“Where Were You?”

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Dearest Readers,

I hope with all my heart and soul you’ll never understand this poem from a firsthand point-of-view.

love,

Dyane

 

“Where Were You?”

Where were you
When I was in the mental hospital 
I don’t buy the excuses
And I will never forget it
Someday when you face death
Like I did
And you are trapped in a dismal hospital room
I think you will understand
Why I am so fucking furious
That no one came
Find another friend
I finally know
I am worth far more
Than being ignored and forgotten and feared

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Another Meetup? Whaaaat??

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Have you heard of Meetup.com?  I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I’ve been a member of Meetup.com for several years.  Last year I attended only one Meetup –  a mom’s night out in my little town.  Over dinner at a new Italian restaurant I found that I didn’t have much in common with my dining companions.  Coincidentally the three of them recently relocated to our community from the fast-paced Bay Area, unlike me, so I felt a bit out of it from the get-go.  While the evening wasn’t excruciating, I wanted to make an early exit nonetheless. (I did it as gracefully as possible!)

I was the only mom present with older children.  That fact also didn’t help me connect with the other moms, despite my trying hard to be friendly and even, ahem “normal”.  (yeah, right!) Even the food was an expensive disappointment. 

To top things off, I had given up alcohol due to my MAOI bipolar medication. The other moms drank red wine and none of them stuck to just one glass. My social anxiety was in full force and I craved a few glasses of wine like the others apparently did.  I didn’t drink a drop, for to combine my medication with alcohol is a huge no-no and potentially even fatal!    

Although the evening was a let-down, I felt very proud of myself for giving it a shot.

Despite that bummer of a Meetup, I hoped that someday I would find a group that fit me well.  Browsing through Meetup’s website you’ll find a multitude of eclectic groups offered in my area.  It’s fun to take a look!  Some groups are pretty out-there, with occasionally hilarious themes. (“Cuddling Groups” and “Bigfoot Searchers” anyone?)  Of course there are the tamer-styled Meetups, such a book clubs, a WordPress group with a whopping 500 members, dog walking groups, movie nights and writers’ groups.  Oh, and don’t forget the Alien Sightings Meetup and Tantric sexual arts!

I arranged for Meetup.com to email me whenever a group matching my pre-selected interests is formed.  Specifically I’ve wanted to be contacted when a mental health group is created.  Once I spotted a social anxiety Meetup that sounded cool, but it met an hour away from my home so I passed as that was too far away for me.  A few months ago I started yearning to be around others who hate their social anxiety as much as I do, so I went in search of the “faraway” group only to see it had disbanded.

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Boo Hoo!

In 2013, I decided to taper off my bipolar medication, and I promptly became hypomanic. Whenever I’m hypomanic, my social anxiety vanishes.  So last spring I started my first Meetup group.  I shelled out $18 for one month’s organizer dues, and decided that the group’s theme would be for women interested in natural healing for mood disorders.  While in the planning stages of that Meetup, my hypomania turned into full-blown mania, and then sank down into suicidal depression.  I admitted myself to the hospital yet again. Needless to say my Meetup group folded before our very first meeting.

Three days ago Meetup emailed me offering a 50% reduction in first month fees if I created a group within five days.  It would only cost $9.50.  At first I thought, nope!  But I didn’t delete the email.  

I couldn’t ignore a little voice inside me that said, Well, you could try it and see if there’s any interestI thought about it some more.  No…I’m not gonna do it.  You don’t need one more thing on your plate.  And you need to work more on your damn book, not plan support groups!.

The pesky little voice grew stronger, adding, You’ve been wanting a Meetup do-over.  Even though you haven’t made time to see your closest friends (you know who you are, S.!) you know you’ve been struggling with social anxiety and you’ve been lonely in your isolated mountain town.  The internet has given you some wonderful online friendships, but you need more ‘IRL’ community with women like you.  Maybe having a group like this would really help your smorgasbord of mood disorders more than you realize!

