Wednesday, 30 September 2015

It's Time to Start the Conversation

Those of you who follow me know that in my past life in the US I was very open and honest about my mental illness. But since moving to the UK, I've kind of kept it under wraps except for my husband obviously and a few select people. I think I did this partially because of the general anxiety of getting to know people in a new country and my perceived belief that there is more of a stigma in the UK than in the US. Right or wrong, I kept quiet and just smiled through the pain. But it has been eating at me since day one. Getting to know new people was great, but keeping my true self hidden was hell. It didn't usually feel like a big deal. But listening to people whine about petty bullshit on Facebook (which I wouldn't even be on if weren't to keep up with friends and families lives in America), would grind my gears to a halt. 

Now let me get one thing straight. I know I do not know the struggles of every single person I'm friends with on Facebook. People have shit they have to deal with: illness, death, divorce, financial difficulties, etc. And I commend the people that don't throw their dirty laundry out on the Facebook line for the world to see. However, of the 245 "friends" I have, I'm pretty sure most of the whining is just that, whining. For someone who literally has to fight through every day, because yes even good days are exhausting, it wears you down. If you have a mental illness, you understand what I'm saying. If you don't and you are reading this, then you may want to take a step back and think about your daily life and whether you are one of these people who speaks without thinking. Think about the old adage of "walking a mile in another's shoes". So in other words, don't be a whiner.

But enough about Facebook and all the pettiness that it entails. I'm here to talk about mental illness. Specifically my mental illness because that's what I know. I cannot speak of other's experiences with mental illness, because I haven't walked a mile in their shoes. I have, however, done quite a bit of research on my illness and read a lot of different blogs about it. We all have pretty much the same things to say: first and foremost it sucks cause it's a life sentence, getting help is a pain in the ass because frankly it's treated differently than other chronic illnesses, the stigma still exists, and the world is horribly undereducated. 

Let me throw out an example... Robin Williams... When he committed suicide a little over a year ago, there was shock and dismay across the world. How could someone so talented and wonderful be so sad that they decided they only had one way out? While I personally was just as shocked and saddened by the news, I understood how he felt at the moment just before, because I've been there. I've been at that precipice in time. I tried three times to end my life. And for those of you who don't know statistics, men are more likely to finish the act because they choose things like guns or hanging, while women choose pills or slitting their wrists which are more likely to have life saving possibilities. I used pills every time. One time, I came frightenly close. But back to Robin, the outpouring of public sympathy led me to believe people would start the conversation about mental illness. It didn't. People simply reminisced about his films or more shockingly called him selfish. Suicide is not selfish. If you haven't lived in a hell that has led you there, don't judge. You know nothing of the pain that gets you there. But the conversation seemed to stop there. And that's where the problem lies. Communication.

I haven't talked about my illness openly in years because of fear. I'm not ashamed, I was just scared of how people would react. I was scared about how I would be able to get a job if I was honest. Truth be told, I have found that there are times I have needed to or should have lied about my illness but didn't to my misfortune. I was honest on a life insurance application about my illness and was denied coverage because of it. That's unacceptable. Everytime I fill out an employment application regarding medical info there is always a tick box for "do you or have you suffered from depression". I always hesitate. I mean sure depression is a part of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly it's a damned if you do damned if you don't thing. If I say no and get ill while working, I lied on my application. If I say yes, I might not get the job. And that's not fair.

I shouldn't have to hide or feel ashamed of my illness. Sadly I do sometimes. I liken it to when AIDS was first making headlines. People didn't, and still don't, want to announce it to the world because of the recoil reaction people have. You won't "catch" my mental illness anymore than you will "catch" AIDS by speaking to me. I'm not contagious. But people don't understand and people fear what they don't understand. So I want and need to educate people. If I save one person from stepping off that ledge, I've done my job.

If you know someone who has a mental illness, gently ask them about it. You may just find they are willing to speak if you are truly willing to listen. But heed my words, be willing to commit. Be willing to listen, understand, educate yourself, read about it, and comfort. Don't just nod and hear without listening. That is exactly the kind of reaction that will push us away. We have so much uncertainty in our lives, friends and family can not be one of them. I don't want or need sympathy. I'm okay, really. I will be okay. Just realise that my days at best are still a fight. And at worst a nightmare you never want to experience, and I pray you never do. I'm not really religious but I'm spiritual, and I pray for all my family, friends, and acquaintances daily. I pray for them to have happy lives. I pray for them to understand the things they don't understand. I pray for them to appreciate the little things that are taken for granted. Because I take nothing for granted. I've seen and lived through horrors I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Life is precious. We all are precious. Listen and care. Educate yourself. About all things foreign to you. If we all did... What a wonderful world it could be.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Open Letter to my Mother & Father

Why? Why do I exist? This is the question that has been haunting me my entire life. You had a job as parents. You were meant to love me, nurture me, protect me, encourage me, guide me, etc. So why did you fail so miserably at this?

