My mom came down yesterday. She is spending the day with my three-year-old daughter. My five-year-old son is at preschool. My husband is at work.
That leaves me.
I am at the public library “working.” I say working in quotation marks because I am a stay-at-home-mom and do not work a paying job. Yet with all that I am discovering about mental illnesses and my bipolar disorder, I consider what I am doing as work.
I had a therapy appointment yesterday, and I talked a lot about writing my own stories and battles with mental illness. These thoughts continue to harp on me. Same thoughts, new day. But I am starting to look outside myself a little. I asked her some factual, medical questions about bipolar. I asked her about the different titles of the doctors and counselors that work at the mental health facility where I am currently treated at. We talked about university professors and researchers who work in psychology and other neurological sciences that focus on mental illness.
I hate to start another paragraph with “I”, but I am flushing out the thoughts that I need to flush out to move forward with my life. I am struggling with finding a healthy level of drudging up the past, researching mental illnesses, and staying present in life with my family. I know I have been a distracted mother and wife lately. My mom told me before she came down, “Do what you need to do for a few days, but don’t let it consume you.” I agree.
Since November I have made so much recovery and acceptance progress that I have to keep riding the waves a little longer. I willingly accepted her offer to come down and give me space while I “work.” In the past I would have refused her and kept sailing along in my life with an “I’ve got this” mentality. Not cool anymore. I refuse to live the rest of my life thinking I have it all figured out.
But I want to figure it out, and I want to practice self-care and part of doing that is continuing to give attention to my past mental health history.
I called my former psychiatrist who treated me before we moved. I asked for the initial diagnosis when he started treating me in June 2011. I received some basic information from the receptionist, but was told he doesn’t release medical information to patients. I found this disheartening and couldn’t imagine why they would deny me records, although I had a hunch it might be that people stir up trouble about their treatment if they feel they received improper treatment.
My therapist confirmed this hunch at my appointment yesterday, and she also told me that sometimes psychiatrists won’t release the information because they are afraid it would trigger a mentally ill person if they saw it. I can understand that. She also told me I could push it the issue and see what happens. I decided I won’t for now. I have no ill-will about the treatment I received from him. In the future, I may want to pursue it. In the meantime, I did find the discharge paperwork he kindly gave me after my second hospitalization. Of course, initially I did not like what I saw, but now that I have some distance from it I can look at it with clear eyes. His diagnosis, notes, and the medications he treated me with no longer make me mad. Rather, they are a wake-up.
After I called him, I contacted the rehab facility that I was involuntarily committed to during my first hospitalization. Whole new story. The woman I spoke to readily emailed me a release form and said they would send me my records. Yesterday I faxed the form back and she told me she would send the records out today. Now this makes me a little more nervous because I know they will ugly. I told my therapist and she gave me so much insight. She said not to look at them alone and to bring them in so we can look at them together. She also told me there might be mistakes in them and about how hastily doctors have to make diagnoses and often write rushed notes. This was unsettling. She even told me that in some cases, notes were/are sent overseas for transcription. I am a little confused about that, but I will look into in the future depending on if I think it will lead me anywhere.
Do you see all the “work” I am doing?
And for what, I wonder? To confirm what I already know? I have a bipolar disorder.
What complicates it for me is that I have run around in circles for years trying to figure it all out. The first sign that I can remember of mental illness was in 1997 when I became bulimic. I binged and purged, and as disgusting as this sounds, it made me feel good and that is why I did. I felt anxious and crazed and couldn’t stop eating, and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I went to the bathroom and threw it all up. Afterward I felt calm. I felt good in those moments. But the whole thing was laced in secrecy. I did not tell a single person, except my best friend Vicki. I put her in such an awful position, but we have remained friends all these years, and since I have started looking into my mental health history she has been an invaluable resource. She had outside eyes looking in. She told me that eventually she confided in her mother and that a few other mothers in our group knew. I wondered, Why didn’t they tell my mother? Why couldn’t my mother see it, when it was so obvious to those around me?
I have many thoughts why and I don’t fault my mother. Basically it comes down to, How would my mother have received the information? Maybe she couldn’t see it because she didn’t want to see it. Or maybe she could only look at me through rose-colored glasses because she loved me.
Since that first symptom in 1997, I am sitting here at the library 19 years later. 19 years later. And I am so torn. That’s a lot of going backward if I really want to pursue looking through my old notes and medical records. To pursue everything I have written through countless events since the bulimia started is quite the undertaking. The bulimia only lasted for a year. Then I went away to college. But my mind was always a little off, and I had to live with the secret about my bulimia.
Later, when my parents divorced I was put under a ton of mental stress for several years. I couldn’t handle the stress or drastic mood swings anytime, and I broke down in the fall of 2006. I lay on an exam table in a doctor’s office in the town I lived in wriggling in emotional and mental pain. Stubborn as anything, I left with a prescription for anxiety/depression, but I didn’t fill it.
I continued to battle severe ups and downs, insomnia, secrecy, and isolation. I lived alone and refused to talk. The sad thing is that I could still function enough to go to work everyday. And I had a good job. I taught a writing course at a major university and externally, I thrived. Internally, my mind hung on by a thread.
