Friday, December 30, 2011

Fun With ECT Side Effects

As I mentioned the other day, I am starting to worry that my ECT treatments aren't having as much as an effect as they were when I first started them.  Christmas has been a little rocky, and my mood has definitely been "swingier" as of late.

To try to help myself out a little, I decided to turn to that evil apparatus that can be the bane of my existance, the treadmill.  Getting some endorphins going can't hurt my mood, and God knows I could stand to lose a few pounds.  So I hit the treadmill twice this week, and in all honesty I was pretty damn proud of myself.

Well, until Wednesday, that is.  After my ECT treatment on Wednesday this week, I had quite a bit of chest pain, and my blood pressure was also abnormally high for me during my treatment.  When I spoke to the nurse who called to follow up with me the day after my treatment, I told her about the chest pain, and she was alarmed enough to want to speak to the doctor about it before scheduling my next treatment.

So, speak to him she did...and he said he wouldn't give me another treatment until I had an EKG to verify my heart was okay.  And, of course, the next available doctor's appointment I could get with my general practitioner wasn't until next Wednesday, meaning I would also have to change my next ECT appointment.

Aside from having to move my ECT appointment, which was inconvienent, as of today I was still having somewhat (in my opinion) worrisome chest pains.  So I decided to go ahead and trundle on over to one of the lesser-used emergency rooms in he area to get checked out. I figured if nothing else they could do the EKG and I could get that out of the way.

On a side, snide note: the most irritating part of he whole experience was when the doctor came in to talk to me before they ran any tests, and said something to the effect of, "Well, you obviously have all these depression issues, so I'm sure it's not your heart."

I'm sorry, what exactly do those two things have in common?  It was very dismissive--and, frankly, kind of offensive.

Whatever. I guess he was on to something, offensive or not, because he said my tests didn't show anything abnormal.  He said he thought it was a problem in my chest wall -- in other words, I pulled a muscle either during my ECT treatment or, yep, you guessed it, on the treadmill.

Just to stoke my own idignation, I am going to blame the treadmill.  Who said a little hard work never hurt anyone?  All I know is that I've been miserable and in pain for two days, and blaming that damn treadmill sounds like a fine idea. Who said a little bit of hard work never hurt anyone?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ECT Update, and Why I Hate Seroquel

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.  Like most people, I got distracted by Christmas and haven't updated in a little while.  Here's hoping you and yours had a lovely holiday and are getting some much needed rest and relaxation.

I am now in the "maintenance" phase of my ECT treatments.  I finished up my "acute" phase last week on Friday, with my sixth treatment.  Now I'm on to one treatment a week for a month, which is much less of a hassle, especially considering the treatment facility is 40 minutes away.  The bad news, though, is that while I was pretty sure the treatments were helping the first week or two, now I'm not so sure -- I seem to have slipped back into a funk and am generally intolerable to be around.  I'm trying to tell myself that maybe it's just the stress of the holiday (like I wrote last week, it's hard to determine what ups and downs are due to having bipolar disorder and what are due to general life stress).  I hate the thought that I may have to go back to 3 ECT treatments a week for another few weeks to try to stave off a heavier depression, but if I do, so be it.

I'm also tired -- very, very tired.  And I'm not sure if it's a side effect of the ECT, or the increased dosage of Seroquel I'm on.  When I was hospitalized in early December, the doctor increased my Seroquel and decreased my lithium in anticipation of starting ECT treatments, because lithium and ECT don't play well together.  I went from 50 - 75 mgs of Seroquel daily to 450+ mgs daily.  I think it does what it's supposed to do, which is even out my moods and make me a little less irritable and raw -- but it also makes me really sluggish.  Add the ECT treatments (and anesthesia) I'm undergoing, and I'm pretty worthless. 

It's so irritating to me that I have to make a choice between being an ugly-acting, depressed witch and being an exhausted, useless sloth.  I guess I should just be grateful that there are drugs that do help depression (more or less), and just look at the side effects as a small price to pay for the benefits they provide.  But it's still frustrating.  Ultimately, though, there's not much I can do about it -- just hope for a speedy end to the ECT treatments so I can get back up on a therapeutic level of lithium and leave the Seroquel behind.  Here's to hoping!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Psychiatric Synergy

I've been thinking a lot lately about psychiatric synergy (for lack of a better term).  In other words, when are you merely a collection of symptoms, and when are you something greater (or worse, as the case may be)?

For example, when I was hospitalized last month, I went through the admission assessments, as always, to figure out what to put on the admissions forms for diagnosis/reason for admission.  One symptom I had been displaying at the time that was a little bit odd for me was excessive irritation and anger.  My "breaking point" was very low, and it didn't take much provocation for me to lose it and have a full-on temper tantrum.  At one point I got angry at one of my kids, and I inexplicably took it out on the freezer; before I knew what I had done, I had emptied the freezer in one manic tantrum, its contents strewn all over my living room.  There were peas everywhere, and my husband found a package of butter two weeks later behind a chair.  On a positive note, my five year old painstakingly picked up all the peas without being asked, and it kept her busy for quite a while.

In general, I'm not prone to tantrums, especially since I started taking antidepressant and antipsychotic meds.  So when I was being admitted to the hospital, I felt the need to mention this incident and a few other similar incidents to the admitting nurses.

I'm sure that psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists are trained to be facially neutral when talking to patients, but it seems like there are a few "key words" that make them light up like a Christmas tree when they hear a patient mention them.  "Tantrum," "rage," and "anger" seem to be some of those words.  They hear that I have a problem controlling my anger and it's like a big checkmark on a mental list, and you can almost feel them tuning out anything you have to say after that.

Now, I agree that trashing my kitchen is a little bit of a red flag that something is wrong.  What bothers me, though, is the fact that nobody bothered to ask what else was going on in my life.  I was trying to potty-train a three-year-old; trying to deal with two kids' birthdays in three weeks, still recovering from gall bladder surgery, gearing up for Christmas, etc.  In other words, I had a lot of other stress-inducing incidents going on in my life, so maybe it was premature to chalk everything up to mania/hypomania/mixed-mania-depression.   But the nurses seemed to seize on those incidents like dogs with bones.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened, when I dropped a "keyword."  Just mention either of the words "adopted" or "divorce" to a psychiatrist, and you can see the mental gears clicking into place.  Add in any--even minor --issues with alcohol, and you'll be lucky if you ever get out of that office.

I don't deny that our experiences make us who we are; but why are some of us "mentally ill" and others are just "stressed out parents"?  I know a lot of people who would have temper trantrums after telling a three-year-old to sit on the toilet, then five minutes later having to clean poop out of her underwear for the umpteenth time.  Why do I get stuck in a mental health facility for a week and get my brain zapped with electricity, and other people get taken out for sympathy margaritas?  I admit, I was the one who brought up the incidents, who told the nurses about getting angry.  Perhaps what is most telling was that the incidents bothered me -- I didn't like trashing my kitchen, I don't like yelling at my kids.  But, for better or for worse, I have three little kids, and they can be irritating.  What level of irritation is "normal" and what is cause for concern?  Some days I wonder how any mother of little kids can get through a day without a serious dose of Xanax.

Part of me thinks that the fact that I am concerned about the incidents means that I've got at least a marginal grip on reality.  Isn't that was Lucy says to Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas?  Something about "as they say on TV, the fact that you think you need help means that you're not too far gone" (I'm paraphrasing).  But it annoys me when every little personality quirk or flaw takes on heavy meaning, when maybe it is just what it is -- a bad day, a bad minute, an overstressed instant.  It's like I can't lose my temper without it taking on some huge meaning.

