What Color is Despair
A poem, of sorts, by Susan Todd Martin (March 5, 2015)
What color will you paint my soul?
What color will you paint my soul?
Blues and greens in endless dreams
What color will you paint my soul?
What color will you paint my life?
What color will you paint my life?
Blacks and reds of endless strife
What color will you paint my life?
What color will you paint my house?
What color will you paint my house?
Winter white where no one shouts
What color will you paint my house?
What color do you think I see?
What color do you think I see?
A space of clear that once was me
What color do you think I see?
What color should I paint my walls?
What color should I paint my walls?
A shade of pink when no one calls
What color should I paint my walls?
What color should I wear?
What color should I wear?
It don’t matter, no one’s there
What color should I wear?
Why should I even try?
Why should I even try?
Cause if I don’t I know I’ll die
Why should I even try…
From My Autobiography
by Brad Good
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” - Ernest Hemingway
Does the world break everyone? It broke my Dad. But, my father did not become strong in broken places.
On the evening of July 13, in 2001, my father and physician, walked to the end of his driveway in Hamilton, Montana. He took with him his loaded shotgun. At a polite distance from his home, he placed the shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was sixty-six years old. He was found by his second wife. One evening she saw his crumpled body on the gravel driveway as she turned her car toward the house.
He had his reasons for taking his life. He had a mass around a few of his ribs. They removed the mass and ribs. Two years later he was having a difficult time walking and easily lost his breadth. He was still in pain from his operation and felt a helplessness since he could no longer live the life he wanted. So, he took his own life.
The irony is that he had graduated first in his class at UCLA Medical School; and, he was awarded the first Surgery Intern Medal Award in the history of the institution.
But, he had dictated the treatment his doctors gave to him. After removing the mass around his ribs, they conducted a biopsy. They found out that the mass was a Tuberculosis variant. It could have been treated unobtrusively with medication.
Then, after he shot himself, they conducted an autopsy and discovered that at least one major artery to his heart had been clogged. This was what had been making him winded, and had made it difficult for him to walk. This too could have been treated.
A brilliant doctor had dictated his own treatment; and, because of his misdiagnosis he died. This is my definition of Tragedy. He was still relatively young. The real cause of his death was not having an interesting intellectual pursuit or hobby. His retirement had lead to his death.
When my father died, his wife gave to me a folder full of all the letters I had written to him over the years. I had sent him hand written notes from nearly every place that I had been in Asia. The letters spoke about where I was, what I had seen, and what I was doing. All the letters were there, and each was more than just a picture of my past. Reading the letters enabled me to time travel. I was happy that I had shared my life with my father. My admiration and love for him was boundless. I have always been proud to be his son. In his death he had given me another precious gift. He had shared with me my own experiences in my words. To me, the words in my past letters brought forth more vivid images and emotions than anything Hemingway has come close to writing.
My father also knew of Ernest Hemingway, what he wrote and how he lived. They both shared a love of fishing, Montana, and a little bit too much alcohol. My dad also knew how Hemingway passed away. In some weird way, that makes my father related to Hemingway. Or, at least there is a somewhat less than a causal connection.
On July 2nd, in 1961, Ernest Hemingway was sixty years old. He went to his basement storeroom in his Idaho home and selected his favorite “double-barreled shotgun that he had used so often it might have been a friend.” Then, just like my father, he took his life with the shotgun.
The reasons for him taking his life are less clear. They range from pain due to disease to depression. There seems to be a consensus that, like his own father, he had a genetic disease that causes an inability to metabolize iron which culminates in mental and physical deterioration. He was found in his home by his fourth wife.
I think both my father and me share something with Hemingway. They both killed themselves with a shotgun. What I share with Hemingway is that I believe he too was Bipolar. I think his was probably of another kind which resulted in more depression than anything else. The risk of Bipolar disorder is nearly ten-fold higher in first degree relatives, when compared to the general population. Similarly, the risk of major depressive disorder is three times higher in relatives of those with Bipolar disorder. As it turns out, Hemingway’s grandfather, father, brother, sister, and granddaughter all committed suicide.
When Hemingway was working on A Farewell to Arms, his father, Clarence, shot himself. I think Hemingway took his feelings for his father and articulated them in the above faithful quote.
Unlike my father and Hemingway, the world broke me, but it did not kill me. It’s too early for me to say if I am strong in some places, because life has left some scars.
The world took me on a journey that I never wanted to take. I have seen and felt nearly all those things you try to avoid. I was pushed to my limit. I broke. But, somehow I have managed to survive.
* * *
I come from a good family. My father was an OB-GYN and my mother an artist in Los Angeles. I grew up with a sister and brother, both of whom were older and well-educated.
We lived in Pacific Palisades and I went to UC Berkeley and then to the University of Chicago for an MBA and masters in East Asian Studies. But, growing up with such a background means only so much, and when I look back it actually means little.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when things began to crash. Or, to be more precise, when I started to crash. But, I became broken. I became, literally, insane. What is frustrating is that when you break you seldom know that you are falling apart. It’s not so much denial, but just a thorough lack of self-awareness and comprehension.
There is a sequence of events, though. Looking back, I wish I could have changed so much of what I did. But, I remind myself that I cannot. What happened occurred, and I cannot change the past. In fact, I feel lucky that I am here now, that I did not die and that my mind is intact and clear. I’m grateful for who I am and the many possibilities that exist.
It sometimes happens in life that events and feelings disappear without others knowing them. I cannot let that occur. What happened to me is too important for others to learn from, so that they may avoid my mistakes.
Lots of people are Bipolar, but I never really knew what it was. I define Bipolar as when someone has messed up brain chemistry. The symptoms are having highs and lows emotionally, and thinking and doing things that are abnormal. Fortunately, it’s treatable and people can live normal lives. The big challenge, however, is knowing that something is wrong so that you can get treatment.
