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Civil Wars to Cease

December 3rd, 2009

In that period of time I mentally call the Big Bad Hurt—April 2, 2006-December 2, 2007—I found myself in bed with a series of boys.  Always in bed, often through the night—but never sleeping.

Even after they would fall asleep—as they inevitably would—curled around me and snoozing like infants, I would lie awake for hours.  Crunched up in their arms, suffocating and guilty.  Hours and hours of staring at the ceiling, thinking too fast.

The mania didn’t help, as it never does.  It was an amalgam of factors, the natural loss of sleep I’d be getting when I was manic, added to the guilt and the suffocation.  I hate to be touched in my sleep and hate, even more, being cuddled when I’m tired.  A lifelong and unapologetic thumbsucker, I need to lie in a certain position to drift off.  But they never cared, never paid attention.  Just wrapped me up too tightly in their arms and dropped off, never caring if I joined them on that other side.

Except once, in the middle of the Big Bad Hurt—I got drunk in my house when my parents were away.  Joey and I weren’t “together”—we were on the break that would last from my birthday and for a little less than two weeks.  The same night I fell out of bed and he helped me back in.  Then let me turn on my side, like I prefer.  He didn’t wrap me up in octopus arms, but just let me be.  And calmly fell asleep beside me.

I woke up next to him the next morning, and I knew.  I knew that he was the one.  I knew that he was the person I was supposed to be with—after all, I’d fallen asleep with him.  Of all the boys I’d ended up in bed with, he was the only one who I could actually sleep with.

It takes a great deal of comfort, I guess, and a level of trust to fall asleep with someone.  With him, it was so natural, so unmanufactured.  I didn’t have to fake it with him. I never had to fake anything with him.

I was lucky, you know.  I was lucky that we made it through the Big Bad Hurt.  Truth be told, I’m lucky that he had the dedication to make it through.  That he stayed.

Every night, now, I get to drift off beside him, perfectly calm and sleepy.

And sometimes, when he’s staying at a friend’s house until late or staying up to play games on the computer, I fall asleep on his side of the bed, just so he’ll have to wake me up and move me over.  He wakes me up to move, and then I drop right back to sleep.  Just like then.  Just like always.  Perfectly calm.  Or, simply put, just perfect.

Heads or Tails

November 25th, 2009

I am plodding my way through the muck these days, trying to get to the other side- the side I left just a few weeks ago.  Or has it been long enough to measure in months?  When did it turn so that I can’t even remember when it began?  At least I am trying to make some changes though.  There are big changes that I loathe, small ones that sting but should be easy, ones that pass by in a flash but make a big impact.  If only they would come together better and more quickly.

I know last week I promised to smile this week.  Whatever image you have of me in your head- take it and make it smile… now.  Okay I am currently smiling. 1… 2… 3… and done.  That is about as much I can muster for now but know that I have smiled and laughed and plan to keep trying.  I just can’t seem to translate it into my writing.  Sorry folks, I did try.

One of the harder parts of life now may be remembering how little control I have over the rest of the world.  Man, isn’t that awful.  Why am I not in charge of things?   I could totally handle the rotation of the planets around the sun or the shift changes at the drugstore.  So there is no doubt that I am perfectly able to be the boss of everyone around me.  If I could just make them dance when the music plays and tell them who is out when the music stops my life would be so much better.  Or is that a silly game people play when things don’t go right and they feel helpless?

I am getting tired of the flip of the coin feeling that is becoming my life.  Heads- you win.  Tails- you lose.  Call it in the air but call it right and think hard about what you are playing for because you may or may not want to win.

Currently I am sitting on a four-poster, Ethan Allen canopy bed that I got slightly used but free from an online moms group and that is awesome.  I also found a bug crawling up the sheet trying to get to my pillow and scheming to then eat me.  Not awesome.

