Mixed Epsiodes, Mixed Feelings and Mixed Up Christmas’s

I hate this years Christmas.

I hate that he is dead. I hate that he died by suicide and bipolar got the best of him. I hate it. It makes me want to scream. And I have. Many times. Especially at this time of year.

The holidays were always interesting for us. Some were wonderful, others were messy, and some were downright difficult. I’m having a hard time trying to remember the good holidays; the one’s we were together, the one’s which weren’t tainted by a bipolar episode. It’s making this Christmas particularly difficult.

I’m trying to enjoy Christmas and participate in the holiday “spirit” as best I can. Maybe I’d be more pleasant with several shots of baileys in my morning coffee or a glass of straight up Appleton’s on ice. Atleast then I’d be better at faking it and cleaning the floors, making dinners and keeping up the appearance would be much more fun. For me… not so much for everyone else I guess.

To be honest… I hated last years Christmas, and the Christmas before that and the one before that. He had manic episodes in the winter. The stresses of finances, the grief of missing his mom, the excitement of Christmas  Parties and shopping. Throw in some alcohol and it was a wonderful season of bipolar mania mixed with some combination episodes that often left us saying WTF?

I will admit though, mania also made for a family spoiled at Christmas time!

But the down side was he usually left when manic. He always ran. It was hurtful, and brutal and each time hurtful words would be thrown. I understood too late it was the illness that made him want a whole new life. A different scenery, a more exciting world.

Early on, he’d leave for hours, then a weekend, then a few months. When he’d come out of it, he’d come home and we’d somehow make things work. Until one day all of the hurt became too much for all of us.

Mixed episodes were by far the most painful for me to watch him go through. I didn’t know this was what was going on at the time. It was like he had the energy of ten black horses bolting across an open field, but the pain of the worst depression weighed him down. He couldn’t sleep, and one minute he’d bawl, the next he’d be laughing and the next he’d be raging. I wasn’t sure whether to hold him, laugh with him or run from him. It was confusing to say the least and because of this many times I failed at being the supportive wife I promised him I would be.

BUT there were times I was the wife he needed, his companion, his best friend and cheerleader, often his voice of reason. And this Christmas, I’m choosing to remember THAT.

I’m going to honour him by remembering the good we did together and the happiness we created together.

I’m going to remember how we shared the best hugs, and laughs. How we loved the shit out of our children and each other. How we cried with each other when we were were both at our lowest and lifted each other up when we were both at our best. How we stood together at his mother’s funeral and my grandmother’s memorial. Our long conversations on the porch sharing a coffee and making plans. How he loved every part of me, even the parts that drove him nuts. I loved all of  him too.

I’m going to remember those  moments instead. I’m going to let go of these mixed up feelings, and the fact that he is dead, and I’m going to allow the good memories to replace the mixed episodes and arguments, the dark Christmas’s and cruel words said by family.

I’m letting that all go so maybe this years Christmas won’t hurt so bad.

Maybe bit by bit, I will enjoy Christmas this year by honouring the good in our marriage and remembering all we did right. Instead of giving Bipolar the spotlight, I’m giving it to us. To him. Maybe the void of him being gone, can be replaced by joy because he lived, gratitude because he chose to share his life with me and we lived as husband and wife with our children and we loved as a family; Peace in knowing his mind is now at rest, and his soul free. Maybe, just maybe, this years Christmas won’t suck after all.

 

Advertisements

His Suffering is now Our Suffering

I watched  him suffer many times.

Bipolar made him paranoid. Often, it left him paralyzed in bed for days or weeks without any remorse or the exact opposite; Keeping him awake for days on end tricking him into believing he was fine. It made  him spend money, talk speedily and his sentences would often be spoken in rhymes when at it’s  worst. He would become delusional, projecting his own emotions and beliefs onto others.

Earlier in our relationship, I came home to find him fetal position on the floor and after putting him to bed for the night I thought maybe he would seek counselling. I would talk to him the next day when I was less emotional myself. I hated seeing him like that; it hurt me too.

The next day came and he was fine. His mother had passed away a few months earlier and I believed this was the grief talking and with time things would improve.

And with time they did. Or at least appeared too. He would have much more energy than I, and was always making plans. Some he’d follow through with and others he’d continue talking about with no plan of action. But he was fun, vivacious, and seemingly productive. He would sleep, but seemed to have much more motivation than I after much less sleep.  I recognize  only now that those weeks that appeared better, happier and carefree were more likely periods of hypomania. But they didn’t appear to hurt him. He wasn’t suffering, he felt great. He was social, more so than usual, and up and about. I believe that had we recognized these minor highs as part of an illness in those earlier days, treatment would have prevented the extreme suffering he came to endure years later.

