Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Like Your Shirt

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

I took a note from John Cleaver and came up with something nice to say:

I like your shirt.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Some blunt honesty

I'm not big on following the happenings of stars and reality shows, so I'm really out of the loop when it comes to the big "ohmygoshcanyoubelievewhatso-n-sodid?"

A good friend linked this article to me, and said they thought of me when they read it. I mean, it's no secret that I have a mental illness. I talk about it all the time. But here is another perspective, and I think it's a great one.

If anyone checks out this post, I highly, highly, highly recommend reading this article.

(I don't know how to link it in such a way that you can see the blurb, so please forgive my lack of internet programming skills. Just click here and GO.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trigger Issues

Ok. Yesterday's stress about food and all that? That was a massive trigger for me and ended up in a massively huge anxiety attack that has so far lasted 24 hours. I need to talk about it.

Let me bare my soul a little bit here.

When I was really little, my dad had a job driving big rigs for Dowell. (Currently known as Dow Chemical? I think?) He loved his job. He drove a motorcycle around town and would take my brother and I for rides now and then. He played the guitar and banjo, and we sang songs a lot. We'd go fishing at Flaming Gorge and spend weekends there as a family. I remember my brother learning the difference between a Peterbuilt and a Mac truck, and him identifying them on the freeway, proudly. I remember the sun. I remember laughter. I remember music.

Then one day he was laid off.

Life after that become complicated. It took him a long while to find another job. And when he did, from that point on, life at home was... well... not easy. Because one job turned into waiting for another job, which turned into mom hunting for a job, being shuffled to various babysitters - and boy do I have some really interesting memories about that, too - and, well... it seemed a downward spiral after that.

The wonderful things I remember: Dad loved to tinker, build, and play with electronics, engines, computers, etc. He had a soldering iron and was constantly fusing things. He read all the time and dreamed the biggest dreams. I was certain he could fix or build anything on the planet.  Mom loved music. I remember tchaikovsky, bed-time stories, imagination time, mud-pies, swing sets, piano lessons, and her drawing pictures and putting them up all over the kitchen to teach us songs and to try to keep us happy.

The not so wonderful things that creep up on me when I'm not looking: Not having food to eat. Going to school even when I was sick because that was the one place I could get a meal. Mom not eating at all so us kids could have what was available. Thinking powdered milk was the best thing on the planet. Eating cracked wheat cereal (that mom ground herself in a grinder) for what felt like months on end, because my grandfather was a farmer and would send barrels of it to my mom. My mom cooking a cow heart that someone had brought down, and us kids thinking it was food from the gods because we hadn't had meat at home in so long. My parents did the best they could under the circumstances they found themselves in. It wasn't easy for any of us.

There were other things, too, (birthdays and holidays being the next big trigger button for me) but the food thing... that's something that stuck with me in a huge way. That starvation thing has never, ever, ever been an issue as an adult. I have always been provided for since I was a teenager. Or I've provided for myself.

I guess this is the main reason that I've never paid attention to diets, counting calories, or anything like that. I've never allowed myself to worry about food. Not since those days of hunger and everything else. When I eat, I enjoy it and am grateful that I can. Sometimes I over eat. Sometimes I don't eat enough. Sometimes I eat lots of sugary garbage. Sometimes I just want fresh fruits and vegetables. I pretty much eat what I'm craving, but I try to pay attention enough to make sure I get enough fiber and whatnot to keep my insides running regular.

Yesterday's attempt at counting calories and actually thinking about what I ate? I've been shaking and spiraling down since then. I couldn't sleep at all last night. Shook and shook. Realized at 4 a.m. that I should probably take a xanex, but at that point was worried I wouldn't be able to help my kids get ready for school or be able to drive them back/forth to school. By six a.m. I realized there was no way I was going to be able to drive at all.

My husband took over all the parenting today, while I pretty much stayed in bed and either slept from sheer exhaustion or sat here and shook. My sister-in-law made sure my son got to kindergarten. By this afternoon I realized what had triggered the anxiety. I sat in the shower and cried and cried, just trying to let go of the emotions, the terror, these feelings that I don't even have names for. I took a xanex and decided that while I feel how I feel, I don't want to face it right now. I can't. I just.. no. It's something I went through as a kid, it's not how my life is now, and enough is enough. I have food in the house. If I want to eat, I can. If I don't want to, that's ok, too. I can choose.

