"Dancing With Madness" by Carolina
Going back home to a lot of people is the start of many emotions. Pure joy, mostly. Not many have the chance to find their way back after a lifetime or two of experiences. Some find a new home, and there they die a pleasant death surrounded by family members and friends. But for those who do make it back, it's a feeling of serenity and triumph, and happiness.
Not for me.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't hate it here. I'm glad I'm back because it was my choice to do so, and here I hope to pick up the pieces of my shattered life, again. I don't feel anything. But I'm not emotionless because I just don't care. This is just the way I'm feeling right now. Here I am standing in front of the house I spent most of my life in, and I am not overwhelmed by feelings. When I see someone I haven't seen in 20 years, it's as if no time has passed at all. When there's a death in the family, I am usually the one who doesn't spill the tears. I guess it depends on the mood I'm in. As my daughter says, "It's part of the disease."
Most people would bore you to tears with their old, "Nothing had changed, as if time hadn't passed at all." Well, things have changed, me for once. But I'm always changing, cycling around 3 times a year. That's my little joke.
Other people live here now. I can tell it's a family by all the toys spread around the lawn and backyard. More than one child by the variety of toys, probably a boy and a girl, but I don't care about that, so I speed up and drive out of the neighborhood. Maybe I'll be back again someday. Maybe not.
For now, I'm finding refuge on my friend Gina's house. She‘s the only person I know who doesn‘t change. But I can tell I have. I don't know if other people see it, but I feel it inside of me. I feel myself morphing from time to time. It's not scary, or painful. I've grown used to it. Sometimes I change for the better; sometimes I plunge deeper. But overall, I think I'm better now than I used to be. Or maybe I'm giving myself too much credit.
I found a therapist as soon as I got here, it was part of the deal. She's a nice lady who used to work with my first psychiatrist, so I saw that as a good sign. I've had so many therapists over the years that I can probably teach some of the young ones about what they should and shouldn't do. I know their games and mind tricks. But somehow they still manage to pull another one of their hat every once in a while. Getting a new therapist is kind of exciting. It's almost like changing toothpastes. At first you feel a little weird and you might not like the taste it leaves in your mouth. But after a while you learn to get used to it. If one doesn't work, you throw it away and go buy another one.
She thinks it's so nice that I am feeling better, that I'm taking my medication every day. That I was able to find one which my body has grown used to. That I choose to take it every day. But we both know better than to scream victory yet.
I have been living for many years engulfed in the arts, painting, designing. It seems almost unbelievable that I never knew writing could be so soothing. My therapist thought it could be therapeutic, but I always remained reluctant. However now that I've started, I don't know if I'll be able to stop. What will happen to this notebook after I'm done? It'll probably be burnt. I don't have expectations of measuring up to Patty Duke or Kay Radfield Jamison. After all, I'm just another "crazy" person with a lot of good stories to tell. Ask any other mentally ill person and they will tell you the same thing. Most of our stories are similar, the outcomes might be as well. The trails follow the same road. But what most scares me is that right now I'm about to relieve some of those horrible events which almost tore me apart, and willing to dig deep enough to find some of the ones which have saved my life.
Natural Born Killer
I was born in July 14, 1943 in New York, the only daughter to a salesman and a housewife. I have 3 brothers, two older, one younger. I don't remember much about my childhood. Most people find this unusual; some therapists think it's normal. To me, it may be a blessing.
I know a lot of people connect mental illnesses to abused, molested, or neglected childhoods. That's not my case. Well, my father was a stranger who thought money was the key to happiness. He was one of those men who worked their backs all day and never spent a penny because there was always something we needed it for, although that something never really showed up. I call him a stranger because he was that to us. What I remember most about him is the newspaper. No matter what time it was, where we were, or what was happening in our lives, my father always seemed to be reading the newspaper. He died when I was 13 for reasons I did not find out until much more later.
My mother was one of those women who always dreamed of being a mother and a house wife. Being an only daughter, our bond was deep. But there were things I never dared tell my mother. There were secrets I had but was too scared to share with her, or anyone else for that matter. She was my best friend for many years, that wonderful infantile stage. When the teenage years kicked in, it was a different story altogether.
Growing up I was a model child. I know that surprises people, but I was! At home I was perfect; at school I was an angel. Ask any of my family members and they'll tell you how everyone was putting their money down on me being either a doctor, a lawyer, or an architect. It seems almost funny now. Almost.
My mother comes from a huge Irish family, all of whom lived in New York. My father never talked about his family. He was a distant man, sometimes sweet and sometimes scornful. Sometimes he'd take us to the park to fly kites and eat ice cream, sometimes I get the feeling he hated us. All I know is that he had one sister, and his parents died when he was very young. Even when we asked him, he would not tell, and I learned not to care about it. It never seemed important. Until his death.
It was a quiet September morning when I woke up early to my mother's scream. There were steps running up and down the house and my mother's cries seemed to stop time. I laid there in my bed, somehow already aware of what had happened. He had a quiet service in which no one showed up but us. My mother said he had had a natural death, and although we didn‘t know what that meant, no one never questioned it. We went home that afternoon and my father's name was never mentioned again until much later.
I always admired my mother's desire to stay home and raise a family, but now, fatherless and penniless, we had found that misery comes not only in the emotional way, but in many others. We had to move with my mother’s family, and at 13, I was sharing a house with what seemed like hundreds of people. Who knew human beings could reproduce so fast? It seemed like every day I was introduced to a new cousin. Still, with no privacy and no real recognition of who I was and what was my goal on earth, I kept on going to school and trying to be a good daughter. And that I was. The perfect daughter.
My older brothers were out of the house by the time I was a teenager; my younger brother was the one everyone was worried about. He was a quiet dude who liked to show everyone how much he suffered. I call him a "dude" because that's what he looks like. He was an emotional wreck who would waste no time in crying his eyes out for no the simplest of things. I hated him for that. Everyone worried about him, everyone was putting their money down on him not amounting to anything. Still almost funny.
I remember more about my teenage years, probably because it happened much later and my mind was sharper. I knew things, and I knew things were happening. Something was changing inside of me and I liked it. I was mature, and smart, and always open minded. By the time I was 18, I felt like I was 30, and ready to go out into the world to knock it down. Despite my mother's down spiral of emotions, I tried to keep things alive. I got a job when she'd stay home crying. I took care of my brother when she was missing my father. I was the glue holding things together; I was never allowed to break down. That would show I was weak and vulnerable, and that was unconceivable.
I chose to go to college somewhere outside of New York. I wanted out of that house so bad that I chose the first college which sent me a letter of acceptance and a full scholarship: The University of Minnesota at the Twin Cities. My mother begged me to stay; my brother couldn't wait to have me out of the house. I was very emotionless about it. Leaving my family and friends was no big deal, and finally I found myself alone, without pop up cousins, shutting doors, lack of privacy or my mother's tears. It was perfect. Too perfect.
The Sun Will Come Out...?
My first year of college was wonderful, probably the best year of my life. I made so many friends, I lost track. I dated so much that at one point there weren't enough guys left on campus. I got all As on my first semester, and then again on the second. I must have been involved in a thousand clubs, clubs that were even unrelated to what I wanted to do, teach. My roommate Gina was my best friend and together we were the best team. She idolized me. She envied my energy and my drive, and my straightforwardness and how I dealt with emotions. When she needed someone to back her up, there I was. For the first time in my life, I was the kid everyone wanted to be. Even myself.
During the summer we had so much fun that I found beauty every where I looked. Everyone liked me, they really, really liked me. It was a time of freedom and love and glory. When I think of a time in which my life was a life, I think of that year.
I never really thought things would come down. I don't know when exactly, or where. But all of a sudden when someone made a joke, it didn't seem as funny. I'd sleep more, I'd eat less, I had less enthusiasm. The second year of college started and I was less driven, more lazy, and incredibly unrecognizable. It was like slowly staring at a revolving restaurant with many faces. I knew something was coming and I was powerless to stop it. After all, I didn't know what it was. But I knew it was bad. It felt bad, I heard it coming... bad.
I don't know why, but a sudden anger took over me, and in a burst of rage I was thrown out of the dorms and into the first apartment I could find. My scholarship paid for room and board, but not for an apartment. Now not only did I have to go to school full time, live with that anger, and deal with my alienated friends, I would also have to find a source of income.
