A Little More Backstory

I have been a single parent for 2 years – ever since the life altering moment when my now ex decided he just “couldn’t do this anymore” and walked out after the children had gone to bed. What he meant of course was that he couldn’t be with me anymore. At the time I was blindsided, I didn’t see it coming. I was getting treatment for my illness and was actually breaking ground and getting better. His leaving was a huge shock at the time, but eventually I have come to understand why he had to leave me.

However, he fucked up royally by leaving me to deal with the aftermath of his decision. I (still to this day) have to field the endless questions of why daddy left without saying goodbye, the nightmares, the fears that I’ll disappear in the middle of the night. Some of the residual effects are still present in the both of my children and that pains me deeply.

For the first couple of months after he left, he didn’t call them or see them – I could have fucking eviscerated him. How does a person who adored his children from day they were born – who had an integral part in taking care of them; was so present in their lives – go from everything to nothing?

I get that he couldn’t deal with me anymore. I know that I’m a shit person to live with because of my flaws and the fucking dark clouds of bipolar that shrouds me at times. I also get the fact he probably felt guilty for abandoning the kids without warning. He maybe even felt a little guilty for hurting me. But that doesn’t excuse cutting off all contact with them for any length of time.

If it was only me in this equation, I would have said “Whatever. I’m well shot of this pillock.” and forget I ever knew him. But it was my children whose needs I had to think about. And I know that they want and need him in their lives. And honestly before all of this he was the best dad in the world. He really was.

Things have gotten better now, he calls them (from time to time) and has them stay once a week. It’s not really enough for them because deep down they miss him fiercely, miss having his constant presence in their lives. But at least he’s there for them in some capacity.

One of the things that still bother me is the fact that he’s never had to deal with the fallout from his leaving out of the blue. He left it all to me to clean up. I keep trying to explain to him, that he needs to acknowledge to them what he did wrong – to explain that it wasn’t their fault he left. However, because he doesn’t have to see the tears, the worry, the struggles they have – he thinks that everything is ok so he can just sweep it under the rug and forget it happened.

For someone so brave (he works in emergency services), he really can be gutless. He goes into shutdown over anything that forces him to admit to his imperfections, to acknowledge mistakes he has made, to look deeper into his heart and soul. He runs, runs like the wind, instead of confronting and dealing with emotional situations. Life gets tough and he’s checking for the exit, finding a loophole in the contract, eager to find a way out. He doesn’t deal – he runs.

I get that more than he understands – I spent most of my life running. But I stopped running. I had children and realised that I can’t run anymore. I have to face who I am, how I feel, all of the things I don’t like about myself, about my situation. I have to stand strong for them. Always for them.

The Ups and Downs of being UP

I’m not going to lie – there have been numerous times when I want to go off my medication because I want to bring on manic episodes. I know that’s a very dangerous thing to do – I learned some time ago just how critical it is for me to keep taking my medication regularly. So I wouldn’t intentionally stop taking them no matter how much I might think I want to.

But when I am feeling this way it is because I want the clarity, the feeling that I know the answer to everything, the certainty that I can save the world and bring peace. I long for the high of being connected to the universe, of feeling the energy of every living thing, the self assurance that I can change the world and make a difference. I know that these are delusions, that I don’t really have all the answers, that I can’t literally bring about world peace. But I crave the way the manic periods bring me a sense of purpose, of feeling good about myself, of feeling worthwhile.

Of course in reality it’s never as good as memory recalls. My high periods frequently included impulsive, reckless and downright dangerous behaviour, of an attitude of “fuck the consequences”, of a fools bravery that I was invincible. It also made me not a very nice person, as I lost the mind to mouth filter and said things without thinking or caring that they might hurt people. I would be irritable and annoying and pick fights – all for no reason other than to amuse myself at how easily I could push buttons and how angry I could make someone.

