Hi, everyone –
Today I am fortunate enough to have my writing posted on an amazing website called Black Box Warnings. I hope you will look for me there. Thank you!
My piece is titled: Much Ado About Nothing
Have a wonderful day.
Hi, everyone –
Today I am fortunate enough to have my writing posted on an amazing website called Black Box Warnings. I hope you will look for me there. Thank you!
My piece is titled: Much Ado About Nothing
Have a wonderful day.
I like to feel sorry for myself. I like hearing a “woe is me” story from a friend, knowing I can outdo her on any level of sadness. No matter what bad thing has happened to someone else, should she choose to share it with me I can usually top it with some horror story from my past. It’s a pretty selfish personality trait, one from which I derive almost no sympathy. But it’s taken me years to realize I’m not doing it for the sympathy, or empathy of others. I’m doing it because I like to believe my sorrowful past and present is a direct result of my bipolar disorder, and that gives me something on which to blame it all.
To shed some light on my past, I should give you a few examples of what I consider to be a life full of unfortunate happenings. For starters, my sister died before I was born. I never met her – I just like to tell people I lost a sister because it gives me an excuse to be sad. Additionally, my older brother died in a plane crash when I was 23 and my father died of a heart attack on the floor of my children’s playroom while I stood and watched because I couldn’t remember how to do CPR. My only surviving sibling doesn’t much like me or my disease and therefore doesn’t speak to me, my husband left me after 17 years of marriage, and I cannot find a full-time job to help pay my mounting pile of bills. In addition, my non-smoking mom was just diagnosed with lung cancer and my 10-year old daughter has Oppositional Defiance Disorder and is likely also bipolar.
Yeah, yeah – I realize that my problems are trivial in comparison to what is going on in the world around me. Wars and global warming and starving children. I am aware of all that, and yet the selfish person who I am refuses to recognize that there is anything wrong with any part of the world that does not directly concern me. It’s like I’m oblivious to anything or anyone other than myself and my problems. Selfish? You bet. Incredibly, ridiculously selfish. But it’s as if I can’t help myself.
I often refer to a great book called, “Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder” by Julie A. Fast. The book was intended for the spouse or partner of someone suffering from bipolar, but I don’t have a spouse or a partner anymore so I read it hoping to learn to love myself. The book repeatedly references the selfishness of those suffering from bipolar disorder. They can only think of themselves. They think they are the only ones with real problems. They believe their lives are worse than anyone’s around them. I recognize that I am incredibly selfish, and it’s not a trait I’m proud of. But as I mentioned earlier, I can’t seem to focus on any problems but mine.
In addition, bipolar people are often narcissists. I believe there is a direct link between believing yourself to be better than everyone else and wanting everyone to feel sorry for you. Part of being a narcissist is believing that you have control over the world and what happens in it. For example, if only I had known CPR, perhaps my father would still be alive. Control. If only I had recognized my bipolar disorder earlier, then I could have sought treatment before my behavior became so intolerable that my husband could no longer remain with me. Control. If I had known that I was bipolar and that my future children had a 20% increased chance of becoming bipolar as a result of genetics, I could have prevented my young daughter from possibly developing the disorder by simply not having children. Control. Ridiculous and unrealistic expectations of control.
I also feel like my bad luck is contagious. Don’t get too close, it might rub off on you. Sometimes I believe my bad luck extends to the outcome of my son’s baseball game; I’ve had a rough day, so I shouldn’t attend or he will surely lose. I probably shouldn’t go to the picnic or it might rain because of me. Bad luck follows me around so be sure to keep your distance. A pathetic state of mind, don’t you think? My therapist thinks so. Once, in the middle of a tirade about how I was directly or indirectly the cause of all bad things that had happened in my life or in the lives of those around me, she stopped me to declare, “My goodness. I wish I had that kind of power. Imagine what I could use it for. The power to control people’s lives and the events of your own. I would love being that powerful”
I felt like an idiot.
