Waiting. Get Me Out of Here.

I’m sitting in my endocrinologist’s office, and I just lied to the nurse.  I don’t know exactly why, but I know that doctors’ offices make me all jumpy and nervous.  Then I do stupid things like lie, when that really defeats the purpose of going to the doctor in the first place.

This room is so….white.  Why do medical offices have to be aggressively white?  I understand that they’re supposed to look sterile, but they end up looking stark and scary.  I’m in an albino room.  It’s not natural.  There’s a slightly peach model of a swollen thyroid on the counter, but I’m trying not to look at it.  It’s disgusting.

I’m here to get a checkup on my brain tumor, and you would think that after nine years of various endocrinologists, this process would be old hat.  Nope.  Always scary.  It doesn’t help when the receptionists are extremely mean, the other patients look just as scared as I am, and the only friendly person around is the lady on the waiting room TV smiling while she talks about genital yeast infections.

If I ever ruled the world, I would make the word “genital” an expletive.  It’s so clinical and just…ew, but the lady on the TV was awfully cherry about it.  Why can’t they show something nice and calming on a waiting room TV?  Or stand-up comedy? THAT’S a great idea.  Let people laugh so they won’t cry.  Instead, we have to watch creepy health shows.  Or we can read totally obscure magazines like Osteoporosis and You.

I lied to the nurse when she asked if I’ve been feeling down or depressed at all in the past two weeks.  I immediately said no, which was dumb because just yesterday I told Andy that I was scared I might be falling into depression again.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks, but maybe it’s not depression.  It was probably just a couple of lethargic and down weeks, and I’m sure I’ll perk up any day now!  I’m sure that’s it. Plus, whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I automatically say fine.  Either it’s true or it’s probably about to be true.  I don’t like the weird and scared looks I get if I admit that I’m not doing well.  Plus, depression is a psychiatric issue, not an endocrine one, right?  I mean, RIGHT?

Fine.  I should have told the truth.  I’ll tell the doctor if he ever actually decides to come in here.  The nurse also asked if I have ever smoked, and I immediately said no to that one too.  That’s because she obviously meant “smoked as a habit, and not for less than a week while you were in Korea being stupid.” Korea’s like Vegas, and what happens there stays there.  Something like that.

The doctor is still not here, so I will take this opportunity to tell you about the meanie receptionists.  The first receptionist totally ignored me when I got here.  I stood there in front of her window awkwardly for a minute until she finally snapped, “Can I HELP you?” in a way that meant that was the last thing on earth that she wanted to do.  I said I was here to see Dr. H.  She rolled her eyes and said, “then you need to check in with the endocrine center.” I think it took all of her willpower not to add “duh” at the end of that.  I looked up at the glass window that clearly said “Endocrine Center.”  There was another lady sitting to the right of that sign, but there was no partition between the lady I was talking to and the lady I apparently needed to talk to.  They could have shaken hands.  I’m sure they’ve borrowed pencils from other.  Yet CLEARLY I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN to talk to the lady on the right instead of the left.  Oops.

I finally talked to the correct lady, and she was wearing a pin that said “Miracles happen!” I’m pretty sure she meant that to be encouraging, but I found it annoying.  For those of us on my side of the counter, no miracles have happened.  We’re there because we still have our tumors, our diabetes, our whatevers, and the trite encouragement from a piece of plastic felt less than genuine.

I have to go to the bathroom.  What if you have to go to the bathroom while in a doctor’s office?  I’d better hold it.  I don’t want them to think I left.  The nurse outside my door is calling patients and saying things such as, “Hi, is this Jane Smith?  Hi, I’m calling to give you the new dosage of ______ drug that you’re taking.  Take two tablets once a day with meals, okay?  Okay.”

I can clearly hear all of this from my room.  I could type you a list of a bunch of local residents and the drugs they’re on.  Isn’t this some sort of HIPAA issue?  It seems like it to me, but hey – I’m no doctor.  I’m the invisible patient with a brain tumor.  Don’t mind me.

