Getting Past Being Our Community Horror Story

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On Presidents’ Day, a school holiday, I awoke to an unscheduled day.  I needed something to do with my daughter Marilla, so I decided to take her to the park. (My other little girl, Avonlea, headed for her best friend’s house.)   The weather was clear and sunny, but my mind was stormy and gloomy.  I wanted to hide in my bed, read a book, and not have to interact with anyone.  It was actually a promising sign of my recovery that I was able to leave the house, so off we went.

The park was near our home and frequented by many families.  During the seven years of my visiting it, my park experiences have ranged from enjoyable to atrocious. One of my worst visits occurred when I tripped over an innocent-looking root on a perfectly flat trail.  I was alone and no one saw me fall.  I slammed down to the ground, breaking my collar bone from the impact.  Luckily I had my cell phone and I reached Craig for help.  More pleasant times included the afternoons I spent there with a kindred spirit mom while our kids had fun playing tag with one another.  We’ve held birthday parties for both of our girls at these grounds.  During those events I’d feel happy watching my girls’ excitement, but I also suffered with social anxiety.

It is here, at this park, where I’ve been both “B.D.” and “A.D.”:

before diagnosis and after diagnosis.

After we moved to this area with baby Avonlea, I wanted to meet other moms.  Through the internet I located a baby playgroup that met in my neighborhood.  I immediately joined the small group and met some friendly moms who I am still in touch with now.

This was “B.D.”.  I would not become the “Bipolar Mom” in our community for almost two more years.  It’s hard for me to believe that back then I was perceived by others as relatively normal.  I had been battling depression for many years, but I hid it well.  I didn’t talk openly about my depression at the playgroup and neither did any of the other moms, although I sensed I wasn’t the only one struggling in that way.

Then fall of 2007 came along, I gave birth to my second beautiful girl Marilla, and all hell broke loose after her debut.  My lack of sleep, a genetic predisposition to bipolar, and wacked-out hormones combined to trigger postpartum bipolar disorder.  Two months after Rilla was born,  I had full-blown postpartum mania.  I reluctantly admitted myself to our local hospital’s locked-down mental health unit.  Despite the fact that the building opposite my unit had a fully equipped maternity wing, the staff couldn’t find me a breast pump to ease my painful engorgement.  (It was such a nightmare admission that we forgot my Medela pump in the car.)  I actually had to call a friend on the pay phone to loan me her pump.  The hospital’s ineptitude with the breast pump was a prelude to their incompetence in every other aspect of the place.  I could have run a better unit, especially in my energetic manic state. 😉

After my stay at the hospital, I entered a new epoch of my life: “A.D.”

When I returned home after my hospitalization, our extended family, friends and acquaintances knew what had happened to me.  I’ve written about this time in depth in my Birth of a New Brain draft.  Suffice it to say that I was not treated like I had a “casserole disease” by certain people I knew.  It broke my heart how these individuals were unable to offer empathy and practical support.  (If you are reading this, and you visited with me or helped our family in any way, please don’t take offense.  I’m not including you here!)

Where I live, the mental illness stigma is still very strong.  This is a conservative rural community.  There are so many churches up here that thinking about them makes my head spin.

As far as I know, I am the only “out” mom with bipolar around these parts.  I founded our county’s chapter of the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) and I created my first women’s support group.  We started with over twenty members, but the group eventually ran out of steam when I relapsed.  When I created the women’s support group, I was profiled in two local newspaper articles that included pictures of me with my girls.  I don’t regret doing that, but I believe that my going public had personal repercussions.  Our Press Banner’s editor Peter Burke did a nice job in the following piece:

http://www.pressbanner.com/pages/full_story/push?article-A+new+day+dawning%20&id=7251763#comments_7251763

Over the years since I was diagnosed, I didn’t think I came across as “crazy” to others – anxious, yes, but not psychotic.  I know the publicity I did (some of which mentioned I had been hospitalized) backfired on me socially.  I sensed that some school moms who knew of my medical history didn’t want to develop friendships with someone like me.  I’ll never know that for sure, of course, but my intuition tells me I’m right.  I can’t go back to undo my past, and I wouldn’t change my actions if I could, but it’s isolating and lonely having bipolar where I live.

Since 2007 I’ve only been approached by two other mothers with bipolar.  I’m incredibly fortunate that both of them have become close friends.  One of them even had ECT with the same doctor who helped me.  These women’s cases were less severe than mine, as none of them were ever hospitalized for mental illness.  I apologize for being a whiner but I feel like a pariah for being known as the worst case mental illness scenario ’round here.  It’s difficult to express this concept without sounding like an ingrate of some sort; this has been one of the hardest posts for me to write.

