Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy childhood memories

I didn't have a particularly happy childhood, nothing traumatic (until my late teens), but I do think I began struggling with depression (at least with SAD) at a fairly young age. But there are some happy memories:

  1. Girls Day Out with my piano teacher. Other than my mom, Miss N (name withheld) was my first mentor, long before it became the politically correct thing to do. A few times each year, she'd clear a day on her very busy calendar, pick me up in her baby blue Mustang, and later in her silver Jag (both of with were VERY cool!) and spend the day with me doing something both cultural and fun. We'd always have lunch at a very nice restaurant (or her home) first, then it was either a movie, a museum or shopping in one of the more bohemian artsy shopping districts around town.

  2. The summer I spent in Spain between 7th and 8th grade. We flew into Paris for a few days, where I learned that a bidet was NOT intended to wash your feet after stomping grapes like Lucy did on that great I Love Lucy episode. Next we took the train from Paris to Madrid, and finally we landed in Malaga (southern Spain), where we stayed on the campus of the local university for 3 weeks.

  3. High school at a small all-girls school. What a welcomed change after years in the public school system where I was literally afraid to go to school each day. It was great to be not only able, but expected to excel academically but also to be able to focus on school, without the obvious distractions of having boys around. It was so much less distracting, in fact, that I graduated in 3 years instead of 4.

  4. Spending hours on Sunday afternoon playing with Barbie dolls with my cousin who had every Barbie and Ken doll and accessory ever made. She and I were as close as sisters then.

  5. Moving to our new house half-way through 5th grade. Like George and "Weezie" Jefferson, we really moved up on this one. I LOVED that house, the neighborhood and all the great children I met there.

  6. Sleepovers at my friends' houses. I especially liked spending the night at Rita's house. Her parents were much much older than my parents or my other friends' parents, but they were really fun. Her mom would drop us off at concerts and then be the only headlights coming into the packed parking lots to pick us up afterwards, literally driving along the grass on the side of the pavement because all the lanes were full of cars heading out of the parking lot.

  7. Summers at my Grandmother's house in the country with my other cousin. My grandma was a teacher/principal all her life, so she was into educational activities. There were no computers, videos, ipods, cell phones or anything like that in those days. And our tv time was limited. But we had a blast! When we were younger, Grandma planned all sorts of arts and crafts activities and field trips. Every day was a new adventure. As we got older, we discovered that Grandma has saved all of our mother's prom gowns - there were at least a dozen of them and they were gorgeous. So my cousin and I would play dress-up for hours, strutting down our imaginary catwalks as we pretended to be the world's top models modelling the latest fashions.

  8. My first "real" piano recital. I was 7 years old (seriously). I can hardly believe it now, but Maggie C. (who was 9) and I did a full recital on the campus of a Music Conservatory in town. During the first half of the recital, we each performed solo sonatas and concertos. During the second half, we played concerto duets on matching baby grand pianos, followed by a series of classical variations on a theme with the string ensemble from one of the local universities.

  9. Performing at the Kennedy Center with the DC Youth Orchestra. I got to play on a concert grand piano. It was awesome!

  10. Easter Pink Teas at my church. It was a highly anticipated social event/fundraiser (I think) on Easter Sunday. It was held at a banquet facilities with tons of food, flowers and music. The best part though was that everybody got a fabulous new outfit and all of the women wore beautiful big hats that were perfectly color-coordinated with their outfits.

  11. Winning an archery competition when I was about 12 years old. I was definitely not the athletic type and swear I was allergic to anything even remotely related to sports, so this was a great accomplishment and a crowning moment for me.

  12. My first "official" boyfriend, Tony L, in the 8th grade. He was the best looking boy in the entire school, and probably the one most frequently sent off to juvenile detention. What is it about bad boys? Needless to say, the nerd and the juvenile delinquent were not a very likely pair. Our romance was short-lived but bittersweet.

  13. Graduating from high school. I was a nervous wreck in the weeks leading up to it and the morning of, because I had to deliver the valedictorian speech, but once that was over, what a wonderful day it was!

