What Do I Remember About That Night?

I remember that up to this point, this was the most difficult my life had ever been. I was struggling through the complete devastation of everything I thought I knew. Having to keep functioning and trying not to lose myself in the rubble of my life. This small celebration for a big win at work was such a welcome reprieve. As a part of a small specialized group of nerds, we helped secure a very large hotel contract that would change the face of business class internet for our company. We were celebrating this win with the sales team that closed the deal. Dinner and drinks at a local hot spot.

You had been working on bringing my wall down for months. Playfully calling me a man-hater, you set out to prove not all men were the same. You complimented me on my burger eating ability instead of my figure. You invited my whole family to the monster truck show. You got to know my husband and son. We got to know your son. You made me prove to the rest of the nerds that I had what it took to be part of that team, when I didn’t even know for sure if I could. But I did and I trusted you because I thought you believed in me.

You knew what was going on in my personal life. My world had been shattered and you were there for me. A listening ear and a shoulder when I needed one. You never tried to fix it, just let me vent without taking a side, which is exactly what I needed at the time. The only advise you gave was to get a kitten. I loved that because it seemed like such an intimate suggestion. Something to love that would not hurt me. I have no idea if that was your intention or not, but it worked. I got two.

You knew how desperately I needed this night of carefree celebration. A chance to really throw my cares to the wind and enjoy my successes. You knew my history with drinking and that I simply couldn’t; unless I had a trustworthy chaperone. I was surrounded by friends and coworkers. I was safe. You encouraged me to let loose and assured me I would be OK. I trusted you. You even told my husband I would be OK because you had my back. Then you turned my cell phone off.

I remember begging friends to not leave yet. We were having too much fun. I remember strong strawberry margarita’s and dancing. I remember feeling free and light. The weight of the world was gone. I remember feeling the music and dancing with a girl in a brown dress. That girl. I remember being mesmerized by her freckles. As consciousness slipped away, I remember trying to stay close to her. Wishing she would never leave. I knew when you started holding me up, that I was crossing over into the danger zone. But even then, the way you leaned into me with your shoulder made me feel safe.

Then I remember the quiet. Still silence. I felt heavy. It was so dark. With my eyes still closed I remember trying to determine if where I was felt familiar or could I remember how I got here? Nothing. The position of my body was awkward. I could feel movement. What was it? A large hand on my body. Squeezing, groping, I could feel the warm rough skin on my breast. Why? How? I opened my eyes and took in the familiar shapes of trees, silhouettes in the night, a wrought iron fence and the soft glare of a dashboard. My seat was reclined. My yellow shirt was hiked up sloppily, exposing me. As my eyes adjusted I recognized the parking lot of the largest cable provider in Texas. As my mind adjusted I recognized the familiar feelings of broken trust and ravaged boundaries.

Once again, I found myself in this strange place; caught between guilt, rage and fear. I did not want to do anything that could make my situation worse. I did not want to be physically hurt or even left here abandoned in the dark with no way home. Reluctantly, I decided on the best strategy I could think of in my fog. I pretended not to notice the stumbling fingers on my breast. As the hand made its way down to my thigh and tugged at my knee trying to create some space between my legs, I took the opportunity to stir. Pretending to have simply been disturbed, I stretched and then curled into a ball facing away from you. And I prayed.

I remember hearing some rustling and the gear shift into reverse. A slight jolt of the vehicle and we were in motion. It must have lulled me back to sleep because the next thing I remember is waking up in my own home. It was now Saturday. As I tried to piece the night together, I found my phone in my purse but little else. The remaining contents must have spilled out onto the floor of your truck because I found them in a small pile just outside my front door. Looking back, I think that says a lot about that night. It says a lot about you.

Monday came and I had to face you. Part of me thanking God I didn’t have to sit with your group anymore, part of me wondering if this would have happened if I had still been part of your group. But I know it would have. A weasel is a weasel. You came sauntering up to my desk with your arrogant swagger and delinquent grin. You made small talk while I sat there burning from the inside out. I don’t even know what you said until I heard “What do you remember from that night?” In my mind I ripped you apart. I like to think that the me I am now would have known exactly what to say, what to do, how to react. I know I would never have let you get away with it. But the me that was sitting there at that moment was full of guilt for getting drunk, remorse for letting my guard down once again and shame for what was done to me in your truck. “Enough” was all I could muster. Those were the last words I would say to you and that was the last time you ever looked me in the eye. “I remember enough.”

The Perfect Storm

Well, it has finally happened. My manic episode that seemed to last a year has ended. Or maybe it paused? Or maybe it’s just recharging? Who knows.

I think it was actually a “hypo-manic” episode. I just learned this term recently. It’s a milder form of mania. Amazing how I am still learning about myself and this disorder after so many years.

Honestly, I am thankful for the break because being manic is so exhausting. I am also thankful that when it ended, I did not crash into a depressive episode. Well, I did, but it only lasted 2 days. Now I feel as normal as normal gets for me. It’s nice for a change.

