The “Big D” strikes again!

For those of you that don’t know, I have given my bipolar disorder a persona…Big D.  He’s a maniacal character that tends to throw me out of sorts.  Most days, I can keep him away.  However, there are some where he reigns supreme. This last month is a good example.

For the past month, I’ve been living on 3-5 hours of sleep per night.  Occasionally, I get one or two good night’s rest, around 6 hours.  I’m usually exhausted by the time I think I’m ready to go to bed.  Big D has other plans.  My entire day starts to replay in my head:  What could I have done differently?  Did I really do that?!  Can I do better?  Then the “answer” scenarios start.  Oh this takes up a good chunk of my falling asleep time…if I actually able to fall asleep at all.  I know I’m not alone in this.  Although at 2 in the morning, when all of my family is fast asleep, it sure does feel like I’m alone in this.  Occasionally, I can still make an early appointment or  excursion with a friend.  It seems like just when I think I’ll get up early without an alarm (because I consistently have been waking up at 5 a.m.), that’s the day Big D is distracted enough to let me sleep longer.  I just feel awful by the time I wake up…awful and well rested.  I know I’ve let people down AND then it starts all over again.

This whole past month, I have not had two days in a row where Big D isn’t messing up my sleep.  I always think I can get a second day, but nope.  Big D is just playing his usual games.  For the most part, I can function alright, just alright.  I do have days that it seems like I’ll never fully “wake up”.  I’ll go about my day surrounded by a dense fog.

U2 has a song, “It’s The Little Things“.  The lyrics hit home for me.  These especially:

Sometimes the air is so anxious
All my thoughts are so reckless
And all of my innocence has died
Sometimes I wake at four in the morning
When all the darkness is swarming
And it covers me in fear
This is partly what it’s like when I try to fall asleep.  My anxiety ramps up.  My thoughts swirl around and around in my head, with seemingly no end in sight.  The last three lines are extremely poignant to me.  I’m often awake in the early morning hours and the darkness in my head and the literal darkness all around, do scare me at times.  I wonder how long I can go on with so little sleep and not go into mania.
My family and friends, I think, are what keeps me from going into the darkness of mania and depression.  Also, there is a strength and stubbornness within me that won’t let it happen.  Yes, I’m not always as strong as I would like to be.  I just hope this past month of not sleeping doesn’t continue too far into this month.

Self-Care

I’ve known all along that self-care is so vitally important to my stability.  I’m constantly reminding others that they need to take care of themselves first.  Do I always listen to my own advice?  Sadly, no.  I’m writing this blog today, not only as a reminder to all of you , but to myself as well.

Self care for my is my glass art.  It calms me.  The creativity I can put into glass helps me make sense of my world.  It also allows me to help others (by donating sales to charity) which, in turn, helps me even more.  However, this week I allowed outside influences to throw off my self-care routine.  I haven’t been in my studio in about 4 days.  As a result, my mood is low.  I’m lashing out others.  I’m just not myself.

For me, there is just something about the sound of breaking glass (in a controlled manner) that centers me.  Now, sometimes the glass has a mind of its own and won’t break the way I had intended.  This does frustrate me.  However, if only happens a couple of times, I can handle it.  If it does it too often, well, then I know it’s time to stop.  At that point, I take out my pencil and paper and create patterns for later use.

I know how much my glass helps and yet, I neglect some times.  Does this happen to any of you?  The self-care that you know works for you, you sometimes neglect because of what’s going on around you.  You know you’ll feel better if you do it, but you don’t.  For me, it brings my mood down even further.  It becomes a vicious cycle.

What do you do for self-care?  What do you do to make sure that it doesn’t fall by wayside?  I know that when I’m done with post, I’ll head out to my studio.  I’ll give it a good clean up and then just create whatever is in my head without worrying if it will sell.  I’ll just create for me.  I’m really interested in hearing from you.  It may give other readers ideas as well.

Thanks for reading!

Love, Friendship, and Bipolar

I’ve watched people come and go in and out of my life.  They’ve become shadows… casualties of what they don’t or won’t understand.  Only I’m left holding the shattered glass of my life in their wake.  They failed to understand me.  Maybe I failed them.  All I know, it isn’t easy living with Bipolar Disorder and it can be just as bad for those on the outside trying to catch a glimpse.  A glimpse of something they can wrap their brain around that will have it make sense.

