When it rains, it pours

If you’ve been watching the U.S. national news, you might have heard about the torrential rainstorms that are ravaging Colorado this week. My neighborhood in Boulder County has received the equivalent of one year’s worth of rainfall in three short days. Streets are now rivers, fields are now lakes. It’s as if the heavens opened up and decided to have one big cry.

Which led me to think about how often I’m now having emotional breakdowns. Just yesterday, I completely fell to pieces for really no reason at all.  I just started crying, and the waterworks went on for nearly three hours. The last time I had myself a good cry was months ago. I think it had been early summer since I completely fell apart. I feel a lot like those rainstorms: months of strong emotions with no place to go until suddenly, my brain and my heart simply release, opening the floodgates and allowing all of those tears to pour out.

And the analogy applies not only to hours of crying. It could also be used to describe not just tearful breakdowns, but my history of manic episodes, as well.  My last manic episode was February.  A huge span of time for me, by all accounts.  And before that, it had been 8 or 9 months between complete losses of control.  I can’t help but make comparisons between the weather and my emotional ups and downs.

Like a devastating rainstorm, my breakdowns now only happen on an occasional basis, thanks to a combination of ECT, DBT and medication.  As our weatherman predicted the unavoidable storm, tensions rose among the people living in the areas involved.  Anxiety was high, and people were nervous.  I feel the same when I start to sense an impending manic episode or complete meltdown.  I know it’s coming, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  I feel anxious and I do whatever I can to prevent the inevitable.  But in my case, sandbags bear no assistance.  I might increase my meds, or try to get extra sleep, but there is no way to stop the storm that is brewing in my head.  I become more sensitive to my triggers, and even the slightest annoyance grows into something much greater.

No matter how many warning signals I encounter leading up to the storm, there is never enough time to prepare.  And even if I had the time, what could I possibly do to prevent or dull the onset of the disaster?  Like Mother Nature and her forces, my emotions are completely out of my control.  I can only brace myself for what will likely prove to be disastrous to myself and those around me.

In the event of a manic episode, my family is typically forewarned.  They have witnessed enough of them to recognize the signs and they do what they can to relieve my anxiety and avert disaster, but in the end the best thing they can do is to save themselves and move to higher ground.  They brace themselves for the worst, and hope that their predictions are unwarranted.  But unlike the unpredictable science of determining the weather, I typically never fail to “disappoint”.  When all the signs are there, we are usually doomed.  In the event of a devastating storm in the forecast, we can always hope that the meteorologists are wrong in their predictions of how, when, and to what extent.  Sometimes the storms turn out to be not so violent, and sometimes they don’t occur at all.  They just disperse in the atmosphere and never materialize on the ground.  But with me, there are no mis-predictions.  The episode is on the horizon, but the how, when, and to what extent of it can vary.  I never know how violent my personal storm will be.  I only know that once it starts, it’s unstoppable.

In the wake of a massive storm system like the one that swept through Boulder County this week, there is so much damage, so much confusion and pain.  Some of the damage will take years to repair and recover from, and it is not unlike the hurt I have caused in the midst of a manic episode.  Some of the damage will never be repaired – I can only hope that in time, the people I have hurt will forgive me, or in the least, forget the full extent of the pain.  Repairs can be attempted, but sometimes the damage is permanent.  But I don’t have the assistance of the National Guard to save my friends and family from the worst parts of my storms.  The most I can hope for is that instead of a manic episode, I simply break down and cry for hours.  That’s much easier on everyone, including myself.

But regardless the extent of my own storms, there is always one certainty.  Storms can be very cleansing.  Following my breakdowns, there is always calm.  The calm might last for weeks, or it might last for months.  But I savor it while is lasts.  And I try to use that time to prepare myself for what comes next, and to try to recover from the damage that was done in the midst of the disaster.

The aerial video footage of the flood damage here in Colorado showed entire families being led to safety in big rubber rafts.  My raft is my family.  Regardless of how much I have hurt them, or how much damage I cause, they always seem to be willing to lead me to safety.  They could have given up on me and left me to float out there alone, but they continue to be there for me and lead me toward the healing process that must follow any emotional breakdown.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

I hope that, in the future, meteorologists can more accurately forecast damaging storms so that the public has more time to prepare for what can be devastating and painful.  I hope the same for myself.

Like father, like daughter

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mental illness and genetics, and how disorders like bipolar can “run in the family”. I have posted before about how I knew something was mentally wrong with my paternal grandmother, but not having a name for it until the illness was afflicting me, as well. And I have also mentioned in previous posts that it is believed my daughter may also be suffering from bipolar disorder. But one person I really haven’t discussed, until now, is my dad.

