My Life with Bipolar Disorder and Depression

When the phone rang that night, I was asleep. It was probably 1 am or so, and my 10-year-old body wasn’t used to being pulled from slumber at such an unreasonable hour. I closed my eyes and willed myself to slip into unconsciousness again. The voice in the back of my head told me I shouldn’t sleep; that I should get up and find my sister and whichever parent had kept watch with us that night, and listen to what they had to tell me. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it because I didn’t want to hear what they were going to say. If I went back to sleep, it’d be a dream; a terrible, awful, nightmare. The phone call would be a figment of my imagination.

I woke up again, when it was light outside, to my mother’s sobbing tearing through the walls. Sharp sobs. Unearthly wails. I can’t describe the grief and the overwhelming anger and helplessness that I could hear in her voice. She was in the bathroom with the door shut, but nothing was hidden from me and my seven-year-old sister. We sat up in our hideaway couch bed and I saw my father sitting at the little table across the room from me, with tears in his eyes, but his demeanor calm.

I knew the words that were coming next. The phone call hadn’t been a dream, and my willful ignorance had been pointless. I started crying. My sister got scared and started crying, too, not really understanding what was going on.

“Sara went to be with your sister last night.”

Angry sobs. Uncontrollable tears. Cursing God. Hadn’t I prayed hard enough? Losing Kristin was hell on my parents… and now Sara’s gone, too?

It was three weeks before her fourth birthday.

head-is-bad

Image from STYLEGERMS

 

My dance teacher threw up her hands, exasperated.

“Why don’t you even try?” she asked. I was half her height and couldn’t look her in the eyes. We stood in front of a wall-sized mirror, where she scrutinized my form as I practiced a section of my dance routine in a trance-like state.

“I am,” I said. We stared at one another for a moment, our eyes locking in the glass, and then she turned and went to assist one of my classmates. I wanted to leap through the glass like Alice, and escape from the inanity of memorizing a simplistic, boring dance routine. What did it matter, anyway? The only people who cared were my parents. They were the only ones who showed up to watch their kids prance around on a stage like clumsy little mannequins, wearing far too much makeup for their own good and hair sprayed into place like a tiny Texas beauty queen. Who else cared? I couldn’t think of a single person.

But my mom paid for classes. And I had to keep everyone happy.

I forced myself to move again. If you squinted, it looked sort of like dancing.

“We need to talk,” my piano teacher said, looking at me while I let my fingers slump from the keys and into my lap, knowing what was coming. “You haven’t been practicing, and you seem very… sad.”

I refused to make eye contact and just stared at the keys, tears welling up in my eyes as I tried to choke out some kind of answer. Words weren’t coming.

“Is it because of your sister?”

Yes, it is because I have a gaping hole in my life where her little bald head should be. Her adorable, round eyes and her singing and dancing and hilarious jokes. She should have been free of her illness, and don’t you think I am angry that such a sweet little person had to suffer so greatly? I hear her voice when I try to sleep, and my chest hurts so bad that I feel my heart will tear itself apart.

I have her drawings of our family together. It will never be the same. I have a mother who won’t stop crying, a father who gets the brunt of her uncontrollable wrath. A younger sister who is clearly struggling to process death and is doing worse than I am. I pretend I can’t hear the arguing and get angry with myself for being such a failure at everything instead.

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

She understood. She said I had to keep trying. I was trying. I was. Why did everyone think I wasn’t trying? I was reaching for something in the distance, but I never seemed to get any closer. Reaching was all I could do.

 

Or pursuing a writing career. Onion, you are spot on.

Or pursuing a writing career. Onion, you are spot on.

Image from TheOnion.com

“Girls, come in here,” my dad called. My sister and I were in the family room, and he and my mom had been fighting in the bedroom for what seemed like hours. I knew what was coming. We stepped into the room and they looked at us with somber, controlled expressions. I crossed my arms.

“Your mom and I love you two very much…” my dad choked out, then trailed off.

“You’re getting divorced, aren’t you?” I asked. He shook his head.

“We’re just going to try being separated for a while. I’m going to get an apartment and you can come stay with me every other weekend.”

I was so mad I was just numb. When the “conversation” was over, I left, and felt like crying, but it was the anger that was growing more than anything else. I hated my life more and more with each passing day. I didn’t know what normal was anymore.

...

“I think this sounds like you,” my friend said, pointing to the phrase BIPOLAR DISORDER on our worksheet. “You’re like, happy some days, and so sad the next that no one knows what to do around you.” I stared at it, then looked at her. Learning about psychology had apparently made our class into a bunch of 12-year-old mental health professionals. Still, something about all the symptoms made sense. I lagged behind my friends now that we’d started middle school. Boys terrified me. Doing anything physical in front of anyone terrified me. Going to church on Sundays terrified me. I hated everyone and everything, and had thought repeatedly about dying that week to escape from the misery of hormones, schoolwork, depressing home life, and practicing activities that brought me no joy whatsoever.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, and went back to doodling on my notebook. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that maybe there was a name for how I felt. I walked up to the teacher after class and I told her I thought I had it. She looked at me strangely and said, “You should talk to someone about this.”

