Daily Archives: November 19, 2013

My Bipolar Life: A Mini-Memoir

My astrologer is in sort of a crisis mode these days, so I don’t really want to bother her with the question: Why is it that I am feeling bombarded by people who feel that bipolar disorder is something to celebrate?  It’s true that if I weren’t bipolar, I couldn’t possibly have accomplished the feat of living several concurrent lives.

I’ve got a lot done.  I’ve created little empires, and lost them.  I’ve made a lot of money, and lost it.  I’ve had bosom friends, and intense relationships, and wonderful marriages–all gone.

I hated being a child.  Children were so…stupid.  Like cattle, running in herds, living their happy little lives, sniveling at trifles, reading Dick and Jane.  Innocent, docile, boring little things.  I refused to associate with them.

I had one friend, and one friend only: Terry Martin, whose father was a carpenter and let Terry use all his hand tools.  There was a creek in the woods behind my house, and Terry and I built bridges over the creek using scrap two-by-fours salvaged from Terry’s father’s scrap pile. We would design a bridge, build it, tear it down, design another one and build it, ad infinitum.  I imagine Terry must have grown up to be a famous architect.  We were seven, eight, nine, in our bridge-building years.

The rest of my childhood was consumed with books.  Grown-up books, not kid books; although I did love Charlotte’s Web and anything else by E. B. White, who is still my literary hero. And of course animals–horses in particular, and any other non-human creature.  I used to take in injured animals, wild bunnies who had been half mangled by the cat, a mouse rescued from the trap, and nurse them back to health.  It was my introduction to healing.

But I suffered terribly from depression–of course it was not known, in the 1950′s and 60′s, that children could be depressed.  But I had frequent bouts of overwhelming sadness and a sense of confusion, not knowing where I was in space or time, dissociation I would call it now.  I would cry for hours over seemingly nothing.  I hated my existence and wanted to be gone.

And then there were episodes of ecstatic heroic fantasy.  Like the time I tied the sleeves of my coat around my neck for a cape, and ran full throttle around the schoolyard shouting that I was going to save the world (it was the Cold War then, and the world needed saving). And the time I lost Terry Martin, by planning out and executing my fantasy of winning his nine-year-old heart to be my forever lover, by singing him a love song I had learned from the radio.  That heralded the end of our bridge-building days, and plunged me into a deep river of remorse.

High school.  Oh dear.  I suppose most high school girls spend their after-school hours writing poetry and drawing diagrams of what would later be called “wave-particle theory.”  It was the 60′s, it was Flower Power, it was Viet Nam, it was smoking pot, it was losing my virginity to a vicious rape and running away from home, all the way from Massachusetts to California. It was wandering, purposeless, homeless, sometimes adventure and sometimes just doing what was necessary to keep alive.

Young adulthood–three different art colleges, no degree, frequent bouts of dissociation, PTSD from the now many rapes and close shaves with abduction and what was then called “White Slavery,” now known as Sex Trafficking.  Paralyzing depressions, then marathon painting sessions, up all night listening to WGBH Boston and working on three or four canvasses at once–hanging them on the otherwise bare walls of my bedroom and moving from one to the other until 3 am when the fishermen’s coffee shop (Mike’s) opened and I could go down the hill for espresso and listen to the hushed conversation of the Gloucester fishermen, getting their coffees and Italian pastries to warm their bellies before heading out on their boats for the day.

And then it was back up the hill for me, to get ready to hitchhike to art school, take my chances with whatever creep pulled over to pick me up–would he be manageable or would I have a fight on my hands first thing in the morning–who knew? Left art school one quarter shy of graduating–I had to go play in my boyfriend’s band.  Granted, it was a good Irish band but couldn’t I have just stuck it out three more months and graduated?  No.

Everything was a blur.  I could not concentrate.  They told me I was good, if I could only get it together–but I couldn’t get it together, because I didn’t know what together was.  So I quit to join the band. We had a good roll with the band, and I was painfully in love.  He told me flat out he wished he could tell me that he loved me, but he didn’t.  I kept on hoping…and lapsing into states where I would go far, far away and no one could reach me, so they just went on and left me to my own devices, and I would wake up crying, feeling lost and abandoned.

Decided I’d better be a doctor, because that’s where my heart was–and is.  Talked my way into University of Chicago without a high school diploma–how did I do that?  I was on a high and nothing could stop me.  I blazed through the interview, charmed the interviewers, and got in.

My parents had had enough of paying for schools, so they refused to help with this one.  So I worked three jobs–from 6 am to 8 am blood rounds as a phlebotomist at the hospital.  Ten to three, classes.  Three to eight, nap and homework.  Nine pm to 2 am, cocktail waitress at a downtown disco.  3 am to 6 am, lab tech.  On nights I didn’t work the disco, I went out Latin dancing with the South American grad student crowd.  And at 9 am I ran three miles with Sunny, the girl I was in love with and didn’t find out she was also bi until after college. Sure I got depressed.  I just thought that was normal, since I’d always felt that way.

