Today is very special. It’s our anniversary. My husband and I have been married for 44 years. He stuck by my side through the best and worst of times. He’s a gem.

During the worst of times, when my bipolar was out of control, I didn’t feel I deserved him. I felt I was ruining his life. I wished I could die so he’d be rid of me and wouldn’t have to put up with my roller coaster moods anymore. During the worst depressions I would often think of ending my life. I figured that he would hurt for a while but then he’d realize that he was free from living through my hell with me. I tried to shield him from my moods but he could read me.

There were four occasions where I actually planned how to commit suicide and was ready to go through with it. I had promised my husband, that should that day come, I would tell him. I kept my word on each occurrence and he took me to the hospital for help. The last time was the charm—the doctor in that hospital put me on a combination of meds that nearly eliminated the cycling moods. The hypomanias have been eliminated completely. The depressions are now very few and shallow. They are pretty easy to control and keep from escalating. It’s been two years now and I’m still doing very well.

My husband fought this battle right beside me. He never gave up even when I wanted to. Communication was the key in our getting through it. He kept me talking and sharing what I was feeling and going through even when I didn’t want to but wanted to shut down. Those talks gave me the strength to dig deeper for tools to overcome and push through.

I know there are a lot of people out there with bipolar who feel alone, unlovable and that you will never know what it feels like to be well again. That is the greatest lie this disorder can tell us. It is the depression talking. It’s also the frustration talking. If you have a family member or close friend who you can talk to, share what you experience with him or her but initially do it when you are in a semi-controlled state if you can. You’ll be less emotional and make more sense. Our loved ones can’t help us if they don’t understand. The only way they can get a sense of what bipolar or depression is like is if we share and give them the information so they can learn. Direct them to websites that educate about bipolar. Let him or her come to an appointment with your psychiatrist for therapist so s/he can ask questions and learn. We need all the help we can get otherwise it’s a long and lonely journey.

I’m tired. Tired to the core. It doesn’t matter that I’ve had two nights of a solid 8 hours of sleep. The weariness paralyzes me from tackling any big chores around the house. I know depression is knocking at my door but hasn’t quite taken a full hold on me yet. The lack of energy and inability to act on my motivation to get things done is a warning that depression is on my doorstep and is waiting to make an entrance. It’s frustrating because there is so much I want to get done. I have a basic weekly routine and I’m unable to follow it today. So I will work on the little things with the hope that my inertia is brief.

There is a tendency for me to feel guilty for my lack of accomplishment but I keep telling myself that at least I can pay attention to the smaller details for now, getting the house tidier than it already was. The big things will get done tomorrow or in the near future. This is a battle I don’t need to beat myself up over. Guilt accomplishes nothing but fostering a lack of self worth and I don’t want or need that.  I’ll be kind to myself, do what I can, and wait for better days.

What Am I To Do?

I’ve been well for two years now with just 2 or 3 slight dips in mood. I handled the dips well and they didn’t escalate into desperately depressed episodes. What I am desperate for is something to do since I am retired, have too much time on my hands and I don’t think I can handle the stresses of a full or regular part-time job.

Before my last deep, dark episode 2 years ago, I was volunteering for Hospice doing data entry for 4 hours once a week and I liked my job. I did it very well. While I was sick in the hospital, my husband called in for me telling my supervisor I was ill and I wouldn’t be back. I didn’t have any interaction with people there but I liked my work. My husband and therapist felt that having no interaction wasn’t healthy and maybe they were right. But now that I’m doing so well, I am desperate for something productive to do. I have too much time on my hands.

I tried volunteering at the Sheriff’s office doing fingerprinting. I had a 4-hour shift one day a week. The problem was that only one or two people came in to be fingerprinted during my shifts. Sometimes no one showed up. I would have to sit there doing crossword puzzles since they didn’t have any other work for me to do. I was bored out of my skull. I quit after only a few months.

