Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Am I Doing On My New Medication?

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II on October 30, 2014.  Within a week I was on a mood stabilizer.  My primary reason for this post is to examine how that's working for me. 

However, that's not the only major change recently, so I offer this background on my health and meds.  While I have no way of knowing for sure what treatment caused what effect, my gut tells me.  So I will tell you what my gut says (knowing I could be completely incorrect).

Each morning I take:
  • A multivitamin for women over fifty - even though I am forty-five, because the complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy I had last year put me into instant menopause
  • Vitamin D - because I don't get nearly enough sunshine and it can help with depression, especially during the winter (which it feels like we didn't even have here in Utah, oh well)
  • Estrogen - because I am in menopause an estimated ten years early and my doctor wants to protect my bones and I don't like the idea of breaking a hip when I fall
  • Gabapentin - which is often prescribed for anxiety, but that's not why I take it; sometimes my skin hurts for no reason, and gabapentin can help with neuropathic pain; I've been on it since April of 2014, I think;  does it work?  I'm not sure; my skin was hurting a lot over the last week; it feels like a first degree burn, but there is no discoloration and I haven't been burned; I'm going to talk to the doctor about getting off this one at my next physical
  • Lamictal - the mood stabilizer I've been on since the first week of November, 2014; the reason for this post
Each afternoon I take:
  • Gabapentin
  • Vitamin D
  • Omeprazole - a proton pump inhibitor that I take for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); otherwise I often have stomach acid that comes up my throat and makes it so I have a chronic cough, chronic sore throat, chronic hoarse voice, and so I can't sleep; without this medication it will often wake me with a burning in my throat that can't be soothed
Each evening I take:
  • Gabapentin
  • Melatonin - because I don't sleep well, like at all; I need all the help I can get, but everything else I've tried leaves me super groggy the next day; and melatonin is what our bodies naturally produce to induce sleep
  • Armour Thyroid - which is pig thyroid glands "dried and powdered for therapeutic use" (according to Wikipedia); I take this because I have hypothyroidism, which means my thyroid doesn't do it's job very well anymore; I used to take a synthetic thyroid medication but never felt better on it; I found out about this through a thyroid health group on facebook; I had to fight my doctor for it because it isn't as consistent a dose as synthetic, but I have felt better on it; I started this in April of 2014
(I also have Xanax that I take for occasional anxiety and Meclizine that I take for occasional dizziness and nausea associated with my headaches.)

So as you can see, I have gone through many health changes over the last year.  How would I compare where I am now to where I was a year ago?  I am better.  Much better.

I do not have the constant, intense pelvic pain I had before my hysterectomy.  I have more energy on the new thyroid meds, although still subpar for sure; I can get out of bed and do things more often than before.  I don't go through intense PMDD/PMS every month; my moods are more in flow with what's actually happening in my life instead of attacking me out of nowhere.

But, most significantly, I haven't had any episodes of severe depression since I started the mood stabilizer.  I was initially put on it to control the hypomanic episodes that can come because of Bipolar II.  Those were hard to give up.  They were days of extra energy, lots of extra energy, when I didn't need sleep and could get lots done - all the stuff I didn't have the energy to do most days.  When I first met with my psychiatrist I asked her why I would want to give those up when they're so great.  She told me they cause brain damage.  Oh.  Okay.  I'll give them up.

As I researched Lamictal I read that it can often have the side effect of also helping depression.  I held a tiny spark of hope that this would happen, but not much.  I've tried so many meds for depression over the years and had so much therapy, but none of it took away the depression for good.  The meds didn't work at all or made me suicidal.  And the therapy could sometimes get me through a tough moment if my appointment happened to hit during an episode.  But usually the black dog (as depression is referred to by those who suffer) would just come out of nowhere and pin me to the ground.  And I just tried to survive until he let me up again.  I couldn't fight him off.  I just had to wait until he was done with me and moved on.

Since I have been on the Lamictal I have not been pinned to the ground by the black dog.  Not once.  He's chewed on my leg on several occasions, but I haven't gone completely dark at all.  There was one time when I'd say he knocked me to the ground pretty hard, but that was situational, and I recovered from it much more quickly than I normally would have.

So here's the deal.  And I hate to say it for fear of jinxing it.  But I believe the Lamictal is helping with my depression.  For real.  And it's kind of amazing.

Just as my psychiatrist said it should work, I have ups and downs, but they aren't as high or as deep as they were before.

And there's still a part of me waiting for it to come back and hit me in the head.  I've sometimes gone through long periods without depression before, only to be dragged down again; what if this is just one of those?  Depression has been a part of my life since I was a teenager.  The idea that it could finally be under control is something that's difficult for me to wrap my brain around.  I feel like it's an "I feel better so far, but we'll see how it plays out" thing.