Growing up, my brothers and I knew that my father had a bad temper. He was notorious for occasional violent verbal outbursts in the privacy of our home, but he could also be gentle and compassionate. He was well-liked by my friends and their parents, and was an influential member of our little community. People respected my father, if not feared him a bit. Standing 6’4″ tall and with a deep booming voice, he was intimidating upon first impression. And although for the most part he was able to control his temper in public, I think most people knew not to cross him.

I remember that my Dad would often “sweat the small stuff”. He had major issues with minor occurrences that at the time I didn’t recognize as “triggers”. For example, my father traveled extensively throughout my teen years. He was often overseas with his job, and when he went away, it was for several weeks at a time. The periods leading up to those travels were always times of high anxiety in our household. Getting ready to be away from his family for a month or two was very stressful for both he and my mother, but especially for my dad. He was often very short-tempered and anxious, and was very critical of my mom as she prepared for his departure. I remember that she always seemed a bit relieved when he left.

My parent’s relationship was one of mutual respect and love, but my father was very tough on my mom. He had high expectations for his children, and in his absence he had to trust my mom to hold down the fort. He was of above-average intelligence and although my mom was “situationally-smart”, she was not on the same educational level as my father. I think he worried that she could not handle us in his absence, and he didn’t like not having a firm hold on the reigns of fatherhood. In the decades prior to conveniences such as cell phones and email, it was nearly impossible to communicate with a family in the States from such places as China and Thailand, and the other countries in which my father worked for extended periods of time. Phone calls were very expensive, and mail from him often arrived after he’d already come back home. When he did return, there was a great deal of anxiety involved in the re-settling process, getting used to being a family again after such long absences. Although my parents argued infrequently, there was definite tension between them following the return from a long trip.

When my father was at home, he was often under a tremendous amount of self-induced stress. He was a perfectionist, very clean and neat, and always working on a project. He built the home we occupied, and there was always something new he wanted to add. He could never just sit still and read the newspaper or watch TV. He was always moving, always fidgeting. As I look back now on his behavior, I believe that, like myself and my young daughter, my dad also suffered from ADHD. He could focus only on those things that entirely held his interest. Activities not to his liking simply could not be tolerated. He could not sit still in church or at school meetings, much like a small boy with “ants in his pants”. But he could spend endless hours in his workshop or in the garage, tinkering with his tools or repairing his father’s antique tractor. But as soon as one project was complete, always with perfect and flawless results, he was immediately on to the next distraction.
One of the only times he actually sat down and sat still was to complete the New York Times crossword, which he worked in ink and all capital letters (to understand the importance of this ritual, please read my earlier post, “The Crossword” at https://crazyaboutbipolar.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-crossword/

Then there were the times when he lost his temper. And it happened quickly. There was no “warm-up” period of silent fuming and then gradual release of his anger. Instead, I believe (again, like me), that my dad was a rapid-cycler. He could move in and out of a fury several times in a week, and then it might be months before his anger released again. One day, my father came home and my mom immediately set in on him with her frustrations about how she couldn’t convince my brothers and me to keep our rooms clean. She felt like she had no authority over her three teenagers, and asked my father to please intervene. My dad replied, “I’ve just walked in the door and you’re already nagging me about the kids. I can’t even sit down for five God-damned minutes before you start in on me”. She continued to complain that our rooms looked like a pig sty, and we wouldn’t put away our laundry or make our beds. I was sitting on the bed in my room, reading, when I heard him throw down his briefcase and slam behind him the French doors that separated the kitchen from the hallway leading to our bedrooms. He transitioned from fine to furious in a matter of moments, and by the time I realized that he had launched into one of his “moods”, it was too late. He pushed through the door of my room, and threw open the closet doors. He started grabbing hangers of clothing from the rod and throwing them on the floor, saying nothing. But the look that had come over him scared me, and I remember being speechless, as well. He then pulled me from my bed and for a moment I thought he might hit me, even though he’d never laid a hand on me before. Instead, he ripped the sheets and blankets from my bed, adding to the pile that had accumulated on the floor of my bedroom. He then proceeded to do the same in my brothers’ rooms, as we gathered in the hall together, too stunned to respond. And then he turned and yelled, “I want everything off these floors before dinner”. And that was it. He stormed down the hallway to his own room and slammed the door behind him. An hour later, when my mother called us to dinner, our bedrooms were clean and my father assumed his place at the head of the table and asked us about our days, as if nothing had happened. This kind of random, manic outburst was not uncommon. He never physically harmed us, and the moment would pass without comment or reflection. Those episodes were never to be mentioned again. It was as if he needed get something out of his system before resuming his more typical calm and quiet behavior. “Jekyll and Hyde”, we called him behind his back.

