My Life on Speed—An Update

updates

Almost four months ago, I started treatment for Binge Eating Disorder.  Basically, that consisted of taking an amphetamine, journaling about the changes in my compulsive thoughts and eating, visiting my med provider (Sarah) more often, and fighting with insurance.

I’ll start with the ugly and work toward the beautiful.

Gorey1. Dealing with insurance is a nightmare of Edward Gorey proportions—decoding the telephone directory-sized formulary, shuffling piles of contradictory paperwork, making my pharmacy do what the insurance company tells me to tell them to do, stopping Sarah from following the pharmacy’s incorrect instructions, filing forms for an exception to the formulary, filing an exception to the prescribed dosage, discussing the exceptions with non-English-speaking Call Center schlubs who have no authority, resubmitting forms, getting Sarah to resubmit forms…

It took all four months to get it straightened out with me double-checking everyone else’s work.  This process would make a sane person stark raving (and has.  I’ve discussed this with lots of neuro-normal people who ended up screaming on the phone or curled up in a puddle at their pharmacies), so I had to tackle it one little piece at a time.

I’m well aware that insurance companies try to get customers to give up.  They don’t want to pay for anything.  But, I survived filing for disability.  I know this game.  And while it was stressful, and I used a lot of colorful language, I got the exact drug I needed and gained even more respect for Sarah.  She and my (new) pharmacy—these worthies—stood with me on the battle field.  Their loyalty and integrity will earn them a place in Valhalla.

Yield2. There’s a reason amphetamines are contra-indicated for people with bipolar disorder.  Luckily, Sarah and I both did our homework about how they might cause mania and insomnia.

When the zip I got from my pills crossed over into agitation, I stopped taking them.  Since I’ve never been very clear about that line (it feels so good to feel good), the symptoms got scary sometimes before I recognized them—like forgetting appointments, or tearing my apartment apart to find a photo I wanted to use, or getting completely overwhelmed by a movie, or driving too fast while texting.

Whenever I woke up to being scattered or dangerous, I stopped.  I made myself safe or quiet.  I notified Sarah.  And I waited.  The mania always receded.  This is one of the benefits of rapid cycling.  I can always count on my mood changing.  I just had to take my brain-skillet off the fire of the amphetamines to let it happen.

Double AhThose are the ugly parts of My Life on Speed.  The rest is pretty darn lovely.

3. I’ve experienced very little depression since May.  Historically, I suffer less depression and more hypomania in the summer, but not to this extent.  I checked my old journals to make sure.  I expected the Vyvanse to flick me into mania at times, but did not expect the overall shift up in mood.  Sarah and I are cautiously hopeful that this trend might continue into winter.

Oh!  I don’t want to pin any real hope on this, but what if the Vyvanse could keep my mood from sinking into that suicidal basement come February?  Since I’ll also have a caregiver for the first time in my life (from Lutheran Services of Iowa) to help motivate me to keep my apartment clean, this winter could be very different.

4. When I take the Vyvanse, all the compulsive thinking about food goes away.  Small amounts of food give me a sense of satiety.  I don’t need more.  I don’t want more.  There have even been times this summer when I forgot to eat.  I can’t express how weird that is.  I know there are people in the world who lose their appetites when stressed—I thought they came from Pluto.  I have wanted to eat while I was puking from the flu.

Brain That Wouldn't DieI’m seeing now how much space food occupied in my head.  The absence was unnerving at first—like walking into an abandoned house with just a few sticks of furniture left behind by the previous owners.  But, I’ve come to love all this room.  And I’m taking my time redecorating.

Whenever I stop the Vyvanse to let manic symptoms settle, the compulsive thoughts return.  I feel them crowd in—pushy, rude, overbearing.  But I can remember what their absence feels like, and somehow that helps keep me from bingeing as much as I used to.  And even then, I don’t punish myself anymore—for being weak, or gluttonous, or just wrong.  I have evidence now.  Binge Eating Disorder is real, not a character flaw.

5. The final sweet treat is that I’ve lost 30 pounds.

I’ll just leave it at that, because… you know…

I’m on an Adventure.

