AnonyBlogger: A Brother’s Torment

This story, while tragic, is all too common. Very often, mental illness and drug addiction grow together like mutually-feeding parasites, compounding problems and confounding treatment.

It’s understandable, of course. The anguish of mental illness is indescribable and when people find a way to make pain stop, they will usually use it. If mental illness is not treated (or is treated inappropriately, or inadequately), the risk of substance abuse increases.

I am privileged to share another story from an anonymous blogger, though I’ll be honest; this one isn’t easy for me. Mental illness affects everyone it touches, and siblings are often powerless to do anything but bear witness to the chaos and pain. Jacob, Abbie, and Spencer will carry a burden the size and shape of Carter for the rest of their lives. They love him, but being his siblings has hurt them deeply. This author carries the same terrible weight.

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My brother was always a bit of a volatile person. He was adopted at three days old, just as I had been. My parents were unable to conceive and as soon as my brother was old enough to understand what being adopted meant, he began to have abandonment issues.

He also had severe learning disabilities and ADHD that the doctor attributed to the fact that his birth-mother smoked (and probably drank) while she was pregnant, and his birth weight was incredibly low. I always felt bad that he had to follow four years behind me in school with teachers that always had the same high academic expectations for him that they had for me. I was an honors student. He could barely scrape by with a passing grade, even with the support of an IEP and tutoring. I’m pretty sure he resented me in some way as he got older.

By the time he was in middle school and adolescence had hit, he was also slipping into a depression. The doctors put him on anti-depressants in addition to his ADHD meds. Then he couldn’t sleep, so he was put on sleeping medication, too. I think this was where his addiction started. By the age of twelve he couldn’t function without at least three or four different medications each day.

He was not exactly a calm person, either. He threatened me with a steak knife when he was nine while I was babysitting him and wouldn’t let him do what he wanted. My dad has a similarly volatile personality and when my brother would get agitated, it would set my dad off. I distinctly remember at one point, when I was in high school, my dad slamming my brother up against the kitchen wall by his throat. I ran upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom, crying hysterically into my pillow. This is the only time I ever remember my dad being physically violent. It was usually just yelling.

When I went away to university at age 18, and my brother was in high school at 15, things started to take a turn for the worse. I hated going home for breaks, because I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around my whole family. My mom and dad were fighting. My mom and brother were fighting. My dad and brother were fighting. I felt like I’d left and my world fell apart.

With some not-so-great friends influencing my brother, he started smoking pot. I have nothing against this, but these friends pushed the boy who was desperate to fit in to much harder things. He started drinking heavily behind my parents’ backs at 16. He was taking illegally-obtained Oxycodone to numb himself before he ever graduated high school. He totaled my dad’s BMW. He already had one underage DUI by 18.

He was only able to graduate thanks to our state having a “Certificate of Completion” instead of a traditional diploma. He couldn’t pass the state-required math exam to graduate with a real diploma. He was incredibly ashamed of this. He wanted to be an architect but knew he couldn’t hack it at any university. Instead, my mom (who was separated from my dad by this time, and that’s a whole other story…) found him an apprenticeship with a local contractor as a carpenter.

At first he loved it. He was making something of himself and cleaned up for a while. But then his coworkers (and previously mentioned bad-influence friends) got him back to the drinking and pills. And I honestly can’t blame him. He was in lots of physical pain due to some kind of bone abnormality in his heels that could only be remedied by extreme surgery. He was on his feet 8-10 hours a day. Then he’d come home and, behind Mom’s back, numb himself with whatever he could find. He refused surgery because it would mean no work for 12 weeks, minimum, and he was in SERIOUS debt, even though he still lived with our mom.

Right before I moved home after grad school, he got arrested for his second underage DUI. My mom didn’t know what to do with him. She tried to convince him to go to counseling. He refused. We had an intervention with friends and family. He ignored us. My mom brought a cop friend over to talk to him. It didn’t matter.

By this time, we all knew he was bipolar, even though he refused to get any help, any diagnosis, or any medication that was actually prescribed to him. When I moved back home, post-grad-school with no job prospects in sight, I saw him really deteriorate.