Where to start... Father, you were never there. You were an alcoholic. I can count on my hands how many days of my life you were sober. I don't blame you too much. Mom is a bitch and I would've stayed drunk too. You attempted to love me and care for me the best you could. Perhaps a bit too much with regards to the memories I feverishly repress. I needed you dad. I needed you to protect me from her. And when my illness started to awaken, you didn't understand, you didn't even try. I was just some rebellious teen that needed to get her shit together. You never saw that even as a small child I was withering away without the tender nurturing a young child needs and craves. I have no happy childhood memories. Fleeting glimpses of moments of levity. That's it. But let's move on to the root.

Mother. Should I even call you that? Do you deserve it? You may have given birth to me, but you are not a mother. No mother I will ever claim. You are the woman my siblings and I refer to as "her" or sometimes "your mother". Bet you didn't know that. Even my older brother and sister that you didn't even raise know what you are. And let's take a moment to reflect upon that. My brother and sister were from your first marriage. You were such a poor example of a parent that you lost custody of my young siblings to their father in the 60's! The 60's! What mother lost custody of her children in court in the 60's? Doesn't that say something? You failed them and you failed me. Perhaps actually they were saved. They were better off without you and thrived with their loving father. I'm sure he wasn't perfect. You spent decades telling me stories of his atrocities as a husband. But he was a good father and you will never take that away from him. I even remember the first time I met George. I was very young. I remember asking you if he was my second dad. I may not remember your words, but I clearly remember your reaction. I was young, I didn't understand. But as an an adult I now understand that you lack grace in character. He is a kind gentle man that has always treated me with a love and respect I never got from you. How does that make you feel? It makes me feel like shit that my own mother couldn't love me or respect me when a man who owed me nothing did. And here's the best part about George; while he never sang your praises to the heavens, he was always respectful with regards to you. His words were not always kind regarding his relationship with you, but he showed so much respect for me, kindness, tenderness, that even when I spoke ill of you, he turned the other cheek. How does that sit with you?

Let's get back to my childhood. To Mother and Father. So dad drank. A lot. We've established that. And why not? You are a miserable controlling bitch. The irony is that this relationship worked for you both. Forget me. You both got what you needed. My father needed someone to take care of him. Someone to feed him, dress him, put his passed out ass to bed, to pick up his drunk ass up from the bar. And you served his every need. You loved it. Loved the control. Craved it like a junky craves heroin. My sister cited at his funeral "we don't know if Carolyn bitched because Ole drank, or if Ole drank because Carolyn bitched." Sadly poignant. I'm not blaming you mother for his alcoholism, but you were the perfect, textbook example of an enabler. And you loved it. What is really laughable is your imagined control of him. Hiding bottles, locking liquor cabinets, watering down drinks, all in the name of control. But on the weekends, as you and I sat watching the beginning of the football games, we could here him cracking open a bottle of whatever was accessible and quietly pouring it into his freshly rinsed out coffee mug. I knew. You knew. But like all dirty little secrets, we both pretended we didn't know what was going on. And then the parties... birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve... Oh how you played the part of the shocked but understanding wife when dad was escorted stumbling to the car. They all knew. They were your best friends. And they played their parts as well. And I have a few words for them as well, but later. Such a charade.

Oh childhood. What an absolutely horrendous time for me. If I only knew what impending doom was coming my way, I might of appreciated those moments of fleeting happiness more, held on a little tighter hoping they stuck. Dad drank. You bitched. Actually as I recall very clearly as a small child, you fought, loudly and somewhat violently. I cried myself to sleep every night praying to a God I knew nothing of because you never introduced me to any sort of religion or spirituality. I prayed for it all to stop. I prayed for your happiness together. Then, one night, you heard me, and came to check on me. I clearly remember telling you I wanted you and dad to get a divorce so you would stop fighting and be happy. One of the quirks of my warped, twisted brain is that to protect itself it has completely blocked some memories and others replay as if they just occurred. That night I clearly recall as if yesterday. You actually consoled me to the best of your ability and promised it wouldn't ever happen again. It didn't. Not because the problem was solved, but because you chose to bury the secret deeper. But did that solve anything? Did things get better? No. I learned from you that when things were not pretty, you hid them. You buried your dirty little secrets so no one could see them. You didn't speak of them. Because if you pretend it doesn't exist, then it doesn't, right?

