Monthly Archives: April 2013
I come up for air and my head breaks the water. I’m nine years old and I wipe the salty sea out of my eyes as I stand up, feet sinking into the muddy bottom of the Mississippi Sound. I squint into the sun, looking out to Cat Island in the distance. The water comes up to my belly and I sink back under the water, unimpeded by the gentle waves of the Sound. You’re not supposed to open your eyes under water, but I do anyway. In this moment I break the rules and open my eyes under the warm brown water. You can’t tell from the beach, but under the water I see that it is brown, like the mud mixed with the sand at the bottom, but lighter. The sun makes it in through the surface, illuminating the brown gulf. There’s not much to see under there. I look down to the bottom, which I am afraid to touch. It is a mix of sand and Mississippi mud, encrusted with broken shells and bits of sea grass drifting through with the tide.
I come up for air.
The water is in my blood and has been with me since my birth. These last few weeks have been rough. Hardest in my life? Too soon to tell. But slowly, my days have been getting easier and my nights less lonely. I’m no longer drowning. I’m swimming up towards to the light. I’ve come up for air.
I’ve had to learn some lessons I never wanted to learn. I believed in the tolerance of my friends, in their loyalty to me, in their goodness. I believed that my friends would be impervious to the stigma attached to mental illness; I believed they were loyal; I believed they were my allies.
But I’ve had to learn that I’m not always right. A hard lesson to learn, especially for me in all my self righteous vanity. Friends really can vanish. They really can leave you. It doesn’t matter how many times you were there for them, how many times you’ve listened to them cry, how many times you’ve checked on them to make sure they were ok. It doesn’t matter, not in the end, because no matter how unfair it seems, you can’t make people like you; you can’t reason with friends who don’t want to hear the truth; you can’t change a mind that’s stubbornly been made up.
I’ve been sinking. But lately I’ve found the strength to swim. The outpouring of support from all you of you who are kind enough to follow my blog has not gone unnoticed and has not left me unaffected.
Water is in my blood and maybe I was born to swim. And swimming is what I’ve started to do. Although the emptiness of my apartment still reminds me of a friend lost, I’ve begun to accept the silence and grow in spite of it. You see, each night that I survive, each day that I fight off my loneliness and keep living, is a stroke upwards. These strokes add up and slowly but surely they are bringing me up from the depths.
The support of the few friends that have stood by me, the love of and acceptance of newly found friends, and the help of my family has increased my buoyancy. I’m no longer sinking. I’m no longer crying myself to sleep. The listlessness has slunk away, taking with it pieces of my depression. The support of true friends is beginning to chip away at my loneliness. I’m beginning to fight the undertow, the pull of my illness which wants me to drown in the depths.
I’ve come up for air. My head is above the water and the world around me is no longer so empty. Graduation is looming, and the stress of finals with it. But I am no longer afraid. My fight to swim from the depths into the light has strengthened me. I have energy again. And day by day I’m getting closer to the shore.
I’m still in the water. But I’m no longer sinking– I’m swimming, I’m fighting, I’m coming up for air. The shore is in sight and water is in my blood. I will weather the storm, the same storm that, days earlier, I wasn’t sure I would survive. But the water is in my blood and I still have the will to live. Every new found friend and source of support puts force behind my strokes and keeps my head above the water. Looking down into the depths, I see the ones who’ve left me behind. The ones that left me alone. The ones I burdened. The ones that betrayed me. They’re still at the bottom of the depths. But with each stroke I get closer to the shore and farther from the obstacles and undertow of failed friendships, each one trying to keep me underwater, away from the light. With each stroke and with each passing day, the scars begin to fade. And with each day, less painful than the one that preceded it, my strokes grow stronger.
I’ve come up for air. And I’m not going back down to the depths. I have the strength I need behind me and soon enough I’ll make it to shore. Having water in your blood doesn’t protect you from the dangers that water brings. But, when you want to, it does help you stay a float. And, when you’re ready, it does help you find the shore.
I’ve finally come up for air. And this time I’m not going back down.
As some of you who have been reading my blog know, I’ve been having some problems with my friends and my mental health. Recently I had, what I consider, an appalling experience with the administration at my school which revealed a shocking misunderstanding and lack of support for students dealing with mental illness.
Earlier this week, on a night I was feeling particularly depressed, I reached out to a friend hoping for a little support. Despite multiple texts, the friend didn’t respond. The friend– although that’s probably no longer an appropriate description for this person– lives in the same apartment complex as I do and it wasn’t uncommon for us to pop in and out of each other’s apartments. I resigned myself to the abandonment of another friend and eventually tucked myself into bed, hoping to wake up to a better day.
Upon waking, I was greeted by a missed call and voice mail from the administration of student services at my school requesting a meeting with me and alluding to the concern for my mental well being. The message indicated that some friends had been in touch with the administration about my recent depression.
I went to the meeting, terrified that someone was trying to commit me. I’ve always had a fear of being involuntary commitment and as I waited for the meeting I frantically researched my state’s commitment laws.
