Friday, January 27, 2012

That's What I'm Talkin' About!

I'm rather excited today, because after over four years of battling with David about a certain medicine that I wanted him to try and to which he was EXTREMELY resistant, he has agreed to at least try. I won't lie, this has caused more than one battle between the two of us. Every doctor has recommended this medication and it has the highest proven results in those suffering from bipolar disorder. The drug is lithium. It has been FDA approved since 1974 and in the past 30+ years much has been learned about the proper dosages including the creation of an extended release tablet.

David's hesitation has always stemmed from his fear of the effects lithium can have on the body, particularly if you are not careful about your sodium and water intake. Of late I have been reading some fantastic books (Beyond Blue and An Unquiet Mind) which recount two individuals' personal struggles with bipolar and how they've overcome their most difficult times. While reading, particularly An Unquiet Mind, I found myself in shock that there was someone whose experiences mirrored David's so closely. It was like they were "bipolar twins" and I could have been reading about my husband's struggles instead. The authors in both books found that lithium was their "miracle drug" and allowed for a more normal life than was ever thought possible.

Hence my reason for pushing David once again on this issue. However, this time I came armed with research. I found case studies and lists of side effects and effective rate percentages, etc. I also read him passages from the books. To my complete and utter shock, he agreed to try it out. If I knew how, I would have been doing cartwheels down the hallway!! I was beyond ecstatic. We went to his psychiatrist (he happened to have an appointment scheduled that day) and told him our decision. Dr. S was as excited as I was and started treatment right away.

We will be monitoring David and any possible reactions closely and the dosage that was started is low, but as long as his tolerance for the drug is positive, then other meds will be reduced / eliminated while the lithium dosage increases. Yesterday, he woke up very hot and sweating, but he started drinking water and the doctor reduced a different medication and he began to feel better. He even had a burst of energy and started a clean-out of our storage items in the basement.

I am extremely hopeful, but not naive. Lithium may be the answer we have been waiting for, but I'm prepared in case it doesn't perform as we hope. We're taking it a day at time. Though all thoughts, good wishes, and prayers are certainly appreciated. My current mantra is "Please God, let this work!".

Pray, Hope & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Monday, January 23, 2012

A day in the life

I thought it might be interesting to detail a typical (wow, did I just say typical) day in our life. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really need to detail two different typical days in our lives: depressed and normal. Because in all honestly that's how we live and we never know which day we are going to get until it's here - I liken it to ordering from eBay. There is a third type of day, manic, but thankfully those are fewer and further between, and it's very difficult to consider any part of that typical, though he exhibits some of the same traits each time (euphoria, lack of sleep, not eating, grandiose ideas, spending large sums of money, and when he starts crashing down, paranoia).

Day 1 (Normal)

It's probably best to start with a normal day, so you can see the difference in how his mood affects each day. Our typical weekday begins with both of us waking up, me getting ready for work and him getting K ready for school. He packs her lunch and daily snack, makes sure any paperwork that needs to go back to school is in her folder and that she gets dressed. Then he sends her to me so I can do her hair (he's tried, but it's so much easier when I do it, lol). Then he takes her to school and I head off to work.

He may decide to visit my dad at his office and help with some miscellaneous computer tasks, or he'll stay home and get some laundry done or run to the store (if we are in dire need of something). Otherwise, he tries to find things to occupy his time, like reading. Then he picks K up from school and spends time working with her on reading, or flashcards, or playing a game, until I get home from work. As long as we don't have any evening commitments, it's usually dinner, then a shower for K and then I get time with her before she goes to bed. We usually try to have some time just for us at the end of the night, even if it's just both of us in the same room while I do homework and he does whatever. 

Day 2 (Depressed)

A depressed day starts out much differently. I get up by myself and take care of the entire morning routine including taking K to school. Then I go to work and pray that he'll be okay at home. He usually will sleep for most of the day or at least just lay in bed, not finding an interest in much of anything. I will call and check on him and often run home at lunch to make sure he eats something. I worry most of the day because I never know what to expect: is he going to feel like leaving on a whim, will he ask me to leave work early, what if he decides to stop taking his medicine? I put on my smile around him though, because one of us needs to be cheery, right?

On really bad days, I'll have to get someone to pick K up from school (thank God for that support network!) and then I'll get her after work. The evening is spent with me and K doing things with just the two of us and once she goes to bed it's a long night of talking about everything that is currently making him feel sad. Neither of us sleep much on these nights, but he makes up for it the next day while I'm back at work.

