Veteran’s Day

We in America set aside today to remember our war fighters over the years. All of the male members of my daddy’s generation and further back were servicemen–those were the years of the compulsory draft.

My daddy’s service was a special case–the Vietnam War wasn’t actually a war–it was a “police action” by the President, undeclared by Congress. That distinction was serious back then–they couldn’t access full VA benefits since they weren’t considered “war” veterans. The doors of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations were closed to them. And the unpopularity of the war among the public precluded them being welcomed home as heroes.

One of my daddy’s friends talked him into coming to a American Legion meeting one night during the late 70’s. My mom and I went as well. I remember the roll call–asking the World War I veterans to stand, then the WWII. Then those of the Korean War. Then they stopped.

My daddy said coming home in the car, “Well, that’s the end of that.” My mom said, “Well, maybe they didn’t realize you were there.” He didn’t answer. He felt that slight very keenly and didn’t set foot in an American Legion meeting again until the 2000’s.

For all who have served, war or not, undeclared or not, I salute you today.


New Year’s 2017

2016 has been a year of ups and downs for me.  I had a setback early in the year in February due to a medication change last October and went in the mental ward inpatient for the first time in five years.  I was depressed with vague thoughts of going to bed and not ever waking up—not nearly as elaborate a suicide plan as I had put into action on other attempts but one that came without the usual obsessions which worried me a bit.  So I went in before they could develop more fully and be more threatening. 

I came out with a prescription for my old medicine and approval of coverage for it by my health insurance plan.  I was elated but sobered by the fact that I had still slipped into a depression even after being in remission for so long.

 Life did not improve immediately—it was a slow climb back out of the trough.  Finally in October I began to improve and by Thanksgiving, praise God, I felt like remission had come again.  I was active in my life again and happy to be alive.  My anxiety levels dropped a great deal and I felt great.

Remission in bipolar disorder is much like remission in rheumatoid arthritis—it is not considered “cured” if your symptoms disappear.  It is assumed that you can have them return at any time, particularly if you step out of treatment.  I have continued my medication regimen with three-month checkups with my psychiatrist and continue counseling as well—if the combination worked to get me to remission, I feel there is no reason to stop it.

How long will this remission last?  I hope another five years or longer.   But in practical terms, I have no idea and no promise that I will stay at normal functioning.  All I can do is continue my treatment and map out a healthy plan for myself in the coming year. 

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago.  And I’m not sure my plans to continue in mental health are applicable to anyone but me. But I’m going to try to add more healthy habits to my routine in an effort to continue my remission. I hope to lower my caffeine intake and increase my exercise—lower caffeine contributes to lower anxiety and more exercise contributes to the production of healthy endorphins to regulate my mood.  I hope to surround myself with good friends, good music, and good books.  I hope to eat if not less, then better food that promotes healthy functioning.  But I have a great deal more of one attribute I did not have this time last year, and that is hope that life will continue to improve and that remission will become again a way of life.



Trying IV

All of these words to say–sometimes trying isn’t enough.  Not to say that you shouldn’t try as hard as you can to reach your goals and use every ability you have to its fullest.  But sometimes it’s just not going to be enough.  That’s why we have doctors, meds, and other people to help when we get overwhelmed.

I’ve been in regular counseling now for over ten years and still have things I am learning about myself and how I tick and how I react to the various events in my past that still impact my present.  Get help when you need it for as long as you need it.  Learn to live with yourself and love yourself.   We can’t love others properly until we learn to love ourselves properly as well.   And know who can do the greatest works through you–the Lord Jesus.

I am still trying–but with a realistic view of myself.  I am going to fail at times. I’m going to be rejected.  I’m going to have difficulties.  That’s just the way life is, with or without bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder simply complicates my life more than other people’s.  But with good doctors, good counseling, good help, and good medication, I have had a much less complex  treatment course than others I know.

That’s my message to all who suffer from this disease.  Get help, as much as you can, to stifle the effects and make sure you take care of yourself.

Trying III

So when I was diagnosed with depression by a counselor in late 2005, I tried to power my way through it just like I had any other obstacle in my life.  I went to counseling once a month and started on Zoloft, which had helped me during my previous depression.  I had no idea I was dealing with something much, much  bigger than I had ever faced before. The obsessions were worse, the depression was worse, and I was working  out of my home with three children under the age of nine.

We don’t know if my coping skills had finally shorted out or if it was simply time for me to break down.  My psychotic break came in May of 2006 when I ran away from home to kill myself.  I had tried resisting the impulse for so long until I finally talked myself into believing it would be the best thing for my family for me to die so they could have a fresh start with a new wife and mom who wasn’t so damaged.  Once my husband and the police tracked me down, I was committed to a mental hospital for a good while until my condition stabilized on lithium.  But the damage was done to my self-image.

