Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Grandmother heaven

Life in Nashville,for me,is amazingly good.
Last week I had the opportunity to stay with five of my grandchildren at my daughter's house. The parents left Tuesday morning at 6 and returned at 10:30 Friday night.
Lisa's good friend Tracey transported the four older children to and from school each day, which was a tremendous help to me. On the second day, when my grandgirls each forgot something, Tracey came back to fetch the items and delivered them to the school.
Little George, 2, had not started his part-time 'school' yet, so he was my steady companion. Having raised four children of my own, I soon felt nostalgic and comfortable caring for a toddler who was as exemplary as all of mine had been at his age.
Each morning we rode to my house to feed the cat and to spend the requisite half-hour or so looking at images of animals and balls on the upstairs computer. Then we visited Kroger to pick up a few items but, more importantly, to allow my grandson to ride the musical horse at the store's entrance.
After lunch back at his house, George went down for a 2-1/2 hour nap near noon after I read two short books, Where the Wild Things Are being our favorite. With the baby monitor visible and audible, I was able to take a luxurious bath and write in my journal.
When he got up, George liked to play a while alone with the stash of toys kept in the corner of the den. Then we went outside and kicked a soccer ball back and forth on the driveway while waiting for his siblings to arrive home shortly after 3.
For the hours until dinner, his siblings almost totally occupied their little brother and I could hear his squeals of delight as well as his forceful directing of the others’ play (!) but I only intervened when a diaper required attention.
For example, big brother J.D. walked down the stairs, looked me in the eye, and said softly, “George has a stinky." When did this 9-year-old grandson develop such manners? I wondered. It would have been so logical for him to yell this info down the stairs. And only after I had finished the child care assignment did I stop to appreciate that the older children had gone the week without a squabble--surely unusual for a family this size.
I lucked out on Wednesday when two soccer practices on opposite ends of town were canceled due to rain, and I didn't have to be three places at once—a trick my daughter has mastered but at which I remain a novice.
The first two nights George slept through the night but, thankfully, the third night he woke up at 3 a.m. I went upstairs and put a dry diaper on him and asked if he wanted to cuddle in bed with me. He said yes. For the next two hours, I held him close under the covers of Lisa and Alex’s bed, in a restful state sweeter than sleep.
On Friday we attended an introductory open house at George's preschool. While a few of his fellow students clung to parents or cried at the unfamiliar classroom, my grandson, with a wary eye but without hesitation, approached the new toys and tried them one by one, waiting his turn when necessary.
That afternoon I managed to please everyone's sweet tooth when I made 24 red velvet cupcakes and topped each set of 8 with vanilla, chocolate, and cream cheese frosting. As I was congratulating myself on this coup, Molly the Golden Doodle leaped up and secured George’s half-eaten chocolate cupcake off the kitchen counter and devoured it, paper muffin cup and all. I called her vet and was relieved to hear that, given Molly's good size, she would probably be all right. (She was.)
After I got home late Friday night, I didn't see these precious children until Sunday morning. As I approached their house after Mass, I cautioned myself not to get my feelings hurt if George cried upon seeing me. After all, he might think I was coming to babysit again and that his parents were going away.
He was playing in the driveway under his mom’s watchful eye when I drove up. He saw me get out of the car and ran toward me. I scooped him up and said, “Oh, George, I have missed you so much!” He threw his little arms around my neck and held me tight for a long, long time--the ultimate thank-you to a Gaga who had already been thanked profusely.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Welcome to my crawl space

