The puzzle piece.

f5ba46271830943139e54c603e1e098c_08e6b4a7a3a7cc2f68ea3320651660-autism-puzzle-piece-clip-art_5617-5703Autism. ADHD. Sit still. Participate. Listen. Be quiet. Don’t talk so much about dinosaurs all the time. People aren’t going to want to be your friend if you “______.” Pay attention in class. You have to. You have to. You have to. You have to. You have to.

I have to say, the school district, classes, teachers, extra helpers, and services my child receives at PUBLIC school are AMAZING. Public. We don’t pay any extra. He gets things I couldn’t afford to pay for myself and would probably not have thought of. Everyone loves him, accepts him, and assists him.

But.

It’s their job to make sure he’s able to conform to and fit in with society. (Really, it’s institutionalized learning’s job to do that for/to all of our kids…)

So I got confused… I believe my husband and I got confused. We thought it was our job to make him fit in too.

This gives me pause, because I don’t ever want him to not understand that due to his differences, he will face some challenges. I’m different, and I have challenges (re: bipolar disorder II). I am open with him about that.

However.

It is so easy for us to want him to mold himself into something “easier to manage” at home, too. Avoid meltdowns, please be quiet, no we don’t want to talk about dinosaurs anymore, please stop repeating yourself, calm your body.

I’m not sure why it took me so long, but since I have been achieving some big progress with my own mental health journey of peaceful acceptance, it dawned on me that perhaps my son never feels totally accepted, even at home.

What really got me is that recently, when we’d have an argument, or he’d do something that was not okay (for any 9 year old child, not just an Autistic one, you know 9 year old boys are kind of turds, really), his eyes would well up and he’d say “I’m sorry for my Autism.” This is heartbreaking.

But what am I doing to challenge that his Autism is “bad?” How am I reinforcing that he’s a cool person, all on his own, his uniqueness, creativity, and mannerisms included in his awesomeness? And that he is also not wholly defined by his neuro-atypicality and is a complete individual without bounds and chains?

Last night I told him… I wanted him to stop holding back who he was at home. I wanted to hear those weird dino facts. I wanted him to wiggle and dance and bounce. I wanted all of him.

You know what? In those moments, he wasn’t Autistic. He was a 9 year old little boy and he said, “I’m happy, mom. I’m so happy.”

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Challenging my truth… keeping house.

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Because there’s no place like HOME.

I would like to preface this post with this: I am not a doctor, nor am I trying to be. I am not a medicine hater – if that is what works for you, then please, please do what works. I, myself, am moving away from it after years, and years of medication, for my bipolar disorder. What I have discovered for myself, for my journey, is that maintaining the health of my soul, and the health of my thought life, are the best medicines. I am hoping and praying they are the only therapy I need. If not… I’ll revisit. Please create your therapy plan with the help of those you trust and quality, professional doctors. Please find doctors who listen well, and treat you with respect. This is very important.

My brain has waves of energy – something I will always navigate. I’m on kind of a neutral energy wave right now after a fairly good “high” and so joy isn’t a constant vibration, I have to make sure I’m seeking it. I haven’t found enough time for scripture lately, and I was very restless last night… My husband and I had a small disagreement we mutually blew out of proportion… Fault was a 50/50 split. He went to bed before me; we had made up, but I felt out of sorts and despondent. I has been my life-long tendency to feel that way whenever my relationships aren’t “perfect”, especially when that disharmony is with my husband. But I’ve learned to check in with myself.

I asked myself if I really had to feel this way… And I realized I didn’t. I realized I was giving my husband too much responsibility – I was unconsciously asking him to be perfect (when I am decidedly not holding myself to that standard), and I was asking him to make me feel happy and peaceful. None of those things can be accomplished by another human being, even one so dearly loved. So I shot up a fumbling “Whose am I?” to the only One who knows… And I was at peace again.

Learning to question reality. Reality vs the space in my head. I don’t want to say “I’ve arrived” because you always keep learning, always want to grow. But my brain doesn’t feel like a prison anymore. What felt like a cold, decaying prison cell with unfriendly jailers is beginning to feel like a house. A home.

There are rooms in my brain house now. Rooms, closets, storage, workspaces, sanctuaries, places to be creative. There are chores and maintenance, and sometimes like in real life you have to look at the clutter and say, “I just can’t today… Too tired…”

It’s hard to fix messes from a place of exhaustion or a place of powerlessness. And sometimes not fixing the mess can drain you more, especially when you beat yourself up about it. You must learn to say, “Okay mess, you just have to sit there and I’ll deal with you tomorrow but I’m going to let myself really rest and not make myself feel guilty.” (We are commanded to rest, y’all.

