Just When Life’s Getting Better, Here Comes Death!

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Recently the incredible Marie Abanga, a friend of mine, joked that my WordPress tags section could make a blog post of its own. And she’s right! A lot is going on, which is reflected in the tags. Too much is going on. 

I hesitated to write about these recent events for fear that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, but all the parties involved don’t read my blog. 

Just before I attended the Catamaran Writers Conference on August 12, my husband received alarming news. His close family member had been admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice/dehydration. I immediately knew the cause for this ER admission: full-blown alcoholism.

Selfish me. My first thought was, “Don’t let him die now. I want to go to this fucking conference! I worked so hard to get this scholarship.”

Add to that, I have issues with alcoholism. Mine are deep-seated, festering pustules full of rage and resentment. My father was an alcoholic. The red wine he guzzled each night turned him into someone I no longer recognized; someone who I feared for good reason. I believe my Dad was desperately trying to crush out the demons caused by his bipolar disorder and the abuse he suffered as a child.

As a result of seeing how alcohol affected my father and our family, I despised alcohol for most of my life. At 37 I received a postpartum bipolar disorder diagnosis. My mental illness was treatment-resistant and at my wit’s end I became an alcoholic, finally understanding to some extent why my father drank.

Red wine and tequila became my daily meals. “Unhappy Meals” without clowns, if you will. I knew I had a serious problem when I switched from evening to daytime drinking, as early as  10:00 a.m. On Monday through Friday I filled a large coffee tumbler with red wine and downed every drop, hating the taste but wanting the buzz of oblivion. I was passively suicidal during those years.

My former psychiatrist, the one who talked behind my back to Craig about how I was such a frustrating patient because no medication was working, the one who complained to me about his hatred of his ex-wife and his myriad problems with his four children, the one who was put on probation for overprescribing meds, wasn’t much help.

Ever since I started drinking heavily, I’ve considered myself an alcoholic. On November 18th, 2013 I gave up alcohol cold-turkey. That was the day I took my first pink-colored Parnate pill, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in addition to lithium.

Parnate is known as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression; it’s old-school and has been used since the 1950’s. Parnate has been shown to be most effective when used with lithium. There are rules when taking the older MAOI’s which consist of dietary restrictions and no alcohol if you want to avoid having a stroke.

I didn’t want to stroke out, so I stopped the booze.

Parnate and lithium gave me my life back. The dietary sacrifices, the giving up the booze were 1000% worth it.

It occurs to me that in writing about alcoholism, I’ll come across as a hypocrite. Even so, I’m willing to share with you about how flawed I am – I learn from reading about other flawed souls, so I hope this might help one or two of you in some way.

My current psychiatrist Dr. D. has been such a useful sounding board. His specialty is addiction medicine. I didn’t know he had a specialty when I decided to work with him, but of all the specialties he could have, this one would prove to be extremely helpful.

Ironically I learned about Dr. D. at my neighborhood liquor store during a chat with the owner. I was there posting a flyer promoting my “Women with Mood Disorders” support group, and the owner started telling me about his wife who had OCD. He said, “I’ve found her a great shrink!”  As we spoke surrounded by vodka, the owner added emphatically, “Dr. D. helped my wife so much!” and he handed me the psychiatrist’s business card. Even though I still met with my misogynistic psychiatrist, something told me to take that card.

When I met with Dr. D yesterday for my routine appointment, I told him what was happening with my hospitalized family member. He had plenty of insights. Something that stuck in my mind was this: he explained that if both parents are alcoholic, then each child has a 70% chance of becoming alcoholic. I was clueless about that statistic, but it made complete sense. I’m relieved I no longer drink nor does my husband. Our kids have suffered enough hellish shit with my bipolar disorder; they certainly don’t need two alcoholics “raising” them.

Alcoholism, like bipolar disorder, runs in families. My mother-in-law died from it, and I witnessed her death firsthand. I was manic at the time, and I was strangely numb to the grief surrounding me. The hospice team told me how “great” I was dealing with my husband’s grief. It was all a ruse. My mania took away 99% of death’s sting; I only felt bad when I saw my usually stoic husband break down in sobs.

When I was alone in her hospital room, I told my mother-in-law that it was okay to die. Giving someone permission to die was not something I’d have been able to do when I was my usual, deeply depressed self. She passed away shortly after I spoke with her.

Today I’m not manic. I’m raw – I’m susceptible to others’ grief, especially when I sleep with the person who’s grieving. And I’m scared.

I don’t do death “well”. Does anyone?

I’m always worried that I’ll relapse if presented with an extremely tough situation. I haven’t “overcome” bipolar. I’m not a fucking warrior. Far the fuck from it. 

At least I’m a realist. I examine my personal history, I see what happened, and because of what occurred it makes sense why I fear death so much now.