Luckily, at the meeting I learned that I wasn’t being committed. However, I did learn that the friend who I had texted the night before had reported my texts not only to the university counseling center but also to student services. The complaint was that my texts and cries for support were disturbing, distracting, and stressful. I was appalled by this on a number of levels. First– that my friend had reported me instead of supporting me. Second– I was appalled that I was being reprimanded for reaching out to a friend to support. I left the meeting, having had to promise not to contact this person anymore.
This situation was upsetting to me on a number of levels and did little to help stabilize me or alleviate the depression that had led me to reach out to a friend. What are friends for if you can’t reach out to them for support during a rough time? Loyalty and support have always been a staple in my treatment and interaction with my friends. Not only had the friend ignored my cries for help but he had gone so far as to report my behavior as being “disturbing” to him.
Ashamed and insulted at having had to promise not to contact friends, I trudged through the rest of the day. Disgusted by the administration’s response to my clear emotional distress, I managed to make it through another lonely night on my own, believing that the shaming was over.
However, the next morning I woke up to an email from the administration following up on the meeting. The email reviewed what we had discussed and instructed me in the following way:
“As we discussed, our concern is for both your emotional wellbeing and for the wellbeing of our campus community. We expect that, in the future, when you are experiencing emotional distress and need to reach out for help, you will access appropriate resources available to you and will not communicate this distress to other member of the campus community through text messages, emails, verbal communication, Facebook communications, or photographs. Your ongoing use of blogging for therapeutic purposes is up to your discretion, but should not be intended to communicate with others on campus.”
I was, and remain, disgusted by the university’s response to my obvious need for support from friends during what has been an impossibly difficult time.
I apologize to anyone who feels “communicated with” by this blog. (note sarcasm). This experience remains a tragic and disgusting reminder of how mental illness remains stigmatized and how little support can be expected from fair weather friends.
In spite of this disappointing experience I have found some much needed support from a close acquaintance turned supporting hero. I remain very thankful for the support of this new found friend, who has helped me weather this storm. I’m so thankful to find that there are still good people out there and that support for my loneliness has been found in an unexpected place.
My days have slowly been getting easier to get through and my nights less lonely. The support of this new found friend has gone a long way to get me through my despair and disappointment and the loss of old friends.
Lesson learned: where leaves fall from the tree new ones grow in their place, more beautiful and stronger than the ones they replace. I will not be silenced in my fight against my illness and, at times, myself.
They abandon you during your despair because they don’t know how to help.
They abandon you because you’re a burden, because they can’t possibly know how, or try, to help.
Their abandonment is the opposite of help, it’s an infliction of pain in the inverse.
You’re left with your loneliness.
This is just another day.
Thought on my mind today. Kay Redfield Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind is a must read for anyone struggling with this disorder. Hearing from a woman who struggled with intense bouts of mania and severe depression while working for tenure at a major University, is amazingly inspiring and has gone along way towards helping me accept my diagnosis.
“It took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to one’s self and others cannot easily be put right again and that freedom from control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only other alternatives are death or insanity.”
Seriously, good stuff.
There was a time in my life where a glass of wine and a chat with a friend could cure most of what ailed my younger self. It’s funny what a diagnosis can do. Not only are those days gone but they have been replaced, instead, by a bottle of wine, an argument with a friend who is only trying to help, and a handful of lorazepam. And even that is not enough. I cannot cure the pain I feel when I walk into my empty apartment. Empty because I have overstayed my welcome with my friends nerves, empty because I have overburdened my friends with my relentless despair, empty because I’ve made them scared of me.
I suppose I have become somewhat frightening. Tall, thin because I can’t eat, tattooed in ink and blood, and desperately unhappy. I’ve grown into a shade of my former self. I try to disguise the cuts and people usually have the decency not to ask. Sometimes I want them to ask. Of course I have my stories made up: I fell, I tripped over a cord, I scratched myself moving. The ones under my clothes are harder to explain. How does one explain five short, fat slices along one’s hip; obviously the work of a razor. I learned long ago to try to hide my cuts so they wouldn’t be visible even in a bikini. Naked, of course, there is only the dark to hide under. And that has not always been enough. I’ve had lovers notice, and ask “what happened here?” I usually do not respond.
But lately, in my loneliness, despair, and hopelessness I’ve grown careless. I want people to ask. And sometimes I want to tell the truth, just to see the change in their expression, trying to hide their disgust, shock, and maybe even fear.
In the midst of my unhappiness, courtesy of a particularly tough bout of bipolar depression, I’ve begun shedding friends like leaves. I lost five over the weekend and just yesterday two more fell from the tree. I imagine that even the friends I have are exasperated with me. I imagine that they can scarcely stand my company, that escape fills their minds, that they’d rather be in the light. Of course not all of this is true. It’s my illness, once again in my ear. The truth is that the friends I have left, the ones that have stood by me and watched my transformation, are good people. Better than me, but my illness poisons their good graces, convincing me that I’m a burden they are simply waiting to release.