My house takes me on a journey of continuous repair with no end in sight.
In February an ice storm caused the re-emergence of a chronic roof leak as well as "ice damming" concentrated above the kitchen area. My insurance professional said my policy did not cover the former problem, that it was the fault of a negligent roofer from years back. He reimbursed me for sixty per cent of the ice damming fall-out, which included dry wall replacement and resurfacing of hardwoods throughout the first floor--work I contracted out to a comprehensive, well-known company that I felt was reputable.
The roofing company finished up in March and the second company began work. Toward the end of their repairs, my washing machine sprang a leak (I thought) and I purchased a new one. When the new machine was installed, the delivery man had to be called back in, as water from the sample wash load spread across the utility room tile and threatened to cover the newly refinished hardwoods. As it turned out, a backed-up water pipe under the house was the cause. My plumber became the first of many visitors to my crawl space. No need to bother the insurance company, as his bill was less than the $1,000 deductible.
Months later, when the other work was complete, after the floors had cured and the furniture had been put back in place from pods in my front driveway, my daughter walked barefoot across my kitchen floor and noticed the hardwood around the refrigerator was cupping. And the ice maker had stopped working. Not seeing the connection (duh), I bought a new refrigerator.
When the contractor sent several men to make a final inspection, they found the refrigerator was leaking.  They summoned a crew who went into the crawl space and reported three leaks there, of possibly months' duration--under the refrigerator as well as under the guest and master bathrooms.  Immediately upon discovering the scope of the problem, the contractor called his personnel off the job.  On the phone with my insurance company, I learned I was denied any coverage because the leaks were old and not "catastrophic"--indeed, they had been there long enough to cause mold formation. 
Two of the leaks apparently and coincidentally(!) began when the guest bathroom toilet and the refrigerator had been re-situated after being set aside to facilitate the floor re-surfacing.  The other leak?  Well, who knew the cause? The company I had hired did not respond when I suggested their subs might be partly responsible. So I was on my own.
I hired a plumber who spent most of a day in the crawl space and took care of the leaks. Then I interviewed two companies that specialized in crawl space clean-up and one general contractor to address the mold remediation. I accepted the median bid on a Tuesday and felt pleased with my choice.
On Wednesday two trucks with three workers arrived and began work at 8:30 a.m.  By Saturday they thought they were finished. They had removed existing mold, treated the entire space, and installed a new vapor barrier. De-humidifiers would run for a few days to complete the drying process. In his letter advising completion of the job, the supervisor attached two photos advising me of "foundation issues" that I might want to address "at a later date."
When the men came to remove the dehumidifiers, they determined that moisture levels remained too high and that continued dehumidification was required. I learned that extra rental of the machines would be granted me "at a discount," which gently let me know that the cost of the company's work will exceed the estimate.  The machines have now run for a week.  
Today the supervisor informed me that the water in the crawl space is "bound" to the wood "at the molecular level" and he installed a third machine in my den that pushes air through two wide hoses into the crawl space through vents in the den.  
The first machines routinely throw a breaker when I use my hair dryer each morning; this new double-acting machine now drowns out the main TV as well as my piano practice.  
I made two appointments on September 1 with foundations specialist companies to give me free estimates.  One of these companies mailed me a daunting 4-inch thick catalogue entitled "Foundation Repair Science" that I have perused with mounting dread of estimates to come.  My brother-in-law, a retired builder, advised me not to address foundation repair until I get ready to sell the house, at which time he assures me more "foundation issues" will be found.  But the book I received, replete with a "before" picture that resembles the pic of my own foundation crack, states the importance of taking care of damage upon discovery. 
I am reminded of my journey in cognitive therapy.  When I first visited Brian, my counselor/friend/advisor/life coach, we tried to forestall behavior problems arising from the extensive damage in my brain.  We examined the negative messages that dictated my judgment and addressed them one by one.  In the process we went back in time until we uncovered serious foundation issues...times in my formative history when cracks and deficits were not filled but left gaping, to forever cause future problems of trust and faith. For almost eight years, I have kept a detailed journal that only Brian reads. Having done extensive remediation of my brain, he can quickly recognize the countless forms my foundation issues take...We address them in our sessions and squelch them one by one...with reason and with humor. Seeing him every other week appears to be sufficient to maintain my well-being.  My psychiatrist credits my "work with cognitive therapy" as much as he credits the medicine he prescribes for my recovery.  
The work on my house, like the work on my brain, has been top to bottom, and it may indeed be never-ending. Try as I will, I may not be capable of ignoring the crack in my home's foundation. With every breath I take, I confront residual fall-out from the cracks in my own foundation, and continued commitment to treatment, I know, is my only viable option. That's what my life is all about--changing when necessary to stay healthy.
I can easily visualize repairing this house until I can no longer afford to stay in it, which may not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April musings

