I’m in Trouble…..

I was browsing this morning through selections at my local bookstore and I came across a new book by author Annalee Newitz. As I stared at the title, all I could think was,

“I’m in trouble. Serious trouble”.

The book is about “How humans will survive a mass extinction”. But there is a word in the title that will prohibit me from surviving any such thing, because the title alludes that I will have to rely on my memory to do so. For those of you who have also gone through ECT, you’ll know why:

The name of the book is,
“Scatter, Adapt and REMEMBER”.

I’m so screwed.

Match This (take 2……)

Note to readers:  I originally published this post last month, but I felt it bears repeating as yet another friend has suggested I start dating……  So here it is, again:

I’ve been separated from my husband for nearly one year. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to look into dating. Meet someone nice, they tell me. Go on a date, they tell me. Let someone treat you to dinner or a movie, they tell me.

True, I’m desperately lonely. But I’ve sworn to myself that I will never date. The thought is appalling to me. Besides – how would someone like me find anyone to go out with? How on earth would I meet anyone?

A dating website, I am told.

Seriously? And what would my ad look like? Here is my attempt at my online dating profile:

“Tall, blonde, bipolar mother of three in her early 40’s seeking the companionship of a man who enjoys long walks through the halls of the ECT department, unexpected violent outbursts and lengthy bouts of depression. She has a terrible memory as a result of electricity-induced seizures. She hates loud, repetitive noises and traffic. She loves speaking rapidly and interrupting often. He should know that the applicant’s first marriage ended indirectly as a result of her disorder, and must be willing to tolerate what could be indiscretions of various kinds should the applicant lapse into mania. He should also know that she is still hopelessly in love with her husband.”

Yep, I’m a real catch.

“Pure Happiness”

I take a lot of pictures, mostly of my children.  I do it partly because I am afraid that my ECT will erase precious memories of my three babies that I won’t ever get back.  And I do it partly because I think my kids are so darned cute…..

And because I take so many photographs, I spend a lot of time looking at them on my computer.  Again, I find that they help me see parts of my past that I wouldn’t otherwise recall.  Typically, there are few pictures of me amongst the thousands of my children and the rest of my family.  But while on vacation, I asked the waiter at the restaurant where my children and I were celebrating with Easter dinner if he would please snap a quick picture of the four of us.  It would be the first photographic “documentation” of my new family dynamic since separating from my husband nearly a year ago.  When I downloaded the pictures today, I was pleased to see that the picture of my foursome came out really well.  So well, in fact, I made it my Facebook profile picture.  And within a short amount of time, the feedback on that picture was so positive.  I received compliments I hadn’t heard in months – maybe even years.  The one compliment that really hit me was, “Pure happiness on all your faces!”  And as I looked again at the photograph, I realized my friend was right – all four of us had huge, happy smiles.  “Pure Happiness”.

After hearing such surprising input regarding one small Easter family photo, I started scrolling through the rest of my digital pictures on the computer.  I realized that I could plot my (un)happiness during the last five years just from whether or not I was smiling in a picture.  And, sadly, there are not a lot of smiles on my face.  In fact, there is not one smiling “me” in any pictures taken on any holiday for the last three years.  Sure, there are forced pleasantries and more smirks than I could count, but I’m talking about REAL smiles.  You know, the ones your parents begged to document after your $2000 orthodontist work was completed in your teens?  The REAL smiles involve teeth.  Big, happy, toothy smiles.  And I realized that those smiles and my face didn’t coexist in more than about a dozen pictures taken in recent history.

Pathetic.

Too quickly I recognized that my manic episodes (which are never the euphoric, ecstatic kind but instead the violent, angry kind) and my deep depressions were all too obvious in my iPhoto compilations.  I could actually tell when in my life I had been “normal”, and sadly that wasn’t very often in recent history.  The few times I was photographed with a smile of “pure happiness” typically coincided with the births of my children, romantic getaways with my husband, time spent with my dad or with lifelong friends, and visits to my childhood home with my children.  There are the pictures taken during last spring break when my husband and I brought our children to Santa Barbara to see where we met, attended college, worked together and got married.  “Pure Happiness” smiles on my face in every shot.

I place tremendous value on those pictures – they document a time in my history when I was truly happy, when I had not a care in the world.  It is my hope that I will be able to share more and more of those “pure happiness” pictures with my family and friends in the near future.  I want to believe that is the “real me”, the smiling woman in the photograph who recognizes that despite her heartbreak, her mental illness, and the other difficulties life has thrown her way, life is good.  Life will be good.  I just have to be patient and work hard and take each day one at a time.  I have decided today that I am going to achieve “pure happiness”.

It just might take a little while, so bear with me.

Curse or convenience?