Circadian Rhythm & Bipolar Disorder 

Sandy Sue:

This makes so much sense—how our regulatory systems go Blewy!

Originally posted on Petite Girls Guide:

Circadian Rhythm

“The nervous systems of people with bipolar disorders frequently make specific types of regulatory errors. Many of them involve the body’s internal clock, which controls the phenomena known as circadian rhythms. These are the regular rhythmic changes in waking and sleeping, waxing and waning activity levels, even sensations of hunger or thirst and their satisfaction. The chemical clock that governs these rhythms is located in a part of the hypothalamus gland called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which (among other things) regulates the pineal gland’s secretion of the hormone melatonin.”

“You’ve probably heard about melatonin supplements sold as a cure for insomnia. Indeed, this hormone is the body’s own shut-down mechanism, and production of it usually kicks in as dusk begins. The suprachiasmatic nucleus sets itself based on the past several days’ pattern of light and dark, slowly adjusting itself in pace with the seasons. It does seem important for…

View original 353 more words

Vocabulary Lesson

Ravishing Sight

Proud: Feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself.  —Unabridged Random House Dictionary

A couple of weeks ago, I met the nurse practitioner who will be my new primary care provider (more on that weird encounter here).  She gave me many gifts—opportunities to practice mindfulness, chances to hold an open mind, occasions to strengthen my tolerance and my boundaries.  After speaking with her for ten minutes, she also said she was proud of me.

(Cue Crickets)

See, I have a bit of an issue with people claiming to be proud of me.  The use of the word proud or pride means they have some vested interest in me, that they, in some way, are responsible for or can take credit for who I am or what I’ve done.

A few people can legitimately make this claim:

  1. My Immediate Family.  Those who raised me, shaped my character, or built the original hurdles I learned to jump can actually see their own handiwork in who I am today.  They are allowed to be proud of what they’ve done (or not so proud, as the case may be).
  2. Close Friends.  The people who stuck with me through the best and worst, who gave council and butt-kickings, who lost sleep and traveled distance to help me can also claim pride in their efforts to keep me alive.
  3. My Therapists.  The ones who actually made a difference.  The ones who struggled with and for me.  The ones who went above and beyond professional expectations.  They should be proud of themselves because of my successes and the fact that I’m still alive and walking around.

That’s it.

Now, I’m aware that people use proud and pride incorrectly.  Not everyone is an English major or is gnat’s ass picky about language.  What they really mean to say is that they admire me.  They might even be in awe of me.  Or even just happy for me.  That’s lovely.  And appropriate.  Thank you.

To claim to be proud of me after knowing me for ten minutes undermines my ownership of my own experience.  It’s a form of condescension—a pat on the head.  It effectively puts me, as a person with mental illness, in a place of less than, lower than, weaker than.  It tries to shove me in a corner.

baby

That’s right.  Nobody.  And I don’t need Patrick Swayze to rescue me, either, because my world is round, Baby!  I know who I am, what I’ve accomplished, and what a freaking force of nature I’ve become.  All that’s needed is a little vocabulary lesson if this misusage flub happens again.  And it will.  Not just with my new PCP, but with anyone who feels so uncomfortable with my unusual life that they need to discredit it.

A gentle whack with my Unabridged Dictionary ought to do the trick.

An Experiment in Justice

IsisMost of the time, attending the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines is a joyful experience for me.  I’m fed by the music, the ethics of the community, the wisdom and passion of the ministers.  I feel at home there.

But, because it is an Unitarian community, social justice is a big part of the zeitgeist.  We are called to wake up and “stay woke” to the inequity of our justice and prison systems, to the destruction of black bodies.  Sermons, like Erin Gingrich’s message a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter, gnaw at my comfort.  Adult education classes include discussion groups about books like Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Affirmed Justice small groups meet to plan how to incorporate Restorative Justice into our schools and courts.

I’m proud to be part of this vibrant, caring community.  I just can’t figure out where I fit.

comptonYesterday, after a particularly fiery sermon, I left with a plan.  I would go see Straight Outta Compton, the movie about the first gangsta rap group, NWA. Rap music scares me.  The language, the violence, the rage—they all scare me.  But, I know all of it is someone’s real, lived, experience.  I thought, I can do this.  I can watch this movie with curious compassion and be mindful of my fear.  I can do this.

