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.

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.

Leaving Him, Leaving Her, Finding Me.

I don’t think I stopped holding my breath until I saw their beautiful welcoming house reminding me I was still myself. That yes this was a nightmare but it was one I could wake up from. One I could escape from. 

I remember the day I told Ian I was leaving him. He begged and pleaded with me not to go. He said he’d buy me house. Was it a house I wanted? I almost laughed.   “A house? Are you serious? You had eight years to get us out of this bug infested trailer that is crawling with mice and smelling of shit! Eight years to treat me like a human being you loved as opposed to an inconvenience. Eight fucking years to give a shit about my dreams, my sacrifices. What have you ever done but act like the world’s biggest child? What kind of a man makes his wife chip ice at nine months pregnant so she doesn’t go sliding down the steps in a painful, dangerous heap? What kind of man leaves cords and wires snaking through the hallway and living room and instruments all over the floor for his pregnant wife to trip over? For his toddler son to chew on? What kind of stupid selfish man builds a wall out of manure in the kitchen so he can record HIS music. Not a man at all. A child. A selfish, immature, spoiled child who was indulged, spoiled and catered to by his mother!”

“I can change, things can change!” He was desperate.

“Ian it’s too late. I’m done. I’m done with this whole ridiculous farce. How dare you tell me you’re only married to me for the children! How dare you leave me night after night in this shithole to go play pretend with your brothers like the world’s greatest older brother as though you never left and had kids! I’m sick of your childish bullshit and I can’t take it anymore!”

“I heard what you told Rita. I heard everything! It’s HER fault all of this is happening!”

“No Ian, it’s your own damn fault. You have no one to blame but yourself. You cannot treat your wife like a piece of garbage and expect her to stick around and start to smell. I’m better than this, I’ve been better than this for a long time. I gave you eight years to grow up and you refuse to. So I’m leaving you and there isn’t anything you can do about it.”

“I refuse to be the first one in family to get divorced!” He had stood up by then and crossed his arms.

“Oh really? I didn’t know it was up to you.” I said this and walked out the door.

Of course what I didn’t realize then was that I was escaping. I hadn’t found new love, on the contrary. I found what I thought was a way out. A way out of the cult, a way out of Ian’s crazy family, a way out of feeling like a piece a garbage left out in the street to rot. But it wasn’t love. It wasn’t even lust. It was a haven for at least a little while. I thought I’d found a friend. And I had. For at least a little while.

I remember the first time I met Janine. There were no fireworks. No indications of what was to come. It was simply a hangout with my friend Rita as was the second time we met. The third time however we decided it would be fun to drink whiskey. After that all bets were off. One drunken kiss and I knew I could never go back to my old life. First of all I’m not any good at clandestine behavior. Secondly It would have felt seriously wrong to have continued in my marriage without telling Ian bluntly what had happened and that it was a catalyst but only a catalyst. The change was already on the horizon. I needed my own life. I needed to make my own mistakes even if they were big ones. I needed my freedom. The fact that Janine was a girl seemed unimportant to me, she was much more of a man than Ian in both looks and attitude. At that time she was what I needed. I told her it might be an entire year before we could become a couple. She said she was willing to wait. I found that charming in an old world kind of way. In the early days she was the easy part. Leaving Ian proved to be a complete and utter nightmare. He had stored up inside of himself all of the petty vicious rage of his entire life and directed it at me. It was like a gust of hatred set to blow me across the globe. Just before the hate-wind he had a few last ditch efforts to try and “win me back.” As if you could win someone back who treated you like a hated sibling instead of a wife. He would literally take the bed sheets and blankets and wrap them around himself and then hold his arms down so I would be forced to hunt for another blanket rather than fight with him. It was that kind of immature behavior I could no longer stomach. That and his relentless teasing. He teased me until I cried on so many occasions. Unforgivable.

Anyways one of his bright ideas to get closer to me and understand me was to watch the movie Brokeback Mountain and hold hands. I found the movie depressing and nothing I could at all relate to. He just cried and sweated into my hand. I felt like throwing up. Another attempt was to take me before his uncle and his cousin who used to be one of my best friends and have them try to convince me I was making a mistake by quoting the writings at me. Yes I sat in their kitchen while the man I’d known my entire life told me I was mentally handicapped for being bisexual and that homosexuality is like alcoholism but can be overcome with prayer. Gee thanks uncle Gary for calling me retarded. Gee thanks Lindsay for agreeing with him. Ian I hate your guts even more get me the fuck out of here. 

