A BIPOLAR LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, was bipolar, but he wasn’t diagnosed until thirteen years into our 25-year marriage. However, the ups and downs were a part of my life from the beginning. Larry could be fun, smart and affectionate. He had a wicked sense of humor (including clever puns), tremendous energy (sometimes too much, manic energy), a great “joie” and endless enthusiasm.

Larry in a jocular mood

He loved to read and was interested in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from physics and biology to history and sociology, to law and mysteries. He also loved the arts, particularly the theater and at one point we had five theater subscriptions at the same time. In addition, we also went to Broadway shows quite often, which kept us very busy and very up to date on the theater scene of the day.

One of Larry’s passions was shopping and when manic, he was a true shopaholic. He couldn’t resist buying anything that tickled his fancy, which was a lot of stuff. On the other hand, I loved it when Larry would shop with me in my favorite stores; craft shops, art galleries and jewelry and clothes stores. He would even come into the dressing room with me and help me pick out what clothes to buy. He had wonderful and sophisticated taste, though his taste was often a lot bolder and flashier than mine.

I really shouldn’t complain, because Larry loved to buy things for me. However, when he was manic, he would overspend and buy everything in sight. I was in charge of the budget and it was frustrating to see all my budgeting and saving go out the window with Larry’s shopping sprees. It got to the point that I would pretend that I didn’t like things we looked at because if I said I liked it, it would be mine in no time flat!

Two pendants with matching earrings Larry bought for me on trips out West

Once my son, David, then around twelve, went to an electronics store with Larry. Before they left, I pulled David aside and instructed him to try to keep his father’s purchases down. They returned with not one, but two VCR’s and I asked David why he had failed to rein in his dad. “Hey!” he said. “I talked him down from three, so don’t complain!”

Another positive side to Larry’s love of shopping was that he was always an active partner with me in decorating our homes, helping me choose everything from wallpapers and fabrics, to furniture and window treatments to bathroom fixtures and door knobs. We also designed our house in Easton, Connecticut together with the help of an architect. It was a wonderful, shared experience and the house meant so much more to both of us for the experience we had in creating every nook and cranny and picking every design element. I remember jumping out of bed late one night to draw out a new plan I had just thought of for the kitchen/breakfast room area. It was a wild idea and it was the design we eventually used in the house. I still love it 30 years later!

The kitchen design – with rounded eating area and round sunroom off of kitchen island area

Larry exhibited his sense of humor and fun one Christmas when he and David, like many other Jews, went to the movies on Christmas day. Before the show started, as a joke, Larry stood up and started singing the Jewish classic “Havanegela”. To his delight, the rest of the audience joined in and Larry acted as conductor for the group sing-along!

Larry didn’t sleep much and was always on the go. I needed a lot of sleep and ample amounts of downtime, which created much conflict between us. On weekends, he would get up early and want to go out and do something, get something to eat or just window shop. David was also not a morning person so we would take turns appeasing a very persistent, and often annoying and inconsiderate Larry.

Larry playing with David, 6 and Sarah, 1

One day, when Sarah was about eighteen months old and couldn’t talk yet, Larry got up and started pestering David, who was six and a half, and me to go out with him. Suddenly, our toddler ran into her bedroom, grabbed her coat and then ran to the front door. It was her way of saying “Take me, Daddy! I want to play with you!” Now Larry had a new playmate for his early weekend excursions and David and I were thrilled! When Sarah could talk, she’d say to Larry, “Let’s go sopping!”

Larry and Sarah continued their ‘sopping’ trips for the rest of Larry’s life (he died shortly before Sarah’s 21st birthday). He and Sarah also traveled and went to lots of shows and movies together from early in Sarah’s life and it was something wonderful she shared with her dad. Those memories are important and comforting to her now.

But there was a dark side to Larry’s bipolar disorder. When he cycled manic, as he did every year or so, he became volatile, paranoid, angry and agitated. He would fly into rages about the slightest thing, real or imagined and he would become verbally abusive. To our frustration, he would often ‘forget’ these episodes as soon as he calmed down. He was what is called a “rapid cycler.”

