Thursday, July 30, 2009

Order, for the Eyes and the Mind

Some of the things that I learned late in life are just stunningly obvious to others. I worked hard all day to make the time pass at work so I could come home and - clean my apartment?

I'm not a great housekeeper, even now, but when I was really depressed, I was a pig. I was just too tired to do any housework, and too tired to care.

Depression is exhausting; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. My doctor said it was like going through life carrying an invisible 50 or 100-pound burden. I had no idea why it took so much effort to keep up with the slow edge of the rest of the world. It's a very tiring way to operate, and discouraging, as well.

Living in disarray is costly in several ways. It's decidedly uncheerful to live in a wreck of a house. You can't really relax; your eyes have nowhere to rest; there is always a reminder of what you haven't done, of what you have failed to do. It nags at you.

It costs you in time, as well, because you can't find the things you're looking for - you mislay bills and have to pay a late fee, you owe fines at the library, or you buy a second copy of a book you've mislaid.

The state of my apartment is a distant early warning system for the state of my mind. The worse it is, the more unfocused I am becoming, and the more frustrated, and the less rested.

When I came home from work tonight, I set the microwave timer for 30 minutes. I vacuumed and dusted the living room, moved the furniture to a slightly more pleasing arrangement, folded a load of laundry (and, in the time since the buzzer went off, have done two more loads.) The work itself isn't as important as the fact that I feel better. I feel less out-of-control.

In all those years of depression, I lived under a constant cloud of knowing something was wrong, knowing I had done something wrong, something I could neither identify nor correct. I hate that feeling. I seldom feel that way any more, but when I do, I try to address any loose threads, because it's so uncomfortable for me. Housekeeping is much more valuable to me now, because I know it affects the way I live my life - can make the difference between feeling harried or feeling at peace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Mental Health Closet

The name I use here is a variation of my real name; I am so deep in the mental health closet I can't reach the knob.

At a previous job I told a co-worker, privately, that I had been diagnosed as bipolar, that I took medication, that I had been stable for eight years. Big mistake; she reported the information directly to her supervisor, and any credibility I had went directly out the window. I won't make that mistake again.

When I write about people I know, I will disguise them as much as I need to protect privacy - theirs or mine. I won't make things up, but I won't endanger anyone's livelihood, including mine.

Bipolar disorder still scares people to death - in part, I think, because of the stories of manics refusing to take their meds. You couldn't pay me to stop taking my meds, but there's no way to make people understand that. I need my job; it's my only access to health insurance.

Setting the Stage

Fourteen years ago an internist diagnosed me with chronic depression and prescribed anti-depressants. After two years of only minimal improvement, I went to a psychiatrist who re-diagnosed me as bipolar, and prescribed lithium.

I had to leave that doctor shortly after I began to work with him, because I took a new job in another state. But before I left him, he gave me two very valuable tools: proper medication, and an understanding that my perceptions define my life. With those tools I began to rebuild.

In that dozen years I've read a lot of books about change, more about constructive living, more about organization, still more about Buddhism. I bought (and sold) a house, married (and divorced) a husband, and buried my mother. I hope that by writing a blog, I can keep myself aware and moving, not get too comfortable on my mental sofa. After all, life is good now; it would be easy to just stop here.

My earliest memory of "the blues" dates from when I was five or six. I was diagnosed at 38. That's a lot of years of depression, and a lot of warped perception to work on when the meds kick in. This blog will probably help me; it would be terrific if it helped someone else as well.