Category Archives: bipolar disorder

Tick, tock toward more hopeful New Year

The antebellum house where I grew up was never really quiet. Cars swished by and trucks roared past as they traveled our busy road night and day.

There was the usual hustle and bustle of three boys living together, the sounds of my mother cooking in the kitchen and the quiet tumble of the washer and dryer.

My grandfather's clock, with portrait of my father looking on.

Our grandfather clock, with portrait of my father looking on.

Yet when day turned to night and all had gone to bed, one haunting sound echoed through the heart pine floors and the house’s high ceilings. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

There was a chorus of ticks, tocks and chimes because my father loved clocks. They hung on the walls of our living room and dining room, in the den and even in the kitchen.

Dad loved big clocks, small clocks and imperfect clocks that didn’t always work right. His favorite was a beautiful grandfather clock built by my grandfather. Granddaddy even cut the timber for his work of art from family land in rural Alabama.

I remember when he delivered it to our home in Eufaula, proudly presenting it to my mother and father. I was fascinated by the chains,  the weights, the glass case and the shiny pendulum.

Dad quickly learned how to pull the chains, which he deftly did every day on all of our clocks throughout the house. He would often whistle as he walked around the house doing what was one of his favorite chores.

When all of the clocks were wound, there was a strange symphony of slow ticks and tocks, gongs and strikes. The chimes were more elaborate on the hour, shorter sequences chimed every quarter-hour.

Lying in the bed at night,  I remember staring at the ceiling, cursing those clocks and the eerie sounds they made as everyone else slept. I suppose the cars and the trucks and the clocks are one reason I still sleep with a box fan. That or the fact my first nursery was in the laundry room.

While at home with my mother over the holidays recently , I noticed something strange. The house was silent. No ticks. No tocks. No chimes. I asked mom if they still worked, and she said they did. They just hadn’t been wound in the four years since my Father passed away. I suddenly longed for the slow ticks and tocks, the piercing sound of the chimes reverberating through the foyer.

I walked to the cozy library in the front of the house to look at our grandfather clock. My eyes were drawn to something just above the face of the clock. It was a globe set into the clock’s face with the words “Tempus Fugit” scrolled across it. I’d never noticed it before, and had no clue what it meant, knowing only “tempus” was probably Latin for time.

Instead of reaching for the expansive set of encyclopedias on the tall book shelves behind me, I pulled out my Iphone and Googled it. Tempus Fugit. It is indeed a Latin expression, literally meaning “time flees.” More commonly translated as “time flies.”

Making this little discovery in the clock I’d looked at many times before was in some ways a revelation, a sobering yet strangely hopeful reminder of something I needed to remember.

Time doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop for the most joyous moments in our lives. It doesn’t stop for our most difficult trials. No matter how badly we want it to, time doesn’t magically freeze as our children grow up too fast.

We can wish time would slow down during the good times, even if just for a little while. We can wish time would march along faster through our struggles. But time is the one measurable thing in our lives that we are powerless to control. She steadily and methodically marches on, no matter what we do.

I am glad 2013 has faded into the past. I will accept it. I will learn from it. I will one day appreciate it. But I will never miss it.

Looking toward 2014 with a hopeful heart and a vow to be a better husband and father, I will try to remember the words of the great modern-day philosopher,  Ferris Beuller. “Life moves by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and take a look around, you might miss it.”

Happy New Year, friends, family and visitors alike. Your love, your support and the grace of God made it possible for me to see what 2014 has to offer.

CPAP mask makes for restless nights, so far

By Jack Smith

Imagine you are dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween.  Only your mask is too small, it fogs up when you breathe,  your lips are chapped and you are claustrophobic to begin with.

Now you have to slide into bed, hook a garden hose up to your mask and try to go to sleep.

That’s how my first week with a CPAP mask has gone. It’s been a sleepless train wreck. It’s a good thing I don’t operate heavy machinery for a living. Heck, driving and typing (not at the same time) have been hard enough. Continue reading

Manic patients aren’t mad, just different

By Jack Smith

With a presentation to 50 people a few hours away, I had more energy than a cocaine user on his highest high. Only it was 4:00 a.m. and I had not yet slept.

I felt larger than life, drinking beer after beer while listening to music in my hotel room. I was traveling alone and enjoying a party of one.

Thoughts raced through my mind as the alcohol warmed my blood. I would leave my current job and conquer the world. I would become a high-flying consultant to big companies and write a book. I would be rich and would retire at 50. I might even become famous.

I ordered room service and more booze, giving the waiter an absurdly high tip. I partied alone and plotted my future until 6:00 in the morning. A couple of hours later, on precious few hours of sleep, I walked into the conference room and knocked it out of the park.

The reviews participants left were some of the best I received in my short consulting career. They said they liked my energy and enthusiasm. Some said it was one of the best presentations they had ever seen.

bipolar-symptoms-400x400Later that day, I drove three hours to another city for another gig and did it all over again. I remember being amazed I wasn’t tired after that presentation, which also got good reviews.

