This is My Brain on Drugs (and Other Useless Things)

My mom is cleaning out her basement, so she’s giving me all kinds of crap I don’t want. Today she gave me the following “gifts:”

  • A reeeeeally ugly square lamp. It’s a clear square with a brass rod through the middle of it, and its shade might have been white in a former lifetime. Now that I think of it, it’s so ugly that it probably goes great with the ugly chair from this post. Then again, how much ugliness can one room handle? I think this would put us over the top from “quirky” to “tasteless”…if we haven’t already migrated into “tasteless.” Tough to tell sometimes.
  • A teddy bear that says “I ❤ Jesus” on the foot (there’s actually a heart, not the symbols for less than three, but I’m not technologically intelligent enough to put that in a post). I read the tag on the bear’s ear, and it was a prayer for salvation. I told my husband, “How many people have read this out loud and then been like, ‘Crap! Did I just accidentally get saved?!'” Ha ha. Sneaky bear.
  • A glass dog. Um…..whyyyy do I need a glass dog? It’s kind of big, too. Probably as big as my open hand. Is it a paperweight? While I’m working, it can stare at me with its creepy clear eyes. Is it a….doorstop? A talisman of some sort? It sounds like a curse…THE CURSE OF THE GLASS DOG. I’d read that. Sounds like a Nancy Drew.

And….

  • Old MRI scans from 2008

Now this one was kind of cool. 2008 is when my brain tumor was first discovered, and these were the scans that discovered it. The scans are big and bulky. I held them up to a window and said, “Hey Andy! Check this out! Look how creepy my eyeballs look!”

For the record, the glass dog’s eyeballs are still creepier.

After these scans were taken, I started on a long trail of drugs and doctors and medical nonsense. 2008 was the last time I was not on any medications. I was getting a little sad about this, but then Andy said, “We have your current scans, and now we have your first scans. You’re one of the very few people who can actually hold up pictures and say, ‘This is my brain, and this is my brain on drugs.” Ha! It’s like the old D.A.R.E. ads, except the pictures aren’t much different from each other and I have to be on drugs, not off them. Life gets weird sometimes.

Anyway, Jesus bear and the glass dog are still looking for placements in my house. I hope the ugly lamp isn’t getting too bonded with the ugly chair. I sense a garage sale in their future…don’t tell my mom.

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.

Doing It Right (Granny Style)

When kids play games, they usually play school or house.  They rarely play pharmacy.  I’ve actually never seen anyone play pharmacy.  Maybe that is because it’s not very fun.

Lately I’ve felt like I am playing pharmacy.  I have an impressive collection of bottles that almost completely covers the navy blue tiles of my bathroom counter.  There are fat bottles, skinny bottles, orange bottles, blue bottles… (Where was the Dr. Seuss book about this?  MISSED OPPORTUNITY).  Every night and every morning, I pick up each bottle and take “one of these, two of these, a half of this one…” etc.  It takes forever.

If any pharmacies in the area are robbed, I hope no police officers check my bathroom.  I’d be a person of interest faster than you can say Xanax.  They might just skip the questions and arrest me on the spot.  No one could possibly have that many legal pills (right?).  It doesn’t help that some doctors give me three months of a prescription at a time, so then I have stupid amounts of pills lying around even if I’m only taking one or two per day.

I’ve been resisting the inevitable, but I think it’s finally time:  I’m going to have to do pills granny style.

When my grandma was alive, my mom used to go to her house every Monday morning at 9:00 AM to “do her pills.”  That meant taking grandma’s personal pharmacy of pills and sorting them into easy-open compartments separated by day and time of day so that when grandma had to take her pills, it was just POP! – open the plastic flap and there you go.  All of the pills in one easy spot.  She didn’t have to play counter top pharmacy games every day.   Her pill container looked like this:

pills

Now, that is very handy and nice for grandmas, but I’ve always felt like you should hold a genuine AARP card before needing to buy one of those.  I’ve told myself, “No problem.  I’ll just sort out the pills as I take them.  Not a big deal.”  The problem is that we have a beautiful bathroom counter top, and I CAN’T EVEN SEE MOST OF IT.  Plus, when I’m trying to dispense my own pills at 6:30 AM, half the time I’m still all bleary with Einstein hair and feeling angry at the world for existing so early.  I’ll frequently pour too many pills or accidentally drop one or two on the floor (then subsequently put them back in the bottle because – hello – ten second rule, and also it’s too early to think about germs).

Basically, it’s time to bite the bullet and go granny-style with pills.  It will save me a lot of time, it will clear counter space, and I’ll stop accidentally eating dog hair from my bathroom floor.  I started shopping on Amazon for a good pill container, and I tried to find a hip, non-ancient-person looking one.  I tell you, fashionable pill containers do not exist.  Why can’t being crazy also be kind of cute?!  This is unfair.  I’m going to create a line of stylish pill containers, and all of my mentally-awesome blog friends will buy them.  I’ll sell them to psychiatrists for distribution.  This could catch on, y’all.