A classic example of that syndrome happened one Thanksgiving when we were supposed to drive from New York to Larry’s sister in New Jersey. In the morning, Larry was curled up in a ball on the bed, refusing to even get up. I eventually got him up and we started to drive to New Jersey when he suddenly went berserk over something.

I don’t remember what it was on that occasion, but once the kids were making too much noise in the back seat of the car and once I left the dirty dishes in the sink. To Larry, that proved that I didn’t care about him, that he didn’t matter, that he wasn’t important to me and that I was a bitch.

The four of us when David was 13 and Sarah was 8

On this Thanksgiving drive, Larry pulled the car over to the side of the street and stormed off, refusing to come back to the car. David finally talked him down and got him back into the car, because, as usual, Larry refused to even talk to me. We eventually made it to New Jersey, but Larry had gone from paralyzing depression to raging mania in the course of one day.

Another holiday in New Jersey ended badly because of Larry’s manic overreactions. He stormed out of a lot of rooms, houses and cars over the years, often on major holidays with family. But this one was special, even for Larry.

We were playing a game with Larry’s sister, Robin and her family, my kids and Larry. Larry was being hyper-competitive and was trash talking everyone constantly, which I think he thought was funny. After asking him to stop several times, Robin finally got exasperated and told him to shut up and Larry snapped.

The four of us when David was 16 and Sarah was 11

He stormed out of the house, but this time he took our car and disappeared. We eventually got a call saying he was at the train station and was taking a train back to New York, even though he was supposed to be going back to Connecticut with me and the kids for the long holiday weekend. Robin had to drive David to the train station so he could drive our car back to Robin’s so I could drive back to Connecticut with the kids. Robin talked to Larry at the station and they patched things up, but Larry still insisted on taking the train to New York, disrupting and appalling everyone. I was mortified and everyone else was shaken and upset. This was not an uncommon situation for me, but each time it happened, it was like a punch to the gut.

In some ways, it would have been easier for me if Larry had always been abusive and impossible to live with, but he wasn’t. He was eventually put on Lithium, which worked well and contained his mania, but he kept going off the meds.

I loved the non-manic Larry, so the hope that Larry would get help, and then that he would stay on his meds, kept me with him for 25 years.

VEINLESS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Trickery (OR in this case, just tricky!)

Another day, another trip to the hospital. At least it’s something I WANT to do this time, but I will be gone most of the day. Sorry about that!

I was supposed to be at the hospital yesterday, but they got my tests mixed up, so it got canceled. The same tests, this time properly ordered, will be rescheduled next week.

It all has to do with veins and dye infusions.

I don’t have any veins.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I have lots of them, but they are all tiny and thready. Getting blood out of me is tricky (trickery?). I have often suggested I bring my own knife and slice off a piece of finger like I do at home. Just give me a vegetable to cut and I’ll produce gallons of blood.

Brivo CT325

Whenever I do that (which used to be often), there was blood absolutely EVERYWHERE. For some reason, the hospital never agrees. As I said: getting blood out is just a bit of trickery (and some nurses really have a magic touch for finding a viable vein) — a medical magic trick.

Getting a substance (any substance) into me is a nightmare. I have defeated two hospitals who could not find a usable vein and wound up infusing into my throat. Which, while not terribly painful, is really ICKY in every meaning of the word. And it looks ugly, too.

In both cases, it was that or die so I couldn’t argue the point … but this is a test. The reason they need veins is so they can put dye in me to make the test results sharper.

They should get Topaz’ new AI Sharpen filter. It’s amazingly effective and then, they could skip the dye and still have sharp results.

Regardless, I’m not going through the “hunt the body for a viable vein” experience again. Been there, done it, didn’t like it. We’re not doing hands, feet, or throat, sorry. If that’s the choice, whatever is wrong with me will just have to stay wrong.

I still have to be at the hospital in a couple of hours because I’m getting cortisone shots in my hips. Yay oh yay!

For the past few weeks, there’s almost no part of me that doesn’t hurt and last night I woke up crying because I hurt so much I didn’t know what to do. So of course, called the doctor as soon as he was open and said: “I cannot go on like this.”

More drugs are not an answer I would have to take a LOT more drugs and I’m already thoroughly drugged. I have to find a way to make my life less painful. I want to be able to walk. Even if it’s not a hike, just walk more or less normally for short stretches. Not such a big thing one might think.

