Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. She would have been fifty-two years old. I can remember her last birthday like it was today. I lived far away so I called her and the first words out of her mouth were, “Suzy, don’t start. I can’t handle it right now.” You see since she was seven years older than me, I always teased her on her birthdays. That birthday was the first time that she actually meant for me not to joke about it. I knew instantaneously that she seriously didn’t want me to kid around. That day instead of joking back and forth, I sat at my kitchen table drinking tea out of the cup that she gave me for one of my birthdays, and listened to her tell me that she was really upset about that birthday. I felt for every word she shared with me, and I so wanted to climb through the phone and reach out and hold her, but all I could do was listen. Sometimes I wonder if she knew how much I wanted her to know I was there for her. I never did get the chance to find out and I never will.
Right now I feel as though I am surrounded by death. In the last three years I have lost my gram, my aunt Gloria, and my mom. Dad is next and there is nothing I can do about it, except sit and wait for it to happen and to let him know that I love him and it is ok for him if he wants to go.
This weekend I am going to visit him, but I am not going alone. Denny is going to drive down with me and try to make it so there is down time as well. I know I said I wasn’t going to go back, but there are things that I have to do that I didn’t know needed to get done while I was there. Another reason that I am going to go is because of a woman that used to go to the support group that I facilitate. I found out that she has stage four breast cancer. You might wonder why that makes me want to go back to New Jersey. I can’t answer that, well maybe I can. She is alone. Lives alone at a senior living place and is not the kind of person to get to know others really well. All her life she had suffered with anxiety and depression. I wonder how she who suffers like my parents had, could she be all alone. Maybe it was because she didn’t self-medicate like my parents.
She told me about her cancer in my voice mail and I can’t bring myself to call her back. I know that is horrible of me, but I am finding it really difficult to do. I think she was the first person that had me saw that I can really help another. When she first started at the group, she was so quiet and within a few months she opened up so much that I had to remind her that the rest of the group members needed time as well. She never got disappointed that I had to remind her and at one time she told me that was thankful that I had done that. Maybe tomorrow I will call her.
So why do I say I am surrounded by death, because that is all I can think about right now. I look at old pictures and find that in most of them, more than half the people in them are dead or dying. Than because of that, I think about my own. I wonder if I will die naturally or will it be from my own hand. Right now I am ok, but there are so many times that I am not and can think of nothing else but ways in which I could really do it. I envision myself so much that it feels like I am really doing it. Well I guess that is something that God can answer.
Today I had to write a recovery story for the training I am in. I did a good job on it, I think, only thing is I wonder if it was really me that I was writing about. I mean I know it is about me and all, but can I stay that way.
Anyways I know this is a long blog already, but I am going to add my recovery story here, so if you have had enough of reading my stuff just finish this paragraph. Also to let you know, the picture above is one of the last of my sister before she died. If you stop at this sentence…TTFN
If you are reading on, here is my recovery story so far…
As early as I can remember, I have always felt like a spectator of the world. Never did I feel as though I belonged anywhere. I felt as though I didn’t have any control of my behavior, thoughts or feelings. In my mind I always thought that I was like that because I was adopted and felt as though I was missing something. I remember that while I was in my early years of school, I got into to trouble for the actions that I felt were out of my control and when I tried to explain this to people, they just told me that was crazy, because everyone decides how they will act.
It was not until the beginning of my tweens did I realize that some of the actions acted upon me were not what everyone else had to deal with. I just thought in my mind that everyone had to go through the same traumas that I was enduring. By the time that I realized that it was not normal I was too ashamed to let anyone know what was going on. Because of the shame I felt, I lived in the prison I had created in my own mind throughout the rest of my childhood.
My moods were all over the place, but I was able to learn how to hide it, and I managed to hide it well enough through most of my early adulthood. During that time I was in an abusive marriage and being that I felt lousy about me as a person, I felt that I deserved what I was living. When I finally spoke to my sister about the life I was living she told me that she would figure out how to get me out of the situation. Within the month of our discussion, my sister had a heart attack and eventually died from it three months later. Because I have illogical thinking at times, I held guilt that somehow God was punishing her and me for sharing my secret.