Let's move on to my teens shall we. This is where your facade, my facade, started to truly show signs of fracture. I did everything I could my entire life to please you. Impress you. I never could. I was your project. Your way of showing the world you could raise a perfect child. So I had to be perfect. I tried so very hard in every way. I always tried to impress you with my knowledge only for you to illustrate that you were smarter. Well of course you were. I was a child. But you never gave me a chance. And then there was the benchmark. My brother and sister. And what a benchmark they were. They flourished throughout school, became thriving adults starting their own families, everything I strived to be, just to make you happy. But I wasn't happy. I never learned to be happy with who I was. I played a role. I was an actor in your play and I always played second fiddle. Nothing every impressed you. You never showed pride in my accomplishments unless you could claim the praise. So I was nothing. I was a shell of a human. I never developed as a person. I only ever mimicked what I thought you wanted me to be in my never ending quest to make you happy. A fruitless effort to be sure.

I didn't know at the time, even with my early hospitalisation as a teen, nor did the doctors recognise what was wrong with me. I was young, only sixteen. I had a complete mental break from reality. I only remember bits then waking in the hospital in a daze how many hours or even days later. Not understanding where I was or what had happened. My first complete mental breakdown. I'm pretty sure the only reason I got help at all was because I was suicidal and in a severe depression. However the doctors didn't know what it was or what to call it. They went on your information. I was smart. I was successful in school. I played the role you created. I don't even think the doctors knew then what I was or what to call it. I was a Borderline. I subjugated every instinct I had as an individual to please you. I had no identity. I became whoever and whatever I needed to be to survive the situation. It wasn't until some twenty odd years later I was properly diagnosed.

I have some clear memories of this time. Us sitting in the psychiatrists office discussing my issues. Me attempting to bring up my problems with you and dad. You quickly nipped that in the bud. I was a bad seed. No child of yours would have these thoughts or feelings. The doctors didn't help. I was once again treated like a naughty teen in need of a spanking, and that was it. So I once again, I repressed and conformed. Did what I was told and what was expected. I became no better. 

Let's speak of my relationships with men. So I was sixteen and fresh out of the psych ward that helped none whatsoever (just a waste of my time and as you always like to point out, my college tuition). Was it any surprise at this point I latched onto Jamie? He filled a void you never did and also offered the numbing substances available to ease my inner turmoil. What's interesting is that though he was the bad influence (much older and supplying me with drugs and alcohol at 16) but I was the one in control! I'm sure in some way he loved me. I played a role then, your role. I controlled him and used sex as my weapon. That's how I learned a relationship should work. You find an easy target and then use, abuse, manipulate, whatever it took to make them yours. I woke up one day and realised how boring he was and walked away. But all my boyfriends after were similar in the respect that I picked men I could manipulate. I quickly learned what kind of woman they wanted and became the character. I made men fall in love with me over night. Of course they all fell in love with fiction. Because I didn't exist. I had no soul, no identity. In reflection, I feel sorry for my actions, but they weren't really my actions. I was nothing. Nobody. I was what you created. An atrocity.

I'm an adult now and have been through years of therapy, on every psych med known to man it seems, abused a lot of drugs, screwed a lot of men, attempted suicide, and have studied my illnesss at length to better understand myself. To know why I am the way I am. After coming out of my "dark period" (three years of hell I barely survived), I somehow managed to crawl out of my swirling cesspool and clawed my way back to something resembling a normal life. People ask me how I did it, and I honestly have no idea. The devil himself told me I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to survive the world I had been lured into, but he was wrong. I survived. And to some extent I've thrived.

Here's the thing though mom, even though I seem to have a picture perfect life now, behind my smile my illness still stirs. And it has recently been awakened and is pulling me towards the darkness. I'm using every tool I know to fight it. But it's there, lurking in the shadows, haunting my nights and days. And I am now feeling something I never fully experienced before... RAGE. I have so much rage towards you it literally feels like my insides are being ripped apart. I hate what you created. And I will never be able to get rid of it. When you die, I will still live with the nightmare. And when you die, I will not care. In fact, I will be happy that I no longer have to dread the anxiety of speaking to you. People who don't understand my illness will say to just "let you go" and "get over it". But those who know, who understand, know that will never happen. I wish it were that simple. It's not.

