Saturday, January 18, 2014

Better Days

Today is the half-way point through the first month of the new year.  Capturing how it feels to be here are some lyrics from an old Melissa Manchester song, "Better Days" recorded in the 1970s.

 
"No more tears left to hide.
We have made it through a long and lonely night.
Better days on our side.
Oh it looks as though we're doing something right."
 
The year began with the dietary challenge of going both sugar-free and gluten-free for a month.  It was a rocky start:  morning coffee tasting like motor oil; a can of olives for lunch; and Vodka in Coke Zero.  The last item was an effective, although odd tasting, diversion ... but not a healthy one.
 
I'm a cook, a good one.  So I made pot roast with meat and vegetables, and chili with carrots and celery, and served them both over rice.  We resumed having a salad with our evening meals.  And my lunch guests this week were served sugar/gluten free indescribably delicious prime rib and a baked potato.  (The Local Oracle expressed shock at how much butter I actually put on a potato.  I had to remind him, "I am always truthful.  I am an honest person.  Strange at times, but honest to the core.)
 
This Gluten-free thing, which I "believed" was downright loony, turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my body.  This body that will carry me through the rest of my journey here responded almost immediately by telling me "Yes!"  And then whispering, "What took you so long?"
 
Digestive issues and leg pains that have plagued me for decades are gone.  I sleep better.  I even feel better than before ... which didn't even seem possible when I committed to do this "silly" dietary thing.
 
So ... thank you Gluttie for telling your compelling story at the moment I was ready to listen.  You have changed my dietary choices for the rest of my life.  I shall be forever grateful to you for your annoying persistence.
 
The frosting on this "cake" is that my favorite drink of all time, a Sapphire Martini straight up (with extra olives on the side, not pictured) is the healthiest drink choice on the planet.
 
 
The sugar-free part is impossible for me to do completely.  I can give up most foods with processed sugar and corn syrup.  But the sugar in my coffee creamer will just have to figure out how to make peace with my otherwise sugar-free choices.  The quality of my life has always been more important to me than the quantity of my life.  It's simply a personal choice.
 
Bottom line:  The Gluten-free "fad" is real.  If you can spare a month or at least 2 weeks to eliminate all gluten and wheat (the biggie) from your diet completely, it's worth a try.  What's 15 or 30 days in a person's lifespan?
 
I will never eat gluten again as long as I live.
 
 
That takes care of the lyric for the body:
 
 "Oh it looks as though we're doing something right"  
 
But it leaves the mind in tact, complete with screwy brain chemicals and a low dose of medication to stabilize my moods.  Read on only if you are truly interested in the pursuit of better days for the mental health portion of life.
 
Note:  There are no cute pictures in this next section.  It is very long.  Time is a valuable commodity; it is ultimately all that we have.  If playing Candy Crush is your choice of how to spend your free time, or you have no one in your world who might have mental health issues, please do not waste that precious commodity by clicking on the words "Read More" below.


This is personal; this is serious; this is long, this is being shared in the hope of helping someone else.
 
For those with "mental health issues" -  muster all your courage and hang on; you're not alone; and if you take anti-depressant medications, help is available from a little-known source described below.
 
For those who love a person with "mental health issues" - try to have a wee bit more patience and compassion; and try just a bit harder to understand when someone you care about acts "weird."  In other words ... love them and cut them some slack.  Please.
 
For the last two months, my mood has stabilize on HIGH:  mind processing fast, terribly articulate, interested in everything, compelled to write for hours at a time, even into the wee hours of the morning, having and often stating my opinion on any topic of interest or one that I care about deeply.
 
I've resumed my role as "Caped Crusader" who wants to make things better and restore fairness and equal treatment for all.  Consequently I choose to spend hours on causes such as:  (1)  a sloppy medical report from a doctor, which indicates inadequate processes in place where sick people come for help and mistakes can be deadly; (2)  fighting parking regulations based on making a quick buck for the city instead of focusing on reducing traffic accidents and saving the lives of citizens in the process; (3) and a more complex matter that is private, but potentially life-changing.
 
