Friday, November 30, 2007

Where do the Presidential candidates stand on health care?

No, this is not a political blog and I have no plans to make it one. In fact, I regularly resist the urge to comment on anything political. However, anyone who thinks that the 2008 Presidential election doesn't matter is mistaken. There are a number of serious issues which threaten the security and stability of this country - the war on terror, immigration, the economy and trade issues, education, crime, the deficit, Social Security, the list goes on...

But if you're reading this blog and you don't care about a single one of those issues, you *should* care about health insurance, and particularly mental health parity. If you live with bipolar disorder, depression, or a host of other illnesses categorized as "mental illness", you need to be very considered about what the next President intends to do (or not do) to address one of the biggest hurdles to receiving the compassionate and effective treatment we need.

Over the coming year, I plan to watch this issue closely as the campaign unfolds, and I intend to blog about what I learn during the process. For starters, I'd recommend According to their website, " is part of a broad effort by the Kaiser Family Foundation to provide a central hub for resources and information about health policy issues in the 2008 election. The site -- operated by Kaiser staff -- provides analysis of policy issues, regular public opinion surveys, daily news updates, video of speeches and debates from the campaign trail, original interviews and resources for journalists covering the election." In particular, the site offers a very informative side-by-side analysis of the stated health care and insurance policies of each of the candidates. Now, if only I could find a similar analysis specifically geared towards mental health care policies. But I'll keep looking.

More advice for supporting someone with bipolar disorder

Two of my most popular posts to date have been Things NOT to say when someone is depressed and Things you can do to support someone who is depressed. This is encouraging because it affirms that there are caring family members and friends who want to help, but sometimes they just don't know how.

Danielle at The Bipolar Diaries has just posted some important and practical suggestions. Please visit her blog to learn more.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bipolar Children: Problem practitioners or poor parenting?

I remember being in high school and thinking what a waste all those boring classes were. I suspected then that I'd never have a practical application for the abbreviations on the Periodic Table, the procedure for dissecting a frog, or anything I learned in calculus or trigonometry. But one skill that has been invaluable is the critical thinking skills I learned during my time on my high school debate team.

I normally have an opinion on any issue that I care about (and many that I don't - just for the sake of conversation). Yet despite my usual ability to choose a position, I also pride myself on being able to make thoughtful and persuasive arguments on either side of an issue. Whether resulting from logical analysis or a deeply ingrained sense of empathy, I can usually walk a proverbial mile in the other person's shoes, even if I chose not to wear them for long.

But at the urging of Danielle at The Biopolar Diaries, I'm faced with a question that I'm really not sure how I'd answer. Danielle recently linked to an op-ed piece about the alarming rise in diagnoses of bipolar disorder among young children in recent years. I've seen the headlines on this story, but to be honest, I didn't pay much attention until reading this essay written by child and adolescent psychiatrist and author, Dr. Elizabeth J. Roberts, who postulates that at the urging of parents, doctors are medicating too many children who, according to Dr. Roberts, simply suffer from the results of poor parenting.

This is an incredibly controversial issue, and I honestly don't know where I come out on this one.

The argument for problem practitioners. It took nearly 20 years for me to get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (atypical bipolar II, and I don't fit neatly into that label either). I've read many times that this is about the average amount of time it takes for an adult to get an accurate diagnosis. Despite the fact that I'm well-educated, articulate about describing my symptoms and very proactive about my health care, obtaining a diagnoses was an incredibly difficult, frustrating and time-consuming process.

It's no secret that women, in particular, deal with a unique set of diagnostic issues. Many "invisible" diseases like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, severe premenstrual syndrome, migraines and others are misdiagnosed because doctors have been so ready to dismiss any systems that couldn't be confirmed with blood tests or X-rays as being "all in her mind." I'm convinced that there are way too many women who have been routinely prescribed antidepressants when their symptoms were in fact caused by something else entirely.

So, given the difficulty that adults have with obtaining diagnoses, it should come as no surprise that children, who are likely to be much less articulate about their feelings, moods and symptoms could frequently be misdiagnosed as well.

Having also been misdiagnosed with systemic lupus, a potentially life-threatening disease, cancer, arthritis, and countless other things throughout my life, I also know that doctors can be very quick to come up with an explanation for what ails us, even if it's the wrong one, because for some doctors, any answer is preferable to admitting the unthinkable, that they simply don't know. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful, thoughtful, caring and concerned doctors out there, but sadly, I find them to be more of the exception than the rule these days.

Then of course there are the pressures of managed health care, limitations and restrictions from health insurance companies concerning the tests and treatments that can be provided to patients, and the pressure from parents to figure out what's wrong with their child and "fix it". Given all these factors, and many others I'm sure, it's no wonder that doctors are increasingly turning to catch-all diagnoses to cover a multitude of behaviors. I believe that bipolar disorder is the new ADD/ADHD for "problem" children.

