Shedding Skin

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miWhen I am writing these posts I tend to stick only to the facts and personal epiphanies about my own self. I don’t like to involve others unless it is some fluff piece about how great my children are. I don’t use names and I work hard to make this blog about me and only me.

I am breaking those rules today.

Sometimes when we look deep inside of ourselves we see truths that dramatically affect the lives of those around us. It doesn’t necessarily mean we can change those truths nor that those truths are so horrific that they need to be eviscerated. It just means that the illusion we carried as children and teenagers of our own indestructibility is in fact a lie. It means that at one time we could honestly and with our whole hearts ignore the world around us in favor of believing our own greatness.

As we get older we are supposed to lose that illusion, shed it like a layer of skin. Some do, and some don’t; we all know both types. We are supposed to gradually and with some kind of net below us learn that who and what we are affects the world around us. It may be an uncomfortable realization but for the majority of us it is part of the process.

I don’t mind learning about myself too much. I like learning about how I will react, what I truly believe in and what I am capable of. Mostly those lessons aren’t all that impressive in the scheme of things but it makes me more interesting in my own mind. It gives me a grounding to work from; much like one plus one was the grounding for those calculus problems we all suffered.

The reason for this learning is simple: if you know what you believe and how you react you can begin finding the trust and the net that will support you in the journey of this cruel life. Mental illness is a disease, unlike cancer, that requires you to be better not from the drugs but from your own lessons. The drugs will fail, the emotions will run riot, the predictability of your life will never be what it was when you were ten. It isn’t possible with a mental illness.

So you have to look at yourself. You have to determine how you are going to react so that you can easily put yourself in those positions that will cease causing incredible damage. You have to understand your own beliefs so that you can avoid those conversations that will create the storm those you love dread. We have to know in order to give to our loved ones the shiny artifice that they can live with.

It is a process. And it is a process that changes from day to day and year to year. Like everything with a mental illness change is the only word that easily describes the majority of what we live with. It gives the necessary hint to those who can’t understand these diseases but try and love us anyway. It gives those surrounding us an excuse to rely on. It gives those we love an easy out in the world we can’t survive in.

There are times that process is so easy as to make it seem arbitrary. And there are times this process is so hard to come to terms with that our own darkness is required to shelter our heart. There isn’t a manual or some sort of accurate prediction to what we are going to deal with next; like the disease itself there is change and there is unpredictability.

Prior to my getting married and having children I didn’t learn about much of this process. I didn’t have a need to delve into the workings of a brain that betrayed me over and over and I didn’t have the necessary skills to look beyond the skin to what was really happening. I am not sure if this is a normal course for those of us that get the news we will never be the person we once thought we were going to be, or if the illusions were so beautiful as to seem logical.

What I do know is that there came a time when I began digging. I began searching for the answers to the questions only I could hear, and I began trying to find the path that would let me be more than what I am. I don’t think that anyone in this journey is necessarily successful; there is simply too much of the change we excuse for every day to be able to hold onto a definitive answer and let it define us.

If I had started this journey before I was married I would have read the statistics about marriage, children and mental illness. Most people either ignore the idea that a vast majority of marriages between those with mental illnesses and others are doomed before they began, and others maybe out of fear or even the lack of realistic data ignore this sign. I can tell you there are those that will swear with their whole college degree that marriages involving mental illness can’t survive, and others who will swear on that damaged Bible that it can.

I can’t predict time nor could I have known that when I walked down that aisle so many years ago I would find myself writing a blog, an online diary about my life. There would have been no way to prepare a young girl, dreaming of that white gown and the attention of hundreds that marriage and mental illness can’t coexist. I would have rolled my eyes and probably stuck my tongue out at you. And then if that wasn’t enough I would have jumped into a discourse of the greatness of the man I was going to marry and how I had a different disease.

I still have no idea of the truth of that blanket statement. But I have come to a realization about my marriage.

