The Power of One Pill

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Pills.  Ah, pills.  “Pill” is such an innocuous-sounding word, but anyone with bipolar disorder who takes medication knows that pills are anything but harmless.  However, unless you depend on medications to keep you stable, and unless you’ve experienced a med horror story, it’s hard to understand why someone highly sensitive to meds would TOTALLY freak out at missing just one dose.

(***Trigger Alert: suicidal ideation***)

Over the past year I’ve become used to taking my MAOI med Parnate (tranylcypromine) three times a day.  That hasn’t been a big deal – I’m incredibly grateful for it since this drug brought me out of bipolar depression when twenty other meds did not.

But as ridiculous as this may sound, refilling my Parnate has been problematic. Here’s a little backstory…please forgive me for it being tedious!  It’s difficult for me to spice up the topic of medication!

When I first started taking Parnate, my psychiatrist wasn’t willing to arrange refills.  His rationale, which he explained to me rather apologetically, was that he wanted to keep close tabs on me.  While I was frustrated with his philosophy (and I told him so!) I understood where he was coming from.  Eventually I asked him to arrange refills and he complied with my request, which was great.

Last week I noticed my bottle of Parnate was getting on the low side and I called Costco to refill it. (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask if their pharmacy offers an “auto-refill notification” system so I could be contacted when my medication was ready.  CVS has an auto-refill system that I use with my lithium, and it’s awesome.) In any case, I thought I would be able to get my Parnate without missing a dose.

I forgot that a holiday was coming up, Memorial Day, and that the Costco pharmacy would be closed exactly when I needed to pick up my medication.  That meant that I was going to miss at least one dose, which sent me into a panic.  I was furious with myself because it was my fault for what happened!  Furthermore, I was also mad because I hadn’t thought to ask my doctor if he could prescribe me a few extra “emergency pills” in case this kind of situation happened.  (BIG DUH!)

My husband Craig was in the same room when I flipped out about my error.  We’ve been together for sixteen years and this poor man stood by my side after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He has been to hell and back in helping me with all my emergencies, care taking, my seven hospitalizations, you name it.

As I threw my tizzy fit, he casually said, “Don’t worry about it.”

What?” I screeched, just shy of a yell since the kids were outside.

Then I angrily muttered,”You’d probably feel differently about it if you were hospitalized seven times in the nuthouse!”

I could sense the hairs on his arms raise in aggravation.  He said nothing and walked away.

At that point I knew I needed to calm down, so I tried thinking rational, soothing thoughts such as:

“You won’t go off the deep end just for missing a dose!” and:

“It’ll all work out!” and even:

“Let go and let God!”

Lo and behold, my mood actually started to level out.  I released my anxious fears because there was absolutely nothing I could do short of robbing Costco.

I felt contrite for blowing up at Craig, and I tracked him down.  I told him I was sorry; luckily he accepted my apology and gave me a hug.  I know he’s burned out from having heard about my medication woes for so many years.  Anyone, even Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama, would be tired from my numerous complaints, emergencies, and years of seemingly never-ending depression.

While I blame myself for not creating a good medication refill system, I do give myself a break regarding my feelings about missing doses.  I give myself another break for how powerful a pill can affect my system.  The following tale is why I’m letting myself off the hook for my tantrum one last time.

One, itsy, bitsy psychiatric pill made me suicidal.

My former psychiatrist prescribed me an antidepressant medication called Elavil (amitriptyline) and after I filled the script, I took my first pill. Literally two hours later I wanted to hang myself with my bathrobe belt and Craig, thank God, was home.

I told him I felt suicidal and he rushed me to the hospital. There is no way that anything else but that pill that made me feel that way.  I know the subject is so morbid to think about, but up to that very afternoon I knew that if I would ever actually take my own life, I would *never* use that horrific method.  I think that my brain played tricks on me, triggered by the medication, because someone I had cared about had hung himself just a month before that awful day.  I suspect my brain synapses wanted to do a copycat action in reaction to the medication. Who knows? Again, thank God Craig was home.

