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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The magic of life

My latest illness began when I overworked and let myself get run down because my good, stable mood kept me from noticing my physical symptoms.
Weekend before last I accepted a caregiving assignment which involved long hours, accompanying a legally blind mom as she negotiated three days jam-packed with festivities surrounding her daughter's Jewish wedding. I had a cold going into the weekend, but it was such a glorious success--due to my client's stamina and the love of her entire wonderful family--that I hardly noticed my exhaustion. Fortunately my counselor Brian noticed at our weekly session on Monday and he prescribed bedrest for the next day, my day off. This helped but not enough, apparently. My cold got worse, but I continued work with my regular client. When I left her house on Friday, I stopped at the Little Clinic to make sure I had not contracted the flu. I was diagnosed with pneumonia.
This past weekend I was as sick as I ever remember being (physically), until Sunday when the antibiotic took hold. What astounded me was that my mood remained good and stable throughout and the noonday demon of depression could not get through to taunt me with messages of inferiority and failure.
I took all the cold meds I could in order to ensure proper sleep. I was hospitalized for mania in 2011 following a bout of bronchitis when I could not sleep due to cold symptoms. When I saw Dr. B., my PCP, on Tuesday, he told me it will take about four weeks to recover completely from the pneumonia, but I can resume normal activities that I feel like doing. Yesterday I went back to work with my regular client, which tired me out quickly, but today I still feel some improvement physically and a mental wellness that surpasses previous experience.
This is what I call the magic of life--this sense that I am right with the world and with my creator. It is the sweet taste of which occurs in mania and certainly had me convinced earlier in my life that it would only occur in mania--leading to a subconscious pursuit of that "pole."
Yesterday afternoon I met with my psychiatrist, Dr. M., who applauded my progress. He was pleased with the mood charts I showed him, with their steady line right across the center of the graphs, shaded light green for "happy" with no sign of invading the dangerous territory of the extreme poles (depression or mania). I thanked him for his efforts in finding the perfect med cocktail that I have been living on now for years: 10 mg generic Lexapro, 5 mg. generic Zyprexa, and 40 mg Vyvanse per diem. Happily the side effects are minimal and the benefits sufficient, with no change needed.
In March I will make my first covenant as an Associate of Mercy, joining a group of non-denominational men and women who follow the precepts of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy, with their bias toward the poor and underprivileged. Since I have aligned myself with this group, for three years now, I enjoy a better discernment of right and wrong, which makes life simpler.
Today I visited my dermatologist for a facial treatment aimed at destroying pre-cancerous cells on my face. For sixteen minutes I sat still before a light that shone on a face smeared with acid, and I meditated on my status quo. I decided that the approaching decade of being 70-80 years old will most likely be the happiest of my life so far. The test of pneumonia has taught me that I can weather serious physical illness and remain happy. The prospect of watching seven grandchildren become even more beautiful and complex over the ten years, with the love they all show me, promises more joy than I would ever have imagined possible.
While I linger a few more months as 69, before the next decade begins, already I see events magical in their possibilities: a birthday lunch this Sunday for grandson Michael, who will be 6, and his family; my usual playtime with my son's two children that evening; keeping precious 8-month-old George next Tuesday; a full day in March of "Watercolor Basics," taught by my artist friend Vinci, with my son's daughter, who is 9; seeing Wicked with my three granddaughters and their moms; proudly attending two separate "Grandparents Days" this spring; and witnessing the ordination of my son Anthony as he moves forward in his journey of becoming a Buddhist monk.
I can remember not so long ago when activities like these would embody components of dread and fear of failure. My children have supported me and Brian my counselor has worked me hard, that I have arrived at a truly joyous position in life. The magic itself? Purely God-given. I don't presume to define God, except to say He is definitely Jewish and Buddhist.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Where my demons hide

On this crisp, cold New Year’s eve morning, I drive north on I-40 and Briley Parkway to the Mercy convent, a one-story brick structure on spacious grounds in the vicinity of the Opryland Hotel. As a pre-Associate of Mercy, I am given the opportunity to spend the day in silent contemplation and group worship, along with other Associates and Associates-in-training like myself.
I attended another, similar, end-of-year retreat in this very place. When I read my account of it in an earlier blog entry, where I include an imaginary encounter with my deceased son David, I realize my spirit no longer soars into such channels. Chastened by grim threats of bipolar illness, I stay more fully grounded these days.