So here I am, an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment time, chilling out in an albino room with a plastic inflamed thyroid and feeling bad about lying to the nurse.  I really have to go to the bathroom.  I’ve spent hours more pointless ways than this…probably.  I’m struggling to think of one at the moment, but I’m sure it’s happened.

Doctor’s here.  Gotta go.

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Terrible Questions

“Are you PMSing?” is a terrible question.  You have no shot at getting a good answer.  Here are the two potential outcomes:

  1. She is PMSing, in which case you should put your hands up in surrender and BACK. AWAY. SLOWLY.  You just poked a very angry and irrational bear.  There’s no telling what’s going to happen next.
  2. She is not PMSing, in which case she’s going to be annoyed that her totally rational, legitimate issue with you is being trivialized into a case of hormones.  Now you just made whatever she was angry about even worse.  Congratulations to you.

Most people learn pretty quickly not to ask this.  It’s simply a very stupid question.  Even cave men were probably like, “Shhh…I think my wife might be – you know – but I’m not asking her.  Let’s all go hunt some woolly mammoths.”  They ended up hunting a lot because they were always guessing about their wives’ hormones. This is why woolly mammoths are now extinct.

In the past few months, I’ve discovered a new and equally infuriating question:

“Have you taken your pills today?”

My husband inevitably asks this when I’m doing something weird.  The other day he asked it because I decided to read a book on the roof of our house.  I admit that, to a normal person, that’s probably kind of weird.  BUT what my husband didn’t know is that my dad and I used to have tea parties on the roof when I was a kid (true story), and I always climbed in weird places to read.  I read in trees, I read on the roof, I read everywhere.  It was a beautiful day, we have a safe roof, and I decided to go chill out on it.  Instead of thinking, “Huh, Hazel sure is a strange duck,” he immediately thought, “wow, she’s crazy again.  She probably isn’t taking her pills.”  I own that I’m weird.  I’m fine with that.  Weird and crazy are not the same, and I don’t like it when people get them confused.

Of course I don’t WANT to take my pills.  I don’t know anyone who’s ever been excited to take pills.  I do take them, though.  I’ve said multiple times, “I don’t know if I really need these…I think I’m doing much better…but I guess it doesn’t hurt to take them.  If it’s not hurting anything, I guess I’ll just do it.”

Here’s my issue: the truth of the matter is that it does hurt to take them.  It hurts because I lose a sense of identity when I’m forced into a box labeled “bipolar.”  It’s like a watermark.  You know what a watermark is, right?  It’s the faded picture in the background of a letter that appears on all of a workplace’s stationery?  Here’s an example:

watermark

It’s like no matter what type of text is written on the pages of my life, it’s all colored by this new watermark.  I am successful at something?  Well, it must be because of the creativity and exceptional memory that comes with having a dysfunctional brain.  I fail?  Well, I’m mentally ill, so the fact that I’m alive should be enough for me.  No one would expect much from me anyway.  Everything in my life can be explained by, “Well, she has bipolar disorder, you see…”  I don’t want that watermark to color everything.  I want my bad decisions to be bad because I did something stupid.  I want my good decisions to be good because I did something right.  I feel like my entire life is explained away by chemical imbalances that are beyond my control.  I am seen as a puppet.

Sometimes I’m cranky because a person is being an idiot, not because I didn’t take my pills.  Sometimes I’m sad because life is hard, not because I didn’t take my pills.  Sometimes I’m happy because I’m having fun, not because I didn’t take my pills.  Sometimes I don’t got to bed on time because I’m not tired, not because I didn’t take my pills.  Sometimes I’m weird because I have a funky personality, not because I didn’t take my pills.

So yes, it does hurt to take my pills.  It hurts even more when someone tries to distill my behavior (positive or negative) down to the presence or absence of drugs.

Maybe this post is kind of cranky.  Well, for your information, I did take my pills.