Sometimes you get stuff done. You are a powerhouse. You are doing dishes, and vacuuming floors, and making everything WORK. You are finding the parts of yourself, of your mind, of your thoughts that need a little tidying up, and you have found the strength to get after it.

Sometimes you get creative and you make BEAUTY. You get a new picture and hang it on the wall; you grab some flowers from the farmer’s market and place them on your table. Your brain house is a HOME and you can enjoy it and flourish. 

But SOMETIMES… You find that you’ve tripped, and you’ve fallen into the cat box and Oh my goodness… that is disgusting wtf, get out of the cat box – that is for crap what is wrong with you?!

So if you’re wise? You get out of the cat box, because you don’t belong there. (Go take a shower, girl.) That receptacle is there with a purpose – it’s a toilet. It’s there so you can scoop cat crap out and throw it away. That receptacle is so that filth is kept to a manageable level that you can deal with, so things don’t get out of hand. It has one job. Reign in the crap, so you can deal with the crap.

This is also a good time to point out that CRAP IS A PART OF LIFE. THERE WILL BE CRAP. THINGS ARE NOT PERFECT IN THIS WORLD. But… You don’t make a seat in the middle and settle in to watch TV. I’m sure this reads as humorous (and it is meant to), but it’s also serious. 

How often do we become so consumed with our crappy, destructive thoughts that we make them a dwelling for our being, instead of understanding that they can be dealt with and removed? And don’t tell me you’ve never sat down and watched a season of something terrible on Netflix from your brain’s cat box before, cause we all have, honey.

The beauty is you DON’T HAVE TO. You don’t belong there! Take a look around and realize that you’ve tripped and fallen into the cat box and GET UP.

Get into your brain’s kitchen and whip up something nourishing for your soul! Seek truth and fill yourself up with that!

Get into your arts and crafts room and make some beauty. Look for it. See what’s already there and make some more.

Climb into the tub in your brain’s house and find some relaxation.

For the first time in my life I am not trapped in a jail cell in my mind. My brain makes sense. It’s not perfect but it’s a good brain. It’s good. Because I know WHOSE I am. And that shows me who I am. I can be at home… any time, and any place. Love to all of you.

Challenging My Truth, pt 1 of…

tumblr_o1bkm0IViW1rz97e3o1_1280[Insert declaration/apology for lack of posts. Blah blah, blah.]

32. Thus far, in a little over ONE month, year 32 around the sun has been the most productive period of personal growth I have experienced in years. It’s about time, too. It’s not that I haven’t been growing until now, it’s more like the Gardener, His helpers, and myself have been planting seeds in my life, and this year all the plants bloomed.

I decided awhile ago that I was going to live my life in outrageous honesty. Radical truth. If this meant I discovered some stuff that wasn’t so great, cool. If this meant it was time to finally acknowledge and honor what was great, awesome.

I am wont to post loooooong posts, and I am kind of over that (as are you, more than likely), but this is a looooooooooooong topic. So I hope to make this a series, but I am not good at sticking to things so we’ll see how it goes. (See, honesty).

Today’s Subject #1: Mild-to-Moderate Agoraphobia & Vehophobia

Although this is actually the most recent discovery I have made of myself, or at least the most recent I’m acknowledging after burying it deep and making excuses, I’m starting here because it involves you. More than likely, if you’re reading this, you’ve been affected by this so I want you to know.

Ever since I can remember, the act of getting into a car and driving it has freaked me out, particularly if I’m driving to:

  • a place I’ve never been before
  • somewhere in a very metropolitan/busy/confusing area (i.e. Seattle; WTF one-ways)
  • somewhere outside of a 10 mile radius of my home
  • honestly could be driving anywhere on the wrong day
  • a commitment (appointment; friend date; Buy Nothing pick-up; recording studio time) – the added pressure of having to go somewhere, even somewhere I really, really want to be, somehow makes the anxiety go up

This has actually evolved into just not wanting to go anywhere. Even if I’m not driving. If I am leaving, I prefer it to be with my husband, where he is driving, and we are going somewhere familiar. And often I don’t even want to do that.

This is where it has gotten out of hand.

I work from home, which has probably deepened the trench of “hiding-out” in my life. On the one hand, it is a grace and mercy that allows me to stay comfortably employed (I had to fight against this disorder most mornings when I worked outside of the home). On the other hand, it does little to challenge my most comfortable patterns.

So, this has evolved (or devolved?) into me not leaving the house much. Even to see the many fabulous friends I have in my neighborhood who I could simply walk to see. I have driven myself further, and further, and further into my comfort zone.

This is very confusing to my psyche, as I am an extreme extrovert. I LOVE people! I love getting to know people, sharing thoughts, spending time. But apparently not enough for the light to overcome the dark.

So here’s why I’m writing this, beyond me figuring out stuff that I need to figure out.

To anyone and everyone who needs this from me:

I’m sorry for canceling on you.