My husband, bless his heart, made reservations at a movie grille and took me out of the house. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy again, sat there while a waitress brought us our meals and drinks while the movie played. Laughed. I enjoyed the food because I could. Thought about the movie and the wonderful tastes and sensations of the feta cheese, tomatoes and stuffed mushrooms. Because food is good and should be enjoyed.

I still haven't stopped shaking entirely. I still feel traumatized. I recognize that eventually I am going to have to figure out how to let go of my childhood ghosts. For now that makes it feel like I can't breathe. so I'm going to do what I can do, and concentrate on the now.

For now, I have kids I love dearly. I have a husband who cares and stands by me when I lose it. He has absolutely no idea what it's like to have a childhood like mine, but he tries to be aware and help me through it when I can't get myself to get through a day. I am very blessed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prescriptions for More Than Meds


My eldest daughter got married in September. As weddings are, it was stressful, beautiful, wonderful, and stressful. My in-laws were wonderful, my daughter's in-laws were wonderful, and my family was wonderful. Now, I *knew* from previous discussions with my psychiatrist, that there would probably be an emotional crash after the big day. So I put things in place to act as a cushion so I wouldn't crash so badly. Well, as much as is possible.

And I crashed. I expected it to last about a week. That's what happened after my girls left for college.

Three weeks later I still couldn't bring myself to care much about anything. I wasn't so low that I was suicidal, but things like caring about homework, cleaning the house, basic stuff like eating... meh. who cared? It was either apathy or complete anxiety over how I would handle it. "How can I be expected to help my kids do homework?? I can't think." Just hooking up my laptop to the printer felt like too much. They couldn't really expect me to do that, could they? Did they know how hard that was?

Ok. So that was ridiculous and stupid. But it was how I felt. So when I saw my psychiatrist again, he made some adjustments. I have 'prescriptions' for four areas:

* Chemical: 1.5 pills of Lamictal/day, 1 pill of Lexipro/day

* Emotional: 1/2 or 1 pill of an anti-anxiety pill as needed. Or Deep breathing exercises. Or oils. Or whatever works to calm my self down.

* Physical: 30 mins cardio/day AND yoga or meditation a min of 3 times/wk. (Since I can't afford the yoga places around here, I compromise with doing stretching and meditation after my workouts.) I have the most energy between 11pm and 2a.m., so I do my workouts around midnight. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but always at night. No kids to watch or interrupt, the house is quiet, and I can meditate afterwards with peace.

* Mental: Say NO to any new projects, and instead try to clean some stuff from my plate and simply life. This means no volunteering at the schools --which is not sad for me, since kids right now REALLY cause anxiety --  it means no new art projects, no trying to finish old projects unless it's something that relaxes me instead of stresses me. And find things to not do anymore that I'm already doing. (I have not figured out how to do this yet, but I'm working on it.)

These are things I *have* to do to try to keep my brain from being overwhelmed by stress and to regulate mood swings.

The exercise is NOT about weight loss. It's about stress relief. I get kind of defensive about that because yes, I am overweight. By, oh, fifty pounds? Ish? I dunno. I don't think it matters, really. I am struggling with enough other crap, that really, how much I weigh is waaaaay down on the list of priorities. A friend suggested I look at the other benefits of working out, and I jumped all over her case about it not being about weight loss. And that wasn't what she meant at all. So, obviously somewhere in my subconscious I must be worried about weight but don't want to be. I'll just own that right now. On a conscious level, however, I'm doing this because I want to feel good. I want to be able to think. I want the stresses of the day to evaporate with my sweat.

Food is obviously part of this. Depression affects the diet: currently I don't want to eat a lot except maybe once a day around 3 or 4. My therapist explained that depressive brains crave sugar. This is normal, the brain wants to feel right, so it craves sugar for the 'high'. Except eating simple sugars not only gets it a high, but then it crashes super fast. To account for this, if I'm going to eat some chocolate, I have to balance it with protein so I don't crash into an emotional low. If that makes sense.