Although I suppose I could be PMSing…  You’ll never know, because everyone knows not to ask that.  🙂

PURPLE HAIR

A few weeks ago I posted THIS post about why I was planning to dye my hair purple, and why it was all my therapist’s fault.

Some of you said you wanted a picture of the final product, so here it is!

hair

I’m really happy with it.  My father-in-law hates it (which surprised no one).  My husband loves it (yay!).  Everyone else has been varying shades of in the middle.  It’s a really fun twist for summer, and it’s allowed me to feel a new level of confidence: “Yes, I know this is crazy, but I’m kind of crazy.  I’m rolling with it, and I LIKE IT.  I don’t care if you do or not.”

I haven’t felt that way a lot in my life.  It feels good.  Maybe I’ll never go back to blonde.

Ha ha.  That was a fun thought for a second.  My school would freak.  Oh, well.  September is a long way away.  Purple stays for summer; confidence hopefully stays after the summer ends.  🙂

Teeter-totters (and Other Terrifying Situations)

First grade can be hard.  There are spelling lists, letters that you somehow have to make into words, numbers that add together to make other numbers, and then also one of the trickiest situations of all: teeter-totters.

I remember my favorite game on teeter-totters:  I would sit right on the fulcrum (a word I did not learn until much later), and I would work really hard to balance.  Inevitably, the teeter-totter would start to lean one way or the other, and I would have to readjust to try to get the board to balance in a perfectly straight line.  When I finally got the board to balance, then the tricky part really began:  DO. NOT. MOVE.  The slightest movement would tip the teeter-totter, and then my moment of perfect balance would be over.  I didn’t move.  I yelled at my friends not to touch the teeter-totter.  I yelled at butterflies not to fly too close and throw off my balance with the wind of their wings.  Basically, I needed the world to stop for a minute because I FINALLY GOT THAT FRICKIN THING TO BALANCE.

That’s how my life feels at the moment.  I’ve spent months trying to get my life into balance, and I finally feel good about where I am.  The problem is summer break.  I think I’m the only teacher in the history of humanity that is scared of summer break.  I don’t want to mess up all of my routines.  I don’t want hours of spare time to sit around and think.  Thinking is not usually my friend.

balance-quotes-5

Perhaps it will all be fine.  Maybe I’ll be able to make some new routines and still keep to my general sleep and exercise schedule.  Historically, though, summers look completely different and quite unpredictable week by week.  Summers, generally, are tricky for me.  It’s like the fat kid from my first grade class is running towards my balanced teeter-totter, planning to jump on it, and I want to say, “GET AWAY FROM HERE, FAT KID!”  But the fat kid keeps running.  Now I’m going to have to readjust the whole thing to consider the fat kid factor.  Which begs the question – can I even balance with the fat kid, or is he just going to muck everything up?!

One of my friends described having bipolar disorder like being on a trampoline.  People who have a normal range of emotions are jumping on one of those cute little exercise trampolines used in eighties exercise videos.  They jump not too high, not too low.  People with bipolar disorder are jumping on one of those crazy high-bouncing trampolines that require you to have a harness and be strapped in with bungee ropes because you’re about to scrape the clouds when you jump.  It sends us incredibly high, but also so incredibly low.  I don’t want to be on that trampoline.  It’s like this year finally allowed me the opportunity to buy one of those cutie small trampolines, and now I’m hugging it close and saying, “Don’t put me back on the big trampoline!  I like this one!  I look good in neon colors, leggings, and puffy headbands!  Let me stay in the eighties exercise video!”

Life has a way of not letting people stay in one place very long.  The only constant we can expect is change, but change doesn’t have to be scary.

Except, obviously, THAT IT IS SCARY.  I’ve faced a lot scarier things than summer break, though.  I can handle a few changes of routine without bouncing off the trampoline.  I think.

Bring it on, fat kid.  I’m gonna rock my leggings and balance this thing called summer.

Blame it on the…Bipolar Disorder?

