Saturday, July 28, 2007

An update and a miracle

It took me a minute to figure out what Susan was talking about when she politely posted a comment today that I should update my blog. I had to smile when I realized that she was referring to my last post where I mentioned that my new relationship wasn't going well. It's been over a week now and I'm happy to report that things are back on track and better, in fact.

I stand by my theory that knowledge is power. The knowledge I'm referring to covers more than simply knowledge about BP, but applies more broadly to knowledge about myself, about relationships and about human nature. This time, I resisted the urge to run away when the going got tough. Similarly, I resisted the urge to enable the other person involved to do the same. I challenged myself, and him, to make a conscious choice about whether or not this relationship was worth developing, warts and all. We both decided that it was.

We both recognize that you don't reach the age that we are (late 40's) without emotional baggage, failed relationships, a somewhat biased perspective of the opposite sex, and ingrained patterns of self-defensive behaviors. We both realize that we have "trust issues" and neither of us is interested in being hurt again.

That said, we also realize that we were brought together for a reason and perhaps it's in our singular and collective best interests to water the seeds that have been planted, to give them time to grow. Who knows what might blossom? There's no way of knowing what the future holds for us, but we've decided that we want to find out.

And now for the miracle... When I arrived at work this morning my co-worker told me that her 5-year-old nephew drowned in a public swimming pool yesterday. He was not breathing when he was pulled from the pool, his precious little heart had stopped beating 3 times, and he was on life support. She said that she'd left the hospital at 5 this morning because she couldn't bear to stay a minute longer when the doctor called the family into a small room to tell them to "prepare for the worst". She came to work because she couldn't bear to sit there and wait for him to die.

We sat there, crying and praying. Through the tears, she'd remember something funny about him and start to laugh. She said that this past weekend, she'd made a movie of him running through the house in his Spider-Man pajamas screaming and laughing like crazy. It was so incredibly ironic and so indescribably sad.

Finally, I had the strongest urge to say the words that, though true, seemed so trite at a time like this. I hesitated, but the urge only grew stronger, so finally I uttered the words... "The God I serve works miracles." Less than 10 minutes later, the telephone rang. The tiny, nearly breathless voice on the other end of the phone was her nephew. Only a few minutes before, he'd been near death. Now he was asking for his "auntie" and talking to her on the phone. Needless to say, we've been celebrating all day!

Just before 5, my co-worker called me to tell me that the reporters had just left and that the story would be on the 6:00 news. Had I not known of this miracle, I would never have believed that the little boy that I saw outside playing basketball in his socks with his 9-year-old cousin this afternoon, was the same boy who laid dying in a hospital bed this morning! God is awesome.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Knowledge is power

I haven't been blogging much lately. I'd been in the throes of an exciting new relationship, or so I thought. I don't want to go into the details, but let's just say that things are not working out as I'd hoped.

But the good news, and it IS good news, is that beginning a new relationship didn't send me into hypomania as it has always done in the past, and perhaps more importantly, ending a relationship hasn't sent me spiraling into depression either. I'm sure that the new medication deserves some of the credit for my relatively calm response to what is normally a major bipolar trigger for me. But I sincerely believe that a clearer understanding of my triggers and a more realistic perspective on what actions and reactions I own and which issues are not mine have played a huge part in getting me through this.

In this situation, I can see with crystal clarity that taking this situation personally is a total waste of time and energy. At least this once, the issues that are preventing this relationship from growing are not mine. I'll be the first to admit that I have a host of my own issues, but I'm learning that I don't have a monopoly on deal-breaking, relationship-destroying issues. This time, it's not "all about me".

In years past, after I emerging from a grueling depression over having been unceremoniously dumped, I would have gotten angry. This time, not only do I not feel depressed, but I don't feel angry either. I just feel sad. Sad that something that could have been great didn't even have a fair chance. Sad that someone I care about is struggling with such important issues, and doesn't even seem to realize it. Perhaps it was Marja, or maybe Susan, who said that being bipolar has given them a great sense of empathy and compassion for the emotional struggles of other people. I can see now how that is true.

