Daily Archives: October 14, 2013

Riding For My Life: Part One

I just turned sixty.  Can you believe it?  Neither can I.

I look in the mirror.  My face hasn’t changed much, except for a few creases in the jowl line that I’d rather do without, but hell, since I only look in the mirror to check whether I’ve brushed my hair today, I’m not bothered by it.

On the other hand, my skin has gone all weird.  In some places it’s loose and jiggly, and in others it’s tight and thin and fragile.  If I scratch an itch on my forearm, for example, I’m rewarded by a big red-purple splotch that takes weeks to go away.  If I bang myself there, which happens all the time because I still crash through the world as if I were sixteen, my skin sometimes also rips and then I have a dreadful mess that requires bandages and ointments for a couple of weeks, and then I have a scar to remember it by.   Yech.

And then there’s the skeleton.  I’ve trashed most of my joints through overexertion, as I will explain below; and those that managed to survive my athletic excesses are slowly being eaten up by the arthritis that runs in my family, on both sides.  Couldn’t dodge that bullet.

So even though my weight is exactly the same as it has been since 1985 when I had my first and only baby–well, I mean after I lost all I was going to lose afterwards, not WHEN I had him, because in the days preceding his birth I looked like a small house–my body looks just like you would expect a body to look if no one took care of it.

Before I launch into a maudlin description of why my body is in such deplorable shape at the moment, let me tell you some of the back story.

I have always been bipolar.  Unlike many, who discover their bipolarity in their teens or young adult years, I have always had symptoms of depression and passive suicidality on the one hand, and racing thoughts, extreme restlessness, and a feeling of being out of my body on the other.

I managed to funnel my depressive gloom into poetry and art.  Since I came from a family of depressed artists I just thought it was the “artist’s temperament” and considered it normal.  So I did get a lot of good art done, and a lot of bad poetry and maudlin writings.  

I am a rapid cycler.  Even as a child, I would find myself catapulted from states of near-suidical melancholy into a state of restlessness that shot through my body like an electric current, demanding physical and mental activity, the more rigorous the better.

My first and only love was for the equine race.  My parents would not buy me a pony, citing countless reasons: mainly that we never had a permanent home and moved 19 times by the time I left home at age 16. This, coupled with the abject poverty that we lived in.  But I never felt that we were poor, because, well, that was how I grew up.  In fact, I thought that most other people lived lives of shameful excess.

So wherever we moved, it was always somewhere rural because that was what my father liked, and we could always have a garden to feed us.  And for me that was fine, because there was always a neglected pony somewhere in the vicinity: one who had been bought as a Christmas present for the children who enjoyed it for a few months or a year and then ignored it after the shine wore off and all that remained was the constant work of upkeep.

I was thrilled to muck out stalls and sheds, clean and polish tack, clean and polish and feed the pony, doctor its thrushy hooves, and do whatever would convince the owners to let me ride it as much as I wanted.

Pony after pony, wherever we moved, I poured my roaring excess energy into making it spiffy again, spending hours untangling matted manes and tails, getting bitten and kicked in the process.  I didn’t care.

In my depressions I would go and bury my face in the current pony’s neck, inhaling the comforting fragrance of eau d’equine, which is still the most intoxicating smell to me, to this day.  My tears would make a wet place in the unclipped winter coat, and for reasons unknown, the pony wound stand still, snorting but unmoving, and let me embrace its neck, absorbing my sobs.

We moved again when I was 12.

I was beginning to develop then, got my period, and started getting chubby.  Despite the fact that everyone in our entire family on both sides had been chubby at puberty, my mother began a campaign to get me to lose weight by means of verbal abuse.

“Fat-ass” became my nickname.  I was a silent, isolated child then, having no friends since we had just moved, and I had no where to go except into the woods behind our house, to lie in the mossy glades and cry.

Then I discovered, not a pony, but a horse, about a mile away.  His owner had gone off to college and left him in his stall.  A hired man cleaned his stall and fed him, but otherwise no one paid any attention to him.

The owners of the horse had a daughter my age, who weighed about 200 lbs, didn’t care who knew it, and menaced anyone who gave her any crap about it.  She kept a pair of parakeets and derived sexual pleasure out of watching them mate, and from surreptitiously watching her big sister and her boyfriend “doing it” on the couch.  She was not interested in the horse.  I was not interested in the parakeets or the boyfriend, but I courted Caroline until she introduced me to her mother, at which point with bated breath I asked her if I could take care of the horse in return for riding him.

