The Most Romantic Thing Anyone Has Ever Done for Me

It’s weird to think that the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me went largely unnoticed until this past weekend.  I realized it while standing in a hotel suite, wearing a long cotton-candy pink chiffon dress, and putting on some lip gloss.

I was getting ready for a wedding I was in, and I’d gotten to know a few of the bridesmaids pretty well over this whole wedding-planning week (because we were dealing with things such as trying to support the bride when she found out her mother-in-law was going to wear a long white crop-top dress to the wedding. Oy.)

While putting on our makeup, one bridesmaid saw a pill bottle on the counter and said, “What’s this?”  I’d set it there while digging through my make-up bag for mascara earlier, and I’d forgotten to put it back.  I guess she didn’t know whose it was (there were a lot of us going in and out of that bathroom), or she was just being super nosy.  Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and call it the former.  I hadn’t even noticed the bottle because pill bottles are such a non-noticeable part of my life.  It would be like someone coming up to you, looking at your hand, and saying, “Look! A fingernail!”  You’d be all, “Oh yeah, fingernails.  I forgot about those because they’re always with me.”  That’s me and pill bottles.

“Oh, that’s mine,” I said, grabbing the pill bottle and putting it back in my bag.  She looked at me questioningly, because I guess not everyone sees pill bottles as such a common commodity.  I was afraid she was going to burn her hair off with the curling iron while she stood there waiting for me to answer her questioning look.  I’m bad at lying and also pretty bad at saying, “None of your business,” so I said, “It’s no big deal…I have this tiiiny brain tumor that seems pretty bent on ruining my life, but I’m on it.  It won’t kill me.  I just take a crap ton of pills.”  I threw the pill bottle back in my bag and started putting on blush.  At that moment, my face was a bit red without it.

“Wait, whaaaat?”  The bridesmaid (thankfully) uncurled her curl and stood there with one piece of hair curled and pupils about as wide as her open mouth.  I hate this reaction, which is the one I get every time someone finds out about my health problems.  At least she didn’t say one of my least favorite lines, which is “but you look so healthy!”  Like I should apologize for not looking sick enough to have a tumor or bipolar disorder or any of the other issues I have.  SORRY FOR TRYING TO HAVE A NORMAL LIFE.  MY BAD.

I shrugged it off, because usually when I pretend like something is no big deal then people tend to roll with it.  She picked up another piece of hair to curl.  I dug around for my lip gloss.  Finally she said, “Wait…I know Elle said you had health problems in college…was this it?”

“Yep.”  I was still trying to avoid this conversation.  She didn’t catch it or didn’t care.

“Wait, so…you’ve been with your husband since you were seventeen….he’s been with you for this entire time?”

“Yep, since day 1.  I got the call the day after I moved into college.”

“Wow, that’s so romantic.”  She shook her head and unrolled the hair she was curling.  I stopped halfway through applying lip gloss, my lips in a perfect “O” of surprise even though I hadn’t been surprised until that moment.  I stopped and stood up, lips halfway glossed, and looked at myself in the mirror.  I had never heard my story called “romantic” before.  There’s nothing romantic about MRIs.  There’s nothing romantic about blood test after blood test after blood test.  There’s nothing romantic about countless doctors with countless treatment plans, most of which don’t work.  There’s nothing romantic about panic attacks or delusions where I think people are trying to kill me.  There’s nothing romantic about the extraordinary amount of drugs I’ve had to be on.  Nothing, I tell you.  Nothing.

Except…

Maybe there is something romantic about a guy who is willing to stand next to me through all of that.  It’s romantic that he is willing to take me to appointments so I won’t be alone. It’s romantic that he will bring me water and hold me when I’ve been so terrified that I cried until I threw up.  It’s romantic that he has never once complained about how difficult it is to be with me, even though I know it has a specific and difficult set of challenges.  There is something wildly romantic about that, and I’d never put that word to it until that moment.

It’s far more romantic than the fresh roses currently sitting on my dining room table.  It’s better than the cute notes he leaves in my bags when I travel.  I’d take that over any line from any movie or any surprise date he has ever planned.  It’s the most romantic thing that’s ever happened to me, and I didn’t even know it.