Because of what happened with Elavil, I’ll never underestimate the potential consequences of missing a single pill or taking a single pill.  I’m paranoid, yes, but now don’t you understand why I feel that way?

So there you have it.  “What’s the point of this post?” you may be thinking.  (I know that’s what I would think!) Well, if you have bipolar disorder and take medication, I implore you, don’t wind up like me.  See if you can arrange an auto-refill system with your pharmacist.  I know CVS does it and I’m going to call Costco to see if they offer the same program.  I’m also going to check in with Dr. D. about having an emergency supply of Parnate – at least a few days worth.  I’ve been wisely advised in this comment section by Rob to buy a weekly pill dispenser to give me more notice when I’m getting low on meds. (Thanks Rob!)

I do make a point of carrying an extra dose of Parnate in my purse in case I find myself away from the house unexpectedly for a chunk of time. These are all little things that can make such a big difference in my peace of mind, and yours.  Take care and may all your script refills go as smooth as silk! 😉

 

imgrescat pills(Hope this cat photo doesn’t offend you – I thought the expression was hilarious!!) 😉

 

My Little Old Soul

Old SoulMarilla – age six

 

I’m trying valiantly to pull out of a foul mood.  How did I get sucked into this morass?

Well, I’ve been reading too many horrific news items, something I usually try not to do.  I’ve been grieving the loss of my father more than usual, and I’ve been frustrated with writer’s block.  I even started crying this morning when my sweet Lucy pup peed all over Avonlea’s backpack instead of on her pee pad sitting directly next to it.

Oh well.

Just now I took my sorry self outside to our patio.  Lucy is out here with me sniffing some bushes and steering clear of the chicken coop.  The air is the perfect temperature: not too cool and not too warm, and it’s sunny.  Getting outdoors was a wise move, and I’m starting to feel my gloom shift.  My crabbiness dissipates a little more as I hold nine-week-old fluffbug Lucy for this photo:

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After I ran into my bedroom crying over the puppy pee incident, I felt horrible.  I knew I was overreacting.  The botched potty training merely served as a catalyst to unload the sadness I’ve felt the past week over my Dad, over the Carol Coronado tragedy, over the Santa Barbara shootings and other atrocities.

My six-year-old daughter Marilla, disturbed to see me sob,  followed me into my room and she wrapped her arms around me.

“Don’t worry Mom.  You’ll always have me.” she said as she sprinkled my face with kisses.  My moody “‘tude” was melted by her affection and empathy.  Ever since she could talk, Marilla has been compassionate and wise beyond her years.  In 2013 when  I suffered one of the worst bipolar depressions of my life, Marilla told me,  “Mommy, I’d like to give you a talk!”  I had no idea what she meant, but I nodded yes.

She took me to her bunk bed, and told me how much she loved me.  She added, “I’m sorry about your father.”  I couldn’t even speak and I just sat there immobilized with tears rolling down my face.  

I know how this may sound – that I was being co-dependent with my little girl, and that it was unhealthy and unfair for me to place that burden upon her.  In self-defense, I was so hopeless and over-medicated that I couldn’t help but say yes to such a loving gesture.  

I’m still uncertain if our talks were “wrong” in the eyes of psychological professionals.  With Marilla I repeated a behavior I created during my childhood, except the roles were reversed.  When my Dad was deeply depressed due to bipolar disorder, I tried my best to cheer him up with loving words, reassurance that he’d get better, and affection.  I didn’t have as much empathy and knowing as Marilla, but I attempted to lift his mood because I loved him so much and I couldn’t stand to see him suffer.  

Lifting my Dad’s spirits made me feel valued, and while no parent wants their child to derive their self-worth in such a way, I have no regrets about what happened.  I don’t feel scarred by the role I took on with my father, and hopefully Marilla won’t be adversely affected by our conversations either.  She only gave me two or three of of these special talks, but I’ll never forget them.  

