Tag Archives: Non-fiction

To Die Like Mildred

No one has personally taught me a more important lesson in life then Mildred. Mildred taught me how to face death.  Everyone else has taught me to run.  She taught me how to look at death and adjust my collar and fix my hair ever just right in death’s presence.  How to look at death and invite her in for tea.  How to look at her and smile from the knowing that we will be together one day.

I worked as an in-home caregiver and Mildred was one of my clients for 14 months. She was a 96 year old lady who had been born in North Dakota long ago.  She graduated from college and then made her way to Colorado where she earned her Master’s in education.  For most of her life she had been a middle school teacher in home economics.  She had been a trailblazer in her younger years.  Not many women had achieved their graduate degree, but Mildred did.

When she met me, she liked me right away.  I was very hands off and did not talk to her in that sing songy voice that people like to use with very old people.  I spoke to her using an even tone and with great respect.  Mildred had been firing caregivers because she felt they treated her like a child.  Upon my visit, she could have sent me on my way; instead, she told me she looked forward to seeing me the next day.

Mildred was a very old human with the aches and pains that come with achieving such a privilege.  Most people die in their 80s.  Here was Mildred moving through life still and still looking beautiful.  She was about 5 feet 6 inches with good posture.  Her hair was curly and solid white.  It had the wiry texture of an old person.  She kept it neat and combed.  Her skin complexion was very pale white and full of deep wrinkles.  Her white skin and hair set off her transluscent light blue eyes.  She was beautiful.  Her voice was confident.

Mildred did not want to live anymore.  She felt she had lived long enough.  It worried her that she came from a long line of women who lived to reach 100 years old.  She could not bear the idea.  She was ready to move on.  We talked to her family about her wishes and they agreed to let Mildred move on with her life into the other.  Transition.  That is what we call in in hospice care when we want to be clinical.

However, she could not be considered for hospice since she was not terminal, but Mildred said her age and with it the aches and pains made her terminal.  The doctor told her the terminal window was within six months.  Mildred decided with the Doctor’s supervision that she would stop taking her thyroid medication and all her vitamins and supplements.  She did.  As her health deteriorated, Mildred and I continued to live our lives as all people do.  I prepared her meals and tea.  We kept her home clean and read the paper.  We did not listen to music or watch television because they made her agitated.  She felt like she had heard and watched all she wanted.  These types of arts no longer soothed her.  She missed gardening, hiking and driving.

During the last month of her life, my care for her intensified.  She was approved for in-home hospice care which meant that when death was near, her morphine would be delivered.  I moved in full time to care for her.  To her satisfaction, she was getting weaker.  All was going according to her plan.  I have never seen anyone mentally preparing for death like this before.  I bathed her and kept her hair groomed.  She always looked neat.  Our conversations changed to her experiences and the good life she lived with her children, husband and friends.  She was not lonely for her young life.  She spoke about them with laughter as stories of long ago.

One day, I stopped by my work office to fill out forms for other clients and had a discussion with the more seasoned  hospice workers about dying.  They told me that a sign that means she is close to dying is when she starts talking about her parents.  She had never talked about them before.

One week before her death, Mildred told me about the dreams she was having about her father and all the goods memories of him.  Right then, I new death was among us, and it was an honor to be around her.  Mildred taught me that death is part of life.  It is the Ying to the Yang.  It is not to be feared when it whispers, “Let it go.”

Later on that week Mildred started to experience excruciating pain in her back, and I would massage her through the night until she fell asleep.  She would wake up through out the night and call for me.  I wanted to be sure I was there for her so I slept on the floor right up against her bed holding her hand.  One night, she woke and sat up again.  She had been doing this every hour for a few days and was wearing me ragged.  Yet, I never complained.  Whatever she needed, I was there.

She sat up frustrated that her back hurt and that the pain would not go away.  Again, I sat on her bed and massaged her back in the dark with moonlight coming in through the window. I had bags under my eyes and my hair was knotted up like a bird’s nest.  She was moaning in pain out loud.  She said, “oooh I can not sleep!” and I answered in the dark, “ok, scoot over, and I will sleep in your bed” and she laughed uproariously.  There we were in the dark laughing together at death.

Later on that week, with the help of morphine,  Mildred moved on.  I packed up my belongings and walked out to my truck.  The heels of my boots clicked on the cold cement of the sidewalk that echoed solitude in the grey winter day.  The trees were bare of their beautiful leaves which were brown and scattered around the sidewalk and all clumped up in the snow.  It a shame I thought, that the leaves were not able to die like Mildred.