A lovely woman from my son’s school who I thought was sort of my friend begrudgingly has been inviting me places and took a moment out of a conversation to tell me she considers me a close friend.  Yeah me!  Another friend who I adore is consumed by a very demanding job and other responsibilities so despite the fact that I feel like we have buckets in common and could talk endlessly, I must be content with a few hours on a Sunday afternoon every three or four weeks.  Boo.

I have found that I newly enjoy the jewelry making that I left behind several years ago when my second child was big enough to think the beads would make good teethers.  However that craft was one I learned as part of the beginning of a near-clinical breakdown.  I spent $1000.00 on beads.  If you didn’t know- that is a boat load of beads.  But I went on to become pretty good at it and incorporated it into my business years later, making back a chunk of the money.  I love, love, love the new-kid-fun of the jewelry- even in the middle of a depression.  Hazzah to me and my craftiness!  But I am also tempted by the glitter of the sun in the bead store window and have to re-learn to pass it by and also try not to think of the beading as the prelude to intensive therapy.  Not so much with the hearty hazzah.

50% of the time (situations) it seems like all is well and I should kick back and try to let my shoulders drop.  The other 50% I am flailing, getting the raw end of the stick or losing out on something.  So how the hell am I to know if I should be depressed or thrilled?  Maybe I should be constantly riding along the median strip, never crossing into one lane or the other?  Isn’t that the opposite of living?  But depression as it gets deeper is no way to live either so I have to physically and mentally force myself to TRY to get better even when complacency is so much easier.

What matters is not the easy or the hard but the right.  Today I hate the right but I need it and want it in spite if that and so I am doing what I need to do as best as I know how.  I will hydrate, I will try to sleep just enough, I will eat appropriately, take the right medicines.  I will try not to seclude myself from the world even when it is not fun.  I will do all those things people tell you to do.

Here is the secret though: I know that some of you understand what I mean by saying that deep down- 50% of the time I want to be the boss and 50% of the time I am pleading for someone else to be the one to call it in the air.  It always comes down to heads or tail and I am just hoping that I’m not dealing with a trick coin.

Grace Under the Weather

November 20th, 2009

People don’t understand the ways that a chronic illness is different from an acute one.  It’s hard, until you’ve experienced it, to grasp the nature of the flux of day-to-day symptoms and management.  People don’t understand how well we have to know ourselves, how we have to track our changes.

We’re expected to be our own mind-readers, to know when things are moving up or down.  We keep journals and calendars and second-guess our feelings.  I try to stay ahead of myself, but sometimes it is only through the worn-out glasses of hindsight that I am able to say, man, I was crazy last week.

But even harder than keeping track of my own moods, I find, is knowing what to do when I realize that I am flailing or sinking or rising too quickly.  I can see that I need help, but I don’t know how to ask for it.  I never know how to ask for it.  I’ve tried, once or twice.  But I’m bad at being explicit—it always comes out jumbled and obtuse.  I can’t find the right words, even when I’m with my best friend or my psychiatrist.  I don’t know how to tell people that I’m hurting, that I need a rescue.


I’ve been at a conference all week.  On Monday, we arranged ourselves to have a picture taken.  Because I am short, I naturally got punted from the third row into the first.  There, I was placed beside an older man.  He turned to me and spoke with a European lilt, asked if our weather is always this nice in November.  I told him that is generally is, and we chatted further for a few minutes.  After the pictures were done, we started to walk away—he asked my name, and I looked down and commented, “Oh yes, I forgot to put on my name tag today.”

And he replied, “Oh, I couldn’t have seen it if you did.”  Then, he reassembled his cane, grasped the arm of a nearby man and walked off, yelling behind him, “Oh, I’m speaking tonight!”


He was amazing to watch; he started out his presentation by commenting on his blindness.  He has retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic degenerative disease.  He was diagnosed in his thirties with degenerating sight, and now can see almost nothing.

But more amazing to me than his adaptations and obvious intelligence—which were nothing less than incredible—was the ease with which he asked for aid.  He was unobtrusive and unapologetic—if he needed guidance, he simply asked for it.  I watched as he passed himself between colleagues, grasping for their arms with an ease that was simple and beautiful.