While watching the bride and groom take their vows, I thought back to mine.  I thought about how when Andy said, “in sickness and in health,” he meant it.  I thought of how he’s made good on that promise again and again and again, far and above what should be asked of any man.  Then I cried.

Too bad about all of that makeup I put on.

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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.

Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 3)

I’m dyeing my hair purple, and it’s all my therapist’s fault.

Sometimes I do weird things in therapy (you can read episodes 1 and 2 of this series here and here).  I really do like my therapist, I swear, but she’s got some weird ideas every once in a while.  As an even rarer occurrence, her ideas lead to questionable life choices such as dyeing my hair purple.

A few months ago, she gave me a bizarre homework assignment: she handed me a shoe box and a stack of magazines, and she told me to go home and cut out pictures.  I had to glue pictures that represented my “inner self” on the inside of the shoe box, and I had to put pictures that represented how others see me on the outside of the shoe box.  I wish I had a photo of my face when she told me this.  I think it was…skeptical to say the least.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.  “You want me to cut out pictures?  Like, what the kindergartners at my school do?”

“Yeah…it could help…” she said, looking a bit uncertain.  She was probably worried I would flat out refuse (a very real concern, by the way.  I thought about it).  In the end, I figured that she’s the one with the degrees and I’m the one with the defective brain, so it would probably be best to do what she said.

I went home and got to work.  Shards of magazine paper were quickly strewn about the living room.  My husband walked in at one point and asked what I was doing.  “Therapy homework,” I answered, as if this explained everything.  He looked at me a moment longer, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I held up a picture of spaghetti in response.  “Do you think pasta is more of an inside piece of me or an outer piece of me?  Because, like, everyone who knows me knows that I love Italian food, but I actually really do love Italian food.  Does that make it inside or outside?”

“Uhhh…cut it in half?” he suggested.  Perfect.  Great solution.  I hadn’t even had to bother with explaining the project.  This is why Andy is great.  I cut the spaghetti in half, and Andy walked away (probably to shake his head and swear that he will never go to therapy).

When I brought my shoe box into therapy the following week, I presented it like a kindergartner presents a finger painting masterpiece.  “I did my homework,” I said.  “Is it good?  Do I get an A?”

“There are no grades in therapy,” my therapist said for the thousandth time (which is not true, I say.  What else could possibly go in that thick file of notes about me?!  I know she’s writing if I did a good job or not.  I JUST KNOW IT).

We talked about the box for a while and how the optimization of happiness occurs when the inside of the box matches the outside, or when people are projecting an authentic image of themselves.  Perhaps this is why I’m happiest when eating spaghetti!

An interesting conversation sparked when she noticed a picture of a girl with purple hair on the inside of my box.  She asked me about it, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…I just put that in there because I’ve always thought it would be fun to do something really crazy with my hair, like dyeing it purple.”

“Then why don’t you dye it purple?”

I looked at her as if she was the crazy one, not me.  “You don’t just DYE your hair purple.  People would think…I mean…you just don’t DO that.  It’s weird.  My husband would kill me.  I would get fired.”

“You’re a teacher, right?  Why can’t you dye it purple for the summer?”

I shifted uncomfortably on the couch.  “Because…um…because it’s just not done.”

“I say if you want purple hair, you should go for it.”

I assured her that no, that’s crazy, and theoretically wanting purple hair and actually dyeing it were two totally different things. I was squarely in the camp of the former.

Still, somehow, the next week when I was getting routine highlights done, I struck up a conversation with my stylist.  “So…umm…theoretically, how difficult would it be to dye my hair purple?”

Her eyes got wide and excited behind her thick square-rimmed glasses.  “Oooooh, like a purple strip on the inside by your neck?  That would look awesome.”

“Uhh…no…”  I said slowly, wondering if the highlighting chemicals were seeping into my brain.  “I actually meant…sort of…all of my hair.”

“All of you hair?  Like…your whole head?”  Apparently this is not a common request.