Until then, I’ll use a dumb granny-looking one.  I’ve decided I’m also going to put a gummy bear in each pocket. I hate taking pills, but I feel like I can’t possibly be that mad when I open the container and see, “Hey look!  A gummy bear!”

Wait a second, that’s kind of like when my parents used candy to potty train my sister, isn’t it?  I am using candy to make myself form positive habits.  Oh boy.  I’m a granny, but I’m also two years old.  Faaaantastic.  My life is strange.

Here’s to you, Grandma K.  Let’s rock these drugs old-school style. Maybe I’ll even do my pills on Mondays just to be like you.

Uses for Old Pill Bottles

What can I do with dozens of empty pill bottles?

The possibilities are endless.  Don’t ask me why I have dozens of empty pill bottles.  I have no explanation.  I swear I throw them away, yet they still end up in all corners of my house.  Maybe they’re reproducing.  I find them everywhere.  My nightstand is FULL of pill bottles in various states of emptiness.  The other day I found an old green pill bottle from 2010 and thought, “Awww…my very first Prozac prescription.  How cute.”

I have issues.

I wish there was a pill bottle fairy who would come scoop up old pill bottles and trade them for money.  Surely old pill bottles would be more useful than baby teeth?

I decided to find out all the uses for old pill bottles, hoping I could stumble upon something inspiring to do with my army of plastic cylinders.  I went to Google images and typed in “uses for old pill bottles.”  Here were some of my favorites (with my own commentary, of course):

pills2

This one is actually a good idea (one of the very few I found).  Dig a hole, plant a pill bottle, and keep a house key in it.  Just remember which rock it’s under.  Also, I might actually leave a Xanax or two in the pill bottle, because if I forgot my keys again then it’s probably a Xanax sort of day.

pills6

Deck the halls with proof that you’re sick, Fa-la-la-la-la-la  la-la-la-la.  People will think your brain is a brick, Fa-la-la-la-la-la  la-la-la-la.

pills7

You can use them as party favors!  It’s the absolute perfect choice if you don’t really like your friends.  You can creep them all out so they’ll never come to your parties ever again.  Finally – peace and quiet!

pills4

You could make this…..thing.  I have no idea what this is.  I don’t have any clue why someone put this online.  I say throw it in a science fair and see what happens.  Weirder things have won prizes at science fairs.

pills5

This is a cool idea.  My earbuds always ensnare the contents my purse into a wiry mess.  This would keep them separate and relatively tame.  I wouldn’t put that girly decoration on the side, though.  I’d slap a white label on there that says “YOU CAN’T OVERDOSE ON MUSIC” in black Sharpie.  That will make me look hipster and deep.

pills1

This one is my personal favorite.  I sort of want to do this one day just so when people comment on my beautiful chandelier, I’ll say, “Thank you.  I took all of those pills myself.  It took ten years of bipolar disorder to make that chandelier.”  Then I’ll smile and ask if they’d like a glass of champagne, and they’ll get all squirmy.  It could be fun.

 

After I posted those pictures, I realized Google overlooked some very simple but effective uses, which I will add here now:

Glitter Bomb.  As soon as I thought of this, I thought, “BRILLIANT!  WHY HAVEN’T I DONE THIS BEFORE?!”  Fill a bottle with glitter and keep it in your purse.  When you’re at a store and someone is super rude, or when someone takes your parking space and makes you mad – BOOM – glitter bomb.  It’s like pepper spray except less aggressive and prettier.

Halloween Treat.  Take the labels off so parents can’t track you down, then put white mints in the pill bottles.  Hand them out to kids who come trick-or-treating.  Look extra crazy and say, “These make you feel reeeeeeeal good, kid…” then dart your eyes around wildly and slam the door in their faces.

Shot glass.  Hello…does anyone else think that pill bottles are just the right size to be shot glasses?  Unfortunately, you have to shoot 7-Up or whatever since the side of the bottle clearly tells you not to drink alcohol.

Tiny Bowling.  Line up ten pill bottles in a triangle, get a good bouncy ball, try to knock them all down in one roll (STRIKE!!), and wonder why you have nothing else better to do on a Saturday night.

Modern Art.  Everything’s art, right?  I feel like modern art is especially weird, so you could probably throw a pill bottle in that genre.  Melt the bottom of the bottle a little bit, call it My Fading Life, and sell it for thousands.  Millions, even.  It’s art.