Next week I have a meeting in the conference room of the CEO of Skagit Valley Hospital with three doctors and the Patient Relations contact, who is not the "brightest bulb in the string."  Instead of being intimidated by being out-numbered, my plan is to walk in with my cane, give them a simple 2-page hand-out (I don't "do" power point), and then take my shoes and sox off at just the right moment.  (The issue is with a foot doctor who made some mistakes.)
 
My Mitigation Hearing with the Municipal Court of Seattle is set for March 15, but can be handled via mail between now and then.  They provided me with part of a blank page with lines, designed for writing in long-hand.  I'm going to show it to the Chief of Police of Burlington to get his "experienced" opinion on the wisdom of attaching a whole printed Word document or limiting my defense to the critical parts that can be Scotch taped or glued into the space provided.  I met him last week.  He's very cool.
 
The last private issue is a tough one that will not ever be resolved, with much sadness on the part of everyone involved.  it is related to what I call being "REAL" which will take at least a whole blog post to explain.  (Gluttie made the case for being "real" as well as gluten-free.  A busy young woman who understands much more than anyone gives her credit for!  Perhaps now people will listen to her with the respect she deserves.)  Although being "real" has been a bitch so far.
 
My friend and indispensable bunny/KB sitter, Laura, wants to save all the homeless rabbits in this county, but has to accept that she cannot possibly keep up with that demographic segment of the animal world.  I want to fix all the things I interpret as "wrong" or "needing my help" but those aspects of our society are more prolific than rabbits!
 
There is only so much my friend and I can do. We must both find some medium ground where we feel good about our efforts and accept we can only do so much.  It's a "...give me the wisdom to know the difference ..." sort of thing.
 
The hard part of having a mental health issue and finally finding the medication and dose that is perfect (I take 10 mg. of Lexapro daily) ... is that my "Reality" or view of the world has changed.  But my family and friends think that any of the things between us that have changed are because I'm drugged or mentally unstable.
 
Here's two easy analogies:  Let's take the hypothetical long-time married couple George and Martha.  
 
George writes lists in tiny, tiny print that only he can decipher.  Martha needs large pieces of paper so there is room to write and organize the information.  George operates in "his reality" and Martha in "hers."  Neither is right or wrong; they are simply different and those differences need to be respected by both of them. 
 
When they are together in the car and stop at the bottom of the hill to get the mail, George will turn off the car before opening the door and walking over to the mailbox.  Martha thinks he's nuts, because she simply puts the car in Park, opens the door, walks over to the mailbox, then puts the car in Drive and heads up the hill to their garage.  In this case, Martha, especially, needs to keep quiet and respect George's need or preference to turn the car off, lest it move while on level ground in "Park."  I hope you get the picture.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg for any two people -- whether married or partners or friends or related somehow.  Show respect; keep quiet.  How hard is that so long as it's not some life-threatening situation?
 
So much for George and Martha; let's move on about what friends and family do.
 
Worse yet, they believe I can control all of my actions and everything I say.  But I cannot!  I could not when I was stuck in the dark pit of depression, and I cannot now that I have returned to HIGH (but not as high, thankfully, as I was before getting help and finding Lexapro).
 
My mood has stabilized perfectly, so I can write, and do my best to seek justice when I find injustice.  And I do try not to offend anyone with what I say or write or do.  But, at times, I get frustrated and I make mistakes.  I'm not "crazy" but I'm not perfect either.
 
I wear three bracelets on my left wrist to remind me to implement the advice my doctor gave me:  "Enjoy your Ebullience, don't flaunt it."  (the bracelets are my way of implementing "tie a string around your finger" to remind you of something important).  What the doctor meant:  don't talk too fast, be sure to listen, don't act to happy or enthusiastic, and my favorite ... don't be disrespectful. This last one is tricky, and so far it's been a lose-lose for me.  I'm wearing down, but have no plans to ever give up.  And I'm terribly tenacious; always have been; always will be.
 
There is a pretty purple "jeweled" flower ring on my right index finger because my daughter said, "Mom, you need to filter what you say."  So I will try harder yet, and got the ring as a reminder.
 
Then the other daughter told me, "Your grandson thinks you don't love him because you are critical."  I felt terrible, apologized to him, told him I did indeed love him, and asked for and received his forgiveness.  Then I bought a sparkly 2-ring set to wear on my left index finger to remind me to try harder to be patient with big people and little people who annoy me. 
 