“Hold on,” I said.  I quickly grabbed my phone while she kept wrapping highlights.  Amazed that I was even thinking about this, I google searched some ideas for purple hairstyles.  I found one I liked, and I held it above my head.  The light of the phone reflected in the tin foil strips of my highlights.  “Like this,” I said, watching her reaction in the mirror as she stopped to look at my phone.  She looked even more excited than she had earlier.

“Seriously?” she took the phone out of my hand to look at it more closely.  “That would be so fantastic.  Let’s do it.  This is going to be so fun.  When are we doing this?”

“Summer,” I said definitively.  “Right when school gets out.”  As soon as I said that I thought, “Wait, what am I saying?!?  Back up! Take it back!”  Except I didn’t do that.  I looked in the mirror, head full of foil, and smiled.

After that appointment, months ago, we put my purple hair appointment on the books: June 15.  At the time, June 15 was such an abstract date – far in the future.  Now it’s…in eleven days.  I’m a bit nervous, but I’m mostly excited.  When I told my husband about this idea, he was surprisingly supportive.  He said he thinks purple hair will look really sexy.  I don’t know if it’s the purple hair or simply the fact that I’m not trying to fit into what I “should” be anymore, but one or the other is definitely attractive.  I feel sexy.

My sister went to that same stylist last week, and the stylist was talking about how excited she is about my crazy hair project.  My friend Bri lives in Maryland, and she texted me this week to say, “Purple hair, Hazel?  Seriously?”  This made me laugh, as this friend was voted Biggest Gossip in high school.  Even ten years and multiple states later, she somehow still has the pulse on the latest news.  She must have heard it from the ONE other person from high school who knows about it.  My husband said he’s pumped to see it.  I bought new nail polish to match it.  There’s no going back, people.  I’m going purple.  THIS IS HAPPENING.

I asked my husband to take me downtown this weekend, as I have some new white shoes I want to wear.  I told him that I’ve been waiting until after Memorial Day to wear them because they’re summer shoes.  He said, “Wait a second…you’re dyeing your hair purple, but you can’t wear white shoes before Memorial Day?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded, appalled.  “I’m edgy, not TOTALLY INSANE.”  This made us both laugh.  There are so many issues with that statement.  Maybe I’m not quite done with therapy yet.

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.

 

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.”

Eight Years Lost

“I’m so glad you’re back,” my husband Andy whispered.  He gave me a tight hug and kissed my hair.

“Back?”  I asked. I was confused.  “I didn’t go anywhere.”

He looked sheepish, almost like he didn’t want to tell me.

“You know…just…back.  You’re yourself again, and it seems like you’re back for good.  I missed you so much.”

I immediately knew what he was talking about.  He’d mentioned something similar this past fall, when I first started on my meds for bipolar disorder.  I knew I hadn’t been myself for the past few years, but I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten.  “Was I really that bad?” I asked him.  “I don’t remember.”  I honestly didn’t.  “How long was I out of it?”

“Well, we were okay for a couple years when we first got together,” he explained.  “Then you sort of entered this…I don’t know…fog.  Every day you were either extremely sad or just…um…’out there.'”

I asked him what I meant by “out there,” even though I already knew.

“Like when you said you had to sleep in the back yard to ‘keep us safe,’ or when you locked yourself in the bathroom and thought I was going to kill you, or…you know…just…’out there.'”

“So when I was crazy,” I said flatly.

“I know you don’t like that word, so I don’t use it,” he responded.  He looked past me, as if he was unable to meet my eyes while talking about this.

“But it’s true,” I said back.   My voice wasn’t angry or sad.  I knew it was simply the truth. “I know I was crazy.  I was.  I am.  I don’t know.”

“I think you’re back, though,” he said.  He met my eyes again.  “When you were first feeling better this fall I was too worried to get my hopes up, but it seems like you’re really, really back.  There are good days and bad days, but overall you’re YOU again, and I could not be happier.”  He hugged me again.

