‘I wish I was in the hospital…’

It always surprises me when I have this thought. It has happened more than once over the last 13 years. It didn’t happen once after my first hospitalization but it has flitted through my mind on more than one occasion since my second admission. It happens when there is too much noise in my head. I’m not sure how to describe the sound. It’s a buzzing, a white sound. It is the roar of a Nor’Easter in January with 50 mph winds. The rumble of the freight train used to describe an impending tornado. The babble of a thousand voices running together, not one loud enough to discern the words. The noise makes it impossible for me to have a complete thought, if I can think at all. It is the only thing I hear. A Roaring inside my head. My cognizance will soon be gone. I don’t think about how to get out of bed or appointments I will miss. Calls and e-mails go unreturned. All my contacts are ghosted. Mail will start piling up and eventually I will put it somewhere out of sight, until it is completely forgotten about. I can’t remember to comb my hair, never mind pay the power bill. I begin to feel overwhelmed and inadequate. I begin to feel that I am letting my loved ones down. Eventually, my perception and intuition will fail me and I will be defenseless. I am easily offended. For now, I will question the motives of EVERYONE I speak to and some that I don’t. I will look for deception in every word and nuance. I will keep my eyes open for any weapon you may use against me, I am vulnerable and that makes me paranoid. I am constantly scanning my surroundings for the exits. I will ruminate possible scenarios and outcomes of situations for hours. There is danger everywhere. I remain constantly aware. It’s exhausting.

Many times, it accompanies a tingling in my body that resembles the feeling of too much caffeine or not enough sleep. Maybe it’s both… I get itches that I can’t scratch. It seems they are under the skin. I have scratched myself until I bled on more than one occasion, sometimes in my sleep. All this comes with a tiredness of mind that no sleep can refresh. It brings irritability and a lack of patience. I feel compelled to move. I will pace and, alternately, sit on the couch and rocking forward and back, before getting up to do some chore. I begin to feel unconnected to my husband and in my other relationships. I begin to have nightmares; some I will remember and many I will not. I will wake knowing that something is bad somewhere. Something is not okay. Maybe I’ve done something, maybe somebody has done something to me that I don’t know about yet. I will lash out and can become combative if others get too close physically or attempt to suggest I do something that will “make me feel better”. Those suggestions run the gamut from calling the doctor to taking a nap to taking a bath. I never find them helpful and they always make me angry. I will snap, “I’m fine, why do you always treat me like a crazy person? Why don’t YOU go take YOUR meds!! I’m not a child!” I become aggressive and will snap at anyone, anywhere for any slight. Real or imagined. I’m not sure how I still show my face in this county, I am ashamed of my behavior but must go on so I hold my head high, looking over others, the same way I always have. I will smile as I pass you in the aisle at the grocery store even though I know you saw me raging so bad I was spitting last week at the drug store.

It takes a special kind of strength to be mentally ill and survive. It takes a special kind of strength to survive abuse, whether inflicted on you by strangers or by those who claim to love you. Whether it happens in the dark of night or the light of day, at home behind closed doors or in a public place. Whether it is a well-hidden secret or one everyone knows about but refuses to notice. Maybe it is public knowledge and strangers feel they can bring it up whenever they want because somehow, they feel they know you, through the news or social media. To know you have acted in ways that are shameful to you is only a problem when you are well, otherwise you were in the right and it doesn’t seem to matter. You are indignant if anyone claims you are in the wrong. It is when you are well that you must be your strongest. To apologize and try to explain. You can try to explain what you have gone through. but there are no words. How do you explain that there was nothing? Just nothing..in you. I’m sorry now…I didn’t know what I was doing…I don’t describe myself as sick- I am not sick. Like, what? What kind of sick? Like cancer? Heart-disease? If I eat right, I’ll be okay?My mind won’t betray me? My body? The flu? It is very disconcerting for your mind to turn on you. It felt that the WORLD fell on me. I broke. I got shattered. Turned to dust. I will be well and learn to balance myself. To watch for the signs. I will get up. Bi- Polar will not be a terminal illness for me. We WILL co-exist, if not in perfect harmony, then with an uneasy partnership.

