Monday, October 25, 2010

It's All Downhill After Forty

I woke up this morning...sort of.  I helped Justin get the kids off to school and then limped back to the couch and stayed there for about, oh, three hours.  I'm still in my pajamas and it's going on 11:00 a.m.  This strikes me as truly sad.

For those of you who don't know me, I have an array of both physical and mental problems.  My mental problems go way back to my childhood and have (kind of) mellowed with age.  I'm still a bipolar, anxious mess, but at least I can let Justin go out of the house for awhile without freaking out now.  I'm used to my brain being kind of screwed up and I have learned how to handle the ups and downs - okay the extreme ups and downs - without losing my mind completely anymore.  After a four day stint in a psychiatric ward about 12 years ago, I decided that really wasn't a place I wanted to be ever again.  I finally found a psychiatrist who didn't want to medicate me to the point of being unable to function and we settled into a fairly low dosage of medication that allows me to operate relatively well in the "real" world.  People who meet me for the first time would never guess that I'm bipolar.  It only comes out that something's just not quite right after you know me for awhile.  I'm pretty needy.  My moods swing in what they term "rapid cycling."  I can go from the darkest of depressions to really excited about an idea in ten minutes.  I get irritated faster than Deangelo Hall can run an interception back for a touchdown.  I interrupt a lot, much to my dismay.  Justin tells me he gets really annoyed that he can't ever finish a sentence.  I try to stop it, but I can't.  It's something I work on a lot.  My kids have learned to gauge my moods just by looking at me.  But I function and, for the most part, I think I'm a damned good mother and, after a lot of practice and many years, not a bad wife (I hope).  It just took me awhile to work around the bipolar disorder to do it.

Jamie said to me yesterday, "We're spoiled."  I admit to giving my kids things because I feel guilty about the first few years of their lives being so unstable.  I made life a living hell for my family back when the kids were little, before I was diagnosed, and I am proud to say I am just not that person anymore.  I don't even know the person I was ten or twelve years ago.  I kind of look back on that time in horror.  I have spent years in therapy, adhered to my drug regimen, and worked on my problems.  I am self-aware, probably more than anyone on earth, and I know when I've goofed and try to fix it.  I apologize when I spit something out that could have come from an alien.  Bipolar is tough and I have bad days, but I have way more good days now.

They say that bipolar disorder does get less intense as you get older and I've found that to be true, but I firmly believe that it played a part in my losing my job.  I just couldn't fake "normal" for an extended period of time.  The people I worked with obviously saw I had issues.  They didn't know what the issues were, because even working for psychologists, there's still a stigma attached to admitting you have a mental illness and I didn't think they would understand.  I am grateful that my family loves and accepts me for who I am.  Even if I have trouble leaving the house or keeping my promises.  I thank God every day that I have a husband and kids who seem to actually like me and parents who still acknowledge I am their offspring.

On the flip side, there are my physical problems.  I was diagnosed several years ago with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.  I sometimes wonder about God's sense of humor.  Bipolar really wasn't enough?  Seriously?  Fibromyalgia is certainly not fatal, but some days you wish it was.  I spent the past thirteen months pretending I physically felt fine on the days I had to work.  Some days I reeked of Icy Hot or Biofreeze at the office.  Fibro was an acceptable disability, so that's the one they knew about.  But it's not the reason I lost my job.  I think the combination of my intense anxiety and my inability to keep my impulsive mouth shut truly threw my employers.  After almost two weeks of thinking about it, while I know it was a pretty dysfunctional place to work, I have to take some of the blame.

On the physical side, today I woke up and the fibromyalgia was "back."  I put that in quotes because it really never went away.  My every night ritual is to wash my face, brush my teeth, and hand Justin the Icy Hot roller for my shoulders.  It's the only way I can sleep.  Everything from the lower shoulder blades up hurts.  If I lie in one position long enough, I can't move.  My right hip thinks I insulted it and refuses to just go already.  Fibro is the reason I don't want to get up in the morning.  Well that and the depression that lingers in the back of my mind, like the relative that came for a weekend and then decided to stay, all the while stinking like three day old fish.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that mentally, I'm probably not quite there yet.  Of course, a lot of creative people had mental problems.  Picasso cut his ear off.  Lincoln had dark depressions.  Hemingway drank himself stinky every day and then killed himself.  It's kind of a well known fact that a lot of really famous, really talented people were bipolar.  So, I'm in good company.  I don't find it much comfort, but I do think it might make me a better writer.  I told my psychiatrist recently, "Please don't medicate me so I can't write."  He gets it.

Physically, though, things seemed to really start going downhill when I hit forty.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I fell off the couch and broke two ribs.  That would be the osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis) that showed up a few years back.  The fibro seems to get worse  with age, not better.  The arthritis makes me walk like I'm eighty and I only just turned forty-six.  I have terrible depth perception and it's not getting better with age, leading to running into things that are obviously there and Justin to wonder if I need new glasses.  Or if maybe I should pay more attention.  (Probably the latter.)

Justin keeps telling me to exercise.  I know he's right, but the bitch of fibro and arthritis is that it hurts to move, so the last thing you want to do is get off the heating pad.  I had hoped getting the dog would encourage me to get out and walk.  Unfortunately, my strength is not good and the dog is now much stronger than I am and he actually walks me when I try.  I could do the therapeutic swimming at the rehab center, but that would involve going out of the house on a regular basis, which brings me back to my mental problems, one of which is anxiety about leaving the house and panic around people I don't know.  I have serious social phobias.

In all seriousness, I asked Justin yesterday if he thought I might have Asperger's Syndrome that had never been diagnosed.  Sadly, he said no, he thought it really was just social phobia.  I think Asperger's is actually easier to understand.  When Joey says he's really fine playing by himself, I get it.  But I am a people person, which is why I thought working would be good for me.  It got me out of the house and around other people.  Unfortunately, my inability to sustain that good first impression had to come out.  I suspect it was at the root of most of the "talks" I had with my boss over the last thirteen months.

The long and short of this message is that I've come to the conclusion that the only way I'm ever going to be "employed" again is to write, write, write, because it's one thing I do well and I don't need to impress other people to do it.  And I can take lots of breaks for the physical stuff.  It's the perfect solution.  And if I ever manage to cobble together something that resembles a novel, maybe they'll pay me enough to actually allow Justin to relax and work in something he likes to do, like maybe that landscape design he's talked about for so long.  Or go to chef school.  I think, after all these years, I owe him that novel.  He's certainly put up with me enough for me to try to give him that.

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