I wonder how many people Tom Petty has walked through the darkness with?
…and its not because of Thanksgiving.
I had marginally planned to take at least some of the day off, to do a little ahead of time cooking if my work load allowed. It doesn’t, but I’m staying home anyways.
I work in a part of the city that historically has had racial issues. And I’m talking about a city that was once know as the Mississippi of the West.
I love my neighborhood by the way. And it is mine. I lived there back in college with my sister and with my poor mad boy. His family home is there. The place where he hides in his little empty room. I always planned on going back. That’s why I looked so hard for a job in the area.
But I couldn’t get a house there. I was dumbfounded by the prices. I was only gone a couple of years. A couple of years! The gentrification that everyone seemed to be doom saying about back when I moved out was real, and it was here.
I work all day with black and Hispanic and Asian clients who used to live in the neighborhood like me. Their family homes were here for generations. Now they bus in from cheaper neighborhoods. Some of them hang on. A lot have moved into subsidized housing that has been built around the outside edges of the area as a concession to those who protested the gentrification. Right. Because a crappy little projects apartment where you have to get rid of your pets and can’t have a garden or a BBQ or a lot of other things is totally the same thing as the family home you lost because you couldn’t pay the hiked up taxes.
They go without food. The prices in local restaurants are hiked up too, but that’s not the real problem. The problem is you go up to the counter and you wait. And you wait. And you wait while the counter people keep waiting on all these white hipsters that keep coming in the door after you.
And this rears it head up constantly at my work. And I’m not just talking about the clients. I often catch people I work with speaking in terms of “us” and “them.”
The other week, I spent a lot of time dodging around corners when the Hispanic workers felt one of the black workers had unfairly denied funding to one if my Hispanic clients. “You’re on my side, right?” They kept literally saying that. Apparently there’s no Indian faction and we redskins are up for grabs.
I was unaware of the protesting in Portland initially when it started. And I got a weird phone call from a black client during that time. He put his girlfriend on the line too. She seemed confused, but offered her two cents too eventually. It made more sense later in context of the protests.
So I’m not going in to work today. I’m not afraid. I did a self-check: is this just my PTSD predicting a possible crisis and avoiding it? No, I don’t think so. Let’s face it, I’ve kind of sucked at avoiding conflict lately.
No. I just have this sinking feeling I’m not going to get much work done. Clients or coworkers are going to be too caught up in trying to find out from me, “Whose side are you on?”
And I think I’d rather just go cook some cranberries.
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.
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.
Sometimes I contemplate my memories and I feel terrified. Not because of their content: it’s the good memories that make me feel this way.
Someone who had some authority in the matter once told me that NO MEMORY is genuine. That is, the very first time we remember an event, even split seconds after it happened, the memory is flawed. It’s not what really happened, but a recreation. It’s our brain massing together some chemicals to retell a story the best we can recall. We are fooling ourselves if we think of our memories as an exact recording of events–a movie printed on the filmstrip of our mind. Physically, that’s what a memory is–a bunch of chemicals, which is the first place things can go wrong, if that brain recipe isn’t just right–whipped together in your skull mixing bowl to recreate what you think happened. Even things you think are perfectly factual: a smell that you feel went along strongly with the memory, isn’t going to be remembered the same way, or at all, by someone who was standing right there next to you as the event unfolded. I’m reminded of the cilantro conundrum, where they finally proved that people that loved cilantro and people who hated cilantro REALLY WERE actually tasting cilantro in a wholly different way from one another.
But the memories I’m worried about–the issue isn’t that someone else might be remembering them differently–although I’m sure you can see where that aspect can lead to miles of discussion. The problem for me is realizing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a filmstrip of what’s happening. Here is one of those memories that inspire such terror in me, something that just happened:
My little daughter comes into the bedroom. I’ve had a long week–my first week at a new job, and I’m still reeling from the loss of the wedding and my new unsure ground with her dad. He’s not here of course. We don’t know where he is. That’s typical. But I’m relaxed. I’m laying on the bed, the patio door is open and its grown dark, the cat is petting himself on my outstretched hand as I just doze. Suddenly that little bundle of sweetness bounces in and perched on the bed near my head. I can just see her face in the fading blue light. Her eyes are glimmering and in that smile shape. Yes, she’s smiling. There are the dimples. “I want more juice bottle.”