Living with Randomness
For me, the second hardest part about Bipolar type II is learning to live with the randomness (living with suicidal depression on a downturn is the hardest part).
But never knowing when the depression will strike or when it will get better is so discombobulating, it’s like I can’t even do mood cycles right.
I’m the scheduler; the planner; the list-maker. On Personality tests I score very high in logical-sequential. Every doctor I have seen has been impressed by my compliance. I take my meds religiously. I make sure that I eat. I go to bed on schedule, avoid alcohol and recreational drugs like the plague, and try to exercise and get fresh air daily. I collected data and tracked my daily moods fanatically for a year, looking for patterns. I am “doing all the right things” to manage my Bipolar type II.
But the thing that cuts me off at the knees is I NEVER KNOW what my day will be like until I wake up and experience it. I may have a dozen things I would like to do, a schedule of errands and family time and yard work, or a day of relaxation and play…and sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t do any of them.
I CAN’T. Not a single one. I can eat and take my meds, feed the cats and get dressed eventually, but that’s it.
No amount of self-talk or re-framing or just-five-minutes of it can get me going. It doesn’t matter if my list has only one item on it. The chemical shenanigans in my head overwhelm me. I might, after a day of anguished attempts, false starts and a lot of self-soothing, maybe get one thing half-done. And then I am expected to celebrate that I managed to do even that, because, hey, it’s a success of sorts.
My meds can control the severe highs and the severe lows (mostly), but not the medium lows- or the (less frequent) medium highs. I never know when I am going to have a day when I wake up, raring to go, and get 5 things done before breakfast. I love those days. But I can’t count on having them.
It’s taken a long time to realize that I can’t control my general moods. That my life is going to continue this randomness. On a positive note, at least I have (mostly) quit blaming myself when the mood goes sideways. And have stopped turning myself inside-out to try and get the mood to change.
But now I have to learn to make peace with randomness.
What is the Craziest Moment in your Life?
by Will Morro
Has anyone ever asked you what the craziest moment in your life is? Well, the average person probably spits back a response about the time they went skydiving or a time they experimented with drugs. My response is a little different.
I’d probably have to start with a little chuckle, “Technically,” I’d continue…
“Well, imagine waking up from a two-day drug-induced sleep in a room no bigger than a small dorm room. You’re on a bed with all white sheets. There are no windows and only pale cinderblock walls surrounding you. To your left is another hospital bed…vacant at the moment. Things are more or less blurry, but I remember my dad appearing, maybe he is waiting till I wake. I have no sense of time. My dad, carrying a few books in his hand, delivers news that establishes what exactly is going on.”
The question previously posed is, “What is the craziest moment in your life?” Well, some days it’s hard to narrow it down, but it will be hard to beat the day I woke up to learn that I had gone crazy and was, in fact, diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder.
Over the past few weeks, I went insane again. From time-to-time, I will continue to have ups and downs that manifest themselves into feelings and emotions more severe than most people will ever imagine. Feelings of depression and mania, both, in my opinion, states of psychosis, are impossible to label; especially labeling them correctly. Your brain tricks you into believing in the manifestations that it is creating. The chemicals or whatever the brain releases are so intense. Undergoing these new chemical releases, you begin to formulate your own opinion as to what exactly these intense emotions and insane thoughts are. Sometimes good and sometimes bad. In my case, generally, really damn phenomenal. The thoughts, maybe not the feelings, stick with you. For me, the memories of the events remain. The emotional swings that you go through…the feelings that you can really never get rid of…while hitting your highs and lows is something that puzzles me more than anything else.
My final semester in college, while taking a class about Bipolar Disorder, having been relatively recently diagnosed, I learned that hospitals diagnose many people with mental disorders. These labels, in turn, become pretty much impossible to tear away. Much like these labels are the labels we as Bipolar individuals put on the emotions and feelings we have when finding ourselves in extremes. Tearing away the emotions we feel when we are manic or depressed is simply impossible. Furthermore, in many cases, we find relief in these states of being, and sometimes wish to pursue them in order to find exactly what we are looking for in our own existence. These feelings and emotions are just too strong to ignore.
One of the hardest parts about being Bipolar isn’t the times when you’re insane, and to a lesser extent depressed. The real hard times come in the aftermath when you are brought back to earth. Being Bipolar can be debilitating. It knocks you down no matter what you do to build yourself up against it. Recovering from believing you are the most powerful man on the planet, from believing you’re in love, from thinking you can’t move, is all extremely difficult. You never plan on it, but you’re life becomes engulfed in a false reality that you fixate on, and if you’re lucky, you get a chance to come to your original senses and start completely over.
Sometimes you ask: What is it like dealing with news that you went insane? On reflection, the answer to that is easy. Nobody has that realization sink in and not allow it to faze them. Nobody goes twenty-one years of their life thinking they are just like everyone else to one day being told they are legally insane and not be changed. Of course, I heard the news from my dad the first time. Only problem was that I was still down in a bed at the psyche ward of a hospital; I was still very much insane. To hear the news, at that moment, meant nothing to me. My mind was still churning a million miles an hour. Nothing could stop my ongoing mission. My new place in life – being locked in a hospital – was just a new challenge I had to overcome at the moment. The games continued to march on, and the new puzzle was set.
Sometimes you get lucky. Most patients reject taking their medications. The problem with that is many patients have personal opinions (thoughts or labels) about taking pills for the first time. Patients reject them, not necessarily because they think they are hard to take, but they truly, deeply believe that the meds are bad for them. It’s hard to grow past the thoughts you have under mental illnesses; things just end up really mattering for no “real” reason. For me in particular, I did not care about the whole hospital thing. I figured just put my time in at the psyche ward, take my medication, and move forward. I was, am, and will forever be a person who lives in the moment. To think about this new change in life and how it would affect my future was an impossible feat, something I continued to learn about as time moved further forward. One thing is set in stone, however, things in my life were going to change, and the ups and downs that manic depression delivers were sure to awaken new challenges.