Bipolar Disorder is noted by many professionals, and in many articles as a degenerative brain disease, meaning the illness gets worse over time(if left untreated) and it can cause brain damage. In a study completed at the San Francisco VA Medical Center suggests people with bipolar disorder may suffer brain damage as the illness progresses. The study  from the American Journal of Psychiatry notes”“For the first time, our study supports the idea that there may be on-going damage to certain regions of the brain as the illness progresses,” (2003, Raymond Deicken).

Maybe if he had been diagnosed and sought treatment in his earlier 20’s, he wouldn’t have had to go through everything he did. The voices, hallucinations and delusions when manic. The awful lies his mind told him when depressed.

His psychiatrist warned us that with each episode there would be lasting brain damage, so it was important the condition be managed. As the illness progressed without treatment, each episode became less manageable, lasted longer and was more difficult for him to hide.

He needed a crutch and so he turned to alcohol and marijuana as a means to cope with his suffering. Only, the relief these provided were temporary and they made the illness worse.

I seen the pain in his eyes, I watched him suffer through unimaginable delusions, and devastating depression. I watched him turn on his family, friends and lose our home because the illness wouldn’t let him believe he was sick. I watched helplessly as he suffered, and so I suffered too. We were once so happy and in love before he got sick. We had a whole life together. Then he became ill.

Then he died.

The illness made him choose death. He succumbed to the lies that we’d be better off without him. His being dead may have stopped his own pain, but now, those left behind have to carry the weight without him. His suicide made me wish for death too, and made me question my own existence.

I suffer without him. I carry the pain now. The emotional torment I feel some days wondering what could’ve or should’ve been or what I could have done differently probably doesn’t even touch how he felt on a regular basis, but it’s suffocating nonetheless.

His death only dispersed his emotional pain among those he left behind. It didn’t end it. We now have the cross to bear navigating through the world without him. The children won’t have him at their weddings, or when their own children are born. Christmas will be forever changed, and our birthdays will be missing something so important. The simple daily things; a craft our daughter made at school, a new game our son played on the PS4, or the new music we may never hear because he’s not here to share it with us. We miss his singing “Sleep” and “Tree hugger” at night while putting our daughter to bed. The snuggling on the couch watching our favorite shows; Netflix binges and nachos will never be the same. I miss seeing his face in the mornings, the way he smelt and hearing him breath at night. . .

His nieces and nephews will never get to see their fun loving, giving , kind and gentle uncle at family events. His eldest niece will go without him at her wedding as well. He was a father figure to her. His sisters now grieve both the death of their mother, and their brother, and no longer have him to lean on. His cousins will miss his laugh during nights of playing board games, and Killer Bunnies. His aunt’s and uncles will miss their highly intelligent nephew, and hearing him talk about science and facts that only he knew about. His father now has to carry with him the scar of losing his only son, his child.  His best friends will miss his conversations and knowledge sharing at beer and wing nights. And we will all miss his goofiness that made us laugh authentically. He was a beautiful man.

And these are the things that are going to make us suffer until our own time has come. Bipolar is a bitch and I hate it. I hate that I have to live the rest of my life without him in this world. I hate that my children have to as well. I hate that his dad has become physically unwell because his grief was so deep. I hate that we all have to carry this with us daily.

But I made a promise, so I need to honour it even when my own suffering becomes too much. I promise to honour him during these difficult times; by listening to his favorite music, walking by the river, by talking about him,  or by making amends with those who have hurt me or our children. I promise to remember him for who he was, not what the illness made him.

And I promise to continue to talk openly and honestly about suicide, mental illness, my grief in hopes the conversations will bring awareness to others. I made the pact and I will do my best to keep it, even when my own suffering from missing him leaves me paralyzed in bed.

If you are considering suicide, please get help. Please know, your pain won’t end when you die, it will continue to be carried by those left behind, and it will run so much deeper than you will ever know. Reach out, let those who love you help you carry your pain now, while you are here. Wait. It can get better. Reach out and get support and help. You don’t have to suffer alone.

