Thursday, June 26, 2014

Important Mental Health Series on USA Today

This series is as comprehensive a series as I've seen on mainstream media. It focuses on stigma and how the "system" has failed the mentally ill and how it continues to fail them. Of course it's more general than a lot of folks would like, but it's a good place to start learning, for sure....here's the link:
Mental Illness Stigma

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why sometimes my best attempts at frugality fail

I (as usual) was broke. It was the day after payday. I had figured out my budget, I had enough money to pay all the bills, pay for gas, buy pet food/litter and have $75 left over for groceries and miscellaneous. It was going to be tight, but very doable.

But...it was 80 degrees out and all I had were jeans. Jeans that I did not want to cut up. I had no shorts. And oh, how I wanted some on this beautiful "outside in the yard" "sky is blue" day.....so what did I do? I did what any smart broke person would do....I went to the thrift store! Our thrift store in town is great. Long sleeve shirts are a dollar, t-shirts are seventy five cents. Jeans are a dollar, so are slacks. Most shoes are a dollar, too. Coats and jackets are a whopping two dollars. And, shorts are usually seventy five cents. How could I mess this up, right? I'm doing the smartest thing a girl who wants to go shopping could do.

So I walked in, and, in order to savor my experience, I didn't go right to the shorts, I went to the "kitchen gadgets", which are usually a quarter. (Pizza cutters, can openers, measuring cups, they're all kitchen gadgets and I like to see what's there but I don't usually buy.)

But something happened on the way to the kitchen gadgets. What was that, over by the plates? It looks kind of...kind of....green....no...pink...Oh. Wow. It's Depression Glass.

Not just a couple of chipped plates though. Two whole sets. A green set and a pink set. Plates, cups, pitchers, measuring cups, creamers, sugars, cake plates, candy dishes, things I can't even identify, all shiny in just out of the package condition, except they're 80 years old. And I've collected Depression Glass since I was 20. Usually I just buy the odd plate or cup here or there when I can, because stuff like this is usually only on Ebay or in antique stores and I can't afford the prices. But the prices on these pieces...???? Unbelievable, of course, just like the rest of the store....the candy dish? $2.50. the creamer and sugar set, along with the little doohickey that holds/carries them, $7.50 for the set!....the amazing pink measuring cup...$8.00....

I knew I'd never see those prices again, ever, anywhere. I'd never seen them in my whole life. It's not like a good sale at WalMart, where even if it's a really good price, you know it'll probably go on sale again someday....in this situation, the stuff would be gone and that would be it......I was in such a quandary...

Now, I have struggled so much to be financially responsible these last few years. Mostly I have made good choices when it comes to me, but less when it comes to DH. I'd very much like to tell you that I recognized clearly that this situation involved a "want" (or several) and not a "need" and I got my seventy five cent shorts and left....but sadly...I didn't. I ended up getting the shorts AND thirty five dollars worth of Depression glass (which, on Ebay was probably worth about $200, but I won't sell it). And I ended up having to eat a lot of food out of the pantry (which I probably should have done anyway) to cover the shortfall.

Now, had I gone to the store in town and bought a brand new pair of shorts for $15.99......

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Mom passed away

Well, I guess you all knew it would happen, and what an update, huh? I knew things were getting bad, she really wasn't talking much any more, and then they changed her to pureed food only, because she seemed to eat more when the food didn't have to be chewed up. A couple of months after that change, she was pretty much refusing all food except yogurt and ice cream, but she was drinking plenty of fluids, so the nursing home made sure that she got her calories in that way. She (of course) wasn't gaining any weight, but it made me feel better to know that she was still taking in sustenance.