More importantly than any of the above is that I don’t want my girls adversely affected socially because their mom has a brain disorder.  The point that keeps popping up in my head is that I can’t be the only local mom who was in a locked-down unit for mental illness, but I feel like I am.  There are thousands of folks in the large valley where I live, and statistically speaking, there is no way there aren’t other moms who have been hospitalized for bipolar.  We don’t have support groups around here where I could potentially meet some of those moms.  I’m not starting yet another group, as I’m burned out.

I may never completely get past feeling ashamed about being the “community horror story” but as you can infer by reading this post, I have a ways to go.   I want to come to better terms with my past, but I can’t do it alone.  My husband, close friends, and therapist can help me navigate this tricky issue.  When I adopt another dog, that will help me too!  (Really!)

We all harbor darkness such as sexual abuse, self-harm or depression.  I want to remember each and every day that I am not the only one suffering, and that it’s possible that other “normal” moms I encounter may be keeping their serious mental health issues under wraps.  If I try my best to be productive and focus on the positives in my life (rather than on the crap) I think my shame will fade in the years to come.

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6 thoughts on “Getting Past Being Our Community Horror Story

  1. I’m really glad I read this post today. When I think about my first depressive episode, I was a Junior in high school, it got so bad I had to be hospitalized. My senior year I was hospitalized twice right after graduation. But the first hospitalization was mortifying. I needed the help and looking back I’m grateful for it. But it was so humiliating. Being in high school and having to go to a loony bin doesn’t really ever go away, or so it seems. My parents were in a spin and had no clue what to do and thus told everyone about my disease. I had people visiting me left and right trying to “fix” me or comfort me or talk to me about their depression. Teachers, teammates, friends, friends parents, neighbors, etc. It was really touching to see all the support out there. Little did any of us know that I had bipolar at the time, they didn’t come up with a diagnosis till my 3rd hospitalization. But the humiliation was awful. It made it worse. I think it’s one thing to suffer privately and then decide on your own to go public. For one you do it when you feel ready. Anyways, I feel like a pariah every time I’m visiting my parents and I see someone I grew up with. I feel judged and isolated. During college I only told few trusted people. I didn’t want people knowing me as the “crazy-no-really-she’s-certifiable-crazy” girl. I didn’t need that. Especially when I knew some of my roommates were really caddy. For most of my marriage I’ve been private about my mental illness. I guess I just wanted people to get to know me then decide if I was “crazy” or not.

    When I moved with my husband to Florida so he could go to chiropractic school, I decided to be more open with my diagnosis. I decided to tell people. It felt so good to tell people I started telling like everyone I met. Which I don’t recommend it’s a bit abrasive. Either way most people I’ve gotten to know here know that I’m bipolar. It sort of throws them back a bit, but to be honest I’ve also made some good friends too. I figured if they are real friends they’ll love me know matter what. And if they don’t want to be around me, then I don’t want them in my life either.

    I decided that I’m not going to let my diagnosis define me anymore. I don’t want to see it as crutch or use it to hold me back. Since my attitude is slowly changing and how I see myself, I feel like it directly correlates with how others perceive me as well. I truly feel like some don’t see the diagnosis either, they only see me, a person with struggles.

    I know it’s not easy living with bipolar and some people will look down on you or hide or run the other direction when you walk by, but those aren’t the kind of people you need in your life. And you can choose who stays and who goes. That’s empowering. I hope you have can find success with your support group. That sounds like a great idea. I might have to start one of my own here in Florida. Chow!

    1. Thank you SO MUCH for your beautiful, insightful and poignant comment! It makes me feel awesome and has truly made my day. You “get it” – you really do! If you started a support group, I’d join it in a heartbeat! (If you decide to do that, my big piece of advice is get someone you like to help you start it….don’t do it alone!) Anyway, you sound so well-adjusted after going through so much from a young age. I’m glad you made it through! At one point I wanted to design a cool T-shirt that said something about my having bipolar….maybe I was hypomanic when I wanted to do that! I don’t remember! 😉 You are absolutely right about how we need to surround ourselves with friends who love us for who we are and who don’t judge us. I know it’s about the quality of friends I have, not the quantity, when it gets down to it. I’d write more but my two girls just walked in the door all hopped up! Looking forward to reading more of your blog – I’m so glad I found you!

