Tag Archives: suicide

Mixed Episode, Party of One?

It’s taken me four days just to start writing this post, though it’s had a title for that entire time.  My posts to date have been more upbeat, or at least introspective without being too depressing.  For whatever reason, I decided I needed to keep the truly depressing and frightening posts to myself or to a very select group of readers over at Livejournal, where I have kept a semi-private blog since 2001.  After unleashing a black spew over there this morning, I decided to edit it somewhat.  Submitted for your approval, then: a look into the bleaker corners of my mind.

Bleaker?!  Did she say bleaker?  Good gods, I better get my emo hipwaders on.

While there has been some improvement in my mood since I began the bipolar journey about 5 weeks ago, it has been with growing dismay that I’ve descended into some deep, dark holes of late.  Some are merely depressing.  Some are very angry.  And yet a few more are just downright destructive and filled with nothing but hate.  Illogical, unfocused, unfiltered hate for whatever and whomever is unlucky enough to tweak my brain’s nerve cells in just the wrong way at that particular moment.

I.hate.it.  Ihateitsomuch.  The irony of hating my hate is not lost on me, but we have gone way past the land where logic and reason are the rulers.  Here, they are just words.

It’s a weird state of mind that thinking about death puts people in. That book I now consider my bipolar bible, “An Unquiet Mind“, talks about it quite extensively. The author and a friend of hers, on a good night, made a deal with each other to call the other one and let them take them wherever for a week before they killed themselves, if they indeed still felt like doing so. Each was to give the other a week of reasons not to do it, to go back on their meds, to call their doctor, etc. Despite this deal, the author’s friend didn’t keep their end of the bargain, with predictable results. Neither did the author on several occasions that she was feeling suicidal. She admits that in those darkest of hours, the thought of calling anyone else just didn’t occur to her. Which doesn’t surprise me. Logic changes its rules in the mind of a suicidal person. What makes sense to everyone else doesn’t make sense to someone who wants to die, or is at least thinking it might be better.

I dislike having this kind of knowledge about humanity, and about myself. I don’t like knowing how the dark clock ticks in the minds of the disturbed. It has many hands and many chimes, most of them as loud as a klaxon horn, blaring one’s misery in cacophanous tones that are unignorable. Interspersed are the rings of guilt, which serve to amplify all of the others.

What’s wrong with you? How can you possibly feel this way? You’re broken. You’re bad. You should be punished for feeling this way because it doesn’t make any sense, you whiny fucking baby.

A hundred years ago, you’d find someone crouched in a corner with their hands over their ears screaming, “SHUTUP!” Today, you find them like me: parked in front of the television watching Doctor Who for as many hours as it takes to dull the sharp bite of a monster I *know* is meaningless and powerless. Then trying and failing to stay asleep as anxiety attacks set in *during* sleep, making me feel as though I’m suffocating. When sleep does come, it’s punctuated by very strange dreams that always involve swimming in dirty water and being at risk of being eaten by large industrial machinery, also underwater. Talk about waking up with the heebie fuckin’ jeebies. Let’s add a sprinkle of the constant doctor search anxiety, too, just for flavor.


I *am* getting things done today, though. I’ve already made a few necessary phone calls, and now I’m doing what is probably the most important task for the day: “write down analysis of moods for last 2-6 weeks, and further if possible“. Really I should analyze back to getting on lithium and trazodone, then back to quitting smoking, then back to getting rid of the IUD. These things all come to bear and I feel it’s crucial to figure out how and when and in what way they interact. For instance, obviously a hormonal IUD was doing some good stabilizing things to my mood, but wasn’t fixing the problem since I felt vaguely PMS-y pretty much constantly, and some of my worst episodes happened while I had it. So obviously that’s not the only issue. Then there’s the quitting smoking, which I feel had a much more deleterious effect on my mind than getting rid of the IUD. Indeed, on my bad mental days, I still feel a super strong urge to smoke that I feel is indicative of far more than a mind dumping nicotine receptors, and I have felt very unstable since I quit. Those who have been supportive of my effort to quit smoking really have no idea of the Herculean effort it has taken not to smoke again, because I know it will make me feel better mentally.  My mouth and brain ache with desire to smoke sometimes.

Then there’s the last 5 weeks, which is how long it’s been since I took myself to the psychiatric ER after the mother of all PMS episodes. According to my reading, it’s completely possible for one’s worst episodes to occur during PMS time, but for them not to be directly attributable to hormonal influences. Everything gets ranked in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary effects. The PMS is just secondary for me, with the supposed bipolar disorder being primary (although I’m beginning to question if that’s really my problem, or if I’m on the right meds, or if I’m on *enough* of them). I definitely have some unaddressed symptoms, though, which I would very much like to go away right about now, thanks very fucking much. I do not enjoy having a head filled with suicidal and otherwise violent thoughts (which had gone away for a while but have returned). I do not enjoy having to construct my day so that I avoid certain kinds of stimulus, or else I’ll lose my temper. I do not enjoy not knowing which days these things will occur on. There’s a whole lot about this ride that I really don’t like, and if I had my druthers, I’d have a bottle of PRN Haldol sitting around for when I’m feeling just a wee too crazy. Or something like it. Let’s kick it old school with Thorazine! I’ll pass on the modern atypical antipsychotics that give you horrible weight gain, diabetes, or high cholesterol, though. No thanks.

