Sorrow (Trigger Warning: Discusses Suicide)

Last night, my fiance was on Facebook, when he started to read a post from an old friend of his about his son (stepson, I think.) It opened with a statement about how he had been having a hard time deciding how he was going to tell people about something that had gone very wrong in his world. He decided to write that his son had chosen to take his own life, and that he had been wrestling with severe depression and alcoholism. My fiance could not read past that first couple of sentences that spoke of his friend’s son’s suicide. He handed his phone to me, and I read the rest. His son, his friend wrote, had left a beautiful wife and three children, and loving father and stepmother. He wrote about his son’s challenges in trying to cope with alcoholism and depression, about how his son’s parents had tried to get him the best help they could, but that, in the end, his son’s demons proved too strong. My fiance was angry with the young man who committed suicide, and I just started to shake as I read the rest of the post. Huge tears began to roll down my face as I read of this young man who had fought so hard against his depression and his battle with alcohol.

I understand to the very depths of my being why he did it. My fiance said that there had been a couple of times when he had thought that suicide seemed like a good idea, but that he had never really considered it as a viable option. I have had more than my share of suicidal thoughts; in fact, I think about it maybe once or twice a day, but I never tell my fiance about it unless I have gotten weird and gone into one of my mood episodes. Then all hell breaks loose, and in my altered state, I will lock myself in the bathroom and play the “do I have enough medication to take my life” game. I nearly always have more than enough because I know exactly how much it takes, and what to take. Why do I know this? Because, nearly 11 years ago, I took an entire month’s prescription of Wellbutrin with a month’s worth of Geodon (never did like that stuff.) I didn’t really want to die in the literal sense. I just wanted the pain to stop, however, I think at some level I did want to be gone from this world. I knew that the pain was forever, that it would never really be gone. It would hide itself from me, convincing me that it had gone away when it was really just waiting and biding its time. It will be 11 years in July 2019 since I made my last and, hopefully, final attempt on my life.

I have a long history of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. I have been depressed for my entire life. I remember feeling intense sadness even as a young child when I should have been happy and playing with my friends (if I had had any.) I was always a solitary child who preferred to read than play with other kids. I was prone to depression (which my parents didn’t catch until I was about 12 because I was very skilled at hiding it,) and I preferred to be alone with my journals and books than playing. This is not to say that I didn’t play with the other children. I just knew that I was different from them in a way that I had no words to describe. I still have no words to describe my difference from other people except now I have a clinical diagnosis for it. Whoopee! Anyway, I digress. Adderall hasn’t kicked in yet, I didn’t sleep well, and my mind is not as focused as it could be.

I remember being bullied starting in grade school. I was a smart child (perhaps all the reading and writing) and I tested into what our school system called the “gifted” program when I was 7 years old. I had no idea that meant that my I.Q. was higher than the other kids including my younger sister who also tested but did not make it. I also had no idea that I would become the object of bullying because the other kids did not understand why I got to leave class for an hour everyday while they stayed behind. Why was I so special? To this day, I do not understand bullying, but I can pick out the kids that are likely to experience bullying and those likely to be popular with their classmates. What a useful skill to have. Anyway, being that I was a depressed child, I really did not need to be culled from the herd, so to speak, and made even more different than I already was. My first thoughts of suicide came when I was 10, and I wrote a short story in my journal about my own funeral. In the story, I had committed suicide, and was being buried, but no one came to the funeral. Not my parents, my sister, my grandparents, not a single soul came to see me leave this world. I was 10 when this story was written. Tell me that’s a normal thing for a 10 year old child to be thinking about. That’s the first time I can remember seriously contemplating my own mortality. I was in deep and searing pain from what would later be diagnosed as clinical depression, and the kids at school bullying me was not helping.

My first attempt on my life (of what would become many) came when I was 12 years old. I remember what caused it. I was opening a soda bottle, and it foamed over onto the counter (my mother hates messes in a way that is probably not healthy.) I said “Shit!” quite loudly, and was immediately yelled at by both parents (I’ll write about my family at a later date.) For some reason, that evening was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had had it with being yelled at, I had had it with being depressed and feeling sad all the time, I was tired of feeling like a failure, I was tired of being “weird” and not having any friends. In my naivete, I figured I could poison myself by drinking ammonia mixed with soda. It was my mother that figured out something was up. I had become very quiet, and wasn’t feeling too well. Go figure. She came and asked me what the matter was. I told her then broke down crying. She called poison control. I hadn’t ingested enough ammonia to warrant a trip to the emergency room, but I had for the first time set out to end my life. I was 12.

