Einstein described insanity as:
“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Words to live by. And confirmation that I truly am insane.
Einstein described insanity as:
“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Words to live by. And confirmation that I truly am insane.
I was browsing this morning through selections at my local bookstore and I came across a new book by author Annalee Newitz. As I stared at the title, all I could think was,
“I’m in trouble. Serious trouble”.
The book is about “How humans will survive a mass extinction”. But there is a word in the title that will prohibit me from surviving any such thing, because the title alludes that I will have to rely on my memory to do so. For those of you who have also gone through ECT, you’ll know why:
The name of the book is,
“Scatter, Adapt and REMEMBER”.
I’m so screwed.
I went to a yoga class last week. For those of you who know me, you might be surprised to hear that I made an attempt at exercising. But I’ve been told by so many people lately that yoga would be therapeutic. And again, for those of you who know me, you know I’m willing to try anything. I thought to myself, “what can be bad about a sport for which I can be barefoot?”
What I learned is that yoga is not for lazy people. Thus, it was kinda difficult for me because I don’t like to work hard. Now please don’t get me wrong – I am a hard worker. I just don’t like it. I felt great for the first five minutes of the class – soft, soothing music, dim lights, lying on a soft mat on my back wiggling my toes while breathing in the smell of the scented candles.
Then the real work began. Enough with the stretching, it was time to get serious. Suddenly, I was no longer relaxed. I was sweating. While in something called Sphinx position, you have to look down at your hands, which are supporting the majority of your weight, and all I could think was how badly I needed a manicure. I was unfocused and definitely unrelaxed. Yoga seemed like a variety of moves through what sounded to me like a three-ring circus: the camel position, the cobra, the downward dog. We moved from cow position to cat position, back to cow, and back to cat. I realized I’m really more of a cow than I am a cat, feeling completely ungraceful and heavy. If there was a “bull in a china cabinet pose”, I’d be really good at that one. The best part about yoga so far? I was told that I could relax my stomach muscles – finally, I had found a place where I didn’t have to “suck it in”. But when we flipped to our backs for another animal pose I can’t recall, the tag in my pants was digging into my lower back and I couldn’t concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing. I was thinking of how looooong an hour class seemed to be lasting, and how I couldn’t wait to be done with this torturous exercise. The soft music had taken on a droning foghorn effect and just because the volume was low doesn’t mean it wasn’t suddenly incredibly annoying. I was worried about what position she would require next – could I do it? Would I tumble over mid-“Warrior” and humiliate myself? I kept praying she’d command us to assume “child’s pose” (my favorite so far) just so I could get a little break.
The instructor had a soft, soothing voice and throughout the class, she reminded us to “just breathe”, to stretch ourselves farther “little by little, inch by inch”. Funny, she sounded just like my therapist telling me to proceed through my life “day by day, little by little, one step at a time”. My therapist is always reminding me to “just breathe”, and to stretch myself a little bit farther every day. The instructor also kept telling us to “open your heart”. Well, that’s one thing I certainly wasn’t going to do. I’d opened my heart plenty this year, and it’s gotten me nowhere. And it hurts. Forget about it.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, the instructor had us lie on our backs with our legs straight up in the air. I’m thinking, “I can do this. This isn’t so bad”. That is, until she came around and placed 10lb sandbags on the bottoms of our feet, which were now pointing up toward the ceiling. Things had started to get easier, and an uncomfortable weight is suddenly added to my already-heavy burden. Yoga hurts. This class was starting to mimic my life.
I started off my recent life thinking things wouldn’t be so bad, that I can get through this. It starts off slowly and calmly. And then I’m forced into a number of uncomfortable positions, carrying around a heavy weight and having a hard time taking slow, deep breaths. I’m completely unwilling to open my heart, and nervous that I won’t be able to handle what comes next. My inability to be flexible is holding me back. I am trying to proceed “little by little, inch by inch”. I’m trying to remember to “just breathe”. I’m set off by small annoyances like a scratchy tag and bad music. And then there’s the pain. Much like my first experience with yoga, I find that life hurts.