So there I was at 19, in my own apartment, paying for it with a part time job and my savings, right smack in the 60's. I changed my major to arts after a startling revelation. Images started to dance in my mind and as if my hand had a life of its own, I picked up a brush and started to paint, draw, and design. In a desperate attempt to get rid of those images in my mind, I'd release them into a piece of paper. Headless people, corpses, dead forests... not what you would call "happy thoughts".
One day I woke up, only I didn't. I couldn't get out of bed nor did I want to. I knew that whatever was coming was here already. Maybe I'm just tired? Maybe I miss my friends? Maybe I'm homesick? Whatever it was, I never knew it was a depression, my first major depressive episode. I thought I was just sad, homesick, or yearning. Or maybe I was just being a baby? I'd lay in my bed all day, not going to class. When the phone rang, I wouldn't answer. When people would drop by, I was simply too tired and depressed to open the door. I merely got up to go to the bathroom and back to bed. Some days I'd have a little energy and so I'd go out for a walk. But still, as I strode along the street, those images would not leave my mind. Colors were simply not colors anymore, but just black bleached into fake reds, yellows, and blues. Birds were not singing, they were crying out in pain. People were not in love, they were just fooling themselves.
Life wasn't beautiful anymore. It had no purpose. We're all just going to die anyway, why live at all? Why go to college or fall in love, or get married and have children? Why? It's all going to crumble down to pieces anyway. I could not stand the sight of other people. When I did go to class, the voice of the teacher came from miles away. I'd have to read the same sentence over and over in order to understand what it was saying to me. Even when it did, I couldn't comprehend it, grasp the concept, do what so easily I had been doing only a couple of months before. I'd cry all night, for no reason at all. My body was so heavy, I'd weight myself to see if I had gained weight, but felt confused when I realized I had been losing it. It seemed as though gravity was ten times more powerful on me only. The pain was killing me inside and outside. The anguish of it all was so, so powerful. I don't know how I was able to survive those moments.
What was happening? I never knew. I never questioned it. Everyone has bad days. Everyone feels a little down every once in a while. Everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed at least once a month. The days went by and when I thought everything was lost, there was that feeling again. Something else was going to happen, another change.
Maybe not everything was lost? Maybe there was hope after all? One day I woke up, and I felt better, and each day, a little more. Eventually I found the old Maggie again and everything was... normal. I apologized to my old friends, who readily welcomed me back into their lives. I made an impressive case in front of my dean to let me drop my classes to take them again. Why? I was sick... very sick. Only I didn't know the biggest lie I had ever told was actually the truth.
During this time of change, I remained quiet. Why? Probably shame. I had hurt my friends, I had failed tests, I hadn't been myself for almost 3 months, I had seen things. As a child we'd go to church every Sunday, and nothing was more injected into me than Catholicism. During my depression I saw things. I saw death. I saw the devil. I saw hell, I was in hell. I saw myself there, headless, disconnected from the rest of the world. The images seemed as real as my own hands waving themselves in front of me. I saw huge rats only to hush them away and realize they weren't really there. I saw my neighbors and friends dead. I saw my father dead, blood dripping our of his mouth and nose. In my mind, I was damned, a damned 20 year old child. I had let the devil into my life and I was sure God, my family, and my friends all hated me for having these thoughts. I had thought of suicide. My whole life the idea of ending my own life had been a sin, yet now, it was an escape. After this hell of a life, I was well on my way to hell.
I started going to church and trying to have positive thoughts. Things seemed to regain their beauty once more. Jokes were funny, and people were kind, and my friends were wonderful, and the hills were alive and so was I.
My long dark days were gone, and I was going up like a balloon. I embraced my course of study once more and suddenly I was taking more classes than a normal person could handle. It was a sudden hunger, a hunger for productivity. I was also suddenly concerned about the unfairness of the war, about testing chemicals on animals, about women's rights. I was passionate when it came to protesting, and just about everything else in my life. I talked to one of the professors to let me take a seniors class. As I talked, waving my hands back and forth and so fast I wouldn't let him talk, he looked at me in a certain way I was too distracted to notice. When I finished talking, he asked me a little about myself. I did answer his questions, but instead of letting me take the class, he gave me his card.
Dr. Rayburn. There it was, in black letters. I thought I'd be going to a meeting to make my case, instead, I found myself in therapy without even knowing. He asked me all sorts of questions about my past, my family, and myself. Innocently, I provided that information. Everything spun around when he asked me about my moods. My moods? What moods? I don't have moods.
"Have you ever been depressed?"
Depressed? The word had no meaning to me. What I knew about depressions was that people had them when they lost a loved one or things were going bad at work. Depressions? Me? Why? There was no reason for me to be. No one had died and things were going ok at school. It wasn't until he explained what he was asking when it all made sense. Instead of sharing, I got angry, and paranoid. Who is this guy, anyway? Is he following me? How does he know about my depression? Who put you up to this? Oh yeah, it's one of the nice side effects of my illness, paranoia.
For days after that I would not leave my apartment. I was convinced people were following me, tapping my phone, out to get me. Inside my little place, I'd draw for hours. I'd draw so much that sometimes my hand would go numb. I'd start one thing, and stop in the middle to start another, and another, and another, until there were so many papers lying around I had to throw them all away. I loved this energy, this sudden drive. I was productive. I was smart, beautiful, and sexy. My paranoia was gone one day when I woke up, and I simply had to get out.
The dating game? Oh yeah. I don't remember how many guys I dated during that period, but they weren't a few. A lot of people think that the worst part of all of these times are the depressions. Well, I'd think twice. When you're depressed you're bound to a bed all day, thinking in black and yearning death. Yet there you are, able to choose between life and death. Mania is a strong hand which guides you along where ever you don't want to go. You simply cannot control yourself or your actions. Thoughts race through your mind so fast that you can't keep track of them. You can't concentrate on television or a song. You can't sleep. You do things you wouldn't normally do when you're normal. You have sex with guys you usually wouldn't look at twice. You put yourself at risk of getting an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease. Only it's not you. It's someone else controlling your whole body. It's as if there's so much energy inside of you, you want to explode. Literally, you can't breathe. The path to mania is simply wonderful, the best part. You know you're going up but at the same time you can control yourself. Once you get up there, all hell breaks lose.
I'd see myself flirting with guys, and I'd yell at myself, "Stop it, Maggie!" Only I wasn't hearing myself. I was at the mercy of whatever had possessed me. I simply could not stop it no matter how much I tried.
It was during this manic euphoria when I met Charles. He was a good looking senior who was studying architecture because he was in love with shapes and forms. Being an art student, and incredibly manic, we spent hours talking about the arts and architecture. A match made in heaven. We bought a ticket and stepped in into that roller coaster of love.
Somewhere along the line my manic episode subsided. Gina had always been well aware of my moods, and because I had snapped at her for saying something about it, she simply remained quiet and got used to them. Charles, on the other hand, did not stay quiet. He was always very observant, very well in touch with my feelings. In a way he knew I wouldn't decline, he asked me if he could take me to talk to a psychiatrist. I felt a little betrayed, after all, I was back to normal again. Why would I need a therapist? But I loved Charles, I still do, and so unwillingly, I went.
I only agreed to be seen by a woman because my feminist spirit was soaring high back then. She asked all sort of questions about my moods, my depressions, which to me always seemed as romantic melancholy, and my past. Most of the questions were left unanswered. One session turned into two, and two into three. She kept asking questions I couldn't answer, about my family, and my past. For me it was physically painful to pick up that phone, but I finally did, and called my mother. That call changed everything. It was then when I finally worked up the courage to ask my mom about my father. She told me he had an accident, despite her previous ’natural death’ story. What kind of accident? No one was inventive enough to ask. Turns out he "accidentally" swallowed a pharmacy of pills. Why? Schizophrenia.
My father? Crazy? How come I didn't see it? He was always reading. I never saw him talking to himself. I was confused, angry, and felt guilty. Maybe if I had given my father a chance, I could have helped him. Maybe if I had talked to him instead of walking by, we would have found ways to help each other out.