I’ve been doing a shitload of reading, though. I may very well have bipolar disorder, but I’m pretty damn sure there are some others glommed on there too. PTSD from growing up in such a fucked up house and never, ever having a childhood, for starters. The two parents dead of suicide don’t help that one, either (you should have seen the looks people at the clinic gave me when I told them that). I’m not sure if my OCD-like tendencies are actual OCD or if that’s just how hypomania and mania manifest in my life, because it’s certainly not in the stereotypical “I’m awesome, let’s shop and fuck!” sort of way many manics manifest that phase. I would really like to be tested for adult ADD or plain old high-functioning autism given my complete inability to look at anyone in the eyes, along with some other behaviors (don’t move my shit. really, don’t move my shit). Hell, I’d even take the epic-length MMPI if it would figure out what’s wrong with my brainmeats. I took that once for a grad student friend who needed volunteers to finish her degree. My results were apparently……strange. She asked her professor what she would do with the results: “Hit her with a battery of tests.” Maybe it’s time for the battery, so to speak. I don’t care what the answer is, I just want to KNOW so I can take care of it.

*sigh* Some of the websites are nice enough to admit that it may be several weeks before anyone bothers to get back to me due to the high demand for psychiatrists (maybe *that’s* what I should major in at UT, if I ever go back: people are like cellophane to me, they’re so transparent – perhaps it’s my karmic duty to use this knowledge and ability to help other poor crazed individuals like myself). I’mma keep on callin’, though. *sigh* I should really get paid for this shit, it’s a lot harder than most people’s jobs, and it’s certainly a lot less enjoyable.

Today, though, hopefully my GP and/or his nurse will call back and either schedule an appointment for me or just call in something to help me feel less hostile and like breaking things. I love my family and I really do love the world, but right now it’s all buried under a burning pile of hate and dissatisfaction that doesn’t listen to logic or reason, it just wants to destroy and it’s on a very unpredictable hair trigger. My other option is going back to PES and going inpatient in a building that looks, sounds, smells, and feels like every hospital Mom ever stayed in. I don’t think that’s the right place for me. I think just being around that shade of green for more than a few hours would send me right over the edge.  The view is frightening enough, thanks: I don’t need to ride that merry-go-round.


First, a bit of happy news: I got my yellow belt in Seido Karate last night!  W00t!  😀  My daughter got her advanced yellow belt, and this Saturday she will be competing in the regional science fair with her model of an electrical motor.  My little girl is not quite *8*.  🙂  Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

So it’s been almost a month since I was driven to the psychiatric ER in an effort to alleviate my increasingly agitated brain.  In that time I’ve been from one extreme to the other, although I’m extremely happy to say that lithium apparently puts a lid on suicidal thoughts no matter how sad I get.  So that’s a good thing.

I’ve also learned that my particular bipolarcoaster (one of my new favorite words, thanks to friend Dianne Sylvan: she writes fabulous vampire books, look her up) is heavily linked to my womanly cycles.  So I’m like that character Chameleon in Piers Anthony‘s Xanth series: when it’s fertile time, she’s dumb and happy, but when the other half of the cycle comes, she’s ugly and mean.  Okay, maybe I’m not dumb when I’m happy or ugly when I’m mean, but you get the idea.

I was happy to discover that the website Crazy Boards is still around.  I found them back in 2006 when I had my “holy crap I’m at home alone with the kid for the first time EVER” freakout.  I doubt there is a finer discussion forum for mental illness of all flavors.  I love them for their forum descriptors.  Here’s the one for bipolar:

Bipolar Spectrum Disorder – The Pole Dance

If life is a ride, BP’s a fucking theme park. Whether you’re riding the roller coaster, spinning ’round the demonic carousel, buying souvenir toenail clippers for the population of Rhodesia, or weeping on the sidelines as some kid pukes on your head, we’re here for you.

Goddamn, that’s fucking perfect! Theme park indeed.  In fact, some bipolar oriented websites seem to play off the whimsical sounding nature of bipolar disorder.  Bipolar World!  Which makes me think of Benny’s World of Liquor from the movie From Dusk Til Dawn.  Or a retail store with sales from hell.

Sale, sale, sale!  Get your mood swings right here!  We got ’em all!  Up, down, sideways, whichever mood flavor you want today, we’re here for YOU!

What else have I learned?  A LOT about pharmaceuticals.  It’s a good goddamn thing I took so many freakin’ science classes between the ages of 10 and 20 and that I’m blessed with critical thinking skills or I’d be lost in a pharmaceutical morass from which there is no escape.  Mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics (typical and atypical), antidepressants, anxiolytics, so on and so forth.  Let’s not forget that in large part, scientists still have zero fucking clue, or at least very limited clues, about how any of this shit works on the gray matter.  They can guess, and that’s about it.  Length of time on the market makes absolutely no difference.  Lithium is probably the oldest psychiatric medication still in use and the only true mood stabilizer, and they only just very recently have begun to figure out how it works (probably by regulating DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, which reduces inflammation in the brain that leads to the mood swings).  Which is why so many people wind up spending months if not YEARS figuring what meds work for them because all you can do is try one and see if it works.  Not to mention that you have to wait several weeks or months for each one to really stabilize before making a judgment as to its efficacy.  Fun!  Not.

