Sing It Loud, Say It Proud

I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did.

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You never know what will happen when you reach out to someone. Not everyone is ready for a true friend. It’s taken me a long time to realize this. I still don’t understand it and take it personally more often than not.

I’m a transparent person. I have hurdles I have to overcome, battles I need to fight and I am an imperfect person something I don’t try to hide. I worry sometimes I come across as a toddler yelling “I make mistakes!” with a wide sunny grin as though it were a gift. Perhaps I do come across that way sometimes however I don’t think that’s something to apologize for. One thing about making mistakes is at least you know you’ve tried to DO something. You’ve tried to make a thing happen even if you bungled the entire operation from start to finish. Some mistakes are worse than others obviously. Still we learn from them, however hard the lesson.

My continual need to reach out to other people and share my story with them and hear theirs is just part of me, it’s who I am because of how my life has been. The joy I’ve experienced when I share what I’ve been through and someone else shares what they’ve been through with me and we each accept, forgive and love each other despite those scars is nameless. It literally cannot be touched. Because of this however, when I see an opportunity for that level of happiness and my attempts are met with a firmly closed door, or worse a mere dismissal as if my olive branch never existed I am so crushed, I feel so rejected that it’s hard to LET IT GO. I can’t MOVE ON. I want to know why I couldn’t reach them. Why they wouldn’t let me in.

The truth is, it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me at all. There are a million and one reasons why someone keeps the doors of their life closed and the shades of their heart drawn even against the brightest, most beautiful days. It’s their right to take solace behind a locked door. Just because I want them to feel the sun with me doesn’t mean they have to and it doesn’t mean that sunlight is any less beautiful. It’s just the way of things. It’s the way people are. For someone who is used to hiding, used to pretending to be “perfect” my openness and consequent awareness is off-putting. What? They say. How do you know me so well? Only because I am you I think. Only because I used to try to hide too.

This is how it is battling bipolar disorder. Battling anxiety, depression, self doubt. Battling any mental illness really. Once you accept that you need help and you ask for that help and you receive it, you want to share it with everyone else. And you become adept at spotting the same illnesses, the same broken pieces in others. You want to help them too. Even when they don’t want anything you have to give. Because part of the struggle is learning to break open that rusty lock and connect with others who feel the way you do.

I’m on a journey. I used to take a multitude of pills just to stay stable. Things are different now. It’s important to note I have been working with medical professionals and no one should ever EVER just stop taking their medication. I just happen to have a big mouth and a refusal to accept a regimen that isn’t working for me (restless legs, 50 lb weight gain, the inability to write, etc) So I used my big mouth and about a thousand phone calls and I now take one pill for my bipolar (lithium), one (will likely become two) pill for my raging ADHD (vyvanse), two for the anxiety brought on by OCD (gabapentin & klonopin) and one for sleep (lunesta). I actually tried ambien and had a psychotic reaction to it so if this has happened to you you’re not alone. I took the pill and 30 minutes later I told my husband- “The eye told me you have bodies buried in the yard.” Needless to say I never took it again.

Sleep is so elusive but my God it’s so vital especially when you’re battling mental illness. But who can sleep when there’s so much to do, so much to think about and everything whirls around in my head like a carnival ride you can’t get off of. It’s important to note that sleeping pills are EXTREMELY dangerous. The wrong one can change you into a psychotic mess. And if you’re extremely depressed, in large doses they will kill you.

I wrote in a past blog about how lucky I was and how much I loved my doctor. Well as usual nothing lasts. This is what we as people who suffer these illnesses go through. I put my entire trust in her and our last appointment she told me that although she was reducing her case load she would never drop me as a client. A week later I got a phone call from her office saying she would no longer be seeing me, I was referred to a new doctor and the earliest appointment would be in three months. I thought well of course that happened. So for the last two and a half months I have become best friends with the certified medical assistants who have been my bridge over this doctor-less sea of side effects and dosage problems. Insurance issues and complete frustration and loss of faith. If you ever see a CMA give them a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

All is not lost however. I found out that this new doctor is an osteopath who specializes in treating people with psychiatric conditions using a combination of traditional western medicine and alternative natural remedies. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! I may have hit the jackpot! I have been praying for this since I got sick. Because there are not just these diagnoses that hang over me like a witch’s cloak. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. At the time I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 I was suffering extreme postpartum psychosis, WHICH can last UP TO THREE YEARS. I also have uterine prolapse so I only ever go two to three days maximum without bleeding like a stuck pig. I also have cysts all over my thyroid so prominent you can see one of them sticking out of the side of my throat! Hmmm. How many conditions could the side effects of what I am going through mimic? How many doctors would want to throw pill after pill at me clueless as to why they don’t work? I’m not saying I’m not bipolar. I really don’t know where I fall on the spectrum of mood and mental disorders. I’ve learned that a pregnancy can shift a mild case of bipolar 2 into a severe case of bipolar 1. I do have many of the symptoms. I also have many of the symptoms of the other conditions I’m suffering. So who knows and really I HATE labels. We’re all humans dealing with different levels of hardship and whatever you call yourself, judgment and stigma must be erased from our vocabularies.

