Telling My Story of Life with Bipolar Disorder
Carolyn from This Talk Ain’t Cheap left me a commenton that blog post that I tried to reply to, but I felt it I didn’t reply adequately enough. So, please indulge me, while I try to do it justice here.
I was diagnosed in 2007. I had been treated off and on for depression in the years since my divorce from the girls’ dad in 2005. I can now look back and see bipolar behaviors in my childhood that we sort of just wrote off.
We totally missed all the signs
It’s hard to determine exactly when my bipolar disorder manifested itself. My parents and I ignored it, wrote it off, explained it away, for so very long. My childhood was not your typical childhood. My father was a minister, so we lived a pseudo nomadic life, moving every three years. Making friends and maintaining friendships has never been easy for me. Never. I have often wondered if that is because of the moving so often, or if it is because of the BPD. One of the characteristics of BPD is lack of impulse control. I remember screaming and throwing my hair brush at the mirror because my hair wouldn’t curl the right way. I remember my mother being concerned about me because I was so overly involved in my friends’ drama, everything was life or death. Bipolar is about extremes, and so was my life. I could go days, or weeks without cleaning my room, and then, for whatever reason feel this overwhelming NEED to have everything in it’s place. I would spend an entire day tearing my room apart only to put it back together again.
I was a sophomore in high school when I had my first go ‘round with anorexia. BPD does not partly alone. While the thoughts in my head would sometimes rage out of control, I found that the one thing I could absolutely control was the amount of food I ate, or didn’t eat. And I was very good at controlling that. Control though was part of why I went undiagnosed for so long. I was afraid to let go of control. I maintained a B+ average in high school. I always did what was expected of me, I never broke a rule, I was a good girl. I had to be normal, and perfect. We as a family of the minister had an image to maintain. Crazy was not part of that image.
Until my father’s job demanded we move to a new church. In January. Of my senior year. The middle of my senior year I left all my friends, the guy I was dating, and moved to a town where the only people I knew was my family. My brother and sister would be starting school and meeting new people making new friends when we got there. I would be graduating when we moved, and wouldn’t have any way to meet anyone. Hello first depression.
I can point out other episodes throughout my life that should have been huge Ah-ha moments for us. The day I was pissed at my English Lit professor for calling out me and my boyfriend for passing notes in class. After class as my boyfriend and I were finishing our “discussion” I put my hand through a glass door. I drank entirely too much in college and had sex with too many people. Impulse control, I didn’t have it.
Those signs might have been explained away as a rebellious teen pissed at her father for ruining her senior year. The years to come would not be any easier.
One of the biggest signs of lack of impulse control was my first marriage. Chris and I dated off and on (mostly off, only on when nobody else was available) during high school. My father hated him. I can see why now. I graduated from college in the spring of ‘91, that December I looked Chris up. We hadn’t talked in years. He was single, I was single. I always had a huge crush on him, and he was always the one I could never catch. 30 days later we decided to get married. We I told my parents the night before. They were not pleased. I couldn’t stop to listen to the nagging voice in the back of my head, I could only hear the mania squeeing inside “I’m going to marry him! I win!!!”.
The manic episodes I experienced during that marriage were epic. I remember Chris calling my father to come get me, he was giving me back. I was crazy. The broken door in college? Just the beginning of things I would break in the midst of a manic rage. Then I had my son, Ian and the postpartum depression hit. We came home from the hospital to a disaster. Dirty dishes all over the kitchen and living room, dog hair on every single surface, and fleas… I took one look at that mess, took Ian, walked right back out the door and told Chris either clean this house up and get rid of that damn dog or you and the dog both will be on the streets tonight. I will be at my mother’s”. I was serious. I never saw a doctor about my depression. I just sucked it up, like I had done most of my life. I just thought this was normal. It had always been normal for me.
I divorced him, married the girls’ dad, got pregnant, twice, and went through two more horrific bouts of postpartum depression, lather, rinse, repeat. The manic rages and the fights that ensued were epic. There were slashed tires, shattered windshields, holes in walls, slammed doors. In the midst of a rage, I took the girls to his mother’s house and, convinced she was trying to steal them away from me and chase me out of her son’s and our daughters’ life handed them over to her saying, “Here, you want them? Take them.” I was screaming out for help and nobody heard, nobody listened, nobody offered to help.
Getting an answer. It was only half an answer, but it was a step in the right direction.