In other news, I have my last "acute" ECT treatment tomorrow (which means 3X a week).  After that I'll probably start on "continuation" treatments, which  means once a week for a month, then "maintenance" treatments, which is once a month for a while.  I'm really, really looking forward to being done with these things.  I do think they've helped, but they're a monumental pain in my ass (and head). 

And I finished another Kuku doll, and am currently blocking my headwarmer.  I had been meaning to make myself some fingerless gloves for a while, but I was at the Gap last night and found a cute pair or cable-knit gauntlets for $8 -- I couldn't buy yarn for that amount of money.  So, Merry Christmas to me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

ECT Status Report

Since my life has been absorbed by ECT treatments the last week or so, that's pretty much all I have to write about.  I had my fourth treatment yesterday, which marks the mid-way point of this "batch."  Most people, according to my doctor, need an initial course of 6-12 treatments (at anywhere from $300-$800 per treatment) over two to four weeks. You then can have "maintenance" treatments once a week, once a month, every six weeks, or whatever your mood dictates (the American Psychiatric Association backs up this prescription).

Let me tell you flat out:  I'm not loving these treatments.  For one thing, the travel time is 45 minutes each way for each session, and tomorrow I have an appointment with my psychiatrist as well, so it's going to be an all-day affair.  But time is really just a minor inconvenience.  The whole process isn't all that fun, either.

Going under general anesthesia 3x a week can't be good for your body, not to mention, the whole fact that while you're out they zap you with enough electricity through the brain to cause a sizable seizure (read about ECT risks from the Mayo Clinic here).  Yesterday when I woke up from the anesthesia, I felt like I couldn't breathe, which was slightly alarming.  I almost always have some sort of headache afterwards, from mild to severe, and I have constant jaw, back, and shoulder pain.  During the first week, my calves were so sore it was difficult to walk immediately after sitting, until they loosened up. I think I mentioned some of these complaints in my last post.

But it is working?  In the greater scheme of things, jaw and calf pain is a small price to pay for a potentially large payoff.  The short answer:  I'm not sure.  I definitely feel like my brain is much quieter, with  less thoughts of self-harm, and suicide.  In my last post I said I felt "blunted," and I stand by that.  I kind of just want to sit in a chair and watch TV and zone out.

I even started a knitting project yesterday so I didn't feel like such a vegetable.  Someone was telling me about this cute knit headwarmer-wrap thing they got and how it would probalby be pretty easy to make, so I found a pattern for one here.  And I swear, it's a really simple pattern, but it took me forever to get the hang of it -- a lot longer than it should have.  I'd catch myself halfway done with a row, having knit every purl stitch and vice-versa.  It's like the instructions got scrambled in the translation from the page to my brain.  It's sort of how I used to feel with calculus.  And, man, I hated calculus.

In addition to having knitting problems, I seem to have problems remembering words, finding the right words, and holding a conversation.  These kinds of problems are the side effects most commonly associated with ECT treatments.  According to the APA, cognitive and memory problems are some of the more serious and worrisome risks associated with ECT, after problems with the actual procedure itself.  I found this cool website called the Experience Project, which collects personal stories on various topics, and one of the topics is ECT.  The biggest complaint that people had were significant memory issues; one person said their ability to do math was permanently impaired.  Another person said his memory was so impaired that he didn't even consider himself the same person that he had been before the treatment.

There are a couple of different places on the web to read personal stories, but if I read too much of them they'll drive me crazy.  It's like with anything else on the web; unusually people only get online and spend time talking about something if they really, really love it or really, really hate it -- whether it's a medical treatment or a refrigerator.  So I'll take all the online stuff with a grain of salt.

I do think my unusually-low irritation level is starting to rise back up, whether a result of medication or ECT, I don't know.  So that's a good thing.  I say this because yesterday, my favorite five-year-old dumped a yogurt smoothie on my computer keyboard, and nobody (and nothing) got hurt.  Two weeks ago, some innocent, inanimate object that was within my realm of reach would have been hurled across the room during a scene like that, but I managed to hold it together.

That's it for now.  This "status report" is sort of a misnomer, in that I really don't know what my status is at the moment.  But we'll just keep plugging away (plugging?  electricity?  get it??) and hoping for the best.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Brief History of ECT

Yesterday morning, I found myself waiting on my third electroconvulsive therapy treatment.  The procedure center was backed up, so I waited for a while, and the longer I waited, the more I kept wondering, "What the hell am I doing here?"

I looked around at the other people waiting (though most of the people in the waiting room were family members who were there to transport their loved ones to and from their shock treatment), and tried to take comfort in the fact that if all these other people were having ECT, it can't be that crazy.  But then I started thinking about people who have lined up through the years for other treatments that promise to make them thinner, younger, happier, healthier, stronger.  And how most of those treatments didn't have nearly the negative stigma that "shock therapy" has ("shock therapy," as a name, is passe -- ECT is the politically correct name of choice).

It's no wonder that ECT has such a negative connotation and stigma, based on its origins.  According to Andy Behrman, aka "Electroboy," an advocate for people with depression and bipolar disorder, most doctors know that ECT was dreamed up in the early thirties by an Italian physician named Ugo Cerletti while watching pigs being electrocuted into unconsciousness before being led to slaughter to make them easier to work with.  Cerletti figured the same technique could be applied to mental patients to make them more malleable for their doctors (from

The practice was introduced into the US the next year (1935) and was used to treat a whole host of mental "illnesses" -- from schizophrenia to homosexuality, from mania to truancy (truancy is a mental illness?  Sometimes I thank God I live in the era I do).  So, obviously, as most new, fabulous medical treatments are, it was grossly overused -- and grossly under-regulated.

According to the doctor administration my treatments, ECT began to be refined and specialized in the 1950s and 1960s, not incidentally along with the growth of the specialty field of anesthesiology (from SUNY Downstate Medical Center).  Concurrently with the improvement of ECT treatments, though, public opinion of the treatment began to plummet.  With the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (released in 1962) depicting the treatment as barbaric and punishing, and the movie (released 1975) further solidifying that image, ECT all but faded into the background as a treatment of last resort for catatonic or extremely suicidal patients.  Sylvia Plath, the poet, didn't help much, either, with her poem "The Hanging Man":

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.   
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eyelid:   
A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.

A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.   
If he were I, he would do what I did.
Written shortly before her death by suicide, Plath described what her ECT treatmenents were like to her.  And it didn't sound like anything anyone else really wanted to repeat.
With all the bad press and negative images in the media of ECT, it's not surprising that most people just assume that ECT is no longer practiced on a larger scale.  But since conditions in which the treatment is administered are more humane and streamlined now than it was 40 years ago, it is again becoming a legitiamite treatment.  According to the University Hospital in University, New Jersey, upwards of 100,000 adults receive ECT a year in the US alone.  

Even though the popularity of the treatment is increasing, there is still a fair amount of argument about whether ECT is more helpful than harmful.  I plan to look in to personal and doctors' accounts of the treatment and write more about that later.  The fact that doctors still don't really understand how it work -- though they can cite different brain imaging technicques to show that it does work -- is also a cause for concern.