What I’m trying to say is that there may be more ways of treating your condition whatever it may be, beyond just pills. On top of pills. On top of pills.

I know I’m not alone. That’s why I’m speaking out. In the Netherlands their schizophrenic people remain integrated into society. People treat them with kindness. The reorient them into reality as a whole, as a group, rather than locking them away. Studies show they get better! They regain their grip on who they are and what is real. Now I can’t say that would work for everyone. It would be amazing but this society is so diversified and disconnected I have a hard time believing what works in a homogeneous social system would work here in the melting pot that is America. But the lesson is in their lack of judgment. The person is sick. Not evil, not gross, not to be shunned and avoided. Just sick. That’s all. It’s so simple.

When I was hospitalized I went on social media and asked for visitors. I asked for flowers. I let everyone know where I was and that I was lonely for companionship. One loving couple came to see me with flowers and a balloon. My aunt Nycki and Uncle Tom. They brought a card for Alice. Do you know why they came? Because their son suffers from a mental illness and they were not afraid of the behavioral health ward. Which by the way is calm, clean, full of loving nurses and good people. People who are ill just like anyone else. There are children and husbands who come and spend time with their mothers. They bring games and cookies. They bring the freedom of the outside. Their are girlfriends who come to see their boyfriends with paper bags full of sweatshirts, headphones, love letters. They hug each other. Long embraces. Everyone looks away as the tears roll down their cheeks. Usually one of the older female patients will bring tissues. Sometimes a tiny carton of juice. Of course there are the patients who sit in their rooms during visiting hours. Because no one is coming. That was never me. Even though none of my friends came, my aunt and uncle did. And my family was there for every visitation. I even had a birthday cake with real candles in my room surrounded by them. Another Aunt and Uncle sent flowers. A dear friend from high school sent flowers. He was in Hawaii and unable to visit. But he made sure to let me know he cared. But none of my friends came. Most of them ignored my obvious distress. I thought to myself here I am in the hospital, having been diagnosed with a disease deadlier than cancer and hardly anyone seems to care. But that’s how it is. People hear the word bipolar and they want to get as far away from you as possible. Women hide their postpartum conditions out of the very real fear of judgment. And then they end up in the hospital crying over why it has to be this way while their visiting babies fill up the ward with their sounds of new life.

For all of these reasons I sing out my story. I tell anyone who will listen about what I’ve been through, what I’m going through and what I have yet to overcome. I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did. I do it for all the other people struggling under the weight of their diagnoses, their medications, doctors who don’t listen, friends who don’t care. I will never be quiet. And maybe just maybe things will change.

Shattered Glass, Mended Hearts

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds.

Alice broke a cut glass bowl that belonged to my mother’s grandmother today. It was early this morning before my coffee had a chance to fully wake up my brain.

I was downstairs getting my robe on when I heard a crash that I knew was glass breaking. Oh no, I thought what broke? 

That bowl had been sitting on my mother’s counter for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to marvel at the edges and how the light was refracted through each one creating a kalaidescopic effect. Tiny rainbows in sunlight. I’d run my finger along those edges imagining how each one was cut by hand. “They’re slightly uneven do you see that? That’s how you know it was made my hand and not machine. It was my grandmother’s bowl. I’ve always loved it. One day it will be yours to pass down to your daughter.” My mother’s words were wistful and seemed full of purpose. I felt important holding that bowl. I would never have let it break.

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds. Because of this I have lost treasures. Others have been broken and had to be repaired. A snow globe with Cinderella and her prince that played the theme from the movie was shattered. Dolls my father gave me as child of 6 and 7 have lost fingers and toes. Sometimes entire limbs. A winged angel my mother gave me for my 20th birthday has one wing glued back on. Several books I’d saved that were favorites of her brothers were torn apart or scribbled in. But she’s never touched the cut glass bowl.

Never having raised a child like this (her brothers were not this way) I kept having to adjust the location of anything and everything that she could possibly destroy. Pictures were moved higher and higher on the fridge. Anything fragile found higher and higher homes as she would scale the shelves, counters and anything else climbable like a tiny monkey. We called her curious Georgina. We learned to grab her paintings and drawings from her before she had a chance to tear them to pieces. We learned to laugh at the destruction she’d leave in the wake of her play. We turned ourselves inside out teaching her to care for the things around her. That she didn’t need to break everything open just to see inside.

Lately she’d been good about breaking things. Too good perhaps. Yes there was the occasional climb on top of the refrigerator to steal candy or the endless glasses of water tipped on their side, but she had gotten to a place of understanding how to love her things while they remained in one piece.

The shattered bowl was an accident. Ironically what she was doing when she knocked it over was destructive on purpose. Trying to pull the leaves off my African violets that were given to me by my Aunt and Uncle when I was in the hospital. My mother told her to stop and she pulled her hand back sending the bowl careening to the floor where it shattered into bits of glass edges and dust. It would no longer make its tiny rainbows. No other child would marvel at its edges. “Go downstairs I cannot even look at you right now!” My mother could not bear the full realization of the loss in that moment. After hearing the glass break I was on my way up the stairs when Alice was on her way down. By the look on her face I knew.

