“Like any other view, non-harming may be a terrific principle, but its the living of it that counts.You can start practicing ahimsa’s gentleness on yourself and in your life with others in any moment. Do you sometimes find that you are hard on yourself and put yourself down? Remember ahimsa in that moment. See it and let it go. Do you talk about others behind their back? Ahimsa. Do you push yourself beyond your limits with no regard for your body and your well-being? Ahimsa. Do you cause other people pain or grief. Ahimsa. It is easy to relate with ahimsa to someone who doesn’t threaten you. The test is in how you will relate to the person or situation when you do feel threatened. The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear.Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and OWN them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
We had a little bit of a bipolar break out in the middle of the night between day three and day four. As I was falling asleep, I started receiving some text messages from The Boy. He couldn’t sleep, he said. This is a common complaint from him. Obviously, he has a lot going on to trouble his sleep. It’s really one of those chicken and egg things. Is it the bipolar disorder which causes the sleep disturbances? Are the sleep disturbances just a physical symptom of being bipolar? Or is there some sort of physiological sleep disorder which affects his brain chemistry and causes, or at least magnifies, the bipolar symptoms?
I said some reassuring things –little hints and tricks he can do that I knew would help him fall asleep from past experience. I was already worrying about and dreading the thing that was coming next. He began with vague, but slightly pitiful, statements, like being all curled up under his blankets in a ball. Finally, he interrupted my sleep advice with the statement that the real problem was that he was lonely.
I’m going to give you the benefit of consideration of your bipolar disorder and not just assume you are the jerk you sound like. You are actually complaining to your now ex-fiancee –the person that you called the wedding off from, that you are lonely? The last statement that you made about our relationship was that we were “not even friends with benefits” –it was just too much effort for you to completely break up with me. That is exactly what you said. Never mind that you have been living as though we have a some sort of relationship–completely undefined–ever since our wedding was called off and you made these statements. That’s part of your bipolar disconnect. You just can’t connect reality with your actions and the things you say. You have told me that you don’t love me, said that you don’t want to marry me and trained me in the past few weeks to stop saying that I love you by groaning and rolling your eyes and responding with cruel statements and leaving whenever I say, “I love you.” You have left me to be more or less a single parent to our daughter over the last four years because you just can’t handle it. You have stated over and over for all kinds of reasons, reasonable to bizarre, that you could never ever live in my house, or even in my state. (For those not familiar with the Portland metro area, we live on the border between the states of Washington and Oregon, with him on one side, and me on the other. The physical barrier of the Columbia River between him and any people who care about him and might intrude into his secret world seems to be a crucial component in his mind -whether to prevent, or to maintain madness, is unclear. All of this is your choice. Yes, I understand that you have a mental illness, but other people with mental illnesses don’t outright reject their families and work on maintaining their relationships. Of course, a lot of other people with mental illnesses choose treatment. They take medications. They go to the doctor. They have a counselor to talk them through the curve balls that their mental illness throws at them. But you have chosen to go without treatment. You are alone completely by your own choice. I am alone, not by my choice, but again, by your choice. And you have the nerve to complain to me that you feel lonely.
I didn’t say any of these things. I finally said something vague along the lines of, “Well, we all have to make the choices that are best for us at the time,” and just continued with my reassurances to help with sleeping. And his final word was, “Sorry I even try to talk to you. I should have known better.” And then silence.
Of course, I know better then to stick my head into the hornet’s nest, so I didn’t say anything else either. I went to bed.
In the morning, you acted as if nothing happened. You started our day off by sending me a few texts about some mundane details of our lives. Asking about whether or not the car insurance payment went through and other such riveting conversational points.
You were very normal at lunch. Neither exceptionally nice, nor exceptionally terrible. I finally managed to articulate how I wanted to do something special this weekend. Your first response was to say that you could find babysitting for our daughter so that I could go away. I managed to resist taking that as rejection, knowing that in your mind you are such a terrible person that, of course, you thought I was rejecting you. I reassured you that when I said I wanted to do something special, I meant that I would like you to be there as well. It actually went rather well, except that we never did determine just what it was that we were going to do this weekend.
