Life Has Its Ups and Downs….my Left-Right Thing

My cousin calls this Baby Count Dracula.

My cousin calls this Baby Count Dracula.

If your idea of normal is someone who is really smart, funny, bilingual, alcoholic, bipolar and a great dancer, then you’ve come to the right person!  I’ve always been the life of the party, fun-loving and I cry a lot.  Doesn’t everybody?

There were two specific times when I realized that I was different from everyone else I knew.  One, and this is really my parents’ fault and not mine because they framed this picture, was when I took a close look at my baptism picture.  What was I thinking?? “Dear God, PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME WITH THIS FAMILY”  Or more to the point, who would frame this photo and put it on the piano for years?

Okay, so I was an unusual 3 month old.

The second time was around 1986 or so.  At the time, I worked for a non-profit agency as a case manager and shared my office with another case manager.  We were friends. Our desks were on adjacent walls, so when we turned to look at each other, we could see the bulletin boards above each other’s desks.

One day, a terrible thing happened.  She rearranged the items pinned to her board.  I got mad at her.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Why did you do that?

Her:  Do what?

Me:  Change your bulletin board?

Her:  What? What’s wrong with you?

Me:  You ruined my left-right thing.

Her (in astonishment):  What’s your left-right thing?

*sigh* So I explained that while I’m doing one thing, I make patterns in my head based on items that I could see in the room (any room).  I asked her what she called it.  What did she call what she did when she was doing something else.

She looked at me completely blankly.  I began to feel uncomfortable.  She said she never did something else while doing one thing.  I assumed she didn’t understand me.

Okay, let me give you an example.  On her board, she had 4 note cards, index cards or memos on the left side of her board.  On the right, she had 5.  In the middle she had 1.  So I could make a pattern in my head and go back and forth from left to right repeating the pattern in my head, counting by twos.  This sounds very weird now that I’m explaining it in writing.

So when she changed up her bulletin board, I got mad.

She was flabbergasted.  I asked her so what do you do when you’re just sitting there then? When we are done with work but we can’t leave for 2 more minutes?  She said, nothing.

That’s insane.  No one does nothing unless they’re in a coma.

I gave her another example.  I can automatically name the finger exercises I played on the piano when I was 5 years old.  I run those through my head frequently, I told her. Sometimes while doing my left-right thing, but always when I’m falling asleep.


Sometimes I would tap it out with my fingers while saying the numbers in my head.

"Medley of Pieces" recording of Barbara Harvey, age 5 1/2, after 1 year of piano lessons.

“Medley of Pieces” recording of Barbara Harvey, age 5 1/2, after 1 year of piano lessons.

I’m not making this up.  I thought everybody did something similar.  But called it by a different name.

Even though I’m the most outgoing person you’ve ever met and I don’t have a shy cell in my body, I was frequently depressed and tired.  About this time I realized that drinking wasn’t helping anything, so I stopped being an active alcoholic and started being a recovering alcoholic.

To make a long story as short as it is possible for talkative me to make any story short, my primary care physician prescribed anti-depressants.  After years of changing prescriptions and doses, a traumatic, tipping-point event occurred in my life and I felt I couldn’t function and cried all the time a lot.

I went back to see the doctor and she said I needed a specialist and gave me the name of a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  And, for the first time in my life, I got the correct diagnosis.

I am Bipolar II.  And on the correct medication now. I don’t cry often, although the Budweiser commercials during the Super Bowl get me every time.  I don’t need 12 hours sleep and still wake up tired.  I wake up after 6-8 hours of sleep and go to work and take care of myself and my family.

My mind doesn’t race anymore.  MY MIND DOESN’T RACE ANYMORE!

Who knew?  I have no idea what your mind does, and my mind still zooms around more than yours does, probably.  My life, like yours, has ups and downs.  But I no longer do my left-right thing.

I feel like part of me is missing.

