It’s Not Just Me

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I might have mentioned in passing that both my wife and I suffer from mental illness, and many of our diagnoses are similar: borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (while we both suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, I have PTSD as well). I wanted to give you an idea of what it’s like being a spouse of someone who suffers from mental illness.

First off, proper introductions. I’ve never mentioned my wife’s name in this blog, because I could make do with the occasional mentions of her as “my wife” up until this point. But since the limelight is on her this time, I asked permission to use her name, which she gave.

Everyone, meet Stacy.

In some ways, she’s got it better than I do, in that she can function and hold down a job, whereas I’m on disability currently until my condition improves. However, she’s currently unmedicated and not seeing a therapist, which means she’s basically on her own to fight illnesses that are frankly not that much better than mine. I do the best I can to be a support mechanism for her, but there are days that all I can do is just love her unconditionally.

For example, this morning she described herself as feeling “off.” She couldn’t really go into further detail, just that she was in a lot of pain. Knowing she didn’t feel well, I made her a bowl of cereal for breakfast before heading back into the kitchen to make my own breakfast.

From the living room, there came a telltale sniff.

I came back out of the kitchen and saw her crying. I asked her what was going on and she managed to get out “you didn’t have to do that for me” and kept crying. I knelt on one knee next to her on the couch and just held her close. I told her that I knew she didn’t feel up to doing much, and that I wanted to be nice to her, and she reiterated, a little more tentatively, that I didn’t have to make her breakfast. I just held her some more and reassured her that I love her and that I was happy to make her life easier.

When she has a bad time of things, she tends to have the same M.O. – her brain tells her that everyone’s mad or, worse, disappointed in her, that she has to do everything for everyone in order to keep them happy, and that if she in any way fails to be perfectly attentive to their needs, that person will just simply go away.

Even – sometimes especially – if that person is me.

She has nightmares a lot, and often they deal with me being angry at her. This, to me, is proof that her subconscious is terrified of losing me, though we’ve never discussed this in detail with any therapist.

When she’s going through a rough spot, my attempts to help her sometimes work and sometimes don’t – in fact, they can even make it worse. But I don’t stop telling her I love her and that she’s worthy of that love no matter what.

It’s not easy sometimes, as I imagine that it’s not easy for her to deal with me when I’m at my worst. The difference with our individual irrationalities is that mine tells me to push everyone away and hers tells her they’re leaving of their own accord.

At times like that, the best thing for me to do is love her harder than ever, just like she does with me.

That’s the easiest thing to do, though. I love her more than there are stars, and will do so until they go out.

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A Change of Sorts

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After some introspection, I have decided to retire the Three Good Things feature of this blog, effective immediately. In its place, I will be looking for no less than five good things that happen throughout my week, and post them on Sundays as part of my regular writing exercise.

This change allows me to still look for the positive things in my life without the pressure of having to find multiple things on a daily basis, something that was beginning to weigh heavily on me, like a chore instead of a celebration. That effectively negated the intent of the exercise. In addition, repetition of content was becoming more and more commonplace, as I would often use my daily blog post to write in detail about something good and then summarize that same item later in the day in a second blog post, something that was feeling more and more like overkill.

I look forward to this new format of sharing the good in my life in a way that allows me to celebrate these incidents once more.

A Very Merry Re-Birthday

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Today, my mother turns 21.

Now, let me explain how a 21-year-old can give birth to someone in their mid-forties.

It was early fall 1994, and my mother was complaining of a sore spot in her breast. She did self-exams, and found a tender place that felt like a lump. She went to her doctor, who didn’t think much of it, but scheduled a lumpectomy for her on October 12.

Mom went in, they did the lumpectomy, the doctor looked at it, decided it was benign, and stitched Mom back up. As per protocol, they sent the lump to pathology and sent mom to post-op for recovery.

The doctor got a call later from pathology, suggesting that he might want to reschedule her to get a larger margin around the site.

The lump was malignant. My mother had breast cancer.

Mom was a trooper, getting the larger margin excised and a full round of radiation treatments to be sure. She lost a total of fifteen minutes of work throughout the entire experience.

In 2009, she had a quasi-re-occurrence. They found a pre-cancerous lump and repeated the lumpectomy and radiation procedure. I traveled from Chicago to Raleigh to be with her during this time, and was there for about seven weeks.

Today marks the occasion of her becoming a 21-year breast cancer survivor.

My mother and I get along, mostly, though we have our moments when we don’t see eye to eye, like when I’m trying to do tech support for her long distance. I still love her to pieces and wish there were a way to spend more time with her as she moves into her 80s. She doesn’t have a ton of years left and I don’t see the opportunity arising to get her moved out here with us anytime soon.

But I’m thankful she’s on the other end of the line when I call still, and going strong.

Here’s to 21 more years, Mom. You deserve them. I love you.

All Good Things …

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… must come to an end, and so it was for the Great Checklist Streak of 2015.

For those who are new to my blog or my social media accounts that I notify of each post, I am on disability for PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder, and suffer from a handful of other physical afflictions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. I find it difficult to remember from day to day the various things that I have to take or do or log in order to maintain my health, and so I’ve devised a system where I keep track of my day with a series of alarms and with the help of two Moleskine notebooks, one squared and the other ruled. In the squared notebook, I keep track of my various required regular daily activities, like medications and taking vitals, in a checklist format, along with a few added activities such as writing and socialization (important to develop in someone suffering from an anxiety disorder). In that same notebook, I also track the results of my vitals – my daily weight, and my blood glucose and pressure readings throughout the day – so I can share them with my doctor. In the ruled notebook, I keep track of my master to-do list (when my list is done for the day, I can then go to the squared notebook and check off “to-do”) as well as basic notes to help me remember the three good things that I write about at the end of my day (also a separate check box).