The Lie

I sat in group tonight; surviving our loss. It’s only the second time I’ve attended because of childcare difficulties and because I didn’t feel I was ready to go “there” out of fear. The last time I went was in June, 2016, and I cried the full two hours. Bawled actually. I worried my grief would affect the others in the group, and hated how emotionally raw I was in front of complete strangers. I was vulnerable, and couldn’t speak.

The past few weeks I’ve been bottling up my grief. Everything is ok. Everything is awesome. I’m ok….at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself between soccer games, college appointments, birthday parties and work. It is a lie. But it was working.

Until yesterday.

I came home after picking up my daughter from choir practice, made supper, cleaned after supper, got our daughter in the shower, reviewed the responsibilities for the evening with our son, and jumped in the car all the while forgetting to grab my cell phone and spilling coffee on my shirt on my way out the door. Everything is awesome.

About two blocks from the venue where group is held, I felt the anxiety in my chest. I felt the lie boiling just under the surface. The tension increased in my jaw, and the road before me became blurred by the tears I could no longer hold back. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. I couldn’t even make it to group before springing a leak.

I sat quietly in my chair, trying to hold back the sobs. I sit and listen to everyone check in, discuss how they are doing. They aren’t bawling like me. They seem to have it together. Some even say they feel at peace today. I feel a shit storm inside me and I can not seem to get it together. Can I say that out loud in group? “I feel a shit storm inside me and I do not want to do this ANY FUCKING MORE! Can you just give me some of your peace so I can get through a day without eating a bag of chocolate chips, or without this stupid headache damn it!”. Probably inappropriate for the situation I’m in now, but it fit for how I was feeling at the time.

When they ask me to check in I speak carefully. “I feel overwhelmed”. Not even close, but good enough. ” I hope one day I can get through group, without crying”. A smile came across both the facilitators face, and the face of the older man sitting diagonal from me. “You will” they both assure me.

As the evening progressed, and I engaged, I felt the weight inside me lifting. The more I focused on others stories, and the more I talked about my own, the less I cried. The more we discussed, the more release I felt inside, and I began to be truthful about my feelings ( I did leave out the F-bombs out of respect for the others). I talked about how I felt I was at fault. About the guilt I felt for having put up such stringent boundaries and the guilt I felt for feeling relief I no longer had to worry about him. How I just missed so desperately the man I married, and how even though we were separated, I was still grieving him as though we were always together. I never thought of us as separated. Just temporarily disengaged until he could get back on medication, and in therapy, and somewhat stable.

I felt connected; and here in this group, I didn’t feel alone, and I didn’t have to lie. They get it. They’ve been there, and they are baring witness with me, and I them.  The lie I have been telling myself is I’m ok. I’m not ok. I feel awful inside. I feel sad without my person here. I feel sick when I think of how he left me, and his children. I am devastated because I miss him. So. Fucking. Much.

I AM NOT OK. And that is ok. And I am done lying to myself. By lying to myself, I am only prolonging my grief and pain and causing myself suffering.  I am already experiencing a complicated grief, so I don’t want to make it worse. By doing so, I will be hurting not only myself, but my children. So, I’m not Ok today, and that is ok.

I’m done with the lie.

 

You Are Not Alone.. Whatever It Is..

I felt alone.

I felt alone during my husband’s first full blown manic episode. I felt I was screaming for help but no one heard me. His behaviour was erratic. He disappeared for an entire weekend only to come home and act like he had been gone an hour and couldn’t understand why I was so upset. No one believed me when I told them he was sick and needed help for all those months. He didn’t believe me. His family didn’t believe me. So, I began to second guess myself. Maybe it is just me?

This made me feel even more alone.

I felt alone after my husband’s first hospitalization. He was delusional, he was someone I didn’t recognize. He would ramble on about things that made no sense. He had become angry,  unpredictable and paranoid. The nurses asked me why I was so anxious. Why the hell wouldn’t I be anxious! This was the man I loved, and my experience with mental health at that time consisted of my own depression, and anxiety. Not psychosis. I leaned on HIM. I couldn’t lean on him now. He couldn’t lean on me either, because his mania and paranoia made me the enemy. 

The advice I got from the nurses made me feel isolated even more. When I inquired about how to approach his employer, or others, they told me to tell people he was in the hospital being assessed for medical concerns. Which, yes, he was. But this was not a part of the medical system I was familiar with. I didn’t know what questions to be asking. Or how to explain this to the children, let alone his employer. How are we to get support when we are being told to cover up the reality of the situation by the people responsible for treating him?

