Monday, March 31, 2008

Sleep...or Lack Thereof

What a night. Took trazodone. Couldn't fall asleep. Dog decided to lie sideways between us. Other Dog couldn't decide if he wanted to be on the bed or off the bed, with much scratching and tag-jingling in between. Funky noises outside. Too hot. Finally fell asleep. Woke up. Took more trazodone. Finally fell asleep again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sleep never used to be a problem for me. Before my bipolar diagnosis, I rarely had sleep issues, and when I did, I would just take Benadryl or whatever allergy med I was on, and that would usually take care of it.

I never lay awake stressing about whether or not I would get to sleep.

Now I do.

I'm not sure if it's the whole bipolar indoctrination about how lack of sleep can push you into hypo/mania, or if the medications I took have somehow damaged my ability to fall asleep naturally, or if taking trazodone most nights for the past five years has made me psychologically dependent on some kind of sleep aid, but whatever it is, I can't seem to fall asleep by myself.

Unless, of course, I'm lying on the couch, tired out.

But as soon as I get into bed to really, seriously sleep, if I haven't taken my trazodone, forget it. Doesn't matter how tired I am.

So I'm wondering if maybe it's time to try and get off the trazodone.
I'm wondering if it is part of what makes it difficult for me to write.
I am wondering if I am sacrificing clarity for sleep.
I am wondering how safe it is, really, for me to take this stuff every day.
I am wondering what else it's doing to my brain besides helping me fall asleep.
I am wondering if I really want to be on this medication for the rest of my life.
I am wondering if my body even knows how to fall asleep anymore without chemical intervention.

And I'm wondering if losing a couple of nights' sleep is really enough to push me into hypo/mania like my first psych doc warned me that it would.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

St. Joan of the Kitchen Sink

...isn't feeling particularly saint-like at the moment.

In fact, after four days of family togetherness, she's feeling downright resentful.

Oh, most of the time I love working at home. I can choose what I work on, I can set my own schedule, I can spend time with the kids when they are home...

But...I also never get to leave my "place of employment." The grunge under the kitchen sink is right there, leering at me every time I open the cupboard. The dishes piled up next to the sink won't do themselves (have they ever?). The carpet is still trashed from the muddy dog parade yesterday when Little Mouse forgot to close the basement door and let them up before they'd had their foot-bath. The crew may all be on vacation, but they still need feeding, and there'll be hell to pay if they don't have clean underwear...well...the Barrister might not notice, but the rest of them certainly would.

And I dare not take a day off. Not really...

Mom! The vacuum cleaner ate my Silly Putty! Mom! I spilled glue on the dog! Mom! I can't find my favorite red shirt! Honey! This load of underwear all turned out pink...

No...other people get vacations.
I get the shivers just thinking about it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kid in a Candy Store

I went to my favorite quilt shop yesterday. Alone. (For a mother of two children and two fur-children that's a major accomplishment!)

As I walked in the door, I was assaulted by a riot of glorious, saturated color. My inner artist screamed, "I want it all!" I allowed my senses to soak it in for a few moments, then made a bee-line for the corner where the gorgeous hand-painted fabrics and batiks beckoned to me.

One of them looked like a palette of easter-egg dyes had been upended all over it. Had to have a yard of that. Another looked like rose petals in all possible shades of red and violet had been ground into the fabric. Half a yard of that one. And half a yard of the green that screamed, "Leaves and stems!" from across the room.

Besides my abstract, organic quilts-from-my-imagination, my favorite things to render in fabric are flowers, so I am always on the lookout for anything that might do for petals, leaves, and stems. One can never have too many greens.

Well, actually, one can never have too much fabric, period. Fabrics are my paints, and I am always looking for new colors and textures to fill my paintbox with. Too bad my paintbox is actually an entire closet, and my paints are starting to overflow into the rest of the house.

The Chief has been fairly indulgent so far, but that will end when my obsession begins to intrude upon his daily life. Once he has to start climbing over boxes to get to the fridge--or worse, to reach his beloved Gladys--then it will be time to deal with me.

The best solution, of course, would be to build me a larger studio. Then I wouldn't have to worry about silly, practical things like where we're going to put it all, and I wouldn't have to curtail that kid-in-a-candy-store attitude that comes over me whenever I set foot in a quilt shop.

Friday, March 28, 2008

At Least You Can Eat a Cow

Feeling like shite this morning. Brain fog. Dullness. Tiredness. What's-the-point-ness. Only a few steps away from the depths of despair... wherever they are.