She was ecstatic and immediately called the hired man (did I mention that this was a huge estate that encompassed an entire small mountain?) and ordered him to show me around the barn.  I had my first real horse to care for.

That horse became my passion, my savior.   The moment I got off the school bus I would race upstairs and change into barn clothes, jump on my bike and roar off to meet my paramour.  After turning him out into the paddock, I cleaned his stall down to the floor, fluffed it up with new straw, then brushed him out thoroughly, combed his mane and tail, picked out his shod hooves, and swabbed his entire body down with citronella-smelling fly repellant that I can still smell to this day.

I would tack him up with his flat English saddle and double-rein bridle–this I have to give my parents, that they had started me in English riding lessons since I was six, on tall Thoroughbreds, so tall that I resolved that since I must instantly be killed if I fell off, then I would never fall off.  And I didn’t.

And off we would go, down the dappled lanes through the New England woods, all acrid with leaf mold.  The estate covered acres and acres, and I had no restrictions, so we criss-crossed the property for hours every day.

One day we were ambling along one of the many areas of bare granite, scraped clean by some glacier, when he pulled up lame.  I jumped off, wondering how I was going to get back on, since at 4’11″ I required a mounting block or at least a fence in order to mount the tall Thoroughbred.  But he needed help, so off I hopped.

He was holding his left front foot as if it hurt him, and when I picked it up I saw that one of the many oval granite stones that populated the area had lodged in his foot, so I dug my hoof pick out of my jeans pocket and went to work.

The stone was wedged in between the two sides of his shoe, so I had to lever it out.

Now, normally a person who is working on a hoof stands with their back to the horse’s head and the hoof securely held between their knees; but the last time I had done that I had been dumped upon my head, so I stood to the side facing the horse’s shoulder and held the hoof in my left hand, working on the wedged stone with my right.

Finally the stone flew out with a “pop,” but it must have hurt the horse because he snorted and stomped his foot down hard on the rock we were standing on.  But my foot was between his iron-shod hoof and the rock, and first I heard CRUNCH and then I felt my tall riding boot start to fill with something warm.  I knew what that was.

Luckily it was my right big toe that had been crushed, because I needed my left foot to mount with and I don’t know what I would have done if it had been my left. Horses get used to being mounted from one side, usually the left, and they are skittish about the other side, and I had enough problems already.

I found a stump to mount from, and had no little trouble getting him to move alongside it and stand still; but I finally got on and back to the barn, untacked him, rubbed him down, and rode my bicycle home.

Then I tried to get my foot out of the boot.  It had swollen so that it filled the inside of the boot and was stuck.  I had to cut the boot off, shedding many tears, because I knew it was unlikely that I would come by another pair.  They are very expensive.

I was relieved to see, after gingerly and painfully soaking the foot in the bathtub, that the source of the bleeding was that my toenail had come off; but there were no bones sticking out. I thought that it would be better not to tell anyone, because that might result in my being forbidden to ride.   So I wore roomy sneakers for a couple of months, and it healed without incident.

To be continued……..

Diagnosis Isn’t The Cure

It was my therapist, we’ll call her Emmy, who diagnosed me, who also directed me to my first psychiatrist.  We’ll call him Dr. Shoemaker. I continued to see Emmy in conjunction with weekly visits to Dr. Shoemaker who started prescribing me medication.  The year was 2002.

Dr. Shoemaker was an interesting man, to say the least. Very tall, and at the time was at least 68 years old and wore large glasses that he would look at you through, with his big eyes. He always had a pen in his hand, would tilt his big balding head and rub his chin, while thinking of what he was about to say. I remember this like it was yesterday.  He would speak and sometimes it was crazy shit that came out.  Sometimes it was thought provoking. Sometimes it was both, and I would just think, “What the hell?” But all of the time it was truth spoken in love, with respect and compassion.

At my first appointment with Dr. Shoemaker the absolute first thing to come out of his mouth, was literally, “Laura, how many times do you want to be married?” and I thought, “what the frick?” but I was so caught off guard I could hardly be pissed off at this guy’s audacity. The answer was “once” and the answer is still, “once.”

therapy rocks

In the beginning he talked a lot about God, which I was not open to at all and I bluntly told him as much. I wasn’t much for tact (I’m barely better at it now–but at least now I try.  Mostly). I told him “you can talk about God if you want to, but I’m not going to.” Years later, I found in some notes I have, something he said and in hindsight it really cracked me up. “…But Christ forgot to tell us He was a psychiatrist.”  And if you believe Jesus came to heal the broken, it really makes sense.  Good word.