When I was 16, it was a brand new bottle of aspirin, and Metallica playing “Fade to Black” on the stereo. My life both at home and at school had changed quite a bit, and were perhaps worse than they ever had been. I was at a new school with a lot of kids I simply could not relate to on any level. They were rich, like really rich. I was not. They had all the right clothes, the right cars, the right houses, the right friends, and listened to the right music. I have to say their musical taste sucked. I didn’t like The Cure back then, and I still can’t stand them. I am more of a hard rock, heavy metal, trance, electronica kind of gal. I really did not fit in…..at all. These kids did not play nice either. They had a different way of torturing a person. It was much more psychological and not physical at all. I could stand up to bullies who tried to beat me up; I was bigger than they were, and I could hit a person hard. This type of bullying I had no defense against. And, my home life was rapidly becoming a wreck. I had problems with my parents, my parents had problems with each other, my father had become an alcoholic, was having an affair (I did not know that was what was wrong), I just had problems. Then, I was raped. Life came to a screeching halt. This was more than I could deal with at 16. So, I swallowed a bottle of aspirin (not a good idea.) I freaked out at the last minute though. I couldn’t go through with it, and I called my best friend to tell her I needed to go to the hospital. This would become a pattern.

My last attempt of maybe 20 attempts with about 10 of them serious enough to hospitalize me came when I was about 37. I remember that my mother who had been there for me through almost everything (except the rape) had decided that she couldn’t talk to me for a while. It had become too much for her, and she felt she needed to distance herself from me to “protect herself.” By this point I had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and several other co-morbid mental illnesses, and had become a “frequent flyer” at the mental hospitals in my city. My mother was the only person left that I could call for help or to talk. All my other friends had almost vanished from my life. I really depended on my mom for support. I had only been diagnosed for about 5 years at this point, and I was having a hard time swallowing the idea that I would be like this forever; happy one minute then chest crushingly sad at the next. One afternoon, I decided I was no longer going to try and cope with this disorder. I was in so much pain, and my mother had forbade me to call her unless I absolutely had to and then, only on her cell phone. She took my key to her house. The house I had grown up in. She forbid me to come over unless she invited me. I perceived this as a permanent and unacceptable situation. This really was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

One afternoon, I pulled out my medications to see what I had. I had every intention of ending the searing emotional pain that I was in. I was going to overdose on psych meds, and just bring an end to it all. I was 37 and I was really fed up with a life that had not gone according to my plans. I was tired of the ups and downs, I was tired of the anger, the irritability, the guilt and shame I felt at having let everyone down, I was tired of solitude, I was just tired. I picked the Wellbutrin up, counted the pills. There were 27. Almost a full prescription. I swallowed them with a lot of water. I picked up the Geodon, counted those. 28 pills. Another full prescription. I swallowed those with the rest of the water. I sat back to wait. 20 minutes later, I was feeling really drowsy, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I got scared at how sleepy I was getting. I thought to myself that I had better call 911. I called, and they came and took me out of my apartment on a stretcher as I could no longer walk.

At the emergency room, the doctors and nurses put a total of 8 IV’s in me in an attempt to flush the medications out of my system. It was the only thing they could do because the pills had dissolved into my bloodstream. My stomach could not be pumped. I slowly became paralyzed from the neck down, and I couldn’t really understand what was going on around me. I remember hearing one doctor saying, we’re going to lose her. Everything in the emergency room turned a hot pink, and I began what would be three or four days of psychosis and hallucinations. I was really scared at this point. I frantically focused on wiggling a toe. I knew if I could accomplish that, I would be alright. Eventually, the IV fluid began to work, and I wiggled my big toe. A long term of hospitalization followed. I had come too close this time. I had touched my own mortality. 