  14. Moving into the mini-apartment over our (attached garage) and feeling like I had my own place. I had a bedroom, bathroom and a second set of steps that led down to the garage (which I never used for some reason). Anyway, I spent a lot of time in that space. It was very cool.

  15. Teaching myself new skills. Every summer I picked a new skill to teach myself. Sewing, crocheting, knitting... Whatever I learned to do that summer determined what EVERYBODY on my list would get the following Christmas. I must admit thought that the Christmas after I taught myself to type was a bit problematic.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dare I say "Good Day"?

I told myself that I wasn't going to be one of those bloggers who posts about every detail of their daily lives, recounting events that are quite honestly interesting only to them. However... I decided to make an exception to my own rule because today marks a very special day. It's a day in which I felt something that I haven't felt in a very long time... nothing! That's right, I said "nothing". No depression... no uncontrollable crying spells... no thoughts of the worthlessness or hopelessness of my life... no elation... no boundless energy... no feeling like I'm Superwoman, Mother Theresa and Oprah, all rolled into one.

To the untrained eye, the concept of celebrating nothingness probably seems absurd. But my guess is that there's at least one other person with bipolar disorder who'll read these words and get it. As best I can recall, this latest in a life-long string of depressive episodes began in late July of last year. Immediately prior to that was my most pronounced hypomanic episode, which lasted 4 months. Although the distinction is not entirely clear to me, I think it may have been my first truly manic episode. I'm not sure that the distinction really matters much, certainly not in the context of this post. The point is simply that I've felt something - either really high or really low - constantly for a very long time now. I'd almost forgotten what's it's like to simply go through the day feeling, dare I say the dreaded N word - "normal". It's actually kind of nice.

This morning I got up and finished switching my seasonal wardrobes and re-organizing my closet - a project that I'd stopped in the middle of weeks ago. There were nights that I merely moved the stack of clothes over to one side of the bed, leaving just enough spare room for me to sleep. Now I can see the color of my bedspread, all of my clothes are hung by category and by color, and my bedroom looks inviting once again.

Next I stopped by Goodwill and donated some clothes, which always feels liberating, and then I went exploring in the little town near where I live. After an hour of so of walking around, I found myself getting tired, so rather than forcing myself to stay out all afternoon just to prove that I could, I stopped and picked up a few things from the grocery store and came home.

I contacted a good friend that I haven't seen in months and made plans to meet her for lunch and some knitting tomorrow afternoon. I'm actually looking forward to it, and since she's having relatives over for dinner later in the day, I even offered to bring food for lunch! I warned her that I wasn't up to fixing anything fancy, but I did make some baked spaghetti and I bought some white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Too bad I didn't have a copy of Marja's upcoming cookbook today!

Now I'm about to settle down to an evening of knitting and watching DVDs. Lately, I've been craving old episodes of La Femme Nikita. So thanks to Netflix, the greatest invention since Al Gore invented the Internet, I've been renting the entire series. I've made it through the first 2 seasons (out of 5 or 6) and am about to start Season 3 tonight. In honor of the occasion, I'm treating myself to my absolute most favorite dessert in the entire world - warm blackberry cobbler with Breyer's Vanilla ice cream!

Here's hoping for more nothingness tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Epiphany

One of the few bright spots in my post-diagnosis life has been the pleasure and the promise of meeting others with bipolar disorder through the wonders of the internet. It's been a pleasure to know that there are others out there with whom I can freely share something so intensely personal and significant. I hate the saying that "misery loves company", but there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone. As well-meaning as my *real world* friends try to be, there's something that is so special, and so affirming, about discussing the thoughts, hopes, symptoms and fears of living with bipolar disorder with others who've been there. Therein also lies the promise... There is absolutely no substitute for the sense of connection born of the sharing of experiences and feelings that you thought no one else on earth would understand.

I had one such "Ah Ha" moment earlier today when reading Susan's post about rentering life after an extended bout of depression. Susan writes that "When I'm interested in spending time with people again--other than my husband, son, and mother--oddly enough, I'm less interested in seeing people I know than total strangers. Why? Because with strangers, I can enjoy the social interaction without explanation. I don't have to account for my period of hibernation. I don't have to apologize for what I've missed in their lives. I don't have to share what's been going on in my life for the last four to six months or ask what's going on in theirs."

