Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cycling again

Ah, my old friend Bipolar Disorder. You've reared your ugly head again. What I love/hate about this disorder is its unpredictability. Just when you've spent years believing you're fine, wham! it rises up again and swoops in like a plague of locusts.

I had had no real issues since 2008. I don't know what triggered that cycle but I ceased to need sleep and on top of a full time job I decided to teach a Saturday morning English class for high school students who were in danger of failing but wanted to go to college. I loved doing it but I don't remember sleeping much at all during that time. My three children only remember mom always busy, either working or grading papers. I was also doing housework and cooking and generally trying to hold everything together. I finally recognized this manic cycle when I started flipping through my journal and saw the changes in what I was saying and doing. Thank goodness for that journal; it may have saved my life.

I found myself a good psychiatrist (my old one was in Tucson and I was now living in Phoenix) and got back on medication, which I had been off since I started having children in 1998. I somehow had thought that with pregnancies and hormones I'd been cured but apparently not.

With my psychiatrist's help, I received a re-education in bipolar disorder and began again with my medication. (I was on Depakote as a mood stabilizer and Celexa as an antidepressant. There's quite a bit of argument about whether people with bipolar should take antidepressants but I can't address that here. I can say they did work to keep me out of deep depression.) In fact, I was so compliant and stable, that just last year, in 2015, I asked if it was possible that I would be able to get off my medications.It seemed as though my psychiatrist might laugh but he takes his job and patients much more seriously than that. He explained to me that I would never be able to stop; there was no telling when any kind of episode would occur. I didn't believe him but I did take my meds.

And then in November I began seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. Strange things: on the right side, I saw a large block of marble that seemed rather like a sheet except I knew it was cold stone. Behind that, a fleeting glimpse of a head, also made of marble. On my left side there were dark figures dancing. These actually have a name: shadow people. They were moving stealthily but in rhythmic motion.

I saw my doctor and explained what was going on. He prescribed Geodon and said I was having a minor psychotic episode. It didn't feel very minor to me but ever compliant, I took my medication home and took some that night. It made me feel as if I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

The next day was even worse. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My chest hurt, I was breathing fast, and I could actually feel my heart beating crazily in my chest. I went to Urgent Care and they did an EKG. No heart attack, everything normal. Except me. I wasn't normal.

That manic episode lasted through the middle of December. My doctor gave me another antipsychotic, Saphris, to help with the hallucinations. I don't know if it helped or not because the hallucinations stopped when the mania began to subside. We agreed that I could quit taking it but I should keep it around in case the strange visions began again.

And now, today, another manic episode is beginning. I felt it today as my pupils were dilated and I felt the thoughts racing. I want to do everything at once: write articles, write in my blog, do my freelance editing job, even clean the kitchen (okay, not so much).

I had thought I was stable or at least on the road to stability again. And now this.

So what can I do to help anyone else going through this? What can I say to make anyone else's struggle with bipolar disorder any easier?

First of all, accept that you have it and there is no cure. It's not cancer and you're not going to "beat it." This is frustrating because our instincts tell us we should go out and find a cure for things, make things all better, keep them from coming back. But this doesn't go away. You'll have to accept it in order to move forward at all.

Second, see a qualified psychiatrist you feel comfortable with and trust. It may take some time for this one. And insurance. But even without money (I'm broke, trust me, and applying for my state's Medicaid program), there are good psychiatrists there for you. It's important to find one who is right and who will be there when you call. Because I can almost guarantee you will have to call.

Third, TAKE YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, I was yelling that. Many people, myself included, feel stable and think we can stop our medicine. That is one of the most dangerous situations with bipolar disorder. It can result in very risky behavior during mania and such intense depression that suicide seems like a bright and shiny option. If your meds are not right for you, talk to your doctor. But don't just stop taking them. There may be no cure but stability is possible.

Fourth, don't give up. I know that sounds so trite. Why bother if there's no cure, or the meds make you sick? Well, you are important. You need to grow into believing that. The world needs you. It took me a long time to learn to believe that about myself. I still have a hard time. But when the strength comes from inside, you will have the ability to survive and thrive.