Let’s fast forward, because this is a blog post and not a book.  This is the interesting part anyway. After a dual degree in medicine and Medical Anthropology, I went on to a residency in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.  I was a very poor resident, partly because I had begun to have episodes of deep depression triggered by sleep deprivation.  Instead of recognizing that I was having a health problem, the administration punished me for my lethargy and crying spells by assigning me to more and more rigorous rotations–extra stints in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which I loathed, and extra time in the Pediatric Emergency Department in the Gulag, which is what we called the hospital in the northern reaches of Rochester, NY, also fondly known as the Knife-and-Gun Club, since it was situated in the heart of Gang War Territory.

I loved the Gulag, for some reason.  It was rough and tough and you never knew when there was going to be a lockdown because some gangs got in and were shooting it out in the stairwell.  It was my kind of  place. I ended up working nights there and becoming the Acting Director when the previous one quit.  I took the place from being a skunk works with one intern to a fully-staffed professional department.

Then the boss hired an old girlfriend over me.  She had no emergency medicine experience, was a developmental pediatrician.  I put on my cape and went into Superhero mode and wrote letters to every bigwig in the medical school.  I got fired.

I got a better job, developing a brand new pediatric emergency department in another part of the country.  I used what was turning into boundless energy to create a top-notch state-of-the-art facility. But that wasn’t all. I got married, bought a 32 horse boarding stable with 40 acres of land, 20 acres of prime alfalfa that we baled 5 times a year, and an asphalt hauling business.  We had one employee, a stable girl.  Otherwise, we did it all ourselves: my husband, my son, and his son.  And I worked 60 hours a week at the hospital. Not unpredictably, I got irritable and contentious.  I didn’t get partnership.

I quit and got another job.  I quit and got another job. I quit and went into practice for myself, which was heaven on a stick, except that now I was having to go into my private office between patients to cry. Disaster hit.  A church-based organization bought out my hospital, which owned my building, and I was suddenly practice-less.  The blow was too much.  It sent me to the hospital, the first time out of twice. I have never been the same since.

Yes, I did create mini-empires with my bipolar.  I could never have done all that stuff, and I haven’t even told you the rest.  But the price was too high.  I’m totally disabled now.  At sixty, I have little to look forward to. I think now, in these days, when there is so much more consciousness about mental health in general and bipolar in particular, there might be hope for consciously channeling that super-hero energy while somehow mitigating the crushing depressions.  I certainly hope so.

For me, it’s a day late and a dollar short.

In Need of Calm

I am going to try to blog something since it has been a few days (I know, I’ve been such a slacker lately) but I am fighting off the beginning of a migraine, so it will probably be fairly brief and pointless.  It has been a rough day.  I had something happen earlier that really upset me, and I am trying to put it behind me and enjoy the rest of the daylight.  This is a common problem with me, and I assume it has a lot to do with the bipolarness of my brain.  I can’t just halfway take anything, I have to fall all to pieces over it, and then I’m left exhausted and wondering why the hell I let myself get so worked up about it in the first place. Gotta love that all-or-nothing thinking.  Anyway, I am going to try to pull myself together now.  I have company coming for supper, for one thing.  I need to get the ball rolling on preparations for that.  The house is a mess.  I need to tidy up and start cooking.  I need to take something for this migraine before it gets too far out of hand for meds to work on it.  I need to CHILL OUT! over all other worries in my mind.  Why is this the hardest part?  What’s it like to let things roll over me and not get stuck in my teeth?  I must research this.  I must find the magic cesspool of no-worries living.  Because, you know, it’s out there.  That perfect way of living.  I just have to find it and make it mine.  

Well, this is exciting.

I am starting the process of making connections with people in the field of mental health, other disciplines, diagnosed, and/or unaffiliated. I want to get every possible perspective from anyone who will talk to me. I am amazed by the flood of interest that has already begun to fill my email box and the number of hits the site received in the first week. Inspiration abounds!

I wish I could share all the details but then our film would be rather predictable and dire. Thanks for all the love and support.

In Limbo

This blog is clearly in limbo. I haven’t had anything much to say since July. I’ve barely been making a …

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I Was Going To Post Some Profound Clinical Thing…….

But this is more how I feel these days:   Filed under: Uncategorized

Only One Wish Besides That One

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I haven’t been doing anything at all much, lately.

In fact, I’m not sure I’ve even been much aware of the passage of time.

There are markers of time that I follow, like scratches on prison walls.

Yesterday I went to Asheville, to the women writers’ workshop.  I heard some good writing from other members, and I read a couple of chapters from my new-old novel.  It scares me.

