June 20, 2014

Oh, To Be A Cat

If you don't care about cats, skip this one.

My mother-in-law had a cat named Smokey. He was a stray that wandered into my husband's home many years ago, and she took him home. She swore he was a Manx (he probably lost his tail in a fight), and during all the time he lived with her (I think he was 17 when he just died), she said something like he was the most loved, hugged, kissed, spoiled kitty ever. He allowed her to carry him around, and was always by her side, especially after he husband died. He slept with her (he had his own pillow) and even had a heated cat bed in Florida! When she moved here (Ohio), she made a hole in her blinds so he could look out and watch the birds (she'd put out old bread to attract more birds). She would get up several times in the middle of the night "in case he was hungry," and he always had 3-5 bowls of different foods. If she were still alive when I die, I'd want to come back as her cat.

My youngest daughter has a cat who has is maybe 14 years old. She has the same personality as her person, and allows my daughter to cuddle her, and knows when she's not doing well. Unfortunately, Evie is not doing well herself.

Paris was my best friend, he died recently and it was one of the most horrible things I've felt. He helped me get through the worst times of my life. He was a cuddler, and would lay on my chest after the girls would go to school and just let me cry. When we moved out to the country, he discovered hunting, and would bring me "gifts," mostly voles. This is a picture of him bringing in a nest, after he already brought in all the inhabitants.

For a while I had Zoe until we moved down here, she didn't get along with anybody, so I had to rehome her. Paris loved her from when she was a kitten. He took over all her "mothering" needs. She was a gorgeous lynx-point Siamese, and I hated giving her up.

Greg's cats have him well trained. They sit by the door (they do have a cat door), and meow until he gets up and lets them out. We could be in the middle of dinner, or sitting leisurely on the porch. Gippy (I can't find pics of her) is a peach colored tabby, who is the most vocally demanding. She's probably the original Greg-Trainer. Mr Sam and Cali are related, but he can't remember how. We call Cali (the oldest) "Disapproving Kitty" because she always has this look on her face like we aren't good enough for her. She pretty much does what she wants because Greg is a softy. He does say "Now, Cali, we don't do that" but that's pretty much the extent of her punishment. She sits wherever she wants to; and no matter how disapproving she can be, she always runs in and sleeps on Greg as soon as he lays down. (I can't seem to find any pics of Mr Sam either, but he's a black kitty).

Actually not getting into any trouble.

Sitting in the antique pump organ

Sitting in the plant
Sitting on folded laundry

Sitting on the cabinet above the fridge

In a box with a comforter that doesn't belong to her

Apparently this plant attracts kitties (Squeak as a kitten)
And then there's Squeakers. So-called because that's pretty much all she does. She doesn't meow, she just squeaks. She was my replacement for Paris, but she's not a cuddler. Before she discovered the great outdoors, she'd zoom around the house, then all of a sudden get trapped by a beam of light and plop down and fall asleep. Now she spends most of the time outdoors, hunting. She used to be quite aloof, now she's allowing me to pick her up (for all of about 30 seconds), but when she's inside she's rarely further than about two feet from me.

Sleeping on the table (where she doesn't belong)

They're all quite spoiled, they get treats quite often and a little canned food in the morning (Squeakers announces that I'm late when I try to sleep in). They get quite a bit of loving, and are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want. In return they bring us "gifts" (quite unwelcome ones), purrs, and unconditional love.

May 22, 2014

Spring makes depression worse?

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief
William Wordsworth from 
"Intimations of Immortality From 
Recollections of Early Childhood"
What an odd concept. I suppose I never noticed it before because I spent 30 years in sunny Southern California, and about 15 years in Arizona (where we did actually have four seasons-Warm, Hot, Really Hot, and Fucking Hot). I only knew when seasons changed when my mother was alive because we always went shopping in the month of changing seasons. She was from Philadelphia, and was raised (as was I) to be "correct." You know, no white after Labor Day (except winter white), etc. 

Once I lived in Arizona, I had no idea what season was what, so I never noticed if my depression changed. I've lived in Ohio for about 8 years now, and when the depression aspect of my bipolar disorder reared it's ugly head, I never noticed what season it was. Yesterday I was at my therapist's office, and she mentioned the connection between spring and increased depression. I didn't understand that, so I came home and looked it up.

First I found an article on the BBC News website:  Reverse Sad: Why springtime can be bad for depression sufferers
Harvard psychiatrist John Sharp has done extensive research into the effects that the changing seasons have on our mental health and emotional well-being.
In his book, The Emotional Calendar, Sharp outlines how physical, psychological and socio-cultural factors influence the way we feel.
"...as Dr Sharp points out, for those who suffer from depression, spring can have the opposite effect....

