Dumped!

Have any of you ever been dumped by a therapist?  Can they even DO that?

I mean, yes, obviously.   They can.  I guess anyone can dump anyone.  You can dump me and stop reading this blog.  I can dump you and stop reading your comments and your posts.  But my THERAPIST?  That should be the one person in the world I can count on to not dump me.  She is literally paid to talk to me, and she still tried to dump me.  I think this is a new personal low.  How crazy am I, exactly?!

In my therapist’s defense, she claims she didn’t dump me.  Here’s how it went down:

At our last session, with about five minutes left, she told me she had looked up some more resources for me.  She referred to a couple of therapists who specialize in bipolar disorder and said that perhaps they might be a “better fit” for what I’m going through.  I was a bit startled.  I’ve been seeing this therapist for months.  I thought we had a good thing going.  I thought she was helping.  I even have a blog series going on all of the crazy shit we’ve done together!  She’s the first therapist I’ve had who didn’t make me absolutely hate therapy.  So when she started talking about “better fit,” I looked at her suspiciously, “Wait a minute, are you dumping me?”

“No!” she said. “I’m totally not dumping you.  I’m just trying to give you more resources.  This has absolutely nothing to do with you.  I just don’t know if I have the right knowledge and background for your specific illness.”

Because I make jokes when I’m upset or nervous, I sunk into the couch dramatically and said, “Okay, what I just heard is ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ WHICH IS WHAT PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY DUMP PEOPLE!  I cannot believe I am getting dumped by my therapist.”

“No no no,” she tried again.  “I want you to get the most that you can out of therapy, and I don’t know if that’s happening for you right now.”

“Seriously?” I responded. “The ‘you deserve better, and I want you to be happy’ line? BECAUSE THAT’S ALSO WHAT PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY DUMP PEOPLE!'”  I laughed, but I also felt a familiar hotness behind my eyes as I tried to hold back tears.  This wasn’t as funny as I was trying to make it.

I could tell my therapist was getting nervous.  “No wait,” she said, laughing nervously when she realized everything she said was sounding bad.  “Never mind,” she finally said.  “Forget I mentioned it.  I’m not giving you these new names.”

“You can’t do that,” I said.  “Now that I know there are other resources to use, you might as well give them to me.”

“Nope,” she said, “because you think I’m dumping you, and I’m so not.  You don’t need that kind of perceived rejection in your life.”

Which, you know, she probably should have thought of before DUMPING ME.

“How is it even possible to be a ‘bad’ therapy client?” I wondered aloud.  “I’ve done all of my homework assignments.  You told me there was no timeline on how fast I needed to be improving.  Am I not improving fast enough?  I can do better!  I promise!  I’ve done every weird thing you’ve asked me to do here!  Wait a minute…did you find my blog?”

“What blog?” she looked intrigued.

“Never mind,” I hastily amended.  “Definitely no blog.  But seriously – I do not understand how I failed therapy.  You said there were no grades!  This is bizarre.  I’m trying my absolute hardest to get better!  What else am I supposed to do?!”

“Nothing!” she grabbed both of my hands in hers, which was a little weird but oddly comforting.  “Listen Hazel,” she said, staring at me intently.  “I’m not dumping you.  You’re fine.  You can stay.  If I’m helping you, please stay.  I have a lot of fun talking to you, and I think you’re hilarious.  You’re a great client.  I just want you to be okay.”

For an instant, I saw a flicker of fear in her eyes.  It’s the same flicker I see frequently when I look into my husband’s.  I then realized something that I didn’t tell her but that I’m going to tell you: I think she thinks I’m going to kill myself, and she doesn’t want it to be on her watch.  She doesn’t want to be the one responsible for “not helping enough.”  What she doesn’t realize is that she’s the only one that’s ever helped at all, and I’m not okay with starting over from square 1 at the moment, even with a so-called “specialist.”

Again, to be fair to her…I really think she was only trying to help.  I started seeing her about a month before my diagnosis, and at the time I didn’t know to look for a bipolar specialist.  I didn’t know I needed one.  I think, like many people, she doesn’t know much about that specific illness, and that scares her.  Here’s the thing, though – many of the issues I have are perfectly “normal person” issues.  I feel like I don’t fit in.  I have a lot of issues with accepting myself.  I have issues with anxiety.  I have issues with my past.  I have fear of my future.  Can you, my non-mentally ill reader, tell me that you’ve honestly never struggled with any of those things?  A good therapist (which she is) doesn’t have to be an expert on bipolar disorder to help someone through those struggles.  I have a psychiatrist to handle the bipolar disorder.  I need my therapist to help me handle everything else.

