Mean and Scary

mousy-ladiesSince my last post, words of love and encouragement, texts, phone calls, offers, cards and funny videos poured over and through me.

Part of it is Facebook. This was the first “I’m thinking about suicide” post that I put on Facebook, so some of this kindness comes from people I’ve not seen in decades—junior high school friends, relatives, etc.  They don’t know that, while serious, this is a side of the illness that comes around every few years.

Part of it is the word.  Suicide.  It brings out the panic in people.  It ignites folks like other incendiary words—God, Abortion, Trump.  And fire requires action.

Part of it is that kind people need to do something to help.  And they’re used to sicknesses that get better.  A little chicken soup, a little gift, and the icky stuff goes away.  They don’t understand that I’m always sick—more or less—no matter how sane I sound or look.  It’s a matter of degree.  A little chicken soup-kindness everyday would be lovely.

It’s been difficult—teaching about mental illness, resetting my boundaries, and reaffirming what I really need—at a time when I want to punch most people in the face.  This is not how one thanks everyone for kindness and thoughtfulness.

I isolate when I’m “unwell,” but this is something more.  I can’t seem to navigate the niceties of social interaction.  I can’t pretend to listen to other folks’ three-ring shit shows (and I normally do a grand job at that).  I can’t tolerate the nattering of voices or the pressure (albeit internal) of protecting others from my illness. I’m scary at present.  And mean.

The last thing I want to do is hurt kindhearted folk.  It’s one of my nightmares—shoving away everyone who loves me with this illness.  It’s such a huge disconnect—hanging on every kind word and pushing away the people who speak them.

All I can say is Thank You and I’m Sorry.  Don’t stop asking questions—not about what you can do for me, but about the illness.  I am a font of knowledge on mental illness and if you need to understand, I’m your gal.  That’s one interaction that won’t get you punched in the face.

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World Suicide Prevention Day

2015

 800,000 deaths:

Total number of Rwandans killed by genocide in 1994.

Total number of Chinese killed by intentionally flooding the Yellow River in 1938.

Total number of deaths by inaccurately prescribed medications.

Number of suicides worldwide every year.

Part of suicide prevention is awareness.  Part of awareness is telling our stories.  This is my story.

Threatened SuicideIt’s hard for me to remember what led to my suicide attempt.  I’d stopped journaling about a year previous to that, which in itself was an indicator of how much distress I must have felt, but leaves me with a big, white hole instead of the words that I substitute as memory.  I found one entry in a stray notebook from a workshop/retreat I attended out of state that summer.  It was vague, unemotional.  I fussed a bit about being overweight and uncomfortable, but the entry feels smooth to me—slick, with no affect.  That, too, might have been an indication of trouble ahead.

I had been living with my friends, Tom and Cheryl, for a year.  They were kind, generous, supportive, but I never felt at ease in their home.  I felt like a burden, an intrusion, always worried about breaking a rule or making them mad.  I worried constantly about them kicking me out and having to live in my car, even though that’s the last thing they would have ever done.

I’d tried a dozen different medications by then, as well as electroshock treatment.  Whenever the psychiatrist changed my meds, I threw the old ones in a bag.  I had quite a stash by Halloween of 2008.

I do remember feeling hopeless.  My old life was gone, and there was no indication of a new life on the horizon.  I couldn’t work.  I could barely think between the after-effects of ECT and the constant brain-fog of changing medications every month. Social Security approved my disability claim after eighteen months of denials, and I realized I’d be desperately poor the rest of my life.

What I remember of that day was wanting the pain to stop and seeing no other way to make that happen.  And I remember being exhausted.

I knew my friends planned on coming home late that day—I thought that would give my bag of pills enough time to end my life.  But, my friends’ plans changed, and they came home early.

A day or two later in intensive care, a different psychiatrist said to me sharply, “You must decide.  Do you want to live?”  I didn’t know what he’d do if I said no, so I lied.  I said, “Yes, I want another chance.”

My answer turned out to be true, but it took a long time for that transformation.

This is my story.

The Good Fight

RobinI have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

Robin Williams was one of us.  Mood disorder, addiction, recovery, relapse—he fought the good fight with his mental illness and demons.  Like all of us he won and lost, won and lost.  How any of us find the strength to get up again is a miracle.  And Robin performed miracles all his life—in his art, in how he used his celebrity to support worthy causes, in his love for a family he couldn’t quite hold together, in the way he kept surprising and delighting us.  But, mostly in his struggle to rise after each defeat.

I understand how hard that is.  I understand how the strength stayed just out of reach this time.  I understand how much he must have wanted the pain to stop and simply to rest.