So, even though life is a roller coaster with bipolar disorder, you can learn to ride it without falling off. I'm going to hold on tight during this new manic episode and take my meds. I'll get frustrated and irritated and angry and find ways to deal with it that don't involve yelling at anyone or attempting to harm myself. And when this is gone, I'll probably be depressed. And I'll survive that too, even if I have to keep the crisis hotline number right next to me at night. I'll survive and I'll thrive. And I know you can too.

Brooke is a freelance writer and blogger, living in Arizona. Check out her personal blog (brookesworldofword.blogspot.com). She will be starting a new blog shortly about Tea and Organic Food.

Follow her on Twitter at @bfred58

Friday, January 15, 2016

Facing uncertainty

Last summer I had choices. I was at a company that was closing and I was offered a large retention bonus for staying, as well as an excellent severance package. I was determined to do that and then begin my freelance writing and editing business after that.

But I thought I should also be responsible and look for work. So I did and I found a very good position as a Proposal and Grants Writer for a K-12 educational software company. I spent 6 months of stressful work there, with no real acceptance and no encouragement and no training. And just 3 days ago, on January 12, 2016, I was let go without any explanation other than "I was not a good fit."

And now, my choices are gone. It's no use looking back but I really could have done far better if I had stayed and collected my money from my former job. But I can't go back. And going forward is frightening. I have possibly enough money to pay my rent and bills through February but unless I find work--and fast--March will be a month where I'm facing homelessness.

So, if any one of my friends and former colleagues reads this post, perhaps you can look around for some freelance writing and editing jobs for an unemployed Ph.D. who needs the work. I'm going to take some of my own advice and apply for grants for starting a small business and try to build my freelance writing and editing business.

Wish me luck folks!

I'll be writing a lot more in the near future.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer in the desert

Ah, it's been a long time since posting. I have some poems I've written but I don't want to try them out on people here until I've gotten them in better shape. I'm a little shy about my writing that way. Until I'm ready to share it, I keep it to myself, in a journal or in a file on the computer so I can work on it and make it what I want it to be. It's somewhat the same with fiction except that I will try to write that all the way through and then go back and edit. Otherwise, I'll get obsessed with what I got wrong and never get past that spot.

It is so hot here that I have a difficult time thinking. Whose brain can work when it's 112 degrees or higher. It doesn't matter that my office, my apartment, and my car have air conditioning. You can feel the heat penetrating through every window everywhere into every pore of your body. I've been home for 3 hours and I'm still uncomfortable.

And I'm preoccupied about what I can do to make money after my job ends. I've never been very comfortable leaping off into the unknown without a way to make a living. It's frightening, I have to admit. There are things I can do now, like promote my grant writing and try to get some small jobs but I feel exhausted when I get home (see the paragraph above regarding heat!) and I also haven't gotten my name out there yet.

Complain, whine, bitch, kvetch. I get sick of hearing myself. Just jump already. Go. Do. Be.

Okay, that's my motto for now: Go. Do. Be.

Next time, more writings.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Buidling Confidence

I have always been very self critical. It's difficult because it results in sabotage of my writing and my sense of self. I've worried what others think of me, which is really a ludicrous point of view. All that matters is what kind of person I am, the confidence I have in myself to create, and how I treat others.

I remember feeling so lost when I was 15 and 16 because I felt no one encouraged my writing or my art. I used to paint and draw and write and teachers would basically just look at my stuff and not say anything. They would encourage others but my work was somehow not good enough, not interesting enough, etc. What I should have done was ignore that and simply go on creating but I let it affect me, first by not continuing in art and second by doubting--continually, even to this day-- my own ability to write. I even make a living at writing now and I still doubt my abilities. It's pathetic.

A person cannot depend on others to decide their worth or their abilities. It is up to each of us to believe and to practice and to do, to create, to be who we are with all our strength and dedication and all the joy we can muster. I truly believe that. It has taken me many years to learn that lesson, not just in my head but in my heart. I did feel like I was approaching it, I was writing a lot and feeling good. But my marriage was a long, 13-year slide into doubt and self criticism again. I let someone else tear me down; I allowed that. But never again.

It's such a first world problem; I think of all the people struggling for food and shelter who have no time to ponder their self-consciousness. And yet I believe that even those people have to believe in themselves in order to continue on in the world, in order to survive and hopefully one day to thrive.