”What did you do, what did you break?” She didn’t answer me and ran for her room. I reached the top of the stairs and my mother was sweeping up the remnants of the bowl. Her expression unreadable.

“Alice broke my cut glass bowl. It was my grandmother’s.” I couldn’t speak at first. “It’s just a thing and she didn’t mean to but I just had to send her downstairs I didn’t want to say something I’d regret.” She began tearing up.

You see there’s more to this story than a wildly curious little girl and a cut glass bowl. My mother’s sister is dying. It’s only a matter of time. After years of estrangement they’d finally begun talking.  My mother’s childhood memories are all around her right now, including her grandmother and the glass bowl.

In addition this is Alice’s first day home from preschool since her father and I pulled her out after we were unsuccessful in getting her school to do anything about an older girl that was bullying her mercilessly. Doing things like telling her spiders will bite her and turn her into a wolf, giving her nightmares. Convincing her to bring her toys to school, stealing them from her and lying about it. Teaching her to say butthole repeatedly. Sending her home with paper fold outs saying things like poop your pants and sit in your poop and cut your pants and many other gross and stupid things. Telling her Santa Claus isn’t real. My husband and I had actually gone to the school together and talked to the teacher after his talk with the front desk did nothing. She assured us they would be kept separated since this child was years older than Alice, in foster care and already a source of problems. I found this little girl and got down on my knees and I told her to stop stealing my daughter’s toys, telling her to poop her pants and swear, lying to her and bullying her or she’d have to deal with me personally. The look she gave me confirmed everything I suspected. My Alice was not her first target and would not be her last. I walked over to the teacher and I said this is the fifth time we have come to you guys about this girl and how she’s bullying our daughter. I’m so angry right now I’m holding my breath so I don’t say something I’ll regret. But you need to follow through on supervision and age appropriate groups. (This school shuffles their preschool children back and forth between rooms of practically toddlers and kids as old as 8 and 9 because they have inconsistent staffing, poor organisation and a whole host of other problems I will outline in a another post called BRIGHT MINDS IN WASILLA IS A SHITTY FOR PROFIT PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A SCHOOL. No I won’t write that post but you get the idea: massive late fees if your child is not there exactly on time despite the fact that you’ve already paid almost $700 that month for her slot whether she’s there or not. Why is this you might ask? Because if your child is sick, even though they’ve already been paid for that day, they will take a drop in for more money. So if you show up late you screw up their ability to charge two families for one slot. And that’s just the tip of the horrible preschool iceberg. And guess what? If you’re late they won’t even let you in the building.

Needless to say Alice starts kindergarten in a month during which I will be repairing the damage done to her by this awful school. Having to re-potty train her. Sorting out behavioral problems. And now teaching her about bullies.

She had a timeout for what she did this morning. More importantly she made her grandmother a picture to show she was sorry. I even had her trace the words. When my mother stopped back home after a meeting to drop off the vegetables I asked her to get she saw the painting and she and Alice shared a hug. The bowl would remain forever broken. But at least their bond was strong. Their bond is forever.

More than just the cut glass bowl has been broken today. My daughter’s trust in an older girl she thought was her friend. My trust in the school system of this rough town, with its massive meth and opioid addiction problem running rampant throughout the community and its non-existent budget for quality public schooling. For profit preschool is one story. Public elementary school is another. I was viciously bullied for years in a school that I fear could be very much like the one my daughter will be attending. You’d better believe I’ll be volunteering in her classroom, keeping a close eye on her progress and making sure she’s not held down by the throat on the playground like I was. God help the child that even tries to to do that to my daughter.

Sometimes the things we pass down to our children are not the things we choose. Instead of passing down a cut glass bowl I will instead be passing down my experience in fending off bullies. How to hold your head high after someone lies to you. How to never forget that sometimes glass breaks. But unlike glass, a broken heart can always be mended.

Yours To Keep

Crack in your heart
Crack in your head
Little lies creep in
And you can’t help it you broken girl
Star-shaped dreams keep you awake at night
A lover with a heavy gaze and fingertips like feathers
Who makes you forget yourself
Who makes the earth fall away
And the sky open
Who éclipses the labels they’ve given you
Can you imagine this?
A world of stars and the absence of the need for reality
Dreams with beating hearts.
All they are…are dreams after all
Lovely at night
Stupid in the light of day.
But yours after all. And isn’t that the point?

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

The Color Of Love

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner.

One of the hardest things about being bipolar is your every emotion being blamed on it. People tiptoe around you like you’re in a mine field and you might be an explosive device. You show a hint of irritation and suddenly people think you’re sliding down a slippery slope and they start mentally taking notes. How much as she been sleeping? Too little? Too much? Did she eat lunch yesterday? Was she wearing a little too much blush?  It’s nothing short of infuriating. Sometimes I get angry. Not because of my bipolar but because I’m angry about a situation, or I’m grumpy from my period, or I have a headache and my daughter is acting up or a million and one other reasons that are NOT related to my bipolar. But it’s so hard for those closest to me not to immediately jump to thinking it’s a manic episode and I can tell they’re evaluating me as opposed to actually just listening and it drives me nuts and makes me even angrier.

