Teeter-totters (and Other Terrifying Situations)

First grade can be hard.  There are spelling lists, letters that you somehow have to make into words, numbers that add together to make other numbers, and then also one of the trickiest situations of all: teeter-totters.

I remember my favorite game on teeter-totters:  I would sit right on the fulcrum (a word I did not learn until much later), and I would work really hard to balance.  Inevitably, the teeter-totter would start to lean one way or the other, and I would have to readjust to try to get the board to balance in a perfectly straight line.  When I finally got the board to balance, then the tricky part really began:  DO. NOT. MOVE.  The slightest movement would tip the teeter-totter, and then my moment of perfect balance would be over.  I didn’t move.  I yelled at my friends not to touch the teeter-totter.  I yelled at butterflies not to fly too close and throw off my balance with the wind of their wings.  Basically, I needed the world to stop for a minute because I FINALLY GOT THAT FRICKIN THING TO BALANCE.

That’s how my life feels at the moment.  I’ve spent months trying to get my life into balance, and I finally feel good about where I am.  The problem is summer break.  I think I’m the only teacher in the history of humanity that is scared of summer break.  I don’t want to mess up all of my routines.  I don’t want hours of spare time to sit around and think.  Thinking is not usually my friend.

balance-quotes-5

Perhaps it will all be fine.  Maybe I’ll be able to make some new routines and still keep to my general sleep and exercise schedule.  Historically, though, summers look completely different and quite unpredictable week by week.  Summers, generally, are tricky for me.  It’s like the fat kid from my first grade class is running towards my balanced teeter-totter, planning to jump on it, and I want to say, “GET AWAY FROM HERE, FAT KID!”  But the fat kid keeps running.  Now I’m going to have to readjust the whole thing to consider the fat kid factor.  Which begs the question – can I even balance with the fat kid, or is he just going to muck everything up?!

One of my friends described having bipolar disorder like being on a trampoline.  People who have a normal range of emotions are jumping on one of those cute little exercise trampolines used in eighties exercise videos.  They jump not too high, not too low.  People with bipolar disorder are jumping on one of those crazy high-bouncing trampolines that require you to have a harness and be strapped in with bungee ropes because you’re about to scrape the clouds when you jump.  It sends us incredibly high, but also so incredibly low.  I don’t want to be on that trampoline.  It’s like this year finally allowed me the opportunity to buy one of those cutie small trampolines, and now I’m hugging it close and saying, “Don’t put me back on the big trampoline!  I like this one!  I look good in neon colors, leggings, and puffy headbands!  Let me stay in the eighties exercise video!”

Life has a way of not letting people stay in one place very long.  The only constant we can expect is change, but change doesn’t have to be scary.

Except, obviously, THAT IT IS SCARY.  I’ve faced a lot scarier things than summer break, though.  I can handle a few changes of routine without bouncing off the trampoline.  I think.

Bring it on, fat kid.  I’m gonna rock my leggings and balance this thing called summer.

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Blame it on the…Bipolar Disorder?

I am a teacher, and this makes me an expert in excuses.  I’ve heard everything from the mundane (“I ran out of time”) to the cliche (“my dog ate it”) to the bizarre (“my baby brother pooped on it”).  The more years I teach, the more excuses I hear.  They all have one thing in common:

I hate them.

I recognize that sometimes there are logical explanations why things don’t get done, but I’m still annoyed when a student uses an explanation, no matter how legitimate, as a  flippant excuse.  It’s one thing to say, “We were out until eleven for a family event, so I skipped all of my homework.  Whatever,”  and it’s completely different to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get last night’s homework done because we were out late.  I had my mom e-mail you as is requested in your homework policy, and I’m only requesting a one-day extension.  I’ll have it done as soon as possible.”

Recently, I stumbled upon THIS article from bphope.com (a generally great resource for people with bipolar disorder) about loving someone with bipolar disorder.  I did not like the article.  I don’t know that I can say I disagree with it, exactly, but I know I don’t like it.  This quote from the article represents the crux of my issue with it:

“Bipolar disorder is a medical condition that manifests in behaviors that look like personal choices. It’s hard for partners to understand this as the symptoms feel so personal. When a person with bipolar spends a child’s college fund, makes horrible accusations, cuts down all of the trees in the back yard, refuses to listen to reason, and comes close to destroying a relationship, it’s hard to step back and think, This is an illness, but it needs to happen.”

It’s worth mentioning that the author of the article is a leading expert on bipolar disorder.  She’s written multiple books and many, many articles about it, she’s worked with Oprah, and basically she is a lot smarter than me about this stuff.  I can’t totally discount what she’s saying.

HOWEVER.

I can’t stand the “blame it on the bipolar disorder” approach.  Like its close cousin “blame it on the alcohol,” it absolves the offender of any culpability.   At least if someone blames an action on being too drunk, they have to admit that they made the choice to get drunk.  They could decide not to get drunk again, and logically those resulting stupid decisions would not happen.  Blaming things on bipolar disorder is even more frustrating, because it feels like the person is saying, “my brain made me do it!  It’s not my fault at all! Also, you never know when it might happen again!”

