Girl Parts

There are times when a mental or physical shock can snap me out of a bipolar episode.  My theory is that the sudden demand of crisis problem-solving cooks the brain in a particular way and changes the chemistry there.  It’s a theory.  Anyway, I got a good shock yesterday, and I seem to be back to set point this morning.

I found out I need a hysterectomy.

After several trips to the gynecologist, ultrasound and labs all the results came in.  I have orange-sized fibroid tumors and a pre-cancerous uterine lining.   So, out she goes.

I’m having a strange sort of deja vu experience, since twenty years ago another gynecologist campaigned strongly for a hysterectomy.  At the time I believed doctors knew only enough to be dangerous, and that our organs have many more functions than are recognized.  I wanted to heal my body naturally and keep it intact.  I worked with a naturopath and actually got pregnant (which is a whole other story).

In any case, I made peace with my girl parts after years of pain, vomiting, hemorrhaging and countless gynecological interventions.  Now, they really have to leave.

I wonder what my life might have been if I’d followed my doctor’s recommendation twenty years ago.  A good friend had a hysterectomy in her twenties, and her mood disorder changed dramatically for the better.  How much a part do hormones play in mood disorders?  From the research I’ve read, no one knows.  The most the braniacs can say is there might be a link in some women sometimes.  Obviously, this is not a research priority.

I’m not falling for the “what if” trap.  I made my decision then and stand by it.  I feel like I advocated for my body and loved it even when it was difficult.  But this is a hyster of a different color.  When cancer starts entering the conversation, it’s time to let go.  Which I will be doing on March 14.

And as far as the shock therapy goes, I’ll see if this one sticks today.  Hell of a way to reset your brain.

How Can I Help?

Yesterday was a bad day.

It’s hard not to fling drama all over it, gussy the day up with adjectives and expletives, but simple serves.  Bad.  It was a bad day.

I felt the need to email my friends and family to ask for their loving thoughts and prayers.  I don’t do this as a rule.  I can usually pull out my tools, distract my mind from losing itself in the sludge.  Sometimes I make a call.  Sometimes I meet a friend.  But, yesterday I needed the Full Monty.

I noticed that two questions kept coming up in the responses from my loved ones:

  1. What caused this episode?
  2. How can I help?

I know these questions come from love, from seeing someone they love in pain and wanting to make it better.  Nothing hurts more than watching someone dear to us suffer.  We want to fix it.

But, I can’t answer these questions.  What causes bipolar episodes?  Doctors don’t know.  Therapists don’t know.  People who have bipolar disorder don’t know.  There are theories that go in and out of fashion.  New research starts out as promising, then fizzles.  Some of us can identify triggers that may, at times, nudge the cycle in one direction or another.  But, those are inconsistent and not always in evidence at the bipolar crime scene.  What caused this latest episode, and why is it cycling up and down?  My best answer is “it’s the nature of the illness.”

A variation on this theme is the question “How can I help?”  I know I feel better if I have some concrete way to assist a person in trouble.  I feel like I’ve eased their suffering, made the situation better, done my part to make a positive change.  Unfortunately, the only way I’ve discovered to alter an episode once it starts is to create a shock of some kind.  I don’t think the folks asking this question want to hear, “Slap me” or “Give me a crisis I have to deal with.”  Even then, a shock doesn’t always work.  So, I’m not ready to stand in line to get slugged.

I’m not shy about asking for what I need.  That’s why I emailed everyone yesterday.  I needed the positive energy and loving words they sent back.  I gave them a way to help me.  But, generally, I have no idea how anyone can help, because nothing helps.  There’s no easing the symptoms, just managing and “holding on” until the cycle passes.

It’s hard to explain to folks how stressful these two little questions can be.  These are questions without answers, but people want answers.  They want direction.  They want to be part of the solution.  They can’t tolerate the idea that bipolar disorder is this quixotic and unpredictable, that there’s not something I should be doing/ingesting/avoiding to snap out of it, that there really is no cure.  I understand.  I do.

So, I’m going to give folks a couple of things they can always do to help me.  I hope this little list will bring some relief to the people I love and who love me.  I appreciate everything you do for me.  I love you.

  1. Send Money.  (I’m poor.  Money always helps.)
  2. Take me out for a Meal.  (Healthy food + Human contact.)
  3. Remind me why you Like Me (The twisted thoughts make me forget.)
  4. Take me to a Movie.  (Distraction + Human contact without the pressure of conversation)
  5. Send Loving Thoughts and Prayers (This helps more than you know.)