In the end, I’m still on her schedule for next week.  I’m not all-the-way dumped.  I wonder about those specialists, though – do any of my bipolar readers have experience with specialists?  Is it something I should look into?  As I said, I’m just so not ready to start over.  I don’t want to relive all of the things I’ve explained and analyzed with my current therapist.  They’re not fun things.  It’s taken me months to fully delve into them.  Also, I think I fear that this would make me a step further down the crazy trail: I’m too crazy for a normal therapist.

I don’t know.  We’ll see.  I’d better start showing progress faster…but how does one do that?

Maybe I’ll just bring her flowers next week.  That fixes every relationship, right?  😉

We’re Not All Shooters

If you’ve watched the news lately, you may have seen that there was a shooting in Michigan on Saturday night.  It was fairly close to home for me.

“Close to home” as in, they caught the guy within three miles of my house.  I heard the sirens.  That close.

As happens with most shootings, people immediately begin discussing how something this tragic could only occur because the man was probably mentally ill.  And they whisper it, like they don’t want to say it too loud or they might catch it themselves.  Put some hand sanitizer on, people.  You don’t want to catch a mental illness.

The man very well could have been mentally ill.  He probably was.  What bothers me about this conversation is that we should shine a spotlight on mental illness awareness, but not like this.  People like this man are the reason why people are scared of mental illnesses.  This man is the reason why, when I tell people I have bipolar disorder, many react with fear.  They try to act normal, but I see it in their eyes.  I slowly see a difference in the way they treat me as well, like I’m a ticking time bomb who could explode into violence at any second.  Ummm… I’m not violent.  I don’t even let Andy kill spiders – I make him take them outside so they can frolic freely in our garden.

I wish we could shine a spotlight on mental illness when someone awesome has it and has overcome its challenges.  Why can’t we say, “Hey look…Catherine Zeta-Jones just won an Oscar.  She has bipolar disorder.  Look how far she’s come.”  Why can’t we stand in art museums and say, “Did you know it’s suspected that Vincent van Gogh had bipolar disorder?  But look at what amazing things he was able to accomplish because his brain worked differently than other people’s…”  Good, successful people have struggled with mental illnesses.  Why can’t we choose those moments to bring awareness to these issues?  Then we would be bringing a message of hope instead of a message of fear.

Yes, I have bipolar disorder.  Yes, that is a mental illness.

No, I’m not going to kill anyone.

We’re not all shooters.

The Wrong Four-Letter Word

“You’re using the wrong four-letter word,” my Aunt Sarah told me.

I was confused.  Did I just swear?  I would never swear around Aunt Sarah.  She’s the kind of aunt who sits across from you at a restaurant table and wants to hold both of your hands and pray with you for ten minutes straight. It’s sweet, I guess, but it’s tough for me to focus on God when I’m sitting there with my head bowed and eyes closed while thinking, “EVERYONE IN HERE THINKS I’M A TOTAL WEIRDO RIGHT NOW.”  Even though obviously most people are just eating their food and absolutely not looking at us. My eyes are closed, though, so how I am I supposed to know?  Everyone knows you can’t open your eyes during prayer.  It’s like cheating on a test or something.  It’s just not done.

Anyway, I had just told Aunt Sarah about the bipolar diagnosis.  I really didn’t want to…  It was a compromise made between my husband, my therapist, and myself.  Apparently I need to compromise with people on how to run my life now (that’s frustrating in and of itself, but that’s an entirely different post).  My husband and therapist are worried about my imminent demise – like I’m going to off myself any day now (which I am SO NOT GOING TO DO).  My therapist wanted me to go to an inpatient facility, my husband wanted to tell my parents so they could help, and I said absolutely not to both of those options.  No to inpatient because…just…NO, and no to my parents because they’ll just freak out and my dad will make some degrading comment like, “Seriously girl, snap out of it.  Shouldn’t you be over this bipolar thing by now?”  He’s actually said that to me.  Like this is a weird phase I’m going through, and when I’m bored of it I’ll decide to un-bipolar myself.  Okay Dad.

The compromise was that I would tell another parental-type person my secret, because then in the event that I needed somewhere to go in a moment of panic, I would have an option other than “be home alone.”  Also, maybe the person I told would be wise because they’re, you know, older than me or whatever.  I don’t know.  I just know I had to tell Aunt Sarah in order to keep out of inpatient and out of disappointing my parents again.  It was a worthwhile trade to me.