I had a talk with a student a few weeks ago who was having a lot of trouble behaving in class.  Her default response was, “Well, I have ADD.  This makes my brain work differently, so I can’t behave.  You don’t understand what it’s like when your brain makes things hard.”

REALLY?!  YOU’RE RIGHT.  IT MUST BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO HAVE A BRAIN THAT DOESN’T WORK CORRECTLY.  Obviously she had no way of knowing the brain battle I fight on a daily basis, but her words still cut.  I took a deep breath and said, “That must be very hard for you.  I’m sorry that you have to deal with that.  The thing is, ADD might make things more difficult for you than they are for other people, and that might be  totally unfair, but you have to work with us teachers to find some strategies that can help you overcome those difficulties.  You can’t just decide that you’re never going to do what you’re supposed to.  The behaviors are still unacceptable, even if there is a logical reason why you struggle with those things.”

Once I said that to her, I realized that I feel the same way about bipolar disorder.  The crazy behaviors that come with manic and depressive episodes, no matter how common or how explainable, are still not okay.  I don’t agree that you can spend your child’s college fund and your husband should just say, “Well, it’s an illness.”  I don’t agree that you should cheat on your spouse and then say, “No big deal.  My brain made me do it.”  You don’t get to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

But here’s the kicker, ladies and gentlemen – in a court of law, “not guilty by reason of insanity” is a legitimate defense.  Whether I like it or not, sometimes people DO lose their decision-making capabilities so much that they don’t have control over their actions, and sometimes other people have to accept that as a valid explanation for behavior.

I think perhaps one of the reasons why I hate that so much is because it’s terrifying to think I could be out of control again.  I finally feel stable on my current cocktail of medications paired with my sleep and exercise routine, and the thought of a relapse is scary.  I like to think that, with proper preparation and accountability, I could keep from making some of the mistakes I’ve made before – some potentially deadly mistakes.  Unfortunately, the looming probability of a relapse hangs over my current success like an ominous shadow.

Additionally, setting aside for a moment whether or not I could do something dumb and “blame it on the bipolar disorder,” I have to live with whatever fallout comes of my decisions.  There are consequences regardless of whether or not the actions were chosen while fully competent or half sloshed on brain chemicals.  The guilt is real.  The shame is real.  And the bottom line is, maybe I would rather live with a sense of guilt and shame than a sense of helplessness.  Maybe that’s why I’m so hesitant to blame anything on my disorder.  I’d rather take all of the blame, because then I have all the control.

I’m aware that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  There needs to be a sense of understanding that people with this illness face unique challenges, but the people with the challenges don’t get to stop fighting.  They don’t get to explain away  their behavior as fine because it’s “not their fault.”  They don’t get to run their tornado of crazy through the lives of their loved ones and then just say, “Oops. Don’t mind me.”  It doesn’t work like that.

Andy’s never had an issue with forgiveness (one of his best qualities, I think).  Regarding this issue, he says, “Why does it matter what percent of a bad decision was your fault and what percent should be explained by an illness?  Either way, I forgive you when things happen, we move on, and it’s about time that you figure out a way to forgive yourself.”  I know he’s right, but it still bothers me.  I want to know how much I’ve had control over in my life and how much was honestly “not guilty by reason of insanity.”  Except you know what?  Maybe I don’t want to know.  The answer could be scary.

I guess I don’t have a good conclusion to this post because there’s not a conclusive take-away in my mind regarding this topic.  I’m still so confused.  I would love to hear your opinion if you’ve found a way to marry the dichotomy of taking responsibility while still acknowledging that this illness does not allow for complete control.  My brain can’t mesh these two facts.

Then again, let’s be real.  My brain can’t do a lot of things.  Why are we relying on my brain here?  Comments, please.  Help me figure this one out!

brain

Doing It Right (Granny Style)

When kids play games, they usually play school or house.  They rarely play pharmacy.  I’ve actually never seen anyone play pharmacy.  Maybe that is because it’s not very fun.

Lately I’ve felt like I am playing pharmacy.  I have an impressive collection of bottles that almost completely covers the navy blue tiles of my bathroom counter.  There are fat bottles, skinny bottles, orange bottles, blue bottles… (Where was the Dr. Seuss book about this?  MISSED OPPORTUNITY).  Every night and every morning, I pick up each bottle and take “one of these, two of these, a half of this one…” etc.  It takes forever.

If any pharmacies in the area are robbed, I hope no police officers check my bathroom.  I’d be a person of interest faster than you can say Xanax.  They might just skip the questions and arrest me on the spot.  No one could possibly have that many legal pills (right?).  It doesn’t help that some doctors give me three months of a prescription at a time, so then I have stupid amounts of pills lying around even if I’m only taking one or two per day.

I’ve been resisting the inevitable, but I think it’s finally time:  I’m going to have to do pills granny style.

