Hiding in the Spotlight

Monologues of a Bipolar Mama


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I just wanted to explain why I haven’t been posting much.  I’m still a writing tutor at a local college and I have remained stable thank god! I’m also working on a memoir to share my struggle with mental illness.  I try to be as productive as I can while I’m well enough.  I still get nervous when I have an off day, but I seem to get myself back on track.  I don’t let myself fall into that pit of doom. It’s much easier to cling to the edges and lift myself to level ground than to climb out from the deep dark bottom.

I did have a recent scare when I ran out of Ativan on a Friday and couldn’t get a refill until late Tues.  afternoon.  I experienced severe withdrawal within 24 hours and it was the worst three days of my life.  My head felt like it was being pressed in a vice with no release.  Much worse than a migraine and I’ve suffered from debilitating migraines for as long as I can remember. I had extreme nausea, tremors, chills, sweats, vomiting–you name it!  The worst part was the restlessness and  fatigue from my relentlessly spinning brain. I literally watched each minute pass that brought me closer to filling that prescription.  I now have a better appreciation for what drug addicts endure and why so many return to their drug of choice.  After all, I I am also addicted to drugs. Not by choice,  but the reason for addiction doesn’t alter that addiction. I hate relying on all those chemicals to maintain stability, but now is not the time to change the recipe. I worry about the damage all these drugs are causing my body,  but it’s the lesser of two evils.

Perhaps someday I will take fewer drugs, but I can’t risk any changes.  My family needs me and I don’t ever want to return to that crippling state of depression.  So if my mental health comes at the cost of my physical health, so be it.  As we all know,  when the mind isn’t right,  not much else matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Wick

I love this dialogue From The Secret Garden spoken right before the song “Wick”:

“The garden is dead, Dickon.
It’s the most forgotten place I have ever seen
With loose great branches
And dead roots and leaves all tangled up on the ground.”
“Now did you take a real close look at anything?
Mary, the strongest roses will thrive on being neglected
If the soil is rich enough.”

So what does this have to do with mental illness? Everything. Depression can make people feel lifeless, abandoned, disconnected, confused, trampled, just like the appearance of the garden.  It often takes tremendous strength, courage, and persistence to keep going. And yet we do. Why is that? Because we are stronger than we realize and we become stronger with each new test. Though it may hold us back, deprive us of our basic wants and needs, and trample our dreams, each time we dig deep and find our own rich soil, that foundation of inner strength and hope that allows us to grow and thrive.

Maybe it’s late and I’m just babbling, but when I heard these lines today while I was driving in my car, I found them so inspiring and applicable that I couldn’t help but share. Now, go listen to “Wick” from The Secret Garden and try not to feel a sense of hope. I dare you.


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“April is the cruellest month”

While I was always intrigued by the juxtaposition of Eliot’s first line in “The Waste Land,” I never related to it in any way. Yesterday was a beautiful day: 70 degrees, blue skies, sunshine, slight breeze, birds chirping, kids laughing and playing, and riding bikes, couples walking dogs, working in their yards, neighbors grilling….the sights and sounds of LIFE after a cold, dark winter.

I took a walk with my six year old daughter (who was more interested in finding someone to play with) and I tried to appreciate the moment, relish the smells, enjoy the birds and laughter. But, it made me feel worse. All this happiness, life, activity left me sad and empty. As I watched siblings playing in their yards and riding their bikes, I thought of the second child I had always hoped to have. I know Keira wants a sibling and I wish I could give her one, but I worry I will go through that suicidal depression again. I also worry about my energy and focus to take care of two young ones, especially with a husband who travels. What if I pass on my mental illness to my child? I can’t take that chance. It’s a tough, lonely battle and it would break my heart to see one of my children experience that.

So as others celebrate pregnancies and share adorable sibling moments and pictures and talk about how close their children are and how amazing it is to see how different they are, a part of me dies.  As others run 5Ks and marathons, I’m thankful to get up and shower.  As couples and families vacation, I just think of the salary I can no longer make since I had to resign. As couples enjoy date nights and celebrate anniversaries, I just wish I could have sex with my husband without dreading it.

I try not to dwell on these things as they only bring me down. I have much to be thankful for. Everyone experiences challenges and losses, but I feel it more keenly when the spring comes. When I see others doing what I wish I could. When I know I should be out enjoying the weather, but I’d rather stay inside with my curtains drawn.  At least in the winter, we’re all stuck inside and miserable.