He’d have incredibly manic weeks during which work was great, he’d party with his friends, want to take me out to lunch, and lavish love and gifts on Mom. Then he’d slide into a very dark place. If he wasn’t at work, he’d be “asleep” in his room. I’d find empty bottles and cans under his bed, under the couch in the basement, in his car. And I’d clean them up and put them in the trash without my mom finding them, because she was suffering enough as it was. She was carrying all of this on her shoulders, as if it were her fault.

Late in the summer after I’d moved home, Mom and Brother had a HUGE fight. He ran off and later called from his cell phone, saying he was in his truck parked somewhere with a gun. He was high as a kite, threatening suicide over the phone. My mom and I both panicked. We called my dad. Big mistake. He got seriously pissed at us and at Brother, like that would help. We were all hysterical. Finally we were able to find out where he was, and after my mom called the police, they found him and escorted him home. I later found out that this was not his first suicide threat. He’d done this a few times while I was off at school, but never got as far as getting his hands on a means to do so.

The following summer, I got married and moved out. I didn’t see my brother as frequently. We lived on opposite sides of the city and both had full-time jobs. The only communication would generally be phone calls when he was high on something. It got to the point I couldn’t deal with him at all in that state of mind, so I wouldn’t even answer. I’d delete voicemails without even listening to them.

All during this time, he still lived at home with Mom. She either refused to acknowledge his behavior or was somehow enabling it. She tried to keep her family together by having everyone over for dinners, especially at holidays, but Brother would either hide in his room, claiming to be “tired” from all his construction work, or he’d be completely manic or hopped up on something.

Quite possibly the best example of the latter would be my first Christmas after getting married. My mom invited my husband’s entire family over to her house for Christmas dinner. Not too long after everyone got there, he emerged from his bedroom and proceeded to hump the Christmas tree, laughing hysterically. Keep in mind, my brother was a very shy person *usually*. Then, while we were all in the living room, he disappeared into the kitchen and proceeded to empty the entire fifth of Tuaca (vanilla liqueur) we’d brought to go with dessert.

My husband went to the restroom sometime during this debacle and found white powder residue on the counter of my brother’s bathroom. He’d definitely snorted something so he’d be able to “come out of his shell” and function around a crowd of relatively new people.

These behaviors continued for a few years. He’d have sober moments, and my mom would cling to those. He’d bounce from construction job to construction job as the industry wasn’t doing so well. I think the sober times came when he had no money to supply himself with any drugs. He’d become increasingly depressed.

Then out of nowhere, he’d have a few “good” weeks and decide to try and move in with some friends. That never worked out, and within a week, he’d be back home with Mom. And the cycle would begin again. He attempted to move out three times during these epically roller-coaster years.

I only knew of these because my mom would tell me. I’d pretty much cut my brother out of my life, as he was no longer the baby brother I knew. The person he’d become scared me. I couldn’t deal with him or the unpredictability. He’d essentially become dead to me.

Our contact became spotty, and finally right around his 24th birthday, as he’d seemed clean and stable for a while, we began to heal our relationship. He had a job, was contemplating getting therapy for the first time since he was 13, and was moving to an apartment near Mom’s house with a friend.

Just after that birthday, I was stricken with a heinous stomach virus. Mom and Brother came to visit one day while I was home and my husband was at work. I was in desperate need of more toilet paper and Gatorade. He seemed great! I was so happy for him.

Two weeks later, in the dead of night, there was a pounding at the apartment door. The dog started flipping out. I made my husband answer, as I was terrified. He came back into the bedroom with my mom and two of her friends trailing her. She was hysterical. Wrapping her arms around me, she barely managed to get the words out, “Your brother’s dead. He’s gone.”

I started rocking back and forth curled in a seated fetal position, in shock, repeatedly scream-crying, “No! He can’t be! It’s someone else!” My mom and I sat there, tears streaming down our faces for about an hour. Once I was about ready to pass out from all of the stress, my mom’s friends persuaded her to leave, and my husband managed to get my quivering mess of a self back into bed. He just held me.

