Taking Bipolar Breaks

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Today was the day I woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.  

(Just kidding…any Beatles fans out there?)

No, today was the day I woke up and I realized I was feeling bipolared out.

usually find the world of bipolar disorder to be fascinating, and as you can fathom, it’s relevant to my life as well.  When I read bipolar-related articles, studies, etc. I could very well come across a significant lead for my own recovery or to help a friend’s mental health issue. In any case, I want to be kept in the loop of this field, and I make a concerted effort to stay in the know almost every day.

But sometimes I would just love to spend a big chunk of time where the word “bipolar” doesn’t enter my mind once.

That’s impossible.  I take my MAOI (Parnate/tranylcypromine) meds three times a day. Just the simple act of taking these pills reminds me of the “b” word.

It’s possible I am also feeling burned out because even though it has been eight years since I was diagnosed, I still haven’t totally reconciled myself to the fact that I have this mental illness. Obviously, there is no way I don’t have bipolar disorder, but on a subconscious level I believe I think, “No way!  I don’t have those cooties!

I consider my burnout to be closely connected with overwhelm.  My psychiatrist advises that when I’m at my wit’s end about something (i.e. a phone conversation gone wrong, a traffic jam, a mild panic attack) to simply pray.  He’s Christian and while he never proselytizes to me about his religion, he advises me based on his own experience.  I don’t have to be a card- carrying member of any religion to pray, and I do believe in the power of prayer – both individual prayer and remote prayer.

While I can’t ignore living with a chronic illness, it’s in remission for now, thank God.  I’m stable, I’m functioning, and a side of me wants to distance myself from my “sick” side, if that makes any sense.  Those feelings may explain my wanting to detach from bipolar disorder in general.  My problem could actually be interpreted as a blessing in disguise!  I’m feeling better, therefore I don’t want to think about bipolar disorder 24/7.  That’s not such a bad problem to have. 

Being burned out on having bipolar and obsessing about bipolar are not insurmountable problems by any means.  I need more reflection and therapy to deal with my identity in regard to having a mental illness that is “hardwired” into my brain.  (I can’t believe I just quoted from that atrocious T.V. show Black Box, but I did!) That may be a simple-sounding strategy, but it very well may work.  Whatever I decide to do, I’m determined to take lots of breaks from contemplating bipolar disorder.

I’m going to pay more attention to things that having nothing to do with mental illness.  We are readying our house for a puppy’s arrival to take place very soon.  The prospect of watching a sweet, joyful little pup interact with my two little girls, who are beyond over the moon about having a puppy, will be fantastic.  

With summer fast approaching, there will be days at the beach and hours at the park where I’ll unplug from social media and bipolar obsession.  I don’t have a smart phone, so I won’t have access to the internet at either of those places, and that’s a good thing.  

For indoor activities, I can turn to my nine-year-old, who already knows more than her mom does as far as making crafts.  She has her own Hello Kitty sewing machine and how to use it; I don’t even know how to sew.  She makes beautiful rings and bracelets at the drop of the hat; I’m clueless about jewelry making.  She loves to teach others how to make things.  My other daughter is thrilled when I play hide and seek with her, pull out the Twister set, or play outside with her and our three chickens.  All of these activities and more can serve to pull me out of my head and into the moment.  I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.


 

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Wherever You Go, There You Are

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Hawaii an awful lot.

Last November, our family scrimped and saved for months to take a sentimental trip to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.  My mother-in-law died last spring, and we brought her ashes with us, for she loved living in Hawaii for many years.  My husband Craig knew she would have approved of his scattering her ashes in such a meaningful location.  We also thought our two little girls would benefit from an informal family ceremony in their grandmother’s honor.

So yes, this trip was a big deal for us to take –  we definitely knew how lucky we were to visit such an exotic place.  We stayed at Al’s Kona Coffee  Farm, a rental unit with a kitchen so we could make the majority of our meals and save money.  My husband knew the Kona area well from visiting his Mom when she lived there, and he planned our activities to be mostly free or low-cost.