Then there are the side effects of many if not most of these drugs.  Tardive dyskinesia (a Parkinsonian-like tremor that never goes away, even after you stop taking the offending medication).  Akathisia (an inability to sit still).  Dry mouth.  Kidney and liver dysfunction.  Diarrhea and/or constipation.  Tremors.  Sexual dysfunction.  Weight gain (probably the most common side effect of all of them other than sexual dysfunction).  Fortunately I don’t have any of these problems (yet: the weight gain was because of those damned birth control pills), and I don’t want them, which is why I research the fuck out of everything.  Hopefully the doctors that have to deal with me in the future will appreciate this tendency and not find it annoying or infringing upon their God complex (and there are still quite a number of psychiatrists who would prefer you describe your problem as briefly as possible and then STFU so they can write you a prescription).

I still have to find a psychiatrist, a task that daunts me for some reason.  Same with a therapist.  I at least have a general practitioner to check my blood levels, but I need to get going on those other things.  The first task causes me the most anxiety because I really do NOT want one of those God complex shrinks who just wants me to shutup, and goddammit, shrinks are EXPENSIVE!  I try not to think about it too much and how mental health is only for the rich and those lucky enough to have just enough to take care of such things to the detriment of things like replacing broken washing machines (raises hand).  I’m glad I have the resources available to me that I do, but there are so many who don’t, and the way our country treats and thinks of mental illness in general is just loathsome.  Oops, got on a soapbox there.

I am also on a quest for books for children with parents with mental illness, particular bipolar.  I’m finding a lot of books about kids with bipolar illness (which strikes me as odd: aren’t mood swings just one of those characteristics of childhood?), but that’s about it.  So I may have a writing project in my future, because I want to help my daughter, and other children, understand what’s up with Mum (or Dad), and since I seem to have a gift for the written gab, not to mention a Bodhisattva’s heart, I feel obligated to use my talents and knowledge to help others.

But first, let’s finish helping me.  *sigh*

I Am Awake

As I detailed in my post “Avoidance and Acceptance”, one of the reasons I failed to get any real assistance for my mental health over the years was because of my parents.  I didn’t want to be like them.  However, in learning about my bipolar disorder, I’ve discovered that it very likely has a genetic component, and as such, I probably wouldn’t have been able to escape being bipolar, even if I led the most perfect and balanced of lives.

I was also led to curiosity by reading An Unquiet Mind, the bipolar memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison.  At one point she is sitting with a friend and colleague, putting together a mental health pedigree.  Circles for women, squares for men, and each blackened for those with bipolar disorder or some other kind of mental issue.  Suicides and attempts were also noted: asterisks and slashes.  In my head, I began to fill in my own pedigree.

My mother had mental troubles my entire life.  She was in and out of mental wards constantly, her worst episodes typically triggered by the holidays, by remembering old family hurts, and by her husband, my adoptive father.  Each time she would go on medication and try to get stable, my “father” would ruin it.  I’ve learned that it’s common for relationships to suffer a lot of misery when someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or any other mental trouble.  They’re formed under unhealthy circumstances, so once someone decides to get healthy, the entire dynamic is disrupted.  Often, the newly healthy person sees the other’s unhealthy behaviors more clearly and is unable to put up with them any longer.  Unless the other person gets on board, bad things happen.  Over time, he would wear her down back to the weakened state that served him better, and it would all begin again.

She was set up for failure nearly from birth, though.  Her own father was abusive.  Her mother divorced him after a few years for “cruelty”, and later when she would visit him or stay with him during visitation, he would beat her.  Her mother’s second husband wasn’t any better.  They divorced after only a few years when discovered that he was “getting after” my mother.  Which is 1950s parlance for discovering that he was molesting her.

Mom spent her entire adult life in a series of abusive relationships.  The last, her sixth, killed her, for all intents and purposes.  After finding herself in yet another abusive marriage and with no way to support herself should she choose to leave, she chose the final exit in the backyard with a gun.  She told me she wouldn’t come to stay with me.  Our relationship was too volatile.  One of the most horrifying things about mental illness is that it really isn’t the ill person’s fault, but their behavior is unacceptable to “normal” people, and compassion and understanding only go so far.  After a while, you just have to distance yourself from someone who is abusive and mean, even if it isn’t their fault.  So you feel guilty and the other person feels angry but you both know perfectly well there isn’t anything to be done except maintain the distance.  This is one of my biggest fears about having bipolar as it relates to my own family.  I think I would die on the spot if my daughter decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Then there’s my father.  Dad was the last of seven children, and the only child from his particular parental combination.  I have no idea what life was like for him growing up, although I know he grew up in River Rouge, probably THE poorest, and certainly the dirtiest, part of Detroit.  River Rouge is where the steel mills are.  They turned the sky a devilish orange-red at night when they were firing the steel.  A drive through River Rouge is a drive through despair.  It’s no wonder that Dad’s first move upon turning 18 was to join the Marines.  He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California until he was shipped to Southeast Asia for a year from 1963-64.  He returned with a case of PTSD so bad that, once married, Mom only woke him up by shaking his foot at the end of the bed.  Standard methods of awakening resulted in his launching out of bed prepared to choke the Viet Cong.  Not a good way to start the day.