What happened, it turned out, was that day, a Saturday, September 13, 2008, my brother’s roommate came home from work to find him sitting in the living room armchair, college football on TV, empty beer can by his side. She hoped he was just unconscious, of course, so she called 911. When the paramedics arrived, he was pronounced dead. They said he’d probably been gone for at least an hour by the time she had found him.

My mom had been out of town on a church retreat, so it took them a while to find her to let her know. The police officer who had to share the news was a neighbor, and she thinks of it every single day when she walks her dogs, as she has to walk by his house. She wasn’t able to tell me until late that night, because by the time she’d gotten the news, gotten back into town, and gone to the hospital morgue, it was that late.

She got a pastor from her church to call my dad to let him know the next day. This news sent my dad into a horrific fit, that I still don’t think he’s dealt with. To compound things, the exact same day, while my dad and stepmom were at the aforementioned football game, my 16-year-old stepbrother, who was also bipolar with anger management issues, set fire to my dad’s bedroom. My dad’s never been able to deal with people with mental illness, so he sent my stepbrother off to a residential behavioral treatment facility, then to live with his biodad.

It turns out that my brother had a drug-induced seizure. All of the damage he’d been doing to his body for about 6 years finally caught up to him, and his body shut down. With all of the pain, physical and mental, that he went through, day in, day out, I like to think that he’s in a better place now, wherever that may be.

I still think of him every day and wish that I’d known him better as an adult, but I have no regrets. I wish my mom would be able to deal with his passing a little bit better. She guilt-trips me for not wanting to celebrate his birthday with her and talks to photos of him every day.

She still hasn’t gotten rid of (or even gone through) the boxes of his belongings, and I’m afraid she still hasn’t come to the acceptance stage of the grieving process after two years. She’s a therapist, herself, and she’s a prime example of therapists not being able to take their own advice. I love her, but I wish she’d go back to her own therapist so that maybe she’d be able to deal better. When we talk about it, she thinks she’s doing okay, and I’m the one who hasn’t grieved properly.

I’m now starting to worry about the mental status of my mother. I guess we can just take it a day at a time, and hope that eventually, we all come to accept his passing and live. He always wanted to live a happy, pain-free life but wasn’t able to with the horrors that went on in his head. I’d like to think that going forward in a content life would honor my brother’s memory more than anything else.

If you have family members (or you, yourself) who you suspect are bipolar or have substance abuse problems, I hope you are able to convince them to seek professional help before it’s too late.

Thank you to Adrienne for allowing me to share my story, as rambling and stream-of-consciousness as it is. It’s not over yet, I know. The healing for my family will continue for years to come, or at least I sure hope so.

AnonyBlogger: Ebb and Flow

When I receive a new AnonyBlogger post, my primary feeling is one of gratitude that people should be willing to trust me with their stories. Not just stories, but tales so painful that the world shifts a little on its axis from their telling.

This story, after I read it the first time, left me off-balance for hours afterward. Love and pain would both be so much easier if they weren’t so often tangled up with each other. I’m honored to bring you another story about loving someone who is mentally ill.

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I look at my children now, who come to me with their problems, and wonder how long I will be WonderMom. I can cook anything, I can make a costume for tomorrow’s previously unannounced play, I can sew a hem or a button, I can butterfly a nasty gash and I know lots about lots.

The way they need me has not yet caused that crisis wherein you realize that your parents are human, flawed, perhaps damaged, and fallible. But if I have my way, they will be safe in the protective circle of their parents abilities and support for as long as is reasonable without actually lying to them or steering them towards therapy.

Because I was not.

My safe circle ended when I was eleven. My parents were divorced several years by then and my brother was having behavior issues so he moved across the country to be with my dad. My mom – since there was no one but highly capable little me at home – took a late shift job.

Dinner. Homework. Housework. Off with myself to bed. This became my reality at the age of eleven.

Not great. Lonely. Sometimes scary. But manageable, I suppose, to a capable and resourceful girl.