I’m surprised that I feel better today than yesterday. I sort of expected to be freaking out more and more as the week progressed. I had one bad spell around lunch. Around very late lunch…it was past 2pm before I heard from him regarding lunch. We text our lunch plans, since I’m usually in the middle of speaking, or in the office at work–both bad environments for a ringing cell phone. And his texts were so distracted and delayed that I was actually driving out to The Arbor Lodge for coffee and a cinnamon roll again, before he finally acknowledged that he was at his parent’s house and, sure, come by for lunch if you want. Remember how this one goes: panic, spelled P-A-N-I-C. Why is he not answering me? Maybe he’s suicidal. Maybe he’s in the throes of a bad mood swing and is going to rip my head off when I walk in the door. Maybe he’s in the arms of some hussy he picked up off of Craigslist, since he obviously doesn’t love ME any more… Yeah. Panic. And the brain ran away with the spoon.
So it turned out that he was just deep into a video game. Could be ok. Could be the beginning of a deep downward mood swing. Who knows: Welcome to bipolar disorder.
I’m home with the munchkin now, and again, surprisingly not too stressed. I’m kind of vegetating, but that’s all.
Here are my thoughts on this weekend: I want to commemorate it somehow. I said in my last post, that I just don’t want it to be like any other weekend. Maybe… maybe this is like when someone dies, and you need to do something for closure. I feel grief. I wish I could do something to commemorate it with him, but that could go so badly. I feel like it’s a damned if I do, and damned if I don’t kind of situation. If I avoid him all weekend, that in itself, is going to make me sad. And it could really launch him down the rabbit hole, if he’s nursing some guilt ready to turn into the Depression Monster. But if I’m around him this weekend, my very presence could set off a guilt-driven mood swing. Bad for him, and bad for me and our daughter if we’re in the vicinity of an explosion.
It’s Monday of the week of our Not Wedding Day. The counter on our wedding website is in the single digits (I haven’t had the heart to even open it up and look at it, much less log on and KILL it.
(Here’s the skinny on the Not Wedding Day, in case you missed it: https://islandofmamabone.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/the-wedding-is-off-again/ )
I was determined to live in the now, and practice mindfulness, and try to be, if not happy, then content and not massively depressed. I pulled out my Happy Habits app, first thing and filled out my Happiness Journal for the day. I made a list of little stuff I could do through the day to stay calm and make myself feel a little better. I put my outfit together carefully so that I could add a few extra special accessories: a bracelet I received from a mentor to remind that I am making progress in a career I love–and people are noticing, a necklace from my baby sister to remind that I can find positive things in my past if I look for them and don’t focus on the negative, and a ring that my dear heart gave me early on in our relationship before his first big bipolar surge to remind me to look at the whole person, the whole experience, and again, to not focus on the negative.
I was fine through most of the day. Something maybe began to creep in around lunch–we normally meet for lunch because we work close by to one another–but when I contacted him, I found out that he was still helping a friend of ours move, because he didn’t have an afternoon shift today. I constantly prove to myself that human beings can feel two entirely opposite things at the same time. Because I was a little disappointed, but a little relieved at the same time. I settled for feeling good that he was helping a friend out, and spoiled myself a little with an americano and cinnamon roll from one of my favorite coffee shops. No, not Dutch Brothers:
And then toward the end of my work day we did some texting back and forth and I found out he was still tied up helping with the move, and I needed to go pick our daughter up at daycare because he wasn’t going to make it on time. I think I started to unravel during the commute. I forced down the doubts and sadness and Panic that were starting to well up. Which is a bad thing, when you get to that point, because no one responds well to force. Seriously–when you start making demands of yourself, you resist that just as much as you would if someone else was making demands of you. I snapped at him on the phone–I can’t remember if he called, or it was through text. Holes in memory–another sign things are going south. I snapped something curt and rude while I was trying to get our daughter into her car seat. If anyone’s had to get a kid on the autistic spectrum strapped into a car seat on a regular basis, you already know why this is a stressor for me.