“You waited an awfully long time,” I commented.  This year we will have been together ten years, and my brain tumor was diagnosed eight years ago.  We (and my doctors) think this could have been part of what caused the chemistry upset now diagnosed as bipolar disorder, so it’s logical to think I’ve been struggling with this disorder for almost eight years.  It went undiagnosed until this past fall, even though I’ve clearly had symptoms that entire time.  That means that out of a ten year relationship, Andy has had two years (well, now two and a half) with a woman whose brain actually works.  Eight years have been spent waiting.

“I know it was a long time,” he told me.  “But every single day has been worth it.  I knew that somewhere in there the real you still existed.  I would have waited decades to see her again, and it still would have been worth it.  I missed you so much.”

Which, obviously, makes Andy the best husband in the world, because I’m quite sure that he meant it.  He took eight years of hell on the outside chance that I might one day get better – on the chance that we would maybe one day solve the mystery.  He took totally delusional panic attacks, nights of me locking myself in the closet and crying/hyperventilating until I threw up, nights of my manically staying up all night writing because I-just-had-the-most-brilliant-idea, nights of me crying because I knew I was going to kill myself, the night that I actually tried…  He took all of that, and he still loved me.  He still loves me now.

I am genuinely, legitimately confused.  If I could break up with myself, I would have.  So, so, so long ago.

I am blown away by this kind of love, but I’m also angry and scared.  I’m angry that he had to go through this.  I’m angry that I had to go through this.  I’m angry that FOUR psychiatrists got this diagnosis wrong, when now I look at the symptoms of bipolar disorder and it’s basically a checklist of every symptom I told them.  I didn’t know to look for bipolar disorder.  They should have known.  They should have known those symptoms.  At least one of those doctors should have gotten it right.  Why did I have to waste eight years in a fog of depression, mania, and paranoia?  Eight years of my life, people.  It took away eight years of Andy’s too, because he had the misfortune of falling in love with the wrong girl.  Praise God that he stayed, but only God knows why he did.  This wasn’t fair to him either.  I don’t take much time to feel angry about all this, but to see how much Andy loves me and to see (from a standpoint of relative sanity) how much he’s been through, how long he’s waited, because of a condition that could have been detected years ago?  That makes me angry.

No, scratch that.  Angry is when a student forgets their homework for the third time this week.  This situation makes me livid.  I try not to think about it too much.  Anger will only take up more of my life, and I think I’ve been robbed of enough.

I’m also scared.  Andy’s right when he says I’ve been “back” for the past few months.  My personality is back.  I’m not paranoid anymore.  I don’t want to die.  It seems like maybe we’ve found a solution; like maybe I’m better.  Everyone I know who has bipolar disorder, though, says that this stable period only lasts for so long when inevitably the symptoms come back.  I don’t want to waste my life by worrying about the future, but I also want to be prepared.  I don’t know how, though.  How can one prepare to have their sanity taken away again?  I don’t think I’ll every be ready for that.

Eight years was too long.  I don’t want to lose any more.

#1 on the list (and also glitter)

Every once in a while I type “bipolar disorder” into the Google news search box to see if there are any new articles or research findings that might interest me.  This occasionally goes well and occasionally goes poorly…proceed with caution if you ever do this.  There are a lot of articles I probably should have left unread.

One caught my eye the other day – it was called something like “How to Best Help Your Spouse or Loved Ones if You Have Bipolar Disorder.”  CLICK – I needed to read this one.  My husband is an absolute star, and I would like to make his life as easy as possible.  I know I’m the one with the disorder, but trust me when I tell you that it’s a team effort to deal with it.  He might as well have it too.

I clicked on the article, and I don’t remember much of what it said because I was so annoyed/struck by item #1.  The #1 item on the list was simply and impossibly this: “Take all of your medications.”

That should be easy.  That should be so easy.  That should be, “Quick, let’s move on to #2 because #1 was so ridiculously obvious and unhelpful.”  Unfortunately, my mind immediately flashed to the night before:  Andy was getting settled into bed, our dog was already asleep where my feet were supposed to go, and Andy said, “You took your pills tonight, right?”  I responded with, “Some of them.  I don’t think I need all of them today.  I’m gonna give it a try.  I might be doing better.”

