Creeping back towards normal

I’m still feeling a little bit off, kind of unsettled really, by the mini bipolar episode I experienced, but I’ll get back to normal again. I really thought my bipolar was under control in a big way and was going to stay that way – so I just feel kind of, I don’t know, a little bit shocked or something and also a little bit afraid because I forgot how powerful depression can be.

Sometimes I just feel like there is so much work I need to do on myself. I get overwhelmed thinking about all of the ways that I am “not good enough” and all of the things that I need to change. For example – I want to quit smoking, start exercising more, start eating a little better (I don’t eat terribly but there is always room for improvement), work on making progress in my career, work on becoming more emotionally regulated, work on being a better partner to Edward, find a way to make some friends in Birmingham, work on my patience, start meditating more, find ways to decrease my ridiculous level of near-constant anxiety, etc.

I’ve decided that this week I am just going to focus on a few things because baby steps. I’m going to:

  • meditate for at least 20 minutes everyday
  • dance or do yoga and stretch everyday
  • quit smoking again when the Wellbutrin kicks in

I’ve been taking 150mg of the Wellbutrin per day for the past three days and will do the same tomorrow, then I am supposed to up it to 300mg per day. I don’t know exactly how long it’ll take at that dose to help calm the urge to smoke.

My mom is coming to visit next weekend, which I’m excited about because I haven’t seen her since the Thanksgiving before last, but it might be hard if I am in the early stages of quitting smoking again. Hopefully I’ll be feeling more normal though and, as long as the weather allows it, we are planning on spending a lot of time in nature, so that should be really nice.

A quick shot of the new quilt Edward + I bought yesterday, one of my orchids that’s getting new buds (a bunch of them are right now and it’s making me quite happy) and a photo of the first bloom coming along on the tulips Edward surprised me with:

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Re: last post

The half patch wasn’t working for me, I was craving too much, so my doctor and I decided to try Wellbutrin (which can help with quitting smoking) and half a patch. I am going to smoke for the next few days while I continue my return to stability, then quit again once the Wellbutrin has had time to get working.

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Struggling with quitting while bipolar

I had gotten cocky. I hadn’t had a bipolar episode in a long time and I thought I had gotten better (though I wasn’t about to go off my medications anytime soon). I thought my meds were solid, my brain was maturing and I’d remain as stable as I’d been, which wasn’t perfect but was getting the job done.

I did really well with the quitting smoking in the beginning – something about the nicotine patches made me feel a bit hypomanic when I had one on and it felt amazing. I had so much energy, felt so empowered, was very productive and the world felt like a magical place – like the universe was conspiring on my behalf. I knew it wasn’t a good thing though – what comes up must come down, and crash hard when it does, with bipolar disorder – so I called my doctor and told him what was happening. He said as long as I wasn’t doing anything reckless or self-destructive and was still sleeping my usual amount, he wouldn’t worry about it as he’d never heard of nicotine patches pushing anyone into a bipolar episode in his entire career as a psychiatrist. So I didn’t worry but I should have because I always get the weird side effects of a medication that almost no one else gets. Around Monday I started to crash. It was more subtle at first but then Tuesday was worse than Monday and Wednesday was way, way worse than Tuesday. I smoked a few-to-some cigarettes when my patch wasn’t on on each of those days. I relapsed, then I got back on the quitting horse, then I relapsed, then I got back on the quitting horse, repeat. I felt like myself with the patch off and a cigarette; I felt sane again.

By Wednesday I was fully back into depression. I was crying at random intervals, at everything – because I felt sad, because I didn’t know what I felt, because I was afraid of the future, because everyone I love is going to die someday, because it’s exhausting having a body and mind that don’t work as they are supposed to and need constant medication and monitoring, because Edward said something kind to me and I didn’t deserve his kindness, etc etc. I often couldn’t explain to Edward why I was crying because I often didn’t know. I just knew that I felt awful and life felt dark, scary, hard to impossible and hopeless. It felt like things were always going to feel this way – that’s one of the classic lies depression tells a person. I was a ball of anxiety. I wanted Edward to fix it (“it” being everything, “it” being the way I felt, “it” being me) but he knew he couldn’t. I also knew, rationally, that he couldn’t, but when I’m in depression I lose most of my rational thinking. I was needy, I was indecisive, I was insecure, I was raw and he felt frustrated because he felt powerless to help.