But of course time and distance always makes us gloss over the negative aspects of a memory. When I am longing for the manic periods it’s because my mind is choosing to only hold onto the more palatable aspects of those times. It remembers the allure of the self confidence but conveniently chooses to ignore the unpleasantness of the arrogance. It remembers the feeling of seeking thrills, but blatantly forgets the troubles recklessness brings.

If I knew I could control myself, if I could know how far to go and when to stop – I would embrace the mania. It makes me feel so good. But I know I don’t have control, and that’s the whole dangerous problem. So even though I wish I had the exhilaration of self assurance, I take comfort from the fact that lacking it means I don’t take stupid and unnecessary risks for the hell of it.

Still sometimes I miss that brave (and stupid) manic me – because I see my “normal” self as being too much Clark Kent and not enough Superman. Except in reality when without the meds I’m more like Jekyll and Hyde and I know that’s definitely not something to aspire to.

1 + 1 + 1 (+1) = Me

I’m not entirely proud of my behaviour last night. The idea of drinking myself numb makes me feel rather ashamed of myself.

But I mustn’t dwell. Not when I’m really not sure how I’m going to write this post without coming across as insane. In my writing yesterday I mentioned my “alter ego” the devious and childish little “shit stirring” bitch. “She” is not a different personality, just an aspect of my mind that I have assigned a sort of character to. I have several aspects of my self that I have given a persona to – so I can better explain to my Psych the struggles that I have in my mind.

Sometimes it feels like there is a war raging inside my head and that I have these different aspects fighting for ultimate dominion over my mind. These aspects all have distinct “voices”. No I’m not talking about actual hallucinations. It’s really difficult to explain. I suppose the closest I can come is this: my mind is like a room filled with people, and all of those people are speaking to me at once. As a result I don’t know what anyone is trying to say, and I get all confused. The “people” in my head are just the thoughts that whirl round, constantly screaming at me in an effort to be “heard”.  The inside of my head is a very noisy place with lots of activity and it can be difficult to control.

At any one time there are three aspects of myself all fighting to be the one in control, to be the one voice heard above all the noise. They each have distinct personality types, and I feel like they “reside” in different areas of my brain. Of course these descriptions are all figurative and not literal. I created them to understand how my mind works and make sense of my inner world.

The first aspect is the one I call “The scientist”. This part of my mind is the logical, analytical part and if I had to give it a physical place in my brain “The scientist” would be sitting up front towards my forehead. “The scientist” doesn’t have any emotional attachment whatsoever. It deals purely in logic, it is practical and it is fair and just. It is my voice of reason, and objectively tells me how things are and how I should see them in a clear and rational manner. It is the side of myself that may be detached, and unfeeling, but it is the part that knows how things “should be” for me to function. Functionality doesn’t necessarily mean thriving, and happy, and enjoying life – functioning means getting along with the least amount of disruption. And emotions cause way too much disruption.

My second aspect is “The dreamer”. It is the part of my mind that runs on the notion of ideals, and dreams. It’s the part that thrives on fantasy, and escaping from the troubles of the real world. This aspect sits at the back of my head – it’s the one that always hopes and dreams of a better day, a better life. This part of me is connected straight to the heart, logic goes out the door. It’s the part of me that wants to nurture myself, the hopeful and optimistic part that longs for something better. The part that seeks connection to this world, that longs for someone to connect to. It doesn’t want to just “function”, it wants to be truly happy and truly free to fly.

My third aspect is usually the one that causes me the most damage in life. She is a primal aspect, childish, a shit stirrer and I call her the “The soul-eater”. She is the voice constantly in my ear, the one that puts all the doubts about myself and others into words. She is the one that screams out that I am destined to be alone, that people will never understand me, and that I need to shut everyone and everything out. She is connected to instinct, and that innate need to protect myself. But she goes to extremes, the walls she puts up, and the way she makes me fear life go well and truly beyond self-preservation and into self-harm. She is the aspect that acts on impulse, and encourages me to drown out the noise (like through a drinking binge). She is the juvenile delinquent who has the melt downs and temper tantrums to make herself heard.