When she said I was using the wrong four-letter word, though, I was confused.  I asked her to clarify.

“Beat,” she told me.  “You keep saying you want to ‘beat’ bipolar disorder.  From what I know of this disease, you don’t really beat it.  You more live with it.  There’s your new four-letter word: L-I-V-E.  Because you need to be able to live without beating this.”

Profound.

I don’t know if I agree, even if she’s right.  I know that this is probably a life-long struggle.  I know that I can’t, technically, “beat” this thing, but do I really roll over and say, “Okay, well, I’m cool with it now”?  I don’t think I’ll ever be “cool” with having bipolar disorder.  I don’t know that this will ever be “okay” to me.  Perhaps, however, I have to get to a place like that in order to live again (not survive, mind you – because I am surviving.  I’m just not living.  Two very different words).  When every day I set out to slay a dragon who can’t be killed, I’m setting myself to every day feel like a failure.  If I set out to every day to simply not be killed by said dragon, then I would feel more successful.  Like, “Ha.  I won today.  I didn’t have a panic attack and I didn’t want to kill myself.  WIN.”

But REALLY?  Is that the highest goal I want to set for myself?  I thought I was a little better than that.  I thought I could do a little more.  Maybe one day I will.

One of my students who loves inspirational quotes colored a picture for me today and put this quote on it: “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.  Tip toe if you have to, but take that step!”

Maybe my step is acceptance.  Maybe my step is moving from “beat” to “live.”  Maybe that student is eerily perceptive.  Sheesh.

Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 2)

I realize I have some therapy regulars who view these posts (I love you!  Please keep reading/commenting and making me feel like less of a weirdo!).  As the months go by, I’m becoming a therapy regular myself.  I’m not sure how I feel about that…perhaps I should process these emotions with my therapist.

JUST KIDDING.  I HATE PROCESSING EMOTIONS.  What does that even mean?  You process computer programs or chemicals in beakers or film negatives, not emotions.  Emotions are never fully “processed.”  As in, “Oh yes, I had that sexual assault that happened, but I put it through the processor and now it’s totally fine and doesn’t matter.”

Or maybe that is how it’s supposed to work, and I haven’t been in therapy long enough to get the printout that says, “Congratulations.  Your emotions have been processed.”  Who knows.

All that to say, now that I’ve been in therapy for a few months, the account in this episode doesn’t seem quite as bizarre to me as it did when it first occurred.  At the time, though, I was completely weirded out.  It’s worth repeating, especially because it has to do with my husband and today is Valentine’s Day (shout out to Andy – you’re awesome).

My therapist said we were going to “try something new.”  Again, I’ve come to recognize this as code for, “Buckle up – things are about to get weird.”  She handed me a sketchpad.  My face was as blank as the paper in front of me.  What was I supposed to do with the sketchpad?  She explained that she wanted me to draw my relationship with my husband.  I wanted to stop her right there and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t like those true crime shows where the spouse is always the culprit.  My husband isn’t the issue here.  My husband is a STAR.  He’s the one who talked me into coming to therapy.  He’s the one who convinces me to take my medication when I don’t think I need it.  He’s the one who’s married to a crazy person and pretends like he’s somehow the lucky one in this relationship.  You can process the crap out of me, but leave my husband alone!!”

Of course I didn’t say that.  I just looked at my paper and said, “Well…what am I supposed I supposed to draw with?” as if I was going to catch her unprepared for that type of question and get out of this weird activity.  My therapist pulled out a box of crayons.  A BOX OF CRAYONS.

I have a college degree, people, and I was about to pay someone $75/hr to let me color with crayons.  I wasn’t even sophisticated enough for colored pencils.  Forget about nice drawing pencils.  It was going to be CRAYONS.  This was a humbling moment in my life.

I halfheartedly drew some stick figures showing different moments in my relationship with Andy.  I filled a page in about five minutes.  Not bad, I thought.  I explained my drawings to my therapist.

You know how therapists always say, “There’s no wrong answer”?  Well, they lie.  Apparently there are wrong answers.  She told me I drew the relationship wrong.

How could I have drawn the relationship wrong?!  It’s my relationship!  She said that I drew events in the relationship.  She wanted me to draw the “essence” of the relationship.  What color was it?  What shape was it?

What COLOR was my relationship?  Seriously?  And relationships don’t have shapes.  That’s not real life.