One night I was at the nursing home feeding her and she aspirated some milk. I hadn't been able to tell if she had swallowed or not, so I stopped giving her the milk. I'm glad I did that because she still had milk in her mouth and must have forgotten that, because she inhaled. Then she started coughing and it sounded like she was drowning. I was so scared! But the nurse said (after checking her out) that nothing went into the lungs, it all just kind of was in the throat. Whew. But about a week later, I got a call from them, because it happened at lunch time, too. They were feeding her yogurt and she aspirated it, and couldn't swallow. They ended up having to use a suction machine to suction the yogurt out. At that time, hospice decided that they were going to stop offering her foods and only offer thickened liquids. At this point, hospice told me that if my mom continued to drink enough, they thought she could last "for a few weeks" but if she was not able to swallow the fluids, then it would only be a matter of days.

On April 21 I got the call, that my mom was choking on everything that they offered her--water, juice, etc., so hospice thought that it would make things worse to try to get her to drink any more. I knew this was it. I took the week off work and spent the rest of the time with my mom. I was with her 24/7. My brother came with his family to visit, but he was so busy keeping track of his kids that he really didn't get much one-on-one time with her. I was glad he came though. That was on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, after listening to my mom's breathing, the hospice nurse predicted that it could be any time. But it wasn't. There was no change throughout the night, and the same on Thursday. I told my mom that her brother wasn't going to make it, as he was having health problems too. I couldn't think of what she could be lingering for, except that maybe she wanted to spend more time with my brother, but he didn't seem inclined to come back. I did keep him updated every few hours. On Friday, there was still no change. When I talked to my brother on Friday night, he said, "some people at work said I should go back up there, what do you think?" I said I thought they were right. So he came up Friday night. He got to the nursing home at about 10:30pm. I left for a couple of hours to make sure he spent time and talked with her etc. I came back at about 12:30am. My brother left at about 1am. I said to my mom, "He went home now, but wasn't it great that he came?" I was holding her hand. The hospice nurse had given me a cd with old hymns on it, the same hymns that we sang every week at the church service at the nursing home. I played the cd and sang along. When I realized I didn't know all the words, I ran and got a church hymnbook and used that to do a better job of singing. At about 2:30am my mom's breathing changed, and I stopped singing. I told her I loved her and I knew she loved me. I was still holding her hand, although it was very very cold. Then her mouth moved a couple of times, not in a painful way, though. Then, although she had not had any movement except eyelids in days, my mom pulled her hand out of mine and was gone.

I am still heartbroken. I thought that I had already done a lot of grieving, but boy was I wrong. My mom had become such a part of my life, visiting her, going to the church service with her, taking her for walks, feeding her, I am lost. The funeral was on April 30. I'm back to work and just try not to think about it while I'm there, as all it takes is one "I'm sorry to hear about your mom," to bring the tears back.

I still have some thank you notes that I need to write, to the nursing home, to the hospice, and to a couple of caregivers at the nursing home who really provided care far beyond what was expected. I learned so much through this journey, and I am sure it will continue to be a learning process.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

5 things I learned from my bipolar (II) spouse

Well, it's been at least 8 years now since bipolar has reared its ugly head in my marriage. And I'd like to think that I know some things that I didn't know before....but at the same time, I am constantly surprised by what I don't know or haven't considered yet. So I decided to make a list of some of the things I have learned in these past few years.

(1) Good things aren't always "good" (and bad things aren't necessarily "bad", either) for the bipolar person. Some examples: We had been looking forward so much to DH receiving disability, it seemed like it would never actually happen. When DH received his back pay for his disability (with me as rep/payee, of course), as soon as the money hit MY bank account, DH was in a full-fledged manic episode. Since he has bipolar II, this was unusual. It became one nonstop argument. He wanted this, he wanted that, he wanted me to have a new car, he wanted a big screen TV, he wanted to remodel the bedroom, he wanted to go on a trip, he wanted to do so much! And all I wanted to do was pay bills so that maybe we could have some of those things someday. And the other way....when DH got his DWI, I expected a lot of remorse and some "Well, I'll never do that again!". But I didn't expect that he would embrace treatment like he has, he is going to treatment and taking it seriously. And it's getting him out into the community, out of the house, and talking with people. So treatment has turned into a positive for DH.