I also tried helping out at our church office one morning a week answering the phone and doing some copying. I thought it would be fun but it was boring—no people interaction since I was covering for staff while they were in a meeting every week. I stopped signing up for hours (there were a few ladies who volunteered).

For a while I would go to the church café on Friday mornings and help six or seven older ladies stuff bulletins for the coming Sunday’s service. I was bored. The ladies were (and are) very nice people but the work was boring and the interaction didn’t grab my attention.

A number of years ago, I tried working at the animal shelter socializing the cats. The dander bothered me so I had to quit that.

My husband and former therapist felt I should sign up for classes at Joanne’s Fabric Store.   They have classes to make jewelry, knitting, decorative painting, crocheting and sewing. They even give occasional classes on cake decorating. The classes are one or two sessions long, are for beginners, which I would be one, but once you’ve taken the class where is the support to improve your skills at your newfound hobby?   Learning to knit hats and scarves in Florida is not practical. A sweater would be but you’d need an advanced class to learn the skills to do that and they aren’t offered. You need to pay for these classes plus the tools and materials. I don’t see the point in shelling out the money when the classes are so limited and I can’t completely learn a skill. Decorative painting sounds nice but you have to buy the items you want to paint plus the various brushes, the paint and the varnish/sealer. It’s expensive and I don’t have room in my house for clutter—I have everything I need—I live simply. You can only make so many gifts for people before it becomes clutter for them too.

So this is my dilemma: what do I do with my spare time? I can only clean my house so much. Once it’s clean it’s clean. There are only 2 of us so it doesn’t get too mussed up or dirty. I need something fairly stress free since stress is a trigger for anxiety which is a trigger for a mood swing.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

I’ve done quite a bit of traveling and visiting with family in the past month and a half. One trip to Kentucky to visit a son, a 3 day getaway with our oldest son, our daughter-in-law and our two grandsons, and a 7 day cruise to the eastern Caribbean. There were 6400 people on that ship although it didn’t seem like it, but I did have contact with a lot of strangers.

Among many of the recommendations for living well with bipolar disorder are keeping a consistent sleep schedule, having routines and structure for daily life, taking ones meds, using your coping skills and limiting stress. Travel requires disrupting one’s routine, a loss of structure, a change in sleep schedule, possibly a change in time zones, a strange environment, the noise and confusion of airports, ship terminals, customs and dealing with people—both loved ones and strangers. It all can be quite stressful and was. I tried to set up a morning routine and bedtime routine in each location so I wouldn’t forget to take my meds. I have to say I had to deal with a lot of anxiety but I coped with it all successfully and didn’t have any mood swing episodes in spite of there only being 1 ½ weeks between the first and second trips and two weeks between the second and third trips. I had just about recovered from one trip and off we were on another. I don’t think I’ll let us book that many trips so close together again. I have to say that it wasn’t very long ago that I couldn’t have dealt very well with that amount of travel in such a short span of time. I’ve come a long way.

But it was all good. We got to see most of our family and that time was precious. And the cruise was a special time set aside for my husband and me and we enjoyed ourselves. We met some truly nice people and even a few celebrities on the ship who were very down to earth.

How do I Cope

How do I cope with bipolar, depression and anxiety? One way is through writing. Through writing I can examine m feelings, symptoms, my successes and failures. I can keep a running record of my mental health journey by keeping a journal. It helps me in three ways:

  1. I am able to vent my feelings
  2. It provides a record of how my condition is affected by my inner and outer world
  3. It helps me to recognize my triggers.

My journal serves as a mirror of my progress as I navigate life. I notice what triggers a depressive or hypomanic episode. Sickness often triggers a depressive episode.   Sleep deprivation can trigger either way but for me it’s usually depression so I go to bed and wake up the same time everyday.  Too many social events or traveling too often in a short span of time can trigger anxiety. And that’s where I have to be careful—anxiety can trigger a depressive episode. My meds don’t let me experience hypomania anymore in this past year. I’ve recorded coping skills, what works and what doesn’t. I keep a daily mood graph for my psychiatrist where I chart not only my moods but also sleep, activities and meds changes. It gives a truly well rounded view of my progress and triggers.

