Monday, October 15, 2007

Loss and Meaning

I've been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of moving my blog to this open, public format. I felt a lot more comfortable posting in a more exclusive arena where I felt I could have more control over who is reading about my life - without having to think too much about it. The problem was that keeping out the one or two people who scare me also means that I can't share my thoughts and life with my family members and others who might actually be interested in what I have to say. And who really is interested in what I have to say, anyway?

Well, one thing that seems to set me apart from many of the people I interact with on a daily basis is that pesky bipolar diagnosis I blogged about before. In normal life I rarely talk about the bipolar thing or depression or mental illness in general. For me the bipolar thing and all the drugs and behavior adaptation has kind of slipped into the background of my life. Like being nearsighted - it gets annoying when my contacts irritate my eyes or when my glasses are smeary, but most of the time it's not something I have to think about.

But many things have happened, recently, that have brought mood disorders and their relatives back to the forefront of my mind. Not the least of which was the issue with my neighbor.

Many people have bipolar disorder. I'm not terribly unique in that particular diagnosis. What is different is that I have lived 10 years of juggling meds, breaking down, messing up, and figuring out what role I have to let it play in my life. I don't know anyone else with this diagnosis, at this point, who has lived longer with it. More importantly, I don't know anyone else with BPD who is as stable as I am, with a husband and kids, a home and a rather boring and undramatic life. I'm not saying this just to pat myself on the back, but also as a musing that I might actually have something to offer the world outside my little nuclear family.

Once a father of a child newly diagnosed with BPD asked me what made the difference for me. Basically - why am I here, living a "normal" life and not wearing an aluminum foil helmet to keep the voices out while I push my shopping cart down the street to the cardboard box I call home?

It's a tough question and one I'm not sure I'll ever be able to completely answer.

See, there was a point where I really thought that my only options were going to be the streets or suicide. Melodramatic? Yes. But accurate. My life was totally out of control. I was totally out of control. I was living a wild life that probably should have killed me, even if the suicide attempts didn't.

There are a few things that I can point to in my life that made it possible for me to climb back out of the abyss. Without them - who knows?

First and foremost was (is) my mother. I can only imagine how watching me self-destruct must have hurt her. Thinking of how she must have felt, throughout my darkest days, when she would go months without hearing from me or having any way to contact me - only knowing that I was hurting and out of control - breaks my heart. I feel so bad for what I put her through. But, through it all, she was there for me. She made sure, when I lost my job, and would have lost the health insurance that went with it, that my COBRA premiums were paid. Every month. She made it clear that I was loved. That, no matter how I was living or what I was doing, she was there for me. She's given me that kind of support my whole life - even when I didn't realize it.

Secondly, I've been incredibly fortunate to have very good friends. Not just nice friends, or pleasant acquaintances, but true friends who went through hell for me - and often because of me. In fact, the event that inspired me to start moving my blog in this direction was the death of one of these close friends, this past August. He, too, was bipolar, and the only one who had been consciously dealing with it as long as me. He, too, was completely dedicated to wrestling his demons in such a way that he could effectively live and grow and parent. So he was particularly helpful when it came to dealing with this stuff. He knew. And now I don't have that. It's a tough loss.

I needed this broad platform of support to be capable of doing what I needed to do to be healthy. I don't think I could have survived the long search for the right meds, or the longer process of accustomizing myself to how I need to think and behave, without the great people in my life.

But, even with all that - knowing it's more than many people ever have - I wouldn't have made it this far if I hadn't had a very important reason to make the huge behavioral and environmental changes that make personal stability accessible. For me, that was getting pregnant with my first child.

And this is a tricky point. I would never suggest that an unstable person ought to get married and start a family. Things could have been very, very bad.

In fact, they almost were.

Like alcoholics and drug addicts, I think many out-of-control people go through a "rock bottom" moment before they can commit to changing their lives. For me, this moment came when I was five months pregnant with my first daughter.

One of my self-destructive coping mechanisms had been cutting and/or burning myself. In fact, that had become my preferred way for dealing with stressful situations. Even though I wanted to be healthy for my baby, there came a moment, one day, when my husband and I had a very bad argument and he left. The truth of the matter was that he went for a run to cool off, but at the time, I was sure that I'd driven him away and that I'd lost my best friend. I'd thrown away all my favorite cutting tools months before, so I broke apart his safety razor and began hurriedly slashing at the veins running through my inner elbow. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I didn't have the practiced control with this razor as I'd had with my preferred tools, and one cut went too deep. Seeing my arm laid open woke me out of the "zone" I'd go to when doing things like that and I nearly panicked, realizing that if I bled out my baby would die, too. Not being able to reach my husband, I called a very good friend who rushed me to the ER. Lying on the bed, getting my arm all stitched up while the nurses monitored and worried about my unborn child, I was horrified by what I'd done. I was scared that I might have hurt the baby. And even if I hadn't, I imagined how devastating it would be to a child to see her mother cutting or burning herself.

That was it.

A deeply entrenched approach to life that I hadn't been able to conquer with medications or counseling was done. I knew I would NEVER, intentionally harm myself again.

As time has gone by, I've been fortunate enough to be able to transition from all the bad stuff I have to avoid to focus on habits to embrace in my life to make it the best it can be.

(Incidentally, back to the mother thing, I think one of the main forces that carried me into responsible parenting was the fact that I had been raised to be a good parent. I was raised to put the welfare of the kids first. I grew up thinking that the only way to parent was to be very involved and loving. I internalized my mother's habits of playing, cuddling, and singing to my kids. She taught me, by example, how to cook and sew and make a warm and loving home... I rebelled against these things for years, but when I needed it, I had the knowledge. I owe her so much, it's overwhelming.)

Events and life were just right for me that I could make the choice to live better. Some people never have the support or the timing right to be in a position to choose life and health. Some people have all they need, but when the time comes, they choose comfort and habit over change (which is almost always difficult and uncomfortable).

One thing I never had, early on, was an example of someone who was dealing with the mental/emotional issues of BPD who was living the life I wanted. So, in loving memory of Brett, who would be so proud to see me reach out like this, I'll be blogging about this (and lots of other really mundane stuff) and hoping that maybe my thoughts will be useful to someone.


  1. Well, I hopped on over here to thank you for visiting my blog and for your thoughts on vaccinating.. and then I read your story. I odn't even know you, but through your writing you seem to have it all together now. I am glad that you are blogging because I am positive that there are people out there in blogerville having the same struggles. Your blog can be an absolute inspiration to them. Good Luck!

  2. Wow. The honesty is completely refreshing. You are very brave for opening up like this. I hope that some person that randomly stumbles across your blog reads this and gains a glimmer of hope.

  3. I'm so sorry for your loss. =(