Just the slightest shadow passes over her smile because I am slow to answer and haven’t jumped up to get her juice. Did I understand her and what she wanted? Is she going to have to wait a -to her toddler mind–unbearable long time for me to shake off my sleepiness and get up to get her more juice? I am quick to reassure her:
“I’m going to get you more juice. But…you’ll have to pay me first.”
The shadow leaves, and the smile actually grows bigger. Oh! This is a game. The slightest of thoughtful crinkles touches her eyes and she starts to turn to leave. Oh goodness, she actually has something in mind! Is she heading for her piggy bank? Or has she thought of something incredible and funny and unexpected? Part of me wants to find out, but part of me really wants what I originally intended, not just for me, but for the effect it will have on her. So I let her off the hook.
“I’ll need your best kiss.”
What do you know, it possible for that smile to get bigger. That look on her face is just what I was hoping for: she is surprised and bemused and very happy because I’ve asked for something she knows she good at and she can deliver. She actually winds up. Sits back and straightens up and takes a big healthy breath in, and then dives in and gives me the sweetest baby kiss on my right cheek. It’s not even too slobbery. And I try so hard to freeze that moment in mind.
Even as I’m getting up and walking into the kitchen, as I’m getting the juice, as I’m responding to her chatter with, I admit it, half a mind, I am trying to cement that one moment in my mind. The sweet squeak and timber of her voice. The sound of her breath. The way that kiss felt–carrying with it that incredible gentle softness of touch that only babies and very small children have. I want it recorded like a move, but I’m already realizing it’s hopeless. I try to recall other details from the environment. The way the mattress felt, the feel of the cool air and the night sounds from outside the patio, the cat’s purr. Was the cat purring? Oh God, see? Already I’m not sure. And you’re supposed to remember these kind of details, to help you recall the important parts of the memory. Recall, not play back. Redo. Recreate. It is slipping away from, becoming intangible, sliding away down the drain of my mind to get lost in some great homogenous river.
I try to think back to similar moments with my older kids. From when they were little like this one. I start to reassemble memories, but there’s nothing there I can just play back. I can hear each one of their little voices. Each one’s was different and sweet. The oldest–even when he was small, he always sounded a little worried, earnest. Tiny Tim’s really was the tiniest, like you would imagine belonging to a little cartoon mouse. And my older daughter, she has this one constant note in her voice, like her own specially minted bell, that is always ringing the way a tuning fork would, behind every sound she makes. It’s there in her adult voice still, and it was already there in her little voice. I can imagine the things they said. Every morning, while I was pregnant with his sister, Tiny Tim would come in at the break of dawn and curl up with me and whisper, “I love you mom.” and then he would put his mouth up against my belly and whisper, “I love you, little sister.” I KNOW this happened. But even as I “remember” it, I realize I am just recreating it. I don’t actually remember–have printed on mindfilm, any of the moments where this happened. As I turn it around and around in my head, I can come up with a setting. Early in the morning–I need the bedroom, then. Where did we live at the time? Ah, right. That bedroom. Once I have that, I can even supply the most likely bedspread for the time. Oh, that awful lamp. That was there too. But the more I build the picture, the more I despair. Because that’s all I’m doing: reassembling the pieces, painting a collage of what logically must have all gone together–and voila! My brain spits out a “memory” at the end. But it’s not. It’s not real. Even if I put it all back together just right, if I somehow managed to hold all the minute pieces all these years and somehow miraculously stuck them all back together exactly right–it’s not the memory from 17 years ago. I made it brand new, just now.
And what kills me, what really kills me, is that I know that I did the same thing back then, that I just did right now: I thought, “I want to remember this moment forever.”