My marriage has been skating the edge of trouble for about eighteen months. I believe with my whole heart that both of us would have quit this if it wasn’t for the children. I believe with my whole heart that we didn’t lack communication, compromise, or even God. We tried the offices with counselors to talk to, we have tried guilt, hurt, excuses and apologies.

But I think that our marriage never stood a chance because of me. My husband is not a think outside the box guy most of the time. He likes things done in a certain way and he likes to find the cheapest and easiest way to get it done. He likes quick fixes and tends to forget about the world around him unless there is a problem. Nothing really wrong with any of that. Until you throw someone who isn’t easy into the mix.

It must be amazingly annoying to not know who you are going to meet at the door each night. It must be frustrating to get a call at work that your wife can’t handle the children and you are needed at home. It must be amazingly demoralizing to have a woman whom you love that is more interested in surviving her own disease than you.

If we are all honest, that would be difficult for anyone. I like to find my darkness and lay in it for hours, and I need to be alone to stop the world from being so loud as to hurt me. I have to walk away, sometimes run away, just for that momentary self-deception that I am free. I have to deal with the knowledge that tomorrow I may not live past noon and not because I have a wish to die, but because something deep inside of me will tell me to do it.

Even if we take all this away, a marriage with someone who is mentally ill, also requires medication. It requires therapy, doctors, hospitals. It requires safe guards and side effects. A marriage with someone who is mentally ill takes an amazing amount of side effects.

For me, these medications have giving me a complete lack of sexual desire. Not just for my husband but for every male and female in my life. It isn’t as important to me as surviving. It isn’t as important to me as giving all my energy to my children so that at least they have a chance of a healthy life. It has never been important to me because it has never been a part of me; if you can’t feel something then it won’t exist for you. While others know what intimacy and trust are like, I don’t. That truth has long passed me.

I have come to realize that a lot of marriage can be destroyed by this side effect. I have come to realize that intimacy and trust is as important as talking about the mundane and sharing the chores. I have come to realize that most people, those whose basic human desires are not wiped out by the pills taken, need intimacy and trust. And it is possible there once was a day I needed it to.

I actually experienced physical desire for about two weeks awhile back. It was the most insane ride I have been on yet. I had no control and I would embarrassingly feel emotions that I had no concept how to handle. Believe me, if you don’t know desire and never had the chance to learn it, when it comes out of the blue life just gets strange.

In this journey of mine I have come to realize that what I have put my husband through the last years isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t fair. Most would say that marriage is like this, but no, it shouldn’t be.

I have destroyed my marriage and in many cases I have destroyed my husband. Maybe it is because of my disease, my inattention, my lack of desire, my lack of trust or simply the insanity of living with someone with a mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to know what desire feels like for more than a roller coaster ride. I fear that because I have a disease that requires medication with large and devastating side effects, this isn’t something I will ever know. But I never meant to deny such a basic human emotion to another. Problems stem from one or two large reasons – not the thousand we imagine – and if there is no solution to the problem, then there is only agony.

We can sugar coat this world as much as we would like; no one would blame us. But once you start opening those doors and looking into your soul it is possible the world will simply shed the skin off your body. It is possible that you will have to come to terms not only of your own loss but the destruction of those who once loved you so much the rest didn’t matter.

Nothing

I have nothing today. Not the energy to write nor the muse needed to come up with beautiful and insightful prose. I don’t have the desire to be anyone today nor to have great expectations.

There are days like this. There are days like this in my world and in my disease. Sometimes they can be attributed to an event and sometimes it is just the culmination of a day.

Today, I have nothing.

The Blue Handkerchief

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blueThere is a blue handkerchief lying on the floor of the bedroom I am currently living in. It is your standard issue handkerchief with a blue background and white paisley patterns. It is made of cotton, which historically has only been carried by the working class, and doesn’t have an ounce of sentiment attached to it.

One might expect that such an object on the floor was simply dropped accidentally out of someone’s pocket. Or maybe it was used recently and discarded near a wash basket. But my handkerchief was neither.

