Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bipolar Depression

I believe that the most difficult thing for me, at first, was learning how to "spot" my symptoms after I found Recovery. Before Recovery, everything was so muddled up in my mind that I could never identify just what was going on. I only knew that I was "different" from all the other kids (especially in high school.) No one else ever seemed to be as alienated from the others as I was. No one could figure out (any more than I could) why I was happy as a lark at times and then again become so depressed that I couldn't function. My brain seemed to be in a state of suspended animation at those times. It was hard to think, and even things like familiar phone numbers of close friends completely flew out of my mind. Once when that happened, my mother said to me, "Don't tell me you're getting stupid!" My mother also embarrassed me in front of the rest of my dysfunctional family at the tender age of 14 when she exclaimed that I had a moustache! OK, it was peach fuzz there on my upper lip, but having dark brown hair did not help the situation. Remarks like that from loved ones only made the illness harder to bear.

My parents divorced and I lived with my grandmother, who would say quite often that she was "too old to have a kid around." (She really was, being in her 70's. My mother worked for the government in St Paul and other towns that were fairly nearby. She came home on weekends and holidays. I also had an aunt and two uncles ho felt it their responsibility to be my judge and jury.

I really believed that I had no hope of ever living a "normal" life. Imagine how surprised and relieved I was to discover during my first hospitalization years later, that bipolar disorder stems from a chemical imbalance. True, it went untreated for such a long period of time that behavioral and other problems were inevitable. It is also genetic; both my father and mother had periods of depression. My father took care of his with a bottle of booze (or so he thought); it only made him more depressed. My mother's took the form of almost constant fatigue. The living room couch was the first comfortable place she would find to hide herself in, even after she had only gotten out of bed a short time before. Actually, sometimes she never bothered to get out of her robe. Sounds a lot like my own habits and attitudes. It was during those times that I developed the self-consciousness that led to what I now know as "fearful temper." I always felt embarrassed because of how I "acted," intimidated and really verbally abused by the very people I thought were supposed to love and care about me.

Despite those tumultuous years, the stress at home and all the times I missed classes, I did graduate from high school, mostly because I excelled in the subjects I loved (English, spelling, grammar - and of course I could type like a demon on those old manual typewriters, especially when I was in a manic phase) Luckily, shorthand came easy for me too, and as a result I've had excellent jobs throughout my life. After I found Recovery, I finally learned that there is no hopeless case.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bipolar Depression

After going through life for so long without knowing what on earth was wrong with me, when I was diagnosed as manic-depressive (somehow a clearer description of the illness than "bipolar"), it was not only a relief but I finally was able to get the proper care. I had a lot of good doctors, and some not-so-good. Further down the line when I mentioned Recovery to one of them, he actually said, "Well, it helps some people." Chalk that up to the simple fact that he was "unlearned," because by then I knew better. All the hospitalizations (a lot before Recovery; after Recovery far fact, they became more like "tune-ups"); all the various meds; all the sessions with psychiatrists and counselors - none of that helped me a fraction of how my Recovery meetings and everything that goes with them has. I know I can't toss my pills, nor the doctor who prescribes them because they help keep me on an even keel. My mind no longer jumps from one subject to another during the manic phases and my depressions have indeed become just "lowered feelings." I still wake up some mornings with the urge to pull the covers over my head. That was my unfortunate habit for so many years; and staying there until mid-afternoon happened all too frequently, too. Now I give myself a short pep talk, like "Yes, you can do it," (not out loud or I'd probably find myself sitting in the hospital again), which is simply changing my thoughts from insecure to secure; gently push my favorite cat who loves to bunk with me to the floor; make the bed so I have less inclination to jump back in (and ENDORSE); take a short walk into the kitchen for a tall drink of water (one of my morning pills makes my mouth so-o-o dry) (and ENDORSE); enjoy a shower (and ENDORSE); get dressed immediately (another trick of mine, because if I stay in my warm fuzzy robe, I'm going to want to lay right back down in that bed - and who knows whether or not the mailman or someone else might come to the door. Actually, it's ME I'm pleasing. I just feel more alert and ready for whatever comes along when I'm not in my night clothes. For all of those part acts, I never stop endorsing, every day. I need that feeling of self-esteem. I live with my daughter and her three girls, and each one of them in their own way make me feel special, but what good would that do me if I myself felt that "I never do anything right," "I'm such a loser," and all those other negative thoughts that used to plague me? I didn't like myself at all, before I embraced Recovery. Now, all my friends, both at traditional and online meetings let me know in no uncertain terms that I am a worthwhile person. How can I argue with them?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bipolar Depression

