In which I whine about pills and powerlifting.

When I was a little girl, I would get up in the middle of the night and rearrange my furniture.  I would  take out all the drawers, lay on my back on the floor, and push the dresser across the carpet with my legs.  Then the bed.  I would shove the mattress off and scoot one side, then the other, until I had the whole thing on the other side of the room.  It was deeply satisfying to have control over such big things, and to have a quiet way to exhaust my energy when the whole house was asleep.

When I had heaved and pushed and reordered all I could, I would lay in the dark, staring out into the dark room in it’s new orientation and imagine I was not myself, but some other girl in a far away land.  It didn’t occur to me until very recently that those sleepless nights of heavy lifting, rearranging were likely an early version of mania.

In the years I have spent unmedicated in adulthood, nutrition has been my chief protector against depression, but exercise has rescued me from mania.  Powerlifting is the equivalent of a seven year old moving dressers and double beds. In my most stable years, I was training 4-5 times a week, without fail.  My schedule was incredibly consistent and there were a number of times when I would double up my workouts, add extra weight, or throw in some hill sprints to burn off a mixed state.  Endorphins and hormones worked their magic on my brain chemistry.  It was a potent and effective medication.  And I loved it.

When I injured my back at the end of November (not while lifting), my surgeon assured me that I would be back in the game in just a few months. “Tony Romo had this surgery!” he assured me, again and again.  When the surgery didn’t go as planned and the pain didn’t go away, he stopped saying that.  I found a new surgeon and at our second visit he looked me in the eye and said, “You will never be able to powerlift again.  No more squats, no more deadlifts.  Ever.  You will have to find something else, something gentle.”

“SOMETHING GENTLE?” I screamed silently.  He  must’ve seen the panic on my face because, in classic surgeon style, he turned on his heels and disappeared out the door.  I sat and cried while my daughters ripped the pages out of the stupid magazines.

Now I had three herniated discs, a failed back surgery, chronic pain, three kids under six that I planned to homeschool, two with major health issues, a husband weighing a significant career change, weekly migraines, and a completely untreated, severe mental illness.  Add the chicken pox, stomach viruses, and unending rain and darkness of the previous weeks and you can see why being told I would NEVER be able to do one of the few things that made me a functional human being ever again might be more than I could take.

It’s really no wonder that weeks later I was out of my mind, faced with an ultimatum — the mental hospital or six pills every morning, one at noon, three at bedtime.

I chose the pills, though I have regretted it many times over the last two weeks.

And because one or more of each are somewhere in my body right now, I’ve reached the end of my capacity to focus.  Next up, the drug post.

Adding to my collection.

If age has brought me anything, it’s the wisdom to shop around.  I met a new psychiatrist yesterday and I liked her very much, but she found me even crazier than the first.  
Image 2So it seemed rather timely that this beauty, lost in the mail for quite some time, finally arrived today.  Orange cylinders are the way to go.Image 1

Mania is a mermaid.

Depression is an old friend. I have built my life around its coming and going.  I am rarely surprised by its arrival and I have systems in place for when it stays too long or pushes too hard.  Depression slows me down, gnaws at my hope for any good to happen in life ever again.  Depression, in a sort of quiet, almost tender way, tells me my death would be welcome relief.  We discuss it at length.

Mania drops like an anvil from the sky.  It has no schedule, no rhythm.  It sings it’s siren song and dashes me upon it’s rocks.  It empties my bank account and fills up my notebooks.  It swerves the minivan and sets tarantulas on my writing desk.  It steals my sleep and my friends.  It convinces me that I should run my throat along the rusty edge of the metal roof and pins me down with it’s shiny black beak.

Mania has crushed me more than once, but even so, I wave the red flag in front of the hypomanic bull, begging it to chase me so that I will finally write fearlessly, satisfy all the extroverted requirements of my world effortlessly, give generously, impress everyone, and clean out all the closets.