The argument for poor parenting. Here's where I expect to step on quite a few toes. It only takes a visit to the local Wal-Mart or heaven forbid, the toy store at this time of year, to see the difference in parenting styles today. I've complained for years that I think parents of today (generally) are much too permissive, distracted and/or politically correct. In some cases, thanks to fertility advances and women wanting to establish their careers before having children, parents are older and are so thankful to finally have children that they let them get away with more. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, babies are having babies - another prescription for disaster.

When I was a young child in the 60's, parents only needed to give their children "the look" to instill the fear of a spanking when they got home if they didn't stop whatever they were doing right then and there. And except for the most tough-skinned, the look almost always worked. Today, parents threaten Johnny or Emily with a time-out, an empty threat that they usually don't follow through with anyway because it might hurt the child's self-esteem. When I was a child, if I did anything wrong while playing in the neighborhood, one of the "nosey neighbors" would have already called my parents before I made it home, and that's after they gave me a tongue-lashing to set the stage for what was sure to come from my parents. Today, a neighbor, teacher or another parent who attempts to offer such reprimands is often threatened with a lawsuit or worse.

Add to that the violence, promiscuity and profanity that children are exposed to at younger and younger ages through television, the internet, and simply listening to their parents and friends, and again, you have the perfect storm for bad behavior. Is it any wonder that our society is spiraling so out of control?

So what's the answer? I doubt that anyone knows for sure, but I'm guessing that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, meaning that both doctors and parents looking for easy answers are at least partially at fault. How's that for an answer worthy of one of the 2008 Presidential candidates.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Loneliness hurts

I had an epiphany today. I finally realized why I've been feeling so out of sorts for the last few weeks and that realization hurts more than not knowing did. I'm feeling a sense of utter loneliness and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Yes, I have friends, but most of my closest friends live too far away to be able to visit. Yes, I have hobbies and interests (both old and new) that occupy a lot of my time. Yes, I'm gainfully employed and interact with colleagues and clients every day. Yes, thankfully, my mother is alive and well and lives nearby so we talk almost every day. Yes, I enjoy solititude, at times, and I enjoy my own company (although I haven't always). How, then, could I possibly feel lonely?

Today it occurred to me that this is the first time in over 18 years that I've lived alone. It is also the first time in a very long time that I actually have the energy and the desire to engage in a meaningful social life. I don't want sex (although I certainly wouldn't complain if the circumstances were right). Romance would be nice, but that's not critical either. I don't need financial or emotional support the way I once did.

What I want is companionship, a sense of connection and emotional intimacy. I want to go to a great movie and then talk about it for hours over dinner. I want to cook a great meal, knowing that someone is there to share it with me - sharing the cooking over a bottle of wine would be even better. I want to listen to jazz, and maybe even dance, at a dimly lit jazz club. I want to play Scrabble late into the night, with someone who can actually beat me some of the time. I want to share my thoughts, my dreams and my fears with someone who'll listen with open ears and an open heart. I want to give of myself to someone who'll appreciate my efforts and not take me for granted. I want to have plans to look forward to next weekend or next month. I want to make memories.

Can't I go to a movie, cook a good meal, listen to great music, e-mail my friends, or play Scrabble on my computer by myself? Of course I can. I can also knit, read, take pictures, blog, surf the net and work on one of the many book projects that I have planned. And I do. Some days I'm perfectly fine with that, particularly when I was too depressed and too tired to entertain the thought of having someone else around. But thankfully, I'm not in that place anymore. I'm healthy, independent, self-sufficient and self-confident. But I'm also lonely as hell. It's as if I'm all dressed up, with nowhere to go. I think Vincent van Gogh summed it up when he said that "One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul, and yet no one ever comes to sit by it."

Monday, November 26, 2007

More on gratitude

I'm encouraged to see that others in the blogosphere are using this time of year to write about gratitude and how it impacts their lives. Today I thought I'd post links to some of the recent posts on gratitude that I found particularly interesting.

Millionaire Mommy Next Door writes that "I've witnessed that by focusing my thoughts on the happy things, rather than those that sadden me or stress me out, I attract more positive circumstances and contentment to my life. This simple act of gratitude literally transforms my experiences."

Andrew reminded me gratitude is about more than feeling grateful when he wrote that "Gratitude, I think, is more than just an expression of thanks - gratitude ought to be expressed in our lives - in the way we speak to, relate to, respond to, etc., our benefactors."

This is something that Susan already knows. She lost her mother a few weeks ago after an extended illness. It's been so inspirational to read not only about how she struggled with the health care system to give her mother the best possible care, and how she tirelessly did all she could to show her mother how much she loved her and was grateful for the live she'd been given up until the very end.

At Zen Habits, there are several reasons why living a life of gratitude can make you happy, as well as a great poem on gratitude.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm grateful

This Thanksgiving has been one of firsts...the first spent without my daughter who spent her first Thanksgiving on an Air Force base in Iraq... the first with a diagnosis of bipolar and all of the accompanying changes that has brought... the first at a restaurant instead of my own or a family member's home.