[‘ve learned to swallow my words. Not all of them, because they still get me in trouble but a good amount of what I want to say never makes it out of my mouth. I have to be careful you see. I have to be mindful that everything I say holds more weight than it did before the diagnosis. Everything I say is a potential land mine.

It must be nice to have people. To have a group you belong to. I always wanted that. Rather than this hodgepodge mixture of racial identities that belongs to no category and has no name other than multiracial. I suppose in some ways it makes me superior, it takes me out of the battle between the races and I view it from afar like a concerned spectator. In other ways it makes my life hell because people call me names like “mulatto” and “high-yellow” both ancient slave terms for children born of the master-slave relationship if you can even call it that. I’ve also been called a “house nigger” a term I hope my daughter is never ever called in her life, it’s so ugly. People see my face and it’s as if every insecurity the’ve ever had comes boiling to the surface, and racism comes tumbling out of their mouths in a mighty gush. I’m so used to it I hardly bat an eyelash. It’s as if I’ve forgiven them before they’ve even said anything. I know how stupid the human condition is when it comes to anything outside the box. What I find so strange is these derogatory terms have to do with looking part black. The less black I look the less negativity I get. When my hair is straight people think I’m Asian or Polynesian. Or Spanish. I have to wonder why that is. Why there is so much hatred of the African American.

I remember an incident that happened to my father who was the new principal of an elementary school and was rightfully very proud of his accomplishment. He had some shopping to do, and rather than dress up as he usually did he opted for sweats and a t-shirt as he was in the middle of a home project. After he had gotten what he needed and was heading to his car he ran into a colleague- someone who also worked in the school district. They chatted for a few minutes and then the man asked my father what school he was working at. My father told him he had just changed schools. The man then said “Oh, that’s great! Are you the new janitor?” My father was quiet for a moment. He felt a thousand things at once, most of all the sad truth that nothing had really changed. “No, I’m the principal” my father said. The other man was of course speechless for a time then offered a jumbled pathetic apology. My father just shook his head and headed for his car.

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner. The gangster with a gun in his pants. The predator on the news. The lazy drunk living off the government. Really, they can’t help it. They’ve been conditioned to fear what is different and to hate what they fear.

Then there are the white people like my mother. The ones who truly don’t see color. Or my dearest and most beloved friend Amy and her mother Bea. My wonderful husband. The select few who are truly lovers of humanity and don’t care a whit what your racial make up is. I only wish there were more of them.

Just like race, bipolar doesn’t play favorites. You’re born with it. Bipolar doesn’t say Oh, she’s got a lot on her plate already so I won’t manifest in her, I’ll choose someone with a fairly easy life. Oh no, bipolar doesn’t care about your circumstances. It doesn’t care if you have kids, money, no money, if you’re the head of a company, if you’re newly married trying to be the perfect housewife. If you’re mixed race and dealing with being bullied and misunderstood and just trying to survive. Bipolar stretches across race, sex, financial status, age…it plays no favorites and has no mercy.

People will laugh at bipolar jokes as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. People who don’t have bipolar. Who don’t know how deadly it is. How soul-crushing it can be. Bipolar is cruel but fair. It is an equal opportunity disorder. In order for people to take this disorder seriously, it helps to understand something about what causes bipolar and why it isn’t something to laugh at. How it’s not just “somebody else’s kid who has it.” Scientists are actively researching this condition in the hopes that new medicines can be found, new treatments can be discovered, or even permanent actions could be taken resulting in what could be considered a cure. According to WebMD Experts believe bipolar disorder is potentially caused by an underlying issue with specific brain circuits and the functions of the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three brain chemicals are involved in both brain and bodily functions: noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.

Noradrenaline and serotonin have been linked over and over to psychiatric mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and other forms of depressive disorders. Nerve pathways that regulate pleasure and emotional reward are regulated by dopamine. When circuits are disrupted that communicate using dopamine in other areas of the brain there is a connection to psychosis (a symptom of Bipolar 1) and schizophrenia.

Serotonin is connected to sleep, wakefulness, eating, sexual activity, impulsivity, learning and memory. Researchers believe abnormal functioning of brain circuits that involve serotonin as a chemical messenger contribute to mood disorders: both depression and bipolar disorder

In a nutshell, bipolar has nothing to do with someone just being “moody” or “difficult” or “flaky.” Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain with serious and sometimes deadly symptoms. I’d be lying if I said people’s ignorance of this disorder doesn’t make me crazy but it fuels me to keep talking about it, keep educating others so eventually the stigma is eradicated for good.

In the same way I talk about bipolar and consider myself an activist in my own right, for bipolar disorder and mental health awareness, I also talk about being multiracial. Being more than one race is as misunderstood as bipolar disorder. We are our own culture, a culture of people who don’t identify with any specific racial group. Instead we exist on the outskirts of a polarized society, craving acceptance, looking for understanding- even within ourselves.