When my grandma was alive, my mom used to go to her house every Monday morning at 9:00 AM to “do her pills.”  That meant taking grandma’s personal pharmacy of pills and sorting them into easy-open compartments separated by day and time of day so that when grandma had to take her pills, it was just POP! – open the plastic flap and there you go.  All of the pills in one easy spot.  She didn’t have to play counter top pharmacy games every day.   Her pill container looked like this:

pills

Now, that is very handy and nice for grandmas, but I’ve always felt like you should hold a genuine AARP card before needing to buy one of those.  I’ve told myself, “No problem.  I’ll just sort out the pills as I take them.  Not a big deal.”  The problem is that we have a beautiful bathroom counter top, and I CAN’T EVEN SEE MOST OF IT.  Plus, when I’m trying to dispense my own pills at 6:30 AM, half the time I’m still all bleary with Einstein hair and feeling angry at the world for existing so early.  I’ll frequently pour too many pills or accidentally drop one or two on the floor (then subsequently put them back in the bottle because – hello – ten second rule, and also it’s too early to think about germs).

Basically, it’s time to bite the bullet and go granny-style with pills.  It will save me a lot of time, it will clear counter space, and I’ll stop accidentally eating dog hair from my bathroom floor.  I started shopping on Amazon for a good pill container, and I tried to find a hip, non-ancient-person looking one.  I tell you, fashionable pill containers do not exist.  Why can’t being crazy also be kind of cute?!  This is unfair.  I’m going to create a line of stylish pill containers, and all of my mentally-awesome blog friends will buy them.  I’ll sell them to psychiatrists for distribution.  This could catch on, y’all.

Until then, I’ll use a dumb granny-looking one.  I’ve decided I’m also going to put a gummy bear in each pocket. I hate taking pills, but I feel like I can’t possibly be that mad when I open the container and see, “Hey look!  A gummy bear!”

Wait a second, that’s kind of like when my parents used candy to potty train my sister, isn’t it?  I am using candy to make myself form positive habits.  Oh boy.  I’m a granny, but I’m also two years old.  Faaaantastic.  My life is strange.

Here’s to you, Grandma K.  Let’s rock these drugs old-school style. Maybe I’ll even do my pills on Mondays just to be like you.

Tattoos and Semicolons

I don’t have any tattoos, but I plan to get at least one eventually.  The problem is that I can’t commit to what I want.  It’s a pretty permanent decision.  I don’t want to be in a knitting group when I’m eighty and have someone ask about the saggy hibiscus on my shoulder, where I would then sigh and say, “Okay…so this one really stupid time when I was 19…”  Then I would have to relay a dumb story for the millionth time, and I would also hopefully wonder why I’m eighty and wearing a tank top.  This is the situation I am trying to avoid.

Anyway, I want the tattoo to have some sort of significance, and I want to know I’ll like it in the long term.  I’ve made a pact with myself: when I want the same tattoo for a full year, I’ll get it.  I made that decision when I was in college, and I’ve yet to want the same one for a year.  I always eventually change my mind.  Hence I am still tattoo-less.  Au natural.  Somewhat boring.

TODAY I am officially declaring Day 1 on wanting the tattoo I just discovered.  On May 18, 2017, if I still want it, I’ll get it.  Maybe this is “the one.”

*side note*  I decided after two months of dating that I wanted to marry the man who became my husband, and we’ll be celebrating ten years together this fall.  It takes me longer to commit to a tattoo than to a man.  I’m not sure what this says about me.

The tattoo I want is a semicolon.

Yes, the punctuation mark.  That’s the tattoo I want.  A small punctuation mark, probably on my ankle.

Stop judging me. I can feel your judgement radiating through my screen.  HEAR ME OUT, OKAY?!

First of all, something you should know about me: I love the semicolon.  It’s my favorite punctuation mark.  I’m an English teacher, so I do weird things like have a favorite punctuation mark.  You’re allowed to judge me for that one.  Anyway, I received a letter a while back from a student I had three years ago, and she put in the letter, “Did you notice I used a semicolon correctly?  I know how much you love semicolons!”  I spoke at a symposium with a team of teachers last year, and one of them actually put a semicolon in our presentation specifically because, “Hillboro loves semicolons, so let’s throw one in there.”  I don’t talk about them all the time.  I’m not sure why everyone knows this about me. Maybe it’s just that when you hear a person has a favorite punctuation mark, you remember that type of quirk.

Here’s the thing about semicolons: they are very underrated.  People almost never use them.  Commas get all the attention.  Teachers are all, “COMMAS! COMMAS! COMMAS!” and then there’s the sad little semicolon over in the corner, waiting to jump into the middle of a sentence, living in the shadow of the stupid comma. Half the students can’t even draw a semicolon at the beginning of the year when I ask them if they know what it is.  There aren’t many uses for it.  I picture the comma and semicolon as family members, but the comma is the one with all of the achievements and accolades.  It’s the super talented one.  The semicolon goes to family reunions like, “But hey, I’m really, really good at the two things I can do!”  No one cares because they all just want their picture taken with the comma.  It’s a sad story.

Anyway, I’ve always had a soft spot for semicolons, and I guarantee no one leaves my classroom at the end of the year without knowing how to use them properly.  I have lots of respect for people who use semicolons correctly, because so few ever do.  It’s like using a semicolon correctly puts you into a secret club of highly successful punctuation users.  We should name the club.  It would probably be called “nerds.”