Both the writing and mood charting help keep me self-aware. I try to always be aware of any changes in my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being, both positive and negative. The sooner I am aware of a negative change the sooner I am able to able to deal with it to ward off a full blown mood swing. If my thinking is becoming negative I consciously begin to think positively. I’ll avoid situations that cause me excessive stress or anxiety when possible. Meditation and prayer are a big positive factor for me. I find solace in reading the Bible. Music often lifts my spirit. Talking with my husband will often help me maintain a positive perspective.

Keeping a positive outlook and living intentionally go a long way to helping me manage my mental health.

It is a given that having bipolar complicates relationships. We feel our emotions to the nth degree. We can leave our loved ones wondering why a simple disagreement can set us off to the extreme. Through it all my husband and I learned how to communicate and become stronger through all the ups and downs.

To have healthy lives and relationships we need to develop good communication skills sharing our thoughts, how we think and how we feel. Explaining what impacts us, what makes us feel bad or good, what disappoints us, what scares us, what disgusts us and why is necessary for us to be understood by our love ones. We need to share our experiences and what we have learned. We need to share about new people or doctors we have met, what impressions they made on us, how we feel about them and why.

It is important to share these feelings and not just the facts to help our loved ones connect in an empathetic way, strengthening our bonds. It’s okay to ask our partner to help us sort out our feelings if we are unsure of how we feel, feel confused or have mixed emotions. We need to make the effort to describe our feelings to the best of our ability and let them help us figure it out.

Sometimes topics that impact our relationships trigger fear of rejection or being abandoned or some other possible awful reactions from our loved ones. It is important to go deeper than just skimming the surface on these topics. Our partner or loved one needs to know how we feel about these things. It may have to do with health, behavior, finances, sex, other family members, etc., but no one can even try to understand how we feel about these things unless we describe our feelings.

Sometimes the issues or topics strike a sensitive chord and lead to rising anger or even a shutting down on our part or theirs. This is a symptom of deeper issues, which are imperative to resolve.   It helps if there is an agreed upon plan in place ahead of time to help a couple to get to the core of the issue in order to resolve it.

I call this plan Rules of Engagement. It helps partners get through the tough discussions and is something my husband and I have used. Here are the basics:

  • One person talks at a time
  • No interrupting while the other person is talking
  • Listen attentively
  • Respect each other’s opinions and feelings
  • Agree to disagree when something cannot be resolved

Having good relationships with our loved ones helps bring balance to our lives and nurtures our spirits and emotions. Healthy relationships are imperative to our living a healthy life.

I am happy. For the first time in ages I actually feel happy. My mind is clearer, sharper. I’m not elated—not hypomanic. It’s like my mind has had a great weight lifted off of it and the fuzziness has diminished.   And the tremor when I write is gone. My beautiful handwriting is back.

I had a medication reduction. My psychiatrist agreed to decrease one of my meds 3 months ago by 5 mg. I found little relief so six days ago he agreed to reduce it by 5 mg more. That’s 10 mg total. It’s a powerful antipsychotic and you don’t need much to get results. I originally was on 20 mg. I couldn’t think clearly, had memory issues, fuzzy thinking and had a tremor in my hand when writing. Cooking was a major task because of having to multitask. Cooking dinner was a little easier today. God heard and answered my prayers.

It’s only been 6 days and I’ve had such good results. I’m wondering what another week will bring. Perhaps my mind will become even clearer. I can feel happiness again and that’s great. My emotions had been blunted for a very long time. I’m still holding a steady normal mood level so far. I just need to maintain it if I want to continue to enjoy these wonderful results.

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