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.

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.

Tumble Damp

Chevron

I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.  — Alice

After a very long spell of hypomania—a delicious month of productivity, creativity and blissful good-humor—I seem to have fallen into an industrial-sized clothes dryer set on tumble.  Rapid cycling wakes me up with hyper-vigilance and terror, then flops into stultifying depression, with a finishing spin of insomnia and obsession.  Tumble, tumble.

In times like these, it’s best not to take anything seriously—not the spiky little thoughts in my head, or any plan I had for the day, or misconstrued texts, or the dog barking across the street.  Better to put on comfy clothes and make popcorn.  Better to turn on all the twinkle lights in the apartment and light incense.  Better to read something like The Hunger Games that won’t tax my dendrites in the least.

And when the silly megrims come calling, better to smile at their oddness and offer raison toast.

Everything is funny, if you can laugh at it.  —  Lewis Carroll

Six Flags over Cuckoo

Come with me as we tour the Bipolar amusement park.  Stick with me long enough and you’ll see it all!

Dante's Inferno

Danté’s Pit may be behind us, but now we get to ride the Boomerang roller coaster of rapid cycling.

Crazy as it sounds (this is the FunHouse after all), we ride the Mad Hatter’s Agitated Teacups while on the Boomerang!  Don’t let all the spinning make you puke!  Tickets cost more to complainers!Disneyland Mad Hatter Teacup Ride

Swing the sledge hammer and ring the bell, but be careful!  Popeye could sail that striker into the stratosphere, and you can, too! Popeye high striker

And with all that grandiosity, you can probably call on several superpowers to either fly after the striker or shoot it down with laser vision.X-Men, Cyclops

Clowns?  We got ’em!  Don’t look them in the eye or get too close, though.  They tend to sharpen their teeth with files of delusion and mean it when they bite.

scary clown

But, best of all is the carousel, because this ride goes on and on and on and on. . .

Mental Meltdown of the Pneumonia Mind

collage art, hand-made cards

People said I’d go stir-crazy.  Being sick and incapacitated for weeks will mess with your head, they said.

Oh, my.

I’ve officially rounded the bend.  I’ve spent all the money I have left for September, mostly on food and DVDs, which destroyed months of work at losing weight.  I charged up my credit card so that I could put storage shelves in my bathroom—a project on Saturday that left me exhausted and overrun by my own mania.  I feel humiliated, and desperate, and absolutely out of control.

I’ve tried several ways to slow the train down—walking around the track at the Y, walking outside, napping.  They help in the moment, but as soon as I stop moving or wake up, the frantic scrabbling in my brain starts up again.  Every day I start out vowing to “do it different,”  to shroud my TV and do something else.  And every day I end up too tired, too bored, too lonely, too sick.

What I’m hanging onto at this point is that my body is starting to recover.  The lungs are clearing.  The voice is coming back.  I will return to my water aerobics class this morning to splash around if nothing else.  And as my strength returns, I can shift back into my routine, which will give my bipolar claws something else to grab onto.

It’s not like this is new material.  The compulsions, the frantic behavior, the way this illness blows up my life are all reruns of my personal sitcom.  It’s just that adding physical illness squeezes all margins out of the script.  The stress, the disruption of routine, the discomfort run the lines off the page.  I’m not making much sense.

But, there’s a balm in being able to admit the insanity.  Confession always starts a healing.  Lack of insight and secretiveness are part of this illness, so naming names is a good sign.  I’ll hang onto that today.

Hold Your Horses

This woman did not fly to extremes; she lived there.

—Quentin Crisp

• • •

Enthusiasms are suspect in someone with bipolar disorder.  There’s a thin, fuzzy line between passion and obsession, drive and driven.  So it is with cautious optimism that I pursue my intention of becoming vegetarian.