So then, of course, I flipped to a new page and started really overanalyzing everything.  I don’t like getting things wrong twice, but I didn’t know how to properly draw the essence of a relationship.  I stared at the blank page for longer than was apparently acceptable, because my therapist said, “Just draw whatever comes to mind.  There are no wrong answers.”

THAT’S WHAT YOU SAID BEFORE, REMEMBER?  OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE WRONG ANSWERS HERE.  Silly therapist.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  I wasn’t going to draw another wrong answer.  I was going to draw a kick-ass, fantastic “essence.”  Whatever that was.

Then I realized I was getting seriously stressed out about my coloring page for therapy, and I simultaneously felt ridiculous and also a little bit like, “Dang.  Looks like I do belong on this couch.”

Finally I realized I had to reach for a crayon.  I was going to pick red, but that’s kind of an angry color.  I didn’t want her to think we have anger issues or something.  I reached for cerulean blue, my favorite, but then I realized she might interpret that as I’m very sad and it’s clearly because of my husband.  Black and gray were out for obvious reasons.  Yellow would have looked like I was trying too hard, like, “Look!  Everything is sunny and wonderful with us!  No reason to suspect anything!” because everyone knows that’s a dead giveaway that she should suspect something.  I finally settled on green.  Nothing’s wrong with green, right?  I figured that if she made me explain, I could say that we both went to Michigan State, and we’re very dedicated to our beloved Spartan green.  Or I could try to get deeper and say that there is a lot of growth in our relationship, and it’s very healthy and green like a healthy plant.

Do you see how much I over-analyzed this ridiculous drawing?

Once I had the green crayon and had mostly gotten over the fact that I was paying to color, I had to settle on the shape of the essence of our relationship.  Oy.  I couldn’t pick a heart for the same reason that I couldn’t choose yellow.  A triangle seemed too sharp.  I could have drawn some nebulous blob, but who knows how she’d interpret that?  That’s like looking at clouds – she could see whatever shape she wanted.  She could be like, “Hmmm…that looks like a gun, do you feel safe at home?” when really I thought it just looked kind of like a dolphin holding a teddy bear.  These are the things I thought about.  I could have drawn a circle, but that seemed really boring.  Also, does it bother anyone else that it’s literally impossible to draw a perfect circle?  It always ends up looking poochy in one section.  I finally settled on a square.  She couldn’t overanalyze that, right?  (Even though I was doing enough analyzing for both of us, clearly).  I drew a green square on the page and colored it in.  A solid, secure patch of green.  It looked pretty good.  Then I was afraid she might say it was too boring, so I drew another square around the first one, basically doodling like I would do back in organic chemistry while waiting for chemicals to process (oh, the irony there).

“Hmmm…” my therapist said.

“Did I do it right?” I asked.  “Does this look like an essence?  I, personally, think this looks like a very good essence.”

“Yes,” she said as I sighed in relief, “That is what I was looking for.  It’s very interesting.  Very telling.”

VERY TELLING?!?!  OF WHAT?!?!?

I wanted to say, “No wait, I take it back!  We’re a blue circle!  A pink star!  A purple oval with orange spots and green stripes!  WHAT DO YOU WANT, LADY?!?!”  But of course I couldn’t do that.  My essence damage had been done.  Why oh why did I have to choose a green square?  I wanted to sigh in exasperation throw myself into the couch’s throw pillows, but that seemed a bit dramatic.

“Have you ever considered having Andy come with you to therapy?” she asked.

“Uh, no,” I responded. (Because, despite my OBVIOUSLY MORONIC GREEN SQUARES, he is a good husband!  I swear!!)

To make a long story short, she thought it would be a good idea to have Andy come in.  “Not because I think you have a bad marriage,” she assured me (which was a lie, obviously.  She clearly saw the green square as some secret code for “about to get divorced.”)  She thought it would be good for him to hear what we discussed and find better ways to help me cope.  Whatever you say, Meg.

In the end, Andy agreed to come in.  I apologized to him about the green square incident, since clearly I sent some terrible message about us.  Truth be told, though, I think it was actually really helpful for him to be in for a couple sessions (look, the therapist knew what she was doing…which she usually does).  After we went back to one-on-one therapy, she did make the comment, “You know…you have a really amazing, really supportive husband.  I hope you know that.”

Yes, I do know that.  I’m sorry I couldn’t correctly draw that essence on my first go-round.

“Are You Bipolar?”

This past weekend a bunch of friends and I went to my parents’ cabin to celebrate my birthday.  When I say “cabin,”  I mean cabin.  It’s a log cabin in the middle of snowy nowhere.  It doesn’t even have an address because it’s that remote.  Think 1800’s if the 1800’s had a working toilet.  That’s where we were.