That magic is real.  That magic is why we don’t take our medicine.  That magic is why normal brained people claim to be jealous and rattle off the list of famous artists, writers, poets with whom I share a diagnosis. That thrill seems harmless, helpful even, until you find out just how many of those magical people stuck their heads in ovens, shoved a gun in their mouth, poured poison down their throats or drowned themselves.  The hypomanic magic gives way to the unrelenting, terrorizing force of mania and lives explode into a million irreconcilable pieces.

It feels easy to write about my back injury and all the ways it disappoints and inconveniences me.  It feels acceptable to be on the prayer list at church every Sunday since the fire shot down my leg, to let them read my name out loud and ask for my healing.  The scar on my back and the leg that drags give me permission to ask for help.  My MRIs and hospital bands and stacks and stacks of medical bills make the pain real and accessible to the world.  Physical pain is universal.  Everyone has a spine, has accidents that break bones, pull tendons, misalign ribs, crush intervertebral discs.  There is no shame in breaking your back.

But this is not the disease that will kill me.

When all else fails.

November was a victory.  Three months into therapy and I had finally decided I would stay among the living.  I mapped out the winter, made resolutions, got excited.

And despite the fact that it almost kills me every year, I survived December in good spirits.  Even with the three herniated discs crushing my sciatic nerve, making it impossible to stand up, hold my children, or use a toilet, I survived.  I took good care of myself.  I slept, I ate perfectly, I followed all the orders.Image 1

And though January stung, with all the plans dashed, I marched on.  I had the surgery. There were complications, and the promises of returning to normal faded with my New Year’s resolutions. But even then, I was still certain I would be okay.  I was impressed with myself, my resilience, my resolve.

I limped along, around and around the block.  I ordered a lightweight stroller to replace the trail running double monstrosity that likely got me into my lumbar mess, and I soaked in sun.  I slept and I ate.  I boiled the bone broth and poured collagen into everything.  I kept my journal and I inked my pens.  I prayed.  I practiced receiving help.  I spoke gently to my children and listened long to my husband, as long as I could.Image 6

It was almost February when things began to crack.  It started with dreams. Big, seemingly profound, possibly prophetic dreams that got me up out of bed to record every detail.  Then there was the thrill of pages flowing right out of my fingers like water from the tap.  My therapist smiled so kindly as I pulled six notebooks from my bag and pieced together the story of my grand epiphany, scrawled across spreads in each one.  She listened all the way to the end, and even read back parts she thought were especially interesting before she handed me the slip of paper with the names and numbers of psychiatrists I needed to see immediately.

“I’m just hypomanic,” I said, “This is good!  I’m finally figuring it all out.  I don’t want to be free -from- Bipolar.  I want to be free within it!” I sang so confident and so convincingly that she let me go.  I came back the next week, decidedly not free.Image 7

She asked me to go to the hospital, to the ER.  I refused and went to the mall. I pushed the stroller round and round for hours, fed my children waffle fries and lemonade.  My husband tracked us down after my therapist called him, warned him not to leave me alone.  The girls and I were choosing new dinner plates at Dillard’s, singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” with mouths full of peanut butter cups.  Everyone was so proud of me, the children for my fantastic, sugar filled ideas, the grown ups for my thoughtful use of emergency gift cards and the removal of myself and children from traffic.  It’s those flashes of “Let’s see how many red lights we can run!” that’ll getcha.  The mall is better.  The fact that I could still see that is why Bryan did not take me immediately to the hospital, but chose to stay with me, and return with me to the mall three more times that week, a sort of controlled burn.

I have Bipolar Disorder.  This is not news.  I always think it’s news.  I always think it’s going to be so scandalous to announce, as if it isn’t the thing this blog is based upon.  I think that telling anyone I am sick will be disappointing, will discredit any ounce of wisdom and wellness I may ever have, undo any bit of the good I’ve done.  As if this is a disease tamed by diligence and strong moral character.  It does not matter how perfectly I eat, how long I sleep, how meticulously I curate my media consumption, sometimes, I just get sick.  Really sick.

Right now I am really sick.  Image 4

Sick enough to sit with psychiatrists for hours.  Sick enough to choose anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers.

Sick enough to say I can’t do my job without a tremendous amount of help.

Sick enough to say it out loud.