My life tumbles along toward a seventy-first birthday.
 I continue to work as a caregiver, having renewed my nurse's aide certification.  My three clients, new in January, have endeared themselves to me in countless ways, and I love making their lives easier.  I never know whether I will be grilling a sandwich, walking a dog, cleaning an oven, vacuuming, chauffeuring, giving a shower, rolling up a head of hair, helping sort tax documents, organizing a closet, smashing cardboard boxes for recycling, replacing a light bulb, walking a poodle (mix)...
For a few hours three or four days of the week I become part of others' worlds.  I meet their loved ones and listen to their stories and I study the coping mechanisms of senior men and women debilitated by disease, injury, and Alzheimer's.
When I am not working, I spend a good deal of time attending to my own mechanisms for coping with advancing age.  On Monday I meet personal trainer Jim for half an hour's strength training.  At least three times a week I walk two miles on the treadmill and ride two miles on the stationery bike.  My goal of adding a swim to this schedule fades with daily procrastination, mainly because I cannot swim straight enough to stay on one side of a shared pool lane.
Every day I guzzle at least six cups of water, one with lemon, and include plenty of protein, fresh green vegetables, two bananas, and a pint of blueberries in my diet.  I usually stay away from sweets and have no sugar cravings.
On most mornings I grab a cup of black coffee, turn on the "Happy Light" that sits atop the piano, and practice music for at least half an hour.  My counselor and I came up with this activity because reading music, drinking coffee and absorbing bright light simultaneously almost tangibly lighten my mood.
At night I go to bed before ten and make getting enough rest a top priority.  I have my shrink's blessing to take an extra pill if I don't fall asleep within two hours.
When I attend to my physical and mental health, I feel good enough to move from one enjoyable leisure activity to another: watching grandchildren's volleyball, baseball, and soccer games; keeping the almost-two-year-old, lunching with friends, attending support group meetings, participating in Associates of Mercy events at a Mercy convent.
This past weekend I accompanied my daughter and four of her children to Tims Ford Lake for a parish get-together.  Although the excursion lasted less than twenty-four hours, including four hours' driving from Nashville, the break from routine refreshed me like a vacation.  Thanks to the hospitality of Lisa's good friends, I got to take a boat ride, then spend the night in a beautiful lake house.  I don't remember the last time I slept with fresh air swirling over me all night long.
Most nights I find myself alone with cat Lucy after dinner, feeling almost guilty that I so enjoy the solitude.  The phone seldom rings, probably because I almost never phone anyone (preferring to text and email).  No visitors ring the doorbell.
Often I turn in shortly after eating my freshly prepared, full dinner.  I turn out the lights and pull up the covers and pet my cat Lucy for as long as she can stand it.  Then I turn out the lights and turn on the Kindle and read the latest novel by Alice Walker or a classic I don't remember reading (To Kill a Mockingbird) or a book recommended by a granddaughter (Frankenstein).
I remember, in the 1980's, lying in bed next to my husband and thinking how wonderful it was that he and our loved ones were alive: his parents and brothers and sisters, my parents and brother, and our four precious children.  The years since then have brought chaos, upheaval, and unconscionable loss.  Surely it is a miracle that a similar peace now fills my heart.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Solitary confinement