Another thing I am just learning about is triggers. I did not know my episodes could be triggered and therefore have never paid attention to what might be triggering them. I know what ended my manic episode, but I am not sure what caused it. It ended Sunday, November 4th, when I attended the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Walk. That is clear to me. Where it started is up for debate. I think it may have been in June 2017, when my husband and I traveled to Northern Arizona to attend his best friend’s funeral. The day we took a trip to the Grand Canyon, I realized that the future I imagined for myself was hanging by a thread. The events of that day led me to believe I would have to choose between my dreams and my relationship. My husband believes it was triggered in January 2018, by a float session in a zero gravity/sensory deprivation tank. He could be right. I do remember that session being a life changing experience for me. Either way, that means the episode lasted anywhere from 10 to 16 months. I have NEVER experienced anything like this before in my life.

Now here I am dealing with the aftermath.

Having a manic episode is like being lost at sea. No land in sight and all you can do is keep treading water. It literally feels like that physically. But it is all in your head. Nothing under your feet. You have no idea how you got there or if and when you will be back on land. For me, the sea I am lost in is a beautiful one. I have to thank God for that. I know it is not that way for everyone who is bipolar. Some seas are arctic and some are enveloped in raging storms. My sea is beautiful and wild. I could stay there forever if I only had the energy. But it is not as kind to the people who love me. They are tossed about too and it is harder for them to understand it because they cannot see it, or feel it like I do.

This manic episode has changed me and even helped me in so many ways. It got me through the loss of my mother. I honestly don’t know how I did it, but if I had not been in the middle of a manic episode, I don’t know if I would have made it through that. I made some of the most difficult decisions of my life during this episode. Part of me still wonders if they truly needed to be made or not, but for the most part, I think they did. And I know I would not have been able to do it had I not been manic. I may write more about those decisions at a later time, but not yet.

2018 is almost over. I will turn 46 next month, and then 2019 will start. I think 2019 will be so full of new starts and changes big and small. I am both excited and scared. It is time to sink or swim. But I am ready. Bring it on.

Adventure of a Lifetime

I have lived with bipolar disorder for half of my life now. I have spent 23 years medicated, trying new med’s, or adjusting existing med’s. The experience has always led me to think that certain medications have stopped working, or are no longer working for me. For the last year or so (maybe more, maybe less) I have been feeling unstable again. Very much like walking a tight-rope. I could fall at any moment, but I haven’t. Yet. It has been manageable because I am experiencing mania, not depression. Looking back, I am wondering if my chemical imbalance has been what changes, and not the medications ability to work. Do these disorders evolve? Do they change as we do?

As I have aged, have I become less depressed, so maybe I need less anti-depression medication? Or maybe I have become more manic and need more mood stabilizer med’s? Maybe I should try something new all-together? Some of my experiences with medication have been pretty terrifying, so I am reluctant to do that. Besides, I kinda like the mania. I am more social, happier and have a more positive outlook on life and everything about it when I am manic. But I don’t quite feel like myself, so I am trying to be very careful. It truly is difficult to control the urges to make decisions without thinking them through! But I am making lots of decisions and sometimes it scares me. I think I may have been in a depressive state for so long that I got sick and tired of it, and I started making somewhat big decisions in order to make changes in my life. Taking those steps may have caused a change in my mood and I have been manic ever since? Or maybe my manic state came first and allowed me to start making changes in my life that I did not have the courage to make while depressed? Either way, I am scared. Scared and excited at the same time.

I am afraid of how my decisions will impact (are impacting) the people I love. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I am learning that is impossible. When your life is connected to others lives, changes affect those lives as well. So, your life is not just your own. It belongs to you, but it is a part of what belongs to them too. Their world, their reality, their identity. I guess there are always both blessings and curses that inherently come with any intimate relationship, but I think they are multiplied when the relationship is with someone who is bipolar. Unless I just feel that way because I am bipolar.

I am excited about my future. I love change and have been longing for an adventure for such a long time. My son is all grown up and I am an empty nester now. My husband and I have come to a mutual understanding and are parting ways in what I hope to be the most amicable separation in history. Aside from marriage and parenthood, this will be my biggest adventure yet. But what if this is just a manic stage that has lasted for what seems like eternity? What if once I reach this goal I have set, I find that I am unhappy? What if I experience another depressive episode? What if I lose everything?

What if I live my life afraid, never make these changes and build nothing but regrets?

What if the next chapter of my life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows?

I really can’t avoid that. I don’t know if I would even if I could. I am more afraid of the regret of not LIVING than the consequences of having done so. If this is a manic episode, I am going to make the most of it.

I think I am still learning to love who I am, bipolar disorder and all, and maybe that is the greatest adventure of all.

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
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Motherly Love?

My Mom always told me that she knew very young that she wanted to be a mother. Over the years, she said many, many times that my brother and I were so lucky that we were wanted and loved. There were so many children who were neglected, abused or just unloved. I remember even as a young child how that always confused me. I didn’t know how to feel or react whenever she talked about it. I didn’t feel loved. Or wanted. But her statements made me feel almost guilty for not being grateful. I thought something was wrong with me. Something made ME not worth the love she always talked about. Her words said she wanted children and she loved children. I saw her with other children and she did seem to love them. She especially seemed to love the underdogs. Kids born with disabilities, or even serious handicaps. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t enjoy me as much as she enjoyed them.

