Anniversary of the Worst Time of my Life

Ten years ago this season

I read a Facebook Time Hop today in which, ten years ago, I wrote about the last Family and Consumer Sciences banquet at Northwest Missouri State University. It was the last banquet because my department got axed that spring for reasons that never quite made sense. Our enrollment was healthy; what was not healthy was the scorn society heaped on our existence. For we were the very unsexy formerly known as home economics. That, I think, was enough to cause our demise.

It’s also ten years since the most horrible semester I’ve had here at Northwest, because as my department’s demise brought a very clear fear of being left in the unemployment line, I also had my definitely hypomanic moment. I was hardly sleeping, putting large amounts of work into a project that wasn’t supported by the leader. My gradebook was a mess. I was going fishing at 2 in the morning by myself. I was angry — at the university, at my coworkers, at Richard. This led to a Bipolar II diagnosis and a few days in inpatient care to level out my meds. My semester ended early, but I had become passive, inert from a medication that didn’t work for me, and which incapacitated me all summer before my new psychiatrist and I realized that the tiniest dose made me into a zombie. My husband and I bought a house somewhere between the end of the semester and the internships I would not be allowed to supervise; I was one thing we moved into the house.

I’m superstitious

Photo by Jan Koetsier on

I have been pretty stable with the meds for the past ten years, if “stable” means having periods of moderate depression (but no suicidality) or months of hopeless crushes (but no stupid midnight dates with catfish — real catfish — at Mozingo Lake). Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t, but I’m pretty stable. The gradebook is always neat in case I become unstable again.

But I’m superstitious. I have been stable for ten years, but this year’s an Anniversary. When I see the light through the curtains, I worry about my job falling apart. I smell Spring and remember growling at Richard until he let me go fishing before the sun came up. Beauty is suspect, because the greens of mania scintillate with colors brighter than life.

It’s been 10 years, and I still feel like that Spring long ago broke me. Who I am now seems diminished, and my writing was a way to transcend the mousy older woman I’d become. It hasn’t worked.

It seems like I’d have gotten used to the “New Normal” by now, but having spent 48 years in at least cyclothymic and bipolar 2 state, those highs and lows were my personality. Now I need to find the personality that remains when the highs and lows are taken away.

Busy/Not Busy

New responsibilities at work

I’ve been moving into a period of more responsibilities at work, probably because I’m seeming more stable lately. I don’t mind, but I have to make sure I don’t a) procrastinate; b) overwork myself.


Work is a balancing game for me because of my bipolar disorder and because of my writing. I have office work to do today. And a meeting with a therapist. And part of my outline for It Takes Two to Kringle. Luckily I’m working at home today and I can get the work stuff done before I do personal stuff in the late afternoon.

Photo by Burst on

The work unnerves me when I look at it all in one piece. Which, I guess, is a good reason not to look at it all at once.

Time for rest

I have to work on this one. I get plenty of sleep (this is necessary with bipolar) but I don’t always feel rested. I think a lot of this is psychological — when I’m faced with a pile of work, I fret about whether I’ll get it done, and that makes me tired.

I need to work on resting my mind, which comes from things like meditation, time management that includes free time, and sleep without dwelling on things. Empty mind, in other words.

Time to quit writing and do something


Feeling a Little Blue

This is part of my life

I have bipolar disorder — Bipolar II to be specific. This means that I have hypomania — a feeling of exhilaration and irritability — and some pretty severe depression. I take a cocktail of medication to keep me on an even keel, but sometimes the erratic moods break through.

Down or depression?

I’m feeling a bit down right now — sleeping too much, waking up tired. Feeling uninspired. musing over the past (there is a lot of it) and crying inside, not feeling inspired. Rejections are weighing heavily on me and I’m second-guessing everything I write. This feels like depression.

Which depression?

Generally, when talking about depression, there’s two basic categories — situational and biological. The former is depression based on external events; the other is internal. It’s hard to determine which is which.

Photo by Liza Summer on

For example, is my pile of rejections the cause of my depression? It very well could be I tend not to react very badly to single rejections, but I’ve had a string of them lately, and I can’t find the right thing to fix them so that they’re accepted. I feel like giving up. This could be the cause of my depressions.

It could also be that a biological depression (that is, bipolar depression) could create the stress and negative feelings toward my life. (Right now my brain is diagramming this as a path analysis (a type of social studies research equation) as if I could quantify each factor and measure and research. Not now, Satan.)

The only way to tell

The only way to tell if this depression is biological is to sit with it for two weeks. Given the relatively minor nature of the situational roots (rejections can be let go pretty easily) I should be done with it by then. If it lingers after two weeks, I call my psychiatrist and we tweak the meds. I’ll be bummed (oops, I am already) because this med combination has been working wonderfully for at least three years.

But this is bipolar disorder. Untreated, and it’s like someone else is running my life, laughing my laugh, stoking my rage. I won’t let them do it for too long.