Somewhere around that time though, my mother’s evening cocktail turned into several, and several turned into a fifth. I don’t know quite how long she camouflaged that problem, but when I was 14 she “quit” her job. (To this day I do not know whose idea her exit was.) And then she simply stopped being sober.

Pretty much ever.

And then eating alone, getting homework done independently and washing up the dishes became much more and much worse. Eating was not only an alone activity, so was getting food. Managing my homework turned into managing my entire education, including transportation to and from school events – sometimes very far from home – when my mom forgot to pick me up. Washing dishes became every household chore that I needed to take care of, including managing my own health and teeth. I was often alone in places I should not have been, often frightened, and often hungry.

When I was sixteen, she went on a binge and threatened to put me in foster care when I got angry. When I called my dad –the first time in my life I asked anyone for help because I could not deal with my drunken, irrational mother – he told me he thought I should learn to deal with my own problems. I never asked for help again. Not from him, not from anyone.

My mom was arrested for probation violations on my 18th birthday.

This continued until my early 20’s when finally the emotional abuse became too much and I told my mother to…go away. I was desperate. I loved her terribly, but she could reduce me to tears in a sentence, and her irrational behavior was undermining my life, which at that time included graduate school.

So I told her to go away. And I stopped calling. Stopped visiting. I just…stopped.

Until she ended up in the hospital critically ill with a mystery condition that almost killed her. She underwent emergency surgery – they weren’t even sure what they were looking for – and after 4 hours the surgeon came out to the waiting room, announced that she’d had a diverticulum that ruptured, remarked that she might not live through the night, told me she was drinking herself to death and asked why I hadn’t done anything to stop her.

I was so stunned that I could not tell him off the way he needed to be told off. I was 25 years old, sitting in a waiting room at 2 in the morning and he had just told me my mother might not last till sunrise. I could not serve him the verbal assault he deserved for suggesting that my child-and-teenaged self had somehow failed to keep her from drinking. Did he think I had not done everything conceivable to stop her, to try and live a life free from fear, abuse, loneliness and hunger? Was he fucking kidding me?

Regardless of my anger with the surgeon, my mom recovered. And then Recovered. We had a conversation where she told me that although she knew she was drinking herself into an early grave, she thought she’d simply not wake up one day. And the painful horror of this hospitalization had frightened her. I told her, calmly but starkly, that she would live through this same situation a handful of times before her body finally gave out. And that if she tried to decline the treatment, she risked an overzealous physician taking her capacity away and putting her through it anyway. Then – miraculously – her attending doctor told her the exact same thing. Here was the turning point I’d hoped for for the past dozen years.

But…what the universe gave to my mother, it took from my father.

My dad had always been a challenging individual. Taciturn and with an occasionally violent temper, visits with my dad always felt like Russian roulette. My younger brothers were prone to bickering, and I would expend enormous energy playing peacemaker so their fighting wouldn’t escalate my dad’s temper. My dad put his fists through walls when he was angry.

But my dad was unpredictable. He’d be charming as all hell at a party, make everyone laugh, freshen drinks. He’d tell me how proud he was of me one day, then berate me for being irresponsible about my educational choices the next (while I put myself through college and he contributed not a cent). He’d cancel a family trip because of empty wallets and then buy 4-wheelers for himself and motorbikes for my brothers.

And through it all was walking on eggshells. A good day could be ruined with a word or a red light.

But I could cope. I was used to it.

Then…just two years after my mom found her way to recovery, my dad had a stroke. A small one. Tiny. He recovered everything….except his impeccable balance.

My dad was a glazier. An industrial glass-worker. He installed windows and curtain walls on high-rise buildings. And now he couldn’t trust his balance. A high-rise construction site is a very bad place to work then.

He couldn’t work. But he also couldn’t qualify for disability. My dad, at 6’4” and 220 pounds, looked like a strapping man who was perfectly capable of doing anything. But he couldn’t do the thing he knew how to do best, the thing he was so well-respected for, and he couldn’t wrap his brain around doing anything else.

