Adventures in Bipolarland: Understanding Manic-Depression (and Fibromyalgia) and Asking Forgiveness

“I just really want to apologize to a lot of people in this room…
…and a lot of people who aren’t in this room, um…
…for my actions.  

I’m on medication now… 
…so I’m seeing things
a lot more clearly.  
And I just really want to…
I realize I hurt a lot of people,
and so I want to say:
I’m so, so, so sorry.
I greatly apologize…
…and accept responsibility
for my actions.
That’s it.

Thank you.”

Matt Damon in “The Informant”

These words really struck me tonight as I watched Matt Damon play a far-out in left-field CEO of a company who turned informant, possibly as a result of bipolar disorder.  While I did not set my company up by working with the FBI to convict them of price-fixing or embezzle eleven-and-a-half million dollars, I had some strange behaviors during the time I was unmedicated for my own bipolar disorder that I feel I must atone for. 

For example?  Not being a good daughter or sister by not calling home enough, and by being uncomfortable and snippish when I did have contact.  I allowed a huge wall to grow between me and my family behind which I hid the tormented soul I was, crying so much and not being able to find any assistance from the anti-depressants I took to stifle the agony and frustration that I thought was just due to the fibromyalgia that I am also “blessed” with.  I’ll be honest and admit that when I saw “Cindy Smith” on my cell phone list, I had a moment of “who the hell is that?” before it dawned on me that was my sister’s married name, and I really had not had much contact with her since we had both gotten married and I moved away, leaving me realizing I did not know who my baby sister was as a person any more, and that I was no longer the person she thought she knew from long ago.  My mother tried to reach out to me but I let the stress of school be used as an excuse for not keeping in touch with her, and my father–well, he has had his own emotional problems, so he’s the one who understands me the best, even though he is like me and does not keep in touch that much.  He has his own demons and he knows what I suffer, but that is still not an excuse for me to shield myself from him and stay distant.  Changes must be made now that I am medicated and better able to open up and love again …

But still, speaking of the sins of the past I must atone for … How about not being the best mommy in the world because I allowed myself to be consumed by trying to get my two college-degrees?  I did try, really I did, but the mood-swings made each day go so hard.  I love my son–always have–but there were times when it was all I could do to get him up in the morning and onto the bus for school.  Motherhood was not a role that I took to easily or naturally, and the illnesses I had–especially the fibromyalgia that came after the birth–made me an angry mother, one who was frustrated at having to take care of another being when I no longer had the ability to take care of myself in a proper manner.  What stress!  The bond has always been there between us, and when I came close to losing him in a school-bus accident I grew to realize how much I truly did love my son and how much I was blessed to be his mother, even if it was hard to physically care for him at times.   This is something I have written about before and will in depth later, for this turning-point was a major step for me and sealed the bond between myself and my son and made us the cuddlesome duo we are today, but manic-depression and especially fibromyalgia have wreaked havoc on my mothering abilities.

And then there is the role of wife that I play in this world, a role that comes as unnaturally to me as motherhood did, too.  I try, but the twin illnesses that plague me leave me little time and patience sometime to cope with having a partner, for sometimes after being a mother all I’m up to is curling up in a little ball and taking a nap, not being a supportive wife of a wonderfully devoted husband … and an especially understanding one, too.  He’s not happy with the messy house, but he understands that I am truly trying my best and he works hard to support us both, even though that is near impossible in this economy to survive on only one wage while I hope and pray I end up with a paying job before the year is out.  He helps out with our son and takes him along to his mother’s house to give mommy some “alone” time to rest and recharge and find her way through homework or housework.

And to conclude this apology fiesta, I apologize for rambling so much, but there has been such a lapse in my life for the past decade while the manic-depression was untreated and now that I am medicated I am sad about all the time I wasted when I was in denial of my problem.  At least that time is over now, and like the character from the film, I am medicated now and hopeful of a brighter future.

Adieu for now!