I have a very small circle of close friends.  It used to be much larger, but they left.  So for those brave souls (true friends) that stand by me, I’m cautious about revealing too much…about needing them too much.  It’s a very fine line to walk.  For people to trust one another, each person has to feel safe enough to share their true feelings.  In today’s stigma ridden world, that can be difficult.

I’m getting there.  Little by little, I’m letting people in, but that makes me vulnerable to pain.  I’ll keep trying as long as the people I love have patience with me.  It feels like I’m asking the world of them… to be patient.

The Masks We Wear

When people first meet me, they don’t see the darkness that lurks deep inside my brain.  They don’t see the constant battle I am fighting with myself.  They don’t see how much I hurt.  They’ll never really see the pain I feel inside.  Why?  Because I have a “mask” for every occasion.  We all have them and wear them.

When people meet me, they see the persona of me.  They see the confident/talented glass artist.  They see the activist.  They see the teacher.  They see the wife, mother, and family caretaker.  They see what I want them to see…to some extent.  There are a select few that I have allowed into my inner sanctum and they are allowed to see just below the cracks, but only just below.  Nobody is allowed to get too close.  I fear if anyone truly knew the darkness that surrounded me, they run away.  I wouldn’t blame them.

So, when I wake up, I put on the day’s mask.  Oh, it gets exhausting.  The cracks in my facade to begin to show from time to time, but no one really notices.  I suppose that’s okay.  I mean…how much do we really know about the people in our lives.  We really only know what they choose to reveal to us.  Whether they have a mental illness or not.  Through a mental illness into the mix and it gets a little more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my life or the people in it.  I have a very close-knit group of friends and a family that loves me.  They all do the best they can with me with the information I reveal to them.  I do try to let people in more and more, but that’s a scary proposition for me.  It’s a vulnerable position to be in.  I suppose to truly care for and understand someone you have to let them in all the way, not just part way.  I’ve always said that I was a work in progress.  I guess I still am.

Heroes or Ghosts

Heroes or Ghosts…the people we look up admire most.  Is it time to let go?  I’ve been a fan of U2 for over 30 years.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  They have been the soundtrack to my life.  Maybe it’s time to start a new soundtrack.  There was a HUGE fiasco with purchasing tickets for their new tour.  Many long time fans were left out and ticket touts won, yet again, despite “efforts” to stop them.  As fans were forced to renew fanclub subscriptions early just to get presale codes, tickets were still on the secondary market within minutes at inflated prices.  Also, many of those lifelong fans didn’t even receive codes.  And what did the band do?  Nothing.  What did the band say to their fans that gave them their great life?  Nothing.

For a band that prided themselves on truly caring for their fans,  the silence was excruciatingly deafening.  It shattered my rose colored world and many others as well.  Perhaps they’ve gone the way of corporate (something they swore they’d never do). Perhaps they’ve just given up since Paul McGuiness left. Ever since this shift in management to Maverick (Guy O’Seary….aka Sleazy Car Salesmen), they’ve never been the same.  The music has remained great, but the soul has definitely left the building.  I don’t think their heart is in it anymore.

For someone like me, with Bipolar Disorder, their music has been a haven for me.  Their concerts have transported me out of my chaotic mind.  They have been a respite for my turbulent world.   I know they are just four men, nothing grandiose about them.  They just happen to play the best music I’ve heard and became famous for it.  They have lives and families like everyone else.  The take away from all of this?  Be careful of your level of admiration for anyone.  Someday they might do something and that fall from “grace” can really throw you.  I never thought this day would come.  37 years I have been a fan…37 years of my life…37 years of moments that I can pinpoint to their songs.

Am I devastated?  Yes.  Do regret that level of fandom?  No.  I found my voice because of their music.  I became more involved in charity work because of them.  This certainly isn’t the end of this chapter of my life…it’s just a twist in the plot.

“Big D”, Glass Art, and Peace

Glass art, for me, is my self care.  I think it’s the only thing that will keep “Big D” at arms length.  I know it sounds very strange to use very sharp glass as a means of self care, but it works for me…most days. There’s just something about stepping inside of my studio and seeing that wall of glass, seeing the rainbow of colors, envisioning what those sheets of glass will become, and bringing them to life.  It gives a great sense of calm.  Now, I will admit there are those times that I curse out loud like drunken pirate because the glass isn’t cooperating.  It decides to break in an entirely different direction than I want it to.  If I find myself too frustrated, I turn off the power to the studio, walk out, and close the door behind me.  I have to respect the glass.