And that unpredictability? Those mood swings? Those periods of penny-pinching followed by outrageous spending? Those were all signs of his bipolar disorder, only I had no awareness of the condition at the time, so didn’t recognize what I was seeing. And the stroke, with its subtle residual impairment, brought him crashing down into a depressive trench so deep he could not see the upper rim.

My dad loved my husband. My first husband. And for 8 years had been on his best behavior around him. To the point where my husband was a bit mystified by my stories, and must have thought me a drama-queen revisionist historian. But after the stroke, after the depressive crash, my husband saw the man who I had lived with my whole life. He saw the slashing remarks, the disinterest, the criticism, the pessimism. I felt vindicated that my husband realized that I hadn’t invented it all, but would have preferred to be thought a liar than seeing my dad in that state.

This went on for a year or two. Then my son was born, and he seemed to brighten. He loved his grandson so very much. But the unpredictability was still there, the temper was still there, and I was….afraid. I think this state was due in part to being a new mom and the emotional reorientation (sometimes overly so) that accompanies becoming a parent for the first time and feeling responsible for so fragile a life. But whatever the reason, I became more and more aware of my dad’s instability, and it unsettled me. My dad collected guns. That unsettled me too. Although it never had before.

One day, at the end of a phone call with my dad, he said, “You know, it’s a hard place to reach in life to realize that you weren’t dealt a bad hand, but that you didn’t do enough with the hand you got.”

And here is where I wish I could go back. Here is where I wish I could rewind and rewrite. I was a health care worker. I had worked with seniors with all kinds of psychological issues, and I had some experience with adult mental health. I am also incredibly gifted with words. I am who everyone comes to when they need encouragement, or problem solving. I had both of those things on my side, and when my dad opened up about his disappointment with life – in a way that suggested he was able to see himself as less a victim than he often did – I said…nothing.

I wish I’d said, “Dad, you can re-arrange your cards however you like. We love you. We’ll wait. There’s still time. There’s always time.”

In my head, now, I say those words. I say them in a way that is true and heartfelt. I say them and I mean them and he hears me.

But I didn’t say those words. I don’t know why. To this day – this hour and this minute – I do not know why I couldn’t say such a simple and easy thing to my dad. I sat on the phone, mute or murmuring something useless like “that’s too bad.” And I gave him nothing to hold on to. I don’t know if he would have reached for what I offered, but the not offering is with me still.

Still.

A few months later, on Halloween morning, the phone rang at 6:30 am. I quelled the instant panic I always get when the phone rings at an ungodly hour by telling myself it was a wrong number. It wasn’t. My husband answered and after a few words, said, “Oh no!” He turned to me and said, “Your dad’s dead. He shot himself in the head.”

And yes, he now feels horrible for saying it that way. But…that’s what he said.

I took the phone from him and spoke with my step-mother. She sounded so calm. Her voice barely broke, but I could tell it was only because she hadn’t slept. She had gotten the news the night before. She just hadn’t been able to call yet.

My dad had driven out to the hills. He had a gun, a six-pack of beer, his klonopin and some marijuana. My stepmother thinks he’d gone there thinking to commit suicide. Apparently, he’d done something like that once before. But she thinks he’d talked himself down, because he was on his way home. But the pills, the beer and possibly the pot had done a number on him, and he crashed his pick-up truck into a fence. The property owner called 911, and shouted to my dad that help was on the way. The paramedics were on the scene in minutes.

It was dark. They didn’t see he had a gun. One paramedic called to him that they were there, that they were going to get him out of the truck. Then he turned back towards his partner to ask for some equipment, and that’s when they heard the shot.

I can’t imagine being that paramedic. Thinking you were doing everything right, that you were just helping a guy who’d run his car into a ditch. And I worry that his first thought might have been that he was being shot at. I hope he didn’t think that. I would hate for him to have felt that fear, my dad had huge respect for police officers and firefighters. He’d been in the army. He wouldn’t have wanted that young man to feel that fear.

