Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:13

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy ending

I've written a great deal in the last few months in generalities. I've been hitting some heavy topics, things that are among the most painful losses bipolar has brought me. I wrote a little about it here. I am now through it, and it has a very happy ending.

Once upon a time I had the most wonderful best friend on earth. We became friends through a club in college and when roommate time came I asked her to live with me the next year. The first day we were together we realized this was something special. We had so much fun, and it was often fun with fairly odd stuff. We were both fans of the on-going joke, and had several which went on for years. She stuck tight through my early manias (merely annoying), and through a few severe depressions (very challenging to handle, especially the 3 months I got up as rarely as possible and was too depressed to even braid my hair as per usual). She stayed up with me while I cried for hours the night my little brother was born, and then she sat with me and made me watch stupid movies she collected from friends everywhere while he was in the NICU fighting for his life. She made me learn to say I love you, something not at all easy for me. I then moved to Michigan, which is not close to home, for grad school, and our friendship seemed to even grow in that. Long-distance was hard, but we visited as much as possible and once IM'ing became the thing to do we did that every week. We even did Bible studies over IM.

This was the friend who I could talk to about anything. Even with my extensive years in therapy most of the things that occurred in my childhood have only been told to one person. My current therapist knows some, and seems to have a fairly good understanding of how bad things were, but I think he would be the first to say he assumes. She didn't know everything, but she knew a lot. In many ways I trusted her with my life. In fact, during my most suicidal period in college she handed out my pills to me one per night. There was nothing we didn't discuss. There was little we couldn't intuit about one another. One summer at camp I got involved with a ladies man. I didn't see it, everyone else did. I got hurt. She could see it coming just from letters.

After grad school though, things quickly started to change. I moved to about 2 hours from her. For a while we got together often and still had a lot of fun. But my disease was moving out of control. I was having huge panic attacks and I was miserable nearly all the time. Each time I started to get better and have hope the meds were ok I'd be let back down, and each time it got harder. I started to have a lot more negative outlook as I entered 2 solid years of severe, untreatable depression.

At that time she had her first child. At first we did fine. But then I had a suicidal period. I didn't attempt anything, and it certainly wasn't my first, but it was the first that scared me enough to make even me realize something was severely wrong. I got on lithium ASAP and started seeing a Christian counselor. I'd been so afraid of counseling because of past bad experiences, but it turned out that the Christian part made it so I wouldn't have to be told to do things I didn't believe in, which had made me run from previous therapists.

I won't lie. The next few months I was awful. Lithium alone made me cycle very clearly. I would be nice, then furious, then sobbing within moments. I didn't care about anything or anyone. Everyone who is anyone in my life thought I'd be in the hospital within days and really I should have been. I didn't have insurance for mental health stays. I started having paranoia. I'd had it before, but that had always seemed related to my abusive past and difficulty trusting people. Now friends would be sick and I'd be completely convinced they would die. People were doing things to make my life hard. My co-workers were talking about me (ok, so they were). I was horribly agitated and couldn't be expected to do anything involving sitting still or being quiet. Little things caused me to cry for hours or days. There was a rare day I didn't cry.

Our friendship started to change. She pulled back noticeably. There was a week when I had been told I was to be prepared to be admitted one week later. I didn't say much to her that week. I couldn't. I couldn't explain what I was going through. I did, however, talk to another friend who is a psychologist. He, obviously, had slightly more understanding and it was a trust thing; I felt so close to the breaking point that if she had argued one single thing that had been said to me or that I felt I might have made that actual real suicide attempt that I've avoided despite my very high risk. I had told her prior to this that she could always ask the other friend for information, and I had tried to get her information to make it so she could understand what I was going through. I offered books, talking to the mutual friend with or without me, coming to therapy with me, or seeing a different therapist in a different practice together at my expense to try to help her understand what I couldn't understand myself. She refused all of these.

Over the next few months we had a number of disagreements. I started to feel everything I did was wrong. Once she visited and called a few hours after leaving angry that my kitten had scratched her baby. Apparently we'd turned our backs because my kitten had lost all his whiskers and I found them on the floor where she dropped them. That cat has been skittish since. And a scratch won't do anything but teach a baby a lesson they need to learn: respect animals.

During the first few months after I was diagnosed, things were very rough. I was nearly hospitalized many times, and mostly it was my crummy insurance that kept me out. I was fighting to make myself continue with my therapist despite therapy being really hard. I was enrolled in a clinical trial and seeing the psychiatrist and having an extensive evaluation every 2 weeks, requiring frequent trips an hour each way from home. When I finally started to get better my doctors started a program of matter-of-fact training about what I faced. Sometimes it was really hard as I learned some of the ways I had to safeguard my wellness. I was taught things I needed to be more assertive about at work, with family, etc. I was taught to not be so demanding of myself that I made myself worse. I was also taught how to use the ADA, something which my friend felt was wrong. She even went so far as to be angry that I didn't reveal my illness at an interview for another job.

The further my illness progressed and I tried to handle all the changes that come with knowing you will be chronically ill, that there is not a treatment that is likely to work for you with great success, my reactions were all over the place. There were, of course, many things nobody would predict. There were also things that were certain. I always had assumed I would have children. Now I knew I absolutely couldn't. In fact, I not only knew that, but I had to take birth control pills to help reduce PMS affecting my cycling, even though I certainly wasn't having any relationships. She had no idea how much it hurt to see her with her child. I was angry and tired and frustrated with the medications taking over my body--ever gain 60 lbs in 6 months while consuming a healthy diet? I was nauseated and vomiting and my hair was falling out in clumps.