I wish for this ease; I covet it with the most jealous and evil parts of my soul.  I wish for the grace to ask for help, I wish for the suspension of ego that would allow me to say, “Here I am, lost.  Please take me somewhere else.  I need you to guide me.”

I yearn to someday be able to take someone’s arm and say “Please help.”  But more than that, I worry I will never be able to.  And that, I think, scares me more than anything else about my disorder.

Spinning Wheel, Got to go Round…

October 22nd, 2009

Not to get all Blood, Sweat and Tears on ya with the title, but we all know that what goes up must come down, yeah?  Maybe I should go Harry Chapin instead- “all my life’s a circle, sun up and sundown.  The moon rolls through the nighttime ’til the daybreak comes around…”

When I was in middle school or so, we all passed around this book about a girl with bipolar disorder (or “manic depressive” or whatever they were calling it in the early 80s) called “Lisa, Bright and Dark.”  If memory serves me correctly, the chapters had black or white circles as headings, to indicate whether Lisa’s mood was going to be up or down.

Hoss doesn’t come with easy-to-spot headings.  Truth be told, I can’t say for sure he’s bipolar (the latest documentation said “mood disorder NOS”) but he’s certainly got some pretty clear up times and down times.   He’s not nearly so extreme at either end as he used to be (thank you, risperidone!) but his moods do swing a bit more broadly than most people’s do.  All of Hoss’ trusted adults (and he has a myriad- Hubby and myself and grandparents and his aunt and uncles on the home front, teachers and administrators and school psychologists and counselors and special educators and before/aftercare staff in the school building, a panel of mental health professionals…) have learned to recognize the subtle indications.  He gets a bit of a wrinkly forehead when darker moments start to emerge, and a tendency toward cocooning into his hoodie sweatshirt.   We give him his space then, and watch carefully from a comfortable distance.   The corner of his mouth hints at a smirk and starts most of his sentences with “hey, guess what…” when he’s about at risk of getting too hyped up.  Most days fall somewhere in the middle.  More days fall in the middle than they did a year ago, and certainly more than those scary weeks last spring, and for that I am more thankful than I know how to say.

Nights are harder to judge or react to.  Some nights (and mornings), he sleeps so soundly, so deeply, that no amount of the dog barking or bright lights or tickling him causes much of a twitch.  Other times, the dreams that he can’t articulate shake him to the core.  Sometimes I check on him before I turn in, and the bedsheets are twisted tighter than a pretzel from his tossing and turning.  I fix them as best I can, and tuck him back in as comfortably as I can manage.  I was watching the late news one night last week, when I heard a breathy, high pitched moan.  Before I could even move to investigate, Hoss had scurried down the hall and launched himself into my lap, face buried in my shoulder.  Talking made his tearless sobs and breathing more agitated, so I just held on.   He doesn’t always remember the dreams later on, and if he’s anything like his Mama, sometimes he won’t remember the dreams even in the moment.  

 I guess that’s all I can do when the nights get rough- hold on to Hoss and try to smooth things out.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what we have to do every day, too.

Dear Shadow, Alive and Well

October 6th, 2009

“My shadow side, so amplified, keeps coming back dissatisfied—“

It’s starting to be autumn here—creeping, slowly but surely, through the windows and the trees.  Each morning is a little cooler, and it’s almost unnecessary to keep the air on at night.  I’ve picked back up the habit of leaving my car windows open when it’s too cold, blowing the heat on my feet so I don’t freeze up.  I remember starting this, in the almost-autumn of 2006.  A lot of things were starting then.  I was about to go completely crazy, and I didn’t know it yet.  I wouldn’t know until after the fact.

So the autumn brings the memories, brings them in viscerally.  As it gets colder, I will keep remembering.  I won’t stop.  I will try to, sometimes.  But they get stuck inside me, stuck on repeat.  They are skipping records, spinning in my abdomen.  The echo is enough to drive you crazy.

Or, at least, crazier than you are already.