Finally after I learned to trust my therapist, to let her know who I really was, what had gone through my mind, about my depression, she called me up and sat me down. She explained she believed I was suffering from a mood disorder... Manic Depression. You're not damned, you're not going to hell, you're not the only one, you're not crazy.
Not Just a River in Egypt
Denial is a powerful force. It crawls under your skin and controls who you are, how you feel and what you think. It's a loud voice inside of you that keeps telling you everything is ok, that the doctors are wrong, that your moods are psychosomatic, that when they're gone, they won't come back. The voice never shuts up. When it does, everything seems painfully clear, until it starts whispering on your ear again. If you ignore it, you have to face a lifetime of medication and psychotherapy. If you believe in it, you're dead.
The only thing I recognized about what she had told me was the word "disorder". Disordered. My mind was disordered. Things were supposed to be neatly placed in my brain but they weren't. I felt like a scum. I wasn't normal. I was mentally ill. I was a psycho. I'd be given electric shocks and I'd lose my short term memory. I was going to be sent to a mental institution. Children would be scared of me. Charles would leave me. I'd die alone and crazy.
It was 1964, and lithium was not circulating yet. I found myself being experimented on with thousands of different drugs. Drugs here, drugs there, drugs everywhere. Drugs which made me sleepy; drugs which made me gain weight; drugs which made me drowsy; drugs which gave me diarrhea; drugs which made me nauseous... you name the side effect, I've had it.
It wasn't worth it. It wasn't that bad, really. I was ok. I knew everything. I'm not sick, I'm ok. I'm fine. I don't need help. I'm not depressed anymore. I'm high, high on life!
This was the start of many denial schemes. I refused to accept the fact that I had a mental illness. The phrase was not synonymous to Maggie. I didn't tell my mom. I begged Charles not to tell our friends. "What's wrong with Maggie?" She's sad because she failed a test. We just had a fight. She's got the flu.
I'm not sick, you're sick! What is Manic Depression anyway? I must have read hundreds of books about it and even though it was clear as day, I refused to believe what was in front of me. This was Maggie, a straight A student who was going to be a doctor, a lawyer and an architect. I was going to marry Charles and together we'd have 5 children, and we'd live happily ever after. This was not happening. Not to me.
I stopped taking my medication.
I kept living my life. I kept going to class and lying to Charles. I'd flush tens of pills down the toilet every day. I don't think he believed me. The lows became lower, the highs higher. I had tried to hold it in as much as I could but somewhere down the line the bottle broke. I wasn't Maggie anymore, I was manic depression and everything it encompasses. Now that I knew about the illness, everything seemed to revolve around it. The word "crazy" had a whole new different meaning. Yet I also refused to accept this darkness that had taken over my life.
As I kept cycling up and down I was able to convince myself this was not happening, it was not happening. It was as if the therapist had told me I had died, but would have to live with it. I dropped out of college because I felt I needed some time off. Charles asked me to move in with him and without the minimum amount of fanfare, I did. I had so many bottles of pills on the cupboard I couldn't keep track of which was for what anymore. Were they helping? Maybe a little. I had this plan for me, and this was not how things were supposed to pan out. Every night I'd fall asleep crying and praying. God, please, let this be a mistake. Please take these depressions away, please. Give me my life back, dear lord.
He never answered my prayers.
Me, Myself, and Madness
Throughout my life, many people have disliked me, just like I have disliked a few as well. I've had awful clashes with friends, family members and even my own children. Human rivalry has been with us since the creation of our existence and it is both uncomfortable and heartbreaking. My disease has made me both lovable and scornful. I have had many friends, and many adversaries. Yet there's nothing more despairing than having your worst enemy living inside your mind.
When I was young, life had a purpose. Everything was written down on paper and for everyone around me it seemed easy to follow that path set for them. When I was little I had a path too, and I was well on my way to follow it. But at 23, I didn't know who I was anymore. Every morning I woke up feeling differently than when I did when I went to bed. I avoided mirrors at all costs. When I stumbled upon one, I'd have to touch it to find out if what I was seeing was real. There is something mysteriously disturbing about madness. Not only does it destroy everything you are inside, but it also changes how you look outside.
Which Maggie is going to walk through the door today? The nice Maggie? The nasty Maggie? The beautiful Maggie? The ugly one? Not only was I a stranger to myself, my closest friends and family could not recognize me anymore.
Before I knew I was Bipolar, I dare say things were a little better. Not knowing what ills you gives you hope. My moods were always blamed on outside factors, the death of my father, school and love. Now that I had been diagnosed, there was no other explanation than pure insanity. I couldn't tell if my depressions were due to me being Bipolar or me knowing I was mentally ill. I felt sorry for myself and why not? I had no seat in this world, I gave it up.
The medication they gave me made me sick. It made me gain weight and gave me hand tremors. When I wasn't dizzy, I was tired, and when I wasn't tired, I was depressed. 23 year olds are at the prime of their lives. They are full of youth, beauty and energy. They are going places. They have a long and promising road ahead of them. They have hope. At 23 years old, I couldn't even take care of myself.
Every day was a 24 hour battle. Is this how it's going to be for the rest of my life? My mental depression was gone, yet physically I carried the weight of melancholy. I wasn't Maggie anymore. My eyes were void, dark, and lost. I had dropped out of college and was living with Charles in a small apartment he couldn't even afford. My presence wasn't working either. I was sure he hated me. Of course he hates me. Who wants to be with a crazy person? Who wants to go to bed every night with a time bomb?
It was a warm night of July when I packed a slight bag, kissed Charles while he slept, and ran out. I left the love of my life, my dreams and my medication. I had a small bag with me with a couple of things and that was it. There was no reason to pack more. I'm sure that the day after, Charles called my mother and went crazy with worry, yet apathy had taken a hold of me. To this day I don't know what pushed me to that edge. I felt confined, no longer myself. I couldn't live taking two pills a day to control my moods, and other pills to control the side effects, and other pills to help me sleep. If I had to live like that, then living was not worth it.
I walked, and walked, and walked. I walked with my little bag on my hand and a whirlwind of thoughts on my head. So furious that the thoughts were thin, weak, almost non existent. I walked until there were holes on my shoes. I begged people for money on the streets and ate scraps from dumpsters. I saw people go on with their lives, and me with my own, dragging it by its feet. Where was I? It never seemed important. I knew if I was severely depressed, I couldn't have had the energy to walk so much. What was happening this time? I don't know. I wanted to run away yet I wasn't manic. I wanted to die yet I wasn't depressed. A mixed episode? Who knows. But all I knew is that I was walking, with nothing in my mind, no destination and no point of return. Where I wound up? Oklahoma.
One day my feet stopped and I woke up from a long slumber. Oklahoma? I had walked all the way from Minnesota to Oklahoma. How? I don't know. What day was it? I didn't care. I walked around the city for a while, looking around. I slept at door steps and once more begged for money. Men would give me something extra if I let them touch me here or there, but never more than that. Every once in a while a nice person would buy me food and let me shower at their home. It was the nice thing about the 60's, peace and love and trust and help your neighbor. I got a lift whenever I wanted to. "Where are you going? I'm heading to Georgia." Well, I'm headed that way too.
As I sat on a bench by the park one day, staring up at the sky I literally felt my body sink in heavier than it had ever had before. Have I mentioned I was only 23 years old? I looked up and there they were, the buildings, rising high in the sky like majestic birds, dancing in front of me. There was my freedom. There was my opportunity to fly away and never return.
I climbed up to the first one I found, high enough to kill me, and where a security guard wouldn't ask if I was there to see someone. I opened the stairs to the roof, and there was the edge, just resting there quietly. It was windy, the perfect weather to leave this earth. I put my bag down and sat on the edge, staring down at the contrast between my feet and the pavement. I sat there for a long time, knowing that at any second, my body would involuntarily move forward and I'd be free. I'd fly.
I never did notice that around me there were other buildings, with other offices, which had crystal windows. Someone must have seen me up there and called the police. Before I knew it, I wasn't alone anymore. There were other people around me, firemen and policemen, all soothing, telling me everything was going to be ok if I just turned around and went with them. I was aware of the crowd gathering at the bottom of the building, all looking up. From other buildings, people were looking too. I was the center off attention there, and I really didn‘t know why.