There are so many reasons for me to be angry that have nothing to do with my bipolar. I’m tired of being made fun of. I’m tired of being misunderstood. I’m tired of being called black when I’m multiracial which is so very different. I’m tired of having to fight to be seen. I’m tired of my friends ignoring me when I’m in the hospital because they don’t want to go to the mental health wing. I’m sick of the bipolar jokes, the stupidity of others, I could go on. But I can’t surrender to that anger. Because there is no bottom. I would rather take that energy and educate those around me. I would rather write about my life honestly. I want to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think. I want to share the real parts of my life. Not just the few and far between breakdowns. Here’s one example:

My daughter pooped in the bathtub yesterday. My husband cleaned it up. I saw a text on my phone: Don’t go in the bathroom until I clean it! My daughter poops like a man. The other day she pooped and it was the biggest poop I have ever seen come out of someone so tiny. I went and found my husband and told him “You have to see this”

“No way.” He had no interest in looking at poop.

“No seriously you HAVE to see this.” I wasn’t giving up. He relented and came in the bathroom.

“OH MY GOD!” He was definitely shocked and somewhat impressed.

“See? I told you! I don’t know how she does that! It’s like a superpower.” We both almost collapsed in laughter.

“I made a BIG poop!” Alice was pleased with herself.

“Alice, life with you is never boring.” I told her as I was helping her get cleaned up. She just smiled.

So that’s what you get. A multiracial family, getting through the days, mom has bipolar disorder so I have to take care to manage it. We have a wild, wonderful daughter and two sons who spend the school year in Oregon. We live with Grandma who at sixty-eight has more energy than all of us put together. We have a crazy but loving dog and the world’s best cat. We fight, we make up, we work hard to make our lives work. We love each other with a ferocity unmatched. As much as I hate it, I’d rather have people who care about me enough to pay attention to my behavior and make sure I’m not heading toward a manic episode, rather than a family who couldn’t care less. When I think about my daughter and her box of crayons matching them to people’s skin tone, I realize what color I am. I’m the color of love.

Rain Dance

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted.

This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
Cause we won’t
Although we’ll want to…

–Billy Joel

Truer words were never written. As much as we try to hold onto those precious moments they end up slipping away from us like the soft cotton of a dandelion head. And all we have left are our memories.

When Jaden was a baby (he’s sixteen now) I remember one afternoon willing myself to commit him to memory. This won’t last I told myself. The way he smells, his little, chubby hands and feet. His big, wide, innocent eyes. Remember this! I willed myself. As if it were possible. As if time, the great thief that it is, were not lying in wait to steal that and so many more moments from my mind like an ever empty and waiting void.

A poem by Langston Hughes reads

“Life is for the living.

Death is for the dead.

Let life be like music.

And death a note unsaid.” 

The beauty of these words is that they speak to our deepest fears and then tell us how we  should handle them. Life is indeed for the living. I could spend the rest of my life trying to memorize each moment with my children, or I could simply surrender to the joy those moments with my children bring me. It is a choice. I could not have known this at twenty-four. I barely know this at forty-one. Another aspect of this philosophy and a truly important one is that it relieves us of guilt. Here’s an example; my daughter is playing and I’m writing and she calls for me. Does she absolutely need me? No. Does she want time with me and is that important? Of course it is and I will give her that time. It just doesn’t have to be RIGHT NOW. Life is for the living and that means my life is for me as well as hers is for her. If I want to really play with her, I mean really be engaged I need to give to myself first so I’m not this empty vessel. Will I miss out on time with her? Of course I will. Will the sky fall? No. Assuredly it will not.

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted. It is simply impossible to stop the hands of the clock of time. The earth will spin regardless of what we do and our children will grow older as painful a process as it may be. Why not enjoy the ride? One thing all children need to learn is how to entertain themselves. It’s a shocker I know. In this age of immediate gratification it seems an almost foreign concept. It’s important to remember that by catering to her every need I am in a sense robbing her of her ability to live her life to its fullest. I don’t want her running back to me every time the rain begins to fall. Rather I want her to dance in it.

I want her to dance in the rain and think nothing of the thrilling splash of the puddles, the gentle spray of droplets on her face. Because that as well as anything else is part of the human experience. Whether the rain trickles down lightly so we have an afternoon of damp cavorting, or in great sheets so we are soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes, the rain wakes us up, pulls us from our complacency and drowns out the sameness of our otherwise predictable lives.

Life is for the living. That means each moment is a gift for us to do with as we please. There is no guidebook. There is no test with a looming answer sheet lying in wait to point out all of our mistakes. On the contrary. Our life is ours. To jump up and down in the rain, to wrap ourselves in a blanket and binge watch Orange is The New Black, to change careers ten times, to drop out of college. To teach our children to swear in preschool. To lose at poker, to win at poker. To get pulled over five miles from home after drinking one too many glasses of wine at dinner. To run out of gas in the middle of the intersection and laugh hysterically about it. To fart in church. To be gracelessly, embarrassingly, unabashedly imperfect. To live. Because life is for the living. So my darling…LIVE.

Destiny

She kept fucking up.