After what happened when I was depressed and during other times, I’ve become convinced that Rilla possesses an old soul.  A comprehensive definition of the term “old soul” is:

A spiritual person who is wise beyond her years; people of strong emotional stability…someone who has more understanding of the world around her.  Some people even believe an old soul is a person whom has learned from past incarnations, or lives. They acquired certain knowledge from their past lives and apply it to their present life…”

While I believe in mediums and the Afterlife, I’m still not sure about reincarnation.  I don’t know who Marilla takes after personality-wise from both of our families.  I’ve never given it much thought if Marilla is channeling one of our relatives, although I would find it to be fascinating if she was.  

What matters most is that I have a child who expresses compassion and love in an amazing, profound way.  Now that I’m stable, I’ll never expect Marilla to take on the responsibility for improving my mood.  We all know that’s my job.  

I had no idea I’d be writing about Marilla today, but now that I have, I feel much better.  Puppy pee on backpacks?  What puppy pee? ?  That’s now in the distant past.  My heart is focusing on the present, as I realize that being the mom of a little old soul is one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve been given in this lifetime.  

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Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!

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As I write this post, I watch a Life Flight helicopter land on the field situated less than 1000 yards away from my bed.  I spot paramedics transferring a person hovering between life and death over to the Life Flight team. I’ve seen this scenario many times over the years we’ve lived here.  The roar of an idling copter never fails to put my problems into perspective.  I’ve just been given a “reality check”.

For various reasons, I’ve struggled more than usual the past week, but as the gifted blogger Kitt O’Malley gently reminded me, “this too shall pass”.  I must remember that just because life is more difficult, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to crash into the depths of despair.

For some people who have bipolar one disorder and are stable, dreading a relapse is ever-present. Fortunately, fear of bottoming out doesn’t mean that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Still, unless some kind of miracle occurs, I’ll always be afraid of relapsing.

Last week I deliberately stopped my daily blogging habit, which I had kept up for over four months.  I still can’t believe I didn’t miss a single day.  If sometime told me that a writer/mom with bipolar was keeping up such a demanding writing routine, I’d wonder (perhaps a tad jealously) if that person was hypomanic or manic.  I most definitely was not in either of those states. (thank God!)

Anyway, I ceased writing my minimum of thirty minutes a day, whether it was for this blog, for my book or for freelance articles.  Writing at least thirty minutes a day was a famous rule created by my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle.  I’ve discussed L’Engle’s writing advice in prior posts, and if you’re familiar with my blog you probably know how much I revere L’Engle.

Today I came across an interview with L’Engle about writing that I found to be affirming and fascinating.  She was asked by Scholastic students for the advice she’d give to aspiring writers.  L’Engle told the students:

“I would give the same advice to writers of any age – and that’s keep an honest, unpublishable journal that you don’t show to anyone.  You dump things into it – it’s your private garbage can. Also, you have to read to be a writer. You have to write every day – not necessarily in your journal.  But you have to do it every day. It’s like practicing a musical instrument – you have to practice and stick with it.  I love every bit of it.  I love getting the ideas, and I live with the ideas for a long time before I write them – I may write two or three other books while thinking about an idea.  And I love sitting down to work at the computer and just starting.

L’Engle wrote the Newberry Award-winning, bestselling A Wrinkle In Time and many other amazing books. This prolific writer knew what she was talking about.  I especially appreciated her comparison of writing to practicing a musical instrument.  One of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Award-winning Dad practice on his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini violin almost every single day.  (Yep, I’m gonna namedrop!  And he had bipolar one!)  Dad’s Irish setters Tanya and Amber hung out in this practice room listening to his world-class performances seven days a week, those lucky hounds.  I didn’t realize how disciplined Dad was until much later.  If I had an iota of his work ethic, I’d be stoked.

Oh well.  I thought that the time I freed up from reducing my writing schedule would refresh and perhaps inspire me to write more and that my writing might even improve.  I was dead wrong.  I’ve found myself feeling blah instead of the usual rah regarding writing. This SUCKS!

