Oct 7, 2014

Taking Such A Long, Long Way Back To Me

-Courtesy Teri Partridge

“Do you know, do you know
what it’s like to die alive?”
- “You Don’t Know” lyrics by Brian Yorkey

By Deb Saine
Oct. 6, 2014

I’m alive ... again!

And while some may say it’s better than the alternative, I’d beg to differ. Or, to be precise, I would have begged to differ.

There have been so many days these past few years when I have wished I’d reached the final chapter, the final paragraph, the final punctuation mark on the story of my life. But I was too afraid to pen, The End, myself.

“You’re Fired!”

It felt like the initial beginning of the end came on Sept. 1, 2005. Nothing like being fired on Labor Day, don’t you think? I love the irony.

What had started out as the ultimate dream job as a reporter in February of 1988 ended more than 17 years later in a nightmare. When I was told by my employer that it was time to hand in my key and clear out my desk, I wasn’t shocked. I’d sensed it was coming.

As a matter-of-fact, when I was summoned to the publisher’s office in the building where I’d worked for so many years, I knew before I reached the High Priestess’s door that it was over for me. I’d been walking toward the front office behind the managing editor when it dawned on me.

I stopped a few feet from my desk, tapped the m.e. on the shoulder and looked her in the eyes after she turned around, and I said, “You’re going to fire me, aren’t you?” The expression on her face was as priceless as anything that has been deemed so over the years by MasterCard.

The color drained from her face. The look of shock had yet to pass when I did a 180 and walked back to my desk and started packing up a few things. Totally thrown and typically unsure of what to do next, my direct supervisor went to see the second-in-command and report what had happened.

Within minutes, No. 2 came up to me and told me nicely that I needed to head to the publisher’s office. I stopped packing up, turned, and said, “Why? I don’t work here anymore.” She didn’t have a comeback, so I let her and the supervisor stew a few seconds before I acquiesced.

As a side note, you probably can tell by this anectdote alone that I wasn’t the easiest employee to deal with. Honestly, I was somewhat surprised I’d lasted there for as many years as I did. I mean, you’d think that a few years after being given consistent, poor performance reviews covering the same flaws time and again would’ve earned me a pink slip much sooner.

The Saturday shift before the information on my business card became obsolete, I sensed that I’d finally given the inmates running the asylum the final monumental screwup they’d anxiously been waiting for so they could can me.

But that’s another post for a different day!

Artwork by Saine

“Beyond Devastated”

Once it became official that I’d be receiving unemployment checks, I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist and made a phone call to Mom. When I finally got home, I took off my work clothes, slipped on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt and climbed into bed.

And that’s where I spent the majority of my time for the next six months, sleeping. I’d been so upset that I thought, “F*** It,” and I stopped taking the medications that had been prescribed to help with my brand of bipolar.

Mom was about the only contact I had with the outside world. I didn’t want to do anything or see anybody. No visits to the shrink. No visits to the therapist. I hated when the phone rang and always let calls go to voicemail. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I stopped watching TV, renting DVDs, and listening to music. I stopped taking regular showers and couldn’t care less if I brushed my teeth or washed my hair.

I can’t remember exactly when or why I decided to go from the bedroom and into the den. Maybe it had something to do with the Spring. I went from spending most of my time sleeping in a bed to sitting in my La-Z-Boy, using the remote to turn on and then watch a little TV before eventually hitting the mute button. Then, I’d curl up in the recliner, pull a blanket over me, and nap. For hours. After I’d wake up, the sound went back on and stayed on until I became tired again. Eventually, I’d head for bed.

But I still wasn’t changing my clothes all that often or showering or doing any housework, fixing any meals or getting the laundry done. The only time I would leave the den was to let out the dogs and feed them, or for me to use restroom or go to bed. I also maintained my anti-social status.

Because I’d stopped writing altogether, the urge to create something in a different way started creeping into my subconscious. Art became the new outlet for expressing myself. I pulled out a copy of artist Mark Kistler’s book, “The Draw Squad,” and started filling up pages and pages of sketchbooks using nothing more than Kistler’s instructions, a pencil, an eraser and a sharpener.