Here are three more examples of my “getting an F in Death”:

When my father died, I was so devastated that I became suicidal. I asked to be hospitalized and Craig threw the girls into the car and drove me to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). While there I begged for my first round of ECT. They gave it to me. ECT helped immensely to mitigate my acute suicidal impulses.  While I no longer wished to kill myself, I was still severely depressed. 

I missed my father’s memorial service, which is probably the biggest regret of my life apart from all the traumatic, crazy shit I pulled on my little girls and husband during my bipolar episodes.

When my grandmother died a gruesome death from lung cancer, I went into a clinical depression for which I should have been diagnosed/medicated, but no one recognized it at the time.

This happened was when I was 27, ten years before my bipolar diagnosis. When Granny died I felt frozen, hopeless, inhuman. I took time off from my job working as a certified personal trainer and flew with my family to New York. We buried her in upstate New York.

While in New York I remained frozen. I didn’t want to go explore New York City with my family. They didn’t seem nearly as fucked up as I was. I wanted to disappear

When I had my fifteen-year-old American Eskimo Shera euthanized in my arms, I plummeted into an evil darkness within a day. 

Granted, these people who died were hugely significant in my life. My beloved dog Shera was a family member too – she went to my wedding and accompanied us on our honeymoon. She loved me through so many of my depressed-filled years.

What I’m about to write is harsh. Please don’t go off on me in the comments. This particular death by alcoholism enrages me. Our family member has been drinking heavily for years. I don’t know the specifics of the nuclear family dynamics – what I mean by that is I’m ignorant whether or not anyone tried to do an intervention. I have never been close to them. None of them visited/called/contacted me during my 7 hospitalizations.

The last thing I want to do is visit this jaundiced, bloated, tubed-up, dying person in the hospital. I have hospital PTSD from my seven psych unit hospitalizations. Hospital PTSD is an honest-to-God condition, and unless you’ve suffered in this way, it’s hard, if not impossible to understand it. My therapist believes I have it, yet she implored to me during our last session that I need to work through it in this particular case. She suggested that I visit the family member to support my husband, to say goodbye and to be ethical. I’m forcing myself to do it.

If I was still drinking, I’d drink to get through such a thing. If I still took benzodiazepines, I’d have a few. Or smoke pot if that would help me – it doesn’t do a thing except make me tired and relieve nausea.  All I can do to get through this hospital visit is to try anxiety-reduction techniques, use some Rescue Remedy, and inhale essential oils such as lavender & orange, two of my favorites.

And keep the visit short.

 At the Catamaran Conference the renowned poet Ellen Bass read a poem called “Relax” that resonated with me deeply in light of what has just happened in our family.  Bass, the co-author along with Laura Davis of the bestselling The Courage to Heal, wrote something so real. I loved how she recited “Relax” to us in the campus chapel – her rather deadpan tone did her poem justice. You can hear Ellen Bass recite it at the link listed below.

I  joked with a Jewish classmate sitting next to me that the poem should be called “Jewish” instead. (We Jews worry about everything….)

At almost 2000 words, and having been all over the place, I wonder if any of you are still reading this post. It’s more like a novella, but sometimes I can’t stick to the much-more-readable length of 200-400 words. Please forgive me. Brevity is the soul of wit, but I’m not feeling so witty today.

Love to each of you,

Dyane

Visit this link to hear Ellen Bass read “Relax”:

http://www.ellenbass.com/books/like-a-beggar/relax/

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Just When Life’s Getting Better, Here Comes Death!

  1. Hey Dyane, sorry I missed this really important point in your life, hope everything turned out okay (I haven’t read any posts after this one yet so I don’t know). My dad was an alcoholic, and it definitely runs in my family (4 deaths in 10 years due to drink), and I have been a heavy drinker in the past and I know I’ve got the potential to become an alcoholic. I have very mixed emotions about alcoholism but I am moving towards it not being done out of selfishness, even if I still think it’s their fault in many ways. I think you are very brave to even consider going to that hospital and visiting that person.
    As for the “Getting an F in Death” …when my mum died in December, I went so manic I was giggling down the phone and singing and bouncing around the house, my sister stopped speaking to me after sending me several very long vitriol-infused texts about how much she hated me for being so happy… and when we had to make a decision about what to do with her, I left it all to my sister, I didn’t want the arguments. But when my Dog, Dillon, had to be put to sleep when I was training as a teacher, I told the college that my grand-dad had died, and got the day off so I drove 2 hours to be with him (I am going to get triggered if I think/write any more about that right now so I’m going to stop); I’ve never ever got over that. So I was more upset about losing my dog than my mother. So if you’re getting an F I’m getting, like, a W or something. Maybe they do remedial classes where people around us stay alive forever and we get to spend loads of time with those who we care about?? I hope this impossible situation came right for you in the end.