"You don't want to do this, come on, we'll help you."
It was a male voice, and he was walking near. All the while I kept staring down, yearning to splat against the ground, wanting to leave this earth, to fly. I closed my eyes and let out a sigh, and at the same time two strong arms gathered mine.
I knew I was in an ambulance, yet I was motionless. I was restrained, and two paramedics were looking down at me. I was there but I was not there. They were asking questions and I wasn't answering. I was hearing them but far away. I was taken to the nearest hospital where I was immediately under the care of a psychiatrist. He kept asking questions, and I kept my silence.
"Is there a reason as to why you wanted to kill yourself?"
They discontinued my favorite bra.
"How long have you been depressed?"
Am I depressed?
"Is there someone you want us to call?"
How about the fashion police to help you deal with that comb over?
"Well, I don't know how long I can keep you here, budget's tight and we've been on a little roller coaster."
Join the club, scooter.
I saw him sign something on a chart, which he gave to a nurse, and walked away from me. I watched with weary eyes, seeing the whole process. I was injected with something and left in the room by myself. My eyes closed and I fell asleep, and the next day I woke up and they injected me with the same thing, and then the same night. One night my eyes opened with a bolt of electricity. Suddenly the restraints were icing on the cake and they were sent flying somewhere. Thoughts were racing through my mind, my body was moving by itself. I couldn't breathe. If I didn't run, I'd die. I knocked everything out of my way and opened the door, and ran.
People looked my way, but all I could do was scream this energy away, and get rid of it by running. Nurses began to call other nurses who called doctors who all chased me down the hall. It was probably the scariest experience a human being can endure. Your body is moving so fast that you are not aware of a movement until 10 seconds had passed. Your brain is compressed, and nothing you do is enough to get rid of this terrible energy. You talk so fast that words are incoherent. So you scream, and run, and watch as your own body takes charge and it looks like a puppet being mastered by strings under the hands of a madman.
Without knowing how, I got a hold of a sharp object, maybe some scissors. I threatened to kill myself and everyone who would touch me, but I don't know if I actually said those words or they were screamed incoherently. I threw a few shots and suddenly there were arms around me, and I was pinned to the ground. I felt needles pricking, and arms lifting me, and restrains being put around me once more. I heard doctors talking, and my thoughts racing, chasing each other. I kept screaming, but no one would listen. They were asking themselves what had happened, and apparently I had been given a strong anti depressant which triggered a manic episode. I was induced into hell.
I never closed my eyes that night. They kept staring at a fixed spot on the wall. They kept giving me medications, and my body grew more and more heavy. The same psychiatrist came in, looking over me. He probably knew what was wrong with me, and about my situation. A young girl with suicidal thoughts and a danger to herself and others, suffering from manic depression and homeless. As he walked away he turned around and mumbled something towards me. I could only hear the word hospital.
Welcome to Brookhaven
My whole life I had heard of psychiatric institutions, read in books, and saw on movies how they were solitary houses in the middle of the woods where the halls were always dark, you heard screams at night and patients were wrapped in straight jackets all the time. When you are a child, these kinds of scary stories frighten you into sleepless nights. As a mental patient entering this building of madness, the feeling was not very different.
Despite the heavy amount of medication in my body, I can remember my admission fairly vividly. At the hospital they gave me so much Haldol and Thorazine that I could barely blink. My jaw was clenched and my muscles stiff. My eyes were moving around lazily, trying to help me figure out where I was and what was happening. There weren't many patients around. The ones there were merely walking around aimlessly or sitting on their chairs, motionless. I was taken by someone to a small room where I was placed on a hard bed. I heard the steps of the same person going away only to stop.
"Welcome to Brookhaven."
And the door was closed.
I laid on my bed all alone. Because of my outburst I was placed on the critical ward, where the most dangerous patients go, and where the hopeless cases are placed. Days went by, maybe weeks, I'll never know. I could only tell what time it was by the small ray of sun entering my room through the crack on the sealed window. When I had to go to the bathroom, I simply went. I had no control over my bowls and once a day I was striped naked, taken into the showers and hosed down. Once in a while a doctor would come in, sit down without even looking down at me and ask the same questions over and over. What's my name, where I'm from and is there someone we can contact. But I only laid there motionless, staring at the same spot, so heavily medicated I could not speak.
"No response to any of the question, patient appears to be catatonic."
And I guess I was. Under the surface of all these medications I knew laid a severe depression, and I just wanted to die, or lay in that bed until it would happen. An IV dripped from its stand all day because I wouldn't eat. Sometimes I'd hear voices outside of my door, other patients screaming, trays being wheeled down the hall and the staff talking about their lives. I could do nothing but listen, keep track of whose husband was cheating on whom and whose child was sick.
To this day, I don't know how long I was at Brookhaven, for when I was taken in, I had no notion of time. But one memorable day, as I laid in bed motionless, preparing for another "doctor" visit, the door opened and the air changed. I knew it wasn't him instantly. Inside of me something changed too, something moved, I wasn't dead after all.
A chair was placed in front of me, as opposed to my back as it had always been, and my eyes instantly came in contact with a young, feminine, face.
"Hi." It was the first word out of her mouth, happy, as if there was something to celebrate. "I'm sorry I don't know your name, but as I understand no one around here does."
I suppose she wanted me to react to that, but it failed.
She smiled gently, easing herself to a chair right in front of me. "I'm Dr. Bennett, but you can call me Madeline."
Call her Madeline? Sweetie, I haven't uttered a word in God knows how long. But there was something about her that made everything... different. When she talked, she looked me in the eyes, she smiled, she made it seemed as if we were both there.
"I assume you're wondering where Dr. Berman is."
So that's his name. Good. He never even introduced himself to me.
"I shouldn't be saying this around, but he was dismissed for over medicating patients. Just the thought of it makes me wanna..." her eyebrows furrowed with anger as she spoke those words, but quickly brushed it aside. "Anyway, I don't suppose you want people to keep calling you Jane Doe, do you?"
Jane Doe. I had been given that name when I first arrived at the hospital. I often heard people referring to me as that. Jane needs a shower, Jane needs her meds, Jane is still unresponsive. It was ok with me, really, because I didn't want anyone to know my real name. No, I wasn't me anymore. Maggie was abandoned somewhere between Minnesota and Oklahoma. She didn't exist anymore.
I still didn't say anything, but unlike the previous doctor visits, I felt as if I wanted to. It was still hard. So she talked, mostly about things she was reading in the chart and about the medications I was being given. Haldol, Thorazine, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. I guess it was hard for her to talk to a catatonic, but she did, and the next day, she came back.
"I lowered your doses, you might start feeling a little more like yourself from now on."
She was right. I was feeling different, no longer numbed, as if I had been injected back into my own body. The next day she was back, and the next, and the next. And one day, as she sat on her usual spot, I moved. I brought my hand up to my forehead and removed a strand of hair while letting out a sigh.
"So you're not catatonic, huh?" she smiled.
Truth was I had moved before, had even sat on my bed. But never in front of anyone. There was a weird connection between me and Madeline. She was caring, she really did care about me. She talked to me and not about me. She smiled, she changed the atmosphere of the room. I knew I could trust her. But was I ready to? It was all baby steps from there.
"So what's your name?" she asked one day as she went on about the session.
I looked at her and away. "Jane," I muttered.
She chuckled. "Well, that's a nice coincidence." She turned serious and looked at me with a concerned expression on her face. "Jane, is there someone you'd like us to call?"
I just shook my head no. She sat back and informed me that my status at the hospital could change. My whole life a status had been your position in society. In a mental hospital, your status means your privileges. The more status you have, the more freedom you are given to move around. A patient with a high status could even go out of the hospital, go to the movies, and come back. She told me that if things get better, eventually I could be discharged, sent to a half way house, and go back into society.
Go back? To society? What society? What halfway house? I had no future plans, no aspirations and absolutely no motivation. I could stay at that hospital forever for all I cared. I had no intention of going back to society.
But as I learned to talk once more and the depression seemed to lift itself from my shoulders, I was finally trusted enough for them to let me move around. Whenever they'd take me out of the room, they had me in restraints because of my psychosis. Eventually the restraints were removed, and I found myself walking down the halls of my ward.