In an effort to deal with his shellshock, he started drinking.  After a while he joined a rehab cult called Synanon, which is where he met my mother, who had her own substance abuse problems.  They left after a couple of years, got married, and had me.  Things were great for a while but then he began to drink again and abuse my mother.  Things grew worse after my brother was born in July of 1974.  After a particularly bad beating in October, Mom packed up us kids and left.  Two days later, during a fireworks show at the nearby high school, Dad shot himself with his service rifle, two weeks before my third birthday.  I sometimes wish he had at the very least waited a few years so that I could have some memories of him.  As it is, the only thing of my father’s that I possess, is my name.

I wish I could say it was just them, but there don’t appear to be any healthy people in the family, whether current or past.  Of them, I seem to be the healthiest, which makes me break out in great guffaws of laughter.  My grandmother’s father was extraordinarily physically abusive.  After beating all of his children with the cord of an iron (mind you, this is the 1920s, electrical cords were big and thick) for a few years, he left in 1929.  He left a legacy of sadness and gave his descendants a forehead crease that you can see in my brother and I when we’re focused or angry.

Gram lived longer than anyone in her family, mostly because she did not commit suicide.  She hardened her heart, though.  She and my mother did not speak, ever.  I think that was her way of not succumbing to the mental demons that plagued both of her siblings, apparently, and certainly her daughter.  It was her opinion that they had both killed themselves; her sister in a “traffic accident” involving a tree and no other cars, and her brother by “accidentally” overdosing on his heart medication.

I know little else about the family history other than what I’ve been able to glean from Ancestry.com.  There is so much hurt and fracture in my family’s history that I am occasionally amazed that people managed to have children together.  I’ve counted two definite (four possible) suicides, literally dozens of suicide attempts between my mother and brother, several cases of physical abuse, at least two of sexual abuse (bet there’s more), not to mention rampant drug abuse and alcoholism going back at least a century.

I think it’s a fucking miracle I’ve reached the age of 39 and don’t seem to have some of the worst problems in the family history.  I’ve never been a drug addict or an alcoholic, I’ve never been beaten by a man (by Mom though, that’s another story), I’ve been in the same healthy relationship for 15 years, and I don’t have any of the health problems that have plagued the family due to their inability to take care of themselves (bad teeth, bad joints, bad hearts).  I should probably get my cholesterol checked, but that’s about it.  Yes, I’m bipolar, but I seem to be a more pastel shade of crazy, while others in the family have been brightly technicolor crazy.  Brightly technicolor drunk crazy wielding dishes and flying fists.

Of course, there is the long-standing psychiatric question of nature vs. nurture.  Are people born mentally ill, or are they made that way?  I think it’s both.  I think our genetics make us more likely to be certain ways, and if our environments growing up push us in those directions, then we wind up with some headmeat issues.  Even if we grow up in environments that push us in healthy directions, we may wind up with headmeat issues, but perhaps not as severely.  Or it’s easier to work on them because you don’t have to worry about all the extraneous bullshit of life.

It must be horrifying to be diagnosed with a disease that alters your thinking and then realize, once you’re healthier, that you’ve built your life on things that are unhealthy.  My mother made this realization several times but was too damaged to try to live on her own, so she always wound up sabotaging her health for the sake of her husband and marriage.  Kind of like an alcoholic who’s trying to stop who has people tell them, “You know, I liked you better when you drank.”  Wow, what a confidence booster.  In fact, I believe my “father” told her that a few times.  I won’t lie: I rejoiced when he died last year.

I have had a very long-standing goal to act as the chain breaker in the family.  For whatever reason, I’ve been given the life-long ability to look at other people’s behavior and say to myself, “That’s fucked up, I’m not going to do things that way.”  I’m not always successful, because like it or not, I was raised in a fucked up place, and it left its marks here and there.  But I have awareness, and I am able to identify those places in myself and say, “You need to work on that.”  In that way, I’m my own Buddha, because that’s what Buddha’s all about: being aware.  When a passerby saw the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, he asked him a series of questions trying to figure out who and what he was.  After a series of “no”s, he finally asked, “Well what are you?”  To which the Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

And so that is my job, my dharma, in my family, what little of it is left.  To be awake.  To be aware.  To not be so wrapped in my ego that I cannot see my own mistakes, particularly if I am repeating any of the big, old ones.  To begin the family threads anew with my own family.  To dismantle and rebuild the foundation from which my own daughter will build her own life.  I pray that she escapes this illness, but if she doesn’t, she will have a much softer landing pad than I did, and she will have someone to gently point out, “Hey, have you considered things this way?” without making her feel bad about herself.  And hopefully in a couple of generations when my great-grandchildren, should I have any, are thinking of their own pedigrees, hopefully there will be fewer blackened squares and circles, and few if any asterisks and slashes.

Starting Over

I’ve learned an awful lot about myself and my new chronic illness over the last couple of weeks.  It feels much longer than that.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. I have a disease that has a 1 in 5 chance of killing me.  Rather, a disease that gives me a 1 in 5 chance of killing myself.  I’m not an expert on chronic illness, but something tells me those odds are kind of high, whether death is self-induced or not.  Good thing I made a pact with myself a long time ago not to do that.  I know what it does to everyone else left behind.  It certainly explains some of my thought patterns, though.