My 37th birthday was a turning point of sorts. A disagreement with the guy I was dating at the time led me to my first breakdown. That was the first time I was completely consumed with hopelessness and despair. I stopped at a gas station to get gas, and for whatever reason my car wouldn’t start. I called my mother and step-dad to come help. I was already well on my way spiraling out of control deeper and deeper into a hopelessness I couldn’t, didn’t want to fight. By the time they got there 20 minutes later, I was curled up in the driver's seat in a fetal position barely able to speak. They followed me home that night. I asked them to leave my son with me, knowing his presence would be just enough to keep me from giving up completely. I spent 36 hours crying, writing, calling family and friends to ‘say goodbye’ and not sleeping. I still have the notebook I wrote in that night. “Isn’t 37 years long enough to hurt?” I don’t know if anyone really knew I was calling to say goodbye that night, but my dad called the next morning to check on me. When I told him I couldn’t even get out of bed, he told me to call my mother and get to the hospital. They gave me some meds, the name of a therapist and a pat on the back.
Depression. Clearly. Anti depressants. Yay! Wonderful for the depressed. Not exactly great for the manic depressed. The meds treated the depression, and swung me head on into a manic mood. Mania is awesome, until it isn’t. You feel great, all kinds of creative and energetic and fucking fabulous. Until you take it way too far, and you get creepy and scary. Once I was swinging away from the depression my doc stopped the anti depressants. I would have repeated cycles of this… depression, three months on anti depressant and viola! Cured!
Naming the demon that lives inside my head.
I have written about that night here once or twice. The night I finally allowed myself to admit to myself that there was something very seriously wrong with me and I needed some very serious help. I was dating Brian at the time, living 2 hours apart. I had taken the day off to spend the day with him. In the course of the day I saw a message on his MySpace page (it was before we really knew or cared about Facebook) from a girl I didn’t know. I couldn’t let it go. The words of that message, “Nice pictures Brian”, echoed in my head, the my manic brain blowing that message clear out of proportion into a full-blown affair. By the time we got to his house that night, I was convinced he was going to marry her, and I seriously considered just going home. But I didn’t. I stayed. He knew something was wrong, he asked about it. I denied it. He pushed, I’m sure, out of concern. I snapped. I threw accusations and hurled hateful horrible vile verbal garbage at him. The more my mouth vomited this poison, the louder I screamed inside to shut the fuck up. He sat there that night, and took it. He never raised his voice. He tried to deny it but honestly there was nothing for him to deny. He tried logic and reason, but those are ineffective against a manic rage. He said “I was going to tell you I love you tonight.” and my mania raged at him “Well, now you don’t have to lie.” and inside, I curled up in a ball and died.
Just a quickly and violently as it started, it stopped. As loud and passionate as I had hurled those vile hateful words at him, I just as quickly shut up. The one thing I had screamed so loudly and wanted so desperately inside and finally happened; too fucking late. I not only didn’t say another word that night, I couldn’t. The shame and disgust from my actions washed over me. I saw the hurt and the pain and the damage I had caused and I hated myself. I wanted to disappear.
The next morning I drove home, called Pathways, made an appointment with a psychiatrist and a therapist and started to find the answers. The damage was done, and couldn’t be undone. But I could finally see that there was something very seriously wrong with me and I needed help. I walked out of that appointment with a name for the demon that lived in my head, Bipolar disorder. A scary disorder. I was scared that people would hear Bipolar and think CRAZY or asylum. I was afraid that if this information got into the hands of either of my ex husbands they would use it against me and take the kids away from me. I bought into the ‘mental illness’ stigma myself.
Naming a demon is not taming a demon
Now I knew what I was living with. But that doesn’t mean things magically turned up unicorns, rainbows and glitter. At first I used bipolar disorder as an excuse/explanation for bad choices. I refused to take responsibility for anything. I was a real hawt mess. It wasn’t until I ended up in out-patient therapy after another breakdown (this one involved tequila and vicodin) the first time that I finally got it, I was going to have to step up and take responsibility for my actions and my life. I was not my disorder, I could live a fairly normal life if I worked at it.
And worked at it I did. And I have, and I continue to work at it. Bipolar disorder can not be treated like an ear infection, there is no set course of treatment. The only thing the medical field can agree on is that it takes medication and therapy to be most effective. It’s not fun, and it’s not easy, but ‘normal’ is better than not. I have done two stints in outpatient therapy, the latest one, just last summer, after yet another huge trigger and spiral into nothingness. I have never been committed. I lost my son along the way, his father took my disorder and used it to poison my son against me. The girls dad gets it, he knows that the girls being here is what keeps me fighting and trying. I am lucky in that regard.
My disorder still fucks up a lot of things in my life. My sister and I are no longer speaking to each other because of an episode at Thanksgiving. The longer I am unemployed the harder it gets for me to step outside of my routine. This weekend the despair and hopelessness came to visit again in much the same way it came that night in 2007. And I fight every day to get up and go on.
I am hyper aware of my girls behavior, moods, reactions. I watch for any signs my parents and I missed in me. At 12 and 14 I know that we could very well be on the brink of… something.
I am determined to live with it. I am determined to find something close to normal. I am determined that this disorder not destroy me, or my daughters. I am determined to fight this fight and win. And I know that I will fight every day for the rest of my life.
Originally posted at Welcome to My Life