There’s a little story I found somewhere so long ago that I feel fits well here but I can’t figure out who the author is:

“When my nephew was about four years old, we were on a float trip. There was a bend in the river that felt a little bit scary to him, but he looked around and could see that everybody was calm. He stood up in the middle of the boat and yelled, ‘do something about something!’ I can’t tell you how many times I have felt like shouting, ‘do something about something!'”

Do something about something. Do something about anything. Make it stop. Make me okay. Make me better. Fill this awful void.

Thank god my doctor has an after-hours line and is generally pretty good about calling me back when I have a problem. I talked to him Wednesday night and he said to try using half a nicotine patch today and let him know if that worked better. He said if it didn’t we’d figure out something else. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m definitely craving cigarettes more with the half patch instead of the whole one, but I don’t feel the bipolar monster in my chest stirring – at least not yet, I only put the half patch on about two hours ago.

Sometimes I feel so much guilt and self-loathing for being; I feel guilt and self-loathing for being “how I am sometimes.” For getting depressed or anxious or any number of other negative emotions my brain has more of tendency to feel than the average person’s does. I feel guilty for all of the time Edward spends talking me down or through, trying to comfort me, asking me what he can do to help, just being with me, etc. I feel guiltier when he gets frustrated, when it happens when he needs to be studying, when I feel like a burden, when I feel I don’t deserve what he gives to me. So this morning I guilt-cleaned the apartment while he was at school. I shouldn’t have to guilt-clean though. What I mean to say is this: Yes, because he’s in medical school, most of the housework is my responsibility and I need to do it but I shouldn’t feel like it’s penance for my being “bad,” penance for my suffering (read: inadequacy). I don’t think Edward thinks in terms of keeping score like that and I shouldn’t either. It’s just hard today because the depression is still lingering just beyond my shadow and it’s saying I was bad because I felt things and cried a lot. It’s saying I was bad because I should be better and stronger and less imperfect, I was bad because I needed Edward, I was bad because I needed anyone at all, I was bad because I am bad and I’ll always be bad because I’m broken and emotionally-stunted and my brain will never function as a healthy person’s would and I’ll never learn to ride the waves with more ease. That is what my depression/brain is telling me right now. It’s not screaming at me, like it was yesterday, but I can hear it whispering. I’m very close to the pit but I’m not in it today.

Quitting smoking is a little personal hell for nearly everyone who does it but I think it’s especially hard, because of the effects it has on mood/stability/etc, for people who already struggle with their mental health. Anyway, I’m less of a mess today than I was yesterday, I’m back up on the quitting horse, I’m still trying and I’m here. That’s pretty much all I can tell you.

I’ve been struggling with these questions lately:

  1. What does it mean to be a “real” artist?
  2. What is my purpose as an artist, if I consider myself a real artist?
  3. What direction should I take in my work? What are the next steps?
  4. What if no one ever actually cares about what I make or write?

Today was a rough day. I woke up anxious, took some Klonopin throughout the day to no avail and got increasingly anxious, verging on an existential crisis, until just recently when Edward got home and we drove around and had a good talk.

It’s hard sometimes to understand each other because our lives – though connected through love, partnership, marriage, affection, etc – are very different. He has a clear (not to say it isn’t incredibly hard, but clear) path ahead of him to reach his goal of being a doctor. I, as someone who wants to be an artist, do not have a clear path – at least none that I can see right now.