Handing it to you

If I have anyone who identifies with this and wants to comment, please drop a comment.


I feel like I’m finally moving forward.

I’ve been working hard these past few weeks on all things Gaia. It’s been a fruitful week, with 320 new friends on Tik Tok, 25 people on my mailing list, and a handful of beta-readers and ARC readers for Gaia’s Hands. This might happen — I may get a book out in August.

Is there an addiction to accomplishment?

I think I’m addicted to accomplishing something. I know this is a typical drive for people, but many people get this accomplishment by doing crossword puzzles.

Artists and writers get this sense of accomplishment by creating things. Getting them out there for people is often secondary to actually making the artwork or story, and in fact many creatives (including myself) cringe at the marketing part.

When am I going to slow down?

I will have no choice but to slow down next week. Because of the end of COVID, I finally will be able to go to one of my favorite retreats, The Elms, to have a spa vacation/writing retreat. Mostly spa vacation, because I have much of a day to get a massage and spend time in saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms. All in all not a bad way to relax.

Am I manic yet?

I don’t think so. Every day I take an afternoon nap and I get 7 hours of sleep a night. Those are not the signs of a manic swing. I have to worry about this because mania and depression are part of my life. Things I watch for:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Elation
  • Horribly painful crushes on people
  • Irritability
  • Starting up a whole bunch of new projects

Don’t worry — I’m keeping an eye on me.

When Being Good is Better than Being Great

My annual evaluation

I had my annual evaluation meeting yesterday, and I did good. I met expectations in all categories, and I was very happy. I was happy because I managed this two years in a row. I was happy because it seemed like I was settling into a new normal that was, in fact, satisfactory.

My former messy life

For anyone who has not been following me, I have bipolar II disorder. I wasn’t diagnosed until 9 years ago at age 48. The problem that brought me to the psychiatrist was a frightening lack of sleep — at least a month at 2 hours of sleep a night. I dragged myself through days yet had racing thoughts, half-finished projects, and broken promises. And a feel like I was about to accomplish something great.

This is what hypomania looks like, at least in me. Overcommitment, sleep disturbances, slight grandiosity — but a brilliant ability to shine in those things I finished. I accomplished three things for each thing I abandoned.

Until I was depressed, and then I barely managed things. I would slump into deep depressions, barely making it to classes to teach.. My course evaluations would go down just as they went up during mania. During the last depression before the big crash, which I experienced near-simultaneously with the high, I would write these long, self-flagellating notes on Facebook, worrying everyone I knew.

After the crash

The inevitable crash sobered me. I spent a week in the behavioral health unit getting stabilized on my meds and walking off the most hideous side effect I’ve ever encountered (see akathisia). This is when I realized that I couldn’t go on as I had, and that I had to stick with the meds and find a new normal.

Learning to live with the new normal, however, was difficult for a person who had lived with effortless energy for a good part of her life. On meds, I didn’t feel the exhilaration of new projects that would buoy me up, so my productivity compared to my manic moments. My self-esteem went down, and I had trouble adjusting to this “new me” who didn’t get kudos for accomplishment.

Good enough

For a while, I didn’t do enough. Because I would get seasonal depression with a certain mix of meds, my fall evaluations would be down, and I didn’t do research because I had fallen out of the habit while my free-wheeling moods had taken over me before my diagnosis. Then, finally, my new department chair marked me as “not meeting expectations” in my annual report.

Photo by cottonbro on

This shocked me. Other than gym class, I had never been marked unsatisfactory at any point in my career. I had had the fall/spring semester discrepancies, I had quit doing research, but I had never had an unsatisfactory mark in course evals. I panicked.

And then I set some things in place, knowing that I could no longer coast nor could I accomplish the wild amount of work effortlessly as I had in the past. I explained my bipolar disorder to my boss (I am protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act as long as I do the expected amount of work. I explained to him that the course evals might continue to be cyclical but that I would work on concerns. And I informed him that I would do enough work to get satisfactory scores, but would not be going for full professorship.

I have been working toward improving course evaluations and research. Some years have been better than others because I still seem to get seasonal depression. But for the past two years I have done good enough, and that’s the best outcome.

How about you?

What does a job well done look like to you? Feel free to answer in the comments.

Is this depression?

I am fighting a down mood that may or may not be depression. The seasons can set people with bipolar up with either mania or depression, and this article suggests that there is definitely a link between manic or depressed state and weather.

I won’t know if it’s a true bipolar state until I’ve held it for two weeks or more. This came on rapidly on Friday, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s an actual mood swing or just me beating myself up over something. I can be negative on myself sometimes. Or it could be a bad few days, which I’ve had. Or it could be burnout, because a lot of us in education are going through it after COVID.

So I’m resting and being patient with myself. I’m accepting that maybe the inner nagging voice is right and I’m a bad teacher these days, but I still have worth as a person. Maybe that will get me through.

