“The Missing Year” (as shared from “Momastery”)

My best friend, and fellow fan of “Momastery”, just sent me a link.  She thought I should share it with my husband, from whom I’ve been separated for one year.  One year on Friday, to be exact.  The link is to a story written about a couple who reconciled after one year of having been divorced.  The story is beautiful, and inspires hope for all couples out there who might still share love for each other and just not know how to put back together the pieces.  This story is not meant for me, because in order for this “missing year” concept to work, there has to be love on both sides of the equation.  And my husband no longer loves me.

But I am sharing this story with you, anyway, because it is so lovely.  And I am so envious of the couple who finds their way back to each other after “the missing year”.  I am jealous of the family they get to be again, and I wish with all of my heart I could inject myself into that same story line with exactly the same outcome.  Sadly, I am facing decades of “missing years” for committing a similar crime against my wedding vows.  You see, my beautiful and kind husband has the ability to forgive.  It is the ability to forget that he does not possess.  He simply cannot continue on with me, knowing all of the horrible things I have done over the years.  The years when I was not myself, but bad behavior is still bad behavior and I am unable to convince him otherwise.

I hope you will read this story that I have “borrowed”.  Thank you, “Momastery” and Vanessa Diffenbaugh for bringing me “The Missing Year”.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you that there can be hope for many of you out there.  Try to reclaim that love that used to make you a family.  I truly wish that some positive reconciliations can come from having shared this piece of her story.  There is hope for all of you.

Just not for me.

http://momastery.com/blog/2013/04/17/vanessa-diffenbaugh-and-the-missing-year/

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May the Force Be With You (with a little “Magic” thrown in)

Princess Leia is bipolar.

I read recently that, in addition to Carrie Fisher’s drug and alcohol addictions, she has also admitted to being bipolar. For those of us who carry this disease as a burden, we all know that addiction is a common “side effect” of manic depression, a way of self-medicating. So I’m not surprised at the Princess’ most recent admission.

But it got me thinking: how many of Hollywood’s other famous celebrities suffer from bipolar and are willing to admit it? I started doing a little research and found a surprisingly long list of names: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kurt Cobain, Mariel Hemingway (her grandfather, Ernest, famously so), Britney Spears, Patty Duke, Marilyn Monroe, and Axl Rose, to name a few. I also found a few similarities surrounding this group of people.

Let’s start with Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe. All incredible talents. All who lost their lives presumably to drug overdoses, presumably because the pain of their illness was too much to bear, all before more traditional methods of therapy and assistance were available. Add Vincent Van Gogh to that list, who of course lost his battle to a disease that probably didn’t even have a name during his lifetime.

The next group falls into the “fading celebrity status” list. Catherine Zeta-Jones was popular for a while back in the ’80s and ’90s but it seems as her star status began to dwindle, suddenly she was willing to “come forward” and admit her illness. Do some of these stars use their bipolar as an excuse for not having worked in years? Do they made the public admission to gain a small amount of attention, hoping to use it to work their way back into the spotlight? Actors like Fisher and Duke haven’t seen a spotlight in decades, and Axl Rose faded twenty years ago. Suddenly, it’s ok to admit they have bipolar. But why are they stepping forward now to inform the world of their illness?

Of course, singers like Britney Spears seem to use their illness to excuse their horrific public behavior and whacky antics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lindsay Lohan was next on the list of celebrities who claim bipolar as an affliction that prevents them from showing up on time to press dates and keeps them from being able to pay their taxes.

As someone with bipolar disorder, I recognize the shame involved and the stigma attached to the disease. It is crippling. And I am guilty of not telling anyone for a long time for those exact reasons. But why are celebrities suddenly stepping forward and “pleading insanity”? Is it for the attention? Is it in an effort to try to regain a little stardom by way of sympathy? Is it a way to say, “Look at me! Here I am! The only reason I haven’t worked in years is because I’m bipolar! But I’m broke and need the money so I’m stepping forward hoping for a resurgence in popularity”.

