A Place To Rest

I have 11 more days of students in the classroom, I cannot believe how fast it has gone by. It has been a tumultuous year with one teacher quitting abruptly and another out for three weeks. Each time I scampered around, rummaging through all of the resources I bought while I was manic so that I could teach the class. I have to admit it was fun to be in charge as a default.

I like to say if I wasn’t bipolar I could be a teacher instead of a teacher’s aide, but I don’t know that I am being completely honest with myself in that regard. I know that I am a good teacher, but I would want to be great. What holds me back is my behavior management, it is the one criteria that needs improvement on every evaluation I have. And guess what, it’s the most important thing! How can you teach if you can’t manage behavior? I know I am improving; I have had a great role model in the current teacher I work for, and she has been so positive in guiding me and encouraging me as I improve. I go back and forth between being so thrilled that “all I have to do” is be a teacher’s aide, as I bask in the lower stress, and experiencing glimpses of myself being the leader in the classroom. I always come to the resting place of just being happy where I am. There are periods of grief, but I no longer kid myself that it’s just the bipolar; it’s also a need for improvement in my skill set. And who knows? Maybe I will improve so much next year that being a teacher becomes a reality somewhere down the line.

Dream choices

Often times we have to give up one dream for another. I choose my mental health over a job that I would really love. The way in which we accept this, and the extent to which we accept it with grace, is a journey unto itself, a battle ground, and at times a beautiful resting place, even if momentarily. My mother told me when I was very young that she learned at the age of thirty that life was not fair, and had she learned it sooner it would have saved much anguish and heartache and allowed much more room for grace. Walk through this life with joy, appreciation, and a hunger for finding beauty, and it will bless you always.

Two Voices Silenced

I have stopped making art. When I tell people I am done making art, they don’t believe me, or they are curious as to why, but I don’t really know what to tell them. When I made art I was messy, I took up space, I had a visual voice that was loud, even if the work said something quiet. I don’t want to take up that kind of space right now, in that way.

I’ve had two hallucinations, they were both minor, both side effects of a new medication. I was walking between our cars when a hand jutted out from the door of my car. It was almost transparent, and disappeared within seconds. My other hallucination appeared as I tried to park my car in the dark. A vehicle that was a combination of a motorcycle and shopping cart was tumbling into my parking space. Fortunately, it continued to tumble into the two spaces ahead of mine so I could park without incident.

I’ve had two visitors at night as I awakened from my dreams. One was my deceased father-in-law, he was just looking in on us at the side of the bed. He wore a fishing hat to let me know he was also watching over his grandson, who liked to go fishing with him. My other visitor was a student of mine, I was dreaming of him, and awakened to see him by my bedside. He is non-verbal, so perhaps one day he will appear again and talk to me.

I have two ways of feeling ugly right now. My face has broken out, which it does when I drink something with citrus in it. I also cut my own bangs, and that didn’t go well. I am going to a salon tomorrow to get highlights in my hair, and I’m hoping she’ll be able to improve on my bangs also. Guess who is doing my hair? That beautiful singer from the party, with the soulful voice, owns a salon. I am going to dish with her as she does my hair. I wanted to tell her that she brought beauty into the world as she sang, and as I heard her voice join with one other, the two voices made the stars dance in the night sky.

Perhaps there is room for my kind of art again, it is just resting quietly while I explore other forms of beauty.

Cloud Thoughts

Things that came together. I had a car accident and we both thought we had the green light. She was lost in thoughts of a grandchild who had died a few days before, I was wondering about the car behind me that was taking up two lanes. I was looking in my rearview mirror (the past event) when I was hit by the car.

After the car accident I had a normal amount of trepidation about driving again, nothing out of the ordinary. But within the coming months a sense would settle in that I was not long for this life, that something was going to happen to cut my life short.

We went to a party. She is singing in a sultry voice. She is beautiful. She could be the art teacher’s sister. She moves a bit like her, looks like her, sounds like her. (I used to be an art teacher.) She sings and plays her guitar with my husband. Watching was a unique experience. Awkwardness, jealousy, but an immense beauty in something that was happening. Not so much between them, although that was present, but the resurgence of a new hope for a rich, deeply experienced life. Whose life, I am not sure. It feels like it should be my husband that will experience profound changes, after all, I am the one who will be dying soon.

I am walking my dog when that comes to my head, that I don’t have control over when life ends, but it feels imminent. I had to honk my horn twice at cars about to hit me today. It’s in my head, there is a way to have control over when I will die. My dog is sniffing in a neighbor’s yard. There is one way I get to be in control of my destiny, and that would be suicide. Then I wouldn’t have to wait and wonder when and how. I look down. A large piece of curved glass, smooth except for beautiful air bubbles, is laying in the grass near where my dog is sniffing. It must belong to something my neighbor once possessed, but now it’s broken. I didn’t feel I could leave it there, someone could get hurt. I pick it up and walk past the four red doors to my place. I realize I have just been handed a means to end my wondering.