I paid Macy's Jewelry a wad over a one-week period, and have run out of fingers to adorn in order to remind me to try harder when I'm already trying as hard as I can.  I'm grateful that at least I was aware enough in the beginning to realize I needed to try.  I could not simply be grateful that I can write again and feel so happy.
 
Oddly enough, I have found empathy and understanding from unexpected sources:  two very special grand daughters, who both wrote me beautiful, loving emails.  I printed them and read them before I go to bed each night.  Their moms would be so proud of both of them for the compassion they extended to Grandma "who is having some serious mental health issues right now." Somehow the kids "get me" whereas their moms don't.  Ah ... one of the amazing mysteries of life.
 
I say "I'm sorry" and "I respect your feelings / beliefs / opinions / position" (whatever suits the situation)" so many times, I absolutely cringe inside hearing those words.  But a quick apology diffuses the situation and avoids confrontation.  Confrontation takes energy, and I'm trying to save my energy to act more "normal" in people's eyes, to write, and to learn how to play this beautiful harp that I haven't had time to touch since the first day it arrived.
 
You cannot imagine the absolute joy I derive from writing, including spending hours searching for the "perfect" picture to insert in the text on a piece written for Skagit Leeks.  And I suspect it will be similar to playing my harp.  Both are solitary activities, done in peace, simply savoring the warm glow of how good it feels to create and relax and not have to be on my guard.
 
It is such a lonely feeling when no one understands what's going on with you when you're bi-polar on medication; or when you're suffering from clinical depression (which is not sadness) and taking medication.  You're not the same person you used to be before this thing "happened to you" and you sough help from doctors who prescribed meds.
 
It seemed a better alternative than suicide or shock therapy or having a lobotomy.  And it is a better alternative.  Sometimes I wish I lived by myself somewhere safe, in peace, with Kitty Boy and my sweet bunnies, doing what makes me happy without being bombarded with confrontations and criticism from my family and friends.
 
A computer would be a must, but perhaps there could be no phone service, and the location would be remote and secret.  (Now I sound like Howard Hughes, don't I?  Except my nails are short and I would not have big burly guys posted outside my front door.)
 
I knew I was in trouble shortly after my ability to write spontaneously returned after two years.  Being able to write brought me such joy, but brought others concern:  oh-oh, she's not brain-dead, what might she conjure up in her imagination?
 
Then, just in time, a wise person appeared.  Actually I wrote to her and she responded.  She is someone I respect and admire, who happens to have a Master's Degree in Psychology.  She has also spent the last ten years dealing with a loved one with a unique and difficult physical and mental health issue. An issue that is unknown to most doctors and experts and 99.9% of the general population.  My problems are a "walk in the park" compared to hers.
 
This Wise Woman told me, "You need help dealing with the change in your 'Reality.'  And you need to understand that change for you affects the lives of everyone in your circle of family and friends.  It has caused ripples in all of their lives like a pebble tossed into a calm pond causes ripples on the surface.  Or, in my case at times -- and others as well, I'm sure -- it's as if someone threw a huge boulder into a lake whose surface was as smooth as glass, and is now covered with white caps with no let-up in sight."  (she didn't use those exact words, but you get gist of her message)
 
Once I finally "heard" what she was telling me, she went on to say, "You can't help the people around you; you can't change their reality to be more compatible with yours.  Just help yourself by finding a LMHC you can relate to and trust.  Good luck."
 
LMHC?  "What's an LMHC?" I asked her.
 
"Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  They normally have Master's Degrees in Psychology and have been trained to help people with issues like yours who are taking brain altering medications.  They will understand.  They will tell you that you are not crazy; that you're a good person; that you're having a hard time; that it's ok that no one understands you."
 
Moments later the Internet revealed one of these people in my area, who just so happens to live in a place I love.  After calling, I got an appointment for the very next week.  It was like taking a heavy pack off my back because I "knew" she was the right one.  And indeed she was!
 
Right away it was clear that she understood ME.  Not only my issues, but also my mis-trust of medical people and my reluctance to waste money I don't have by hashing over a life I've already lived.  Especially my life.  It's been a doozey!  I wanted help with what's happening today; not what happened when I was five or 40 years ago.
 
