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.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The bee in my bonnet...

With summer came the familiar desire to cut my medication. I take five milligrams of Olanzapine at bedtime. I imagined that this anti-psychotic might be causing my voracious appetite (it probably is) and my difficulty rising each morning (it probably is not).
At my regular appointment with my psychiatrist, I asked permission to cut the med in half. He agreed I could try, first by alternating a full dose with a half-dose and seeing how it went. My counselor Brian urged me to pay attention to how this affected my sleep.
The trial period started. After a couple of weeks I had charted lost sleep on a couple of the nights I took the half-dose. I decided to adopt the half-dose anyway, since I felt less 'affected' taking less Olanzapine.
When I attended a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance meeting, several other members of the group made me re-think this intention. One woman said, "You say that you are terrified of becoming manic again...so why would you take the risk?" Two others said much the same thing.
I decided to take their advice. I went home and replaced all the half-tablets in my pill case with whole ones. For years I have stayed stable on this medication, and I am fortunate to require no greater dose than five milligrams. Perhaps the desire to take less of it is just a subtle form of denial...if I take less, I can feel as if I have a lesser case of bipolar disorder, or that some of the condition has gone away.
A review of my BP history reminds me of the seriousness of my case. In the past insomnia has led inevitably to euphoric or dysphoric mania. Olanzapine helps me sleep. I was on a lesser dose when I had my last episode, and I 'broke through' my medication at that time, i.e., relapsed in spite of it.
The next time I get a bee in my bonnet about cutting meds, perhaps I will recognize a temptation I need to resist.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pilgrimage 2

A week ago Friday, I leave my house at 6:45 a.m., to begin the journey to Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery where my youngest child, son Anthony, will be ordained as a novice, after serving for a year as an anagarika. Next year’s ordination will make him a ‘full’ monk.
I fly Southwest to Los Angeles, change planes, and continue to San Francisco. There I rent a car and drive through the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and north toward Ukiah, where I plan to stay three nights.
For hours I follow GPS instructions before I realize I made a crucial mistake in its setting: I opted to ‘avoid freeways.’ Soon I am driving 2-lane country curved roads past wineries, ranches and camps. A lengthy trek on Petrified Forest Road convinces me I am sufficiently lost. Fortunately I see a Texaco station where I learn I am still an hour from my destination and I will approach it from the north, having passed Ukiah while driving in half-circles.
I arrive at the Fairfield Inn at 11:00 p.m., which feels like Nashville time of 1 a.m. I set my phone alarm for 5 a.m., allowing myself an hour to get to Redwood Valley--twice the time it takes someone who has even a minuscule sense of direction. Then I actually sleep fairly well. For no known reason, the motel has upgraded me to a suite, which luxury I sincerely appreciated at that late hour.
Next morning I grab a cup of coffee in the lobby, choose 'quickest route' on the GPS, and arrive at Abhayagiri ten minutes before breakfast. Walking up the driveway from the parking lot, I am again awestruck by the beauty of this remote site against the side of a mountain.
Anthony appears, somewhat thinner than I found him last year. He is wearing the white robe he will trade in tonight for the orange-y gold-colored monk’s robe that he has sewn and dyed himself in preparation.
We serve ourselves breakfast, which we eat in the meeting room, where ten monks and two anagarikas including Anthony sit on the front half of the floor and Buddhist visitors sit in audience to them. As a mature (read old) parent, I sit on a bench in the back. We eat in reverent but comfortable silence. The peace of the environment transforms me, as all my anxieties melt into their essential nothingness.
After breakfast my son and I find a quiet place to talk in the tiny library off the kitchen. Anthony looks at the pictures on my cell phone and wants to hear about his nieces, nephews, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins. He is anticipating a July visit from cousin Melanie and her husband Sean, who plan to take a day of a planned trip to S.F. to visit him at the monastery.
I want to know all about Anthony's life and what his advancement to novice means. Besides new robes, he gets a new name but we won't know the moniker until the ceremony tonight. I learn that he will no longer have kitchen duty (a good thing) or be able to hug his mother on monastery grounds (a bad thing). Nor will he drive anymore, on monastic excursions. He will be driven from now on, keeping his license for ID purposes only. Nor will he be allowed to handle money. His health insurance will be paid for by his community. On infrequent visits to Nashville, he will need his plane ticket acquired for and sent to him.