She kept swallowing the goldfish, running over butterflies before they had a chance to flutter past gorgeously.

Who could love a died-in-the-wool screw up like her? Not even the cat who eyed her warily.

She was too fat for her best dress. Too thin for her mother to worry about her. “You have control over that girl! And it’s that sour attitude of yours driving them away, not your ass.

She hated her name. Grace meant all the things she wasn’t. Her name should have been Selena or Georgiana. Or even Tia. The last of those evoking a kind of reluctant sympathy. But no. Her name was Grace and she had yet to live up to it.

It was long after everyone was asleep and the clocks smiled 3:15 that Grace became Rita. Armed with only a braided satchel containing lipgloss, a passport, some valium and one ticket to Brazil scattered with greasy fingerprints she disappeared into the night.

She was never heard from again after that rainsoaked, changeling evening and her mother was satisfied.

Kimkoa 2018

Stuffed Animal Conference

I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals.

My daughter popped awake at 5:30 this morning. She was part of the alarm of the day, which is always set for me, the one who doesn’t need to be up that early. Basically I’m used to my husband’s alarm going off intermittently from 5:30 to 6am (the James Bond theme song) during which time I get up, get my natural energy caffeine substitute since I cannot have coffee, check email, facade book (no that was not a typo) and the gram, or simply lay there wishing his alarm were set for 6 while he continues sleeping. My mother is the same way, I hear her alarm go off and she will turn it off and disappear back into dreamland which is something I’ve never been able to do. Anyways, my daughter decided today was the day I needed to start mothering two minutes after I opened my eyes. At least I was prepared for her jumping into bed, hearing her voice in the hallway “I’m thirsty!” Lately she’s been waking up in the wee hours of the morning and stealthily creeping into my room and then suddenly leaping onto me “I want to sleep with you!” Then of course she proceeds to beat me and my husband up for the rest of the night; a punch to the eye, a kick to the balls…she likes to keep us on our toes.

So as I stumbled out of bed and made my way upstairs to get her water I realized how much that half hour of just me and the quiet house meant in the morning. Even though Alice is in preschool now and I have time during the day, I assign myself work to do and don’t consider it “free time.” What many people don’t realize is how easy it is to get behind when you are “your own boss.” If you don’t do the laundry you end up living under it. If you don’t grocery shop you are at the store every day and dinner is always late. If you don’t clean…well we all know that story. When I was trying to do everything myself and take care of all three kids full-time I slid into a special kind of insanity I don’t even have a name for. Really my days are manageable for the first time in a long time. That being said, living with two adults who work full-time I feel a great need to account for my time at home and when not writing I am either engaged in some kind of chore or running errands or taking the occasional nap when needed (No I won’t apologize for that! Bipolar people need their sleep!) I also spend time pacing because that is how I think. My son does this also. In fact if I have not already written what I am going to write in my head I like to write at the counter so I can walk around it between paragraphs. (Yes you can laugh at that image.) The earliest part of the day is different though. Hushed and dark, before the world has called for me I swallow the beauty of my own existence in huge gulps. That time is mine to relish or squander as I please, regardless of the expectations of others. It is not stolen, nor gifted me but earned fairly and earnestly and I do notice when it is infringed upon.

After I got Alice her water I tried to start the day with her and it did not go well. Alice, like every 4 and 3/4 year old (the 3/4 is extremely important) is less than cooperative when tired and kept insisting she did NOT have to go potty. I of course insisted she did and as every mother knows that is not a battle one can win. Ultimately I lost my patience and yelled, giving her bottom a useless smack. I felt instantly terrible and she continued to insist she DID NOT HAVE TO GO and needless to say she ended up cuddling her father who missed out on fifteen of his cherished snooze minutes. The battle over and lost, I was left wanting to feel proactive and instead feeling defeated. So I chose to let her boss her own body (she eventually did go potty of her own accord, and had a dry nap, then had an accident later in day go figure!) and I got her dressed, hair done, eating cheese and oranges and watching a show all before 6:30. I had time to kill so I decided to make the beds and put away her laundry. After making our bed I started work in her room and something happened. It was a small thing and yet not a small thing. It was a lightbulb moment that would not turn on for me until later this afternoon.

Alice, like every little girl, has a stuffed animal menagerie. Having missed out on my time from this morning I inadvertently took it back by creating a something in her room. I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals. So I started lining them up and arranging them sweetly along the side of her mattress. I was putting one with the other and before I knew it there they were holding court on her bed. I heard the bathroom door open as my husband having finished his shower began making his way down the hall. “Hey babe, I called, look what I did for Ali.” I felt proud and sparkly eyed at the sweetness of the picture.

“It looks like they’re having a conference.” He said, smiling.

“You’re right. It does. A stuffed animal conference.” We hugged and I felt a little better about the day. What happened next I hadn’t planned on. After driving Alice to school and finding the door locked I realized it was professional development day and school was closed. What? Huh? Oops. Alice was thrilled. I had plans that were suddenly not plans any longer. The day had its ups and downs. I lost and won other battles. But specialness still won out. We had spent the morning upstairs, a kaleidoscope of cartoons, play dough and a variety of snacks and I was writing this post in between those parenting moments. Suddenly I remembered “The Stuffed Animal Conference.” “Alice, I did something special in your room!” I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought to show her before.

