If a cynic speaks in the woods…

In my real life, I’ve mentioned before that I tend not to speak of my mood disorder even when well-intentioned people ask how I’ve been. It’s the feeling of not wanting to “bring anyone down” mixed with more than a little “they don’t really care about me” that keeps me silent. It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post to this small blog that no one I personally know is aware of. It’s been many weeks. Why is that? This was supposed to be my safe space.

I see now that my reticence comes from a deeper place. If I don’t even want to burden the faceless computer screen and the few anonymous readers, what does that say about me? I *think* it speaks to a bit of hopelessness (if one can be a bit hopeless). I *think* it says, my sense of self is lacking. I must admit, the inevitability of this disorder has worn me down over the last fourteen years. I have become a
bipolar cynic!

I follow several groups on Facebook that feature bipolar news items and bloggers. I hate to say it but I really feel pretty annoyed at all the hearts and rainbows type blogs: don’t give up, I found my cure. (I actually wrote an article about the benefits of ECT and later regretted it). I can’t help thinking, let’s see some data. How long have you felt this way? How many months?

My own current treatment plan involves a great deal of walking outdoors, Ativan to sleep, birth control to regulate my hormones and a boatload of specific vitamins. This is the first time since 2000 that I haven’t had a cocktail that includes mood stabilizers and antidepressants. I actually feel good. That’s not to say happy all the time. For me, feeling in control of my mind is good. When I am up, I know the next day I probably shouldn’t plan any play dates. I know when I am down, I probably should go for a walk. I see direct results and don’t feel bogged down by side effects.

I can not advise anyone to hold on, here is the cure. I can not even rest in the security that I have found what works. THERE IS NO REST in policing one’s own mind. This seems to be helping for now. I’m pretty worried about making it through another Northeast winter. I get by on brutal honesty (with myself) about my moods & motivations. And my honesty today is that, I have not been writing because I no longer have a voice. I see it is crucial that I reclaim my voice. I have a right to speak the truth. Everyone does, even when — especially when, the truth is not perfect. Thanks to anyone who reads my words, my voice.

A Selfish Debate

So it begins… A famous person takes his life. Cue the spotlight. Dialogue begins. Has this death added something new to the discussion? Will we take this as an opportunity to review health-care policy for those suffering the very real illness called depression? Or will the conversation drag down, into the great abyss of misunderstanding?

It’s almost too close to home. I’m unable to read all the Facebook posts and memorials. It hurts. Why should it bother me on such a level?

I didn’t know Robin Williams much beyond some of his dramatic roles and his hilarious turn as the animated blue guy. I didn’t know him as a person or father or husband. But now, in his death, we can all see him for what he was: human.

The rich and famous are put on such a pedestal in the US and around the world. Comedians perhaps are given a special place in our hearts because they open up about their home lives and personal experience in their stand up. We feel close to them because they open up and turn the every day into something fun and exciting. For many, this suicide is a harsh reminder that depression is universal. Even funny, successful, and yes — famous people that we admire, can have a secret pain that is too much to bear.

People either understand what that feels like or they don’t. People who have battled depression can hopefully remember that pain and feel compassion for a funny man who was obviously in a desperate state to make such a decision. Those who have not experienced depression might mention the S word. Selfish. Those of us still down in the trenches are left to read the postmortem character assassination and feel even weaker knowing that is what people will think of us if we talk openly about being suicidal. I DO understand why people say suicide is selfish but I can NOT agree.  The mind is powerful and capable of inflicting agony. The S word adds nothing positive to this discussion except an even stronger stigma that will silence people who need help. 

So what can I, as someone who grapples with the will to live quite often, add in the wake of Robin Williams’ momentous decision? Empathy.

Goodbye, Mr. Williams. I’m sorry you were in so much pain. You were not alone.

The Chipped-Tooth Incident

Sometimes, bad days happen. I’ve been pretty stable lately. A little down. Ish. Really that is gold-star worthy for me. But yesterday was a mixed mood sort of day. By the end, I was shaking so bad and couldn’t stop talking. I was loud. All pretty unusual for me.