So I told my mom.

She said I didn’t have it, and demanded I go apologize to the teacher and clarify before they started to think I’m crazy.

I looked at the bottle of painkillers and wondered. If I ate them all, would it stop? I thought of my sister and of my parents. Well, maybe I’d just take a few and see if it helped me be in a dreamworld or something. I took 10 and fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning as usual. I was disappointed.

It continued throughout high school. I could never focus. I hated most things and most places. And most people. I watched my close friends get picked on and plotted revenge against those who would hurt the few I did care for. I was just a girl, though, and the bullies were guys and totally unthreatened by my stature. Go figure. But some people thought I might be crazy, and many definitely found me strange, and that scared them. I began to channel severe rage episodes into art and writing, finding new ways of killing off characters who were quite thinly-veiled representations of the awful bullies in my life. But it was all written off as being a hormonal teenage girl.

On one occasion, I confronted a bully and threatened him, wanting so badly to tear him to shreds mentally and physically for picking on a harmless, shy friend of mine whose only crime was to draw too many anime girls on her notebooks. His mother was friends with my mother, but I didn’t care. I made him feel like the tiny, insecure little prick that he was, and I felt good about my meanness for once. But it was a short-lived victory. I still cried at night, not just because I was sad, but because I was angry. Because I didn’t want to deal with any of it any longer.

When I went home at night, my mom would keep her hawk eyes on me. I could never go anywhere unless she’d planned it about a week in advance. I understood her fears. I enabled them. I told her everything to keep her calm and as happy as she could be. She was petrified of losing another child; how could I be so selfish to be away? Especially when my younger sister, who was on the verge of a very serious transition in her life, was being picked on at school for being eccentric? It was my job to hold it all together. My burden I placed on my own damn shoulders.

 

 

Fucking love Emilie Autumn

 

I didn’t start cutting until I was about twenty. I was slow to arrive at the rodeo, I guess. My boyfriend had been watching so much porn on my computer that it was all buggy and gross, and I was livid about it. I told him how much it hurt me that he wouldn’t touch me, but he wanted the faceless girls on the internet; he apologized to me and he promised he’d stop. He never did. Not once in our nine-year relationship (in which we eventually got married) did he ever tell me the truth about his intentions. He just kept doing it and telling me he wasn’t. I got so good at catching him that I reveled in the fact that I was smarter than he was. But I felt so worthless and ugly after knowing what he did that I would cut myself out of anger. Punishing myself for being… me. For being not good enough. Because how fuckable he found me was apparently the only self-worth I could see inside of myself. I didn’t realize how unhealthy these thoughts were until our marriage fell apart.

He told me he’d been in love with one of my best friends for years when we’d been married for a year and a half–I was 27 at the time, living in a state far away from any of my friends or family. He wouldn’t stop drinking until he was an obnoxious asshole who sneered at people and blamed me for everything wrong in his life. He’d watch porn ON THE TOILET IN THE MORNING and completely ignore me while day drinking at his job that I GOT HIM. I’d started detaching myself from the relationship already, which was not the nicest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I was mentally and physically exhausted. When he told my poor friend of his true feelings (while smashed, of course), she was floored and didn’t know how to respond. This girl was one of the friends who was picked on in high school–we’d known one another for 13 years–one of the girls I’d wanted to protect.

For months after this, I switched back and forth from uncontrollable anger to severe depression. Body wracked with pain, mind completely blank, heart utterly shattered kind of depression. I went to therapy immediately, but did not see major improvements until I went to a psychiatrist and asked him to please help me by putting me on medication. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and chronic clinical depression. I also have body dysmorphic disorder and extreme anxiety when it comes to certain pornographic materials (just about on par with PTSD, but I don’t like saying that because I feel my case doesn’t merit the title. I was sexually assaulted and emotionally abused, but so many people go through so much more than I have and I feel PTSD isn’t the proper term for me–I’ve seen my soldier friends with it and I just can’t bring myself to use that terminology.)

depression_motivational_poster_by_quantuminnovator-d6dwgk8Image by QuantumInnovator on DeviantArt.

 

I’m turning 30 this week. Mental illness has nearly destroyed my life. I once contemplated killing myself when I turned 30 if my life was as miserable as it had been for so long. But before you get all panicky, I’m happy to say that while I’m sad about this milestone and being “behind” my goals, I’m here to stay, and I’m recovering more and more each year.