A few days ago it was my father’s birthday.  He passed away five years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. The anniversary of his birthday drained me emotionally, but I don’t think that was the main reason I haven’t been gung-ho about writing.  At least I haven’t been depressed, but I’m definitely not where I want to be, and I need to take care of myself.  I’m convinced that part of “taking care of myself” includes scheduling writing time every day unless I’m really sick or there’s an emergency.

Thirty minutes is not that long a time to write!  It’s the length of one “Full House” or “The Nanny” episode, now, isn’t it?  And those episodes roll by in a flash.  I’m guessing that the very act of writing has been like my own version of Lumosity.  My theory? Writing stimulates and exercises certain areas of my brain that are usually not in use.  Furthermore, I’m guessing that consistent writing is serving as a mood stabilizer! How I wish that Madeleine L’Engle was alive today so I could run that supposition by her and hear her opinion.  After participating in two writer’s workshops with her, I learned firsthand that she would tell you exactly what she thought.

So yes, I’m missing my “writer’s high”.  The cardio exercise I’ve been faithfully doing on my NordicTrack gives me a different kind of high – actually, it doesn’t feel like a high, but more of a grounding of my jangled nerves.

For the time being, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of daily writing, and not feel guilty about making it a priority.  I used to journal all the time, and I stopped when the bipolar depression became too much.  Now I’ll either create a private blog for my use as a journal, or buy a blank book.  (Most definitely not for publication, as L’Engle instructs!)  I’m looking forward to feeling better and clearing my brain out, Madeleine L’Engle-style!

Kitt O’Malley’s blog (Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God)  is: http://www.kittomalley.com

This link leads to the entire transcript of Madeleine L’Engle’s interview with the Scholastic students and I love it! ;

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/madeleine-l39engle-interview-transcript

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Madeleine in her office at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City – probably sometime in the 60’s with those groovy glasses!

Dy and L'Engle 2Dyane & Madeleine at the Mount Calvary Retreat in Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

Lucy Puppy Visits My Psychiatrist!

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Greetings and happy Friday everyone!

Today I planned to write about my Dad, as it’s his birthday.  My father died in 2009, and I’ve written about him in this blog before.  I considered him to be one of my best friends, and he also had bipolar one disorder.  The link to my post about Dad is here:

https://proudlybipolar.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/dad/

I’ve always been into birthdays, and today I can’t help but feel down about the fact that Dad isn’t here with us to celebrate another one.  However, I’ve been comforting myself with the thought that he’d get a big kick out of what happened this morning.

I had my monthly check-in appointment with the best psychiatrist I’ve ever had: Dr. D.  Apart from being the most helpful pdoc I’ve seen over a span of two decades, Dr. D. is also the first dog-friendly psychiatrist I’ve consulted.  With all due respect, from now on I shall refer to him here as “Dr. Dog”.  (Ruff, ruff!)

A few weeks ago, when I emailed Dr. Dog about a med refill, I mentioned that the glorious puppy Lucy had joined our family.  I didn’t know if he liked dogs, but I attached a photo of her anyway since she was so damn cute.  Dr. Dog wrote back remarking on Lucy’s sweet face, and he said it would be perfectly fine to bring her to my next appointment at his-dog-friendly office complex.  I thought that was the coolest thing, and I knew that having Lucy with me would lessen my anxiety.  I was a little stressed about her going potty in his office, but I didn’t let that stop me from bringing her along.

To prevent a puppy accident from occurring, I packed doggy pads, spray cleaner, a roll of paper towels, a couple baggies, a dog toy, and a little container of water!  I’m sure I left something out.  (Just kidding!)  Honest-to-God, I felt like a mom with her a newborn going on an errand, carrying a plethora of baby objects in tow. While Lucy’s accoutrements were much easier to pack compared to infant gear (and infant), I found the task challenging all the same.

When Lucy met Dr. Dog, they hit it off right away.  I was the uber-proud mama of a fur baby!  Dr. Dog told me he was impressed my bringing my array of clean-up items, etc.  It turns out that he used to have a Sheltie who passed away few years ago.  (Lucy is part Sheltie, so of course I took that as a good sign.)