    1. Oh my dear, you never have to apologize to me for missing *anything* on this blog! I’m honored you read any post of mine, & your comments are icing on the cake.

      My brother-in-law is dying at home with Hospice involved; I hear they are a great organization. I never did have to go to the hospital, despite being ready and willing, I was told he didn’t want us there….and I must admit I am SO GLAD!

      I’m sorry your father was an alcoholic too – it’s a ravaging disease. So sorry about your dog and I won’t write more about that as I don’t want to bring that horrible sorrow up for you – I *completely* understand that kind of situation and relate to it!

      Thanks so much for your honesty, and for sharing such personal experiences with me here. I’m still standing (well, sitting, but out of the bed, if you know what I mean!) so that’s a big plus in my book! 🙂

      Sending you big hugs, and forgive me for not keeping up with your blogs – I hope to improve!!! And earn an A or B+ in blog readership class! 😉 XOXOXOXO Dy

  2. Dear, lovely, beautiful, beloved Dyane,

    First, this is YOUR blog. You get to say whatever you want.

    Second, we’re visitors in YOUR living room. If we don’t like or can’t handle your truth, the exit is only a click away.

    Third, you are always so wonderfully raw and vulnerable and trusting in the truth you tell.

    Finally, even though we all don’t have PTSD,we all have those buildings (or rooms) in our lives we dare not enter because there is residual trauma there. Our choice is to flee it, fight it or face it. And timing is everything. And it sucks!

    Praying for you, loving you, and holding you tight in my heart. ❤

    1. Susan my dear – I owe a bunch of replies to everyone for this post and the last two post – please forgive me for not writing sooner. I never feel good until I get a chance to closely review comments and then write my blogosphere kindred souls back!

      Your comment (as always) helped me SO much! You’re right – this is my place, my living room so to speak! (I love that!) I can’t thank you enough for not only reading my blog (especially a heavy post such as this one) but for taking the time to responsd so thoughtfully and with heart. I particularly loved these lines of yours:

      “we all have those buildings (or rooms) in our lives we dare not enter because there is residual trauma there. Our choice is to flee it, fight it or face it. And timing is everything. ”

      So true. I’m still not sure if I’m going to flee, fight or face the trauma yet, but I will figure it out somehow. In the meantime, sending you all my love and a huge hug; you are such a bright light. You are welcome in my living room anytime!!!! Here’s a cup of virtual tea and of course cookies. XOXOXXXOX

      Dyane

      1. 😀 Thank you, Dyane. You are always the perfect hostess
        And know that I’m casting a prayer upward for you so when the time is right, you never have to enter that room alone.

  3. Wow, this was a heavy post, yet again very relateable! Alcoholism and/or substance abuse and Bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand, so it’s great that you are opening up about your true feelings. I don’t know if you’ve visited yet, but I wish you well and pray you do okay if you do choose to go to the hospital. XOXO

    1. Hi Super Mommy! Forgive me for not reading your last post – I’ve been so out of it, but I *will* get over there! I haven’t visited the hospital yet – I was going to go there last Sunday, but I was told at the last minute not to go as he wasn’t up for visitors that day. Anyway, thank you so much for your good wishes, your prayers and for being YOU! Much love, Dy

  4. Dear Dyane,
    Have your finished first draft of book? For a long time I didn’t hear from you!
    I am glad that you wrote about alcoholism. I’m not an alcoholic but I got thrown in with the 12 steppers regarding abuse of prescript and non prescript meds. So I always thought I was. My husband is and he spent 20 years homeless in the streets across the country.
    I am so glad that you wrote about Parnate. I recently fell into a depression (probably my 11th in 25 years of bipolar I) and wondered again about Parnate. Every time I mention MAOI’s and ECT to my shrink, he takes them off the table. He’s not crazy about Clozaril either but with Tardive Dyskinesia, it’s the only antipsychotic I can take and I’m grateful for it. We get along.
    And u wrote about Lithium. I am allergic to Lithium so I’ve always taken antiseizures and feel that my stability is more fragile than those on lithium. I was rereading Wendy and Honora’s book yesterday on ECT and Light therapy and advocacy. Such brave souls, you all are.
    When I was depressed a few months ago I drank a little at the Cheesecake factory, binged on bread and cheesecake to feed my low mood. At 54 years of age, I finally understand why depressed people drink. I gained a nice little 20 lbs and am now working to take it off. Not so easy to do on Clozaril! I’ll remember that next time. Allison

  5. My dear Dyane. You just nailed everything in this blog post. It’s so YOU and I love it. Don’t worry about Mom–she’s a big girl and she needs to read your posts to continue to understand what you’ve been through and are still going through. If she reads this, she knows I love you both. The poem is awesome. I hope you’re eating strawberries!!

