Archives for Bipolar

Alcoholism

How my depression nearly killed my sobriety

This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety. Let me say that again. This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety.

I can't believe I just said that because it seems so impossible and sounds so weird coming from my mouth.

17 years.

How the heck did that happen?

One day at a time. I also followed suggestions, especially from a doctor friend who told me about 12 years ago that I was in a major depression and needed antidepressants.
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Bipolar

How to avoid anxiety and loneliness when vacationing alone

Since my last major depression I have created for myself a small, insulated world - completely accessible on a 20-plus-year-old pink bike. My doctors, work, favorite restaurants, grocery store, dog park, gym and ocean are within a five mile radius of my cozy little house.

I like it that way. Driving a car is unnatural for me. It brings back heavy, gray memories of commuting 25 miles from the suburbs of Detroit into the city to work. In March, when dirty snow and a gray, seamless cloud took over the sky, the commute fueled my depression, already acute from months of seasonal-affective disorder.

Life got better after I moved to sunny Florida but depression still smothered me. Death and divorce will do that regardless of the weather. I responded by making my world small. I preferred riding a bike to driving. For awhile I had a scooter but then went back to my beloved bike.

When I ventured out of my bubble for work or vacation, I always had a reason and purpose. Conferences, graduations, reunions and exciting adventures meticulously researched. For years I have travelled with my boyfriend - a free spirit like me. We research what is available to see and do in an area, but make few plans and reservations besides renting a car.

We have slept in the back of an SUV and stayed in five-star hotels. When a mountain stream looked as though it might have some trout in it, we pulled over and fished. No timetable. No plans besides the occasional baseball game at legendary fields - Wrigley in Chicago and the Green Monster at Boston's Fenway.

Vagabond wanderlust.

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Bipolar

The tao of depression for a journalist

About 15 years ago the newspaper where I work sent me to a number-crunching boot camp, where I learned how to analyze data. I became a geek.

As journalism morphed from the old fashioned pen, notebook and musty records at the courthouse to the internet's ability to gather mountains of data in the blink of an eye, my geekiness blossomed. I attended more bootcamps on advanced statistics and mapping.

I added SQL, shapefiles and string functions to my arsenal of reporting skills. My brain changed, too. I could feel it. A portion of my brain that had been slacking was now firing. I thought differently. It's hard to explain.

The analytical side of my brain teamed up with the creative side and my thinking became three-dimensional. The skies parted and I realized that 3+2 and 4+1 both equaled 5. There were suddenly many solutions to the same problem. This revelation came fast and hard and not without severe consequences.
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Bipolar

Pulling the plug on my mania and CrossFit

Mania is a luscious, exhilarating state of mind. All the fatigue and weariness in your bones and soul vaporizes. Your muscles feel bigger and stronger and ready to strike. Your thoughts are clear and brilliant. You are like a racehorse in the gate, wide-eyed and pawing at the ground with your hoof. There is no off-switch.

Medications give you a dimmer but you still have to have the desire and willingness to use it beyond the involuntary waning it induces.  You have to make the decision to turn the dimmer nob further to the left.

That is where I find myself today - turning the nob to the left. I am - of my own volition - taking my life down a notch. I don't want to but I need to. It's hard for me to believe I'm doing this. But years of therapy and the wisdom that comes with 56-years of f#*king up my life have taught me it's time.

I have bipolar II - called hypomania. It's bipolar lite. My ups and downs are not nearly as intense as those poor souls with bipolar I. Of course, fueling my mania with drugs and alcohol for decades enhanced those ups and downs. But I know I am blessed to have this lesser form of bipolar.
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Alcoholism

I have depression and alcoholism. So what?

I find people generally have three reactions when I tell them I am a recovered alcoholic with Bipolar II. They either tell me that they or a loved one has struggled with a mental illness, begin talking about the weather or look at me like I just told them I have a stripper pole in my bedroom - which I don't.

I can pretty much tell how they feel about mental illness by their reaction. When someone responds with their own experience, I listen. It's such a comfort to have someone else willing to share their own experience. As for the weather response, I chime in with my own thoughts about the weather.

The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable discussing mental illness. I figure I've planted a little seed in their mind that it's okay to talk about mental illness. It's their responsibility to let it grow - or die.

The stripper-pole response? Well, that's a little trickier. I take into consideration the context in which the topic arose during our conversation and the person's attitude before I made my revelation.

If they were being a smart-ass about someone else's mental illness or treatment, I throw it right back at them. I've always been what my father called a weisenheimer, (think Curly in the Three Stooges.)
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Alcoholism

Mentally ill now and forever…amen.

Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.

It's been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years.  I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told - an unnatural act for me.

But for the last two weeks I have been under an unconscionable amount of stress. I say "unconscionable" because I allowed it to happen.

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.

Recently, I accepted  an assignment which today I realize I should not  have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature's last two-weeks in session.

I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I'm kinda disallusioned with politics.

