Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

As winter progresses, I watch this long spell of nearly-normal fade in the rear view mirror.  It’s a horrible feeling, watching that image of the real me shrink and shrink as the bipolar hitchhiker takes over the wheel.  I can feel the Vyvanse losing its grip and rolling under the tires.  I worry that I’ve forgotten how to do this—how to manage a life instead of living it.

Hello DarknessAnd, of course, all that is a story.  I’ve promised to guard against telling stories.

So, let’s just say it’s an adjustment.

There is more depression and distorted thinking, more fibromyalgia pain and insomnia, more compulsive eating and anxiety.  But, the truth is we all expected this, even while we hoped Vyvanse could beat back winter (we being my therapist, nurse practitioner/med provider, and me).

Miracle enough that an amphetamine meant to curb my eating disorder also managed to smooth out my moods for six months.  I don’t want to get greedy.  Six months of feeling joy and gratitude for my life, of sitting in the driver’s seat, can’t be minimized.  Ever.

And all is not lost yet.

Vyvanse acted like a screen door, keeping the bipolarness on the front porch.  But as soon as the drug flushed out of my system each day, the rapid cycling and mixed states poked their heads in and wanted coffee.  They’re just pushier now.  And obviously, they’ve been lifting weights this summer.

I couldn’t tell if V was helping at all the past few weeks.  I just knew I was miserable the moment I woke up and couldn’t discern any difference throughout the day.  So, I started taking V as soon as I got out of bed.  Now, by the time I finish at the Y, I can feel a lift.  The depression is still there, but quiet and more polite.  Again, this seems huge.

I’m trying to use these moderate shifts of mood to prepare for the hairier, meaner moods that will crash through the door.  I got groceries this morning and made two quiches (one to freeze).  If this pattern holds, I’ll bake a chicken/wild rice dish tomorrow and stick it in the freezer, too.  I can’t cook when I’m brain sick, so doing this feels smart and kind.  I am nurturing and being nurtured—like being my own grandma.

This is all new territory.  Mental illness tries to keep me from seeing that.  It tells me all is lost and will forever be lost.  But, that’s just a story.

The truth is—

—I’m on an Adventure.

Drama, Magic and Miracles

In Their DNA

It seems almost sacrilegious to not have any drama in my life.  I’ve even lost count of how many weeks I’ve been symptom-free—six or more I’m thinking.  And to not worry about what I eat, or even think very much about food.  It’s that darn Vyvanse!  Not only does it curb my binge eating, but has kept my mood at this nice, even place with a clear mind and plenty of energy.  What the Hell?

Winter is still the real test for this magic pill.  But even if my mood is a little better than usual this season, it will still be magic.

So, if I’m not constantly managing my illness, if I’m not on alert for distorted thinking and the Big Fat Liar in my head, if I’m not The Bipolar Bad-Ass Warrior, who the heck am I?

Honestly, I have no idea.  Survival has been my entire existence for the past ten years.  It has changed me, honed me, made me fierce in ways I never expected.  I’m not the same person I was ten years ago.

I like this version of me.  I like it a lot.

That has to be the biggest miracle of all.

The Adventure Continues!

Unboxed

In a Box.

The Darkest Hour is Just before the Box Pops Open. —Ancient Feline Proverb

Last Thursday was the third day in a row of fighting suicidal thoughts.  Fantasies of death consumed me.  My therapist scheduled extra sessions.  I sent lots of SOS texts to friends.  It was the worst of the worst.

I took a nap that afternoon and woke up different.  I couldn’t understand what was happening.  Was that sunshine coming in the bedroom window?  When did the grass get green?  What was this weird feeling in my body?  Energy?

I washed my face and put on my shoes.  Could I actually, like, go do something?  I ran errands.  In my car, driving to the auto parts store to get a windshield wiper I’ve needed for months, delivering the cards I made for the school district, I felt the sun, smelled the flowering trees, took deep breaths.  No intrusive thoughts.  No darkness.

Over the next few days, that sense of being normal continued.  Story ideas started coming back.  I made dates with friends and kept them.  I vacuumed.  I ate a bowl of vegan chili and felt something weird.  Full.  I could actually feel that I’d eaten enough and stopped—which started a conversation with my support staff about the correlation between the brain chemistry of bipolar disorder and binge eating.

Such an odd feeling of transition, to have the box of depression spring open after months of darkness and containment.  Like most cats, I don’t immediately hop out.  The eyes must adjust.  Safety must be evaluated, trajectory calculated.  And I must remember that this rush of freedom will not last, at least in this brilliant form.  I will be hopping in and out of the box all through the summer.  But I know that the lid is off.  The Mean Season seems to be over.

Phoenix

Merry Sidekick

As part of my quest for living a better life with bipolar disorder, I spent this past weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul, reweaving connections with old and dear friends, and sending out a few new runners.  These are the kind of friends who will make me stand in their kitchen until they understand the difference between rapid cycling and mixed state; the kind of friends who find a restaurant for lunch on the other side of town because it will accommodate both their Paleo diet and my vegan preferences; the kind of friends who make me laugh until I have to hop to the bathroom to avoid leakage.