I recall the night my dad learned his own father had passed away. He received a phone call after returning home from my brother’s high school band concert. He listened quietly to the speaker on the other end, telling him his father had suffered cardiac arrest a few hours earlier and died. He wrote down the details on a yellow legal pad. And then he hurled the phone across the room. This was the ’80s, and the phone was a wall model, a “harvest gold”-colored receiver at the end of a spiral cord that stretched 20 feet. My dad screamed as he threw it, and the phone flew the full distance of the cord before retracting and flying back across the kitchen. But not before hitting the picture window in our living room and shattering it. My mother never told anyone how it really happened; the man who came to replace the glass believes to this day that her ficus tree tipped over into it.

Another time, I asked for help with my math homework. My dad was an electrical engineer, and his brain worked numbers in a way I simply could not understand. I was not mathmatically inclined, nor did I inherit my dad’s aptitude for equations and I struggled to understand the subject. My father was excited to help me, because I so seldom asked for his assistance. He pulled out a bag of M&Ms to help me with the fractions, separating the colored candies on the kitchen table to help demonstrate the lesson. But when he wasn’t looking, I kept sneaking the candies and eating them. When he finally noticed what I was doing, he simply fell apart. He went from calm and helpful to completely without control in a matter of moments. He yelled at me, “I’m trying to HELP you and all you can do is disrespect me! I can’t believe you can’t get this – we’ve been working on this for an hour and you still don’t understand! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?????” And with his large hand, he swept the book, papers and remaining candies onto the floor with one motion. But strangely enough, even though I should have felt humiliated, I felt nothing. No disappointment, no resentment for being yelled at, no nothing. We were all used to these random outbursts and we all knew not to let them bother us because we knew that within an hour or so, he’d be back to his “normal” self and the episode would never be discussed again.

Once, following a day of skiing, my father was unloading the equipment from the back of our Ford Bronco. We had thrown the skis and poles unmethodically into the rear of the vehicle, and when he tried to remove one of the ski poles from the pile of equipment, the wrist strap became tangled around one of the skis. Although he was in a great mood all the way down the mountain following a fun day with his kids, the scene in the trunk of the vehicle unnerved him. He fell apart quickly, tugging and pulling on the guilty ski pole until finally, with one great yank, the pole finally released from the rest of the messy pile. With it came some of the other equipment, and several skis and poles tumbled onto the floor of the garage. He kicked the pieces that were on the floor, then hit the offending ski pole against the door of the garage with such force that he bent it in half. He threw the now broken pole into the heap with the other skis and stormed into the house. My brothers and I quietly unloaded the rest of the trunk and put away our equipment. And, as usual, by the time we got inside the house, he had calmed down and said nothing of the incident. The broken pole was hung on a peg in the garage, where it remained as a reminder of his temper for the next twenty years. My dad never threw it away, and we didn’t dare.

Some of his mania bubbled to the surface not always in the form of anger, but as euphoria or high-energy playfulness. One night, he and my mom were preparing to attend a holiday party and my brothers and I were promised the special and rare treat of a visit to McDonald’s drive-thru. As we approached the window, my father asked for our orders so he could relay the information to the young woman taking the orders through the microphone. I remember that my dad was in a particularly good mood that evening, almost hyperactive. He repeated our orders back to us before delivering them to the McDonald’s employee, and he started to laugh and told us, “That reminds me of a song!”. When it was his turn to order, he sang our requests into the microphone to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”: “Three chocolate shakes, two Big Macs, one Filet of Fish, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree……”. The order taker started to giggle and said she’d see what she could do. When we got to the window, our meals were delivered to our car but alas, there was no “partridge”. My father turned on his charm, winking to the teenager working the window and asked, “What about my partridge?” The young woman shuffled around for a few moments and when she reappeared at the window, she had fashioned a “partridge” out of a cardboard drink carrier, complete with eyes and a beak scribbled on with a pen. My father was delighted. He sang loudly all the way home, then recounted the story to my mother with a great deal of animation. My mom was worried that everyone at McDonald’s would think my father was drunk, which he was not. He was simply “up”.