I’m sorry for any number of excuses I’ve made.

I’m sorry for being late to stuff. I was talking myself into putting on pants. Pants are freaking scary.

I’m sorry for avoiding making plans in the first place.

I’m sorry for seeming disinterested in your thing. I’m not actually disinterested. I’m having a mild panic attack.

I’m sorry for seeming like I want you to be proud of me and/or grateful to me, just for showing up. You’re actually correct. I do want you to be proud of me cause it was probably very hard for me to get there. I don’t need special attention and I don’t feel like God’s gift to “x” gathering I’m at; just know that me showing up is special because it means I overcame the battle in my brain.

The saddest sufferer of my condition is my son. I should be taking him to the park. I should be going on trips to the zoo. I should be, I should be, I should be. I am not. I am trapped. WE are trapped.

I’m not sure where to go from here, but I’m beginning to live in the light. I’m here, raw, sharing my heart. Encourage me, I guess. Know that I’m not avoiding YOU, I’m trapped in my head. Perhaps even though it is enabling, you can offer to drive. Many friends do this for me; I think they’re on to me. I think they know what’s going on IN HERE (this old brain cage of mine).

I am challenging all of my truths – by this I mean the things I’ve told myself and assumed are true. I know that I allow myself to believe I am scared to leave my nest; it’s my default pattern and one I need to challenge. Leaving my life of addiction behind has been a journey – I’m over 15 months sober now and it really reveals what you’ve been hiding from. I’ve been hiding from life and I’m ready to step into the light.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. If you know me and love me, thanks for your patience. I love you, too.

Long and overdue

So there are a few reasons that I haven’t blogged in forever, and one of them is practical:

My laptop totally died. It was a little over five years old and we tried to install Windows 10 on it and it just went “nope,” and went to its technical grave. We ended up having to replace our desktop as well (we are now total Apple fanboys with a sacrilegious Samsung TV), and laptop replacement was just not a financial priority. So it’s me and my iPad up in my office and you can see how well that went as far as blogging goes.

I missed blogging a lot, so I tried to think creatively. This is my solution:


A cheap Bluetooth keyboard from Amazon cleared things up and I’m here blogging because I can type like a normal person. Perhaps you can handle the little glass keyboard for long drawn out periods of typing but it drives me nuts.

Reason number two:

Business, depression and the case of “do not wanna.”

I had a fabulous summer of productivity. I gave up some unhealthy habits, reconnected with God, got involved in a couple of Bible studies, changed my work schedule to an earlier shift to have more productive off-time hours, and generally was just succeeding my way through life. I wrote some of the best songs I’ve written thus far and developed some close and wonderful relationships. This is bipolar dream-time. A mania of positivity and light. My ability to focus and “do all the things” at an all time, ramped up, super-human high.

It’s been a rough few years since I have had steady positive manias. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 due to some very uncharacteristic behavior on my part, I had manias over and over and didn’t recognize them for what they were because they were so good. The looked good to me, and they looked good to others. Painting 9 paintings in a month when I was pregnant, when I’d never painted anything before. Unpacking my whole house, pretty much solo, down to paintings hung on the wall, in two days.

These unhealthy manias looked like insomnia, partying, and self-destruction. Things I never would have accepted in my life before I began to seek out voraciously, but nothing satisfied me anyway. Just temporary placation to fill a void that had begun to build up inside of me… Just caving into what I thought I wanted. I mean… that’s kind of the bipolar M.O. Something sounds like a good idea, and you do it. You’re “invincible” and nothing can stop you. Nothing can hurt you. Nothing can touch you. Until it does. Then the crushing guilt, the instability, the fear that next time you could do worse and worse things and hurt more and more people. I think I have written about this enough times that I don’t need to elaborate any further.

What I’m not sure I’ve covered before, and perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s whirring around in my brain and I think it’s going to come out regardless, is how I now don’t really believe that the things I did at that time in my life were all that “uncharacteristic.” I’m going to tread very lightly here and say that I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist, and to say that I speak for the bipolar community at large and that my experience is universal would be ridiculous and grandiose. So please know that I am speaking to my own life and no one else’s.

As I worked my way through the last four years of my life with counseling, self assessment and awareness, and the help of those who love me, I have come to the conclusion that there was a darkness inside of me aching to burst out and that yes, I suffer from mental illness, but it was only the broken padlock to a storage unit full of crap that needed to be dealt with. Do I think that my bipolar broke the seal on that stuff and let it all out? Absolutely. Do I think that part of the equation was beyond my control and “not my fault?” Absolutely. I think that if I were psychologically built “normal,” I would have been able to continue to keep it all inside and had a “normal” life, just like everybody else. Resentments, disappointments, anger, confusion, self involvement, selfishness, self-loathing… how many of us experience those things in life? Pretty much everyone. Those thoughts and attitudes are the cornerstone of unhealthy human behavior, and they need to be dealt with. You have to look those things square in their ugly faces and say, “look, we need to figure this out.” When you don’t, it leaks out instead of being worked out. And that happens to everyone, not just the psychologically atypical.