A few years later, I would run into the doctor that had saved my life. She said they have three levels of triage in the E.R. The first are people that are hurt or sick, but not in any imminent danger and can wait. The second are people that need to be seen as soon as possible. Then, there are those that can’t wait because they are in immediate danger of dying. She told me that by the time I reached the E.R., I was in the third category. She told me she wasn’t sure they could bring me back. It has been nearly 11 years since that afternoon alone and deeply depressed in my apartment. I flew way too close to the sun that day, and my wax wings nearly melted. I fell down that afternoon. This is why the suicide of this young man I didn’t even know has affected me so deeply. I understand with every fiber of my being what it means to want to be depressed, I know what it means to fight a seemingly endless battle against alcohol and drugs, I know how it feels to want to die. I have touched death and survived. 

Her

Portrait by Alexander T. Scaramanga

My “official” diagnosis is Rapid-cycling, Mixed-episode Bipolar disorder Type I with psychotic features. I realize that is a mouthful, but it is germane to the subject of this post; especially the “psychotic features” part. I was doing a bit of research this morning on delusions and delusional thinking. I discovered a few things that I knew and a few things I did not know. Delusions are recognized as a belief that is clearly not grounded in reality. It is not rational nor is it accounted for by a religious belief system, a person’s intelligence, or cultural background. A person with a delusion will hold fast to the idea despite all evidence that it is false. They are 100% convinced that the delusion is reality. Delusions can be a symptom of the following: a medical disorder, a neurological disorder, or a mental disorder. Delusions may be present in the following: 1) psychotic disorders where the affected person has a diminished or distorted sense of reality. These include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, and others. 2) bipolar disorder, 3) major depressive disorder with psychotic features, 4) delirium and 5) dementia.

Delusions are organized into two sets of opposing categories. These are “bizarre vs. non-bizarre” and “mood-congruent vs. mood-incongruent.” A bizarre delusion is one that is very strange and out of line with a person’s cultural background. An example of a bizarre delusion might be the notion that one is receiving transmissions from another planet via radio waves. A non-bizarre delusion is an idea where the content, although mistaken, is plausible. For example, a person may believe that they are being watched by the police. An example of a mood-congruent delusion is the idea a severely depressed person may hold that the world is ending. A mood-incongruent delusion may be represented by the idea that thoughts are being “inserted” into a person’s mind, and they are recognized as not being that person’s thoughts. This is called “thought insertion.”

Delusions are often organized into “themes” of thought. One is the “delusion of control” where a person may believe that their actions, thoughts, and behaviors are being controlled by an external force. “Nihilistic” centers on the non-existence of one’s self or parts of one’s self, others, or the world. This is the classic “the end of the world is nigh” delusion. “Delusional jealousy” or the “delusion of infidelity” is also common. It is the false belief that one’s spouse or lover is having an affair, and stems from pathological jealousy. Bear with me here, I am getting to the point of this post. Another common theme is the “delusion of guilt or sin.” This is the idea that some event, say a house fire, is one’s fault when there is no possible connection between the person and the event. One of the last themes is the “delusion of one’s mind being read.” I think that is fairly self explanatory.

I said all of that to say this. I suffer from delusional thinking. That would be the “psychotic features” part of my diagnosis. I have also had psychotic breaks where I have broken completely from both my self and my reality (which is subjective due to the psychotic problem.) My delusion falls into the “delusional jealousy” theme. I have this pervasive and all encompassing belief that a friend of my fiance’s has a crush on him and has for several years. I also have a sneaking suspicion that when she and her husband were having problems that they may have had an affair, but this I can’t say for certain. I mentioned this post to my therapist on Wednesday, and she just smiled, knowing where I was going with it. Anyway, I am having a hard time writing this post.