Andy knew it was pointless to argue with me. He can’t force me to take my pills, and when I’ve made my mind up about something, it’s extremely hard to change it.  He just gave me a look of disappointment, sighed, and let his head drop to his pillow.  I pulled my knees to my chest and wished he could realize that I really didn’t need them.  That this time I would be fine.  Really.

I’m not sure why I do this.  When I’m thinking rationally, it’s completely obvious that I need to take my medications.  For some reason, though, occasionally I simply…don’t take them.  This is apparently a common struggle for many people with bipolar disorder, and it’s one I need to get over in order to accomplish the NUMBER ONE ITEM on “how to help my loved one.”

I don’t know why I do it.  I know I’m not healthy.  I know I probably never will be.  I guess I can’t shake this tiny glimmer of hope that one day I won’t need medications anymore.  It’s a tiny glimmer.  It’s sort of like when someone has one solitary piece of glitter on their face and you’re like, “Hey, there’s a sparkle on your face.  Let me get it off for you…no wait, I lost it…turn your head a second…there it is!  Let me just…oh dang.  Lost it again.” (Has this happened to anyone else?  I feel like I come into contact with more glitter than the average human, so maybe that’s just me).  But that’s how tiny the glimmer is.  I can’t get rid of it.

Every once in a while there’s some random article like “I cured my own mental illness by spending a month eating nothing but kale and wheat germ!”  Then I immediately yell, “ANDY?  WHERE CAN WE BUY KALE IN BULK?” while I simultaneously Google “What is wheat germ?”   Or I’ll read some medical journal and then suddenly find myself buying copious amounts of vitamins because everyone knows that enough vitamins D and C and B12 cure bipolar disorder, right?  I mean, RIGHT?!

Um, no.  They don’t.  Neither, I’m sorry to inform you, does kale and/or wheat germ.

I’m still not entirely sure what wheat germ even is if I’m being honest.  I didn’t try it.

You know what’s scientifically proven to cure bipolar disorder?  Nothing.  That’s what.

Although there isn’t a cure (yet), certain drugs make this condition much more livable for everyone involved.  That’s why taking said drugs is #1 on the list of how I can help my family.  That’s why I need to actually take my pills.  I’m not all better because I have a good day.  I’m not going to wake up one day and be suddenly and magically un-bipolar.

I mean, probably not.  It could happen…theoretically…  (Wait – did you see that sparkle?  I saw it a minute!  No, wait…lost it.)

It’s time to get the glitter out of my eye so I can see this for what it really is.  Sometimes life isn’t sparkly.  Sometimes it’s taking just-one-more pill, even if I don’t want to, because it’s the #1 thing I can do to help myself and my husband right now.

Prison

Last night I went to go watch my little cousin in the play Alice Through the Looking Glass.  It was sort of like Alice in Wonderland, but even trippier.  Does anyone ever wonder if Lewis Carroll had mental issues?  Because his stuff is pretty effed up.  Perhaps he was on drugs the whole time he wrote.  Maybe I should try that!  Maybe if I’m on drugs, my creative writing will become suddenly iconic, and high schoolers far into the future will want to act out my bizarre stories.

alice

Except wait, I’m already on drugs.  Lots of them.  They’re just legal ones.  Blast.

Anyway, one scene in the play really caught my attention.  It is arguably the only scene in the entire play that made sense.  The Mad Hatter was put in prison for killing time, and he somehow escaped.  Alice (the bitchy little tattle tale) went to go alert the authorities that the Mad Hatter had escaped prison.  The guard, totally uninterested, said, “No, he has not escaped.”  Alice gestured wildly to the prison cell and said, “No, look!  He’s gone!  He got out!”  The guard leaned into Alice and whispered to her, “He may have escaped this room, but he’s still in prison.  He will never escape his mind.”