I ended up moving out to my parents’ house in the valley which coincidentally is where I live now. My sons love this house, it was their haven in the turmoil. Ian would call me on the phone, cursing and spitting like a lunatic screaming at me that I was a home wrecker.  “Do you know where your soul is?!!” I would just hang up the phone. He would call when the kids were with him, when he knew I would be with Janine. Sometimes I’d just give her the phone and let her deal with him. I don’t like conflict, never have.

I wanted to keep things easy, to work things out without lawyers or fighting or a ton of money spent but Ian made that impossible. He locked all my things up and refused to give them to me. Some things I still haven’t gotten back which I attribute to his less than sane and endlessly competitive second wife. He never wanted me to have the kids as if somehow I had suddenly turned into a bumbling idiot unable to care for my children any longer. He was constantly harassing me, every time there was a transition he had more terrible things to say. Jaden who was four at the time would tell me “Daddy says you’re a home wrecker. What’s a home wrecker?” I would just scoop him up and tell him it’s a grown up word and best left to the grown-ups. The hardest part of that time was not lashing out at Ian in front of the kids. But I knew it would come back to haunt me. Their teenage years proved to be MUCH harder in that respect. Teenagers are in your business and they rarely let you off the hook for anything and will drive you to the end of your willpower. Sometimes the truth just falls out and not necessarily in the best way. But when those boys were little my stock answer when they came to me with their father’s obvious hatred of me was I’m sorry he said that sometimes people feel upset and they say things out of anger. I’m sure when he’s not so upset he feels differently and that type of thing.

After the divorce was long past and we had established week on week off custody Ian remarried. Unfortunately for all of us she was a sick and manipulative woman. I of course had no idea how sick and manipulative she was until they separated and it all came out. I’ll give you one example. The Monday box. The boys transitioned to my house on Mondays. Apparently she had them put all their too small clothes and clothes with holes in them into this box. And then sent them to school in them, knowing I would throw them away and replace them. Who uses a child like that?!! That was just one of her many tricks.

I of course was going through my own hell by this time. What I didn’t know at the beginning but soon found out was Janine wasn’t entirely sane herself. She confided to me she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This is no small thing and I lived it. There is book written about living with someone who has this disorder called Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason MS & Randi Kreger. That book became my bible. According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms include “emotional-instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity and impaired social relationships.” The behaviors may include “antisocial behavior, compulsive behavior, hostility, impulsivity, irritability, risk-taking behaviors, self-destructive behavior, self-harm, social isolation, or lack of restraint.” The mood of someone with this disorder swings from “anger, anxiety, discontent, guilt, sadness, loneliness and general massive mood swings.” The individual may also experience “depression, distorted self image, grandiosity, and/or narcissism. Thoughts of suicide are common.”

I can say that is an avid and accurate depiction of someone with borderline personality disorder. What they do is entice you with seemingly loving and healthy behavior. To them you can do no wrong, they put you on a pedestal and will do almost anything to make you believe you are safe with them, that you can be happy with them. Then slowly they indoctrinate you into a system of fear and control until you no longer trust your own instincts and rarely does someone extricate themselves because the borderline excels at manipulation. Janine was crafty. She could absolutely control her behavior, she never let the kids see it until the end, when she realized she was losing her hold on me. Some of the things she would do to me: isolating me from my friends. Cutting up my clothes with scissors. Punching holes in the wall. Punching the wall next to my head. Peeing in bottles and leaving them in my car. Cutting herself with knives and razors. Raging through the apartment destroying things while I hid in the locked bathroom with a shaking dog. Throwing a bicycle at me while I sat on the couch. Throwing cans of soup so hard at the front door they stuck in the door and the dog ran away. Throwing herself on the ground kicking and screaming while we were walking the dog so I walked away and when she finally realized I wasn’t falling for that toddler-like behavior coming home and accusing me of being heartless. Scratching her face up with her own fingernails. Throwing fits at my work, lurking around scaring my coworkers. Etc, etc, etc…the list goes on and on and on.

I tried to leave her once and poor Jaden who knew nothing of what was going on and only wanted stability begged me not to so I stayed hoping things would things get better and instead they got worse. She started to rage while the boys were there. I took to sleeping on the floor of my sons room when she attacked me. She was quite simply a terrifying person. By the time I knew I had to leave I was so broken down I needed help. She had erected a tent in the middle of the living room with a padlock on it and I had no idea what was inside. I thought about the stories she told me about how she was part of the black block and snuck illegally into Canada as part of a protest movement. I remembered how she lived in a tent in the woods alone for over a year. I remembered her obsession with serial killers, how as a teenager she painted her walls black and plastered their pictures all over her black walls. I remember her telling me she would walk the city streets with a german shepherd and a baseball bat. Shortly after she set up the tent she took bright blue duct tape and wrote the words BE HAPPY in crooked letters. I knew it was now or never. She’d never let me go. I rented a U-Haul, and two friends helped me throw my stuff in it overnight as fast as we could while she was working a double and we drove it out to my parents’ house in the valley. It was the most terrifying thing I ever had to do in my life. I don’t think I stopped holding my breath until I saw their beautiful welcoming house reminding me I was still myself. That yes this was a nightmare but it was one I could wake up from. One I could escape from.

