Monday, December 24, 2007

A Time to Cry, A Time to Rejoice

Christmas can be an awfully lousy time for those of us with mood swings, particularly if we're alone, have had a bad year, lost someone close to us, or we're just plain not controlled on meds.

I had a horrible Christmas last year. Alone on Christmas and New Year's Eves. Continuously in tears, wondering why I couldn't seem to find anyone to share the season with. My friends all had significant others and were busy with them. My kids, ditto. So I was left alone to stare at the TV and wonder why I was even bothering to stay alive.

It seemed such a waste of everyone's time, especially mine.

And then, on New Year's Eve, I sat spinning some yarn, my usual meditative activity. The moods were unstable, to say the least. However, I managed to regain some equilibrium from the rhythmic motion of the wheel. And suddenly, the joy erupted in my soul. No, it wasn't a manic swing. It was the realization that my higher power had given me skilled hands with which to work and give myself pleasure. That I was alive, I could have hope again, and that I was strong enough to overcome whatever blew my way.

After that, I felt comfortable in my skin. I focused on spinning and the overt sadness went away. Focus is everything, especially focus away from self. Too much is not good, as is too little. Balance is everything.

This year, as I was driving home to East Stroudsburg to get some shopping done, I found myself once again meditating, this time in the car. I had some wonderful Christmas music on, music that reminded me of my childhood growing up in a German family, with all the tradition. And how much I loved Christmas then...and now. I saw the face of my Grandma, laughing and carrying presents into our house. Grandpa, with his little smile, eating a piece of crumbcake and letting me pick off the crumbs. My brother, playing with his new Mattel Ack-Ack gun, which he guarded with his life. Oma and Opa and Aunt Helga, coming with bags and bags of toys from FAO Schwarz. Dad cooking the traditional goose on Christmas Eve and then reading Dickens's A Christmas Carol to us.

And then, I saw the smiling, excited faces of my girls when they were little, jumping up and down, begging to open presents while their father dawdled in the bathroom.

So many memories. So many people in my life gone--Grandma, Grandpa, Oma, Opa, Helga, Daddy, my husband. And countless people who made an impact on my life and are now wisps of memory.

I cried a little tear or two for the ones I remember. And smiled a big smile. Because no matter how hard my life has been, there has always been remarkable people surrounding me, then and especially now.

May you have a peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Doped Up and Ready to Rock

Well, after a fashion. Slowly but surely, I'm coming out of my last, awful bout of dysphoria. I'm hooked up with more Seroquel and a new therapist who is absolutely fantastic. It may seem as if I've been doing the right thing in my pursuit to manage my disorder all along, but one thing that has finally hit home: I need the talk therapy, especially right now. It's enormously important and helpful. Someone truly objective, who listens.

Sue asked some very good questions: Does it matter which types of medications you are subscribed? Do some work and others not? And does it make a difference if you see a regular medical doctor or a psychiatrist?

Um, yes to all. There are a number of medications out on the market for manic depressives: Lithium, the first real medication for the disorder, Tegretol, Seroquel, Lamictil, Depokote, Abilify, Klonopin. These are the most commonly prescribed. Does it matter what you take? No, if it works. And yes, some help more than others, depending upon your individual physiology. Often, it takes time to find the right mix. But you have to be commited to finding that mix and to try what you need to try.

And then, some people never get enough relief from medication. It's a sad truth, but one that must be faced. There are cases of manic depression that are so bad, not much helps. Some bipolars often would rather self-medicate with alcohol, blow, heroin, and whatever than face up to the reality that their health is in their hands. It takes a hell of a lot less energy to do the illicit or the Liquor Store Shuffle than get yourself into a proper care program. It also takes an epiphany about your illness, something that may or may not happen.

Often, medications don't "work" because the bipolar doesn't take them according to directions, stops them as soon as they feel better. We've all been guilty of this, including me. "Oh, I feel great! Don't need no steenking pills." Wrong. My epiphany continues to this day. The first epiphany was in 1995, when I accepted my disorder for what it was. When I understood that my healing must come from within and that there is a higher power than my ego, I was able to submit to the treatment I needed, including admitting to things I had done when manic, much of which I was ashamed of. The second epiphany came when I understood that I will have to take medication for the rest of my life for this. Big deal. As my mother pointed out, look at all the pills she has to take at 84. As ever, she was the voice of reason that I needed to hear. Along with my pdoc's

Seeing a medical doctor, such as your primary care physician, and hoping that's all you need to do is foolish. First of all, most responsible MDs will refer you to a psychiatrist or a behavioral clinic. Psychiatrists understand all the ramifications of psychotropic drugs. MDs can help you with your upper respiratory infection. You wouldn't see a shrink for your chest congestion, would you? Or your bad back? You'd see an orthopedist or chiropractor for that.

Is there hope? Absolutely. Every day, more and more is learned about this disorder. It affects so many people--an estimated 5+ million Americans suffer from it.