I am writing now again. I am planning on writing for a living (see my wordyandwise.wordpress.com grant writing business site). My ex laughs at me because he's convinced I can't do that and survive. Well, perhaps the woman he was married to couldn't, but the woman I am now can do anything she wants--create, work, write for a living, maybe even paint again. Will it be easy? No. Nothing that is worthwhile is easy. But for me, sitting in a cubicle working for someone else is not easy either. It is depressing and spirit killing. With my own freelance work, I can also do something I love: establish a local food program to help inner city people get good, organic food at low cost. That's something I feel passionate about.

I am scared. How would it be possible not to be scared about not having a "regular" job after Dec. 31? But I will get by. There is severance pay, retention bonus, regular bonus, insurance through next March, unemployment, insurance through ACA afterwards, cheaper rent, refinancing my car to a lower rate. And I know how to make money. And I know how to write. And I will have a business and do what I love. And determination is part of having confidence.

And now I know how to be confident again.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April is the cruelest month...

Okay, yes, I'm really quoting T.S. Eliot here. But it really isn't. I love April (no, not just because of my birthday). Today in Phoenix it rained and it was cool and cloudy. It's the kind of weather we never get here. And I'm loving it. It actually feels like spring instead of summer, the way it usually does. Never mind that it's supposed to be 95 degrees later in the week. For now, I'm basking in a spring in the desert, a rarity.

April may be the cruelest month here though because from here on out, it will just get hotter and hotter until we're in the 110s every day for several months. I despise living here; I just want to go somewhere with a temperate climate again, where there are 4 seasons and real precipitation.

I'm simply babbling on here because I'm avoiding doing some real writing on my novella. It has been awhile since I touched it and I keep hearing the voices of the characters, which tells me it's time to go back. But I am still very scattered and don't get to it. I need to make the time and discipline. If I don't do that, how will I ever be able to run a business?

Well, enough blathering on. I will get some writing done tonight.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Birthday!

I suppose with the advance of technology it seems a blog is just as good a place to write a birthday essay as my old journals were. The problem is that I cannot find (read: have not unpacked) my big journal and my little one is small, not conducive to writing an actual birthday essay, more like a birthday note.

I guess that would be fine. I finally don't feel whiny or like going on at length about stress and how miserable I feel. I know my job will end in December; I know I won't be employed; I do worry about money but I am confident that being a freelance grant writer and freelance author and editor will be able to get me by and allow me to spend more time with my children and my own writing. At my age now, 57 today, I deserve that, and I can work for that and achieve it. I finally have the strength and courage to face the fact that I cannot work in another office cubicle (or even a nice office, frankly), showing up 8-5 everyday and plodding through life sitting on my ass until I have a heart attack or stroke. I need to make my own hours, make my own work, and work on my art.

I also need some land, some chickens, a couple of goats, and a nice garden. I want to grow my own food, have fresh eggs, be around chickens (okay, call me insane, but I like chickens. When I lived with chickens in Santa Cruz, CA during grad school I frankly enjoyed them, silly creatures that they are). Sounds ridiculous for a city girl from Brooklyn but it's something I've always wanted.

So this birthday, even though I'm 57 and technically well past middle age as far as statistics go, I'm quite happy and looking ahead to still reaching my dreams. My young dreams may be behind me but there are dreams I still have and I don't have to give them up. I can reach them, and it's fun to strive as well. I'm finally starting to wake up in the mornings and feel good again.

I think this is the happiest birthday essay I've written in a long while. Let's see if I can carry it through the years.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

End of vacation

End of vacation. It has been 11 days of pure bliss, at least in terms of not having to get up and go to work and be stressed. My yoga, meditation, walking and writing have all been helping to clear my mind and make things more optimistic for me. I see more clearly, instead of being clouded by the fog of laziness and then the guilt over being lazy. Making myself do these four things every day has been an enormous help to both mind and body.

I hope I will finally end up with a finished story, although right now that's only in progress. At least when I don't work on that, I write here or in my journal. Or both. Just this alone is making me feel better--about myself and about life. I never do feel complete in life unless I'm writing and no matter what, at least I am now.

I don't want to go back to work, truly. I wish I could write every day, walk every day, do yoga, take of my dogs and children, and grow a garden. I never did like working in offices and yet, that's where I always end up. Except for teaching. Of course, I love teaching but I can't survive on the salary (or lack thereof) and I can't take care of the kids that way.