This blog is not FDA approved
I’ve spent the last month coming out of the manic depressive closet, trying to do my part to reduce the stigma associated with bipolar disorder. Instead of publishing my blog anonymously, I recently stepped forward with my real name. Just yesterday, I added my picture to my posts. But in the interest of putting myself out there, I realized there is one last item of business that needed to be attended to. I have been very candid about my bipolar life, exposing myself to my small following of readers by disclosing the various ups and downs of living life with bipolar disorder, and learning from my audience that I’m not alone. Until now, I had shared nearly every intimate aspect of a life that has shamed me and shaped me. And now it’s time to free myself of the burden that I’ve been carrying for the last several months, one that was a turning point in my otherwise miserable life.
As those of you with bipolar are very familiar, we all have triggers that set us off. And one of mine is holidays. Specifically, birthdays. More specifically, my birthday. The anxiety of growing older and believing I’ve wasted the entire previous year was always a source of great stress to me, and this year especially I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. My husband and I legally separated the previous spring for reasons that stem largely from my behavior during a period of time in which I was refusing help for my illness. And this would be my first “separated” birthday. My mom was visiting from out-of-town, and my estranged husband was at the house to “celebrate” my big day out of obligation, not desire. My two older children were upstairs, and my 10-year old daughter was putting the finishing touches on my birthday cake. I had been short-tempered and nervous all morning, and when I saw the cake mix box on the counter, I completely lost my mind. That dark cloud that moves in so quickly at the onset of a manic episode began to thicken my mind, and I felt this heavy pressure building in my chest, making it hard for me to take a deep breath. And I started to yell at my daughter.
Why? Because the cake was not gluten-free, and I am. That’s it. That was the big trigger that completely sent me over the edge on my 43rd birthday. In retrospect, much ado about nothing.
I screamed at my daughter and my mother, asking why it was so hard to remember something like my intolerance to gluten. I pushed the cake from the counter into the kitchen sink, which sent my poor sweet little girl into hysterics and she ran for the safety of her room. I stood in the middle of my kitchen, yelling to anyone who would listen that I couldn’t believe their insensitivity on my “special day”. I hadn’t had a manic episode in nearly 9 months, and the first one I have is over a cake made with wheat.
During my manic episodes, there is always a teeny, tiny little voice begging me to stop. Please stop. You’re making it worse, just stop what you’re doing and calm down. But my mania typically squashes that voice and the ability to be reasonable becomes nonexistent. My angry brain takes over and any sense of reason disappears.
My husband yelled that I was scaring the children. I chased after him as he ran to our daughter’s rescue, and I didn’t realize until later that she was trying to hide from me. My screaming was terrifying to her. I screamed at my husband that he always comforted the children, but never comforted me when I was upset. I accused him of never loving me, for never caring about me. And all I could see reflected in his eyes was hatred. Hatred for my behavior, for my illness, for my inability to control myself, for my utter disregard for my children and their safety. And he yelled at me, “Go away! I just want you to go away!”
So I did.
I went into my bathroom and grabbed my bottles of Tegretol and Ativan. And I emptied both into my hands, then went back to my husband and daughter where I proclaimed, “You want me to go away? FINE!!! I’m going!” And I proceeded to pour both handfuls of pills into my mouth. In front of my child. My angry brain was stronger than the small voice of reason trying desperately to get my attention and tell me it was still not too late to stop what I was doing, spit out the pills, apologize to my family and eat the damn cake. But my mania was too developed and my reasonable voice grew fainter and finally disappeared.
Everything else happened very quickly. I remember my husband on the phone with 911, and I remember how fast the paramedics arrived. I remember feeling foggy, and voices rushing together. I couldn’t answer their questions, and I couldn’t stand up. And I remember my husband’s face, believing that he must be thinking how much easier his life would be if I really did go away forever.
I remember seeing my neighbors standing in their driveways as I was wheeled into the ambulance on the stretcher. I remember blinking lights inside the vehicle, and was surprised at how calm the voices around me were. The trip to the hospital was less than 3 miles, but it seemed even shorter than that. I remember one of the paramedics holding my hand, calling me “sweetheart”, and asking my age. I recall telling him it was my birthday but that I would never get any older after today.
And then I don’t remember anything that followed until I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning. I never asked if I’d had my stomach pumped, I never inquired as to how many hours I’d been there, how I was treated, or if anyone had been to see me. To this day, I don’t want to know. I heard noises and opened my eyes, and saw my husband. And the first words out of his mouth were, “You don’t belong here. I’m trying to get you home.” He had contacted my psychiatrist and was trying to convince him to have the 72-hour hold removed, the one required for mental patients who had tried to commit suicide.
I started to cry because I realized then where I was.
I had thought I was in a regular hospital ward, with regular patients. It wasn’t until I saw “Jeffrey” that it was confirmed I was in the mental facility. Jeffrey was a man about my age with two armed guards standing outside his room. My only memory of Jeffrey was of him standing naked in his white t-shirt, holding an adult diaper which he hurled at one of the guards. He was screaming obscenities at the nurses and jumping. I later learned he was coming down from a drug-induced episode. The only real difference between he and I was that I was wearing underpants.
When asked, I told the doctors that I was only trying to take enough medicine to sleep through my birthday, that I wanted the day to pass quickly so I could wake up and have it be tomorrow. I recounted to my husband and my mother the same thing, and found myself telling the same story to my best friend on the phone a couple of days later. I think just my mother believed me, and only then because the alternative was so horrific to her. And what was the alternative? An end to my misery, to my embarrassment, to my shame and to my self-loathing. I, in no way, considered who I would be leaving behind, that even if I wasn’t the perfect daughter or mother or friend, I would cause grief and heartbreak among those who loved me. I almost committed the most selfish act I could think of, because all I could think of was me.
I was released from the hospital to my estranged husband’s care. His haggard look seemed to say, “now you know why I can’t stay married to you”.
I have cried the entire time I’ve been typing this, because it’s the first time I stepped forward and told the truth about that day. I like to pretend it never happened. And I did a pretty good job of it for several months until a couple of weeks ago when I stood in the grocery store in the middle of the aisle lined with baking ingredients, standing before a shelf of Betty Crocker cake mixes. And I started to sob. And I didn’t care who saw me, I just stood there and cried because I was so happy to still be on this earth, to recognize that I am loved and that I would have been deeply missed. And I understood then that I have learned from my mistakes, and I could finally move on with my life. And with the help of DBT and an incredibly supportive network of family and a couple of amazing friends, I intend to keep moving forward, hoping my teeny tiny voice of reason can grow stronger and eventually completely overpower the mania that is just dying for an opportunity to rear its ugly head. And maybe someday that voice of reason will be the only one that exists.