Sometimes my mind is only filled with clutter and debris. It seems to grow bigger and bigger until it’s all I see. Until I can’t breathe. Until I become short and irritable with others. Until I must retreat to a dark and quiet space. There are certain times I can rationalize this behavior. But, other times, it seemingly comes out of nowhere. Just yesterday I had a lovely morning roaming around my hometown at a classic car show. Following that I went to the grocery store to pick up some favorite foods for breakfast. Skipping along in the store with no worries. Issues at the register happened, but I wasn’t phased. However, once I arrived home the environmental cacophony of my house shook me. It was as if the hum of the ceiling fan, base of the stereo, meow of my cats, buzz of the dishwasher, and visual of ever building dishes in the sink literally came alive. They were choking me and robbing me of air, of communication skills. I was surrounded and could not move. I felt like a prisoner in my kitchen. I snapped at my husband. He in turn snapped. I ran to the farthest room in our house, which doesn’t really exist in a 1100 square foot space. It felt like if I didn’t find darkness and quiet I was going to explode.
I simply don’t understand why this happened in my home. Perhaps it’s just creeping into personal space. Similar scenario at work this week. Voices were booming from the hallway and then crawling up the walls of my office. I could hear the printer, the copier, fast footsteps, phone conversations at rock concert level in headphones. Mind you all these noises occur every single day all day a majority of the time and I barely register it. Maybe this overwhelm happens to every last one of us, I don’t know. Lately it’s bringing me tears and ultimately to my knees. However, the one bright spot is that it lasts only 10-15 minutes.
The clutter and debris play out in real time. I was at a concert last night of my favorite artist. We positioned ourselves to allow extra space along a railing, a buffer of sorts. On the second tier I can take in the view of the crowd and the stage while allowing the music to penetrate me. Eyes closed letting the words and beat reach into, eyes open taking in the artists every move. All the while dancing. Letting go.
Sharp mementos when I realize how many people are there, how hot it is, how loud it is. My eyes dart and pick out people, suddenly feel the railing against my body. In front of me is a drunk woman stumbling. I am transported back in time when I was that woman. I see people staring, sneering at her. That was me. I crawl into the guilt trap. Oh how many shows I must have ruined. How is it my husband is still here? What a liar, manipulator I was. Even not drinking, I have ruined shows in that we couldn’t go because I was too depressed or had to leave because I had a panic attack. What a fucking mess I am.
Back into the sound, the groove. Planted on the 2nd tier, above everyone, I feel like the spotlight is on me. She can see me, she is smiling at me. I dance harder. Will myself to get lost in the beautiful sound. Will myself to leave the clutter and debris behind. Shove it in the back of mind. It will surely be there tomorrow. Allow myself relief. Join the masses and throw my hands up in the air.
I did, I finally did. I was sucked into the magic healing of music. I swayed. I bounced. I laughed. I smiled. I listened. She was singing to me. I was singing with her. Space was cleared for me to truly enjoy the moment.
Each footstep was faster as I walked to therapy. My breath was heavy and on the verge of panic. I could feel all these emotions swirling in my body. Anger, sadness, shame, despair. It wasn’t as if one dominated. They all took up space. I don’t usually walk, but today it was paramount I not drive my car. The call to jump off the bridge was loud and clear. I entertained it for several minutes as I sat in the drivers seat, key in the ignition. My plan was to say goodbye to my therapist, say goodbye to my AA support group and disappear.
Enter thoughts of my husband. I love this man. He can certainly drive me crazy, but ultimately he has been there since day 1. I was just as issue ridden 16 yrs ago, it just looked a little different. It seems like I had a lot more strengths and skills than I do now. Whatever I brought to the table, he could see it.
It has really hit me hard how much I need him. Although I’m not sure in an entirely good way. I understand it’s okay to need people in your life to prop you up sometimes. However, my only reason for existence is him. I can find no inner purpose, no redeeming quality in myself that renders me worthy of taking up space. That’s sad in itself. What’s worse, at least in this moment, is he is out of town. I am crumbling.
I push him and everyone else away. I think I can do this on my own. I think I am strong. I’m not. I’m so very weak.