My eyes were glued to the stage.  I wanted to stand up and shout, “YES! THIS GUY TOTALLY UNDERSTANDS ME!”  Except, you know, I was identifying with a high schooler playing the Mad Hatter in a play that was written while an author was probably on drugs.  That’s not exactly something I should be excited about.  The people in the audience continued looking completely baffled for most of the play (Why is Alice’s pudding talking to her?  Why are those oysters dancing?  Why is that horse riding on that man?).  At least one line made sense.

Escaping my mind would be true freedom, but that’s an awfully difficult prison break.

 

Hypomania and Me

My friend Charlotte asked me to write about my experience with mania.

By “friend,” I mean she reads my posts and comments on them, but she lives on the other side of the world and I’ve never met her (Hi Charlotte!).  The internet is pretty cool like that, huh?  Anyway, disclaimer about this post: I can only write about my own experiences, and I in no way am trying to diagnose anyone or say, “You probably have bipolar disorder if…”   I have no idea.  Go ask my psychiatrist friend from high school who went to school for a zillion years to be able to actually know these kinds of things (Hi Sarah!).

Okay, enough with the shout-outs.  Here’s what I’ve got for you:

I have been diagnosed with bipolar II, which presents with episodes of depression and hypomania.  This is different from full mania.  Hypomania is scary enough, though.  I mean, it’s a little awesome at the time, but also completely terrifying.  Confused yet?  Try living it.

I think the biggest, most objective way for me to notice a hypomanic episode is to notice that I need barely any sleep.  This past summer (before my diagnosis), I went to Asia.  I flew through thirteen time zones, which is a hugely bad idea for people with bipolar disorder.  I didn’t know at the time that I had the disorder, so I didn’t know to look out for this.  Upsetting a sleep schedule can trigger a manic episode, and there’s not a much better way to “upset a sleep schedule” than flying through thirteen time zones.  Ugh.  Anyway, when I got to Asia, I basically didn’t sleep.  Going back through my texts after my diagnosis, things started to make sense that were completely baffling at the time.  I texted my husband things such as, “I’ve gotten four hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours, but I’m totally not tired.  I’m going to go explore the city.  I tried to sleep, but I can’t.”

Also, everything sounded like a good idea.  When I was in South Korea, my cousin asked if I wanted to go mountain climbing.  I hadn’t slept at ALL the night before, not even five minutes, but when he asked me that I said, “Yeah, sounds like an awesome idea!” and proceeded to go on an eight hour rock climbing excursion with rock picks and climbing ropes and such.  It was crazy, but it sounded like a great idea at the time.  I went with no equipment.  Some Korean guys bailed me out and let me use some of theirs.  I’m lucky I didn’t die.  According to me, though, why would I need equipment?  I could totally do that with no equipment! (*facepalm*)

During this same episode (episodes can last for days or for weeks, which this one did), I decided that you know what sounds like a good idea?  Smoking!  Ummm… I realize that you don’t know me that well, but that is COMPLETELY out of character for me.  I’m definitely a “good life choices” kind of girl (to the point of being occasionally pretentious…I’m working on it).  Doing out-of-character things is another symptom of a hypomanic episode.  I found myself smoking cigarettes off of a balcony in Seoul and simultaneously thinking, “This is awesome” and also, “What on EARTH I doing right now?!”  It’s like the usual part of your brain that sends up “this is a bad idea” red flags is totally disabled.  Like the guy who holds that red flag is standing about five football fields away on a foggy day, and he’s waving that red flag with all of his might but you’re like, “Is this actually a bad idea?  I can’t remember…hmmmm….it’s probably fine.”

I was extremely confident throughout this entire episode (as is common with most hypomanic epidsodes).  This in itself is strange, as I’m usually quite a bit more reserved and unsure of myself.  Throughout this time, though, I thought, “I am so awesome – of course I know what I’m doing.”  I met up with a group of teachers in Japan (that’s the reason I went over there in the first place…to meet up with these teachers and study Japan’s education system).  I’m sorry to say that I was quite a bit more flirtatious than I should have been with the guys on this trip.  I’m not even sure if there is a line for “appropriately flirtatious” when one is married, but if there is a line then I definitely crossed it.  The guy waving the red flag five football fields away in a fog finally threw down his flag and walked away.  It was pointless.  Poor guy…my bad.

