Chute Me Now

My 10-year old daughter sees a therapist to help deal with her bipolar disorder.  Although she adores her therapist, her favorite part of each session is the time spent in the waiting room prior to each appointment.  She begs to go early so she can check out the “old fashioned” board games on the shelf in the lobby, hoping to coerce me into losing to her at a game of “Battleship”, “Connect Four”, “Clue” or maybe Jenga.  She is intrigued by the lack of batteries or electricity required to play these games, and treats them like relics at a museum.  Her favorite game to play with me while we wait for her appointment to begin is “Chutes and Ladders”.

Have you ever played this game?  Each player has a “guy” who makes his or her way up the game board space by space, the object being the first to reach space #100.  There is no pair of dice, but instead you choose how far your player moves by spinning a “spinny wheel”, as my daughter calls it.  On the road to space #100, there are a variety of ladders and chutes (which resemble the tubed slides on a playground).  If your player lands on a ladder, he climbs up to a higher level; it’s like cheating, in my mind.  You get a shortcut from space #7 to space #29.  Totally unfair, of course, because in all the time I’ve been playing this stupid game with my daughter, I have never once, not ever climbed a ladder.

I am the queen of the chutes.

Should you spin the “spinny wheel” and move your player forward and land on a chute, you are immediately sent down the chute and you lose several, if not dozens, of spaces.  Just as you make progress, you hit a chute and lose all of the momentum you had gained.

Even more aggravating than the chutes are the pictures of the children drawn on the game board.  At the bottom of each ladder is a happy child.  At the top of the ladder is an ecstatic child.  At the top of the chute is a tentative-looking child, but the child at the bottom of the chute looks devastated and depressed.  Clearly that cartoon child recognizes that being sent down the chute stinks.

Today, we were at the therapist’s office and my daughter, of course, was winning at “Chutes and Ladders”.   She “climbed” so many ladders, I’d lost count.   But she noticed that I hit the top of the exact same chute three times in a row.  And after the third slide down the chute of shame, she asked me, “Mommy, doesn’t it bother you that you have slid down that same chute three times?  Aren’t you upset?”  Oh, how I wanted to answer her truthfully.  That my entire life seems to have been a series of “chutes” that I have barely climbed to the top of before I plummet down again, only to have to start over.  Again and again and again.  I wanted to tell her that my life has been a game of “Chutes”, but with very few ladders.  I can never seem to get ahead.  I had the ladder of a beautiful marriage which rescued me from a deep depression and shot me to the top of my game where I remained happy and continuously climbing with the addition of my three beautiful children on their subsequent ladders.

But then I started hitting the squares with the chutes.  My dad’s death, my diagnoses of bipolar, my husband leaving me – those were the long chutes, but there were many shorter chutes in between.  Just when the “spinny wheel” got me a few spaces ahead, I would land on another chute.  Just as I thought I was crawling out of my hole, I was sliding – no, plummeting – back down another chute, landing at the bottom next to the cartoon drawing of a miserable-looking child.

But I can’t say that to a 10-year old.  Instead, I tell my beautiful daughter, “No, honey, it doesn’t bother me at all that I keep hitting the same chute over and over.  Because as long as you keep climbing the ladders, that’s all I need to be happy”.

And that’s the God’s honest truth.


“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

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

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

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

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

Just not for me.

Who gets what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it broke my heart.

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

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

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

The Cemetery

Last week while on vacation with my children, I had the good fortune to catch up with a friend from high school who lives in the Florida town where we were staying. She took me on a quick tour of her neighborhood, during which time we drove past a cemetery. She pointed out a solitary figure sitting in a lawn chair under an umbrella, and paused her car so I could get a closer look.

“Do you see that elderly man? He rides his rickety bicycle to this cemetery each afternoon, regardless of the weather. He sits there for hours every single day”, she explained.

Apparently, the man is a neighbor of hers, in his early 80’s. He became a widower five years ago when his wife suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. They had no children, and they were inseparable. My girlfriend told me that since his wife’s death, he has cycled the six blocks to the cemetery with his chair and umbrella strapped to the back, every day, in order to “keep her company”. He sits alone with his wife, not speaking. He sits quietly and still, rarely moving. And then, after 2-3 hours, he rides home, only to repeat the routine the following day.

“Can you imagine loving someone so much that even in death, you cannot bear to be parted? Can you imagine sitting by a grave every day for five years?” She shook her head sadly and drove off.

Yeah, actually I can. I loved my husband that much. But in two weeks, I will have been separated from him for one year. One incredibly lonely and painful year. Neither he nor I had to die for us to be forced apart. I merely had to be bipolar. I chased my loving husband away with my abusive behavior that was associated with my untreated bipolar disorder. He tried to help me. He did everything short of having me committed. But I wasn’t ready to be well, and he finally gave up. He simply couldn’t take it anymore. And now he is looking for happiness without me, trying to find his “own path”. And I don’t blame him.

I wrote in an earlier post (“Match This”) how I will not be seeking love in my future. I gave up my opportunity to have the kind of eternal love that the cemetery couple must have experienced. No man will be sitting by my grave when I pass. I ruined that for myself long ago, and it took the loss of my marriage to recognize it.

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the relationship between the cemetery man and his deceased wife. But there he sits, and I can only assume he is there out of love. I could have had that, but I refused treatment and now I spend hours daily not with the love of my life, but lonely and alone. The cemetery man might be lonely, but he is not alone.

I may no longer have someone who loves me enough to sit by my grave for hours each day following my death, but I have finally embarked on the path to wellness. A combination of ECT, medication, DBT, the loving support of my children, and even a little prayer may eventually help me to love myself. And maybe that will be enough.

That will have to be enough.