I think I’ve mentioned that I undergo ECT to battle my bipolar disease.  I may have also mentioned that it has been utterly devastating to my memory.  The year 2011 is, for the most part, lost to me completely, and much of 2012 is a blur.  I keep hearing from Dr. Ted Danson (see my other ECT posts…..) that I will likely eventually regain a good portion of what has been “temporarily” lost, but I still have my doubts.

I’ve come to realize that my short-term memory loss can be a real curse.  I often look at photos on my computer in the hope of “refreshing” my memories, but it only makes me feel like another person took those pictures because there are so many faces and places and events that seem like they must have happened to someone else.  I often find myself repeating certain things to my family, and my kids are always quick to point out, “Mooooommmmm, you already TOLD US THAT!  53 times!!!!”  It’s annoying to them, and aggravating to me, because I honestly don’t remember telling them even once.

Memory loss is incredibly embarrassing, as well.  “Hey, do you remember when our families went canoeing on the river?”  (Nope)    “Hi, nice to see you again.  We met last summer”.  (No, sorry, I’ve never seen you before)    “Do you remember how to get to that street faire we went to a couple of months ago?”  (Absolutely no clue)    “How can you not remember that we share a birthday?  We celebrated two years in a row together!”  (oops?)  “What’s the name of that family that moved in down the street last summer?”  (a new family moved in?).    “Where did you get that dress you wore to your cousin’s wedding?”  (my cousin got married?)

Of course, there is the “up” side to memory loss.  It can be convenient.  If I’m really lucky, I forget things like how sick I was following my last ECT session.  Or when my teenage daughter told me I promised to take her to a particular R-rated movie, I can cite my poor memory and tell her, “There is no way I would ever have agreed to that”.  If I forget to show up to an appointment or forget to sign the permission slip for my child to go to the field trip or forget that there is a field trip, most people are pretty forgiving because severe memory loss has been such a huge part of my life for nearly two years.  Sadly, people are getting used to it as being part of who I am.  Sadly, I am getting used to it as being part of who I am.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to forget the things that bring me the most emotional pain.  I’d love to forget that my dad died while I watched.  I wish I could forget that my husband has left me, and why.  I would like to not remember all of the terrible behavior I exhibited when I was at my sickest.  I would love to forget some of the horrible things I’ve witnessed.  I pray to forget much of my recent past.  If I’m going to be cursed with memory loss, why can’t I at least get to decide what I remember and what I don’t?

And I could easily make memory loss more of a convenience than it occasionally is.  I could lie about having forgotten this or that.  I could use it as an excuse.  But truthfully, I’m afraid that if I take advantage of my faulty memory, it will come back to bite me in the ass.  Kind of like when my mom would say, “Don’t make that face; it might stick like that”.  I could so easily lie my way out of many situations and blame it on my ECT-induced memory loss.  But with my luck, it would then become the truth.  And I can’t bear losing any more memories, even the bad ones.

So, chaos or curse?  I’m leaning heavily toward curse.  But I have my sights set on the day when I wake up to find an old memory has returned to my scrambled brain.  I look forward to regaining my happy memories, one by one, regardless of how much time it takes.

In the meantime, I’m going to remain optimistic.  For as long as I can remember what “optimistic” means.

 

“Unquiet”

I was recently prompted to re-read a wonderful memoir after being reminded of it by a fellow blogger (thank you, http://writingforfoodinindy.wordpress.com).  I had actually read this book a few years ago, but my memory of it was lost among so many other pieces of my short-term past as a result of ECT.  You might see me referring to it frequently in the future, because it’s an honestly written account of Kay Redfield Jamison’s life with bipolar disorder:  “An Unquiet Mind:  A Memoir or Moods and Madness”.  There are few better ways to describe how my mind often feels than “unquiet”.

When I looked up a definition of “unquiet”, this is what I found:

Adjective:  1. Not inclined to be quiet or inactive; restless.   2.  Uneasy; anxious

Synonyms:  restless – anxious – uneasy – troubled – restive

Huh.  When I think of words people used to describe me when I was a young adult, I recall “anxious” and “troubled”.  I remember hearing “restless”.  (I’ve not actually ever heard of the word “restive”, but I’m sure it would have applied…..).  And “not inclined to be quiet”?  Ha!  Most definitely, then and now.

If you’ve not read this book, I’d like to encourage you to do so.  Sometimes memoirs are such downers, but Ms. Jamison allowed me to occasionally giggle at being able to relate to her honest accounts of life with this crippling mood disorder.  And while being manic-depressive is certainly no laughing matter, it’s important for me to laugh at myself once in a while.  I’m glad to be reminded that I’m not the only one out there who feels this way.  Unquiet.

Again, thank you to “IndyTony” at WordPress for bringing Ms. Jamison back into my life.