I think it's fair to say that the past year has been one of the most difficult, and yet one of the most personally rewarding years I've ever had. For every challenge or disappointment, there has been a corresponding blessing, perhaps not one that is easily recognized, but an important one nonetheless.

My financial situation has not improved significantly, but it's been stable and I know have health insurance. I've suffered the loss of relationships that were important to me, but I've developed new relationships that I'm certain will be life-long ones. My first book still hasn't been published yet, but it's closer than ever and it's better because of the delays. I had to walk away from the demands of my knitting ministry for a while because the emotional toll had become unbearable, but I've found ways to work smarter so that I can help others without losing myself in the process and look forward to a great year of outreach in 2008. I rebounded from my biggest bout of hypomania last year to one of the darkest bouts of depression, but also found a great healthcare team and a medical and self-care regimen that's working. I learned to dance salsa, a long-time goal. I've picked up photography as a new hobby that I love, I had my home re-organized by professional organizers and 2 months later, it still looks neat and clutter-free. All things considered, it's been a great year and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Here's my Top 10 (in no particular order):

1. I'm healthier, both physically and emotionally, than I've been in years, and I have a great health care policy. Although I have a lot of "issues" with my current employer, I'm thankful that she pays 100% of my health care insurance premiums.

2. My daughter is safe and as well-adjusted as can be expected, given that she's in Iraq. She enjoys being in the military and she's grown tremendously during the time she's been serving.

3. For the first time ever, I have the equivalent of 3 months salary in readily-available savings and I'm using a budget and financial planning system that has totally revolutionized my relationship with money.

4. My first book is about to be published and I've already started on the second. In fact, my dreams of owning a small publishing company are closer than ever to coming to fruition.

5. My home reflects my personality and I enjoy the time I spend here.

6. I've learned to set boundaries in my relationships with others in order to take care of myself and my needs.

7. I've made some wonderful new friends.

8. I've learned that I don't have to be "busy" all the time. I've finally figured out that it's ok to read, watch tv, play, goof off, or simply do "nothing", without feeling guilty. I'm finally taking care of myself.

9. I finally understand that honesty and authenticity is not only OK, but it's vital, to emotional well-being. The world is not going to end if someone doesn't like me because I was honest, and even if they do, I like myself even more.

10. We haven't had another 9/11 experience.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gratitude and wellness

Research studies are finding evidence that an attitude of gratitude is an important component of any successful wellness program. defines gratitude as the state of being "warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful". As you can see, this definition is pretty-opened minded, leaving us countless options when it comes to things to be grateful for and people to feel grateful towards.

It's easy to recognize the big things, like a new job, a new baby, getting married, buying a new house or surviving a car crash, even though some people insist on taking them for granted. I'll admit that in the absence of "big" things happening in my life, it's easy to overlook the smaller blessings that are occurring continuously. It's sad that many of us (myself included) focus on being grateful for all we have on Thanksgiving Day, and then go back to complaining about all that we don't have for the other 364 days of the year.

There are spiritual reasons for living with an attitude of gratitude. The German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart is commonly quoted as having said that "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'thank you', that would suffice."

Those of us who believe in God know of the immeasureable gifts we have already been given, so much so that we often feel guilty when we ask for more. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, we know that a grateful heart not only pleases God, but it benefits us as well. Author Terry Lynn Taylor says that "Gratitude is our most direct line to God and the angels. If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for. The more we seek gratitude, the more reason the angels will give us for gratitude and joy to exist in our lives."

It gets even simpler than that. Consider these words from author Ralph Marston. "What if you gave someone a gift, and they neglected to thank you for it--would you be likely to give them another? Life is the same way. In order to attract more of the blessings that life has to offer, you must truly appreciate what you already have."

But the benefits of an attitude of gratitude don't stop there. Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, and even in the absence of any, researchers are finding physical and emotional benefits to being grateful. For example, exercising gratitude has been shown to:

  • relieve stress

  • boost the immune system

  • increase alertness, enthusiasm, optimism and energy

  • reduce depression

  • improve overall health

  • increase spiritual awareness, regardless of "religion"

  • improve sleep quality

There are lots of exercises that can be found online to help exercise our gratitude muscles. However, the one I see most commonly, and that I'm guessing is one of the most effective, is one that is quite simple. Take time at the end of each day to write down at least three things that you're grateful for. There's something about writing things down that makes them more real, that brings them into clearer focus. And, if you're having trouble finding things to be grateful for, committing to this exercise - no matter what - will cause you to begin to be more aware throughout the day, looking for things to put on your list each evening.

If you want to add a slightly different twist to this exercise, consider taking the advice of clinical psychologist Blair Justice, Ph.D., professor-emeritus of psychology at the UT School of Public Health at Houston. At the end of each day, he asks himself these three questions: What has surprised me? What has touched me? What has inspired me?

Dr. Justice says that "hard-bitten folks have trouble finding beauty or seeing life anew in a daily way, and their arteries and immune system suffer for it." He believes that answering these three questions "inspires us to see the stuff of our days through fresh eyes."