Then, when I was 7, my parents divorced and I started to figure it out. It was me. She told me how much I reminded her of my father. I was ugly because I looked just like him she said. She couldn’t stand to look at me. I loved and adored my Dad and missed him terribly. She seemed to lose her mind when we would cry for him. He was a disgusting human being, so we must be disgusting too, for loving him. On Fridays when we would go to spend weekend with him, she would let us get dressed in whatever was our favorite clothes at the time. She would do our hair and tell us how beautiful we were. We would absolutely GLOW with the unexpected and so desired tenderness.  She would even sit us down to have our picture taken.

But then Sunday would come and we would return. The dread of Sundays is burned into me, much deeper than the brief elation of Friday afternoons. The first Sunday we had no idea what was waiting for us. We came home hoping to walk right back into her loving arms, but instead were greeted with abhorrence. We were filthy rotten and we smelled like garbage. She wondered aloud if we slept or bathed or even changed our clothes even once over the weekend. We were belittled and insulted until we were in tears. Then she sat us down for another picture.

This went on for some time. I was around 9 years old, so I can’t quite recall if it was weeks, or months. The pictures were used in a court battle to gain full custody of my brother and I. Not because she wanted us, as would be made very clear in the future. At this point in my life I have a few ideas of why she would do these things, but really, they are only my guesses. And she is not here to talk to about it. She can no longer confirm or deny anything. She can no longer answer any questions we may have. Even when she was, I tried many times and she was unable to participate in any difficult conversations. The conversations I most needed to have with her.

The last time I tried, was just a few years before she ended her life. She was living with my family and we were alone in the house. The familiar story of how much my brother and I were loved and wanted was being retold. I felt such a surge of emotion. Anger, sadness, pity, confusion, longing and something new. I think it was something like resolve, or determination. Maybe I was just feeling brave or rebellious or even resentful, I just don’t know. I asked her where us children were during the time in her life when we were loved and wanted? I told her I didn’t remember any of it. I even asked if maybe it was the first few years of our lives, before my memories begin? I explained that I did not feel lucky at all. What I remembered was screaming, anger and abandonment. I remembered her allowing us to be abused by our first step-father, and not stopping him or leaving until the first time he laid his hands on her. I remembered her sending us away, to go live with our father who she so desperately hated, when she first met the man who would become husband number 3. I remember weeks at a time of taking care of ourselves because she would not come home. And when she did, things were only worse.

I will never forget this moment. When I told her about the childhood I remembered. It was the moment I began to realize that I would never hear an apology, much less an acknowledgement. Right before my eyes a physical change came over her.  She was sitting on the couch facing in my direction. Slowly and simultaneously, her body became rigid and her eyes grew wide like saucers. Huge, terrified and childlike, she looked like a deer caught in headlights. Frozen. From her head to her toes. I realized something was terribly wrong. I still do not know what. I don’t know what would cause a reaction like that in a human. I don’t know how someone can just turn off or tune out like that. I have never been confronted with anything so terrible that it caused a reaction like that in me. The closest thing I can compare it to is when I experienced a sexual assault at the hands of a friend while sleeping. I froze in fear. I pretended to still be asleep because I did not know what else to do. I imagine it could have been a very similar reaction, but I will never know. She is not here to ask and if she was, she would not be capable of answering.

One of the reasons I wanted to tell this story today is because I want the world to understand why I am not as sad as I believe most people think I should be. I am more relieved for the mother I loved, than I am sad for the mother I lost. My Mom was not a happy person. Yes, she experienced happy moments, and I feel SUPER BLESSED for each and every one that I got to share with her. But they were the exception, not the rule. I don’t know what her relationships with others were like, because she never talked about it much. When she had someone else in her life, her children were put aside, so I never even really got to even witness much.  In my later teen years and early adulthood, we experienced a few rather lengthy periods of close friendship. I even consider her my best friend during these years. But a best friend is not a mother. To this day, I wish she had warned me against the bad decisions I was making instead of encouraging me and giving me high-fives. I wish she could have taught me to love myself, and to know the value of what it is to be a woman. But I know now that she did not have these things inside her to give. I can’t be angry for that. All I can be is sad.

Sad that she never learned to love herself. Sad at the thought of all she missed out on in life. Sad that in her last years of life she alienated herself from all those who loved her. Sad that her doctors and therapists were never able to stabilize her. Sad that in the end, death was the only way she could find to feel better.

So, yes, I am relieved. I am actually HAPPY for her now. She searched for God her whole life and even found Him in a few corners of her mind. I know she is with Him now. I know she is free of the heavy burden of mental illness. She is experiencing love in a way she has never known possible. She is adored and cared for. She is needed in His kingdom and serving His other children happily. She has clear eyes, not the eyes of a scared deer. And with them, she can see her own children. Her little girl and baby boy. She can feel their love. She can love them in return, with PURE motherly love. And she is waiting for us. It is then that I will have the happy childhood of her stories. I will finally be wanted and loved.

Ready to Jump

I still don’t know how to describe what I am feeling. What is going on in my mind. I tried journaling about it yesterday to see if I could put it into words, and I did not make any progress. The times I have tried,  I have only come up with ‘self-destructive’ but I think that is too harsh a word. It describes something bad, dangerous, or harmful so it can’t be completely accurate. Can it? Another word that comes to mind is restless, but that only describes a part of how I feel, not everything. I need change. I want change. If I don’t make at least a step in that direction, I am going to go crazy.