But she was right. Who was I to think I had the kind of power to control whether or not someone dies, or someone’s team wins or loses, or whether my child develops bipolar or not? My perception was that I was in control of all of these things, when the truth is that I am only in control of what happens to my own person on a day-to-day basis. And what happens to me each day is largely dependent on my mood, which is largely dependent on the current state of my disorder. I’m not really in control of my illness, even though my doctors assure me I should be. Sure, I can do DBT and ECT and take medication to help control it, but the true reality is that it controls me. My bipolar determines, indirectly, how I spend my days and whether I’m happy or sad. It decides if I’m feeling up to going to the movies, or prefer to stay within the confines of my safe, warm bed all day. It determines whether I yell at my kids or shower them with indulgences. When it gets bad, it decides that I will undergo ECT with the hope that voluntary electrocution will set me straight, buying me a few more weeks of relative sanity. My bipolar disorder defines me, because I let it. Because it gives me an excuse to be pathetic. Because it allows me to fall back on my stories of sorrow and woe. My disorder allows me to be the “winner” of the “who has a more terrible life” competition. At least I get to win at something.
Do I hope that someday I will be in completely in control of my bipolar disorder, instead of it being in control of me? You betcha. I’m just not there yet.
“One day at a time”. I hear it, well, daily. From my friends, my mom, my doctors, my therapist. “One day at a time”. That’s how I’m supposed to progress: slowly and carefully, not projecting forward into the future, not pretending to be a mind reader or see what lies down the road for me with my non-existent crystal ball. “One day at a time” is supposed to keep me grounded, keep me in the “here and now”.
Except that I HATE the “here and now”. I’m trying to get away from the misery that encompasses the “here and now”, and “one day at a time” isn’t moving me along fast enough. I don’t want the baby steps method – I want to leap full-force into an amazing future, without having to do any of the work required to get me there.
Patience was never a virtue for me.
As I am approaching the one-year anniversary of the day my husband told me he no longer loved me and wanted a separation, I have been getting a lot of advice from many sources on how to stay positive, how to get through this difficult time, knowing that anniversaries of the sad variety tend to be triggers for me. One friend suggested I write a letter to my husband, telling him how I’ve changed for the better and begging him for another chance at our marriage. I decided I would write a letter, not necessarily begging him to return, but sharing with him all of the realizations I’ve come to during the last 365 incredibly painful days. However, this letter will never be seen by my husband. I’m choosing not to share it with him because he has heard most of this before. Perhaps never in one place, but over the last 12 months he has heard bits and pieces of my story and quite frankly, I think seeing it all in one place would be incredibly annoying to him, as he is sick to death of my crying and begging and repeating my woes and apologies to him over and over. Maybe I am really writing this letter for myself, hoping to start Friday with a fresh outlook and a new lease on my lonely single life.
So here it goes:
“To my dear husband,
It goes without saying that I miss our life together. I am miserable without you, and even more so knowing that you are NOT miserable without me. If I could go back in time and change what I have done to you, I would give anything for that opportunity. But I do not have in my possession a time machine. I cannot undo any of my past. I could tell you for the 9 millionth time how sorry I am, how much remorse I have, how much I want my life back, but it would have no effect on you. You are done. I get it.
You will never see this letter. Instead, I’m sharing it with dozens of strangers who I can pretend are you. Typing this letter to the unknown masses is not going to do me any good other than to unburden myself from the sadness that has weighed me down for one year. But I can pretend.
Here’s what you do know: I was horrible to you in so many ways. I was unpredictable and difficult. I was unkind and unfaithful. I was selfish and and self-absorbed. I was sick and miserable. My life turned upside down when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I desperately didn’t want it to be true, and instead of punishing myself with the truth, I punished everyone around me. I took out my anger on my family and you tolerated and tolerated and tolerated until you simply couldn’t tolerate any more. You were not unbreakable, as I once believed. If something continues to bend and bend, eventually even the strongest branch will break. And although you promised to love me forever, your conscience and your morals simply couldn’t allow your love for me to continue. You didn’t give up on me, I realize that. You did what was best for yourself and what you believe to be best for your children. Our homelife was a mess and you deserved better.
Here’s what you don’t know: During that time, I never once stopped loving you. I loved every ounce of you because you were my forever mate. Nobody else would have put up with me, I thought. Nobody else would have stuck around, I believed. We were meant to be together. You were the only one who would ever take care of me. And I truly didn’t believe that it was “me” doing these things to you. It was a force I was not in control of. My manic self, that hateful and horrible woman who reared her ugly head during difficult times and couldn’t be subdued. I want to blame everything on her. But I realized she’s part of me. Not a part I want or like, but I part I have had to learn to deal with. But even that ugly part of me loved you, too.