But I also can’t imagine what my dad was feeling. Was he scared? Did he know that he was looking at jail time for driving under the influence? Was crashing the truck the last straw? Did he think he’d embarrass his wife, or his kids? Did imagining our disappointment oppress him those last few inches before he hit unbearable? Or could he just not see that after the bad part of this car-accident mess, it would – eventually – get better?

I don’t know. But I imagine it often. And I wish, I wish so much, that I could have reassured him in that moment. That I could have said, “Yep, you fucked up. But we love you, we’ll always love you, and we’ll help you get through it. Nothing is so bad it can’t get better. And this will.”

I have no place to send those words now. No outlet for those wishes. Nowhere to send that encouragement.

It has been twelve years now, and that thought – if I think it too hard or too concretely – will still bring me to tears. I hate, hate in the strongest type of despising, the thought that someone I love could ever, ever, feel so bad. It does not matter that much if in his life he was not kind to me, or that I have issues of insecurity that are clearly a result of his criticism, or that in the final years his instability frightened me. He was my dad, and in between those painful, frightening times was the man who loved his daughter even when incapable of showing it, and the person I imagine battered and bleeding alone in the dark with a gun is the man who loved me. And to this day it takes me to my darkest place to imagine him so frightened and so sad that the only way out was dead.

I watch myself carefully. I watch my son even more so. Addiction and depression both run in families. My relationship with food? Possibly complicated by an addictive personality. A few times with men? Clearly. Alcohol I can take or leave, and drugs don’t interest me. But a few times…a few frightening times… I have brushed my feet against the bottom of a well where I could not see why tomorrow mattered. And I recoil. I run. I am too afraid of those places to linger. But I watch my son.

These things are me. The girl who lived with a mom who was happy to let her go hungry, the girl whose dad ignored the evident neglect, the young woman who had no parent but herself, the new mom who got one parent back while the other slipped violently away. I am strong, resourceful, resilient and capable because of those things. They are my trademarks and I am proud of them. But I am also insecure, easily frightened, have abandonment issues and occasional irrational fears because of those things.

Would I trade?

I can’t say.

AnonyBlogger: Feeling Normal

Wait, what’s this? Two AnonyBlogger posts in a row? Isn’t that, like, cheating?

Yes. Yes, it is. But honestly, with Carter’s psychotic symptoms increasing by the day, and being without Brian last week while he worked in Japan, plus all the ordinary tasks of life, I’m pretty relieved to have something to post that doesn’t contain any of my blood, sweat, and tears.

Make no mistake, though: there is an abundance of blood, sweat, and tears here. While I think that having a mentally ill child is one of the most painful things that can happen to a person, having a mentally ill parent is one of the most damaging. I’m privileged to bring you another story from a blogger who loves someone with a mental illness.

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My mom is Bipolar. It nearly destroyed my parents’ marriage when I was younger; she was reckless with the little money my father made, placing our family in a scary amount of debt. She had affairs that carried on for months, even years, giving birth to another man’s baby two years prior to my birth. I don’t know this brother; he grew up with his father and his father’s family.

When my mom wasn’t off spending money, meeting men and taking me and my siblings out of school for no reason other than to be with her, she was locked in her room, in her bed. There would be weeks, sometimes, where she disappeared into the cave that was her mind, her children didn’t exist, let alone matter to her. My father was stressed due to the illness, the illness which had no name to us at that point. He worked constantly, and when he wasn’t working, he drank. The two oldest siblings took care of the three younger, we tip-toed around them both, not daring to go to them if there was a problem.

It wasn’t until years later did we learn about what was happening to my mom. She didn’t share many of the darker details, but we learned she was sick and needed medication and she would be “mom” again. And she was for the most part. The severe manic episodes stopped, although she still liked to have fun, but only with her husband. Money was being spent on her children, but bills were being paid. The crippling depression stopped unless something happened; my grandmother dying, my brother being sent to Iraq. We still tip-toed, but we had our mom back.

One of the hardest parts of being the child of someone with Bipolar is not loving them or forgiving them throughout, that part comes easy once you learn about the disorder. The hardest part about being the child of someone with Bipolar is understanding you are genetically probable to have it as well, and wondering if and when it will take a hold of you.