But at the end of the class, we did something called “shavasana” (which, incidentally, means “death pose”). We all laid on our backs and stretched out our arms and legs, and were instructed to simply “relax”. We were told to let all of our worries fall away from our minds, to relax each muscle from toe to finger, one by one. To let each bone in our spines sink into the floor, one at a time. The instructor spoke softly, and led us in slow, relaxed breathing. For the first time, I felt like I could take a full, deep breath. My eyes closed and I was suddenly less annoyed by the foghorn music. My body was cooling off and I felt very relaxed. It was magical. I felt calm.
I didn’t want to get up. But when I did, the instructor provided us with a closing blessing:
“May you find peace above you, peace below you, and peace throughout your body and soul. Namaste”. It was lovely.
For the record, I’ll be back at yoga this week.
My 4th grade daughter is writing a fairy tale for class, but the students have been instructed not to create a story in the traditional “happily ever after…..” manner. Instead, they’ve been asked to compose a “fractured fairy tale”. The teacher cited some examples: Cinderella gets a blister from the glass slippers, the gingerbread man is not gluten-free, and Jack falls from the beanstalk and needs a hip replacement. And then there’s the princess who kisses the slimy frog after he promises he’ll turn into a handsome prince, but after receiving the kiss, the frog tells the princess she’s a sucker and hops away laughing.
Fractured fairy tales. What a concept. As a little girl, fairy tales were wonderful to hear. I based my future dreams on the outcomes of these short stories: the sad princess discovers her handsome prince, he saves her from the terrible ogre and he whisks her away to his beautiful castle where they live happily ever after.
Up until a year ago, that was my life. I met my knight in shining armor shortly after losing my brother, and he saved me from the terrible ogre that was depression and heartache. We bought a castle together and filled it with two beautiful princesses and a darling prince. We had dreams of “happily ever after” in which we would spend the rest of our lives together, as happy as was humanly possible. People were envious of our beautiful life. They commented on how our little family “had it all”.
But “all” included a queen with a terrible secret. My secret was my bipolar disorder. I hid it from everyone, including myself. When I was “officially” diagnosed a few years ago, my handsome prince begged me to seek help. He read books on the subject and sought out the best doctors for my care. He tried to slay the dragons for me. But I refused his help because I didn’t want to admit that I was sick. And I let my disease rule my life. And I chased away my shining knight. My shame and denial helped me ruin my fairy tale life.
My life will never be a fairy tale again. My children wish for an “intact” family that will never again be together. My dreams of growing old happily with my husband by my side will never be realized. I cannot afford my castle. I pray every day that this is not my life, that a kind sorceress will wave her magic wand and make everything okay again. But I don’t know any good witches with magic spells that can fix my story or its ending.
My life is a fractured fairy tale. But that doesn’t mean I can’t create my own “happily ever after”. My story is just going to have to take on a new look, and my future will be going in a different direction than I had originally planned. But I vow to still be happy. Even if I can’t use pixie dust to help me get there.
Note to readers: I originally published this post last month, but I felt it bears repeating as yet another friend has suggested I start dating…… So here it is, again:
I’ve been separated from my husband for nearly one year. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to look into dating. Meet someone nice, they tell me. Go on a date, they tell me. Let someone treat you to dinner or a movie, they tell me.
True, I’m desperately lonely. But I’ve sworn to myself that I will never date. The thought is appalling to me. Besides – how would someone like me find anyone to go out with? How on earth would I meet anyone?
A dating website, I am told.
Seriously? And what would my ad look like? Here is my attempt at my online dating profile:
“Tall, blonde, bipolar mother of three in her early 40’s seeking the companionship of a man who enjoys long walks through the halls of the ECT department, unexpected violent outbursts and lengthy bouts of depression. She has a terrible memory as a result of electricity-induced seizures. She hates loud, repetitive noises and traffic. She loves speaking rapidly and interrupting often. He should know that the applicant’s first marriage ended indirectly as a result of her disorder, and must be willing to tolerate what could be indiscretions of various kinds should the applicant lapse into mania. He should also know that she is still hopelessly in love with her husband.”