I had been in my room for so long that I forgot this was a hospital, and other people lived here too. As I walked down the hall, I became frightened. I had no idea what these people would do or what they were suffering from. I reached the end, where I came face to face with the TV room. I peeked my head in and saw other patients watching television. I knew I probably should have gone back to my room, but instead I turned on the knob and walked in. I looked around for a chair to sit and found one at the very end.
"That's my chair!" screamed a heavy black woman as she charged towards me madly like a rhinoceros.
I immediately jumped back and let her sat down with a few mad chuckles.
I turned around and there she was, sitting on a chair and looking at me with a smile. She motioned me to go over and I did with a little trepidation. She offered a chair next to hers and I sat down, scared out of my mind.
"What's your name?" she asked, brown eyes looking at me intensely.
"Jane," I said softly.
"Jane, I'm Abby," she said and shook my hand. "You new here?"
I felt a little better now, more relaxed despite some eyes resting upon me. "No, but I never came out here."
"Oh yeah? What's wrong with you?" she asked, stroking her shirt.
"I, I have manic depression," I answered, still nervous.
"What's that?" she asked nonchalantly.
"It's a mood disorder," I said. I wanted to know the same, but was scared she'd not want to share and get mad. "How about you?"
"I'm schizophrenic," she said as if it was nothing. I recognized that word, and my father came instantly to mind, and that was all we needed. From that day on Abby and I became inseparable. Always looking for each other, always together. When it was time for me to move into a bigger room, I requested her as my roommate, and as the meds kept working their wonders, Madeline worked her magic and Abby worked with me, I began to wonder if I truly wanted to get out of there.
One day we were sitting by the lounge reading, when a curiosity that was eating me alive inside of me made me turn towards Abby. "Do you hear voices?" I asked nervously.
She turned to me, smiled, and nodded her head.
I remained in silence for a while and then asked, "What are they saying now?"
She put the newspaper down, and turned towards me. She looked up, as if she was listening to something far away. "You are going to die, bitch," she repeated after the voices. "Do you think you can just make friends with that whore? She's out to get you, she wants to kill you and rightly so. You deserve to die, Flora, why haven't you killed yourself already?"
She took her newspaper and kept reading as if nothing had happened. I could only stare at the back of her head, thinking those same voices filled my dad's moments of silence. It was the scariest thing I have ever thought of in my entire life. "They never shut up?" I asked again.
She kept reading the paper, "When I read they quiet down. But yeah, pretty much. That's why I keep talking, to you, or to myself."
So that was why my father was always reading the newspaper. "Flora," I added.
She turned to me and smiled, "That's my real name."
"Why Abby?" I asked her.
She took a deep breath, "I don't know, sounds happy, like someone who doesn't have any problems. It's simple too." After a pause, she added, "What's yours?"
"What?" I asked.
"Your real name," she asked.
I chuckled, thinking I could never put anything past Abby. She knew me well, almost as if we were sisters. "It's Maggie."
As I kept cycling, my medication kept changing but even though they didn't work well, everything was ok as long as I had Madeline and Abby. I knew Abby was having a hard time there. Sometimes she'd cry at night because she was scared of the voices, of what they might do to her. So most of the time I'd talk to her to quiet the voices down. We'd talk about them sometimes. She started hearing them when she was 16 and no medications had been able to help. They were with her all the time, telling her she was worthless and that she deserved to die. That they were going to kill her and send her to hell. They'd give her suicide plans for her to follow and scream at her when she didn't. I traveled with Abby through the torture of schizophrenia, knowing it was the same ride my father had gone through, and my heart went out to her, and we'd cry together. I wished I could silence the voices. I hated them, with all my heart. No matter how strong Abby appeared on the outside, inside she was broken down to pieces. And it was all the voices' fault.
After months at Brookhaven, I was awoken in the middle of the night by screams. Abby was not in her bed. I rushed out, where everyone began to wonder what was wrong, and went off to the TV room, where I found Abby on the floor, being beaten to death by the same chair I was yelled for the first day I went into the TV room. Members of the staff came in and took Martha, the heavy black woman, away but the damage was done.
She had a nice service to which we were allowed to attend. One afternoon, as I laid in bed, I started thinking that Abby finally escaped her voices. Where she was now, there were no demons in hear head chanting, and telling her she was worthless. I miss her so much that sometimes I still cry. The same evening Madeline came into my room, with a slight smile on her face.
"I want to talk to you about your discharge," she said.
I frowned immediately. "Discharge?"
"I think you've reached a point where you can function out in the real world..."
"What real world!" I snapped, pacing around the room. "What am I going to do now? I don't have place to stay, I don't have a home..."
"You should go back home," she interrupted me.
"I don't have a home!"
"Maggie." The stern way in which she said it made me stop dead in my tracks. "Margaret Joan Riley, from Brooklyn, New York?"
I kept looking at her, feeling like crying, toeing the floor. "How, how did you..."
"You were reported missing from Minneapolis 7 months ago. Your boyfriend filed a police report. Were you aware that there's been a search for you all this time?"
I could tell by her voice that she was a little mad, because I hadn't shared this with her. But this was something Madeline couldn't understand. It was something Abby could.
She stood up and walked closer, "Maggie, I can pick up that phone and call the Minneapolis authorities and let them know you're here. You can go home with your boyfriend and I'll help you find a support group near your area. But no matter what path you choose, I will discharge you. Some people get addicted to mental hospitals, and the longer you stay here, the harder it will be for you to leave. I don't want you to become trapped in this world."
I pressed my lips together, looking down. "What's my other choice?"
"We can discharge you to a halfway house, where' you'll get a job, and start a new life down here," she said.
I hesitated again, but continued, "Will you be my therapist?"
"No," she said simply.
I took a deep breath. My life had been so involved in Brookhaven that I had forgotten about Minneapolis. I had buried Maggie so deep that she had taken Charles with her. It was right then when I realized how much I missed him, the way he cared so passionately, his gentle touches, his love...
"I'll go back," I whispered.
As I left the hospital with Charles leading me by the hand, I looked back to see no one was waving at me, no one saying good bye. I knew I wouldn't look back again. But I missed Abby. She understood me. She knew what it was like to live with a mental illness which is not completely incapacitating. She was my best friend and I loved her. I was afraid because even though she had died and her demons with her, I still had mine with me, and I have to spend the rest of my life trying to silence them. But she was at peace now. Too bad the name Abby didn't work out for her, but as it turns out, it didn't work for my daughter either.
Better off Dead
Two years went by after I went back to Minnesota with Charles. He had landed a good job and was making better money than before, so we found ourselves living more comfortably. Well, he was comfortable, I still had medication. It was a time of frustration. Charles would work normal hours and I had nothing to do but sit around and watch television. Every once in a while, I'd pick up a brush and paint something, but something was gone. The madness had somehow left my body, and had taken my talent with it. I didn't have my passion, my inspiration, the only good thing about me. I would sit there and stare at the blank piece of paper, wondering if nothingness was art. While medicated, I felt as if my head was miles away from my body. It was as if my emotions had been compressed into a little box of numbness.
The people. If I had a penny for every time someone gave me an advice, I'd be rubbing elbows with Donald Trump. When it comes to your problems, everyone else is an expert. If they're not criticizing you for not getting out of bed, they're trying to play doctor. "When you're depressed, why don't you read a book? Why don't you get out of bed and call your friends? Why don't you go shopping? Why don't you watch a funny movie? Why don't you call your mom? Why don't you think happy thoughts? Why don't you go for a walk? Why don't you drink some herbal tea? Why don't you get a dog? Why don't you go to the beach? Why don't you listen to me?"
It is so frustrating and irritating, that the anger would consume me inside and make me wish I had a gun. Don't they know I have tried everything? Don't they know that I don't like being like this? Don't they know if you could think happy thoughts, you weren't really depressed? Don't they know that when I'm depressed I can't even walk, let alone go shopping? Don't they know that if it was that easy, there would be no need for medication at all?
I felt cornered and alone. When I went home, my mother would yell at me for my moods. When I was with Charles, I could see in his eyes how much he suffered, because of me. I should have said no when he proposed. When he found that house, I should have declined his offer. All of a sudden I was a wife, who could do nothing but stay at home all day and wish she were dead.