We reviewed my blood test paperwork, and then I brought up the two topics on my mind: my high anxiety, and my sugar & caffeine addictions.  Dr. Dog also considers my sugar and caffeine problems as bona fide addictions. He’s a longtime addiction psychiatrist and he knows what he’s talking about! I’ve become so discouraged with my lack of progress in these two areas in my life.  Diet and anxiety are strongly connected, and I’m perpetuating a self-sabotaging cycle in which the more sugar and caffeine I ingest, the worse my anxiety becomes.  Dr. Dog said he felt a “sadness” for me because these issues continue to bring me down and prevent me from being my best, happiest self.  I don’t foresee any quick fixes here, and I’m working on them with my therapists.  (My human therapist and my puppy therapist.  I’m joking once again – I smelled Lucy’s furry little head a few minutes ago, and I’m high on puppy.  It truly smelled amazing and not “wt doggy” yet. )

At the close of our appointment Dr. Dog remarked that I was doing “very well” despite my self-confessed challenges, which was music to my ears.  He said I could bring Lucy to my next appointment – more music to my ears indeed.  It was lovely to have her at my side in his office today, as she definitely helped me ratchet down my angst.  Lucy was so good and mellow, and she didn’t even go potty on his carpet! 🙂

Along with the bipolar gene, I inherited a great love for hounds from my father.  My Dad adored dogs and he filled our home with his beloved Irish Setters.  (Note to you dog experts out there – I believe that Irish Setters are much smarter than they get credit for!)  It was fitting that today on my Dad’s birthday I saw my psychiatrist with Lucy  by my side.  I know he’d completely approve of the arrangement and perhaps he even had an otherworldly hand in making it happen.  Who knows?

In any case, it’s fun to write about my joyful, vivacious puppy  today instead of dwelling upon Dad’s pain, suffering and death like I had initially planned to expound on.  I’ve “been there, done that” numerous times. This past week I wrote an essay about grieving my Dad for the upcoming issue of “Anchor” magazine.  I didn’t choose the topic; the upcoming issue’s theme is grief.  That assignment drained me, and I feel like I’ve met a “grief theme writing quota” that should last me quite a while.

I hope that my Dad is having fun in the Afterlife; perhaps he’s with his Irish Setters.  I see him in my mind’s eye playing the Tchaikovsky pieces he loved on his favorite Guadagnini violin.  His audience consists in part of Tanya and Amber, his mild-mannered setters.  Dad would understand my decision to blog mostly about Lucy instead of about him and my grieving his loss, especially since he couldn’t stand to talk about death in any way, shape or form!

I miss him.

 

 

 

I’ve Come a Long Way from Hell

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I’m writing this blog post as a treat to myself.  My friend Doreen Bench, blogger extraordinaire of “Always Recovery”, wrote that blogging helps lower her tension level and that’s what I hope happens today.  Last night my daughter suffered terrible ear pain that came on quickly.  I realized that it must have had something to do with her trip to the pool earlier in the day.

A look at WebMd under “treating ear pain in children” suggested that she had swimmer’s ear. She kept screaming as waves of pain hit her, and I gave her acetaminophen and a warm compress, but nothing seemed to help her feel better.  I knew that if she could fall asleep, we could probably wait until Urgent Care opened in the morning.  She finally dozed off, but I knew she would most likely wake up again during the night, and she did wake up briefly twice, but thank God she was able to return to sleep each time.  As the daughter of a speech therapist trained in ear anatomy/function, I knew that if she was able to sleep for long stretches, we could avoid the ER.

Words fail me when I try to describe what was like to see my child hurting like that.  I had an ear infection when I was little and over forty years later, I can recall how, apart from the pain of childbirth, nothing else ever hurt that bad.  As I comforted my girl, I wanted to tear my hair out. I felt helpless; moreover, I was utterly frustrated, furious, and frightened.  The three F’s from Hell!

