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Grey, Everywhere

Have you ever heard a version of the saying, the only way you’ll get what you want is if you ask for it? In a lot of ways this has proven to be true in my life. I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to happen for me and to start making things happen.  I’ve learned not to complain about my life not being what I want it to be if I haven’t made any efforts to make it so. I’ve learned to trust the things that I want and to think about what it would look like for me to actually go after them. Sometimes with that last one I find that what I wanted, even when it is a genuine, strong desire, isn’t what I really need.

Often this lesson comes along with life experience. For example one time when my nephew was two years old, he felt with all his heart that I wanted to go play with the white and orange lane bumps in the middle of the road. He turned to run into the road, and when my sister stopped him he cried and cried and cried as though by not getting what he wanted, even if it was dangerous, his world had just ended. I think this is a fight that we continue to have with ourselves in different forms our entire life, we just don’t always have my sister to stop us from running into the road. As adults the decisions are ours.

How can we amass four decades of life experience, fully understanding that certain decisions will be dangerous, and still make the self destructive choice over and over again? Just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for me. And just because something is the right choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be attractive to me at first. I want a lot of things. I want speech without consequences, I want sex without consequences, I want to deal with my problems by drinking and getting high, I want a baby elephant, I want to live in a self sustaining house in the middle of the forest and never talk to anyone ever again, I want to eat strawberry frosting from the tub with my finger.

Because I’m adult, I can choose to do any of those things. People may try to stop me, but no one can really stop me if I decide go for the frosting tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t get between a diabetic and a tub of frosting. Just don’t. But any of those other things on the list are either not realistic, or they would have consequences that I do not want. I could speak like there are no consequences, but then I would end up hurting people I love or going to jail. I could adopt a baby elephant but I would ruin its life, and possibly vice versa.

All I’m saying is that sometimes making out lives better isn’t a matter of demanding what we want. I don’t go up to my boyfriend and demand that I want to start living in the forest and may not be home very much anymore. That would not make my life better at all, even though it’s something I think sounds attractive. Because the world isn’t black and white. It’s all grey, everywhere. Want doesn’t equal need. Want leading to happiness is as much a truth as want leading to disaster, so we have to fish around in the grey to make the best choices we can.

My heart can be an idiot and my brain can be a bitch, but every now and then, with effort, they can work together and take care of me.

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Fighting the Bipolar Carnival Ride

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It’s easier to write about fighting depression stigmas when you’re not in the middle of a depression episode. Today I’m writing to you from the middle. This week my depression has gotten a little worse each day. Functioning is difficult, but I make myself do what I can. A week or two ago I was in the middle of a hypomania episode, a different middle, where I had loads of manic energy. I had so much energy that I couldn’t feel any depression. I was exceedingly productive and never needed to sleep, but I wouldn’t get exhausted.

Then my brain hopped on the slide and lowered me into this depressed darkness where getting out of bed is almost too overwhelming for me to accomplish. I did get out of bed today, and I am forcing myself to check a few things off my to do list, anger at being stuck on this bipolar carnival ride fueling all of my energy.

The picture shown above illustrates what I’m feeling right now. I’m surrounded by mud that wants to suck me under, the muddy water holding me up is cold and inhospitable and you can see my discomfort on my face. There is wood and barbed wire above my head making sure that if I try to raise myself up too high and throw off the depression status quo, I will be rewarded with pain and pulled hair (it happened: a barb caught my pony tail and it was not pleasant).

Yet, I am resisting being sucked down into the mud. I’m fighting to keep one hand on solid ground and the other doing its best to keep myself above water, even if barely. My face is smeared with grit, my hair is snarled, I am freezing, but I’m still looking ahead to the other side of this dark time.

As long as I can do that, I will be okay.

 

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Learning to Grieve

My dad is dying.

In some universal sense I always knew I would have to say that at some point in my life, but it feels different when I’m actually facing it. I mean, parents live forever in a way that normal human beings don’t, right? No? Oh. Anyway, my dad has a rare neurological disorder called PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) that often presents like Parkinsons but it specifically deteriorates body and eye movement, and there’s no treatment or medication. Eventually people with this disease can’t breathe or swallow properly, and cannot walk or control the body’s movements properly. It’s not something I want my dad, or anyone, to go through, especially when we’re forced to face the end of his life approaching rapidly.

Grief is an odd beast. Sure there are stages of grief, but no one tells you about how you can grieve for someone who is still alive. My dad was my comic relief in life. He entertained my weird ideas more than any other human ever would (or probably should). I have cassettes of us on road trips going to visit my brother in college, and while talking on the tape, I suddenly break into a gameshow host impression.

I say, “Hi ma’am, I’m Dr. Gameshow! We’re glad you came on the show today, tell us a little about yourself,” and I pointed the recorder at my mom.

She says, “What in the world are you talking about? What show?”

I say, “Okay, thanks for being here. Sir would you like to tell us a little about yourself before we start the game?”

Without missing a beat my dad says, “Hi Dr. Gameshow. Yes, my name is Bob, I have three kids and a pet bear, and I’m really happy to be here.”