So cortisone shots it is. For now.

I know the shots are not a cure. What’s wrong with me (entire spine riddled with arthritis) is painful, but not lethal. It won’t kill me. It might make me wish it would and it will linger on, getting worse as the years roll by. Not a pretty thought.

I remember being 30 years younger, living on Beacon Hill in Boston and hauling 40 pounds of groceries up the long hill to our apartment. Realizing my legs were like iron. I was muscled. Between hauling heavy bags up long hills, horseback riding, and walking everywhere in Boston because if you moved the car you might never find another legal parking space, I was in great shape.

The shoulder is an offshoot of horseback accidents. When you are riding, one of the things you learn is if you fall, hang on to the reins. If you don’t, your horse is going home. It’s a long, long walk in your riding boots back to the stable. It’s entirely possible you don’t even know the way back since as often as not if you are riding alone, the horse was your GPS.

In the course of falling off a few horses and grabbing reins on the way down, my shoulder got pulled out of the socket a few times. The surgery to fix that is normally not a big deal.

I should have taken care of it 50 years ago, but I didn’t.

I also have a left knee without an anterior Crucis ligament due to a bad fall — as well as the shoulder which could have easily been repaired when I was 25, but can’t be fixed now.

I waited too long. Like I did with my hands. Nine years ago they could have fixed the arthritic spurs but today, they can’t. It has advanced too far and I’m too old.

I yearn for those days when I had muscles in places I didn’t know you could have muscles.

I don’t have long-term answers. Cortisone shots a few times a year with some luck will help keep me moving. Nothing will repair the damage. There’s no surgery anyone is willing to do that will fix it. It has degenerated too far and the previous surgery caused as much damage as it supposedly fixed.

Right now, though, I’m glad enough that there’s even a respite — even if it’s just for a few weeks.

Long term? I am still working on that one.

B+ AND ME: BLOOD TYPES AROUND THE WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

A few years ago, I got to thinking about blood type. I wondered how come I have B+ blood when everyone in my family is O or A. I decided to go hunting on the Internet to see if I could learn something about where I come from using this tidbit of information.

Blood type O: the Americas
Blood type O: the Americas

It turns out, B-type people are universally less common than O and A.

It might mean I have some tidbit of Asian ancestry. Genghis Khan made serious inroads into Europe. Who knows where the seeds of his army were left?

Blood Type A: Central and Eastern Europe
Blood Type A: Central and Eastern Europe

The incidence of type B is low amongst Jews. Low everywhere, but not unheard of, nor so infrequent as to be rare. But low.

My mother was type O, the most common blood group everywhere. Among native peoples in the western hemisphere, type O is close to 100%. Many scientists theorize that “O” was the “original” human blood type and all other types mutated from it.

That’s one theory, anyhow. Blood types do mutate and occasionally even change completely following a transfusion.

This is a bit of a hot topic because some places, blood typing has been used to categorize people as inferior, notably Japan. There are always racists looking for a way to prove they are superior to everyone else. At least one study (I’m not sure I should dignify it with that name) claims people of B-type blood are descendants of Neanderthals while O and A descended from Cro-Magnon.

This is pure speculation. Not research.

Worse, there are pockets of racists who contend that A is the only pure Aryan blood type. What evidence did they base this on? None. Particularly interesting since O is the dominant blood type everywhere.

Blood type B: Asia
Blood type B: Asia

Overall in the world, B is the rarest ABO blood allele. Only 16% of humanity has it. It reaches its highest frequency in Central Asia and Northern India. It’s believed to have been entirely absent from Native American and Australian Aboriginal populations prior to the arrival of Europeans. However, there are relatively high-frequency pockets in Africa too. 

B is not a dominant blood type anywhere. It is highest in the Philippines and Siberia, the lowest in the Americas. Very rare in the British Isles and Scandinavia. The highest percentage it reaches is 38% of the population and that is in the Philippines. In the Middle East, the ultimate melting pot, all the major blood types are more or less evenly divided in the population.