I could no longer try my hardest at anything.  The stress kept kicking off what my doctor called “micropsychotic episodes” through the following months. I had to quit my news writing and tried to make the transition to creative writing where for the first time in my life, I failed at trying something new.  The failure brought on added stress to the point that my husband finally demanded that I quit writing for a year.  That was the worst failure of all.

To be continued. . . .


Trying II

I kept up my hard-charging ways in college until I literally could not make myself go any longer.  I thought the more I did and learned, the happier I would be.  And I had something to prove–Bob’s parents had inspected me and found me wanting–accusing me of being a golddigger and only interested in Bob because I saw him as my way out of my family background and hometown.  They expected me to get pregnant and trap him into marriage. Instead, I went to graduate school and worked for a year on my own after finishing to prove to them that I could make it on my own and didn’t need Bob.

I found a mall job as soon as we got married and six months later began working for the state for seven miserable years before I started writing again.  I started freelancing for three prestigious papers in the area–the state capitol’s local paper, the statewide business journal, and a well-regarded local children’s magazine.  I pushed hard trying to grow my freelance work and within a year of starting in April 2000, I was turning in a story a day somewhere in the job.  I worked at night after my children went to bed for a year while still working my state job and paid off almost all of our debt and built a cache of savings for when I quit working full-time.  I was able to quit my fulltime job and continue that pace of work over the next six years.

To be continued. . .



“She kept trying to get it right.”

That could be the epitaph of my life.  Write it on my tombstone. I kept trying, against all odds: genetics, background, raising, and education–to get it “right”.  Whatever that means.

I spent the 80’s reading “great books”, the 90’s reading self-help, writing, and decorating books, and the 2000’s reading psychology books, trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged.  I longed to be like Alexandra Stoddard, who wrote about living life imperfectly but beautifully.  But something in me rejected the imperfect part–yearning for the Martha Stewart standard instead.

I could chalk to up to my mom and  her mother-who kept perfect houses despite being poor.  Nothing was ever left out of place for very long–if you drank out of a glass in my grandmother’s kitchen, as soon as you finished it, she had it out of your hand and was squirting Dawn dishwashing liquid into it and rinsing it our in the sink.

I wanted so much growing up to be out of my childhood life–away from what I perceived as small-town small-mindedness, concerned with keeping up appearances despite us all being various degrees of broke, poor, or destitute.

But suddenly I’ve become obsessed with the thought that keeping up appearances might not be such a bad idea.  It certainly kept me out of a lot of trouble in school when peer pressure hit to drink or be “loose” became apparent among my friends.  I was more afraid of my parents’ wrath then the  opprobrium of “not fitting in” with my peers.

I sought out the other “church kids” and tried to hang out with them, knowing I might be teased but wouldn’t be expected to be sexually available or open to drinking.   But I was only playacting at being saved.  I stole money from my parents’ billfolds for the vending machine and borrowed change from people with no means or  intention of paying it back.

I tried to escape by being hyper intellectual–living in my head instead of my body.  My English teacher gave me the aforementioned list of “great books” to read and I did–all the thick  Russian books, Shakespearean plays, and  great American novels.   I graduated salutatorian and the smartest girl in my class, but that didn’t bring lasting satisfaction either.

To be continued. . .


Music is so very evocative to me.  I spent a lot of money and time getting a copy of an obscure Christmas album that my parents owned onto CD so I could play it and remind myself of when I was young.  So I associate powerful emotions with music a great deal of the time.  That why if I ever want to remember what mania sounds like, all I have to do is pop in INXS’ “Greatest Hits” CD.

I had ordered the CD before Katrina hit Mississippi and received it once the mail started delivering again.  I was captivated by it and played it over and over and over again–at home, in the van–just about nonstop.  Its themes fit in perfectly with the obsessive thoughts I was having at the time about the young man who stayed over in the hurricane with my husband’s family.  “Need You Tonight” was particularly resonant to me.  As was “Suicide Blonde” and “Beautiful Girl”.

I wrote my first novel while listening to that CD.  TOok me about four months to finish it. Wild times.  I was in the throes of unmedicated bipolar disorder and wrote with manic determination and intensity. When I decided to go back and revise it, I went right back to playing INXS as I wrote.  It sent me back to the time I was writing it and rebuilt the manic energy i thought I needed to write well.

I play it less and less as the years go by.   I make sure when I do play it now, I’m in a good place mentally so that it can’t bring those thoughts back to me.  I don’t necessarily avoid playing it–I still enjoy it for the music itself.  BUt whenever I do, i remember how the mania felt and sounded during that time.  It’s a powerful reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.


My Psychiatrist

Went to see my psychiatrist this morning.  He said I seemed to be doing very, very well right now, especially considering the time of year.