I had read in the church bulletin that next Sunday would be the Blending of the Waters ritual.  Congregants bring water from a significant source, talk about what it symbolizes, and pour it into a common bowl.  It’s a way to acknowledge the gifts we all bring to the community.

So, when I got my popcorn and diet Coke for the movie, I filled the cup to the top with ice.  This would be my offering to the bowl next Sunday, this ice that would hold my fear and my courage.

I came out of the movie shell-shocked, over-run by the full range of my bipolarness.  I drove home crying, raging, and ultimately locked-down.  I sedated myself and went to bed, hoping for clarity in the morning.

And, by gum, that’s what I found.

My feelings of ineptness and desperation around social justice mirror my old feelings about work and being a productive member of society.  I had to keep trying to go back to work until I learned that my mental illness took that ability.  The stress of working is now a trigger.

Now I know that the stress of being an activist, of even considering being an activist, is also a trigger.  I can’t keep the pain, injustice and rage outside of me.  My boundaries aren’t that strong.

Knowing one’s triggers is important information for anyone with mental illness.  Self-knowledge and insight are vital tools.  Going to this movie set me free in many ways.  It gave me a new sense of clarity and purpose.  I will never be on the front lines with those in my church fighting for social justice, but I will be right behind them armed with my own kind of courage.

That’s what I intend to say next Sunday when I pour my melted-ice water into the community bowl.

Pretend Boyfriends

Richard BondIt’s Richard Armitage’s birthday.

This is the guy who inspired me to go to London by myself last year.

From the London production of “The Crucible.” I about swallowed my tongue when THIS happened.

He’s 44 today, so, yeah, I’d be a cougar if there was a sow’s ear’s chance in a deep-fat fryer for THAT to ever happen.  At least I’m not old enough to be his mother.  I take great comfort in that small mercy.

Pretend boyfriend

Someone else’s rendering of my “relationship” with Richard. Note the Cougar dress.

He’s currently acting the creepy shit out of the role of Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy, in NBC’s Hannibal (Saturdays, 10/9c).

Tooth Fairy

Seriously.  He even scares himself.

 

I wonder if his Mum baked him a cake today?  Wait.  No Mum-talk.  That’s even creepier than Hannibal.

There’s Mum when “The Hobbit” cast met Wills. Definitely older than me.

Aren’t pretend boyfriends great?  I don’t have to know if he leaves his stinky socks laying around the floor, or nag him to take out the trash, or get pissy when he gets all—you know—actorly.  I just get to enjoy his craft.  And his face.  And that voice.

 

So, Cheers, Richard—my make-believe darling.  It may be pretend, this little affair of ours, but damn, it’s good.

drinking

The Hot Itch

Say Hi to the PopeLast week I met my new primary care provider.  I’ve been searching for a doc for a couple of years since the Best Doctor in the Whole World retired.  I try not to hold everyone to his standard.  I got spoiled.

So, everyone who’s anyone has recommended this OB/GYN nurse practitioner.  Great, I thought.  I was a nurse.  We can relate.

And, indeed, she was vivacious, and friendly, and practical (gotta love that).  Then, we took a sharp turn into The Twilight Zone.

I would characterize this NP as an evangelical Christian, which would normally be a non-issue for me.  As a self-proclaimed mystical atheist, I’m always interested in what other people believe.  I told her that.  She laughed and said she wouldn’t try to convert me.  I laughed and said it wasn’t possible.

So, with that bit of self-disclosure out of the way, she asked if I ever had thoughts of harming myself.  I gave my standard Psych History answer—”I tried to kill myself once.  I still have suicidal thoughts, but I recognize them as symptoms and a signal to get help.”

She said, “We all have bad thoughts, and most people go through some period of depression.”

(Okay, I thought.  She’s not a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  She may not know the difference between clinical and situational depression.  Just go with it.)