There you have it, friends.  My top uses for old pill bottles.  Let me know if you have any other ideas.  Also let if me know if you want to buy a beautiful piece of orange plastic modern art.  I’ll cut you a deal for following my blog.

He KNOWS Me (NOOO!)

I don’t think I would want to work at a pharmacy.  No one goes to fill prescriptions thinking, “Hooray!  Yet another reminder that I am not well, and I get to pay money to be reminded!  THANKS, PHARMACIST!”  Plus, it’s always a little embarrassing to pick up pills because now some random human is privy to my secrets.  Maybe they don’t know what my medicine is for, but maybe they DO.  I mostly try not to look at the pharmacist.  It’s like a drug deal.

Except, wait, it literally IS a drug deal.

If I could, I would always walk up to the pharmacy counter with a large floppy hat and sunglasses, wearing a black trench coat, and I would be staring mostly at the ground.  Are those new floor tiles?  They’re fascinating!  Inevitably, though, I’m always already at the store to pick up milk or something, and then I suddenly remember I need to pick up pills. I do a quick 360 degree scan to make sure no students are in sight (not kidding), and I rush to the pharmacy counter to pick up the drugs as quickly as possible.  “Quick – hand over the goods.  Here’s my credit card.”

I don’t really say that.

Most of the time.

Okay, fine. I never say that.  It turns out that I could, though, because last week I found out a horrifying fact: I am such a regular at my pharmacy that my pharmacist knows me.

It started innocently enough.  I did my regular scanning turnaround, and no students were in sight.  I walked up to the counter and said I had to pick up pills for Hazel Hillboro.  The pharmacist asked for my birthday, looked me up, and then went to go get the pills for me.  When he brought them back, I handed him my credit card.  He said, “Can I see your ID?  Actually, wait, never mind.  I know you.  You’re here all the time,” and he didn’t even look at my ID.

WHAT?!?!?

I wanted to protest.  “No, sir.  I am not here ALL THE TIME.  It’s not like I hang out here on the daily.  Also, this is totally unfair.  I don’t know your name, pharmacist.  I can’t access your birthday.  Hey, are you on any medications?  I feel like you should tell me all the things you’re on, since you already know all about mine.  It’s only fair.  Everyone knows drug deals should be a two-way street.”

Wait a second, are drug deals a two-way street?  I’m not sure.  Do people send their drug dealers Christmas cards?  Invitations to baby showers?  I don’t know too much about the illegal drug scene.  I’m on too many legal drugs as it is.  I won’t add any more drugs voluntarily, thank you very much.

I think this was a significant moment in my medical history.  MY PHARMACIST KNOWS ME.  Not only that, he classified me a being there “all the time.”  Those were his literal words:  All. The. Time.

Yes, I’m on a lot of medications.  I’m on one in particular that is ridiculously expensive.  That one’s for my brain tumor.  Any time there’s a new pharmacist, they raise their eyebrows at the total and say, “Ummm…are you aware of how much this drug costs?”

Yes, I am.  Your shock never makes me feel better about handing over that much money.  I could have gone all-inclusive to Europe on how much I’ve spent on that drug.  Trust me, I’m not excited about it.  I never want to talk about it, though, so I keep studying those oh-so-interesting floor tiles and say, “Yeah, I know.  I’ve been on it forever.”  And then the floor tiles get a little blurry and I start wondering when they’ll give me back my credit card so I can get the heck out of there.

I tried to justify the pharmacist’s recognition of me by thinking that maybe I’m the one customer who’s on crazy expensive pills.  Maybe he thinks I’m pretty, and that’s why he recognized me.  Right – that must be it.  I’m fabulously beautiful enough to leave an impression on this random pharmacist.

(Excuse me a moment.)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

(Okay, I’m back).

The hard truth of the matter is that I’m at the pharmacy quite a bit.

Of all the places to be a “regular,” I never would have picked my neighborhood pharmacy.  Why can’t I be a regular at Tiffany and Co. or a swanky wine loft or something?  I’m a regular at a pharmacy.  COOL.  My family would be so proud.  In the event that I ever do anything warranting an acceptance speech, I’ll be sure to say, “…and thank you to my pharmacist, who was always there for me, since I was at the pharmacy *ahem* ALL THE TIME.  He knew all about my secrets, but I didn’t even know his name.  What a tragic story.”

Starting tonight, I’m going to find somewhere really amazing to go.  Then I’m going to go there every single day until I’m a regular, and I won’t feel so losery about being a regular at a pharmacy.

#1 on the list (and also glitter)

Every once in a while I type “bipolar disorder” into the Google news search box to see if there are any new articles or research findings that might interest me.  This occasionally goes well and occasionally goes poorly…proceed with caution if you ever do this.  There are a lot of articles I probably should have left unread.