I park my SUV and walk to the front door, which swings open in anticipation, for my mentor Sister Eileen has seen me approach. Receiving her greeting, I feel all my reservations fade, as a sense of belonging settles on me. This very morning I wanted to opt out of attending this retreat. Yet the countless other things I could be doing on this day suddenly seem trivial. I have been assigned one of the comfy guest rooms, where I find an easy chair, a bed, a desk with chair, and a bathroom, for my personal use.
At 9:50 I place my pocketbook and bottles of water in this room and notice the question below the room assignment on the sheet of paper Sister Eileen handed me. “What do you desire from God this day?” My immediate answer: “to flush out the demons that plague me, that struggle constantly to take me over, body and soul.”
I walk to the chapel, where I sit among thirty retreat guests and resident nuns, for a brief opening service. A Mercy sister invites us to prayer. She reads the Gospel story in which Jacob falls asleep and dreams of the stairway to heaven. When he wakes up, he exclaims, “Truly the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it.” (Gen. 28) I encountered this reading recently in a prayer book and resolved to print this phrase in big letters in a bold font, cut away the paper around it, and attach it with clear contact paper to the side of the chest of drawers beside my bed. First thing upon awakening each day, I will be reminded that SURELY THE LORD IS IN THIS SPOT… I resolve to do this today when I get home.
The Sister encourages us to examine our hearts and answer the question, “What is your dream?” To this I also have a ready, ultimate answer: I wish to learn to accept the physical and mental corrections of aging and to die with dignity. This ties in with managing my demons, who work within each perceived limitation to sour my mood. My highest aspiration must be to remain stable and optimistic for the rest of my life, however long that is.
I have always loved the poem “Thanatopsis,” in which the poet William Cullen Bryant advises that, on approaching death, “Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night, /Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed/By an unalterable trust, approach thy grave/As one who wraps the drapery of his couch/About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.” Because I have lived a sizeable portion of my life in a state of insanity, such a sanguine approach to my end sometimes strikes me as unlikely. It is my goal.
On this retreat, I look over the past year’s journal in order to glean lessons from the recent past. I find that I met and exceeded my own expectations repeatedly, yet refused to gain lasting self-confidence from success. In January and part of February, I attended Certified Nursing Assistant school, restoring skills I had acquired through similar training in the early 1990’s. I passed the coursework as well as the state test, which I was sure I would fail. I wrote in my journal toward the end of that course:
...Have been feeling inferior to every other student, although my grades must be near the top of the class…it just seems all the others have the confidence (that rudder!) that I don’t have and believe in themselves where I don’t. Even though I should feel good because of my scholastic achievement, I still feel slow and dyslexic, and likely to fail the clinicals…
The “rudder” to which I refer is that immaterial thing [I imagine] that people without bipolar disorder can take for granted, an almost gravitational power that keeps them centered and less likely to stray into too high or too low territory.…while for me living seems a continuous, precarious balancing act, trying to stay in a decent mood.
Before I took the state exam, I indulged in a huge episode of depression, in which I second-guessed everything I tried to do and felt doomed to failure in it all. As I re-read the journal entries of late February, I see that I didn’t attribute the mood to the upcoming event of the test…and it was obviously connected. This, then, is one place my demons lie ready to pounce—in the period preceding any perceived challenge.
Likewise, the demons hide in physical illness. My mood always plummets well before I recognize symptoms of the flu, bronchitis, or whatever, this because I automatically attribute feeling bad to my mood disorder.
In March, I signed up with a new employer, Visiting Angels. I had to accept that I am neither physically nor mentally strong enough to do the tough CNA work available at such a place as Bordeaux Long-Term Care, where I completed my clinicals. I took a job with Visiting Angels with no increase in pay, because certification was not a prerequisite for employment. My study definitely gave me the assurance I otherwise lacked in such service, however, as has my relationship with almost every client so far.
In April I traded in my 5-year-old BMW for a used 2012 Toyota Forerunner, which fact certainly indicated I felt better about my future than in years past, since I chose an SUV with room for all my grandchildren. I purchased it quickly because my BMW showed serious problems involving safety, and I’ve been totally pleased with the decision ever since.
Early May took me to Redwood Valley, CA, for the first ordination of my son Anthony into Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery. His choice of a vocation that keeps him so distant from me had troubled me somewhat, until I saw him in his new environment. I think I surprised myself that I stayed at the home of a Buddhist stranger and participated in the forms of the unaccustomed religion with such enthusiasm. I recognized the beauty of the life my son chose and, except in my most selfish moments, I have remained happy with his commitment.
In June my seventh grandchild George was born, and I took off a week to spend days with my daughter’s family for the second week after his birth. While staying with them all, I suddenly deciphered a major, obvious difference between my daughter and myself. In everything she undertakes, Lisa expects success, whereas, in everything I undertake, I expect failure. This insight revealed the omniscience of my demons: these little doubt-filled monsters swarm around all I do—little “ants” as my counselor Brian calls them—automatic negative thoughts.