By the time I got home, my brain was trying to take off on it’s own. Why was he spending so much time at this friend’s house? (Any one who’s every moved, already knows the answer to that one.) Were they talking about our failed wedding? About me? Again, ridiculous: this friend, in particular, would never do anything unkind toward me. Did he just go home without a word, because, basically, he just doesn’t care. I’m just a the world’s biggest joke because I do care… Folks, can you spell panic? P-A-N-I-C.
I do give myself credit for not giving in to the more paranoid notions and ripping into him for nothing, but I did finally start leaking some fatalistic misery at him through intermittent texts. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I suggested we take the friend who was moving out to dinner. (Ulterior motives: cheer myself up by spending time with a good friend, have a third party present to force us both to be on our best behavior, to allay all my weird fears about gossip and so forth by personal witness.) He texted back that our friend wanted to head out now because they had a long drive to Salem ahead of them…. “but how about we all go out for dinner together next weekend?”
“Sure. Sounds a lot better than burying myself in a hole and eating myself to death which was my Big Plan A for next weekend. After all, nothing better to do.”
Yes, I was a bitch. And in the throes of angst and self immolation at the same time. It’s an art form. On the plus side, I kept enough of a handle on my PTSD that I didn’t lash out in a direct attack even though my stress level was suffocating by this point.
“Oh.” He says. That weekend.
He asks if I even want to see him at all this weekend.
I tell him, “I don’t know.” I really don’t. The one thing that I think that I will not be able to stand is if it gets treated just like any other weekend. Right now, though, as I am typing this out, is the first time I’ve been able to articulate that. And I still don’t know how I’m going to explain it to him, to anyone.
Then he surprises me. He asks if I want to see him tonight, then. Hell, he surprises me so much, I say sure. He never comes over late on Monday nights. He politely lets me know when he’s on his way. He even sends me a text to let me know he’s driving up the hill to my house now. I’m not sure why. In the old days, before his bipolar disorder became so bad, I could have seen him reasoning out that it’s not good to surprise someone with PTSD who is in the middle of stressing out and panicking. But I really don’t think he’s been functioning at that level for years. Instinct? Some other motivation stemming from one of his own mood swings? I feel bad for leaning toward the cynical choice, but these days everything seems to revolve around his own slightly detached from reality world. So I just don’t know.
Anyways, surprisingly, we spent a nice quiet night watching old Avatar episodes on Netflix, and sharing some ramen. He surprised me further, by staying the night after I put the small to bed. And he didn’t complain to me in the morning about how he was always late for work when he stayed over on week nights and how that was all my fault.
I know, it sounds awful that I’m expecting the worse here, but part of living with someone with bipolar disorder–especially when its out-of-control and untreated–is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Here’s what I’m thinking: if he actually feels bad enough about the wedding to modify his behavior in a way that is cognizant of another person… that’s gotta be bad. I mean he’s gotta be feeling really bad. And last time he felt really, really bad, he tried to jump off the St. John’s Bridge.
Any here you thought I was always posting pictures of that thing because it was pretty.
One of my mentors, my friend, posted that he had a serious form of cancer on his Facebook page at the beginning if this week. It doesn’t look good. At first, I couldn’t even reach out to him, I was so angry that this is happening, that there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing I say is going to make a difference. Joe is still going to die.
I have just been completely off all week. Short-tempered, tired, just feeling low, overall.