(I kind of think of it as mental diabetes. Which ... well... it isn't, but the imagery of blood glucose ups and downs works for me in this instance. Wish I had a serotonin tester like my friend has a glucose monitor. Or, even better, a pump!!)

I've been discussing exercise with a friend. She's been doing a You Are Your Own Gym series of workouts and thought I might like it. As I like variety, I was more than willing to try it out. Because of the nature of the workouts they suggest 30% protein, 30% fats, 30% carbs. Which makes sense to me based on what my therapist explained about my brain chemistry. So I followed the link to a calorie counter to make sure my carbs and fats are balancing with my proteins.

Note: I HATE counting calories. I've never never never been a fan of fad diets or watching what I eat, because dangit, I'm going to enjoy my food! Sure, most of this attitude about food is because I'm inherently lazy. But a lot of it stems from my childhood and the fact that we went without food a lot. I remember being hungry more often than not, except at holidays. So if I have food to eat, I'm darn well going to be grateful for it and enjoy it. Anyway, I digress.

This counting calories stuff is for my mental health, so I get over myself and plug in all the numbers. I tell it how much I weigh, how tall I am, how much exercise I am doing, and it wants to set a weight goal, so I let it... whatever, right?

I get a target calorie intake per day of approximately 1863. From what I remember of my nutrition classes, that doesn't sound so bad. I then try to remember everything I ate that day and plug it in.

I figured with what I eat, my calorie intake would be laughably high.

Nope.

It was only around 1100. That is not good. That is bad. That is way bad. I already have brain issues, no *wonder* I want to sleep all the time. No wonder my stamina sucks. This is like some awful cycle. Brain issues breed appetite issues which breed more brain issues.

 You know what this means, right? It means I have to make myself cook during the day for more than just my kids. I hate cooking almost as much as I hate counting calories. That's why I have a husband, dammit!! I married the man because he cooks!

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Confession

It's 3 a.m. and I can't sleep. I've tossed and turned for two hours with thoughts and words running through my head. So I decided to turn my computer on and write them down.

I have a confession to make:

I'm not ok.

I don't know if it's the meds I'm on. I don't know if its the normal low cycle of my bi-polar depression. I don't know if maybe it's because I am emotionally drained from my daughter's wedding. Or if maybe it's because the hot flashes have started and maybe there's more hormonal crap interfering with my already addled brain because menopause is starting.

What I do know is that I am not ok.

I am afraid to answer my phone or answer texts. People are hard to be around. Getting out of bed and getting my kids to school on time feels impossible. Printing off my son's kindergarten homework seems like a monumentally difficult task, not to mention having the patience to help him with it, no matter how bright and quick to learn he is.

I told my husband earlier that I hoped tomorrow would be a good day. And he said, "then make it good."

Let me try to explain why that is frustrating to hear.

I take ownership of the things I can control. I can control my attitude about the lows. I can control how I communicate (mostly). I can decide whether to be happy for other people and be encouraging and excited for what is happening in their lives, or I can wallow in my misery and try to bring others down. I hope I am choosing to find the positive in and for others.

I recognize that talking openly about what I am going through probably sounds like whining to people who have never felt depression. Or maybe even to folks who have. I don't know. What I do know is that I am trying to be honest and blunt.

I have no control over how I feel about the day, about life in general, or about getting up. I cannot control my ability to be happy and feel - bone deep - the joy that comes from feeling the sunshine or hearing fun music. I cannot fix the gloom that hangs over my head.

I can fight the fight. I can do what I can to interrupt the negative tape that plays in my head, or the grumpy and irrationally angry thoughts that appear out of nowhere. But I cannot control thinking those thoughts to begin with.

And how I'm feeling right now is that fighting that internal battle is taking up all of my energy. The school wants me to volunteer time in my kids classes. Help the kindergarten with reading. Help the 2nd graders with math. Help the 5th graders with anything and everything. And now that I have no little ones at home, I have the time in the afternoons to help.

I know I have the time. And plenty of guilt to go with it that I have no desire to do it. Not because I don't love my kids or appreciate their teachers. No, but because I already feel I am at my breaking point, and I just can't. I can't. I can't drive to the school extra times during the day. I can't leave my room and deal with people I don't know.

