I wonder how many people Tom Petty has walked through the darkness with?
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.
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.