For those of you looking for an uplifting post today, you might want to travel elsewhere and come back to this another day. This post deals with issues of mental health, specifically bipolar disorder. It is a personal post. And I’m putting myself out there a bit, maybe out of guilt, maybe out of hope, maybe simply to be freed a little by the confession. Whatever the motive, and I’m not entirely sure what it is, I feel a need to write about it and to share it.
For much of history, mental health issues have been hidden things – family secrets, shamed confessions, rumors, memoirs, and horror stories. More recently, a growing contingent of people have been trying to “normalize” it, or at least de-stigamtize it, so that those with mental illnesses are more willing to get help.
Years ago, when my libido took a sudden nose-dive after the birth of our son, my husband encouraged me to see our family doctor. I didn’t want to. I fought it and fought it, under the impression that not only could I handed it on my own, but that if I couldn’t, I was a failure of some kind. I was raised to believe that mental illness, unless the type that demanded a straight-jacket and forced committment, was (forgive the saying) “all in your head.”
It took a therapist and my doctor to convince me that not taking medication for a mental illness that required it was like not taking medication for a heart condition. It was at this point that I was first diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. (To learn more about this mental illness and the difference between the types and its similarities to borderline personality disorder, follow the links at the bottom of this post.)
As this was before research showed that regular antidepressants were not very effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder (heretofore referred to as BP), and since this was while I was only in the care of a general physician, I started taking Wellbutrin. I’m not sure it made all that much of an impact. Maybe it helped me feel less irritable. And it likely kept me from dipping as low as I was wont to do at times.
When my regular doctor left for a six-month sabbatical, she put me under he medical direction of a psychiatric nurse who immediately added lithium to my drug cocktail. She was surprised that my doctor had only prescribed an antidepressant without a mood stabilizer.
The lithium helped a bit more, to control the ups and downs. But, it’s important to note that most people with BP will not go sans symptom just because drugs have been added to the mix. I had a therapist. I went to acupuncture. I did A LOT of yoga. I meditated. And still, I fell low and rose high.
I also gained a lot of weight, which can happen with lithium. And over time, I felt that the effects of the drugs were either stagnating or that I’d somehow stabilized myself.
I stopped seeing the nurse, went back to my general physician, stopped getting acupunture, and ended my therapy sessions. Things seemed almost fine.
Now…anyone with a brain knows exactly where this is going, yes?
Because bipolar disorder doesn’t just go away. No. Like a patient predator lying in wait, it sinks down into the soil of your skin and bides its time in your muscles and your bones. It waits for a crack…a break…a moment of vulnerability. And then it strikes.
At the moment, it feels like something has happened out of the blue. It catches you off guard and leaves you wondering what the hell just happened to me? But deep down, in your subconscious…you know.
It’s easiest to change point of view here, to keep it at bay, but I’ll try hard to us “I”…to own it rather than explain it like something that’s happening to someone else. It’s too easy to make excuses that way, and I don’t want to do that.
I’ve had a history of exploding on my loved ones…namely my husband. Irrational, illogical losses of all reason…yelling…accusing…saying horrible, hateful things that can never be taken back. And then immediately, I panic, realizing what I’ve done, and knowing it is too late to change it. Rather than apologize (usually), I would stew on it and bury myself in guilt, losing myself in depression.
He’d forgive me (but not forget…adding my transgressions to a mental list that just seems to grow and grow), and we’d regroup and move on.
But recently, my explosions have increased in severity and the time between them has decreased. There have been three since Memorial Day.
My last one was three days ago. To be fair (or at least honest), I was drunk, as well. I can be super irrational and emotional when drinking, and I’ve been known to black out on occasion, forgetting whole passages of time and conversations, waking up unaware of what I’ve done or said the night before. This was one of those times.
But let me tell it the way I remember it.
We were sitting on the couch, enjoying a few Moscow mules while watching movies. Things were great. In fact, I was reveling in the fact that I was nestled between my son and my husband, comfortably enjoying the good vibes of family. Our second movied ended and we sent our son to bed. The last thing I remember is sitting down to read…and the somehow I lost a whole section of time…
I heard him in the other room, rummaging and gathering. Something in me sensed that he was packing, though I wasn’t positive why. I ran to the bedroom and asked him what he was doing. He told me he was going to spend the night at his parents’. At that moment, something in me snapped. I don’t know if it was fear, though I suspect it was, that triggered the anger that turned to blazing rage. I picked up a half-empty can of beer and threw it in his general direction. I didn’t intend to hit him. I know that. But I scared myself with that act of violence.
Understandably, he walked away…toward the door. I threw threats at him…horrible threats. I don’t remember my exact words, but I know I told him that if he left me, he was starting a war…one that I would win. I’m fairly certain I threatened to ruin him…to take everything…even our son. I was out of control…the worst version of the monster inside of me.
He left. And a little while later, our son came out of his room. I don’t know if I said anything to him. I can only hope that I had some little bit of sense enough to keep my mouth shut at that point…that the inevitable, immediate, and deep guilt that always follows my abusive eruptions had already set in.