“Where do those bad thoughts come from?” she asked (rhetorically).  “If you believe in God, then you have to believe in the Devil…”

I must have gotten a LOOK on my face, because she stuttered to a stop and started talking about vaginal health.  Was I imagining things, or was this educated, medical professional about to tell me mental illness was caused by the Devil?  I was so shocked, I don’t remember what else she said, just that we wrapped it up pretty quick, and I was shuffling to my car in a daze.

The daze turned to anger before I left the parking lot.  Are we in the Middle Ages, I fumed.  What was next?  Burning at the stake?  Dousing?

Rage fueled a deep hopelessness.  I missed my old doctor.  Did I have to choose between the cold, condescending woman who took over his practice or this kind-hearted religioso?  Did I have to start the search all over again?

I met with my meditation group later in the day and felt righteous satisfaction in their outrage as I told the story.  It’s a hot itch, indignation.  It gets under the skin and festers.

AbsinthineSo, as we sat together in silence, I took a step back from what I was feeling.  I called up the part of me that observes my thrashing around with gentle curiosity.  What happened?

I saw that I’m not as tolerant as I like to believe.  I don’t like people pushing their religion at me.  I don’t like the blank stares when I say I’m an atheist.  As the pastor at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines said on Sunday, I’m more than willing to share my faith with people who are genuinely interested, curious and open-minded.  But, that happens rarely.  It’s just easier to keep my mouth shut.

What does it matter anyway?  I tried to look a little deeper.

My ego hates to be misunderstood.  It hates to be dismissed or categorized.  And it really hates to be discredited.  I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to regain some functioning in the world.  Proud.

Ah.

I looked at my choices again.  Cold, Condescending Beeyatch or Evangelist?  I tried CCB the last time I got bronchitis, so I knew what to expect.  I had a feeling the Evangelist would be kind and thorough.  I suspected she would take very good care of my body.  And that’s what I needed her to do.  I might have to set some boundaries.  If I could nudge my ego aside, there might even be A Teaching Moment.

Coming home from meditation with my friends, I turned up the music and sang down the highway.  The ego is a stubborn little cuss.  Mine can be paranoid and hysterical if the mood is right.  Anything can offend it, and it defends itself with teeth and claws.  But, like a mediocre poker player, it has a tell—that hot itch of indignation.  When I feel that under my skin, I know it’s time to back up and look again.

I’m glad for that signal, and I’m glad I know what to do with it.

Thanks, Ego-Girl.  Keep raging.

 

 

Kitty in the Coal Mine

Em in a BoxAs blasé as cats seem, they are actually quite sensitive creatures.  Stress makes them sick, especially if they are inside cats and can’t de-stress with normal feline activity like snapping a squirrel’s neck or dashing up a tree to escape the neighbor’s dog.  The urinary tract is especially susceptible.  My Henry develops crystals in his bladder without a special diet.  And now Emmett has a urinary tract infection.

Emmett has always been a Scardy Cat.  Plastic bags send him running.  As does a flushing toilet.  And don’t get me started on the vacuum cleaner.  He hates being picked up or handled in any way.  When we moved to the apartment, it took him almost two years to jump up on the bed with us at night and burrow under the covers.  He actually loves being petted and groomed, but on his terms.  That’s usually when I’m on the toilet or sitting quietly in my big chair.  I am the elephant in the room, and Emmett feels much safer if I’m not stomping around.

I knew all the hubbub this summer would be stressful for both of them—the bathroom remodel, the bed-bug inspection, and then my five days away in Minneapolis.  I tried to soften the effects—keeping them shut up with me in the bedroom while the contractors worked on the bathroom, providing lots of hidey-holes, having a friend they knew come visit while I was away.   Emmett went into deep hiding, which is fairly normal for him.  But then he urinated under my chair in the living room.  Houston, we have a problem.

So off to the vet for confirmation and a time-released antibiotic.  Not a huge concern.  But, I was hysterical.