These stories don’t include the struggles my one surviving sister has; those which my mother has dealt with; my father’s huge emotional and spiritual journey; the impact of an attempted rape (I just can’t write about it in this context) and an (unrelated) unplanned pregnancy; nor does it cover the impact that a building autoimmune disease and undiagnosed genetic syndrome have had on my life. But what I want to say is this:

If you have ever wondered whether mental illness was one of the following:

  • A phase everyone goes through
  • Something someone just needs to “pull themselves out of”
  • Hysterics
  • Something you need to just “get over” or “snap out of”
  • Attention-seeking or selfishness
  • Stupid or unwarranted, given the person’s status
  • Not justified in your eyes (i.e., someone rich or someone very attractive suffers from depression and you think it’s just them being stupid)
  • Something you should be able to get over without the use of pharmaceuticals or therapy
  • Something only for damaged people who are likely to be a threat to themselves or others
  • Something you can discriminate against because those who have it are “crazy”

You’re a moron. Okay, scratch that–you might be naive, but you’ve also got no handle on the reality of mental illness. Someone in your life may be afflicted with an invisible, awful, alienating disease such as clinical depression. As in, right now. When you pretend these things aren’t serious, or when you push away someone who is suffering, you’re doing them a disservice. You may not be a therapist, but you can be the one to reach out your hand and tell them they’re not alone. That you won’t judge them or shun them for asking for help. Many sufferers just need to know that someone cares.

Oh, and never fucking tell a mentally ill person that if they ate a better diet or took some herbal bullshit supplements that they’d cure themselves. That’s not how it works.

 

robin williams headshot

Robin Williams passed away today from apparent suicide at age 63.

 

Visit this site if you’ve had thoughts of ending your life. Cliche, but here it is.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

I wrote this today after reading the discussions surrounding the death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and it’s a fucking tragedy that it took the life of someone who has touched so many hearts with his successful career. My story is just one of many stories that could and should be told. I wanted to share just bits and pieces of my struggle so that people could see that it’s very real. It’s very dangerous. And I’m here today because of the support of friends and family, and because of medication and therapy.

If you need help, I’m here to tell you you’re not alone. Fight this shit. Fight it as hard as you can. And change the discussion surrounding mental illness. We need to remove the stigma and push for more affordable, accessible care.

If you like, you can watch a tribute video I made for my sisters below, and you can read the story I wrote about Sara’s death here.

 

 

You can also read my writing here under my pen name Deina Furth.

Art continues to help me and heal me in ways I can’t anticipate. I appreciate your support. ❤

hang-in-there

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Unravelled

Weaving lies from lips that never parted, never breathed
for her,
her loom twists syllable after syllable of mine
into a tumbling skein of sensical syntax
that graces dozens of ears that do not hear.

“But she, she is subhuman!
She’s lost her essence to the world, perhaps,
or to a cesspool of her own morose doings.
She refuses to learn that it is she
who does this to herself, and no one else.”

Were she to will it so,
my days would stretch out like threadbare cloths
over a frame that tightens until my mind unravels,
and there would be needles pricking,
leaving scars,
darkening my eyes as well as my heart
in an indelible pattern,
marking me as

ugly,
scarred,
insane,
worthless.

Yes, were she to will it so,
I would have scarlet letter of shame
stitched into my skin,
so that all who saw me would know
I was his,
but I am no longer,
because I am damaged,
and I am unmendable.

But she can’t will it so.

So she weaves lies from the words
of a woman she has never met
will never know
and will never understand,
and her cries are fed to the night
while all other ears have moved toward the dawn.

Memories Unburied

I walked across the street to the only tall building on campus. Every week I go the the fifth floor of the tall building to talk to my therapist. Most days there are groups of college students gathered at tables just outside the entrance, enjoying the sunny southern California weather. Today there was only one woman reading something on a Kindle. And then a man running toward me. He jogged by me so quickly that a gust of wind followed his body. Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio filled my nostrils. Immediately my mood soured. He smelled exactly like my ex.

Recently, a lot of days that I go to therapy, I’m not struggling with depression.  So during those visits, my therapist and I discuss job prospects, my relationship with my boyfriend, or our cats — we both have Siamese mixes that we adopted and love dearly. If I feel like talking about my ex, I do. If I don’t, I steer the conversation to other things for that week. It ebbs and flows. Some people may see this as a waste of money. I see it as an opportunity to build my life around something other than the man represented by my clouded memories. They create a caricature of the person he was. They don’t tell me who he is now.  Because now, he isn’t in my life any more than meager interaction through surprisingly emotionally-draining texts.

“Any news on the divorce papers?” She asks me, cradling her arm. She broke it playing tennis, and this week, it’s just come out of the cast. It still looks extremely swollen and painful.