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this quote on the internet:

suicide semicolon

I find this to be quite profound.  A semicolon is used when a period could have ended the sentence, but there is more to say.  A whole separate independent clause is going to come after it.  This made me think of my suicide attempt this past fall.  It’s like I put a period on my life – I said it was over.  Then God grabbed the pen out of my hand and was like, “Ummm…absolutely NOT!  You messed that up, but I’m going to change that period to a semicolon and make you keep writing.  This story is not over.”  One clause ended, but another one was just starting.  This is a grammar AND punctuation metaphor, so I’m oddly in love with it.

It’s weird to be alive when I tried to die.  It makes me feel like each day I live now is part of a second chance that I didn’t deserve to have.  I realize that no one should take any days for granted and that we should all live each day to the fullest, but it’s eerie to consider how close I came to ending things.  These words I’m currently typing would never have been written.  I have the rest of my life – however long that is – to find out how to spend this second chance.  I’m thankful for that undeserved opportunity; I’m thankful that this fall was only a semicolon.

Uses for Old Pill Bottles

What can I do with dozens of empty pill bottles?

The possibilities are endless.  Don’t ask me why I have dozens of empty pill bottles.  I have no explanation.  I swear I throw them away, yet they still end up in all corners of my house.  Maybe they’re reproducing.  I find them everywhere.  My nightstand is FULL of pill bottles in various states of emptiness.  The other day I found an old green pill bottle from 2010 and thought, “Awww…my very first Prozac prescription.  How cute.”

I have issues.

I wish there was a pill bottle fairy who would come scoop up old pill bottles and trade them for money.  Surely old pill bottles would be more useful than baby teeth?

I decided to find out all the uses for old pill bottles, hoping I could stumble upon something inspiring to do with my army of plastic cylinders.  I went to Google images and typed in “uses for old pill bottles.”  Here were some of my favorites (with my own commentary, of course):

pills2

This one is actually a good idea (one of the very few I found).  Dig a hole, plant a pill bottle, and keep a house key in it.  Just remember which rock it’s under.  Also, I might actually leave a Xanax or two in the pill bottle, because if I forgot my keys again then it’s probably a Xanax sort of day.

pills6

Deck the halls with proof that you’re sick, Fa-la-la-la-la-la  la-la-la-la.  People will think your brain is a brick, Fa-la-la-la-la-la  la-la-la-la.

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You can use them as party favors!  It’s the absolute perfect choice if you don’t really like your friends.  You can creep them all out so they’ll never come to your parties ever again.  Finally – peace and quiet!

pills4

You could make this…..thing.  I have no idea what this is.  I don’t have any clue why someone put this online.  I say throw it in a science fair and see what happens.  Weirder things have won prizes at science fairs.

pills5

This is a cool idea.  My earbuds always ensnare the contents my purse into a wiry mess.  This would keep them separate and relatively tame.  I wouldn’t put that girly decoration on the side, though.  I’d slap a white label on there that says “YOU CAN’T OVERDOSE ON MUSIC” in black Sharpie.  That will make me look hipster and deep.

pills1

This one is my personal favorite.  I sort of want to do this one day just so when people comment on my beautiful chandelier, I’ll say, “Thank you.  I took all of those pills myself.  It took ten years of bipolar disorder to make that chandelier.”  Then I’ll smile and ask if they’d like a glass of champagne, and they’ll get all squirmy.  It could be fun.

 

After I posted those pictures, I realized Google overlooked some very simple but effective uses, which I will add here now:

Glitter Bomb.  As soon as I thought of this, I thought, “BRILLIANT!  WHY HAVEN’T I DONE THIS BEFORE?!”  Fill a bottle with glitter and keep it in your purse.  When you’re at a store and someone is super rude, or when someone takes your parking space and makes you mad – BOOM – glitter bomb.  It’s like pepper spray except less aggressive and prettier.

Halloween Treat.  Take the labels off so parents can’t track you down, then put white mints in the pill bottles.  Hand them out to kids who come trick-or-treating.  Look extra crazy and say, “These make you feel reeeeeeeal good, kid…” then dart your eyes around wildly and slam the door in their faces.

Shot glass.  Hello…does anyone else think that pill bottles are just the right size to be shot glasses?  Unfortunately, you have to shoot 7-Up or whatever since the side of the bottle clearly tells you not to drink alcohol.

Tiny Bowling.  Line up ten pill bottles in a triangle, get a good bouncy ball, try to knock them all down in one roll (STRIKE!!), and wonder why you have nothing else better to do on a Saturday night.

Modern Art.  Everything’s art, right?  I feel like modern art is especially weird, so you could probably throw a pill bottle in that genre.  Melt the bottom of the bottle a little bit, call it My Fading Life, and sell it for thousands.  Millions, even.  It’s art.

There you have it, friends.  My top uses for old pill bottles.  Let me know if you have any other ideas.  Also let if me know if you want to buy a beautiful piece of orange plastic modern art.  I’ll cut you a deal for following my blog.

Eeeep! No Awareness! Except…ALL THE AWARENESS!

Mentally ill people find themselves in a weird paradox.

May is national “mental health awareness month,” and I don’t really know what to do with this.  OF COURSE I want people to recognize mental illness as a real thing, and OF COURSE I want them to know more about bipolar disorder. OF COURSE I’m sick of people seeing mental illness as “oh yeah, that’s like, serial killers, right?  I watch those people on CSI.”