Adventures in Bipolarland–The Third Decade–“Just the Beginning”

The wall I ran into was published in this blog a few months ago, in the entry “Turning Points” where I share how missing my Grandmother’s funeral helped to save my life, because the neurologist I saw to get checked out saw beyond what the MRI and EEG could show and referred me to a colleague, a neuropsychiatrist.  I was terrified of the idea of seeing him, afraid of him like I was being sent in to see a troll that would eat me up for dinner if I did not chronicle my life history and analyze it correctly, or some other horror story that had me tossing and turning during that long night before the first meeting with my new psychiatrist.

And what happened after this night of terror?  I went back into that same waiting room, and met a man I trusted at first sight, and was gratified to find out this was indeed my new psychiatrist.  I may not see auras, but a strange sense of calm came over me that I was indeed in good hands, and considering his thirty-seven years of practice to my thirty-nine years of life, calm and encouraging voice, I believe for the first time in my life and experience with mental health professionals that I am.

It is quite good that I trusted this man so implicitly, for it did not take him long to–without even knowing my case history or the diagnosis of his predecessor–declared me to be “manic depressive with a borderline personality,” exactly the same as before.  Hell’s bells!  But this time it did not sound so bad, for he recommended a therapist (whom I also have taken to just as wonderfully) and medications that did the trick, and I feel like a brand-new woman from that scared one that was afraid to meet him in January.  This past week I saw both him and the neurologist, and they beamed at the progress I have made since then, and I felt the glow as if I was a prize pupil back in grade school. 

Has anything changed regarding the stigma against those with mental illness?  Probably not.  The double standard where people will expect one to just “get over” a depressive bout like it is the flu or people who are sympathetic to those with cancer and condemning of those with a psychiatric condition often still applies.  Saying I am on Lyrica for my fibromyalgia is acceptable, but possibly saying that I also take the antidepressant Cymbalta (which is also rated for FMS pain) makes someone uncomfortable. 

What has changed for me is the quality of the people I have around me, and my efforts on communicating with them about my condition and the treatments for it.  I also have changed my view of myself, finally learning to love and respect myself, manic-depressive or not, I am me, and if you do not like me, that is your problem, not mine. 

Also, another change is a key desire to get involved in patient advocacy for the mentally ill and for chronic pain sufferers as well.  So many people suffer from these conditions that are hard to translate to those who do not have them, thus frightening them on occasion, so I seek to be a bridge between the two communities of the ill and the healthy and see what education and cooperation can happen.  Thus, this blog has more punch than it originally started out as, for now I am a crusader for those who do not know how to put their pain into the words I am fortunate enough to be gifted to write.

And now, I bid you adieu until the next entry … have a blessed week and may love and light be always with you!

Adventures in Bipolarland–The Second Decade–“Denial is not just a river in Egypt”

The first decade of my knowledge of my manic-depressive heritage began at nineteen, setting off a whirlwind of pain and anguish when I tried to cope with the knowledge of the condition, tried to find treatment for it, and most of all, coped with the stigma of now being known as “mentally ill” for all time–something many of my friends, co-workers and fellow church parishioners could not handle.

The second decade began at twenty-nine, after a diagnosis of having Graves’s Disease, a hyperthyroid condition that often mimics the bipolar swing of manic-depression.  This decade–while I allowed myself to be treated for postpartum depression after my son was born–I spent in denial of my true mental health and lulled myself into believing that for the entire previous decade the doctors had been wrong and the reason the treatments never seemed to work on me right was because they were treating me for a mental illness when it was a physical illness all along–or so I believed.

What did this mean?  I refused any sort of contact with therapists or psychiatrists except when it was suggested as a treatment for fibromyalgia, and when it got too personal, prying into my history and pushing drugs on me when the purpose of the treatment was to teach me stress-reduction techniques to cope with the pain, I dropped it cold.  A complicated situation and recommendation of a professor did send me into therapy for a brief time, but that stopped after a broken leg stopped me from driving there and never picked back up.  And of course, without therapy or a psychiatrist, there was no medication.

And what did all this mean to my behavior and how I was to the world around me?  This woman who spent her time as a full-time student and mother was bouncing off of the walls, trying to cope with the stress level that would drive just about any woman crazy whether she were bipolar or not, succeeded somehow in getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, but barely.  Not giving details of specific incidents, there were a few “college-like” behaviors as well, like partying with friends on occasion, not befitting her matronly stature.