“Really? Can I go see? Should I close my eyes?!” She was so excited.

“Yes of course, hold my hand.” I led her down the stairs and into her room.

“Open wide!”

“WOW!” She was as excited to see them as I was to show her and she began adding to the group from her toy box, it was adorable. I thought suddenly oh, she wanted my time. The lightbulb clicked on. The one thing every battle with her has in common is that it makes everything take longer. Today I gave her the gift of my time and the most special part of “The Stuffed Animal Conference” was that it was spontaneous and given without expectation or request. It didn’t even take that long, but it was my time and she knew it. So often as parents we want to give our kids so much…when all they really want is time with us. It doesn’t have to be a long time either but it has to be genuine. Not side glances they have to steal from us while competing with a computer screen or an iPhone. Real, honest-to-goodness time. The funny thing is, that doesn’t change even as we get older. As adults we compete for each other’s time just as often…and we make just as much noise when we don’t get it. 

Motherhood

Heavy wine head
Exhausted
Hot baby knees
Love
Little fist sweaty curls breath
Anxious warm restless
Moving just enough to startle
Nonsense whispers coughing
Stubborn feet pressed against thighs
Soft blanket snores humid dark
Air purifier whirring
Laughter behind a closed door
Sudden joy.

Kimkoa 2017

Hospital Birthday

I cry for myself now because I couldn’t then. I never allow myself the luxury of self pity, only compassion after the fact. It’s how I survive. Once one begins to wallow there is no end to it.

 

At the behest of my husband and from my own desire I want to take a pause from the present sweetness of my valley life and talk about my illness. It is synonymous with me and always will be. I am bipolar. It is not a thing you outgrow, it cannot be cured with essential oils or mediation, or even prayer. But there is a community of people who know enough about this deadly disease to save lives. So here is just a peek into what it’s like to be me.

It’s an indescribable feeling to realize you’re turning 41 in the mental health wing of a hospital. I can’t say I minded all that much. That had everything to do with my family bringing balloons, cheesecake, candles, flowers, my daughter dressed in her gorgeous cream dress I bought her, the other patients, the nurses, my doctor and my anxiety medication. Now I think about it and the tears come. I cry for myself now because I couldn’t then. I never allow myself the luxury of self pity, only compassion after the fact. It’s how I survive. Once one begins to wallow there is no end to it. My chest also floods with feeling for what the nurses and doctors must feel for every patient that sits in front of them wavering between realities clutching a birthday balloon. For every weak bird in purple hospital scrubs who says in a small voice, “Today is my birthday,” I wonder how many of them pray for us at night. Especially the ones of us for whom on our birthdays no one comes.

Providence Behavioral Health, known as 4 west, or as those of us who have been its “guests” call it “the mental ward” is actually a beautiful place. Clean, staffed with well-meaning, over-worked nurses and at least one or two brilliant doctors, not only is it a haven for the mentally ill, it literally saved my life more than once. I am among the lucky ones not to have been sent to Alaska Psychiatric Institute with its high level security measures, over-population and the most severely disturbed patients including the violent ones however I don’t separate myself from the patients there. On many occasions when there simply aren’t available beds at providence patients are sent to API like lambs to the slaughter. I very nearly was sent there myself and thank my lucky stars to not have had to experience it. Having talked with other patients who have it remains for me a lurking dragon that keeps me taking my meds regularly. That and the beast of unreality which will always and forever haunt me; a thing I would wish on no one.

Whenever I tell anyone I’ve been (voluntarily) committed to the psych ward I hear two things. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Girl Interrupted. I have one thing to say. No. No, no, no, no, no. Let me be clear. NO. It is not 1960. There are not secret rooms or day passes or drama of the kind movies drum up. Patients are not sneaking in and out of windows, fooling staff and running the show. The ward is a calm place. A place of healing. We spend our days in therapy. Our nights closely monitored and most of us if not in natural sleep, an assisted medicated version of it. Yes we form bonds that sometimes last after hospitalization but whatever drama that follows is not part of the hospital stay, which has strict rules about sharing contact information and sharing physical contact although we do still hug each other when the urge overtakes us, such as when someone is crying or there is a shared moment of great joy. I have broken the rules about sharing contact information. It is so very hard not to, so very difficult to remember that people who are one way in a controlled environment may become completely different once not required to take their medications and then may not refrain from drinking or using drugs to cope with the re-emergence of symptoms which causes in some cases epic backslides. I can say the rule exists for good reasons.

I myself do not drink or use drugs. It’s not because I don’t want to. I love wine. I hate pot however, it almost killed me, heightened my symptoms to the point where I thought I was the next messiah. More on that later. But yes, I miss being able to have wine with a girlfriend or sharing a bottle with my mom while watching an old classic film. But I’m too sick to drink. If I’m not in a manic state I can have a glass or two like a normal person. But once that mania hits I will literally drink everything in the house. Just before my last hospital stay I had a manic episode where I binge drank almost all of the alcohol in my mother’s house and had no memory of it.