I was 15 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar. I grew up relatively normal, regardless of our home situation. I didn’t let it define me. I didn’t have a very reliable mother role; my dad was an alcoholic and abusive, and my sister’s boyfriend molested me and beat and raped her for three years. But I didn’t let it define who I was. I was as happy as I could be with the hand I was given. I went to teenager-hood as stable as anyone would be. I was 15 when I was diagnosed, after a brutal rape and a trial that ended up labeling me a whore.

As part of the “healing process”, I went to a therapist for many years. After only a couple of weeks however, the therapist determined there was something more going on in my mind than I had let on to anyone else before. My parents always thought there was something wrong but were always too afraid and frustrated to see about getting me help. They told me to be honest, so I was honest. I told him about the voices I heard, and shadows I saw. The things that lived under my bed and my paralyzing fear of the dark. The monsters that told me I was worthless and should kill myself. I told him about cutting and starving myself as punishment because the Shadows told me to. I didn’t sleep because I was afraid of what they would do.

I told him about sometimes feeling like I could fly and describing the way my heart would jump up into my throat, the way you feel when you’re going down a big hill on a rollercoaster, because I really thought I could. I told him about kissing boys I didn’t know because they winked at me and getting drunk with my friends because I was too cute to get into trouble. I told him about sometimes I felt so high on it I had to cut myself just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t sleep because there was still so much left to do.

There was more than just the Bipolar that crippled my life that went undiagnosed until then. I have severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well; I always just thought I was particular, quirky. So many of my habits began to make sense to me, I would go through sheets of paper trying to keep my handwriting a certain way, I can’t touch or use a mop, I check things constantly, whether it’s lights or ovens or even just cell phones and emails. I never really thought anything strange about the amount of anxiety I would feel when I was unable to perform certain tasks. I thought everyone had something similar.

I spent years on medications and in therapy, but nothing seemed to fully help. There was never a good enough balance, the Shadows and voices would disappear, but I was so numb I would cut to make sure I was still alive. I drank and did drugs to connect with my peers. I always felt alone. The therapy became repetitive, I no longer had anything to share that they hadn’t already been told. There were no shadows to talk about, no voices. I didn’t eat because I wanted to feel normal, and skinny was normal. I didn’t want to live anymore because I wasn’t normal, and now everyone knew it.

I attempted suicide twice before my high school graduation. The first by slitting my wrists, I was found before enough time had passed. The second time I swallowed a bottle of pills and slit my wrists. I still don’t know how I survived that one, but I finally came out of a blood-loss and aspirin (I’m highly allergic) induced coma three days later that my parents assumed was drunkenness or the flu. There was blood on my sheets that they assumed was from cutting, and vomit, they let me sleep it off. When I awoke, the next day was my birthday and all I really wanted was Cocoa Pebbles. I felt like I was never going to feel normal again.

I finished high school, started college and stopped going to counseling and taking the medication. I wanted to be as normal as I could be and all those were doing was making it more difficult. My mom had been off her medication for years at this point, she had learned to recognize the signs of pending episodes. I wanted to learn this as well, and the only way to do this was to stop and start clean. To remember how I felt when I felt normal.

It took a long time to get to the point I am today, I take no medications, but am considering going back to counseling. I’m married and my husband is aware of everything. However, I do not discuss the voices or Shadows if I can help it. Those are my burden to bear; I don’t want to scare or worry him, although I know he’d stand by my side and try to protect me. I often wonder how he would protect me from myself, but I don’t question it. The amazing strength he lends to me and love he gives to me helps me sometimes to face fears, to stand up to the Shadows and demand my freedom from their terror.