And the thing I’ve never shared with you? In order for me to fully get well, I probably needed you to leave me. Not just because I deserved it, but because my bad behavior probably would have continued if it were not for the big fat slap in the face that our separation provided me.
In the first few months after you left me, I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. I found it hard to be around my children. I begged you, in letters, on the phone, on my knees, to please take me back. I will change. I promise to change. I promise to get help. But you stuck to your guns and refused me. You told me I had ruined our family, which is true. You told me I had been selfish and untrustworthy, which is also true. You refused therapy. You told me it wouldn’t do any good because all the other times you’d dragged me to counseling I had lied to the therapist. Again, all true. You made a clean break. So clean, in fact, I wondered if you had ever loved me at all and were merely tolerating me because I am the mother of your three precious children. I understand now that you had to do it that way. You had to deal with your own anger and your own anguish over how I had treated you. You had no choice.
But during those first few months, I vowed to change. I promised myself I could become the woman you wanted in your life, the same woman you married with a heart full of love. I started to take my therapy seriously and concentrated fully on my recovery. But I was doing it for you, not for me. Why? Because I honestly and naively thought I could win you over. I thought for certain that if you saw how hard I was working that you would take me back, tell me it had all been a mistake. That you were just testing me. I was sure that we could be a family again.
But I was wrong.
It took about six months to realize that you are never coming back. Not just because you have assured me you will never marry again because marriage was awful to you, but because when I look in your eyes (when you can bear to look into mine), I see nothing. No compassion, no caring, no love. I see anger and hatred and the inability to forget what I did to your life. And though I have made huge strides in my own recovery, and although I know you recognize my efforts and their results, I knew six months ago that you would never ask me back. That we would never be a traditional family again. You have told me time and time again, “There’s nothing wrong with being divorced. 50% of couples end up divorced”. I want to respond that there’s nothing wrong with being married, either. That 50% of couples stay married. But you don’t want to hear that. Your experience with marriage was horrible. And I don’t blame you for leaving.
My biggest heartbreak, besides knowing I will never be with you again and knowing our children will never have us as an “intact” family again, is knowing that when you made your clean break 12 months ago, you stopped loving me. I can look into your eyes and see that no love exists there. You neither love me nor miss me, and for that I am so sorry. Because I caused that. I wanted to show you that I have enough love for the both of us, and maybe eventually it would wear off on you and one day you might actually love me back. I wanted to offer myself to you for all of the wrong reasons. I had a whole list: If we were together again, there would only be one mortgage. That means that we would have the money to do things that are important to our family. Our son wants bass guitar lessons and wants to learn a martial art, but we cannot afford it. Our oldest daughter is going to college in three years and that will be financially tough. And our baby girl needs to go to therapy every week to stay happy and mentally well. But we can’t afford those things. We promised the children a dream trip to Australia, and now I know that will never happen. All because of what I’ve done. It is all my fault. I also thought I would convince you to take me back based on your needs: I can cook and clean and do the laundry and care for the house and drive kids to their activities, which will free up your time so that when you come home after a stressful day at work, to OUR home, you could spend your time playing with the kids and enjoying the short time we have them together as a family, instead of having to make them dinner and do their laundry and help them with homework before bed. I could take on all the responsibilities I never did while we were married. You did everything, and I never realized it until you left me.
But I have realized that I don’t want you to want me simply because I’m an able cook or laundress. I don’t want you to take me back to save money. I don’t want to live with you so I can be the chauffeur or the nanny. I want you to take me back because you miss me and love me and want to give me, give us, another chance.
But you don’t miss me, and you don’t love me. And I don’t think you ever will again. Actually, I KNOW you never will again. There is no “another chance”.
So for the last six months, I have concentrated on my recovery from my bipolar disorder, not with you in mind. I am doing it for me, and for my beautiful children. And I have noticed a huge difference between the person I am today and the pathetic excuse for a mother and wife I was a year ago. I have used a combination of ECT, DBT, medication, and the love and support of my remaining friends and family to try to get well. To regain a sense of balance and to have a life again. And I have worked very, very hard. I almost gave up six months ago, because I finally had realized that all of this hard work would never bring you back to me, and that is what I thought I wanted more than anything.
But I realize now that I had to lose you in order to find myself.