In my life, I never ask myself what could have been or what if things had gone as planned. I learned that the best-laid plans never really work out…so it’s generally not worth making any. A person diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder might find himself or herself thinking that it is only their problem, or even dilemma. Thanks to the people in my life, I have never had to think that way. I do think that having a Bipolar life is my problem, that’s just the reality, but luckily, I know I do not have to tackle this problem without the help of many friends and family.
I have always had two different worlds in every stage of my life. I always hope that my worlds will find a way to collide and unite, but until then, it’s always going to be about moving forward and staying thirsty. Opportunities can never be made through regret. If you’re trying to move on in your life, don’t waste a moment looking back.
I’d like to think of myself as an open book. I don’t sit around thinking of myself as a perfect person, but I do know I hold no guilt or regret for the good or bad things that have come my way. Live life knowing there is a next one on the way. You’re never really finished.
Will Morro is a graduate of Boston College.
I Always felt I was different. When I was around 7 years old in the first grade, I would cry because I felt empty. I just didn't get why I had this feeling. I was always daydreaming. I loved writing songs, stories and poems. When I would write, I felt like I could control my life, my story.
Around 7th grade I was 14 and I remember having feelings of wanting to just die. Not for people to feel sorry for me or as a selfish reason, but because I felt like a burden. I tried cutting myself with a pencil in class and someone told the school counselor. I went into her office and she said I was to tell my parents.
I was terrified. I have a great relationship with my mom now, but growing up I felt here's this 24 year old woman with 3 kids. The guy who helped make us didn't want us. I know she loved us, but she was stressed. We took away her freedom. We always had food, but it wasn't the most stable childhood. Lots of screaming, my mom drinking. I remember this smell and it would smell good and later to find out she was dating a guy that sold pot. She started leaving me home alone at 8 years old to go out to the bars. I had 2 younger brothers. Drew and Ryan. I was constantly worrying and scared my mom was going to die.
Anyways when I was 13 my mom met Shawn. He was 27 and they fell in love. He was such a nice guy and actually talked to my brothers and I. My mom wasn't going out hardly anymore since being with shawn so I felt less worry.
So back to having to tell my mom about me cutting myself. I had a whole weekend to do it. So I wait until sunday night while her and Shawn are in bed talking. I walk into their room and just start crying. I told her I had to tell her because the school will call her tomorrow to make sure I did. I know my mom didn't mean what she said that night after I told her about cutting my wrist. I left the room still crying and scared. I didn't have an open relationship with my mom then. Shawn came into the hallway and gave me a sincere hug. It was like I had a real dad. He told me he has had feelings like that before and it will be ok. That night Shawn earned my trust and he's my dad. He's the calmer in our family. Loving 3 kids at 27 as your own had to be tough, but he did.
As I approached high school I kept busy with school and got a job as soon as I could. Growing up not having money, I thought by making my own it would make me happy.
10th grade I got my first serious older boyfriend. He was a senior. We would drink on the weekends. I lost my virginity to him at 16. We were together about a year and then I met Beau my junior year. It was instant love. We were together pretty much everyday I didn't work or was in choir or cheerleading. He went to a private Catholic school and played basketball. Every weekend we were drinking with his friends. He was into smoking weed. Not something I chose to do.
2 days before my 19th birthday in May we decided to do ecstasy. That night I think I went into a manic state. It was terrifying. I thought I was dying then I would see things. After doing the ecstasy the days after I just went into depression. I tried to keep busy but just felt empty. After graduation, Beau was going to a college up north to play college basketball and I had got a scholarship to the university of southern Indiana.
God had other plans. The August we were going away to college, I find out I'm pregnant. Naive me didn't think I could get pregnant bc we didn't use protection over a year. So beau still goes to college and I stay home and go to the community college. I didn't want to be a mom. Especially at 19. My mom became a mom at 19 and she didn't seem happy.
March 23, 2005 Gabrielle Paige came into our lives. The love that entertained my life that day can never be explained in words. I was a mother. The support and help our parents have givin us and still continue to give is amazing and I am so thankful.
Beau and I broke up when we were 20 and Elle was only 4 months. I didn't have feelings for him anymore.
At 21 I was selfish and wanted to go out and live my life. Elle was with my parents or beaus parents. We weren't ready to be parents.
The drinking, stress and lack of sleep. I had a maniac breakdown episode.
I remember bits and pieces of that night. I called my mom crying bc I felt weird. I felt like the tv was communicating with me. I had this huge burst of energy which felt like a power. I was seeing shadows.
Now if you don't get sleep your brain can play some crazy tricks on you. Plus the stress of working, going to school, having your own apartment with a 1 year old can really mess with you. I was taken by ambulance to home hospital. When the cops arrived I was paranoid and thought my mom was trying to kill me and I was dying of a heart attack. I heard voices. I thought I was controlling the police force. I was having a maniac episode.
When I got to the hospital it felt like a dream. I was givin a drug test because they thought maybe I was drugged. No drugs. The doctor came in and said I was maniac. My mom and dad were there with the most worried looks. I had no clue why I was delusional. I was put on the psych unit for a week. I had a journal and I kept worrying someone in my family was going to die. I just had crazy feelings that week and they were giving meds. Zombie mode meds.
My 2nd hospitalization happened 2 years later. I was 23. I found my brother dead and went into a shock maniac episode.