Match this

Note to readers:  I originally published this post last month, but I felt it bears repeating as yet another friend has suggested I start dating……  So here it is, again:

 

I’ve been separated from my husband for nearly one year. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to look into dating. Meet someone nice, they tell me. Go on a date, they tell me. Let someone treat you to dinner or a movie, they tell me.

True, I’m desperately lonely. But I’ve sworn to myself that I will never date. The thought is appalling to me. Besides – how would someone like me find anyone to go out with? How on earth would I meet anyone?

A dating website, I am told.

Seriously? And what would my ad look like? Here is my attempt at my online dating profile:

“Tall, blonde, bipolar mother of three in her early 40’s seeking the companionship of a man who enjoys long walks through the halls of the ECT department, unexpected violent outbursts and lengthy bouts of depression. She has a terrible memory as a result of electricity-induced seizures. She hates loud, repetitive noises and traffic. She loves speaking rapidly and interrupting often. He should know that the applicant’s first marriage ended indirectly as a result of her disorder, and must be willing to tolerate what could be indiscretions of various kinds should the applicant lapse into mania. He should also know that she is still hopelessly in love with her husband.”

Yep, I’m a real catch.

My manic perceptions

I am a rather ordinary-looking woman in my early 40s. I am of average intelligence, and possess no particularly extraordinary skills or talents. I have confidence in my abilities as a mother, and I used to believe in myself as a wife. I consider myself a pleasant person and a decent friend. And when I am calm, when I am “myself”, I go about my days feeling nothing more.

But when I am manic, I am the most beautiful woman in town. I’m like a Breck Girl, shiny hair and glowing skin. I check my gorgeous reflection in the mirror. Often. My makeup is flawless. I push my cart through the grocery store keenly aware that everyone notices me, thinking to themselves how lovely I am. And smart. My God, I am SO smart. People who I grace with my presence are in awe of my intelligence, and clamor to be close to me. I grow weary and bored with the dull conversations of others. They are all so annoying and they test my patience. In fact, so many people seem like idiots or morons. I sing along to songs on the radio wondering why nobody in the music business has discovered me yet because my voice is spectacular. I am an exceptional musician, banging furiously at the keys of my piano making few or no errors. I gesture often with my left hand, making sure my wedding band is visible to the scores of men, both young and old, who are looking for it. Sorry boys, I’m spoken for. I have boundless energy, and I move everywhere very quickly. I even drive fast, usually too fast. Everything I cook is a culinary masterpiece, everything I create is a true work of art. I typically spend a lot of money during my mania, but it doesn’t matter – my husband won’t mind because I can do no wrong. My children are chips off the old block – lovely, brilliant, smart, talented. And my husband adores me. He is proud to show me off, and brags about me constantly. He is lucky to have me. We are a gorgeous couple. I feel slim and classy and beautifully dressed. People want to be just like me.

And then the cycle ends, and I crash.

And I usually crash pretty hard.

And when I finally get back onto my feet, I’m afraid to catch sight of my reflection in the mirror because I can’t bear to see the ugly woman looking back at me. The ugly, stupid, frumpy and unremarkable woman staring at me with dead eyes. And then I remember that I am sick. That I am mentally ill. And I remember I’m not really any of those things I’d thought myself to be just a few hours earlier. And I crawl exhausted into my lonely bed, remembering that my husband has left me and my children are afraid of me and my mother is confused by me and my friends are tired of me. And if I have a teeny bit of that previous energy left, I use it to cry myself into a solitary sleep. But sometimes I am too tired even to cry.

If I’m lucky, I emerge from that bed without having lost too much time. If I’m luckier, my frequent memory loss that is a result of ECT will override the selfish, self-centered previous couple of days and I’ll have no recollection of my thwarted perceptions of myself. My haughty, embarrassing behavior.

If I’m lucky, I will be able to look at myself in the mirror and see a rather ordinary-looking woman in her early 40s, of average intelligence who possesses no particularly extraordinary skills or talents. That woman will have confidence in her abilities as a mother, and remember with melancholy that she used to be a good wife. And she will pray that many, many weeks will pass before she sees anyone else in that reflection.

Remember this?

I think I’ve mentioned that ECT screws with my memory. In fact, in my case it has totally destroyed it. Of course, I strongly believe that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience associated with loss of short-term memory, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Last year, during a visit to my General Practitioner, I had to provide an update of all medications I was currently taking, as the list had changed drastically since starting ECT and seeing her last. She was entering my changes into her laptop and asked,

“Are you still taking Aricept”?

I replied that I had no idea what Aricept was, but I knew for certain I wasn’t taking it. I didn’t remember ever having taken it.

She was nearly hysterical with laughter, and because I automatically assumed she was laughing at me, I was immediately offended. “What the hell?”, I asked her.

“You can’t remember that you were taking Aricept”.