Eventually I crashed again and wound up on the same exam table with the same kind nurse practitioner. After she talked to me and I managed to regain some grip of reality, I left with the same prescription and the phone number of a counselor that I agreed to call. She told me I had to take the medicine first and that she would only prescribe it if I saw the counselor. Looking back, I have so much fondness for this woman because she got me back on my feet.
As I slowly started to stabilize, my life was looking up. Then one terrible day in April 2007 I was teaching in a building on-campus, doing what I always do when I gunman shot and killed 32 people before pulling the trigger on himself. I got caught in the melee of ambulances, people literally running for their lives because no one knew the extent of the awfulness at that point. I ran into a co-worker outside the building. We did not know each other well, but we instinctively grasped onto each other and ran. Tears are coming to my eyes right now as I think back to that tragic day and that I am still alive. In the days and years after I am still bothered and tortured by that day. I have learned to look up and I still love my school, but that was an unimaginable tragedy.
Not long after the shooting my cousin moved to town with her family. It was a crazy coincidence in some ways, but it was a gift from God in my eyes. She helped me get back on my feet more than she’ll ever know. I had a place to eat dinner several nights a week. I had her kids to play with. I had her to talk to. I felt loved.
Soon she helped me find a roommate. I felt less alone.
I started running and got to a decent place in my life. I fell in love with my now-husband. I ran several half-marathons. We got married. We got pregnant. In January 2011 I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. What a blessing.
By April of the same year, I started swinging between mania and depression. It got serious, but I remember stubbornly pushing through with the “I got this” mentality that has immerged as my biggest character flaw. I didn’t “got this.”
On the four-year anniversary of the school shooting I spiraled out of control and had my first psychotic episode that led to an involuntary hospitalization and a bipolar diagnosis, though doctors still put several mental illnesses on the table as they tried to figure out what my biggest problem was. I begrudgingly took new medication and had to wean off nursing cold turkey because I was separated from my baby and they wouldn’t give me a breast pump. I remembering taking a hot shower in the sterile treatment facility in confusion as the breast milk trickled out of my nipples with no baby to ease my pain.
I am not sure where to go from here because I have unloaded a lot. The old me would say, Ok put it aside now, don’t share this information with anyone and keep floating along in life. I have a good life. I take medication and I am stable. Yet I cannot keep carrying all of my history around inside me. It’s like in order to rid myself of it, I have to put it out there publicly. And even if only one person reads this, at least it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. I need to push “Publish” and break my old habit.
I am ready to heal. To get better, although I’ll never officially be better because I have to live with this illness for the rest of my life. But I am hopeful I can manage. I am hopeful I can come out stronger. I am hopeful I will continue to benefit from my doctor visits and my therapy appointments and all the blogs out there in the bipolar community. There are so many resources, but I have been blind to them all because I have floundered in my own head in secret. The pieces of the puzzle are all there. The diagnosis is spot on.
But where do I go from here? I have no idea, but I have to keep following my gut and putting it out there. I have to expose myself because, it’s funny, the more us human beings make ourselves vulnerable the richer our relationships come.
I can attest. All this sharing is making me connect with other people in my life in a way I have never been able to. All this sharing is making me realize there are so many other people out there fighting similar battles.
And even though I want to polish this essay and make it all perfect and grammatical sound and revise it for weeks on end so I can submit it to a relevent publication where it could potentially receive more reach than it will on this blog, I cannot waste any more time carrying it around with me.
It has to go. It has to go. It has to go.
I am simply not willing to keep all this locked up in my head and heart anymore. It has to go before I can go any further. One day at a time. One day at a time. And I’ll never know what’ll happen unless I release my thoughts. There is so much more meat to this outline – remember this is a 19 year saga – and I guess I will just have to wait and see what the future holds.
Will I write more? Will I research topics related to mental illness that I can speak of based on my own experiences? Or do I need to put my own experiences aside, let go of the research idea, and simply go on living in my nice quiet life with my husband, children, extended family, and friends?
I have no idea.
Sometimes I am still running in circles, and repeating myself and I am sure I’ll even repeat saying I am repeating myself, but I have to keep faith this is all part of the process. Today I was able to write with the least amount of emotion that I have ever been able to in the past. That’s progress. Being able to see what’s been happening to me with clarity instead of confusion, right?
And even though at times I’d rather be writing about my kids and documenting the silly things we do together and how nothing feels better than looking in on them as they sleep so sweetly before I go to bed, I know that I have to address my mental health. I want to continue to be a rock for them. A loving rock. A stable rock. And if I don’t take care of myself then I am doing them a terrible disservice.
Onward, I tell myself. Once I push publish, I hope I can separate myself from this madness even more. Today I want to be present during afternoon play-time, during bath, during dinner. I know I can be, too. I’ve done it a million times before. It’s just now I find myself juggling a little more than usual.
God bless this beautiful, crazy life.
In the coming days I want to share resources and information and blogs that I have found helpful. Perhaps adding more to my list will become my life’s work, or at least give me clarity on where to go from here.