I know that sounds ridiculous and selfish, but it's simply the truth. Currently, I am honestly, truly, NOT ok. I don't have the flu or a cold or a broken leg. I had surgery way back in April, so it's not anything physically visible. It is simply the fact that my brain and my feels are messed up.

I don't feel comfortable doing more than making myself step outside and go for a short walk. Or to visit a friend who lives close and is a good enough friend they don't feel like 'people'. I just... I don't know. I don't feel like I can face life right now.

Now, I KNOW that sometimes I have to get out of my comfort zone to function. But here's the thing: When I got out of the psyche ward in April, I felt alive. I was excited. It wasn't easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. The meds made life crazy, along with my uterine issues and the hysterectomy. But I was drawing. I was photoshopping. I was painting and creating with my hands. I hoped I'd be back to writing when my brain calmed down and the dizzies and the other side effects from the drugs were worked out.

Here I am, it's the end of September. Five months after April and I dread picking up a pencil or opening photoshop. When I force myself to create, because I have to learn to adapt to my new brain, nothing comes out the way I want. Or even recognizable as what I want. I can see it in my head. I know and have the tools to make that a reality, but it doesn't work. Nothing works.

What changed? Hell if I know. Between then and now, something broke.

I care enough to be frustrated by it, but not enough to try to fix it. Which doesn't make sense to me, because I usually work at a puzzle until I can figure it out. But right now I see the problem, and it's a big enough problem I've thrown my hands up and curl up in a ball in my room and hide from it. Because I don't know how to fix it or how to even begin.

I know that I don't feel like I can function. Some days I wonder why I bother trying. Which could be a bad sign, but I promise, this low isn't nearly as bad as the low in April. It's a low, and I recognize it for what it is, but I can't for the life of me see the remedy. All I can do is fight to stay *here*. In the present, in the now, and where I'm available for my family and kids.

I can put on a face, smile at people. Joke and laugh. I can attempt to be responsible and involved. But it takes so much energy that I am drained afterwards to the point where I collapse and sleep. Then wake up at midnight and can't get back to sleep for the worry and guilt over all the things I should have done. Could have done.

Right now what I feel like I *CAN* do is find things I am honestly truly grateful for. I can be happy that good things are happening to people I love. I can hug and support and cry with those who are having their own struggles and lows in life. I can try to have a good attitude --even toward those who think I have control over how much sunshine I feel in my soul.

But I can't be fine just because I want to be. I can't change the battle. I can't change the fact that I have to fight. I can't not dread tomorrow and the not knowing how I'll feel come morning or how much energy I will have. 

I can't change the fact that I'm not ok.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Realizations

I have spent the last year+ seeing doctors, being treated, hoping that the doctors would just fix me already.

After talking last night with a friend who has struggled with diabetes for close to 20 years, I realized something. She said her energy levels never really went back to normal, even after she got her blood sugars under control. Now with her hormones going nuts, she said her body is better, but still not where it was a year and a half ago, and maybe never would be.

And I went, "huh."

And then a light went on.

There isn't a cure for bi-polar depression. At least nothing that the medical field knows about. Sure, there are miracles, and yes, I know there are all kinds of alternate treatments out there. But the fact of the matter is that this is something I am going to have to live with, be aware of, and self-monitor for the rest of my life.

I can spend a lot of time wishing I had the energy and mental capacity that I used to.--And I have-- Or I can try to retrain my brain for creativity and function in its current state of being. Sure, I will get frustrated because my capacities aren't the same.

But I can do this. I can take my meds. I can make sure I exercise and take time for myself to de-stress. And I can decide to attempt to be creative anyway.

Sure, I may always have to write with my internal editor turned on. Remembering to sign kids' homework and print off things for 'about me' posters and other school stuff is still something I'll have to work at. And sure, drawing and painting inspiration may be difficult to channel, but that doesn't mean I *can't* do it anymore. It just means I have to work harder at it. And maybe that's what I need.

Just because things aren't easy doesn't mean they aren't worth doing.

Just because life is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth living. 

And I will tell myself this over and over and over, especially on bad days. Because of another eternal truth: Depression LIES.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The ABC's of Depression

It may not be the most cheerful of poems, but it is honest.
For those who live with, love, or are married to someone with depression:
I give you a look inside our heads.