{the image is my favorite of the Angel of Death from American Horror Story}

There is no “I” in “Loneliness”

A discussion I had a few weeks ago with my psychiatrist came to the forefront of my mind.  This was not an intrusive thought or episodic depression breaking through.  Not dysphoria. I can tell the difference now that I am on medication treatment.  It is something that I am  working through, which is about the emotion of feeling “lonely.”  I realized I have never experienced it.  Even if I ever did, it is not an emotion I can remember.  When did it secretly depart? This realization lingered in my mind.

After the first week on my new med, I experienced the emotion of “loneliness.”  I was in my apartment relaxing as usual.  My life is somewhat effortless.  I have it made.  On one particular evening as I worked on a short story, a new feeling pulled at me in a disconcerting manner.  I did not like it and was unfamiliar with it.  My apartment was cozy, and I had my things around me.  I had my freedom.  My friends and family were all fine and available; however, this feeling of something I knew not what trailed after me.  It was subtle.  It barely showed its face and whispered its name–loneliness.  It was hollow.

At my next therapy session, I discussed this with my psychiatrist.  Our session was moving along as usual in her white clinical office with the bright lights of a surgical room.  Perhaps the lights helped her search for the darkest corners within me.  She asked me how loneliness felt, and I replied that it was unpleasant.  It tugs at things.

My psychiatrist said that I would experience a lot of new emotions and moods on my med. My med would clear a path for them like a pathfinder. That it would take time to learn how to manage them.  Manage is the clinical word for feeling an emotion in a more balanced way.  Being the curator of my emotions, I was dismayed that I had not noticed that loneliness had been missing from my collection.  What I was uncertain of was whether it was stranger to never have felt loneliness or to never have realized it. Perhaps both are equally puzzling.

Surely, I watched it play out on TV, read about it in books, and provided a shoulder for my friends to cry on after their most heartbreaking breakups where they expressed the depths of their loneliness. All those times, I thought I was relating to them, but really, I had not been at all.  I had been understanding their loneliness by knowing the definition but not because I was drawing from experience.  In order to relate to my world, I substituted the feeling of “longing” because I knew how that felt. However, longing means a yearning desire which is completely different from loneliness.  All my life, I had existed in a way where there was no “I” in”loneliness.”

As a person who exists in hypomania, the feeling of loneliness is nonexistent.  At least not in my spectrum. Some people would wonder, “What had gone wrong?” or maybe even “What had gone so right?”  Because loneliness is such a negative emotion, who would care to feel it? However, loneliness can cause people to form and hold on to attachments to others.  The consequences of not feeling it are much greater than I am able to understand at this time.  Again, I am working through it. I am fortunate to have a good friend to discuss this with because I trust him implicitly.  It is good to have a strong person’s view on these new emotions of mine.  His responses in words and facial expressions are my carpenter’s level.

It would seem that hypomania would be a wonderful place to exist in because it is a devil may care feeling.  The world is conquerable, but a more important statement that effects practical efforts of daily life, is that everything and I mean everything is possible. This sets me apart from most people.  Therefore, my feeling of loneliness is one of the three definitions that pertains to place and defined by Google as, “(of a place) unfrequented and remote.”

 

 

The Hurt

When I start a new medication to treat bipolar disorder, there is a learning curve of the primary side effects.  This holds true for any medication; however, bipolar medications directly cross the blood-brain barrier and target the brain.

In the beginning with a new med, I am learning to be cautious in order to learn how and when it affects me the most.  In the case with my new med, I opted to stay indoors for the first two weeks and take advantage of my new way of experiencing my moods. It was a carefully forced situation where I turned down parties and hanging out with friends.  I had become somewhat reclusive but was content in my cocoon for now.  Safety and certainty permeated my surroundings.

In my apartment, I am surrounded by my art supplies, books on philosophy, political theory, art, and the rise and fall of nations and civilizations. On my new med, I can read for leisure again. I am changing.  Art and reading these books were all things I had loved but had lost during my years of rapid cycling.  At any given time, my friends reached out to me through text and phone calls with their constant invitations of going out to parties.  Sometimes, they would visit.

One evening, I decided to join a friend for her birthday.  What could go wrong? Well…I am a fun-loving type of woman and see the bright in everything.  I am not the type to stay home and fawn over tall tales and love stories.  I live them.  I write them. That is what can go wrong.

