Am I Still a Mental Health Blogger?

Self, Wife, Mother, Caregiver, Writer, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

What defines being a blogger, specifically a mental health blogger? Must I write regularly or frequently? Must I always write about mental health? What if that is not my focus ALL the time? What if I’m so busy that living with bipolar disorder is not in the forefront of my mind? What if I’m overwhelmed by my life circumstances? What if I’m simply taking a break?

I’m not the most disciplined writer. Never been one for discipline; though, I do brush and floss my teeth every night. My house is a mess – dusty and cluttered. I bathe or shower (I prefer to bathe) at least once a week. (You are probably disgusted by this admission. I try not to move too much, so I don’t sweat and get stinky. Yes, I know I should exercise daily. And, eat better. Just because I know better, doesn’t mean I do better.)

Followers of my blog say they miss me when I write once a month, and not more often. Not sure if it’s nice to be missed, or if it’s stressful, if I have an obligation to write.

No, I have no obligation to write.

That’s why I blog.

It’s mine. All mine.

Yes, I interact with others here and enjoy doing so. I respond to those who comment.
Recently, though, I’ve been busy with life. My illness, bipolar disorder, hasn’t been the focus of my blog. I’m fairly stable. My symptoms are more or less in remission. But, the concepts of remission and recovery can mislead. Serious mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are chronic, lifelong brain disorders. You can live with them. Medications can help you treat the symptoms. But, the brain disorder remains.

To stay stable, I must be careful. I must plan for how certain circumstances affect me.
Last month I presented and next week I again will present as an individual living with mental illness for NAMI Provider Education at the hospital where over a decade ago (12 years now) I was treated two weeks inpatient and for a few months in their partial hospitalization program until I got bored.

I get overstimulated in social situations and must recover. I cannot sustain that level of social functioning without paying a high price – psychiatric instability, hypomania and subsequent depression, mood cycling. So, I must keep in mind that I will need downtime afterwards – time to recover.

So… I started writing this piece wondering about the effects of my recent lack of “mental health” blog posts. I’ve also slacked off reading and commenting on others’ blogs. Sorry, folks.

I’ve been too busy doing taxes (scanning tons of receipts), driving my son to and from school and numerous doctors’ appointments (unfortunately, he isn’t motivated to get his driver’s license anytime soon & knows we didn’t get ours until we were 18 & 19), and making sure my parents are happy.

When I haven’t been busy, I’ve been exhausted – too exhausted to write, to read, to do anything verbal. Instead, I took up doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad – enjoy that they are visual, non-verbal, and engage my mind.

Yes, I’m a Math Geek

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By January 22nd I had scanned almost every home improvement receipt my parents kept since 1978 to help the CPA, my old boss, adjust the basis of their house to calculate capital gains. I scanned over 625 receipts!

There is more work to be done, more information to be gathered, for my parents’ income taxes. I’ve also started the easier tasks for our own income taxes.

I enjoy managing money, working with numbers and spreadsheets. Always been a math geek. Enjoy the patterns, the stories, that the numbers tell.

Warning: Here, I Boast

In my youth, I was more a lover of math concepts than numbers. No longer do I get to use my beloved unit circle or calculus. My one regret is not continuing math past honors calculus – a class I loved. I love to boast (yes, I’m still proud of this achievement) that I, at 18, got 100% on the math placement exam at UCLA.

Today, at 53, I’m far from that sharp as a tack, hypomanic young woman. Wiser, perhaps, but time (and neglect) has taken a toll on my mind and my body.

Time to Care for Myself

Yesterday I saw my internist. In the last year and a half, I’ve gained twenty pounds and my triglycerides are high. Haven’t been eating well, especially for my needs, as I have SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Trust me, you don’t want the details. Many people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) have SIBO. To control my symptoms, I must keep to a restrictive low FODMAP diet (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which involves not eating many healthy foods, like onions, garlic, pit fruit (who doesn’t love peaches?).

Time to get moving, too, for I haven’t been exercising. Both exercise and diet are important for mental and physical health. My mother and my maternal grandmother both had strokes, which puts me at risk. Exhaustion keeps me from exercising, which reinforces the feeling of exhaustion.

My focus has been on caring for others – my parents and my son.

Time to care for myself.

Good News – NAMI Provider Education

Last month I enjoyed teaching NAMI’s Provider Education course along with four other great panelists. This time I presented as an individual with mental illness. Last year I presented as a licensed mental health professional (no longer in practice) with lived experience of mental illness. Scheduled to do so again in mid-February.

Yay!

Time to Write Again?

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Pre-Christmas Travel Writing

I jump from one app to another. Jigsaw puzzle to reading to writing. Back and forth, writing and jigsaw. Uneasy. Jittery.

Uneasy. Not at ease. Tense. Guilty. Dramatic, yes, but so fucking what. That’s who I am. I have no desire to change that about myself. Besides, honestly, I keep most of my drama inside.