I told him about the above questions I have been asking myself and my fears that nobody will ever care about what I make/do/write. Then we started talking about why I make art. And the truth is, I write and make art because I need to. And I think that’s one of the ways someone can be as an artist. I think that need, and the fact that I do make art, makes me a real artist. So that question has been answered well enough by my standards for now.

Then we started talking about when I am happiest making art. I am happiest making art when I’m inspired to create something and I create it. I am happiest making art when I feel like I am making something beautiful or real or that will (goddess willing) speak to or move others. I am happiest making art when it’s an idea that comes to me organically, when I’m not forcing myself. I am happiest making art when there is an element of play to it, when I’m experimenting, when I am not taking myself too seriously. I am always happiest when I am not taking myself too seriously.

We talked about my fears that nobody will ever really care about what I create. And we had to ask the question: even if nobody ever cares, is it still worth doing? And the answer was yes. Because it fills me, feeds me, brings me joy, makes me come alive and because I need to make things. I can’t explain where this need to create comes from, I just know that I have it.

I got very vulnerable with him and told him how I wanted him to be proud of me, to be proud of my work and to be proud to call me his wife. He told me he’s most proud of me when I am doing what makes me come alive, when I am passionate about what I am doing, and won’t be any prouder or less proud of me if my work is or is not ever appreciated by others. He just wants me to be the happiest Kait I can be. This is among the many reasons I love him and am incredibly grateful to be married to him.

So I still don’t know what the next step to take in my work is and I still don’t know exactly what my purpose is as an artist (and maybe that’s a question I’ll never be able to answer, maybe the answer will always be evolving). What I do know is that I need to learn more about art, both the current world of art and its history, and about the lives and struggles of other artists. I need to follow the inspiration when it comes and I need to stop holding myself to such impossible standards – it’s insane, not to mention very egotistical, to think everything I try to make is going to be good or get a response.

The new question is this: how can I find my tribe of fellow artists? Ideally they would be in Birmingham, because I have almost no friends here still and am overall very isolated in my new city even though I have been here since July, but how does one go about finding their tribe or even other artists? I’d settle for a digital tribe of other artists at this point, I’m so desperate to find people who understand these needs and fears of mine because they share them. If you have any ideas or thoughts on this last question I’ve raised here, please share them with me, I’d really appreciate it.

Quitting Smoking Day 5 + Photographs

There’s a lot more time in the day without cigarette breaks, and it moves differently – a new rhythm I’m trying to learn – without the punctuation of smokes. I haven’t had any dreams about smoking, which is odd because I have always had many of them during past attempts at quitting. I haven’t broken nor “just had one.”

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I’m still wearing the 21mg nicotine patch during the day and using my vaporizer a little when I get too desperate. I’m making progress though. Riding in the car isn’t as much of a trigger as it has been in the past, nor is socializing or eating a full meal. This morning we went hiking (actual uphill hiking, not just leisurely walking through the woods like I usually do) at the Cahaba River Trail and I got really grumpy because (unbeknownst to me at the time) I sweat my nicotine patch off and it was stuck to my sweater instead of my skin. I was overheated and sweaty because I wore a thick sweater – I wasn’t expecting to really hike and didn’t realize it was going to be seventy-something degrees out. Also Sam was drooling all over me in the car on the way home because he got thirsty and drank a bunch of water out of the river at the end of our hike, which got on my nerves. So I was a grouch for a while and now I feel guilty about it.

But some beautiful things also happened – I found a big, magical, beautiful sheet of bark that got removed from one of the trees somehow and managed to bring it home without breaking it. Everyone is tired from hiking. I’m now practicing self-care in the form of eating baked broccoli and hydrating. I changed out of my sweaty, drooled-on clothes. I took some photographs. I’m feeling overwhelmed but by nothing in particular that I can point to – it’s just a part of quitting, and a tendency my personality has. I think that’s the really interesting thing about quitting – it’s a very customized little hell for each person because it takes the feelings/personality traits/demons you already struggle with and just magnifies them.

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