So first thing this morning we headed to Urgent Care so we could get in line before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. We left our beloved new puppy Lucy alone for the first time since we brought her home.  Lucy has become my third child (I freely admit it – dog lovers will understand this!) and it was tough for me to leave her.  I put on classical music to soothe her, and made sure that she had food, water and toys.  At that moment I wished I had gone through the extensive requirements to certify her as a psychiatric dog so I could bring her to Urgent Care!  I had seen dogs in their office before.  My last visit to Urgent Care (which was only a couple weeks ago – I swear to God the place feels like a second home!) I observed a fellow patient with his big,’ol Lab dog waiting to be seen.  But, as I often do in this blog, I digress.

Avonlea did, indeed, have swimmer’s ear and it’s good I brought her in because it was in the early stages.  I couldn’t imagine what her pain level would be like if I had waited much longer. She was prescribed ear drops with a steroid and anti-bacterial agent, and in the future when she goes to the pool there are other ear drops and ear plugs she can use to prevent this from happening again.

I’ve been to this medical office often in the past eight weeks.  Aside from today’s visit there were two Urgent Care trips for yours truly, two separate “Well Child” visits for my daughters, and one “New Patient” exam for me with a general physician so that I could get the required referral for my mammogram.

While we got ready to leave for Urgent Care this morning, I dressed up a little nicer than I usually do.  My usual outfit consists of sweats, jeans or a casual skirt, a tank top and my $7.00 black flip flops I bought in Hawaii! I barely style my hair and my makeup routine is simply eyeliner and Burt’s Bees $4.99 lipgloss.  However, lately I’ve been hooked on watching “What Not to Wear” re-runs with Avonlea and Marill.  To my great surprise they enjoy the show as much as I do. Today the “What Not To Wear” stars’ fashion rules inspired me to look a little more pulled together so I could present well to the doctor.

The reason I bring appearances up is that I looked, more or less, like a “normal” mom.  I wore a dress for a change.  It was a hand-me-down, like literally all my clothes in my closet, but it was  understated and I liked its charcoal gray hue.  I put my hair up in a ponytail, smoothed on some makeup and I wore a beautiful freshwater pearl necklace.  Avonlea likes it when I dress nicely, and even though she was in pain and scared, she liked the fact that I made the effort.

Looking put together also helps me in terms of my constant struggle with social anxiety.  I’ve always been shy in most circumstances, and I grew up with anxiety that worsened over time, especially after the bipolar diagnosis. I have social and generalized anxiety, and I’ve done all sorts of things, both traditional and holistic, to try reduce my angst.  It’s very common for people with bipolar to also suffer with anxiety disorders, which makes total sense to me!

Anyway, I was very anxious about my daughter’s ear, and that intensified my regular high level of anxiety, so I was an anxious mess this morning. Still, I powered through it!  I validated myself for being a good parent and for taking care of my child.  I didn’t reach for my anti-anxiety pills, Baclofen, which I’ve been off for almost three weeks.  I just took deep breaths and reminded myself how well I was doing in spite of my anxiety.

Then, on the way out of Urgent Care, as I de-hunched my shoulders with relief at knowing Avonlea’s case was not severe, I was triggered.

I spotted the doctor who technically was the first person to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.

At first seeing him didn’t make any sense to me. Dr. S., my children’s former pediatrician who worked in the same building as the Urgent Care clinic, was sitting down in the waiting room chair.  He looked like a regular patient instead of being on the job that day. Dr. S. held a baby in his arms and was cooing at her (or him), and he was seated next to a pretty blonde woman who I believe was his wife.  (Later on I realized he and his wife may have been there to see another doctor for their newborn, but I’m not sure.)

Eight years ago I took my second baby to see Dr. S. for her six-week-check-up and I brought him a bunch of gifts.  I was taking superfast and I was elated.   He took one look at me and exclaimed loudly, “You’re manic!” as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I immediately burst into tears, which I did not do in public.  I felt on a gut level that I had “been caught” at having bipolar.  I calmed down enough to convince him I would seek immediate psychiatric help. I admitted myself to the hospital after that incident to be officially diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder one.