One caught my eye the other day – it was called something like “How to Best Help Your Spouse or Loved Ones if You Have Bipolar Disorder.”  CLICK – I needed to read this one.  My husband is an absolute star, and I would like to make his life as easy as possible.  I know I’m the one with the disorder, but trust me when I tell you that it’s a team effort to deal with it.  He might as well have it too.

I clicked on the article, and I don’t remember much of what it said because I was so annoyed/struck by item #1.  The #1 item on the list was simply and impossibly this: “Take all of your medications.”

That should be easy.  That should be so easy.  That should be, “Quick, let’s move on to #2 because #1 was so ridiculously obvious and unhelpful.”  Unfortunately, my mind immediately flashed to the night before:  Andy was getting settled into bed, our dog was already asleep where my feet were supposed to go, and Andy said, “You took your pills tonight, right?”  I responded with, “Some of them.  I don’t think I need all of them today.  I’m gonna give it a try.  I might be doing better.”

Andy knew it was pointless to argue with me. He can’t force me to take my pills, and when I’ve made my mind up about something, it’s extremely hard to change it.  He just gave me a look of disappointment, sighed, and let his head drop to his pillow.  I pulled my knees to my chest and wished he could realize that I really didn’t need them.  That this time I would be fine.  Really.

I’m not sure why I do this.  When I’m thinking rationally, it’s completely obvious that I need to take my medications.  For some reason, though, occasionally I simply…don’t take them.  This is apparently a common struggle for many people with bipolar disorder, and it’s one I need to get over in order to accomplish the NUMBER ONE ITEM on “how to help my loved one.”

I don’t know why I do it.  I know I’m not healthy.  I know I probably never will be.  I guess I can’t shake this tiny glimmer of hope that one day I won’t need medications anymore.  It’s a tiny glimmer.  It’s sort of like when someone has one solitary piece of glitter on their face and you’re like, “Hey, there’s a sparkle on your face.  Let me get it off for you…no wait, I lost it…turn your head a second…there it is!  Let me just…oh dang.  Lost it again.” (Has this happened to anyone else?  I feel like I come into contact with more glitter than the average human, so maybe that’s just me).  But that’s how tiny the glimmer is.  I can’t get rid of it.

Every once in a while there’s some random article like “I cured my own mental illness by spending a month eating nothing but kale and wheat germ!”  Then I immediately yell, “ANDY?  WHERE CAN WE BUY KALE IN BULK?” while I simultaneously Google “What is wheat germ?”   Or I’ll read some medical journal and then suddenly find myself buying copious amounts of vitamins because everyone knows that enough vitamins D and C and B12 cure bipolar disorder, right?  I mean, RIGHT?!

Um, no.  They don’t.  Neither, I’m sorry to inform you, does kale and/or wheat germ.

I’m still not entirely sure what wheat germ even is if I’m being honest.  I didn’t try it.

You know what’s scientifically proven to cure bipolar disorder?  Nothing.  That’s what.

Although there isn’t a cure (yet), certain drugs make this condition much more livable for everyone involved.  That’s why taking said drugs is #1 on the list of how I can help my family.  That’s why I need to actually take my pills.  I’m not all better because I have a good day.  I’m not going to wake up one day and be suddenly and magically un-bipolar.

I mean, probably not.  It could happen…theoretically…  (Wait – did you see that sparkle?  I saw it a minute!  No, wait…lost it.)

It’s time to get the glitter out of my eye so I can see this for what it really is.  Sometimes life isn’t sparkly.  Sometimes it’s taking just-one-more pill, even if I don’t want to, because it’s the #1 thing I can do to help myself and my husband right now.

Painting Bipolar Disorder

“Try painting what a bipolar diagnosis feels like,” my therapist told me.

“It doesn’t work like that,” I explained.  “I paint, but I paint things.  Like, you know, pheasants or whatever.”

“Um, pheasants?”  Her pencil hovered over the notepad.

“Yeah, I painted a pheasant a while back because my husband likes outdoorsy stuff.  Anyway, I can look at a picture of a pheasant, put some paint on a canvas, and then say, ‘hey, that looks a lot like a pheasant.’  And I feel cool because I know I did it right, because it looks a lot like that picture of a pheasant.  I don’t do abstract stuff.”

“You could try abstract painting…give it a chance.  It could help.”