And then, everything came down again, hitting my head against the ground. When I found out I was pregnant, there was a part of me that jumped with joy. That didn't last for long. I was going to be a mother. I was going to be responsible for another life, a baby, an innocent creature. I could not do it. To be a parent, you have to be consistently normal, and I was nothing but abnormally inconsistent.
It was even worse when I found out I could not take my medication while pregnant. There is no glow in a pregnant woman who is in bed all day and night, and cries for no reason. There is no beauty in a pregnant woman who is manic, and endangers the life of her child. And then it's a girl. A beautiful baby girl named Abby because the name sounds happy and it's simple. Turns out I couldn't take medications if I wanted to breast feed, and that was put on for even later.
When Abby cried at night and I was depressed, Charles would have to take care of her. When I was manic, I'd wake her up just so I had something to do. Abby gave me a reason to live, but short lived. As she grew up, she inspired me to draw and design. Her whole closet was filled with clothes I made myself. And then I was pregnant again, and this time it was a boy named after Charles' father.
And the medication? Long gone. I kept seeing a therapist every once in a while, but all of a sudden life was too overwhelming. When I was manic, it was a pure joy to have children. I'd take Abby and Eric to the park and we'd have the most fun. When I was manic I loved my children so much that I could literally feel my heart about to burst. When I was manic, my children loved me, because I was so much fun, always playing games and laughing, always spoiling them to no end. The story was different once the depressions came around.
The closed bathroom door usually meant something wrong was going on. Usually a suicide attempt. Abby was 5, Eric was 3. She knew. She learned from an early age to understand what was going on. Most families do tornado or earthquake drills; we had the “What to do when Mommy hurts herself” manual. Her little fist would knock on the door, her childish voice reverberating through the air.
"Mommy, please don't die."
More often that I can count people have approached me to ask why I didn't do it for my children. Why I didn't get better for them. I always tell them that if it was as easy as that, there wouldn't be a need for medication in the first place. All we Bipolars had to do was give birth and presto! Unfortunately, it's not. I wished it could be, because I love my children more than anything in this world. They kept me from dying often, and they were often the reason as to why I'd try to die.
Abby suffered more than anyone else. Eric was more independent, and while he was more emotional, he quickly found his way out. Wasn't that easy for Abby. Like I had been when I was younger, she was the glue holding things together. While children in normal households were learning how to make bird feeders out of pine cones and peanut butter, Abby was learning how to poke her finger down her mother's throat to make her throw up.
It was her little face that made me feel even worse and wished I were dead. I felt I had no right to take care of these children. If I were to leave this earth, Charles would find a better mom for them, someone they could count on. I refused to take my medication because I feared being normal. Being normal meant paying bills, going to PTA meetings and making sure everything was running smoothly around the house. I could not do that. I simply couldn't. It was easier to crash into a depression and stay in bed all day. It was easy and normal to get manic, and get so out of control that I would yell at Charles for the most insignificant things, and yell at Abby for not cleaning her room. I was a fierce hurricane and no one and nothing could stop me.
All of a sudden my children were not mine anymore. All of a sudden Charles' patience ran out and he left me. I can remember the night as clear as if it had happened less than 24 hours ago. I can remember Abby screaming for her father, begging him to take her with him. I remember her running into my room with tears running down her face, anger in her eyes.
"I hate you!" she scream at me over and over as she threw pillows at me. "Daddy's gone and it's all your fault. I hate you!"
Her rage was too much to take. I tried to be gentle, tried to reassure her everything would be ok. But she would not stop screaming at me. She didn't stop until I lifted my hand and smacked her across the face, and she fell into the ground. Not being able to understand my action, I only watched as she pressed her little hand on her cheek, looking up at me with no more love for her own mother. She ran out of the room, and into Eric's.
That night I sat on the bed, rocking myself, looking around a life that wasn't mine anymore, in a house where I was not even welcomed. And once again, it was all my fault. I destroyed four lives that day. I couldn't live on medication and others couldn't live when I was without it. My children hated me. My husband left me. I was insane. Oh yeah, like a fairy tale.
Abby sat on Eric's bed, reading him a story so he could fall asleep. One last glance at them, and all of a sudden I was in the bathroom. Usually Charles kept pills and razors out of my reach to prevent any suicide attempts, but I still had my medication. If it could not save me, it would kill me.
I must have taken around 50 pills and Abby must have found me, because when I opened my eyes, I was in the emergency room. There was a short man in front of me, writing things down on a chart. I was too depressed to care or even remember what we talked about.
I found myself committed again.
Charles took the children with him, and they only came to visit twice. Abby would not look at me, would not talk to me. Charles was angry because of the trauma I caused his daughter. Eric was still small, but slowly realizing his mother was nothing but a monster. It was in that hospital where a doctor approached me one day, with a smile on his face.
"We have your history here, and, uh, we know about the drugs you're taking."
"I'm not taking any drugs," I said as I stared straight ahead, yearning to be by myself, wishing God would call my name and I would leave my body behind.
He looked at me for a while, and shifted on his seat. "We have a new drug, Lithium, and most manic depressive patients have responded wonderfully to it."
I kept staring straight ahead. "They're all the same."
"No, no," he said. "This one isn't. Unlike the other drugs, this one you can only take once a day if you want, or at different times. And you don't have to take anything else."
I finally stared at him, with a look of both disbelief and hope.
"I really think you should try it. I saw your children outside, do it for them."
There it was again, do it for x or y. Lithium, what the hell is that? Before I could nod my head, he wrote the orders on the chart, and thus my battle with lithium began.
Pop Goes the Easel
A suicide attempt is like a hurricane. When it’s happening, it‘s like being in hell. When it’s gone, you’re left with a sense of calmness and peace. The days after I returned home, there was nothing but silence all around us. The kids woke up, I made them breakfast. Eric would practice his letters at the table, Abby would remain quiet. I kept staring at her as I drank my coffee. I could tell she hated me, and still wanted to go live with her father. Every time I tried to talk to her, she’d walk away, and lock herself up in her room. I could feel her slipping away from my fingers.
Without another thought, I put my coffee cup down. “Okay, Eric, the bus is here.”
“Ow,” Eric complained, but grabbed his back pack anyway.
I walked him to the door, and gave him a big hug and a kiss. “I love you, okay?”
“I love you too,” he smiled brightly and ran towards the bus.
I closed the door.
I turned around and there was Abby, with her back pack, looking at me with hateful eyes. “The bus is leaving.”
I walked over, and stood in front of her, but she didn’t look up at me. “I thought maybe we could spend a day together,” I said in my most cheerful tone.
“I have a math quiz,” she added under her breath.
“I’ll talk to the teachers,” I added. I knew that if Abby still had one once of her childhood left in her, then I knew she loved the prospect of staying home from school. She was only seven years old, and already her eyes looked tired, and she looked too old. I knew it was my fault, and she knew it was too. That was our silent pact.
With a sigh, she dropped her bag and sat down on the couch, turning on the television and putting on the cartoons. I walked over, and sat next to her on the couch. Taking the remote from her hands, I turned off the television, and watched as she looked up at me with confused eyes.
“I was hoping we could talk,” I said, trying to smile.
“You already apologized,” she said and stood up.
I grabbed her little hand and made her sit down again. “Abby, I don’t do the things I do because I want to hurt you, that is the last thing I wanna do.”
“I know, it’s part of the disease,” she mumbled as she crossed her arms and stared at a blank television.
“You’re right, it’s part of the disease. But I just wanted you to know, that I love you and your brother very much, and no matter how sad or happy I am, that will never change.”
For the first time she looked up at me, her anger still living in her eyes. “You hit me.”
A knot formed in my throat but I blinked it away. “I know, honey, I didn’t meant that,” I said. I went to touch the cheek I had hit days before, but she flinched away from me. “It’s never gonna happen again, Abby, I’m sorry.”
“You tried to kill yourself,” Abby added, as if she was doing an inventory of her mother’s life.
“I know,” Maggie added.
“You were on the floor and Eric was crying and I didn’t know what to do,” Abby continued, her anger shifting to small cries.
“Yes you did, honey, you saved my life,” I said, stroking her hair, she was no longer pulling away from me.