Happy Thanksgiving!

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude Quotes

If I had to pick one state of mind to live in all the time, I think it would be gratitude. I believe that those people who can express sincere gratitude in any circumstance are truly blessed. I've got a lot to be thankful for this Holiday Season and I'll post about that soon. But for now, I decided to share some of my favorite quotes on gratitude.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." (Melodie Beattie)

"Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting."(Author Unknown)

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."(Epictetus)

"You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you."(Sarah Ban Breathnach)

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."(Author Unknown)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Art of Being Bipolar

Today I found the blog of an incredible abstract artist, Lynne Taetzsch, who also happens to be bipolar. All About Art chronicles Ms. Taetzsch's daily life through her extraordinary artwork. By now, she is more than half-way through her goal of creating at least one piece of artwork per day for an entire year! When I first read about this project I envisioned a series of quickly-drawn sketches on napkins and tiny bits of paper. I was blown away when I realized that she's actually creating a piece of gallery-worthy art each day. Amazing!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The politics of personal empowerment

My mother and I have been talking a lot lately about bipolar disorder and how it affects me. I've explained to her that bipolar disorder has many faces, and that it presents itself differently from one person to the next, and often within the same person from one day to the next. For me, it's never been about random chemical changes that drastically alter my moods. Instead, it's manifested as emotional hypersensitivity to situations, relationships, music, art, just about anything. It's as if I sometimes lack the ability to regulate my emotional responses to the stimulus that's affecting me. If a commercial or movie would generally invoke a tear or two, I cry buckets. If a happy song would normally cause one to tap their foot, I'm inspired to dance. If an unethical act in the workplace would normally evoke a raised eyebrow, I am utterly incensed as if I'd been personally attacked.

As if having emotions on steroids wasn't enough, I also have a tendency to conceal these emotions from those around me whenever possible. Perhaps because I'm smart, and articulate, and politically astute, I know that certain emotions are inappropriate in certain settings at certain times. For this and other reasons, I do not think of myself as "mentally ill". Instead, I simply consider myself to be a person with bipolar tendencies who sometimes suffers from depression. I'd venture to say that those who know me would agree. In fact, if one were to ask any of the colleagues and friends who've known me for years if I were "bipolar", not a single one would believe that I was.

Now, part of this is due to the grossly distorted perceptions of bipolar disorder that have been disseminated by the media, and quite honestly, by some within the bipolar community who choose to focus exclusively on the most negative and extreme aspects of the disorder. I must admit though that I would be considered "highly functioning" on the bipolar spectrum, so I do not want to in any way minimize the tremendous pain of those who are suffering with this disorder to a much greater extent than I am.

While some consider the ability to function "normally" (whatever that means) a blessing, and it is, it can also be a curse. Partly because people who are highly functioning and exhibit few, if any visible symptoms are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and the seriousness of their suffering is rarely taken seriously. Furthermore, while the outside world may not see my many intense emotions, they are still there, and when they can't be directed towards their source, they are directed inward.

I asked my mother if I'd always been hypersensitive. She didn't speak directly to me being overly sensitive as a child (probably because even then I kept it all inside), but she said that I've always been "empathetic" and thoughtful about other people's feelings. She said that when I was a very young child, she'd take me out shopping and without fail, whenever there was a baby in a stroller that "only a mother could love" (her words, not mine), I'd go up to the stroller, peer in and say quite sincerely, and quite loudly, "Look Mommy! Isn't that the prettiest baby you've ever seen?" Being the polite and tactful mother that she is, she said that she'd always take a deep breath, put on a smile and say "Yes, sweetie, that is a beautiful baby." Then she'd drag me away, before I could put her on the spot even more, muttering who knows what under her breath.

Over the years, I think I've expanded on that theme and developed the tendency to put an inordinante amount of care into protecting other people's feelings, often at the expense of my own. However, since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder earlier this year and working hard to identify and significantly reduce the triggers that cause me difficulty, I've realized that this overabundance of empathy, at the expense of my own emotional well-being, has not been healthy for me. I've finally realized that I'm the only person that can ultimately be responsible for my own spirit.

I know that I am good, kind, generous and honest. But I also know that often times people mistake those qualities for weakness... and weak I am not, although I probably act like it at times. Over the past three months I've decided that I'm sick and tired of being taken for granted, being emotionally mistreated or neglected, and all around settling for less respect and decency than I deserve. I've posted previously about both a professional situation with a co-worker at work and more recently about the end of a personal relationshp and how I decided it was time to stand up for myself for a change. In both circumstances, I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

I learned that setting boundaries, being clear about the behavior I will and will not accept, and drawing a line in the sand, as much for my own benefit as for the other person's, do not signal the approach of the Apocalypse. They are inherently necessary, in fact critical, to my emotional well-being. The key now is remembering that rather than waiting until the situation is so bad that I feel I've got nothing else to lose, it's important for me to set those boundaries up front, drawing that line in the sand, so that the unacceptable behavior that I will no longer tolerate doesn't have a chance to rear it's ugly head.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Who benefits from "Friends With Benefits?"