Here’s how it went down. I spent the morning speaking with a friend. She’s a lovely person, so accepting. I actually did discuss with her some of my true feelings. I’ve been dealing with feelings of loneliness lately, different from my typical isolation, and I also spoke with her about upcoming doctor appointments. It was very nice. I didn’t go to the deep end but I let her see a glimmer. Just speaking these things out loud is enough for a slight tilt toward mania.

I could feel it. But it wasn’t uncomfortable. Then I had play therapy with my five-year old. We’ll call her The Professor. It was our first session. While outwardly I was claiming that our relationship had so improved I was unsure why I was even keeping the appointment, inwardly I knew. It all spilled out in front of the social worker.

I am afraid The Big Break of 2013 really affected her. She’s quiet. Doesn’t express her inner world. But after I woke up from being sick for three months and continued to be suicidal for several more, I noticed she didn’t respect me, she fought me on everything, she talked down to me. She’s moody and very hard on herself and others. I’m worried having a sick mommy has hurt her and it’s time to talk about it.

By this time I’m pretty ramped up. Feeling mixed. Upset with myself for all that has happened but relieved to finally be addressing it. Hopeful. Super hyper. A little big strained in my brain. (Feels a little like a headache receding).

And then I take a good look at Maximus. (My three-year old who is slight but mighty). She’s talking strange, not moving her upper lip. I take a look and see her two front teeth have a small chalky line at the very bottom and one of them looks chipped. Yep, definitely chipped. And that’s when I go full-tilt. My brain just sets off, lit like a Roman candle. Nothing with my kids can be so simple as a chipped tooth. The dominoes that went off in my head went something like this.

She just had dental surgery for three hours last month and now it looks like her two front teeth are about to break off at the bottom.

What will the dentist say?

Her teeth are bad.

She doesn’t get any fluoride.

I can’t get her to switch to new toothpaste because she gags.

Overactive gag reflex.

I should have tried harder.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Are they not watching her well enough in her special ed class?

She has developmental coordination disorder.

Super clumsy. Falls all the time.

I should take it more seriously.

School should take it more seriously.

I’ve been lulled into thinking she’s already “better” after a few months of school.

Shame on me.

She’s my baby, I have to protect her.

No one else cares.

What if it’s all in my head.

She has bad teeth; she fell. End of story, right?

No. I should have seen this coming.

Contact school, contact dentist.

Maybe a helmet or a mouth guard.

I should have thought of that earlier.

My fault.

Calm down.

My wrongdoing.

My baby, hurt because of me.

Then the jealousy hits. My husband has no such thoughts. I’m sure other moms don’t either. I spiral deeper. Who thought I could handle kids? I can barely keep myself up and running. I didn’t know both my kids would have special needs that require constant special attention. (I should have known).

Then I shift back to The Professor. I question the recent decisions made to not give her meds for ADHD. To not keep her in the special needs program. She’ll fail! It will be All. My. Fault.

Round and round I spin. Talking loudly to my husband who has the look on his face that says, she’s not ok. He just nods and smiles. I hate that. I hate him! I hate myself.

In the end, I turned to Ativan, went to bed, woke up and walked 6 miles. The next day I avoided the chipped tooth altogether. If I don’t pursue it, I know it will get dropped. Maybe that’s good. Maybe that means it really was all in my head. Just one day lost to a mixed mood. I’ll just wait and see if my ‘normal’ husband thinks it’s worth pursuing.

It’s horrible not to have faith in your own reasoning. But it’s failed me before.

Sense Memory and Houlihan’s Baked-Potato Soup

A June of 2013, I decided to halt ECT treatments. I had at least 19 treatments in about 10 weeks and it seemed it wasn’t really working. I would go back to being suicidal after a few days. It also seemed like it was negatively affecting my memory. I wasn’t really sure how bad it was, but my husband seemed to be concerned. After a month or so, it became clear my memory was decimated. I had huge gaps going back to high-school and college. I couldn’t remember much of my younger daughter’s life. She was two and a half at the time it ended. I couldn’t remember places I had been, people I had known, and a very awful truth – I could not remember if certain people were still alive or had passed during my fog. I also forgot how to do my very complicated, technically precise job. I was left feeling very hollow, a shadow who walks, talks, and takes care of kids.