By the end of July, I was writing in my journal: “I know it does not please God for me to project a gloomy future onto my consciousness that makes me linger in bed, tormented with dread…” Yet knowing this did not keep me from making it a stubborn habit to lie in misery for minutes, even over an hour, covering my ears with a pillow while my alarm jangled, and putting off starting each day. This habit persists, which is why I will post the reminder of God’s presence beside my bed and resolve in the New Year not to ‘linger in bed’ in the morning, since no good comes of this. In the moments after I first wake up, my demons exercise their strongest hold over my being.
In August, after trying to function on lower doses of my two major meds—Zyprexa and Vyvanse—I conceded, with Brian’s input, that I needed to remain on the original dosages, lest my demons emerge with more ease. Interesting to note that these drugs help “hide” my demons. So perhaps I do not really want to flush them out, as in my original premise, since I willingly aid in covering them up!
The end of September I spent a week in Water Color at my sister-in-law’s condo, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, much to my surprise. I had so talked myself into thinking I am too abnormal to have a “normal” good time. Yet it was extraordinary—biking, swimming, sunning—and I felt great during it.
Toward the end of November, I began to feel down. When Brian pointed out in our regular session that this happens to me each year at this time, I gained a different perspective. No longer did I see my level of stress over the upcoming holidays as a mysterious, unexplained, unalterable event, but rather as a predictable occurrence!
When I considered my successes that day in my counselor’s office, I saw a year—so far—full of love showered on my by my grandchildren. And I remembered all their games and Grandparents’ Days and recitals that I attended, and the occasional sleepovers. I realized that I have good relationships with my grown children, their spouses, and with all seven of my grandchildren, and that I love them all unconditionally. I was able to address the specter of December misery and say firmly, “It doesn’t have to be that way any more.”
As I contemplated the intense weekly cognitive therapy sessions that have allowed me to attain such an enviable position in life despite my illness, I was able to disown much of the negativity I was hauling around. I proceeded to have a most joyful Christmas and to have fun hosting my annual Dessert and Santa party.
As the reflection of the retreat draws to a close, I find I have plenty of information as to where my demons hide. They’re everywhere! But I know now that I don’t have to take them seriously. I can ignore them and just get out of bed in the morning. I can continue to do what is right without hesitation even when they imply otherwise. Like my daughter, I can reasonably expect success in what I do and I need not be surprised by it. If I deny credence to enough of these insubstantial, ridiculous lies, they lose the spiritual force to unite as delusion or paranoia.
Our retreat ends with Mass and dinner. I am tired but pleased with my positive intention for the coming year. If the popularity of the Imagine Dragons’ hit song is any indication, even “normal” people have their demons; they just don’t let them take over their lives.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

An Ordination

At 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning I drive to a sister-in-law's house to catch a ride to a McDonald's where another brother- and sister-in-law will meet and drive us south to Birmingham. The frightening weather forecast--a winter advisory--has proved wrong, and we make good time on the unfrozen interstate, arriving an hour early at the Cathedral of Saint Paul. We park and walk a short distance through frigid air to the lovely church, seating ourselves in one of two rows reserved for Danny's friends and family. All the others arrive and, at 10 a.m., right on time, the ceremony begins. Eighteen men are being ordained this day in the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate Mass presided over by the Rev. Robert Baker, Bishop of Birmingham.
In 1999 my husband was ordained as a Catholic deacon in a similar ceremony held one May evening at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, TN. We were divorced at the time and I was not invited to the event. My oldest son persuaded my husband to have me there, so at the last minute I was present. I recall my husband's and my excitement when he learned that he could be exempted from the vow of chastity, which restored the possibility of our reconciliation...even though at the time we had no plans to get back together. The rest of the ceremony is a blur, except that I remember, at the reception that followed, I was kneeling to speak to another deacon's mother who was in a wheelchair and she said, "I can't believe you had the nerve to come." Indeed, what was I doing there, I who had left such a worthy man...a man who had willingly tolerated the devastation of my bipolar actions?
A couple of years later we remarried and lived less than five more years together when he died after jogging one morning, of an apparent heart attack.
Now I find myself sitting behind his dear brother's wife, remembering too little of the first ceremony to compare the second one to it. But I feel as if I belong on this pew, witness to these holy proceedings. This time I have received a formal invitation, I have received the couple's own welcome, and my bipolar illness has been in a state of remission for some years.