Finally, yesterday, I swiveled around in my chair, with some documents in hand, to ask Joe’s opinion. After he finished my training, I still shared an office with Joe for over a year. It wasn’t just the volume of what Joe taught me -other people have imparted -or at least tried to -knowledge on the same subjects over the years. It was the amazing quality of Joe’s teaching. And no one has taught me the first and most important lesson the way he did. That the key to being extraordinarily in this job is to care deeply for each and every person you work with.
So even after my formal training was over, I would often turn to consult with Joe on things -maybe something new had come across my desk and I wanted his opinion to back up or contrast with my own. Maybe it was just something I thought he’d find interesting. And, it was secretly gratifying that toward the end of that year, he would turn and ask my opinion if things as well.
So I had a puzzle in front of me. I thought I’d arrived at the best solution, but before I acted on it, I wanted to ask a second opinion. I wanted to ask the expert. I weighed whether or not it was worth bothering him with, as I always did, and then I swiveled around to face his desk, and got as far as, “Hey Joe, what do you think of-”
And that’s when, of course, I realized I wasn’t in Joe and I’s old office. I was in my own office, years later, facing a blank wall.
So I’ve already added Joe to my ghosts. And he’s not even dead yet.
That night I talked to my “PTSD buddy.” I never got around to telling him exactly what happened, but he knows why we call at that hour. Al told me about the spate of nightmares he’d been having and how he’d been having to sleep on the couch so that he didn’t inadvertently punch his wife in the night. Message: these things happen to us. We find ways to deal with it. This is our normal. His called out from the other room that I should try putting lavender oil on my feet. Aromatherapy is her thing. Message: Don’t forget the science behind your PTSD. Do things to bring your adrenaline and other chemicals down and you’ll have less PTSD symptoms.
I sent a message to Joe after I hung up. “This fucking sucks. His are you doing?”
Dear Joe, I refuse to add you to my ghosts. Not while you’re still here.
If you’ve read my “about” page, you know I have the best relationship I can manage with a bipolar man who refuses any treatment. Recently that’s taken the form of him living apart from us. Although I see him almost daily -we work in the same area and usually have lunch together, and he’s managed to visit our daughter about once per week, with someone helping him -he’s stated that we might as well continue this undefined and constantly changing relationship because, “it’s the path requiring the least effort. Trying to separate all our stuff is too hard right now.” I do not take this personally. I’ve known him long enough to know when it is the monster riding on his back that’s taken the pilot’s seat for a while. It hurts. It leaves me sad and grieving. It’s totally crazy-making: you might be asking why someone who feels that way about another person would seek them out for lunch everyday (yes, the lunches were his idea). The answer is: “Welcome to bipolarism!” But anyways, I don’t take it personally: I write that down: “I shouldn’t take it personally. ” I have it in my phone, repeatedly in my CBT journal and in a note in Evernote that I open and stare at and read over and over. I recite it in my head. You can see, I’m trying really, really hard to remember to not to take it personally.
But today we had a meltdown. He’d taken our daughter out for the morning, with his parents chaperoning which was nice for me -got some things done around the house. I’m pretty much the 24/7 single parent these days. I dropped them off at his parent’s, because he’d lent his truck to a friend that was moving and arranged to meet the friend at my house later, to get his truck back. Reportedly the morning went well with them. I was feeling pretty good myself, because I’d gotten some errands and things done, and it feels nice to let the parent guard down for a while. To, just for a few hours, not be solely responsible for everything in another human being’s life, you know? As arranged, I picked them both up. Things were going pretty good and he suggested we stop by our favorite game store on the way back. And then it happened. He got a message from his roommate that upset him. It was stupid. An acquaintance known for gossiping has apparently been gossiping about him. Big surprise. Well, to him, it was. (Bipolarism doesn’t go hand in hand with great social skills, it seems. Some of the people he picks up are part of the reason a chaperone is a good idea when he’s spending time with our daughter. )
So what happens normally in a situation like this? You get mad at the person that gossiped about you, maybe. You complain about it to the friend you’re with (that would be me), and grouch and cuss a little, maybe. You decide that gossiper isn’t going to be your friend any more. You come to the conclusion that there’s really nothing else you can do and you try to move on with the rest of your day. Right? Or something very similar to that.