When I read Susan's words, the proverbial light bulb exploded in my head. This is exactly how I feel, but have never been able to understand or articulate. I can even take this concept further by saying that in the past, not only have I had little inclination to pick up with old friends, but I've actually moved - usually to another city. I was vaguely aware of my belief that moving to another city (usually under the guise of a new job opportunity) was a way to reinvent myself. In a new town, I could be a new person, and no one would have to know of the mistakes or missteps of my past. Sadly, this also applied to some friendships that were casualties along the way. In retrospect, I believe it was much more exciting, and much less stressful or painful, to start fresh - new job, new home, new friends - than to try to pick up the pieces of my scattered life after coming out of either a depressive or a hypomanic episode. I'll say it again... what I didn't realize was that no matter where I go, I'm always still there, and so is the bipolar disorder.

Susan is so right... it's really hard reestablishing contact with old friends after you've been away for a while. It's hard knowing how to answer the well-meaning, but nonetheless prying questions about where I've been and why I've been absent. Then there are the subtle and not-so-subtle jabs that place blame and cause feelings of guilt for having not kept in touch. Then there are those who don't know the extent of my "issues" who tell me how concerned they were that I was "not acting like myself" and they're glad "I'm back". If they only knew that both sides of that coin are who I really am, just at different times.

I've tried to explain, without going into the sordid details, why I've disappeared, sometimes for months at a time. Rarely do I get a sense that people understand or empathize. So, instead of trying to go back and repair the damage that my absence has caused, I usually let the friendships fade to black and I start with a fresh canvas when I'm feeling better again.

It'll be interesting to see how things are different now that I've been diagnosed. My guess is that I'll be much less likely to develop close personal relationships in the first place - much less baggage to have to attend to during and after future episodes. Does that mean that I don't want to interact with other people? No. Just that I want to pick and chose very carefully, and I need to maintain a healthy (for me) distance so as not to set myself up for more relational failure.

Thanks again Susan for sharing!

P.S. Susan has subsequently written a sequel to her original post referenced above, largely in response, I think, to this one. As I would not want anyone to misinterpret Susan's intent by reading my reflections on her original post, I would encourage you to read her subsequent post.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

15 things I like about my new job

I'm slowly starting to feel better. It could be the new medicine, though I'm not sure. There's a 50/50 chance that it's a placebo, so it could be some sort of placebo effect. It could be that I've finally left the God-awful 4-month temp assignment from hell that was a major trigger for me. Or perhaps it's the great new job that I started on Thursday. Maybe it's the delayed, subdued version of my almost annual spring bounce or the naturally inevitable reversal of the bipolar tide. No matter what the reason for the invitation to start feeling better, I accept.

I am now officially a Corporate Concierge. I learned of the job through my temp agency, so by the time I got to the interview, the agency had already done a lot of the "selling" for me and the client had a good sense of who I was as a prospective employee. So instead of focusing on all the "stuff" I've done before (no, I've never been a Concierge!), we focused on what I could bring to this position because of my various work and life experiences. It was a natural and immediate fit, and we both realized that early on. Thankfully, I met with the President of the company right out of the box, so she was able to make a decision quickly and made an offer the very next day. I met with her last Thursday and started the job exactly one week later. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

One of the great things about the job is that finally I'm in a situation that allows my work life to mirror my personal life (or vice versa). I've learned through the years that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to live two lives - to be professional and *hard core* by day, and relaxed and spontaneous by night. To be surrounded by people, corporate cultures and work ethics that are not consistent with my own during the day, and to then try to "be myself" the rest of the time. It's exhausting, it's hypocritical, it's stressful and it's just not right.

Thankfully, I now have a job that honors my core values and allows me to merge my work and personal personas. No more comic-book super-hero characters for me. What you see is what you get - at work and at play.