I want to be writing. But I can't. I need a place to work. I need a desk. I need a chair. (Excuses, excuses!) I need a new brain and a kick in the arse, too, but I don't suppose I'm going to get either one.

I feel like I'm losing my mind. Not in a going-crazy sense or a having-an-episode sense, but in a little bits of brain oozing out my ears and swirling down the drain while I look on in complete apathy sense.

I'm feeling very dull and stupid. I'm about as useful as a cow at the moment. Less. At least you can eat a cow. And I'm a hell of a lot less interesting than a cow.

I can't decide if this is depression kicking off its shoes and settling in for an extended stay, or if I am just tired or if my thyroid needs a boost. I should probably schedule a blood draw.

In the meantime, "Moooooooo."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Losing the Mystery

For a long time my flights of imagination, my writer's highs, my days on end of complete focus and engagement, were a gift and a mystery. I didn't know what to think of them except that I must be a gifted and talented writer. Talented...well....everyone told me I was, from a very early age. Gifted...because what seemed so hard for some other writers came so easily to me, and that must be a gift, right?

But my intense creativity, productivity, and focus take on a new and sinister light in the wake of my diagnosis. I know now that the exceptional clarity, the instant connections, the way I could hold a huge novel in my head...the way I could focus for days at a time with little need for sleep....those things that were the hallmarks of the way I worked...are actually symptoms of my illness.

It's not a mystery. It's not a divine gift. It's not magic.

It's hypomania. It's bipolar. It's an illness.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring Break...A Break for Whom?

Hell's Barrister (boy, 12), and Little Mouse (girl, 10) are home on spring break this week, and it has been, shall we say, a bit trying. The Barrister is currently banned from video games as punishment for blowing off a project in his music class, which resulted in his final grade in music dropping from an A- to a C+.

The Chief of Security (hubby) decreed this punishment the day before spring break started, secure in the knowledge that he would be safely at work for the week, leaving me to deal with the fallout, including the boredom, the whining, the sniping and the wandering around sighing ever-so-dramatically whilst casting his eyes about to see if anyone has noticed.

Of course, in the Barrister's mind, the 45 minutes a day that he would normally be allowed to commune with the PS3 would completely solve his dilemma of what to do with himself all week.

Now, if I had my way, there wouldn't be any video games in the house at all. But the Chief of Security, who earns the money around here, has only two hobbies: video games, and a close and time-consuming relationship with Gladys (his computer). So video games are in the house (and so, much to my consternation, is Gladys). And in order to avoid looking like a hypocrite, the Chief allows the Barrister to play...except when things are not going well at school for reasons within the Barrister's control. Like now.

On the up side, he's read two novels since Friday, and completed about fifty experiments with his electronics kit.

I'm currently considering my own experiment...I'm wondering if that PS3 puts out enough heat to cook a Pop-Tart...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Writing used to be my reason for living. It was what I did, it was all I ever wanted to do, and it was how I identified myself.

Turned out my writing--both quantity and quality (or lack thereof)--was an excellent indicator of my state of mind.

My last (and most destructive) mania lasted nearly two years. Most of that time was spent in a pleasant, productive state of hypomania, during which I drafted four novels, helped break up two marriages, and alienated most of my extended family.

Okay, maybe it wasn't all pleasant…

I haven't written much at all since then. The first couple of years it was mainly because of the medication. My writing was the first-but not the only-casualty of my bipolar diagnosis and consequent embracing of modern psychiatry psychopharmacology. While I was on medication, the question of whether or not I had a future as a writer was moot; I couldn't write.

Now, after nearly three years without the heavy duty mood stabilizers and antidepressants, the idea of writing is still all tangled up with a lot of unpleasant things that happened during my last mania. There is still a lot of negativity that I have to fight my way through.

There is the niggling doubt that it was the writing that caused the mania rather than the other way around, and that by letting myself get too deeply into it, I might be inviting another episode.
There is the fear that without hypomanic acceleration, I have no talent, because it seems like all of the novels I've written have been written in various hypomanic frenzies.

There is the fear that I'll never actually feel passionate about writing again...because I haven't, not since the diagnosis, and I fear that something inside me, which I used to value greatly, is broken, and I don't know how to fix it.

And there is the fear that, bipolar or not, nobody wants to read what I have to say...which is probably true...except for the one or two of you out there who might have stumbled upon this blog purely by accident.