So I took the plunge.  

What the hell,  I rationalized.  It’s just $9.50 to get started, and if no one joins, I can cancel it!  I knew I’d be creating a group with very specific parameters, so I wouldn’t have high hopes for many responses.  Still, I’d keep an open mind all the same.

TWO DAYS LATER…

After spending an inordinate amount of time playing around with my Meetup group’s title, description, its appearance, and researching other bipolar wellness Meetups’ agendas, the gung-ho wind completely vanished out of my sails.

I had an attack of massive “Meetup Remorse”:  

What the hell was I thinking???? I’m not ready for this! No way!”

Luckily Meetup’s policy is to wait two days after a group’s creation before its announcement and listing goes live to members and the public.

Despite the fact I’ve felt better in a lot of respects after last summer’s hospitalization for bipolar depression, over the past year I haven’t felt social. I’ve rarely hung out with longtime friends.  My idea of creating a group given the antisocial state I’m in is nothing short of preposterous.  

As I’m sure you’ve figured out already, a more realistic goal would be for me to join a group already in existence.  Sadly there’s nothing like that in my area. When I researched other similar-themed Meetups around the world, I was surprised and envious to see such awesome, welcoming descriptions.  Cool examples include a “New York Women with Bipolar brunch” group, and a “Sydney, Australia Women with Bipolar group”. There are many more mental wellness groups that look so cool and again, I wish there was one in my backyard.

It was fun to dream about forming a group that I’d like to be a part of, but the time isn’t right. Maybe someday I’ll have a change of heart and I’ll be in a better place with my social anxiety to pick up where I left off.

 

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The Lonely Calm Before the Puppy Storm

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This morning is the last morning our household will be dog-less for hopefully the next fifteen+ years.  Tonight we’ll pick up “Puppy”, name t.b.d.  I’m feeling really nervous about this change.  It’s silly, because I consider this to be a joyful occasion, and I’m excited to bring a puppy home.

There’s no need for me to feel insecure about my abilities as a dog owner.  I lovingly cared for my two dogs Shera and Tara for fifteen years, half of those years as a single gal.  I know I can be a great dog mom.  Despite my confidence, I’m freaked out all the same.

As I type away it occurs to me that change must be behind my anxiety.  I’ve read that positive change can be just as difficult as negative change.  I’m also wondering if PMS could be contributing to my uneasiness and heightened sensitivity.  While PMS could be a culprit, heck, I’m forty-four – for all I know, menopause might be heading on its merry way into my life.  But I hope NOT this year!!! Please God!

At the crack of dawn, my geologist husband jetted out the door to a work site.  I nagged and hurried our girls to get them ready for school.  Our home was filled with frenetic activity and LOTS of noise – our daughters are a handful, and they were amped up with anticipation about tonight’s furry arrival.

After I dropped them off at school, I realized I felt lonely and isolated; more than usual.  Returning to my cold, empty, dark, quiet home did not appeal to me at all.  Despite feeling on the verge of PMS-like tears, I visited one of my favorite coffee shops, Surf City Coffee Co., so I could sit around people and treat myself to a mocha.

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Surf City has a very mellow vibe which lends itself well to writing.  There’s free WiFi and I made sure to bring my laptop.  After I walked into Surf City, I received a providential sign from God that I was in the right place.  This event happened while I stood in line waiting to order.  The barista said loudly, out of the blue,

LITHIUM!

Some of you know that lithium is one of my primary meds for bipolar disorder.  My Dad took it long ago, although he suffered the classic side effect of shakiness.  That wasn’t good for his career as a professional violinist, but lithium helped him for a while.  I’ve taken lithium off and on during the past eight years.  My periodic blood level tests check out fine, my initial side effects (shakiness, some hair loss) subsided, and it has worked well for me, especially to prevent mania.  I’m still creative and I don’t feel flat while taking it, as some people unfortunately experience.  I also like the fact that it’s an “old-school” drug, it’s cheap and it comes in generic form.