But for now, I'm three treatments down and three to go.  Usually, the doctor prescribes 6-12 treatments upfront over a 2-4 week period.  I have to say, they're not really fun.  If nothing else, they're nerve-wracking and wearing on my psyche.  Buy physically, they take their toll as well -- muscle aches (especially the backs of my legs and my back and shoulders), jaw and facial pain, brutal headaches, and a general feeling of being "blunted."  Though maybe the "blunting" is the treatment working, I don't know.
Part of me wants to fight that "blunting."  Is it worth feeling dumber, duller, at the price of feeling less sucicidal and self-injuring?  I have to remind myself that it's not exactly like I'm Van Gogh, or Mozart, or even Plath - the world isn't losing anything if my intellect falls off a few notches.  But if I can spare my kids a mom who is in an out of the hospital, who cries less and plays more, who takes more of an interest in their doings, I guess it's worth it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Shocking, but there's Even Something I'm Reluctant to Talk About: ECT

When I was in the hospital last week, I went in with three goals.  The first was to stay safe; the second was to get my meds regulated; the third was to have a consultation about Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).  The last time I was in an outpatient appointment with my psychiatrist, we talked about the possibility of ECT, and she scheduled a consultation with the doctor at the Lindner Center (where I was hospitalized) who does the ECT therapy.  She couldn't get me in to see him until the 27th of December, but if I was an inpatient, I knew I could see him much quicker.

In case you're wondering, yes, ECT is that treatment -- formerly known as Electroshock Therapy.   When people think of ECT, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that famous (and disturbing) scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest where Jack Nicholson's character undergoes ECT as a form of punishment (link goes to YouTube clip).  In fact, that although ECT's popularity as a form of therapy was already on the wane by the time the movie was released in 1975, public opinion plummeted so because of the depiction that ECT became a therapy of last resort, indicated only for chronic, treatment-resistant depression and catatonic depression (from

In the last 30+ years, however, ECT has gained more popularity as a safe, effective treatment for severe depression, bipolar depression and mania, and other forms of mental illness.  So here we are, and here I am.

Today I had my second ECT treatment; the first was on Monday.  Over the next week and a half, I'll have four more.  They're not particularly fun, and I'm left sore, a little groggy, and with a major headache, but the doctor says those side effects should get better the more I'll do. 

In the next week or two, I'm going to write more about the history of ECT, how it works, and personal testimonies.  Today, though, I just wanted to "break the ice," so to speak, and come out and say that I'm actually now undergoing ECT treatments.

And I feel weird, and a little embarrassed, saying it.

I guess because most people still think of ECT as a barbaric, radical treatment, something that only really "far-gone" people do, something that most people would never even consider, I feel like it's something I should hide -- or at least keep to myself as much as possible.  That I should only tell a certain few people who know me, whose opinions wouldn't be affected by my decision.

But what's the point of keeping a blog, of putting everything else out there, if I'm not going to talk about this, too?  I've spoken about being hospitalized, and I know people have certain stigmas about that.  I know that people I've known for a long time look at me a little differently since the first time I was hospitalized, so I may as well add one more log to the fire.

I decided to go ahead and go with ECT therapy because I'm so tired of feeling like crap, and of taking medication after medication and having none of them work, while their side effects diminish my quality of life even further.  I want my old self back, and from talking to the doctors and from my own research, I think ECT is at least worth a try. 

And, as always, I'll be keeping you in the loop.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

That's right, I'm out of the clink -- er, hospital -- and back home.  I just took a really long, hot shower and thoroughly enjoyed not having to hit the little button every two minutes for the water to stay on.

I have not forgotten my give-away; there's just a little snafu.  Nobody wrote in the comments when you liked BPK on Facebook!  My Facebook "Likes" went up, but since I'm technologically stupid at the moment, I can't figure out who actually hit "Like" in the last week or so.  So I'll figure something else out...maybe give it based on who has commented in the last week?  That may work.

In addition to leaving the hospital today, I actually had my first of six scheduled ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) treatments this morning.  Let me tell you, it was trippy.  I will write more about that soon, but I have to be truthful -- even I feel like ECT is a sort of taboo topic.  In the meantime, I'll figure out this giveaway issue.  If you really think you'd like to read the book (again, it's Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the TOMS guy -- it is pretty inspiring), send me an email or leave a comment and maybe I'll just send it to the first person who asks!

Oh, and p.s. -- my dad is out of the hospital and is doing well.  Obviously, I decided not to go if, instead, I went to the hospital myself for the week, but he's out of the woods and is going to be fine.  I hope to plan a trip to Florida in the not-to-distant future.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great Expectations, Deflated

Here I am, still in Shawshank. No, no, I kid.


Today I'm mostly upset with the fact that I was supposed to go home, as per my doctor. But the weekend psychiatrist on duty never got around to seeing me and finalizing my paperwork today, even though I have been bugging the nursing staff about it since 9 this morning.

I thought I'd think positively and have my husband and daughters come down around 3, and maybe by the time they got here I'd be ready to go. No such dice. Looks like I'll probably be here till Monday, with my contraband iPod to keep me company.

The most frustrating part is that I actually feel pretty okay; I don't feel the need to be put away for safety reasons. And the staff here does next to nothing on weekends, as far as group therapy and entertainment go, so it's not like I'm getting lots of benefit there.

So, in a nutshell, I feel safe enough to leave, am bored out of my mind, and had to peel a shrieking five-year-old off my leg when she left.

Oh, holy hell...someone just started playing "Kumbaya" on an acoustic guitar and singing. I think I should have kept my mouth about the entertainment. Is 6:30 too early to go to bed?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Place Like (Not) Home for the Holidays...

No, I didn't really fall off the face of the earth after my last post. Unfortunately, I fell back into to Lindner Center instead.

After some thought, I finally came back down here to Mason and checked back in to the mental health facility. I guess it was the right decision; the jury's still out. At this point, I think I have more complaints than kudos for the joint, but that must just be my frame of mind.

--They took my bras, and I have to fight to get one at a time to wear. I've been here three times and never has that been a problem. And not wearing a bra is not an option.

-- When I came in late Monday night, I had to answer a long batch of questions for the intake nurse. This isn't odd. What is odd is that I did have to answer all these questions again for the admitting nurse. When I asked why I had to answer the same questions all over again, she said it was because she "was too lazy to read the answers off the chart to input them," and it was just "easier" to ask me again. This is after 2-plus hours in admissions and at about 11:30 at night. I was not pleased.

-- Nobody seems to be able to coordinate my meds. It seems like I take something different every day, and nobody can explain why or if that's the new norm. Plus, I brought in some of my own meds from home, prescribed by a different doc, and they seemed to have disappeared, even after repeated inquiries.

--I've heard Karen Carpenter's "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" at least three times. Today. Wanna make a depressed person more depressed at Christmas? Play this song.

--I spoke at length to the doctor in charge of the Electroconvulsive Therapy program, and am very excited about it. I've been doing research with the resources I have and have uncovered a lot of interesting things about the treatment.

--The contraband security is relatively lax, as evidenced by the fact I am updating this blog from an "unapproved electronic device." I feel so Andy Dufresne.

--The Oreo pie is excellent, there is no lack of group meetings you can attend, and if you want to be left alone, they pretty much leave you be.

All in all, I think I am accomplishing the tasks that brought me back down here. I don't know when I'll get to go home, but at least I now have my contraband iPod.

And don't forget to "Like" Bipolar Knitter on Facebook for a chance to win Blake Mycoskie's book! Assuming I still have my iPod or I'm home by then, I plan to announce the winner Monday.

My apologies for any odd formatting things going on here. I'm still trying to work out this Blogger app.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Giveaway #1

In the spirit of giving, I am going to try to give away several different fun things during the month of December.  For the first giveaway, you can win your very own hard-copy version of Blake Mycoskie's Start Something that Matters.

Mycoskie is the brainchild behind the TOMS shoe company, whose "One for One" philosophy has made them not only popular, but a company "that matters."  In his book, he talks about staring TOMS, following his passion, and turning that passion into something tangibly, authentically good.  I really respect the spirit of TOMS and what the book represents, and I think it dovetails nicely with this blog, in that I'm trying to do something that matters (even if just a little bit).