When you Google “list of celebrities who are bipolar”, the list is very long but it does not contain many names you might have heard of. Lots of authors and poets, lots of artists and public figures from decades ago. But since roughly 1 in 4 adults suffers from some sort of mental illness, many of those bipolar, why isn’t the list longer? Or more updated? Why aren’t there names of more popular celebrities? Are movie stars exempt from having bipolar? Or is that list longer than we think and they just aren’t owning up to their illness?

I think it’s the latter. And I wish that wasn’t the case. Celebrities are in the unique position of having a large public following of people who have such adoration for them that they’d be willing to do just about anything for their favorite star. Celebrities with bipolar could step forward to promote awareness, reduce stigma and help to eliminate the shame that comes with this lifelong affliction. You know they’re out there. Are they afraid to admit they have a mental illness?

I saw on TV recently that Magic Johnson was publicly offering love and support to his openly gay son. He commented that there are no publicly homosexual athletes in professional sports. We know that can’t possibly be true. They have to exist. But those people, too, are afraid to admit their lifestyle for fear of how their teammates or fans would react. I remember when Johnson stepped forward to admit having contracted HIV/AIDS nearly twenty years ago. Since that time, he has lost his basketball career, but he has used his illness to promote awareness and reduce the stigma associated with his disease. He has used his “disadvantage” to the public’s advantage. He has done amazing work raising money and supporting organizations involved with the work being done with HIV/AIDS and in my opinion, he is more of a hero now than he was playing basketball.

I think mentally ill celebrities are also afraid of “coming out” and admitting their illness. I hope those who are making the admission are not stepping forward for the mere purpose of re-igniting a dying career. I hope they are doing it to make an effort to reduce the shame and stigma attached with bipolar disorder. I hope they are doing it to help make a difference. They have a public voice, and they could use it to help make such fantastic and much-needed progress in the world of misunderstood mental illnesses if they would just ‘fess up. Kind of like Magic Johnson. His illness affected his career, but perhaps it changed his life for the better. I’d like to think that he is happier now knowing that he is doing good work for good people.

Princess Leia’s Carrie Fisher has done just that. Sure, her acting career may have faded. But she is responsible for such fabulously “truthful” accounts (disguised as fiction) like “Wishful Drinking”, “Postcards from the Edge” and “The Best Awful”. Ms. Fisher is candid and frank about her disorders and she has stepped forward and is helping to raise awareness.

So listen up, Hollywood. Don’t be afraid. Come forward and make yourselves heard. You may find that the work you do for mental illness is priceless and worth more than that shiny little statue you probably won’t ever win, anyway. Use your public image to promote awareness. You may learn that it’s more rewarding than the red carpet. Who says you can’t be both an actor and an advocate?

May the Force Be With You.

What’s in a name?

When my husband and I were expecting our children, a lot of thought went into choosing their names. We wanted their monikers to have meaning, and not just decide their lifelong label by choosing from the “top ten most popular girls names of 1998”, or naming them after celebrities or famous athletes. Of course, we couldn’t possibly know that our three children would grow into their names like they grew into hand-me-down clothing. It’s almost as if we pre-destined them to have these amazing personalities just by naming them for traits we admired.

My first daughter’s name means “strength”, and she is the epitome of all things strong. She is a little mother to her siblings and someone her friends look up to and admire. She stays tough, even when most people would bend or break. Her name fits her perfectly.

My son’s name means “defender, protector”, and he is living up to that meaning as a loving brother to his two sisters. He is the first person to throw his arms around me and tell me he loves me when he sees I’m having a bad day (which sadly, is more often than not). He sticks up for anyone being teased, and he is a true defender and protector of his girls (myself included) and his friends. He is a little man with a strong sense of family responsibility.

My baby, my ten-year old daughter who suffers from mental illness, has the most suitable name of all. Her name stands for “little hero”, and she has suffered more in her short ten years than most people might have the misfortune to experience in a lifetime. She falls two steps backward, but leaps three steps forward. She just keeps trudging along, pointing forward, trying to stay positive. She is a hero to her parents and to her brother and sister because she never gives up. She knows that life for her is going to be tougher than for other kids her age, but she tries so hard not to let that get her down. She is my hero, and will continue to be even when she is grown.