I have been hospitalized a total of 3 times. Failed suicide attempts that I've lost count. The last time I tried to committ suicide was 2 years ago. I took Atleast 60 pills. I had an epiphany. I should have been dead. I want to live. God has a plan for me. I always will probably have to take meds and see a doctor. I have seen angels. God is real and my daughter's need me and I need them. I am 30 years old now and have accepted my illness, but I will not let it define me. I have had failed relationships and people have tried to put me down and use this as my weakness. I am not weak. I am strong and I take each day by day. I have my days. I sleep, I avoid people. I just feel different and because I may look normal because I am pretty. I struggle to get through life. I think laughter is a great medicine. I've made it this far and I'm not giving up ever! I trust in God. My relationship with my mom is better than ever. She's my best friend. She has seen me through the lowest and never gives up on me. Life is crazy beautiful. :)
-thanks for letting me share my story. I feel my purpose in this life is to help others. We are not alone and we aren't crazy bc we have a mental illness.
Live to Thrive
by Simone Brooks
I was asked to give some advice to those of you who are newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and your loves ones. My focus is really on those of you who have been diagnosed; although, my hope is that you loved ones will learn a little something that will help them you understand the journey you are on together.
I have three pieces of advice:
1) do nothing to make the situation worse
2) if you fall, and you likely will, rise again
3) strive for the courage to thrive
I was diagnosed in 1993 with major depressive disorder. I was re-diagnosed in 2003 with bipolar II disorder, and finally with severe bipolar I disorder.
I have felt the highs, the rushes, the passion, the sensuality, the energy, the omnipotence, and the limitlessness of mania. I have also felt the desperation, exhaustion, fear, terror, horror, guilt, shame, and despair of depression. And, I have visited the planes in between. I have self-harm behaviors that have scarred me physically, and suicide attempts that have scarred me emotionally.
I have suffered and caused suffering.
Sometimes in the midst of one of my depressive moods, I feel like I am a smaller, tiny version of myself standing inside a larger unfamiliar me–and that tiny version of me is surrounded by darkness and an oppressive heat, gasping, unable to escape, while the larger me plods on, disconnected, seemingly unaffected by the terror of the smaller me. That larger me, disconnected, does not remember to take care of the smaller one: (1) moderate food and alcohol consumption; (2) workout; (3) journal; (4) go to psychotherapy; (5) take prescribed medications; (6) meditate – she ignores my needs until I wilt inside.
What to do with a wilted me? a pain-filled me? an emotionally and physically exhausted me? As if I were a weed, I have tried to extract myself from life through maladaptive behaviors like binge drinking, promiscuity, raging rants, cutting, and even suicide attempts. All of these behaviors made my situation worse:
These maladaptive behaviors were all I knew, but they risked not only my well-being but my life.
Now, I tell people that I owe my life to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of therapy pioneered by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington.
It was initially designed and applied to those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, but has been found to be effective with other forms of mental illness and even substance abuse.
One of the first things I came to understand in DBT was this concept of “do nothing to make the situation worse. And, if you can’t stop from making it worse, lessen the damage.” For example, if you are a person with self-harm behaviors, and you desperately want to act on that behavior, call your individual therapist before making the decision. Perhaps you give yourself permission to self-harm as soon as you’re done with the call. But make the call. You’ll likely find that the need to self-harm has passed. You didn’t make the situation worse.
Not making the situation worse doesn't mean you've made it better, it does not mean that your illness has disappeared. Instead you have held your ground. You have remained steady. You have lived to survive another day.
My next piece of advice is that if you fall, if you relapse or have a recurrence, if you fall, rise again. Relapse occurs when you have not yet become asymptomatic. Recurrence is an episode that occurs after you are in remission.
In the world of mental illness, recovery is not and remission rarely is an endpoint, a final destination. At least one study has shown that patients with major depression who experience one episode are 50% more likely to experience a 2nd. Patients that experience 2 episodes, are more likely to experience a 3rd, and those that experience 3 episodes are 90% more likely to experience another. I don't tell you that to discourage you. I tell you that to prepare you.
The likelihood is that you will fall down. That can be a terrifying prospect. So, while you are up, do the work: psychotherapy, exercise, medication, meditation; do the work to prepare yourself for what is likely to occur. Understand what your triggers are and plan for them to occur again. How will you deal?
For me, with every relapse and recurrence, I learned something more about myself and my strength, my capacity to survive. Each time, I worked to acquire new understanding and new skills to aid me for the next fall. At first, I didn't believe that I was any different. I felt as if each fall was the same, or worse, more miserable than the previous. I felt that just experiencing recurrences was a failure.
With the help of my psychotherapist, I realized that my recoveries were faster, that my climbs to remission were not so steep.
Thus far, I have continued on. Not a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of continuing on. Rather a quiet kind of determination to survive. I read a quote from Mary Ann Radmacher, "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'" I try to be courageous.
Speaking of courage, my final piece of advice to you is to strive to thrive. Strive to find the courage to not just survive this life but to live a life filled with contentment, with fulfillment.
Some days, I feel as though this diagnosis I have is a weight unbearable. I have found those are usually the days that I’ve exhausted myself with hiding my bipolar experience.
Kay Redfield Jamison wrote “I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as I have something to hide.” I understand that in your workplace and your personal life, you may not have the freedom to air your diagnosis or diagnoses, the safety and security to ask for and receive the help that you may desperately need. Perhaps hiding is more than a way of life. Perhaps it is your only method of survival.
But it is when you stop hiding from yourself, when you mindfully, radically, accept that in this moment you are perhaps not in remission, but you have the potential for it. Mindfully, radically, accept that your journey of recovery is in every moment, it is in every choice.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar."
I believe that each of you wants something different and possibly better. I believe that where you are and how you behave now is understandable given your circumstances (internal and external). But I also believe that you have to try harder even when the reserves seem empty, in order to experience improvement in your condition. And finally, I believe that you cannot fail. I have faith in you. Now you must have faith in you. Live. Strive. Thrive.