They get exacerbated by new memories, by the phrases tossed around by friends.  One of my closest friends from medical school is on her psych rotation, and she had the distinct pleasure of doing a home visit for a man in an acute manic phrase.

“I know he’s sick,” she said, “but I couldn’t help thinking ‘This is someone I’d want to hang out with.’  He made us mix cds, and he was wearing these huge glasses.  He was…fun.

I don’t want to be sarcastic, because I love her and, anyway, her perceptions give me new perceptions.  It’s like looking at someone looking into my past and describing me.  But still, in my head, I want to quip, real sardonic, like I am these days: “Fun…yeah, that’s one word to describe it.”

On bad bad days, when I’m beaten down and feeling miserable, I worry that I will never feel that euphoric again.  People want to be that, don’t they?  Euphoric?

[Hey all you bipolar people—let’s tell the world our secret.  Euphoria is unnatural.  The kind of happiness that shouldn’t exist, the kind that is only possible with spazzed-out neurons and illegal drugs.  It’s a dangerous feeling, in that you will always want to chase it.  Don’t you want to be happy?  What’s wrong with being happy?]

Not to leave out all the normal people.  Hey normal people, over here!  Welcome to my Mind Fuck.

Every day, I make the conscious choice to file my memories into piles and folders.  Memories of cheating, of lying and manipulating, of sleepless nights spent pounding coffee and writing plays, short stories, poetry—collate into folder marked “BAD.”  Memories of time spent getting out of that hole I’d dug myself, memories of therapy breakthroughs and the first time he said “I’m sorry,” after all that—pile overflowing the “GOOD” box.

But there’s always the shadow of everything that was.  Where do you file the memory of someone else putting on your motorcycle helmet because you always fuck it up, the conjoined memory of your hands in the air, 70 MPH on city streets at 4 AM [File it BAD, Jenny.  File it BAD.].  When you think about winding red ribbon around your favorite book and giving it to someone else—this book is about love, you think.  When you are crazy, you think you have the power to make everyone see everything—you think you can make people love you [FILE IT BAD, GODDAMMIT—DON’T THINK ABOUT IT—JUST DO IT].  Every moment when you felt beautiful or brilliant or sexy, every moment when you thought you were spinning the world with the electricity in your heart [BAD—BAD—BAD].  Everything you worry you will never feel again.

I put those things in the BAD folder, sure.  But the Shadow keeps wanting to pull them out.  So I re-file them, once or twice or a hundred times a day.  But sometimes I worry that the Shadow will pull them out, and that they’ll sit on the desk in the sorting pile while I stare at them.  That I won’t remember why they’re so bad in the first place.  That I’ll drop them somewhere else, or just pick them up and inhale their dusty pages.  That I’ll tumble into them, like some movie for children.  Except it’s not a game.  It’s my life.  It’s the life that I’ve put everything too.  It’s the whole life, everything I have to lose.

So, I focus on generating more memories, to hang on the wall over the GOOD box.  So I’ll remember:

-That I feel beautiful when I catch a glimpse of my eyes in my rearview mirror

-That I feel brilliant when I finally work out a mechanism, when I take something apart with my hands and put it back together, better than it was

-That I feel sexy when my boyfriend picks me up in the kitchen [though I’m wearing glasses and a pair of umbrella-print underwear, and I’ve got morning hair] and throws me onto our bed

-That every day, I get the chance to spin the world with the electricity in my heart.

This Time You’ll Listen To the Movement In Your Body

September 7th, 2009

It starts on a Saturday morning.  I slump out of bed and remember that I forgot to take my pills the night before.  So, I shake one Lamictal into my hand, and open the package that holds my birth control pills.  The last one I had taken was Wednesday.  Thursday and Friday are still there.  I stand still.  Completely still.

What was I doing Thursday, I think quickly?  What was I doing, what was I doing?  Then I remember: Joey got dizzy at work.  Joey hadn’t been eating because he was sick.  Joey hit a car on his way home.  I put him to bed and went out to get him Ensure, Mucinex and a milkshake.  Ate dinner in bed with him and fell asleep—intending to get up later.  But I never did.  And it never occurred to me that I hadn’t taken the pills.  Two nights gone, no pills.