We talk until almost time for the Meal (there is no dinner), which turns out to be a fantastic spread of vegetarian casseroles, hardy and healthy soups, fruit and veggie smoothies, and a wide assortment of desserts. All food comes from donations and volunteer visitors' cooking.
After the monks enter the kitchen in a solemn line and fill their bowls, they proceed into the meeting room. Debbie, one of two laywoman residents who keep the whole place running well, calls to me to come inside to hear the pre-meal chanting. I find my place on the bench. After this form of not-exactly-prayer, the rest of us leave the monks in their eating, fill our own bowls, and congregate at little tables outside on this lovely spring day which is in turn cloudy, sunny, breezy, still, warm and cool. Buddhist practitioners, many of whom visit this monastery regularly, greet me with warmth and joy as Anthony’s mother.
After lunch Anthony's friend Meryl arrives from Berkeley. Also Buddhist, she completed the same chaplaincy program he did several years ago, and she has been his mentor ever since.
A second laywoman resident named Beth presents me with a partially filled photo album that shows my son in countless activities during his year and a half at Abhayagiri. This thoughtful gift will be kept on my coffee table in Nashville where all my grandchildren can gain a better knowledge of their missing uncle! She promises to send more photos in the future.
After greeting Meryl, I accept the offer of Delores. a visitor, to show me the guest house where I might choose to stay on future visits. We walk up a steep mountain road--a workout that makes me think I should have been using the incline feature on the treadmill at the Y. Delores, my age, works and lives in New Orleans and also runs a Buddhist retreat center in Mississippi which she invites me to visit.
The guest house, Casa Serena, offers accommodations far more comfortable and private than I expected, but the climb required might deter me from choosing to stay there. I walk back down to my car and return to the motel to rest and refresh before the 7:30 p.m. ceremony. The morning re-encounter with this remarkable environment has dissolved any feeble, lingering doubts regarding Anthony's chosen destiny.
At 5:00 p.m. my son's friends Meryl and Diana come to my hotel room, to ride back to the monastery. We arrive there two hours before the meditation to be followed by the ordination ceremony. We make ourselves cups of tea. Two more of my son's friends arrive--Dawn and Jeanne. Sweet-faced Jeanne reminds me of my dear cousin Sandy. Anthony later says he too sees the resemblance.
Shortly after 7:00 we take our places in the meeting room, where up to 100 men, women, and children have spread mats on the colorful oriental rugs that line the seating area for this special occasion. Flower arrangements by a lovely Thai woman visitor surround the sturdy super-lifesize bronze-colored statue of Buddha behind where the Abbott is seated. Debbie has set up a chair for me, complete with small blanket and back pillow. I am grateful for not having to kneel or sit.
The ensuing ceremony begins with a lengthy meditation period and lasts for over two hours. First two men are ordained anagarikas, as Anthony was last year. Then my son officially attains the status of novice. Anthony chants in Pali for long periods multiple times. I know he has some anxiety that he will forget his lines because he told me. But apparently his recitations are correct and there are no pauses. There is more chanting back and forth between him and the Abbot, Ajahn Passano.
My son presents his new robes to the Abbott, who presents them back to him. Anthony then takes them into an adjoining room, where another monk assists him in changing from the white garb he has worn for a year. He reenters the congregation bearing a gift of flowers and candles for the Abbott. There follows an affirmation of dependence, as the Abbott accepts and my son acknowledges the Abbott's responsibility for his welfare.
The Abbott’s final announcement: that Anthony will be known henceforth as Khantiko, pronounced KAHN’-TEE-KO, which means patience, forbearance, and forgiveness, traits the Abbott recognizes in my son.
Afterward we gather outside in the chill evening air, congratulating my son and practicing pronouncing his new name. Diana presents a Pali dictionary to Khantiko. I give him my card of congratulations, with a $100 Visa card in it. This turns out to be appropriate, because he no longer handles money. It’s considered a gift card that can be used by the community.
With Meryl and Diana as passengers, I drive back to the hotel for a short night's sleep.