I felt alone when they released him too early. His father released him, signed the paperwork, and brought him home to our house. My daughter was only four, my son only fourteen. The psychiatrist didn’t equip me with any information, or what to do should the medication stop working, or he become depressed. My husband was told ” to come see me when you need too.” He came home still in the throws of mania, but not as delusional. For a long while, he continued to make decisions that hurt our family, finances and our marriage. I was lost, and anytime I challenged him on the decisions, or tried to minimize the damage done I became the bad guy. I had no idea how to handle the situation.

I felt alone after my husband’s first suicide attempt. I never seen myself as a survivor at that time. He was the survivor. He was the one battling for his life and for his mind.  I was just the bystander, his supporter, not a survivor. But by this time, I felt like I was barely surviving.

I felt alone when my own family encouraged me to hide the truth. My mom was afraid of what the extended family would think. Her own brother had died from suicide about two years prior. We never talked about it. I started to feel ashamed for no reason. This was not his fault, nor mine. Neither of us asked for this.

Then I thought enough. I couldn’t suffer in silence anymore. I needed support. I went to counselling, and started yoga. But something was missing. My friends brought great comfort, but I still felt alone. They hadn’t been through the storm. They hadn’t seen their loved one suffering the way I had. They hadn’t become the brunt of verbal attacks caused by paranoia.  I looked in my area for a group, but for caregivers there was next to nothing, and the one group I did find, was not feasible with my work schedule. So I took to the internet.

I wasn’t alone. In fact, I was surprised, touched and also upset by all the people who were just as frustrated with the system as me, just as hurt by the illness, and just as bewildered on how to handle the situations.

He wasn’t alone either. There were people everywhere posting their stories of mental health recovery, their stories of survival, fight, and successes and failures. We weren’t alone.

Unfortunately, he was not interested in support. He wanted to take his medication and get on with things. I needed the support though. He knew and supported me. I needed to know how to support him, how to take care of me and the kids. I needed to connect, to hear someone say ” I understand” and ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND. I felt I needed to be equipped with the information so I could help my family get through. So I joined an online support group, ran by experienced woman and men who were also care givers for their spouses who had bi-polar disorder. I talked openly with people who themselves were battling bi-polar disorder, who had achieved stability, and who were still working towards stability. The support group was through Mdjunction.com. Real people, who could say they understood AND actually understood. They had been there.  I wasn’t alone, and that site gave me the support, compassion, understanding and hope that I wouldn’t have been able to find in my own city. I’m so thankful for them.

After his passing, I’ve continued to read books, articles, and blogs from spouses who are in similar situations. As noted previously, Sheila Hamilton’s book “All the Things We Never Knew” provided me with a companion earlier in my grief. I knew if she were there in person, she could understand, and I know I could look at her and say, I understand. Many times I thought, me too. Or I get that. I realized if she could survive this, and her daughter could too, I could, and my children could as well. It’s heartbreaking yes. But at least we are not alone.

I looked for and found a support group; Survivors of Suicide or SOS. I’ve only been once however, due to a lack of child care. But just being there with real people, and being able to know there are places I can go for support if needed helps in some way to ease the pain.

When Anthony was initially diagnosed, I read many books about bi-polar disorder, depression and mental illness. I was desperate to gain insight, and understanding. He  either had a difficult time expressing or discussing his symptoms with me or had little insight into how the illness affected him, so I looked to others for a baseline. One of the many  books that sticks out for me was written by  Kay Jamison. Ms. Jamison is a psychiatrist, who also was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; in fact, she was diagnosed with bi-polar 1 disorder, the same type of bi-polar my husband suffered with. She writes of her experiences with depression and mania in an open and honest manner in her memoire “An Unquiet Mind“. She too, struggled with suicidal ideation, and the madness during mania. I wonder if he reached out or read more himself, maybe Anthony wouldn’t have felt so alone.

If you are a care giver for someone with a mental illness, know you are not alone. If you are grieving the death of a loved one from suicide, please know, you are not alone. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, know you are not alone. If you are considering suicide, know others have too, and others have reached out and gotten help.

Please see below some of the resources I have used below. I encourage others to comment or add to the list and hopefully, someone will find it useful. Just remember you are not alone. 

The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide – David J. Miklowitz 

An Unquiet Mind – Kay Jamison

All the Things We Never Knew – Shiela Hamilton 

International Suicide Hotlines- www.suicide.org

Mdjunction- www.mdjunction.com

Survivors of suicide  –http://www.crisissupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SOS_handbook.pdf