And there's a part of me that doesn't want it to completely work.  Depression is part of my self-definition.  It's part of who I am.  If it works, I will have to learn to be me all over again.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Self-Harm and the Words That Made Me Want to Stop

***This post contains material that could potentially be triggering for anyone with a history of self-harm.  Please do not continue if you aren't safe right now.***

I purposely and knowingly hurt myself for the first time on December 14, 2006.  I used a broken plastic spoon to scratch three deep lines into my forearm.  Later that night I burned myself with a candle.  And it felt good.

There is no way for someone like me to explain this to someone like you if you haven't been there.

My brain says it shouldn't feel good.  My brain says it's not something that's okay to do.  And my brain knows it will bother the people around me.

But it does feel good.  And it doesn't feel like a big deal.  And in that moment of darkness, I don't care how others feel about it.

At least that's the way it's been.  In the past.  It's been a little over eight years since I first did it.  And while I understood it wasn't a healthy coping mechanism and I should probably stop, I have never wanted to stop.  Not once.

I tried to want to.  I wanted to want to.  But I just didn't.  I didn't want to give it up.  And, honestly, I just wasn't fully converted to the idea that it was important for me to give it up.

Last October (2014) I burned myself.  I mean, I really burned myself.  And it ended my relationship with my therapist.  Which led to me seeing a new therapist.

As my new therapist and I got to know each other I told him about how many therapists I'd seen over the years.  There have been many in my life.  I go for a while without seeing anyone and then, when I know the issue I'm dealing with is too big for me alone, I pray and ask God which therapist is the right one to help me through this moment.

This is the point when my new therapist asked me what I was seeing him for.  What was he supposed to help me with, whether I wanted to do it or not?

And, boy, wasn't that final qualifier just the clincher for me?  Didn't that phrase tell me I was with exactly the person I needed to see?

I looked him in the eye and told him he and I were to heal the self-harm problem I have.  That I didn't want to give it up.  But that I would work on it with him because I believed God wanted me to.

And I didn't see how I was ever going to want to give it up.

I have been seeing him about every two weeks since early November.  We've taken various approaches.  We've found things that I believe will help me and a few that didn't really fit.

And then, on February 17, he said something in passing that was a game changer for me.  I don't remember the exact words.  He was talking about helping me get more tools in my toolbox so I don't pass the trauma on.

And that was the moment.  I heard in my head and wrote on my paper, "When I self-harm, I pass the trauma on."

I am causing trauma to my children.

And that was the slap I needed.  I am in therapy to heal for them.  I am working so hard to make their world better.  To find the answers they will need in the future by doing the work myself.  And to end a long line of dysfunction.  My goal was to make the trauma stop with me.  I had hoped that I would be its last victim.

But when I hurt myself, it hurts them.  And that's just absolutely not okay with me.

So I'm done.

I can't promise I won't engage in any other unhealthy behaviors as I continue to work my way through my incredibly tangled past.  But I will never, ever purposely hurt myself again.

And that's a promise!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Our Wedding Day

A day late and a dollar short - or a week late and a completely different post.

Last Monday, March 2, was our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I had a post in mind that I wanted to do and have up on that day.  Then my life got kind of complicated and it just didn't happen.  That post is still to come.  But I wanted to get something up for our anniversary, even if it's a week late, so here you go.  Wedding pictures and a bit of detail about our wedding day.

Bill and I met working at McDonald's.  Our first date was November 2, 1989.  We got engaged on December 27, 1989 - my twentieth birthday.  We planned to get married the following fall.  We soon realized we could either get married in the fall or in the temple (Mormon joke about not being able to keep our hands off each other), so we bumped the date up a bit.  We got our wedding license on Valentine's Day of 1990 and were married on March 2, 1990 - his twenty-third birthday (four months to the day after our first date).

Because we bumped it up, we had about two and a half weeks to get everything pulled together.  When I called my Grandma in Reno and asked what she was doing in two and half weeks, she guessed, "Coming to your wedding?"  Yup.  Then she offered to get me a dress and make my veil.  Cool!  She asked what style I liked and what my measurements were.  She said she would have my dress to me in time for the big day.  It arrived in the mail two or three days before our wedding.  That was the first time I'd seen it - and it was perfect!  Exactly what I would have picked out, and she had even lined it for the temple.

And that's pretty much all you get except for pictures and captions.  It was pretty uneventful, except, you know, we got married and had a reception.  I guess that kind of happened.

Now here are your pretty pictures.