Gradually, without being fully aware of what was happening, I’d started to heal. I realized I had a long way to go, but at least I was beginning to climb up and out of the once all-consuming darkness. And I was ecstatic when my humor returned.

Sitting in the den one day, a thought popped into my head, and I started laughing. I’d thought, “Well, Debbie, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten yourself into!” My psyche had invoked the spirits of the dearly departed comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy who’d found fame in the 1930s.

Clip Art

"Nothing a Few Pills Won’t Help”

The baby steps I took to begin my journey back into life included meeting with my psychiatrist, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and scheduling weekly sessions with a therapist.

One aspect that makes treating bipolar difficult is the fact that each individual’s brain chemistry is different. So while some medications may work for one person, that doesn’t mean those medications will work for another. It’s basically a matter of trial and error, and the process can be frustrating and disheartening.

My “official” diagnosis was made around the time I was 40, and it took some time to find a combination of chemical cocktails that helped me manage. Unfortunately, one combination usually only worked for one to two years and then it was back to the psychiatrist to make the necessary adjustments by starting the process again.

Making matters worse would be the side effects. Depakote robbed me of my balance, so I couldn’t ride my bicycle. Abilify ate away at my short-term memory so I had to leave myself Post-it notes for my Post-it notes. Another medication caused my fingers to lock up at the joints while something else made both hands flop like a fish out of water, sometimes lasting for days at a time. Thank God there was a pill for that. I gained — and have never been able to lose — an extra 45 pounds courtesy of Remeron.

Because I had stopped taking all of my medications at once after I had been fired and stayed off of them for almost 12 months, it took about two years before my disorder was manageable, and I was able to function.

I still wasn’t writing, but I did start taking weekly art lessons. My world was beginning to expand again.

Artwork by Saine

“Fucking Cancer”

But you know that saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans?” Or, the one about how God laughs when humans come up with specific intentions?

My plans were simple. They had to be because taking life in bigger chunks than 24 hours weren’t good for my mental health.

I loved taking art lessons. I loved painting and drawing. I tried to go to at least three AA meetings a week. Then, there were regular trips to see the psychiatrist and others to visit the therapist. I worked my way up to getting out and riding my bicycle. I played some tennis. I volunteered to help out at a couple of outdoor events. I went to lunch with friends.

Because of all the activities, even my personal hygiene improved! But there still were some issues when it came to my health.

Eventually, I also was able to get my home back in order — inside and out, including doing I don’t know how many loads of laundry, throwing some things away and taking some other stuff to Goodwill.

But while I was crashing and burning, and later, when I started dusting off the ashes, Mom was well into her fight against a formidable foe of her own. Sometime in 1994 or 1995, when she was only in her mid-60s, she was diagnosed with melanoma. It had started in her sinus cavity.

Her oncologist told her the prognosis wasn’t good; that she might live another year or so. But he didn’t know Mom. She’d been up against the wall so many times in her life that she wasn’t about to let cancer take her down.

And it didn’t. At least not until about 17 years later.

She went through so much: a surgeon had to remove the hard upper palette in her mouth; a specialist had to make her an obturator prosthesis to replace the missing palette; she endured chemo treatments strong enough to kill an ox three times a week for a year; and 20 or so radiation treatments once the rounds of chemo were finished.

From there, the only option was to cut each time there was a recurrence. And cut some more. And some more. One neck muscle was removed, making it difficult for her to move her head and causing her mouth to droop a bit.

She lost her sense of taste. She constantly felt exhausted. She lost her desire to read. She lost her hair and her eyebrows. She also had one knee and a hip replaced. Other health issues cropped up. There were countless trips to see various doctors two or three times a week. And to think she’d been relatively healthy before cancer came to call.

But Mom also continued dressing to the nines. She kept up with the house and with the laundry and the ironing. She maintained the close friendships she’d developed over the decades. And she played bridge. Lots and lots of bridge.

But through it all, we knew that it was never a question of “if” the cancer would wind up killing her but “when,” which was shorlty after the first hour of a Sunday — Father’s Day, no less, which was June 17, 2012.