We were sitting by the stone fireplace, and our entertainment at that moment was me reading from my recently discovered middle school diary.  Let me tell you – reading my middle school self was HILARIOUS.  I mostly wrote about how in love I was with this kid in my class, Andrew, and how I kept trying to get him to notice me and he KEPT NOT NOTICING ME.  It was really funny (in retrospect, that is.  When I was in middle school it sucked.)  All the girls at the cabin said they could totally identify with how I felt – some pieces of the middle school girl experience are universal.  All of the guys looked appalled – that’s what their wives and girlfriends were like in middle school??  Yep!  It was enlightening for all involved.  We were laughing to the point of crying.

I got to one part of the diary where I was SO ANGRY at my dad for not letting me invite boys to a party I was throwing (the nerve!!).  I couldn’t believe he would be so closed-minded and stubborn.  One post later, in true junior high fashion, I said, “Actually, never mind about my dad.  I’m cool with it.  There’s enough drama when I only invite girls over.  I certainly don’t need to add guys to the mix.”  Everyone laughed at my sudden turnabout, and one of the guys, laughing hard, said, “Oh my gosh, are you bipolar?!”

Not funny.

It was amazing how the cozy glow of contentment I felt by that fireplace was instantly extinguished, like someone had poured cold water over my head.  Thoughts that I’d been able to finally – for the first time in weeks – push into background noise were suddenly loud and clear in my head again.  There was sharp focus on things I’d tried so hard to make a little bit hazy.

I know the time between his comment and my response was a split second, but it was such a crucial, time-stopping split second.  I knew I had to make a decision on whether to laugh it off or call him out.  I looked down at my diary page, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes.  I knew the few people in the room who knew my secret were looking at me nervously, waiting for my cue.  They would be all over him if I wanted to declare how not-funny that joke actually was.  I knew that.  I also knew that I had the capacity to make everyone’s night really awkward really fast, and we were all having such a good time.  I didn’t want to cold-water-bucket everyone’s night just because my feelings had been hurt.  In the end, I took the (cowardly? selfless? self-deprecating?) way out and laughed it off.  “Clearly yes,” I responded, not looking up from my diary.  “Haven’t you been listening?  I’m obviously crazy.”  I gave my best attempt at a laugh, which put the people in the room who were formerly on high-alert back at ease.  The laugh didn’t reach past my face, though.  It wasn’t real.  That joke wasn’t funny.

Aside from the fact that his joke about a very real illness was totally inappropriate, I also wanted to say, “Being a moody pre-teen is not a symptom of bipolar disorder.  It’s a side effect of being in junior high.  You want to talk about symptoms of bipolar disorder?  LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT.”  But I didn’t say that.  I really didn’t say anything.

Why is it socially acceptable to make jokes about mental illness?  I don’t understand.  I would never go up to someone and say, “Wow, you’ve got a huge bruise on your arm.  Do you have leukemia?  HA HA HA.”  or “I see you’ve gone to the bathroom twice in two hours.  Are you diabetic?  LOL!”  Because those jokes wouldn’t be funny.  No one would laugh.  Why, then, is it okay to joke about bipolar disorder or any other mental illness?  Why do people make jokes about cutting themselves or killing themselves?  I’ve cut myself and I’ve tried to kill myself – I assure you that neither are remotely funny.  Not at all.  Where is the humor in this?  Why do people laugh?  More importantly, I suppose, how do we stop it?

I know it’s not by laughing it off when someone makes a joke about my diary, that’s for sure.  I just wasn’t ready to battle that issue when I was having my first “I’m glad to be alive” weekend in a long time.  I hope that doesn’t make me weak.  One day I’ll be ready to battle people who make jokes they know nothing about.  I guess it just wasn’t this weekend.

Painting Bipolar Disorder

“Try painting what a bipolar diagnosis feels like,” my therapist told me.

“It doesn’t work like that,” I explained.  “I paint, but I paint things.  Like, you know, pheasants or whatever.”

“Um, pheasants?”  Her pencil hovered over the notepad.

“Yeah, I painted a pheasant a while back because my husband likes outdoorsy stuff.  Anyway, I can look at a picture of a pheasant, put some paint on a canvas, and then say, ‘hey, that looks a lot like a pheasant.’  And I feel cool because I know I did it right, because it looks a lot like that picture of a pheasant.  I don’t do abstract stuff.”

“You could try abstract painting…give it a chance.  It could help.”