Okay, enough third-person-I was crazy, I had some fun and regretted it the morning after.  I had trouble keeping up with classes because the pressure was too great.  I was just plain 0ut-of-control, not so one could put a finger on what was wrong and send me to the right doctor, but enough that I made a few people uncomfortable enough to stay away, and I do not blame them.  I would have stayed away myself if I had had a choice, for it was hell I am sure to be around me during that time of stress and frustration when I refused to be treated for my illness–all due to clinging to the misbelief in a fantasy misdiagnosis to declare myself mentally healthy so I would not face that stigma ever again. 

Living in denial is hard, and most often if one runs with their head down, they eventually run right into a brick wall that knocks them to their senses, and I found mine soon after I hit thirty-nine.

Adventures in Bipolarland–The First Decade

Learning I was not like everyone else around me, or so I believed, was a difficult time in my life.  I was first told I was mentally ill–specifically manic-depressive with a borderline-personality–back in 1991 when I spent time doing in-patient rehabilitation in a codependency program to help me cope with my father’s alcoholism (he’s been sober now since I’ve been in high school, right before the time of my hospitalization).  This hospitalization was also to help me relearn how to cope with life without the codependent habits of low self-esteem, or minimizing my feelings of importance, feeling like I was supposed to sacrifice my happiness for others as long as they were happy, and using sex to win people to me that I felt drawn towards and looked to find my lost childhood security in the arms of this lover who I prayed would give me all I lacked during those years I sought my father’s love and guidance and found an alcoholic on-the-road at his truck-driving job and or asleep in his living room chair, in front of the TV snoring away, with a pile of beer cans next to his chair, yelling “I was watching that” any time the TV went off, even though it was the sound of his snoring that woke me up in the first place.   

It was hard enough to cope with the few meetings of Alateen I attended and therapy I had before I went into this program, and coping with seeing my father being in his own program and coming out sober and starting his triumphant battle against alcohol that he has been on since the mid-eighties, but being in that place with people who had problems that my naïve nineteen year-old mind was not ready for was difficult.  I learned about AIDS, I learned about homosexuality, infidelity, and the pain of having a child in a war zone through these other patients and I was overloaded with frustration and confusion just from that alone, even beyond what I was being told in my therapy sessions. 

What I was told about myself was really a humdinger!  I was told that I was a manic-depressive (bipolar) with a borderline personality disorder.  A look at a Wikipedia article (as I have just mused upon, remembering my prior research,) or another article on the diagnosis will help you to understand why I went into such a shock and fury when told, and first denied it.  I was there long enough to make sure that by the time I left I had gone through all the grief stages, and left accepting what I was and trying to cope with the labels I felt on my back. 

For a decade after that departure and stamping of labels, I suffered stigma that led me to hide my illnesses, fear taking the needed medications or shame at seeing a therapist or psychiatrist.  My family was often afraid of how I would react to changes in my life, especially when I cried in pain and sheer agony and they were helpless.  I had co-workers and friends who were just as confused, and were very uncomfortable being around me, even if they liked me and sympathized with my illness and troubles.

 I was an angry person, I was a fearful person, and I was not coping well at all, receiving what I believe to be less than adequate care from the medical experts in my life–some who spoke with accents so thick I (or the secretary) had no clue what the doctor said, leaving me even more confused than before stepping into the office.  I am a lady who swoons over accents, but when one stands between me and knowing which drug to take and the dosage, side effects, and other treatments necessary, my romantic heart steps back a beat.  I had therapists my mother felt needed their own therapists and shouldn’t be trying to lead me through my struggles.   I had medications that made me so sick and made me blimp up into a huge ball of fat from soda drunk to counteract the tiredness and dry mouth, and candies constantly sucked for succor, and I was at times like a zombie while on the medication.