You know, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t such a big deal.  So what?  Just take a pill.  It’ll be ok.

Except it’s not.  Except this drug, in particular, is carefully titrated.  Except it will take me four weeks to get back to my dose.  The first two weeks, I cut my pills into quarters, swallow ¼ of what I should be taking.  The next two weeks, I cut them into halves on a cutting board in the kitchen.  Swallow them there, exposed by the subtle blinking of the fluorescent lights.


It’s fine, I tell everyone.  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  I repeat the words over and over again.  I’m fine.  My best friend, my psychiatrist, my mother.  I’m fine.

And I am, honestly.  That is the simple answer, the short answer, a true answer.

The longer answer is: I’m fine, and I’m working mighty fucking hard to be that way.

The challenges of my every-day life are magnified by the absence of my chemical crutch.  There are late-night papers to be written, for the first time since I was last crazy [and God, that doesn’t feel like a coincidence].  My car breaks down for what I declare is the last goddamn time.  Buying a new one takes time, and I sometimes feel trapped in my house.  I am flailing, sometimes, before wrapping myself up in a blanket or a book or a bath.  He doesn’t know it, but I am mentally flailing, until I turn on my left side and push myself back into him.  Wrap yourself here, I want to tell him, and it’ll stop.  Just trust me, I know it will.

But sometimes, the pleasures are magnified too.  I fall hard for a new friend, the rare girl in my life.  Sitting next to each other in the lab, we giggle in fits and talk shit in lowered, hushed voices.  When we aren’t together, we send text messages and our inside jokes accumulate like snow on something rolled down a hill.  Food is suddenly spicier, and my eyes water and my unmyelinated nerves scream and I choke down glasses of water and margarita until I have the slightest buzz.  Then saunter off, wobbly, smiling, laughing.  Sex is faster, and I ask for more dangerous things.  I am light-headed, or held down and fighting, falling halfway off the bed and upside-down.  I try to follow the lines of control—who is in power now?  Me?  Him?  Both or neither?  The answer is always best when it’s unclear.


This, of course, comes to the heart of the matter.  At times, when I am most vulnerable and open, when I talk about the past, I have to analyze what happened then.  What went wrong and how can I stop it?  Can I ever say with 100% certainty that it will never happen again?

In the midst of this aching vulnerability, I see the truth: that I could have stopped it.  That is, and will always be, my burden.  Bipolar disorder may have lowered my threshold, but I still crossed it.  There were a million outs, and I could have taken any one of them.  Sometimes, I did—ignored a phone call or pulled myself, turning, out of one of their grasps.  But not without turning back, tossing my head over my shoulder, smiling that old smile.  The memories are so seductive because they make me feel like I was good at something, once.  These days, sometimes, I feel like I can’t win.  But back then, dammit—I was good at something.  But I was very bad at maintaining control.

These days, I’m much better, but I still feel the tugging, the desire to spin out of my own control.  I’ve long theorized that these desires came from a lifetime that required control—oldest child, high school valedictorian, successful woman on the path to being something people dream about, something people would kill for.  My professional life, and everything it has taken to get this far, has required tremendous control.  I’m not surprised I want to lose that sense of power in other places.  I’m not surprised that I want to find myself swept away by whim, by emotion, by anything that I don’t choose.

So I am sitting, filled with want.  I want to kiss someone on the collarbone.  I want to reach out my pinky and wrap it around someone else’s.  I want to be able to pull someone’s hand and go somewhere dark.  At least, that’s what my wild mind tells me.

But I step back, smiling, and walk away.  No, I say.  What you want is to find yourself not knowing where you are.  You want 60 seconds of confusion, you want 15 seconds where you don’t know what is going to happen next.  You want the tiniest flicker that something unexpected will happen.


Which, unexpectedly, happens.  We’re sitting around, watching TV with friends.  One of them offers to roll me a pure tobacco cigarette.  I accept, with his promise that I don’t know what I’m in for.  That it will be incredible.