Now, if I would have actually followed my therapist’s advice and tried to abstractly paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like, then I would have categorized this post as “Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy – Episode 2.”  Since I didn’t actually do it, though, I can’t put this post in that series.  The reason why I will not attempt to abstractly paint a bipolar diagnosis is because this is what I would have to do if I were to do that correctly:

First, I would have to go to Home Depot to buy a gallon of black paint.  No chintzy little tube of acrylic could do the job.  I would be in line checking out with my black paint when I would decide that I have to buy another color too.  To paint only in shades of black would be too dark, like I’m an angsty teenager watching rain drip slowly down my windows or something.  I’m not an angsty teenager.  I’m a grown woman with a messed-up brain, that’s all.  So I would go back to the paint counter and buy a ridiculous shade of neon yellow.  Not a sunny yellow, but highlighter yellow.  So-bright-you-can’t-look-at-it yellow.   No one else would ever buy that ridiculous color, but that’s exactly why I would like it.

I would go home with my gallon of black and my gallon of highlighter, and I would set up my 9 inch by 12 inch canvas on a small easel in my living room.  It would be on my coffee table.  I would take off the lids of my paint cans and get ready for my abstract painting experience.  I would pick up the black gallon of paint first and stand about five feet away from my coffee table.  I would pull the can back slowly like I’m about to go bowling with it, then quickly hurl all of the black paint in the general direction of my canvas.  Some would certainly hit the canvas, but it would also hit my couch, my rug, my hardwood floors, my walls, you get the idea.  I would look at the splotches, satisfied, then look back in the can and see that I didn’t dump it all out yet.  I would walk over to the canvas and turn the can directly upside-down, watching black paint pour over the table and onto my floor some more.  I would step in some of the paint on my way to go pick up the liquid highlighter, but I wouldn’t mind.

Next I would pick up my can of bright neon.  I would look away at first because the paint is so-frickin-bright, but then I would look back at the paint, dip a large paintbrush into it, and start splatter painting the canvas.  It would look really cool, actually – the brightness in contrast with the darkness.  I would aim for the canvas, but as collateral damage I would probably splatter paint all over the place: on my ceiling, on the walls, in our fireplace, but it would look kind of cool in a destructive type of way.  My two dogs would probably run in to see what all of the fuss was about, and they would run through the paint.  They would roll in it because it smelled funny.  Then they would go frolicking throughout the house, leaving paw prints in my dining room, in my kitchen, up the stairs, and they would roll around on my bed too because that’s what dogs like to do.

Finally, when all my paint was gone, I would stop and look at my artwork.  I would consider cleaning up my mess, but then I would think that perhaps it would be easier to just throw away all my furniture, move to a new city, and buy a cleaner house.  Unfortunately that’s not an option for me, so I would sigh and go to the kitchen to fetch my Swiffer wet-jet.  I would look around the room, not sure where to start, and finally I would randomly pick some square foot of wood flooring (it wouldn’t matter which one). I would halfheartedly start mopping that area even though all it would really do is smear around the paint.  I would realize that no matter how much I cleaned, I would never be able to really get my house totally clean.  It took about ten seconds to destroy everything, and I would have to take a lifetime trying to put it back to how it was.

With no other option, though, I would keep mopping.  I wouldn’t even be sure why.  I wouldn’t be making much progress, but stopping completely would mean to make no progress at all.  Therefore I would keep mopping.  Most of the time.

That’s what it would be like to paint what a bipolar diagnosis feels like.  My therapist is going to have to forgive me for passing on that exercise.

Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 1)

Has anyone else met with a therapist and thought, “What?  You want me to do WHAT ridiculous thing?”  Because I have.  Many times.  That’s why this post is called Episode 1.  I already have at least three episodes in mind of weird object lessons and crazy “homework” assignments I’ve had to do in therapy, and they’re worth taking a moment to laugh about.  You see, laughing is healthy (says my therapist), so I’m going to take you down this road with me.

To be fair to my therapist, she’s really good.  We’ll call her Meg.  She’s the first in a string of therapists who I think actually cares about me and has said things that make me think and make me analyze things in a good way.  Even with a good therapist, though, there are times that I’m just like, “Uhhh…no.  I’m confused at the moment as to who is crazier – you or me.”

One of these times was a few weeks ago when I walked into her office and she had sand and seashells laid out on a table.  It was the middle of winter.  I gave it a strange glance, thinking maybe she’d decided to create a “peaceful space” for herself or whatever and gone a bit overboard.  There was also a framed picture of some kids (her kids, I think) running along the beach.