“No,” I reply. I sniffle. How the hell I managed to come down with a cold when it’s ninety degrees outside, I don’t know.

“Do you think he’s dodging you? Avoiding responsibility?”

“I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised. But I have texts from the day he received the papers, and I let him know explicitly that he only had twenty-one days to sign and return copies to me.” My therapist smiled.

“Look at you,” she said. “You’re keeping track of everything. You’re organized. And best of all, you’re almost finished with this.”

Yes, she’s right. I’m almost finished with this. Should I feel more satisfied with my life now? Should I feel triumphant? I’m not sure how to respond.

“Yeah,” I say weakly. My head is still swimming with dredged-up memories from smelling that man’s cologne. Some of the memories are pleasant. I remember buying that cologne as a gift for him. I remember smelling it on him while I snuggled with him, or whenever he walked by my desk at work. Others are not pleasant. It reminds me of arguing with him while he told me he’d fuck my best friend in front of me if she walked through the door that very moment. Or when he sneered in my face as I told him he’d better help clean up the window he’d broken while wrestling with another one of our friends. He ended up doing nothing. I paid to replace the window, and told the rental office some lie about how my nephew was over and roughhoused too much. I don’t have a nephew. But I apparently had a child for a husband. Close enough?

My therapist continued to talk about how glad I’ll be when this is all over. And I agree, I will be glad when the papers are signed and I can begin to heal without worrying about legal paperwork. But there is a part of me knows that memories are unburied at the most unexpected times. Like when a man rushes by you and inadvertently forces you to smell the cologne your ex wore. Other times, you hear a laugh that sounds like his, or you see a picture of him on Facebook. Fragments of the person you used to know — these memories — will never combine to create an accurate picture of who the person was then, and most certainly not who the person is today.  I can’t base anything off those feelings.  But they do evoke powerful emotions while you’re healing.  This is the hardest part for me.  It is beyond my control and it is completely unavoidable. And to think that something as small as a smell can incite anger in me is frightening.

When my paperwork is done, it will be a symbolic moment for me. My marriage will be legally over, although emotionally it was over nearly a year ago. But the legal documents will not erase memories I have, good or bad. I don’t even think time will erase many of these memories. I just hope that someday, I can have these memories unburied and think to myself, “Oh yeah. That happened,” and move on with my day, rather than dwell on the emotions that accompany them.

“How’s Steven?” Asks my therapist.  I smile.  Much more pleasant memories fill my head as I think about the man who truly loves me.

My Own Worst Enemy.

I want to write about the next events of my journey from being married to being… well, not married.  But I want to talk a little bit about fear before that.

Fear is that dark, looming presence that goads anxiety into tightening its grip on you. You think you’ve conquered your fear?  Well, how about anxiety?  One always follows the other around.

Fear is that feeling in the pit of your stomach, the one that tells you that if you do this or that, you’ll end up regretting it.  You’ll be alone.  You’ll be scorned.  You’ll be blamed or tormented or laughed at.  For every earnest fan and glowing review, you’ll get shit on by some troll, or read a bad review about something you were very proud of, crushing you. How could you do better? You tried your best.

Speaking of, fear is also knowing that some bad things inevitably need to happen in order for you to be successful: If you never act in spite of your fears, you’ll never succeed.  But once you try to succeed, you open yourself up for people to tear at the things you’ve poured your heart into, shredding them into unrecognizable scraps of fabric from the quilt you lovingly stitched together.  And you open yourself up to the possibility of failure, which is a fear that holds far too many people back from chasing their dreams.

Fear is not knowing how to deal with these things.  And Anxiety is worrying yourself to the point of inactivity.  Bitterness seeps in, poisoning your creativity, your passion, your love.  That dark cloud settles, just as if you were a real-life Eeyore, and seems to follow you wherever you go.  You don’t know how to get away.  A new enemy has reared its head: Depression.

Depression locks Fear and Anxiety together in a marriage of destruction.  Gone are the days of doing things for fun, of enjoying yourself simply because you’re glowing in the fervor of happiness. Depression isn’t just the absence of that happiness.  It’s been forged over a long period of time, feeding off your fears, your anxiety, your shortcomings and perceived failures.  It isn’t built from nothing, or the lack of something better.  It’s an incredible force to overcome, because it’s a unique combination of your own personal worst nightmares.

I am conquering my fear of opening up. Of writing and creating, of criticism, and mostly of myself.  I defeat myself before I begin, so I don’t have to suffer at the hands (or mouths, or words) of others.  Depression is an enemy made from within.  I can’t expect anyone but myself to slay the beast.  And I’m certainly sick of enabling it, so it can continue to feed Fear and Anxiety.