I wondered why the barista said “lithium” so loudly for no apparent reason!  I laughed after she said it, as a matter of fact, because it simply tickled my fancy!

When it was my turn to order, I asked the barista why she belted out the word “lithium”.

“It’s the answer to our Question of the Day!” she answered cheerfully.

“Ahhhh.” I replied.  In my previous Surf City pitstops, I hadn’t noticed the obvious “Question of the Day” bulletin board hanging from the ceiling right in front of me.  This time I looked up at the board, which read, “At room temperature, what is the LIGHTEST solid element in terms of density?”  I didn’t know this fascinating fact about lithium until today!

After today, when I have my six-hour-long stretches alone at home, I’ll have some very-much-wanted, furry, loving company by my side.  It’s always nice to have quiet, solo time, and I’ll still arrange for that in the months ahead.  But I don’t think I’ll require 100%  alone time, sans dog, all that much.

As a longtime dog owner, I didn’t realize how much I missed having “dog energy” around me since Tara and Shera died six years ago.  Ever since then, I never openly acknowledged the fact that an important part of my life was missing: my pets.  My bipolar depression took over, similar to ooozing lava smothering the land, and depression obliterated my desire for a pet.  Last week I gave myself permission to open my heart to a pet again, and I’m counting the minutes to meeting our new family member.

As my fellow dog-loving friend Carrie said to me, “Spring is the perfect time to get a dog!” and she’s right. I’ve always considered spring to be a symbolic time of renewal.  (Carrie blog’s contains an intriguing animal telepathy post that can be found here: http://fleetiris.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/animal-telepathy/)

Having a pet also marks a positive step in my recovery with bipolar disorder.  I am strong and stable enough to be the primary caretaker of a puppy.  It feels really good to reach this point, and I’m excited to share with you what happens as I adjust to having a delightful “furry baby” charm her way into my heart…and shred some family heirlooms or what have you along the way! 😉

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Getting Past Being Our Community Horror Story

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On Presidents’ Day, a school holiday, I awoke to an unscheduled day.  I needed something to do with my daughter Marilla, so I decided to take her to the park. (My other little girl, Avonlea, headed for her best friend’s house.)   The weather was clear and sunny, but my mind was stormy and gloomy.  I wanted to hide in my bed, read a book, and not have to interact with anyone.  It was actually a promising sign of my recovery that I was able to leave the house, so off we went.

The park was near our home and frequented by many families.  During the seven years of my visiting it, my park experiences have ranged from enjoyable to atrocious. One of my worst visits occurred when I tripped over an innocent-looking root on a perfectly flat trail.  I was alone and no one saw me fall.  I slammed down to the ground, breaking my collar bone from the impact.  Luckily I had my cell phone and I reached Craig for help.  More pleasant times included the afternoons I spent there with a kindred spirit mom while our kids had fun playing tag with one another.  We’ve held birthday parties for both of our girls at these grounds.  During those events I’d feel happy watching my girls’ excitement, but I also suffered with social anxiety.

It is here, at this park, where I’ve been both “B.D.” and “A.D.”:

before diagnosis and after diagnosis.

After we moved to this area with baby Avonlea, I wanted to meet other moms.  Through the internet I located a baby playgroup that met in my neighborhood.  I immediately joined the small group and met some friendly moms who I am still in touch with now.

This was “B.D.”.  I would not become the “Bipolar Mom” in our community for almost two more years.  It’s hard for me to believe that back then I was perceived by others as relatively normal.  I had been battling depression for many years, but I hid it well.  I didn’t talk openly about my depression at the playgroup and neither did any of the other moms, although I sensed I wasn’t the only one struggling in that way.