I AM NOT A CHARACTER ON CSI.

Although that would be kind of fun…hmmm…I bet I could play a crazy person really well…um, never mind about that.  Back to the point.

I want awareness brought to mental illnesses, but I certainly don’t want to be the one to bring about the awareness.  Therein lies the paradox: I want the awareness without the attention.  One of my friends posted something about the best young adult books for mental health awareness month to facebook.  She put some status about how they might be tough reads for people who struggle with depression, and she tagged me in it.  She’s a teacher, I’m a teacher, and in reality I’m pretty sure that it would be great for my kids to get some exposure to those things.  It was quite a logical tag.  Still, here was my internal reaction:

*eyes bug out of my head*

She tagged me in WHAT?!  WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!  I don’t want anyone to know I struggle with mental illness!  What if they think she tagged me in this because I’m mentally ill, and THEY WOULD BE RIGHT?!?!  UNTAG! UNTAG! UNTAG!  How long ago did she post this?!  How many people might have seen it? FREEEEEEEAK OOOOUUUTTT!

For someone eager to have awareness, I’m certainly not doing great about making it happen.  Still, it seems a bit unfair.  When there are events for breast cancer awareness, people wear pink ribbons without shame and (rightly so) declare their pride in being survivors.

I’m running a 5k in a few weeks for a place in my hometown that helps mentally ill teens.  It’s a bullying/suicide prevention run.  I’m running it because – *ahem* – “I am a teacher and want my students to know that they can stand up against bullying.”

I would never say, “Because I am a suicide survivor” (a term I hate anyway), or “because I have a mental illness and want people to know that the struggle is real but that it can be overcome.”  That would be the “bringing awareness” route, but instead I’ll shuffle through the 5k and hand over my money to the people who are actually bringing awareness.  Then I’ll go quietly home.

Maybe that makes me cowardly, but you know what?  I’m trying.  I’m telling people about this illness one person at a time, and a lot of times it goes horribly, but I’m still doing it.  I’m never going to be the person who wears my heart on facebook statuses.  I’m not going to walk around town wearing a shirt that says, “LOVE ME.  I’M BIPOLAR.”  I’m actually pretty sure I’d get fired if my work knew about my illness, because those people just couldn’t handle it.  You might say, “No! They’d be super understanding!” but

  1. You have not met the people who run my school, and
  2. Do you want your child to have a teacher who has been diagnosed as mentally ill?

That’s what I thought.  Because no one wants the villains from CSI teaching about adjectives.

This is why it’s unfair, people.  Many people with mental illnesses cannot speak out about their experiences because the personal cost is too high.  I’ve lost friends. I’ve alienated family members.  I’ve…

Wait.  No.  That’s not true.

Bipolar disorder has cost me friends.  Bipolar disorder has alienated family members.  Because none of those people treated me poorly until they learned about my diagnosis, and then I went from being a person to a pitri dish.  I was interesting, but wholly untrustworthy.  What used to be seen as “spontaneous” became “volatile and unstable.”  I’m the same person, but they don’t see me the same way.  That’s not exactly the encouragement I need to start shouting from the rooftops about my disabled brain.

I feel like we all want awareness brought to these things, but none of us want to be the one to do it.  We need to stop hiding, but we need a world that is ready to receive us.  I’m really not sure how to achieve one without the other.  I guess this blog is a small step.  Each person I tell is a small step.  We’ll get there.  It’s just going to take longer than May.

Mental-Health-Awareness-Ribbon

My Profane and Wise Friend Once Said…

“It’s really about cultivating your shit,” Betsy told me.  I was sitting across from her at a dingy bar.  We were snacking on cheap popcorn and sipping our respective drinks (me: a girly pink cocktail.  her: some obscure microbrew).  People were shooting pool in the corner, and a group of guys at the bar were getting all worked up about a basketball game that we were ignoring.  No one was paying attention to the crazy people in the corner talking about cultivating life’s shit.

Betsy has been my friend since we were four.  When you have your entire childhood in common, sometimes that’s all you need to stay friends.  If we met now, we probably wouldn’t be.  I’m an English teacher living in the suburbs with a picket fence and “sensible” (read: boring) work-driven wardrobe choices.  She’s in a band, wears leather jackets and hipster clothes, has half of her head shaved and the other half crimped in a fabulously random way.  I wear lipgloss.  She wears eyeliner on only one eye.  I drink cocktails.  She drinks microbrews.  On the surface, we don’t have a lot in common.  Under the surface, we do.

On this particular night, she was passing through my town on a break from her current thirty-city tour.  We’ve both had hellish years for different reasons.  We drank to the fact that we were still friends even though life turned out oh-so-differently than we imagined back at sleepovers when we were seven.  Or nine.  Or nineteen.

Sometimes good life choices result in a happy life, and sometimes they don’t.  There’s no guarantee about that like teachers and parents want you to think.  We talked about the things we wished we would have known as kids and the things we wish we could know now.  Then Betsy came up with this gem:

“It’s really about cultivating your shit,” she said. “Because sometimes life gives you shit.  A huge pile of it.  But you know what?  Shit can be a really good fertilizer.  Beautiful things can grow from shit, but nothing’s going to grow from it if you leave it in a giant pile and say, ‘Ugh.  Look at all of this FUCKING SHIT.’  You have to work with it.  Deal with it.  Don’t just leave it there.  Put it to use and let things grow from it.  Make it work for you so that someday you might see that it actually helped you in the long run.”