Every day is a battle; I’m not going to lie. I have to remember there are others relying on me to be healthy, to be normal. There are days where I have to walk out of favorite stores before opening a credit card, others where it takes every fiber of my being to pull myself out of a dark hole I’m in. But I know, I have my family wanting me to be healthy, my husband who wants his wife to be okay, and two babies that I never want to be exposed to the bad mommy I could potentially be. I may never be normal, but I’m me, and I’m taking the little steps necessary to lead a normal life. I’m on a constant watch of where my heart feels like it is, that’s how I can tell what kind of episode I’m about to have. I force myself to face my fears, even if sometimes it’s just a little bit. I force myself to listen to my daughter’s laughter and voice to remind me of why I have to be better. To remind me that it’s not just me that matters, it’s the smiling little girl and growing boy that are the most important.

The hardest part about having Bipolar and children is not wondering if they’ll continue to love and forgive you throughout it, you know that part will come easier once they are old enough to understand. The hardest part about having Bipolar and children is understanding they have hit the genetic jack pot and wondering if and when it will take hold of them too.

AnonyBlogger: Difficult Decisions

I am incredibly pleased to host this story, the first of many (I hope!) stories about loving (and struggling to love) a person who is living with mental illness.

Please be generous with your comments and be sure this blogger knows she’s not alone in this experience!

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“You may not remember this,” a long-time family friend said to my fiancé, “but your dad was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown when you were a little boy.” Silence. “No, I don’t remember that,” my fiancé replied. And the worrying began.

More than a decade ago, my mother-in-law died following a swift and brutal battle with cancer.

My sister-in-law, who is a couple years older than my husband, later told us that she vaguely remembered dad being away for a while. At the time, nobody talked about why he was gone. And we didn’t raise the matter again, not directly anyway.

The funeral came and went. When my fiancé and I married at a destination wedding six months later – we’d made the plans before his mom was diagnosed – only our immediate families came. And my father-in-law looked painfully lonely.

But within a year and a half, Dad seemed to have rediscovered happiness. He had a new girlfriend. He had a spring in his step. We were relieved. Craving a fresh start and now lacking commitments at home, my husband and I moved to the other side of the country.

Then about three years later, we got the call. “I’m worried,” my sister-in-law told my husband.

“What do you mean?” he asked, suspicious. My sister-in-law is notorious for stirring the pot. And she has plenty of her own issues that could be fodder for several more blog posts.

“He hardly ever leaves the house. He doesn’t shower. And he’s neglecting the cat,” she said. We were worried. We went home to visit a month later. My sister-in-law was right to be concerned.

My father-in-law wasn’t well. Any sort of decision – what to have for dinner, going for groceries, visiting family and other simple, everyday tasks – nearly brought him to tears. Though he had started medication, it clearly hadn’t kicked in yet, was the wrong dose, or the wrong drug altogether. Because it wasn’t working.

And there was the girlfriend. She meant well, but she was a control-freak. She kept emphasizing how fragile he was. Yes, he was, but she seemed to be taking some sort of perverse pleasure in her now much-needed role in his life. I began to suspect she had her own mental health issues to deal with. Was she in a position to be his self-appointed caregiver?

But who were we to question it? We weren’t there on a daily basis. She was. My husband felt guilty. His sister was in no shape to pick up the slack. We were needed but couldn’t be there. We were living paycheck to paycheck and couldn’t afford to pick up and move back.

And after we left? I have to admit, it was time for me to feel guilty. I was glad we weren’t there anymore. Relieved. How shitty is that?

My husband rallied around his dad from afar. He called the relatives who did live in town, the ones who had stopped calling because he wouldn’t call back or visit when invited. He was upfront about why he was calling. He called his dad nearly every day – thank goodness for an awesome long distance plan. And amazingly? It worked.

When my father-in-law started to pull out of the fog, he gave my husband power of attorney. My husband hasn’t had to invoke it, but we wonder: when is it time to step in aggressively? When is it time to tell a grown man who raised his kids, paid his debts literally and figuratively, and worked hard all his life that he is no longer fit to make decisions? We still haven’t found the answer.

So every winter, as the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death comes, we keep as watchful an eye as we can from where we live, waiting for any sign that he may be slipping away from us again. He’s had his dips, but none as terrifying as that winter several years ago.

We are now making plans to move back home in another year. And hoping we make it back before my father-in-law’s depression rears its frightening head full force again. Because this time, we will have to step in.