The first time I overhead some teenage girls talking about having "friends with benefits", I remember thing to myself "Oh, how sweet. I wish I'd had one of those when I was in high school." As a point of reference, I went to an all-girls Catholic High School - in the 1970's. I remember with stunning clarity the painful experience of never having a boyfriend when it was time to go to the prom. Going to an all-girls school and not having a boyfriend meant that if you wanted to go to the prom, you had to ask a guy to take you. Or, you had to rely on the sympathy of friends to set you up on a blind date with one of their date's friends. Trust me, both options were awful! So, the prospect of having a good buddy of the opposite sex who could go with you to the prom, or to the movies, or even to go out for pizza sounded wonderful.

Imagine my surprise when I asked my own teenage daughter if she had a "Friend With Benefits." After she finished laughing, she said "Mom, you OBVIOUSLY don't know what that is." Then she told me. Oh boy was I off base on that one! Suddenly I was thrilled that she didn't have an FWB.

If you're one of the few people on the planet who still doesn't know what FWBs are, they're friends of the opposite sex who engage in casual sex, presumably getting the benefits of carnal knowledge without the messy complications of emotional intimacy or commitment.

The back story in last night's episode of Private Practice was about Friends with Benefits - two sets of them. Since I love Cooper, I had to stop myself from screaming "NOOOOOOO, DON'T DO IT!!!" when Violet proposed an FWB relationship with him. She's overstressed and horny. He's in love - with her. She can't see it (yet), and because she's still in love with her ex who's married another woman, Cooper hasn't found the courage to tell her how he really feels.

After his initial shock at her invitation wore off, Cooper agreed to have sex with her. Not because he was horny, although I imagine he was. I think he agreed because he loves her so much that he was willing to accept her any way that he could have her. However, when the appointed time came to do the dirty deed, Cooper couldn't. Even as the woman he loves with all his heart stood there naked in front of him urging him to take off his clothes so they could get busy, his love and his RESPECT for her wouldn't allow him to go through with it. Now THAT is a good man.

So, after a quick google search, I'm persuaded that there truly are significant numbers of adults who engage in FWB relationships on a regular basis. But who, I ask you, benefits from these hook-ups? Setting aside for the moment the risks of the obvious inconveniences of unwanted pregnancies and STDs, what about those great underrated things called feelings and commitment?

My guess is that few people are truly able to pull off FWBs without running the risk of one partner becoming more emotionally invested in the relationship than the other, or otherwise ruining what was previously a great friendship. But then add to the mix a relationship in which one or both of the people involved lives with either bipolar disorder or depression. You've just created a recipe for disaster in my opinion.

Under the best of circumstances, relationships can be complicated, confusing and full of emotional risks for both parties. In some ways, the prospect of having an FWB relationship may seem like the ideal way to get certain physical needs met without taking the emotional risks inherent in having a "real" relationship where feelings, trust, honest and intimacy are required. But on the other hand, to believe that there are no rules in an FWB relationship seems to me to be dangerously niave.

There are always rules... in this case the rules are that neither party can care too much about the other, that both parties have to accept that they're only eligible to receive those "benefits" until the other person finds someone to have a real relationship with, and of course that no matter what does or doesn't happen, both parties are supposed to be able to remain "friends" at the end of the day. Good luck.

I'm sure there are people that can and do play this game, and I wish them well. But I can't. And I'm glad that at least last night, art imitated life, instead of glamourizing behavior that can be very emotionally unhealthy. Call me a prude, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The gift of closure (part 2)

What started out as a big box of black wool is now a beautiful black afghan that I'm giving to my ex this week. It's taken the better part of two months to knit, but it was worth every minute that I spent on it.

Why would I spend that kind of money and time on a man who dumped me? I'm so glad you asked! :)

Knitting this afghan was not about him, it was about me. For me, there is something so cathartic, so healing, about knitting. The time I spend knitting is meditative, it's contemplative, it's prayerful, it's relaxing, and it's creative. And in the end, much less expensive and much more productive than time spent talking to a therapist.

When I started this project, it was painfully slow-going. Perhaps the flood of tears clouded my vision and slowed me down. I didn't think I'd ever be able to get through this. During that time I cried for him, I cried for what I thought I was losing, I cried for what I thought could have been. I prayed for him without ceasing.

By the time I reached the middle, I was mad as hell and the yarn was almost flying through my fingers. At first, I found myself asking questions like: How could he do this to me? Who does he think he is? He's really going to regret this some day. But somewhere in there things changed. My self-talk became statments like: I deserve better than this. This is HIS issue not mine. There isn't a single thing I can think of that I would have done differently - I don't have anything to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. Breaking up with me the way he did (and that was the real issue all along) is not about HIS loss, it's about MY GAIN.