The evening started with a beautiful full moon covered by wispy clouds.  The weather was warm for this time of year, and the wind felt good on my face as I drove with the window down. The road opened up, and we played the music loudly, talked and laughed the whole way to our first place.  We went to a bar and instantly hit it off with the patrons. When they learned of my friend’s birthday, drinks were sent our way.

There was no reason, at this point of the early evening, to think about my med.  I felt great. Laughter filled the bar.  The evening ended in a wonderful restaurant with good food and much celebration.  My friend offered to continue the party, but I realized it was past my med time.  I had not brought it with me because I did not want to be sedated while out on the town.  We ended the evening at 10:30 pm, and I returned home at 11:00 pm with my med at the forefront of my mind.  See how this is playing out? So carefree at first.

My med time is at 8:00 pm, and sedation lasts for two hours until bedtime at 10:00 pm, but here, it was 11:00 pm.   Even though I am sedated for the first two hours after taking my med, I cannot sleep at all because I am mentally alert but sedated at the same time.  It is a restless mind.  Next morning was going to start early at 6:30 am so I had to sleep.  I thought about not sleeping in order to ensure I would be awake on time like many times during my more hypomanic periods in the past.  But, this was not the past, I was here, now, in my new treatment, which had to be taken seriously.  I just did not think going to dinner and drinking was going to end up so late and screw me up.

At 1:00 am, I finally fell asleep.  It felt like as soon as I fell asleep my alarm went off at 6:30 in the morning.  I opened my eyes and thought, “ouch” and “no, no, no this cannot be happening.”  I just laid there and stared at the ceiling.   Boy, was I out of it. I tried to fall asleep for a few more minutes but was restless–this is a side effect.  I need at least 12 hours to feel the med wear off from my brain.  Here I was, at barely over seven hours.

Slowly, I got out of bed and started my morning routine.  My shoulder hit the armoire, I tripped over the rug, walked into the wall, made it out of my bedroom, and then held onto the bathroom counter to get a fucking grip.  A moan escaped my lips.  I pouted and whimpered. This hurt. What does hurt mean? It is not a sharp pain kind of hurt or a headache type of hurt.

It is a hurt I have experienced before and know well but not from a med.  The closest thing I can compare it to is how I mentally felt during my times in the Army when I had to stay up physically exerting myself for 48 hours or more with only four hours of sleep–we are talking complete physical and mental exhaustion.  Where my mind was forced to stay alert and perform but was numb from exhaustion.  Numb, agitation,  buzz, narrow, focus and intense are all good words to describe that sensation.  My med on the other hand lacked focus and intensity and my thoughts sounded like sounds in a sound proof room.  It felt bizarre and mentally agonizing. The hurt.

Yet, the experience in the Army was a mind and body unison of hurt, and I could see why I hurt. I could make connections from what I was putting myself through to the hurt. That connection gave me focus.  The med on the other hand was invisible and my body did not hurt. It was isolated to just my mind.  My body and mind seemed disconnected.  For 16 years, the Army taught me how to push through pain. I knew how to will myself through the hurt.

My will is not a mood.  I think it comes from my Amygdala and is more an emotional reaction.  My honed response. A force.  However, my will is not a match against the affective mood changes such as hypomania, mania, and mixed state or this med or I would will myself through this entire disorder.  I can use my will to push through a moment.  It is a reserve stored for moments such as this.  It gets used up by one moment against this disorder and then takes awhile to become strong enough for another time.

I managed to arrive at work, which was actually at a different location than my office. Let us not even go into the details of the drive to work except know that everything was white from the sun.

All week, I was in a training class to learn new things.  I just met the instructor and barely new my other colleagues.  The class was eight hours long of lecture in a room with an echo.  The room was large with windows that looked out to the sky blue and manicured garden, but I sat in my chair and blankly stared ahead.  I could not understand the instructor because I was too busy trying to focus.  My brain has never felt so restless in my life, but you could not tell.  My body was still, and I was not jittery or anything like that.  My mind was obdurant and would not think, I could not receive transmission. Everything, including his words stopped at my eyes.  It was complete torture.

After the longest ten minutes of my life and thinking I could go stark raving mad if I sat for one more minute, I quietly stood up and and walked out. Now, this is my profession, and I have to be in the class.  What was I to do?  I realized I needed a few more hours to let the med wear off so I went back to my SUV, jumped in the back seat, stretched out and fell asleep in the parking lot. This is why I bought my SUV in the first place–to have a place to sleep in between classes during graduate school six years ago. After one hour, my alarm went off, and I went back to class.  It did not matter, my mind was still reacting to the med, but now, I also felt mentally worn out.