Another time I was alone in a big city with no real work obligations. I stayed up most of three days, meeting strangers with ease, buying rounds for people I didn’t know and making repeated trips to the ATM so I could keep gambling, which isn’t something I even know how to do.

That episode ended with a spectacular crash. I was reduced to sobbing on the sofa, calling my wife and confessing what I’d been doing. I so quickly descended into depression and panic, we had to call a friend staying at a different hotel to come and get me. The next day, I made the long drive home, devastated by depression and anxiety.

Continue reading

noeffexor

Wicked antidepressant withdrawals bitter pill to swallow

By Jack Smith

So this is what the hiccup tastes like. The doctors warned me it would come.

Hiccups, setbacks and even relapse can all be part of mental health recovery, especially when you start some drugs and stop others.

I just didn’t know the hiccup would taste so bitter, hit so hard and cause so much angst.

Google “Effexor withdrawal” and you’ll see horror stories from patients on message boards and blogs.

On the more official websites, you’ll see the Who’s Who of side effects: Upset stomach. (More like stomach bug from hell). Dizziness. Brain shakes (this is real and hard to explain, except that it feels like your brain is rattling around in your noggin).

Migraines (four in five days). Nervousness. Fatigue. Loss of coordination (my wife revoked my driving privileges on a weekend getaway). Vomiting (does puking in your mouth count?). Tremor (good thing I’m not a brain surgeon or we’d be screwed). And an itch that feels like ants crawling under your skin.  Continue reading

Weight gain frustrating side effect in battle with depression

By Jack Smith

Topics at this blog tend to be kind of heavy, so I thought I might lighten things up today. Only I can’t.

I’m teetering on a new personal record— but not the kind you want plastered on the wall at the gym.

I recently tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds for the first time ever. I weighed 206 to be exact. That’s roughly 46 pounds heavier than I was in 2011 and 50 pounds heavier than college.

Both times, doctors told me the meds I was taking were partly to blame. The drugs I was taken in 2011 took away my appetite to the point I could only eat a few bites at meal time. The fist full of pills I’m currently taking, however have caused my appetite to go off the charts.

unexplained weight gainI have to take some responsibility here. I’m the one who ate like a bird or inhaled food like a pig, but the meds didn’t help and probably hurt.

I don’t recall exactly what meds I was taking in 2011 when I all but quit eating.  I think I was on Abilify and Remeron, among other drugs.

I just remember it was an incredibly difficult time for depression and anxiety.  I had no appetite. None at all. I was so skinny my wife wondered if I had an eating disorder and several people thought I had cancer. One friend later told me she thought I was “manorexic.”  Continue reading

I’m not the man she married, but she loves me anyway

b on wedding dayA lot of things have been hard in my up and down battle with mental illness the past two decades.

I’ve been misunderstood and  misdiagnosed.  I’ve stayed in hospitals for what I hoped and prayed would be the last time. For years, I’ve taken meds that had no chance of helping.

I’ve been so down I forgot what I feels like to be up. I’ve been on top and even over the top only to come crashing down in a heaping mess.

I’ve had my faith tested, and I’ve tested my faith.

My mood has seldom been stable for years, but something far more  important has: My marriage.

I’ve heard stories you wouldn’t believe and seen statistics that are sad and sobering about mental illness and how it can wreck families.

The most troubling one? Ninety percent of marriages in which one person suffers from bipolar disorder end in divorce. That’s a staggering, heart-breaking number.

Most marriages just don’t survive mania or the depression that is the disorder’s evil twin.  I do not judge any who haven’t made it.

My heart aches for all of them, like the lady who recently sent me a direct message after reading this blog. She couldn’t keep her vows because the man she had married became someone she no longer knew and could no longer love.

I met another woman in treatment who never made it to the altar with the love of her life. She had debilitating depression and seizures that required brain surgery. When she woke up, everything she learned in pre-med and her feelings for her fiancee were gone.

It’s not my place to cast judgment, but it is my obligation to thank God for blessing our marriage. We’ve tried to live out our vows…and we’ve been tested on all of them. Richer. Poorer. Sickness. Health. We’ve been far from perfect and we have work to do yet, but we’ve endured, loved, prayed and hoped. It takes all of that—and more.

My wife is pretty awesome all the way around, and I’m not just talking about her hotness.

She is supportive but not enabling. She is patient but not a pushover. She has endured my antics and addictions, my foibles and  fallacies.

Never once has she threatened to leave me. Well, other than that one time—but that’s another blog.

Barclay, I’m writing this post because you need to know how much I love you. You need to know much I appreciate your love and devotion, your endurance and your understanding. I regret that you, too have had to suffer in your own way, ways I probably don’t even know about or understand.

You don’t always give me what I want or tell me what I need to hear.  That’s a good thing. If you did, we’d be broke and I might be dead.

It’s not easy being married to a bipolar man who isn’t what you really signed up for at all. It’s even harder, I can imagine, to love them like you did the day you said “I do.”

You do both, and that has made  mine a life worth living.