Off Days

Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are reserved for catching up house and school work.  I wash laundry every weekday, a different person’s clothes each day to cut down on sorting time.  Once I’ve done the washing and drying, the girls are responsible for their laundry, and I am responsible for Bob’s since he dislikes ironing even more than I do.  I also schedule appointments on my free days—with my counselor, my psychiatrist, my hairdresser, and an occasional lunch with a friend.

We have a cleaning service come over on Tuesdays because I cannot cope with the entire house anymore.  My kids are responsible for keeping their own rooms picked up and neat, and I usually tidy up quite a bit before the cleaning ladies come over.  I know how to do everything, but I either do a slapdash job at it, or I get obsessive to the point of organizing everything in the kitchen, closets, or cabinets within an inch of its life.  That’s bipolar disorder talking, too–an obsessive focus on the mundane.

On one or two Thursdays a month, I work at our church food pantry, handing out canned and dried goods and other nonperishable items.  I am the youngest one there; most of the other workers are retirees.  All of them know of my condition and are very nice to me anyway—a response that is becoming more common as the stigma of mental illness continues to lessen every day.

In between all of this activity I try to schedule an hour or two to write each day.  Sometimes I don’t actually write anything except in my journal.  Other times, like today, I’m so caught up in a project that I will forget to eat lunch because I’m so fixated on the task at hand.



Usually the craziness begins after four o’clock—Monday is Karate lessons for the young one, Tuesday is dance lessons for the two youngest ones, Wednesday is church, Thursday is piano lessons for the oldest and the youngest and drum lessons for the middle one and Friday during the fall is football games with the two oldest marching in the high school band.  Saturdays start with Karate again for the young one and then are spent running errands as a family—on the first Saturday of the month we go to the bookstore and buy books, and the last Saturdays during the spring semester are dance competitions.  Sunday is church again and as I’ve mentioned before, grocery shopping and other planning tasks for the week.

And somewhere in the middle of it all we try to eat supper every night as a family at the table—or in the den watching a show the whole family enjoys if time allows.

It takes split-second timing to fit all this activity together –something I am no longer good at.  I am very distractible since I am trying to coordinate all these different schedules.  Luckily the oldest has a car to run herself and the middle one around in—and Bob takes late-night duty, picking the kids up after I have dropped them off earlier in the afternoon.  But having once been able to do it all makes the fact that I need so much help now sting just a little bit.

My Daily Routine

Around ten o’clock I head out to my classes, ready to teach.  Class usually goes pretty smoothly—I’ve done this long enough that I rarely make out a detailed lesson plan any longer—I work from old lectures that I wrote when I was less experienced that I am now.  The students, mostly incoming freshmen this year, are pretty attentive and are able to answer questions and participate in class.

Some days are better than others.  Sometimes it’s just a great big slog through all the material; other times I sail through and watch the kids’ eyes light up as we discuss poetry, fiction, and plays. I find that I enjoy class more when I’m a little on the manic side—it makes it seem to pass faster and I’m more animated in making the presentation.  But that can be dangerous as well—I may tell something too revealing about myself or go off on a tangent unrelated to the matter at hand.  So I really have to harness that energy carefully.

Once I get home it’s lunch time—I eat a light lunch and wait for Bob to come home so we can exchange news of the day.  Sometimes I can fix him something before he comes home, sometimes not.  He told me when we first got married that he could do cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, but he wanted a home-cooked meal for supper.  So I try and prepare for that by taking out meat to thaw and making sure I have all my ingredients ready.

Some days are better than others in that area as well.  Sometimes I forget to take out meat to thaw; other times I simply don’t know what I’m going to fix, so I have to improvise with what’s at hand. I can go to the grocery store on Sunday with a list and still come back with nothing to fix for suppers during the week.  If I’m going to have an anxiety attack, it’s going to be in the grocery store trying to get everything I need without forgetting something.  I have at times sat in my car in the parking lot and cried, praying out loud for God’s help because I was overwhelmed and could not face walking in and doing the weekly shopping.  But usually it passes, and I wind up getting everything I need and everything is fine.  Until the next Sunday rolls around.