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Alcoholism

Free mental health care: Moving beyond the freeloader mentality

Every Saturday morning I refill my pink pill box: S-M-T-W-T-F-S. I have been doing this for years. Three different medications. One of this pill. One of that pill. One-and-a-half of those pills. Every morning and every night, I take my meds. It's like brushing my teeth - just something I do when I wake up and before I go to bed.

My meds. I go weeks without giving a thought to my meds. I just take them. My life is good. No more hopeless black holes or vibrating with energy like a wide-eyed racehorse pawing at the dirt in the starting gate. Nice and steady. I have grown used to it and I really, really like it.

So, when something comes along that has the potential to seriously disrupt my balance, I tend to freak out. Anxiety is the enemy. Drama is the enemy. I have made enough enemies in my life. I don't need to make anymore.

There are three things that scare the hell out of me: Sharks. Being trapped in a car after an accident and cut out with the jaws of life; unemployment. As long as I stay out of the ocean and drive safely, I'm in good shape. Right now, unemployment is beyond my control.

And I like to be in control.
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Alcoholism

Recovering From Alcoholism and Depression

The first step of any 12-step program is to admit you are powerless over something and that your life has become unmanageable.

For many addicts and alcoholics, this is an extraordinarily difficult task even though their addiction has cost them their job, their marriage, a few teeth or most of their body fat. If you are not an addict, you look at these poor souls and wonder, "How can you possibly not see what you addiction has done to you?" "Why haven't you you made that connection?"

A lot of it has to do with denial. They blame their predicament on  anything and everything BUT their addiction: It's the ultimate dog-ate-my-homework excuse on a massive scale. Taking that first step means admitting two things: 1. That you have no control over something. 2. That your life has become unmanageable.

There are some addicts and alcoholics who readily admit that  their lives have become unmanageable, but they refuse to see that the cause of the un-manageability is drugs and/or alcohol.

For others, they readily admit that they cannot stop drugging or drinking but they cannot see that their lives have become unmanageable. I am one of these folks.

I was what is known as a high-functioning alcoholic. I knew I could not stop drinking. I even admitted I was an alcoholic. But I refused to admit that my life had become unmanageable. We are the ones who often drink at home, so no one can see our unmanageability. Those around us high-functioning addicts/alcoholics don't see it either. In fact, they praise us for how well we manage our busy, successful lives.

Although we're very often the biggest pricks you will ever meet, deep down we are very, very concerned about what other people think of us when it comes to our drinking and drug use. We can be ruthless in our drive to prove that we have control and that our lives are manageable.

You live like this long enough and you can become exceedingly good at what you do. Which is why a lot of high-functioning addicts and alcoholics are so successful. We work our asses off - will sacrifice our families, marriages and children - to prove to ourselves that our lives are manageable. The more unmanageable our drug use or drinking becomes, the harder we work at proving to ourselves and others that we have our shit together.

God help the person who threatens our relentless drive to prove that our lives are manageable. We will eat you alive. We can become ruthless, sarcastic, self-righteous bastards in our effort to prove the manageability of our lives. We will intimidate you so you will shut up. If you happen to have depression or bipolar along with your addiction, you are a living hell.

Here's what it looked like for me:

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Alcoholism

How My Alcoholism Revealed My Depression

Fourteen years ago today I took my last drink. I'm not sure exactly what it was because much of that night remains a blur - in and out of a blackout. I remember going to a party where there were massive martini glasses on each table filled with goldfish. I was determined to SAVE THE GOLDFISH! when the clean-up crew started flushing them down the toilet. Ah, the joys of being the last one at the party.

I have a few other snippets of drunken debauchery from that night but I clearly remember waking up and my neighbor coming over and asking if I was okay because my front door was wide open when he went out to get his paper that morning and some of my clothes -- the kind of clothing that neighbors usually aren't privy to seeing -- were strewn about my front yard.

I stumbled into a 12-Step meeting later that day, sat in the back and realized I was in the right place -- even though I thought it was insane that these people could be laughing at stories like mine from the night before! How dare they take this so lightly! Can't they see how much pain I am in? What is wrong with these people?
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Alcoholism

Mindfulness and Mental Illness: A Little Dharma Goes a Long Way

A guy from Flagstaff, Arizona called me the other day out of the blue. He wanted to talk about some of my writings and we covered a lot of ground. A co-worker and I had a smorgasbord of a conversation yesterday - discussing parenting, quirky, brilliant friends and investigative journalism.

What struck me about both conversations is that the topic of mindfulness came up. Seems kind of weird because mindfulness isn't a topic that gets dropped into  conversations with strangers and co-workers. I'm taking it as a sign that I need to bone-up on my mindfulness practice.

I first learned about mindfulness when I got sober 14 years ago. As part of my 12-Step journey I decided to research some of the world's great religions. I was brought up by a devout Irish-Catholic mother and attended a Catholic elementary school. I figured between mom and mother superior, I had the Catholic thing down. But I had never read the Bible. Parts of the Bible had been read TO me. But I had never read the whole thing.
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