Now, if I would have actually followed my therapist’s advice and tried to abstractly paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like, then I would have categorized this post as “Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy – Episode 2.”  Since I didn’t actually do it, though, I can’t put this post in that series.  The reason why I will not attempt to abstractly paint a bipolar diagnosis is because this is what I would have to do if I were to do that correctly:

First, I would have to go to Home Depot to buy a gallon of black paint.  No chintzy little tube of acrylic could do the job.  I would be in line checking out with my black paint when I would decide that I have to buy another color too.  To paint only in shades of black would be too dark, like I’m an angsty teenager watching rain drip slowly down my windows or something.  I’m not an angsty teenager.  I’m a grown woman with a messed-up brain, that’s all.  So I would go back to the paint counter and buy a ridiculous shade of neon yellow.  Not a sunny yellow, but highlighter yellow.  So-bright-you-can’t-look-at-it yellow.   No one else would ever buy that ridiculous color, but that’s exactly why I would like it.

I would go home with my gallon of black and my gallon of highlighter, and I would set up my 9 inch by 12 inch canvas on a small easel in my living room.  It would be on my coffee table.  I would take off the lids of my paint cans and get ready for my abstract painting experience.  I would pick up the black gallon of paint first and stand about five feet away from my coffee table.  I would pull the can back slowly like I’m about to go bowling with it, then quickly hurl all of the black paint in the general direction of my canvas.  Some would certainly hit the canvas, but it would also hit my couch, my rug, my hardwood floors, my walls, you get the idea.  I would look at the splotches, satisfied, then look back in the can and see that I didn’t dump it all out yet.  I would walk over to the canvas and turn the can directly upside-down, watching black paint pour over the table and onto my floor some more.  I would step in some of the paint on my way to go pick up the liquid highlighter, but I wouldn’t mind.

Next I would pick up my can of bright neon.  I would look away at first because the paint is so-frickin-bright, but then I would look back at the paint, dip a large paintbrush into it, and start splatter painting the canvas.  It would look really cool, actually – the brightness in contrast with the darkness.  I would aim for the canvas, but as collateral damage I would probably splatter paint all over the place: on my ceiling, on the walls, in our fireplace, but it would look kind of cool in a destructive type of way.  My two dogs would probably run in to see what all of the fuss was about, and they would run through the paint.  They would roll in it because it smelled funny.  Then they would go frolicking throughout the house, leaving paw prints in my dining room, in my kitchen, up the stairs, and they would roll around on my bed too because that’s what dogs like to do.

Finally, when all my paint was gone, I would stop and look at my artwork.  I would consider cleaning up my mess, but then I would think that perhaps it would be easier to just throw away all my furniture, move to a new city, and buy a cleaner house.  Unfortunately that’s not an option for me, so I would sigh and go to the kitchen to fetch my Swiffer wet-jet.  I would look around the room, not sure where to start, and finally I would randomly pick some square foot of wood flooring (it wouldn’t matter which one). I would halfheartedly start mopping that area even though all it would really do is smear around the paint.  I would realize that no matter how much I cleaned, I would never be able to really get my house totally clean.  It took about ten seconds to destroy everything, and I would have to take a lifetime trying to put it back to how it was.

With no other option, though, I would keep mopping.  I wouldn’t even be sure why.  I wouldn’t be making much progress, but stopping completely would mean to make no progress at all.  Therefore I would keep mopping.  Most of the time.

That’s what it would be like to paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like.  My therapist is going to have to forgive me for passing on that exercise.

The “Really Crazy” People

Weddings usually provide their fair share of awkward moments, especially if you don’t know many people there.  Last night Andy (my husband) and I were at a wedding for one of his best friends from high school.  We were placed at the awkward table – you know the one.  Every wedding has an awkward table where the bride and groom put the hodgepodge of people that don’t fit at any other table: the cousin they haven’t seen in years, the plus-ones from the wedding party, the random guy from work who doesn’t know anyone, and the old friends from high school.  That was our table: Table 15.

We engaged in the usual small talk that happens at every one of these awkward tables everywhere in the world. Seriously – if you could say the following questions/statements in every language, you could hold your own at the awkward table for any wedding anywhere:

  1. How do you know the bride and groom?
  2. Doesn’t the bride look beautiful?
  3. These centerpieces look great.
  4. This food is delicious. (Which you say even if it isn’t).
  5. Gorgeous day for a wedding.  (Alternatively: Too bad the weather is terrible.)
  6. What do you do for a living?

The awkward table quickly became “the nightmare table” once we got around to question 6.  I answered that I’m a teacher (normal answer).  My husband answered physical therapist (normal answer).  This British dude who’s a friend of the groom answered mortgage lender (normal answer).  The random cousin from Ohio answered nurse (normal answer…so far).

“What kind of nursing?”  I asked.  I didn’t actually care.  I just asked because, you know, I have to sit at a table with these people for an entire evening, and I know there are a zillion different kinds of nursing.  I was trying to make conversation because that’s what you do at the awkward table.

Her answer stunned me.  “I’m a nurse at a psychiatric facility,” she said.  “But I only work with, like, the really crazy people.  The ones with bipolar and schizophrenia and stuff.”