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

Yesterday, my faithful iMac gasped its last.  Logic board failure was the diagnosis (*Sigh* Another family member with a bad brain).  So, I’m posting from my library, which is only half a block away.  It means I have to stay on target and not dillydally, since I only get 60  minutes on the computer.  So…

When my computer guru, Jeremy, told me the bad news, I absolutely froze.  Think Straw and Camel’s Back.  My ex-husband helped me purchase my computer years ago. Computers were his passion.  He did all the maintenance, upgrades, installations, learning the new programs for both of us.  I sorta know how to use the programs I have, and I know to back up my files every once in a while.  That’s all.

I was lucky to find Jeremy when I moved back to my hometown.  He and the other 20-something fellas at BDH Technologies untangled my computer messes when I made them.  But Jeremy doesn’t want to tell me what to do about my dead Mac.  All he could do was look up what it would cost to replace it—a mere $1300.  Hence, the deer in the headlights.

Already in the throes of a sizeable bipolar depression and still fighting off bronchitis, I did the only thing I could.  I turned into Scarlet O’Hara.  “I won’t think about it now.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another day.”  I turned on the TV and gathered all the food I had in the apartment and proceeded to go numb.

By mid-afternoon I was bloated, foggy and not able to keep the panic at bay any longer.  I sat meditation to still myself, then I pulled a Sheryl Mae and cleaned my apartment.  Dusting, rearranging, sorting, pulling out Halloween decorations, mounting clothes hooks, vacuuming burned off some of the frenetic energy and helped my brain process the ideas that came during meditation.  When I was done, my place was clean and Octobery, and I had a plan.

Slowly, slowly, I’m learning how to work with this illness.  When the depression or mania are at their worst, I need to whack them over the head with a baseball bat.  A shock, a change, hard physical work all interrupt the signal of the episode.  At least that’s what it feels like to me.

So, today, I’ll go to Staples and talk to the computer people there.  If they can’t help me pick out a computer, I’ll go to Best Buy on Friday when I’m in the city for meditation group.  I will polish up my resting credit card, because that’s what credit cards are for–emergencies.  But, I will entertain the idea of buying something other than a Macintosh for the first time in my life

The squeezed, helpless frozen state I was in yesterday transformed.  I’m still depressed, but not debilitatingly so.  I’m still sick, but I splashed around in two water classes at the Y today.  Buying a new computer is still a huge decision, but I have a plan.

I’m on a great adventure.

Resurrection

A few days after bronchitis set in, my computer died—we both shut down for repairs, so to speak.  But, today I can roll back the stone and bringing us both out of the crypt.

It’s been a very interesting couple of weeks.  Since I had bronchitis twice last winter, I wanted to see if I could do it differently this time—at least as far as mental health is concerned.  I found that I was much less agitated about the whole situation.  I didn’t feel any of that panic to get better fast or push myself to get back to normal functioning.  How many of us have gone back to work too soon or tried to workout when we should be in bed?  I tried to really pay attention to what my body needed.  Since I don’t have a job or a family to tend to, I could give my body all the time it needed to heal itself without the high-powered, expensive antibiotics my doctor would surely have given me.  I did crossword puzzles, slept, watched TV, slept, drank lots of juice, slept, took over-the-counter aids, ate lots of fruit and vegetables, and slept.

In two weeks, I’ve only had one day where I’d say my bipolar symptoms boiled up.  It was one of those days when I woke up full of regrets, my life scrolling by as a series of mistakes and failures.  Distorted thinking quickly recognized and set aside for more crossword puzzles and reruns of Gilmore Girls.  This in itself is noteworthy because I had been in a long bipolar episode when the bronchitis came on.  As I’ve experienced on several occasions, a physical shock interrupted the cycle.  Sometimes getting sick will trigger an episode, but this time it reset my mood to “center.”  It’s all so mysterious.

While all this expectorant naval-gazing was going on, our family had other matters to deal with.  My dad came to stay at the hospice facility while we made arrangements for him to enter a nursing home.  I say “we”, but it was really my sister and her husband who helped Mom with this huge decision.  I helped as I was able, but these things happen quickly and can’t wait.  It was the one time I did want to get better fast.

We will move Dad to the nursing home tomorrow.  Such a huge shift in our family.  I’m blinded a bit, stunned, like bright light stabbing into the darkness after the stone rolls away.  I may have to stand at the threshold awhile, hanging on until I get my legs under me again.