It’s not a complicated list, to be honest, but completing it is a measure more often of energy level rather than productivity, and I had completed all the items on my list for twelve straight days prior to yesterday, a streak that I had not achieved before in the eleven and a half months that I’ve been working with the checklist system.

Yesterday, however, I had a perfect storm of distractions that kept me from completing my list. I took a series of naps in the morning, in preparation for some in-person socialization last night. My wife and I welcomed two friends of ours into our home for an evening of “chili and shenanigans.” We chatted animatedly, we joked, we played three separate card games (Exploding Kittens, the game that took Kickstarter by storm earlier this year; Munchkin, the runaway hit from Steve Jackson Games that pokes fun at fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons; and finally Cards Against Humanity, which is very simply put a game for horrible people – if you’ve never heard of it, feel free to Google it, but be prepared … this is NOT a children’s game in any way, shape, or form). What I thought would be an evening lasting until around 10:00 or 10:30 finally wound down well past 1:00 am. We all had a great time and, as an added bonus, the (new) chili recipe was a big hit, with just enough heat to give a nice slow burn as you ate and plenty of good smoky flavor.

The trick is, I was anticipating the earlier time when I planned out my day, so I left some things until after the party broke up, and by that time, all I wanted to do was go to bed. So rather than stay up and exhaust myself for the sake of trying to keep the streak alive, I made the conscious decision to listen to my body, end the streak, and pick it up again either today or tomorrow.

Earlier this morning, I was having regrets. I was getting anxious about a perceived expectation that I was having about my friends and followers that were cheering me on with each passing day of perfection on my checklist, that not only had I let them down with the failure to continue the streak, but that I had to pick the streak back up immediately or I would disappoint everyone. (For those that don’t know, generalization and black-and-white thinking are extremely common in people with both BPD and bipolar disorder, and it’s something I struggle with during my rough periods, times that I can best describe my thinking as “irrational.”) I managed to stop and calm myself down fairly early in this process and for most of the rest of the day I’ve been saying “I’ll get to it if I get to it.” It won’t kill me to just take a day today to really de-stress and reset my energy level for a fresh start tomorrow, and besides, there’s no possible way that I could have continued the streak for much longer anyway. This week I have two days that I’m going to be socializing the whole day, and concentrating on a perfect checklist is going to likely go by the wayside in favor of the more spartan necessities version of my checklist, which consists of medications, vitals, and meals. Regular followers of my blog will know about one of these days; it’s the day that I’ve been preparing to recite a poem publicly, something that I used to do frequently in my historical re-enactment organization and haven’t done at all for over a year. The other is a very special day with even more importance for me than Poetry Day. My daughter will be in town for a few days visiting friends and we’ve scheduled a day to spend time together, and well, everything else that day is just going to have to take a back seat to that.

So all in all, it’s not a bad thing that the streak came to an end yesterday. I was doing something that I was enjoying for a good portion of the day and it was good preparation for the comparatively huge amount of socialization that I have in store this Saturday. It’s also not a bad thing that I take today off from stressing about getting everything done. Mentally, I could use a break from the pressure that I put on myself to DO ALL THE THINGS, to paraphrase Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half. (If you haven’t read her blog, treat yourself to a few minutes of indulgence. Her writing is as funny as I’d like to be and just as poignant as it is hilarious. She’s one of my heroes for dealing with her own demons with grace and levity.)

And besides, the end of the streak just means I have an opportunity to prove that I can break it in the future.

October 9, 2015: Three Good Things

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Today has been hard, especially the evening. Going to try and make this work.

1. Even though I didn’t write it down, I got my to-do list done and then some. I was very productive today.

2. I posted something today to Facebook about how every little decision in life leads us to be at this very point in time, and how the belief that none of that should ever change due to the outcome being wildly different leads to a life with no regrets. I try to live that way, but don’t always make the mark. I have to remind myself that I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

3. I posted something else to Facebook this morning: a GIF of Calvin and Hobbes dancing, with a reminder that this was a powerful happy, especially when combined with Linus and Lucy from the Peanuts specials. It made me smile and did the same with a lot of my friends.

Bonus: day 12 today. Go me.

Screaming Myself Awake

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I remember being in my grandmother’s home. I was younger, and I was staying in one of the bedrooms upstairs. It was dark, and I don’t know why but something inside me told me to scream. It was a bloodcurdling shriek, and suddenly I was terrified where I wasn’t before – I was screaming to scream, and I knew it. Things got even scarier when no one came to check on me, and that’s when I woke up from the nightmare.

I haven’t been back to sleep or even tired since, and I still can’t get the images out of my head. That was six hours ago.

It’s been a chill kind of morning, though, with not much happening outside of my Facebook addiction (I can quit any time I want). We’re having chili tomorrow night and we’ve thawed a pound of ground venison to go with the ground chuck for it. New recipe to us, sounds tasty and pretty simple. Today’s big goal is to continue to hardwire the poem in my head for next weekend.

That is, until the nap fairy visits later, which I’m certain will happen.

Having a nice quiet day after such a bizarre nightmare isn’t going to be a bad idea, I don’t think. Not much adulting planned for the day, I’m afraid.

And just this once, I’m okay with that.

October 8, 2015: Three Good Things

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1. I had a good radio show despite the technical difficulties I dealt with.

2. I went to the store and not only didn’t freak out but initiated two separate conversations: one with someone I’ve only met a couple times in passing, and one with a total stranger. This is really not my usual thing, and it felt weird, but good.

3. I discovered my Medicare plan offers free basic gym memberships at a lot of local gyms. Looks like I’ll be researching my options over the coming weeks.

Bonus: Today is day 11, and I got to tell my therapist today that I’m on the longest streak in my checklist completion ever.