I am a teacher, and this makes me an expert in excuses.  I’ve heard everything from the mundane (“I ran out of time”) to the cliche (“my dog ate it”) to the bizarre (“my baby brother pooped on it”).  The more years I teach, the more excuses I hear.  They all have one thing in common:

I hate them.

I recognize that sometimes there are logical explanations why things don’t get done, but I’m still annoyed when a student uses an explanation, no matter how legitimate, as a  flippant excuse.  It’s one thing to say, “We were out until eleven for a family event, so I skipped all of my homework.  Whatever,”  and it’s completely different to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get last night’s homework done because we were out late.  I had my mom e-mail you as is requested in your homework policy, and I’m only requesting a one-day extension.  I’ll have it done as soon as possible.”

Recently, I stumbled upon THIS article from bphope.com (a generally great resource for people with bipolar disorder) about loving someone with bipolar disorder.  I did not like the article.  I don’t know that I can say I disagree with it, exactly, but I know I don’t like it.  This quote from the article represents the crux of my issue with it:

“Bipolar disorder is a medical condition that manifests in behaviors that look like personal choices. It’s hard for partners to understand this as the symptoms feel so personal. When a person with bipolar spends a child’s college fund, makes horrible accusations, cuts down all of the trees in the back yard, refuses to listen to reason, and comes close to destroying a relationship, it’s hard to step back and think, This is an illness, but it needs to happen.”

It’s worth mentioning that the author of the article is a leading expert on bipolar disorder.  She’s written multiple books and many, many articles about it, she’s worked with Oprah, and basically she is a lot smarter than me about this stuff.  I can’t totally discount what she’s saying.

HOWEVER.

I can’t stand the “blame it on the bipolar disorder” approach.  Like its close cousin “blame it on the alcohol,” it absolves the offender of any culpability.   At least if someone blames an action on being too drunk, they have to admit that they made the choice to get drunk.  They could decide not to get drunk again, and logically those resulting stupid decisions would not happen.  Blaming things on bipolar disorder is even more frustrating, because it feels like the person is saying, “my brain made me do it!  It’s not my fault at all! Also, you never know when it might happen again!”

I had a talk with a student a few weeks ago who was having a lot of trouble behaving in class.  Her default response was, “Well, I have ADD.  This makes my brain work differently, so I can’t behave.  You don’t understand what it’s like when your brain makes things hard.”

REALLY?!  YOU’RE RIGHT.  IT MUST BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO HAVE A BRAIN THAT DOESN’T WORK CORRECTLY.  Obviously she had no way of knowing the brain battle I fight on a daily basis, but her words still cut.  I took a deep breath and said, “That must be very hard for you.  I’m sorry that you have to deal with that.  The thing is, ADD might make things more difficult for you than they are for other people, and that might be  totally unfair, but you have to work with us teachers to find some strategies that can help you overcome those difficulties.  You can’t just decide that you’re never going to do what you’re supposed to.  The behaviors are still unacceptable, even if there is a logical reason why you struggle with those things.”

Once I said that to her, I realized that I feel the same way about bipolar disorder.  The crazy behaviors that come with manic and depressive episodes, no matter how common or how explainable, are still not okay.  I don’t agree that you can spend your child’s college fund and your husband should just say, “Well, it’s an illness.”  I don’t agree that you should cheat on your spouse and then say, “No big deal.  My brain made me do it.”  You don’t get to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

But here’s the kicker, ladies and gentlemen – in a court of law, “not guilty by reason of insanity” is a legitimate defense.  Whether I like it or not, sometimes people DO lose their decision-making capabilities so much that they don’t have control over their actions, and sometimes other people have to accept that as a valid explanation for behavior.

I think perhaps one of the reasons why I hate that so much is because it’s terrifying to think I could be out of control again.  I finally feel stable on my current cocktail of medications paired with my sleep and exercise routine, and the thought of a relapse is scary.  I like to think that, with proper preparation and accountability, I could keep from making some of the mistakes I’ve made before – some potentially deadly mistakes.  Unfortunately, the looming probability of a relapse hangs over my current success like an ominous shadow.