So I dealt with it. I dealt with my crap, I acknowledged the parts of me that needed fixing. I made a lot of apologies. I made a lot more mistakes. I corrected behaviors and then fell back into them again. I prayed a lot. A lot of other people prayed for me. And I was (am!) blessed enough to be surrounded by people who were and are pulling for me, supporting me, and doing their very best to understand my complications.

This summer I had one final experience, after my baptism, that looked like the old me that I was trying to leave behind. The me that picked temporal satisfaction over lasting and healthy enlightenment. I divorced her that day. I had one final talk with her and said, “I’m clinging to you because you’re safe. I have been okay with you being here because you’re not a challenge, and everyone expects you to not do any better. Heck, a ton of people really enjoy you. Doing better is terrifying because it means you can do worse. Staying in a non elevated position means not disappointing anyone… not disappointing myself. But you’re not me anymore, and I’m leaving you behind. GO. AWAY.” I was free. I just let go (there’s a poem like that floating around the interwebs somewhere).

So then the mania that had flooded my brain and my body again became glorious because it wasn’t tainted. It was full of the grace and majesty of Christ and the blessing of healthy pursuits and the beauty of raw creativity. It was energized and magical. My connection to Holiness was direct and pure. I wanted things that were REAL that the world doesn’t understand to be real but I do. I do.

Now we’re getting to the downward spiral, and honestly, some heartbreak for me personally. Followed by more enlightenment, it gets better, seriously. 😉

My husband was observing me. He was enjoying my mood, my better wife-dom, mom-dom, all-the-things-dom, but he was getting concerned. He came to me and said, “You’re doing too much. You need to slow down and you need to drop something from your schedule.”

Mania me is extremely overconfident and self-righteous. “Um… no I’m not! I’m handling this all amazingly! I’m reading three books right now and studying the Bible with you every night and being a good mom, and praying regularly, and feeling connected with God, and helping counsel friends who are going through hard times, and, and and…”

Look at me. Look what I can do. Look how strong I am. Look how useful I can be. Useful. Useful. Useful.

Oh, to be useful. Dependable. My mom is useful. I never have understood it. She can handle being on several committees at once, and come home and knit stuff, and make some hand-made cards, and then go to her sister’s house for coffee. I don’t get it. This is like her M.O. She’s a behind the scenes, make it come together, never need the spotlight type of gal. And if she says she’s going to do something… she makes it happen.

I always wanted to be like her, you know? When I was a little girl I thought I’d grow up to be this pro-mom type because that’s the type of mom I had. And I never, never did.

Except when I’m manic, and not a self-indulgent, emotionally stunted mess! Hey, that version of myself can get it done, man! But she slowly tapers off. She wanes and waxes, and I can’t depend on her to stick around when I need her to. Manic me writes checks that depressed me, and heck, sometimes even just plain old stable me, cannot begin to cash.

The school year hit me hard because it is an always type of thing. I HATE ALWAYS THINGS. I already have a job, and I already have a family, and I love them to death, but they are ALWAYS things, and I just don’t have enough room in my psyche for more of that, thank you very much. EVERY Monday through Friday my big second grader has to wake up at 7:00 am and take 45 minutes to put one leg in his underwear and perhaps a sock on in the correct direction. EVERY Monday through Friday I have to clock into work by 7:00 and I’m expected to talk to people! (If you ever read this boss, I love and appreciate my job, and know how lucky I am to work for you) The nerve of life to go on with the same level of expectation every day, of every year, for years and years and years.

The first thing that I lost was my direct, energetic connection to God. What had felt like iMessaging a buddy who was always near their phone started to feel like two tin cans and a string. I never doubted God was there at the other end, but I couldn’t hear Him clearly and it felt like betrayal, honestly. It felt like I had the rug pulled under me, just when I thought I was doing well and obeying him and being a good and faithful servant. It almost physically hurt. All I wanted at that point was to sleep.

So I started lacking the energy to go to four nights a week of commitments. I’d miss one here and there and feel that wretched guilt piling up inside me again. Flake. Commitment-phobe. Worthless. Disappointment. Your friends aren’t going to trust you to do what you say you’re going to do. They won’t understand that the thought of putting on pants makes you want to cry. That you aren’t fun and bubbly and talkative right now so they won’t think it’s “you” and you’ll find yet another way to let everybody down.