Immediately, I was reliving a time in my life when a different kitty peed where she shouldn’t.  At that time, several traumatic events happened at once.  I wasn’t just remembering that time, I was in it, feeling all the terror and helplessness from twenty years ago.  I bolted awake from nightmares.  When the UPS man rang my doorbell, I screamed.  I knew I was over-reacting, but couldn’t talk myself out of it.  Then, I remembered working with my substitute therapist, Ben, last summer, and how I had the same kind of reactions.  He named it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It was hard for me to accept.  I’m not a war veteran or a rape survivor.  But as we slowly worked through the memories and flashbacks then, I began to see that what had happened to me was bad enough.  So I went to Megan, my regular therapist, and we worked through it again.

Bed Lump

Emmett and I are slowly coming back.  He’s spent the last two weeks in the safe cubby I made for him in the bathroom with access to food, water and the litter box.  He didn’t mind me sitting next to the nest and reaching in to pet him, but he bolted when I turned on the shower.  So, on the days when I didn’t go to the Y to shower, I tucked him under a blanket on my bed.  He complained loudly about being moved and handled, but would stay under the blanket all day.  He was too scared to come out from that safe, dark place.  To make sure he drank some water and used the box, I had to pull him out and set him back in the bathroom.

His fear broke my heart, but that reaction is also part of my old trauma.  It’s confusing, this layering of past and present.

A few minutes ago, he came out of the bathroom for the first time on his own.  I tried not to make too much of it, staying put in my chair and greeting him in a soft voice.  But when he heard me, looked up and saw me, he scurried back into the bathroom.  Emmett is my mirror and my Teacher in this particular lesson.  We both need to relearn who is safe and who is dangerous.  We both need gentleness and time to come back to ourselves.

Do Superheroes Get PTSD?

Crazy

Several Teesha stamps on this card

One of the items on my IPR Bucket List is to attend a Teesha Moore art retreat.  I found Teesha years ago when I first started using rubber stamps.  Hers were grungy, and weird, and everything I loved.  As you can see from the link, she makes bizarre-o collages and art journals, and held Artfest annually near her home in Issaquah, Washington.

First she quit making rubber stamps (boo!), then she quit offering the retreats.  I never had the funds to get out there anyway, but I always hoped—you know—someday.  So, she stayed on my list, because weirder things have happened (like me going to London last year).

Yesterday, she sent an email to announce that Artfest had risen from the dead and would I like to register?  Boom!  Done!  Later, as I scrolled through the information about Artfest, I realized some Cosmic Convergence or Synchronicity Faerie worked unseen in the ethers, because the theme of the retreat is:

Calling All Superheroes to Unite

As Teesha says on her website:

It is my intention that by the end of Artfest Rising, we will all be flying out of there with our capes flapping in the wind and our confident faces to the skies from our newfound understanding of ourselves, our powers and our place in this world….not to mention an amazing super-sized journal packed full of the coolest artwork around!

What feels even more serendipitous is that I’ve been contemplating my super powers recently.  I know most people don’t consider mental illness a super power, but take my Clark Kent glasses for a moment and have a look-see. dark knight

There’s Bipolar Disorder, a cross between The Dark Knight and The Human Torch.  This is Human-Torchthe veteran, the Bad-Ass, the muscle. Fatale

Then, there’s Binge Eating Disorder.  She’s been around a long time, but never identified, never given her full cred in the super power department—sort of like Fatale, one of the Dark X-Men.  Deceptively evil—strong as the horse she’s usually eating. mistique

But the super power that’s come out to play recently is one I know little about.  She’s a Mistique, a chameleon, blending into her surroundings for the sneak attack.  This, of course, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She’s played me for a while now, posing as memory, setting trip wires that jettison me into past trauma with anxiety and flashbacks.  I’m not used to thinking of her as part of the Superhero Pantheon, but this girl’s got game.

These three (four, really—Bipolar could never be content with one aspect) might seem like a hinderance, a handicap, but look again at their power.  They’ve protected me, kept me safe.  Sure, there’s a price.  And the bill never gets settled.  But the more I learn about them, their origin stories, their special abilities, the more I can see their beauty.  I’m making room for them, inviting them in instead of locking them out.  It’s a tentative truce, but we’re making progress.

I can’t wait to take them all to Artfest next spring to see what happens.

