May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and after much deliberation, I thought I’d share some ramblings. I have a mental illness that is currently stable thanks to medication, therapy, and lots of great support from my family and friends. Three years ago I would have told you without hesitation that I had depression, officially diagnosed at least 5 times, including twice with postpartum depression. But in 2015 I had an alcohol-induced breakdown, attempted suicide, and was hospitalized (both in a regular hospital and in a mental hospital to stabilize on new medication). And I had a new, much less socially acceptable, more stigmatized diagnosis: Bipolar 2 Disorder.

It took me more than a year to learn more about accept this diagnosis; I only heard the Bipolar part of the diagnosis and my immediate thoughts went to the mother of one of my best friends in high school who was diagnosed as manic depressive (aka Bipolar Disorder). She tried to kill herself, not for the first time, following what must have been a manic phase – I vividly remember my friend telling me she had started to wash the living room ceiling but didn’t finish; the mania ended and she attempted suicide before finishing, the two-toned ceiling told the story. Also, one of my grandfathers, who was somewhat distant with us grandkids (or perhaps my exposure was just limited) was diagnosed as manic depressive. My mother suspects that it was caused by the brain tumor that would kill him, but I have my doubts. And then I had heard stories, both fiction and non, about Bipolar Disorder – the soaring highs that made people think they could do and be anything that sometimes entered the realm of psychosis, the spending sprees, and then the opposite – people unable to get out of bed or even take a shower.

I wasn’t like that at all. Life wasn’t a mood roller coaster for me; I spent most of my time feeling depressed and anxious and just … other. (I still feel “other” but am, I guess, more comfortable with that and know that lots of people feel that way also.) I was never so down that I didn’t get out of bed or shower, but there was that period just after college when I was jobless and couldn’t leave the house and, one day in an attempt to feel safe and secure, spent an afternoon in a closet (with the door open). And the period that preceded it, when it felt like everyone was looking at me.

When I wasn’t feeling depressed and anxious, I sometimes had periods of great productivity. I vividly remember spending most of a day in the university coffee shop writing what I thought was the best essay of my life (and it was good), feeling like the words were flowing through me onto the page with no effort; I was in the zone, but it was more than that – it felt like I could do anything that day. One night years later, after having two kids and recovering from post-partum depression a second time, I started cleaning the kitchen and foyer floor on my hands and knees at 9pm after the kids had gone to bed. I didn’t finish (or exhause my energy) until 3am. One time I polished my stainless steel flatware (um, it’s called stainless steel for a reason, but I could still see flaws and an imperfect shine). There were so many other similar times – I polished a friend’s heavily aged copper kettle, I organized all my books following a system of favorites and size – that I had thought were just how normal people felt when they were functional or at worst, what people did when they needed to work through something. But I had no out of control spending sprees, no over-inflated ego trips, no psychotic episodes.

After denying the diagnosis for more than a year, I finally started to research Bipolar 2. Unlike Bipolar 1, people with Bipolar 2 spend most of their time being depressed (check), with periods of normalcy and periods of hypomania – hypo meaning beneath or below, so a mild mania (check). In Bipolar 1, the mania is much more pronounced, the mood swings more severe and a little more even. I joined a bipolar forum on http://www.psychforums.com/ and other people’s problems, symptoms, stories, and medications really resonated with me and the more I read, the more I accepted that this disorder best describes what’s wrong with my moods.

I have always been open with my children about my mental health and my experiences, just as my parents were with me, warning me about a pre-disposition to addiction and never depression, exactly, but just to be on the look out for something, just in case. I have been telling my boys the same thing: be wary of being dependent on any substance and if you’re overwhelmed or need help with anything, ask. I realize now that relying on a depressed person to ask for help is silly; the last thing I want to or can do when I’m depressed is ask anyone for anything, I just hunker down and hope it passes.

I missed the signs in one of my boys and wish that I had followed my hunches and forced him to get help earlier than I did, but I hope I’ll do better next time and with my friends and extended family. It’s hard to notice when someone has withdrawn, not because I don’t miss them, but because there can be so many reasons (new job, problems at a job or at home, obligations, etc.) for not seeing or talking to someone as often as I used to – I know it’s the same for lots of other people, but it’s important to reach out to the people you care about to make sure they’re doing okay. If something seems off, reach out – the worst that can happen is an awkward conversation and the best is that you’ll help a friend who really needs it.

After the breakdown that led to the Bipolar 2 diagnosis, a lot of people told me that they wished I had called them or told them something was going on instead of trying to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution on my own. The truth is I had been reaching out in subtle ways but I didn’t know that I needed help or, if I did, what type of help I needed. Ultimately, I don’t think I would’ve gotten the help I needed without things happening the way they did. I’d still have the more inaccurate diagnosis of Major Depression, I probably wouldn’t have gone into the hospital, and I don’t think I would feel as good as I do now. I guess the point I’m really trying to drive home is to reach out and keep reaching out until you know that someone is in a better place mentally.