I was also reckless when I denied myself proper treatment during this time, or did not receive it because of the professionals in charge and I did not do a proper job, getting involved in questionable relationships where I sought sex as a substitute for love, and being unsafe in the process.  I was lucky I never got pregnant or contracted STDs during this time!  What a horror that would have been!   I was often afraid when my cycle was late and I wondered what a child of mine would be like, knowing that the alcoholism ran through my family line like wild fire (something I am glad I have not yet succumbed to, rarely drinking even socially) and mental diseases were also an issue.  Would my progeny be ill, and should I keep a baby that I feared would be like me?   Could I handle bringing into the world a child that could suffer like me?  Would that be cruel and unusual punishment and abortion be worthy in this potential threat? 

That decade led me to my husband, the first relationship with a man who truly loved me and was not in it just for the sex or just as confused as I am.  My husband is wise and supportive and helpful, and because of him I have the proper treatment I need.  However, he was just as confused and hopeful as I was when I found out I had Graves’ Disease–a hyperthyroid condition–that often mocks bipolar disorder, and I began to believe that they were wrong in that hospital and this time the doctors were right and I was not mentally ill.  I began to believe all my problems were rooted in just physical ailments and gradually stopped seeing mental health professionals, thinking they were wrong and I was right. 

Thus began the cycle of grief all over again, with me in huge denial.  As they say, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt …”

(I apologize for any errors, as I am still adjusting to medications and having trouble typing using a laptop, due to fibromyalgia, arthritis and neuropathy.)

Ending the Grief Cycle

Apologies for the long absence, but after this entry it will be made clear why there was no update for quite some time.  As the title of this entry states, this is about the “ending the grief cycle,” referring to that of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who (as per Wikipedia) “posited sequential stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, which are commonly referred to as the ‘grief cycle.'”  What I learned on a fateful day in January took me this long to go through all the stages and return me to the desire for sharing my story publically again.

Flashing back to January, I headed to see the neurologist to find out results of an MRI and an EEG, for I feared that something was wrong with me because of trouble with cognition and increased “brain fog,” even more than usually seen in fibromyalgia.  All came out fine, though for safety, the doctor ordered more tests, such as a 24 hour EEG and a sleep study to make sure I did not have sleep apnea interfering with my health and recovery during the night. 

The painful part came was when the neurologist noticed how anxious I was while sitting in her office, and recommended that I see her new colleague, a neuropsychiatrist.  This suggestions totally freaked me out because of past experience with mental health professionals, but because this lady was intimidating in a good way, I decided to follow her advice and made an appointment, conveniently available for the next day. 

I will explain my past history with mental health later and the traumas of the past few months, but suffice it to say that I trusted this man the moment I laid eyes on him.  Within minutes of talking with me he verified the fears that I had the night before, by saying that he agreed with doctors who knew me twenty years ago, and told me the sad news that I was manic-depressive with a border-line personality.  However, this time I was given the strength to deal with the diagnosis, and started the medication plan he outlined.  I also added a wonderful therapist, whom I share with my ten-year old son (another story), and a Depression Recovery Group that is helping me grow and change and accept my body’s chemistry and change for the better.

This is all for now, for computer issues are causing problems and I am stuck writing on a laptop, hurting my fibromyalgia and my arthritis and neuropathy, but at least I broke the fear and came out with my diagnosis finally.  I will return again, with the story from my past, the present, and the story of my future.  Have a great day, and thank you for reading!

Turning Points

This is another post transferred from my Google Blogspot Blog and shared here with the Word Press Community.


Turning Points

We all face turning points in our life that radically change us and the shape of our lives from what they were when we had awoken that morning.  A lot of the times we do not see these moments coming, and sometimes we don’t even realize what was the pivotal moment until later, when we are out of the situation and have time to look back and reflect.  There are times, though, that we do know there is an event that will inevitably be a turning point–like the birth of a child, a marriage, an audition or a job interview.  And for some people, that pivotal moment comes to them in a doctor’s office, when they hear news about a condition that will either eventually kill them or make them wish it would just hurry up and do the job, with all the suffering they know is possibly going to come as a result of that fateful news delivery.

