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.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Artsy Fartsy

As I've been sitting in bed a lot recovering from surgery, I have been feeling arty!

I have filled up a sketchbook since my first stay in the hospital, and have recently been giving myself photoshop projects as if I were in school.

Here's the cool thing: I didn't care if I failed at these projects. Failure is how I learn.  So some of the following projects may make your eyes bleed, but I was working and stretching my art and design muscles that have sat dormant for toooooooo long.

I need practice with layer masking, so I played:

Raven and Bear in front of moon


I wanted to practice merging different pictures onto one background. So I played:


I need practice working on layouts. So I played:

 



I need practice with type. So I played:


just because you CAN use a filter, doesn't mean you SHOULD




I wanted to play with fire. So I did.


And I wanted to explore other options of creation, not just the Big Bang. More like the Big Ball Of Yarn theory.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wait, weight?

You are telling me that I have to worry about weight gain now? Seriously??

I am not grossly overweight. Yet.

I am one of those people who landed in a 'larger than I used to be' soft spot after my son was born, and had to buy a few clothes to adjust, and have stayed there in a lumpy comfy plateau for the past five years.

I don't weigh myself every morning, I don't think about what I eat except with regard to getting enough fiber and greens so my body is regular. On occasion I look in the mirror and wish I wasn't so lumpy, then change my clothes and don't think about it again for a while.

When fighting depression there are so many other things to worry, stress, cry, fret, and agonize over, that weight was something I didn't add to the list. Trust me, that list was exhaustive, why worry about something that's not *really* an issue.

Except now it is.

I've been in and out of the hospital twice in the last month, I've been to doctor's offices more often than I can count. Every single time they make you stand on a scale. And when they don't, they ask you your weight and you have to say it OUT LOUD. I always want to whisper it, looking away like I should be ashamed.

In this environment, I can't NOT notice that I've gained seven pounds since I started the mood stabilizer.

seven pounds in two weeks? Three?

And oh, yeah, food. I want to eat ALL THE TIME.

I found this site here about weight gain and bi-polar meds that explains how/why it happens. And the author is right when they talk about Bi Polar 2 struggling with motivation and apathy when they cycle low, which makes constant exercise a challenge.

I love exercise, I really do. I like the way it makes me feel. But I just had surgery, so I'm doing good to get up and walk for five minutes around my kitchen three times a day.

My challenge, should I choose to take it, is to figure out how to make this weight thing about managing the medicine instead of about how I look and feel. Because if any of this weight stuff creeps into my brain and becomes yet another tool that depression can use to lie to me with, I will just cry. I cannot handle that.

I am loveable and acceptable no matter how I look. Right? RIGHT????  Right!!

So. That being said, here's to figuring out how to make exercise a habit, and an "i must do this for my health and to manage the bi-polar" and not about what clothes I can and want to fit into.

ugh. Challenge half-heartedly accepted for now. I'll drum up some enthusiasm when I can not be bitter about 'one more thing on the to-do pile.'

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Depression Lies

Depression says, "You suck, why bother trying?"
Life experience says, "What did you learn from that experience? Cool, now try again."

Depression says, "That feedback they just gave you? It means you failed."
Life experience says, "Hey, that was full of some great ideas to improve this."

Depressions says, "Look at this list of all the things you should be doing. And you aren't doing any of them."
Life experience says, "Do your best and do what you can. If your best is getting out of bed today, let's celebrate that. The list can wait."

Depression says, "You say you love me, but I can't feel it, so it must not be true."
Life experience says, "My feels are out of order and proportion. I know my family loves me. I cannot feel it, but I know it on some level. That will have to be good enough for now."

Depression says, "You can't feel anything because you're not worth anything"
Life experience says, "This is a lie that feels like truth. I can feel the bad, but not the good, so the bad must be true. What makes me worth it? The fact that I love color, I love laughter, I love. I can't feel the love right now, but I do love."

Depression says, "Why bother?"
Life experience says, "If I love my family so much that I would be willing to die for them, do I love them enough that I'm willing to live for them?"

Depression says, "They only love you because they have to."
Life experience says, "People are lazy, they don't love anything they don't want to.  Love certainly never happens when its forced. If someone says they love you, and their actions support that statement, then they do. If they say they love you, then make fun of you or ignore you or abuse you, the yep, it's a lie."

All the logic in the world doesn't stop the feels and lies of depression on a down day. But knowing that it is all lies helps cope with it and survive.

Being an artist, some days its easier to take critiques and feedback than others. No, people should not pull their punches or be less honest with their feedback. The onus is on me to shelf it until I'm in a place mentally where I can pull all the wonderful ideas out of what has been said and move forward with a project and continue working on it until I feel it's done. If working on something doesn't feel good, I need to change what I'm doing.

I may not be able to control how I feel, but I can control what I do about how I'm feeling.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sketches Off Crazy




trees and birds I wished were happy
Last week was hard.

Normal people read that as: Oh, something bad happened. What can I do? Want a hug?

Mentally ill folks read that and think: Oh, that fight. That's a craptastic fight. You're still here! **knuckle-bump/high five**

NOTE: I feel inclined to share my experience, but would like to offer a warning. The following account is told through my filter, and I was irritated, grumpy, and trying very hard to control the angry urges screaming through my head. You may find this offensive.