Back Home Organizing My Thoughts

Haven’t been writing much over this past holiday season. Left my time and energy for family and myself. Since my post-Thanksgiving chest cold, I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles and not engaging in as many verbal activities.

Kind of like my mother. She nods yes, shakes her head no, or stares blankly not seeming to understand. She no longer reads the newspaper. Just turns the pages, pulls out the ads, and organizes the paper by section. Reassuring daily routine, even if she can no longer read.

Although I visited both my parents before both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I felt guilty leaving them behind when I visited my sister and in-laws. Broke my heart. So much guilt, even though I know after trial and error that we are giving our parents the best of care. Just can’t be in two places at once.

Last year around Christmas time, my Mom was psychiatrically hospitalized. More to the point, I had her psychiatrically hospitalized. Heart breaking decision, but I tried to do the right thing every step of the way.

We had hoped to have them living together back then. Our mother went from stroke rehab to the psychiatric hospital, then to another stroke rehab before moving into a board and care with my father. They did not do well in the board and care, so we ended up moving them into a high-quality memory care community.

Since that time, we’ve found that they do better apart in separate communities. I feel terrible that I’ve had her in so many places, but she’s stable now and my father’s health has improved. They both seem to be happy, even though they miss each other. Their memory communities arrange a weekly Skype session so they can “see” each other.


Visited My Parents This Week

The new year begins. I visited my parents before and after the holidays. When visiting my mother on Sunday, I took her out shopping. We terrorized fellow shoppers as we tried to navigate using an automated cart.

Once I got back home I debated whether I could bring her home to live with me. Our house, though, is not well suited for a stroke survivor. Bedrooms are upstairs. Our flooring is tile and hardwood. Our stairs steep and without a landing.

Just thinking about moving my mother in, I started to ramp up, to get mildly hypomanic. I found myself unable to sleep. Instead of sleeping, I researched stair treads, hand rails, stair elevators, and purchasing a single-level home.

The fact remains that my own mental health is stable because I avoid stressors that trigger symptoms and cycling. I give myself time to recover. If I was a full-time caregiver of my mother, I would not be well.

Yesterday I visited my father and brought my teen son along. My son continues to miss far too much school due to illness and migraines, which frustrates me. I try. I really do. But, I can’t carry a sixteen-year-old adolescent to school when he has a fever, is vomiting, or is coughing. I’m at my wit’s end.

My sister and I decided to give our parents’ living situation a year. They are both doing well. The quality care they receive is why.

Caregiving Can Wear You Down #RealTalkAboutCare

My mother, father, & I in watercolor filter

Since Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been sick with an upper respiratory infection (URI). As an asthmatic, URI’s tend to go to my lungs. My son, too, is sick and in bed (no way for a teenager to spend the weekend). URI’s are highly contagious. We tend to share far too many illnesses in my family. Even our labradoodle Thumper is taking antibiotics for a cough.

Until my mother had a stroke November 2015, she was my father’s caregiver. Since then, caregiving has become my responsibility, as now both my parents have dementia. My father has alcohol-related dementia (alcohol is a neurotoxin). My mother now has vascular dementia with behaviorial complications (brain damage can do that) and she cannot speak.

As I live with bipolar disorder while parenting an adolescent migraineur, I couldn’t care for two aging parents with dementia without help, for doing so would likely put me in a psychiatric hospital. Finding long-term care that could address their needs proved challenging. For now, we’ve had to separate them – heartbreaking, but necessary for their health. To pay for their care, we had to sell their beloved beach house, for memory care is extremely expensive.

If my mother had more caregiving support before her stroke, perhaps she may not have had a stroke, perhaps she would have received more timely medical care. My mother was exhausted, stressed, and taking antidepressants (caregivers are at risk of depression). My father just thought that my mother was napping. His dementia interfered with his ability to respond to her stroke appropriately.

My mother, a caregiver, needed help, needed respite, needed care herself. My sister and I had been talking to our mother about downsizing and moving closer to my sister. But, my father fought the idea of moving out of their beach house, leaving our mother essentially trapped.

Thankfully they are doing well now, given their current life circumstances. Take care of yourself. Take care of your brain. Take care of your heart. Good health is a blessing.

Caregiving Resources: AARP Caregiver Resource Center

Mini Thanksgivings

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This weekend my sister visited and we celebrated Thanksgiving twice with our parents. Friday we joined our mother at her memory care community and joined their festivities. That afternoon and early dinner went very well. We had fun decorating her room and organizing photos.

Saturday we brought our father to visit our mother for lunch. The visit went well until we left them alone for a few minutes while we got coffee in the lobby. By the time I returned to our mother’s room, they were planning their escape back to their old beach house (which they no longer own – we had to sell it to pay for their care).

Big sigh. Clearly they wish their lives were as they were before dementia, before stroke. We all do.