2. The medicine I’m taking (lithium carbonate) may only be good for 3-5 years, depending on what it does to my kidney function.  Though if my kidneys aren’t unhappy, I may be able to take it for the rest of my life.  I hope so.  Lithium is still the best treatment for bipolar illness, not to mention the simplest and cheapest.  In the meantime, it makes me ravenously hungry 4-5 times a day, particularly for protein.  Something tells me I’ll have to up my exercise.  For now, I’m tolerating what is in essence a poison salt fairly well.  Aside from the odd hand tremor, everything’s good.

3. The hunger: if I don’t pay attention to it, bad things happen to my brainpan.  Low blood sugar seems to be one of the absolute worst things I can do to myself.  I’m finding this to be the most annoying aspect of my journey so far.  I’m terrible at paying attention to my diet, which seems to be something I have to change immediately, particularly if I don’t want to completely pork out.  I’m already twenty pounds heavier than I was a month ago, something that all by itself just about makes me suicidal.  I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, and to be where I am now makes me incredibly sad.  A year and a half of work, completely ruined.  😦

4. Sleep is the other thing that, if unbalanced, will send me spinning very quickly.  If it was just depression, or just mania, that would be one thing, but since I get mixed episodes, I have to stave that shit off as best I can.  Mixed episodes are a peculiarly nutty generation of the human mind that makes someone depressed and manic at the same time.  That’s all kinds of fun, lemme tellya.

5. People are going to be insensitive and rude on occasion when they find out I’m bipolar (which means I’m probably just going to keep that to myself for the most part).  It’s only been two weeks and it’s already happened once.  They probably didn’t even realize they were being rude.  I imagine it’s something that anyone with a chronic illness has to deal with sometimes.  I just have to get really good at identifying such people and saying, “You’re bad for me, go away.”

6. Waiting for my meds to settle in and even out is not fun.  I’ve missed several hours of work because of it, but if I can’t think, then I can’t work (or worse, I can’t work if I’m sitting sobbing at my desk).  I won’t be done with this dance for at least a couple of months and not until after several blood tests and possibly dosage changes.  I have to tell myself it’s all temporary and that better things will be on the other side.

7. Apparently I have to be hypervigilant about staying hydrated.  Lithium is one row above sodium in the periodic table and as such can screw with the body’s sodium and water levels because it has the same valence (aka charge: gosh I’m glad I was paying attention in chemistry class).  Which means if I’m exercising and get dehydrated, my serum lithium levels can get too high, aka TOXIC.  Which means a trip to the ER, two days of no lithium, and treatment with a lot of salt and water.  No thank you.

8. Caffeine is no longer my friend, mostly because of #7.  Caffeine is a diuretic, and its stimulant properties can bring on mania, in sufficient amounts of course.  It doesn’t meant I can’t ever drink caffeine again, but I have to do so in moderation.

It’s hard not to be discouraged by the list of things I can’t or shouldn’t do anymore.  On the other hand, there are a lot of things that are better now that I’m taking proper medication, and have stopped taking birth control pills.  My skin is clear again, I sleep relatively well and regularly, violent/suicidal thoughts came to a screeching halt, mood is about 60% stabilized, anger is down about 40-50%, I’m getting more done, taking much better care of myself, I’m less anxious/more calm, more in tune with mental boundaries (i.e. what I can and can’t do without “triggering”), more thirsty, and more hungry.

Then there are the more nebulous effects.  The ones that make me think I may have had this disease since my late teens, because that was the last time I remember experiencing life with the vividness that I have lately.  Colors and sounds are just a bit MORE, feelings are sharper, my brain seems more HERE.  At first I thought I was feeling nostalgia, but it’s not that: it’s just been that long since I felt life this way.  I do think of things that I haven’t thought of for a long time, but they’re neither good nor bad.  Just experiential, like the way my mother’s apartment looked, or the way Lucia’s Garden, a store in Houston, smells.

I wonder how long I’ve been “asleep”.

Then there are the philosophical implications of it all.  Where do I stop?  Where does the illness begin?  Is there a difference?  If not, how do we judge which of my behaviors are “normal” and which ones are not?  Psychiatry has been asking these questions for over a century, and there are some who believe that all psychiatric “illness” is created as a way to pathologize anyone not conforming to the current standards of “normal”.  I disagree.  I believe someone goes from being eccentric to being diseased when they can no longer function in life, or they become a danger to themselves or someone else.

I’m sure I’ll be asking myself these questions for a looooooong time to come along with a lot of others.  In the meantime, I keep trying to Zen-ify my life.  It really does need to be as simple as getting good sleep, eating good food, getting a lot of exercise, doing things that make me happy (gardening, karate, yoga, cooking), and staying as stress-free as possible.  I imagine that means some things and perhaps people will have to be pared away, but perhaps for the first time in my life, I am the most important person in my life, and when I am done taking care of myself, then and only then will I make room for others.  Obviously there has to be some leniency when it comes to the husband and daughter, and we’ll all need help through this transition, but after 39 years, I’m done being second fiddle to anyone.  It’s a pity that it took a near mental breakdown to get here, but I’m finding an awful lot of silver linings in this black cloud, and I feel as though the Universe is watching over me for the moment.