At the same time, she was changing. It's taken me 6 years to fully recognize this and know that the guilt was not all me. Her religious beliefs were becoming more centered around Satan and laying on of hands, and a lot of things I have no experience with and was not comfortable with. Her husband was a pastor and had access to private information about mutual acquaintances/friends. He would tell her and she'd tell me. At the time I never realized what a huge violation that was for everyone. I can only imagine what random people knew about me, and at that time I was not telling anyone about my illness. Those that read this are used to the very relaxed Just Me about telling. Back then it was TOP SECRET.

In February 2003, the same the Columbia fell apart, she called and asked/told me she was coming to see me that evening. She arrived bearing a letter that turned my life upside down. It was long, and she'd been writing for months. Many statements she attributed to me were taken out of context. She made a lot of assumptions about how I was handling my relationship with God, something she was deciding based mainly on my inability to go to church. Like most public places, church is overwhelming and has been for years. One of my goals is to try church a few times this year. I'm finally almost ready--5 1/2 years later. There were judgments about my counselor and about my relationship with another friend. And the crowning glory was the announcement that she had spoken to 8 people in her church, most of who knew me at least on some level, and had them vote on whether I was behaving as a Christian. I lost.

Today I would have thrown her out of my apartment. Back then I sobbed and accepted it all as truth. I had no confidence in myself. I hated all these things my illness had done to/taken from me, and it had to be that I wasn't trying hard enough. She was a pastor's wife, a leader in her church, a church I liked a lot. If she said what I was doing was not possibly having a relationship with God then I believed that.

My reaction was bad. I cried literally for days. I had to be off work. I was probably the most suicidal ever. I lied to avoid hospitalization, the doctor knew it, and instead I did the "prevention plan" routine. Yet I still thought she was right. Within a few weeks I was back to cheerily answering, sounding like she wanted me to. When I confronted her about how dare she say those things with absolutely no guidance to someone who was severely depressed and had repeatedly fought being suicidal in recent months, her answer was that she knew it was a risk, but it was one she had to take. She risked my life, my best friend risked my life, because she had decided my disease was one of sin.

It took months for me to get strong enough to really deal with it. Finally, 7 or 8 months later, I told her I wanted a break from our friendship, which by then was a crummy experience anyway. I think she just couldn't actually be the one to end it because that would look bad for her. I used those months to write a good-bye letter. It took a long time to send, but with support from others I did send it. It included a simple request: Never contact me. She has respected that, although I imagine she won't should she randomly find this someday.

For the next 5 years I have shied away from friends. I have dreaded getting close to someone and then getting hurt. I have a few friends, but nothing like a traditional friendship. It is of course complicated by the fact that it is extremely hard to have a social life when you have noise and often movement sensitivity. I often can't go many places, although that's changing now.

So, way back in January, Dr. Mind and I had a number of difficult discussions about trust. Essentially I learned that I was at a point where I could continue coasting for a little bit, but if I want to be better there are issues I have to deal with, and to do so means having to trust him and Dr. Brain. From prior conversations Dr. Mind has said he thinks that given enough time and work he can help me function even without having him babysitting (not his term) me all the time. He seems to have a plan for how to do this. I'm glad, because I don't seem to move forward if I'm picking topics. First, we all did some collaboration to get my anxiety as controlled as it has ever been. Then we somehow dove into conversations that required me to trust Dr. Mind more each week. There were lots of tears as I talked about how alone I have been for the last 5 1/2 years, how many friendships I've destroyed, even one that started in kindergarten and ended when newly bipolar Just Me couldn't handle her friend's wedding invitation. Eventually we got to the letter.

I'm not even sure how long we have been going through that thing. Several weeks initially, then there were a few weeks I avoided it, then more weeks. Ultimately a week or two ago I agreed that I would re-read it and shred it if I was done. When I read it I realized we had discussed all of it, mostly without my even knowing (which was much less painful). It went through the shredder on Tuesday.

I can't really describe how proud of myself I am and how happy. I finally believe that yes, I did change and certainly I changed in ways that weren't good. I did things that were wrong. I have things I have to re-learn about other people. I also have to work on believing in myself more, trusting that I am allowed to be at my own level. I am starting to even begin to be ready to talk about my faith issues, which are rather complicated due to years of believing I was lost to God or something according to my friend, knowing that wasn't what my God said, yet coping with cognition which limits me to children's Bibles.

When I saw Dr. Mind this week he asked why I'd decided it was ok to shred the letter. I knew it was ok when I saw there was no more feeling of "slap in the face with all the things wrong with me". But I knew it was the absolute right thing on Wednesday. One of my often abrasive patients was teasing me, and had been all day. She and I have a great relationship, which is rare for her. Finally I hugged her and told her I loved her. She didn't hesitate a beat before she said she loved me too. And when I heard that, I believed it. It's been a long time since I believed that when someone said it, even though I do know that there are people in my life who love me. It's just been a loaded word.

Finally I know why. Other people can love me, just as I am. It doesn't just have to be one person, it doesn't have to be limited to my mother, it doesn't have to be love only in one way, and it doesn't have to be "because I'm supposed to, she is sick after all".

I no longer believe that this one person's love was greater than all others. I am free.


Emilija said...

I'm glad to hear it! It's good to read your blog again. I've got a new computer, my last one went kaput. I'm not sure i'm going to keep blogging. I'm in a relationship and don't want to say anything that could jeapardize his privacy.

Cranky Amy said...

Wow, just wow. Thank you for posting this story. It's inspiring for us that may not be bipolar, but who have those rampant trust issues. Thanks.

CP said...

This was a brilliant post. Saw so much of myself in it, including the childhood friend that I feel I can never measure up to anymore.

You have changed...good for you!