By Keturah Montgomery*chorus/beginning*
My emotions go up like a skyscraper
Then they shoot down like a rollercoaster
They are packed with so much intensity
They make me question my own desitny
I'm so sorry i'm crazy
Yes i'm sorry i'm crazy
I'm so sorry i'm crazy
Yes i'm sorry i'm crazy
*after repeating chorus go to the 1st verse below*
I'm sorry for constantly cutting myself
And i'm sorry for trying to kill myself
I was just so angry at myself
Please help me till I can help myself
*after repeating chorus go to the 2nd verse below*
I have a secret I don't want to tell
But my secret I might as well tell
I must admit i'm not mentally well
I'm bipolar so please don't tell
*after chorus go to the ending below*
So please don't leave me
I can't help that i'm crazy
Cole Max's Story
I started to begin this by saying that having Bipolar Disorder has changed my life, but actually I don't remember my life ever changing I have just been ME my whole life. I would say I really started to feeling depressed, and cut off from emotion when I was five years old. My oldest brother was just born and there was no longer room for me on my mom's lap. I can remember every night for what seemed like years crying myself to sleep thinking I was completely unloved and utterly alone is this great big world. That was the end of my childhood as far as I am concerned; because I don't think any child should have to face the every day battle of wanting to want to stay alive. Every day Bipolar Disorder tells me life isn't worth living and I have to fight back with all my strength to say that I am worth it.
There have been
times in my life when I didn't even have the strength to pick up a fork, and my
dad would have to carry me to my bed and I would just lay there completely
numb, unable to move or think rationally. By the time I hit 18 I had lost all
control over my life, I turned to worldly things trying to find in them the
medication I so desperately needed. Those were some of the happiest times of my
life, and some of the most miserable too. Finally after years of telling my
parents I need help I just laid it all out on the table and told them they had
to help me or else it was done trying to stay alive. My mom took me to our
family doctor thinking she would prescribe some miracle drug and everyone could
get on with their lives.When the
doctor said I needed to be evaluated by the behavioral center she broke out in
tears finally realizing how serious my situation was. Oddly this made me smile
because for the first time in probably 13 years I felt loved. The behavioral
center was a joke I couldn't even tell them my story, or convey the way I
really felt because I could tell they didn't care. They referred me to a class
A quack who put me on a medicine that sent me spiraling deeper into depression
than I had ever been before. Finally in the end I ended up in Minirth Clinic in
Richardson TX and actually got a foot in the door on my way to hope. After that
life was a roller coaster of extreme emotions to say the least, I went through
many medications and treatments, but the thing that really got me through was
something I learned from Dr. Minirth's book called "Happiness Is A
Choice" and it was just that that you have to make a conscious effort to
be happy. I still feel like I am in the midst of a war within myself daily, but
with the help of family, medication, knowledge and most importantly God I have
been able to to win all of the major battles up to this second. So to all you
other Bipolar Survivors keep up the fight and spread the word that happiness is
a choice and that Bipolar Disorder is as real as you and me. We are soldiers
fighting a battle often no one else can even see.
I had prepared a different talk for you, but then something happened this past Monday night. That talk was mainly a chronological telling of my own experiences with bipolar disorder from the age of about 14 until now. It was a linear narrative and illustrated a kind of eventual “success story”. That is to say, I was completely debilitated by bipolar disorder, anorexia, and bulimia nervosa up until as little as two years ago. Through the steadfast support of friends and family, a very good psychiatrist, the right combination of medication, and healthy lifestyle choices, I am now consistently content, professionally motivated and, dare I say it, quite often very happy.
On Monday night, however, I had a meltdown with my boyfriend, James, that made me realize my story must be adjusted if I am to illuminate my true experiences with the disorder, its impact on individuals close to me, and the ways in which the support of friends and family have been one of the most vital means of helping me to take control of the disease.
Before I tell this story, I’ll give you my brief personal history. An only child, I was born to older parents who are completely wonderful and completely eccentric. My mother is very clever at words and works in publishing; my father is very clever at numbers and is a Professor of Astrophysics. I always did well at school. Even though I was sensitive and prone to mood swings as a child and adolescent, I graduated top of my class in high school, was a member of the National Honors Society, editor of the yearbook, President of Amnesty International, blah, blah --- you get it. In Fall, 2003, I entered the freshman class at Vassar College.
My bipolar disorder had been evolving throughout high school and I was becoming more prone to bouts of mania and depression. Yet because my outward scholastic performance was good, and I was sociable and had many friends, my increasingly irrational behavior was understandably put down to adolescent angst.
By the end of my sophomore year of college, however, there were weeks when I was sleeping as little as two hours a night, or sometimes not at all, obsessed with the idea of getting straight “As”, and losing great amounts of weight. I tumbled between intense manic highs and being swallowed by depressive lows.
Although I never experimented too widely with drugs, I found similar solace in anorectic restriction and bulimic purging. My health and mood disorder worsened during the next two years of college.
Somehow, however, through the support of wonderful friends and parents, and because I was scholastically obsessive, I graduated with honors in May, 2007. After graduation I moved back home and spent the next two turbulent years without purpose, nannying, waiting tables, bartending, dating a menagerie of men, and trying to distance myself from friends and family with whom I felt I could no longer relate.
In college I was in considerable denial about the severity of my disorders. Post-college, I made life choices to remain that way. Finally, because of the eating disorders, I became too physically ill to continue. Sick and scared I agreed to enter an intense outpatient treatment program in the Fall of 2008. Although my parents had wanted an intensive treatment plan for me in college, to be committed to it the choice had to be my own. This is when challenging and gradual upward change began to take place in my life.
Through treatment of my eating disorders, I was eventually forced to seriously address my bipolar disorder, and began slowly building a regiment of prescriptive medicines to help me control both the interconnected eating and mood disorders. This treatment provided a framework for my recovery, but it was the dedication of my parents and friends that provided the essential emotional foundation.