If this shows some kind of migratory pattern for our ancestors, no one can prove it. Not yet, anyway, but they are working on it. The Middle East is the land pathway between Africa, Europe, and Asia, so it makes sense that many types of people might make their homes there.

It turns out there is no universally accepted theory of the origins of man. Scientists and other theorists can’t even agree whether or not we all have the same progenitors.

blood types around the world

So after all this, I don’t know much more than I did when I started. Clearly, there is something to be learned from the distribution of blood types in the world, but no one is certain of exactly what.

One of the possibilities of my “B” blood type is that my father was mistakenly typed and rather than A, was actually AB. But the truth is that blood types do sometimes pop up unexpectedly. There are lots of recessive traits lingering in us. My B+ blood has a number of unique qualities, which is why I have a blood donor card that specifies the unique other qualities of my blood.

In fact, the blood types we know – O, A, AB, B – in both positive and negative forms are not the whole of blood-typing. It gets a lot more complicated than most people realize, which is why there are whole hospitals dedicated to dealing with blood.

I think eventually blood typing will be one of the many ways we trace the movements of our Neolithic ancestors. Maybe even pre-Neolithic.

A PRIME DAY IN SPRING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Prime

It was an absolutely PRIME day!

Not only did it start out sunny, but it stayed sunny. All day today. It was warm without being hot and the flowers began to bloom. There was almost no humidity.

The birds were singing. The winds were warm and a bit blowy.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be even nicer. Sunny and warm, without the wind. It should be the most prime of prime days for all of spring and if I can find a little time between errands, it could be the best day to take springlike pictures.

A day for Goldfinch

And all I have to do, is get to the doctor to pick up a script, have the oil in the car changed (I don’t know where the time has gone!), go grocery shopping, put the new mailbox up, and go into starvation mode for the tests they are (finally) running on Thursday. These should prove, once and for all, whether or not I have brains in my head. Or maybe it’s just some old hard drive that got stuck there.

Oh and I really should back up the month of March before it becomes May.

House Finch and Cowbird

Thursday should hopefully be the last day I am spending at the hospital unless they find something I don’t want them to find. It’s why I hate testing. It’s not merely the time, inconvenience and the bill that always shows up eventually. It’s that I don’t want them to discover something unfortunate. So if all goes well, I should be able to stop visiting specialists and maybe save enough to get a pair of eyeglasses.

And pay the man who is going to fix the chimney. And buy a storm door for the house before winter shows up again.

The Mourning Dove has returned

We were at the doctor today, too — for Garry. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find a good injector of cortisone to see if I can get my hips and back to hurt less. It’s getting hard to get around. In 10 years, I’ll be unable to move at all and that is not a pleasant thought so I have to see if I can get arthritis to at least, slow down.

Another pretty red House Finch

So again, if I’m missing, it’s not lack of love. It’s just that the days are not long enough. It’s half past midnight and I’m writing tomorrow morning’s post because I know I won’t be able to do it at the usual time. These are the days when I begin to wonder if maybe there’s another way to deal with this.

Hundreds of unread emails and posts and news and photos to process … and I already know I’m not going to be able to do it.

Not what I had in mind, but at least, for two days, the sun is shining and look! The birds stayed and let me take their pictures!

ENVY OF WORCESTER COUNTY – CAROLINE’S CANNABIS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Envy

Caroline’s Cannabis Uxbridge Dispensary, aka “the pot shop” is a winner.

It’s not bringing in huge crowds that the “closer to Boston” places are getting, but we live in the middle of Worcester County and don’t have crowds unless it’s the 4th of July and fireworks are included.

Standing on line on Wednesday (or was it Thursday?) was pleasant. People waiting on the steps of the local marijuana dispensary seem to be in a good mood. If it was raining or snowing, maybe less good, but the sun was out and it was not too cold. So, we chatted.

There was complete agreement that this shop needs an area in which to buy food. For the warmer months, a few tables with umbrellas along the woodsy side of the parking lot.

A bakery on the left, coffee and doughnuts on the right. It seems a waste of space to have a walk-in OR drive-through pot shop without tasteful goodies. For that matter, merely having a decent bakery in a town would be a winner.