Dr. Shoemaker saw me through my first stay in a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatric hospital is nothing like you think. So stop it. No padded walls or straight jackets. More like a scaled back and luxury-free camp for adults. That doesn’t really make it sound appealing, but it’s not like it’s supposed to be a vacation. It’s a place to go, to be protected from the outside world and most importantly to be monitored closely on your medication.

I was smoking two packs a day in the hospital. Marlboro Menthol Lights.  It was like a life-line. A gross, disgusting and expensive life-line, but it was something minor in my day that I could make a schedule around; smoke breaks. I look at young women smoking now and find myself saying “she’s too good for that” and my mother always says “that’s what we said about you.”  Touche, mom.  I smoked for ten years and quit about five years ago.  One of the best decisions I ever made was to quit smoking.

Anyhow, actually the facility makes a schedule for you. It consist of group therapy sessions, private sessions with your doctor and/or therapist, family sessions can be arranged, as well as productive activities like crafts, games and sometimes physical activities like throwing a ball around (loose translation=sports).

“A Psychiatric hospital is more like a scaled back and luxury-free camp for adults”

When my parents dropped me off, the facility put me on suicide watch for the first twenty-four hours.  I wasn’t permitted to keep my portable CD player (oh yes, it was a Discman) because the headphone wires and the CD itself could potentially be made into something I could use to harm myself.  I was more upset about that than the whole situation.

The whole thing was traumatizing for my mother, I found this out several years down the road and I finally had to tell her to let go of that.  No more crying about it, because it was one of the best things for me and eventually it would become part of my story and part of who I am–and definitely part of my recovery.

And when I say they “dropped me off” it wasn’t like the left me at the curb. They came in with me and got me somewhat settled in. It was at night so most of the other patients were in their rooms. I was pretty scared to see what was in store the next morning.

Oh the people you’ll meet in a psychiatric hospital. I met men and women of all ages, with a huge range of issues. From pill-users, to attempted suicides with bandaged-up wrist with blood stains on them. It was sad. I met a trans-sexual called Kiki, who was there for severe identity issues. But there were some, like me, young women with bipolar disorder. All of us seeking the same thing; stability.  Or maybe, we were seeking just a little less crazy in our lives.  I’m not sure we all knew what we were seeking, at the time.

The best advice Emmy gave me was; to absolutely—without exception—have no contact with other patients after a hospital stay. I didn’t understand it at the time, but begrudgingly, I made it a point not to give out my phone number or even email address to others, as different discharge times would approach and we would say good bye to someone.  What self-control, I mean, where did that come from?  In subsequent visits to the hospital, I hadn’t followed Emmy’s advice and it never turned out to be a healthy friendship, to say the least.

Nothing good comes from a friendship started in the psych ward. I’m just sayin’.

Diagnosis isn’t the cure…and this was only the beginning.  It was at least two hospital stays later and a couple of years down that road, until I would really find some stability…

More to come,

Hang in there,

Mrs Bipolarity

*Flexes* Stitch Ninja!

This has been an excellent week for crafting, if I do say so myself. My little girl’s best friend’s 4th birthday party was this weekend, so I slam-banged my way through a hat and scarf set over the course of the week:

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The hat was a pattern chance found called The Happy Hat; it’s definitely easier to make than it looks. I started it on Monday evening before an appointment, and finished it before going to Stitch ‘n Bitch on the Wednesday evening. The scarf was a ‘pattern’ of my own determination — I merely mapped out about how wide I wanted it, and how to make that work with ribbed ends. I should have slipped the edges to keep it from rolling up, but ah well. I don’t know if it was well received because the party got shooed out quickly for the next one at the location, but hopefully I’ll see the birthday girl wearing it.

With that out of the way, I had to suck it up and resume sewing up the cardigan I’d shown the progress on last week, and the week before that. That went better than the intarsia cardigan, I like to think:

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This button band is toooo tight.

This button band is toooo tight.

Much better!

Much better!