(2) Stay tuned, it'll change when you're not expecting it. This one's still tough for me. I've been raised all my life to believe that people are, for the most part, predictable. You know what makes them happy, you know what makes them upset, and you try to use that information to predict your path. With Bipolar II, it's not like that at all. What is pleasant one day can be annoying the next and can be a lifechanger the next. And it's incredibly hard to cope with. I try to remind myself when DH gets upset over something trivial, or something like that, that "it won't stay this way". That has probably saved our marriage more than once. If he was consistently as disagreeable as that part of him that I refer to as "That Guy" is, I could never have lasted. But things change quickly with this disease. Unfortunately, that also means that the great times don't last either. DH might go for two whole weeks where he cleans the house, cleans the litter boxes, takes out the trash and then afterwards tells me how much he appreciates me. Then just as suddenly as it started, it's gone. And he's back to not doing much of anything. So around we go again. But you'll never get the "same old stuff" with a bipolar II spouse, for sure!

(3) Hate the disease, don't hate the person! My husband is a person. He has dreams and hopes and feelings just like everyone else. Probably about 80% of the time, I don't think about him as a person with a mental illness--he's just my husband. A husband who faces daunting obstacles every day, but still--he's not just "a person with mental illness" or "a bipolar". Most of the time he doesn't have a lot of insight into his illness, he believes that he is just like everyone else, only he has to take a bunch of pills. And many of the things that he says and does are not within his control. It's difficult for me to understand sometimes. And I do find myself slipping on this one, especially during extended times where "That Guy" is around--"That Guy" is unreasonable and temperamental. It's hard sometimes, when the unreasonable stuff is emanating from my husband to not just throw up my hands and say "All right, I give up!" But then I remember my caveat from above (it'll change) and decide to stick it out. My husband is a softhearted, gentle person, who tries really hard to do the best he can. I recognize that, and as long as he's still trying, I will, too.

(4) Regular people are the hardest part of the disease. It's still difficult for me to know when to let people in to the "big mental illness secret". I know my neighbors wonder why, if he's home all day, the grass doesn't get cut, or the driveway doesn't get plowed. Why things don't get fixed, and why DH doesn't do what he says he will. And probably by this time, some of them have figured out that something's wrong, but everyone is too polite to ask. I'm sure there's gossip, though. And sometimes when I just want to tell everyone "I am not this unmowed grass, house-falling-down promises-not-kept person!" I think about telling people that DH has a mental illness so that they would understand how hard I've been trying to keep it all together. But mostly, I haven't told anyone yet. I feel like if DH wants people to know, he'll tell them (although he probably is oblivious to "what the neighbors might think"...) I did tell my brother. You know what he said? "I'll take him out to lunch, see if I can talk some sense into him!" There was just no telling him that it wasn't something that could be talked through....I really got angry, but after trying to tell him about mental illness and not being understood, I gave up. And have I mentioned that I can't tell you how many hundreds of times I've heard "I just don't understand why you don't leave"? Aside from the fact that I married him "in sickness and in health", now that things are somewhat stable with him, he isn't hard to get along with. And if our positions were reversed, I sure wouldn't want to be left. For now, I'm staying put.

(5) I am much stronger and more capable than I ever thought I could be. I cannot believe the things I have figured out, the work I've done, the fires (figurative) I've put out, and the way I have taken control of many aspects of the marriage. I never envisioned myself doing this, in fact, our plan was "buy a fixer-upper house, DH would fix it up on weekends. DH would work and we would adopt lots of kids, and I would stay home with all of them." But life happens. Instead, I worked 2 jobs for 8 years(!) so that we wouldn't lose the house. I've become and advocate for DH and gone to countless appointments and meetings where his providers depend on me to get things as right as possible. I set up the pills, take care of the animals, attend meetings/put out fires for DD, who has recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder....and keep an eye on my mom (I still drop by to see her every day, although she doesn't know me most of the time, and she sleeps about 23 hrs a day). If you would have told me I would do all this, I would've laughed in your face. I could never do all that. Hehe.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Social Security Disability Update