I am ok to wonder, I tell myself. I am ok not to know. She has something to do with it, with my death, I don’t understand how. That feels like unclear thinking, not like jealousy, like compersion, and the way things may be that are not in my control. That’s ok, I can let it all go and just let it be. I place the glass on the turquoise table on our porch and walk inside. My normal routine is here for me, my comfort, my home, my love.

Mania aftermath

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so thank you for finding your way here. It always means a lot to me that I can put words to a page and people are taking their time to read it. Today I have an icy weather day off from work, so I am going to relax with a cup of tea and gather my thoughts.

A little background: The majority of my working life I have been an art teacher for elementary students. I love working with children, and I think it’s reasonable to say I am great at some aspects of teaching and only good at others. My career path changed as I became a mother and learned all that I could to help my special needs daughter navigate her environment. I stayed home with my daughter for many years, and when I returned to the world of work, I found my way to special education as a teacher’s aide. The work is so much more than a job to me; it feels deeply meaningful to be in a classroom of non-verbal children with autism as we guide them in learning to communicate.

In October of this school year, the teacher that I work for resigned abruptly, and I was put in charge of becoming lead teacher, with support from special education administrators. This was both an exciting and slightly overwhelming prospect for me, and the stress from it contributed to a mania that I had for about six weeks. My “normal” personality is quite introverted; when I am manic, people who don’t know me well think I am just an exuberant extrovert. So there I was, manic me, singing with my students, engaging them in exciting lesson plans, and rocking everyone’s world. Witnessing the manic me, administrators urged me to take the test to qualify to become a special education teacher.

I liked the idea, of course! I would be the best teacher ever! Yay me! But wait! One of the special ed administrators working in our room told me that I was actually making the kids too excitable with all the new things I was buying for the classroom. Hmmm…how much was I spending for educational toys and software to be the best teacher in all the world? So far, $1,000. But we were only two weeks into my mania. By the time I realized I needed to give my husband my credit card and call my doctor, I had spent $9,000. I’ve broken all my previous spending records, and I’m beginning to think that’s really not something to be proud of. When other people react to the news, I am sure of it. (I’m so sorry, people).

It’s over. I am getting comments from the new lead teacher that she understands what it’s like not to feel like yourself. I cry at circle time when I should be singing. I’m quiet, I’m plagued by doubt about my abilities as a teacher, and well, a human being. I feel fortunate that that’s as low as it gets. I take my new meds, I fill out my favorite mood chart. I keep going to work each day, because it still has meaning, even though I am having to push through walls of water to find it. The people in my life are my reason to keep pushing away the water, until it is just a quiet stream that I can wade through calmly.

At the quiet stream I am still being asked to consider being a special education teacher, and that feels exciting, but I have to remember that the people who ask have not seen the walls of water that would most likely become even stronger if I made that choice. I am in the process of grieving that loss, knowing that I am still able to assist in that same world, and I am fortunate to be able to work at all. Blessings to those who struggle, and whose hearts are heavy because they are unable to work because of bipolar. Know that you are meaning itself, you create the art of existence each and every day, and it is beautiful.

Two Tools for Managing Bipolar

cheerful young woman with red leaf enjoying life and weather while reading book in autumn park
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8225

I have two tools that I use on a regular basis to help manage my bipolar.  The first comes from Natasha Tracy’s mental health blog Bipolar Burble.  I love reading her blog and watching her videos.  She has an unflinching perspective on living with bipolar, and I find her honesty refreshing and her blog articles incredibly helpful. The tool that I refer to often is  Natasha Tracy’s Suicide Assessment Scale

She explains that suicidal thoughts are on a continuum, and can vary in severity.  She has a 0-10 scale that describes the level of thoughts you may be having at any given time. She also emphasizes that it’s much more effective to get help when you are at a lower level, then if you have reached a 7 or higher.

I recall a time that I was having suicidal thoughts daily, and knowing that I was at a 7 set alarm bells off and was the impetus for me to reach out for help.  Now I am thrilled to be at a 0 level for several months;  being able to check that daily, and know I am in a good place is beneficial, it helps me move through my day with confidence in my abilities. Knowing I am further up on the scale is a monumental help, and a life saver.  I also use it in conjunction with a bipolar mood chart, as a way to check in  at different times during the day to see how frequently my moods shift.