Believe it or not, overly sexualized and promiscuous behavior is another symptom of hypomania (I’m not making this stuff up.  Look it up.  I didn’t believe it either).  There was this one guy in particular…the suave playboy of the group…we’ll call him J.  I ran into some trouble with J.  See, even though I was being flirty, I made it clear that I was married and didn’t want any sort of Asian fling with anyone on this trip.  I was just having fun.  J was being pretty flirty back with me, and I literally said, “Seriously…don’t try anything.  If you try to kiss me I’ll be TICKED, because I’m really for real married, I love my husband, and I’m not doing anything with you.”  In J’s mind, I’m pretty sure that translated to something along the lines of “Look!  A challenge!”  He wouldn’t let it go.  Suffice it to say, he didn’t stop trying to get me into bed with him for the rest of the trip.  At one point we were in an elevator together, and he literally pushed me up against the side of the elevator and tried to make out with me.  I pushed him off and said, “Ahhhh!  No! I SAID NO!” but apparently that didn’t really work either.  He still liked me.  He kept trying.  As I mentioned, he was a playboy.  I hate to put a stereotype on anyone, but I really think it’s guys like him who make that stereotype what it is.  He had been with a lot of women, he always knew exactly what to say to get what he wanted, and I think he was really rattled by someone who he couldn’t get to say yes.  Even though, you know, he had a fiancee back at home in America.  He’s a quality man, ladies and gentlemen.

I think my experience with J is what scared me most about myself during this episode.  My flirtatious behavior at the beginning of the trip seemed really unlike me, but then also I found myself with a crush on this J character, even though he’s a scum-of-the-earth kind of guy.  It was very strange.  I knew I shouldn’t like him, but I think there’s a part of me that liked being pursued and borderline worshiped.  And really, who wouldn’t like that?  I kept telling him no, but I hated the fact that deep down I loved the attention, and I think I really liked him.  I should be a bit more stable in myself and in my marriage to not let a guy like that shake me up, you know?  It scared me that I let him keep talking to me.  It scared me that I didn’t hate him.  He never did get me to kiss him or do anything with him physically (ha, I win), but psychologically that whole situation had me pretty messed up.  It was scary.  At one point J told me he liked the way I did my hair that day, and I said, “Thanks.  I’ve never done it this way before.”  He said, “Really?  Like, never in your life?”  I said, “Yes. Never in my life.  It’s becoming a common theme for me in the past few weeks…”  He asked what I meant, but I didn’t tell him.  I didn’t know how to explain it myself.  I just knew it was scary.  I felt out of control.

I was still hypomanic for a little while after this trip, but then I crashed into a super deep depression.  I think this is partly because depression tends to follow any type of manic episode, but I do wonder if maybe that’s because once someone comes off of a manic episode, they have to turn around, look at what they’ve done, and say, “WHAT DID I DO?!”  I’m lucky the aforementioned situations didn’t end worse than they did, but they still messed me up.  I take full responsibility for my actions during this time, but it’s a bit tricky when a psychiatrist tells me, “You couldn’t really help it…you were in a hypomanic state.”  Like I was drunk and I’m supposed to blame it on the alcohol, except people get drunk on purpose.  I’m not bipolar on purpose.  I would rather take full responsibility, because anything less than that means that it’s not totally in my control and it might happen again.  I am not okay with that.

Anyway, that’s a summary of my most recent hypomanic episode.  Take it for what it is, and nothing more.  It’s only my experience.  I will say that one misconception that bothers me about bipolar disorder is that people think it just means you’re in a really good mood and then suddenly really irritable and in a bad mood, like PMS on steroids or something.  As far as my specific type of bipolar disorder goes, that’s not true for me.  Episodes last an excruciatingly long time.  Depressive episodes can last months.  Hypomanic episodes can last weeks.  Neither are good for me (even if hypomania might feel like it makes perfect sense at the time).  I’m currently trying to stabilize toward somewhere in the middle of the extremes.  Fingers crossed that I’m able to pack up my baggage, move into that place, and live there for a long, long time.