My husband (if you’re a regular follower you know we are separated) is also my hero. But his name has an even more fitting meaning: “mighty king, ruler, chieftain”. Did his mother know when she named him that he would grow to be this amazing man who “rules” over his family with love and compassion? Who would take charge of the issues surrounding his family and stay strong in the face of adversity? Did she know how aptly his name would suit him, as the president of a small corporation and the head of a growing household? That he would make decisions he believed to be best for the welfare of his children? That he would be king of his castle, never backing down, always standing his ground and never, ever going back on his decisions?

I should mention, finally, that after we investigated names for all of our children, I decided to look up the meaning of my name. I received my name as a “gift” from my father – it is the feminized version of his name, and of his father before him. I have always hated it. It is unusual and non-phonetic, making it impossible for others to spell, pronounce or remember. When I discovered its meaning, I hated it even more. And in the last year, I have come to find that for me, the meaning of my name suits me better than I wish to admit.

My name means “blind”.

Blind to the dangers of bipolar disorder. Blind to the consequences of bad behavior on account of my illness. Blind to my illness in general, refusing to seek help when first diagnosed, blind to the fact that if I didn’t reach out I would lose my world. Blind to realizing that my actions and inactions would cost me some of my friends and family, my home, my faith, my children’s trust, and the man who loved me.

Blind. How fitting.

Who gets what?

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you already know that I have been separated from my husband for nearly a year.  A lot goes on in a separation that might be taken for granted by outsiders looking in.  The couple makes the announcement that the decision to separate has been made, and then nobody really knows what’s going on behind closed doors (because nobody wants to know) until the couple makes the announcement that the paperwork is complete, the judge has affixed his stamp, and the separation is now final.

It’s a well-known fact that divorced and separated couples split the “marital” or “mutually-acquired” assets.  Money gets split pretty evenly down the middle, and retirement packages are divided and redistributed.  Value is placed on everything, and the question of “who gets what” becomes the only topic of conversation that seems to matter for a while.  Obviously, the children are shared as equally as is realistic (and not cut down the middle, if possible), and someone usually ends up with the house.  Each person keeps his or her own car, but the rest of the “assets” have to be designated to someone.

In many cases, the couple hopes to amicably settle the “who gets what” without much disagreement.  The items in question might include the piano, china cabinet and its contents, artwork and maybe even season tickets to sporting events.  Much of the rest of it falls neatly into a “his” or “hers” pile:  pilates DVDs, the autographed hockey jersey, framed diplomas, and even jewelry.

But what about the friends?  Those “mutually acquired assets” that have been part of the couples’ life for a dozen years or more?  Surprisingly, and sadly, those decisions are typically made for you by the friends.  One of the most heartbreaking parts of my separation has been to see who chose me, and who chose him.  In only the rarest of cases did the friends choose us both.  And those have turned out to be the rarest and most valuable of friendships.  But those other friends, the ones I mistakenly thought were lifelong “acquisitions”?   Make no mistake, most of them do choose.  And most of them chose him.  I never realized that “who gets what” quickly turns into “who gets who”.  I never would have guessed that any choosing had to take place at all.

Little clues of lost friendships seeped in slowly at the beginning.  I would call and invite a “friend” to lunch or coffee, hoping to have a shoulder to lean on in my time of confusion and grief.  That’s what girlfriends are for, am I right?  But maybe I leaned a little too hard, because unreturned calls and texts became more and more frequent.  Sure, they made excuses at the beginning as to why they couldn’t meet up with me, but then they stopped contacting me altogether.  They stopped waving from their cars when we would pass on the street, and turned down the produce aisle to hide if they saw me headed up the dairy section at the grocery store.  I felt like a leper.