“So what? I don’t remember a lot these days…..”, I snarled.

“Your ECT doctor gave you Aricept to help with your memory. It’s commonly prescribed for Alzheimer’s patients”.

Oh. OK. That’s pretty funny.

These boots are made for walking…..

I have a really great pair of boots. Gorgeous. And I get compliments every time I wear them. They are black suede cowgirl boots with a delicate silver embroidered design that extends from toe to knee, and I wear them often. But there is an interesting story behind their purchase, and I feel compelled to share that story with anyone who compliments me on my footwear.

I think I’ve mentioned that I rarely sleep. Just one of those lovely symptoms of bipolar disorder for many people. I would watch with envy as my husband slumbered happily next to me, while I tossed and turned miserably, wishing I could fall asleep if even for just a few hours. Sometimes I would go all night without a wink. Other nights, I might watch the clock and find that an hour or two had passed since the last time I looked, and those nights I would alternate between feeling delighted that I’d been blessed with at least those two hours of happy sleep, and feeling cheated because it had only been such a short time.

During my sleepless nights, I was unbelievably productive when I wasn’t too ticked off at myself for not being able to sleep. Some nights I would simply lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. Other nights, when I was manic, I would never go to bed to begin with and stay up cleaning or reading or sewing Halloween costumes, organizing my Tupperware cupboard or dusting the crystal in my china cabinet that nobody ever uses. I baked in the middle of the night, and caught up on a lot of Showtime series. But I didn’t sleep. And I was useless in the daytime, when my husband and three children needed me. Useless. I crashed. And I crashed hard.

I tried the holistic approach. I tried hypnotherapy and yoga. I tried chamomile tea and relaxing lavender bubble baths. I tried listening to relaxation CDs. Nothing worked. But you have to remember that when you are bipolar, it’s not a matter of being tired or not. I was exhausted. But my brain would not shut up. It would not shut off. And when your brain is spinning and talking and stimulated, sleep is simply not in the cards. Unless you forced the issue with medications.

So, about 6 or 7 years ago, I decided enough was enough and I asked my doctor for a sleep aid. I had tried over-the-counter assistance, to no avail. I had already eliminated caffeine completely from my lifestyle, and stopped doing anything that might stimulate my brain after 7 or 8pm. No reading or watching TV, no talking on the phone. I tried to ease myself into sleep, and nothing worked. So I asked my doctor to bring out the big guns.

I tried a few different medications. Lunesta allowed me to sleep quietly for a few hours, but it wasn’t enough. And once I had a taste for a few hours of unconscious rest, I wanted more. A good night’s sleep became a goal I intended to attain. I’ve never actually done hard drugs, but I started to liken it to crack – highly addictive and something I couldn’t live without. I think that Sonata didn’t work for me because of the name – seriously! I couldn’t rely on sleep from something that sounded like it should be part of my daughter’s violin recital.

So that left me with Ambien.

I had heard stories about Ambien. You’ve heard them, too: people who gained 30lbs after taking it because they would get up in the middle of the night and make and eat manicotti every night for three months. Then there were the people who would crash their cars at 3am and blame it on Ambien. Yeah, right. A drug can make you sooooo sleepy that you’re completely unaware of what you’re doing in the middle of the night?

Yep. That’s how I got the boots.

About a month after starting Ambien (which, by the way, was the most effective sleep aid I’d ever tried – I was sleeping like a baby and a good night’s sleep is key to maintaining my relative sanity), I received a delivery of a great big box from Nordstrom. My favorite store that I never shop at because everything is always so expensive. The box was addressed to me and I thought maybe my sweet husband had sent me a “just because” gift. I ripped open the packaging to find three – THREE – boxes of cowgirl boots. All my exact size, all my exact style.

They were beautiful. And they were mine.

Wait, no they weren’t. I noticed the envelope amid all the boxes. I thought it might be a card enclosure from my hubby, telling me how desperately he loved me and was proving it through the purchase of boots. I had already started thinking of ways I would thank him when he returned home after work that night. But the envelope contained the receipt. I thought, how lame of Nordstrom to include the receipt in a gift, but this was no gift. This was the result of a 2:47am online spree a few days earlier courtesy of yours truly. Three pair of boots, to the tune of more than $650. I HAD GONE SHOPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLIPPING NIGHT!!!!! And I remembered NONE of it.

I was mortified – what else had I done unwittingly in the middle of the night? My car was still in one piece and I hadn’t gained any weight, but I couldn’t believe I was one of those people I had laughed at. And even worse, I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to be able to keep the boots.

So I returned two pair. I thought I’d keep the third pair as a constant reminder of how I reacted to Ambien. OK, that’s not true….. I kept them because they were FABULOUS.

And now I’m back to lots of not sleeping. It’s less dangerous. And less expensive.