There is actually a fourth “aspect” but it doesn’t seem to have any influence in the battle. This last aspect is “The true self” the one who understands and sees all. She is the amalgam of rationale, emotion and self-preservation. This aspect is the piece of myself lost in the middle of this war, the “neutral ground” that the other aspects are fighting to gain control over. It’s the piece of me that knows that if only all the aspects could work together instead of against one another that I’d have a real shot at living a full and happy life. But like a small child, “The true self” is sat on the sidelines, and not taken seriously by the other aspects, not allowed to have a voice. It is always whispering “there is a better way…” but those whispers are barely heard against the din of the other aspects.

And the war rages on.

The Fear of Being a Mental Mum

I have two children, aged 8 & 7 (there is a 15 month age gap). One of the things that is a constant battle for me is the fear/guilt that I am not a good parent, and that I’m going to ruin my kids lives because of my mental illness.

I’ve mentioned before that there have been a number of occasions in my life when I was diagnosed with depression. When my youngest was born I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. A couple of years after that things started to go bad. This was a rock bottom – locking myself in cupboards, self harm and waking up in hospital stage.

But it wasn’t just a case of depression. In fact, if it was just depression it probably would have been easier for me to handle. At least with my depressed state I am still mentally aware, still able to understand that I am present in this world, I am not delusional. When I have depression I don’t interact with the world as much – however I don’t completely mentally disassociate from it. I wasn’t suicidal at those time – just apathetic about life, lethargic, and unwilling to get out of bed.

Worse were the times that I would enter a highly agitated state where thoughts would be racing a million miles a second and I couldn’t focus on a single thing. There were wild spending sprees, and other signs of impulsiveness and recklessness. During those times I would have extended sleeplessness and become overly talkative and irritable. On those occasions it was when I talked about ending it all, and was harming myself. At it’s worst I would blank out and end up catatonic – awake but just not there.

After those episodes I would “wake up” although I hadn’t actually been asleep. It was like I has lost control of my mind, and then I’d come back to reality – unable to account for things that had happened while I was in that state. It was the manic stages that really worried my partner at the time.

Once I got the correct diagnosis and began treatment and psychotherapy things gradually became more stabilized. It’s been about 4 years and I am a world away from where I was. I function – I can actually work, and mostly look after myself and the kids, and even when their dad left us around 2 years ago – I didn’t fall apart. It’s still not all roses. There are good days, there are bad days and there are really bad days. I haven’t had a full manic episode for around 3 years thankfully.

But I still wonder if I’m fit to be a parent. I think back to their infant and toddler years where I was incapable of looking after myself let alone them. My ex had the responsibility of being a “parent” to me as well as the kids. I wonder if I set them up for a troubled life because at those critical years I just couldn’t give them the love, attention and security they needed. I know they don’t remember it, but they saw me at my worst so early in their lives – and I still feel guilt and self-hatred that I somehow ruined them for the future.

My kids are very affectionate, and open with their love. I am somewhat envious of the fact that they are both so easy with their affection, because I find it very difficult to expression emotion and affection. I do love to get kisses and cuddles from them, spend time and have conversations with them them. But I am the type of person who also requires a lot personal space where I don’t want to be touched or talked to. It sometimes gets to the point where I feel like I am actually suffocating when they want to sit on my lap, cuddle me, or just be with me.

I feel a sharp pang of guilt every time I have to ask my kids to give me some space and not touch me for a bit. They are still too young to understand that human interaction is very taxing on me both mentally and physically. I get scared that they will think I am rejecting them, and that feeling of rejection will lead to major problems for them. It’s not that I don’t love them, because I do with all of my heart. It’s just that I wonder sometimes whether they deserve a better parent that I am. Someone who isn’t as messed up as I am in my head.

Being a single parent is hard enough. Doing it with mental illness is an endless battle. Being responsible for myself is a challenge –  sometimes I think it’s a terrible and sick cosmic joke that I am responsible for two other lives. But at the same time being responsible for people other than myself is grounding. I can’t let myself become reckless and impulsive because I know that I have to protect two vulnerable and innocent children.