My Beautiful Mom, Ramona

“So Hard To Watch”

I thought sobering up in 1990 would be the most difficult challenge of my life. But I was wrong. The most difficult challenge of my life was watching cancer eat away at the love of my life and eventually having to let her go.

Like a friend who’d also lost her mother told me, “Nobody loves us like our Mom.” It was so true. It wasn’t easy raising a difficult child on her own. It wasn’t easy watching a daughter struggling to say sober and later taking on manic-depression and all that encompassed. Understanding mental illness is challenging for those who are mentally ill and sometimes more so for the people around them who aren’t.

Mom did the best she could at the time.

It was Mom who had seen me through what I thought would be my darkest hour after I got fired. She called me every day for weeks, asking me how I was feeling, what I was doing, hoping that with each conversation, I finally would have summoned the energy to get out of bed.

But as I faced my true darkest hour, Mom was gone. And it was that permanent absence that shut off the lights. I started spending more time in than out of bed. I played Russian roulette with my meds. I ate. And I ate some more. And even more after that. Rarely was what I stuffed into my mouth something considered to be healthy. Again, I stopped doing everything I enjoyed.

Bipolars don’t handle stress well. Bipolars find it difficult to go on after suffering a devastating loss.

There to flip the switch on every once and awhile, however, was a friend of Mom’s who’d known me since the day I was born. She’d promised Mom to watch over me, and watch over me she did.

What I didn’t know was that Dixie was having serious health problems of her own, including cancer. I knew about everything but that. Thirteen months after Mom died, Dixie died.

She’d been calling me regularly, always asking when I was going to come see her. We’d gone to lunch several times, talked on the phone quite a bit, and I’d also go to visit. The last time we spoke was a Sunday afternoon. She said, “So, when are we going to lunch?” And I said, “Well, when can you go to lunch?” And she said, “Let me check my calendar, and I’ll get back with you.”

But she didn’t, which was odd. Almost a week had passed, so I decided I’d call her. Then I got a phone call, but not from from Dixie. It was her daughter. And my shattered heart took another significant blow. At the same time as losing Dixie, I’d developed some health issues.

Clip Art

"Doctor, Doctor"

With each day, I got weaker and weaker. I had trouble climbing the basement stairs. I couldn’t do anything physical for more than a few minutes without losing my breath.

Making it from one end of the grocery store to the other felt like climbing a mountain. When I got to the car with my purchases, I had to take a breather. Then another one after loading up. Once I got home, taking everything up to the kitchen from the garage right away wasn’t possible. It was a matter of one plastic bag at a time.

The house already was a disaster. After Mom was admitted to a hospice, I didn’t have the energy or the heart to care. I still didn’t care when my health declined.

I simply thought the most recent weight I’d gained coupled with a lack of exercise finally had taken a toll, officially obese and out of shape being the causes. The afternoon of Dixie’s visitation at the funeral home, I couldn’t stand in line. I constantly had to sit down. I was pale and had broken out into a cold sweat. I had trouble breathing.

Concerned friends ordered me to make an appointment to see a doctor. Turned out I’d contracted a rare virus that had taken up residence on my esophagus and caused internal bleeding. My red blood cell count at the time had dropped from somewhere in the mid-teens to 7.7. Recovery included a blood transfusion and two iron infusions.

Slowly, I regained my strength and was able to move around and to do a little bit here and there. The problem was that I had no motivation, no desire to clean the house or mow the yard or do a load of laundry.

The depression already had me in its grip and the grip got even tighter when Dixie died. I simply couldn’t move forward.

But apparently, I hadn’t lost enough people I loved and who had loved me in return.


 "Coming In Threes”

Usually, bad news travels faster. And as always, there are the exceptions to every rule. In this case, I didn’t learn about the cancer relapse of one of my dearest and closest friends until three months after the fact.

By then, the melanoma had spread throughout Lori’s body, and there wasn’t really anything that could be done. She called to tell me in January and was gone by late February. Like I had been with Mom, I was with Lori until almost the very end. Like I had with Mom, I told Lori how much I loved her.