I say, using a Minnesota/North Dakota accent for some reason, “They-ah-t’s great sir. Doncha know, we’ve got some killer prizes on the show today. Your pet bear will be so gee golly thrilled to see you after ya win these gosh durn prizes!” We proceded to put on an entire gameshow, complete with me cutting to my mom periodically, who consistently refused to be weird with us. Then when the joke ran its course we just went back to driving like nothing had happened. That recording is on a micro cassette and I almost didn’t play it, fearing I would break it, seeing as it was about 27 years old. But it held up and I’m so happy I got to hear it again and hold onto that memory.

It’s hard watching this disease take my dad from that person who could run with whatever I threw at him as a kid and even as an adult to someone who can no longer get himself around the house or focus on an entire conversation. He has days when he can’t get himself to the bathroom and back, and he used to be able to dismantle a broken toilet, rewire an electrical outlet, repair drywall, and almost everything in between at a moment’s notice.

Mentally, he’s the same man he always was, and that’s the hardest part of this disease to deal with. His body is failing him, and it affects every part of his life. It affects what he’s able to eat, how he sits, his sleep schedule, how much energy he has/doesn’t have, how he talks to people/can’t talk to people, how his daughter, who at age 5 he used to help to the bathroom in the middle of the night because she was scared to leave her room, has to help him to and from the bathroom. Physical illness affects mental and emotional health, always. He’s depressed and anxious for the first time in his life. It’s understandable, but it’s difficult to watch him go through this, especially when he seems just a little different every time I see him. We still have our rapport though, even if it’s modified now. Our conversations go something like this:

Dad:  How does blue tooth work?

Me: You have to pair something with something else and they talk to each other. I’m really not good at technology questions.

Dad: Don’t sell yourself short! You’re great!

Me: Okay fine, I just don’t like teaching technology to old people.

Dad: Well who does? Now how do I turn on the internet?

Me: No.

Dad: Hmmmmmmm…

Grief for a parent is a unique grief, especially when you start grieving a parent while they’re still alive. Because the disease seems to progress slightly every time I see him, he has new challenges every week. Every week it feels like the grief stage cycle starts over anew. But he’s the one telling me that I inspire him. He says that watching me struggle with type 1 diabetes and depression over the years, seeing how I pushed through and worked hard to accomplish things in my life has helped him realize that he can handle living with this disease. He even told me that he was always intimidated by me, even as a kid, because I was always so strong. He’s the one telling me this! It’s just so discouraging to know that he’s getting worse and suffering and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. But seeing that he’s still able to smile and be funny, and knowing that somehow, just by being myself, I was able to help him takes the edge off a tiny bit.

It’s not about me, though, or making me feel better. It’s just a type of grief I’ve never known before. The stages of grief are real and true and all that, but they do not go in order. I have days where I snap-to in the middle of whatever I’m doing, and I’m not sure what’s real or what isn’t. Like the seconds after waking from a dream, but I could be in the middle of a conversation with someone, or driving, or walking the dog. I still don’t really understand grief other than to know that it’s constant, and that it’s a strain on my already tenuous mental health.

That’s not to say that I’d change anything, though. I’ve realized how precious the time I have left with my dad really is. Even if we can only say a few words to each other, or even if the only time I see him that day is to help him into his pants. There will be a day sooner than anyone (except him) wants when I won’t have the chance to do that anymore, so I will be honored to spend whatever time I have with him.

dadchipmunk

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Thank You for Reading

Hello and thank you for joining me on new blog #7,042 of my life. I feel none of the shame and embarrassment that I’m supposed to feel after this many failures because I keep getting back up and trying again. Just like living with mental illness, getting back up after you get knocked down is the name of the game. You get knocked down a lot, and if you don’t get back up you don’t live. Sometimes you don’t live metaphorically, and sometimes you don’t live literally, biologically. I’ve been on the metaphorical side more than once. And three times I was almost on the biological side.

But here I am. I talked to a writer friend (you know who you are) today who encouraged me to start writing again about my struggles with bipolar II disorder and anxiety and dissociation. I recently went to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for the fourth time in my life, and it is the only one that left me better than when I went in. I met some great people (you know who you are), trusted the staff, and got a lot out of the therapies offered there. I want to go into more detail about this hospital experience as well as how it relates to my past hospital experiences, which were horrific and traumatic.

“Why did I keep going back if the experiences were horrible?” I heard no one ask. Nonetheless, the answer is that all I know is getting back up after I get knocked down. I am strong. I have failed, but I have found the strength to get back up. This blog will be about mental illness. I don’t have patience for stigmas. I don’t have the energy to speak in polite language. I don’t try to sugar coat my experience. If I can write about mental illness without shame, I hope to help enlighten people who don’t know what it’s like (you know who you are), or to help that one person who is still trying to find the strength to speak up. Don’t give up! Hope is out here somewhere! It gets harder before it gets better, but you can do it!

Thank you for reading. I have a lot to say.