The D Word

For a while yesterday, I wanted to die.

The depression, the poverty, the constant, never-ending struggle to simply exist was too much.  All I could see was want, loneliness, misunderstanding and pain that my fantasizing would never change.  Jumping around in the water, scribbling little stories, pasting pieces of paper together, starting book after book only to set them back down just marked time while my life tick-tocked by.  Death would be such a relief.

For someone who is bipolar, this thought is a marker.  It’s not the same as wanting to commit suicide.  And it’s still distant to developing a plan to commit suicide.  Nevertheless, thoughts of death signal a serious turn in the depression.

I stayed with those thoughts long enough to write them all out in my journal.  As soon as I actually wrote the “D” word, actually admitted to feeling that lost and desperate, I surrendered to my training.

This is what training is for.  It kicks in without conscious thought.  It’s habit, so deeply ingrained that it runs automatically.

I mopped up my tears, finished my coffee and went home.  I gathered together some old pictures and took them to Minute Man to get copied.  I bought refills for my ink pens and furniture polish.  I picked up my new glasses.  I stood outside and lifted my face to the warm sun, let myself feel the mild breeze.  I glued borders around Nancy’s collages.  I made two cards.  For the rest of the day, I distracted my brain from the hopelessness.

And in the evening I told my Bipolar Buddy that I had thought about dying.  My friend Cheryl is my Bipolar Buddy.  Three years ago, after I tried to kill myself, I promised Cheryl that I would always tell her if thoughts of death ever came back.  I’m accountable to her.  I’m honest about my thoughts, and she witnesses—that’s our agreement.

In the past, I would have called my mental health clinic.  My therapist would have called my psychiatrist, who would have sent me to a hospital where medications would have been adjusted or changed, thus starting a four to eight week period of confusion and fog-brain while my brain and body adapted to the new drugs.

It was never the drugs that made me better, it was the slap of being hospitalized, the challenge to my distorted thinking that pulled me from the edge.  So, I learned to challenge my own thinking.  Once I realized the medications actually made my symptoms worse and I was able to wean off them, I became even more able to see the distortions.  I’ve not had thoughts of death for a long time, but it’s part of the illness.  They had to come back around sooner or later.

I’m better this morning—not great, but better.  Thoughts about my life being pointless still crowd me from behind, but I’m not entertaining them.  What I will do today is trust my training.

Sleeping Dogs

Regrets chased me from sleep this morning.

I hate when that happens.

I work hard at staying in the Now, let the future take care of itself, let the past be, but an odd thing happens sometimes when I’m asleep.  Some switch flips, some cage door opens, and the devil dogs get loose.  Regret, one of bipolar’s demon companions, charges through the moors of my internal landscape and latches on with bitey teeth.  There’s no shaking the beast once its jaws are locked.  No amount of meditation or self-talk, no degree of thinking seems to pry it loose.  The only thing I’ve found to help is a hard slap across the face—metaphorically speaking.

This morning, the right cross came as an email from my dear friend, Lily.  It required me to pull focus and fire up a different part of my brain in order to ponder and respond to her deep, questing comments.  When I finished, I realized the horrible hounds had laid down, still alert, still ready to pounce if I looked at them too long, but quiet and separate from me.

Regret is a complete waste of time and energy, a lot of hand-wringing with no possible positive outcome.  We can’t unmake the choices, unsay the words, undo the deeds.  We can only mop up the mess as best we can, learn the lesson provided, and move on.  So, if I know this, why do the hounds still chase me?

Author and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle says:

Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.

Why does the mind habitually deny or resist the Now? Because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future, so it perceives the timeless Now as threatening. Time and mind are in fact inseparable.

To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it – who are you?

It boils down to being identified with my history, which is easy to fall back into when BP churns up the chemical stew and throws things like Hell Hounds at me when I’m sleeping.  Okay, I get that.  And I also get that it takes a shock to shift the energy.  Like in the old John Belushi movie, Continental Divide, when he tries to distract Blair Brown by exclaiming, “Look! A baby wolf!”  Ego likes to be in charge and likes to operate in a comfortable groove.  The shock knocks it off-balance so the awareness of Now can come back in.

What I’m left with is gratitude for the serendipity of Lily’s email.  And to the devil dogs waiting on the moor, I say, “Look, a baby wolf!”

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