You see, living with bipolar disorder is often very lonely. In its worst phases I frequently felt completely detached from reality, seeing the world through a kind of Jessica monoscope. Although usually I am a compassionate person, when in a bipolar swing it is impossible to take into account the emotions or needs of others. During these episodes I am experiencing what can best be described as a completely dominating series of emotional explosions. Consequentially, something small can suddenly cause the rational mind and senses to go a kind of Pop! Pop! Pop! This surge is utterly overwhelming. A depressive low also consumes and debilitates, but feel less like flying sparks and more like a grinding numbness that makes you search for things to feel real and alive again: for some with bipolar disorder it is the sharp prick of a needle and the calming swell of a drug induced high, or long nights with liquor bottles. I sought the biting and strangely enlivening hunger of anorexia.
But let’s get back to Monday night. James and I had just decided to move in together, or rather, that I move in with him. We have radically different decorating styles. Mainly, he likes anything steel, straight, and black --- blugh! And I like things that look like they haven’t been pulled off the Terminator. On Sunday, I went off to buy flowering pot plants to bring some life into my new living room, which we are now in debate as to how to jointly redecorate. I spent the evening arranging the plants around the room and went to bed satisfied that I had helped to enrich my boyfriend’s life with new and needed vibrant color. When I came home from work on Monday, the plants had been moved into tight clusters of three on the far corner of adjacent tables on either side of the room. Pop! Pop! Pop! I lost it.
I failed to see that in addition to moving the pot plants James had reorganized his bookcases to accommodate my books, had fixed the broken lamp, and had one of my favorite meals waiting on the stove.
Although clearly I am immeasurably better than I once was, on Monday I experienced the unreasonable and all-consuming swell of sudden, spiked, emotional deluge. I spun around the room, tossed down my bag, and said, “Frankly, I hate this! I can’t believe this! You just shoved all my plants in corners!” There was a brief pause and James tilted his head. “I put them closer to the windows so they could get more light, sweetheart,” he replied. I now felt close to tears and shrieked, “Do you even want me living here?!”
James did what James does best when I still sporadically have these emotional episodes, and what my parents, once they learned more about the disease, could do so well when these moments were far more frequent, lengthier, and more intense. He looked me in the eyes, did not overreact, and stayed present with me in the moment.
“Yes. I want you to live with me, very much so.” He spoke calmly, somehow willing to validate my unanticipated emotional reaction. “And we can always put the plants back.”
For numerous reasons—anxiety about living with him, fear of the relationship’s potential failure, the day’s fatigue—I blew my proverbial gasket. That sudden, familiar irrational ache, that isolation I used to feel so intensely took momentary hold. But most importantly, and this is why its hold was only temporary, there was someone sitting right next to me quietly and patiently waiting for me to gather myself whole again. Even though I was being absurd, James is almost always able to separate these brief bipolar episodes from who I am as a more complex, comprehensive individual. He does not make me feel I am my disease. And so I did, I could, moments later, return back to James, the room, and to rationale. I could see I was being silly.
He laughed tenderly and called me a “nutty bunny”, and most importantly, he did not judge me. He trusted that I would, and could, emotionally and cognizantly spring back to him. There is great and contagious strength in this love and conviction.
We did put the plants back
and I apologized. “Yes, “ he said. “You overacted, now let’s have some dinner”.
Theo Anderson was born June 14, 1991 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Around his 15th birthday, he began to exhibit symptoms of severe mental illness. He was soon diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. His last two to three years were a constant struggle with the pain and misery which accompany these illnesses. Throughout his life, Theo was a kind and gentle spirit who accepted all people regardless of their limitations, beliefs or station in life. He remained to the end a happy, hopeful person while suffering from the profound depression and hopelessness which accompanied his illness. Theo died November 11, 2009 in Rochester, Minnesota.
In his last few months, Theo began writing poetry. Following are three of his poems which address a young person’s struggle with severe mental illness.
Wayne and Janet Anderson
I keep filling up notebooks
With words I never sing
The next George Orwell
Or maybe a hit
That just might sell
This is the song where realization hits me
I’m not the child I thought I would be
Listen close now, pretty girl come here
I have a story to share with you
This time last year I can’t remember
I must have been detoxing my memory
I wipe the slate clean but it never looks quite new
I have a story to share with you
So if you would, please lend me those ears
My humble lungs are not quite done
And if you find yourself beneath your fears
My words and your thoughts can sing harmony
I’m not the child I thought I would be
I spill my head upside down, spill its contents on the floor
It doesn’t feel much different, can’t think straight anymore
I haven’t in awhile, but I find myself without the need
The need for rationalization
I stick my hands into the ground, digging for a purpose
To stay alive, to live and breathe, I feel like I’ve heard this
Heard this song before, with a thousand different melodies
A thousand different singers
I chase my shadow, I chase the light
Chase whatever suits my mind
At the given moment
Crazy pills like cyanide
Yet water all the same
Can’t live with or without them
I shove my mind into a book, let the author convince me
That life is simple, or complex, depends on who I’m reading
Metaphors and imagery, each one like concrete
Cold and hard and gray
I turn my eyes to the sky, to the atmosphere
Nothing residing up that high will ever keep me here
Got a bad case of life poisoning, wish I could take a break
Wish I could just take a break
For years I studied how not to live
I pray no stares come my way today
It was wrong, you were wrong to look at me that way.
A Brief 15 Seconds Inside My Head
Wreck, wreck, wreck.
My hands continue to shake,
I took the time to check.
I tell them.
But I'm a wreck.
No outlet, no release.
Not for me – I pace the floors – not for me not for me not for me!
Could there be
a single thing
to kill all the
Not for me not for me not for me.