We don’t have a dedicated bakery (not counting doughnut shops of which we have many) unless you count the mini bakeries in the grocery stores. The best bakery for bread (not cakes — Hannaford has better cakes) is at Walmart, but that’s a long drive for us. Seven or eight miles through miscellaneous towns though I suppose we could take the longer, faster road. It takes the same amount of time to get there, but you feel like you are going faster.

I’m pretty sure Caroline, the charming entrepreneur that she is, may yet find a way to coerce the lady who bakes the world’s BEST cupcakes (she is in Uxbridge already) to set up a small outlet in the shop. The same baker also makes chicken pot pies that are expensive but delicious and big enough for at least two, maybe three people. Or one big guy with an appetite.

She could open up a whole restaurant for that matter and be the best non-Asian restaurant in the valley and absolutely the finest appetizers, too.

If that didn’t work out, any one of the local (NOT Dunkin Donuts) doughnut shops who also serve good coffee could bake a bunch of extra doughnuts and hire someone to serve coffee … and voilà. A few tables outside for nice, warm days. Something good to smoke. Ahh. Joy and peace shall reign in our valley.

The shop is at the edge of town, very close to the main road that goes up to Worcester and down to Rhode Island. Convenient for everyone. It also has a parking lot. It’s not a huge lot, though. When we got there on Friday, there were no spaces. There’s room to expand and I hope they do.

I was afraid they’d put the shop in the middle of town and we’d never be able to get to the grocery without a long, slow drive.

I bought a little bar of dopey chocolate while I was there the first time (when I actually got inside). It isn’t improving my back because nothing will fix that. On the other hand, I am sleeping like the dead and waking up in a lot less pain.

All my muscles have loosened up. My spine is a disaster, but the muscles are relaxing and that’s great. I eat two little squares of chocolate when I get into bed. I don’t get stoned — or if I do, who could tell because I’m out for the count. I don’t even fall asleep.

First, I’m awake and with no warning, I’m out cold for a solid five hours, waking up only to go tot he bathroom and crawl back into bed. Now, add some yummy fatty food to make me a happy and well-rounded camper.

Getting to the nuts and bolts of the shop, they have a decent selection. Not huge. And they run out by later in the day, so if you want the full selection (they have a pretty big menu and you can order, if they don’t have what you want), you probably want to get there before lunchtime.

Everyone was extremely pleasant and as you might expect, laid back.

For how many of my younger years did I dream of legal pot shops? It’s like Garry and his new hearing: why didn’t that come 30 or 40 years ago? Well, at least something good has happened. We can’t change the government yet, but at least we can sleep better while we wait.

Are we the envy of the little towns of Worcester Country? Maybe.

“COMMANDER? I’VE MADE CONTACT!” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Contacts

Google is always changing the browser. As soon as you get used to it, they do something to “fix” it. The most recent change was that “contacts” are now a separate section, not part of email.

I was lucky. I actually read the note they sent that reminded me that contacts would now be available only by clicking a group of small boxes on the right top of the screen which will ONLY be visible if you happen to be using email at that moment. If you aren’t using email, you won’t see the little boxes and you won’t be able to find your contacts. There’s logic in there somewhere, but I’m just missing it.

Company name is no longer a default search column. You have to look under the first name of whoever you are looking for. Like, say, your cardiologist whose first name is John. I don’t think of him as “John.” I think of him as “my cardiologist” or at least, “Cardiology, UMass Hospital.”

You may think I’m picking on Google, but yesterday, it took close to 45 minutes to enter the local pot shop information into my contacts form, including their email address and physical address. Fortunately, they still consider the phone number part of basic information, but who knows for how long?

So, just to back up a little bit, yesterday, in a fit of enthusiasm for Uxbridge’s newly opened Pot Shop, also known as “Caroline’s Cannabis Uxbridge Marijuana Dispensary,” I decided to add their address to my contact list. This was when I made the remarkable discovery that the contact list no longer automatically includes a physical address section. You have to ask for advanced material and then you get an insanely complicated bunch of stuff.

Is it me? Isn’t there supposed to be a physical address to go with a contact’s phone number? For that matter, you need to go into “advanced” for the website address too.