I took the advice of “Dear Abby” and my boss and found a meeting near where we lived at the time.  I attended regularly, but only in body.  My folks had convinced me that I did not have a mental or emotional problem; what I suffered from was physical  (A hard notion to drop, after so many years.)  My husband went with me, too, for the first few meetings and picked up the Recovery language  and tools well enough to “prompt” me when I needed it.  Of course, a lot of times that did not sit well with me at all; in fact, I resented it instead of being grateful for the real encouragement he was giving me.

I attended meeting after meeting, and our leader was one of the best, but I kept right on sabotaging.  It took a few years before I finally decided that if I was going to take the time to go to meetings and read the literature, I might just as well put my whole heart into the Method.  Then, and only then , is when my condition began to improve. Before that, I was still in and out of hospitals like a rubber ball.

We moved during that time and I was fortunate enough to find another good meeting nearby.  I became the Assistant Leader (which helped my own progress immensely), which I was for six years.  Then our leader decided to retire from Recovery because of the pressures of business and home, and I became the leader.  I wish I could say I was a good leader, but I made some bad mistakes.  Probably the worst was while giving examples, I would tell about the most awful things going on at home. Like the fact that our two sons were on drugs, skipping school - not trivialities, at all.  It had been a very large meeting, but no one likes to listen to personal problems of that nature and soon our membership started to decline.  In my own defense, however, a lot of our members were up in age and simply retired to a warmer climate, went into nursing homes, or became incapacitated.

I continued leading that meeting for a period of six years.  I had no Assistant Leader during those six years, although a couple of people tried to help. Since I was using my own “Method,” my “followers” didn’t cooperate with them at all.  It finally became difficult for me to commit to being at the meeting every single week.  Age was starting to take its toll, too. 

I became Assistant Leader again when a veteran leader in Recovery took over the meeting.  I might say at this point that I am a much better follower than I am a leader, and it’s good for me to be able to relax and skip a week if I need to.   We are a very good team, and the meeting is thriving again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In the Beginning

I was about 10 years old when I started feeling the "depths of depression" and the accompanying euphoria associated with what was then called "manic-depression."  No one in my small hometown in Wisconsin had any idea what was wrong with me.  In the late 1940's, no one thought of seeing a psychiatrist, even if there might be one nearby (there wasn't).  Besides, "no one in OUR family has THAT type of illness" was the common attitude.  So I wasn't diagnosed until my husband and I came to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1961.  I had then gone through an awful lot of unnecessary suffering, especially with the depressions.  I actually enjoyed the "highs."  I felt on top of the world, could run faster than any other kid, type faster than anyone in my class, and accomplish everything much faster (and better, or so I thought) than anyone else.  At first, I was treated for plain old depression, but after taking a few anti-depressants I soared so high that the doctors soon realized it was a horse of a different color and made an effort to help me get some balance in my life.  Unfortunately, I was in and out of hospitals so often it was like a series of revolving doors.

In 1963, a very astute employer brought in to work a column by Ann Landers.  (When in my depressed moods, I would walk around like I had a cloud pouring rain on me.)  Ann was a solid backer of Recovery, and in the column she answered a letter from a woman suffering from anxiety by telling her about the good things accomplished by an organization named Recovery, Inc.  My mumbled reply to that was, "It's a hope."  "Hope nothing," said my boss.  "Find a meeting and get there!"

To be continued . . .