That is not to say, however, that my father did not drink. But he was never, that I can recall, drunk. As a large man, he could handle his alcohol, and as a large man living in the ’70s and ’80s, alcohol was part of his daily life. As I think about it now, I believe it’s safe to assume that he was self-medicating with alcohol and his other vice, cigars. But despite his size, he limited himself to one drink per day. Not unusual by any standards during that time. He drank a martini every weeknight with dinner, but substituted it on the weekends with one cold beer. He would drink more at public functions, but at home it was always only one cocktail. In fact, he even taught me how to make his drink so that it would be waiting for him when he got home from work: always the same glass, filled with ice. Pour the gin until it covered the cubes, then top it off with vermouth. Two green olives on a toothpick and the cocktail was complete. I mixed my first gin martini when I was eight years old. My mother would not allow him to smoke his cigars in the house, so he took them outside after dinner. Even on freezing Vermont evenings, my father could be found outside on the patio, quietly staring at the sky and smoking his cigar. He continued this ritual well into his 50s, when his doctor finally told him those cigars would kill him. He traded his cocktails for an occasional Budweiser, and gave up the cigars completely.

My father died 6 years ago. He was visiting my home in Colorado with my mother. He spent the day playing with my three children, his only grandchildren and the loves of his life. He watched a hockey game, ate pizza and drank his one cold beer. He went to bed and never regained consciousness. I wish I could say he died quietly. He started to breathe with difficulty in his sleep, and my mother called to me to try to wake him. Even though he never again opened his eyes, it took him several long and violent minutes to die of a heart attack on the floor of my children’s playroom, where the paramedics laid him to perform CPR. My 8-year old daughter had woken when the ambulance arrived, and stood screaming and crying at the sight of her strong, robust grandpa lying lifeless on the floor of her home. She never knew his anger, she never experienced his outbursts. He had learned to quiet his temper around my children and left this world a peaceful man. Did he simply outgrow his rage? Did his mind grow quiet as he grew older? Because we never gave his “condition” a name, there is no way to know.

Had I known then that there was a name for his mood swings, it might have helped me prepare for an illness that was possibly part of my future. I inherited his strong profile and long limbs. My youngest daughter inherited his clear blue eyes and his fine hair. But we both inherited his tendency toward angry outbursts and the inability to calm our strong emotions. Will we “outgrow” our tempers as he seemed to do? Or will we balance them with medication and therapy, two things he never made available to himself? When I was young and I exhibited the same stubborn streak as my dad, my mom used to shake her head and say, “Like father, like daughter”. If only I knew then what I know now.

Like father, like daughter. A grand understatement.

The Train Wreck

Trouble was brewing. I could sense it days ahead of time. My 10-year old daughter was headed for a major meltdown and although I could see it coming, there was no stopping it. And it was like knowing ahead of time there was going to be a terrible train wreck but also knowing I was helpless to prevent it. I knew people would get hurt, and I knew it would be a horrific mess, but the train wreck was destined to occur regardless of how hard I tried to prevent it.

My little girl has been “diagnosed” with a variety of mental shortcomings, among them ADHD and “oppositional defiance disorder”. It has also been suggested that she may have or eventually develop bipolar disorder. As a sufferer of the disease myself, I pray she’s not bipolar. It’s extremely difficult to diagnose in a child, and she does not exhibit signs of deep depression. But her “train wrecks” bear striking similarities to manic episodes and have definite cause for concern.

My daughter gets very anxious when there is a big event on the horizon, like a ceremony or school deadline or, in this case, a vacation. She is traveling tomorrow by plane, without me but in the company of her older siblings, to visit her grandma in California for a week. Although she is happy and excited to go, and although she is a very well-traveled young lady, the anxiety involved in preparing for the trip has left her nervous and short-tempered. I can sympathize with her, because getting ready to go away always caused many of the same feelings for me in the past.

The past couple of days I felt like I was tip-toeing around her, sensing her anxiety and trying to avoid confrontation of any kind. In these situations, when she is snappy and quick-tempered, it’s usually best to leave her alone. But today I needed her assistance in preparing for her big adventure and I asked her to put down her iPod in five minutes and help me get packed.

“No”, she replied.

Wrong answer.

I have tolerance for a great deal of her behavior. Those of you who are familiar with ADHD and ODD will understand that tolerance is a necessity when dealing with these children, but often they cross the line of respect and obedience. I had told her she could play for five more minutes because I’ve learned that spontaneity is not a strong suit with her – she needs advanced warning before we can switch gears. But this time she simply refused to comply, so I threatened to take the iPod and keep the device until she returned from her vacation if she did not go along with my request.

She again refused.

So I took the toy.

One thing I have always found astounding is how quickly my child can crumple. To say that she can collapse into a screaming, writhing heap on the floor in less than five seconds is no overstatement. Now, I know what you’re thinking: what a spoiled rotten brat. And believe me, I have thought the same thing on many occasions. But those of you who have experience with kids who are bipolar or who have ODD will recognize that in the middle of a tantrum or manic episode, their emotions are totally out of their control. There are no brakes on that train.