I'll post a full review of the book this coming weekend, but this whole week, you can enter to win a copy.  Here's what you need to do to enter:
  • "Like" Bipolar Knitter on Facebook -- either by clicking the button at the right or on my Facebook page.  Then leave me a comment with your name, and telling me that you "Liked" Bipolar Knitter
  • OR, if you've already "Liked" me on FB (thanks!), get someone else to "Like," too.  Then leave a comment with your name and the name of the person you referred, and you're both entered to win the book -- the person you referred gets one entry, and you get two, just cuz I'm generous like that.  If you refer more than one person, you get as many entries as referrals
  • OR, bribe me with cookies, jewelry, or Philosophy gift certificates. Okay, just kidding, don't really do that. I'm pretty sure it's in the exact opposite of the spirit of the book
A few things about this little contest:
  • Entries go till Friday night; I'll draw a winner this weekend
  • Not a lot of people read this blog.  Usually, I'd say that in a whiny, woe-is-me voice, but in this case, it's good for you!  There's more likelihood you'll win
  • This is a great opportunity to build a supportive, informative community by and for people with mental health disorders.  Just by entering the contest, you can do your part in making the community a little larger 
  • The books is really good.  Seriously.  You'll like it. And if you don't, hey, free Christmas gift for someone else!
  • I'll pay all shipping & handling costs for you.  Just call me Santa

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Okay, Now it's Time for Christmas Music

In direct opposition to what I posted last week about constantly blaring Christmas music at the hospital I was in, I am now ready to try to use the Power of Christmas Music for good, not evil.  Maybe, at some point, I could even call it a coping mechanism.

I don't hate Christmas music.  I just hate Christmas music before Thanksgiving (and I always hate Mariah Carey and George Michael Christmas music, that's a constant).  Plus, my all-time favorite Christmas song is "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk this Christmas," by John Denver (from the album Aspenglow). Who in their right mind could hate that song?

Anyway, I dug out all my old Christmas CDs and am ripping them into iTunes and uploading/downloading/sideloading/whateverloading so I can listen to them on my iPod or my phone.  As a side note, if you haven't checked out this whole Amazon cloud thingie, it's kind of cool.  Essentially, you can mirror your iTunes and Amazon Cloud libraries to each other, so you can play any of your digital music library on just about any portable device, Mac or other (like Android). 

I thought I'd share some of my favorite Christmas songs:
  • John Denver, "A Baby Just Like You" and "Aspenglow" -- both wonderful in a melancholy-John-Denver kind of way
  • John Denver, "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" -- as mentioned
  • Weezer, "Hark the Harald Angels Sing" -- a house in our neighborhood does this amazing light display set to music, and this is one of the songs they use
  • Sarah McLachlan's version of "Happy Christmas" -- I bought this album the year it came out and thought I was so cool, but it turns out everyone has it now
  • Harry Connick, Jr., "The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day" -- another album that everyone has (or at least has heard some of the songs from) of, but this is a nice, peaceful song and very Harry Connick-y.  I also like "I Pray on Christmas," it has a funky gospel sound
  • The Muppets' "Twelve Days of Christmas" -- I think I like this one because at my husband's yearly extended Christmas party, we'd sing the song and you had to sing the verse that corresponded to your birth month (first day = January, etc), and my mother-in-law was May (fifth month), and she ALWAYS sang it just like Miss Piggy
And I'd recommended the following albums, in their entirety:
  • "Peace," by Jim Brickman
  • "A New Age Christmas," Various.   I think I bought this randomly somewhere in a check-out line, but it's really good
  • "Christmas Guitar," Boccherini Guitar Quartet
  • "Celtic Christmas Harp I," Various. Again, bought this one somewhere but I can't remember where
  • "A Windam Hill Christmas, I'll Be Home for Christmas," Windam Hill.  I'm currently pissed because I know I bought this at some point but I can't find it right now
I know I've missed some good ones, but that's enough for a low-impact Sunday post.  Happy caroling!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coping Mechanisms: Avoiding Guilt

I talk a lot about coping mechanisms on this blog, usually knitting or other crafty-type activities (or humor, which is a really good one).  I'm currently facing a question on whether to engage in another kind of coping mechanism:  guilt avoidance.

That's a lousy name for the coping mechanism, but I'm at a loss for anything else.  At least it's descriptive:  "I am going to cope with crap by avoiding guilt."  Sounds simple enough.

So what I'm trying to do is avoid future guilt -- like, long-run guilt -- through my current actions.  Here's the story:  my dad was involved in a serious motorcycle accident a few days ago (okay, technically, it was a scooter accident, but "scooter accident" sounds so totally lame, I'm reinventing it to a "motorcycle accident").  It was in the local news and everything.  He moved to Florida about six or seven years ago, so it's not like I can just hop in the car and head over to the hospital and see him.

My brother found out about the accident Tuesday, when my dad's wife called my brother.  My brother called my husband that night and told him.  I had a breakdown Tuesday night, though, so my husband decided it may be better not to tell me about it until I felt better.  I knew my brother had called, but I assumed it was about Christmas gifts for the all the kids. So I finally found out about the accident yesterday morning, when, after sending my sister-in-law a long rambling email about what my kids would like for Christmas (since I assumed that's what my brother called about), my husband told me what the real story was.  And, side note:  gee, didn't  I feel like an ass, talking about Christmas gifts when my dad had been airlifted to intensive care.

Anyway, here's where the coping mechanism comes in.  It finally occurred to me last night that maybe I should consider going to Florida to see him (again, I was feeling like an ass, since this was a full 12 hours after I'd found out about it).  Nobody said so, but I think there was some time in there when the doctors/etc. weren't sure he was going to make it.  If he would have died that day, I would have felt horrible, but there's no way I could have gotten there in time. 

If now something happens now, however, and I don't go, will I ever be able to forgive myself?  I have a long and difficult history with my dad, but in recent years our relationship has been pretty stable.  I think we've both mellowed to a degree as we've gotten older, and things are pretty okay between us.  I think my brother would characterize his relationship with my dad the same way, though I don't want to put words in his mouth. 

Of course I don't want my dad to die; I want him to get better and live a much longer life (he's 64).  But if he did die, would I be able to forgive myself for not getting down there and visiting?  And, on a much less selfish note (yeah, yeah, I know how that last thought sounded), I'm sure he'd like to see us -- will I be okay with not going, even if something doesn't happen, knowing that I'm sure he'd like to have his family around him while he's sick?  Plus, I like his wife (they've been married about five years), and I'd like to support her.

I've been pricing airfare and kicking around the idea of going.  But I haven't been so well myself, lately, and I'm not sure I'm up to a trip to Florida from Ohio.  Plus, we've been calling in all our favors to get help for our kids while I've been ill the last few weeks, and I'm not sure my support system would be too thrilled with helping out on that kind of scale  for that reason. 

So do I put forth the effort, and avoid the guilt later?  Or do I put forth the effort, and just do the right damn thing and go see my dad?  Questions, questions.  I'm kind of stuck.  We'll see how it turns out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Let's Blog Swap!

Hi all loyal readers...

I was just updating my "blogroll" (aka "Blog List") on the right side of my page, and I was wondering if anyone who visits here keeps a blog, too.  If you do, post the blog in the comments section or send it to me in an email and I'll put it on my blog list at right.  Or, if you know someone else who blogs, tell them to check me out, let me know their URL, and I'll add theirs, too.