So here I am. I am found. I know who I am and who I want to be. And do I still want you? Of course I do. But there is a difference between wanting and knowing. For example, I WANT for there to be a Santa Claus, but I KNOW he doesn’t really exist. I want you back in my life as my lover and my best friend and my partner for all of eternity. But I know you will never return. You have moved on. You have told me that you need to find your “path to happiness”, that you deserve to be happy. And I’m not on that path. How I wish you would give me the chance to make you happy. I know now what it takes to be a good wife and a good mother. That person who treated you badly is probably still here, but she now knows how to behave. She recognizes that there are consequences to her actions. And the part of her that used to be too strong and used to take over my sensibilities and send me on a downward spiral to disaster and manic episodes? Well, she most likely still exists. Somewhere. But she is no longer stronger than the “good me”. She is weak and she will not get the best of me again. Not ever. I know how to hold her down and control her. Maybe, if I’m lucky, she will give up and go away. But until that time, I have the strength and the tools and the confidence to keep her out of my daily life.
Don’t get me wrong – given the opportunity to have you back, I would jump at the chance. I would love nothing more in my life than to be part of a complete family again. To know that I had someone to grow old with, to sit next to at our childrens’ graduations and weddings. To have someone next to me holding my hand at the movies and embracing me in warm hugs every morning as we wake would be heaven to me. To know that I would never be alone again is more than I could ever hope for. But I will never find your love again. And you? Well, I learned last week that you have joined “Match.com” so I know now, for a fact, that I am not anywhere in your future except to be the mother of your children. And that is devastating to me. Because it means my dream of being a family again will never be realized. It means that you don’t believe I can ever be enough for you again. That even when I’m well, I’m not the woman you want to be with. And it makes me question whether I ever was. Maybe my misbehavior was just an excuse to get out of a marriage that you didn’t want in the first place. Maybe I was never the right woman for you, regardless of how much love I thought I could give you. All I know is that I was not worth fighting for. After I was well, you did not resume that fight. You didn’t stick around to see who I could become. You didn’t want to. You walked away. You had to. And that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s what you believed to be best for you. It was your turn to be selfish; you deserve happiness.
But I can still be well without you. I don’t really want wellness without you to share it with, but I do need it for myself. One day when my children are grown and have families of their own, it will be all I have left.
So there you have it. The letter you will never read. Everything in my heart I could think to tell you on this day, one year following my worst day.
With as much love as I can fathom, Happy Anniversary from your wife.”
Many women I know have a personal care “to do” list that they check off prior to going away on vacation: manicures and pedicures, perhaps a new bikini and the accompanying wax job, maybe even a haircut and highlights. Everyone wants to look their best before embarking on a sunny beach getaway, am I right?
I used to do all of those things, too. But in the last 18 months, the only “personal care” I cared about was making sure I had ECT as close to my departure date as possible. ECT seemed to calm my nerves and relieve a lot of the pre-vacation jitters many of us experience under the duress of trying to get a large family packed and organized to ensure the perfect, stress-free getaway. Ironic, isn’t it, how much stress a mom can endure just trying to make sure everyone else has vacation without it? Add bipolar disorder to the mix and that stress level is amplified tenfold.
I have traveled quite extensively since starting ECT in 2011, and I have found that making sure I underwent ECT was as essential to my state of mind as making sure I have Dramamine and an early boarding pass. I would have ECT three or four days prior to leaving for my travels and it made those pre-vacation annoyances and stresses seem less annoying and stressful. It had a calming effect, slowing down my thoughts and quieting my brain so I could stay organized and on track.
But this time I forgot. I simply forgot to make the appointment and have that essential ECT. And by the time I remembered, I had already left. Remembering that I forgot did cause some initial stress. I was traveling alone with my children for the first time since my separation from my husband, and the first day or two I think I let my loneliness for him be confused with anxiety and annoyance. I didn’t know how I’d get through the week. I was worried about how I would keep them happy and occupied for seven days without their dad; I was worried I would let my emotions get the best of me; I was worried I might move toward a manic state and ruin the trip for my kids. But surprisingly, I got over it pretty quickly. I tried to use some of the tools I’ve been learning with DBT, and found that I could calm my nerves in a timely manner.
So, I’m kind of proud of myself. Now that’s an emotion I don’t have very often. Between getting through an ECT-free vacation, and my kids not getting kicked out of the “all-you-can-eat” complimentary breakfast at our hotel for gorging themselves on a pound of bacon and a dozen pastries each morning, I’m doing pretty well. Back to my “real” world tomorrow night, but pleased I got through this week without ruining it for my kids. Yay me!