Saturday was Shabbat, so I know what happened then: I read the Torah portion in Hebrew, and slept.

I know today is Monday, because I was eagerly anticipating putting my new gym membership into action.

However, the channa dal tikka masala biryani whatever, that I ate from the hot bar at Whole Foods, sent me packing to the outhouse most of the day.  That was terrifying as well as uncomfortable, because it was windy.  Some of you may recall what happened to my outhouse last time it got really windy, but for those of you who don’t remember, it looked like this:

potty over the cliff

This is what my poor outhouse looked like when the wind blew it over the edge of the cliff that it sits on.  The only way the honey-dipper (that’s what the people who clean out outhouses are called, no lie) could get to it was to haul it with ropes down to the bottom of the cliff and get it onto his truck from there.

So when it’s really windy I just don’t like to go in there.

That was the highlight of today.

There was a tedious form for the insurance company regarding the theft of my car back in August, that had to be filled out again even though I already filled it out, because the first time I filled it out I was in Israel, and the American insurance company insisted that it be notarized, but there is no such thing as a “Notary Public” in Israel.  That is difficult for American insurance people to understand, that things could be different in another country, that something that we take for granted in America, like cheeseburgers for instance, do not even exist in some other countries, like Israel.

So they are making me fill out this minutely descriptive form about where and when and how much and what time and with whom my car was stolen and wrecked by this criminal with a blood alcohol level of 0.5 that’s oh-point-five, ladies and gentlemen.  That is technically incompatible with life.  This man was clearly a career drinker.

Thank god he did not kill or seriously injure anyone.  He was too drunk.  He allegedly passed out in the passing lane on the highway, and when a passing ambulance driver saw him slumped over the steering wheel and tapped on the window to see if there was anybody home, the guy stomped on the gas and caromed off of four other vehicles, the last being a rear-ender, which stopped him.  He was taken to hospital, and from there to jail, where he remains.

But I was not there for any of this.  I was in Israel, supposedly for the High Holy Days, but in fact I was struggling just to stay alive.

(Oh, my car, if anyone was wondering, was parked in my cousin’s apartment complex parking lot, where I have left it several times before while I’ve been in Israel.  This is the first time it has ever been stolen from there.)

Just after my car was stolen and all of that madness of faxes and PDFs and arguments about whether there was or was not a notary public to be found in all of Israel, and during which time I had the horrible discovery that I had bed bugs in my new-old apartment, I happened to trip on my way into a hardware store, and knocked myself out cold.  I got what has proven to be a rather bad concussion out of that.

The High Holidays came and went, and I am sure that I came and went with them, but I do not remember any of it.  All I remember was an abiding sense of loss that I just could not get spiritually “plugged in” to the incredible high that has always filled me with awe during the High Holy Days.  My body was there, but my soul felt locked out.

Much of the time my head felt too scrambled to manage going to services.  This grieved me even worse, because my congregation in Israel is as ecstatic as any tent revival.  And I was on the outside looking in, scratching off the days on the outside walls.

I think this concussion is still not quite gone.  At least, I am sure that I am not quite right.  I notice things about my memory that really do make it look like Swiss cheese.  Holes.

And then there is my psychiatrist.

At our last visit he took an hour to examine the mechanisms that turn the cogs of my brain, something with springs and gears and levers, all run by a mouse with a spiral tail that provides the energy for the whole thing to work.  Or not.   More not than yes.

He (psychiatrist, not mouse) is certain that I have ADD.  This makes the third time he has send me away with yet another dosage form of Dexadrine.  I do not like speed.  I have tried it.  I have had it put into my LSD without my knowledge or consent.  I do not like it, Sam I Am.

But he prescribed it so I did try it.  It made me irritable.

So much so, that when my dear sweet Noga peed on the rug even though she knows very well where she is meant to, and must, pee when indoors (on her special “potty pad” from Walmart, is where)–I was so irritable that instead of merely blotting up the pee spot with paper toweling while grumbling my displeasure, instead I blotted up the pee by jumping up and down on the paper towels and screaming.

Although this was extreme, I do think that Noga got the point, and I hope it will be some time or perhaps not at all, that she thinks of peeing in the wrong place.  She is a very intelligent Apso, and she knows the difference.

I think that part of my general state of disorientation has to do with my utter lack of vocation, and therefore complete lack of any sense of purpose.  I am in a state of suspended animation.

If I could have one wish, aside from the wish that my child should live a healthy, long, productive, happy life, if I could have one wish beside that one, it would be: to have a healthy brain, and to be happily back at work again, up to my elbows in pediatric secretions, contentedly fixing Nursemaid’s Elbows, consulting my crystal ball and waving my magic wand.

If only. One.  Wish.