I know this will pass. Even if I were feeling great, I doubt I’d be running marathons. I just miss having energy, motivation, and passion. Thankfully, I am stable but that doesn’t mean I am happy. My husband and my mom always compare my current state to how sick I was a year ago and remind me how much better I am. And while I’ve made progress, is it greedy to wish for more? They don’t get it. If I’m upright and accomplishing daily tasks, that doesn’t mean I’m happy. My mom has often replied, “Is anyone really happy?” I’d like to think so. She has a knack for making me feel worse so I don’t really confide in her. I don’t have many friends since I devoted all of my time to my career and family. My husband is tired of hearing it and has stopped listening. My dad is a narcissistic recluse who makes plans to visit us, but never follows through. It’s hard for me to even have any contact with him since he committed insurance fraud, took credit cards out in my name without telling me, and left me bankrupt because I co-signed for our house when I was 19 and it went into foreclosure. He lied to me when creditors called and harassed me. He never told me that I still owed money that was due my senior year in college so I almost didn’t graduate. He spent five years in prison and he came out a bitter, hard man. We were so close and he was my hero and role model. So when the truth came to light, my world turned upside down. But, I’ve made my peace with that and I maintain contact with him so I won’t have any regrets. It will always hurt, though. I desperately miss the dad I thought he was. He has his own demons and even though he’s never apologized, I know he feels guilty. I can see it in his eyes and I hear it in his voice. That’s enough for me.

Wow, I didn’t mean to get into all of that. Such are my thoughts on this perfect April day.


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Resignation

Got a letter from HR yesterday. He hopes I have been “enjoying my break.”  Yeah, it’s been a real blast recovering after the district took a huge dump on me. Thanks for asking. Now go fuck yourself. I thought I had come to terms with that shithole, but apparently I haven’t.

The moment I returned from medical leave and requested “accommodations” for my disability, my fate was sealed.  The “supportive” administrator I had been assigned (who ironically had been relieved of all her professional responsibilities except writing her teacher evaluations the previous year due to “stress”) was as supportive as a rubber band  bra. If teachers are held responsible for unsuccessful students, why aren’t administrators held responsible for the success of their staff? What a joke.

No matter what the issue, I was always to blame. Even with an emotionally disturbed student returning from alternative school who had a long history of inappropriate behavior, I was told that I obviously wasn’t accommodating his needs and that he wasn’t a problem for any other teachers. I was instructed to meet with a special ed dept member who provided me with a general list of accommodations–the same list I had gotten years before when I co-taught with a special ed teacher (and was thoroughly trained in working with special education students). I was also told to contact his parents, guidance, his case manager, and the student management assistant (all of which I had already done several times.) She then recommended I observe other teachers who taught him and were having success. So I e-mailed his other teachers for feedback, suggestions, and possible observations. Two said they were having the same problems and to let them know if I figured out anything that worked. Another wasn’t comfortable being observed by her peers. A couple of teachers never responded.  One welcomed me to observe him but said that the class ignored him because he was so annoying and they wanted to learn. My class was not a high-performing group and mostly comprised of sophomores who were either intimidated or enormously entertained by this outspoken senior. It also didn’t help that his buddy from alternative school was in the class.  But none of this mattered. I was the problem. When he yelled, “Fuck you” and stormed out of my class, I wrote him up for insubordination.  Nothing happened–not even an after-school detention. Perhaps the fact that the admin didn’t do anything on their end was part of the problem, but what do I know?

So, after 15 years of success with challenging students and no complaints, I was suddenly incompetent. I thought my supervisor would have been more supportive and compassionate after her problems with stress the prior year, but that never happened. She just made me feel worse and gave me more to do when I was already overwhelmed. Oh, wait! There was that one time when I was sobbing in her office and she offered me some water.  What I really needed was her support, but I took the water, thanked her, and left.  It would take a lot more than water to fix this.

Without credibility, respect, or support from admin, I knew it would be only a matter of time until I found myself back out on medical leave and even more depressed and defeated than before. Failing once hurts. Failing twice kills. It smashes that little seed of hope and bury it in dirt so deep that it will never see the light.

So, the time has come to resign. I am waving my little white flag. There is nothing I can do that will make this work. I gave it all I had, twice, and it wasn’t enough. All I ever really wanted to do was teach, and for 15 years I did it well, but that chapter has come to an end. After all, what district wants to hire a 41 year-old with tenure and a Master’s + 30 at a time when positions are being cut?