Scores of Knights of Columbus, wearing colorful headdresses, march down the center aisle. The ceremony proceeds in Latin, English, and even French, with sung responses. I watch this much-loved brother-in-law, so like his deceased brother in bearing, physique, personality, and now vocation. Over the years his wife Sally and I have forged a close friendship. She has known me during mania--when I almost got a speeding ticket on my way to visit her, going 100 mph on I-65 because I thought I was breaking a record...then dancing to Madonna's latest record album while Sally watched BFF Deanne later asked, "How did she keep a straight face?"...then she bravely rode back to Nashville with me driving, which in my state I thought was a logical move...getting me back safe, for another hospitalization...the memories go on and on. Suffice to say, this couple accepted and forgave behavior they could not possibly understand. Along with the rest of my husband's family, they loved me through it all, even through the divorce.
I watch as Danny goes through the steps of taking on the responsibilities of a permanent deacon. Each candidate goes before the deacon individually several times. When he walks back to his wife to receive the elegant stole she hands him, draping it around his neck, then donning a white cassock over it...I recall that my husband's mother went up on the altar to perform that particular rite with him...the role I would have played, had I been at his side during the four plus years of preparation required.
I watch Danny move through the ceremony with ease, calm, peacefulness, and friendliness. During the years of his formation, seeing him at intervals months apart, I have watched his peacefulness develop into a sweet serenity that makes his already sparkling personality even more charismatic.
The Rite ends and the Liturgy of the Eucharist is complete. The several hours have passed meaningfully and quickly. We go to the parish hall next door and treat ourselves to a delicious lunch of pasta salad, sandwiches, and cake. I meet the two nuns who have become part of Sally and Danny's lives and they are as warm and funny as Sally had described them. I regret that I do not meet the young man who had lived with them for months this year while he looked for a job. I speak to the nieces and nephews that I have known and loved since their birth and the two daughters-in-law that I loved at first meeting.
As I rush to join the others to ride back to Nashville, Danny grabs me for a final word and a warm kiss. Looking straight into my eyes, he tells me why it's important that I am present this day. He mentions my example of "faithfulness" and several other admirable qualities which I have been trying unsuccessfully to remember. I think the first word threw me, as I questioned how he could charg me with faithfulness when I am so often filled with doubt...Even as he speaks, I am wishing for a recording of what he says to me. I immediately forget the words but I will never forget the moment. Its effect on my spirit is profound: my inclusion in my husband's family has been validated. And the world's a more reliable and stable place with this new deacon in it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Anniversary reactive depression

With fall and the approach of winter, a crisis of confidence affects my mood. The first sign is a reluctance to continue facilitating the Centennial DBSA group. My counselor decides to step down as professional advisor, and I take the opportunity to close down a meeting venue that has suffered from chronic and inconsistent attendance… I took it over unexpectedly and never found the time or energy to enhance between-meeting communications with phone calls or attend state seminars to get ideas for growing the group. I blame myself that the group has never “caught on.”
I should have known that I could not just sit back and feel relieved at the removal of this twice-monthly responsibility. Instead, I find myself afflicted with enormous guilt that releases symptoms I thought I had under control. The demons that wellness had set aside reveal themselves as zombies, very much undead and determined to make me stumble on the healthy path I have chosen to follow.
I entertain racing negative thoughts for a week and a half before I recognize them as lies: things such as, “Since you can’t even facilitate a DBSA group, all of your other endeavors will be failures.” “You have ruined the lives of every person with bipolar and depression in Nashville by cutting off this opportunity for them to garner support at a meeting.” “You deserve to be depressed and to give up on yourself because you are such a rotten person for closing the group.”
Finding myself inadequate to quell these messages, I decide to hold fast to the good living habits already in place and hope that my mind gets past the enormous temptation to do nothing, see no one, and dissolve into a masochistic psychic flagellation of myself.
I seek out a different support group because I need to be among the only people who truly understand serious mental illness. To my surprise, these strangers welcome me wholeheartedly and don’t judge me for closing the other group. Immediately I feel the benefits of association more fully, now that I am not preoccupied with facilitating discussion.
When I see Brian, my counselor, he reads my mood chart and journal, looks up, and says, “Anniversary reactive depression. That’s what we call it…you go through this every year at this time…like clockwork.” Suddenly my difficulty seems less formidable in its predictability. By the time we end our session, I see that I will survive the winter and the holidays with perhaps no adjustment to my medication.
Brian and I habitually interpret a plummeting mood as a spiritual phenomenon. “There is this pattern,” he says. “When you feel confident, Satan uses this opportunity to say to you, ‘Who do you think you are? You’re mentally ill—how dare you pretend to be well! You know the reality!’