Winter had been mild until last week.  Just when I thought I would make it through the winter season without a cold, a few weeks ago I came down with bronchitis.  I persuaded a nurse practitioner at a walk-in clinic to prescribe a Z-pack, which controlled my symptoms well enough for me to continue part-time work.  When the pills ran out, however, I was left with an ominous feeling in my chest that promised to get worse if not treated with sustained rest.
A week ago Sunday, as if prescribed just for me, a snow- and ice storm hit Nashville that kept me inside my house for an entire week.  My clients canceled my caregiving due to road conditions and my driveway froze into a thick, stubborn sheet of ice.
On Monday I consulted my BFF by phone about a sewing project that I expected to be working on for weeks.  For an hour Deanne and I discussed how I should proceed.  Working at an enjoyable, leisurely pace, I finished a set of curtains by Wednesday night.
My sister-in-law had invited me to her condo in Water Color, FL, for Friday through Monday, the days I do not work.  I figured this trip would only hasten my respiratory healing.  On Thursday morning I printed a Southwest boarding pass, started packing a suitcase, and arranged for Yellow Cab to pick me up street side at six the next morning, since my driveway remained frozen over.
Around two o'clock I lay down on my bed to read.  When I emerged from thebedroom an hour later, I saw water dripping on the hardwood floor from six different places in my dinette ceiling.  Later I would learn this phenomenon—called “ice damming”—occurs when snow melting close to the roof propels the surge of water up under the shingles.  At the time I assumed I had a multitude of standard roof leaks.
I knew I had to cancel my trip.  I spread towels around the hardware floor and called my sister-in-law.I faced two more days of solitude, with lots of rest and reading, as I dealt with contractors and insurance adjustors by phone.  Purely by luck, I still had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for myself and food and treats for Lucy the cat.
On Sunday I eased my SUV across a still icy driveway to the clear street and drove to late morning Mass, then to Kroger to stock up on food and gas.
Although I face months of repairs, some of which insurance doesn’t cover, I feel grateful for the respite that not only restored my health but also reminded me how much I enjoy my long-neglected hobby of sewing. 

Monday, January 12, 2015


Recovered from the stress I heaped upon myself over the holidays...I welcome the new year of 2015.
My son's son, 8, meets with me each Friday.  Taking advantage of his desire to learn to use the sewing machine--which desire might fade quickly--I am helping him make a blanket.  Last Friday he selected remnants from my collection that he will cut into twenty-five squares for the quilted side, and he chose a plush cheetah print for the plain side.  He made his pattern, which promises to yield an awesome result.  His sister and I completed a blanket in 2014, using this method.
In my role as grandmother, I like to pepper my calendar with grandchildren's activities, which now include basketball games--a sport I like and can follow.  Last Saturday I watched JD's morning game and Hannah's two games that lasted into the afternoon.  Then I attended Mass Saturday night with my daughter's family because Hannah was singing in the youth choir for that liturgy.
At work, January brings me a new schedule, with the cessation of service to my original Monday-Wednesday-Friday client.  Now I work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving Monday and Friday free.  I have mornings open Tuesday, so I can still keep my youngest grandchild George, who will be two years old in June.  Knowing how quickly babies turn into teenagers, I take advantage of every opportunity to feed him and play with him...the order in which he chooses to do things when he comes to my house.
Other activities that keep me busy include attending Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance as well as Nicotine Anonymous group meetings and meeting friends for lunch occasionally.  Eating a healthy diet and drinking eight glasses of water a day keep me going to Kroger frequently for fresh fruits and 32-packs of purified bottled water that disappears quickly.  I try to work out at the Y three days a week, not counting 30 minutes of strength training I signed up for on Mondays.  I see my counselor for an hour every other week and my doctor every six weeks.
At least once a month I meet with the Associates of Mercy at the Mercy convent.  And I facilitate our "Renew" scripture-sharing small group six times a year.  In November we met at my house and I had no idea I would never see one member--Barbara--again.  She suffered a stroke and died in December, to our surprise and dismay.  What a stalwart, honest Catholic mentor she was!  At my age (70) I find I lose friends too often.
For years I have wanted to get my house "in dying order."  On Christmas day I began re-organizing it and have made a formidable dent in this project.  I keep my place neat at all times and get repaired whatever needs fixing--always something.  Last week, when I was at work, a car veered off the street into and  through my shrubbery, across the driveway, and into my neighbor's yard.  I came home to find broken branches, chrome, glass, and rubber blocking the entrance to my garage.  The police left a copy of the order for an accident report in my mailbox.  Getting reimbursed for the clean-up and replacement of greenery will test my skills in assertiveness and I'll likely fail to get paid back.  Enough that I can afford this fix; I don't feel compelled to hand off the expense to someone else.
My son, the Buddhist monk, has been assigned to his monastery's outpost that is even more remote than the monastery itself, which is set on the mountainside of Redwood Valley, California.  Now Khantiko (his new name) resides somewhere near the Washington/Oregon state line.  Until April, I must rely on snail mail to contact him rather than the usual twice-weekly emails.  Once a week I write news of his family and myself which follows the course of and often duplicates the journal I keep for my counselor.
While I feel grateful for my health, home, and family, I retain the tendency to host a low mood, especially on dreary cold days.  Recently my daughter texted me that she thought I seemed a little down.  She offered for Hannah, 10, to spend the night.  I was thrilled to have her and even more thrilled when Abigail, 12, came as well.  By the next day all my negative thoughts had fled and I felt no longer the victim of the "Noonday Demon" (depression).
As I continue to ease into the new year, when it seems time stretches out ahead of me in doable I may spend most of the day reading, until my piano lesson this afternoon and a meeting of DBSA tonight.  Getting reacquainted with this blog after months of neglect and writing about my normal life...represent a kind of beginning for me.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A new leaf