Again, I just could not sit in that class.  After five minutes, I left.  I did not care how I appeared because I was dealing with the hurt.  I returned to my SUV and rolled down the window for air.  This time I threw caution to the wind and stretched out in the back more. I laid on my back with my boots out the side door window in the parking lot. There, I fell into a deep slumber for more than an hour.

My alarm went off, and this time I opened my eyes feeling alert.  The hurt was gone.  I walked back to class with my long hair knotted up in the back, my make up smeared, and lipstick gone.  As I walked across the parking lot, I looked back at my SUV and imagined someone seeing my boots hanging out of the window and how ridiculous that probably looked.  With the sun in my face and a pep in my step, I continued to the building and thought, “yippee ki-yay mother fucker” to the hurt.

 

 

The Spanish Translation

Recently, I wrote a short story titled, “The Shower Screams” and then I translated it into Spanish, “Los Gritos de la Ducha.”  Initially, I translated the story for my friend’s mother who lives with bipolar disorder.  My good friend confides in me about his mother’s behavior that she has presented him throughout his life.  Some of it hilarious because his stories are told with such love and animation.  Other stories are not so funny because well…. they are about her struggles and his struggles with it.  Their struggles and love for each other tugged at my heart.

I felt at ease telling him about my disorder in order to give him insight, and how I somewhat understood his mother.  Bipolar is the same spectrum yet different for each of us.  Differing in time and space, name and face.  His mom only speaks and understands Spanish, so I offered him a Spanish translation of my feelings, sometimes, when I have to take a shower.  I want her to know that those of us with this disorder share these moods and energies that make us hilarious or make us despair and never forget those around us who care for us and their struggle.  But we can all agree that major depression, mixed state, and mania can make us forget all too real.

I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone with this disorder.  There is me along with my Rattlesnake, Dreamer, Child and King, the we, and all of us.  In some respects, when we not in the throes of the disorder, we are not that different at all.  We share our ideas, dreams, and feelings that are universal.  Of course, there are the parts with the disorder that we all know, too well, that sets us apart. In some cases, WAY apart.

Just two months ago, my neighbor’s (also a friend) mother was taken from his apartment in the middle of her paranoid delusional mania.  She was rolled away on an ambulance stretcher out of his apartment and into the ambulance.  I heard her defiance and without thinking sort of hunched over and covered my ears. She didn’t see me.  Noone did.

Through it all, we want to live, love, and laugh like everyone else.  Keep your chin up.

The Shower Screams

I have to adhere to a strict grooming schedule since I tend to not shower if my mood is a certain way.  So here I go, first thing in the morning…. I stay in bed….. and speculate my strategy into the shower.  I stare at the ceiling and shudder at my fate.  My fate of surrendering to the feeling and sound of the shower.  Of the me, standing there in the center of it.  The sound of the shower screaming on my skin.

The sound of the shower starts off slicing through the silence of the morning. The steam from the shower stuns my face as I stare into the tub.  Into the space, into the stall, into the steam, and into the shower here I fall.  Sniveling sounds escape from my lips as the water swallows me into pieces.  Water sputtering and stacatto-ing and sinking into my sensitive skin.  Streaking in cacophonous sounds that are swift and shrill.  Each drop steering itself down scrutinizing my surface, stealing glances from the precipice that is my head to my toes as they descend to the drain. Strain.

 

The Potter

Her hands run through my mind in long, subtle movements with palms and fingers gently touching the surfaces.  Jagged areas that poke about are gently smoothed down. Fingers pressing here and there.  Palms pressing inward and moving upward. The clay runs through her fingers like water breaking through a damn, covering her hands in moods of long agos, moods of yesteryears and the moods of just happens.

In her skillful way, the potter reshapes my mind into a quiet haven.  A place of solace to replace the crumbled remains of what once stood a great temple but had succumbed to decay.  During its glory, it was magnificent with peaks that soared beyond the clouds, and a moat so deep, it kept invaders at bay.  Ultimately, as with all stories such as this, the beautiful temple imprisoned her.

The potter’s hand moves gracefully through my mind smoothing out lines and slowly revealing willing surfaces.  She creates open doors instead of deep trenches. Instead of soaring, the clay gently ascends.