It's only been 2 days, but here's my list of things I like about the new job so far:

1. I get to "dress up" for work. I started my career in the mid-80's, at a time when a dress or suit (skirt, not slacks) for women and a suit, white shirt and tie for men were the mandatory dress code for work in a corporate setting. Then it was "Casual Fridays", which was a very nice change. A few years later, every day became casual day and that's when the problem started. Any time companies have to issue dress code policies that remind employees that beach wear, gym outfits, see-through clothing, flip flops, torn t-shirts or micro-mini skirts are inappropriate for the workplace, it's a sign that a good thing has been taken way too far. My mother used to tell me that when you look the part, you'll start to feel the part. I can't explain it, but there's something about going to the office knowing that I look great that makes me feel better (and perform better) throughout the day.

2. I get paid for being creative. A dream come true for someone with bipolar disorder! In the past, I've always had to struggle to convince my co-workers about the benefits of thinking outside the box, finding new solutions to problems, or being proactive when it comes to meeting customer's needs. Now, those things that I love to do are actually encouraged and rewarded.

3. There is always something to do. I absolutely hate being bored on the job. It just makes the day drag on, my mind wanders, discontent starts to creep in, and things go downhill fast. In this job, if there are no requests from clients at any given time, there's always something I can be doing - finding out about upcoming events or activities around town, identifying new vendors, coming up with new promotions - the possibilities are endless!

4. Discovering the cultural, shopping and dining opportunities in town is part of the job. I think this one speaks for itself! For example, I'd already planned to go to a big semi-annual juried craft show in the park today. With over 450 awesome artists on display, it's always a treat. This year while I'm there, I can be on the look out for local artists who may prospective vendors to bring in for an on-site exhibit in our building's gallery. Another example is our monthly staff meetings which are held at a different restaurant each month where we have dinner and discuss things, and check out the food/service to see if it's someplace we want to recommend to our clients.

5. The opportunity to meet all sorts of people that I never would have met working from home. I think this one speaks for itself, but I will add that I'm particularly fortunate to have a very interesting and varied collection of tenants that I serve.

6. The opportunity to serve. I knew before the bipolar diagnosis that it was time for a career change and I'd been praying for guidance. I knew that I wanted - no needed - to live a live of purpose, of service, but I had no idea what that would look like. Those prayers took on an even greater meaning once I was diagnosed. I knew then that it was not only preferable, it was not mandatory, that I find a career that would support, rather than exacerbate, the bipolar disorder. I knew that paid career opportunities in the non-profit sector are few and far between, at least at the pay levels that I need to make ends meet, so I was really at a loss for how to make this happen. Problem solved.

7. Being allowed to "do more" . I was raised to believe that whether at school, work, or play, always try to do what's expected in the situation, and then try to do a bit more. Rather than making me a "star", that strategy usually backfires. So many people seem hard-pressed these days to even do the bare minimum, much less more than that. So people who strive for excellence are usually sneered at by their colleagues. I've been called a "suck-butt", "kiss ass", "bitch who thinks she's better than everyone else", and probalby much worse... not because of the way I treat people, but because of the way I approach my work. Of course there were times that I competed with colleagues, but the reaction was the same even when the person I was competing with was myself. What's so wrong with trying to do and be your best? Thankfully, going above and beyond the client's expectations is a natural part of this job, and one of the hallmarks of a successful concierge.

8. Medical, dental and life insurance. On the more practical side, not only will I have full insurance benefits, but the company pays 100% of the premiums! Insurance was a huge issue for me. For the past several months, it wasn't enough that I was paying hugh premiums for private-pay insurance. To add insult to injury, none of the medical issues (including bipolar disorder and sleep apnea) that I needed assistance with were covered. (No mental health benefits were permitted when the earlier diagnoses was unipolar depression, so coverage for bipolar disorder was totally out of the question).

9. Paid vacation. Many people think that when you're self-employed and working from home, that every day is a vacation. Or they think that you can take a vacation any time you want - no big deal. These are either people who haven't owned their own small business, or if they do, they won't for long with that attitude. Having done both (worked for an employer and been self-employed), I'd argue that there are times when I worked MORE hours, not less, being self-employed. There is no such thing as going home at 5:00, most nights even if I stopped for dinner or to go to the gym, I was working again later in the evening, clients (many of whom are also self-employed) have no problem calling at night or sending e-mails that they expect an immediate response to, and I often worked on weekends. Yes, I did take time off, there were days when I was too sick to work, and I did take one 2-week "vacation" in the 6 YEARS that I worked from home, but when I didn't work for whatever reason, I didn't get paid.