Today is the day, after about a month of waiting for this appointment date, I see the neurologist today for the results of an MRI and an EEG.  These tests were ordered by my family doctor because I told him that for months I have been so out of it I’ve been barely functional, and that the symptoms of seizures his physician’s assistant ran over with me when I first went in to see her about the problem came back to me one night when I woke up and felt like a truck had run over me, and when I wanted to reach for my phone to call 911 to inquire whether it was possible I had had a seizure (like I had when I was much younger, because of prescription medication interactions), I couldn’t move.   I passed out again and woke up hours later and still couldn’t get out of bed, even though I had to pee since the first time I awoke.  Eventually, I was able to function again, but something just isn’t right, and this is not the only time that has happened.

That was not what got me into the doctor’s office in the first place, though; it was, however, what I think got the doctor to roll his chair over to his laptop computer and order the hospital tests.  There are many contributing reasons why I headed to the doctor’s that time.

For one, I had been foggy for quite awhile–passed it off as “fibrofog,” something other sufferers of fibromyalgia like myself can tell about.  I wasn’t reading like I used to do, which was voraciously to the point the librarians knew my name and stopped being surprised at the number of books I checked out at a time because they knew I would read them all.  Last time, my books ran overdue and I was not able to read them at all; I doubt the fact that they were resume and cover letter writing manuals was the reading, for having recently graduated with a Master’s in English, I think lofty or complicated reading material was not the problem.   I was not able to write my resume though, and give it to my Office of Vocational Rehabilitation caseworker, though, and post it on career websites and send it out to prospective employers.  Every time I came close to working on it I blocked and had trouble with the silliest things, like having to rely on spell check, not being able to figure out format, or know which was the best way to present my assets and educational skills.  Resumes are tough, but considering all the research papers–some of them over twenty pages long with correct MLA citations–I’ve done in the past six years, I doubt that the complexity of writing resumes is the main problem.

Also, while I am seeking a position as a professor of English at a community college or online school, my main dream and the reason why I returned to college in my thirties in the first place was because it is my dream to be a published writer and screenwriter/filmmaker, and I believed completing my education would help me towards those goals.  I have had many story ideas in a cabinet in my home office that I call “Development Hell,” because they have been there in limbo during the six years it took me to earn both degrees.  All that time I fantasied about having time to write what I wanted to write, to let my characters finally find their voices and share the stories that have been living inside my head with the world.  I’ve been out for months now and still haven’t written more than a few hundred words at the start of National Novel Writing Month in November.  It’s not like I have anything more pressing to do, but all I’ve been able to do is chat with friends on Facebook–which actually can get complicated sometimes, for there are games I’ve deleted even there because I couldn’t follow how to play or keep up anymore–or watch DVDs, curled up on my bed.  But still, the door to my “Development Hell” has been closed, the computer in my office remains off, and the characters still call out to me to let them out into the world.

My husband has been slightly concerned about me for months, because often when we’ve gone down to his mother’s in separate cars I have needed him to drive me back home, even though it is only a five minute drive.  Too often I felt too dizzy or disoriented to risk it, so I asked him for help.  This concerned us, but it wasn’t until another time–I suppose another turning point of my life–that I knew there was a problem.  That was the day I set out to take the six-hour drive out across Pennsylvania–a drive I had taken in the summer with my ten-year old in tow–and had to turn around less than two hours distance away and head back home, because I was too afraid to keep driving, because of an air-headed like feeling–like the head was going to implode–kept impairing with my ability to react to sudden stops or people pulling out in front of me, or remembering which roads to follow to reach my destination.  I made it home somehow myself, because I couldn’t find someone to rescue me and bring my car back, but it was one of the most terrifying trips of my life.

And that was the day that I missed my last remaining grandmother’s viewing, and her funeral the next day.  My heart broke and it was probably only my determination to get there that had me even try to make the trip in the first place or keep going from the first point that I started getting frightened of my capacity to drive this long and wearying trip.  Missing something like that that meant so much to me was the wake up call that told me that I couldn’t just ignore this “not right” feeling and take care of it somehow, with my doctor’s help.