The main nuisance was the button band in this case. It’s my first time doing one, and the number of stitches it was telling me to pick up seemed too few.And indeed, you can see how well that came out on the left. I think I’ve got a lot to learn about how to do these more naturally, yanno? I rejigged my numbers and tried something else, and came out with what you see on the right. Of course, I still messed it up by forgetting a row, but I wasn’t about to pick it back for that reason alone!
Having said that, the side the buttons go onto vexed me by, even though I did the same thing as I did on the other button band, came up a bit tighter/lacking in stitches. It’s not the end of the world though.



As you can see, the band on the right is a bit tighter. Oh well!


The (almost) completed piece.

So yeah, excitement. I’ve still got to weave in the ends, and I might embroider the buttonholes to be more useful, but it’s mainly done and that’s neat. The next pattern in the book is a Christmas stocking, with the idea of learning to knit in the round. That should be neat, insomuch that we have -a- Christmas stocking in the house, and that’s the kiddo’s stocking. Perhaps I’ll make something pretty for my husband. I’ll make something one way or the other; coming out nice would be… nice. *laughs*

Beyond that, I’m that level of fatigued wherein my hair doesn’t get washed. I’d like clean hair, but I don’t have the spoons to deal with it. I’m still impressed that I managed to feed myself. I’m in good spirits, mind… just incredibly limited in what I can currently do. I think that I can accept this helps me to make the most of the situation. I think it also helps to know that I’ve a plan to address my physical health and energy levels down the line, which helps me suck it up and keep on smiling day to day.

Anyhoos, I hope everyone out there is feeling alright and doing well. Emphasis on hope — I know a lot of us are running on fumes lately. But this too shall pass, blah blah, and so forth.


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Angelic Choirs of…. Crickets

Reblogged from MOONSIDE: The Angelic Secret of Crickets I don’t normally reblog others’ posts. When I do it’s because whatever they’ve written is valuable to me in one form or another. If you will please just click onto the link, you will hear the most amazing sound of a heavenly choir from a source I […]

Fat and Crazy

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Brilliant Bipolar Observation of the Day

This past week was marked by migraines, fluctuating emotions and a tiny seed of hope sprouting.  First I will recap the less than spectacular parts and then we’ll get into my brilliant observation.

I started off the week with a 3 day long migraine, and I wound up going to the hospital. This was followed up by my psychiatrist increasing my meds. It wasn’t a good week. And yet in the middle of all this I find myself starting a new friendship that may possibly lead to more.

I split with my most recent boyfriend months ago. We tried staying friends, but he flaked on me. I’m kind of used to that, it happens when you’re bipolar. People can’t really deal with the constant mood swings and I get it, I do, but it doesn’t ease the sting. I had a bit of a flirtation with a guy I worked with, but he was even moodier than I am. Here’s a hint: if the bipolar girl says you’re moody, you might want to check into your behavior. Joking aside, I’ve been extremely lonely. I’ve got great friends but again, it’s difficult to care for someone who is as erratic as I am, especially considering they have lives of their own. So enter my new friend.  We’ve run together and we work in the same building. He’s kind and we’ve had several great dates but I find myself putting my guard up again, trying to not get too hopeful. But the little bit of hope glows nonetheless.

As I reflect upon all the happenings of the week, I keep having a recurring thought in regards to relationships, romantic or otherwise. A good relationship is like a fire. I don’t mean heat and burning/sensuality/blah blah Harlequin romance novel terms. I mean, in order for a fire to last, you have to build a good base. You have to use the proper materials to ignite and maintain the fire or it will burn out. Too much volatility can burn you, too much space can cause the flame to die.  My last relationship burned hot and fast at the onset..and burned out. I am trying to build this fire carefully, thoughtfully. My bipolar is making my hands shake as I stack the logs, however.

Is it OK to admit you’re terrified? That on the nights I laid awake with a migraine I was painfully aware of how alone I am? Of how messed up my life is? How in the world can I have a successful relationship with all this crap in my mind, in my life?


Campfire on Glacier Bay by Roland Taylor

I hope that I can. I hope I can find someone who looks past the bipolar, who doesn’t run when it gets hard. The trick is to build the fire within myself carefully. Not too much of any one thing, I need to focus on the whole picture. I can’t let it burn too bright or too hot. I think I’m building a good base. I’m doing everything I can so the flame doesn’t blow out.

Filed under: Self Discovery Tagged: bipolar, hope, loneliness, migraine, relationships

Quote of the Day

 “It’s useless arguing with people. They have stereotyped minds that run along grooves of stock response and commonplace.” -Ruth Rendell