Side note: the most profitable thing I got from the exercise I’m about to describe to you is to find out where Meg bought that SUPER CUTE frame.  I must have one.  She said Marhsalls, but I’ve yet to investigate.  Is it weird to buy a frame because you liked it in your therapists’s office?  Not weirder than making your clients play with shells, that’s for sure…

I largely ignored her weird beach display for the first half of our session.  Meg’s kind of quirky, and I didn’t want to be nosy.  Being nosy is what I’m paying her to do, right?  Finally, though, she addressed it.

“I bet you’re wondering about all of this beach stuff,” she suggested.

Yep.  Genius insight, Meg.

“I want to try something a little different today,” she said.  This always means I’m in for something completely bizarre.  Meg went on to explain to me that she wanted me to read a book, and while I was reading it she wanted me to hold some of the shells, run my fingers through the sand, and listen to the beach music she was going to play on her phone.

THE BEACH MUSIC ON HER PHONE, PEOPLE.  I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP IF I TRIED.

I said okay (because what else are you supposed to say to your therapist?).  She handed me the book.  It had a shell on the front.  Cool.  I see the theme here.  She put on her beach music and turned to take some notes.  I briefly wondered if this is like when teachers don’t feel like teaching so they just assign some random reading or pointless essay.  Did she not want to talk today, and this was her way of filling time?  Whatever.  I figured I’d better start reading the book or I’d be in contempt of therapy or something.

The short book, I’m sure, is inspirational to some people.  It’s about this old woman who likes to walk the beaches in North Carolina, and she always used to look for perfect shells.  Then one day she decided to look for broken shells, because broken shells are beautiful in their own way.  They’ve gotten dashed on rocks and not fallen completely apart.  They’ve sustained injuries and still made it to the beach.  That fact, claims our North Carolina beach walker, is beautiful.

Okay.  Fine.  If you feel inspired by that, great.  I can ask my therapist for the book so you can look at the pretty beach pictures.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I was properly inspired.  I think I may have rolled my eyes (behind the book, of course, because I didn’t want Meg to see).  When I was finished, I halfheartedly poked through a few of the shells on her sand table.  Notably, they were all perfect or near-perfect.  This seemed against the point of the book to me, but hey – I’m no therapist.

I told her I was finished reading, and she asked how I felt about it (because that’s what therapists ask about everything, right?).  I said I thought it was a dumb metaphor.  She laughed because I’m always really honest to the point of maybe being rude…but I think lying to a therapist is really counterproductive.  She asked why the metaphor was dumb.

I wanted to say it was because I felt FRICKIN RIDICULOUS playing with a table of sand and reading picture books like I was in kindergarten.  That’s not a good defense against the metaphor, though.  I’m a literature teacher.  If a therapist wants to discuss the veracity of a metaphor with me, game on.

“The metaphor is fine at first glance,” I started, “but extend it at all, and the entire thing falls apart.  What are shells for?  They provide safety and covering for sea creatures.  They’re exoskeletons.  If a shell breaks, it is literally good for nothing.  Even if it makes it up onto the beach, it’s going to be passed over by every other beach comber besides this one weird lady who decided to pick up a couple of broken shells.  YOU don’t even want broken shells – there are none on your table.  A broken shell is completely pointless.  If you want me to see this as applicable to me; that I’m a ‘broken shell’ overcoming some tough times, then I guess I can agree with you…  It’s just that your metaphor, applied to my life, renders me worthless to society and completely incapable of fulfilling my original purpose, which, you know, seems a bit more depressing than helpful.  Hence my general rejection of the initial premise.”

Meg looked a little surprised and then started laughing.  “Okay then,” she said.  “Not exactly what I was hoping for out of that…but you bring up some good points.”  She made some notes on her notepad (oh what I would give to see the stuff she’s written on that notepad, ha ha…), and then we chatted a bit longer before my session time was up.  She offered to let me keep a shell to remember the metaphor.  THANKS, Meg.  You’re a gem.  Remind me how I was once potentially useful and now am a loser to everyone except Granny Broken-Shell.  Instead I think I will go home, break some crayons, and then remind myself that broken crayons can still color.  That metaphor seems a lot more hopeful.

Lesson learned by me in this episode: therapists try really weird stuff to get their points across.

Lesson learned by my therapist in this episode: don’t try to out-metaphor a literature teacher.