He feels like a brother to me in so many ways.  He touched me deeply , and I’ll miss him.

Rest well, Robin.

Stephen Fry

One of my dearest Heroes.

Manic Muses

Stephen Fry, whose wonderful documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive has helped educate millions, “…has revealed that he attempted suicide in 2012 while he was filming abroad, saying it was “a close run thing”.

Stephen, who is president of the mental health charity Mind, has spoken openly about his struggle with bipolar disorder.

Read more here.

 

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Still Here

handmade greeting card, collage artEvery once in a while, I like to throw out the factoid that most of the folks with my type of bipolar disorder (rapid cycling with mixed states) are either in group homes or institutionalized.  It’s one of those literary conceits meant to shock the reader.  It also provides a nice rationale for whatever craziness I happen to be experiencing at the moment.  Generally, I don’t think too much about it.

But yesterday, my friend Vivien at Manic Muses wrote about coming home after a week in hospital, recovering from a mixed state.  As she described her symptoms, my mouth went dry.  Holy shite, I thought, that’s my life.

I forget.  I forget that the prognosis is so poor for my type of bipolar disorder because a majority of sufferers choose suicide as a treatment.  I forget that I’m sort of a miracle.

Today, I’m thinking it’s okay that I’m overweight.  It’s okay that I’m anti-social and a pain in the ass.  It’s okay that I burst into tears in the locker room yesterday with a couple of my swim buddies holding me.  It’s okay that I fight with my compulsions and lose.

Because I’m free, and I’m still here.

This is my 601st post.  That seems like a big deal, too.

Failure, Seeds & Tidal Waves

collage art, hand-made greeting cardsI woke up this morning contemplating failure.

I knew last week would be rough.  When the Y closes for cleaning each summer, my whole schedule gets disrupted, but I planned around it the best I could.  However, I couldn’t foresee the bolus of anger that ignited my stress like tinder.  I didn’t anticipate the sudden plunge into a mixed state or the overwhelming return of my compulsions.  And I certainly wasn’t prepared to gain back six pounds.  This morning Failure glared like a jittery neon sign in my head.

But, if living with bipolar disorder has taught me anything, it’s that life is rarely that simple or black and white.  I needed to look at my week again, and again, and again, if necessary, to see the whole picture.

In my reading about anger this week, Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about the seeds of anger that are in all of us.  Some have more seeds than others, or their seeds are strongly rooted.  I see that anger and resentment are deeply rooted in me. I keep old hurts precious.  I rail against Life and The Illness.  At times, I practice mindfulness and breathe into these seeds until they become transparent.  But, they remain.  Bipolar disorder, in me, shares a deep affinity with anger.  So, when my illness manifests, my seeds of anger sprout and grow strong.  It is part of the illness, and part of my practice.  Neither success nor failure, but an ebb and flow.

After my attempted suicide, my teacher said to me, “The illness got away from you.”  It does that sometimes, even after careful practice and planning.  I think of myself on a beach with my little buckets and sand shovels, diligently digging trenches and building sand castles.  Sooner or later, a big wave crashes in.  It blasts the castles and erases the trenches I’ve worked so hard to make.

Storms are part of the deal when you live on the edge of the sea.  It’s important to clean up the damage, but just as important to take inventory of what survived.  While my rage was huge and consuming this week, I didn’t aim it at anyone.  And I may have eaten non-stop to deaden the pain, but I still ate nearly-vegan.  I still have my buckets and shovels.

Tidal WaveThis life is so tenuous.  I make plans and set goals to try to keep the sand from constantly shifting under my feet.  Plans and goals are sticks I jab in the sand to find solid ground.  When the storm comes and washes the sticks away, I wail over my lost place-holders.  I forget that this is a Game, and harder yet, I forget how to play it.

The game is to Find the Sticks—those unique and beautiful tools we create to manage the illness—then Plant them.  We notice everything—the resistance of the wet sand, the strength in our arms, the sun on our necks, the pleasant rhythm of the Work.  We stand back to see the pattern and progression of our creation.  And when the Storm hits, we run for shelter, come back when the waters recede, and start again.

There is no failure in this game.  No winners or losers.  There is just the slow, steady Work and the inevitability of the Sea.

Pendulum Swing

collage art, hand-made greeting cardToday the bipolar pendulum swings deep into depression.  The drive to sleep through it, to eat through it, pulls me like beefy fists wrapped around my shirt with another pushing me from behind.  I can’t quite stay on my feet.