That’s pretty beautiful for a disgusting metaphor.  Both of us are trying to work toward a place where we can look back and say, “That helped us in the long run,” but until then we’ll keep not caring about basketball games, eating cheap popcorn, and being there to catch each other when life knocks us down.

I’ll drink to that.

 

When My “Sparkly Brain” Pukes

Sometimes my brain pukes out on me.  I’m not sure why this happens or even exactly what goes on when it does.  It’s this weird thing where I’m not in a distinct episode of depression or mania, I’m not having a panic attack, but I also can’t think straight at all.  My brain gets “swirly and sparkly,” which is apparently what I told Andy last night.  When I tell him I’m “not doing so great,” he knows exactly what that means.  I frequently go sit in the closet when this happens (don’t ask me why…), and I’ll sometimes write rambling weird things on bits of notebook paper.  It’s strange to look at it the next day, because even my handwriting changes when I write in this state.  It’s very, very weird.

Last night I apparently had no notebook paper, but I did have my phone.  I logged on to WordPress and typed the following “blog post.”  I was going to delete it today because it was so strange, but then I thought, “Well, this is kind of an interesting look at what’s going on when my brain is AWOL.”  I ran it by Andy today and asked, “Is this really how I talk when I’m not doing great?”  He read it and said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what you sound like, except all of that should be in caps because a lot of times you’re yelling.”

“I do not yell,” I said, indignant, as if I had a clear memory of last night (I never have a clear memory of these episodes, which is terrifying in and of itself).

“It’s not like you’re angry,” he said.  “You’re just…really loud.  Sometimes yelling.  I don’t know.  It’s just how it goes.”

Sounds pretty awful.  Glad I don’t remember a lot of it.  My mental illness guru readers – any clues on what’s going on here??  I would love some insight.   Anyway, here’s last night’s literary genius:

Sometimes I can’t think right.  I say the same things over and over again.  I keep saying them.  I say them over and over again I do not know why I keep saying them.  It’s like I have to say it one more time.  One more time.  One more time.  I don’t know why.  It makes me feel a little bit better to keep saying them.  It’s weird.  I think I’m a bit mad.  I mean, I know I am, but sometimes I also feel that way.  That’s very strange.  Then I think and speak in ridiculous run-on sentences when – HELLO – I am an English teacher and avoid run-on sentences almost as much as I avoid sushi, which is an awful lot because I really really hate sushi.  I am telling you I really hate it. You have no idea.  I hate it a lot.  A lot.  So I avoid it

And then I sit in the dark typing blog posts on my phone, but I have to go back every two words because my brain types much faster than my fingers even though obviously my brain isn’t typing so what I end up with is a jumbled mess of auto corrects that I have to fix because maybe I can’t stop thinking in run-ons, but I’ll be damned if I’m also going to let this thing be riddled with typos.

Wanna see what happens if I type without rereading?  Here:  this iswhay happens when I’m typing without feedstock and unfeeling like ohm going at a normal typing speed but obseear to you that my normal texts arntw so humpback and what the duck jab an overeat anyway because THAT MAKES DNO SWNSE.

So.  There’s that.  A bit disconcerting.  Trying to be intelligible forces me to slow down at least.  Maybe I should stop typing this in the dark and go take a shower.  Who can be stressed in the shower?  I mean, it at least puts a damper on things.  Okay.  I’m gonna do that.   Hazel out. (Like Ryan Seacrest – does anyone else remember that?? Man, American Idol was my life.  I wish Clay Aiken’s devastating second place finish was still my biggest problem).

Brilliant, no? *eyeroll*  Anyway, wherever my brain decided to escape to last night, it’s back now.  That’s good.  I wish I could find a way to lock it down and keep it from leaving me in a lurch again.

That Time When Someone Said the Right Thing

It’s not easy being crazy.

It’s even harder when it’s a secret.

Secrets have weight.  Some secrets are relatively light: “I’m the one who ate the last piece of cake that one time” or “I’m actually three pounds heavier than what I told you.”  Some secrets are heavy.  Having bipolar disorder is a heavy secret.

Not many people know my heavy secret.  I’ve changed my last name for this blog so that my students and friends won’t stumble upon it (and really, “Hillboro” is a cool last name anyway.  Let me pretend).  Keeping my secret is a good thing for now, maybe forever, but it comes with its challenges.  One of them is that people say really stupid crap that they would never say if they knew I have a mental illness.  They make jokes about moody people being bipolar.  They joke about cutting themselves and killing themselves when it is so, so not funny.  I’ve had multiple nurse friends talk about their mentally ill patients like they are sub-human, when I don’t see why those patients have any less worth than their otherwise-ill peers.  It’s strange.  I think people would be more sensitive if they knew, but it makes me see the world through new eyes.  Did I ever make those kinds of jokes?  Is that how I viewed people with mental illness?  I certainly hope not, but I also don’t remember.  It’s tough to remember what life was like a decade ago, before I started down this road.