I had initially chosen Dr. S. as my daughters’ pediatrician because he was brilliant, funny, and great with kids.  Dr. S. was also very cute!  I was intimidated by his high intellect and good looks, but I didn’t dwell on those qualities too much because he was such an outstanding doctor.  Of equal importance was that he developed a good rapport with my older daughter in particular.

Seeing Dr. S. today, albeit briefly (we didn’t even have eye contact!) brought back vivid memories of my falling apart in front of him, of being at the very beginning of the disease that would almost destroy me numerous times, and other ineffable feelings. As I walked Avonlea outside to our car, I allowed myself to wallow in my “trigger zone” for a few minutes.  Then I forced myself to let those negative associations go.

I thought to myself, “You are NOT the person you used to be.  You are stronger and you are doing so much better.” It’s true.  I’ve come a long, long way!  It’s a cause for constant celebration, really.

As I write this, my sweet girl is so worn out from the pain and fear of going to Urgent Care that she fell asleep on the couch.  A daytime nap for this energetic nine-year-old has been absolutely unheard of for so long, and as I gaze at her napping, I feel such love for this person. She has beautiful hands that look like they belong to a pianist, complete with polished nails (in pink, of course!) from a manicure I gave her before she went to the pool. Those hands are so very different from the chubby little nubs she had eight years ago.

Watching her in repose, free of pain, is magnificent.  Absorbed, I forget about my own troubles for a few minutes.  Now I see her arms move and stretch as she wakes up once more. I know I’ll see both of my children in pain again.  And I plan on being the strong one, the healthy one, for each of them to lean upon for support as much as humanly possible.  I’ve spent enough time ill with bipolar disorder, shut away in hospitals seven times in eight years

.  It’s time to be available on a moment’s notice to help my kids face any pain they’ll encounter under my watch as well as when they strike out on their own.   It will take a Mack truck to stop me from being there for them.

They Should Do This at the Psych Ward!

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Today is a sunny Saturday, and my morning consisted of two important medical appointments.  I had scheduled a mammogram and a lithium blood level/fasting glucose test far in advance so that I’d have my husband available to care for our children – and Lucy puppy!  I dreaded going to both appointments for different reasons. The lithium blood level wasn’t that big a deal and it was an old hat procedure.  But I hated the fasting with a passion!  

Last year my psychiatrist suggested checking my glucose level regularly, which was something I’d never done in the past.  When I first started seeing him he ordered a baseline glucose level and my result was pre-diabetic.  Scary stuff.  We did another check and it was much lower, thank God.

I showed up at the lab bright and early.  After I sat down, ready to be stuck by the needle, the phlebotomist said she couldn’t find my doctor’s fax request so she couldn’t test me.  It wasn’t end-of-the-world stuff by any means, but it was totally frustrating all the same. I went in search of a gallon of coffee so I could become human once more.  

Fortunately my beloved, dog-friendly Surf City Coffee shop was just down the road. I had fun buying a sample pack of locally made, organic “Lucky Dog” cookies for Lucy!  I showed the barista my puppy pictures, acting as if I had given birth to her myself!

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After mainlining Surf City’s delicious caffeine, I checked email on my Kindle and then set out for my local hospital’s breast center.  This place held very bad memories for me.  Several years ago I had an abnormal mammogram that resulted in my need to get a lumpectomy.  I had already been in the throes of a deep bipolar depression, and when I was told that there was a chance I had breast cancer and that I needed surgery, I plunged further down into that morass.  At the same time, a friend and neighbor who had been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer was rapidly declining. Despite the fact she had a double mastectomy and she fought the cancer with an extraordinary strength, her two small children and husband lost her to the evil disease.  I was terrified that I would face the same fate.

I had the lumpectomy done, and I waited over seven days for the results. That was excruciating – I have never been a patient gal.  During the waiting period we went to snowy Lake Tahoe for a few days, as Craig wanted to cheer me up and give our girls a break.  I felt incredibly anxious about my lumpectomy findings. The radiologist himself was going to call me about my results, but he hadn’t promised exactly what day that would be, which drove me nuts.  