And when I have a melt-down (as I did on Saturday), these are the kind of friends who let me bolt back to my hotel without offense, who will hold my insecurities and shame like a porcelain bowl until I can shake the ashes into the trash.  We can say to each other after a morning of coffee and gab, “Are we done?  I’m done.”

These are people who allow me to be myself, who are honest and clear, who look at me with compassion and see all.  They are the keepers of my history since I can’t remember it.  They fit forgotten pieces into place.  They restore me.

This is a difficult time of year for those of us with Seasonal Affective elements included in the bipolar disorder.  Spring brings chaos, fluctuations in mood, and, for me, warp speed cycling.  This is the time of year I am most likely to be hospitalized.  I need the support of people who love me, but my tolerance for stimulation and novelty is severely limited.  It’s a quandary.  But my friends are willing to walk this weird tightrope with me.  And when I can rise up from the ashes, I am grateful.

3:00AM

Kitty-Filled Life

It’s a little after 3:00AM now.  I’ve been up since 1:30 after four hours of sleep—despite my never-fail sleep cocktail of Xanax and Benadryl.  It’s February.

The one good thing about nights like this, when rapid cycling and mixed states turn my days and nights inside out, is that I don’t have to worry about getting up to go to work.  I remember, years ago, trying to talk myself back to sleep. Before any diagnosis told me this might be part of my “normal,” before doctors, and my work ethic, and the State agreed that I was no longer employable, I fretted over my sleeplessness and dreaded the morning.  I know most of us have had nights where we finally drop off at 5:00 in the morning only to have the alarm go off at 6:00.  It’s a horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling.

Now I just get up.  Open the windows to let the cold, fresh air wash the stale taste of insomnia out of the apartment, stick my favorite mug in the microwave and sip chai while I putter on the computer.  In a few minutes, I’ll close the windows and pull out my plush throw, rearrange the cats on my chair, and read for a while.  When I get sleepy, I’ll go back to bed.  It doesn’t matter anymore when that happens.

That freedom is exquisite.  The absence of that particular stress is like a Christmas present, an emotional gift card that keeps on giving.  It makes the discomfort of this spell easier to bear.

I’m trying to be more conscious of how winter torques my bipolar disorder.  Fellow blogger-friend, Kitt O’Malley (and what a foin Irish name, that is) just posted a clinical piece about the relationship between BP and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It was the first thing I read when I sat down with my chai.  (Synchronicity is alive and well in my spinny corner of the world.)  It’s always nice to know I’m not alone in my otherness, that there are folks who go through the same kinds of extra grief this time of year, that a committee somewhere labeled it.

It’s the little things that help me keep going when I really don’t want to, little comforts, little efforts.  I give my light box one more try and sit down to make a card—like the one at the top of this post.  I haul my ass to the laundromat, normally a place I love, but now just one more chore I can’t quite accomplish.  But I do it, and the gentle rhythm of the dryers, the warm scent of clean, comforts me.  I let Richard Armitage read to me in the car, his facile voice assuming dozens of characters in a novelization of Hamlet, and it comforts me.

Now the chai and the soothing motion of fingers on a keyboard, the wandering off to read a bit of Rumi, the quiet trust of my sleeping cats all conspire with the space I’ve made for acceptance.  I feel sleep sliding up behind me.  It’s 5AM, and I don’t own an alarm clock anymore.

There is always something to be grateful for.

The Other February

FebruaryAll of these valentines I keep posting and adding to my Etsy shop, the snappy comments and sass, they’re just spackle over the cracks that open up in February.  It’s the hardest month.  It always has been.  I forget that.  Every year.  If not for my piles of journals, I never would have made the connection.  I’m in danger in February.

I forget how the cold and the dark take up residence, even while North America is turning back toward the sun and the snow melts.  Inside me, the cold and dark stay. Even this year with a light box.  There’s no escape from February.

I forget how my skin grows burrs on the inside that snag and startle.  I’m so uncomfortable in my own skin.  Even murmuring words of kindness and acceptance to counter the sudden self-hatred, I can’t get out from under the briars.  I feel bloody and raw from the inside out.

I forget how strong the wrong-thinking gales blow through me, knock me down, rip off my flimsy protection.  I drown in panic and confusion as that storm snatches away each breath.  There’s no shelter, no leeward side to center and regroup, just the unrelenting force of despair screaming through and around me.

I forget how lonely February feels, locked in this dungeon, a barred window between me and all the people passing by on the street above.  I see them, can almost touch them, but I can’t get out.  And they can’t get in.  Some speak gentle words.  Some take parts of me for safekeeping until I can remember that I’m human.  I don’t make sense to them, and they sound silly to me.  Or infuriating.  I’m safer not talking at all, which makes me more alone.

I forget that even with my huge collection of tools and skills February drains them of any meaning.  Days become a string of distractions, tiny moments of relief swallowed up by February’s vast pain.  It’s instinct that drives me—a wrong-headed survival mode that grabs and clutches at whatever floats by in the roaring floodwater.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I started blogging four years ago at the beginning of February—screaming from the heart of the maelstrom, “I’m here!”

I’m here.

I’m here.

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