“She” as I will call her is everything that I feel that I am not; she is apparently quite funny, she is very smart (yes, she is really a rocket scientist ~ works at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California), she is cheerleader cute and tiny, and she is an avid bicyclist (as is my fiance; I truly enjoy riding my bike, but I find it to be a solitary activity. Not social.) I, on the other hand, am tall, slightly overweight due to meds to keep others sane, have achieved a college degree in Sociology and Psychology (underwater basket weaving is what my friends and I call those types of majors), and am not an avid cyclist. I am not cheerleader cute and tiny nor do I hold a Master’s degree in astrophysics.There are little things that make me think they may have had an affair. First, my fiance never has told me who she had her affair with, and I know he knows. Second, the first time I met her was at a dinner she and a friend had for my fiance’s birthday about 3 years ago. Every time I would try to engage her in conversation, she would answer curtly, wave me off, and return to her intense conversation with my fiance. She wasn’t even talking to her other friend (who happens to be a computer scientist at the National lab here). Her friend talked to me. I felt like a third wheel on a date. It was terribly uncomfortable. Third, there was the late night phone call while we were in bed watching TV. He hung up after half an hour of laughing with a “Good night, sweetie.” I just have to say WTF, and then he wanted to be intimate after calling another woman “sweetie.” Seriously? Then a few months later at the grocery store, we ran into her, and she called out his name and flung herself on him. Her daughter and I just stood there awkwardly while she once again focused solely on him. Again, terribly uncomfortable. It’s a composite of all these little things that make me think my fiance was the one she had the affair with.  Oh, and he calls her when I am not home. For me, that sealed it.

Do you see what I mean about delusional thinking? He and I have been together for at least 4 or 5 years. I should feel comfortable and secure. But… I don’t. I do not understand why he is with me. I am broken. She is not. I am unemployed. She helps put satellites in orbit. I am tall and “statuesque.” She is little and cute. I smoke. She climbs huge hills on her bike for fun. I just know they had something going at whatever point in time she and her husband were on the outs. And, if they didn’t, she clearly has a crush on him. I can tell by the way she looks at him. It causes me to think “if only I were this or that.” But, mostly she makes me wish I wasn’t who and what I am. What really bugs me is that I know I am not ugly or stupid. This whole Bipolar thing was not in my life plan.

An Open Commentary to My Family (warning: this is kind of long)

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Jennifer. I am your daughter, your sister, your niece, your granddaughter, and your cousin. I am also mentally ill. Do not make the mistake of thinking that being mentally ill makes me less than.

For those of you that relish the stories of how you babysat my sister and myself, but then float off into the crowd at family events or or other party type events never to be seen or heard from again, I would like to say that your actions (or lack thereof) hurt me deeply. I do not need you telling perfect strangers that you used to change my diapers; that’s just you trying to appease your own sense of guilt for not speaking to me, for not inviting me to Thanksgiving and Christmas, for moving and not telling me where you live. It isn’t like I am going to crash your family party, drink all your liquor and dance on your coffee table with a lampshade on my head. I have Bipolar disorder and a few anxiety problems, not stupidity. I am not the local drunk.

I am one of about 5 million people who struggle with some form of the disorder every day. And, believe me, there are days, weeks when my life is pure struggle, pure will-power, and pure determination that I will get through this day. I will not falter, I will not cry in front of people as I am so apt to do, I will not make good on the things the voices tell me to do. I will not listen to that voice, the singular one I hear that constantly reminds me that I am “damaged,” that I do not deserve a happy life, that I should really just take all those pills or use the knife on my desk and get everything over with. I simply refuse to let that voice win. You may think me weak for even having those thoughts, but you may be surprised to find that I am stronger than some for being able to muddle my way through the range of emotions that I can feel in a day.

I would not wish this illness on my worst enemy. It sucks everything you have right out of you at times. It can be grand fun when you are “high” in the early stages of mania. For those first 2 or 3 days, you are the funniest, the most clever, the smartest, the most original, the most productive person you know. Then, the lack of sleep starts to catch up to you. You become irritable, agitated, angry, unable to keep a lid on your thoughts and emotions. You wish with all your might for sleep that eludes you, you wish that your brain would just take a break (it doesn’t help if you also have ADHD), you wish that your thoughts would just simmer down a bit. Then, if none of these things happen, you break from yourself and the reality you know. Your thoughts become twisted, you are so tired but you cannot sleep, you start to think that suicide is a great plan (if only to get some rest), you find yourself in a very dark place where nothing is as it seems. You become Alice in Wonderland except Wonderland is quite real in your mind. The White Knight is talking backwards, and so are you. There is no returning to normalcy without a visit to the hospital where they take the medications that used to work, and they prescribe new ones or higher doses of old ones. They structure your life. They tell you when to wake up, when to eat, when to attend different group therapies (if you are lucky, you have “outdoor” privileges so you can see the sun), when to bathe, and when to sleep (if you can.) When the psychosis breaks and you come back down to earth, they let you go back to your life. Or what is left of it. 