Another way of thinking about suicidal ideation that has helped me is Julie Fast’s concept of “cloud thoughts.”  She states that thoughts of suicide are a part of being bipolar and they come and occupy space in our mind, and then we can take steps to help them leave. Julie emphasizes that we must take all suicidal thoughts seriously  Knowing that thoughts of suicide are part of being bipolar  helped me to not overreact to a thought that drifts through my mind.  Again, all thoughts of suicide should all be taken seriously, but it helps to know that it is one aspect of the disease that I need to monitor using a perspective that allows rational thinking as much as emotion to analyze. Used in conjunction with Natasha Tracy’s scale, it helps me to allow logic to be the foremost approach to assessing my thoughts.

My other favorite tool to use is Julie Fast’s Bipolar Health Cards. The Health Cards enabled me to realize that there is so much more to bipolar mood swings than depression and hypomania/mania.  She addresses each mood state, or symptom in three fascinating ways.  In the first columns she describes the symptoms of the mood – it could be anxiety, paranoia, depression, hypomania – and it’s described in very specific detail of how your brain and body might be feeling.  The second column is things that are useful in this state – things you can do in the moment and over time to improve the symptoms.  The third column is for loved ones – it tells them what they can do to help you.  You can customize the health cards to your particular symptoms.  Julie makes a suggestion, that if you are having a hard time communicating a mood swing to a loved one, you can simply but the health card in an agreed upon place, such as a bedside table, and that will alert the person who loves you that you are experiencing that symptom, and it has helpful things that they can do!  I have used it that way many times, especially when I was hypomanic and had the urge to keep it hidden because I was feeling good.  It was a quick and meaningful way to communicate that it’s important to watch for red flags.

I am so thankful to Natasha Tracy and Julie Fast for all the hard work and ingenuity they put into their blogs, videos, webinars, and speaking engagements.  I encourage you to google them if you haven’t explored all they have to offer.  I continue to find hidden gems in their work.

Do you have favorite tools that you use to manage bipolar?

 

Medication Merry-Go-Round

My psychiatrist got my labs back, and my glucose numbers were too high- I am four points away from being diabetic.  So I had to change meds.  This is my third day on the new medication, and I feel tired and a little bit like a zombie.

girl standing near carousel
Photo by Abby Chung on Pexels.com

In the midst of the zombie feeling I am making plans for my August wedding.  That cheers me up quite a bit.  We are going to get married in a little chapel, and we bought a package wedding, how great is that?  Almost everything is arranged for us, we just have to decide on flowers and music.  I thought that was a reasonable way to reduce the stress, and removing stress is essential to functioning with bipolar.  This is the second wedding for both of us, so we wanted something low key, but special.  I am hoping to not be a zombie bride, so we will see how this new medication does once I am ramped up to the theraputic dose!

Writing to Discover Patterns

cropped-facelessangeloverher-006-e1422927403372.jpgI have a new morning routine now that my dog wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning.  I will take him for a walk, enjoying the cool, gentle breeze and warmth of the morning, feeling hopeful and happy for the day.  When I bring him in, I get cozy in my bed and go to sleep, and from there my schedule gets bizarre:

  • awakening again at 6:40 to do a quick household chore
  • back to sleep at 7:00
  • Up again at 7:30 for a few minutes
  • back to sleep from 7:32 – 8:30

When I wake up at 8:30, I have been in a depressed mood for the last three days. Today I woke up at 9:30 and didn’t even shower. I’m just realizing that my odd sleeping pattern is probably contributing to my mood shifts.  I knew there was a reason for me to write today!  It seems so obvious now.  My new approach will be to stay awake after I walk my dog, using that time to do my 2 mile walk/jog that I have been avoiding in the evening because it’s too hot. We shall see if those changes keep me in a hopeful mood for the day.

Another shift I am seeing is in response to my work schedule. I am a teacher’s aide, so I have the summer off, and because I am staying home for covid-19, I have spent most of my last three days binge watching Netflix and browsing the computer for bipolar related blogs and articles.  Because I seem quite obsessed about reading about bipolar now, I had to ask myself why, and eventually an answer came.  For the past two years, I have gotten very depressed around October or November. I almost checked myself into a psychiatric hospital the first time.  The second time I resigned from my job.  Now I am fearful of what will happen when I start the new school year and the stress hits – what can I expect from this November?  The best things I can do is check in with myself to notice red flags, continue taking my meds, and see my therapist on a regular basis.  And create a routine for myself that will give me breaks from the binge watching and internet surfing!

Did you ever have a realization come to you as you were writing your blog? I wasn’t feeling much like writing today, but I’m glad I showed up to the page!