Today is another turning point–either I had seizures or other problem with my head, or it has just been my thyroid hormone levels and depression that have been standing in the way of my being able to focus and do something about getting a job. I haven’t been myself for months and I am frightened not knowing why or what to do about it, but I’m almost as scared to find out what’s wrong. Does that make sense?  All I know is that I wanted to write this letter to myself to remind me of the situation and give myself some hope after I come home knowing the answers.

So many times I’ve gone to the doctors after having some scary tests, like breast exams and ultrasounds because one doctor felt a lump, or an EKG because another felt an irregular rhythm to my heart, but there was nothing wrong.  When I read over the records after I lost my hearing for Social Security Disability, despite all the health problems that I have, I read that a doctor that I thought liked and respected me and really supported me going back to school felt that I was going to the doctors so much to get attention.  Excuse me, but this is one case where WTF is the only response that makes sense!  I was in so much pain!  So now, even when I know I have a problem, I let it go because I do not want to be seen as “needy” in that respect.  My heart has been broken and I hate being so reliant on doctors and the medications that they use to regulate the conditions that plague me, but I have no choice because I have family and friends that rely on me to try to keep my health in check because they love me no matter what my mental or physical defects.

I apologize for that last rant, but that is part of my insomnia inflicted mind rambling there … and partly fear because I know whatever the results, I will be dependent on the doctors and their medications to get me back to normal–whatever that is.  I will accept “functional”; that will do just nicely.  It just will be a long road, whether I have neurological problems, thyroid hormone problems, or psychological problems, and today is the day that I find out which direction my path to recovery lies in.

And with that I close the longest piece of writing that I have done since I made my false start of this blog in September and the last two research papers I finished up for school in early summer.  For now, I bid you adieu, and I pray that when the dust settles and the tears have faded and the fears coped with enough for the moment, I will return to continue this saga once again.  As Tigger–a true hero for his upbeat attitude and love for his friends–would say, “Ta Ta for Now!”

Breaking the Proverbial Cherry

This posting is transferred from my Google Blogspot Blog and shared here with the Word Press Community.


Breaking the Proverbial Cherry

As a beloved Facebook friend reminded me recently of a quotation from “Throw Momma From the Train,” “Remember, a writer writes always.”  My mother and husband have also been reminding me of that necessity also, though without the witty usage of movie quotes to secure my attention.  I must agree–they are all correct–I should be writing, so I am starting this blog as a place to work out my writers’ kinks and slay that awful demon, Writers’ Block.

I cannot write too much tonight for I have a date with my nine-year old son to watch our Netflix disc 3 of Scooby Doo, Seasons 1 and 2.  Whoot!  Scooby, Doobie, Doo!  Zoinks!  Still, since I went to all the trouble to set up this blog, I figured I must leave a post to break the proverbial cherry of this new writing space.

The title of this blog comes from a marching band maneuver, suggested to me for a column I wrote for my college newspaper.  I was searching for a better way to say “marching to the beat of my own drum” and this is what my column was christened, thanks to that college friend.  My articles should still be able to found by accessing the archives of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, The Penn.  While this column was being published (and even now, actually), I achieved a bit of campus fame as people discussed my columns in the dining hall, the Co-Op store and even in graduate classes while I was still an undergraduate.  One of my favorite moments in life was the joy a sweet lady at my dry-cleaner’s expressed when she found out I was a customer.  I have spent quite a bit of time chatting with her regarding “the story behind the story … beyond 500 words” that I was able to write for the column, and she inspired me to someday write a book entitled “Beyond 500 Words.”  In a way, this blog is the beginning of that project.

Marching 7/4 Archives in The Penn

In closing for this first post, I would like to share a link that I found to a LiveJournal blog, where the writer covered the topic of “Writers Writing About Writers,” listing movies where writers and writing were featured.  I found this entry when searching for the above movie quote, and I loved the topic so much I wanted to pay homage to it here in my formerly virginal entry, so I can return and watch each of the films and assess my own impressions of the them and the writers featured.

Writers Writing About Writers

So now I bid you adieu, for my son is driving me nuts playing with his talking Buzz Lightyear toy and I yearn for the nostalgia of watching Scooby Doo episodes from 1970, the year of my birth, and sharing with my son some of my favorite moments in Scooby film history (like “Coin, Coin”).