Finally a week came where I went to nothing. I did nothing, I saw no one. I never changed out of my pajamas. Missed all 4 commitments. I was so ridden with guilt over this that it drained as much of my energy as if I’d gone to all of them! I had to do that horrible things wives do occasionally and look my very loving and wise husband in the eyes and say, “You were right.” And I quit everything.

It was the right choice. This was about a month a go and I have turned around completely again. My mania is back (or is it stability?) I’ve seen friends a few times, started attending church again, and I redecorated my whole first floor (it looks amaze). I permed one of my My Little Ponies’ hair on q-tips. (Yes, yes I did.) And I’ve realized a few things.

  • I have stopped looking at my bipolar disorder as a negative and started looking at it as an alternative brain wiring. I will continue to call it bipolar for the benefit of discussing it with other people but internally, I’m comprehending that it’s the way that I am.
  • I am seeing the spiritual parts of it, as they may wax and wane, as a gift. With tears in my eyes, the other day it occurred to me that maybe not everyone gets to feel the direct connection to God like I am blessed to a few times a year. Maybe those periods of time are a day, a week, or an entire summer. Maybe I go 4 weeks not feeling that immense joy and light, and maybe I go 8 months. But those times exist and if they are something gifted to me by God then however much time He chooses to bless me with I will celebrate. When we go back to the tin-can phone system, He and I, I’ll try to remember that one day he’ll shoot me an iMessage. And even if He never does again, He did. He did.
  • The creative parts are a joy that I cherish. When the muse is flowing I am a powerhouse of song writing, and thoughtful expressions of dynamic thought. When it’s time to be creative, it’s time to be creative. When it’s not time, maybe I should read a book. Or take a class on HTML5. Or do nothing. Maybe I am to learn the art of waiting.
  • Not all parts of me are good. Not all parts are bad. I think that true mental and emotional health for any of us is to get to know our faults and positives and figure out which faults are fixable, and which are just those you cope with. For example, if I say it is an excusable part of my character to belittle someone I love for sport, I am an asshole. You can, and probably should fix that. But if I somehow feel like I am at fault for going through periods of depression, of nothingness, and therefore feel like I should be able to “fix” it when I am likely never going to be able to, I am doing myself a disservice. I should instead figure out how to prepare for and deal with those times in a healthy way that causes the least amount of damage to myself and others.
  • I will likely never be “dependable.” This means I: will never volunteer for the PTSA; may not be able to show up to your party that I was so excited for, because pants; will do my best to stay in communication with my friends but may drop off the face of the earth for a bit (please don’t take it personally); will probably not be traditionally useful. Around 60% of people with bipolar disorder cannot hold employment and I have been at my job for over 8 years. Around 90% of marriages where one person is bipolar end in divorce and I have been married for almost 13 years. (And I don’t believe in bad luck, so you can hush it with that #13 business.) I have just enough inside of me to overcome the odds and anyone who isn’t okay with that probably has no business being in my life. (For both of our sakes.)
  • I AM: creative, thoughtful, passionate, loving, transparent, honest, loyal  and diplomatic. In the zombie apocalypse I will probably not be able to help with the horses, or grow the vegetables, but I will be able to entertain. I’ll bring my ukulele and my bad jokes.
  • I am blessed, blessed, blessed to have a long queue of people who seem to love me just the way I am.

If you made it through this long-winded post, well, thank you. Thanks for sticking with it. It’s hard to stay in a period of self discovery when you’ve hit the skids. It comes so naturally to “learn about myself” and others when my energy levels are high and buzzing with electricity. The triumph of this entire cycle is that I was able to keep learning through my depression and to not turn back to destructive forms of comfort to cope.
Looking forward to 2016. With thankfulness, Christina.

The Beginning, and My Motivation

This post will be a trip into my recent history – I am planning on doing a whole set of posts on the (physical) health journey I am on right now. All of that info is meaningless, however, without my full story. It feels very raw and personal to share this with all of you, but I am ready. Thank you for sharing your time with me by reading this long-winded post, if you choose to do so. If you’re near and dear to me, you’ll know most of this already. If it’s new information to you, please accept my humility in sharing this with you, in order to maybe help someone out there who may need to read this. Love to all.

glovesI am finally at a place I have sought for most of these 30 years. A place of understanding, calm, and balance. I still need more of this. I am still imperfect and broken, but I am mending, rebuilding. I am growing. Most importantly, perhaps, I am shaping the person I want to be for the rest of my days.

November of 2011 began my undoing. I spent a long, long time, being undone. I was living in a new place, with no friends or family within 30 minutes, crippling fear of driving (still haven’t quite fixed that one yet), and a depression like I hadn’t felt in years. I’d felt good for so long, in my immaturity and lack of understanding, I had convinced myself I would never have any more down times. I was “fixed.” After starving myself on an ill-advised diet program for 7 months, I had a (briefly) thin-ish (for me, practically supermodel) weight, healthy (looking) body, a pretty house. My husband and I had good jobs, nice cars. I was, to borrow a term I’ve heard from my sister, an Easter bunny. All lovely chocolate on the outside, but brittle, and hollow on the inside. When I broke, I broke hard.