I attempted a polite smile and head nod.  “That must be difficult,” I finally said.

“Yeah,” she responded casually.  “I don’t like it much.  They’re like, seriously insane.  I never know what I’ll be dealing with.  It’s hard.”

I didn’t have anything else nice to say, so in following my mom’s age-old instructions, I didn’t say anything at all. I was thinking Hard for you?  Ummm…how about those of us living with those ‘really crazy’ disorders?  You don’t have any idea about ‘hard.’  And you’re a nurse…shouldn’t you have the slightest bit of compassion?  Do they not teach that in nursing school anymore?  

I looked down and tried to act really interested in my mashed potatoes.  Have you ever tried to act really interested in mashed potatoes?  It’s impossible.  They’re colorless blobs of nothing, but I was studying them as if they were a display in the Museum of Modern Art (which, actually, modern art can be kind of weird.  I bet potatoes could pass for a brilliant piece in certain galleries).  The potatoes blurred as tears sprung to my eyes, but I was not going to let any tears fall.  I studied the potatoes harder.  Andy put his hand on my leg under the table – his way of saying, “It’s okay.  She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”  And I know she didn’t.  It still doesn’t make it okay.  Since when am I one of the “really crazy” people?  Come to think of it, who are the “normal crazy” people?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Actually, if we’re getting right down to it, isn’t “normal” a phantom anyway?  Who’s “normal”?  Is there such a thing?  Probably not.  Regardless, it felt like she’d just slapped me.  Why was she allowed to look down on me and talk about how I’m a completely different level of difficult craziness?  How dare she insinuate that we should all feel bad for her for having to deal with people like me?

Imagine my complete shock when mortgage lender British dude came out with, “See, what you probably didn’t know when saying that is that I’m actually bipolar.”

My head snapped up from the potatoes so fast that I might need my physical therapist husband to fix it from whiplash.  The British guy is bipolar?  And he is confident enough to tell an entire table full of people?!  The nurse suddenly seemed very uncomfortable (which I sadistically loved… #sorrynotsorry).  I probably should have chimed in with a “me too,” but I’m just not there yet.  Instead, I stared wide-eyed at this man who had just flipped our conversation in a very different direction.

“I was diagnosed fourteen years ago,” he said to a table of six very uncomfortable people and one person feeling a rush of relief that oddly also felt a bit victorious (Don’t degrade mental health patients, you idiot nurse!).  British dude continued.  “My brother has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder in the past, but he’s fine now.  I’m fine too.  People don’t understand that people with mental illnesses can fight them, overcome them, and lead very normal and meaningful lives.  None of you would have even known I was bipolar if I didn’t tell you.  It was a long road to get where I am, but I got here.  I’m okay.  And that’s cool.”

I wanted to stand up and start clapping or go southern Baptist style and chime in with a loud “AMEN,” but I only stared.  That must be what it feels like to feel starstruck – I had so much to say, but I said none of it.  All I could think of was I want to be like this guy.

“Anyway,” he said, totally comfortable. “Sorry to take that conversation in a dark direction.  I just thought I should mention it.”  The conversation slowly dwindled back to safer topics such as “where was your last vacation?” and “does anyone know where the bride and groom are going for their honeymoon?”  I didn’t talk much.  My mind was spinning.

Later that night, there was a point where the rest of the table was out dancing and it was only me, Andy, and British dude sitting at our table.  I took my chance while I had it.

“You know how earlier you were talking about being bipolar?” I asked.  There’s no natural way to bring that up in conversation, so I figured I’d jump right in.  “Well,” I continued after he nodded yes, “Here’s the thing – I’m recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I’m so very much not okay with it.  How did you…I mean…how did you do that?  How are you okay?”  He explained a bit about his story, a bit about his family, and a bit about the quirks he still has.  He told me he never matches socks, and I gasped.  “NO WAY,” I said, “I NEVER match my socks!”  I made him prove it by showing me his socks.  They didn’t match.  I know “mismatching socks” isn’t a symptom of bipolar disorder, but it was one more thing this guy and I had in common.  It was one more thing that made the all-too-rare thoughts cross my mind that Maybe I’m not the only one and Maybe I’ll be okay.

We were only a few minutes into talking when the now drunk out-of-town cousin stumbled back to the table with her boyfriend.  She had busted a bra strap.  Classy.  We switched the conversation over to her wardrobe malfunction, and we didn’t get back to bipolar disorder for the rest of the night.  Before we left, though, the British guy gave his e-mail address to my husband and me and told us to contact him anytime – that he knows what it’s like to struggle with bipolar disorder and that he’d love to help in any way possible.  Also, I’m pretty sure he meant it.