How is it different when he is home? There is structure. I actually get up and go to work. I actually just get up, regardless of work. These past few days I have slept til 2 in the afternoon. There is a tone, a sort of expectation in the air to carry on. I follow that lead. Of course, if I absolutely can’t, it’s a different story. I shower. I eat 3 meals. Things that are routine to him and general society go out the window. I just stop doing anything. Mostly I cry and believe the world is better off without me.
When he is home there is some sort of distraction from the demons in my head. Right now, the demons are swallowing me whole. Pick up the phone fanatic!! I just cannot seem to do this. I write this over and over. It’s no joke. I can’t. I have tried a few times. At a very desperate time, 2 yrs ago I called and was honest in the moment. It’s agonizing for me. The words just don’t come and then I feel guilt and shame for calling at all.
I am so black and white. So extreme. At work I grind away at being “the best” striving for some mysterious standard I have set. I claw my way toward some elusive top. I can never be on top or measure up because I am simply not good enough. I think ahead of my boss on some projects, over prepare, over organize. Not necessarily looking for accolades from her but to satisfy some inner longing to feel whole, necessary, significant. I beat myself into the ground til I’m crawling the halls refusing to allow myself a break or a day off. Yet, here I am off work this week because I can’t perform melding into my bed. There is no in between. It’s killing me.
The shame I harbor about having bipolar and the limitations it causes me is painful. It’s not okay with me that extreme stress takes me out, while others still show up. It’s not okay with me I have memory loss and it affects my job performance. It’s not okay with me I sometimes have extreme agitation and cannot be in a work environment. These same issues affect my personal life. I can no longer share memories w my husband because they just aren’t there. I try so hard to conjure them up, but to no avail. Sometimes I can’t stand his voice or touch. Sometimes I cry at baseball games for no reason. Poor fucking fanatic!!
Acceptance. Perfectionism. Self compassion. What a long road it’s been. What an even longer road it’s going to be if I don’t work on some things. I’m stuck in a what’s the point loop. I’m cursed. I’m doomed. This is lifelong. No matter which door I choose, bipolar will be with me, as well as alcoholism. That’s a fact. Seems there is so much fiction wrapped up in all this for me, which fuels the loop and closes the door.
How do you find the strength to walk through the door each day with whatever is on your back?
I ended up chairing at my Depression in Sobriety meeting last night. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to. My heart started racing. My mind was yelling at me You have nothing to share. No one wants to hear from you. My thinking was already tremendously disorganized and I didn’t know where to start. After a minute maybe two, I decided to really speak the truth. I have not said out loud to anyone that I had a full blown manic episode and suicide attempt in the same month last year. Sure, I’ve written about it, but not heard the words coming out of my mouth. At the time of mania in Nov 2014, I came quite close to drinking. I came even closer last month as I had a bottle in hand. Somehow I managed to put it down and leave the store. I already know what would happen if I took a drink.
Afterwards, I couldn’t tell you what I said in the share. I went from Nov to present as the folks in that meeting know my previous history. I was nervous, but not. It’s an intimate group for the most part and they honestly air where they are at…suffering, pain, fear, shame. They speak my language. This is no ordinary meeting. We are real with each other and honor our struggles.
One gentleman with a lot of time on the books was sharing that he feels like what he talks about is all negative”shit.” I agree w him when it’s me who is sharing. But when he is letting us in to his world and trusting us, it’s feels brave and honest and a special gift for us. But I understand at the same time. Venting can be considered negative. But perhaps it’s just seeking relief from what we tend to keep bottled up for our safety.
Letting people know the real fanatic is not easy for me. I am scared of how you might respond. Believe I will be rejected. My very own husband, bless him, can react in the moment so harshly it triggers shame in me. I do try hard to have compassion for him as I know it’s difficult on the other side. Nonetheless it’s painful and confusing when the one you love the most reacts how I envision others would.