I have been creating glass art for nearly 15 years now.  I used to just make it for myself and my family and friends.  I then started making pieces for charity.  That brought me so much joy.  The art that helped me could now help others.  About two years ago, I started Zarit Glassworks (www.zaritglassworks.com).  That was both rewarding and frightening all at the same time.  I made the decision to turn my coping mechanism into a business so it could self supporting and so I could donate proceeds to local charities.  My goal was not to make to a ton of money, but to help.

You may wonder why I decided to donate rather keep all my profits, maybe not.  I’m going to tell you anyway.  I’ve always believed that I had Bipolar Disorder for a reason.  For me, that reason is to help others find a way to work with their mental illness; to find the positive in it.  There is always a positive to be found within all the negative.  I will never be rich from art and I’m okay with that.  I can help organizations that don’t get much, if any, government funding and that’s all I need.  It’s my hope to inspire others to something similar.  You don’t have to donate money through your art to help others.  You just have to be kind.  You just have to listen.  You just have to be present.  You just have to be mindful.

So, yes, glass art is an odd choice for coping with the day to day battles of Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Sparkle is my favorite and in my world it is a valid color.  🙂  When I complete a stained glass piece, I rush outside and hold it up to the sunlight to watch the way the rays of light dance through it.  I’m always amazed at the way the colors change.  It’s like the sunlight and the glass are doing the Tango.  It’s beautiful to watch…mesmerizing really.

What do you do to keep “Big D” away?  What’s your best coping skill?  I would love to hear from you.

Time to Beat “Big D”

I’m left with that feeling of disbelief…that feeling you get after you’ve just witnessed something horrifying.  Your body goes cold. Your hands start to shake.  Your heart starts to race.  Your head aches.  I call it the “Depression Hangover”.  You’re not truly out of the depression, but you’re nearing the end of it.  It feels like I’m walking in a wintry fog.  “Big D” is looming ever close.  Oh he’s never for behind.  I think he has abandonment issues.

This part of “Big D”, sleep is elusive.  (As I write this, it’s 1 a.m.)  My mind is running its umpteenth marathon…trying to stay one step ahead.  We all know that’s NOT possible, but it tries (bless it’s heart).  In my mind, I’ve completed all the glass art my gallery opening (that isn’t even on the books…yet).  I’ve finished every unfinished conversation.  I found every lost item.  I’ve fixed the mental health system.  I think you get the picture.  This all happens while my family blissfully slumbers…so envious.

Oh, “Big D”, the things I could accomplish without you interrupting my life!  Wait a minute.  I’ve accomplished plenty.  True, I could have done so much more without the constant derailments from “Big D”, but I have done quite a lot:

  • graduated college
  • married & started a family
  • taught French & HIstory
  • went to Belarus on a charity aid convoy
  • tons of charity work
  • traveled
  • spoke to thousands about mental health
  • spoke to congressional members about mental health
  • lobbied for mental health care change
  • started a glass art business (Zarit Glassworks) (shameless plug)
  • and more that I can’t think of at the moment

There are still many more things I’d like to do”

  • fix the broken mental health care system
  • educate people about mental health
  • stop discriminating bills against people with mental illness
  • exercise more
  • travel more
  • and so, so, so much more

I can’t keep using “Big D” as an excuse for not doing more. It’s easy to do when I’m caught up in that roller coaster ride.  I have to remember the strength that I do have…that we all have.

Fighting every day for my life, I am stronger than I realize.  I am on this earth for a purpose.  “Big D”, you will NOT beat me !

The “Big D”

I want to be better, but why bother?  No matter how hard I try… No matter how many medications I try… No matter how many doctors I see; the “Big D” always returns.  What’s the “Big D” you ask?  Depression!  It always comes back and with a vengeance! I want off this roller coaster ride!