That's when the true lessons started to take shape. I did do it right this time. I did learn from all those failed relationships of the past and entered this one with hope and optimism, but also with knowledge about myself, my co-dependent tendencies and my "relationship issues". In this relationship, probably for the first time, I was the woman I wanted to be, and damn it, she's pretty cool. So while I detest the way he handled our break-up, I can't help but be grateful for the lessons this experience gave me. I am more self-confident now than ever before. I have an even clearer idea of what I want (and don't want) in a relationship, and I know that I can survive without one, so any future relationship(s) will be based on wants, not needs. How can I stay mad at someone who, albeit unknowingly, helped me discover these truths about myself?

By the time I got near the end of the afghan, I was bored and ready to move on. I couldn't knit fast enough. All I wanted was to be done with it and move on with my life. Needless to say, I'm no longer heartbroken. I'm no longer angry. I just am. And I'm beginning to like that person more and more.

The last part of this process was communicating at least some of this to my ex. So, I drafted a note to enclose with the afghan. I shared it with my friend, Susan, who did something that only the best kind of friends could do. After reading my draft, she commented that it wasn't quite clear to her what my true intentions were for knitting the afghan. She noted that if it was unclear to her why I did this and what I wanted, it probably would be to him as well. I think she also may have even wondered if I'd been totally honest with myself about the final message that I wanted to leave with him (my words, not hers). She proceeded to ask me series of very challenging questions - about why I knit the afghan, what I hoped to gain by giving it to him, how I wanted him to respond, and perhaps most importantly, deep down in my heart of hearts, did I want him back.

As much as we like to talk on the phone (I live on the east coast and she lives on the west coast), we both LOVE to write. Her questions were in an e-mail, and I responded the same way. I wrote and wrote and wrote, expressing in much more detail than my ex will ever hear, the answers to all of her questions. I'm confident that I was able to convince her that my motives are pure, that I truly do not expect or want anything from him, and that I absolutely DO NOT want to try to reconcile our relationship. But more important than convincing her, writing it out in a letter to her, knowing that she would read it, feel it, get it, was also an important part of the process. In clarifying my thoughts and feelings to her, I was finally able to express them in the way that I ultimately needed to. It doesn't matter to me that he will never hear my words, what matters is that I expressed them, I put them "out there", and now I'm done.

So, I now have a new and improved note to enclose with the afghan. I found the courage to tell him that I expected a better ending from him, and that I know I deserved one. Of course, there was more, but I remembered the lessons I learned from my mom, my aunt and my grandmother, and I expressed my thoughts in a mature and polite way. Hopefully, the letter and the afghan will show him that even though he changed, I didn't. I left this relationship with the same class and grace that I exhibited while I was in it.
Now, if I had been raised differently, my note would have been much shorter. It would have simply said...

"... And as for you, you can kiss my black... afghan!"

Just kidding!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The gift of closure (part 1)

A while ago, while I was still aching over the recent ending of a relationship, I blogged about finding closure (part 1 part 2). At the time, I needed desperately to find closure, and I vowed to work at it, but I'm not sure that deep down inside I truly believed it was possible. But it is, and I have.

Closure is a process which, like grief, consists of several stages that don't necessarily happen in any logical order. And perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that any of the stages can recur, time and again, until we truly learn the lesson(s) that stage is meant to teach us.

In an ideal world, we would find closure to the ending of a significant relationship through one or more mature, thoughtful, loving conversations about what went wrong, as well as what went right, things we're thankful for and lessons we've learned. But this isn't close to an ideal world and that type of closure seems to be more of the exception than the rule. In my case specifically, the man I'd been dating just disappeared. Not in the literal sense. He works in the same building so I know he isn't dead or lying in a coma in a hospital somewhere unable to call me to let me know he's alright. He just stopped speaking to me. Period. He went from calling me several times each day and just before going to sleep at night, to not calling at all. No explanation, no apology, no fight, nothing.

Needless to say, I started my search for closure at ground zero. Thankfully I had the love and support of three amazing women, my mom, my aunt and my dear friend Susan. My Mom and my aunt let me question, cry and vent, for what must have seemed to them like countless hours. And for that, I am extremely grateful. When I was determined to give him the benefit of the doubt and love him back to me, they listened quietly and supported me, even if they didn't think it would work. Susan did all that too, but when the time was right, she did something else too (more on this later).

My ex knew that I love to knit and to my surprise, just a few weeks before he vanished, he mentioned the possibility of me knitting an afghan for him. In fact, the box of 15 skeins of black wool arrived during the last week that we were speaking. So, there I was, sitting home alone, newly dumped and crying like there's no tomorrow, looking at a box full of black yarn - a very expensive box of black yarn, I might add. My first instinct was to try to return it, or if that wasn't possible, to sell it on e-bay. But I'm so glad I didn't. Instead that black box of yarn became the tool that helped me find my way back.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Holiday depression

I can "feel" the holiday season approaching. As nearly everyone around me seems to be getting excited, I'm starting to feel depressed. And apparently I'm not alone. Feeling depressed at what most people consider to be the happiest time of the year is not something that most people who experience it feel comfortable talking about. It just isn't PC and most people who haven't felt it just don't get it.