I put so much of myself into my teaching career that I don’t even know who I am without it.  And while tutoring at the college learning center helps, it isn’t the same. There remains a gaping hole, a constant ache. I’m sure I will find other things to fill it eventually. I just wish it still didn’t hurt so much.  I know, in time, the bleeding will stop, the scabs will form, and the wounds will heal.  But, I will always carry these scars.


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HOPE

HOPE

I never would have imagined I’d be at this point a year ago: I’m doing well! Taking piano lessons, helping with Youth Drama at church, singing in the choir for the Easter Musical, tutoring at the NCC Learning Center from 9-2 on Tues. and Thurs., starting a neighborhood book club, exercising at least three times a week, taking a Bible Study,     basically keeping myself busy doing what I love. I still have my down moments but I push myself through and resist the ever present pull from that hellish pit of despair.


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Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

Well, it seems I have finally reached solid ground. I’ve been mostly productive and I am involved in many activities that I find rewarding. I didn’t believe that I would ever feel better again. That’s the hardest part about depression. It convinces you that there is no hope and you will never get better. Everyone tells you that you will but it doesn’t help. That feeling of hopelessness is inherent in the illness. It’s like telling a cancer patient undergoing chemo to grow hair. That may be a poor analogy but it conveys that level of hopelessness. When you’re in the depths of despair, it seems all you can do is focus on the reasons why you have to go on (children, parents, siblings, spouse, whatever…) and wait for the meds to kick in (which truly feels like FOREVER!) I remember watching each hour pass until I could finally go to sleep and attempt to get some peace from my disturbing, intrusive, pervasive thoughts.

I hope that I can inspire others to continue fighting and reach peace. I feel it is my purpose and responsibility though I am not sure how to meet that goal (writing, speaking, teaching, etc.) I still worry about the stigma of “coming out” as I wish to work and I experienced painful and blatant discrimination in the workplace before. As an intelligent, hard-working, dedicated person who has worked since I was sixteen, it is upsetting to know that others’ misperceptions of mental illness undermine those positive traits. Many of society’s greatest contributors suffered from mental illness (Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, Mozart, Dick Clark, Mike Wallace, Monet, VanGogh, Buzz Aldrin, Robin Williams, and the list goes on and on..) Were any of these remarkable individuals lazy or dangerous or stupid? They were brilliant, successful pioneers in their respective fields. At least we are in good company! Many studies have shown a link between high intelligence, creativity, and mental health problems. For example, according the The British Journal of Psychiatry, “bipolar disorder may be four times as common among young adults who’d earned straight-A’s in school.”

Still the stigma persists and I wish to be gainfully employed. I hope to find a position that recognizes my strengths and perseverance. One that values my contributions and supports me in my struggles with mental illness. But until then, I shall withhold this information from future employers.  I know we need to speak out in order to remove this stigma, but I also know speaking out comes with a cost. Sadly, at this point, it’s just too risky for me.  This blog is my way of speaking out for now.

I am so thankful that I have gotten out of the darkness and into the light.  After all,  as a wise soul once said, “to get to the rainbow, you have to get through the rain.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Hope for the Hopeless

butterfly

HALLELUJAH! Whether through the grace of God, medication, therapy, a job change, positive self talk, or a combination thereof, I am maintaining my new state of normal. While I am not bouncing out of bed ready to tackle the day’s challenges, I am getting out of bed, exercising, showering, and being a mostly productive member of the human race. No crying spells. No suicidal thoughts. No hopelessness.

I still don’t have a clue what I am going to do with my life but I’m guessing most people feel that way from time to time.  I am not allowing myself to dwell on negative thoughts. I force myself to say a positive for every negative. I’ve started piano lessons. I’m assisting with a drama group at church and I’m participating in a Bible study. I’m even in a weight loss challenge (which, unfortunately, is not motivating me to lose weight, but at least I weigh myself now and have the online support of others). This is MAJOR progress. I’ve even considered working with NAMI or being a guest speaker to help and encourage others who struggle with mental illness. I know how it feels to battle persistent suicidal thoughts, physical paralysis, and mental anguish that torture your mind, body, and spirit.

While I still have down days, I allow and accept them. However, I don’t let myself stay down long. Let’s face it–it is SO much harder to climb out of the black abyss than to cling to the sides while you still see some light. Whenever I feel myself sinking, I force myself to do something, ANYTHING, to get myself out of it before I drown. As I’m sure you know, it happens quickly.

I do value my depression-free days and take advantage of those. I have to pick up my daughter now but I have much more to say so stay tuned and keep keeping on!