I have been building this life I have for the last 24 years. Not alone, but at times by myself. Good and bad, we built this; my husband and I. But now that I am here, I am unhappy. It is not what I want. I love my husband, I truly do. He has asked me for a while now if I am ‘in love’ with him. They can be very different things after all. I realized recently that yes, I am still ‘in love’ with him. I believe I always will be. He has been my friend, my lover, my co-parent, my teacher, my pupil, my undoing and my restorer. He is literally part of me. I have been married to him for more than half of my life. For the last 24 years we have been growing together… and apart. We are so very different than the people we were when we met, fell in love and married. Thank goodness! We were both a mess and I think that is why we gravitated to each other. Each of us, without the other, could not have learned the lessons we needed in order to become who we are now.

Who we are now… Who I am now… Who am I now? I think this is where I find myself stuck; in this whirlwind of emotion. I feel like I am living someone else’s life. When my son still lived at home, I was Mom, and that gave me purpose and I never questioned who I was or the life I was living. But I always knew that I had a gypsy spirit and that when he left the nest I would live a very different life. That time is now. Where do I go? What do I do? I don’t know. What I do know is that doing nothing and staying where I am is killing me, slowly. This is where my conundrum lies. In order to re-discover who I am, and live the life I want to live, what do I have to leave behind? What am I giving up? What does it mean, and what does it look like? Am I ready? Will it hurt?

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Hate To Feel/Want To Feel

Do you ever feel like your mind won’t let you rest? You get enough sleep but your still so tired? And you have to keep functioning, so you just push through, push through, push through. But you want to feel something different. You want relief. From the constant-ness of whatever it is that you are trying not to feel anymore. My tendency is to lean toward alcohol. I recognize that as bad, so I avoid it, for the most part. I like to write, that helps me focus on something other than how I feel for a moment. In my 20’s I used drugs, and sex. This is hard and scary to write about. Putting it out there makes me feel very vulnerable. But I am struggling right now and need to figure out a new way. My brain is on overdrive and I need to function. Has anyone else found new ways of getting through these moments?

I have found that standing in the rain helps. I can feel it on my skin and it is so soothing. But it’s not raining today…

 

Liberated, Or Lonely?

Recently I wrote about what mania looks like for me. I described both past and present episodes, the symptoms I displayed and how they felt for me. At one point I stated that the more recent episode felt like a mid-life crisis. The problem is I am no longer experiencing a manic episode yet I still feel stuck in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Maybe you can relate?

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I know that I have what most people consider a perfect life. I have been married for 24 years. I love my husband and he loves me. We have had our ups and downs, but they only made us better. Everyone we know tells us we have a very special love, one that is so rare these days. Many friends have said that they wish for a love like ours. We have a nice house, the prettiest house on our street if you ask me. We have lived here for 14 years. We have a grown son, who we raised in this house. We have two cars, two dogs and a boat. We still live paycheck to paycheck, so we can’t afford the repairs and upgrades our house needs. We can’t take nice vacations, we can barely afford a vacation at all, but we have decent jobs and our bills are paid. That is more than a lot of people have, and I am very grateful.

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So why am I so restless? My heart feels like it wants to burst out of my chest. Six months ago I almost left my marriage. We had been talking about fixing up the house and selling it, so I told him that when it sold, I thought we should go our separate ways. I wholeheartedly believed that he felt this coming, that we were on the same unspoken page. We had been growing apart little by little for a while. We both had our hearts set on different life paths and knew we would eventually come to a fork in the road. Boy, was I wrong. It caught him very off-guard and sent our relationship into a tailspin. He had no idea how unhappy I am with the life we are living.

He is content. He craves stability and routine. He could stay in this house forever, and take the same vacation every year. I crave change. I am exhilarated by starting a fresh life. I want to experience different cultures, not just vacations, but to truly immerse myself in new cultures. My heart and soul literally ache for adventure. He sees everything I desire as risky and foolish. I see everything he desires as life not lived, and the thought of continuing like this is suffocating. I am consumed with thoughts of independence.

What does that mean exactly? He is not controlling and does not try to prevent me or stop me from doing anything. I need independence from what? What do I want that I can’t have because I am married? Let me try to explain. I am still confused by it all myself, so please bear with me.

For as long as I can remember, we have been different in these ways. While he never told me I could not do something, he always expressed his concern in ways I felt I couldn’t reasonably argue with. All of my dreams involved risk, there were our financial responsibilities, my personal safety, it would keep us up too late, and the list goes on. As the years went by, so did most of my opportunities. Little ones like concerts and big ones like travel. On the other side of this, I am a risk taker at heart. When he wanted to take chances like starting his own business, buying a vehicle out of our price range, changing careers multiple times rebuilding a Harley Davidson and investing in his buy/sell/trade hobby, I was the encourager. At times I was even the investor.  I had faith that he could make things work. If I had concerns, I would voice them, but always end on a positive note, telling him the decision was ultimately his and I would support him in it.

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Eventually I learned to keep my dreams to myself. Now I dream about coming home to somewhere other than here. In my mind, it is a small home, maybe even an RV. I call it my gypsy wagon. It is full of color and sunshine. Bohemian chic. There are no little messes on the counters or piles of unopened mail on the table. The laundry is always in the laundry basket and never on the living-room floor. The toothpaste is always where I left it and the toilet paper roll is never empty. If there are dirty dishes, they are in the sink. When I am hungry, I eat fruit or steam veggies. The pantry is no longer full of junk food and I always have mimosa or sangria makings. I am able to stay late at work without someone wondering where I am. I am able to go out with friends, impromptu style, without disappointing or neglecting anyone. I can stay later than expected without worrying someone. I do not have to explain where I am going, who I am with or what we are doing.