My cell phone alarm fails me, but I wake up at 6:10 and decide to try to make breakfast at Abhayagiri at 7:00. I get there around 7:10. After breakfast and work assignments Khantiko and I walk up the mountain to Casa Serena, then follow a trail through the forest that approaches the main building from the opposite side. I am careful not to address him as Anthony. Someone pointed out to me that he will eventually have been Khantiko longer than he was Anthony. The strength of his commitment and his general good health convince me this is true.
We arrive back at the kitchen for the Meal, which consists this day of Italian food ordered with a monetary donation. Debbie gives me a lovely gold and tan scarf made in Thailand, which I immediately drape around my neck. I will wear it often back in Nashville and recall this surrounding of peace with each wearing.
I drive back to the hotel for a couple of hours before returning to the lovely home of my friend Sondra, who hosted me during my last year's visit. She brews loose tea, which she serves with dark chocolate in her clutter-free home. I am impressed anew by the streamlined look of her (minimal) stuff, made up of the highest quality everything (such as kitchen appliances and utensils, each of which resides in the most logical and convenient location as determined by its owner with unerring accuracy). I compliment her housekeeping and the efficiency she models.
We walk down her back yard to the thin stream of the Russian River that runs beside her property. She tells me details of the water rationing currently in place due to extreme drought, and she predicts that the river will soon dry up completely until the next big rain. She is allotted 50 gallons of water per day and has to pay a fee for any overage. She says she was surprised how little water that is, compared to what she was using. And she describes how she conserves the water we normally use so carelessly—as when running water until it gets hot—and uses it selectively on her flowers and plants.
She tells me about the popularity of growing marijuana, how much water these plants demand, and how they emanate a stench that is skunk-like. Because we are the same age, we share with each other how quickly we tire these days and how cautious about falling we have become, for fear of broken bones and decreased mobility. I quietly resolve to keep in touch with this incredible distant friend with whom I have much in common, both of us aging widows trying to follow the teachings of Buddha and Christ.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m. I arrive again at the monastery. Khantiko is in a lengthy business meeting with the other community members, so I await his return, preparing myself another cup of tea and sitting on the kitchen’s porch beside two young Buddhists--a beautiful girl, Ash, from India, and a twenty-something American boy traveling across the U.S. and visiting one Buddhist monastery after another.
He tells how he quit his yuppie job and how he has not regretted his decision. I want to ask if he thinks he has a vocation like my son's, but I decide such a question would be too personal. The two young people compare Buddhist retreats in which each has participated. The boy, Scott, asks me what I do and I explain that I am here to see my son get ordained, that I am a Catholic. I tell them that they are fortunate in discovering Buddhism in their youth and having a lifetime to practice it's precepts. I am realizing that this religion attracts me more than my own chosen Catholicism, and I feel more comfortable and truly myself in this worshipful center that my youngest son has found. While I have no intention of converting at my age, it is only by giving my own theology a Buddhist slant that I can continue with it, which perhaps puts me out of the mainstream but which thankfully makes me feel secure as an Associate of Mercy.
Sunday evening I join the monks and their Buddhist followers for a lengthy period of silent meditation along with group chanting in Pali and English. I decide it will take me much more practice and perhaps even study to get down the Pali pronunciations. I say goodnight to Khantiko and walk down the driveway in the dark to drive my rented Nissan through lonely Tomki and West Roads to an almost deserted freeway back to Ukiah.
My last morning the cell phone alarm fails me again. I realize that for two mornings in a row its vibration has propelled the phone to the floor, where the impact cuts off the alarm before I hear it. The good result is that each day I get 45 more minutes of needed sleep. It's 6:00 a.m. when I wake up and I must bathe, dress, pack everything, and check out. I hustle and leave the hotel shortly after 6:30, arriving at Abhayagiri before 7.
I sit and enjoy my bowl of oatmeal at the bench in back of the meeting room, while the monks eat from their sturdy silver bowls in their assigned spaces, seated on the floor. I note that Khantiko now has a 'real' bowl unlike the light tin ones used by the anagarikas. His assigned seat is beside Anagarika J.R., who will be ordained a novice in July.
After the morning meeting, I say goodbye to my son without hugs or kisses. I think that I have neglected to ask him about the abandonment of human touch and how that affects him...the man who from childhood was the most sensual of my children, touching and feeling everything. But there's no use in asking him that now. And, besides, he can still touch and explore things. I tell him I love him and he thanks me for coming. I realize I am reluctant to leave but I do so without tears because part of what this visit has given me is lasting--an enhanced understanding of how to live well.