I'm a wreck, you see.
Some call it nervous, others OCD.
But not me.
I call it me. I am what you see.
Wreck wreck wreck wreck wreck,
a description of me.
Are the doors locked?
Wreck wreck wreck.
Are the windows shut?
Wreck wreck wreck.
Is the alarm set?
Do I look okay?
Is my pulse normal?
Am I gonna die am I gonna die am I gonna die am I gonna die??
Is my heart about to stop, or my car about to crash, or my plane about to fall clean out of the sky??
Am I gonna die??
Why do I wonder if I'm alright??
Why do I wring my hands in plain sight??
Why is my mental state a constant fight??
Wreck wreck wreck. Wreck wreck.
On top of my neck.
September 1 – 2009
My Bipolar Boys
When I started dating my now husband, I could not understand how he could go from being so fun and loving to so mean and hateful at the drop of a dime. I fell in love with the sweetest, loving, caring individual I ever met. One day, he was not so sweet; he turned hateful, degrading, and mean towards me. I wanted nothing to do with him. He continued calling me and I agreed to meet with him and talk. He said he was not himself and that he was having a bad day, so I agreed to date him again and the rest is history. We now are getting ready to celebrate our 10th anniversary and we have 2 children from this union. You may think that we had it easy to make it ten years and have 2 children. Let me tell you, it has been the biggest struggle of my life and his. Re read the first 6 sentences of this 100 times and then you will get the full picture of how it has been getting to this point. It was about 5 years ago that I had to put him in the hospital because he wanted to commit suicide. He would say things like he wished he would die and could not wait to die because life was not worth living for some time before it but now he was ready to act on it. We went to the doctor because I told him that there had to be something wrong for him to feel this way. I am so glad that the doctor committed him to a 72 hour suicide watch in the hospital. There he was diagnosed as being bipolar. So now we knew why he was acting this way, but what was bipolar? I began reading about it and went to family support meetings to learn how to deal with it. It has been a long, long, road. About every 6 months I have to remind him that he has to take his medicine every day not every other or every third day. It makes such a difference when he takes it every day. We can function and be a loving family when he does. He knows and can see and feel the difference but he has excuses as to why he does not take it. I will not let him slip because I know what that is like and we are not going to live that way anymore. We have been through counseling and that helped him to see what his issues were with childhood and helped him to deal with them and let it go so he could move on and live his life with his family.
Our son is bipolar, he is 8. We knew for years that he was bipolar; he has been since he was born. I refused to put him on medication because I had read all of the side effects and read stories of the brain damage. I could talk him down from his rages so I said that when I could no longer do that I would entertain the idea of putting him on medication. Last year I lost the battle and gave in because all he would do is talk about killing himself and dying, he was 7. What happy healthy 7 year old thinks about killing himself and hates life? A bipolar child. I had to face the fact that my perfect little angel was bipolar and that if I did not get him help he would dead before he was a teenager. Also, our daughter, 6, was picking up on what he was saying and doing. My aunt has her Ph.D. in pharmacy and she consulted with doctors on the medicine to treat bipolar so I knew what medicine I needed for him, I just needed him diagnosed. We went to the same office my husband goes to. He was diagnosed and we got the medicine needed to help him be a happy 7 year old. He also does counseling there. He no longer talks about killing himself or dying but he does act out when he does not know how to cope with someone or something. That is part of bipolar; you cannot change their routine or what they are use to because it is too much of a shock to their system which makes them lash out. He is so loving and caring and has so much to give. It is hard work every day but it is worth it to see him happy. I also talk with him about how he should and should not act in different situations so that he can use reasoning in his decisions before he just blows. At least, I can think he is using reasoning first.
is the beginning of my bipolar story.
It will never end, but at least I can hope for a brighter tomorrow
knowing we made it through today.
Megan Spahr's Story
After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently after 10 years of dealing with it and knowing something wasn't right and turning my life into a mess I was disappointed to see that there wasn't very much being done to help people with bipolar disorder. It seemed like my only options were to pretty much take the medicine, deal with the side effects and deal with the it for rest of my life and no one was really trying to do more or explain to me more about the disorder. My husband would often ask why did I have to end up such and mess before someone finally was able to help me. I really started to feel like no one cared or knew much about bipolar disorder. Now that I am diagnosed I am dealing with the trouble of accepting that it will never got away and that I will always have problems and the stigma attached to the disorder, as well as the people who don't understand and just think I'm crazy. When I came across your website today I really started to cry I just wanted to say how wonderful what I think you are doing is. Just to know that someone is doing something gives me hope. To many people die because they can't deal with the pain this disorder causes anymore and end up self medicating or just committing suicide. I've self medicated too many times time to count and suicide has crossed my mind many times. You just get tired to dealing with it after awhile and with not with medicines that don't work well and not many other options it's like what do they expect you to do. The Quest for the Test you are doing is great. The sooner we can get diagnosed the sooner we have a chance to deal with it and get the help we need. I don't wish anyone to have to live with this for 10 years like I did before getting diagnosed. I used to tell myself maybe I was just weird and after all the horrible things I did because of my manic episodes I was left feeling like I was just a bad person and was worthless. It was horrible living everyday knowing something was wrong with me and no one being able to tell me what it was. I just want to say thank you again for everything you are doing. I am looking forward to seeing great advances made one day in the research and treatment of bipolar disorder.