Then fall of 2007 came along, I gave birth to my second beautiful girl Marilla, and all hell broke loose after her debut.  My lack of sleep, a genetic predisposition to bipolar, and wacked-out hormones combined to trigger postpartum bipolar disorder.  Two months after Rilla was born,  I had full-blown postpartum mania.  I reluctantly admitted myself to our local hospital’s locked-down mental health unit.  Despite the fact that the building opposite my unit had a fully equipped maternity wing, the staff couldn’t find me a breast pump to ease my painful engorgement.  (It was such a nightmare admission that we forgot my Medela pump in the car.)  I actually had to call a friend on the pay phone to loan me her pump.  The hospital’s ineptitude with the breast pump was a prelude to their incompetence in every other aspect of the place.  I could have run a better unit, especially in my energetic manic state. 😉

After my stay at the hospital, I entered a new epoch of my life: “A.D.”

When I returned home after my hospitalization, our extended family, friends and acquaintances knew what had happened to me.  I’ve written about this time in depth in my Birth of a New Brain draft.  Suffice it to say that I was not treated like I had a “casserole disease” by certain people I knew.  It broke my heart how these individuals were unable to offer empathy and practical support.  (If you are reading this, and you visited with me or helped our family in any way, please don’t take offense.  I’m not including you here!)

Where I live, the mental illness stigma is still very strong.  This is a conservative rural community.  There are so many churches up here that thinking about them makes my head spin.

As far as I know, I am the only “out” mom with bipolar around these parts.  I founded our county’s chapter of the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) and I created my first women’s support group.  We started with over twenty members, but the group eventually ran out of steam when I relapsed.  When I created the women’s support group, I was profiled in two local newspaper articles that included pictures of me with my girls.  I don’t regret doing that, but I believe that my going public had personal repercussions.  Our Press Banner’s editor Peter Burke did a nice job in the following piece:

http://www.pressbanner.com/pages/full_story/push?article-A+new+day+dawning%20&id=7251763#comments_7251763

Over the years since I was diagnosed, I didn’t think I came across as “crazy” to others – anxious, yes, but not psychotic.  I know the publicity I did (some of which mentioned I had been hospitalized) backfired on me socially.  I sensed that some school moms who knew of my medical history didn’t want to develop friendships with someone like me.  I’ll never know that for sure, of course, but my intuition tells me I’m right.  I can’t go back to undo my past, and I wouldn’t change my actions if I could, but it’s isolating and lonely having bipolar where I live.

Since 2007 I’ve only been approached by two other mothers with bipolar.  I’m incredibly fortunate that both of them have become close friends.  One of them even had ECT with the same doctor who helped me.  These women’s cases were less severe than mine, as none of them were ever hospitalized for mental illness.  I apologize for being a whiner but I feel like a pariah for being known as the worst case mental illness scenario ’round here.  It’s difficult to express this concept without sounding like an ingrate of some sort; this has been one of the hardest posts for me to write.

More importantly than any of the above is that I don’t want my girls adversely affected socially because their mom has a brain disorder.  The point that keeps popping up in my head is that I can’t be the only local mom who was in a locked-down unit for mental illness, but I feel like I am.  There are thousands of folks in the large valley where I live, and statistically speaking, there is no way there aren’t other moms who have been hospitalized for bipolar.  We don’t have support groups around here where I could potentially meet some of those moms.  I’m not starting yet another group, as I’m burned out.

I may never completely get past feeling ashamed about being the “community horror story” but as you can infer by reading this post, I have a ways to go.   I want to come to better terms with my past, but I can’t do it alone.  My husband, close friends, and therapist can help me navigate this tricky issue.  When I adopt another dog, that will help me too!  (Really!)

We all harbor darkness such as sexual abuse, self-harm or depression.  I want to remember each and every day that I am not the only one suffering, and that it’s possible that other “normal” moms I encounter may be keeping their serious mental health issues under wraps.  If I try my best to be productive and focus on the positives in my life (rather than on the crap) I think my shame will fade in the years to come.