My daughter’s tantrum evolved quickly from sobbing to hysterical screaming, with my older children running through the house shutting the windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear the hysterics and call Social Services. When she falls to pieces, we’ve learned that she doesn’t want comfort. She doesn’t want distractions. She doesn’t want to listen to reason. She simply wants the bloody iPod and she wants to get her way. But as a parent, no matter how hard I want to hold her and try to calm her, and no matter how much I want to scream back at her, or to give in and return the stupid toy just to shut her up, the only thing I can do is disengage. I walk away, leaving her in a screaming heap on the floor of the kitchen and I go to my “quiet place” and pray she exhausts herself. Typically, she cries herself out, then switches gears and lies on her bed, sobbing softly, “Why do I do this? Why can’t I stop myself? Why am I like this?” This is often followed by profuse apologies to anyone who witnessed the tantrum, and over-the-top exemplary behavior, trying to make up for her irrational antics for the rest of the day. Her remorse is heartfelt and genuine.

But this train wreck was a real doozy. She simply could not pull it together. First of all, she hates to be ignored and when we all walk away, it infuriates her. That is typically what leads to a manic-like episode during which she doesn’t even know why she’s upset any longer. She’s just beside herself with screaming and hysteria and cannot recover.

And then comes the hurt. My sweet, beautiful and kind daughter evolved into this hurtful, hateful monster. Paranoid and delusional, she screamed “I hate you!” over and over. It was like a dagger through my heart, which she then twisted around inside me when she yelled, “You are a horrible mother!” through the closed doors of my bedroom. She then went off on a tangent and accused us all of lying to her and stealing her things, and then she put the icing on the cake when she screamed, “YOU are the reason I’m like this”. A hateful blow from a 10-year old girl who knows exactly what button to push on her bipolar mother to drive her to tears of her own.

And then, just like the snap of fingers, her train came to an immediate stop. After crashing through all of her anxieties and steamrolling across my heart, her episode was over. She lay outside my door panting from exhaustion and wiping her tears, and then came the whispered apologies. 27 minutes of screaming had finally come to an end. She asked to come in, and stood hesitantly at the foot of my bed, watching me dry tears of my own. She said she understood when I told her she would not be getting back the iPod for a while, following such horrific behavior. And I struggled, as I always do, with whether this IS my fault. Did she inherit my bipolar? Are her meltdowns a result of the biological or behavioral forces at work? Is my little girl a manic mess with genetics working against her, or is she just a brat? Maybe a little of both? Nobody seems to know for certain. And my biggest fear is that she’s going to grow up to be just like her mom.

But there is a difference between our separate train rides. My life was a series of wrecks that eventually caused my husband to leave me. He couldn’t deal with my behavior any longer, so he got off the ride. He just could not love me anymore. And although he makes allowances for our daughter’s behavior that he never made for mine, allowances for which I am envious because he loves her unconditionally and could not do the same for me, I recognize myself in her behavior. And I cry because she says such hurtful and mean things when she is out if control, and I realize that I have said those same hateful things to my husband. Things that can never be taken back because my train doesn’t do reverse.

But I can’t divorce my daughter, no matter how bad things get. And I’m angry with her father because he gave up on me. He didn’t want to stick around to see if my train slowed down. I love my daughter so very much, and her behavior hurts me and it hurts her but it doesn’t in any way lessen my love for her, and I’m angry with her father because I wonder why he couldn’t love me in the same way. Why did he give up on me when I know he has the strength to not give up on her? We are both committed to helping her get better, but I wish every day that he could see my potential for mental well-being as he sees hers.

So, to my little girl, I can only say that I will never give up on you. Not ever. Even if I have to throw myself in front of your train to prove it.

(un)Happy Anniversary

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.”

Sorry, Bing

Bing Crosby sang this song that I loved when I was growing up.  These are the first few lines:

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings”

Sorry, Bing.  I have absolutely no interest in counting blessings or sheep.  I’m completely exhausted and sleep deprived and I am not going to fall asleep counting either.  And when I’m low on sleep, I also feel rather low on blessings.

So instead, I think I will count Ativan.

Match this

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.

Whoa, Trigger!

Following is a list of what most commonly can trigger a manic episode for me. I think you may find they are similar to the triggers of other bipolar sufferers:

Loud and/or repetitive noises

Gaining weight

Insomnia

Being late

Being made to wait

Ignorance

My mother (sorry, Mom)

My birthday

Stress

Anniversaries of family deaths

Not being in control of a situation
(you may have noticed that most of my triggers are situations I can’t control – bad combo….)

Sometimes the best way to avoid my triggers is to simply stay in bed. Forever.