A Mother's Story
I am sitting here in tears and at the same time applauding the efforts of your foundation for tackling an issue that previously did not seem to have a name. Years ago, my daughter Tya exhibited a great deal of the symptoms that bespoke of a mental disorder but nothing conclusive could be applied. I have six children of which Tia is the second born and I noted early on that Tia was a rambunctious kid with a great deal of energy but who also possessed a dark side that I could not fathom at the time. Even in pre-school and kindergarten, teachers who tell me that she was the one who “acted up” in class. And even though she charmed them most of the time, it was when those dark moods hit that drew the most with response to negative reactions. She attacked other children, she was the one running, jumping and doing the more dangerous pursuits on the school playground. She often acted as the aggressor if someone bullied her older sister and she fought those battles as well. Twice she seriously hurt her little brother (pushing him off a terrace-20 ft drop which led to 7 stitches to his head –she was 5, and plowing him into the wall and busting his head while playing ball in the house out of anger-she was 8 and he required 5 stitches to his head).
From Ransom, who wrote to the Foundation and volunteered to share his story:
My name is Ransom and i am 23 years old. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 3 years ago shortly after my brother died in a motorcycle accident. This event completely tore my life apart, but my problems started long before that. At age 12 i began experimenting with drugs and alcohol to cope with the divorce of my parents and the lack of my father being around. I learned at a young age it was easier to just pick up a bottle or a pipe to make any emotional pain go away. My mom recognized in my early teens that i had problems and scheduled many appointments with psychiatrists. They were all quick to prescribe anti depressants and send me on my way. I had problems in school with attention so i was prescribed medication for ADD as well. I was always lead to believe there were just medications to fix anything. It was all a bit of a joke to me. I was always getting into fights and honestly i was angry and difficult to deal with most of the time. I would be fine one minute then some small comment or event would just set me off. I wanted everything my way. Nothing was good enough for me. When i was a junior in high school my father passed away. I hadn't seen him in several years but it still hurt. My father was diagnosed with bipolar when he was older and was bulimic but refused to get treatment. He chose alcohol to make himself feel better and according to the coroner he died from liver failure. I knew none of this until after his death. I moved on with my life struggling but i graduated from high school and started college. I was still drinking quite heavily at this time but my older brother John began to heavily influence my life and i began to slow down and see the changes i needed to make for the good.
Like me my brother had problems at a young age but somehow he dramatically changed his life and was sober and very happy with life now. I became very close to him and he slowly molded me and taught me many things. He was my father figure and i wanted to be him. I was 19 by now and he was 22. Then things took a turn for the worst. My brother had been out riding motorcycle with a good friend of mine late one night and they had crashed. My brother did not survive. Losing my brother broke my heart. I felt cheated in life and nothing had ever hurt me like that did. I quit going to school and I began drinking extremely heavy after that. I used drugs, money and anything else i could find to numb the pain as well. I got to a point were i was in bed for days not caring if i lived or died and not having the energy to kill myself, i was so burned out. My mother realized i was in a life or death situation, having dealt with my father she knew what would happen if nothing was done. Luckily she was friends with someone who got me an appointment with a good psychiatrist. I thought here we go again, but this time it was different. This doctor was a specialist in the bipolar field and after two appointment's diagnosed me with bipolar. We began trying out medications for the illness and found that a mood stabilizer was what i needed. Since i have been on the medication life has been easier but not everyday is a picnic. Even medicated my moods are not stable at times. I am often negative and hard to deal with. I probably don't always try to understand things instead i just make them what i want in my head. One of the hardest things about being bipolar is being in a relationship. I have been in many relationships in the last few years. All undoubtedly ending because of my unstable moods at times and lack of being understanding at times. The women i have been with that i felt like i could tell about my illness either never gave me a chance because of it or left me cause they couldn't deal with me because of it. I have made many mistakes in the past but the relationship I'm in now makes me want to be a better person. I love this woman very much and want to spend my life with her. She is more understanding than i could ever dream someone could be and i know she loves me. That is a good feeling. I have hurt many people in the past and in the process hurt myself but I am making an effort to change that and make my life better now. I have many dreams i wish to accomplish in spite of having this illness hold me down at times.
I look forward to the day that my child is born and marrying my girlfriend. That to me is success in life and makes me smile. I am current working on a book about my life and living with bipolar disorder from my perspective. Before i was diagnosed with bipolar disorder i had no idea what it was. What i want people to know whether you have been diagnosed or somehow know someone who has been is that it is a disease. Its something you cannot control at times but with help people with bipolar can lead perfectly normal lives. Everything in the mind of someone bipolar can be extremely sensitive. It takes patients to deal with it at times but give it a chance. Living life on that happy middle part can be a struggle some days and it cannot be achieved alone. It takes medication for most and it definitely takes support from the people around you that love you. I have learned to vent my feelings through writing, art, and music. I thank god for making me this way and i wouldn't change me. I see things differently and I've learned to use this to my advantage. I am trying my hardest to get the most out of life and be happy. I have found that every negative thing that happens can have positive effect on you if you choose to see it that way. This is a short story of what i have been through and what i deal with everyday. I hope that if someone reads this they have learned something about what its like being bipolar or maybe makes it easier to understand why people are the way they are sometimes. Just keep your mind and heart open and look for the positive in things. I thank you for your time in reading this.
SPREADING AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING
The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation is also proud to highlight some of our supporters and their unique efforts to spread awareness and understanding of Bipolar Disorder and to help erase the stigma associated with this insidious illness.
Mrs. Jean Matthews, who designed and created a Bipolar Christmas Tree in honor of The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation, described her project this way:
"'Polar Opposites' is the name of this tree which was on view at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens West Palm Beach, Florida, for their inaugural Festival of Trees. Over two dozen themed Christmas trees were on view from December 1, 2007 through December 16, 2007. Trees were trimmed by school children, decorators, families, and individuals.
Jean Matthews used an enlargement of the Foundation's Bipolar Awareness Pin as the tree topper and she placed North Pole polar bears on the top of the tree and South Pole penguins on the lower half of the tree. The polar bears and the penguins wore black and white polka dot bow ties and The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation awareness bibs.
The children and families who came to see the trees for the Festival of Trees loved the polar bears and the penguins."