Bad spells

 I’m sitting here trying to remember back to my absolutely harrowing mood of a week or two ago and I can hardly do so.

My brain confounds me. My body confounds me. When I am in a bad state the two are one and the same — my stomach tightens up, my bowels loosen; I feel cold flow through my veins; my adrenaline ramps up and at the same time I cannot move. I cry, I shriek, I say nothing and the crushing horses’ hooves keep advancing.

What turns the tide back to normal, I don’t know. Was it the news? That good cry? The 12-hour sleep? The cognitive exercise? All and none of these? The passage of time? I don’t know, but if I did that would be my sacrament.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I remember my bad spells only vaguely. Maybe it preserves my self-esteem not remembering how helpless I felt, how utterly agonized.

Today, then, is a good day.

The Best I Can Right Now

Note on caption — I have not had COVID yet, so much of this diagram is not in play. But the lockdown and psychosocial stress is real. Also, WHAT DOES THIS DIAGRAM EVEN MEAN?!

I’m really sorry I haven’t been talking to you for a while. I’m in a rough place right now, and I don’t want it to get rougher, so I’m focusing on what’s necessary until my brain can catch up with what’s extra.

This is a part of my life. My moods can go smoothly until I hit a patch of extreme stress (COVID rates rising plus the presidential election and its batshit crazy aftermath) and then my sleep goes off, my mind is a fog, and my emotions are all over the place.

It takes me a bit to recover. Usually I manage it without a tweak to my medication, and usually I don’t go into the hospital to manage it. I know what to do to keep myself functional — go to work even if my mind doesn’t think it can, get the important things done, go home to rest. Make sure I’m not avoiding emails. Take bubble baths, do cognitive exercises, not fault myself for not promoting the book.

I will get through this. I always have. But if you’re not seeing as much from me as you have, understand that I am doing the best I can.

My Feelings and Creativity

 According to my horoscope, my feelings today are not going to be mild or even moderate! I’m supposed to let my feelings out through creativity. Good thing I already do that, eh?

That’s why I started writing — to let out a surplus of feelings. As a child, my feelings weren’t mild or moderate and tended to bewilder people. I wrote to keep my feelings manageable. 

Now that my bipolar medicine keeps my feelings more manageable, I write a greater range of emotions, varied plots, different poems. I still, however, write my feelings into my work, shaping the words to my feelings. 

Back to the horoscope. What will my feelings be like today? If the past two days are an indication, I will be impatient and frustrated. Great feelings for a poem.

A Visit to My Psychiatrist

One thing I haven’t talked much about in this blog– I live with Bipolar II disorder. To put it in short and demystifying language: without treatment, I have mood swings. Depressions are deep with thoughts of suicide when I feel things are hopeless. Hypomania is starting a lot of projects, not finishing them, thinking I am especially blessed by God, then swinging into easy irritability. I often manifest with either ultra-rapid cycling or mixed-episode type — it’s hard to tell these two apart, but I can at times go from elated to depressed in a single week.

Diagnosis can be difficult. Especially in its milder version (Bipolar II doesn’t manifest in full-blown mania), mania can look like ADHD, anxiety, or even a particularly charismatic personality. So depression is diagnosed as ordinary depression, and because the mania side is not treated, stability is not achieved. 

Treatment for people with bipolar disorder generally receive a cocktail of medications to treat it. Some people can get away with just one med; I, like many others with bipolar, have to take four medications a day to tweak my chemistry in the right place. It takes a while to adjust the meds correctly, and a few people don’t get good control with medications.

Lifestyle changes are as important as well. Avoiding alcohol helps prevent depression. Regular sleep habits help greatly, and stress management methods like cognitive journaling help reduce stress that can throw off one’s chemistry. Many people need a therapist or social worker to work through the implications of a life-changing disorder. 

Because I’m in good control right now, I see my psychiatrist every two to three months. Generally, he asks me how things are going with the meds and my mood, and then he just chats with me. I sometimes think he gets better information from me by watching me talk than he does with the direct questions because he can observe mania or depression by my tone of voice, pace of speech, and hand gestures. But he also trusts my observations, because I have a good awareness of where I’m at, at least when I’m depressed.

I have to have certain medical tests because of one of the medications I take, lithium carbonate. Lithium can damage the liver and kidneys, so these have to be monitored. It can suppress thyroid, necessitating monitoring of the thyroid as well. In addition, lithium blood levels can grow to toxic levels as a result of dehydration, illness, or even taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs. I have had mild lithium toxicity; it is not pretty. 

I live with the awareness that stressors can catapault me into an episode, and I need to keep an eye on that. I had a severe episode when I was first diagnosed because my department was being disbanded by the university. The COVID-19 stressors, especially when moving classes online, might have triggered some depression (I’m not sure, so it must be minor). 

So I’ll visit my psychiatrist today. I’ll go to the lab Monday and get my blood tests. And all will be well.