    One last thing that I think is fantastic on your part. You did NOT post a frigging Trigger Warning (which, excuse me, but I hate as I think this whole TW trend is further infantilizing Americans). So, GOOD FOR YOU! Love you bunches and always my sweet one. (I have been reading all your posts but have had some very major trauma events myself for the last few months–hence my silence but please know you’re in my thoughts all the time.) Kisses.

  6. Dyane, I honestly do not believe that what you wrote was harsh. I think that you wrote a very honest description of your feelings. And, while I have never experienced exactly what you have, I do understand to an extent. You have created this forum for yourself to be authentic and honest, and it’s important.

    As far as being good at death, no one really is. Do what you can. Support your husband with what he needs. And honor your feeling (maybe quietly in hubby’s presence) about how you really feel about this particular instance of death.

    Sending prayers for strength and peace

    1. And to add my mite, really discuss this with Craig and may you keep that visit short for your sake. He could make a second trip without you you know!
      The rubbish for an internet connection I often have to battle with out here sometimes leaves me almost wanting to strangle my laptop. Hope you understand my fair lady 🙂

  7. I completely understand. Specifically the hospital PTSD. I have never had a pleasant experience at any hospital. It seems I am cursed whenever I have to visit or be admitted to one. There is one in particular that automatically makes my stutter and tremors tremendously worse. I had to be admitted there recently for an emergency. It was the closest. The Dr. wanted me to have my biopsies done there even though he has privileges at other hospitals. When I asked if we could do the procedure somewhere else he became rude and labeled me a “problem patient”. He wouldn’t even listen. I watched my mother die there while nurses stood around her bed drinking coffee and gossiping. They didn’t know we had arrived. I couldn’t see my mom at first so I thought she was ok and joking with them. To give someone that false hope then have them walk in to see their mother with bloody foam coming out of her mouth and 1 person pretending to do CPR was devastating. Being undiagnosed Bipolar and watching it has had an effect that will never leave me. I also come from a family of alcoholics and I am one myself. I’ve been sober over 6 years. Sorry this is long but you touched on a number of subjects I am going through now. Thank you!

  8. Honestly, Dyane, I would have given you permission to not go, but your therapist apparently thinks you should work through the issues involved, like your PTSD and your grief regarding your own father and grandmother. Sometimes, a more distant death, but one with similar issues involved, triggers our grief, opening the floodgates. Take care of yourself. Let yourself feel it – the tears, the anger, the pain, the resentment, even the numbness. Ultimately your choice, though. I get your anger and frustration.

    1. Angela, thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I was holding back some thoughts I wanted to include, but I was worried about the consequences. Getting comments such as yours makes all my second-guessing and worries about writing the “wrong” thing go away. Sending you a big (((hug))), Dyane

      1. No need to thank me, but you’re welcome! I feel you on the hospital thing. I won’t go into details about why, but I do. You are strong, and your strength amazes me.

  9. My Love,

    You know you’re going to get the harsh truth (as I see it) First of all, you ARE a fucking warrior.

    There is absolutely nothing stating that you have to death well. I worked hospice for too many years to count, I don’t do death well.

    What you work out in your own head, to make yourself fell okay, is perfectly okay. You don’t need to see someone who has lived with this illness in their last stages of life to reconcile something within you. Write it out. Say what you want on a piece of paper. Your doctor may be absolutely brilliant, but not agreeing with the suggestions does not make you less of anything.

    I admire you so much. You are amazing, whether you want to believe it or not.

    I love you.

    N

    1. Nicole, this is a long overdue reply! Please forgive me – can I get a “tardy pass”? 😉 The past week has been a blur of stress, as you can imagine.

      I forgot you worked in hospice – wow – that’s incredible. So you *really* know what you’re talking about, and I admire you even more for doing something so challenging like that. It doesn’t surprise me because I think you’re a superstar.

      Thanks for always encouraging me and sharing your wisdom – it’s comforting to know someone like you is out there in Kamloops of all places – my fave Canadian town I’ve visited to date! — who truly gets it.

      I still haven’t made it to the hospital to visit my family member – I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that, to be honest. Last Sunday I was all ready to go visit, as my husband planned to take me and one of our daughters, but then our plan was cancelled at the last minute as he didn’t want that many visitors. I was deeply relieved but of course I felt shitty about that.

      I’ll keep working through this somehow. In the meantime, I send you huge heaps of love and thanks again for the kind words – they really help me now more than ever. XOXOXOXOXOXOXO always, Dy

  10. I like this blog. It’s honest. It took guts to write this, to drag it all out into the light of day. I admire you for this, Dyane.

    1. Your comment has truly made my day, Vincent.

      My mother will be reading this and I was worried about upsetting her; luckily when I gave her the heads-up a few minutes ago, she was supportive, like you.

      I left out some things that were pretty bad….I wanted to share them, but for now I’ll keep them inside until I work more on my book.

      Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

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