I have told Khantiko something that perhaps (since he does not have bipolar disorder) he cannot understand: his introducing me to Buddhism and sharing Abhayagiri with me have given me a ‘safety net’...a sense of security sought but not so palpably found in my own Catholic faith.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cultivating normal

The months of my wellness fall away and I experience small ups and small downs, which my counselor Brian reminds me are normal. When my mood chart shows a slight dip, I tend to think I am approaching bipolar depression. Brian points out that I am merely affected by situational triggers, as I continue getting used to good mental health.
In dealing with these mildly fluctuating moods, I remind myself of my friend Theresa's comment on this blog: "I finally realized that I have a choice each day: believe the good or believe the bad. I now choose to believe the good...it's a hard habit for me to form, but I'm progressing!"
When I turned 70 recently, I had every reason to enter this new decade of life with joy. Children, grandchildren, cousins, in-laws, and friends showered me with presents and cards. Then came Mother's Day with more well-wishes, and I felt even more loved and appreciated. Clearly being seventy-something would be non-stop positive.
Then an incident occurred that changed my mood. While flossing my teeth, I watched in the mirror as a huge cap flew out of the front upper part of my mouth. It had a fibrous stick coming out of the middle that I assumed was the root of the tooth. Immediately I visualized endless dental appointments necessary to get an implant and thousands of dollars spent, after which my other teeth would spontaneously self-destruct, one by one. I found myself thinking I must have deserved this...I started dissecting my bipolar past and resurrecting the countless reasons why God was punishing me.
Suddenly I saw the foolishness of this reasoning. I was choosing to "believe the bad" despite all the good that had preceded it.
Before I could adjust my thinking, I drove to the dentist, who repaired my tooth within minutes. Since the cap was undamaged and the base of the tooth showed no decay, he simply re-cemented the cap. What I had thought was the root of the tooth was actually a fiber from a root canal done ten years ago.
I felt ashamed for thinking the worst, as I silently thanked my maker for restoring my smile. The collateral damage of negative thinking was a shaken self-confidence...What next would happen to threaten my recovery?
Then a grandchild texted me; another phoned to invite me to hear her sing at Mass; a third challenged me in double solitaire. Soon I was the happy person I am meant to be..."believing the good" again...believing that the good of this life somehow out-sustains the bad.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A preface

I wrote the following preface for the book I am working on finishing in the next couple of years.
Once upon a time, I thought I could make sense of it all. I could explain what it’s like to have bipolar I disorder. This book represents such an effort. More the story of my disorder than a story of my life, it largely omits the valid accomplishments of birthing and raising four children, holding down several jobs, and sustaining marriage to an exceptional man. Rather, it details the chaos resulting from bad—i.e. bipolar—choices.
Over a period of several years, I put together these chapters in chronological order, for my then-new cognitive therapist, Brian. In weekly one-hour sessions, we examined the experiences I wrote about, noting possible influences from my infancy on…potential causes for the mood disorder that emerged unmistakably when I was twenty-five years old and drastically altered my everything.
Brian and I worked together to forge a wellness for me. I finished this story and began a blog that follows my continued management of an incurable disease. As late as 2011, I was hospitalized during a manic episode, so I harbor no illusion that my remission is certain (i.e., permanent).
Now I enjoy the happy life of a grandmother of seven. I work part-time as a caregiver for employers I respect. Thanks to a balance of exercise and good nutrition, I stay fairly healthy. I have learned to make sufficient sleep a top priority, because exhaustion and insomnia have taken me rapidly to breakdown again and again. I see Brian every other week and he helps keep me alert for signs that my stability is being threatened.
I offer my story to my children and grandchildren. And I acknowledge that at times it makes no sense. May my loved ones escape the useless drama and destruction of major mental illness. They live in a world much enlightened, with elaborate diagnoses, countless medications, numerous therapies, and specialized professionals.
More than any other metaphor, bipolar I as Satan serves both my counselor and myself as a way to describe what happened to me…as the illness took possession of my brain time and again, rendering me demented, deluded, dangerous to myself and others. It put me on a course of destruction that left tangible souvenirs of ruined reputation and broken relationships.