That’s what it is.  Up, down, round, and round!  Here we go ladies and gentlemen!  Step right up! Sit down! Fasten your seat belts!  You’re in for a bumpy ride! I can visualize the master puppeteer running the ride… the “Big D”.  He’s menacing, maniacal, with a handlebar mustache that he’s waxed at the ends so he can curl them up.  He wears a tattered old black top hat, dirty overcoat, and pin striped pants with mud splatters from tromping through the rain soaked fairgrounds.  He has oil under his fingernails, not from fixing the ride…no…from sabotaging it.

As the ride come to a stop, just as you are about to get off, he starts it up again!  No medication can stop the “Big D”! No talk therapy…No coping skills…you’re screwed!!  Well, at least I am.  I seem to have run out of options.  No, suicide doesn’t enter this scenario.  I won’t give “Big D” the satisfaction of winning this ongoing battle.

The ride continues as if he doesn’t see that I want to get off.  I’m trying to get out.  I’m taking my medications.  I’m seeing my doctors every week.  I’m using my coping skills.  Yet, he continues the ride.  Am I being punished?  Or am I meant to learn something from all of this?  For the love Pete “Big D”!  Enough is enough!  My brain, my body, my friends, my family can’t take much more of this.  Release this vice like grip you have on me.  I can’t take much more.

These are all of the things I so desperately want to say, but I don’t…or won’t.  I’m a fighter.  Although, I feel my resolve is weakening.

Fear Nothing

I was sitting in a hospital room almost 15 years when I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.   This particular time was a voluntary “commitment”.  Oh that’s a strange word in this scenario.  The dictionary defines commitment as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.  Well, I suppose after 3 or 4 involuntary “commitments”, you could say I was dedicated to this particular cause,activity,etc.    What else would you call it “voluntary lock-up”?  That’s really what it is, but then that implies the person has perpetrated a crime and is in jail.  So that won’t work.  It feels a bit like a prison.  You can’t go anywhere.  All of your rights are taken away while you’re there.  Your every move is monitored.  How about “voluntary time out”?  That really doesn’t either…sounds a bit childish.

In this 15 years, I have learned a tremendous amount.  I still have a lot to learn.  Once the unknown had a name, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting.  I had a starting place at least.  I also became a master list maker.  I had a list for EVERYTHING!  It gave me a sense of control over the uncontrollable.   I had a list for weekly tasks, cleaning tasks, work tasks, exercise, goals, things I wanted to accomplish before I die (not that I was in a rush), places to visit, glass projects to make.  Keep in mind one thing, I didn’t always finish everything on these.  As the years went by and my Bipolar ebbed and flowed as it does, I became better at it.  I refined my lists to more meaningful ones.  I maintained the ones that kept me in check like the weekly tasks ones.  Apparently my doctor thinks it’s good to stay on schedule.  😉

What’s the point of all this rambling?  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  I had a thought in my head and had to get it out.  I’ll try to make next post better.  🙂

Embracing Your Illness

The Guest House

When my doctor gave me this poem, I was so grateful.  I refer back to it often to remind myself that I need to be mindful of every emotion, every experience I have, every person in my life, and every journey I am on.  Each one of those teaches me, shapes me, and emboldens me.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of these experiences are good ones.  Not all of the people who come in and out of my life are pleasant.  Not all of the journeys I embark on are straight forward and obstacle free.  However, without those, I would not be who I am today or will be in the future.

Once I started to embrace my Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder in this way, it started to make more sense to me.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad it finally did.  My life have lost the shackles of any stigma that may be around me by embracing my disorders.  By embracing the disorder, you take away the power of anyone that tries to shame you.  You take away the power of anyone that tries to tell you that “You can’t…” Simply put, once you embrace your diagnosis, you then know that “You can…”.  It is so liberating!

As you can from my blog, it’s been quite some time since I last wrote.  I took a “bit’ of time off to pursue my glass art.  It’s something that I love and something that helps manage my symptoms.  It’s also how I am able to give back to my community.  This is very important to me.  So often I feel that I take so much from the people around me (in time, support, energy) as often happens when “episodes” occur.  I feel the need for this outlet…the need to help others, including my loved ones when I am able.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit in this posting.  My apologies.  I am bit rusty.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep this blog more current.  I am stepping back into the Mental Health Advocacy arena once again after a LONG break.  I feel it is time. So, there more posts about that.  I would love to hear from you.  What are some of your resolutions?