Mother, you will never read this and Father is already dead. Perhaps I'll put a copy in your casket so you can rot and burn with my words for eternity. Maybe then I'll find peace.

Saturday, 19 September 2015


Secrets. We all have them. Some we share with the closest of friends. Some we take to the grave. So what happens when you have a mental illness and have a secret you're keeping from a loved one? That's been my latest anxiety trigger.

As a Borderline/Bipolar in the midst of what can only be described as the manic of all manic phases, I have been pulling out every trick in the book to manage my mania in productive ways. Gardening, DIY, walking, etc. But I was craving a crutch. A chemical and tactile release to help calm me in between the chaos. I had no intentions. But one day I found myself at the shop and asked for a packet of cigarettes. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. Not drugs. Not scouring the back alleys for some crack or heroine. Just cigarettes. A habit I've never been able to fully commit to. Frankly I've picked them up and dropped them just as easily throughout my life. And now older, and much wiser, if not saner, I realise they are a knee jerk anxiety release. When I'm swimming, swimming, swimming...smoothly through this world, I have no need. Furthest thing from my mind. But a few weeks ago, mania hit me like a tidal wave. Massive turrents crashing down on my head while the rip tides swept my feet out from under me. And I needed something.

Now I don't sit around chain smoking everyday. Well sometimes. Depends on the day. Here's the issue: my wonderful loving husband is and always will be 100% against smoking. So what was I to do. I hid it. My dirty little secret. He'd shuffle off to work all tidy in his suit and tie, me itching and pushing him out the door, just waiting and practically drooling for that early morning fag with my coffee. I nearly chain the first two. And then, depending on the day and what state I'm in, they would come quite regularly or I wouldn't even think about it for hours into the afternoon. I would say no rhyme or reason, but let's face it, when you're in a manic state, there's usually a reason whether you see it or not.

But I'm not here to speak of the reasons for picking up those nasty little treats. I'm here to speak of how I went to great lengths to hide my, which I can honestly say will only be a temporary, dirty stinky nasty habit. I kept my stinky hoodie tucked away in the shed he never visits. I would wear a bandana on my head to protect my hair. I would go through bottle after bottle of body mist. Hand lotions, hand washing, teeth brushing, mouth washing, clouds of perfume... This was my camouflage. And as soon as I knew he was on his way home, quickly chaining a couple for last of the day, and then it was shower time. Feverishly scrubbing and washing away my sins. Febrezing my pile of dirty clothes of the day in a bag of "dirty laundry" waiting to be washed. He never knew. No clue. But the guilt. The shame. It slowing started eating at me. Like a rat gnawing on a carcass. The anxiety grew and grew. And the fact that I was trying to manage the anxiety of my illness made this added anxiety worse. So I did what I finally knew I had to do for my sanity. For better or worse, I had to tell him.

When the day came, just a few short days ago, I skipped my usual cleansing routine. I sat in my little studio waiting for his arrival. Replaying over and over again the coming conversation. He got home and instead of a hug, I made him sit down. "Honey I have something to tell you. I need you to not get mad. I need you to understand. I need you to realise it is only temporary. I have a secret I've been keeping. And I can't lie and deceive you anymore. It's eating me alive. I've started smoking."

What happened next I didn't expect. As my words poured out, his anxiety grew. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was cheating on him. I suppose I did build the suspense as he sat there. I laughed. I have never since we've been together even had the slightest inkling of cheating or desire to do so or any interaction with any man that made the idea even flit through my mind for a split second. So relief. I was relieved to have ended the secret. And he was more than relieved to be assured his worst fear was fiction.

It's been a few days now. My anxiety of my secret had decreased (only wish my other anxieties would do the same). I can now freely go hide in my secret garden and engage in my filthy habit. I don't enjoy it really. But for now, temporarily, I'm using this crutch.  I hope to replace it with some other healthier habit soon. But for now, it is what it is. And now that I've unveiled my truth, there is a little less anxiety in my life.

Moral of this story... If you are keeping a secret that you feel the need to desperately hide from your loved one, you are slowly breaking down the foundation that holds you up. And that is never a good idea. Honesty. Loyalty. Trust. These things are what hold love together. Without them, the cracks will appear and the foundation will crumble. You won't even see it coming.