If you don't blog, what are some of your favorites to read (aside from this one, of course)?  What kinds of blogs are the best?  I'm partial to knitting (duh) and parenting, myself.

Tomorrow or the next day, I'm going to put up a post about how you can win a copy of Blake Mycoskie's (aka "The TOMS Guy") book, Start Something that Matters, just in time for Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hello, Mania, my old Friend....

...and since it's 3:30 a.m. and I'm writing a blog post, it's obvious I've come to talk with you again.

(and if you don't get the above cultural reference, you're too freaking young.  Go get Simon & Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park and report back later).

So while I was in the Lindner Center, the doctor there put me on a new, fun drug called Geodon (generic name:  ziprazidone).  It's an atypical anti-psychotic (AAP), much like Seroquel or Zyprexa, but it's a little bit newer and the side effects don't seem to be as bad.  For example, Seroquel and Zyprexa both cause insane weight gain, Zyprexa worse than Seroquel, and I've gained like, 50 lbs on Seroquel over the past five years.  Yeah, okay, I also had four pregnancies and three kids in those five years, but I'm gonna blame it on the Seroquel anyway.

Geodon is actually not a new drug, but apparently it seems to be used more often when other AAPs haven't worked.  I'd never heard of it when the doctor put me on it, and I feel like I'm pretty well-versed in this stuff. The nurse had me sign a release for it with the rest of my meds when I first got there, and she told me that it was a drug that they usually inject you with when you get really psychotic and they can't control you, and they almost certainly wouldn't have to give it to me.  Two days later, the doctor calmly informed me it was goinng to be part of my regular routine (in a capsule form, not an injection).

Apparently, it's marketed by Pfizer, and they were involved in a federal case a few years back that included being fined by the FDA  for marketing Geodon and three other meds for "off-brand uses."  To the tune of $2.3 billion.  That's with a "b," not an "m."  Here's an article from a medical fraud advocacy group that says that Pfizer got what they deserved, and here's another article from Forbes saying the whole thing was ridiculous.  I'll let you decide.  But the point it, maybe the drug is sort of unpopular due to public opinion reasons, I don't know.

Essentially, though, the doctor at the clinic took me off my virtual pharmacopeia of drugs I was on when I went in (lithium, Zoloft, Seroquel, Lamictal, Buspar, and an occasional Ambien and Ativan) and wanted me just on lithium and Geodon.  In fact, she said that a sort of "perfect storm" of occurrences led up to me being hospitalized, with the icing on the cake being the Zoloft, causing an agitated mixed-mania state, that was causing hallucinations, delusions, and suicidal thinking.  I'd been on Zoloft for six years, so Zoloft and mania or Zoloft and mixed-states was never on my radar.  I was taking all of my normal drugs in relatively low dosages, except the Zoloft.  I mean, I'm depressed -- give me an antidepressant, right?   Seems logical.  But it turns out that none of the meds were really helping, and some of them were actually hurting. Antidepressants can actually be pretty bad for bipolar people, but I've never had any obvious problems with them before, so I've stayed on one after another after another (you name it, I've been on it) for years.  This is actually a pretty major problem for some people, but I'll talk about that another time.

So when the pdoc sent me home on Wednesday, I was on Geodon, lithium, and Xanax as needed (with the idea that eventually I'd get off of everything except the Geodon).   Three drugs seem like nothing, compared to my previous med cocktail.

The only trouble is...well, it's 3:30, and I'm writing this blog post.  Yep, seems like something is sending me into some sort of (at least hypo-)manic state.  I'm pretty sure it's not the Xanax, since Xanax usually knocks me on my ass.  But I've had three of them since 7:00 p.m. tonight, and other than the fact I can't see straight and I feel like my brain is rattling around in my head, I'm not at all tired.

I did do some web searching, and that shining bastion of research, Wikipedia, mentions that "Ziprasidone is known to cause activation into mania in some bipolar patients."  Thanks, Wikipedia, for that thorough explanation.  At least they list references; here's a link to one of the studies that supports this claim (there are a couple). I also found a couple of discussions online about "Geodon mania" that were asking the same questions.  Here's one; here's another.  God, I seriously love the internet.  You could do a search for just about anything and find a discussion about it.  Anyway, irrelevant.

Maybe it's the Geodon, maybe it's something else causing the mania, I don't know.  I've actually cut way back on my caffeine, so it can't be that, and the Zoloft is gone, so it can't be that, and I've been on the lithium for about six I'm kind of at a loss.  I will mention, though, that the sleeplessness isn't the only manic symptom I'm experiencing, so this isn't just a case of insomnia. I won't elaborate, in case my husband reads this, but he'll know what I'm talking about when he gets my next credit card bill (sorry, sweetie). 

For now, I think some of the Xanax has kicked in and, while I'm not tired, I definitely can't see straight.  So I think my rant is at an end for the moment.  I hope you're sleeping, cozy in your bed, and not doing random research on anti-psychotic meds that you feel like a crazy person for needing to take. 

Oh, wait, I AM a crazy person. Oh well. Least I'm a crazy person with a credit card.  For now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Check Me Out -- I'm Home, and Away From the Horrors....

of 24-hour-a-day Christmas music.

That's right.  I had to go stay in a "mental health facility" (but I usually think of it as a "looney bin," even though I know that's totally un-PC), and just in case us patients didn't feel shitty enough, the place was pumping Christmas music through the stereo in all the common areas 24/7.  And it wasn't even Thanksgiving, for God's sake! 

Plus, it was bad Christmas music -- I heard Mariah Carey more than once.  Thankfully I didn't hear that damn hippopotamus song, because I probably would have ended up restrained, or taken to the "tub room" (I actually don't know what the "tub room" is, but there was a door by my room marked as such and I've seen enough bad movies and House reruns to conjure up images of a big basin floating with ice cubes they dunk you in to calm you down).

As a result of the holiday cheer onslaught, I've put a moratorium on Christmas music at my house for at least another week, unless it's instrumental/ambient or classical (like, no lyrics classical -- not Bing Crosby classical) Christmas music.  Frankly, as I get older, I like that kind of Christmas music better anyway.

I'm not trying to make light of my stay at the Lindner Center (which is really the absolute opposite of a "looney bin" -- it's beautiful, bright, and modern with a very caring staff and doctors, Christmas music aside).  But I actually have so much I want to say about my stay there, what I learned, what medications I'm now on -- and how I got to be in such a crisis state that I had to go stay there -- that I'm still trying to organize it all in my mind.  

I will say that I almost kissed the psychiatrist, though, when she informed my husband that no amount of exercise, "good eating," or other coping mechanisms would have helped me get out of the funk that brought me there. I had to stop myself from jumping up, doing a little dance, and screaming, "I F*CKING TOLD YOU SO!"

But I'm classy, and very magnanimous, so I didn't.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Maintained Radio Silence....

Just thought I'd update that I won't be posting for a few days, maybe a week.  I've won a fabulous vacation to the Lindner Center, a psychiatric facility in Mason, Ohio.  I met with my new psychiatrist today and she thought it was best for me to check in and get a "tune up."  I don't want to go, but I guess it's for the best.

In the meantime, join and follow me.  Or check out this totally obnoxious, yet adorable, Hello Kitty crocheted scarf that I'm working on (well, I won't be working on it while I'm gone, cuz crochet needles are a no-no).

Where is My Village?

If you follow my posts at all, you'll know the last few weeks have been somewhat of a challenge for me, mental-health wise.  I've talked about coping mechanisms like humor and crafting, and I've been pretty good (in my opinion) trying to use these things to feel better.  I even managed to drag my butt to my mom's group at church on Tuesday and to yoga on Wednesday.  Alas, to no avail.  Some days seem to go okay, and then there are days like today, when the devil is whispering in my ear horrible things about myself, I keep screaming at my kids, and I can't get the image of running my car into a tree out of my mind.