Additionally, setting aside for a moment whether or not I could do something dumb and “blame it on the bipolar disorder,” I have to live with whatever fallout comes of my decisions.  There are consequences regardless of whether or not the actions were chosen while fully competent or half sloshed on brain chemicals.  The guilt is real.  The shame is real.  And the bottom line is, maybe I would rather live with a sense of guilt and shame than a sense of helplessness.  Maybe that’s why I’m so hesitant to blame anything on my disorder.  I’d rather take all of the blame, because then I have all the control.

I’m aware that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  There needs to be a sense of understanding that people with this illness face unique challenges, but the people with the challenges don’t get to stop fighting.  They don’t get to explain away  their behavior as fine because it’s “not their fault.”  They don’t get to run their tornado of crazy through the lives of their loved ones and then just say, “Oops. Don’t mind me.”  It doesn’t work like that.

Andy’s never had an issue with forgiveness (one of his best qualities, I think).  Regarding this issue, he says, “Why does it matter what percent of a bad decision was your fault and what percent should be explained by an illness?  Either way, I forgive you when things happen, we move on, and it’s about time that you figure out a way to forgive yourself.”  I know he’s right, but it still bothers me.  I want to know how much I’ve had control over in my life and how much was honestly “not guilty by reason of insanity.”  Except you know what?  Maybe I don’t want to know.  The answer could be scary.

I guess I don’t have a good conclusion to this post because there’s not a conclusive take-away in my mind regarding this topic.  I’m still so confused.  I would love to hear your opinion if you’ve found a way to marry the dichotomy of taking responsibility while still acknowledging that this illness does not allow for complete control.  My brain can’t mesh these two facts.

Then again, let’s be real.  My brain can’t do a lot of things.  Why are we relying on my brain here?  Comments, please.  Help me figure this one out!

brain

Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 3)

I’m dyeing my hair purple, and it’s all my therapist’s fault.

Sometimes I do weird things in therapy (you can read episodes 1 and 2 of this series here and here).  I really do like my therapist, I swear, but she’s got some weird ideas every once in a while.  As an even rarer occurrence, her ideas lead to questionable life choices such as dyeing my hair purple.

A few months ago, she gave me a bizarre homework assignment: she handed me a shoe box and a stack of magazines, and she told me to go home and cut out pictures.  I had to glue pictures that represented my “inner self” on the inside of the shoe box, and I had to put pictures that represented how others see me on the outside of the shoe box.  I wish I had a photo of my face when she told me this.  I think it was…skeptical to say the least.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.  “You want me to cut out pictures?  Like, what the kindergartners at my school do?”

“Yeah…it could help…” she said, looking a bit uncertain.  She was probably worried I would flat out refuse (a very real concern, by the way.  I thought about it).  In the end, I figured that she’s the one with the degrees and I’m the one with the defective brain, so it would probably be best to do what she said.

I went home and got to work.  Shards of magazine paper were quickly strewn about the living room.  My husband walked in at one point and asked what I was doing.  “Therapy homework,” I answered, as if this explained everything.  He looked at me a moment longer, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I held up a picture of spaghetti in response.  “Do you think pasta is more of an inside piece of me or an outer piece of me?  Because, like, everyone who knows me knows that I love Italian food, but I actually really do love Italian food.  Does that make it inside or outside?”

“Uhhh…cut it in half?” he suggested.  Perfect.  Great solution.  I hadn’t even had to bother with explaining the project.  This is why Andy is great.  I cut the spaghetti in half, and Andy walked away (probably to shake his head and swear that he will never go to therapy).

When I brought my shoe box into therapy the following week, I presented it like a kindergartner presents a finger painting masterpiece.  “I did my homework,” I said.  “Is it good?  Do I get an A?”