I don’t mean to make my handkerchief sound like some sort of rich story only found in the odes of Pablo Neruda or the lyrics of those iconic songs that we can all sing even when the radio is off. It really is just an ordinary handkerchief. But like all those thousands of things in life it can change a person’s focus, a person’s own story.

There are thousands of objects that can change us. If you really think about it, all objects can change us. That little dog with the big eyes and even bigger ears changes us. The sun reflecting over a perfect glass lake somewhere that few are able to see and which carries the silence of years; the child’s eyes you see for the first time after a lifetime of wishing. It can be as simple as a poem lost for modern English but found in a dusty book exactly when you needed it or it can be a penny turned face up and the fanatical belief that good luck is finally coming. Objects have as much pull as people.

Unfortunately for those with mental illness a simple object on the floor can mean the difference between finding the ability to rise and losing the fight to sleep. For those who are prey to the mundane and sometimes even ridiculous swings of a diseased mind, those objects can become the greatest sacrifices you have ever known.

I talk often about mental illness. I often remind people that if you do not have a mental illness you cannot possibly understand the ins and outs of the complexity this disease thrives on. If you aren’t mentally ill there is simply no concept, no object if you will, that I can present that will show you what my mental illness looks and feels like. For many who read this posting, I simply have a blue handkerchief on my floor.

What those who have mental illness know without looking is that a simple object can have a chain-like effect that can be devastating in its results. I don’t see this world like most, but rather with more colors, more depth and more feeling; and the reason I say this is because a blue handkerchief can hurt. The majority of the population sees this world in black and white, simple and complicated, math and science. I see curves and random bursts of emotion. I see the silence of a perfect day and the fear of a normal day. I see what is beyond the simple into the complex, and while it may be complicated, it is never without its simple comprehension. For often in the simple, is where I will collapse.

I threw that blue handkerchief on the floor sometime last week. I know this because last week is when I had an abnormally strong episode. Typically, an episode for me can be, at least from my perspective, hidden. It means avoiding the mirror for a couple of days, watching my temper and remembering to go to bed early to stay out of the way. A typical episode for me isn’t something that needs to be reported to a therapist, in fact there is an incredible amount of comfort in these episodes. I spend a couple of days in my own world and build back up the walls for the next round. These episodes while strange to strangers, to those we love it is often simply another low on the cycle of the mentally ill; there are moments of frustration in these lows, but they simply aren’t enough to change those that are suffering.

I often joke that my episodes are like labor and delivery. If the other half of the population had to have episodes then there might be incredible works of poetry but there would rarely be the mathematical equivalent.

Strong episodes are defined a little differently for me. They only happen once every four to five years in my case. For some it may happen more and for some less. But for me they involve crying, suicidal thoughts, loud voices, and extravagant and sometimes dangerous behavior. As everyone and their brother understands suicidal thoughts and the vast majority of the population think they know about voices I am going to skip those in this post. Instead I am just going to concentrate on the crying.

I don’t cry often. There may be some psychological explanation for this or possibly I simply have dry eyes, but the truth is I don’t cry. I don’t shed tears at sad movies and I don’t cry to the cathartic release of stress. I can’t seem to make myself cry and I can’t seem to figure out a way to trigger enough emotion to cry. Crying to me isn’t necessarily a weakness, although I don’t do it, but rather its like I simply missed that gene when I was made.

So when I cry, which is about every four or five years (this doesn’t include the times that I make-believe cry to get my way) it becomes an event. It becomes the inability for me to catch a breath. It becomes soul-wrenching and the pain comes from such a deep and quiet place that the impact of its coming is equivalent to the coming of God. It becomes reddened eyes that won’t go away for hours. It becomes hours long and debilitating.

I don’t know what triggers this crying. I know what can keep it going. I know the exact words to tell myself to keep me crying and releasing all that emotion. I know what to whisper and what to shout. I know that weakness that is an essential part of me.

The blue handkerchief is what I cried into last week. And it sits there on my floor and reminds me not of the tears but of the little voices that didn’t understand. It reminds me of the destruction I caused right after and the person that I became. It sits there and reminds me that despite what I wish there isn’t all that much I can actually handle in my life. It reminds me that so much of who and what I am is completely out of my control. It reminds me that the episodes of darkness are vastly preferable to the killing of a soul.