I do not want these freedoms because I want to go places I shouldn’t go, or to be with people I shouldn’t be with, or do things that I shouldn’t do. I am a good girl after all. I just want to be me. I miss the freedoms that people willingly give up in a marriage. He doesn’t demand to know where I am going or who I am with. It is just what spouses do. It never bothered me when we were raising our son. I happily and lovingly accepted the role of wife and mother. But now I want to be me again, unapologetically.  And I can’t do that without hurting his feelings, or making him feel unloved or unwanted. To him, these little things are everything. His life as a husband depends on them. The small changes in me are already hurting him. He says he is trying to get used to the new me. The me that doesn’t want to call him every morning and afternoon during my drive to and from work. The me that plans vacations that he does not get invited to. The me that wants to go out with friends after work, without him.

I can’t help but wonder how fair this all is to him. How would I feel if the shoe were on the other foot? I feel terrible that I am not the same love-sick kitten, waiting breathlessly for every free moment we have to spend together. I also feel blessed that we had that for as long as we did. After 24 years, we still love each other. We do have a special love and our life experiences together really solidified that love and we have grown so much together.

Last summer, he told me he would let me go if that is what I need to be happy. He also said he wants and deserves to be with someone who is with him because they want to be. That was the first time I thought of it like that. What he needs, what he wants, what he deserves. It was very eye opening. He is right. He does deserve that, and more. I love him dearly and suffer at the thought of hurting him. But am I just delaying the inevitable?

Why am I drowning? Why do I fantasize about freedom every day? If I stay long enough will these feelings go away? How long is long enough? I have been dreaming about freedom in some form and to different degrees for a few years already. Am I just completely selfish? Does he deserve better? I know the answer to that question is a resounding yes. So should I let him go so he can move on with his life?

We have talked about my dreams of living in an RV or moving to a new state every year or two. It is not what he wants and we agree that making him live that way is as unfair as me being forced to live a life I don’t want. I find myself very confused by the amount of disdain I have for this life I am currently living. I chose it. When did it become so oppressive to have roots? I used to love my life and my home, when did that change? Is it because I am empty nesting? If so, could this be a stage or phase of life that I will outgrow? Honestly, I think that is what scares me the most.

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What if I go and it was a mistake? What if a year from now, or five years from now, I want this life back and I can’t have it? What if I find that being alone is just lonely? What if the hurt I cause my husband, my best friend is irreparable? There is a song titled Rinse, by Vanessa Carlton. It’s not one of her best, but there is a line in it that HAUNTS me. It says:

And if she runs away she fears she won’t be followed,

what could be worse than leaving something behind?

And as the depth of oceans slowly become shallow,

its loneliness she finds.

This just terrifies me. Is it possible to crave freedom so badly and still fear solitude? To love alone and fear lonely?

So here I am, today, like every day, without the answers. How do you choose when either way is going to hurt, both yourself and someone you love?

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What Mania Looks Like, For Me.

Now that I am older and have lived with bipolar disorder for such a long time, I can look back on my life and recognize many of my manic episodes. I had no idea at the time that I was experiencing mania, but it is as clear as day to me now. Even after being diagnosed in 1995 I did not accept the diagnosis until years later, in 2005. I remember doing my own research on bipolar disorder and then going to my doctor and explaining that I think I am experiencing manic depression and am not truly bipolar. I will never forget his kind chuckle and soft admonition that he believed the original diagnosis was correct for they were in fact the same illness, and that everything was going to be OK because we would work together to find the best solution for me no matter how long it took.

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He explained why my previous medications did not help me. A chemical imbalance in the brain is such a complex issue. No two bipolar brains were exactly the same, so there was not a one-for-all solution like there may be for many other illnesses. He asked me questions about my history of symptoms, what medications I had tried, and how each affected me. At this time I was already on a mood stabilizer and had been for about 7 years. We tried 2 other medications in the next few months and neither of them worked better than the mood stabilizer, so I ended up settling here for the next two years. The mood stabilizer almost completely eliminates my manic episodes, so in all, I was generally mania free for 10 years.

In early 2009 we tried again. My depressive symptoms were worsening by leaps and bounds. I did not know how much longer I could hold on. So he prescribed a medication that is designed to treat Major Depressive Disorder and added that to my current medication that he had recently doubled my daily dose and not seen the desired result. Within days I knew we had found my perfect solution. (See my blog post ‘Finding My Wonder Drug’ at www.flowerinthemud.com for that story.) I felt like I had opened the door to a windowless room that I had been stuck in for 17+ years, stepped outside into the sunshine and closed the door behind me. For good. Since that time I have attempted to remove the original medication from my routine on a few occasions, one of which lasted a few years. I have also increased my dose of the new medication at a time in my life where I was experiencing situational depression. As I recovered from the situational depression, I experienced a lengthy manic episode.