I found this wonderfully straightforward explanation for holiday depression written by Dr. Richard Boyum at (emphasis added):

We generally think of the holidays as a joyous, happy period. The period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a time in American culture for much celebration. People come together to eat, sing, share gifts and the camaraderie of each others' presence. But there is an increasing body of knowledge that says that the holidays are a period of time that is, for many, stressful at the least and for others, downright depressing. Consider for a moment the following information:

1. The Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday season occurs during the time of year when there are the fewest number of hours of daylight. Research has shown that ten percent of our population is significantly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Regardless of other factors related to the holidays, sufferers of true Seasonal Affective Disorder may experience chronic fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, and feelings of sadness.

2. For most individuals, all of the activities of the holidays must be piled on top of all of their other responsibilities that, for most people, include both work and family. The 168 hours that there are in every week cannot be expanded. Consequently, many individuals feel a significant time crunch.

3. Only about 25% of all individuals are living within what would be considered a traditional family at the present time. Death, separation, divorce, remarriage, and job-related separations cause many individuals to feel a dissonance with the traditional holiday-related values.

4. The majority of Americans spend somewhere between 95% and 100% of each paycheck. Again, the period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year's brings about special costs that often increase debt. The research in couples counseling indicates that financial stresses and pressures create significant and long-lasting effects on marriages.

But wait! Before you get even more depressed, know that help is available, and I don't mean the added time and expense of trips to a therapist or increases in your medication. Believe it or not, there are things that we can do now to prepare ourselves for a healthier, and maybe even happier holiday season. Here are just a few:

  • Manage your time effectively. Write out your gift and grocery shopping lists before you leave home. Try not to wait until the last minute when crowds and traffic make an already daunting task even more so.

  • Prioritize and then set reasonable goals. You can't do everything, no matter how much you want to or feel you need to. Decide what's truly important to you, and focus on those things. It's OK to say "No".

  • Consider alternatives. If "traditional" holiday celebrations get you down, consider creating new ones. Try something different this year.

  • Look for free or low-cost gifts and activities to celebrate the season. In fact, nurture your creative side by making some or all of your holiday gifts. Chances are that the recipients will appreciate them even more knowing that you put a piece of yourself into them. Don't think you're creative? The internet is full of craft ideas, or set aside an hour or two to walk the aisles of any craft store, or even the craft department at the local Wal-Mart for ideas.

  • Delegate. If you have family and friends that you celebrate the holidays with, let them share in the preparations too. Why should you have all the fun?

  • Set reasonable spending limits. Don't get the New Year off to a stressful start by dreading those credit cards bills that remind you each month of how much you overspent during the holiday. And even better, decide early next year how much you want to spend for next year, and start saving some each month during the year.

  • Watch what you eat. Why go from feeling bad during the holidays to worse afterwards because of all that extra weight you put on? Enjoy all that delicious food, just do so in moderation. Your scales will be glad you did.

  • If you drink, do so in moderation. This one goes without saying, especially if you're on meds. And by all means, have a designated driver or catch a cab home!

  • Do something for someone else. One of the best ways to feel better is to help someone else. There are countless volunteer opportunities available during the holiday season.

  • Want to learn more about holiday depression and how to beat it? Here are just a few online resources:

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Autumn leaves

    The summer was very dry in Virginia this year. As a result, we haven't gotten the fabulous display of fall color this year. However, I couldn't resist taking this picture of some trees near my home.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    Emotional equality

    Marja left a great comment at my last post about bipolar friendship. She provided clarity on an issue that I've often struggled with, although I'd never been able to articulate it as well.

    She wrote that:
    My best friend, a person who has been a mentor and my major supporter, does not have bipolar disorder and does not fully understand. Yet she has been very helpful because of her godly compassion. I've needed her terribly at times.But the problem with a relationship like that is that it tends to be unbalanced. She is mostly supporter and I am mostly the supported one. I've had huge struggles trying to balance out the relationship - trying to encourage her to lean on me once in a while as well. I don't want to always be the weak one. I want to be there for her as well - yet it's hard for her to let me take that role.
    But she understands how I feel and I've worked hard to teach her to be as a sister, rather than a mother figure. It's working. I'm finding lots of opportunities now to support her as well. And I feel better about myself because of that. Yet this continues to be a constant struggle.
    This concept of lop-sided relationships is surely not confined to relationships in which one party is bipolar and other is not. And it's probably much more prevelant than most of us realize. I'd imagine it exists when one party has any kind of illness and the other is well, when one is going through a difficult time and the other is happy, or even when one is married and the other is not.

    In fact, I have a few friends locally who are all wonderful women, who've been very supportive of me, particularly when I was going through a difficult divorce, but now that the crisis is over, it's been difficult for us to maintain our friendships, and that has nothing to do with being bipolar. It's simply that they're all married with children in high school and/or college and they all live on the opposite side of town.

