast I can’t tell what I’m thinking, or if I have no thoughts until I prod.

The grocery store had my favorite OPI nail color, “I’m Not Really a Waitress.” So I did my toenails today while watching “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I’m all caught up in time for the season finale to drop tomorrow. I’ll be sad to see it go for possibly another year.

I forgot to call about volunteering with Refugee Services of Texas. I was going to leave another message that I was interested, since I’m guessing I’ll get voicemail again. I’ll put in my calendar to call again. Doing it right now… Ok, done.

Shark week is coming! I’m so excited to see underwater again. It’s like a little vacation. I’d be afraid, but I would totally get in a cage.