I tucked him back into bed after some haphazard explanation about where his dad had gone. Maybe I said he went to the store. I don’t know.
When I woke up in the morning, I was terribly hung over (and felt that I deserved it). I was already deeply depressed. My husband walked in and announced that he hadn’t told any of his family anything about what had happened…that it was none of their business. And then he took our son to a family bar-b-que, while I languished in bed feeling sick and evil, wondering what had happened in the space of time I had lost. That space of time mattered, because it impacted the amount of guilt I had to shoulder. It also impacted my apology, or so I thought. I needed to know what I was apologizing for, right? Because at that time, I didn’t know if the only horrible things I done were throw a can and yell a few dirty threats. Maybe I wasn’t all to blame? Though, in the pit of my stomach, I was fairly certain I was.
Later that night, after cowardly (me) avoiding contact all day, and mostly sleeping, we spoke briefly about what happened. I asked him to fill in my blanks. Apparently, he’d told me he made a reservation for an upcoming event. The reservation included an unneeded night’s stay, which apparently annoyed me. He said I was upset that he’d made the reservation before knowing all the information. He said I wouldn’t let it go and became angry and irrational about it. That’s when he decided to remove himself from the equation and sleep somewhere else for the night — likely an intelligent choice.
I apologized for my reaction. But I knew my apology was weak and meant little in light of my behavior, especially since it occurred so close to other emotional blow-ups in the past two months.
I’ve spent the better part of the last two days contemplating what could be happening to cause my explosions and what could be making them increase in intensity. He asked me if I was angry at him…if I am harboring some sort of deep-seated resentment that I needed to deal with. I am not. And so I have sat here, thinking and wondering and digging.
Over the past few weeks, as evidenced by my style of writing, the content, and by the decreased number of entries, I have been going through a transition. It’s one I do every year, and it’s never easy…going from working full time to summer vacation. Transitions like this have a tendency to trigger emotional dips and rises for me. That is possibly what happened, because I fell pretty low the week following my last day at work in June. I also watched a film that triggered deep thought about some of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, including my mental illness and highlighted some issues relating to my marriage. The film needled its way into my brain and built a little cocoon there that followed me through the next week.
Then I finished a book in which the main character’s family cut themselves and each other to let out the “bad gunky” (their inner demons, violence, and anger — possibily all related to mental illness, though also related to supernatural causes in the case of this story).
I’ve felt out of sorts, edgy. But now, after this latest explosive episode…
From somewhere, this afternoon, the question came to mind…are rage and agression associated with bipolar II disorder? So, looked it up. What I found not only worried me, but it smacked me in the face. Why had I not thought of it before? Why had it taken me so long to connect the dots?
While the information I found in my search today is not definitive (I am not expert…no doctor), it was enough to assure me that I needed to make an appointment with my doctor to explore going back on medication.
Which leads me to another issue. For those of us with mental illnesses, our medical system is not responsive enough. I waited on the phone for 20 minutes. When I finally got to a human-being, I was told my doctor was booked until November. I told the receptionist that I needed to see my actual doctor because she is attuned to my medial history (she’s been my doctor for over 15 years) and will have the best knowledge of next actions and medication. I was told that any physician in the cooperative would be able to access my records and make a similar diagnosis and plan. Bullshit.
When I made a bit of a row over the whole thing, insisting that, as this was a mental health issue, I felt it was irresponsible to simply farm my case out to anyone available, the receptionist told me to call back early in the morning to see if my doctor could fit me in on a “same-day” appointment. I asked why I couldn’t do that now. The woman told me that those are filled only during the first hour of the day.
Totally confused, I agreed to call back, and I hung up.
I suppose if I’d been suicidal or likely to injure myself or others, I’d have presumably been calling 911 rather than my regular doctor, but still. It seems that we have had enough evidence over the past few years that mental illness should be taken more seriously and handled more responsibly by the medical community (and society at large).
Anyhow, I digress.
This is where I am now.
Back at the bottom of the mountain, gearing up for another climb back to unsteady sanity.
It’s exhausting…fighting yourself, wrangling your demons, wrestling yourself into submission. Feeling out of control. Dreading the superficial control by substance. Only barely just trusting yourself…and then not at all. Worrying that your hold on reality may be more tenous that you thought. Terrified that you will hurt the people you love so badly they will leave you to fend for yourself. Feeling that you deserve that.
I am intelligent enough to realize that I may not be completely at fault for my behavior. Theoretically, I understand that mental illness can cause me to do and feel and say things that I should not…things I would otherwise not do or feel or say. But, I am also intelligent enough to know that my behavior affects me and others on an emotional level. It has done irreversable damage. It has tattooed us all with its razor cuts. And like a plate that has been broken too many times, sometimes, things simply can’t be put back together.
Mental illness is a bitch. It gives you an excuse and then makes you hate yourself for using it.
Bipolar Disorder & Anger (bipolar-lives.com)
Bipolar Disorder (overview/NIMH)