Every day this demon reminds me of sins in my past, suggesting that present contentment and stability cannot endure for someone like myself. Armed with the love of family and the expertise of Brian and my psychiatrist, and confident in the grace of God, I refute Satan’s dark messages. My wellness has already exposed me to depths of joy far more satisfying than the most euphoric mania; reality brings multiple blessings that I never take for granted.
I believe that my wellness depends on good physical health, sobriety, exercise, good nutrition, and a “cocktail” of meds prescribed by an enlightened psychiatrist. It demands from me that I reflect my living by means of a daily journal and track my moods on a chart that my counselor examines at each session. It suggests I attend Depression and Bipolar Support Association gatherings, which surround me with others managing their own remissions.
I want to believe that I can continue doing all that is necessary to keep my illness at bay in my old age. I neither expect nor desire that stability become less challenging. My current joy depends on constant watchfulness and effort.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The magic continues...

My appreciation of life continues despite two minor stumbling blocks. I had a recurrence of pneumonia that hit me on Thursday and Friday before a weekend of important plans. I canceled a much-anticipated art class (with my son's daughter) and a great niece's baptism. Giving myself total rest worked; I felt much better by Sunday night and went to work Monday. But it took longer for me to overcome a sense of intense guilt about what I missed. Automatic negative thoughts attacked: I should have forced myself to do what I had planned; the antibiotic alone would have gotten me well; I have no stamina; I'm lazy. Etc.
The second tiny setback happened when I found myself falling asleep during a fantastic production of "Wicked" at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The night before, perhaps because I had slept in that morning, I could not get to sleep and ended up reading until after midnight. Sitting in the audience the next day, nodding off, I felt sinfully lethargic, according to the automatically negative thought I always bring to such an occasion. My spirits and my enjoyment of the play both rose during the second half, thanks to a diet coke my daughter bought me at intermission. Later I discovered I had neglected to take my morning (wake up) meds. The sleepiness, then, had two causes, neither of which was (dreaded) apathy.
I am learning more and more about my bipolar condition, as I remain stable and remarkably content for a record number of days, weeks, months, and years.
Brian suggested we change our counseling sessions from weekly to every other week. I recalled that the last time we did that, I went into the hospital within weeks. Now I was in a better place, the progress of my recovery almost tangible. I found that I could use the extra hour on off weeks, and we had more to discuss when we met.
Reading my journal at our last session, he told me he was proud of me for taking the weekend off to get rid of the (second) pneumonia. He said I should never feel guilty for prioritizing needed rest, because deterioration in physical health had led me straight to mental problems in the past. Unlike someone younger and without bipolar, I must not risk getting run down. The remaining vestiges of guilt dissipated before Brian's logic.
On Sunday, March 23, I became an Associate of Mercy during a brief ceremony in the Mercy convent chapel, witnessed by my oldest son, his wife, their children, my daughter Lisa, and three of her children. In front of family, friends, other Associates, and perhaps a dozen Sisters of Mercy (nuns), I made a 3-year covenant to live a life of Mercy, i.e., a life based on love and the teachings of Jesus--including a prerogative for the poor and disenfranchised. I acknowledged that I must minister first to myself, as an individual with bipolar I disorder, before I minister to my clients and my grandchildren.
Each morning I place a shiny Mercy Associate pendant around my neck and approach the day with a renewed sense of commitment and companionship. In my past, religious encounters have triggered psychosis. I am happy that the 3-years-long approach to Association has allowed me time to change gradually and gently. When I made my Cursillo weekend decades ago, I went into the hospital for mania just days later. The bombardment of unaccustomed piety led to two nights' sleep deprivation, which led to psychosis and a month's stay in a psych hospital.
After I wrote the last blog entry, I asked Brian if so-called "normal" people notice life's magic all the time. Are colors always vivid for them and everything and everyone super-sized and intricate? He said most people probably take created beauty for granted while I, having been chronically deprived of clear vision, appreciate it more.
I know that from an early age I grappled with a kind of simmering depression. Living was always difficult and I thought every cheerful person I knew was just shallow in his or her thinking. I couldn't discover the meaning of life, but I was certain it was grim. In adulthood, I mistook mania for true happiness and subconsciously sought its delusion. Now I'm inclined to agree with the line from a pop song, asserting that "happiness is the truth." Not a happiness of excess or hedonia, but one of balance, discipline, and love.