            At a recent appointment with my counselor Brian, I told him I was thinking of closing out my blog.  When we looked at it together, we saw that I have been writing it for over five years.  The initial purpose, in my mind, was to expose the ramifications of my mental illness in the hope that bringing light to these might somehow lessen or modify them.  Instead, I believe acute examination has confirmed what I already knew and believed about bipolar disorder: for me, at least, it’s a lifelong condition that requires most of my energy if I am to remain stable.
            I certainly see the validity of hope for those recently diagnosed, that they may do better than I have with the disorder.  The presence of many more effective drugs these days, the increased knowledge in psychiatry, the efficacy of cognitive therapy…all promise that people diagnosed early may check the progression of the illness before significant damage is done.
            My youngest son recently emailed me from his Buddhist monastery and said, “I think your friends would be surprised at how much you struggle with your disorder.”  In a way, this made me feel proud—that perhaps I don’t show as much weakness as I feel—but in another way, it made me think it’s time to stop complaining about BP.  I have documented my struggles a hundred different ways, interpreted the symptoms from many different perspectives.  I might just as well shoulder (what I perceive as) my cross and accept its burden as the burden I am by now most equipped to deal with, thanks to a monumental amount of help and support since my first breakdown at age 25.
            This fall I enjoyed a wonderful week-long vacation with my daughter’s family that helped me recognize my own positive prognosis.  Surrounded by seven people expert in giving and receiving love, I found I could put aside the residual fear of relapse that has hampered my appreciation of life.  While remaining careful to continue the healthful habits that nurture my mental stability, I achieved a new confidence in my emerging, sane self.
            This awareness was further enhanced when I kept my son’s two children for a long weekend.
            My counselor had assured me the vacation would be great, and he was not surprised.  I shared with my psychiatrist that I now see myself differently.  When the occasional self-deprecating messages start to play in my brain, I remind myself: “No, that is no longer true!  I am better than that—a proved fact!—and I don’t have to put myself down any longer.”
            Dr. M. said, “From now on, we’re giving you a new script.”  And he didn’t mean a new drug.  He meant that, continuing on the same three meds that have served me well for the last three and a half years, I am living a “new” story, one based on health rather than disease.  Best of all, he implied that the BP can be considered manageable!
            And so I have decided to continue the blog.  But it will be more about celebrating my life and less about bemoaning my ancient diagnosis of bipolar one. 
            The blog that I began with such enthusiasm these many years ago has run its course.  I have had it printed for my counselor, myself, and my children, should they ever want to read it.  At this time I wish to embrace wellness and continue to share whatever insights I discover on living productively with a serious mental illness. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interview with a person with bp