It must have happened so gradually that I didn’t notice, but in time, the change in me was rather drastic. The people closest to me noticed the changes first. I was becoming unstable again. To my husband, I seemed impulsive and uncaring, aloof and distant. I was making bad decisions and saying and doing things that were out of character. My son was now a young adult and I was empty nesting. I had reached an age where I knew I had likely already lived the first half of my life, if not more. I thought it was just a mid-life crisis. While today I do still strongly believe that these things did contribute to my need to make changes in my life, I can now see that they were not the reason for what I was going through mentally and emotionally. Things that I struggle greatly in trying to describe with any accuracy.

I felt like I was drowning.

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At work, at home, in my car, in my head, in my heart, in my marriage. I needed to run away. I made mental and physical lists of everything I needed to do to be able to leave my life behind. First and foremost, sell my house. In order to do that, there were a lot of repairs/updates that I would need to do if I wanted to get the best selling price. Or should I settle for a short-sale to get this over with? I had post-it lists everywhere, of repairs and updates that I wanted to do and had not saved for them. I could not decide what I would do when the house sold, so in between visiting local flooring stores and window replacement websites I was also researching studio apartments and spending hours on RV sales lots and collecting month-to-month and long-term rental rates for RV parks within a 50 mile radius of my job. I often did these things with my husband who was dumbfounded. When he would ask me what in the world was going on, I could not explain it to him, which just confused him more. It did not help that all of the same music I had always been listening to now took on new meaning. It was speaking to my soul. Go! Run! Stay! Laugh! Cry! Smile! Love! Hate! Sex! Drive! Live! Free! I would break down crying in exhaustion from it all and tell him he should leave me because he deserved someone who loved him and wanted to be with him, and that wasn’t me anymore. I fantasized 24 hours a day about leaving. I needed new and unfamiliar like it was air to breathe. Now, I am not talking about normal urges, we all have those. This was so much more. It felt so much like withdrawals from drug addiction. It consumed me. If I didn’t run, I was going to die.

I decided to make an appointment with my doctor to talk about adding the mood stabilizer back to my routine. In the meantime, I thought I would lower my dose of Depression medication back to it’s normal amount. I started feeling better right away. I still had all of the same urges, desires and cravings for change, but they were manageable. As soon as I felt better and my mind could focus on something other than running, I realized that I had experienced this before. Years ago. Completely different thoughts and urges, but the intensity, the live or die. I was working at the front door of a bar, checking IDs, charging cover, and tending a beer-only bar. I had been working there for 2 and a half years already, but the music started feeling different to me. It would suck me in and I was finding myself in this different world. I was so full of love. I felt like a hot air balloon, floating in the sky.

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I had so much love inside me, that I had to let it out. I knew it was enough to save the world if I could just share it. One of my favorite co-workers was the house DJ. He was stuck in a booth all night, so I would write him little notes on the bar napkins and pass them to him each night. He would respond with little phrases or quotes that made me feel understood. Even if he really wasn’t, I felt like he was floating up there with me, another beautiful hot air balloon.

Eventually, these love rushes must have worn me down, the energy involved is tremendous. It was getting harder to function normally during the day. I was making bad decisions and taking risks I normally would never take. I was hurting the people who loved me and I knew it. It was during this time that I began experiencing my first panic attacks. I believe this was due to the bad decisions, risks, and expenditure of energy combined.

I had no idea what was happening to me as I had never experienced a panic attack before. All I knew, was that the bar was closing in on me slowly and I couldn’t breathe. I recognized claustrophobia, not because I had experienced it before, but because I knew the definition and had seen plenty of it in movies and such. I would ask the door-man to watch my post for me for a few minutes and I would go outside to get fresh air. Once there, the sky, all dark and endless only made things worse. I needed air, but if I breathed this wide-open oblivion into my lungs, I might get lost in it. Was gravity enough to keep me here, or am I going to get sucked into space? Now I didn’t know what to do! So I went into the rest room and crouched on the floor in the corner, underneath the pay-phone (yes, this was a long time ago, haha) for protection and cried with my face in my hands so I could not see the walls constricting around me or the endless formidable sky.

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Thank goodness, a close friend and co-worker recognized what was happening and shared her story with me. She was able to help me recognize when a panic attack was coming and I could react without losing my mind. I knew to keep breathing, slowly. And if all else failed, my doctor prescribed an allergy pill, much like Benadryl, that would help me calm down without triggering my addictive nature, for I had only been drug free for 5 years at this time.

Looking back, I can also see the similarities between my manic episodes and my drug addiction. It makes sense to me that I would gravitate toward a drug like crystal meth. drugs-21541158I was a shy introvert. This drug could instantly turn me from wall-flower into the life of the party. It was so all-consuming that it completely numbed me. Far from love rushes and cravings for adventure though, it was hell and heaven at the same time. I could feel the blood tingling in my veins. I could hear every heartbeat. I could taste death. This took my mind off of any turmoil in my life or any emotional disturbances I was experiencing at the time.

I have to remember that while I may find my manic episodes appealing due to the flightiness and free-floating feelings, they are not healthy or normal. I can feel the harm it does to my body as it eats up all of my energy, mental and physical. I can see the heartache it causes in my loved ones. But I still count myself as lucky, for over the years now, I have met others who suffer from bipolar disorder as I do, and the mania each of us experiences is different. For some, mania presents itself as anger amplified. Violence. Self-destruction. For others it may be talking too much and being unable to stop themselves, or shopping sprees, gambling binges, and other pernicious behaviors that they can’t control. But for me, I will accept the fierce euphoria, the wild exhilaration, and zeal for all things life and love. I am still learning how to recognize these episodes for what they are and try not to make decisions in these moments. I am learning what works to calm the frenzy and how to find my perfect balance. I am learning to love and embrace my mental illness instead of despise and battle it. It is part of me. I take medication to keep myself as mentally healthy as I can. And I write, to connect with and support as many others like me as I can find.