Yep, I’m a real catch.
I just heard the best acronym for “FINE”. My therapist asked me this afternoon how I was doing, and I replied in a monotone voice that “I’m fine”. It’s my standard response. It covers a fairly broad spectrum of emotion for me and the person to whom I’m replying typically doesn’t sense the sarcasm that accompanies that particular response.
So, I told her “I’m fine”, and she asked if I was familiar with the acronym. Nope, I just knew my own definition of the word, which usually didn’t match up with the dictionary version.
F.I.N.E. Fucked-up Insecure Neurotic Empty
Yep, that about covers it. I love it.
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.
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!
I think I’ve mentioned that I undergo ECT to battle my bipolar disease. I may have also mentioned that it has been utterly devastating to my memory. The year 2011 is, for the most part, lost to me completely, and much of 2012 is a blur. I keep hearing from Dr. Ted Danson (see my other ECT posts…..) that I will likely eventually regain a good portion of what has been “temporarily” lost, but I still have my doubts.
I’ve come to realize that my short-term memory loss can be a real curse. I often look at photos on my computer in the hope of “refreshing” my memories, but it only makes me feel like another person took those pictures because there are so many faces and places and events that seem like they must have happened to someone else. I often find myself repeating certain things to my family, and my kids are always quick to point out, “Mooooommmmm, you already TOLD US THAT! 53 times!!!!” It’s annoying to them, and aggravating to me, because I honestly don’t remember telling them even once.
Memory loss is incredibly embarrassing, as well. “Hey, do you remember when our families went canoeing on the river?” (Nope) “Hi, nice to see you again. We met last summer”. (No, sorry, I’ve never seen you before) “Do you remember how to get to that street faire we went to a couple of months ago?” (Absolutely no clue) “How can you not remember that we share a birthday? We celebrated two years in a row together!” (oops?) “What’s the name of that family that moved in down the street last summer?” (a new family moved in?). “Where did you get that dress you wore to your cousin’s wedding?” (my cousin got married?)
Of course, there is the “up” side to memory loss. It can be convenient. If I’m really lucky, I forget things like how sick I was following my last ECT session. Or when my teenage daughter told me I promised to take her to a particular R-rated movie, I can cite my poor memory and tell her, “There is no way I would ever have agreed to that”. If I forget to show up to an appointment or forget to sign the permission slip for my child to go to the field trip or forget that there is a field trip, most people are pretty forgiving because severe memory loss has been such a huge part of my life for nearly two years. Sadly, people are getting used to it as being part of who I am. Sadly, I am getting used to it as being part of who I am.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to forget the things that bring me the most emotional pain. I’d love to forget that my dad died while I watched. I wish I could forget that my husband has left me, and why. I would like to not remember all of the terrible behavior I exhibited when I was at my sickest. I would love to forget some of the horrible things I’ve witnessed. I pray to forget much of my recent past. If I’m going to be cursed with memory loss, why can’t I at least get to decide what I remember and what I don’t?
And I could easily make memory loss more of a convenience than it occasionally is. I could lie about having forgotten this or that. I could use it as an excuse. But truthfully, I’m afraid that if I take advantage of my faulty memory, it will come back to bite me in the ass. Kind of like when my mom would say, “Don’t make that face; it might stick like that”. I could so easily lie my way out of many situations and blame it on my ECT-induced memory loss. But with my luck, it would then become the truth. And I can’t bear losing any more memories, even the bad ones.
So, chaos or curse? I’m leaning heavily toward curse. But I have my sights set on the day when I wake up to find an old memory has returned to my scrambled brain. I look forward to regaining my happy memories, one by one, regardless of how much time it takes.
In the meantime, I’m going to remain optimistic. For as long as I can remember what “optimistic” means.