Although I don’t go out as much as I used to, there are places I have to physically go. The Pot Shop, assuming I go there for some reason other than to take pictures for a post, is one such place. The grocery store, the bank, all doctor’s offices, and hospital addresses too. There are places where I have to take my physical self that isn’t medical like (for example) the local Home Depot.

Apparently, no one goes anywhere anymore, so getting somewhere to write down a physical address is an “advanced contact item.”

Seriously?

One of the things I learned about writing software is that developers put information wherever it fits conveniently on the screen. They don’t actually care whether you — the user — will find that location useful or convenient. They say “Oh, there’s an empty space in the  “color droplet” menu, so I think I’ll put the leveling control there.” They have no idea how you will use the software and they really don’t care. They know how it works and the rest is your problem.

No one would ever look there for a leveling tool since it has nothing to do with all the rest of the items on the list, but that’s where they put it and that is where it still resides. I had to do a deep dive into Google to locate the function.

It is for this reason that I have a little paper booklet in my bag that has basic information about places I go in it. Addresses, names, and a few little directions. Because my body needs to get there, too.

IDIOPATHIC – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Idiosyncrasy

I am the proud owner of a body which does its own thing Although I knew the word “idiosyncrasy,” until I got into understanding “doctor-speak,” I didn’t really understand the word.

When a doctor says you have an “idiopathic neuropathy” in your left foot, it means your left foot doesn’t work the way it should and he/she has no idea why. Anything idiopathic in medical language is the equivalent of the doctor shrugging his or her shoulders.

Over the years of my life, many things have been officially idiopathic or, as I prefer to put it, idiotic.

Reflexes that stop working. Sensations that disappear (aka “idiopathic neuropathy”) and later reappear. Idiopathic dizziness, idiopathic raising/lowering creatinine, changing levels of red blood cells, iron deficiency, electrolytes that vanish, then reappear … and the list goes on.

None of these things have ever been diagnosed. All of them eventually went away without medical intervention. Frequently, my hardest act to pull off is not letting them give me medication that is going to give me a whole new set of problems I didn’t have before.

It’s not that I don’t think we all need regular checkups. We do.

But our bodies do stuff. On the whole, a lot of it doesn’t mean anything important. Our bodies adjust themselves, pushing this level up and another down and when it sorts itself out, it settles down. We have become so used to reading stats that when anything seems out of line, this doctor or another feels he or she should DO something about it.

First, they have to figure out what to do and that always involves a lot of expensive testing. After which the result is usually nothing. Sometimes you hear, “You’re getting older” — as if I didn’t know that. My personal favorite: “You should probably drink more liquids.” Thank you for reminding me.

My favorite line yesterday was the nurse who asked me why the electronic blood pressure machine doesn’t work on me. How in the world would I know? Ask the machine or its manufacturer. Read the manual.

Or forget the machine. Take a standard, manual blood pressure reading, the kind every nursing student learns during their first five minutes in training.

EKG setup

It’s why I often wonder why do a dozen tests so they can then tell you it was “a massive yet idiosyncratic drop-off of blood sodium levels” that should have killed you. “It’s amazing you could even stand up.”

Not only did it not kill me, but if they hadn’t called and told me something was terribly wrong, I’d never have noticed anything. It did, as it turns out, finally explain those cramps in my legs and feet.

Electrolyte insufficiency. If I drink Gatorade or any of the dozens of other electrolytes drinks, my legs and feet don’t cramp. After years of pain and agony, the answer was “sports drinks.” I don’t have to take any expensive and likely to kill me medicine, either. Amazing.

Meanwhile, I learned yesterday I still do NOT have cancer (again). My anemia is gone. Let’s hear it for those little, dissoluble iron pills. All my levels are NORMAL, especially for someone who had two kinds of cancer nine years ago, and major heart surgery 4-1/2 years ago.

I’m in fabulous condition — except for the broken spine. the hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, and the dysfunctional gastrointestinal thingamabob. Also, whatever was making my left eye cease seeing has gone away so I can probably skip the expensive tests they were going to run.

Glass on glass

I probably didn’t have a stroke. Maybe I just need tinted glasses. I absolutely need new eyeglasses because I can’t see very well at any distance except really close up. Maybe I can get the hospital to pay for them instead of $10,000 worth of tests they were going to run.

Just call me idiopathic