Tag Archives: bipolar

I don’t regret a bite

I was talking with a work colleague last week at lunch and at some point it came up that I’d been a lot heavier (225 lbs) than I am now (currently 180 lbs and 5’7”, so, more or less a US size 12).  They expressed the usual amazement that I had lost all that weight, etc., and stated the usual platitudes about how I must feel better to be “healthier” now.

I didn’t get in to all the gory details of it with them except to say that what mattered more to me than the weight loss was the other changes I made that have made it possible to stay in a weight range that lets me do all the things I want to do— snow shoe, garden, give my niece piggy-back rides, hike, yoga, and otherwise shoulder the weight of taking care of a house and an aging parent who would prefer to avoid carrying laundry up and down cellar stairs.  I don’t care so much about fashion beyond a basic level of vanity in fitting in to a range of size 10-12 clothes where I don’t feel ashamed of my body; I am lumpy and I have the start of a wattle.  That is ok.

What I also didn’t get into was that for me, weight has always been NOT about food (which I love), it has been and always been about love, whether my life is feeling manageable, and whether I am practicing decent self-care.  It’s taken me 40 years, more or less, to figure it out.  I will never look like a supermodel. So what? I didn’t get into the details, because they were male, it was lunch, and I didn’t want to get heavy (hah).  But I’ve been thinking about it (again).

I love food.  I love eating.  I love the act of cooking and feeding myself and others. I love creating something from scratch.  I love growing food and coaxing things out of warm dirt and onto the plate.  I love the meditation of chopping.  I love the alchemy of how butter, eggs, and onion become an amazing perfume. And even though I have been both far heavier than I would choose, as well as skinnier than I would like between bulimia and other illnesses and medication reactions, I don’t ever regret any weight fluctuation that happened as a result of any food that I ate.  I don’t regret a bite of it, ever.

Weight, however, is not about food.  Weight is about weight— it’s about the world crushing you down, and no one around you doing anything to lift it off you.  Weight is about you being Atlas, and you not being told, either at all or effectively, so you can hear it from people who are supposed to care about you, that you don’t have to carry it all.  In my case, between being bipolar and being an Adult Child of two bipolar parents who tried but had their own stuff and just often were not successful, it took me a long time to figure out that I was eating to feel full in the middle and push out against the weight and anxiousness and chill pressing in from outside, and all the people who weren’t doing anything to lift the world off of me.  It took me a long time to push back and say I was not going to carry it all, and that I was also not going to finish everything on my plate just to make others happy.

It took me a long time to realize that in maintaining my weight, in finding my metaphorical and literal center and in feeding myself, that meant I should only eat what I wanted, and that this was both an enormous privilege (in having money and choice, both of which I have gone without) and a burden in that I’d have to speak up for myself and do the work.  I would eat— or not eat, if I wasn’t hungry— what I had prepared for myself, but I’d have to make it.  I would not have feel grateful for food I hadn’t asked for, or eat things I expressly disliked, or have to put up with something that someone plopped down on my plate and told me to finish or it would mean I didn’t love them. Because really, if they’d been paying attention, why would they shove that weighty glop on me in the first place?  But first I’d have to say– no thanks.  I’m full.

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It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

(Easier than) waiting around to die

(Trigger warnings for discussions of suicidality, family drama, and other A+ parenting issues.  Also, as usual, language.  This is a sort of undecided, sort of open-ended piece because I need to tweak my meds again and am feeling more than a little blue, but I have already called my shrink & let my therapist know I feel lousy, in case you’re wondering.)

I read some author’s line someplace that we sometimes feel like can’t be who we really are until everyone who’s known us is dead.  Sometimes, it’s even true by circumstances of money or other constraints– you don’t have the freedom to tell other people and their expectations to go screw, and sometimes just heading out for the hills and reinventing yourself somewhere, somewhen else is not in the cards. Continue reading

Fine lines

There’s a fine line between long-needed solitude & escapist reading– and catatonic denial & avoidance.  I’ve been trying to avoid crossing over, engaging in little small ways with the world the last couple of days even as all of me wants to just curl up in a ball and do nothing for a very long time.  (Nothing defined by read nothing too emotionally challenging, eat, sleep, spend a little time in the garden, repeat…)  So I’ve made calls to the plumbers & HVAC contractors to enquire about furnace service, something my dad hasn’t gotten around to doing as yet.  And I put in my short term disability claim over the phone, though that made me short of breath & panicked at the idea of scrutiny.   I went out of the house to get groceries, even if it was just to the corner meat market, & today I didn’t buy junk food, even if I did space out & leave my wallet at home.  (Thank goodness they know me & would take my check, because of course I carry my checkbook.)