I have much more to say about mental illness, particularly the stigma around it and the biases people have against those of us with it. But I guess I’ll just end by saying that I think of Bipolar 2 as being kind of in remission, that I’m more functional than I have been in years, and that I’m very grateful for the support of my family, friends, and those complete strangers who are brave enough to speak/write about mental illness: this is for you.

 

Wednesday


This isn’t my usual Wordless Wednesday; I need to mark the occasion with more than just a picture. This is my oldest son, Brandon. He graduated from high school last night. He’s always climbed as high as he could; he received a plastic Tyco tricylcle for his first birthday, one with 2 wheels in front & one in the back. One night when I was making dinner, I left B alone with his bike in the living room for a few minutes and when I returned, found him standing balanced on the handlebars, a feat he would repeat until he grew out of the bike much to the shock  and dismay of his grandparents; I had tried to stop him, but he was persistant and insistant and never fell off.

When he was 3, Brandon went out to the car ahead of us by a few minutes and was climbing  unsupervised on the back of our Jeep Grand Cherokee with the hatch closed. He slipped, fell on his elbow, and broke his ulna almost in the elbow joint. Side note: the ortho we saw had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen, and not just because of the contrast between small boy and man hands: this doc needed extra large latex gloves. We explained to him how risky that was and chided him for not waiting for the rest of us. The cast on his arm slowed him down temporarily, but ultimately didn’t make him any more cautious or less confident in his abilities.

When he was 7 or 8, much to the horror of my neighbor, he climbed on top of the playsets in our backyard, not just on top of the swings, but up onto the roof of the treehouse that the slide is attached to and would jump off, down to the ground, after declaring himself king of the mountain. None of the other kids could follow him and believe me, they tried. 

Because of his climbing abilities, my husband started taking him and my 2nd son Ethan rock climbing at an indoor climbing gym near his work, really the only one in our area. B was a raging success, climbing up their 50 foot wall in record time, ringing the bell at the top, and belaying back down. Ethan, on the other hand, could only go up about 20 feet before he froze in fear. They joined the kids climbing team and my husband began climbing also, joining the adult teeam. They all ended up focusing on bouldering and we’d occasionally all go climbing, except for my youngest, Henry, who was too small at the time; he ended up just playing on the climbing mats & running around. Brandon got so good, he became the captain of the kids climbing team. I have video of him climbing one of the bouldering walls 3 years ago with just his arms.

So really, this picture of him on the field goal last night has been a long time coming. He had to do it twice, even – we had camera problems the first time around. As he was jumping down a second time, another set of parents walked by and the wife said sort of quietly to the husband, “That’s a good way to get suspended!” I guess she didn’t register the cap, gown, and diploma. We wouldn’t have been able to stop him anyway and I stopped trying way back when he’d climb up on the handlebars of that bike. Some things are just a fundamental part of your kid and you’ve got to just go with it because fighting against it would be futile & soul crushing. I look forward to seeing him figure this out too, not necessarily with climbing, but with other parts of his personality/being; I look forward to seeing what he metaphorically climbs next.

TBT: Vietnam 1966

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My Dad enlisted in the US Marines right out of high school in 1962 and was in Vietnam July 1965-July 1966. These are probably the most scenic pictures he took that I scanned; he probably took more or better scenic pics but I need to have his slides scanned to find out (and remember) for sure. He wrote “Danang Harbor” on the back of the last picture; I’m not sure if the first two are of Danang Harbor or of some other coastal feature.

Birthday

Today’s my birthday – yay! I get to eat as much cake as I can! And also reflect on what’s happened in a year …

I’m in such a different place  mentally; last year I was still recovering from something that happened in January and still struggling with drinking. I took my last drink in July, so I know I was craving it badly on my birthday – how else was I supposed to celebrate than to let loose? I’m happy to say I don’t feel that way this year. I can let loose any time, I just need to give myself permission to do so. I don’t need alcohol to relax, I can do that on my own in a number of ways, including fiber art stuff (knitting, spinning, even my nemesis, crochet).

I was also still playing roller derby. I was on two travel teams and the captain on one. The pressure I put on myself to be a good captain was really bringing me down last year. I had a hard time focusing and being happy about the things I was doing well and only focused on the things I was doing badly, and that applies to my derby skills as well. I think I hit my peak skill level at the end of 2014 and 2015 was a slow descent into still okay but not as physically strong as I was in November & December of 2014. I stopped getting MVP Jammer awards (I have 9 or 10 from my 4 year derby career) and also stopped playing in as many jams, partly because my endurance was down after January and partly because my anxiety was shooting through the roof. I decided to quit the team I wasn’t captaining in May and take a step back after the season was over in June. What I didn’t realize is that I’d be done (for a while or for good, I haven’t decided yet).