These days are hard on all of us. K knows daddy doesn't feel well, or "has a headache" and prays for him a lot. She even prays for him in prayer circle at school (love, love, love that she goes to Catholic school). She'll ask me when daddy will feel better, which breaks my heart because I honestly don't ever have a good answer for her. I try to keep things as normal as possible for her though, and I reassure her that daddy is going to be just fine (I think I'm often trying to convince myself more than her). I hate these days because I'm a fixer and it's hard not being able to talk or bs my way out of a problem (for the record, depression does not negotiate). Sometimes I'm resentful, not at David, but at the illness and the havoc it wreaks without any prejudice or care for those affected. Depression is evil, painful, and strips you of dignity, faith, and any hope of something better.

But we're here and we have to keep on going. God didn't put me on this Earth to give up because things aren't easy or how I envisioned them. We are a family of fighters and that is exactly what we will keep doing. I pray and talk to God quite a bit and used to get angry with Him for not answering my prayers and just making this all better. However, I've come to realize that it is not my place to question His plan and sometimes the answer to my prayers are not to be realized yet. I'm good with this (I can say that because it's been a good day). I still get angry at times, but know that He understands and truly believe He carries us through our most difficult times. I am thankful for all of my blessings and hope to be able to help others going through similar difficulties.

Until later. Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quitting smoking: Take 35

If any of you are smokers, you can surely empathize with David on the difficulties of quitting. I estimate this is his 35th time trying to quit, though I suspect I may have under-counted. As someone without an addictive personality, I cannot fully understand why it is so hard, but I get the gist of it. It is not just a mental addiction, but a physical one as well.

If you've ever witnessed first-hand a person trying to quit, it is not a pretty site. This is particularly true for those with a mental illness. Research shows that the percentage of those with a mental illness who smoke is as high as 50%. Nicotine increases the levels of dopamine released into the brain much the same way as cocaine. For an individual who is bi-polar, this creates a happy feeling they are constantly trying to attain. So when smoking a cigarette makes David feel better in a short eight seconds after taking the first drag, it makes sense that he was up to a pack a day.

Obviously, giving up something that provides relief from a constant feeling of sadness wouldn't be anyone's first choice. However, David wants to live a healthier, smoke-free life, and has determined nicotine makes his meds less effective. So, once again we embark on this journey.

Since the nicotine has an effect on his dopamine levels and the workings of his meds, it makes sense that the absence of nicotine will have an equal and opposite effect. The withdrawal (even with the substitution of a lower-dose e-cigarette) is horrible. He literally acts like he is detoxing from hard-core drugs. He's irritable, hot and cold, has headaches, and his mood fluctuates faster than a hummingbird's wings.

We are in day two of withdrawal (or as I call it, stay away from Mr Grumpy) and it is going as wonderfully as you would expect. I'm elated that he is quitting, and trying to be a cheerleader as he is adamant that this time is for good (God help us we cannot go through this again!).  They say it takes 72 hours to detox...only 40 hours to go! I'll let you know if we make it, though I have faith that God will carry us through. We will take any prayers you want to send our way :)

Until later. Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All by myself

I should preface this by stating that I harbor no resentment or hard feelings about the following. I've learned to accept this as God's will. I sincerely love David for who he is, and understand that he is controlling his illness to the best of his ability.

One of the biggest struggles I've had since the onset of David's illness is the times when I feel like a single parent. Most often this occurs when there is an event that we need to attend. For example a birthday party, a school function, a t-ball game, etc. While he doesn't miss all of these, he's missed more than he's attended. This stems from his social anxiety. If he is not feeling well, it is very difficult for him to be in a social setting that includes lots of activity or people, as he becomes over-stimulated.

In the beginning, I would get pretty upset feeling as though I had to do everything on my own and that he was missing out on our daughter's childhood. I didn't want him to look back years from now and regret not being there. However, as time passed, I realized that I was just making things worse by forcing the issue.

For one, he felt guilty enough and didn't need me adding additional stress. Secondly, his health deteriorated when he was in an overly stressful situation. So I had to ask myself what was more important: David being at every event even if by force, or his overall health. I'm sure you can see that the decision wasn't really that hard for me.

The problem then came from the outside. Friends and family with whom we hadn't shared the full extent of his condition, or just didn't understand (believe me that's the hardest part) asked where he was. Or they gave me the look that said "really? He can't come to a t-ball game?"  I wanted to scream and say, "Yes, really! He also didn't get out of bed yesterday, and only ate because I forced him to! He hasn't left the house in the three days, and I'm sick to my stomach with worry. Back the hell off!" But I didn't because they didn't know, so I put on my let's-pretend-everything's-okay smile and went about my day.