I know what it means when I start thinking I should go to the hospital. It means I need to rest and by rest, I mean be alone. The appeal of the hospital to me is NOT the massive doses of anti-psychotics they will numb me with or the puzzles with missing pieces in the rec room. It is the lack of responsibility. It is that I won’t have to talk about anything that matters and that the most I may have to focus on is a coloring page. I crave the order and the quiet. No one makes me eat when I am not hungry or wash my hair when I don’t care. Who wants to take a shower with someone watching to make sure you don’t eat the damn soap? That’s desperation, suicide by .75oz. shampoo….From a hospital bed, I can’t see the pile of dishes in the sink and the dog is not whining to go out. It is a letting go, a giving in. It is no judgement and no sideways looks. I would much rather say, “Hey honey- I need some quiet time so I’m going for a drive, I’ll be back in a week…Love you…” That would sound too much like a vacation and then others would want to ride along, which would defeat the purpose. So instead I will stock the freezer with frozen foods and the refrigerator with sandwich meat and milk. I will stock the cabinets with mac and cheese and rice mixes. I will buy plenty of spaghetti and canned sauce and put the least amount of effort in cooking while I put music on my earbuds or stream the same reruns I always do, finding their repetitive drones comforting. I will lay on the couch for 3 days, with my husband right beside me. I’m going to tell my granddaughter she can’t come over for a bit and apologize to my son about the short notice. I will take the increased doses of anti-psychotics and benzodiazepines my Psychiatric NP. lovingly prescribes me, for the time required for me to “level” out. When I feel better, when I begin to think again, I will slowly cut back on my doses until I am, once again, “stable”. But for now, I’m going to wear my pajamas and sleep whenever I want, IF I want. I’m going to hope it is warm enough to go outside, even if just to sit on the step. I am going to tell everyone around me to figure it out themselves and if I say it loud enough, they will. They are getting used to this by now. I’m sorry they have to, but it is the way it is. Everybody makes concessions to the Bi-Polar- and I share my strength back with them when I am well and they need to take a rest.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

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Boxes

Bi-Polar Disorder was never a diagnosis that I fully accepted. I am not going to try and deny that I can check off every box on the diagnosis checklist. I can. No doubt. The PTSD one too. That is true. I like to think that the fact that I see the world a bit differently than the average Joe is a good thing. My experiences are different. I bring each one of them with me. I have always considered myself moody. Why wouldn’t I be? I had plenty to be moody about. I have always had a mind prone to daydreams and fantasies. Doesn’t every little girl? A dear departed friend from high school who lovingly referred to me as “Wacky Jackie.” I loved it, I felt it set me apart from everyone, where I should be… Set off to the side like a broken chair. I already felt like I was apart from most of my peers- how many of them were hiding the secrets I held within me? I loved school really, I felt safe there. I could bury myself in homework and forget the turmoil inside. I could focus on what was within that building and forget about everything else. I heard it whispered many times that I was “stuck up”, sometimes even “snobby”. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. My aloof manner stemmed from trying to protect myself. If I placed myself on a higher field I could see and hear everything going on around me and no one attacks from below.

Even then I knew not to get too close to people. I had a few very good friends and that was all I ever needed. No one ever got to know everything. I kept myself at a distance knowing somehow instinctually that were I ever to utter a word or a blip or a wrong cross glance bad things would happen. My child’s mind did not know what exactly would transpire, just that everyone would be mad at me. What child wants that?

Once when I was around 13 or 14, a woman from church asked me to babysit for the evening. She picked me up and drove me to her house. Before she left to go out for the evening she pulled me to the side and came right out and asked,” How long has “HE” (referring to a family member) been touching you?” I was shocked and speechless and horrified. I never said a word to anyone. EVER. How does she know? Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. There were no words. I said indignantly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and pulled away. She reached out and turned my face towards hers and said, “It happened to me, I can see it. You don’t have to talk to me or tell me anything right now, but I want you to know that you can.”

Those words should have comforted me. I was NOT ALONE! I believe that is the way she meant them. They did not comfort me in any way. Instead, they had the effect of magnifying what I already believed. That I was broken and my worst fear had come true. EVERYONE KNEW. EVERYONE COULD SEE IT! The shame I felt always, I wrapped around me like a cloak. I could hide under it. I learned how to look over and through everybody. Looking for signs they could tell or see… I learned how to smile and laugh on the outside without letting it touch me on the inside. I learned to watch every move and all the angles. I learned to put up walls. Walls between me and people, walls between the outer me and the inner. I had cities of walls around me and boxes and boxes in my mind. Boxes filled with one horror or another. Mental boxes, firmly latched. Everything in its place, always. I learned early and well how to watch out for danger. I slept lightly and covered with as many blankets as I thought it would take to keep the monsters out, everything tucked in around me.

This is around the time that I began to create angels and protectors. I began to believe that no matter what happened to me, I would be ok. I could go to anyplace in my mind whenever needed now. I didn’t know the term or what it meant, but disassociation was my best friend. I could leave at any time, go anywhere in my mind, if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. It was easy. It is still way too easy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I began to imagine that there were people outside, maybe living people, maybe not. Out my window at the tree line. Just in the shadows. Sometimes I had a feeling who they were, other times not so much. God was watching me, I knew, but he can’t be EVERYWHERE, ALL the time, so he sent others. This is what I knew. They would keep me from going too far away…Make sure I would get back from wherever I had to go…. I knew these things as real, the way I survived-not as hallucinations of a psychotic mind… I still see them as real. Real protectors sent from God. Who went away when I didn’t need them anymore. That to me is not crazy. It sounds perfectly sane to me. What else would prepubescent girl think?