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All 100 of my 100 Day Project pictures

Last year I was also in the middle of my 100 day project. I designed and released two new patterns: Feathermoss and The Double Rainbow Scarf. I finished two hats, a sweater, two scarfs, three shawls, and did a lot of spinning. Luckily the project overlapped a bit with Tour de Fleece, so I got two birds with one stone. I also made felt and dyed it with false indigo; it’s the bright green felt I beaded & embroidered as the Moss Garden and this shmancy upcycled Sucrets box. And I felted one of my husband’s store bought wool sweaters (it no longer fit him) and embroidered on that with handspun naturally dyed singles (also what I used in the Moss Garden & the box).

This year, I was on the lookout for the start of another 100 day challenge but it seems that there are a number of them; I might as well start a new one on my own any time. Rather than being so formal about it, I’ve just been trying to do something every day either with knitting, reviving my etsy shop, writing this blog, or keeping up with social media. I feel really good about reviving the etsy shop even though I haven’t had any recent sales. I’m positive I’ve paid etsy more than I’ve made off the shop, but my traffic and favorites are up thanks to working on my SEO so I still have some hope.

I also feel good about designing – I will eventually move away from cowls to something else – and I’m looking into ways to expand my reach and become a little more professional about it. I found another designer group on Ravelry, one that actually has calls for submission. I’m working up the courage to respond to one of these and see where I can take this design thing.

My family is doing well; my oldest will be graduating from high school in June and has decided where he’s going to college next year. My middle son has his learner’s permit & is doing really well with driving. He’s also running track this spring and breaking his previous PRs. And he thinks he just aced the AP Psychology exam. My youngest son has adjusted really well to middle school and I’ve been squeezing in all the hugs and kisses on the cheek that I can before it gets too weird/embarrassing for him. My husband is stressed in his job and travels every week and I wish he had time to look for a new one that’s local, but overall I suppose he’s doing okay – our marriage is more solid than it’s ever been.

Lastly, pet-wise things are a lot different than they were last year. We had to euthanize our smallest dog, a toy fox terrier mix, last June. She badly ruptured a few disks in her back, lost control of her hind legs, and was in a lot of pain. Poor chick – she was a good dog, much more like a cat than our other two dogs. In November I started talking up cats to my husband (and myself – I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another pet) and in December we found the perfect cat for us thanks to some friends who foster cats for a rescue organization. Jeffrey Lebowski (aka The Dude) was just under a year old, is very calm/chilled out, and has fit in with our family so well – I post a lot of pictures of him to Instagram.

All in all, I’m happy with where I am and what I’m doing! If you made it this far into my post, congratulations – I’d share my birthday cake with you if you were here, but you’re not, so go find some cake and have a happy Tuesday!

The Blahs

Today is a blah kind of day. I woke up before my alarm but then after the kids left for school, I climbed back in bed and fell sort of asleep for an hour – a bad habit I started this winter on days when I just couldn’t face the day. I’ve had major depression at various points in my life, but last year was diagnosed with bipolar II, which looking back on everything, fits me better than major depression. But until last month I was in denial, thinking/hoping the doctors had gotten it wrong, not wanting to be bipolar anything because of the stigma around bipolar I, which is so much different from II. One of my best friends in high school had a really rough time when her mother tried to kill herself (again) – she was finally diagnosed with manic depression/bipolar I. And the things I do are a lot less extreme than similar things she had done, but still similar. I just didn’t want to be that. Accepting the diagnosis has helped me recognize the patterns of my moods and handle them better – it’s been easier for me to deal with depression and hypomania (which I definitely cycled into this spring) when you recognize the symptoms and can batten down the hatches. I also know to carefully evaluate my thoughts to see whether or not what my inner voice is saying is true; in depression, I think I’m a terrible worthless person undeserving of anything. And in hypomania, I start projects I’m not capable of finishing or get really irritated with everyone and everything for no discernible reason.

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I usually have a knitting project going so I’ve got a creative outlet & something tangible to work on other than my domestic engineering/housework/stay-at-home-Mom duties. Starting this blog and breathing life back into The Yarn Office were are also supposed to be projects that give me a creative outlet, accomplishing something, and moving forward. My therapist would say that I’m not giving myself credit for my accomplishments and that I need to remember that I’m raising/have raised 3 really good boys, keeping them fed & the house clean, and that my marriage is good, et cetera. I’m working on changing that mindset that I fall into when things aren’t going as well as I want them too.