We were married in the Salt Lake City temple.  It was overcast that day.  I love this photo because it doesn't just capture our temple, it also captures our flag (well, both of them because Utah's flag is in there, too).
We had a chocolate wedding cake.  It's chocolate inside, too.  We ran out of the sheet cake we were serving and had to serve this as well.  Bill and I only got one bite each, the ones we fed to each other as dictated by tradition.  We did freeze the top layer and each had a bite of that on our one year anniversary (also following tradition); that bite wasn't so good.  There's another layer in the back that you can't see.  The layers went around the center like a spiral staircase.  Our wedding topper was a crystal Salt Lake Temple on a round mirror.  I still have that, although it got broken in half by one of our children when she was small.  I'm not going to name names.
As you can probably tell from the cake photo, we had our wedding reception in the "cultural hall" of our church.  That means we had it in the gym.  We were fine with it at the time.  It was free and looked beautiful when decorated.  But the background of this photo has always bothered me just a little.  I wish we had a photo of the cake with a nicer background.  Oh, and there's no photo of us feeding each other the cake.  Our photographer was gone by then.  Our friend took a picture, but his camera freaked out and the pictures came out all blurry.  No big deal.
These are all of our family and friends who were able to make it to Salt Lake.  Several of the people in this photo have passed on now, which increases the tender feelings in my heart for it.  The guy on the right with his arm on the shoulder of the lady with dark hair is my husband's twin brother.  Fun fact: he had hernia surgery the day before.  But he still made it there to support his brother, and I'm grateful for that (even though he was angry at me for years for stealing his birthday; he might still be).
Only some of them were able to come inside for the ceremony.  In order to enter the temple, each person must have a temple recommend.  In order to have a temple recommend, you need to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and be living by the standards required.  It's a long list.  If you want to know what's on it, I suggest you go to lds.org and look it up.  As far as I knew, no one that was unable to come in was upset about it.  They understood and respected our beliefs.  My dad wasn't able to come in, but he fully supported me getting married in the temple anyway.  In the temple we are married legally and sealed for time and all eternity spiritually.
I'm pretty sure these alcoves were designed just for photo opportunities like this.
And this.  Isn't it pretty?
It is a little tricky to get into and out of though.  This is a picture of him helping me down.  It's quite significant because I was stubbornly independent back then and rarely let anyone help me with anything.  Thanks, honey!
These doors are another must-have photo spot.  They are gorgeous and somewhat imposing in real life.
I call this the dreamy-filter shot.
Notice how the grass is all brown.  It was very early March in Utah, we were lucky to not have snow on the ground.  But I honestly didn't even notice it that day.  I'm not one of those girls who spent my whole life planning my wedding and cared about every little detail (as evidenced by the dress story).  On my actual wedding day I wasn't stressed about details either.  As long as he and I both got to the temple and got married, nothing else mattered much.
Same shot, only this time we're dreamily gazing into each others eyes.  Or something like that.  Knowing my husband, he was probably doing everything he could to not laugh.  Remember the episode of Friends when Chandler and Monica are planning to get married and they're trying to get engagement photos taken but they all look horrible because Chandler can't smile for photos to save his life?  Yeah, it's like that.
This tree is another popular photo spot.  It was a beautifully shaped tree.  Unfortunately I had no idea there was that electrical box in the shot until after we got the photos back.  Really, I was so unconcerned with details I let my mom pick the photographer (and all the decorations and food, except for the cake) and we just let the photographer walk us around and take pretty much whatever photos he wanted.  Most wedding photographers weren't nearly as creative back then  - in the olden days.
Another dreamy-filter photo.  Man, we look young!
This is probably my favorite photo.  That dress really was gorgeous.  There was actually a small train, but I was able to button it up to make walking easier.  My mom insisted on this photo because she loved the detail on the back so much.  I'm really glad she did.  Didn't my Grandma choose well?  And that's the veil she made for me.
This is inside the church where we held our reception (in that cultural hall I mentioned above).  Doesn't it look pretty?  Okay, so in retrospect our backdrop looks like the backdrop for prom photos, but I liked it at the time.
His mom did the flowers.  We used silk flowers.  I wanted to keep my bouquet (which I wanted very small).  I wanted it to still look good years later.  I still have it and it does.  He was very excited to wear a tux and insisted on one with tails.
For years, Bill said this was his favorite photo.  I think it's because he got to be the focus for a change.  It also has that woman-behind-the-man feeling.  This is the first time I've noticed the metal folding chair and the curtains that sparkle like they're from an old gameshow.
Now this is his favorite.  It was my mom's favorite, too, and the only one she got a print of to hang at her house.  I like it now although I didn't when we first got them.  That whole incredibly-judgmental-of-all-photos-of-myself thing.
And that's all I've got for today.  There are a few more, but I haven't scanned them yet.  We didn't have groomsmen and bridesmaids in matching outfits.  We asked our friends to serve as honorary groomsmen and bridesmaids and told them just to wear something that matched our color scheme (black, white, and dusty rose - don't judge, we were just coming out of the eighties).  We didn't have a long formal line (as most people did at Mormon wedding receptions).  It was just us and our parents.  We initially wanted to skip the line all together, but my mom freaked out at that scandalous idea.  The much smaller line was the compromise.  Everyone who came through the line told us how awesome it was to not have to shake hands with and talk to a bunch of people they didn't know and then awkwardly stand next to them while waiting for the line to progress.  No, I guess they just thanked us for the small line, but that's what they really meant.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary to us!