As I sat in my coffee shop yesterday, journaling, I could feel the buzz of mania—my thoughts leaping and shoving each other out of the way, the Crusade taking me over with its conviction, dedication and magical thinking.  But, after the despair of this past weekend, the energy and purpose felt like a reward for slogging through the Pit.  A Reprieve.  And yet, I knew it would be a mistake to identify with the high I was feeling.  I was still there, behind the excitement and the speed, so the task was to watch and wait.vegetarianism

Starting new projects while manic can definitely get them off the ground with a bang.  The energy acts like a catapult—but the one pulling the trigger isn’t too concerned about aim.  I once ripped out the carpet in the whole basement of my house in an hour.  Did it need to be done?  Maybe.  My cat had been peeing on it for years.  Did it need to be done at 11:00 at night?  Probably not.  The trick with mania is not to do anything that can’t be undone later.

vegetarianism, Alicia SilverstoneHolding that maxim, I spent a couple of hours in the library reading about vegetarianism and retrieving information buried in my defunct memory.  I remembered that I flirted with this years ago, influenced by my friend, Dee, who is a devout vegetarian.  The basics all came back to me and seemed so easy.  Could it be that easy?  To a manic, sure.  We are invincible—gods in our own minds.  We scoff at the feeble attempts of mere mortals!

Yesterday, I was able to set my super powers aside and assume a gentler approach.  Instead of running to Trader Joe’s and dumping money I don’t have into miso and tempeh, I bought a bag of pinto beans and some produce.  I still have my Moosewood Cookbook—one of the few things that has survived my many manic purgings—and found my favorite (and simple) recipe for refried beans.  Last night I made a meal so beautiful, I had to take a picture—corn tortillas with my homemade refried beans, brown rice, green onion, yellow bell pepper, topped with salsa and mango.

The fact that I actually cooked a meal is not lost on me, either.  Cooking can be a major source of anxiety, but the process of soaking and cooking the beans felt very relaxing.  There was a sense memory in running my hands through them, hearing their clatter against the strainer.  Another question arose—could this process help me find the creative cook that vanished when I got sick?  This, too, I’ll hold gently as the adventure unfolds.

Because, I am on an Adventure!

Spontaneous Combustion

This past weekend I experienced rapid cycling (alternating depressive and manic episodes over a short period of time) for the first time since I weaned off all my meds 18 months ago.  And while very uncomfortable, I managed fine.  It did make me wonder about my stress level, though.

Losing weight is stressful for anyone.  Making major behavioral changes is very stressful for anyone.  On top of those, I’ve also eliminated two of my life-long, sure-fire methods of dealing with my bipolar disorder—TV and compulsive eating.  So not only am I under a great deal of stress, but I’ve lost the two most powerful ways of coping with it.  What’s left in my old bag of tricks is compulsive spending and sexual fantasy, which are both shouting for constant attention.

“Hmm,” I pondered, “perhaps I need a bit more support as I tear my life apart.”

So, today I went to my therapist.  Michelle said all the things I knew she’d say, but it was so comforting to hear them out loud:

All these changes are positive and incredibly stressful.

Don’t worry too much about Captain America and The Huntsman hanging out over your shoulder—have fun with them.

Keep journaling and tracking your feelings.

Try not to be rigid—if the agitation gets too big, allow yourself some TV.

Okay, then.  I’m not hallucinating when I hear Chris Hemsworth mumbling behind me.  And I’m not failing when eating my supper sans distraction makes me cry with loneliness.  No.  It’s just me ripping my life apart and feeling the effects.  Feeling, without numbing those feelings, is frightening and painful.  Many days I feel like an open wound.  But, I’m okay.  And the hunks standing behind me are okay.  However, I’m going to keep seeing Michelle for a while.  She knows how to hose me down if I burst into flames.  Everyone needs a buddy with flame retardant.

Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s no doubt about it.  I am in a manic phase.  The flood of ideas and potential projects keep washing over me, each one more brilliant than the last.  What I’m trying to do is stay aware and stay focused.  I’m journaling to capture the ideas and get them out of my head.  When the mania lets go of me, I’ll be able to look at them objectively.  Often I find the ideas are still good ones, but not practical or timely or worth pursuing.

For example, yesterday I envisioned a new soft art piece—a Winter Solstice banner using a cloth-charring technique and quilting with used dryer sheets; revisited an idea for a novel about a bipolar woman living with her gay best friend in a conservative small town; and party favors for my Callinda party using cloth, beads, stamps and quotes from the story.  Swirled among those ideas are the details of the day today.  Get to the Y. Remember to take my food journal to TOPS.  Remember to take items for the silent auction at TOPS.  Strip the bed to do laundry.  All thoughts, all details, carry equal weight and flash in and out of my mind.  So writing them down and making lists helps to drain some of the wildness out of them.

I’m also trying to watch what the giddy energy brings up in me.  So far, I’m not feeling the compulsions.  Yesterday, I went shopping with my friend, Cheryl, and only indulged in a magazine (The Writer, for research purposes, of course) and craft adhesive (which I needed).