We reached an agreement, even on the fee.  LMHCs can help the bazillions of people in this country who struggle with the terrifying side-effects of anti-depressant drugs, but they can't prescribe the drugs themselves.  So Medicare does not cover the cost of the help provided by the LMHC.  It's yet another quirk in the system like not paying for hearing aids for the masses over the age of 65 who are deaf as a post without those tiny electronic wonders that can cost $3,000 to $8,000 or more.
 
There was no desire on my part to take on Medicare at this point in time, and she said once-a-week sessions will be the best.  They are expensive.  But I'm worth it.  The Husband is not so sure.  Already I recognize that is not "my" problem; it is "his" problem.  Whew!  My plate is full already.
 
When the appointment ended, I hugged her and cried.  Now there were 2 people who understood me:  the one who recommend I see the LMHC and the counselor I found.  Thank the goddess!  That is 2 more than I had a month ago.  And maybe one day there will be 3 or even 4.
 
Maybe one day, in the far distant future, my family will understand and be kinder and more patient with me.  And my friends will also.  At least now I have hope this will happen.
 
The strangest experience is finding yourself in the place where you are happy, grateful for every moment of every day, have a creative gift that came back (like writing or painting or whatever), your mind is working in top form, you're not feeling "brain-dead" anymore ... and yet every single person in your circle of family and friends doesn't understand you.
 
They say, "Oh, we're so glad you're back!"  But well-intentioned as they are, they don't realize they don't know who this person is who is now "back."  They don't know how this person struggles to not say the wrong thing, or to expect something from one of them.  Whether the "expectation" if for understanding, patience, help with something, or just to listen and then re-assure me the next day that
"Yes I heard what you said.  Is there some way I can help you with what you shared" ... without being asked?
 
It's less of a lonely place now, though, because now I have two people in my life who do understand, and I don't even care that I have to pay one of them to do so.  It is worth it just to hear those words:  "I understand you, Dorothy, you're not crazy, you don't need to be drugged more than you are, and I promise you will be okay."
 
Better Days are here ... sort of ... but I am not yet able to say:
 
"No more tears left to hide.
 We have made it through a long and lonely night."
 
There are many tears yet to come, and we have just begun our journey to make it through this long and lonely night.
 
 
 


4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing. I've dealt with major depression issues most of my life, and have several family members with bipolar (my daughter is on lexapro)..It's so hard, isn't it? But accepting yourself is a big step, and it sounds like you are there.. Sounds like we are opposites on the filter issue. I have tended to filter so much that it's almost impossible to make contact with anyone. If I could send you some filter, I would! I know you get lots of bunny love, but Jensen and Buttercup send extra nose bonks. Hang in there.

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  2. We share a few physical and mental things. (Me so eloquent.)

    I turned into a hermit because I was tired of dealing with people who didn't understand introvert me. Of course, it was an introvert me who was bouncing from anti-depressant to anti-depressant and none of them working, dealing with a douche bag of a GP who was making me suicidal (it was a near thing), and a mental health system that is barse ackwards.

    I FINALLY got to see a psychiatrist instead of my very angry/antagonistic/judgmental counsellor (won't her bosses be getting a hell of a letter from me) and within 20 minutes he said "You're not major depressive, you're bipolar. You've been misdiagnosed for 22 years. I'm glad you're still here." He changed my drugs and suddenly .. the whole world changed. Getting OFF both anti-deppresants made my life so much better.

    I started group (it was part of getting to see a psychiatrist.) and y'know, I thought it'd be hokey and pointless and stupid. Well, the stuff my counsellor hands out is pretty useless, but sitting in a room with 7 other people who've been up and down this road with me has helped a lot more than I thought it would. I guess the nicest thing to know is you're not alone.

    So.

    You're not alone. Not by a long shot. There's a lot of us with brain chemicals that make us "not quite right" and sometimes it takes a while to find the "what makes us right" .. or as I like to think, "right enough." because we still want to be us.

    And sitting on the floor having completely non-sensical conversations with furry creatures is remarkably theurapudic.

    You're a strong, awesome, lady. Stick it to the parking guys in Seattle. They need the spanking!

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  3. My son is bi-polar and my daughter suffers from depression and panic attacks and anxiety. Life is not easy. Medication and counseling help. Don't stop.

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