Broken… In my head, heart, emotions and behavior. On most days I could barely hold it together. I would weep, flung out on my office couch, barely ever getting out of my bathrobe, and hopeless. I finally called a consulting nurse and she said that with my recent, too-rapid weight loss, it was likely that my medication that had worked for so long was now at an imbalance and I should get into the doc immediately.

I did what I always had done, and saw my primary care doctor, who was the biggest sweetheart ever. He kept gently pushing me towards seeing a “real psychiatrist,” and I was resistant. The last one of those I’d seen was not the kindest person and he made me feel like it was my fault that I needed his help. That does not make for a good patient/provider relationship. At all. I let my primary doctor try a new med on me. Disaster. I think we tried once or twice more, and finally, July 23rd of 2012, I went to an intake appointment with one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever had the honor of working with, Dr. L. She has a calming spirit, and a thorough methodology. She suggested a new medication, and we began the process of healing.

Dr. L was my new nudger, this time nudging me towards counseling. You see, as you may already know, MEDS ARE NOT ENOUGH. The world is too big, too vast, too heavy, and too joyous to be contained or held off by a little white tablet. She had to work on me for quite some time before I was willing to go in that direction. I wasn’t ready to be better yet. I was stuck in a world of self-punishment, and I thought I deserved to stay there. I was also bitter, angry, and selfish.

I still floundered. I wasn’t depressed as much, but I became entrenched in Mania Land. I did things and said things and thought things that I never thought possible for me. Prior to “The 2011 Breakdown,” I had been manic before. I realized this after my BPD2 diagnosis. The thing is… my mania was so positive, it was hard to look down on it. I did things like create 9 paintings in one month while I was pregnant, and when we moved to our new home, I had 42 boxes unpacked, pictures hanging on the wall, and shelves decorated… the 3rd day. Things like that. This was different. So many feelings, so much pain.

The worst physical and mental feelings that I’ve ever had, rapid cycling, put me in a constant state of turmoil and imbalance. I never knew when that would hit me, and lived in fear. Mostly, however, there was the mania. Barely sleeping for days, irrational thoughts, damaging and harmful relationships with people who dragged me down further, partying… I didn’t know the person I had become, and I didn’t like her, but I also got really comfortable with my new “do whatever I want” lifestyle. It seemed impossible to get mentally healthy again, so for a while, I didn’t try. I wallowed in my pain, and in the wrong kind of pleasure. I had become a different kind of shell… a hard, candy shell with a bitter filling. I was consumed with my anger, and my anger fueled my ability to keep misusing my life and those around me.

I got sick of it. I got sick of this person I’d become. I decided to become a fighter.

January of 2013, I finally relented and went to counseling. and I met Dr. K. In serendipity that can only be seen as miraculous, I ended up with not ONE but TWO amazing mental health care providers. Dr. K taught me so many things, with the most prominent lessons I’ve learned being:

  • Let go of the word “should.” Doing things because you “should” will always leave you out of healthy motivation. Find another reason to do, or not do things.
  • Let go of guilt. She described guilt as a belief that you can change the past if you feel badly enough about it or punish yourself enough. No matter how much you sit and marinate in your guilt, you can’t change what has happened before. You can only learn lessons from your mistakes and failures, and work towards being different and new.
  • Nothing lasts forever, good or bad, and for a person with bipolar disorder, this is especially true. If I’m feeling really manic, or if I’m feeling very depressed, I can rest assured that pretty soon, a new phase will come in.
  • I couldn’t choose how sick I was, but I could choose the person I wanted to be behind the illness.

That last bit was a huge piece of my puzzle. I had to dig into years of pain and frustration and wrong attitudes, and HULK SMASH! It was hard work. It was difficult, hard, soul-shattering work. Building a human is hard enough… rebuilding a human is something else. To rebuild, you have to tear down, and to tear down you have to look at some pretty gross piles of rubble. Anyone who has ever done a home renovation, a two word term that causes shuddering and haunting memories for all involved in such a thing, you know that kind of work isn’t done over night. There are piles of paper, and STUFF, and misplaced items, and you have to step around things, and generally, everything looks like a HOT DAMN MESS.

It’s the same, or worse, inside of a person. I was a HOT DAMN MESS for quite a while, but slowly, almost without my knowledge, I started to get better, but I messed up a few times. BIG things that were hard to get over and get past. Things that needed a lot of forgiveness and grace, from myself, and from those closest to me. I still held on to some of my bitterness like a security blanket; it had been there for years and giving it up felt dangerous. It felt exposed, to let my heart be open, trusting, and free of negativity and old wounds. But I did it.