As the night wore on I began to breakdown every second of my share. By the time I went to bed I was spinning. You could probably guess I didn’t get much sleep. I tore myself to shreds. I rehearsed what I should of said over and over. Planned how I would approach it next time even though there may not be a next time. My dear friend was kind enough to send me a text following the meeting and told me my share was awesome because I was so unfiltered and honest. Boy did my mind run with that and determine he just felt sorry for me and was trying to make me feel better. The two other gentlemen, who usually chat with me in some fashion after meetings said nothing. My mind told me I scared them off, I shared too much, I was showing off. It NEVER stops. I’m exhausted and worn down.
Thinking about it this morning I discovered I did find some relief in those moments of truth and authenticity. I was supported by lovely people. I hope to carry this through my day. Yesterday I told a friend I might need to take medication to work. Maybe thoughts of support, friendship, honesty, and shared feelings will be enough.
I stared at it for a very long time. Closed my eyes and relished the taste. I picked it up. Put it down. Picked it up. Put it down. Third time I held it in my hand and carefully placed it in my basket. Walking around the store nonchalantly as the battle in my head was growing louder. A debate really. Do it. Don’t do it. You have 2 years. You deserve relief. This will surely kill you. Is that a bad thing?
Up and down the aisles I pace for 20 minutes. Visual thoughts, like snippets from a movie play out. Scenes of me attempting suicide. The beast of Bipolar meets the beast of alcoholism face to face in the grocery store. Both feeding me lies to get their needs met. Both forever on my coat tails. Drinking alcohol in this state of mind is like assisted suicide. But today, I’ll take what I can get. Desperation at its core.
I have paced these aisles before with bottle in hand making sure no one from AA was around. Obviously during a relapse. If I did see someone I would put my basket down and quickly exit the store and go somewhere else. Finally I got the brilliant idea to buy out of town as I travel for work, sometimes on a daily basis. But that was 2 yrs and 3 months ago. Today I am risking my life for a swig of vodka.
The emotional pain is undeniable, yet I deny it everyday. My truth is not being heard because I don’t know how to express it. Shame holds me captive. Strong feelings and emotional reactions confuse me. I spin and spin wondering if how I feel is appropriate. Is it rational. Is it just. A friend once said to me any feeling I ever have regardless of the situation is okay, because they are mine. Great theory I cannot seem to implement.
For example I was at the gas station and a man in a oversized truck wanted the same stall I was pulling into. As I was backing up to get closer to the tank he moved forward towards me. I assumed he was doing the same thing. Turns out he moved to block me from lining up to the pump. I stared at him and threw my hands up and he did the same. I was yelling at him from inside my car. Finally I mouthed what are you doing. He pointed at the pump and shrugged his shoulders. I was so angry. I backed up and moved to the next pump over. I started to get gas and proceeded to march over to him and started yelling. I told him how fucking lucky he was to be queen bee and own the place, among other things. In essence lost my mind. I was shaking. Got in my car and broke down. I pulled over and called a friend which was a huge step, but I couldn’t talk to him. I told him I am a ticking time bomb. I hung up quickly and cried. When my husband called I told him and he congratulated me. He said it’s okay to get angry over such an event. I just felt out of control. I don’t want to act that way. It’s confusing.
My desire to drink to rid myself of pain, to stop the spinning, to make that final jump off the bridge is the highest it’s been in 2 years. In some sick way, my mind is thinking if I drink my husband will leave me (as he has declared he would) then it won’t hurt him as much when I’m gone. I am one messed up fanatic.
It seems so unfair to be accused of being manic because I had a really good day. I was motivated, funny, responsive, alert, alive at work. Came home cleaned the house, folded laundry and had music up loud. Even did a little dancing (but he doesn’t know that). True, this is out of the ordinary. True it’s a big swing in mood considering I was suicidal on Saturday(he doesn’t know that either). But I’m not sure it qualifies me as being manic.
In the span of 10 minutes my husband became concerned, worried, anxious about the state of my mood. He asked me 3 times if I was “okay”..not manic. Poor guy doesn’t know what to do with me. He stated he needs to know what he is in for so he can prepare. Not sure if he has a manic disaster preparation kit or something. Perhaps he wants to prepare his own mind for an out of control fanatic he constantly has to redirect.