If I don’t want to lose them, it’s all on me.

With a Snap of the Band

I have experienced different ways of (not) coping with my illness and the times where my dark thoughts overtake me. As I’ve said before I have locked myself in the cupboard for hours and hours. I’ve spent days in bed not moving. I’ve deliberately injured myself by scratching, hair pulling, hitting, cutting etc. I’ve even taken too many pills when I just wanted to make the pain stop.

Clearly these methods are not ways to cope, but just ways to escape. And I know they are very shitty ways to do it.

My current method of coping sounds a little counter productive (as it is sort of self harm) however it has been exceptionally successful. When I feel like I am losing control, when my thoughts are racing at light speed, and I feel like I am going to crumble I know I have to snap myself out of it.

I do this literally with an elastic band around my wrist. I pull it taut and let it snap against my wrist. I keep snapping it against my wrist as I try to get myself back under control. The sharp sting pulls my attention away from my thoughts, and brings me out of the downward spiral. Sometimes it only takes a couple of snaps, sometimes it takes a lot more. Sometimes I end up with bruising, but that’s only when the darkness has consumed me and I’m drowning in it.

Yes, I’m a little masochistic because I like the pain (I won’t lie, I’m also into a little B&D).

Yes, I know it’s dangerous to potentially give strength to the dark part of me that is convinced I deserve to feel nothing but pain.

But the stinging sensation, and the almighty snapping sound, grounds me and brings me back to reality. If I didn’t snap myself out of it with a physical reminder there is no way that I would be able to pull myself out of the blackhole of my thoughts. It’s especially helpful if I time each snap with a breath. I can control my breathing, and then my anxiety, and I regain control over my mind.

When there isn’t anxiety, only the depression, I write.

I’ve kept private journals since I was 13 years old. In them I write my thoughts and feelings – things that I cannot and will not ever share with the outside world. Getting my thoughts out on paper where I can arrange them into something that makes sense is a huge outlet for me. I generally only write in a journal when I am unhappy, or something is really bothering me.There are very few entries of things that I’d actually WANT to remember.

From time to time I’ve read back through my journals – and it’s very hard. Seeing all the dark places I’ve been to in my mind makes me really sad. But at the same time it’s actually therapeutic to see how much I’ve grown, and how much more rationally I cope with the dark times. There are far fewer entries of wanting to “end it all”. There is still a lot of self-hatred, and emotional self-abuse, and wanting to escape. However, the journal entries are spaced further apart – I don’t get as bad as I used to.

It’s not perfect, but I accepted long ago that it never would be.

The Trouble with Thinking Too Much.

I’ve said before I think a lot.

I am capable of sitting for hours constructing an elaborate story in my mind, replaying a past experience, or planning for a future encounter. I think about things to the point of over thinking them. At times I obsess over a particular train of thought. It’s like my mind comes to a complete standstill and I cannot move forward because my mind just goes over the thought in an endless loop.

At other times, it can be hard to keep hold of a particular thought, my brain jumbles them all up and speeds along like a rapid. I’ll spend so much energy chasing my thoughts as they flit from one subject to another, never getting the chance to process them.

Whether I’m stuck in a loop, or struggling to catch up to my racing thoughts – I have great difficulty in switching off. My mind is never at peace or rest. And this makes it difficult to get to sleep and near impossible to stay asleep for any length of time. As a result I have a massive sleep debt built up, and once every few months I crash from exhaustion.

In the lead up to the crash I reach the worst part of the cycle: the nightmares. If I had bad dreams of the relatively harmless kind – like being caught in public naked, or not being able to answer any questions in an exam, or some other benign humiliation I could stand it.

But I have gut wrenching, graphically explicit, shocking and horror filled nightmares. In my dreams I’ve routinely watched myself impaled with a huge pine post, gutted, decapitated, mutilated and other horror upon horror of scenario. I don’t wake up where normal people wake up – at the implication that something is going to happen.