My friend Dee’s daughter has been hospitalized recently with bipolar disorder I. My friend interviews me by phone and asks questions that remind me what it is like to experience one extreme of that condition.

Dee: The doctor at the hospital refused to accept her as an outpatient because she was too angry and uncooperative.

This doctor seems irresponsible, dismissing her without setting up aftercare. Anger and denial come with the disease and, as a psychiatrist, he should be willing to address these. I remember that in 2007, after I had taken an overdose of pills, I was convinced my current counselor would refuse to keep me as a client. He said he knew counselors who refused to work with anyone who attempted suicide, but he would question why they were even in their chosen profession.

Dee: My daughter said the hospitalization was the worst experience of her life; she talked of an attendant watching her in a way that made her feel like a victim in a Nazi concentration camp…how can a hospital treat people so badly? I shouldn’t think ill treatment would be beneficial.

Absolutely, hospitalization for bipolar mania can be a nightmare. I am taken out of society and placed in a controlled environment without any of the “stuff” that makes life pleasant. If I act out--even by just talking fast and loudly--I may be locked in the “quiet room” with only a bare mattress for company and without even a commode. This leaves me without dignity and brings out a self of such horror that I spend a lifetime remembering, regretting, and fearing a recurrence. For example, spending four days in seclusion during my last hospitalization had me convinced I would die in flames; my sick mind told me the hospital had caught fire and no one was coming to get me out.

Dee: How long does the manic phase last? Someone said it can be weeks, months, even years.

For me, it usually lasts a couple of months. My insurance always dictated my leaving the hospital well before my judgment and stability were intact. Fortunately, my psychiatrist kept me on Haldol and saw me twice a week until my disease became more manageable. My counselor saw me just as often. Also, my family was attentive, which allowed me to resume my normal activities gradually as I was able.

Dee: As much as I want her mania to end, I don’t want her to crash into depression.

It’s the psychiatrist’s job to ensure that the return to sanity doesn’t morph into clinical depression. As I came slowly out of mania, many of my negative thoughts were the self-persecuting memories of manic behavior. “How could I do that?” “How could I be like that?” My psychiatrist restores an “upper” medication—in my case, Vyvanse and a small dose of Lexapro—that I take along with an anti-psychotic, Zyprexa. He addresses both aspects of my illness, which is crucial to keep me from going off either deep end. I have more frequent sessions with my counselor when I get out of the hospital, and these are also vital to the recovery of my self-esteem.

Dee: When you were manic, did you realize that you were manic?

[This I had to think about before answering honestly.] Despite all the experience that should give me that insight, I have to say NO. When I was manic, I existed with a mindset that only other manic depressives can comprehend. I believed I was the most intelligent and creative person in the universe. For that reason, the hospital attendants struck me as unimaginative and stupid. They imposed limits on my behavior because they were jealous of my talents and gifts.
Only as I came down from mania did I realize these were sensible, caring, “normal” people. Of course there exist the inevitable few whose attitudes reflect the real stigma of mental illness in our society, but probably most people who choose that line of work have compassion.

We close our phone conversation with my friend far from comforted, I know. Her daughter continues to act out after release from the hospital and remains in denial of her condition. Until she resumes treatment, she might be considered a “loose cannon.” Bipolar disorder I, no easy diagnosis, requires constant self-monitoring and strict life habits to manage. If my friend’s daughter decides to accept and deal with her illness, I will be happy to share my experience with her in another interview.