    A is for Apathy, I can’t seem to care.
Asphyxiating Anxiety steals all my air.
Angry and Agitated, Annoyed to the brim,
And so Anti-social, I’ll never fit in.

B is BiPolar Bouncing my Brain
Up to the happy, then right down the drain.
A Black hole that sucks the light out of life,
With Brutal Blue Barriers that Bicker with strife.
My thoughts are Broken and filled with the Blahs
In my Brain this Blizzard-like storm never thaws.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Descent Into Madness

Sep 1, 2014

It's 9:30 a.m. I don't feel right. I can't be specific, but I don't feel right. I am looking for movies to send to my daughter in college. It's important to her, and I need to have them ready for her friend who is driving down to see her. But I can't find the other bags full of things she needed as well. I had them in my hands, but I can't find them.

I am going crazy. I am going crazy. I am going crazy.

"No mom, you're not crazy. You're fine. The bags might be upstairs, have you checked?" Her voice is soothing and calm over the phone. I take a deep breath and head upstairs. My hands start to shake.

The bags are on my bed. I don't remember putting them there, but there is relief to find them. I set everything in the front room and remember to grab the cookie sheet she needed. She loves to make cookies for others when they are sad, so the cookie sheet is important. I can't forget it.

My hands start to shake more. I feel wrong. I feel crazy. I feel like my soul is trying to jitter out of my body. I text my friend because I think I need help.

He steps out of the movie he is attending and calls me back. Tells me to do something comforting. I can't remember all of his instructions, but I head into my room and cuddle onto my husband, holding onto him in an attempt to hold onto myself. Maybe he can anchor me into my body.

My brain hurts. My thoughts and words stutter.

My husband calls my psychiatrists office. He puts it on speaker phone and I start speaking to the on-call psychiatrist. It's a holiday, so there is no way to reach MY doctor. She thinks I'm having anxiety. It could be, but I don't feel the oppressive weight on my chest. I feel... wrong. It could be a reaction to the change in dosage of my anti-depressant. It could be a reaction of an antibiotic I'm taking mixing with my normal meds. I pace madly back and forth, trying to hold the phone steady in my hand while she spouts theories without solving anything.

I was fine yesterday. Why am I not fine today? Why can't I be fine today and tomorrow and for all the tomorrows after that?

She thinks I need a benzodiazepine, but won't call it in because she doesn't have all of my vitals in case there is something else wrong. I should go to the E.R. to get one.

I hang up the phone and immediately hand it to my daughter, knowing if I hold it a moment longer I will throw it at the wall in frustration.

I refuse to pay a $250 E.R. co-pay for a tiny pill.

I am frustrated. They'll put me back in they psyche ward again. I probably need to be locked up. I want to hear the sound of breaking glass. I want to feel the bright shards of pain as my fist goes through and shatters. I can see myself picking up a shard and carving beautiful bloody images in my hand. My right hand. The hand that refuses to draw, to paint, to be creative. I long for the pain and the bright warmth of the blood that flows through these useless fingers. Fingers that fail.

No. That's wrong. That's wrong. I sit and grasp the loose part of my jeans near the knees, a small part of my mind using that as a lifeline. I mustn't let go. My hands will hurt things if I let go. But I look around, anyway, my traitorous eyes searching. What is near that is sharp? Something has to be.

I want to stab, stab, stab at the skin skin skin. Nothing. I grasp the jeans harder, feeling the pain of my fingernails digging into and pushing back into my fingertips. Safer, a small part of my mind says. Concentrate on that pain, it is safer. Hold on, just hold on. Fight it. Fight it. Fight it.

I shake, struggling with myself. Shivers run up and down my arms. My brain is a battle of alarms, steel will, and the urge to punch, fight, kick, and scream at the world.

I know this feeling. They'll lock me back up in the gray rooms of the psyche ward and the social worker will treat me like an addict again. It won't help, because I'm not on drugs. Something is wrong with my brain, I am crazy.

I am angry. Furious. Why don't they fix me???

