I have spent a good bit more than half of my life dealing with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Thanks to modern science I have been on a drug called clozapine since 2008 which treats treatment-resistant bipolar illness. Since taking the medicine I have been hospitalization free for almost 13 years.
While that is an accomplishment for me, I would like to raise a subject that often alludes me – having fun. It feels like most of my energy is wrapped up in getting things done, handling things in my life and my family’s life and staying symptom-free or almost.
What is completely missing from my life however is the element of having fun. What is fun anyway? Is it laughing aloud with family or friends? Is it listening to music I knew before I was diagnosed at age 22 that feels like letting go? Is it cooking a meal with my daughter — not so much full of laughs but full of good times?
In general, I feel like my illness has made me a doer. As long as I am doing this or that and fulfilling obligations of wife and mother and daughter I give myself a grade of doing OK. But still, it feels like something is missing – that illusive idea of having fun.
Does anybody have a bucket list for laughter that they’d like to share? I will be working on a new list soon – a list that includes things that don’t just need to get done but also includes whether or not I am enjoying myself. I know it’s hard to fathom having fun when you are depressed or even when you are manic since that’s not the fun I am talking about. I am talking about fun that is centered in a centered self.
Does anybody want to help get the having fun list together? I think we all could benefit from reading it and/or trying to help create it?
Asking about memory issues is popular on my blog, so I thought I would start a similar discussion on weight gain.
Back in 1985 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was prescribed a combination of lithium and tegretol. There was a five to ten pound weight gain associated with those meds. With a diligence for exercise I managed the weight implications associated with lithium without a problem. As long as I stayed on lithium off and on until about 2004 my weight seemed largely manageable.
Fast forward to 2004 after the birth of my daughter. I never got off my baby weight. Also due to the postpartum depression, I suffered additional weight gain in that I ceased to be motivated to run 4 to 5 times a week. In fact, I am doing well now to get a short walk in.
In 2008, I was prescribed clozapine / clozaril which largely became therapuetic for me but also was associated with a good bit of weight gain. To this day I am 20 to 30 pounds heavier than I want to be. I also want to be walking regularly. In addition to the meds’ impact on weight, I began to eat as a nervous eater and a stress eater. This did not help with the weight issues.
I am hopeful if I can jumpstart myself back into an exercise regime, I can begin to address the weight-gain and the stress eating. Because my daughter is pescatarian we largely eat healthily as a family but portions are too large and snacking is too much.
The risk of having a child with or without bipolar illness was something I contemplated a great deal but did not necessarily pray about. With my first fiancé I was bound to the idea of adoption – that a diagnosis of bipolar and a diagnosis of clinical depression were too much to hand down to the next generation. My fiancé at the time did not agree with me and wanted to have a biological child(ren) rather than adopt.
When I met my soon-to-be husband some seven years later, he also was adamant about having a biological child. Instead of two clinical diagnoses of depression and/or mania, we each brought to the table a pre-existing condition; I brought the bipolar illness and he brought an alcohol dependency under remission at that time for about 15 years. Somehow in our first year together, my soon to be husband and I settled on the idea of a natural conception. We were blessed with early success in pregnancy within a couple of months of trying which at 39 (when we conceived without any assistance) is somewhat of a miracle in itself. My position at the time of carrying my child is that Nurture is a strong proponent in the Nature versus Nurture battle. If we can avoid a divorce event or something similar such as the abuse I suffered at an early age, perhaps my daughter’s child within will be upright and healthy and right in her relationship with God. Since my daughter’s birth, we have sought continually to provide for her spiritual development and her spiritual journey.
James and I are open with our daughter who is 16 about Dad’s alcoholism and about my bipolar illness. We talk about responsible behavior for our family as avoiding alcohol and for engaging in and not avoiding emotionally challenging events. We accept that to have a meltdown and cry is an important process for growing up and challenges Mom and Dad to listen. We also talk about the importance of mood recovery. Once we have cried and released the source of our anxiety or concern, we then try to move on and recover the mood and move onto the next event or challenge.
I am hoping to teach my daughter how to be more fluent in her emotions not just successful in her studies as I have been learning to be in the last several years. She already is exhibiting signs of emotional maturity that I did not have at that age. She is not obsessed with being the top student in her class. When she feels upset about something like a misunderstanding with a friend, she is largely able to talk about it and express her feelings. When she is emotionally or physically tired and ready for bed, she says so.
I feel that with God’s blessing we will move through whatever illness may come our way – this including the current testing for breast cancer. With God’s help we will manage through any abuse incidents that may have presented in my life so as to avoid the repetition in my daughter’s life as she continues to blossom and to bloom into a beautiful young woman.
As a person who has managed and struggled with bipolar disorder more than half my life, I find myself experiencing two different sets of emotions simultaneously these days. On the one hand, there is my old friend anxiety that I am having trouble keeping at bay. I talk myself out of anxiety each day by noting how few times something I worry about actually comes into being. So on the one hand, my symptoms of anxiety are heightened by the onset and prevalence of covid-19. On the other hand, I find that I feel somewhat obligated to let the general public know that anxiety is alright. It is a normal feeling to be experiencing as we go through this as a society. It also has a beginning and an end. I am not sure if it is my ego that wants to tell the general public that anxiety is OK or my sincere desire to let folks know who have never experienced anxiety that things will ultimately be OK. There will be an end to this madness at some point.
I would be curious if other people are experiencing simultaneously contradictory emotions?