But between the muggings, I keep breathing as mindfully as I’m able.  I keep walking, placing one foot intentionally before the other.  I look in the mirror and practice smiling.  I tally what I eat.  I move my limbs, so wooden, through the water in Penny’s pool.  I notice how I consider Penny as a safe haven for my cats should I chose to leave them behind, and acknowledge the death thoughts as part of the pendulum swing.  A swish of air is all.

No movies to escape to today, so I must be creative in my distraction when creativity is impossible.  I will plug in my ear buds and walk.  Then, ride my friends’ stationary bike.  Then, walk some more.  Because I can do this without thinking about it too much.  Because the exercise will make me feel better.

And the pendulum swings.

Becoming

What a wacky week.

On one hand, the rapid cycling and slow-motion despair dragged me into a “What’s the Use?” thought loop that quickly spiraled into suicidal ideation.  On the other hand, I was this month’s Biggest Loser at TOPS with a 9.6 pound weight loss.  The fact that I made it out the other side of this bipolar frenzy makes me know, deep in my soul, that I can make it through anything.  I told a friend, “If I didn’t kill myself this week, I never will.”

And that feels absolutely true.  Not delusional.  Not wishful thinking.

I could feel the Bad-Ass coming back yesterday, but I had to keep searching for her.  My grip would slip, but if I concentrated, I could find that sense of ferocity, that drive to survive and beat back the darkness.  That sure-footedness is a little stronger today.

I know I’m not done with the stress of challenging my compulsive eating and changing the fabric of my life.  I know the stress will trigger my illness again.  And again.  But somehow this battle is bringing me back to myself.  I’m finding a partner in me, someone I can finally count on to guard my back instead of sabotaging my efforts.  A new level of self-trust is forming, a new confidence.  I like this person I’m becoming.

Today I have to agree with Nietzsche—That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

The Best Version of Me

Maybe I’m manic.

That’s always the first thing that comes to mind when this much joy bubbles up—which reminds me to hold the glee as lightly as the depression, without grasping or identifying with either.  So, with caution in the back of my mind, I can enjoy this delight.

The source, of course, is the story.  I’ve been working on a rewrite of my novel, Callinda, for a year now, and as I get closer to the climax, it has picked me up and carried me.  Every day, I’m surprised by what the characters do, the turns in plot, the places they are required to go.  Even though I have the whole story outlined with detailed notes, they break through those fences and find new ways to tell their tale.  I’m awestruck.

When I am writing, I am the best version of me.  The Creative Energy moves through me like water, raising me up and floating me out to where the ideas drift across my skin like lotus blossoms.  I can feel my mind open like a bud in the way it unfurls and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s toward the sun.  There’s a peace that settles in and a knowing—I am doing what I was made to do.

Even during the worst bipolar episode, part of me can still write.  Callinda taught me that when I wrote the first draft during the darkest of my dark days.  I was sick with relief that the ECT, the drugs, and the trauma didn’t take that from me, too.  I was changed in fundamental ways, but I was still ME.  I was still a writer.

And, wonder of wonders, I became a better writer.  No more writer’s block, no more fear of failure or of not being a good enough story-teller.  All those obstacles dropped away after I survived my suicide attempt.  I’m alive, so I write.  It became as simple as that.

There are still days when I futz about my contribution to society, my purpose, my reason for being.  Those are the days when the depression comes and yanks my thoughts off true.  I know why I’m here.  I know what my work is.  I’m doing it.

And it gives me joy.

Lies

I had hoped this episode was waning.  I focused on the moments of clarity, the laughter that bubbled up, the checks I made on my “Things to Do” list.  But there’s no ignoring it this morning.  The darkness yawns, and I feel myself falling.

There are rotten spots in my mind that draw my thoughts and contort them—the same old pits of longing and lack, inadequacy and brokenness.  The paths to these lies seem to be permanently carved into my psyche.  So easy to get to, so easy to believe.

There’s the lie of alienation, of living on the margins of other people’s lives.  Invisible, I only make myself known by bumping into their furniture or shattering a jar of pickles in their kitchens.  A noisome ghost.

There’s the dangerous lie of hopelessness, the one that finds no point in the struggle, no reward in the work.  This lie stretches out the rest of my life in days of marking time, filling up the hours with minutia.  The lie says relief is fiction, and wellness fantasy.

I see the lies.  I recognize the distortion as they slide through my mind.  I know them for what they are.  But, I can still hear them in the background like a radio turned low—a radio playing music I can’t stand.  It’s hard enough to be in the Dark without having to listen to AC/DC or Ozzie Osborne.  It’s hard enough.

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