Last week, I was riding with my brother-in-law to Ann Arbor for something he had to do for dental school.  He needed someone to ride along, and I said sure.  My in-laws are 89% cool, but none of them know my secret.  They’re the kind of family that doesn’t talk about problems.  We talk about the weather and recipes and baseball games.  It’s the all-American family, and I don’t want to wreck the magic by having a mental illness.  My husband is a great support, but I think his family would be horrified and completely lost on what to do with that information.  Anyway, they’re all in the dark.

While I rode with Jake to Ann Arbor, I asked how his girlfriend is doing in nursing school (she is scheduled to graduate next year).  He said she’s doing fine and that she’s working in a psych ward rotation this quarter.  I immediately wished I hadn’t asked, because I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear anything he was about to say.  I couldn’t completely shut down and stop talking, so I said, “Oh. Ummm…how’s that?”

“It’s hard,” he said.

“I can imagine,” I replied, staring out the window.  I was suddenly very interested in the highway.  I wanted this conversation shut down NOW.  Jake elaborated on his previous statement even thought I hadn’t asked him to continue.

“She says it’s mostly sad,” he said.  “Like, her first day there, she worked on someone who looked just like her mom.  She realized that these patients are real people, you know?  Just like us – with families and dreams and stuff. Most of her patients are voluntarily admitted.  They’re not dangerous or anything – they’re just sick.  It’s like any other sickness, but it’s in their brain.  People don’t understand that, which bugs her.  And me.  People need to get that it’s just a sickness.  They need help just like someone who has liver disease.  But it has to be so scary to have an illness in your brain, because you can’t even think straight.  Wouldn’t that be scary?  I hope that never happens to us.”

“Me neither,” I automatically said, even though that probably would have been a great time to say, “Well, actually… I sort of do know what that feels like…”  I was too stunned.  No one – no one – has ever said anything like that about mental illness to me.  Especially someone who doesn’t know I have one.  Occasionally people will say encouraging things when they already know my secret, but then I always feel like maybe they’re just saying that because they feel obligated.

I was embarrassed to find my eyes filling with tears because I was so-freaking-happy to hear someone say what Jake just said.  I wanted to hug him.  I was glad he was driving and couldn’t see me getting all emotional in the passenger seat.  I immediately texted Andy and asked, “Does Jake know the secret?”  I figured maybe this was Jake’s way to try to get me to open up about a secret he already knew.  No one could actually hold that logical of an opinion about mental illness, could they?  Andy texted back, “No, I told you I wouldn’t tell anyone, and I haven’t.  Why – did he say something stupid?”  I laughed because Andy immediately thought his brother said something dumb.

“No,” I texted back. “What he said was perfect.”

The Final Moment, Tokyo Drifting, and Marlboros

Have you ever seen a little girl playing on a beach near the water, back turned toward the ocean, happily playing in the sand?  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge wave hits the girl and sends her rolling across the beach.  This causes her to look surprised, dazed, and varying degrees of upset.  That’s what it feels like to have painful memories triggered.  You think you’re finally putting your life back together, you think you’re doing better, but you see or hear something and suddenly everything you’re trying to forget comes back in screaming color.

It’s a lot like the game Chutes and Ladders – remember that one?  You’re plunking along one square at a time, trying to get to the top of the board, when – BAM! – you suddenly hit a chute and slide all the way back to square two.  Then you’re like, “WTF?!  I’ve been climbing this whole-frickin-board just to undo all that work by slipping on one stupid chute?!”

Chutes&Ladders1

Life has a lot of chutes.  I wish there were ladders in real life, where something happens and suddenly you make ALL THE PROGRESS.

Real life doesn’t have ladders.  You have to take that motherfucker one square at a time.

There are a lot of things that momentarily (or not-so-momentarily) knock me down.  Three specific memories are the trinity of go-away-I-don’t-want-to-think-about-that.  I went three for three today.  I’m haunted by three-for-three on most days, to be honest. I’m hoping that maybe by writing them out I can try to overcome them.  It’s like when you get a song stuck in your head, and you finally think, “Okay, I’ll listen to the ENTIRE STUPID SONG, and then it won’t be in my head anymore.”  It always works for me, anyway.

The first and most difficult memory for me is the day I tried to kill myself.  It’s closely linked with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, another memory I would love to erase.  This memory is triggered by a lot of things (if this is going to be a memory trigger for you, feel free to skip it.  I won’t be offended.  Promise.)  Today it was triggered by a story about a person whose friend asked if he could get together and talk.  The guy didn’t make time to talk to that person, and two days later the person killed himself.

When I hear of people killing themselves, I suddenly remember how it feels to be there.  I remember the desperation, the certainty that there is no way out, the days and weeks of spiraling into an existence that I didn’t even recognize, and then finally that moment – that final moment – when I felt an intense rush of calm, a relief in knowing that it was finally going to be over and I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.  In a very twisted way, everything was finally okay.  A tragic ending is still an ending.  The book would finally be closed.

Of course, that did not end up being my final moment, but it so easily could have been.  I’m not always thankful that it wasn’t.  Either way, I remember how it felt.  I feel like I have an idea what suicidal people went through right at the end.  I want to hug them and I want to be them and I want to make sure that no one on earth ever has to feel that way.