The doctors said it should come back within 2 months. It didn’t. I was even more depressed and 13 months later, I’m still putting my life back together. Things do come back now and then and when it happens, it hits like lightning and then sort of a short movie reel on each particular topic follows. Maybe I’m watching Orange is The New Black and I’m reminded of my college girlfriend. Or I see a Facebook memorial post and I remember someone died, the funeral, the sadness. It’s really hard walking around not knowing what you know. I’ll say, “I’ve never done that before” and the room goes quiet, awkward glances all around. Then I realize, I have done that and everyone knows it but me. It’s pretty embarrassing and very disheartening. I feel good these days but am still constantly reminded that there is a loss lingering there. Our past experience is an enormous aspect of our identities.

The other day we went to Houlihans for the first time in…. a while. (I physically can’t remember when I was there last and I refuse to constantly view my life through my husbands eyes. I am ME. His memories are not me so I’m not going to ask.) I recognized the sign and the inner decor looked familiar. I didn’t know if it was family friendly and we had the kids with us so I was a bit nervous. I looked at the menu and nothing really triggered. Then the waitress mentioned the soup of the day. And it hit me: the movie real of going to Houlihans with my husband and, more often, with my best friend flashed through my mind’s eye. I got so excited. I could smell the deliciousness and taste it in my mouth. I ordered it and waited for it to arrive, all the while remembering more clearly. A fuzzy picture in my mind of life in our last town and how that was my favorite restaurant began to come into focus. I used to go there because it was close to my house and my driving anxiety was very bad back then. I started to feel the connections blending in my brain, remembering a bit of who I was before, how it felt, fundamentally to be inside myself back then.

The kids were misbehaving and we were talking about something shallow. But inside, I was getting a piece of my mind back. The soup came and it was all that I remembered… and so much more.

In a crowded room

I just saw an interview with a famous actor promoting a movie about suicide, in which he said (paraphrase) people with suicidal thoughts don’t have lots of people around them for support. It made me think of how others perceive the severely depressed and wonder if I see it the same way; does the stereotype holds true for me? I have a pretty large network of family, friends, acquaintances, and, of course, an active Facebook account. (Gotta have that, right?)

I’ve had friends who’ve known me for years that I truly love and respect, that I didn’t tell about my struggles. Others I told right away. But after The Big Break of 2013, everyone knows. It’s hard to hide several weeks of full-day outpatient treatment, VERY hard to hide three months of ECT treatments, and completely impossible to hide the resultant memory loss. (Much more on that later.) My point being, everyone now knows I’m bipolar, many people know I suffer from SAD and PMDD, and a select few more than I’m comfortable with know that I have obsessive suicidal ideation (SI).

So what does it mean to be out of the “bipolar closet?” Or another way: what does it mean to be surrounded by people who know about my struggles and care if I am happy or depressed? How does all this liberation affect the day-to-day?

Not much, really.

I believe most people would agree that sad topics are a bummer. Deep thoughts should stay buried, right?

As an aside, one of my favorite movie scenes of all time is when Helen Hunt’s character in As Good As it Gets has this whole cathartic, crying release directed toward her mother and asks “What is it that you want?” And her mother says simply, “I want us to go out!” My mother to a tee. She’s no longer with us, but I think of her when I talk to other people. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoK3po2rJUQ&feature=kp

People with honestly loving intentions ask me how I’m feeling. Often they follow up quickly with bright eyes and “better now?” or something similar. Yes, much better. I rarely give more than that. Why? Well, my mind is morbid, awkward, a burden, abnormal, dark, etc. I love these people but I can’t talk to them.

There’s one word that comes to mind over and over as I write this: Taint. Everyone has a past with pain and trouble. But how many people live like that every day? I don’t want to taint my loved ones. I don’t want them to have to think about incest, abuse, mental hospitals, pill hoarding, broken families, ECT or any of the other circumstances in my past. I let them believe what they want, that The Big Break was an anomaly, not just a slightly worse version of the norm. I talk to almost no one about who I am inside.

But I am not alone. I host Christmas, play dates, BBQs and smile — all the while knowing I am loved. I won’t tell them it doesn’t matter. Let them be untainted.