“But,” he continues, “Actually the reality is that God has brought you to a whole new life that Satan doesn’t like at all!”
In the past year, I have trained for a new career as caregiver, gone to work for a well-respected agency, and helped clients aged up to 102 who inspire me with their courage in the face of disability. My grand-parenting continues to take priority over most other activities and reaches new heights when grandson George is born in June, reminding me of the fun a baby brings to all around him.
Changing my nutrition to healthful eating, taking strength training, and doing my stationary walking and biking have made me strong for my age, and I feel more competent mentally and physically than ever before.
When I am tempted to indulge in beating myself up—that demented or bipolar indulgence—I thwart the impulse by regarding the truth about my present life. I have worked hard to establish a number of constructive and fulfilling ways of spending time. I don’t want to give them up. My greatest fear—the incompetence brought by relapse—seems unlikely. I enjoy good relationships with family, in-laws, and friends, a unique camaraderie with my grandchildren, meaningful work, and hours of contentment in solitude. Goals of normality that seemed unattainable during years of raging bipolar illness…have already been met.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A WaterColored world

My recent vacation in WaterColor, Florida left me happier than ever and filled with gratitude...First of all, to my sister-in-law Evelyn, who invited me to share her condo there for a week.
Getting to know her better turned out to be the unexpected best part of the trip. Although we have talked at family get-togethers for forty-seven years, somehow I missed realizing what a total blast she is to live with. We held long conversations in water over our heads in the Gulf, bicycled from one community to another in the dark of night--she used her flashlight app to light our path, paddle-boarded to my heart's content in a lake with a verified alligator...And what a loyal companion she is...waiting with me in a small waiting room for three and a half hours our first day there, until a local doctor saw me as a walk-in and gave me antibiotics for strep throat, curing me early into the vacation.
I was grateful also to a second sister-in-law Susan, for joining us the second day through the sixth. We conceded that she is the Best Sport Ever, persevering in the biking and boarding and swimming even after she collided with the curb--when I swerved my bike in front of hers--and fell on her weaker side; she walked with a limp but didn't let it slow her down.
I doubt that either of these women understood how much fun I was having the entire time. After my first taste of the resort community last October with my daughter, her friend Karen, and their children, I had longed to return. The week with Evelyn made me see that my capacity for enjoyment has grown even more since then, and the wellness I now claim surpasses that of any remission I can remember since my first "nervous breakdown" in 1969.
So I am grateful to many others who probably would not understand why I was thanking them for the vacation: My children and grandchildren for their healing love and acceptance. Other family and friends, who, like Evelyn, have always been "there" for me. Brian, my counselor, for helping me plod through six years plus of cognitive therapy in order to re-define myself as a happy person. Dr. M., my psychiatrist, who, despite my history of mania, trusts my better instincts enough not to bog me down with heavy drugs. Steve, my financial guru, who stretches my money through wise investment, so I could afford to fly to Florida for a week and take off from work. Jim, my personal trainer at the Y, whose demanding weekly strength training session surely helped me almost keep up with Evelyn on our many bike rides. Lisa, my former personal trainer, now pet-sitter, who stopped by the house each day to feed and entertain my cat Lucy. Evelyn's husband, my brother-in-law Bill, who drove us to and from the Nashville airport. Our cousin-by-marriage Bert, a dynamic realtor friend of Evelyn, who drove us to and from the Panama City airport. Scotti, the dietitian who taught me how to eat well--without her influence, I would be carrying thirty more pounds' weight that would surely have precluded much of our seven days of exercise. My employers, who had my replacement caregiver "shadow" me in order to give excellent service to my clients while I was gone. Even my piano teacher of six years, Peggy, for the thinking workout provided by learning to read music--who knows what that does for my brain? And my beloved Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance members, whose shared suffering made me think of them often and wish they could have the same relief from psychic pain that happened in WaterColor to me. Thanks be to God for the fascinating major thunderstorm that was so beautiful the first night and the excellent weather that followed, allowing us to veg out beside the Gulf in rented lounge chairs for two whole days.
The healthful, restful, nutritious (two dozen fresh oysters each at a sitting), laughter-laden week proved life-changing. I am ashamed to confess that for too many years of my life, the only joy I felt was the illusory and short-sighted joy of incipient or full-blown mania. In my old age, I believe I have evolved into someone who no longer needs that escape. While I remain vulnerable to my moods--especially those brought on by physical illness or insomnia--I intend to continue the healthy habits that bring me to the love of life I feel today.