Then, there is crushing depression and anxiety. I am not talking about feeling “blue,” a little sad, or the more normal situational depression that most people will experience at some point. I am talking about depression that comes on slowly like a warm blanket on a cold night. At first, you feel a little down. Maybe you are not eating as much or sleeping too much. Then, all of it hits at once. Kind of like a hurricane making landfall. You try to get out of bed, you try to get dressed, you try to bathe or wash your hair. You try to put on your make-up, you try to pay attention to the little things that indicate mental health. But. You. Just. Can’t. Do. It. You go days without bathing, you may go weeks without changing your bedding, your chest hurts as if your heart has stopped. You don’t care about anything and that voice comes back. The one I mentioned earlier that tells you how damaged you are, how much better this world would be without you in it. For me, this phase can last for an hour or two, or it can last months. It is especially bad during the Holidays when you snub me by not inviting me to your homes, or you fail to call to say Happy Thanksgiving. Even a text will do. Something, anything to let me know that you still care about how I am doing now not some far off place where you used to change my diapers; that little girl has been gone for many years. I am what is left standing. 

I am not my illnesses. I am so many other things. I am a damn good amateur photographer, I am a good student, I can be a good employee, I am a wife, I am a college graduate (that was rough going), I am a caring and compassionate person, I am a Buddhist, I am a writer, a thinker, an observer of my world. I am a human being. What I am not is that little girl you seem to wish that I still was. The one who looked up to you, who thought you were the coolest person on earth, who didn’t care if you made mistakes, who loved you without conditions and still does even if you don’t seem to love me without conditions. What I am is the result of a lot of negative and positive experiences, a lot of lessons learned the hard way, a lot of people hurt (including myself), a lot of learning to cope with emotions that won’t hold still for a moment so I can stop and breathe, and anxiety so acute that I can’t leave the general vicinity of my home. What I am is a person living with a serious mental illness that can’t understand why you have abandoned me when I have not abandoned you. I am a person living with an illness that destroys everything in its path if you let it, and sometimes keeping it reined in is a full time job. Sometimes the medications meant to keep those around me sane do not work, and I get delusional, emotional, depressed, manic, psychotic (often at the same time.)

While I understand that I failed to live up to everyone’s expectations for me, that I failed to live up to my “potential” (whatever that is), that I turned out differently than everyone wanted, that I had to go out and learn about life and people the hard way (sometimes the extremely hard way), I also feel that these experiences contributed to making me more humble, more compassionate, more realistic (although that idealistic little girl still exists), more understanding, and more empathetic. Yes, I had my “wild” period where I was very much in danger of becoming an addict, but I figured that one out and fixed the symptoms if not the cause (which I have never told you about, or if I have, you weren’t listening.) Yes, I can be very difficult to handle. Yes, I can operate under delusional thoughts at times, but I know deep down that these thoughts are not reality. Yes, I can be tough to listen to at times, I know that I have and continue to hurt people, sometimes so badly that they leave and never look back. To them, I have to say that the chances are good that I would have left eventually; generally people who abandon me are toxic to me and my continued “stability.” To those who are left standing with me, I love you with all my heart and anything else I can offer. I know myself pretty well at this point; something about having a serious mental illness has made me even more self-reflective than I used to be.

I am not a bad person, I am not someone you want to keep your kids away from. I have Bipolar disorder and a few other little friends. I am not a psychopath, a sociopath, or anything else you may think I am. What you don’t know is that I love you all very much, I am grateful to the people in my family who have gone out of their way to help me, and I am very angry with those who choose to pretend they love me in public but in private seem to want to have nothing to do with me. Do you know how much that hurts? I am still Jennifer. I am still your daughter, sister, niece, cousin and granddaughter. It is simply that now there is a label for what you all perceived as my oddness, my difference from other people. It is too bad that you can’t tell me from a label. I would never do that to you. I just wish that you would walk your talk or don’t talk at all. While I still love you because you are my family, I, too, am perfectly capable of removing those that do not enrich my life from it. Bipolar taught me how to do that as well. Bipolar disorder is a strict taskmaster, and you learn what you need to in order to survive it (it really is trying to kill you.)