I have less of a desire to eat than usual, which may be part of the mania and the energetic spin.  Since I don’t have mania nearly as often as depression, I’m not familiar with this symptom.  Or I don’t remember it.  I’ve always been so identified with being a compulsive overeater, that the idea of not being hungry or even caring about food seems freakishly alien.  So I will watch this and mark it.

But, there is definitely an urge to GO, and I catch myself spinning around starting to do one thing, stopping, starting another, stopping.  I feel the nervy, acidic churn in my stomach.  Last night at our weekly Criminal Minds get-together, I noticed that Tom turned up the volume on the TV several times, so that told me how much more I was nattering.

Management today will be a constant returning to my breath, reminders to stop and relax.  Thursday is a busy day for me, and that will help use the energy my mania generates.  So will more exercise.  Our TOPS group plans to walk around a lake after our meeting today, which is perfect.  As always, the Observer must be in the forefront, monitoring the impulses and flurry of thoughts, creating a space between them and me where I can find myself, creating a space to rest and slow down.

It’s all part of the Bipolar Dance.  One cha-cha at a time.

The Bad-Ass Project

While I was finishing Callinda, I knew I was hypomanic.  The writing was just going too well, the ideas coming too fast.  I slept less, ate less, exercised more (given post-op restrictions).  I knew it wasn’t the time to make any important decisions—no major purchases, no sudden left-turns.  So, when the Wild Hair sprouted in my mind, I just set it aside.  When the impulsivity and grandiosity settle down, I reasoned, I’d take another look.

I’m not sure the mania has completely drained, but I’m sleeping better and feeling less like I’m floating on air.  So, I’m willing to consider the Crazy Idea:

Make a Book out of the Blog

The act of finishing Callinda gave me a measure of confidence I didn’t expect.  It opened me.  It made me willing to do what needs to be done in order to actually publish a book—research the genre, do the leg-work in finding an agent, prepare the material.

Since I’ve gone through this horse and pony show before, I enter into this fully aware of the piles of manure, big bitey teeth and sharp hooves.  The process of getting a book published (or rejected) is hard work and heartbreaking, but it feels like the next step for me.

So, yesterday I spent hours copying all the posts off this blog in order to start sifting and sorting.  Long hours at the library perusing mental illness memoirs and The Writers’ Market await me.

I’m on an Adventure.

What Gifts, Mania?

What gifts, Mania?  What roads flowing liquid through the dreamscape?  What treasures piled like tart grapes?  What moons shining?

For awhile, mania is a lovely thing.  This time, I am driven to write.  In the past few days, I’ve finished my novel, crafted two short stories, outlined the first few chapters of the next novel, and gathered notes to write at least three more short stories.  I wake up in the morning with scenes and dialog fully formed and spewing from my head.

I come to a resting place, a place where I would usually put the story away and let it percolate in my subconscious for a day or days.  But now, the rest lasts the length of an episode of Mad Men, and I’m back at the computer with the perfect solution, the perfect turn, the perfect word.

I know I’m manic.  I feel the obsessive itch.  To counter it, I push away from the stories and play with my art.  But, there, too, I am flooded with potential.  The cards I make can take me over an hour to assemble.  I made a dozen cards this weekend, all different, all elaborate, all beautiful.

This is the place we of the bipolar persuasion yearn for—this place of making, this effortless disgorging of ideas and images that takes form as something real and whole.   This is the Promised Land and Enlightenment and good Rock ‘N’ Roll all bundled together.  We’ll do anything to stay here.

But, it doesn’t last—not the clear, cool mind, not the ease, not the glee.  Mania shifts into agitation and deepening impulsivity.  It tears away sleep and clouds the mind with grand delusions.

I started buying DVDs on eBay to keep me entertained next week after my surgery.  The mania shoves me to keep buying.  I posted my new stories here.  The mania sends me back ten-fifteen-twenty times a day to look for comments, to look at the photos, to tweak one more word.  Small irritations detonate into rage.

The gifts of mania are the gifts I carry with me always.  My talent for making came with my blue eyes and my German bones.  No shift in brain chemistry opens a door or closes it.  No mood determines my potential.  My inborn gifts come through because I use them.  When I’m manic, I just use them more.

So, I shift, and shift again.  The thoughts will slow from their frenzied pace.  The body will tamp down the fires.  And I will still be a Maker.

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