We got the call over Labor Day weekend. DH's disability claim has been approved. He's also going to be eligible for Medicare in March, which is almost more exciting than the Disability itself, because this year, we (I) had already spent over $3000.00 in out of pocket expenses just for DH alone--prescriptions, ER visits, Dr. visits, etc. The Medicare coupled with my health insurance from work, will mean he is double covered and presumably, our bills will go down significantly. I may even be able to give myself a raise, because right now I contribute the maximum amount to my Flex plan, which amounts to about 95.00 each paycheck before taxes. Now granted that I do go to the doctor once in a while, so the amount wouldn't go down to zero, but the decrease could potentially be significant. Open enrollment at work is next month, so I'll have to ask someone how that all works.
Probably the biggest thing that this means right now, though, is that I am going to quit my 2nd job. After nearly exactly 8 years of working 2 jobs, DH's disability, after taxes, will be about the same amount as I bring home from the 2nd job. Originally, I wasn't going to quit right away. That extra money would make things that much easier, of course. But every time I went to work, all I kept thinking about was how I could choose to quit, how I could find a job that I really like, if I even want a second job, it's a choice now. Even before the disability was approved, I worried a lot about my mom being so sick and what if I got "the call" when I was working and couldn't leave? (Because at a group home you can't leave the clients unattended, not for any reason). And every time I showed up for work, I felt more strongly that it was time. So I put in my 2 weeks notice, this will be my last weekend of working 2 jobs.
I'm really excited about having 2 days off every week! Maybe I'll get a different part time job once my mom passes, but right now, spending more time with her will be nice, too.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bipolar Hedonist

DH's therapist hit it right on the head. "You are one of the biggest hedonists I have ever met."
Wow. I never really knew there was a word for it. But, if you're not sure what it means, a hedonist is "a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification." That's DH. Since about 2005 it's been "all about DH, all the time". And if, in the process of making himself feel good, he can make me happy too, then so be it. But most of the time, it's just all about him. And food to make him feel good. And cigarettes (I don't remember if I told you that I require that he roll his own cigarettes now but I still buy the tobacco). And candy. And pop. And money. And anything else, apparently, that he can do to make himself feel good.
I could tell that it bothered DH to hear this about himself. I could also tell that he was expecting me to say something like "well, that's not really true..." But what I said was "Wow! He's got it! And he figured that out in 4 weeks? It took me a lot longer than that!" Hehe. I shouldn't laugh, but really....that therapist must be a sharpie!
I've been trying (in a gentle way) to ask myself what that says about me. Maybe I have a martyr complex. Maybe I'm just so laid back I don't care. Or maybe I just choose to believe that he can't help it and it's his mental illness.
See, that's the problem I have all the time--which of his behaviors are choices he makes, and which ones are due to his mental illness and can't be helped? I really struggle with this, nearly every day. I wish I could talk to that therapist of his. But I'm sure that'd be a conflict of interest.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