Today I’m in between projects and although I treated myself to Barbara G. Walker’s first 3 treasuries of knitting patterns, I’ve been more likely to check Facebook, blog stats, etsy shop stats, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and cycle through them just in case I missed something. I need to come up with a new project though – my knitting group meets tomorrow. Maybe design an ouroboros scarf? Ravelry only has one in crochet. That’s what I’ve come up with so far in rifling through my Pinterest boards. Or I may just continue my search for a better WP theme and (maybe) pay the $ so I can customize one. Or maybe I’ll get lost in tumblr.

Blah. Time for more chai.

Taking Stock

What follows isn’t entirely proofed. If I wait to proof & edit it, it’s going to be 2012 and I’ll be writing about a hangover, which will be much worse than this, I think.

Last January when I started this blog, I was fighting through another bout with depression. I honestly don’t know that I’ve beaten it. I have good days (like today, where I have a plan & a purpose that I believe in) and bad days (when I get up but end up going back to bed or when I get up & stay up & can’t sleep the following night so that one day includes two sunrises & sunsets) and in between days (of course). Everyone has their ups & downs – I know that – I just don’t want my downs to affect my daily life, such as it is, quite so much.

Really, more than anything, I’ve been looking for a way forward, wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up, and looking for a way to be proud of my past & myself without having to agonize over things all the time. It’s helped to blog, email, and talk about it; I’m really thankful for everyone who’s reached out to me. I’m particularly amazed at how many people have told me their own story and how much talking about it can help us both.

The confrontation in November really threw me off balance. I’m still trying not to feel guilty about how strong my reaction was. I could have been more graceful about it, I wish I had slept on a few posts before making them public, and I sometimes wish I had confronted him with a warning of public exposure instead of just putting it all out there). But what’s done is done and I finally feel a taste of redemption, a way to be good again. (Khaled Hosseini pulled me into The Kite Runner with that idea and I haven’t stopped thinking about things in those terms since reading that first, very short chapter.)

I did a lot of new things in 2011. I’ll be 40 in 2012 and am trying to be nonchalant about it while hurrying to get myself to where I wanted to be in my 30s.

Aside from the blog, I went out of my usual comfort zone and took a class in the spring over 3 weekends at the Art League of Alexandria with Steph & Alana. I drove on the beltway and didn’t die. I met new people and, while I probably made a complete fool out of myself, people liked me, I had fun, I learned a lot, and I strengthened friendships with two strong, funny, intelligent women. I also discovered that beer is quite good if you know what to look for (hops=blech and Guiness is a good go-to in my case).

I started playing roller derby thanks to Misty/electricsoup/Loudoun Dirty. I’d never even considered derby and started mainly because I loved skating in elementary school and wanted to start again. Skating is even more fun when you skate in a circle, work as part of a team, and get to hit people who’re expecting/prepared to be hit. I haven’t felt this good physically for a long time. I’ve also met a lot of people, made new friends, found new heroes. I also learned, again, that not everyone is going to like me and that I’m not going to like everyone – that I don’t have to like everyone and vice versa. It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with me or the other person and it also doesn’t mean that we are arch enemies, although sometimes I think maybe I should have those too (yup, still working that one through).

I briefly had a real job and was a real adult, until I realized that after 7 years of setting my own schedule, a 9-5 job in a windowless office is more than I can handle. After quitting, I vowed that this time, I would start something on my own, something that might eventually make money, not just involve me being parked at a keyboard, and that would allow me to see outside (not that I’m claustrophobic, the windowless office was more demoralizing & dehumanizing). So I started The Yarn Office, which has been hanging over me like a chore instead of my future – I need to put more time & thought into it and really get it going in 2012.

I also volunteered to be the webmistress/admin for NOVA Roller Derby and took it from a cookie-cutter site to more customized HTML (Dreamweaver) to slightly-customized-yet-cookie-cutter WordPress. I took entirely too long to figure out WordPress (& the template files) and was reassured when I finally understood at least the basics. I finally grokked more of PhotoShop & Illustrator this year too and installed OpenOffice on my MacBook so I can stop complaining about how much MS Word sucks.

Then there’s my gig as mother & mate to that guy on the other side of the bed. I could blab endlessly about marriage, motherhood, and the boys, but I don’t want to join the legions of mommy-bloggers. My kids are happy, doing well in school, laugh often, help each other, and are good, responsible people.

While Mr. Q and I have our ups and downs, we’re doing just fine and I don’t feel the need to write about it or get/give advice here,  though he is still exploring permanent employment while consulting: anyone looking for a hard working, highly intelligent, pretty technical VP, look no further.

So 2012: bring it. Whether I’m ready or not, things keep happening to me and I keep waking up every day, breathing and all that – I might as well live, really live, procrastinate and dwell less, laugh and sweat and jump for joy more. And take more pictures! And throw more balls for the dogs! And kiss the boys while they still let me, even if it’s just on the cheek these days! And eat more Smarties because I can never have enough Smarties.