And then, I started to grieve the loss of Lori on top of the grief I’d been facing since losing Mom and then Dixie.

The dark clouds moved in quickly. I was drained. I’d had enough. I didn’t care. I have felt even more alone than I had after Mom died. You see, I don’t make friends easily let alone hang onto them for very long. And it’s extremely difficult for me to reach out and ask for help. And now, three of the people I depended on were gone. Who was left to step up and step in?

About a month after Lori’s death, I started to feel the same way physically as I had in July of last year. This time, I made an appointment immediately with my blood doctor. My count was low at 9.9 but higher than the previous 7.7. Three infusions to pump up my iron. But the mystery remains as to what’s causing the drop. Yet another upper EGI along with a number of blood tests haven’t provided any clues.

So, I wait to see if my iron takes a dive for the third time.

Artwork by Saine


The things that always have helped me eventually get my head back above water have been related to the arts. Before Mom died, she made me promise never to give up writing or enjoying and making music or creating art.

Keeping that promise hasn’t been easy. I’ve been taking baby steps. The first step was accepting a cyber challenge to read 50 books and watch 50 movies in 2013. While it was difficult to find 50 movies worth watching, I was able to read more than enough books. This year, I decided to go after the 50 books but dropped the movie challenge.

Another step I took was going to a meeting of the artists’ co-op held in my hometown which is about 17 miles east from my home now. My watercolor teacher introduced me to the group about three or four years ago, and until Mom died, I’d been a relative regular.

The group meets once a month, alternating between having some type of program and sharing art that members had created based on a common theme. In May, the theme pulled was “theatre.” As soon as someone drew and then read what was on a small piece of paper, my mind got busy. I immediately associated the word theatre with Mom because she’d worked at the Roxy when she was a teenager and that’s where I’d watched countless movies as a kid. I couldn’t wait to get home and get started.

I did Internet searches using keywords like Roxy theatre, movie threatres, drive-in theatres. Some searches lead me to other searches that took me in new directions that even included the old refreshment advertisements that featured dancing candy and popcorn to be enjoyed during intermission. Those and Times Square and all its venues throughout various decades caught my eye and begged me to create something using each image.

I pulled out my sketchbooks and watercolor paper along with drawing pencils watercolor pencils and colored pencils and also markers and watercolors and gel pens and more.

Each day, I’d create a new drawing. Eventually, I moved out of my comfort zone and started using larger pieces of paper. I was trying things I’d never tried before from subject matter to size to mediums.

I created enough artwork to fill a small gallery.

One reason I had stopped making art was because it was Mom I’d made the art for. She had pieces I’d done framed, and she displayed them throughout her home. She loved seeing what I was working on.

After losing her, I felt I’d lost my audience, too. But ever the accepting and supportive group of artists who belong to the co-op, they took pleasure in each and every single piece of art I’d created based on the theme “theatre.”

I’ve also been reading. In fact, I’ve already reached the goal of 50 titles for the year with two months to go.

Mom was a firm believer in reading. She believed that if you could read, you could learn how to do anything. It was because of her that I became an avid reader. And I’ve always turned to books to help me learn something new, understand something better, grasp difficult subjects or simply be entertained.

My resources for finding new reading material runs the gamut from Internet sites to word of mouth along with articles in magazines and newspapers and also at cyber bookstores. NPR recommended the novel I finished last week, “Florence Gordon” by Brian Morton, and the non-fiction I’m reading now, “It Ain’t Over ... Till It’s Over: Reinventing Your Life and Realizing Your Dreams Anytime at Any Age,” I learned about at Huffingtonpost.com.

I have the authors of each book to thank for inspiring me to finally do something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time —create a blog so I could share my creations, regardless of what form those creations may take.

In the six days since designing the blog for “An InSaine Life: Welcome to My Wacky World,” I’ve written four posts and more than 100 people have “liked” my Facebook page of the same name that I’m using to get the word out about the blog.

I’m writing again.
I’m making art.
I’m filling up my iPod.

For the first time in forever, I have hope. For the first time in forever, I have a purpose.

I’m alive ... again!