I'm not talking about this stuff simply to whine, but to bring up a larger problem:  why do we mother alone?  A friend of mine, a yoga instructor, once promoted a "Yoga Playdate" class by saying, "Come build your village."  That phrase has stuck with me ever since.  Regardless of if you're a Hillary Clinton fan or not (I'm referring to her book It Takes a Village), there's something to the thought that mothering (and parenting in general) should be a shared task.  It seems that almost every mother I know, at some time or another, has felt alone, vulnerable, and overwhelmed.  The vulnerable and overwhelmed feelings are probably just parts of being a mom, but the "alone" part shouldn't have to be.

Take me, for example. Today I keep wondering how the hell I'm going to make it through the day -- and, more importantly, how the kids will make it through without me totally losing it.  I am truly blessed that I know I could call my mom or father-in-law and, if they could, they could help  -- but my mom works, and my father-in-law has his own stuff going on, and I feel like it's not their job to parent my kids.  Plus, that makes me feel like I'm failing -- why can't I "stick it out" or "suck it up?"  And I feel horribly, painfully alone.

I've often wondered why there isn't some sort of emergency babysitting service available.  Why don't we have services or groups for women, with help available 24-7?  If our society could pull together to offer services like this, I would almost guarantee that child abuse, infanticide, and maternal suicide (not to mention depression and other mental illnesses) would become less prevalent.  Unfortunately, I think the reason these services don't exist is the same reason that I feel guilty calling someone for help.  Mothers are expected to be able to do everything, to be everyone, to cook everything, to work anywhere, and still maintain some sort of sanity.  And for those of us that don't work -- well, what the heck is OUR problem?  We don't even have the stress of a real job, so of course we should be able to deal with whatever comes along (I hope my sarcasm comes through here).

How have we gotten so isolated?  I'd blame it on technology, but I think it started well before the advent of the internet and social media.  I'm sure there's lots of scholarly research on the topic, and I think I'll check it out, but I just don't have the energy today.  Right now, I'm just throwing out the questions to hopefully start some thinking on the topic.

Okay, my baby is shrieking in her crib, so I guess that's enough writing for me today.  In the meantime, if you're a mom and feel overwhelmed, check out this "Tonglen for Mothers" by DeLona Campos-Davis. My favorite line:

I breathe in the loneliness of days spent mothering on my own.
I breathe out connection, community, compassion.
Just breathe.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Trouble with Trauma (and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I'm reading a book right now called The Night Strangers, a novel by Chris Bohjalian.  It's a pretty standard ghost story, but at the center is a pilot who has survived a plane crash in which most of his passengers died.  He's suffering pretty severe PTSD, and the ghost part goes on from there.

The reason I mention the book is that it's gotten me thinking about PTSD and trauma, and what constitutes trauma.  Clearly, a plane crash would constitute as trauma for just about anyone; it's understandable that someone who survived something like that would have some lingering issues.  A while ago, though, I wrote about postpartum PTSD, and how a lot of people don't think about how childbirth could be traumatic and cause something as serious as PTSD.  I know, however, that I did have PTSD after my first daughter was born, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

The thing is, I know someone else could have gone through the same childbirth experience that I did, yet not experience trauma.  Similarly, a few years ago I was in a car wreck with my husband and baby in the car, in which my new car was almost totaled, and had no lingering issues from that at all.  I know other people have gone through similar wrecks and probably did experience PTSD.

The US Library of Medicine says that PTSD can occur when someone has "seen or experienced a traumatic even that involved the threat of injury or death."  Seems pretty straightforward.  The definition mentions incidents like war, assaults, abuse, and terrorism as "traumatic events."

In a weird stroke of synchronicity, however, I was reading some of the stuff about this whole Penn State debacle, and there was a report of a janitor who saw the coach in question molesting a young boy.  The janitor was a Korean War vet, but said that what he saw between the coach and his victim was something he'd "never forget."   Clearly, witnessing the abuse of a child was more traumatic to this man than what he'd seen in the war, but that seems to counter the previous definition of PTSD.

What makes one person's trauma another person's mere experience?  And, what makes one experience traumatic to a person, versus another?   So often, when you have a traumatic experience, people in your life  tolerate your PTSD to a point, and then, when it seems like enough time has passed, everyone assumes that you should "get over it" or "get through it." 

Unfortunately, I think when you experience a trauma severe enough to cause lingering issues, it's something that stays with you for a long time -- maybe forever.  It may be something you can manage with therapy or other coping mechanisms, but it's something that stays in your brain, like the janitor in the Penn State scandal said.  It's something you carry with you for a very long time, maybe forever, and it may be a mystery why one experience is a trauma and another is just an experience. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tis the Season: Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you live in the Eastern part of the U.S., you are probably experiencing the wonderful phenomena of Time Change Hangover.  I know I am.  It seems like when the clock falls back an hour in the fall, everything in my life gets thrown off a little bit -- and even more so, now that I have kids.  Kids tend to ignore the time change altogether, which makes sense since they can't tell time (this logic, however, does not make it any less irritating when they're yelling at you at 6 a.m.).  

This time of the year, I hear a lot of people talking about how the weather and light (or lack thereof) affects their mood.  I found an article at talking about things you can do to combat the "winter blues," or mild seasonal depression, which is probably what most people experience.  The suggestions are nothing earth-shattering:  exercise, light therapy, that kind of stuff.  

Unfortunately, a lot of people experience a lot more than mild seasonal depression; studies estimate that 4-6% of people suffer full-blown SAD, and 10-20% have a more mild form of the condition.  For these people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, fall and winter mean a lot more than feeling cranky and lethargic.  I think a lot of people think they have SAD, or throw the term around somewhat carelessly, when SAD is actually a pretty severe condition. In addition to "normal" depression symptoms, like feeling hopeless and anxious, people with SAD may crave carbs, oversleep, and gain weight.  The feeling of depression is also gets progressively worse throughout the winter, only letting up when the seasons change and days become longer.

Interestingly (well, probably not for the people who have it), some people with seasonal affective disorder can get their symptoms in the summer.  These people usually have trouble sleeping, rather than oversleep.  It's more rare to have SAD in the summer, but it happens. 

Treatment for SAD can include light therapy, meds, and psychotherapy.   If you think you have full-blown seasonal affective disorder, the best thing to do is call a psychiatrist or psychologist, or -- if you have a problem getting to see one of these doctors, which you may -- see your family doctor. 

Luckily, I don't really think I have SAD -- just sort of some mild "winter blues" brought on by the fabulous Ohio fall and winter.  Having said that, everything lately is an effort, so I may go buy myself a light therapy box or light bulb for a little at-home light therapy.  If nothing else, it's probably good light to knit by.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Coping Mechanisms: Humor

Still feeling pretty funky.  I'm working on a post about medical testing on mental patients, which is really fascinating, but it's requiring more energy than I'm capable of right now.  So, in the meantime, I thought I'd talk about another coping mechanism:  humor.

It's pretty self-explanatory.  Read, watch, or hear stuff that's funny, and usually you can't help but smile.  I was feeling pretty low yesterday, but when I started reading some of the entries over at, I was laughing so hard I was crying.  It's nice to cry over something other than crushing hopelessness.