Tomorrow, I’ve got therapy first thing in the morning, and that will provide me with papers to fax in for my leave, and I will do that.   (Functioning!  See!) Continue reading

Ask for it

If there’s something you want, something you need, ask for it.

You have to ask for it, because it’s the only way to make sure you’re going to get it.

Other people aren’t psychic, much less as attentive or empathetic as we’d like them to be.  You might mention it once, but what’s the off chance they’ll 1) remember and 2) care enough amidst the noise in their own heads to act on your expressed need or desire?

This bleak fact, that at the end of the day, we ourselves are the only ones who can make sure we get what we need, what will make us sane, healthy, happy, and that the people we care or love about, by DNA-roll-of-the-dice or by choice may not be able to deliver, even with prompting, is the hardest lesson of being a “grown-up,” and the one I struggle with all the time.

Asking for help, rather than expecting people to see I need it– asking for hugs, or giving them out so I can get one in return– repeating myself over and over about “no, I do not want to celebrate my birthday and it’s not a thing that’s going to happen,” and then carrying through rather than caving– expressing the need for solitude, or quiet, or to not be the one making decisions about anything from what’s for dinner to how some social activity ought/not to go– these are all exquisitely hard at times, especially when I do manage to say them clearly around the hesitations of not wanting to feel like I am actually as bossy/ bitchy/ a spoilsport/ just acting crazy again as other people might think I am for standing up for myself.  Other peoples’ reactions and criticisms are still really wounding.  I still get really paranoid around silence, and overanalyze what’s going on in that silent reaction.

Brene Brown writes in her books about shame versus guilt– that shame is silencing & paralyzing, but guilt isn’t.  I haven’t read enough of her books to have worked out my own processes to pinpoint all the things that make me shame-turtle, but the “you shouldn’t need help and it’s wrong to ask for it” message clearly got driven home at some point.  At some point, my incapacity to competently and intelligently handle a situation all on my own (even when, objectively, it’s more than any one person could handle), or my need for others to give me some positive emotional reinforcement got deeply entwined with my being a “bad” person if I had to ask for help.  If it was freely given, then maybe it was something I could consider accepting (although even then it was suspect, because I have known lots of people who were just manipulative in the end and that reinforced the “don’t ask” button in a different way).  In the meantime, I put on a brave face or a brusque face or just straight out lie.

And asking doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the help that you need.  You might get half-measures, or none, and have to still do it yourself, with the anti-climax of breached trust in your fellow humans.  (Hooray!?!  At least it tells you who not to waste your energy on? Framing shit as teachable moments just sucks.)  Sometimes, you’ll get help from unexpected quarters– and that’s good, in the end, but can be complex if you’ve been less than gracious to those folks beforehand, and so you’ve got to reevaluate your own shitty behavior.

I’m writing this on day one of my leave of absence, after precisely two hugs (freely given) and four and a half well-meant expressions of taking it easy or good luck or likewise from direct coworkers. I did get several more well-wishes from folks in my working group, and some unexpected help from that quarter, too– which means, again, that I have to examine the divide between my own self-perception and others’ willingness to help when asked not by me, but my boss. I am seriously questioning how long I will stay at my job once I return, having talked myself off the ledge of trying to quit while I’ll out– but the larger question of the cluelessless and/or disinterest of most of my coworkers and my need to look at what I can do to prevent future overexertion as well as to identify– what is it I like about the job, in case I do decide to look elsewhere, what I need to change in this workplace in me and in others for me to tolerate staying, and what conversations I need to have with colleagues & higher ups to see what would work.

Of course, there are other things to do.  Sleep.  Read.  Socialize.  Tackle the garden.  File for divorce.  Get my dad’s mortgage resettled.  Other family health & legal projects.  They will be good distractions and anxiety-reducers around the hard work of “how did I get here again,” and “how do I ask for what else I need to keep going?”