We’re on an Adventure.

Call Me Crazy, But…

smoking-gunNot again.

Another movie theater.  Another slaughter.  Another deranged man with a gun.  Another gun that never should have found its way into that man’s hands.

At the same time, Iowa’s governor is trying to close down the last two mental health hospitals in the state.  Plus, Iowa’s psychiatrists receive the 4th lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the nation.  In 2011, we ranked 47th in the nation for the number of psychiatrists per capita, and the exodus is ongoing (who could blame them?).

No psych docs.  No hospitals.

And no gun control.

So, why aren’t mass murders happening in my cineplex?

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, said in a 2014 interview that a history of violent or assaultive behavior is a better indicator of future violence than any mental illness diagnosis.  Substance abuse is also a strong indicator of violent behavior.  Mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, he said, not for homicide.

People with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime.

Do we know yet if drugs or alcohol were involved in the Louisiana case?  No mention one way or the other, but we know he had a history of violence.  And we sure do know he was bipolar.  The media latched onto that buzzword immediately.

It seems clear to me—people who are drunk, high, or beat their wives should never be allowed to buy a gun.  People who have a history of hurting other people or themselves should never be allowed to buy a gun.  Period.  I would be included in that group because I tried to kill myself once.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think I should have a gun either, because I’d hurt myself before I’d open fire at the next Marvel movie.

Still, the debate about rights and mental illness keeps us from actually doing something about the guns.  Diversion tactics.  When will we stop talking around the problem?  When?

De-Lamination

Unexplored CreviceThe word is out—sitting all the time will kill you.  Well, everything eventually kills you, but sitting is the new smoking in terms of health. It all makes sense to me.  I was a nurse once.  I know about circulation and oxygen flow.  But it was lamination that really sold me.

Lamination is what happens to the fat, fascia and muscles of your butt under the heat and pressure of sitting (think glued together and steam pressed).  I wish I could find the You Tube piece that explained it so well, but all I could find was this joker talking about Gibbon-Butt.  He makes a point, though.  Our backsides are not meant to be weight-baring.

I started researching standing desks.  With a desktop computer and a teeny apartment, I needed one adjustable desk, and those suckers cost big bucks.  Units that sit on the desk are cheaper, but I have a teeny desk, so all that scaffolding leaves no work space.  I was stumped. So Get Adjustable Desk became part of my IPR wish list for making my living space better and healthier.

This spring when I visited my nurse practitioner, I noticed her work space.  She had a big, simple adjustable desk with a chair on one end and a treadmill on the other.  She didn’t just stand at her desk, she walked or jogged, which seemed a bit excessive, but good on her, right?  I was more interested in the desk anyway.

Clean lines, simple, moderately priced and from IKEA (I’m partial to Swedish furniture—I used to be married to a Swede.  Some things stick, though are not necessarily laminated in place).  Minneapolis has a big IKEA store.  I often go to Minneapolis to visit friends.  I felt a plan forming.

Desk LowLast week I traveled to said Minneapolis to visit said friends.  I also brought home a desk in three boxes.  Yesterday I put it together (ridiculously simple) and started rearranging the jigsaw puzzle that is my apartment.  I’m shocked that I only have to get rid of two pieces of furniture:  my desk—a sweet little thing that was my first craft work table, and a night stand from an old bedroom set—repainted and pretty, but not very functional.  Everything else got redistributed and refiled (or will be).

I have to be careful with this kind of project.  I tend to purge while manic, and I’m hovering at hypomanic right now.  It would be so easy to get rid of all my crappy, second-hand furniture and just start over.  But, that’s crazy talk, so I will sit (or stand) with this one, new purchase until the fever passes.

Desk HighAlso, my cats are traumatized.  Henry won’t leave my side, and Emmett stays hidden under the bed.  First came the bathroom remodel, then I was gone for five days, and when I came home I brought in Big Things that Made Noise.  We all need a nice run of quiet days to let our nerves settle.

I’m standing at my desk now.  Henry’s taking in the afternoon sun.  Emmett’s still under the bed.  We’ll get de-laminated eventually.

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