    I know it's probably selfish, but it's frustrating for me to always be the one to drive 45 minutes to an hour each way to meet my friends for dinner at a restaurant that is conveniently within 10 minutes of where most of them live. When I do make the drive, we always have a great time, but it's very awkward for me when so much of our conversations revolve around topics that are not at all relevant to me.

    I'm not married, so I have no husband issues, anniversary celebrations, or funny stories about the in-laws to interject. Their lives are full of soccer practice, driving lessons, trips to visit the kids in college, or dropping everything because the kids are coming home from college for the weekend. My daughter is in the Army and is stationed in Iraq, so while they always ask how she is, and they sincerely do care, anything more detailed than "She's safe and doing well, thank you" seems to put an immediate damper on the conversation. Nobody seems to know what to say after that.

    Good or bad, right or wrong, I've usually dealt with my bipolar issues internally (and I have a host of stress-related autoimmune system symptoms to show for it). Before Susan, my mother, my aunt and my friend Jane, who also lives on the other side of the country, were the only ones who really knew what I was going through. And they've all been wonderful supporters. I wouldn't have made it through the dark days without them. Moving forward, I fully expect to have a much better handle on my moods because I'm working hard on doing that. So while I'm hoping that being bipolar will not play a huge role in future relationships, I need to remember Marja's advice and make sure that I'm finding ways to give when I can and to be honest about what I need when I need it.

    But, as I make the effort to meet new people and make new friends locally, I need to make the conscious effort to seek out people with similar interests and who are in similar stages in their lives. I need to seek out single women whose children have left the nest who would enjoy going to a play, or to dinner and a movie, sometimes on short notice. I need to spend more time with my knitting buddy, who's married, but who's husband is a gem and encourages us knit, and shop, and hang out together. I need to find a friend to go on that 5-day Cruise to Nowhere with me in the spring, and maybe even a friend who wants to travel with me to Greece to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2009!

    And, if and when I decided to attempt dating again, I REALLY need to remember the concept of emotional equality. The days of enabling my co-dependent beliefs that I need a man who needs me to save him from himself are over. I'm doing the hard work to be a whole person and when it comes to dating, I need to date a man who's doing the same.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    Bipolar friendship

    When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I started reading bipolar blogs and attending bipolar support groups. I don't want to offend anyone, but one of the things that struck me was how depressing and overwhelming it all was. While I was relieved to know that I wasn't alone, I was scared to death that the diagnosis meant that I would lose my sense of humor, my optimism and my hope for a bright future.

    I stopped going to the support group meetings and I stopped reading a lot of the blogs and decided instead to write my own. I needed to believe that I could not only survive the diagnosis, but that I could overcome it, and I realized that I could only do that by taking control of the situation and figuring out how to make the most of it. And part of this process meant blogging to heal, not only my own emotional wounds, but hopefully, helping others do the same thing too. (I'll be writing more on this in the coming months).

    I believe that when we honestly make the effort to help ourselves, that God steps in makes things happen. He's willing to meet us more than half-way, but we need to be serious about doing our part first. In my case, that help came in the form of a very dear friend, Susan, who like me, was also diagnosed as atypical bipolar II (episodes are predominantly medication-resistant depressions with mild hypomania).

    I'd imagine there are some who'd argue that it might not be the most practical idea for two people who are both bipolar to act as a primary support system for each other. I'd guess that if they are both extremely depressed or highly hypomanic at the same time, that things could get complicated. However, there are certain advantages of having a best friend who's bipolar that are undeniable.

    We understand each others' moods. We can tell by the *tone* of our many-times-per-day e-mails how the other is feeling. It's rarely necessary to struggle to find the words to explain the myriad of moods we experience.

    We usually know what to say (or not to say) when it's been a rough day. Because we understand the mood, and because we're so alike in so many ways, it's much easier to know how to respond because we can truly empathize with each other. If I'm not sure what to do or say, I ask myself what I would want her to say or do if the situation were reversed.

    We're committed to honesty and we trust each other's motivation. Because we both value emotional honesty, we trust each other with our thoughts and feelings. We know that anything that we do or say is done with only the best of intentions, which means we can trust and value whatever is said and we respect each other's opinions. We don't have to pull punches with each other. If Susan tells me I'm over-reacting or that I've spent enough time feeling sorry for myself and now it's time to get up off my a** and do something constructive, I know that her only reason for saying that is because she believes in her heart that it's true... and she's usually right.

    We have the same end-goal in mind. Because we are both determined to live life to it's fullest, rather than considering bipolar disorder to be a death sentence, we seem to always be able to support each other and lift each other up. Even when we're both feeling down, one of us always seems able to find something funny (even if it's funny because it's pathetic) to bring a smile to the other. I can honestly say that I've never had an e-mail exchange or a phone call with her in which I didn't feel better when we ended than I did when we started.

    I am so thankful that I have a friend, a sister, a confidant, a business partner and a fellow traveler along this journey to wellness. I wish that everyone could be so richly blessed.