I don't subscribe to the whole "Just turn that frown upside-down!" school of depression triumph -- in fact, I want to stab people who say stuff like that with a sharpened broom handle.  But I do think that humor can offer a temporary respite from some pretty crappy feelings.  Interestingly, a lot of comics and humorists suffer from depression and other mental illness, so maybe there's something to humor as a way to cope.  As Erma Bombeck said, "If you can laugh at it, you can live with it."

Here are some other amusing links. 

The Institute of Offical Cheer, from James Lileks.  I love James Lileks; his writing style is witty and intelligent.  My personal favorites at the Institute are a tour of The Gobbler, a fabulous (yet, sadly, gone) Wisconsin motel, and  Art Frahm:  A Study of the Effects of Celery on Loose Elastic.  Art Frahm was an illustrator that painted pin-up girls who usually:  a)  were carrying groceries, including celery; and b) were losing their underwear.  It's very weird.

Love, love, love the site  Hilarious.  You just have to wonder what the hell some of these people were thinking.

Sh*  Pretty self-explanatory, but for anyone who has had a kid screw something up, it's painfully familiar.

The fit & fabulous MerlinCat  No, this is not another (also known as LOLCats) site -- I think this was actually around first.  It's funny because the cats all look so pissed off -- which is pretty much the natural state of a cat's demeanor.  Speaking of which, this is a hilarious cartoon about hating cats.  (And, yes, I have a cat, but that doesn't mean I can't make fun of them, too).  In case you live under a rock and have never heard of (it was on Jeopardy!, for cripe's sake), it's a "news" site that posts user-submitted current event links with user-submitted headlines.  Example:  "Naked guy wanders around Dulles airport, perhaps trying to beat TSA to the punch."

No discussion of internet humor is complete (not that this is a complete discussion, but whatever) without a mention of The Book of Ratings.  I mourn the loss of, which was an offshoot of The Brunching Shuttlecocks.  Lore Sjoberg, the writer, inexplicably commented on and graded totally random things -- everything from marsupials to the seven deadly sins to Dante's punishments.  Sadly, I can't find the ratings online anymore.  There is an actual book (book?  paper?  what's that?), which is a small comfort, and I do own it, but I could read ratings all day long and pee my pants laughing so hard.  And I mean that literally, now that I've had kids.

Since you can't find the ratings online anymore, I'll post one of my favorites that I managed to dig up:
From "The Ratings for Dante's Punishments":
The Blasphemers
Burning sand and rains of fire, all for those who said things like "Jesus f*ck, that's one God-be-buggered big-ass fajita plate," plus the entire London cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. It doesn't make it clear whether you can get away with phrases like "Gosh darn cripes," which would have been good to know. Anyhow, if you do these things you have to lay down in the sand. I think it would have been a more appropriate punishment for evil sunbathers, but that's why I'm not Pope. Among other reasons.
 I'll leave you with that thought.  Hope you're smiling.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Finished All Those Legs

I finally finished my octopus.  His official name (per the book) is "Tentacle Terry."  The kicker is that neither of my kids like him; I think he reminds them too much of a spider.  On a side note, I didn't really like the yarn I used, it was Vicki Howell for Caron, Sheep(ish) in Plum(ish).  I like it in the scarf I'm making, but on the little needles (I used a size 4) it got really fuzzy.

This isn't a great picture; my iPod doesn't take great pics.  I could probably change a setting, but that would require too much effort.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

That's Me Trying

Several years ago, a very odd musical collaboration occurred between William Shatner and Ben Folds.  If you are familiar with William Shatner's previous musical offerings (his version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" is my personal favorite), you'd be right to be skeptical.  But -- and I say this completely without irony -- the resulting album, Has Been, is actually not bad.  Shatner mostly does spoken word recitations rather than trying to sing, and Folds sets the tracks to music and does some backup singing (along with others, like Aimee Mann and Henry Rollins).  My favorite song on the album is called "That's Me Trying."

Anyway, the reason I mention this (well, really, who needs a reason to mention William Shatner??), is that I've mentioned that I haven't been doing so well in the mood department for the last week or so.  I've gotten a lot of help, thank God, but everyone just keeps telling me, "You have to try!"

I guess I understand what they're saying, but at this point, I really don't even know what "trying" is.  Is it not cutting myself?  Not bursting into tears every hour?  If that's trying, then I'm not trying.  If it's managing to make dinner (which didn't turn out great), managing to drag the kids to the store (which was a big mistake), then I am trying.  Is it updating this blog, and working on my knitting projects?  Then I'm trying.  Is it fighting the "I want to die" feelings?  Then I'm not trying.

You get the point.

My constant questioning has me coming back to that stupid Shatner/Folds song again and again.  Part of the refrain goes, "Above the quiet, there's a buzz/That's me trying."  I think, I made dinner.  That's me trying.  I took a walk.  That's me trying.  I feel like I want to write on the walls, "Look!  That's me trying!"  The only problem is that  I still feel like shit.

So now what?

Note:  part of "me trying" is continuing work on my little octopus.  Did you know that octopuses have eight freaking legs?  That's a hell of a lot of legs.  I'm tired of knitting legs.  But that's me trying.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coping Mechanisms: Craftherapy

A while ago, I was proud of myself for coming up with a new word, "craftherapy."  Out of curiosity, I did a google search for the word, and it turns out some other people came up with the same word as well, so I'm not as great as I thought I was.  Darn.  Even so, I'm going to write about craftherapy today.

In my last post, I mentioned that my previous attempts to stave off a depressive episode weren't working, and I was doing kinda bad.  Well, the bad continues.  Bad enough that hospitalization has been mentioned, and I SO do not want that, if for no other reason than they won't let me have my iPod or knit (of course, there are lots of other reasons as well, but those are two very concrete ones).

So to avoid possible hospitalization, further self-injury, or any other kinds of serious badness, I'm trying to pull out some coping mechanisms.  And it's not easy.  All I really want to do is lie in bed all day and eat chocolate (and, after Trick-or-Treat, we have a lot of that), so getting up and sitting vertical and doing something is a major effort.  Man, you gotta love depression.

Of course, some of my coping mechanisms are forms of -- here's the word -- craftherapy.  I mentioned before about the entrelac scarf I was working on, and I'm still whittling away at that.  I also finished a zigzag scarf (pattern here) in Red Heart Boutique Swirl in Floral, then finished a pair of basic gauntlets (fingerless gloves) in some bulky rust colored yarn from the book Speed Knitting.

In addition, I ordered this cute little book from called Little Knitted Creatures by Amy Gaines, and started to make a little octopus.  I'm not a huge fan of octopuses (octopi?), but I had purple yarn, so there ya go.

Lastly, for a craftherapy task other than knitting, I bought a book called The Mandala Workbook, which is supposed to guide you through a twelve-stage mandala cycle for healing and growth.  I've started reading it, but haven't actually started any of the mandala exercises yet.

In general, I guess my coping mechanisms are working okay, in the sense that I'm not in the hospital.  I'm kind of funked out right now because I can't find a tapestry needle and I don't have the right sized needles for another project, so I'm sort of at a standstill.  It's irritating when your coping mechanisms piss you off more than your depression.  But I'll just keep plugging along.

For anyone else out there having a bad time of it (I think the change of the seasons is a rough time of year), I hope you're engaging in some coping mechanisms yourself and staving off the really bad stuff.  Feel free to share your tactics for survival.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Court Case Update

The other day, I wrote about a trial going on outside of Cincinnati about a teacher accused of having sex with several of her students.  I wrote about it because the teacher was pleading guilty by reason of insanity, and her lawyers contended that she had bipolar disorder.  At least, I think that's what they were contending.  One article from ABC News had this quote:
[Her] lawyers defended her actions with explanations ranging from her vegan diet, the use of the antidepressants, blackouts from alcohol and even irritable bowel syndrome, claiming it rendered her unable to determine right from wrong.
An article in the local paper indicated the same thing, even saying that the lawyers cited Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (link goes to info about PCOS - I can't find the article now) as part of the problem.  It all seems very confusing, and appears the lawyers were throwing about anything they could think of out there as evidence (but that's just my opinion).  I mean, come on -- irritable bowel syndrome? 