Avoidance and Acceptance

I took care of a very, very old problem last week.  One that I had been avoiding for about 15 years.  I finally went to a psychiatrist after spending what must have been nearly two months trying to keep a lid on rising, chronic anxiety and agitation that I am fully convinced is related to having quit smoking (nicotine is a seriously deviant neurochemical).  Really, it’s been years that I’ve kept a lid on those things, but this time they were lasting longer than they had before and I was starting to frighten myself a bit, so I went to get some help.

I had avoided doing so for so long for a lot of reasons.  I had a fear and distrust of the psychiatric community in general after spending the first seventeen years of my life watching my mother go in and out of hospitals and take virtually every type of medication available, to no avail.  That probably wasn’t psychiatry’s fault, it was probably Mom’s.  Drugs don’t make psychiatric disorders disappear, they just make them easier to manage and if someone wants to be truly better, they still have to do a lot of personal work.  Personal work that Mom was never willing to do.  She was just too selfish, or too deep in her own denial, or something.

I also had a fear of the medication dance that so many who suffer from psychiatric disorders seem to have to do, as well as the myriad side effects that those medications often saddle their takers with.  Weight gain is often a primary side effect of many psychiatric drugs for some reason, and as someone who has always struggled with their weight, I was reluctant to even entertain taking something that would make me even heavier potentially.  Also, for many years I feared the sexual side effects that often come with psychiatric medications, but over the years, my illness itself along with leftover trauma from childhood sexual abuse has conspired to essentially make me mostly dead from the waist down anyway, so I didn’t really have anything to lose in that department.

Perhaps most importantly, I had to get over my own pride and individuality.  Everyone tells themselves they want to be different from their parents.  It’s how progress is made over the generations.  In a healthy family, people are different in action but not in fundamentals, because they had loving families that bonded together.  Unhealthy families don’t bond like that because there’s nothing desirable to mimic.  Over the years, in my efforts to be different from people who were unhealthy, I set myself up for a game of denial when it came to my own mental health.  Sure, there are some aspects of it that are the result of the environment that I grew up in and can be corrected with therapy.  The rest, though, that’s all genetics.  I can escape that no more than I can escape my family’s cardiovascular health history.

Hopefully it’s easy to see how something no less medical in nature than, say, diabetes can easily become horribly stigmatized if you’ve made a lifelong effort not to be that way.  I told myself that it was something I could deal with on my own.  That combined with my distrust of Western medicine in general led to fifteen years of essentially self-treatment using herbs, meditation, yoga, exercise, and karate.  Which actually are fairly effective, but they require hypermanagement of one’s lifestyle that is nearly untenable in modern society if you’re doing anything more than going to school or holding down a stress-free job (is there any such thing?).

Fortunately, I was going to school for a while, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t have to work, so it was easy for me to live a life that avoided triggering unpleasant episodes or allowed me to hermit when they did.  Then I had a baby and whatever control I had over my life disappeared.  I hadn’t realized how carefully managed my life was until my daughter was born and I could no longer do things the way I had been.  I quickly slipped into a deep postpartum depression, one that was practically prepared for me by a nearly 48-hour labor and delivery that ended in a C-section and failed anesthesia.

About a year and a half after Zoe was born, I had a serious mental crash when we had too many stressors all at once in the form of unrelated medical issues and a car wreck that very easily could have killed both my husband as well as Zoe.  At that point I was put on Zoloft, Buspar, and Ambien.  I was in a depressed state so it was assumed antidepressants would help me.  They didn’t and I wound up on two more drugs, Seroquel and Valium, to try and address untreated symptoms.  I did that for about a year and a half and then stopped.  I’m glad I have pictures of that period of time or else I wouldn’t really remember it.

Finally, I stopped breastfeeding Zoe when she was about 3 and miraculously my mental health as well as my metabolism improved greatly.  I felt better and started losing that baby weight, finally!  I hear that breastfeeding is supposed to make mothers feel happy and help them lose weight, but in retrospect, for my own health, I should have stopped nursing Zoe when she was no more than a year old.  It obviously did bad things for my neurochemistry, for whatever reason.

So did bad life stressors.  That year I let my brother and his wife stay here while they had their baby and found a place to live.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but it turned out very badly.  What was supposed to be three months turned into eight.  It was miserably hot that summer, everyone was out of work, and there were four adults and two children living in a house of less than a thousand square feet.  In a strange quirk of fate, my brother and his family moved out and my husband got a job all within five days of each other.  Suddenly, for the first time since my daughter had been born, it was just the two of us.  My husband had worked from home for her entire life to date, and now he had to take a job out of the house.  Not long after everyone left the house, I had myself a little breakdown.

I tried to get help, but by then the health insurance industry had made it nearly impossible to get treated for anything mental unless you were actively suicidal, and then they would only pay for whatever the bare minimum was to get you back at home.  So unless I wanted to kill myself, my insurance wouldn’t cover a psychiatrist or even a GP visit if it was mentally related.  It was going to be cheaper to make the four hour drive to Mexico and buy drugs there than it was going to be to actually get the help that I needed.  I decided it was easier to just hunker down and wait until the mental storm had passed.  It was a crime that I had to do that.  I and my entire family suffered needlessly because of it.

It was then that I decided that I was probably bipolar and not just depressive.  I had checked out some books from the library about women, anger, mental illness, and other topics, including a couple of books by Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind.  She’s a psychologist and she details her own experiences with bipolar illness.  Her descriptions of her own mental states resonated strongly with me.  Still, I was too traumatized by trying to get help and by the possibility of it taking a long time to figure out what was wrong and how to treat it, so I continued to just wait.