I’ve spent a good deal of my life fighting. Fighting to be free. In my mind. Fighting for myself, for my kids, against husbands and boyfriends. Fighting the police on occasion. Fighting anyone who thought they knew what was “best” for me. Fighting myself. Fighting for my right to be free to express myself, whether seen as appropriate or not. Fighting to be free of what “the establishment” thinks is right for my mind, what meds I will and will not take and once you get a diagnosis of ANY kind, mental or physical, it begins to define you. It defines how others see you and it can define how you see yourself, if you let it. I feel that diagnosis box around me. I feel the limits it sets on me, even if only in my own mind. Well, not JUST in MY mind, I can see it in the faces of others I interact with, if they know. Today I am taking that box off. I’m going to pick it up off my shoulders and I am going to gently set it on the floor beside me. I am cautiously exploring a newfound peace. In the future I will take the advice of those who love and care for me and ponder it before I make a decision but the decision will be mine. I will care what they think and accept their reasoning. Then I will make the best decision for me.

I heard that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. I’ve been listening a long time. Today I have something to say….

Suffocating Under Good Intentions

“Do we need to adjust your meds?” Every time I hear these words, whether from my doc or my husband or any other person who thinks they know the inner workings of my mind better than I do myself, I immediately let out an exacerbated sigh and think to myself, “Why can’t they just let me be happy?” Or a little down or a little energetic? A little less sleepy than usual? Why can’t I make grand plans for myself without being “sick?” It’s not like I’m going to build a spaceship or anything. If I decide to rearrange the furniture and stay up late playing games on my phone why can’t it just be that? Other people do these things on a regular basis and never get questioned, as if they’re off their rocker, about it by anyone.  Those are the so called ‘normal’ people. Maybe I’m just extra tired this week and I want to stay in my bed for 5 days, so what? Give me a minute then. If I’m still in the same spot in a month perhaps you should be concerned.  Why is there always a question mark after every decision I make? There is always a well meaning, “Do you think you are ready for that? ” or “Maybe you should take a break right now and get a little rest.” Don’t forget to eat, are you drinking enough water? How can I convince these people around me that I am not sick? That I won’t freak out in the grocery store because there are too many people or because someone looks at me sideways? Will my husband always watch me out of the corner of his eye, standing at a distance in public because he is unsure of me, and in case I start rambling or screaming at strangers he doesn’t want to be in the fallout zone. Will I never be allowed to drive any distance by myself or make a decision of my own and then just go out and DO it?

The boyfriend that I had during that first admission became my husband four years later. We have since been through another admission, that one for depression, and we have fought many battles, real and imagined . This May will be our 9th wedding anniversary. Since my last admission in 2012, he has driven me to all my monthly doctors appointments. He has given me baths and washed my hair when I couldn’t do it myself. He has dressed me, made sure I took a few bites of a little something at least once a day. He has kept our cell phone provider in business by calling me 45 times a day to see what I was doing or to remind me of something I needed to do. He has been the sole breadwinner for most of our time together. He was a father to the four boys I brought with me into our marriage. He built us our beautiful dream castle and still managed to find time for fishing and stock car races so he could relax himself. I owe my life to him. Literally. I owe everything I have to him. He is the angel that God sent me. I am forever his and I will be eternally grateful. His devotion and the care he has given me exceeded ALL my expectation.

But I don’t know how to get him to stand down. I feel good right now, and no one believes me. I guess a person with a mood disorder shouldn’t be trusted to know their own moods. I have wanted to write since I was in high school 30 years ago and I took a crooked path but here I am. I feel that I am following the path that God set for me. Finally! I have a somewhat formed plan in my mind and I’m not letting anything stand in my way this time. My kids are grown and mostly out of the house so I see it as my time now, I’ve been waiting all my life and I’m ready but all around me there is resistance. I’m hearing it from my husband, “Don’t put yourself out there too much, everyone can see that, you know..-Are you sure you want your family to see that…?? Maybe you should start small..Blah, blah, blah.. Two weeks ago my doc said she was worried I was becoming increasingly hypo manic and increased my meds, “Just to be safe, you know how fast you tend to cycle…” Yada, Yada… It feels like stigma is sitting on the couch next to me eating pistachios and every time I want to say something, I have to check it, reel it in some, test my line and end up tasting not the big nasty Northern Pike that I have on line, but what amounts to be the bait fish, little and cute, but its not sustenance.

I can’t live wrapped in the bubble wrap they rolled around me. In this padded house they built for me.  I can’t breathe. I can’t see the sun. I want to be happy and sing a song and dance in my kitchen without having someone say, “OH NO!, I’ll call the doctor.” I know everyone from my family to my doctors have all meant well as far as my treatment is concerned but I think now it’s time for them to let go of the reins and see what happens. Maybe I will be able to control it. What’s wrong with a little hypo-mania anyway? It’s one of my favorite places to be.. I may just fly.