I don’t like to think about what could have happened to me, to my children had I not literally run for my life. There is so much more to tell, about dealing with Ian’s second wife, about learning to truly be a single mother and navigate the horrors of public assistance. About finding myself amongst the rubble of my ruined relationships. About learning how to relish in my sons, my independence and my own inner strength I never even knew I had until it was put to the test. I have a long and adventurous tale to tell but for now I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom.

You never know how strong you are, until you overcome your greatest failure. Which really is just a stepping stone to success.

Blessings

 

 

 

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.

Blood on Their Hands

As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen.

So this morning was a brain cloud for me. My daughter was being especially difficult because she was tired after refusing to go to sleep last night until well past her bedtime. I was up late as well, as was my husband and no one was dealing from a full deck. As a result I was lacking inspiration so I started watching a terrible movie about a suburban woman who goes crazy from the pressures of her life and believes she’s a dog. It opens with her attempting to commit suicide by wrapping a belt around her neck and tying it to the chandelier. The scene is disturbing as is the rest of the movie, not surprising considering the premise. However it got me thinking about how desensitized we’ve become to the concept of suicide, that it’s simply become a “thing that happens.” The scariest part is our children thinking suicide is an option when the waves of life come crashing down on them and they are gasping for breath. In his essay The Decay of Lying Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If one agrees with this premise it would stand to reason that artists bear a great responsibility to the public in regards to their creations. As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen. As adolescents are already impressionable and less able to think past the present moment suicide may seem a viable option for escape from their troubles. Especially if they are battling bipolar disorder and have either not been diagnosed or are not taking their medications. So for an artist to create an environment on screen where characters are laughing at the concept of suicide, or where an attempted suicide is used as simply a vehicle to push the plot line forward, creating sympathy for the character without addressing the issue, is wholly irresponsible. People copy what they see in the movies and in videos, most especially adolescents.

I addressed this in earlier posts and I will land on it again, that so often in our society the issue of mental illness and its effects on the individual and their family is either hidden, ignored, or not taken seriously. The same can be said of the art around us and how it approaches mental illness. Moviemakers in particular are guilty of this egregious sin, as I have mentioned in previous posts. using serious conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia as comic fodder for their storylines. Laughing at symptoms that in real life would be absolutely terrifying to the person experiencing them. In my post “I’m Not Laughing” I talked about watching a movie during which the audience was supposed to laugh at a little girl with bipolar disorder just because of her disorder. I can’t imagine that same audience laughing at a little girl with cancer even though bipolar disorder is statistically more deadly. There is a pervasive double standard in our culture that has to change. My mother explains it this way: mental illness is no different than any other kind of illness. It is simply based in the brain while other illnesses affect other organs. The symptoms look different because the organ affected is different. It does NOT make the illness less deadly. It does NOT make it something to laugh at. Oddly enough, although the movie I saw this morning was billed as a dark comedy, the attempted suicide scene was not made to be in the least bit funny which I appreciated and although the movie itself was badly acted and badly made, there was an obvious sympathy towards the character experiencing the breakdown that I wish were more common in films.

In light of this subject I cannot help but to think of this passage taken from Luke 12:48 of the Bible, King James version:

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:

and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I would call upon all artists of our time to take seriously this issue of mental illness and the stigma it carries. Let them choose with care what example they set for those who would follow in their wake. I would ask them to rise with their God given gifts and talents and use them for the betterment of our society. Let them teach people how to treat each other and work together to eradicate the stigma of mental illness once and for all. Let them have life and not blood on their hands.

 

Forever Young

There was a knock on the door child
Did you hear it?
It was your sister with her favorite doll she wants to play
Will you?
Will you play with her?
The paint on these walls is peeling my dear
And there’s a dampness in the corners
Can you see the spring of mold?

Your flowers are dry and crumbling now…they weren’t like that before…
Come outside your sister is calling you,
“Come out to the garden, come out and play with me!” She cries
But you can’t can you?
The wooden floor beneath your feet is rotting girl
But you can’t feel it
You don’t know it’s there
You’re breathing out butterflies and dust
Your eyes are glass
Your mother braided a violet ribbon through your hair
Your sister will have to find her own way home
Crying now won’t do you any good…

Your blood was warm until you spilled some on the floor.

Kimkoa 2018

 

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