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.

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Fractured Fairy Tales

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.

The End.

“Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder”

For those of you who have been following my blog regularly, you will already know that my husband and I are separated.  He simply could not live with the person who I had become when my bipolar disorder became severe and I was refusing help.  He could not forgive me my indiscretions and disrespectful behavior; if he did eventually forgive, it is the forgetting he is unable to do.

I’m wondering what it’s like for other couples dealing with bipolar.  Do we all end up separated and divorced?  Is there a love out there so strong that it binds a family, regardless of illness?  Regardless of behavior?  Are there bipolar couples who get to work together on staying in love and building trust?

I often refer back to a book that I’ve read cover to cover a couple of times.  It is a book a therapist recommended for my husband when I was first diagnosed, and it sat on his nightstand for a couple of years, well leafed-through and well-read.  It made me feel happy and loved to know that he wanted to read it, that he was interested in helping me.  I used to sneak it from his table and flip through the chapters myself, wondering what it was telling him to do, what advice it was giving him.  The name of the book is, “Loving Someone With Bipolar Disease”.

It’s a great book, but it didn’t work.  At least not for me.

The book really is a fabulous resource for family members of those suffering from bipolar disorder.  It introduces the reader to the facts regarding bipolar, how to identify triggers, what therapies are available, how the disorder can affect work and money, and most importantly it coaches the partner on how to take charge of the relationship and remain a couple.

It is my belief that my husband got as far as chapter fourteen:  “The Hard Truths about Bipolar Disorder”, and it was just too much.  The subchapters include, “The Past Hurts”, “Acceptance and Loss”, and “Letting Go”.  The following is an excerpt from “Letting Go”:

“There comes a time when there is just too much to handle, and you just have to let it go.  If you want to stay with your partner, you will have to let go of what you thought your relationship would or should look like.  Try to focus on the present.  Thinking of the past can drain all your energy.  Can you embrace your partner for who they are now?  Not for who you thought they were when you fell in love.  Not for what you think they should be, but as someone with a serious but treatable illness.  To help the new plan work, try to let go of the past and any mistakes, hospital visits, money problems, sexual misconduct, and angry fights it might include.  

But some things can’t be repaired.  Your partner may have committed unforgivable acts when sick.  Their behavior may have hurt you to the bone, yet you’re still here.  But how are you here?  Do you hold past behaviors over your partner’s head?  Or are you able to let go of what happened?  Some things can’t be repaired.  So don’t try.  Forgive, forget, and move on – if you can.  This may be easier said than done, but you can choose to give it a try”.

My husband did not choose to give it a try.  He couldn’t.  He was worn down; exhausted.  He was afraid of living his life in a state of paranoia:  “Can I trust her?  Is she well?  She looks well now, but is it just a matter of time before she slips again?  Do people truly change?”  And to be honest, even though it’s been a year and I know my (in)capabilities, I know how hard I’ve worked to be a better person and I realize my faults and have made huge strides in self-improvement, I don’t blame him for not offering me a second chance.  I sit here alone, day after day, medically well but terribly lonely, watching my beautiful children thrive without the conventions of a traditional family.  And it hurts.  And although I’ve done plenty to change myself, I can do nothing to change him.

He no longer keeps the book on his nightstand.  I don’t know if he threw it away, or used it for kindling, or if it’s hiding among the piles of books he no longer needs but can’t bring himself to throw away.  But I’m pretty sure he never got as far as Chapter 15 before he stopped reading:  “How to Create Laughter and Joy in Your Relationship”.

However, there is a fresh copy of “Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder” now lying on my nightside table.  It’s not as well-worn, yet, as my husband’s copy, but I’m trying to read a little of it each evening.  Because maybe I am the person who needs to be reading this book now.  Maybe I need to learn to love myself.  Maybe the “someone” in the title is me.

“Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding & Helping Your Partner”, written by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, PsyD

Match This (take 2……)

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.

(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.”