I’ve had to accept the departure of friends who I thought would never leave my side. I’ve accepted it but I refuse to understand. To understand would be to give up on my cause, to fundamentally admit that I am not worth saving. And as long as I can hold on to that hope– that I truly am worth saving– then I believe I have a chance.
I once lost five friends in a weekend; not dead but done with me. My illness is a jealous guard: sending away the ones closest to me, leaving me alone in its company. It sends them away, some of those who have been closest — exasperated, insulted, indignant, and just done. It casts them away while I lie helpless, grasping at what has become thin air.
I do it to myself, that’s what they believe, the conclusion that my illness draws them to. It’s a battle, between me and my illness, between me and my loneliness, and between me and the cliff that I teeter on, my illness at my back, urging me to jump.
The pain of losing a friend is not a pain that fades quickly with time; it lingers and burns like my shame. It is a wound that is constantly reopened by memories and by the loneliness that comes with the loss. Friendships built over years, sated with trust, and vivid with memories are hard to come by and harder to lose. But when my illness wins its victory resounds. Those that had surrounded me and protected me retreat and leave me in the darkness, my illness victorious.
You are only given so many chances, a number unknowable but finite and firm in its obscurity. And when you’ve used your chances your friends leave, one by one, even the ones that have stood strong by your side as the storm inside you rages. The pain of loneliness that comes with the calm after the storm is not easily abated. And my illness rejoices, victorious, as I use up my last chance with friends’ whose support I never thought I’d lose.
I am not alone though, my illness is always with me, a staple that will never leave my side. Unlike the friends I’ve lost, my illness is here to stay and has no notion of chances.
The pain doesn’t dissipate in the light. The emptiness remains, through the night and the day. It lingers with me, exacerbated by memory, while my illness reigns victorious.
You see, my illness watches and waits to push me off the cliff that being bipolar has set me upon. It bides its time during the good times, waiting for the slightest inclination that the tide has turned and is beginning to bring me under the water with the pull of the undertow. Once I begin to sink it gets harder to come back up for air, to escape the hands of my illness pulling me under, down to the depths and darkness in my mind. It doesn’t want to drown me; it doesn’t want to be the direct cause of my demise. While my moods blacken and I begin my ascent to the cliff, my illness goes to work. It pushes away the people that are keeping me from jumping.
One by one they leave my side. I’ve become too burdensome, too self destructive, too hard to watch. My illness pushes them away and eventually I begin to lose my grip. The darkness of being bipolar becomes overwhelming and chips away at my will to live. What is a life that has to be lived alone? How can I keep myself from falling off the cliff without my friends behind me, holding on?
There are times that I have given into my illness, times that I have fallen from the cliff, times that I have sunk too far into the depths of my despair. My illness encourages me during these times, bending me towards its will. Infiltrating my mind and sowing the seeds of self destruction. As they bloom I start to realize that I have a bottle of pills, enough to end my pain, enough to surrender and let my illness take the victory. Under the flowers of my illness I take that bottle, greedily swallowing its contents. Maybe it’s surrender, maybe it’s just giving up.
This is when my friends find me. My illness has briefly taken its eyes off them while it watches me get further from consciousness, while my breathing begins to slow, while I start to slip away from the world. My friends find me, out of my mind but still in my body. At first they are scared, they call an ambulance to save my life. But while they’re waiting for the ambulance my illness infiltrates their minds. They become indignant. How could I do this to them? How could I be so selfish? Do I want them to feel the pain of loss? They become angry with me while my illness looks on, smiling. They don’t believe me when I tell them about the power my illness has over me. They are mad. They are done. They walk away while I sit in the hospital, waiting for the visitors who do not want to come.
As my friends retreat a deep loneliness enters my being, hand in hand with my illness. The loneliness and my illness have similar goals—to isolate me from support and push me back towards the cliff. My illness is resilient; it does not given in just because I was saved from my first fall. I am not so resilient. I leave the hospital to find that my friends have turned their backs on me and my illness smiles a smile of greedy satisfaction. I struggle in the dark, unable to understand their abandonment, turning once again towards despair.
But slowly the tide changes. I wrestle myself from my illness’s grip and seek help. I call out for a lifeguard to save me from drowning; I take a step back from the edge of the cliff. I find that my illness is strong but not invincible. I discover weapons and use them to break my illness’s grip. You see, my illness cannot abide therapy and medication. Together these weapons pull me to my feet and strengthen me, readying me for a fight. I tear the hands of my illness from my neck; I begin to swim towards the shore, fighting against the tide that wants to drag me down to the depths. I turn away from the cliff and begin to walk away.
I know that these weapons are my saviors. Without them my illness’s victory is almost certain. I hold on to my weapons tightly, learning how to wield them, how to use them to keep my illness at bay. I fight back. I am still alone but I am alive.
In the end, I can’t count the things I’ve lost. Even my mind at times has deserted me, taking with it my will to survive. But it is possible to go on, even without a reason or the friends I’ve lost. I have weapons in my armory, keeping my illness at bay and keeping me out of the darkness, into the light.
The war will never be over, although I may win the battles, my illness will never surrender; it will never leave my side. But I can survive. I can win the battles. And, for now, that has to be enough.