But if you’re bipolar, something like that is enough to flip the switch. And that’s just what it’s like -so quick, with no warning, just like if someone was standing behind you and unexpectedly switched off the light switch.
Since I was the closest person in the vicinity, I was the one he attacked. His whole posture changed and got tense, aggressive. His voice changed. His voice actually changes. It’s not a coincidence that bipolarism gets confused with multiple personality disorder. And you would think that someone that angry would be ranting and railing about the person that set off the anger? Nope. She was never mentioned. But suddenly I was being informed in a cold angry voice that everything about me, everything I’ve ever done and was doing, was wrong. Rapid fire, one thing after another: “You know, I don’t like *this* about you.” “The one thing that really bothers me is when you did *that*” “You know what I hate about you?”
Don’t take it personally.
Don’t take it personally.
Don’t take it personally
And you can’t say anything *reasonable * about it. You can’t say, “Hey, I understand that this incident upset you, but you must be able to see that it’s unfair to take your anger out on me like this.” Because he just ignores you. You might as well be speaking ancient Phoenician. Nothing gets through. Or worse: the crazy-making talk. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never said [the thing I just said, verbatim, 3 seconds ago].”
Even though I’m so miserable without him, at times like this, I’m so glad he doesn’t live with us right now. The constant barrage of this, the walking on eggshells so you don’t set him off, or get in his cross hairs if he’s already been set off. It wears me down, so much. And as she’s gotten older, it’s gotten harder and harder to shield our daughter from this.
She’s getting fussy herself now. Even with her communication disorder, at four years old, she can absorb that her dad just turned into Mr. Hyde. It’s confusing and scary. He says, “I don’t get it. She was good all morning.” I can’t tell him, “She’s getting upset from the way you are acting.” I’ve tried that before. It doesn’t go well. Not for the first time, I wonder if any of this is somehow responsible for her autism issues. Wouldn’t you withdraw and have trouble communicating and interacting with people if one of your parents didn’t make sense? And when I think these things, I immediately feel so bad. I love this man and I know he’s sick.
We get to the store and he seems to have calmed down a little, but then our daughter is still fussy. And when I said ‘calms down a little’, I didn’t mean all better, because at one point he says something really shitty to me, right when it seems like we’re getting along. And I realize that my blood pressure is through the roof. That I’m frantically reciting all my mantras under my breath (“don’t take it personally” ), but I’m not absorbing it; not believing it. Baby Girl is still fussy and getting more demanding and I’m recognizing the physical signs of an adrenaline rush coming (I know I’ve mentioned my PTSD before. Maybe, I’ll have to post more on the physiology of PTSD some time).
The store is crowded, we have friends that are working there today, and aside from the nasty pot shot at me, he’s actually remaining pretty calm. So I let him know I’m going to go outside for a few minutes for some air. He’s agreeable, so I go out front and pull my CBT journal up on my phone and try to get some focus. I don’t get very far though, before he comes out to find me, our daughter trailing behind. He’s put our pending purchases back on the shelf. We’re leaving, he says, because our daughter is being too fussy. He actually comes and sits next to me. His body is relaxed again, and makes some friendly overtures. It’s enough to to even signal things that things are better to our daughter, who operates more on this sort of 6th sense level because of her communication issues, and she comes over and is hugging and kissing both of us. He starts having a two way conversation again, and I fall for it. Even though I know enough time hasn’t passed. I know that he doesn’t get better again this fast. I should know this, damn it. But I get sucked in again. And the monster is back. He knows how to lure me in close again, where I’m vulnerable, so that he can properly attack me. He wants to keep me agitated and on edge and off balance. If I manage, to withdraw, then he doesn’t have a victim.