“There are no grades in therapy,” my therapist said for the thousandth time (which is not true, I say.  What else could possibly go in that thick file of notes about me?!  I know she’s writing if I did a good job or not.  I JUST KNOW IT).

We talked about the box for a while and how the optimization of happiness occurs when the inside of the box matches the outside, or when people are projecting an authentic image of themselves.  Perhaps this is why I’m happiest when eating spaghetti!

An interesting conversation sparked when she noticed a picture of a girl with purple hair on the inside of my box.  She asked me about it, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…I just put that in there because I’ve always thought it would be fun to do something really crazy with my hair, like dyeing it purple.”

“Then why don’t you dye it purple?”

I looked at her as if she was the crazy one, not me.  “You don’t just DYE your hair purple.  People would think…I mean…you just don’t DO that.  It’s weird.  My husband would kill me.  I would get fired.”

“You’re a teacher, right?  Why can’t you dye it purple for the summer?”

I shifted uncomfortably on the couch.  “Because…um…because it’s just not done.”

“I say if you want purple hair, you should go for it.”

I assured her that no, that’s crazy, and theoretically wanting purple hair and actually dyeing it were two totally different things. I was squarely in the camp of the former.

Still, somehow, the next week when I was getting routine highlights done, I struck up a conversation with my stylist.  “So…umm…theoretically, how difficult would it be to dye my hair purple?”

Her eyes got wide and excited behind her thick square-rimmed glasses.  “Oooooh, like a purple strip on the inside by your neck?  That would look awesome.”

“Uhh…no…”  I said slowly, wondering if the highlighting chemicals were seeping into my brain.  “I actually meant…sort of…all of my hair.”

“All of you hair?  Like…your whole head?”  Apparently this is not a common request.

“Hold on,” I said.  I quickly grabbed my phone while she kept wrapping highlights.  Amazed that I was even thinking about this, I google searched some ideas for purple hairstyles.  I found one I liked, and I held it above my head.  The light of the phone reflected in the tin foil strips of my highlights.  “Like this,” I said, watching her reaction in the mirror as she stopped to look at my phone.  She looked even more excited than she had earlier.

“Seriously?” she took the phone out of my hand to look at it more closely.  “That would be so fantastic.  Let’s do it.  This is going to be so fun.  When are we doing this?”

“Summer,” I said definitively.  “Right when school gets out.”  As soon as I said that I thought, “Wait, what am I saying?!?  Back up! Take it back!”  Except I didn’t do that.  I looked in the mirror, head full of foil, and smiled.

After that appointment, months ago, we put my purple hair appointment on the books: June 15.  At the time, June 15 was such an abstract date – far in the future.  Now it’s…in eleven days.  I’m a bit nervous, but I’m mostly excited.  When I told my husband about this idea, he was surprisingly supportive.  He said he thinks purple hair will look really sexy.  I don’t know if it’s the purple hair or simply the fact that I’m not trying to fit into what I “should” be anymore, but one or the other is definitely attractive.  I feel sexy.

My sister went to that same stylist last week, and the stylist was talking about how excited she is about my crazy hair project.  My friend Bri lives in Maryland, and she texted me this week to say, “Purple hair, Hazel?  Seriously?”  This made me laugh, as this friend was voted Biggest Gossip in high school.  Even ten years and multiple states later, she somehow still has the pulse on the latest news.  She must have heard it from the ONE other person from high school who knows about it.  My husband said he’s pumped to see it.  I bought new nail polish to match it.  There’s no going back, people.  I’m going purple.  THIS IS HAPPENING.

I asked my husband to take me downtown this weekend, as I have some new white shoes I want to wear.  I told him that I’ve been waiting until after Memorial Day to wear them because they’re summer shoes.  He said, “Wait a second…you’re dyeing your hair purple, but you can’t wear white shoes before Memorial Day?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded, appalled.  “I’m edgy, not TOTALLY INSANE.”  This made us both laugh.  There are so many issues with that statement.  Maybe I’m not quite done with therapy yet.