And my crying, the crying that contains four to five years of unhappiness, fear, agony, tiredness, defeat, and breaking points, is a killing and never a rebuilding. It destroys the person I have become in order to wipe the slate clean. It destroys the illusions I have built so that my defensive walls are barely standing. It opens all the wounds I had scabbed over for so long.

It isn’t cleansing. It isn’t a restorative thing. I have to spend the next four years rebuilding all that this one cry undid. There are parts that I will rebuild differently, but there is much more that will remain the same. I will rebuild my defenses but it will be such a slow and destructive experience that parts of me will be damaged.

For now, in the aftermath, I will hide but be exposed. I will find truths at the expense of my experience, and I will be hurt by arrows and daggers that are timely aimed. There will be a vulnerability to me that will continue to lessen until I cry again. There will be something fragile about me that can often be molded by those who do not know their responsibility; and it will remain until the day I let go again.

Maybe there are those that will express that this is life; the continual dying and living of the very foundations of who and what we are. Maybe there is a reason that I build my defenses one pile at a time only to have it come down all at once. Maybe there is a reason that I have to die in order to live.

I am not sure. What I know is that blue handkerchief is sitting on my bedroom floor reminding me of the work that I must do. That blue handkerchief is silently telling me that my vulnerabilities are showing and once again I need to do repair. That blue handkerchief is telling me that once again I lost.

I can’t bring myself to pick it up. I can’t bring myself to ignore the suggestion that once again I have fallen. Not because I wish to understand but because I have to find the strength once more. After you lose you have to find the strength to create a place where you can survive.  That place, for me, is gone. And I have no idea what I will look like this time around or if the possibility of a safe haven will be even further away.

One Order of Darkness, Please!

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secretI will let you in on a secret. I will tell you a secret about myself that I don’t talk about, that I don’t think about, but live with. I am sorry to say it isn’t a dirty little secret nor will anyone be that astonished. It may not be understood by anyone, but it is my reality. And the secret is…I like the darkness.

Let me back up a couple of steps so that you can understand. There are important steps to know when coming not only to terms with your own mental illness but when you have teach others about the diseases. Trying to entertain while still teaching about a subject I know like the back of my brain without scaring my family (and husband) out of their wits is difficult. There are certain truths that you have to lightly touch on and others that you simply have to avoid.

It is possible that understanding my preference, if not my need, for darkness is going to be one of those times my husband looks at me and complains that he doesn’t understand. It may be a time when I scare mothers around the world with my candor. Because the truth is that this preference, this need, counters all that we are told and all that we are warned we must strive for.

We are expected to go out and get a good job. We are expected to post cute little quotes and meaningful sayings around us so that we can succeed. Success is determined by our parents, our teachers and our own consciousness. It is given to us to learn and learn it we must; because if we go a different path than the life becomes mean and unfeeling and destroys the castle they already built.

But first, let’s figure out what darkness is. To be perfectly honest describing darkness to a layman or someone without a mental illness is like describing the sky to a blind person. You may get the concept right but the sheer majesty, the incredible poetry of the sky is simply inexpiable. You may try but you won’t get there.

If you don’t have a mental illness you will never experience darkness; there is no substitute and there is no easy answer to the questions mothers the world over have about their diseased children. It is out of most people’s reach. It is beyond most people’s ability to understand.

It is why we get the comments like, ‘why can’t you just think happy thoughts?’ or my absolute favorite, ‘just get over it’. People with mental illness are often told they are making the disease up in their mind for attention or the comments go the other way and we are told that we belong in some hospital with the key thrown away. The reason these comments are so prevalent in our times and in all the pasts that have ever lived is because a person without mental illness simply will never know. They will never know the tears that are never shed, the clouds of fear, the ability to assume shame, the reality of never knowing what exactly reality looks like. For 3 out of 4 people the idea of mental illness is foreign and there is no way to change that.