The second memory that’s rough for me is my time in Tokyo.  Today I went to a restaurant that had a Tokyo Drift arcade game.  The front of the game showed, in vivid colors, the lights and buildings and rush of Tokyo.  It had Japanese characters behind the English words, and it momentarily transported me back to that time last summer.  It was the time when that other American guy fell head-over-heels for me even though I’m very decidedly taken.  It was when I fell a little bit for him too.  It was when we got lost in Tokyo and he was the only one who understood me (not metaphorically here – literally.  I couldn’t speak to any other people or understand any of the foreign chatter around me.)  It was when, among the lights and unreadable neon signs and a movie-perfect sudden rain shower, he tried to kiss me.  It was when I said no.  It was when we got back to our hotel, and he threw me up against the side of the wall in the elevator to try again.  I still said no, I pushed him away, and I got scared.  He didn’t stop trying to get me to say yes until I left, and every time he told me how perfect I was and how beautiful I was and how not-like-other-girls I was, my resolve weakened by one percent.  I knew he was a player, I wanted to get away from him, but I literally could not.  There were only a few people in our grant team, and neither of us would be released from our grant obligations until July 10.  Even though I knew this guy was trying to achieve a goal he wouldn’t reach, it was still nice to hear his torrents of praise (mostly because I’m an awful person, that’s why).  He kept telling me sweet, delicious lies, and I started trying to figure out how many percents of resolve I had left and how many days and how many hours I had until I could get on that plane and go home where no one would make me eat sushi and I would once again be in the arms of my husband.  I wanted to be back in a place that was familiar, where nice guys don’t try to sleep with you and boys aren’t walking around masquerading as men.

Speaking of boys masquerading as men, my third memory is about my husband’s cousin.  I used to be good friends with this guy.  I trusted him.  He was a groomsman in our wedding, for goodness sake.  I’ve been friends with him since he was fourteen, which is when my husband and I started dating.  He’s like my little brother.

Imagine my surprise on the night he tried to kiss me.

It was also last summer.  Unlike the aforementioned Tokyo situation, in this case there were no mutual feelings whatsoever.  He’s family, so it’s tough to avoid running into him or remembering him.  His sister posted something on facebook today about how he’s such a great uncle to her kids and how they want him to come visit soon.  It was just a facebook post.  Innocent enough.  Suddenly, however, my mind was flooded with the image of the harsh convenience storefront lights battling the darkness of the night sky.  I was on the back of his motorcycle.  He’d stopped for cigarettes.  Marlboros.  In my world, betrayal smells like Marlboros.

It was that night that this guy, one of my best guy friends, a “safe” person trusted by my husband and by me because – hello – he is family, shattered that trust as easily and as irreparably as throwing a vase to the ground.  He was stone-cold sober, and yet he still tried to kiss me.  I don’t know why his being drunk would make things easier in this case, but sometimes you want something on which you can blame a bad situation.  You want to say, “Oh, that happened because…”

There’s no “because” in this case other than “because we never should have trusted him in the first place.”

I was so shocked.  “YOU ARE MY COUSIN!” I nearly shouted.  “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”  He looked around nervously.  “Be quiet,” he hissed.  “Someone might actually think we’re cousins!”

“YOU ARE MY COUSIN!”  I said again, hoping the man taking out the convenience store trash would notice us and make Max as uncomfortable as I felt.  I thought cousins-in-law counted as family.  Apparently they do not.  He turned back to me, and his nervous gaze softened.  “Hazel, I have never considered you to be a cousin.  Ever.  I’ve thought you were sexy since the first time Andy brought you over.”

He wasn’t making anything better by talking.  I guess since his cover was already blown, he decided to go on confessing:  “When you visited me in Korea, I tried to hook up my Go-Pro in my shower so I could see you naked.  I didn’t end up being able how to figure it out.  And that dress you wore that one night?  Oh my gosh.  Hazel.  I absolutely could not take my eyes off of your legs.  I can’t believe you didn’t notice.  And I never noticed this until tonight, but your hair smells so good.  I even like your hair.”

Are all men that pervy and disgusting!?  Maybe yes.  I’m going to start assuming yes.  That probably makes me some sort of jaded manhater, but I had a very disturbing summer.

I made Max take me home.  I was on the back of his motorcycle, so I had to wrap my arms around him.  It….wasn’t great.  Obviously, things have never been the same between us after that night.  He had been a confidant, someone I could trust with any secrets, and now I can’t even talk to him.  Did he really think I was going to kiss him that night?  He knows me well and he certainly knows his cousin even better.  In what universe did he think that would be a good idea?  He apologized profusely the next day, said he didn’t know what he was thinking, but no apology could take that night back.  Trust me, I wish it could.  I know I’ll get to a point where it doesn’t bother me, but right now whenever I see him or hear about him I’m still sad for losing that friendship and angry that he took it away.  I know we won’t ever be close again.

Well, there you have it: the trilogy of memories that I will delete as soon as someone invents a way to do that.  I don’t know if I feel better or worse for having typed that all out.  I guess it’s just a step on my road to recovering from these things.  On to the next square.