After the death of my sister I experienced symptoms that I could not control any longer and was in full blown mania. Most of my symptoms before that time was depression and when mania hit it was mostly talking loud and too much. Within two years I managed to spend day and night online in chat rooms thinking that I alone could save all the children from online predators and needed to be on the computer all the time. Mind you I had a ten year old son at the time and needless to say he was raising himself at that point. I don’t remember much of that time and I don’t even remember leaving my son with his grandmother and taking a bus six hundred miles away. I do remember that his father had threatened to kill me when he got home from one of his truck driving runs. One thing I could say thank God about was that the man that I moved near did not take advantage of the situation. That man made sure that I got into a domestic violence shelter and found me a mental health center that I could go to.
That first mental health facility was that first place I ever went to that told me I had mental illness. They told me that I was Bipolar and had both PTSD and anxiety. Right away I felt that I was marked, marked with a terrible label that I felt I needed to rid myself from. I thought I could cure it and thought I had nine months later when I moved again and worked two jobs, took classes and managed my own residence. Little did I know that I was again in a mania, but was hidden by the fact that I was now a productive member of society. It was not until a few years later that I ran into a major depression that caused me to be unproductive at the great job I had as office manager/bookkeeper, a job I was able to do without thinking, became unbearable to keep up with. After a few months like that, I was called into the office of the board members and told that I was fired and I was so depressed that I thanked them and went home and quite the small part-time job I did as a tax professional.
Suicide ran through my mind so many times and before my son was born I had actually tried a few attempts, but after I lost my job I walked the streets at night, hoping that someone would do the job for me. I still had the key to the tax office that I worked part-time at and I remember letting myself in and calling the hotline number I found and refused to tell them who I was, but they figured it out and within a day I was admitted for the first time to a hospital.
Still with the thought that I could fix myself I managed to make myself worse. It was also during this time that I moved to Providence. I was in and out of hospitals for a couple of years. Finally in 2008 I had a major depressive period that had me stay in my bed for five months. The Providence Center admitted me into the hospital once again and it was finally than that I realized that I could not beat the illness, but to learn how to live with it. It was important for me to trust my doctor and the medications she prescribed, and my own ability to be well. I knew that if I embraced that hope and believed that I could contribute to the world that I lived in; my life would have meaning for me and the people around me. Learning that I could live with my illness has given me so much more than trying to control and hide it from others. Having a new empowerment has leaded me to enter school and carry pretty good grades.
I became more aware of my symptoms and how to vocalize those symptoms to my case manager, therapist and doctor before they got to out of control for me to handle them. During this time I also became aware of NAMI and realized that though mental illness was still stigmatized, I could find a way to help to educate others about the illness and learn to be a peer to others. I was beginning to face the stigma straight on and was less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when I told someone I have mental illness. I began to facilitate a support group through NAMI and really began to feel strength in myself that I had never felt before. During my own recovery, I learned how important and effective self-help groups are for people coping with mental illness.
Now I am not saying that I am without setbacks. Recently I had to take a semester off of school, because both my parents had entered hospice at around the same time, and I know that with stress my symptoms can get out of control. Knowing that I also knew that if I forced myself to take classes with symptoms I would do more harm than good for me. During this break I am made sure to keep in constant contact with my mental health workers and watch for signs of any possible symptoms. Sometimes it can be hard to decipher what are symptoms and what are natural reactions to stress.
There's no denying that mental illness will affect what you can and can’t do, but it won’t necessarily be in a negative way. You may – or may not – be able to have the job or career you were hoping for. Individuals’ abilities to cope vary. But if you’re one of those who aren’t able to follow a traditional life plan, there are alternative avenues that can lead to fulfillment. Living with bipolar disorder is a challenging journey, but it is also one with many possibilities.
Creativity has been an excellent outlet for me. I find that writing allows me to share many things that I find hard to say verbally. I have often thought of writing a book about my experiences and who knows, maybe one day I will. Taking my camera out gives me the perfect way for me to show others how I see the world. I have even been asked to show some of my photos at a gallery, and that is something that never would have happened had I not embraced my illness and decided to work around it and with it.
Also because of my illness, I have had the opportunity to meet wonderful people who have become my support network and friends. Had I not decided to accept my illness, I would have never known many caring, strong and loving people.
I used to look around me and wish for things I didn’t have and how life handed me a big old bag of coal. Once I decided to really look at the illness and the possibilities around it, I realized that if I rubbed the coal enough, I could have a diamond. I just had to find the way to do it. I am not saying that I totally found that diamond yet, but I am still working on it, and that is what keeps me going.
Well that is the end as of today. Tomorrows is another day, and let’s hope for good things. TTFN