Not me.

I watch the action as it happens, no censorship, no stylisation – just straight up blood, guts and terror. And then I wake up when it’s all over. When there is no point in waking up because the horror is over.

When I mention this to people I get asked if I watch a lot of gory movies, or TV, or video games or whatever. They think that something I’ve watched triggers the nightmares, which for many it’s a valid conclusion. I don’t typically watch explicitly gory things – mainly because I’m really rather squeamish and would be more likely to throw up or pass out rather than get scared.

Actually I really don’t watch much in the way of television or movies at all. I read a lot of book because I can really go wild with my imagination – books don’t force detail on you in the same way that a film or television show does. You have a lot more creative licence to envision a scene when you read a book. But again I don’t read books that would cause me to visualise something graphically violent because my imagination is just too good and I’ll make myself ill.

No the nightmares seem to be a manifestation of far too much energy being expended in thinking. I think it’s my minds way of forcing a melt down – a way of shocking me to the point where I just cannot think any more and my mind finally gets some respite and can rest.

The cycle is almost clockwork – over time my thoughts pick up in the speed at which they travel, and bring on the agitation, causing me to have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Then a weeks worth of nightmares bringing the sleeplessness to a critical breaking point. Followed by the crash, where I just fall to bits, and need to sleep for 2 or 3 days straight. And then after short period of mental lethargy where my thoughts are slower and clearer it all starts up again.

Where am I right now? Getting closer to the nightmares. i don’t have any clarity of thought at the moment. I’ve had difficulty writing this post because I can’t think straight. Everything I wanted to write flits in and out of my head faster than I can type (which incidentally is reasonably fluent at around 58 wpm).

I can’t really remember what the original intent of this post was – I know it was something about my thoughts working overtime but the specifics of what I wanted to say eludes me. This is a real problem for me I’m constantly trapped in my mind – and me being me it has a visual representation to go with that thought. When I picture my mind – it is a massive library complete with one of the old school cataloguing systems of index cards. The index cards are the markers or place holders for the books – and they keep everything neat, orderly and easy to locate. In my minds library the “books” are actually the specific memories or pieces of information I have stored.

However when my mind is in the state it is now – the library isn’t orderly and quiet. It looks as if a tornado has ripped through it – things everywhere, nothing is stored where it should be. The index cards have been thrown around the room, and sometimes rewritten so they don’t reference the correct data. The books have blank pages, ripped pages, and have been put back on the wrong shelves; if they are even shelved at all.

My mind is a complete mess, nothing is where it should be, and I can’t find what I am looking for.

The Origin of Me

In my past I have struggled with the inner workings of my mind. Time and again I was diagnosed with depression – bouncing between psychologists, doctors and counsellors. Each time I was frustrated by them wanting to find the point of origin – the singular event that made me the way I am. No matter how hard I tried to explain they were wrong, there wasn’t a place in time that “changed me”, they were convinced some terrible childhood or adolescent trauma had caused this trouble.

For years I floundered, no treatments were working. When it got really bad I would fall into self harm, and locking myself in the cupboard when I couldn’t cope with life. I took too many of my pills on several occasions and basically gave up on life.

But it wasn’t like that all of the time.

Sometimes I felt so good I didn’t need help, I was invincible, confident, ecstatic to the point of delirium. I’d make plans, huge life changing plans, act on a whim, spend money like I had an endless supply. I was reckless and would suddenly stop my medication because I felt so good I no longer needed it.

And then it would all come crashing down, starting the cycle all over again.

Finally I found a psychiatrist who recognised me for what I am. I live with bipolar disorder, and with a strict regime of medication, and psychotherapy I have better control. I have gotten to the point where I can usually identify triggers and predict when the pendulum of my mood will swing. I can function almost normally now, or at least give the illusion of functioning normally.

I’m still messed up, for many reasons, and not all caused by my mercurial mood. But at least I haven’t locked myself up in a cupboard for some time.