A friend of mine has been struggling recently. She has never been hospitalized, and she said she was considering inpatient hospitalization. I, having been hospitalized many times, opened my mouth and shared with her that a) Without insurance, an inpatient facility probably wouldn’t admit her unless she was suicidal; and b) Even if they admitted her, again, without insurance, they would probably only keep her for 72 hours. My insight, opinion, knowledge, whatever you want to call it, was not appreciated. I think my friend has a romanticized opinion of what a hospitalization would be, that it would be a nurturing experience of unending therapy for what ails her, when in reality hospitalization is just a warehousing of the mentally ill where they pump you full of medication, sometimes treat you with ECT, give you some useless group therapy (often just lectures), and release you as soon as you appear to be stable. They also take away your phone, your freedom of movement, most of your clothing and other belongings (anything you could harm yourself with), and in some ways your humanity. In reality, I will do anything to avoid being hospitalized again. I have been suicidal many times since my last hospitalization, but my memories of being in the hospital and being stripped of choices, being woken up early when I was tired as hell from medication by some rude bitch, being forced to go to group therapy in order to earn the right to go outside to smoke, eating sub-standard food, being subject to room searches, and lectures by mental health technicians with big egos and Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology at the most, has left me with a desire to stay out of the hospital at any cost.
Being hospitalized can keep you alive when you’re suicidal, but aside from that, I haven’t found it to be especially therapeutic. I’ve in fact found it to be more of a negative experience than a positive one, which is probably a good thing, because I do everything I can to avoid re-hospitalization. In fact, in writing this I’m reminded of exactly what I need to do to avoid being hospitalized again. Daily self-care is a must. Taking medication, exercising, and practicing gratitude are all forms of self-care for me. Even with the best or most vigilant self-care, I can still become unwell. I’m not perfect, and I do have Bipolar Disorder. But being in touch with myself daily, I know when I’m slipping and I know when I need to get in to see Dr. Drugs. Sometimes medication needs to be tweaked. At times, I’ve had to make adjustments with work, such as working at home. At other times, I had to stop working. I hope that doesn’t happen again, but I know in reality that it might. I have to live one day at a time, like the recovering alcoholics. Today, I am ok. And for that I am grateful.
I’m curious what other people’s experiences have been with hospitalization. Have they been positive or negative? Do you have the same aversion to hospitalization that I have? Also, how are you? I think about you all and count you as blessings when I say thank you every day. Have a great weekend.
My son and I finally cleaned out Will’s closet and dresser drawers today.
It took me almost 16 months to be ready for this day, but it was definitely time. I’ve been looking at his things and steeling myself for the inevitable. I knew it was going to be hard. As we went through the clothes, I remembered how he looked in each shirt, each tie, each pair of pants. It was so sad…and so necessary.
It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Ethan is a git-r’-done kind of guy, and he swiftly emptied the closet as I went through the drawers. We were finished in less than an hour. What broke my heart was using trash bags to hold everything…it just seemed so undignified, even disrespectful. If it had been possible I would have put it all into gold-plated boxes to take to Goodwill. I just hope those items will be of use to other men who need nice things.
I did save a few of his shirts. They have a lot of sentimental value and they still smell like him. There was a yellow-and-blue striped polo shirt he wore a lot in the summer, and one rather ratty winter sweatshirt that bears the name of the community college where I got my nursing degree. He virtually lived in that for much of the winter. I’m also hanging onto a grey T-shirt with the Carnival Cruise Line’s logo on it, a gift from Ethan and Clark on the one trip we all took together.
Now I have room in the closet and the dresser for more of my own things, something I naturally have mixed feelings about. I’ve acquired a pretty large wardrobe in the past year due to weight loss and anticipation of the coming vacation. Clark says I still don’t have enough. But my closet is crammed full and my drawers are stuffed to capacity, so the extra room is welcome. However, I’d give up the entire space and donate all my clothes to charity if I could just have Will back. In fact, I’d give up everything to have him back.
Except my life. In spite of missing my mate, I’m generally enjoying it and feel content with my current situation. It’s drippy and dreary here, which usually throws me into depression, but this year I seem to be skipping the fall festivities. I haven’t even needed my HappyLight yet. Yesterday, I forgot my Breakfast of Champions and was bouncing off the walls by late afternoon, so I guess I can’t afford to miss those meds any more than I can afford to miss the nighttime ones, even though that little taste of mania sure felt good. And once again, I am amazed at how well these substances control my bipolar illness, and how thin the line is between sanity and disaster.
Anyway, I’m glad the grim business of giving away Will’s clothing and shoes is done. One more step in the process of moving forward. I hate it. But it has to happen; as fondly as I remember the past, I can’t live there.
And so it goes.