I did it.

October 2013 I fully committed myself to being the woman I want to be. I forgave. I chose beauty, and love, and grace. I chose daylight, freedom and truth, and gave up the shackles of darkness, concealment, and shadows. I still mess up, but they’re little mistakes.

It’s November 2014, and I’m honoring that girl. All of her. The broken girl who felt like nothing would ever get better. The broken girl with an inkling of hope, who decided to give life a real, honest try. Who cried too deeply and for too long, and who laughed too loudly and unnaturally. Who exposed all the wrong parts of herself and kept the light locked inside the darkness.

The girl who then laid aside her selfishness and chose to try again. Who built, and broke, and built and broke.

She tried. She succeeded.

When I think about the food, health, and physical journey I’m taking on, I know I couldn’t have done it when I was sick. Sometimes I mourn the wasted years, and the damage I did to my body with food, alcohol, and no sleep. But that girl wouldn’t go away, and she wouldn’t be ignored. She had to be helped and healed. As I mentioned in Frozen and Thawed, I had a lot of helpers. I certainly did not, and probably could not have, walked this road on my own.

But I did walk the road.

I owe it to that girl to take care of myself now. She could have given up and become a statistic, but she fought and she didn’t give up. I look back on that girl now and I can love her. I can love her in her brokenness, and I choose to honor her struggle by taking care of the woman I’ve become.

Frozen and Thawed

ImageWarning: This review and commentary on the film Frozen is chock full of spoilers. You probably won’t enjoy it if you haven’t seen the movie, and I strongly recommend you see it. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE SEE IT! You won’t regret it.

That said, this is my story, and not strictly a review of the film. There are plenty of those, and many of them are very good. But this is my story.

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It’s been a long time since I identified with a character so strongly; it amazes me that a cartoon meant for children could touch me so deeply, but from the first few minutes, I was enthralled. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Disney’s Frozen can attest to it’s beautiful animation, the likability of the characters, and the enchanting storyline. I was repeatedly blown away by the delicate way they navigated very mature story lines of loss, self discovery, isolation, and inner turmoil. This isn’t Pixar Cars, people.

I’ve read reviews and prose on how Elsa’s turmoil symbolizes various things, and I am not going to comment on that here. After all, how we view something is largely colored by our experiences and prejudices, and I’m sure that Disney and it’s extremely talented team that made this movie did not have my personal storyline in mind. That said, after sitting down and analyzing what made silent tears start flowing about 20 minutes in, and on and off, and on and off throughout the film until the end, this is what I’ve come up with.

I am Elsa.

No, no, not because I’m a beautiful, ice wielding super woman. (I WISH!) I certainly don’t have parents that locked me away from the world for being different, and I’m thankful and grateful they are still alive and well. But I do have a little, red-headed sister. And, being different, I have lived through a very trying time in my life when she, and many other people who love me, were shut out of my life and sometimes even my heart.

For me, it wasn’t a magical gift, after all we live in the “real world.” It was something, however, that made me different and set apart from other people. Since I was a young girl, I have struggled with mental illness; when I was a child and teenager, we thought it was depression. We were wrong – it was bipolar disorder, but at that time, a steady stream of anti-depressants were introduced to numb me. Conceal, don’t feel. This worked for a time, it got me through my adolescence.

My early twenties were hard, with a lot of pressures. My husband and I chose to get married young. We were kids, really, and the realities of adulthood, finances, and marriage itself were overwhelming for two people with such limited life experience. We faced many trials as a couple and as the world seemed to bury me, I buried my emotions and frustrations, trying to be strong. Conceal, don’t feel. The “storm inside” continued to swirl and I could push it down, but it was always a threat, below the surface. I tried to be “normal,” I tried to ignore this monster inside of me, but it was always there. I prayed, I sang worship songs at church, I talked about it with people I consider wiser than me. Be the good girl I always have to be.

In my mid twenties, I finally thought I “had control” of myself. Years of muscling through life’s obstacles made me feel “strong.” I felt pretty successful, with a good marriage, and some stability. We were buying a house, we had an adorable child. But deep inside a real storm was brewing. I had lost weight with extreme calorie restriction; too much, too fast. For a person who doesn’t suffer from mental illness, this isn’t always a problem, though I think anyone who makes a drastic, quick change in their body is bound to have some issues. For me… it was a recipe mental breakdown.

Moving to a new house, in a city I knew nothing about, with no friendly neighbors right beside me, I was isolated. I may as well have lived in a beautiful ice castle. My husband was by my side, of course, but with our work schedules, I was alone with Xander much of the time. The changes in my body had began a veritable landslide in my brain chemistry and I was fading fast. It first manifested as the worst depression imaginable.