I record any functions that he really would prefer to attend, like K's Christmas program last year, and we watch them together as a family so he doesn't feel left out. I've gotten used to going to things by myself and usually don't feel alone because of the family and friends in attendance.

Something I'm still trying to work through is missing out on adult social functions, like get togethers with friends, or concerts I've had a ticket to for months, because not only is he not up to going, but he's not feeling healthy enough to be alone. I won't lie, this gets hard. I'm still bummed about the Sugarland and Katy Perry concerts and the numerous barbecues and game nights I've missed. But again, I can't go back and change that, nor can I ensure it won't happen again. I've chosen what's more important to me, which will always be my family and our health.

I'm certainly not looking for pity as I have  been very blessed. There are so many people with far bigger problems, that it would be disgraceful for me to feel unhappy with my life. I know a family who lost their 18-month old daughter to a horrific battle with cancer and another who lost their husband and father to his second battle with cancer. My husband and daughter are still here for me to love and spend all of my days with. I couldn't be more thankful for all of my blessings.

Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Friday, January 13, 2012

Need a little support??

Last night was the second meeting of the DBSA (Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance) KC Metro Support Group that David started at Research Medical Center. To our surprise and delight we had some new faces, and learned that Research is not only promoting the group within the in and out-patient programs, but also adding the details to all of their discharge paperwork - Go Research!!! While I obviously cannot share anything from group as we adhere to a strict confidentiality policy, I can tell you that it was really enlightening to have others join and to hear their stories. There was actually quite a bit of laughter as the realization of similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences were shared by many.

This is my first experience in a support group setting, and I can now fully appreciate the benefit it provides to those in need. Throughout the night, I was thinking about how much in common I have with my best friends and how with my very best friend, I can share anything and everything without any fear of judgement. Sitting there, I suddenly realized that David and others will his illness can't and don't always find that. That thought made me truly emotional as I don't know where I would be without my sounding board, the person who I share so many commonalities it's a little scary, and my overall cheerleader.

So I sat there and really reflected on how amazing my husband truly is. He battles his illness everyday, with me and his therapist as his only real outlets. He is not fully healthy and yet he wanted to create a place where others similar to him could come and share. A place where they can feel safe and free from judgement. I am utterly amazed by his strength and lack of selfishness. Yesterday wasn't the best of days for him, but he wanted to go to support group because he said "what if someone needs group tonight to keep them from doing something they really don't want to do." God, I love this man more and more everyday.

If you or someone you know would like to attend his group, please visit his site for more details. Again, all information is compeletly confidential. Always feel free to call of email either of us if you are in need - we have to lean on each other in order to stand tall on our own.

I'll leave you with one fact today that reminds me how important help truly is: 30% of all depressed individuals and 25% of those with bi-polar will die by suicide when the hopelessness outweighs the good in life. Stop the stigma that keeps these individuals too scared to share their feelings.

Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Have car, must drive

Every one of us has a "release" of some sort. Some people get lost in TV, video games, or books. Others have hobbies such as scrapbooking, baking, or sports. And then there are those who turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or food to get that much needed feeling of complete and total don't have to think or worry about a single damn thing.

For David, his release is driving. There is nothing better to him then to hop in the car and just drive. No destination necessary, no company needed, just the car, some classic rock, and an open road. This really could be a healthy outlet, but often times it's used as an escape.

For example, if it has been a particularly gloomy winter week (did I mention he's seasonally affected as well?) his depression kicks into high gear and he has the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. There is not much that makes this feeling go away, sans time, which he usually feels will take too long. So, he hops in the car (with or without warning, though he is getting better about telling me first) and drives. Often he'll head west as he enjoys the scenery more, and goes incommunicado for several hours.

I've actually stopped worrying when this happens because the routine, or pattern, is almost always the same. He leaves, and in several hours, when he's ready, he'll call me, we'll talk, and he will come home. This is not a frequent experience; it may happen three or four times a year. Nonetheless, it happens and we deal with it. In the beginning it occurred with more frequency and I'd be sick with worry each time. But we've tried to make it a healthy outlet which keeps both of us a little more sane (there's that 4-letter word again).

This past Sunday he decided he needed some time to sort through his emotions and wanted to go to a monastery in New Mexico for reflection and a better connection with God. So he drove 14 hours and checked in. Deciding a nap was needed after all that driving, he laid down and was overwhelmed by a feeling which was an answer he had been praying and searching for for some time. He had wrestled with wondering if K and I would be better off without him in our lives, and my reassurance that we didn't want him anywhere except with us didn't really help much. However laying in that monastery he suddenly knew that he didn't want to go another day of his life without us. The mere thought of not being able to talk to or see us whenever he wanted was heart wrenching.