After I wrote my post, I started thinking that maybe I was being short-sighted and judgmental.  I did a search about bipolar disorder and an insanity plea, and found this interesting editorial from the New York Sun, which basically says that bipolar disorder is a "mood disorder," rather than one of "cognition."  When a defendant pleads insanity, her lawyers must prove she didn't know right from wrong -- and that's something that bipolar disorder doesn't do.

I guess the judge in the case agreed, because she found the teacher guilty and sentenced her to four years in jail, with possibility of parole in six months.  Even though what she did was wrong, I think it's kind of stupid to send her to jail.  A few weeks ago, a local businessman who was found guilty of accounting fraud and bilking customers and employees out of money was sentenced to seven days in prison.  The difference in prison terms doesn't make sense to me at all -- but maybe that's why I'm not a lawyer.

On another note, my attempts to stave off my impending depressive crash after a few weeks of hypomania were futile.  The bottom dropped out on Thursday, and I'm still trying to recover.  I guess I'm more of a slave to my chemicals than I want to believe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bipolar Disorder and a Weird Court Case

Right now, a big story in this area is the trial of a high school gym teacher accused of giving alcohol to and having sex with five football players from her school.  As the trial progresses and more stories come out, the whole situation gets weirder and weirder and more salacious -- which, of course, makes for great news.

For various reasons, I had a morbid interest in this case from the beginning.  I got really interested, though, when this summer the teacher switched her plea from not guilty to guilty by reason of insanity.  I wondered what kind of mental illness would make her give her students vodka and then have group sex with them -- nymphomania?  Some kind of psychosis?

Oh, no.  It turns out, it's bipolar disorder!  This is what the local newspaper had to say (and, admittedly, it's not exactly the gold standard in hard-hitting journalism):
[Her] attorneys, Charlie H. Rittgers and his son, Charlie M. Rittgers, said [she] has a bipolar disorder and doesn’t recall the incidents.
So it's not only bipolar disorder, it's "a bipolar disorder."  I'm assuming he's referring to the different types of bipolar disorder (see the list here), but the way it's quoted, it just sounds weird. It's like saying, "she had a cough," like it was an isolated illness.  I don't know about anyone else, but I would never say, "oh, yeah, that's when I had a bad bout of bipolar disorder."

The teacher also claims to have no memory of the incidents.  I have no idea if bipolar mania (which I'm assuming is what the attorneys are referring to for the insanity plea) causes blackouts, but I did find this article on bipolar disorder and memory loss. It turns out the two are related -- but bipolar disorder causes problems with recall and details, which is way different than forgetting entire events.  I suppose alcoholism can cause blackouts, but I'm not sure that alcoholism would fly when trying to plead insanity.  This article indicates that alcohol intoxication alone is not grounds for an insanity defense, but it can affect the intent of the person accused of the crime.

I find it interesting that the only drug (other than alcohol) that's been mentioned that she was taking was Zoloft.  It seems to me if she had serious bipolar disorder, she would be on other meds in addition to Zoloft.  On the other hand, taking an antidepressant alone can cause a bipolar person to cycle into mania, so maybe if she was just on Zoloft, it was causing mania -- which can lead to reckless behavior, including drinking and reckless sex.

So, maybe she was in some sort of acute bipolar mania phase when having sex with these guys.  On several different occasions.  The only problem is, it seems like she knew it.

The prosecution presented several witnesses who testified the teacher admitted that she was having sex with the boys, and that if she was found out, she'd plead insanity.  Uh-oh.  This, for me, is where the story falls apart.  There's that old adage that if you think you're insane, then you're not -- when you're really far gone, you usually think you're fine.  If she was going around telling people she was doing these things and she'd just plead insanity, that kind of makes me wonder.

I want to stress here that I'm not saying she's not insane, or had some seriously impaired judgement.  And, there's no guarantee that the witnesses are telling the truth, or interpreting events truthfully.  And, frankly, to send her to jail seems to be stupid, as there are a lot of violent, repeat offenders who should be in jail and aren't (or aren't in jail for long enough).  I feel bad for her, I feel bad for her family, I feel bad for the "victims," and I feel bad for their families.

I also want to stress that information I'm getting is from the local paper and news stations, so I don't know how heavily I can rely on the entire story being told in 30-second sound bites and a few columns of newsprint.

What ultimately annoys me, though, is the idea that the lawyers are asserting that she has bipolar disorder, so she should be excused and absolved of responsibility for her actions (which is ultimately what the lawyers are trying to get the judge to buy).  Maybe she does have bipolar disorder; maybe she even had untreated mania.  But to say that those things caused her to drink alcohol, stand around naked, and have group sex with high school boys on at least five different occasions, seems to be a little shaky.  From what I know about bipolar disorder, it just doesn't work like that.

It will be interesting to see what the "experts" (psychiatrists, I assume) say when they take the stand, which should be later in the week.  Maybe I'm wrong; maybe bipolar disorder could cause this kind of behavior over a lengthy period of time. 

Man, if that's true, remind me to keep taking my meds!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Knitting for the Holidays...and to Avoid a Crash

Since I'm back on the knitting train now, working on my entrelac scarf and another cool zigzag scarf, I was thinking of trying to knit some gifts for Christmas.  Last year I did a couple of scarves for my sister-in-law and for my mom (I'd post the patterns but I have no idea where they are), so I was thinking of doing some cute amigurumi dolls for my kids and for some other small family members.  I got one kit and I'll see how it goes, and how long it takes to make.  I made a cute "Sheldon" turtle a few years ago for one of my girls, and it took FOREVER.  I don't want to be too ambitious.

When I get in phases like this and have about sixty-seven different projects going, I really feel the brunt of my bipolar disorder.  One sign of bipolar disorder is having lots of unfinished projects.  Of course, lots of people have lots of unfinished projects and aren't bipolar, but I think with bipolar disorder, in a manic or hypomanic phase there's a certain urgency to start different things, all at one time.  I know I often start to feel pressured, and want to get lots of things done as soon as I can.  The problem is that after a little while of this kind of behavior (a few days, a week), I crash out and sink into a depressive phase.  This is a pretty common trait of bipolar disorder, too.

I'm trying to avoid that this time by pacing myself, doing a lot of deep breathing, and limiting my caffeine.  One of the most important lessons I learned the last time I had a serious depressive phase is that caffeine is NOT my friend.  I can have maybe one Diet Coke (my Achilles' heel) and a cup of coffee a day, and that's it.  It's better if I have none at all, but when my kids are demanding stuff and the baby is crying, I could do a lot worse coping-wise than grabbing a Diet Coke.

And I'm trying to make my knitting urge work for me, instead of against me.  Instead of getting frantic about finishing all these projects at one time, and starting sixteen new ones for Christmas/birthday/Tuesday gifts, I am trying really hard to focus on one (or two - let's be realistic here) things.  And if I can focus on a few things, maybe I can thwart the pressured thinking and thus thwart the coming depression. 

I guess what I really wonder is:  is the crash unavoidable?  Most of the stuff I look up online seem to just assume that after a manic or hypomanic phase, a bipolar person will inevitably fall into a depressive phase.  How much can I control, and how much does the bipolar disorder control me?  I guess we'll find out.