After lunch, I go pick up the youngest from school and bring her home to snacks and homework.  I usually take the opportunity to check email again and see if I have any messages that need action.  Since I usually don’t, I may go look at news online or do some Facebook.  My daughter comes to me when she has questions about her homework, but she is fairly independent with it, so I don’t have to help her much.

The two oldest come in next, and we exchange words about the day.  They have good days and bad days, like me. Sometimes the afternoons are continuations of the mornings—when I’m in the low points I lay down on the bed and drift in and out of sleep until it’s time to cook dinner or go somewhere.  My oldest can supervise the younger ones on days when I simply can’t stay up any longer.  Those days are occurring less and less often as the months go by—something I’m very grateful for.


I usually wake up in the morning around six o’clock when my husband’s alarm buzzes off, making a particularly obnoxious sound so as to wake up deep sleepers like Bob and me.

Well, that’s not really true.  I usually roll over and groan when the alarm goes off, then drift back off to sleep until my youngest daughter comes to me for a hug before going and packing her lunch for school.

I may laze around in the bed for about five to ten more minutes.  My medications (particularly Tranzodone, an anti-psychotic) make me sleepy most of the time.  It doesn’t seem to matter how early I go to bed; the routine is the same every morning,

I finally get up when I hear my oldest two girls arguing about something—anything and everything.  I get up and referee the tiff of the day, then I go and grab a couple of granola bars for breakfast. (Another of my medications, Abilify, a mood stabilizer, makes me gain weight, and I am taking the maximum dosage of 30 mg per day at night. So I try to eat as lightly as I can.)

I try and help the kids get out the door with all of their bags, books, and assorted other needs for school, but the two oldest are fairly independent in that aspect, so I only exchange a couple of words with them and say goodbye before they leave for school.

I stay awake long enough to send off the youngest to school and Bob to his office, with me still in my housecoat and pajamas.  Then once they leave, I usually get back in bed and sleep another hour or so before starting my day.

Some days are better than others.  If I’m in a depressed cycle, during my days off of work I may find myself in bed until 10:30 or 11 a.m.  I always get up before noon, because Bob comes in for lunch around 12:30 p.m.  But in those depressed mornings, it seems safer to stay in bed than to get out.  Nothing can go wrong if I’m asleep in the bed, I think.

Work days are different. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach Composition I and II at a local community college.  Around eight or eight-thirty, I wake back up and go take my morning medications.  I take an Aleve currently for plantar irritation in my foot, then Klonopin for anxiety, Buspar, an antidepressant, Wellbutrin, another antidepressant, and a Centrum multivitamin.  I don’t know if I would do better taking them as soon as I wake up to go ahead and let the energizing effects of Wellbutrin kick in.  Someday I will stay alert enough in the morning to try that.  But that day hasn’t come yet.

Afterwards I get dressed and ready to face the world.  I do my quiet time and then check my work email to see what the administration had to say and to see if any of my students contact me with last-minute emergencies.  I also hope against hope that I receive some kind of response on any of the various stories, plays, and other writing I have under consideration at various outlets.  So that is usually a long wait-and-see proposition—but one can always hope.

Day by Day

To look at me, I’m no different than any other Southern girl you’d encounter in the small Mississippi city of Brandon—I’m five-foot-four with dark brown hair down to my shoulders and hooded brown eyes, wearing brightly –colored clothes from Belk’s Department Store and shoes by Naturalizer.  I carry a red Nicole Miller purse and have a weakness for anything made out of chocolate.  Unless you were around me long enough, you’d never know that nine years ago I had a psychotic break after the birth of my third child and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder—a disorder of moods where you swing from one extreme (mania) to another (depression)

I’ve been hospitalized for it six times for episodes of various degrees and take five psychotropic medications every day, some of them twice a day.  I’m on Social Security disability; I lost my career as a freelance news writer because I could no longer interact with people normally nor could I face the pressures of daily deadlines.

I don’t say any of this to make people feel sorry for me.  But it’s essential that I remember where I’ve been so I can appreciate the fact that no, I did not kill myself when I desperately wanted to and no, I haven’t done anything that couldn’t be undone and no, I do not have to deal with any memories of dangerous behavior such as drug or alcohol abuse and all the other associated conditions that often accompany this diagnosis.

I’m living proof that a bipolar life does not have to mean craziness on one end and enervation on the other. Let me give some insight on my bipolar life, especially as I take it day by day.