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The Greatest Gift

I think I am pretty good at saying I’m sorry……

I think I am pretty good at saying I’m sorry. I wasn’t always good at it. In fact, it was a terrible weakness for most of my life. Until I learned how, it was probably my biggest personality flaw. Even if I KNEW I was wrong and wanted with everything in me to apologize, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

It would weigh on me like a thick, heavy blanket; but I would be unable to open my mouth. I would choke on my words before letting them escape my lips. To this day, I don’t know why. I can sit and think about it. I can recall the feelings, but I can’t figure out what I was so afraid of. And afraid is what I was. I was terrified. I can remember the internal struggle. “Just DO IT! Now! Spit it out!” I would tell myself. Trying to muster the courage, like I was jumping into cold water. But I was too damn stubborn, and the little girl inside me would stand, feet planted, arms crossed, mouth shut as tight as a vice. “Nope! I won’t. You can’t make me!” She would shout back with fire in her eyes.

Then, one day, I was given a gift.

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My son was about 12 years old. Headstrong and stubborn, just like his Mama. I can’t remember what we were arguing about, but it got rather heated. We both got pretty worked up, saying things we didn’t really mean and using words and tones we wouldn’t use if we were in control of our emotions. Voices rose and tempers flared. The argument ended as those kinds almost always did; both of us screaming our last few jabs at each other and someone storming away. This time, it was him who chose to walk away, pounding up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door. I sat slumped at the bottom of the stairs and rested my head in my hands. I knew I had lost my cool. I was the grown-up. As Mom, I should have controlled my emotions better. What kind of example was I being? What was I teaching him? If I had done better, this whole thing could have ended much differently, or not even happened at all.

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I felt terrible for screaming at him. I did not mean whatever ugly things I had said. I love that boy with all of my heart and soul and did not want him to feel unimportant, unappreciated, unloved or unsafe. I do not want him to think for even a half a second that I dislike him, distrust him, am angry at him or that I hold any unforgiveness in my heart for him.

I sat there, having that familiar stubborn argument with myself in my head. “Go. Tell him you are sorry. Hug him and let him know that no matter how much you disagree you will always love and support him. Tell him that no action, thought or opinion he has could EVER change the way you feel about him” my heart tells me.

Scared little me says “No! I can’t!” Eyes wild with fear, she says “Please! Please? Please don’t make me….”

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This time did feel different. My love for my son was compelling me to move! My love was overcoming my fear. I was going to do it! Scared me was still quite literally frozen in fear, but I knew I had to. Mom me had made up her mind. Scared me dug her heels into the ground as deep as she could, leaning back, pulling with all her might. I was in a tug-o-war battle with myself.

Then it happened. My cherished 12-year-old champion came walking down the stairs.Skater There I sat, in the same pathetic place, exhausted from my imaginary battle. I can see it in my mind even now. He was shirtless, wearing basketball shorts. His flawless boy skin as beautiful as anything I had ever seen. His brown skater hair in all these soft half-curls around his face. His eyes. His eyes so big and round and full of forgiveness. The softest brown forgiveness there ever was. Before he could speak a word, I knew exactly what his heart was saying. His eyes spoke directly to my soul. “I’m sorry Mom” he said.

That was the moment that changed my life. I would never be the same, thank God. I knew without a doubt that if my son could humble himself enough to do it; so could I. He deserved it. We sat side by side on the stairs and talked calmly about what had gone wrong, how sorry we were for our words and letting our emotions get the best of us. We hugged and accepted each other’s apologies, but I had one last thing to say.

I told him how proud I was of him for being the first to apologize. I explained that I knew it was not an easy thing to do and that I had failed while he had succeeded. I confessed how badly I wanted to be as brave as he was.

I can’t say it was an easy transition. I would be lying. But I was so determined. It got easier as time went on and I had more and more opportunities. I am proud of how far I have come.

My son is now a 23-year-old young man. Today, he still inspires me to be a better person. Aside from God Himself, I consider my son to be the most influential force in my life. The ability to say I am sorry is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. It is the most precious gift I have ever received.

Thank you, son.Us

 

 

Finding My Wonder Drug

When I was 23 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Anxiety.

 

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When I was 23 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Anxiety. The Dr. put me on Neurontin, telling me it was a synthetic version of Lithium. I am still not sure if that is true as I have been unable to find any documentation that confirms that. But I am not a doctor. What I do know is that I went to the doctor because I was losing control of my emotions and I was watching as my mood swings caused my 1-year old son to react to me. Sometimes he was scared, sometimes confused, but I knew I had to do something when I saw the look on his sweet innocent face. And when I was put on Neurontin, things got worse instead of better. I had already been on a downhill slide, so it took me about 2 months to realize these new symptoms were the medication, and not my issues worsening.