So, what have I learned from this experience? That medication probably does help take the edge off. But more importantly, I've learned that all the medication in the world will not help me work through the challenges of life, look for and appreciate lessons to be learned, recognize triggers and do what I can to minimize their impact, develop a healthier perspective, and realize that all things happen for a reason, even if we don't understand what it is at the time. Only educating myself on bipolar disorder, acknowledging how it manifests for me personally, and developing and working a viable self-care plan including support from people who really understand can do that. Knowledge really is power.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Clinical research trial update

It's been 10 weeks since I started a clinical research trial for a new medication. I won't bother with the technical name, but it's sort of a new-and-improved version of Effexor XR. Phase I of the study was double-blind, so I don't know if I was taking the drug or a placebo, but because I'd taken Effexor XR a year ago and gotten sick as a dog, I assumed I was on the placebo.

I was severly depressed when I entered the study and for the first 4 weeks, I felt no improvement, further evidence that I was taking the placebo. Almost overnight though, after I hit the 4-week mark, I started feeling better. Not great, but not bad. At the time I posted about possibly feeling "normal", whatever that means.

Two weeks ago I entered Phase 2, which is the "open-label" phase. I now know for sure that I'm taking 200 mg of the new med (I started with 100 mg during the first week). I was definitely expecting the awful queasiness and nausea this time, but again it didn't happen. How could that be? For the first week I noticed some remnants of Restless Leg Syndrome, but those have quieted down now. So, I'm happy to report that this medication not only hasn't had any horrible side-effects (yet), but it also appears to be working.

Well, actually there has been one side effect that I must mention. The medication has had dulled my appetite substantially. I'm still eating, but much smaller portions. In the 2 weeks since open-label, I've lost 6 lbs and 1 full dress size! I'd gained 20 lbs from the Effexor before, and it took me a year to lose 10 lbs (OK - I really WANTED to lose the weight, but I didn't try THAT hard), so to have lost another 6 lbs in 2 weeks is awesome.

I'm still watching for signs of hypomania, but so far other than this persistent insomnia which is not responding to therapy for sleep apnea, things are looking good.

I realize that this experience may not be the norm, but I wanted to post about it because I've seen so many negative posts about clinical trials and I wanted to report a more favorable experience. I realize that clinical trials are not for everyone, but in some cases, particularly if you are without medical insurance as I was at the time I started, it is definitely worth considering.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Something to think about

For many of us, memories of traumatic, challenging or otherwise stressful times can trigger bouts of depression. Sometimes I find myself ruminating about painful things from my past almost to the point of making myself sick. It's not that I want to dwell on the past. I don't. I've always said that if I could flick a switch and make those painful memories go away forever, I would.

Well, maybe there will be a way to do just that in my lifetime. According to a recent study, researchers at Harvard and McGill University (in Montreal) are working on an amnesia drug that "blocks or deletes bad memories. The technique seems to allow psychiatrists to disrupt the biochemical pathways that allow a memory to be recalled." The drug, propranolol, is used along with therapy to lessen the stressful reactions associated with memories of trauma victims.

I believe there's also a Jim Carey/Drew Barrymore movie with a similar theme about being able to elect to remove painful memories, although I haven't seen the movie. Another example of art imitating life, or vice versa.

Part of me believes that if given the opportunity to swallow a few pills and erase the painful memories of being assaulted, a string of painfully unsuccessful relationships, and a host of other experiences that are too long to list, I'd grab a bucket of water and swallow away. I can't imagine what life would be like without those shadows always lurking like ghosts, always waiting to jump out at the most inopportune moments.

But, on further reflection, I have to consider this question in light of the bigger picture. If I believe that my life's purpose is to be a voice and an advocate and a resource for women and young girls who have been victimized and broken, if I believe that it is my desire and my responsibility to turn my own pain into something positive by offering hope, or at least some light in the lives of other women who have suffered as I have, then I must accept the burdens of my painful past. Because it is that very thing which pains me the most that also gives me the compassion and the empathy I need to help others.

I'm not a doctor or a therapist. I'm not a lawyer or a victims' rights advocate. I'm simply a woman who has lived through hell, and survived to tell about it. And if sharing my story through blogs and books reminds just one woman or one young girl that they are not alone, that they deserve to be loved, accepted and respected despite what may have happened to them, then maybe all that pain will have been worth it.

So from now on, when I find myself drowning in painful memories, perhaps I'll think of propranolol. Perhaps I'll pretend that the choice is readily available to let all that pain go. And then I'll remember why I won't.