I got better, that time anyway, and tried to manage my moods as best as I could.  Yoga helped in that regard immensely, and yoga will remain a part of what I do to make myself feel better, even if I do require medication for the rest of my life.  Karate also helped a great deal.  It requires a focus that is soothing, calming, and quieting to my mind.  I tried meditation, but I found it to be even more agitating than just my normal mindset.  I would figure out why later.

Last year I had to go mucking with my hormones, and I immediately began to feel worse than I had in several years.  I had always had trouble with bad PMS, and it was returning, despite my doctor’s insistence that the pills I was on were essentially identical to what I had been doing.  A couple of months after that, I quit smoking, which meant that I could try other kinds of pills (birth control pills are dangerous for smokers over thirty-five) to try and alleviate the PMS and other symptoms I was experiencing.

That was three weeks ago.  Over the next two weeks, while I felt better in some ways, I felt much, much worse in others.  I hadn’t felt this unstable since I found myself with an empty house save for a 3-year-old a few years before.  A week and a half ago, I tried to get a doctor’s appointment because I was feeling dangerously agitated, but the office I had gotten my new pills from wouldn’t let me speak to the doctor: they just made an appointment for the following Monday, four days later.  O_o  I was too agitated to sit in an ER: that would have made me worse.  So I called upon the people who never fail to come to my aid: my friends.  They brought me what I needed to get through the weekend, which included a summer camp fair for work which I doubt I could have tolerated, given the size and noise level of the room I was in.

I avoided as much stimulus as possible over the weekend, and stopped taking the offending pills.  On Monday, after taking my aging cat to the vet, I went back to the doctor and began a day that involved a lot of kleenex, two doctor’s offices, and at least four different healthcare workers of varying flavors.  Not to mention a busted car fender due to an elderly neighbor who shouldn’t be driving anymore.  I will spare you the day’s details, but suffice it to say that the fine people at Austin’s emergency psychiatric office must have agreed that I needed assistance because I made it through all of their hurdles in less than four hours.  In case you didn’t know, that’s nearly unheard of.

To make an already long story a little shorter, I have been indeed diagnosed as bipolar, type I.  The nice Indian doctor prescribed me some lithium to stabilize my moods and some trazodone so I can sleep.  He told me to read up about bipolar disorder, which I didn’t really have to after so long of trying to convince myself I didn’t have it.

“I’m not listening, I’m not listening!” – Gollum, The Two Towers

Near as I can tell, I’m one of those unlucky people who gets to enjoy mixed episodes: up and down at the same time.  It’s about as crazy as it sounds and feels worse.  I also suspect I’m a rapid cycler, or even ultra-rapid: more than one cycle a year, perhaps more than one in a day.  I try to avoid contact with humans on those days.  Not much has really changed.  I just have names and labels for what’s wrong sometimes, and I don’t have to beat myself up over feeling or behaving a certain way.  I can just identify it, remedy it, and move on, or stay in my room if that’s necessary.  I’m sure I have more than a few friends whom upon hearing my diagnosis have gone, “Aaahh, so that’s what’s wrong with her sometimes.”

It does mean that I now have the label of “chronic illness”.  I must take my medication: there is no alternative, just as a diabetic has to take their insulin or they can die.  Diabetes is actually my favorite non-mental chronic illness to compare to, because diabetics can exhibit some seriously aberrant and even violent behavior if their insulin and blood sugar levels get too wonky.  No one thinks diabetics are “crazy”: they just have to maintain their blood sugar properly.  I feel the same way about most mental illness that can be treated with medication.  Mother Nature forgot to wire our brains quite right so humankind has to fill in.  The only thing to be ashamed about is when I fail to do what I need to do to stay healthy, which is a lot.

It is now super-important for me to keep regular, healthy routines.  Now is the time that I should make a super effort to get that meditation practice going, especially now that I’m taking something that will shut off the hamsterwheel in my head that has always made meditation so frustrating for me.  Everyone gets the hamsterwheel when they meditate, but mine never, ever goes away.  Consequently, I just don’t meditate, or I haven’t been anyway.  Now it will be easier and that will help more than anything else in alleviating what is still an ongoing anxiety and inability to truly relax.  It’s getting better, I can tell, even after only a week on a relatively low dose of lithium.  I hope it continues to improve, because I would give anything to just be able to sit and relax and not feel like I have to get up and do something.  Yay, mania.  *sigh*  I also have to make sure I eat and not let my blood sugar get too low, which will also disaffect my mood.  Same with sleep.  Everything has to be kept in equilibrium, an ironic task for someone medically diagnosed as being out of equilibrium.

I’m trying to take an attitude of permissiveness rather than dictatorship.  After all, I’ve essentially been given permission to do as much yoga, karate, and meditation and communing with nature as I can possibly get.  Doctor’s orders!  😀  This is also a huge red flag for me to really work on incorporating Buddhism into as much of my life as possible.  Only a whole lot of acceptance, love, compassion, understanding, and metta is going to get me through the rest of my life.  I do admit, and had to admit to the doctors, that while I am not actively suicidal, I am sometimes filled with the sense that I shouldn’t be here, that I’m a mistake, that I shouldn’t have been born, and I don’t know if that’s the result of my disease or the result of the terrible environment that I had to grow up in.  Whatever the case, I’m going to have to make friends with those thoughts and figure out how to banish them, or make them ineffective, because they get worse the older I get.  Seems like a lot of love is the way to go on that one, and the only place I feel that love from is my family, and my friends, and the Buddha.