“I had to call the police,” she added. “And I thought you were dead.”
I had to fight hard to keep the tears from coming, but it was a battle I was losing.
“You don’t love me or Eric, you didn’t want to live with us,” Abby finished.
“Abby,” my heart sank. “Don’t ever think that, okay? Never. I don’t know why I did what I did, honey, but I’ll never do it again, I promise.”
She looked up at me, and her eyes were filled with tears. All of a sudden she reached over and wrapped her arms around my neck. It wasn’t until then when I really got to know my own daughter. She was so small and skinny, but so strong. It was probably only the 3rd time I had seen her cry since she was a baby. One day she cried because her diaper was dirty, and that was the last time I remember seeing tears in her eyes. As beautiful as the moment was, it only made me hate myself even more. And I hated myself with more intensity when I tried to commit suicide again much later, and Abby had to call 911 once more. That was the end for us.
“Hey,” I said as I pulled back. “I just got new paint and brushes and I was thinking that wall looks too naked.”
Abby smiled brightly, her front teeth missing.
“What do you wanna paint?” I asked in my most cheerful tone.
“Grandma Irma’s house,” she said brightly. She stood up, starting to put things away.
“You wanna paint a house?” I asked, helping her move the television away.
“No!” she laughed. “The river!”
It was the first time I had seen Abby acting like a real little girl. She looked so innocent as she picked up the brush and started painting trees and animals. If I ever come face to face with God, and could ask him for something, it would be to relieve that moment over and over again.
I Plead Insanity
For a very long time, things around the house were wonderful. As hard as it was to admit, Lithium was working really well, despite the side effects. I could get up in the mornings, take the kids to school, come back and clean the house, pick them up, make them dinner and put them to bed. They also visited their father every weekend. It was one of those moments when you fool yourself into thinking everything will turn out to be okay.
But not everything was okay. I wasn’t. My children were happy, but I was miserable. I went to bed alone every night. My inspiration was gone and I couldn’t design anymore. I knew I had to hold on. I had to keep taking my medication for my children. I had made a promise to Abby and I couldn’t just break it. But I also felt as if I was going to explode. I know there had to be something else for me. But how would I be able to reach it if I felt so numb and out of character. It reminded me of those commercials when the mother is so perfect, the kids go to school and the father goes to work. And then the mother stays in the perfect home, cleaning and cooking. Only if you looked closer, you can tell the mother’s sadness in her eyes.
So I got a job. The seventies, and with it, pyramid schemes. “If you sell a lot of make up, we’ll make you rich!” So I gave it a try. Being a salesman requires a lot of talent. It looks like a meaningless job, but it’s very hard. If you can convince people to buy something they obviously don’t need, then you deserve a medal. I began to sell make up around my neighborhood. But it wasn’t working. I couldn’t feel passionate about my job. I couldn’t persuade anyone into buying anything. I returned home every day with the same amount of make up. The kids were growing up, and every time we went to a store, Eric would throw tantrums because I wouldn’t buy him what he wanted. Abby’s clothes were years old and her shoes were all worn out. Charles would send child support, but it just wasn’t enough. I had to work. I had to support my family.
It was the hardest decision to make. One night, I sat on the table, watching the bottle of Lithium. I knew what would happen if I stopped taking it, but this time I really believed that I could control it. My kids loved me when I was manic, and the depressions, well, I could just get my own hours, and work at my own pace. My mind created the perfect medication-free world, a world I could have in my own hands, manipulate it to do whatever I wanted. I truly believed it would be okay.
Of course it wasn’t.
The first thing I felt was a manic episode. It’s like surfing. You see the wave coming, you position your board, and off you go. I sold so much make up that I’d have to ask for more supplies every week. Abby quickly realized what was happening, and she started to get reserved again; she wouldn‘t talk to me, to her father, or to anyone. I couldn’t sleep, and wake her up so we could go on car rides in the middle of the night. Then she’d fall asleep in school and the teachers would call me up about it. I’d tell them off, tell them that by daughter was perfect and they didn’t need to tell me how to raise my own children. Charles tried to talk to me about it, but I wouldn’t listen. Eric was now older, and wiser, and he quickly took Abby’s side. My friends would call to try and talk to me. My therapist tried to convince me that this was clearly not the way to go, that while I was manic now, and up in heaven, I’d soon fall into hell. And I did.
For months I stayed in bed, completely void and anguished. Abby had to take over the house again. She’d cook, clean, help Eric with homework, do her own, get up every morning by herself, dress Eric, and go to school. We never talked about my broken promise. She simply got used to the idea that her mother was a hostage to insanity. Every evening, she came into the room and put a bowl of soup by the table, and then walk out again. She stopped trusting people, even her own father. The teachers would call about her not getting along with the other kids all the time. “Abby seems to be alone a lot, she doesn’t wanna make any friends.” I never talked about it with her, but I knew the wall had been created. She would avoid me, her father, and all her friends to avoid getting hurt.
And then the rain cleared. As good a father as Charles was, he refused to have the children living with him. At first, he tried to get custody, but once he started dating, and living his own life, he came to the conclusion that he simply didn’t have time to have the kids at his house 24/7. I didn’t want to give my children away, but I knew I couldn’t take care of them myself. During those days when I was coming out of my depression, my mother called me to say she was moving to a retiring home in Florida. It all hit me like a sack of bricks. A new start for us, with no friends, no family, no therapists, no one who knew who we were.
When I told the news to the kids, their reaction didn’t surprise me. Abby threw a fit, saying that she wouldn’t leave her father, her house, and her school. Eric was more confused than opposed, but he always took Abby’s side, he also denied. Charles even lined up a lawyer, because he wouldn’t let me take his children away. But I didn’t care. I was sick of doing things for other people. I was sick of being sick and being the reason why everyone else was so miserable. I was simply sick of being patronized. With two crying kids and an angry ex husband, I packed our bags and we headed towards Florida.
My mom helped take care of the kids while I worked in a department store, giving make overs. That was at least one thing I was good at. When I was manic, I’d make women beautiful. I designed dresses and was able to sell a couple of them. Abby and Eric adapted fairly quickly, but I could tell they were both mad at me. I’d send them to Charles on the holidays. When I was depressed, my mom would take over. When I was manic, we suddenly found ourselves in spontaneous trips to the strangest of places. I’d pack our bags, get the kids out of bed and get in the car. It didn’t take us long to create a reputation. The neighbors quickly started talking about the house that changes colors and the people who lived in it. The mother is crazy, the children are malnourished, and there seems to be no father.
In a world where everybody hated me, I had no real friends, and my own children were alienated, my only source of comfort was alcohol. I know, crazy to fight depression with a depressant, but alcohol would make me numb, would make me forget about what an awful person I was.
And then it started raining men. When I was depressed, I was a ball of flesh and bones; when I was manic, I was a beautiful and very sexy woman, readily available, not looking for anything serious and beaming with sexuality. I didn’t care what type of man, big or small, black or white, bald or hairy, serious or goofy... I had a yes to everyone of them. Charles called me up more than once, screaming that he did not want his children living in the same house I was having sex at, that he did not want his children near alcohol, that I was crazy and irresponsible. Everyone else pretty much agreed.
One morning all hell broke lose again when I found out I was pregnant.
“Did you take a test?” my mother asked as she made my bed.
“Yes I took a test, how else would I know I’m pregnant?!” I snapped back at her and began to pace around my room. “I can’t have this child.”
“What?” my mother whispered.
“I have to get an abortion,” I added.
“Maggie,” my mother said emotionally. “There has to be another way.”
“I can’t have this child!” I shouted again. And I didn’t. The next day I went to a clinic and terminated its life. There was no way I was going to bring another child into this world, to suffer like my other two. Abby and Eric seemed okay, but I didn’t start cycling until I was a teenager, and so I didn’t know if any one of them could be sick. My best bet was that it would be Abby, but I prayed every night for a little miracle. The odds would be worse with yet another child.
One morning I was folding laundry when Abby walked into the room and sat on the bed.
“What’s an abortion?” she asked as if it was a normal question.
I froze, and look at her with curiosity. “What, honey?”
She seemed to sense something was wrong so she recoiled a little; she was 11 years old. “What’s an abortion?” she repeated.