So in order to express my need for darkness I need to be able to describe the inexplicable. And even if I give you a clue, a small snippet of the vastness of these diseases, you will never know it. No matter how I describe my life you will never understand; my husband cannot, by children cannot, my doctors cannot. I wrote a book about the disease and still, I know you will never get it. You will never get it.

Darkness is, in my attempt to explain, not the lack of light. It is not the lack of love or the lack of compassion but rather the lack of hope. Darkness in my mind is a simple place without much adornment that allows me to feel not just sad, not just depressed, but allows me to fall deep into my own internal soul and put the world far away. It is a place that gives me permission to not have all the answers and it is a place that gives me permission to not have to be what all those I love hope for me to be.

Darkness is a place that destroys any sense of timing, or pleasure, or even satisfaction. It is why those with mental illness will often seek outside pleasures, in some attempt to feel beyond what the place they are in allows. Darkness is a place that uses language, feeling, and most of all knowledge against the very person who built it in an attempt to destroy and maim the life it represents. Unlike our hope or our faith darkness gives us a place to disappear. No one experiencing darkness will run for the US Presidency. No one experiencing darkness will chair a board or even be able to play as successfully on an Olympic team.

There are those with mental illness who are chairman of the board, who run for President, who play successfully on any Olympic team. But their best work will be when the darkness ebbs and makes room for a span of attention, education, and the energy to see outside their own forces. Mentally ill patients can do all that those without mental illness can do, but they will also experience the maddening and oftentimes dangerous other world of darkness. It isn’t how they handle darkness that makes the difference but rather how those they can trust handle the darkness they can’t see.

Saying all this and attempting to make some sense of this place inside those with mental illness most likely failed.  And I can live with that. As long as the reader understands one salient fact: sometimes the darkness is the comfort.

We have comfort zones. All of us do. If some place like the darkness is where you find trust, than that becomes your comfort zone. When the darkness becomes the place you understand, the place that you feel the most like yourself, the place that holds not the temptation of life but the temptation of destruction, than this becomes your comfort zone. Comfort zones aren’t the places we visit the most but rather the place we wish we could visit more often.

I am currently leaving my darkness to once again be among the living. I am talking to people more, even strangers, and I am meeting other people’s eyes. I am much more worried about my complexion and what my husband is going through. I am more sympathetic and I am more empathetic. But there is a part of me that is deathly scared of the place I am going.

My movements between darkness and light is completely out of my control. It is not regulated by my medications and while it can be influenced by the world around me mostly it is a crap shoot only determined in a place that I can’t reach.

The place beyond the darkness that I live in, what most would incorrectly term my norm, is happy. It is kind and full of energy. There is an intelligence and the ability to make my children laugh. But there is also a loss. A loss of my ability to write in a certain way, a loss of my ability to escape whenever I want to, and a loss of silence that is rarely found in life. There are gains but there are losses.

I am comfortable in the darkness. In many ways I am not aware of what either my brain or my body is doing when I travel there. In many ways I don’t allow myself self-illusion or even the energy to build. In my darkness there may be voices, loud voices, and there may be the need to hide and disappear into nothing, but it is my place. It is not a place I have to share and it is not a place I have to explain. Not because I can’t but because I simply don’t want to.

My darkness which makes bottle of pills very attractive also blocks out much of the world. There is no expectations in this darkness but rather the need to be nothing.

When I am in the light, a vastly different place, I am energetic, approachable and often talkative. I am capable of taking care of my children, my home and the dinner each night. In the light I am capable; in the darkness I am not. I unconsciously choose instead to fall away than to bask in the world most people live in.

This is my reality. Being mentally ill means I have to acknowledge the hard things about myself if I ever hope to survive to my children’s graduation. My darkness is not a beautiful place but it is my home. And today that will be my secret to share.

Bigger than Strength

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dominosYesterday I wrote about the voices and the demons that I am forced to listen to each and every day. The screams and the whispers that take my deepest fears and make them living, breathing entities. I admitted I longed for the silence that others simply cannot appreciate.