I felt like the chaos in my head was building momentum and growing stronger than me. It literally felt like a tornado in my brain at times. I could feel the debris that was being picked up and tossed about causing more damage, like rooftops that were being torn off and slamming into neighboring houses destroying everything in their path. This was the first time in my life that I understood why cutter’s cut. I thought they did it for attention until I experienced it for myself.

For multiple reasons, I did not actually cut but instead found other ways to relieve the internal pain. I could not sleep, so I would lay in bed and grab large chunks of my hair and pull until I felt satisfied; for the moment. I would scratch my back, slowly and with as much pressure as possible without breaking my skin, making sure to leave as little evidence as possible. I would hit and slap myself to feel the pain but not leave marks. My favorite thing to do was wait until very late at night and go outside into my driveway. I would lie face-down on the hot pavement, wearing as little as possible so that I could feel the sand and small rocks sharp against my skin. I would lay there and fantasize about walking barefoot into the desert hills just north of my house. Walking in one direction over rock, cactus, anything in my path until my feet were a bloody pulp and I could walk no more. All of these things brought relief from the endless torment in my head. Physical pain on the outside of my body demanded my attention, taking it away from the emotional pain inside my body.

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Another thought that seemed to consume me during this time was my death, but not in the way I imagined a suicidal person would imagine their death. I was confused by this. I did not want to kill myself. I did not imagine the act itself. Just the aftermath. I would have visions of my lifeless body slumped at the bottom of my shower. Always the same vision. Naked and bloody. I was seeing myself from the left side of my crumpled body, and slightly above. I had a large bathroom with a garden tub and a separate 1-person shower. The shower was located in the far-right corner. Sometimes the vision moved as if I was coming up to the scene. Already very close to it, my focus turned to the right taking in the whole red picture. My bloody feet in the left front corner of the shower floor leading to my bent knees higher up. Back down to my thighs, butt, and hips. Smooth wet skin. My limp arms and still hands stuck in a graceful palm-up pose and my bent, leaning torso. My wet hair stuck to my head, face and shoulders as they were held somewhat upright by the bottom of the right wall of the shower stall. Blood mixed with the water and left pink trails all over my body as gravity pulled it to the shower floor. It was beautiful and calming.

I don’t remember how I came to the conclusion that it was the Neurontin, but I thank God that I did. I stopped taking it immediately, even though I was warned to taper off. I went to see my regular doctor and told her of the diagnosis as well as the experience I had with Neurontin. She prescribed a different medication, and there began my search for normalcy and what I would later call my Wonder Drug. The new medication helped a little. For 2 years I settled for this, in fear of changing meds and feeling like I did on Neurontin. Then it just stopped working. I tried another that did absolutely nothing, and another one made me feel so numb, that I couldn’t hold a conversation. I would become annoyed at just being asked a question because it meant I had to talk. I would even roll my eyes when my family said, “I love you” to me because I was expected to say it back, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything. Finally, I found one that helped a little and lasted for almost 10 years.

When this one stopped working, I remember telling my doctor that all I wanted was Tunnel.jpgsome light at the end of my tunnel. That has since become my favorite description of depression. A dark tunnel. My medications usually gave me a light at the end to look forward to. A reason to not drown in despair, to keep fighting. The light had gone out and I was sinking. My doctor listened, really listened, and prescribed a new medication to take in addition to the one I was already on.

I was 37. 37 years old! Almost immediately the light at the end of my tunnel grew so bright that the tunnel disappeared. I had never ever lived outside of this tunnel before. I did not know that people inhabited a place other than tunnels. I remember telling anyone who would listen, “This is what life is like?!?! I had no idea!” I felt human for the first time. Like I was seeing the sun for the first time after living 37 years under a rain cloud.

I knew a wonder drug existed because I met other people along the way that had already found theirs. I am 45 years old now and have been taking my wonder drug (it is actually a cocktail as I take low doses of 2 different medications) for 8 years. There have still been ups and downs. I sometimes feel so good that I think I am cured and decide I don’t need medication anymore. Big mistake. Big. I have also gone through life changes that cause my depression to worsen temporarily. The kind of depression most people experience when life throws curveballs. I have increased my dose slightly to help me through only to find that as the depression fades, the higher dose causes me to experience severe mania. But I am so familiar with mania that I don’t realize right away that it is severe and out of control until I look back at the destruction it is causing in my life.

While the journey has not been easy or uneventful, I consider it a great success. I know how hard it is to accept the diagnosis and to come to terms with needing medication just to function like a normal person. I know the stigma well, from believing it before I was diagnosed, to experiencing it firsthand in the eyes of friends and family. I know how long and sometimes torturous the road can be to finding the right medication, as each and every chemical imbalance is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. I know the danger of taking the wrong medication. But most importantly, what I know, and what I want to shout from the mountain-tops, is that you can’t give up. I know it is scary and exhausting and sometimes you will settle for just better and that is OK. But keep pushing! Keep reaching out! Relief is out there. It exists, I am living proof. Give yourself permission to want and even expect better than ok! There is more than just light at the end of the tunnel. There is sunshine. Glorious sunshine.

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Please share this post if you or anyone you know has struggled with mental illness. My intention when writing this post was to encourage anyone who is going through the trial and error of finding the right medication for them. It can be painstakingly time consuming when you feel like you might break at any moment and you are already hanging by a thread. Keep your head up, you are almost there! And you are not alone!