What started out as the awkward table ended up making me feel more understood than I had in a very, very long time.  Maybe one day I’ll have the confidence to speak up too, and to make only the people looking down on me feel awkward.

I Have a Drug Problem

Most people who have drug problems have a problem with putting drugs in their body when they shouldn’t.  I have the opposite problem.  I hate hate hate taking drugs, even when (especially when) I really need them.

I’m not exactly sure why this is.  Maybe it’s a pride thing?  I want to be okay without these drugs.  I don’t want to need them.  The problem is, I do need them.  I need them for a variety of things.  I just hate taking them.  I can’t be the first person in the world with this type of problem, right?  The issue is, unfortunately, that this is a somewhat serious problem.  I can’t just not take drugs when I’m supposed to.  Theoretically.

It started eight and a half years ago with a brain tumor diagnosis.  It was absolutely terrifying for a little while, but I eventually learned that it was non-cancerous and “easily manageable.” As long as, you know, by “easily manageable” doctors meant frequent blood tests, MRIs, so many endocrineologists that I should make a facebook group for them, and a daily cocktail of drugs that makes me feel like a ninety year old. I have to use those weird daily sorted pill boxes that you see casually strewn about in nursing homes.  Oh, and now I also have a side dish of bipolar disorder.

Easily manageable.

Okay.

I’m not going to go through the history of the past eight and a half years right now.  If you follow this blog, I’m sure through pieces here and there you’ll eventually get the full story.  It’s actually pretty fascinating.  There are all the elements of a good read: true love, fake love, betrayal, near death experiences, secrets, loss, redemption, hope…you get the idea.  It’s just that living it is a lot different than reading it in a novel.  Living it is kind of a hot mess.

Which is why I need drugs.  I need drugs to keep my brain tumor from growing, and I need drugs to keep my bipolar disorder from turning me into a version of myself that I hate.  But… I hate them.  I have this internal battle every time I open a pill bottle.  It’s almost Shakesperean: “to take or not to take”?

Every time I have a good day, I wonder, “Do I really need these? Could I maybe be okay without them this time?”  And every time I forget to take them (really forgetting or just “forgetting”), the answer I find is no.  I am not okay without them.  Yet.

Think about being a kid in school – the one message you heard over and over again was “be yourself.”  Imagine a world where doctors tell you, “Take these drugs, because you can’t be yourself.  You have to be this drugged up version of yourself, otherwise you’re completely nuts.”  It’s strange.  It’s scary.  Who am I really?  The crazy me or the me on drugs?  WHO IS HAZEL HILLBORO?

Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder about the person staring back at me.  She’s a stranger.  It’s very weird.

My psychiatrist tried to make me think of mental illness as more normal by saying, “Think of it this way – if you were a diabetic, would you refuse to take your insulin?”  I immediately said, “Yes, I probably would.”  My husband laughed, and my psychiatrist looked at him, startled.  I’m glad that he laughed, because it made me laugh.  I realized I’d given the wrong answer, but at least I’d given an honest one.  And if you can’t laugh at these kinds of things, you’re just going to cry.

I don’t know why I have such a mental block about putting foreign substances in my body.  Surely in any other case, this would be a good thing.  Unfortunately, for me it means that I make it more difficult for myself to get better.  Chalk it up to another piece of my crazy.  Hopefully another blog post down the road will explain how I got over this, and I now have no problem being in my mid-twenties and taking enough pills to fill a pharmacy.

That’s an exaggeration, but not as big of one as I’d like it to be.

Excuse me – I have to go take my 4:00 pills.

That one’s not an exaggeration.

The Beginning

“I don’t really believe in mental illness,” I said.  This is always a great way to start off a conversation with psychiatrists.  You can almost see the smoke come off of their pencils as they try to write fast enough about how crazy you are.  I wasn’t joking, though.  I was on psychiatrist #4, and I still didn’t believe in mental illness.

I perched on the edge of my comfy blue chair and eyed the kleenex box next to me.  I wondered if psychiatrists get immune to people crying sort of like kindergarten teachers do.  Kids cry all the time, so I’ll secretly think things such as, “I’m sorry Timmy took your cookies, but actually I don’t care.  Stop crying.”  I wondered if psychiatrists have also become jaded and learned not to care.  I made a mental note not to cry, just in case.  I looked around at the “calming” decorations: beach scenes in frames and a random fake plant in the corner.  A plethora of degrees on the wall behind the psychiatrist’s desk were hung proudly to make me think she knows what she’s talking about.