You know the scene right after Elsa and Anna’s parents pass away, where Anna begs Elsa to please finally have some contact with her, and both of them sit on either side of the door? Elsa’s despair at the loss of her parents was hard enough, but she was also losing the only two people who knew her pain, who knew what was going on inside of her. For the first time, not only did she face her powers and the crippling fear of what they could do, but she also faced them completely and utterly alone. Anna was right there to reach out to, but Elsa had been taught to keep her powers hidden.

ImageOnly she couldn’t.

I started to cry at this scene. The pain that Elsa feels, she finally can’t keep it in at all. Years of stuffing it down, pretending not to have this difference, it finally explodes out of her in her grief at her parents untimely death, and it’s not pretty. It’s messy, and jagged, and sad. And on the other side of the door, poor Anna wonders why she and Elsa can’t be close. She wonders where her sister went. Why she doesn’t want anything to do with her.

Three years go by. Three. Years. Did that impact you, the way it did me? Elsa was stuck in her semi-self made prison, hating herself, hating her powers, isolated completely, dreading the day when she would finally have to be exposed to scrutiny. Terrified that people would find out who she really was. Again – facing all of this completely alone. And poor Anna was stuck on the other side of the door, wondering why her sister didn’t love her any more, never knowing all the while that what Elsa really hated was herself.

Fast forward to the party, where after a brief and totally touching reunion with her sister, the pressure in Elsa finally culminates, and she snaps, hurting and scaring a lot of people. That finally happened to me, when I had my first manic break and spun out of control. And my first reaction?

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Just like Elsa, I finally let go of pretending to be normal, and I gave myself over fully to the mess that I had brewing inside. Some of what came out of me was beautiful. I was more creative than I had been in years, and more social. I was so outgoing and if you didn’t know something was wrong, you could have assumed I was just full of life, and carefree. And you couldn’t have been more wrong.

I hurt people. I hurt myself. I did things that weren’t good for me, or anyone else. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” is a world that doesn’t exist, in real life or even in this fairy tale story. Elsa’s beauty and skill made a masterpiece, but her rage and self focus wasn’t without consequence and it affected everyone around her. Now thank goodness my explosive behavior wasn’t an eternal winter, and that my actions affected a small number of people and not a village. But it really did affect people.

Anna fights through a harsh, intense winter to get to her sister, and she makes Elsa see that there are consequences to what she does, and that her isolation isn’t the answer. I read a review of this movie that said that Frozen teaches us that defiance and selfishness is the right thing, but they obviously focused only on those lines of “Let it Go” claiming freedom and throwing off restrictions, and chose to pay no attention to the heart wrenching lyrics of “For the First Time In Forever (reprise).” “I’m such a fool, I can’t be free – no escape from the storm inside of me!” Elsa realizes that she doesn’t live in a vacuum, but her self loathing turns her back to fear, instead of listening to Anna’s invitation to solve these problems as a team. We see Elsa’s gorgeous castle, a creation of her self acceptance, turn grotesque and frightening as she tries once again to pretend her magic doesn’t exist.

ImageLike Elsa, I was lucky to have people who loved me who never gave up on me. They fought through my winter: my bad moods, my self loathing, my desire to keep up my selfish behaviors so I didn’t have to try to get better and fix my mistakes, or even just to hide away all together so I couldn’t hurt anyone anymore. Like Elsa, my heroes, my love warriors didn’t give up on me. And like Elsa, when things couldn’t have possibly gotten any worse, many people, helped me see that with true love, healing is possible. I even have a few stories up my sleeves of some dramatic sacrifices made on my behalf, selfless acts I can’t repay.

Finally, Elsa and I share the most important thing of any of this: a happy ending. Nothing is going to take away my bipolar – it’s a part of my brain, and therefore a part of me, and my life. Nothing was going to take away Elsa’s wintery magic; she could stuff it, and fear it, and it would become a weapon to destroy her and others. Her other choice, and mine, was to own up to it, and figure out what parts of it are beautiful and well, magical. Bipolar makes me very receptive to other people’s emotions. It makes me creative, and theatrical. It makes me crave realism and transparency in relationships, and it has drawn people to me who are kind, loving, and understanding. I honestly have the best family and friends in the whole world. Having bipolar disorder is kind of like what Elsa deals with – her magical powers are a part of her, but they aren’t all that she is. Even so, she can’t completely separate herself from them, and they will always be there. But to say that Elsa IS her magical powers is so one dimensional. She’s a sister, a leader of a group of people, and a woman figuring out who she is for once, not just what. And she’s extremely lucky, because she has an ally on her side, Anna, who wants to be there for her as she does just that.

ImageI too have those people in my life. So many people, beyond what I deserve. This movie, for me, is a painful but beautiful reminder of things I have experienced. I hope it touches you too.