This May marks his ninth year of treating me for my bipolar disorder, and we have been through a lot together.  My runaway episode, my near-constant mood shifts early on, all my hospitalizations, and my current longest time of stability since I’ve been diagnosed.  I thank God for him and his understanding of what kind of treatment I need.

I already understood a lot about mental illness before I was diagnosed, and that has discomfited some people I have been in treatment with.  A therapist told me one time, “You know too much,” when I happened upon the reason she had asked me a particular question.  He has never seen it that way.  He accepts that I’m  as knowledgeable about the disease as I am and works with me to make me more knowledgeable about my treatment options and why he does what he does.  He has none of this “God complex” that so many doctors have, and I’m thankful for that because nothing irritates me more than a doctor treating me like I’m an idiot just because I have a mental disorder.

So I just thought I would post about how thankful I am for modern psychiatry that recognizes that these are physical as well as emotional diseases and that we are no longer in the dark ages about mental illness as we were before the medication revolution.  And I wanted to thank Dr. Andrew Bishop for his role in keeping me and so many other patients stable and able to function in society.


My dad was always and still is an enigma to me.  He was raised in a house with five sisters and one brother but treated me like a boy, teaching me to wrestle, shoot a gun, and haul firewood.  He was always very moody, to the point that I sometimes wonder if he’s not bipolar himself.  He can be very happy-go-lucky and outgoing at times, chatting up strangers in doctors’ offices, barbershops, and hospital waiting rooms, but when his mood darkens, it gets very dark–he won’t talk to anyone because he seems to be afraid he’d say something he’d regret.

One difference in our relationship to mine with my mom is that I never doubted he loved me.  To this day, I know that if something ever happened to me, if I was beaten up, raped, or murdered, my daddy would be standing on the courthouse steps with a gun ready to shoot whoever it was that did it to me.  Once we had some deer hunters shooting too close to the house (we lived in the country) and he took the initiative and shot back with a 12 gauge shotgun.  Word got around, and someone said, “If you killed somebody, you’d go to jail for it.”  Daddy said, “Yeah, but they’d still be dead, too.”

He was a Vietnam veteran, something I never knew until I was about 10 years old.  He never talked about it until around 2000, when he got involved in the VA medical system.  Then he wouldn’t stop talking about it for about the next couple of years.  He didn’t see much direct combat–he was part of the 101st Airborne-they flew them in with big guns, shot up targets, then flew back out.

I could tell a lot of stories about him, but I’ll end with his latest obsession–he bought a disassembled car, a 1927 Ford.  I have a cousin that works on cars, and he jumped at the chance to help Daddy restore this one.  It took a few years and a little bit of money, but now he drives that T-bucket all over the country, getting his picture taken with it wherever he goes.  So if you see a man driving a car painted in  red and white stripes with white stars on a blue field driving around, wave to him for me.  That’s my daddy.


I realized recently that the only things I have written about my parents here have been astonishingly negative.  So I thought I would set the record straight a little bit

My mom wanted more for me than what she had growing up.  She grew up in a house with three brothers and was the only girl.  Her parents farmed for a living–livestock, row crops, and timber.  She was part of the baby boom generation, born in 1948.  I don’t know a lot about her growing up years because she very rarely talks about it.  I do know her parents tried to give her opportunities–she played saxophone in high school band for a year, and they were determined that she go to college.  She went for about a year and then married my daddy, who was about to be shipped off to Vietnam.  They eloped to Alabama because she was old enough to be married without parental consent there.  They took my dad’s mom along because he needed a parent to sign permission.  The story goes that they walked into my grandparents’ house after their weekend together and my dad announced that they had gotten married.  My grandmother reportedly said, “I ain’t got nothing to say,” and walked out and went fishing.  She came back in three hours and never said another word against it.

When my uncle died when I was seven she saw how her sister-in-law struggled to raise four kids without working.  She decided to go back to school and finish her teaching degree. I used to tease her whenever she made a B in school, saying that I made better grades than she did. She graduated shortly after my younger sister was born and went to work as a teacher in elementary school.

She knew when I was very young that I was advancing academically–she taught me to read by age three and continued to push me throughout my school years to excel.  At times I thought she would only love me when I made good grades.  As a mom now, I know better.  But she went about it all wrong, threatening me with loss of privileges if I made less than all A’s. if I had a school project to do, she often took over doing it because she wanted me to make the best grade possible.  I never got to enjoy the compliments on such projects because I knew I hadn’t been the one doing the work. So that made it hard growing up.

My mom and I have a good relationship now that I am too far away from her to be involved in my everyday life.  We talk on the phone a lot and see each other about once a month.  She blames herself for my mental problems, thinking it’s how she raised me that I have problems now.  I know that’s not the case and have tried to explain that to her, but she has her own opinions about things.  But I can finally say I really do love my mom and appreciate the efforts she made on my behalf.