When he called me with good news about my lump being benign, I was profoundly relieved.  I was still depressed, but I felt grateful all the same.  I hoped never to repeat that experience again! Boob treatsBoob goodiesSo, when I walked into the breast center this morning, I was welcomed warmly by the staff.  I spotted several tables in the waiting area that were filled with yummy-looking fruit, dessert breads, a coffee/tea/cocoa bar (!!!) and best of all: BOOBY COOKIES! Yes, booby cookies.  A baker had handcrafted graham crackers stuffed with marshmallow filling and they were topped with a candy “nipple”.  I don’t know if she put anything else in them but they were super-good!

There were also goody bags filled with cute pink trinkets like pens, keychains, a stuffed animal, pamphlets on breast health, etc.  A OB/GYN doctor was hanging out in the lobby available to answer any health-related questions that we had.  To top it off, there was free massage offered by a certified massage therapist.  All the staff wore pink outfits and flowers, and they were really cool and friendly.  It was clear they were having fun watching the incoming patients’ surprise at such a festive atmosphere.

I later learned that one of the longtime staffers, a beautiful blonde woman named “Charlie” who I recognized from my past visits, created this biannual event.  She wanted to add cheer and education to the gloomy, often stressful mammogram procedure.

 As I waited for my turn, I made myself a coffee (like I needed more, but hey, it was good!), ate strawberries and pineapple, and I chatted with the doctor.  I couldn’t think of a good question to ask her, so she shared with me about caring for a group of women who were disabled during the previous day.  It was a sobering conversation, but I appreciated her insights.

In retrospect, I realized I could have asked her if she ever had a patient like me: a mother diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. I’d love to know what her perspectives were about postpartum mental illness in our community.  Damn!  I missed a great opportunity!  BIG DUH! I had noticed her name, however, and I knew I could call her.  I liked her attitude and I had a feeling she would be a valuable contact.

I didn’t have time to get a massage, as Craig needed me back home.  I told Charlie it was the first time in my life I ever turned down a free massage.  She encouraged me to return to their office in October for the next special event. I could have my massage then, even though I wouldn’t need a mammogram in six months.  I was so stoked!

As I drove away it occurred to me how wonderful it would be if there was something like that event taking place at psych wards.  Really.  The ubiquitous community rooms found in psych units could occasionally be turned into a warm, welcoming place on a weekend afternoon.  Extra-special treats could be brought out for patients and their visitors to enjoy, an “Ask-the-Doctor” volunteer could casually hang out for patient/visitor questions, there could be free massage (!), maybe soft classical live music, and this would be the best part: animal therapy.  

As far as the liability issues and high-risk patients go…well, during all the times I hung out in mental hospital community rooms, I barely saw any patient totally freak out and seem harmful.  If the staff are doing their job properly, then if a patient has a psychotic break, the appropriate staff will be take action right away. If a high-risk patient wants to interact with a therapy animal, I’m not sure how that would roll, but the concept is worth exploring regardless. It took just one breast center staffer, Charlie, to dream up such a beautiful event all on her own.  

I guarantee that she helped make every woman’s experience at the center a special one today.  I know that because as I helped myself to the fruit, coffee and cookies, I watched the other patients’ reactions and I heard their enthusiastic feedback. Maybe there are other “Charlies” who work in mental hospital settings who would like to create a special event in their milieu.

Someday after I’ve finished my book, I can imagine exploring to see if it’s possible to create special events in the psychiatric unit setting.  I have a background in special event production after all.

I could check in with my friend who I’ve known for twenty-five years, an extremely experienced charge nurse who worked in the behavioral health unit where I first admitted myself.  He would tell me if such an event in the mental hospital setting would be viable.  For all I know, this concept is already happening in hospitals, but I have no idea.  It doesn’t hurt to do a little research.  We’ll see!