Friday, June 8, 2007

And so it begins

I've been thinking about creating a blog for quite some time now. I enjoy writing, and I think much too much. I have a limited circle of people with whom I actually converse, so it's not like I'm really close enouugh to anyone to share what's on my mind.

For the past few years, I've been encouraged by those who know me to start a blog. I hesitated because I worried that someone would steal my words or bully me for my sometimes controversial opinions. It occured to me that anything I have to say has probably already been said by someone else, and, most opinions are controversial to someone, so that excuse was out.

So here I am. I have a brain full of thoughts. A brain full of trouble. A brain that doesn't work according to the manufacturer's specifications. A brain that sometimes betrays me and then confounds me with its paradoxical intelligence.

At the age of 42, I got married for the first time, bought a house, got my first dog, and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I was devastated to learn that what I had was no mere hormonal flux or chemical hiccup in the brain that could be banished with a short course of medication and some rest. I felt that I had just been handed down a life sentence, a diagnosis that held so much stigma it could not be discussed in polite company nor could it be shrugged off, ignored, or allowed to run its course. This was not the news I had anticipated.

As I added up the denominators and took stock of my life's more notable moments, the diagnosis made sense. It also made me angry. How does someone make it to 42 years old with a malady such as Bipolar Disorder and not know it? More importantly, how do doctors miss it repeatedly over the course of decades of the afflicted trying to get treatment for recurring episodes of what now seem to be very obvious symptoms?

How, indeed.

Bipolar Disorder is not my life and it is not the primary subject of this blog. However, to have a workable frame of reference for whatever I write, you need to understand what it is that has such a jarring impact on my day-to-day life. In the three years since my diagnosis, Bipolar has changed everything. Friends I had since the 1980s suddenly couldn't find a way to be supportive, so they ignored me. Family members were so uncomfortable they not only ignored me, they hid. They're still hiding. My career aspirations came to a screeching halt, and I had to learn how to manage the very limited energy resources I still had left.

In the fall of 2003, I sought the services of a psychiatrist after two years of being treated most unsuccessfully by my family doctor for what appeared to be a stubborn, protracted, agitated depression. By the time I made it to the psychiatrist's office, the chaotic malfunction in my head had already started its version of a thermonuclear meltdown, and there was no stopping it or slowing it down. Whatever was in process was going to have to have its way with me before treatment could kick in. It is a miracle that I am still alive.

Bipolar disorder is no mere mood disorder. It is a sleep disorder, a light sensitivity disorder, a collection of brain structure anomalies, a tendency toward significantly uncomfortable irritability and racing thoughts, neurological damage, cognitive deficits, plus a bad batch of neurochemical soup. It is a gross oversimplification to describe BP as somthing as simple as emotional highs and lows, mania and depression. Ha! If only it were so clear cut.

I've had to swallow my pride along with handfuls of medications. I've had to learn that my brain fatigues very easily and my body follows suit quite quickly. Where my energy goes, so go my moods. I've had to tell people to be vigilant about changes in my thinking or behavior so they can alert me to a possible meltdown or hypomanic eruption. I need them to know that there is only so much I can control about my illness, and when I'm in the throes of cycling, nothing I say should be taken too personally. How embarrassing to have to admit that.

To keep my brain on an even keel, I take medication and see a therapist every week. My current daily medication regimine is 650mg of lithium, 200mg of Lamictal, Ambien in varying amounts (more on that later), EMSAM transdermal 900mg (the big girl dose), and Xanax as needed, which lately is never.

Sometimes my brain functions better than most. When I am good, I am very, very good. I excel at my work, and that's something I cannot bear to see change. I teach for a living, a career I came to later in life. My students are adults, and they do not speak English. They are here because they had to run for their lives. Think Darfur.

At the moment, I have students from Burma, Vietnam, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan (not Darfur), Mauritania, Ukraine, the Krasnodar region of Russia, Uzbekistan, and a smattering of others. The mix is always changing according to world politics.

In addition to teaching, I connect others to teaching. It's a very people-intensive job, which can be hard for me because I find it agonizing to be around people a lot of the time. Having BP has done something to my social skills, and it's not an enhancement, that's for sure.

For the moment, this is all you need to know about me. In the future, I'll be sure to tell you about my pets, my husband, life in a fixer-upper house, World Refugee Day, why I'm not the liberal everyone assumes I am, unrelenting insomnia, suicide, right-to-die issues, my personal campaign to have the term "mental illness" eradicated from the English language, peri-menopause, and other tidbits of brain overflow. There's plenty in there and I need to make some room.

Until later!


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