 

Side effects may include (not as described)

Any drug is going to have side effects.  Any psychoactive drug, either when it stops being effective, or causes you to be in overdose (the “mild,” not-dead, not in the hospital yet kind of OD) often has side effects that mimic the symptoms you’re trying to treat.  Sleep disturbance, anxiety, paranoia, lethargy, apathy, catatonia, insomnia, suicidal ideation, you get the drift.  In something cyclical like bipolar, it’s hard to tell if it’s the meds that aren’t working, if it’s too much meds, if it’s the change in season (bipolars’ diurnal & circadian rhythms are really sensitive and prone to getting extremely messed up), or some external stressor that has set off a dip or upswing in mood– but it can be a slow creep, and sneaky, and even practiced, self-aware, general ly pretty in-control folks can find themselves in the midst on an onset before they realize they’re having an episode.

And then there are the physical side effects.  These may or may not be listed on the drug label– my own experience since 2007 is that some of the side effects are always going to be idiosyncratic to the patient, especially when dealing with psychoactive drugs, which doesn’t mean they still aren’t real to the patient, and that some aren’t listed because they’re not widely known yet, because a lot of bipolar drugs are off-label anti-convulsants, and so, obviously, bipolars’ reactions are going to be a little different from people with seizure disorders.  (This is why patient med wikis like crazymeds are so integral to feeling like you aren’t totally nuts when you experience symptoms that are listed nowhere official.)  I mentioned the sleep disturbance– so, multiply that by weeks or months, and then see how your joints and muscles ache because you’re exhausted.  See how your patience and moods fray, and your sense of humor disappears (and makes your mood swing even worse). Sometimes, there’s muscle stiffness, so painful you can’t turn your neck, and it brings tears to your eyes to touch your own skin to rub in some arnica cream or Tiger Balm or whatever other placebo-self-care balm you think might possibly help.  Some of the meds make you clench your teeth so that you wake every day with a headache or walk around with a permanent frown that turns people off because they think you hate everyone.  (You don’t.  Just your meds, the same ones that make it possible to get out of bed everyday and come to work to frown at everybody in sight.)  They dry out your mouth, or leach out salts so that all you do all day is drink water and crave a salt lick.  Sometimes, the meds dry out your skin, so that no lotion is thick enough and you have to go to the work bathroom three times a day to lather up just so you won’t claw your skin off.  (But it’s spring, and you’re hitting a middle age hormone change, it makes sense that your normal spring dry patch would just be worse this year, that’s what you tell yourself…)  You take ibuprofen to deal with the headaches, the jaw pain, the muscle stiffness, the aches of exhaustion, and suffer the bruising that comes with too much NSAIDs as a result.  Another side effect.  Not so bad, right?

And then you realize, maybe after the fourth time you’ve closed you’re office door because you’re leaking tears again, OH, I’m having a mood swing and I need to adjust my meds and maybe I’m also overdosing because– what’s this weird rash on my chest?  DO NOT IGNORE THE RASH ON YOUR CHEST, DO NOT IGNORE A RASH ANYWHERE, I REPEAT, especially if it’s raised & it itches, take a benadryl right away.  Cut your dosage, call your shrink, look up your meds to see if you need the ER, if your shrink does not call you back, call your primary care doctor, call your therapist– tell someone your meds do not work and you need to get off them and onto something else, pronto.  Keep calling until someone calls you back.

I try to not completely discontinue meds– withdrawal sucks cold turkey & it has dangers all of its own– but so does strong suicidal ideation, and sometimes complete cessation of meds = cessation of strong urges, plus sometimes there is not enough klonopin/other anti-anxiety med du jour (or sometimes, there’s just enough in exactly all the wrong ways) to make those wrong, ugly inner voices quiet down so you can hear something besides your mood swing.  A bridge medication is good, even if you still are going to feel, over all, pretty bad for a bit– because a bridge helps you cross the chasm, and if it makes you feel a little dopey, a little zoned out, a bit unable to spit the words out, a little less in touch with the finer feelings you’re going to have to deal with at some point– well, at least it gets you over the fiery pit part in the middle.  (That is a crappy metaphor.  Sorry.)

No one ever tells you this in the psychiatrist’s office.  I don’t know if it’s because they don’t take the meds so they don’t know (or because it’s unprofessional to admit they they feel your pain) or because they think it’s scare you to know that at some point, you’ll have to switch it all up, and that at a certain point you’ll have to start down a new road, your old bridges burning behind you– such that you’ll never start off in the first place.  I do know now, what I didn’t a while ago– the lessons learned smell like ash, but they still illuminate, even if it is just at the brink.  (Oh, crap, it’s a rash– that’s an illumination.)