Before the big mania, I was working on a book about writing and how writing worked for me. After I got off meds and had done a whole lot of research about bipolar, I realized that it wasn't a book about writing at all. It was a book about my experiences with manic depression. It wasn't going to teach anyone else how to was only going to show them how messed up my own process was/is. And I felt stupid and embarrassed that my mind could so completely fool me and turn on me and betray me like that.

(But not stupid or embarrassed enough to stay on medication, mind.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Twelve-Car Pile-Up Waiting to Happen

I got my bipolar diagnosis two days after my 38th birthday. I called it my birthday present, and for a while it was okay, because now I had a name for what I had always thought of as The Weirdness.

I started out as a good patient. I found a psychiatrist (let's call him Dr. F.) and started taking the recommended medications: Depakote (a mood stabilizer), Lexapro (an antidepressant), and trazodone (another antidepressant used to help me sleep). I found a therapist and we spent several interesting months trying to determine the difference between IT and ME to my satisfaction. I bought every book I could find and read them all, nodding my head and saying, "Aha, this explains a lot," when I discovered that pretty much every symptom covered in the DSM-IV under "mania" and "depression" applied to what I had always thought of as my high-energy times and my low-energy times, respectively.

Then I started cycling, and the episodes came more frequently than they ever had before. The doses of my medications went up and up, and so did my weight. I became less and less able to think, write, articulate my thoughts, multitask, or have any sort of authentic emotional experience.

I talked to my psychiatrist about my concerns with my weight and with the cognitive dulling I was experiencing. He said, "Depakote doesn't do that." Then I talked to him about reducing the medications, or even stopping them entirely. He said, "If you stop taking your medications, you will ruin your life."

The last straw came when my husband had a heart attack. I dealt with it. I made the 911 call. I arranged for the kids to stay with a neighbor. I went to the hospital. I brought him home three days later with stents in his heart and a boatload of medications. And through all of that, I was unable to cry.

I stopped taking most of my medications a few weeks after that...I still take trazodone for sleep...because I know how important sleep is in maintaining my stability.

I have been off the other meds for nearly three years now. I've also, to my amazement, been episode-free for those three years. Some of the lifestyle changes I made when I stopped taking the medications must be helping, although my new psychiatrist refuses to believe that. He thinks I'm a twelve-car pile-up waiting to happen. But he's still willing to work with me in all my unmedicated glory.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Gift

Once upon a time, when I was not I, but just a little mote of not-awareness waiting to be born, I was given a gift of light and dark. It was wrapped up in bright paper and pretty ribbons, remarkably festive trappings when you consider what was inside.

I did not see the giver, so there was no one to blame (except maybe mucked up genetics) and no Cosmic Customer Service to give it back to: "Excuse me, but this manic depressive illness really doesn't go with my eyes. I haven't worn it yet…could I just return it and choose something else?"

If the guy with the trench coat and the shifty eyes had sidled up to me and said, "Hey…you…check this out…I've got this thing you can have…it'll give you extreme sensitivity, let you experience highs like you've never dreamed…but you'll also have to deal with crawling through the muck of depression for months on end. And some people will want to drug it away. And other people will want to lock you up and keep you away from the Pretty People. Whaddya say?"

What would I have said?

Would I trade what has been my own unique experience of the world for something more conventional, more "normal"?
Would I choose not to have it?
That's like asking me if I'd rather be someone else.
I would certainly choose not to have all the pain and grief and guilt and anxiety it has caused me. And I would certainly choose not to have hurt the people I have hurt, broken the relationships I have broken.

But…if I'd never had manic depression, I would be a different person than I am now. Like it or not, this illness has shaped me. And even if I didn't know what to call it for most of my life, it has been an integral part of my identity, my deepest self, for as long as I can remember.

Despite the treacherous path I've walked, I cannot wish to be someone other than who I am.

But if someone at the Cosmic Customer Service counter would take it back without a receipt, yeah, I'd like my money back, thanks.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Pieces

Who am I now?
Fractured, splintered
In pieces, I stand
Behind the glass wall that separates me from the world
Wondering who I am now...

I am and have been
(in no particular order)
wife, mother, sister, daughter,
friend, DM, yoga student,
writer, artist, musician,
manic depressive,
chief cook and bottle washer,
PhD candidate, graduate student,
NMR jock, pyrotechnician, radiation worker,
unmedicated bipolar,
poet, dreamer, tree-climber,
insomniac, dancer,
zombie (file that under Big Pharma, baby)

But right now
Just for right now
I'm trying to figure out who I am today
And who I want to be for the rest of the journey