  2. I live in the heart of one of the trendiest areas in one of the worlds major metropolitan cities,when I came here as a squatter in the early 1990’s this was a hotbed of countercultural types,this community was used to people becoming a bit messy due to drug use.etc.But this didn’t stop the snide bitchy comments,I was known as Mad Martin,not I might add in an affectionate way,to my face,rather in a snide nasty way,behind my back.My 1st severe mania was accompanied by me having a 6 month acid binge.I had failed to complete my Geology degree due to personal reasons.I had been involved with a rather toxic woman,who joined the metropolitan police force in the summer between my 2nd & final year,she had seen me as a meal ticket,once she joined the police & bilked me out of my summers earnings,she decided she no longer needed anyone but her new colleagues, this included dumping a lady she’d made friends with at Hendon Police College,who was sharing the house we rented.She lied to them,telling them I was physically abusive,this was total lies,however it had the response she had wanted,her new colleagues started to threaten me & harass me,this caused me to have one of the worst depressions I have ever experienced,my life had been flushed down the toilet,I had dropped out of my degree,I was unlucky enough to have my college be right slap bang in the middle of the area they policed,so I was followed & repeatedly threatened by them many many times.I bailed from degree with less than 3 months to go & then I ran away,planning to die,but not before I took the scum who caused this problem for me with me.I was trying to synthesise Sodium Cyanide from some Potassium Ferri cyanide,I planned to poison myself & the 6- 8 cops who’d threatened me.This is not the type of man I am,it did not sit well with me to have that kind of hate in me.I had just read Stanislav Grofs “LSD Psychotherapy”& having arrived in Countercultural squatters heaven I decided to sort my head out using LSD.
    I did manage to lose the hate,I also managed to learn very valuable reprogramming skills & skills that have served me very well in dealing with this challenging disorder.
    I also gained a model for my condition,it isn’t so very different from amphetamine psychosis.
    I also scared the shit out of myself,I’d ended up in the PICU(Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) of the old Hackney Hospital,a truly awful underfunded decripit old style bedlam,I was a better/loony madman & I knew that I played my part in getting there,600 tabs in 6 months,no surprise I ended up in the bin.
    I took whatever pills the Dr ordered & did it by the book,resolving never to use LSD again.However Lithium was of very limited use for me,it did nothing to alleviate the severe depression & when I became manic again 2 years later it elongated the mania,which made it far far worse,it was my 1st 15 day awake mania,but it went on for months & months prior to reaching that point.
    I had spent the previous 2 years trying to get my head around what had happened to me,had explained the biochemistry to the people I knew,in terms of their countercultural milieu, ie that it was very similar to amphetamine psychosis,the same neural transmitters involved.
    Those people who snidely & nastily called me Mad Martin assumed that I’d been bang at it on the LSD again,especially since I was so much worse the 2nd time,I copped for a lot of shit from many of the community I live in,I was a pariah, however I had good mates who were my real friends,at that point I realised that this was a great way to determine who the wankers were,it took a while,but I was able to sift the good eggs from the bigoted wankers.Many of those people who I had scared eventually saw that I was a good man,the wankers however remained wankers,but you don’t need bigoted wankers in your life.This condition is easy to approximate using street drugs,I can create a Psychotomimetic experience for about £300,for the street drugs LSD & one of the Phenethylamines,MDMA for example,tho meth would be better if less fun,I know that there are very very few of my peers who could handle the experience,it would destroy most of them.

    1. Okay, Martin One Wheel, where’s *your* book? Did you know my husband is a geologist, by the way? He keeps me grounded, ha ha! I am very sorry you were called “Mad Martin” by bitter folk. That sucks. I am sorry about the mean policewoman as well. You have been through the fire but you have come out of it and I want with all my heart for you to be happy and have fun. I know you get so much out of your unicycle and even though you describe horrific experiences you’ve endured, you have a positive and inspiring attitude. Thank you for taking the time to share about your life and not sanitize things. I value your candor and your sense of humor too!

  3. Shame does fade with time, and that is helped along by giving yourself a major break (self-forgiveness), and maybe a little cognitive behavioral therapy if you haven’t been there already. As you know, every moment spent dwelling on the past robs you of your precious, present moment.

    Be well and happy!

    1. You are a mind-reader – I originally ended this post with a few lines about self-forgiveness! I know that’s what it’s about, especially since this “illness” (hate that word!) is not my fault! There are certain beliefs that claim that we “sign up” for our problems before we are born. I’m not sure if that’s true or not…but that’s besides the point. I’m getting expansive….my counselor uses CBT with me, I love her. I am having more happy moments than I have in a long time and I’m relishing them all. Working on a memoir has not been easy but I am not rushing it and if I do it in small bits, then I can handle revisiting the tough stuff. I’ll keep you posted, and thanks for your fantastic support. It really does help me more than words can express!

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