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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18 Responses to Life Has Its Ups and Downs….my Left-Right Thing

  1. Paul says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Barb. I’m just imaging the looks your co-worker must’ve given you when talking about her bulletin board. I sort of do the same thing when it comes to counting, only I count letters in words and phrases to see what they add up to. It’s weird, I don’t know why I do it, I don’t do it as much anymore, and I don’t know how it started, but I think we all must have some strange habits that our mind forces us to do. That’s what I tell myself at least.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Maybe I should try that. Her look was just what you’re thinking. To me it was the same as someone who “whistles while they work.” But it’s actually the mind’s way to organize itself so…..I guess it races to a purpose? I was truly shocked that everyone didn’t do something similar. I still don’t understand the concept of a mind at rest. Maybe that’s why I talk so much, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What meds work for you? I am currently in outpatient care going through a bipolar depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I don’t talk about medication because I feel that is entirely between doctor and patient. We are all so different; what works for me may not for you. So my only suggestion is to discuss this with your doctor. My bipolar has been well-controlled for about 8 years. And I’m sure it’s because I let my doctor know what’s going on and I always, without fail, take my medication. Good luck to you! It sounds like you’re on a good path.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. katzlator says:

    What you were doing sounds like it might have been a form of creative meditation that you discovered on your own as a way of dealing with stress. Being in this Mindfulness Studies program has certainly made me more aware of how many of us (most certainly including me with my photography, gardening, and choir singing as well as tea ceremony) are using mindfulness practices to sooth ourselves. Dancing can certainly work that way as well as being exercise. As a photographer of details in nature, a tendency to study the details of things has proven an asset. I learned to think in systems as a result of being dyslexic and not being able to memorize lists, so I did a fair amount of finger counting as well, and I definitely prefer my environment to stay stable (except for my garden that is allowed to grow – it has other ways of being soothing).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you so much for your comments. The doctor told me that not only was it a coping mechanism, but that our minds are wonderful things. Mine used my left-right thing to organize my racing thoughts. I pray the rosary frequently which is a form of prayerful meditation. And I’m sure that I am also drawn to the counting beads while I pray. Thank you again.


  4. Bea dM says:

    You were a gorgeous baby! I’m not sure I quite followed the logic of your left-right thoughts, the bulletin board conversation would have flummoxed me too, but I gather your psychiatric nurse practitioner helped you rein things in effectively. Your mind has just downshifted some. I wouldn’t worry that any part of you is missing, just enjoy waking up rested 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      If you were a math person you’d understand finding patterns in things. I had a difficult time explaining it. What I miss is that doing that was part of what made me, me. Like a stress reducer that I miss. As to the baby picture, my cousin has a completely adorable one of me at the same occasion. I was like how did your family get the cutest picture ever and my family save the one with my eyes bugging! Thank you for trying to decipher my stories. Now you know how my friend felt!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann Coleman says:

    Thanks for your honesty in sharing this! And the last line made it rather poignant. Isn’t it odd how we tend to assume that other people cope with/see things the same way we do, until we have that kind of discussion? When I was young, I sometimes hallucinated when it was dark, seeing tiny red and blue lights that slowly crossed the room one way and then swiftly back the other way. This was sometimes followed by desert scenes, with animals. I remember when I “saw” them in front of my mother once and pointed them out, and was amazed that she couldn’t see them as well!
    I’m so glad you were finally given the correct diagnosis, and are able to sleep better now…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Yes, I sleep like a “normal” person now, lol.I’ve been correctly diagnosed for years, but just felt ready to write about it. Thank you for your support and for sharing your story. The only time I have ever hallucinated was when I was very young and had the measles. I had a fever of a little over 104 and thought there were tiny elephants in the room. If only I had known then that there are many times when there’s an elephant in the room! Ha 😃

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Barb and fellow readers — I also have a habit of counting patterns. Tiles on my kitchen floor, or on public restroom floors. Window panes. Anything that repeats. One, two, three, four and on it goes. I tend to group them into pairs. Two threes make six. Three twos make six. Six ones . . . If the parts aren’t squares, I try to see how many vertical sets can combine with horizontal sets to make a perfect large square. And then I get on with life. Maybe have lunch.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. bluestempond says:

    Isn’t it amazing how we all live in our own forms of reality inside our brains? I find I have a musical soundtrack running through my brain at all times that there isn’t already music playing around me. I wake up with it and it puts me to sleep at night. I also catch myself counting rhythmic things like footsteps or seconds running the faucet, silly things like that. If it doesn’t get in your way, you can laugh it off. If not, hooray for medical solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Glad that you finally got the right diagnosis and a proper medication for it, Barb It must be crazy and tiring to have your mind racing all the time like that. I cannot imagine!
    That said, so easy to assume if no one knows any better: the other person might think you are nuts and you think the other person is dumb for not getting what you mean.
    Thanks for explaining the pattern in your head in writing. I really was struggling without it. x.


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