So... DH started treatment. I had to leave the phone calls (to get the treatment program set up) to him, as I don't have much time during the workday. I specifically wanted him to find a treatment program for people with a "dual diagnosis", as I strongly believe that DH's mental health issues need to be addressed in conjunction with the chemical issues. I don't believe that there is an addiction problem as such (although maybe the Percocet would qualify), it's more of a self-medicating thing and not knowing when to stop. And that is directly connected to the mental illness.
I stressed over and over again the importance of the dual diagnosis treatment. And after DH got his treatment set up, it turns out that he "forgot" about the dual diagnosis thing. Now, in our small town, there aren't a whole ton of options as far as treatment programs go, but sheesh, if he's going to go to treatment, it should be one that's effective, even if he has to drive an hour or two to get there--after all, he's not working, so why not?
Can you tell I might still be a little bothered by that? :-)
Well, anyhow....I mentioned that I wished DH would have gotten involved in a dual diagnosis program to the probation officer, and he didn't think there was a problem with the treatment program that DH signed up for. So I guess I'll just go along with that despite my misgivings...after all, I control the money and the Percocet (when DH gets some)...
Oh--did I mention that DH also (at the direction of the probation officer) started seeing a therapist (more on that later)? Anyhow, between the therapy and the treatment program 3 nights a week, and the 2 AA meetings that DH is required to attend as part of his treatment, he's been a lot busier than usual. But that also means that a lot of things are getting discussed that DH doesn't usually talk about. I'm not sure if that's good or bad yet.

Monday, October 21, 2013

DH--bipolar DWI

Well, it shocked the heck out of me, but really, it didn't.
DH's friend Jim came on Memorial Weekend for a visit. He and DH went out to "shoot pool" and "have a beer or two". Now just to clarify, DH does not drink often. Maybe once or twice a year. But when he does, the concept of "Social Drinking" kind of goes out the window. It's "all or nothing" for him.
When he does want to drink, I'm always concerned, because the Lithium and Depakote can intensify the effects of the alcohol. He half-jokingly asked me how many beers he could have, and I said "two or three, no more!" and he said "Oh! I was thinking I could only have one or two!" So since he was aware of the fact that I thought he should limit his intake, and because Jim (who tends to be very responsible) was going along and also driving, I didn't worry much. I went off to work my overnight shift at the 2nd job.
When I got home in the morning, DH's car was gone and so was Jim's. I knew that Jim was going to leave for his home early in the morning, so the fact that his car was not there did not surprise me. In fact, I wasn't even very concerned that DH's car was not there, I just figured the two of them went out to breakfast before Jim left (Jim always takes DH out to eat when he visits). So imagine my surprise when I went into the house and there was DH! "I got arrested," he said.
It turns out that DH and Jim had only had one beer at the bar. On the way back from the bar, Jim, trying to be generous, as money is still tight and I never give much to DH, gave DH a $20 bill so that DH could have some spending money. Jim went to bed, DH got in his car and went back to the bar.
According to DH, while he was at the bar the 2nd time, the man sitting next to him kept buying him drinks. DH knew he was pretty drunk when the man offered to share a joint with him. Now, in the history of our marriage, I honestly do not believe that DH has smoked pot. But of course he did on this fateful night. He then got in his car to go home, it was 8 miles on a rural road.
DH doesn't remember much of what happened after that. Apparently he couldn't find the right road to go home. He ended up 43 miles away from home, having hit a guardrail (on the drivers side, yet--if that tells you anything) and being pulled over by a police officer who had to swerve to avoid being hit by DH in the oncoming lane.
The police report states that DH said to the officer "I'm bombed and need to go to jail!".
So he did. Jim bailed him out before I got home, then Jim left, to avoid the fireworks.
So. On our tight budget, it cost 300.00 to get his car out of the impound. $800 in fines and court costs, and $720.00 to get his license back after 90 days of suspension. In all fairness, DH did do community service to pay the court fines. I told our insurance agent that DH got a DWI, the agent said "I never heard that." and told me that the auto insurance company might not find out. I very much hope not.
Anyhow, as part of his sentence for the DWI, DH had to do an "alcohol assessment", where they basically try to determine whether there is a problem or not. Based on what DH told the probation officer, the probation officer determined that DH needed some kind of treatment. Both for the drinking to excess and the Percocet. And I'm glad for that. DH....well, he just keeps saying how sorry he is that he was honest with the probation officer.
As it becomes clear that this bipolar thing is permanent, I am finding myself better able to recognize that DH's thinking doesn't make sense and I'm not likely to convince him otherwise.