But as for my husband, suddenly he was being invited to dinner at people’s houses, happy hour at the bar, sporting events, and to other forms of entertainment and companionship with these same friends.  First the male half of the couple reached out to him, but then it became obvious that both halves of the pair had “chosen” him.  Friends I had introduced to him.  Friends who I had consoled during divorces and family deaths.  MY friends.  And they abandoned me in favor of my husband.

Now, my husband is a great guy.  Likable and friendly, handsome and kind.  And, maybe most importantly, emotionally stable.  If I were them, I would choose him, too.  Me?  I’m a wreck.  Most of our friends know I’m bi-polar and they also know I have not handled our separation well at all.  I’m messed up.  I have cried in nearly every restaurant and coffee shop and bookstore in town, to nearly every friend I thought I had.  Maybe that’s the problem.  These “friends” don’t want to be reminded that other people have troubles.  It’s too much work to be friends with someone who is grieving or sick.  And my kind of “sickness” does not evoke sympathy, like the bubonic plague or appendicitis might.  People don’t jump at the chance to bring meals or offer to watch kids for people with a mental illness.  They back away as if it’s contagious.  And a newly-separated bipolar person?  Forget about it.  That seems to be the worst possible combination.  Apparently, it’s easier to simply back away than to engage and offer help.  And friendship.

Today, a graduation announcement arrived in the mail for the daughter of a couple who my husband and I met at the same time.  It was addressed to him, and only him.  For whatever reason, this caused me half an hour of wasted tears.  I don’t even LIKE this family, but just the thought that a simple graduation can’t even be “announced” to both of us slid swiftly into my heart and caused me a great deal of sadness.

Maybe I’m blowing this all out of proportion.  Maybe they chose him because he’s simply a more desirable person to hang out with.  Maybe they just tolerated me because I was with him, and maybe they figured I had to be OK if a great guy like that had stuck with me all of those years.  But when he decided he’d had enough, so did they.

And it broke my heart.

But during the last few months, my realization of who my TRUE friends are has emerged.  They are the women who text me weekly (even daily!) just to say hi, to check in, to update me on their lives and make sure I’m still involved in mine.  My REAL friends return my calls, ask me to the movies and send me Christmas cards with more than just a generic name stamp at the bottom.  My FOREVER friends have stuck with me through the good and bad (and it seems like it has all been bad for the last year), and if they grow tired of my tears, they don’t let on.  Three of them have been divorced and they know what I’m going through.  Others I’ve known for a couple of decades and maybe it’s an “I knew her before he was around” kind of deal, but the fact remains that they remain.  And I really don’t see them going anywhere soon.  This group may be very small, but they are worth their weight in gold to me and I wouldn’t trade them for a world of “convenient” friendships.

As for the rest of them?  Good riddance.  It think it’s safe to assume they were never really my friends to begin with.  When the going got bad, they got going.  And I don’t need them in my life.  That kind of recognition hurts, but it’s reality.

So in terms of “who gets what”, I think I got what I deserved.  And it’s enough.

“Everyone has a story to tell”

I’m still reading that new book I quoted yesterday: “Carry On, Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton. If you haven’t heard of her, Google her please. She is a woman who battled addiction, eating disorders, depression and several other “life” issues, and one day decided enough was enough. She realized she could not continue on that way and flipped off her old life in favor of moving forward. She started a website called “Momastery” and basically put herself out there for everyone to see, in the hopes that her transparency could help others with similar issues. She is a witty and enjoyable author, and while I’m reading her book, I can almost close my eyes and picture her telling me her story over coffee at the local Starbucks.

Anyway, you may see me quoting her in my posts because she is very truthful and open, and I find myself agreeing with so many of her words. Here’s one paragraph that I think you can all relate to, regardless of what issues you may have:

“If, anywhere in your soul, you feel the desire to write, please write. Write as a gift to yourself and others. Everyone has a story to tell. Writing is not about creating tidy paragraphs that sound lovely or choosing the ‘right’ words. It’s about noticing who you are and noticing life and sharing what you notice. When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone……If you feel something calling you to write, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough. Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself”.

Everyone has a story to tell. I like that.