Unfortunately, since you have all continued to keep me locked out of your lives for the past 20 years, you will not get to know who I am now and the person I will become unless you change your ways of doing things. I am not who you think. I may have been that person, but I am a completely different person now, and it hurts me deeply that some of you have no real interest in how I am doing in the present. People change. Even people with mental disorders. It is unfortunate that some of you have decided that I am not worth the effort (that is not a delusional thought; it is predicated on the actions you have taken.) I miss my family. I wish you knew how much I just want to be included. That is all. Even if I don’t come, invite me over for Christmas. Just extend the offer. I am tired of doing all the giving, and trying to be someone I am not in order to be loved. I am tired of trying to be what everybody seems to want me to be just to be accepted into your narrow little world. I am just tired of always trying and getting nothing in return. I think I have decided that I am going to stop trying to gain something that I apparently never had, and that is your acceptance and love. You know, my grandmother never cut me out of her life regardless of where I was at in my life. She was always there quietly supporting me with her care packages of dry goods and food, and patting my hand telling me that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. She knew I don’t believe in God, but it was the small action that made the difference. I know she loved me unconditionally.

I guess to sum up: I am sorry that I did not become what people thought I was capable of, I am sorry for things I have said or done to my family to cause them to want me out of their lives, I am just sorry. This is what the reality is; the cute little girl, the precocious little girl with the red hair is all grown up, and she is sick. If that is enough to reject me, then so be it. No, I am not angry at all.

Monday Morning: New Blog, First Post

I always have a little bit of apprehension whenever I start a blog. I do not know where the anxiety comes from, however I always feel it when starting a new project be it work or personal. Perhaps I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is Jennifer, and I have Bipolar disorder Type I with psychotic features (hence the searching for reality in a world of delusion.) I also struggle with PTSD, Panic disorder with and without Agoraphobia, and ADHD. Having ADHD is not so bad as long as I am taking my medication. I have lots of things that I can come up with to keep me occupied since I do not work and have a lot of free time on my hands. For anyone who thinks not having a job is fun, I assure you it is not. It is hard to stay busy and keep boredom from knocking down your door. There are also other issues that come with not being employed like a lack of sufficient income, self-worth issues, and feeling like one is not contributing in a meaningful way to society. 

This blog is mainly about living with the aforementioned Bipolar disorder with some other ingredients thrown in for interest. I have and live with Bipolar disorder, however, I decided a while ago that I would not allow it to be my defining characteristic. I also have an interest in photography. I love music and the way it can change a mood or define a moment in time. I enjoy building model rockets that actually fly. I enjoy spending time with my fiance and friends flying rockets, and I can be an avid cyclist (when I am not feeling fat; some of the medications that keep people around me sane come with a weight gain feature that I have had to come to terms with.) 

I had a previous blog about living with Bipolar disorder that ran for three years until I realized that it was time to hang it up. I began that blog having just been released from the hospital for the one millionth time, and decided that I was never going back again. There is nothing therapeutic about the “Behavioral Health” wards of a hospital. If anything, you end up acting like you feel better than you do just to get out of there. It is like being locked up full-time with a bunch of clones of you with slight nuances. Like I said, not therapeutic. If I want to be locked up with a bunch of mini-me’s, I’ll start an argument with myself…..and lose.

I decided to start this blog in the hope that maybe some of what I have learned over the years might be of use to someone else who is struggling. I am also currently struggling with a relapse into active Bipolar episodes. While I am always experiencing some form of mood episode that is not “normal,” this is a full steam ahead relapse. Maybe it’s the Holiday season that triggered it, but more than likely, it (Bipolar) just decided on it’s own to rear its ugly head. So, in order to deal with it, I have started a new blog on the subject. I am a different person than the one who blogged before. Back then, I was trying to understand it, and I was angry. Now, I am more accepting of what my life has become, and what it will never be. I am more at peace. There is this small problem of relapse, however, and since writing is my forum for releasing pressure, I have a new blog. Oh, and Seroquel really does leave you hungover.