At the same time as most of us are rolling up our sleeves and spending more time outdoors, others struggle with trying to get into that kind of mode, and counter-intuitively, they feel worse."
Dr. Sharp also mentions, that "...anniversaries of negative events...." can also increase depression. My parents' 40th anniversary was March 21, then my mother died less than two weeks later, and her birthday was six days after her death. That time of year is incredibly difficult for me, even though it was 25 years ago. But one would think by this time I'd be fine, nope...it always seems like it just happened yesterday, although some years are worse than others.

The same article mentions "Nicolas Werner, a mental health worker from Hove in East Sussex...."
 He was diagnosed with depression in 2001 and subsequently with bipolar disorder towards the end of last year.
"It is like the winter was an eiderdown or a duvet to hide underneath, but in the long summer hours or daylight hours I felt more exposed." 
What Werner suffers from is known as Reverse SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Emer O'Neill, of charity Depression Alliance, acknowledges the seriousness of the condition.
She says: "Reverse SAD is rare but this has a lot to do with the fact that so little is written about it. It is not talked about so there are potentially many people out there who have the condition and have not been diagnosed."
Another article, When Spring Brings You Down in Psychology Today, discusses the same issue of Reverse SAD.  Everybody else is out doing spring planting, playing, and generally enjoying the sunshine, but depression sufferers usually feel worse.
Rain or shine, some people find the weather depressing. A recent study led by researchers at Utrecht University looked at different patterns of mood in response to weather conditions. One group, dubbed Summer Haters, felt in a worse mood as the weather got warmer and sunnier. The researchers speculated that Summer Haters might be at risk for a condition sometimes referred to as reverse SAD.
Unfortunately, the very fact that spring is supposed to be a time of joy and renewal can highlight what's missing for those who aren't feeling that way. It's the "I'm the only one not having fun on spring break" effect, and it's bound to make someone who's already down feel even worse.
If you're in that group, there may be some comfort in knowing that you aren't the only one. Don't hesitate to reach out for help if you're struggling. For some people, April showers bring not only May flowers, but also a trip to the therapist's or a prescription for antidepressants.
Unfortunately, my antidepressant doesn't seem to be helping right now. I've been on the same one for many years, and sometimes a drug's effectiveness can just stop working. I've recently had a med change, but that seems to be worsening things. Trileptal is a seizure drug which has an off-label use as a mood stabilizer. My mania was getting worse, and I was becoming quite agitated, at the same time my depression was worsening; this is called a Mixed State (there are quite a few other names for it, but that's the easiest to remember). Actually, most of the time I'm in a mixed state.

Bipolar disorder is a very difficult mental illness to treat, it's extremely challenging to find that right med cocktail that will get one on an even keel. I'm yet to be there, usually at one extreme or the other. 

Some people have asked me which I'd prefer. Really? What an odd question...that's like asking do I prefer harming/killing myself or someone else? I don't get those "happy" highs, I get agitated mania where I want to hurt others (since that's not ok, I end up hurting myself, but it's a different feeling than hurting myself when I'm depressed). 

So here's my answer to that idiotic question...neither, I want to be "normal," whatever that is. I want to feel happiness without being giddy and doing stupid things, and I wouldn't mind feeling sadness if it wasn't so black and seemingly hopeless and unending.

March 14, 2014

Life with bipolar disorder CAN be good

With the help of two little pills, learning it's ok to ask for help, increasing my activities, and Weight Watchers, I've dragged myself out of my depression.

I'm guessing the Trileptal has a lot to do with it, helping me to jump start the other areas of my life that had died from the deep depression I've been in since October. The anniversary of my mother's death is coming up, but I'm certain I can get through that just fine.

I've learned quite a bit about myself over the past couple weeks. Accepting that I'm not a failure if I ask for help was the most important, as well as learning that having bipolar disorder doesn't have to control my life. It's a disease, like diabetes or heart disease, and I can take care of myself by taking the right meds, eating right and increasing my activity in a fun way.

"Exercise" is one of the most unpleasant words in the English language (at least in my opinion). Learning to just increase my activity a little at a time, and in a fun way, is much more pleasant. I skip sideways and walk backwards around the house; and I took my iPod grocery shopping and danced up and down the aisles. I received a lot of stares, grins and giggles; but after all the horrific things I've been through, I've earned the right to be silly in public. Making people smile, whether they're laughing at me or with me, helps me feel good. I'm also increasing my time on the elliptical by just one minute each day. After my surgery, I could barely get through five minutes (way before, I was doing an hour!). I'm up to 10-15 minutes, and I'm certain I'll get up to that hour before long. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks helps the time fly by.

So I've learned if I keep my endorphins up by moving, ask for help when I need it, and take good care of my body (including taking my meds on time), this awful thing called bipolar disorder can be beat into remission (I highlighted that because I'm fully aware that there's no such thing as "recovery" from this disease. I'll probably still have some bad days, but I'll get through them).