This experience keeps me reminded of just how powerful God is and how we may not understand it, but he always has a plan. David is home now and we are getting back into our "normal" routine. Support group is tonight and we are really excited for the opportunity that it has presented. Until next time.

Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry  ~ St. Padre Pio

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Some History

It would probably help most of you to know about David's history with this illness and how we've arrived at this current state. David has battled depression, though not very severe, from around the time he started college. He was prescribed anti-depressants which seemed to help, though looking back there was so much more going on that we didn't see at the time. For example, while always a shy and introverted person, he didn't realize the severity of his social anxiety. For years he was self-medicating with alcohol to get through the most basic of social functions. One (believe me there are many) problem with this was that David didn't know how to have one or two drinks. One drink always equalled seven or more, and most generally he wasn't the nicest person when intoxicated. Life went on like this for years and we just considered it our normal. Silly and naive, I know, but that's how it was.

I became pregnant with our daughter in October 2005 and life actually seemed to be going pretty well. When I was seven months along, David's dad suffered a massive heart attack and had triple bypass surgery. He was hospitalized for approximately two months. David took this extremely hard, particularly when Kennadie was born and his dad was still hospitalized. In retrospect, I probably should have seen the signs of what was to come. But without any experience for basis, that's not so easy to do. David started working on a "project" that he was insistent would make us rich and he could leave his job and be his own boss. As months went by, he was secluding himself more and more, getting less and less sleep and living on coffee and anti-depressants. In April 2006 he told me he was quitting his job, cashing out his retirement and beginning a new adventure. He was totally euphoric and there was nothing I could say that would change his mind.

That night I packed up Kennadie and went to my parents' house, afraid of what David was going to do and knowing something wasn't right. There were a series of events that night which led to him leaving town and finally calling me around 10:00 the next morning in tears; he had hit his bottom. He drove home and we took him to the hospital. His mania continued during his stay and lots of different meds and therapies were tried. He came home angry and denying that his bi-polar diagnosis was true. This battle went on for years with many bouts of him trying to run away and/or stopping his medicine. There were few good days, but mostly bad. He barely went to work and if he did, he left early. Honestly, he was a hot mess and there was nothing I could do about it.

In November 2009 we made the joint decision that working was not in his best interest. It was a huge trigger for his illness and every time he stayed home and got healthy, all was lost as soon as he went back to work. He went into a severe depression for the next two months until we finally found a fantastic psychiatrist and Christian therapist that really listened to him and took a genuine interest in his well-being.

David had a solid year and a half of mostly good days, though the depression was always still there. He had a hiccup this past November and we've been trying to dig out of it ever since, but feel like we are at least starting to make some headway. I have learned mostly what triggers his manic and depressive episodes and found that the paramount of his health is a regimented sleeping and eating pattern (and of course taking his meds). We are working hard to not just keep him healthy, but our family as well. For a while, the illness consumed all of us all of the time; we don't want to live that way and strive to keep focused on what's most important, our daughter.

So now you have some background and I will plan on updating on the here and now going forward. Remember, you can always ask questions, I'm no longer afraid to speak.

Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio

Monday, January 9, 2012

Giving this blogging thing a try

Just recently I made an official announcement regarding my husband's struggles with mental illness. This is one of the hardest things I've ever done, because even though I would like to say that I don't give a crap about what other people think, the truth is that I do. I care what others think of me, of my family. I worry about being judged or losing those who are close to me. When David (my husband) had a manic episode in 2007, people we considered very close friends stopped talking to us; I'm sure this has driven my anxiety about talking about his illness, yet I'm tired of worrying about the stigma. Over the past four years, we have found that those who matter aren't going to run away because of a bad day; they support us and make dealing with his illness a hell of a lot easier.

When I told people outside of my "circle" about David's struggles, I not only felt about 50 lbs. lighter (wouldn't it be nice if that were actually true), but we received a tremendous outpouring of support. This spurred my idea to start a blog with the things that run through my head and how we, as a family, deal with David's diagnosed condition of Bi-Polar with manic depressive episodes and extreme social anxiety. So, I'm giving this a shot. I don't claim to be a prolific writer, but I know the difference between there and their, so I can't be too bad, right? I'm actually excited to start this new adventure. Hopefully, you'll follow me and get a dose of my reality and sarcasm as often as I'm able to update.

Until later. Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry ~ St. Padre Pio