Lets talk about the ugly side of bipolar 1 with psychotic features. First: The psychosis. How would it feel if you thought by just standing near someone you could send them to hell? A kind of hell only Dante could dream up. How would it feel to be convinced a demon lives inside the right half of your body and so your right eye stares out at you from every picture and every time you look in the mirror you can see yourself decomposing on that side and so you stop looking in the mirror? How would it feel to believe you have a wolf living inside you that will jump out and eat your daughter if you don’t hold your breath. How would it feel if your psychiatrist’s daughter who is the same age as you and suffers from the same condition  hangs herself and you believe you caused it by being near your doctor?

Second: The Mania. At one point I was sending my husband who was trying to run a newsroom 50 to 60 texts a day about Hitler and Goebbels and the Holocaust and whether or not it was real and white supremacy and the percentage of ash found in the gas chambers. I was texting him pictures of dead jews and articles claiming they were fabricated. I kept asking him over and over is this real is this true this can’t be true. I would pace and clean and take Alice all over town (she literally had no idea and thought I was just fun hyper mommy. The thought of what was really going on still terrifies me to this day.) I would take Alice over to my girlfriend’s house and let her watch cartoons while I did all of her dishes for her. On weekends I would garden until it started getting dark out which for an Alaskan summer is quite late. Nick and Alice would press their faces against the glass wondering when mommy would ever decide to come inside. I would stay awake for hours, long after everyone had gone to sleep my mind racing. I would go online and read about aliens, genetic engineering, ancient Egypt, serial killers, celebrities, Isis. I became obsessed with Isis, terrified they were coming any day. I started reading everything I could sometimes crying hysterically wondering how anyone could do anything with this horror in the world. I was angry all the time. I would fight with my girlfriends, yell at my kids, fight with my husband, even my mom. I lost more than a few relationships during that time. I have easily forgiven myself. I was sick. whoever can’t accept that doesn’t belong in my life anyways.

Third: The Depression. Quite literally you become so tired from battling the symptoms which come and go, because it’s important to note there would be long stretches where I would be fine or at least appear fine. Especially if I was hypomanic which is this lovely little land where you’re the life of the party, your house is always clean, you have boundless energy for your children and you’re the funnest, funniest, sexiest wife ever. It’s a lie and it doesn’t last of course. Friendships made during a hypomanic phase are as false and fleeting as dead leaves in the wind. So to feel that energy start to slip away yet AGAIN is just heartbreaking. You also become tired of the medication merry-go-round. The trial and error of this and that other drug. The litany of different doctors, each with their own theory on why you are so broken and will not be fixed as if it were under your control. You become tired of the side effects or as part of the side effects. You stop eating or you eat everything in sight, mine happened to be the latter. One drug I took ballooned me up 50 pounds which I have yet to lose. You become quite simply tired and you want a way out. Any way out.

As I have said I am one of the lucky ones. I have one of the brilliant doctors. I have my sanity back. I have my friendships back, at least the ones that matter, and the gift of knowing they love me unconditionally. I have the full support of my family who are healthy and working with me through my recovery. I am safe, my children are safe. I have my life back. I could write volumes about my life before I found the doctor who saved me and the people who cared for me at my worst and I will. But for now I’ll leave you with another poem that I feel speaks to the commonalities between all of us.

Bones

To the mother who’s son brought a gun to school today I say I love you.

To the mother who’s son steals cash from her wallet to feed his habit and tears from her eyes to wash his soul clean, I say it’s okay to feel abandoned by God.

To the mother who’s son was expelled from school for selling amphetamines to classmates on school grounds, I say it’s NOT ALL YOUR FAULT.

To the mother who’s son never calls, never writes and never cares I say I CARE about you even if HE doesn’t.

To the mother who’s son sits behind bars facing charges of sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and assault I say you’re not alone, it only seems that way….

To the mothers of vandals, thieves, rapists and killers I say you can hold onto the scent of his head when they laid him in your arms. It’s okay to love a broken child. It’s okay to know he’ll never be what he could have been and love him anyways.

To the mother who has yet to give birth to her son I say love him but not so much that if he chooses to drown, you are pulled under the waves. Love him but not so much that you forget to love his father. Love him because he is your baby without expectation.
The only joy guaranteed you is that first moment of his existence, the sound of his cry, the sight of his little fist with its tiny wrinkled fingers. Rejoice in your ability to create life. Hope for his happiness. Expect to be disappointed in some way. Accept that love was never meant to be a painless endeavor. On the contrary it rips us from our couches and thrusts us into the fevered beating heart of existence, pummeling us with awful truths and vivid dream deaths, ultimately haunting us with the notion that we are truly powerless in its wake.

To the mothers of brutally broken boys and men I say you are not so different from me. What divides us is only the hands we are dealt, the circumstances of our losses and how well we can hold onto our goodness while our worlds crumble and our hopes fade. Beneath our skin we are all the same.

Down deep we are all just bones.

Kimkoa 2017