I begin sobbing as I rock back and forth on the chair. I thought I was fine. Why can't I stay fine? Why can't the doctors fix me? Why do I want to lash out and hurt the ones I love the most? Why can't I control my thoughts? I've been following all the instruction, why am I losing the battle?

My oldest daughter begins to do the dishes. I hear her keeping herself busy, her fake happy voice keeping the younger children corralled safely away from mom. I know this hurts her. I wish I could stop, laugh, be normal, talk about wedding plans. I can't. I can't stop rocking and crying.

My husband begins to yell at me. He tells me to fight it. Don't let it win.

I don't want to hear him. I don't want to hear anything. I tune everything out and concentrate on the rocking. Squeak, squeak, squeak; back and forth, back and forth. The rhythm is something I can feel in every muscle, something safe.

I pray to God to just take me away. Just let me come home and sleep on the grass near Him, just let me rest. I am tired of this battle, it's exhausting. Can't He just please, please, please make this stop?

I rock, back and forth. The squeaking of the chair a hypnotic rhythm. My nose runs, but if I let go, if I unclench my fists, something bad will happen. I am afraid I won't be able to control my hands if I unclench them.

A voice commands, "Go to bed and sleep it off."

It could be my mother. It says it again, invading my bubble of silence, demanding, coercing. I rock, ignoring it. Back and forth, back and forth. The shaking in my arms finally begins to stop.

"CHRISTINE VAN SOOLEN, GET UP. GO TO BED AND SLEEP IT OFF!"

I get up and stagger, blindly obeying, shuffling my way dizzily to bed, keeping my hands clenched my sides.

My husband follows me, his footsteps light and careful, watching. I curl up, pulling my knees to my chest, burying my head under the pillows. The darkness is a comforting softness, my own cave of solitude. My fingers begin to relax, stretching out the pain, and I breathe out into sleep, feeling safe under the pillows.

When I wake, my husband is curled around me, holding me tightly. I feel warm and secure, but vulnerable and fragile. I cannot handle the wild crazy sounds of the children being children in the house. I hide from it, and he settles them down and makes arrangements for us to leave and go see a movie. Anything to get me out of the house, something that will help me feel normal again.

I don't feel normal, but I feel in control.

At 9:00 p.m., twelve hours after this all has started, the alarm sounds on my phone and my husband gently asks, "Have you taken your meds yet?" A soft reminder that I survived today, and taking my meds tonight means there's a good chance I'll be ok tomorrow.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Opinion


In the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, I have heard so many people say, "That's so selfish, didn't he know the hurt he was leaving his children and fans?"

Before I had post-partum depression, I honestly had no clue what depression was like. Then I had two years of hell. Then I turned 40 and now, yay me, get to deal with bi-polar depression for the rest of my life. I haven't struggled my entire life like lots of people I know. The med changes I deal with are a teensy drop in the bucket compared to several folks.

It makes me angry, so very, very angry when those who have never had depression so badly that it hurts to breathe -- who have never faced the choice between living with the pain or finding release-- decide to judge and belittle that struggle, to call it selfish and cowardly when someone simply cannot face the darkness and pain one more minute and chooses release.

When the meds work, that place seems distant and far away, nothing I would ever consider. But when the meds don't work, you can't see beyond the darkness. Faith, loved ones, they help, but you can't feel the feels. I simply cannot explain it; there are no words.

Seen from the outside, it is incomprehensible. The loss and confusion are unbearable to the survivors because it's painful to lose someone you love. It's hard and it hurts and it can never be fixed.

But unless you've lived that struggle, walked in those shoes, do the rest of us a favor and keep your judgements to yourself. The energy spent condemning and judging others would be better spent mourning with those that mourn, loving those who hurt, and supporting those who survive and those who continue to find the strength to fight that battle against the oppressive weight of depression.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Life

I have been working on several art projects to get through this summer.

A few of them are top secret and I can't say anything about them other than I'm working on it.

A couple of them are things I work on when I can't keep my sanity any other way. These I wish to share when I get them cleaned up in the computer.

But to put it bluntly, it's been a long summer. It's been a long year. I have a great psychiatrist, but he's been adjusting my meds, and that messes with my brain, which makes coping with life very difficult for me, as I'm very sensitive to medication.