I often wonder why he has stayed with me over the years. He revealed to me over the weekend he asks himself this very same question. I mean he had to have me placed on a 5150 hold very early into our relationship. He would come over around 4 and I would have the curtains closed, drinking vodka and eating popcorn. I was anorexic at this time but became bulimic and a practicing alcoholic. I was not yet diagnosed with bipolar. I was a handful to say the least, but he continued to hang in there.
I was also fun, up for a good time, and open to adventures. We met on the job. I did so many things with him I had never done before. We hit it off right away. We would play tennis after work and go to happy hour almost everyday. We had good chemistry and enjoyed sarcastic banter. We laughed ALOT. At least until I dove into depression again.
I started to hit the bottle hard, but was still a functioning alcoholic for about 2 years. The 3rd year of heavy, heavy drinking I was not functioning. I was blacking out most nights and could not remember what transpired, what was said or even what I did. I started changing my lingo to cover up the fact I couldn’t remember. We got into fights every weekend because of my behavior in social situations. One particular night stands out where I drank before we went out with friends, you know pre-party to help with anxiety. Not eat dinner because I never knew if the alcohol would hit me hard enough, then drink while we were out. I was very drunk by the time the show started. I knew I needed food right away. I stumbled next door to order food. He of course followed me. I said out loud..get away from me..several times. The bartender asked me if he was bothering me. I said yes. I said YES. He was asked to leave. We barely made it through that episode.
So, the mental health piece. He has watched me deteriorate into a lifeless, despondent, suicidal mess. He has witnessed rage, spewing angry and hateful words. He has seen me psychotic. He has talked me down from a bridge. He has reassured me the devil is not trying to kill me, God is not persecuting me, my psychiatric team is not conspiring against me and I do not work for the CIA. He brought me clean clothes in the psych hospital, driving up to 2 hours away. He read an email that said I loved him but I have to split town, not knowing where I was. He took every single call on my manic spree as I yelled nonsense into the phone pacing the hotel floor. And he held my hand in the emergency room when I overdosed on pills.
When I put it all into perspective he is a saint. I really have no right to blame him for checking to see if I’m manic. He goes through hell just as I do. He is tired, as I am. I try to be conscious of this, but truthfully I can be selfishly immersed in my bipolar disorder. He loves me so damn much. Least I can do is honor his fears and desire to know where I’m at w my moods. I’ve said this before and failed. I hope to change that.
“…and not all of them are evil.” I’m sitting outside my favorite place for sociological experimentation, Peet’s coffee in Napa, and I just saw someone walk by who I used to work with in the wine industry about 38 years ago. I observed that my old friend was probably 100 pounds heavier than when I knew him when we both worked at the winery. The common aspect of life that he and I share is that we’re both alcoholics. I don’t know if Bill is still drinking anymore, it really doesn’t matter. What I noticed is that I was looking at him with empathy. It was obvious, his struggle because of weight. Yet I can’t really see that same aspect of life for me. I cant see that my struggle to be present is no different than his.
How this relates to the original quote is that my mind wants to see all of my weaknesses as evil. All of my shortcomings are about something intrinsically wrong with me, there is something “wrong,” about my existence. So I’m left with the dilemma of working to fully understand and deeply knowing that I am no different, no worse, no more evil than the next person walking down the street.
This is not an easy thing to do. So often I unconsciously shame myself, blame myself for my weaknesses.
Depression is no different than any other weakness. In 12 step programs they call them “character defects.” I rail against that term because to say I am responsible for my depression is like saying my friend Bill, from the winery days, is responsible for his dis-ease. I wish I could say that I have overcome this part of my self, my shame, but I cant. I think by saying it here that it is getting better, but I have to acknowledge that I haven’t overcome it.
I just watched a man my age go by in one of those motorized trikes. He was with his daughter, who was a teenager, and I did not look at him with the disdain that I look at myself unconsciously with. I am hoping that there is a change that is coming about and that I can start to look at myself without the shame that is so dominant in my unconscious.
This struggle is what keeps me from really breaking out from the chains of the stigma that depression binds me with.
Opening quote is from the movie “Ulee’s Gold.”