I put the laundry down, and sat next to her. “Where did you hear that?”
“I heard you and grandma talking,” she said. “Are you going to have a baby?”
“No, honey,” I said stroking her hair.
She looked confused, and I certainly was as well. What was I supposed to tell her? She was still a little girl. But I decided to tell her the truth.
“I was going to have a baby, but not anymore,” I started.
“Why not?” Abby asked.
I took a deep breath, and looked down at her again. “Sometimes, women get pregnant, but they can’t have the baby. So an abortion means when you... you go to a doctor, and they take the baby out.”
“Where’s the baby?” she asked.
I looked around, uncomfortable, and at her again. “The baby’s... the baby’s dead.”
Her face didn’t change, but I could sense that inside she was overwhelmed by this. “Why couldn’t you have it? Are you sick?”
“No, no,” Maggie smiled. “Honey, sometimes women feel like it’s best if they don’t have a baby, because they don’t want their baby to suffer, or they feel like they can’t be a good mother.”
“I could take care of it, like Eric,” she said.
“No, honey, you can’t, a baby is a big responsibility,” I added in a soothing way.
She looked down at the floor, and then at me again. “You killed it?”
Oh boy. I tried to keep my strength. “I know that... it sounds bad to you, but it’s not, okay? Sometimes not letting something happen is the best decision for your family.”
She kept looking at me for a couple more seconds, and then without saying anything, she walked out of the room. I let out a sigh, and tears began to fall down my face. When you’re manic and you do things, they don’t really dawn upon you until you get back to normal. Then you look back and you’re filled with shame and disgust. I killed a baby, a life I didn’t create. And then I told my daughter that it was okay. It wasn’t until her own confession that I realized what a mistake I had made.
All of a sudden, Abby and Eric were out of the house. Abby decided to go to school as far away as she could, and Eric joined the air force. Eric left as soon as he signed up, Abby remained in the house for a little while longer. More than once, I begged her to leave, to create her own life, without her mother. But despite Abby’s reassuring words, I knew she would do just that, as soon as I turned my back on her. Their teen years were a nightmare. It all started when I found Abby smoking, and then drinking. But what would I do about it? She learned it from me. I couldn’t just tell her it was wrong, because I was the one who set the example. Every day I let out a sigh of relief when there was no indication neither Abby nor Eric were sick. But it was worse. The damage I created was worse then any kind of sickness. Eric rarely called. Abby took off when I tried to kill myself again, leaving nothing but a note saying that she was supposed to be the daughter, not the mother, and that she was too tired to look after me.
So there I was, alone. Any suicide attempts would mean death. Any manic episodes would lead to something stupid, an accident, or death as well. My mother died when Abby was 15, and now I only had around two friends who would call only when I was normal or hypomanic. The rest of the time, it was just me and my madness. The years went away in a blur. All of a sudden Abby called to say she was getting married to a man named Richard. She wanted me to attend the wedding, but I fell into the mercy of another depression and didn’t even call to congratulate her. When I came out of my depression, it was too late. She simply put on her mask one more time and told me it was okay. In a manic episode, I packed my bags and headed towards Chicago. But Abby wasn’t glad to see me. Neither was her husband. Neither was I.
And so it became a cycle. Every time I got manic, I sought her out. I really don’t know why I ran to Abby. Maybe because she was the only person who really took care of me. When she was three years old and I was depressed, she would rock my hair to make me feel better. When she was 5 and I was manic, she was the one who would try to talk some sense into me. Even when her walls were built, Abby was always there, always taking care of me. She was really the only person who I knew I could count on, even though my presence did more harm than good.
The years went by quickly, years of pure insanity. Every time I opened my eyes, I was in a different state, with a different man, and in a different episode. I was commited hundreds of times. Abby had to fly all over the country to find out about my latest scheme. Then she’d take me home, bring me back to normal, and then I’d disappear again. Then Eric got married. He didn’t even bother to call me, or invite me, but one day both him and Abby called me up to tell me that Eric’s wife was a care taker, and that I had no other choice but move in with him, or remain commited for the rest of my life. The other option, taking my medication, was never mentioned. They knew I wouldn’t take it, and I knew I wouldn’t either. So I moved in with my son.
Julie was a very nice person, who took care of me the preceding years. All of a sudden I got the news that Abby’s marriage to Richard wasn’t working well. In another outburst, I took the little money I had and got on the bus towards Chicago. When I got there, I found the same Abby, always sad, always angry, always melancholic. She had been divorced for a while, and was now dating a man named Luka who reminded me a lot of Charles. But Abby was once more pushing everyone away. She‘d tell everyone that her mother was a lost case, that Maggie would never be okay. But every time I gave the medication a shot, I could see a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She didn’t want to admit it, and she certainly didn’t want to succumb to it, but it was there. This time she thought it would work. This time, I did too. I thought if I lived with Abby, everything would be okay. But somewhere down the line I knew that I would be taking her life also, and that wouldn’t be fair to her. And so I stopped taking my medication yet again. I never stayed behind long enough to see the dame I created, but I knew it had to be there.
They say third time’s a charm. I found myself in Oklahoma once more, only this time I was tired of all of this, of being sick, of making others sick. It didn’t matter who came this time, Abby, Eric, or Charles, I had to end this. The look on Abby’s face was enough of a push. It didn’t matter how it would happen, or where, I simply stole the pills, and gulped them all down.
When I woke up, I had a tube down my throat, and there was Abby, crying. She didn’t know I was watching, and I simply went into unconsciousness again. But I’ll never forget that look on her face. I always knew I hurt my daughter, but I never knew just how much until that awful night. Suddenly I looked up and I could see the surface of the ocean. I knew that if I reached with all my might, I’d be able to breathe again. All the odds were against me, no one thought I was being serious, they are all waiting for me to lose control, but this time I decided to hang in there. So here I am.
Dancing with Madness
I guess every story ends the same way: if you could change something...
Well, life has taught me not to play the if game, because it’s nothing but self torture. I don’t think the question would be if I could choose between a life with or without Bipolar Disorder, but the decisions I made throughout my life. The minute I realized I was pregnant for the first time, I didn’t care about my life anymore, I cared about my children’s. I look back and realize that even if I wanted to, I could not change anything. I don’t like making excuses, or using my disease as a crutch, but it’s hard to be objective when you haven’t walked in another person’s shoes. I never did the things I did because of malice. I never was an evil person. When you’re in the audience, it’s easy to look at the play and say, “They should change this and that.“ When you’re not sick, it’s easy to say, “Take your medication!“ The truth is I wanted to take my medication, most of the time. There was nothing I wanted more than being able to respond to lithium and live a normal life. I wanted it for my children, and for myself. But life is not that simple. Human beings are not that simple. I guess if we were, the world wouldn’t be so complicated.
But part of getting out of that Bipolar Cycle of Misfortune is trying hard to look at the positive sides. Seems almost unbelievable, but being Bipolar has also been a gift. It sounds cliche, stupid, and moronic, but all my positive qualities come from Bipolarism itself.
And it all becomes clear when you’re medicated. Some people go their whole lives without even getting out of their hometown. Some people have never gotten in touch with their feelings. Not me. I have felt every feeling in the spectrum of emotions. I know what it's like to see colors so bright that they almost blind you. I have had the joy to experience so much happiness that I might explode. I am glad because I have seen beauty where most people see darkness and ugliness. I have created wonderful things. I have been as productive as a bee. I have raised eyebrows, I have created awareness. I am sure that everywhere I go, I will always be remembered, for either being a "crazy" person or dwelling in depression. I have given life.
I have also seen the face of death. I have been so low, that no words can describe the feeling, or lack thereof. I have seen sadness in the most unexpected places. My mind has been to so disturbing areas that the image would scare off the bravest man. I have cried rivers of transparent emptiness. I have died, over and over again, but every time, I have lived.
As much as Manic Depression has nearly destroyed most of what it's me, it is me. Without it, I wouldn't be Maggie. I have two wonderful and healthy children and a life I cannot wait to start living again. As I sit here I have been hit with the realization that I am truly blessed. When I look into the future, I smile, and try to believe that this time, it'll be ok. This time I can do it. This time I'll find the strength. This time, I'll truly be alive.
But then again, we both know better.