We had scheduled the trip twice before, but Craig had to reschedule due to my hospitalizations for bipolar depression relapses.  Al was very understanding of my medical situation, and not only was he flexible in our rescheduling; he gave us a good deal.

Look at how spectacular Al’s Kona Coffee Farm is!

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A month before our trip, my bipolar depression had finally lifted due to my trying an “old-school” medication.  I started taking the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) named  tranylcypromine or Parnate.  My pdoc added it to the lithium I was already taking, and within two days – kaboom.  My evil, hated, soul-sucking depression was gone.

I located two studies online conducted in the 1970’s that found MAOI’s combined with lithium had a greater effect together to lift bipolar depression than when used separately.  I also read a document that described MAOI’s as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression.  When I spotted that, I said “WTF?”   Why no psychiatrist had ever suggested the MAOI class to me before, since I was super-medication-resistant, remains a mystery to me.  There are food and beverage restrictions with MAOI’s, but they aren’t the end of the world, and the restrictions are totally worth it if the depression goes away.

Anyway, three days before we took off on our flight, my depression returned.  Words cannot express the level of disappointment and fear that descended upon me.  I’ll cut to the chase right now and let you know that three weeks later, after we returned from Hawaii, my doctor added Seroquel to the lithium and Parnate.  The depression went away and it has stayed away ever since.

But the entire time I was in Hawaii, my depression was unrelenting.  I contacted my psychiatrist and we upped my Parnate dosage, but it made me feel too wired and didn’t alleviate the depression, so I returned to the prior dosage.  While I was able to appreciate my little girls’ joy as they boogie boarded, and I took in the natural beauty of the Big Island as much as I could, I still felt like a zombie.

I’m attempting to fake being happy in the picture posted above.  Underneath the smile is utter hopelessness.  Despite the beaches with warm aquamarine water, the incredibly tasty Kona coffee, the fresh poke fish, the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, the dolphins, and the sunsets, I felt beyond horrible.

The lesson I learned was that it didn’t matter if I was in Paradise if I didn’t have the right meds.  Some of you know that’s way easier said than done!

We could have cancelled our trip yet a third time, but  since we were so close to our departure date I didn’t have the heart to cancel.  Plus I was praying for a miracle to happen.  At least Craig and the girls had a great time.  He didn’t hold it against me that I was a less-than-ideal travel companion, and I am very grateful for that.

Someday I hope we get a “do-over”.

When Craig took his mother’s ashes out to a stunning reef on the bay by the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, I was unable to join him.  I sat in the sand, motionless for the most part, unable to even read a book.  I am hoping that some day we’ll have the good fortune to return to that area and I can pay my respects properly.

While there I’d pick a few plumeria flowers, which are flowers that my mother-in-law adored.  I’d walk out on the reef and toss the blossoms in the water in honor of the woman who gave me the best husband I could ask for.   Then I’d walk down to the beach and swim a little, because when we went to Hawaii last year I was so down, I couldn’t even swim in the ocean.

I know that many people in our world could never afford a trip like the one I describe.  Recently I watched the documentary “Happy” that profiles different cultures with authentically happy people.  None of the “stars” of this film were wealthy, most of them lived on small incomes and some were what our society would consider extremely poor.  All of these people truly appreciated their day-to-day lives.  We could all learn from these individuals.  I may never get a chance to return to Hawaii, so I want to appreciate my “here & now” better.  (I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to do this in the spring when it’s warm instead of freezing!)

I wish each of you the trip of a lifetime, wherever your dream place may be.  And I wish even more that your love and appreciation for your here and now grows significantly over time.  It would be awesome if each of us, especially those of us suffering with mood disorders, could not only appreciate the present, but experience some simple happiness every day.

I am sooo not there yet, but I’ll let you know when I’m making some headway.

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