10. Closing the gap. I wasn't sure what to call this one, but just as I needed a job that allowed me to bring my true nature to work, the reality is that I also needed a job that allowed me to bring some of my work nature home. At work, I am very structured, organized and efficient. At home, I'm not. I want to be, Lord knows I do, but I just can't seem to make it happen. I think some of that is BP, some is fatigue - I give my best energy to work and when work is done for the day, I'm exhausted. But the more I learn about BP, the more I realize that I need more structure and more organization in my life. It will require a bit of an up-front investment in time and energy for me, but the pay off will be huge. Starting this new job that someone had done before me, I realized that the office space and the computer files that I inherited may have worked for my predecessor, but there are lots of things I can do to make them more efficient and streamlined for me. I had to laugh though, when looking at things as I found them at work reminded me of what my office at home (actually, my entire home) looks like right now. I need to bring the same thoughtful restructuring process that I intend to use in the coming weeks at work home with me and do the exact same thing here. Just as reorganizing things at work will save me time and energy by not having to search for things that aren't where I think they logically should be, and of course the space will look nicer (less cluttered), doing the same thing at home will have the same effect.

11. More structured time to write. One of my goals was to set aside time at least 2 evenings a week to start writing again. Even with the best of intentions, it just wasn't happening. After getting home from the temp job, I was either to tired, to frustrated and wound up, or other more pressing issues wrestled my attention away. Now that I'm working downtown and my can't-miss salsa classes are in a location that is mid-way between home and work, it's senseless to come all the way home for a few hours and then turn-around and go back out. I'm going to spend the next week or so scoping out some possible locations (public library, coffee shop, the salsa class location?) where I can take my laptop and write during that extra time two nights a week.

12. Lots of perks!. Naturally, there are lots of perks to this type of job - getting samples of products/services from vendors who want you to refer them to your clients. Of course you can't do that in good conscience without experiencing their goods/services first hand, right? :) No, kick-backs are not allowed!

12. Free parking. At $17-$20/day, this is a huge benefit!

13. No two days are the same. Monotony breeds contempt. Monotonous is one thing this job is not. I literally do not know, from one minute to the next, what my day will entail. And that's OK with me. In fact, it's kind of exciting. I had my first 2 "treasure hunts" yesterday. I had to find a very specific financial calculator for one client and 2 tickets to the nearly sold-out Josh Groban concert in a nearby-town for another. Both were successful!

14. A great boss/company owner to work with. Never underestimate the power of personal connection. I know it's early, but sometimes you just *know* when there's a good match (well, at least professionally - I haven't figured this out in my personal life yet). I admire, respect and genuinely like my new boss. She's creative, smart, thoughtful (you have to be in this business), resourceful, funny and very professional. She's got a great business model and allows her team to participate fully through a very generous profit-sharing plan. She welcomes new ideas and encourages her team to help her grow the business. Now that's my kind of employer!

15. A steady paycheck. Can't forget this one... I think it speaks for itself!

On a personal note, thanks to Susan and Marja, and of course, my Mom and aunt, for your on-going encouragement and support during the dark days. It truly does take a village to live with bipolar disorder!

October 18, 2007 Update: What a difference 5 months makes

I re-read this post as I was transferring this blog from Wordpress to Blogger and can barely recognize the company I was writing about. Just consider this a classic example of things not always being what they seem. It's frustrating to realize that I'm sitting on an opportunity that has so much potential, and could be so much fun, but it's not. A business without leadership is nothing more than a group of people treading water, hoping that the tides don't change too much.

There are days when I ask myself why do I care so much about the fact that this business isn't living up to it's potential. After all, if the owner doesn't care, why should I? Because I don't have a rich husband to pay the bills. It's as simple as that. The handwriting is on the wall. I've done all I can do to turn things around. The only thing left for me to turn around is myself. I just hope I'm able to do that before the bottom falls out.