Most of the voices in my mind constantly and consistently tell me what I am not; worthy, pretty, good, or even deserving. Most of the voices in my mind get so close to my nightmares that I can’t distinguish the reality from the whispers. The sounds, the voices, telling me to kill myself are as real to me as the sun is to you. It is there, hovering and always present. It doesn’t wait and it cannot be stopped with simple measures.

While most of the voices I have are insistent that my own death is the answer, the solution to the nightmares I never worked towards, there are also those who tell me it is time to run away. The promise lies not in the loss of those I love but finally in the loss of the disappointed voices. The promise that I will finally be able to silence the destruction because I have eliminated those that I am hurting.

And when you acknowledge somewhere in your mental illness journey that dying is not the answer than this becomes the solution you try and listen to.

I don’t know the moment I decided that suicide was not an answer for me. I have no idea why that isn’t a possibility anymore, although it is not altogether gone. I have tried to kill myself in the past and it is likely that I will do so again. But I can curl into myself, tight into a ball and wait for the need to pass; the need to die.

But that often leaves my voices to find other solutions. The thing about voices is they mimic reality, the egos and passions of people, and the conscience of a mind much different than yours. They are as alive as you are and can change and find ways to make you focus on them beyond all others. They can interrupt conversations, they can begin conversations, and they can disappear as fast as those who learn you hear the others. They mimic reality; a reality that is believable and as normal as any we know.

Because my voices are smart, once I stopped reacting (unconsciously) to the death threats all that was left was the need to flee. Please note that at no time in my journey has the idea of suicide been taken off the table; it is a very possible solution. The difference is I recognize that it isn’t the easiest solution. The easiest solution is simply walking away.

I have two children, a home, a mother, a father, a husband and the same responsibilities that most have. My children must be raised to survive in this world, they must continue to grow and be healthy, and they must be entertained. My mother and father need the constant reassurance that I am okay and they raised me in the correct way. Without that reassurance, when they have to deal with the full reality of this disease, life for me can get very difficult. I have a husband, who despite the problems in our marital bliss, needs things from the store. He needs to have reassurance, very similar to my parents, and he needs an outlet to find his footing.

I could go on for hours, but the truth is my responsibilities are just the same as most. But these voices, these voices believe that running away and leaving all those responsibilities is the best thing I can do for those I love.

My children live with a bipolar mother. Through no fault of their own they deal with a woman who is never steady and can be as frustrating as the day is long. They are required to deal with my moods, my headaches, and even my tears. And it is the voices who remind me of the unfairness of this. Should they be subject to a mental illness, or should they finally be freed into normalcy?

Should my parents have to deal with the disappointment of having a mentally ill child?And before you think that parents of the mentally ill are not disappointed, or that you would love your child no matter what, you must for one second realize words are much easier than the reality. No child is easy and those with mental illness are that much more.

I want to  feel that amazing need to ensure that those I love are taken care of, and then walk away. I want to be able to make sure my children have someone to pick them up or feed them; then I want to walk away. I want to find a way to make sure my husband has the money he needs and then I want to walk away. I dream of walking away; I work out the details with the aid of all those whispers.

I know where I would head towards. I know where I would end up. I know the toll it would take to never see my children again. I know in what currency I will pay to do what these voices insist is the right thing. I know the death I will take in order to believe that I gave the right world to those I love. And I know those voices will guide me the whole way.

I also know that the voices won’t be satisfied. I often wonder if the constant solitude of running away however, won’t give the voices a new target. And I wonder what that target will be and at what point in my life those voices will win over me. At what time will my children and husband be told that I am no longer fighting? At what point will my babies forgive me for doing what I believe is right? How long will it take for them to finally move on? And will they ever know that my belief that I could be there for them as a mother was a selfish dream, and this is me finally letting go.

I have it all mapped out. I know where I will go, how I will go, and what I will do to get where I need to be. The voices have made sure of that. Now I just have to line up the dominoes so they may all be pushed down.

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