But I’m not totally convinced. I seem to be on a much more level plane then I’ve been on for the last 20 some years, if not my whole life, I’m not sure. My past before being diagnosed with Bipolar 23 years ago last week was so different. (see “I Was A Different Person Then”). I won’t go into all that because I did so already. But things are different now, again, in a new way. Earlier this year I was put on Lamictal (Lamotrigine), a mood stabilizer, in addition to Abilify (Aripiprazole), Wellbutrin (Bupropion), Buspar (Buspirone) and Klonopin (Clonazapam). For the first time ever, a medication has actually changed my life. I still spend some time in depression, but it’s mostly not that bad and I can usually overcome it with CBT and smart thinking and action. And I’m not too high either, tho I did try to get off 13 years of Abilify a few months ago (it makes me shake terribly and I hate it) and I had a really bad reaction, so bad I thought I was going to lose it completely. It was the closest to real mania I’ve come in years. So I went back on the drug and I’ve been OK since then. (I had my Psychiatrist’s permission and support to quit, BTW).
I remember telling my counselor at the time that I was struggling with this new reality, because I didn’t know who I was anymore if I wasn’t depressed all the time. I still feel that way, and it’s actually pushed me back into depression several times since then. Weird. You’d think I’d be totally at peace with this and be happy for myself. But it’s not that easy to change a lifetime of such inbred patterns of thinking and behaving. I Was depression in the past and it was my total life. It was hard on me, and on the people I loved around me. I could stop it occasionally, but not totally, and I suffered with it a lot. It was my daily reality and it informed all my decisions and actions way too much. I was scared all the time and afraid of being caught out as a loser. Too much fear is paralyzing and I was often paralyzed. I still am to some extent but not nearly so much. I am better now.
I’m gradually learning to accept and revel in the “new” me. I just had a counseling session with my new counselor and he asked me to do a narrative of my life – positive and negative. I found myself listing tons of positive things about my life, but not that many negative ones. A total surprise to me. In the past it would have been much more tilted the other way towards extreme negativity. When I’m depressed it’s all I can see, and it’s the same way with being OK I guess. I Am my emotions way too much and if I’m doing well I think l’ve always done well, despite the memories of the failures and awfulness of depression. When I’m depressed it’s the opposite and it’s all I can see and feel.
Staying balanced is a real struggle for me even now. But I can do it most of the time. I’m amazed, but still frightened by the new me. I still don’t know how to interact or be with people very well. I still fall back into the old patterns of depression if I don’t keep up my guard all the time. But I have real support in my partner Louie, and with my friends, my counselor and psychiatrist and other health care folks. So I think maybe I can do this. I sure do hope so, tho hope can be a trap too if you’re not careful. Just ask a student of Buddhism. Today is my 67th birthday and perhaps it’s the start of a new reality for me. A truly new year of life. I think it could be and I’m trying to believe so much that I can pull it off. I have a lot of faith in myself these days, and it’s not based in my usual hypomania, but in reality for a change. Plus I’m older and wiser now. I understand myself, and life in general, much better. Staying real and giving it time are my current mantras. Maybe I really am doing OK now… Time will tell.
Triggered by a traumatic event a few weeks ago, bipolar depression brought its bags and settled in for a long visit. This past week I started going to my therapists’ clinic every morning to break up depression’s momentum and build my own form of Out-Patient Care. I arranged the little alcove they set aside for me—a folding screen and white noise machine to make the patients in neighboring offices feel safe in their privacy plus the high table and chairs. I brought in my art supplies and a large cushion to sit on the floor, and went about filling the tall, gray walls with words and colors that I needed. But that wasn’t enough.
Yesterday, my therapist and I discussed how to create a real program that would help me tolerate this depression without resorting to hospital out-patient care. I find the hospital programs themselves to be helpful, but interacting in the large group model difficult to the point of undoing any good done there. So here’s what we’re trying first:
My daily schedule will be from 8:30-1:30, five days a week. Daily, I will work on DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) worksheets dealing with tolerating distress, read one of Megan’s many children’s books and journal about it, and make art—either for the space or in my journal.
I feel a lot of dread and the usual suicidal litany gallops through my mind. I’m uncomfortable and scattered. My calendar empties out as I can’t tolerate most people or the pressure of going somewhere at a designated time. But I did ask a friend to lunch yesterday, even though I phased out after twenty minutes. Concentration doesn’t last long.
At home, I’ve put my TV in the bedroom, so the cats and I camp out on the bed as I try to work on my Solstice cards while half-listening to my go-to depression binge, Fringe (I just started Season Three).
I’ve also returned to Pinterest, where I can look at pretty pictures and hoard new photos of my Pretend Boyfriends.
Later today, I hope to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express and do my laundry. That feels like a lot in my current condition, but I’ll try. It’s really all I can ever do, keep trying, keep looking for new ways to get through the worst of the illness while waiting for the shift to come.
Some days it doesn’t seem like much of a life. The distorted thinking makes that view darker and more hopeless. Even then, I can see my courage at work, even when the list of obstacles grows like a Bugs Bunny nightmare.
This is my life. Mine. For better or worse.