He storms off to the car, but them comes back and picks up our daughter and carries her because we are moving too slow for him. He’s not rough at all, but that rigidness is back, he emanates anger, and she starts crying again. All the way back he barks out orders on how and where to drive to me. As you’ve probably guessed, I do know how to get to my own house. But this, this is the kind of shit I just take from him. Because when he gets like this, there’s no rationalizing with him. I consider pulling over and telling him to get out of the car. To just walk home, and that I will ensure that the friend and I get his truck dropped off at his house later. But I feel like this might be even more upsetting to our daughter, than watching his behavior. then both parents are acting cagey. And what do I do if he just sits there and refuses to get out of the car? I start to make small mistakes while I’m driving–like hesitating as a light turns yellow, because I’m under this constant barrage. I’m under attack–how do you focus? He yells at me when this happens. I really can’t explain to you what it’s like. For some reason, people think that people in a manic state are happy, or at least harmless to others. They never imagine an aggressive manic state. I think they use these methods to interrogate prisoners of war, to break them. I can’t even respond to one complaint before he’s cut me off with another, unrelated. And he acts like I’m crazy when I try to get him to pause and back up, and let me finish with the first. “What are you talking about? We aren’t talking about that. What does anything you’re saying have to do with what we’re talking about? ” As far as I can understand, he doesn’t perceive these episodes that same way everyone else does. I think he sees everything happening more slowly, and as not being disjointed. Later, he says he doesn’t remember times like this. If he does at all, he calls them “arguments.” He says, lately, all we do is argue. It doesn’t feel like an argument, because aren’t there supposed to be two sides to an argument? Recently a friend witnessed a less severe episode. A little while after it happened, he referred to it as an “argument” and the friend called him on it –said, “What are you talking about? That didn’t look like an argument to me. That just looked like you complaining about something that didn’t make sense.” That friend has no idea how much they did for my sanity right there. But He, my poor bipolar heart, he was genuinely confused, and maybe a little hurt that his friend was “siding against him”. He has really been convinced that these are normal two-way arguments. He really doesn’t perceive things the way everyone else does. I remind myself of this. Don’t take it personally.
I keep telling myself that it’s going to be OK, because as soon as we get to my house, the friend with the truck will be there and he will go home. I feel terrible because this is the man I love and right now I just want him away from us. I just need some peace. God, please, just a few hours to regroup. And every time I think these things I feel so bad, too, for so many reasons. what kind of partner am I? So much for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.
It’s not to be though. The friend is running late. The barrage continues. In my own home, in my sanctuary. I consider taking our little girl and leaving him there alone to wait for his truck. But I am afraid of what he will do to my house, to himself. Mostly, I realize he will just follow us. His Monster won’t let his victims get away so easily. He completely rearranges and moves my audio video collection. He ranges through the house, collecting things that he feels are “his” into a pile in the middle of the living room floor. He shakes his fist threateningly at me when I offer to fix him something to eat. All while the complaints about me and anything to do with me or anything else in the world–all which he finds some way or another to make my fault just keep coming. I finally calm him a little by putting stupid 80s comedies on the television. It doesn’t exactly make it better, but he is easily distracted. When he starts up again, I laugh and point something out from the show and he gets lost again for a little while. I get him to eat by fixing something for our daughter that she doesn’t want. I fix her something she does want, and oh-do-you-want-this? Otherwise-I’m-just-going-to-have-to-throw-it-out. Eating does help a bit. When this first started happening, I even got him in to have his blood sugar checked, because the food factor made me suspect diabetes. I guess everyone’s just grouchier with an empty stomach?
Finally his truck gets here. He scoops everything up that he’s piled in the living room and throws it in his truck. I help him. I God-damned help him because it’s just stuff and I need him to leave. And I feel so God-damned bad. Because this is, really is, still the love of my life, and I’ve given up. I want him to leave more than I want to help him any more. At least for tonight.