“It’s like this,” I continued. “I see people all the time posting on facebook and twitter and such, ‘love me because I have an anxiety disorder,’ or ‘how to love a person with depression,’ or ‘my depression is really bad today, so everyone be nice.’  I mean, it seems like they wear their ‘illness’ as a badge of honor, a way to get attention.  It’s an excuse to be an asshole without having to apologize.  That’s dumb.  I’m a teacher, and the teachers at my school offer around xanax like tic tacs.  I realize we have a stressful job, but come on.  We’re not all mentally ill.  People just need to learn how to deal with their lives better.  People who broadcast their ‘mental illnesses’ drive me nuts.”

My psychiatrist stopped writing to look me straight in the eye.  “There may be people like that in the world, and they may be annoying, but I would rather work with someone like that than someone like you, because you just tried to kill yourself and still refuse to believe you have a problem.”

Oooooh snap.  Shut down by my shrink.

I mumbled something along the lines of “good point” and sank back into the chair.  I wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.  My vision blurred, and I grabbed a kleenex.  Stupid psychiatrists and their stupid kleenexes.

“What kind of meds have you been on?” she asked.

“All of them,” I answered.  “I don’t remember them all.  Name one.  I’ve probably been on it.”

I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety multiple times over the years, I’d taken medications with varying degrees of little to no success, and I’d given up on ever getting better.  I’d just tried to kill myself the day before, and I’d been dragged to this psychiatrist pretty much against my will.  I mean, not literally kicking or screaming or anything, but when one doesn’t have any will to live, it’s basically like, “Fine.  Another doctor? I don’t want to go, but I also don’t actually care.”

She ran down a standard list of medications.  Prozac?  Yep.  Zoloft?  Uh huh.  Klonopin?  Of course.  Xanax?  Got a collection.  You get the idea.  So many pills, so little time in a one hour appointment.

Finally she asked if I’d been on oxcarbazepine.  Umm…no?  Is that even English?  Did she just make that one up as a trick to say if I’d say yes to everything, even random made-up words?  The answer, however, was no.  I had not been on that drug.

She asked if I’d be willing to try it.  That’s like when the teacher asks you, “Would you like to give the answer to #5?”  You can’t very well just say, “No.”  I said fine, that I would take it.  I can’t say I had a lot of hope that it would be any different (my resume of drugs taken was impressively long with very little results, as you may recall).  I took the prescription, got the pills, and immediately googled two things:

  1. Can I overdose on this drug?  (No)
  2. What is the success rate for this drug? (Pretty good…for bipolar disorder)

Bipolar disorder?  What?  I obviously didn’t have bipolar disorder.

(If you haven’t already figured this out, I was also a pretentious idiot)

If I had anything (which I didn’t believe), then it was depression, not bipolar disorder.  I was incredibly uninformed about this disease.  I thought it just meant that people got really moody – happy one minute and furious the next.  Basically PMS on steroids.  I had no idea that bipolar people could sometimes go days without sleeping for no apparent reason (which I had absolutely done) and be super productive.  I didn’t know that it made them act completely out of character for themselves sometimes for weeks on end, and that they could then crash into a horrible depression.  I didn’t know that bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for an average of ten years before stumbling on a correct diagnosis.  No one goes to a doctor to say, “My life feels absolutely perfect and I just solved a bunch of problems by staying up for a week straight.”  They go to a doctor when they feel depressed, hence the misdiagnosis.

My psychiatrist is very smart.  I think she knew that if she told me I had bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have believed her.  I would have refused to take the drugs and decided she was the crazy one, not me.  Only a few days after I started taking them, though, I felt like I woke up from a years long coma.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I could think clearly.  I could be rational.  It was strange.

Isn’t that sad?

This blog is my way of reaching out to two groups of people.  The first is to people who have a mental illness or love someone who does.  I am just starting down this road, and it’s scary as hell.  I hate knowing that my brain can’t function properly without drugs.  I hate thinking that I will probably have to deal with this for the rest of my life.  I guess, selfishly, I’m looking for anyone out there who can give me a “me too” or a “been there” or a “you can do this.”

I’m also writing this for people who are like I was only a few months ago.  I fully subscribed to the “ignore mental illness and it will go away” philosophy, and I am now a true convert who knows firsthand how damaging that view can be.  I almost lost my life over it.  I would like to help other people know that mental illness is serious, it should be taken seriously, and they should stop shaming those of us who have to struggle silently.

Lastly, I’m writing this blog because in all the research I’ve done, a bipolar disorder diagnosis looks bleak.  I’ve stumbled across all sorts of (varying degrees of accurate) statistics that say things like I have a 100x greater chance of killing myself than someone without the disorder.  It says I have a high probability of ending up in a mental institution.  It says I will probably get divorced.  I’m not okay with any of these things.  I want to read a blog that says, “I have bipolar disorder, but don’t worry – I’m kicking its ass.”  I don’t see one out there, so I’m writing one.  I’m about to kick some bipolar ass, and I’d love to have you follow this blog and be on my team.