I was so grateful for my friends and family the day I was at the doctor all day.  Thanks to modern technology, I had my Android phone with me so I was able to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter and email all day long, which was incredibly helpful to me.  All day long, I had little messages of love and support from everyone and it meant so much to me.  I have something that my mother never had, which is unconditional acceptance and support from a fairly large circle of friends and a husband who really loves and cares about me.  I would be just as lost and crazy as she was without these people in my life.  That’s far more powerful than any bottle of medication.

The Darkness

This post has been knocking about my brain since I first read the article that spurred the thought.  It’s an article about a man named Bill Zeller, whom I never met and whom none of you have likely ever met.  Bill Zeller was apparently a gifted programmer, and a couple of weeks ago, he killed himself.

At first I only took interest because suicide is a morbidly pet topic to me.  Both of my parents killed themselves (my father in October of 1974, my mother in October of 2003, six months following the birth of my daughter), and at least one good friend has chosen to shuffle themselves from the mortal coil over the years.  I would be lying if I said the odd suicidal thought hasn’t crossed my mind, but something about losing both of your parents to the most befuddling way to die (to everyone else anyway) caused me to make a long-ago deal with myself that I would never do that.  Mostly because I know what it does to everyone left behind.  I can’t do that to the people who love me, no matter how despairing I may ever feel.  And in all honesty, it has been a very, very long time since such thoughts have dwelled in my brain more than fleetingly.  Thank the gods.

Nevertheless, it’s a topic sadly close to my heart.  So I read Mr. Zeller’s very long suicide note with interest, and as I read, with growing empathy.  Mr. Zeller finally succumbed to demons that were given to him by someone else: notably, his childhood abuser, whom he does not name.  What he does do is speak at length about “the darkness”: that thing that prevented him from having intimate relationships with anyone else in his life, whether they were emotional or physical.

I know this “darkness” of which Bill Zeller spoke.  The darkness falls like a veil over every attempt at closeness and taints every pure sensation of love and passion with distrust and suspicion.  It is the worst manifestation of the curse of sexual abuse upon children, and it’s something most victims don’t even realize they’re suffering from until much, much later in life as they try to go about the business of being “normal” like everyone else.  Which is something that we never will be.  Not by everyone else’s standards anyway.  Until someone invents neurosynaptic erasure that won’t result in the fuckuppery of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind“, it is impossible to be a person unaffected by that kind of abuse and violation of trust.  We must simply accept and work through the things that have happened to us through the best of ours and our therapists’ abilities.  Even then, we may have to accept that, like Frodo at the end of “The Lord of the Rings“, there are some hurts that are too deep to heal completely.  We are changed permanently and irrevocably by them.

My heart ached for Mr. Zeller, whose darkness was clearly much more oppressive than it has been for me.  To be sure, my relationships have been deeply affected by things that happened to me when I was much younger, but unlike Mr. Zeller, I was not hindered by an inability to speak of those things.  Which does not mean those old demons do not still lurk in the corners and recesses of my memory.  I still suffer from a distrust of most men, whom some part of me perceives as predatory.  My impressions of men have been twisted and perverted by my earlier experiences and I often cannot help but interpret what is the perfectly normal sex drive of most human males into something dangerous that is to be avoided.  Each time I am approached with love, I must struggle through my brain’s automatic suspicion, which inevitably asks in fear, “What do you want from me?”  I often fail in this struggle, I have no doubt much to the consternation of anyone who has ever tried to be close to me.

Which is when the real “darkness” sets in.  The darkness that made Mr. Zeller finally decide to give it all up, that it was no longer worth the effort.  The darkness that whispers, “You’re damaged beyond repair, what possible good are you to the world like this?”

And I whisper back, “Fuck you.  You don’t own me, and even if I’m 80 fucking years old before I banish you with the Light, I will destroy you.”

I wish I could retroactively lend that inner strength to Mr. Zeller, and to my parents, and right now to everyone who suffers from “the darkness”.  I do not know where this inner tenacity comes from that I possess and that has saved me from countless destructive paths.  Guardian angel?  God?  Fate?  Pure luck?  I have no fucking clue, but I wish I could bottle it and sell it.  No, I wish I could give it away.  The ability to speak.  The ability to point a finger and say, “That person’s hurting me.”  Even if they’re not around anymore.  The ability to say, “This was not my fault.”  The ability to say, “I’m bigger than this, even if it left some marks.”  Because secrets kill just as surely as cancer.

Slowly, the darkness dissipates the more I say these things to myself.  I am no longer ashamed of my mental scars.  At least, not AS ashamed.  They make me who I am, and people keep telling me I’m a fairly amazing person.  I am better at believing them than I used to be.  I still have scars over my mental ears, but they get a little thinner each time I make the effort to let in the truth and beauty.  It means I have to leave myself vulnerable to pain, but it is perhaps one of the oldest yet truest cliches that there is no love without pain and no light without dark.  If I want one, I must deal with the other.  Lest I fall victim to The Darkness.