Driving West

It was past midnight, and I’d just sped out of my driveway like a NASCAR racer who somehow missed the starting gun.  I got to the end of my street and looked both ways.  I could turn left to go east, which would lead me straight into town, or I could turn right and go west, which would lead me out of town.

I drove west.

I didn’t really know where I was going; I was just driving.  I needed to get away.  I couldn’t be home anymore.  It wasn’t like I was in a fight with my husband or anything…I just needed out.  I was in a fight with my brain.  Unfortunately, my brain has a tendency to follow me no matter which way I drive, but that didn’t stop me from driving.

It’s probably for the best that there is no major airport near my house, or you can bet I would have driven there, even with no luggage, and said, “Put me on the first flight to anywhere out of here.”

Sometimes I need to escape, and what sucks about bipolar disorder is that I cannot.  There is nowhere to fly, there is nowhere to drive, there is nowhere that I can escape from myself.  Do you know how frickin terrifying that feels?

I kept driving west.

I drove fast.  Too fast.  It was past midnight, and the further I got from town the further I got away from any cops.  It probably wasn’t safe, but I also didn’t care.  Memories flashed in front of me like a highlight reel from a string of movies that I would give anything to forget: MRI machines.  Needles pulling blood six vials at a time.  The sterile environment of doctors’ offices.  That weird endocrinologist who was obsessed with osteoporosis.  The psychiatrist who wouldn’t listen to me.  The psychiatrist who did and got it wrong.  The therapist who made me work with seashells (SEASHELLS), like that was going to somehow fix things.  My husband’s cousin who tried to sleep with me.  The raccoon running in front of me.

Oh crap!  That was a real raccoon.  Not a memory.  Eeeek!  Don’t hit the raccoon!

Phewf.  The raccoon was safe in the woods.  I turned the music up louder to drown out my thoughts.  I didn’t know the song.

I kept driving west.

I probably should have turned around.  My husband didn’t know where I was.  I got a text from him a few minutes after I left asking where I had gone.  I didn’t text back. Texting and driving is dangerous, you see.  If I was texting him, I might not have seen the deer on the side of the road that was ready to run into my headlights.  Michigan is full of weird creatures trying to cross roads in the middle of the night.  Not a single car was out, but tons of animals were.  I tried to focus on looking for deer, my music was as loud as it could go, and still the tears came.  Still the memories wouldn’t stop:

There was the prescription in my purse that I refuse to go fill.   The empty orange pill bottles filling various drawers in my house.  SO. MANY. PILL BOTTLES.  I don’t know why I keep them all.  The pile of bills on my counter that keeps getting higher as I keep forgetting to pay them.  The secret.  The smiling faces of my students who don’t understand what a triumph it is for me to even get to work in the morning.

I kept driving west.

If you look at Michigan’s lower peninsula on a map, you’ll see that if you drive west for long enough, you’ll eventually get to Lake Michigan.  “Lake” is kind of a misnomer, as this lake is so huge it might as well be an ocean.  You can’t see the other side of it.  It would take fifteen hours to drive around it.  It’s not called a “Great Lake” for nothing.  Before I knew what I was doing, I’d arrived at the lake.  I was surprised, as I’d lost track of time while driving.  How could I possibly be at the lake?  Didn’t I leave the house five minutes ago?  Apparently not.  I drove through the sleeping seaside town, past the “no parking” signs, and all the way to the beach itself.  My tires were in the sand.  I didn’t know why I was there, but I had arrived.

I opened my car door and got out because I couldn’t drive any further.  The clouds covered the moon and stars, leaving the sky a dull black.  I pulled my jacket close as the January wind whipped my hair around my face.  I looked and saw the lighthouse lit up, giving me enough light to look around.  I bent down and let the sand run through my fingers, wishing for summer.  Last summer, before everything fell apart?  This coming summer, when I’ll hopefully be a little healthier?  I didn’t know.  I just wished. I looked all around and didn’t see a single soul.  To have the entire beach to myself was very strange, as usually in the summer it’s so busy that I can barely find a place to lay my towel.  I breathed in the fresh air and peered into the darkness that was Lake Michigan, but I couldn’t see the water – only a large expanse of blackness.  It felt like looking into my life; an empty, endless darkness with only question marks where there should be hopes and dreams.

The sound and smell of the lake was calming, but the darkness was creepy.  I don’t think there are many serial killers in Michigan, but I would have been perfect prey if one happened to be stalking the beach that night.  No one even knew where I was.  Finally I sighed, knowing that my sudden and impulsive mini-road trip was over.  I had to go back, solving exactly nothing, but there was nowhere west left to drive.