I think I have done things worth of the admiration of others. I spent the night on Half Dome in Yosemite. I graduated from a prestigious University. At one point I had a responsible, high profile job in politics.
I’ve done things that appear from the outside to be selfless, and people like that too. I worked at a center for developmentally disabled kids, as a teacher to that population. I gave birth to a nine pound baby without an epidural.
However, despite all of these achievements, never have more people been proud of me than the first time I checked my self in to the hospital.
Courage must be borne of fear; it’s you’re not afraid, you don’t have anything keeping you from doing it. Courage require fear to be courage. When I do a dangerous thing without fear, it’s just me being stupid. When I do a dangerous thing that I know is right, that is real courage.
At the time of my entrance in to the hospital, I didn’t know what the big fuss was. I needed help. I had a daughter I didn’t want to drown. What else was I going to do?
It was only just recently that I got it.
When you ask folks what they fear most, they almost always say “public speaking”. But I think they are lying. I think the thing we fear the most is losing our mind. We hate it so much we are willing to hold off on telling anyone, to suffer, to cut, to drink, to cry alone, to live wrecklessly because we can’t deal with the truth. Our brain is sick. We are slowly losing our minds. It’s too much to handle. We have been forsaken.
My first major episode as an adult was after some things about my husband’s past were revealed to me. He was the one who told me, he wasn’t ashamed and anyone I asked about it thought it was no big deal. I disagreed, even if no one agreed with me. I made my suicide plan.
The first person I told was a lay counselor, a pastor from my church. He sent me to the psychiatrist because he thought I was crazy. Well, that’s not exactly the way it happened. I wound up at a psychiatrist that wasn’t nuts for medication but rather preferred to do psychoanalysis. I was a wreck and the lay counselor kept telling me to go get on medication. I refused. I wanted to get through this of my own volition. I see that now, quite judgmentally as an ignorant, proud attitude, but I can make this judgment – wish I knew then what I know now. But I can’t go back. Even though I was newly wed, I didn’t feel like that was something worth living for. All I did was sleep for the first six months or do after the wedding; all he did was do chores. This illness didn’t help any of that. When I am very sick there was no reason good enough.
The next time things went bad I just skipped over it. I got no treatment, I was obviously in need of it. My feelings are still raw about that time. The thoughts my brain was imbalanced never occurred me. I figured I would snap out of it.
The whole ‘snap out of it’ is a dangerous part of bipolar, especially for us rapid cycling types. We go up and down erratically. We seem like great fun and then the next day things can go very badly. I remember one time I was at the pre-start of school meeting and was at a table with a lot of fun teachers. The next day another teacher was added to the mix. The other teachers at the table assumed I was offended by her humor – I wasn’t, I just could not get out of my funk. I could hardly talk so I just smiled. I willed myself over and over again to be okay. It never happened.
But back to bravery. It did not occur to me at the time but getting help for mental illness is almost like dealing with grief. I didn’t quite follow all the phases but they are worth looking at: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I clearly was in denial. I was not so angry, but I was depressed. My bargains were with myself: You need to overcome this so you can marry this guy. (Little did I know what a roller coaster ride I’d put him on.) Depression, of course, pervades the entire spectacle. Acceptance is the longest process. My second hospitalization taught me to accept I will be mentally ill my whole life and it is a step many of us do not take. However, that is not what I mean by acceptance. True acceptance looks a little more like this: I have to get up and go to bed at the same time everyday or I will start cycling. I would rather be able to go to a 10 o’clock movie showing, or stay up all night drinking with friends, but that is not an option for a bipolar person. I have to take meds every day of my life. I wish I didn’t and it’s a pain in the butt to remember but my meds make me healthy. I cannot have more children. There was a time in my life I wanted a whole farm house full of them, but I have one and instead of weeping for little ones I never met before I need to focus on the small family I have been entrusted with. In not so small ways, accepting these things remain an integral part of my healing. There is no snap out of it. There are psychiatrist visits, psychologist visits and hospital stays. There are always going to be medications. You will be told to exercise and you won’t want to. You are not going to want to do anything sometimes, and that’s part of it, too.
It’s a loss of a relationship, it feelings like letting your dreams die. It’s humbling to recognize, while the illness is not about who I was, it must be managed and that is going to be a part of my life forever. It’s a marriage, with no opportunity for divorce.