 

Telling Your Boss You’re Bipolar – Part II

In my previous post I wrote about a positive experience I had when telling my boss that I was bipolar.  At the time I wasn’t experiencing mood swings and my purpose for disclosing my mental illness was to be of help to a teacher.  Today I wanted to talk about a time I told a supervisor that I was bipolar, and share some reasons why it didn’t go well.

arttwelveyearoldme 005I was teaching art in a middle school.  It was the first year I taught middle schoolers, although I’d done some student teaching with those grade levels.  I was enjoying my students and teaching the subject matter, but I did have a lot of negative self talk about my performance as a teacher.  Looking back, I can see red flags that could tell me I was experiencing a lot of distorted thinking.  I would think other teachers could tell I was a horrible teacher, when in fact I had evidence of others saying that I was a good teacher, and I even won a district award for helping students in my previous job.  Bottom line, I was experiencing distorted thinking and depression.

The day started out fairly well, then my supervisor came in to observe me.  As I was teaching, all the negative thoughts I was having started swirling around in my brain, and I was quite anxious to have my supervisor taking notes on all of my actions.  After she left I was convinced that she thought I was a horrible teacher.  My brain wasn’t able to counteract my faulty thinking.   I decided to go to her office and speak with her.

By the time I made it to her office I was on the verge of tears, and as I talked with her in her office I began sobbing.  I told her I’d been thinking of telling her for weeks that I was bipolar.  It was hard to talk with all that sobbing going on, and I was so absorbed in the moment that I wasn’t yet embarrassed, and I wasn’t feeling shame.  Yet.

She asked me the question, “What do you want to have happen by telling me you’re bipolar?”  And because I had acted impulsively by talking to her in a heightened emotional state, all I could manage was “I’m just concerned for the kids, I want them to have the best education they can get.  I’m not asking to be treated differently.”  Obviously I was not prepared to answer her or advocate for myself.  She gave me the number of the mental health services in our district and I thanked her.  She also asked what I needed.  Her reaction was helpful for the most part, her demeanor could have been a little more understanding.  But she did a good job of responding considering how I approached her.

Since that event, I have read articles on whether to disclose your mental illness to your employer, and tips for having that conversation.  I would have done so many things differently, one of the most obvious was thinking about what I would say instead of rushing in overloaded with emotions.  Today, if I were to tell my current employer, I would advocate for an opportunity to leave work early to make it to psychiatrist and therapist appointments on time.  I haven’t yet decided if I will tell my new employer, but if I do I will prepare in advance.

From much of my reading, the tips I have found the most helpful are from Natasha Tracy.  She is a mental health expert, writer and speaker.  She wrote this article, 10 Tips on How to Tell Someone You’re Bipolar. I recommend reading her blog and watching her videos, so please look around her site and read articles that will be helpful to you.  I just bought her first book, Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression and Bipolar and I’m looking forward to reading it.  I’ll let you know my reactions to reading it in a future blog.

Telling Your Boss You’re Bipolar – Part I

“And what do you want to have happen by telling me you have bipolar?”

This was the question I received from an employer after explaining to her that I had bipolar.  I am not telling you my story to provide an example of the best way to convey to

two women talking white holding laptop computers
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

someone that you have needs as an employee with bipolar. I am telling this story as a cautionary tale. Think about how you would answer that question, so you can advocate for yourself.  I told my employer at the wrong time, when I was unprepared to help myself in the situation, and it created more difficulties for me.  I have had both good and bad experiences disclosing my mental illness in the workplace.  Today I will talk about the good experience, and I will follow up another day with the negative experience.

The first time I ever disclosed my bipolar diagnosis in the workplace was to be of help to a teacher who was working with a student who was bipolar. I was her behavior support teaching assistant at the time, which meant that I went with students to class to assist them with issues that might arise related to their behavior.  Many of the students had autism, others had ADHD, and two had mood disorders.  It was a very pleasant conversation in which the teacher was expressing that she was trying her best to help this student with bipolar, but it was so different from what the other students were dealing with.  I didn’t tell her the very first time she expressed it, but once I met the student and worked with her, I felt it would be helpful for me to tell the teacher, as I could offer some insight into how the student might be feeling.  When I did tell her, I was in a good place, feeling very stable, and had a positive motive.  I did wait until we were the only two in the room, and as she expressed again that this was unfamiliar territory, I responded by saying, “I am bipolar, and some of what we are seeing makes sense to me.”  She said that she wasn’t aware that I was, and her demeanor was so friendly and supportive, that I felt immediately accepted.  In the coming weeks, she would ask me questions about what it was like, and I would share honestly, and it helped her understand her student better.  I was glad that I disclosed my diagnosis, and I continued to work at that school happily for the next year.

An opportunity arose for me to move from being a teaching assistant to being an art teacher.  I was excited for the new beginning; I had been an art teacher for eight years in the past, and I was eager to begin my new job.  What I didn’t prepare for was how to teach during bipolar depression, and how to ask for what I needed to be successful.  I will tell that tale tomorrow.