So, we share it back and forth, a simple kind of intimacy that I’ve come to appreciate and relish.  I pull the smoke down into my lungs—I am inexperienced, and bad at it.  I’ve smoked enough times to know what to do, but not nearly enough times to do it without choking or looking very unprofessional.  I feel nothing.

So, he passes it back to me, and says the rest is mine.  I draw in heavy, hold the smoke in my lungs until I’m coughing, suddenly nauseous and very dizzy, disoriented and confused.  I have no idea what will happen next, but I do know that I need to sit down.  Violently, my ass hits the edge of the porch, and I reel back.  The nausea subsides, but the dizziness, the haziness, the brilliant confusion lingers.  I pull Joey in behind me, and I fall backwards into him.  I fit perfectly there, and I remember that love is a choice, and that we have chosen each other—not just once, but many times.  The night is lovely, suddenly.  Everything that was wrong, everything that has happened drains away.  It will come back.  But for a few minutes, I’m out of control.  And I haven’t ruined anything.

I’m fine, I say to myself.  I’m fine.


August 31st, 2009

If they came and kidnapped me right now and blindfolded me, gagged me
stuck me in the trunk
I would stay calm
because I know the roads.
I would know where they took me.
Quick left, quick right, quick left
to the freeway
or the other way.
The slow S shape
winding back and forth.
They won’t go 35 and 45.
They are in a hurry.
They will push it and speed.
And when the orange sign warns that going over 30 round this turn will lead to death and it will be your own fucking fault
they won’t listen.
They will go as fast as they want.
But the car won’t flip or crash because the guy driving the car is a professional.
I’ll use my nose to figure out where we are.
The smells go like this
City, people
Less city, people
Rich, rich soil
Soil and garden
Onion rings?
Cars, industrial stink
too much.
And Joe says
You Don’t Ruin Everything
Don’t say that anymore, Leah, it’s not true.
And I hear him from far away.
I’m not really in the trunk
but I am bound and gagged.
The buildings and the streets
they are neon pink and orange
It’s not true, I know.
But I still see it.
I’m not in the trunk.
I know I’m sitting next to Joe in the front because from my vantage point in the back seat
I see him holding my hand.
There are tears running down my cheeks
for no reason at all.
But my mouth is trying to smile and feels like nothing is wrong.
They aren’t connected to each other.
My mouth says
Gatorade powder
toilet paper
milk and I smile
and my eyes cry
for some unknown reason until I need a hankie or tissue.
In the isles I can’t stop staring.
The boxes, the floor, so sharp, so blurry
all so beautiful in neon.
The colors are almost overwhelming plus I know they aren’t there but, they are and I can’t stop staring.
Everything should cost a dollar.
Things are so expensive.
Joe gently guides me along
and when I say to no one except the cereal boxes that I like Honey Nut Cheerios
he says
Yes You Do. You Like Them.
And grabs my hand to look at canned beans.
There is a family with four kids.
Both parents are wrangling two.
Line the kids up and they make a stairway just like my kids did.
But my kids are old.
I don’t get to nurture them like that.
And I can’t even have a dog.
Would my pet dog be neon red, too?
And glow and look like fire?
The dad looks at me in surprise
and then pity.
I’m walking next to me
and I see what he sees.
I have the look of a crazy person.
My hair is unwashed, clumped and stuck in all kids of directions.
I’m wearing Joe’s Hawaiian shirt that has the same leaf colors as the bird’s poop and it hangs over my bra-less front.
My jeans are sagging, top button undone.
I’m shuffling
and my eyes are puffed, tearing and have red rings like clown makeup.
Next to myself I see this.
Back walking in myself I don’t know it or care.
And the floor is orange now.
The air smells so good on my face on the way home.
I love air.
I tell Joe I Will Be Better Tomorrow. Joe says I Know.
And Joe is helping me make nachos with cheese and black beans.
I eat them.
I vomited all morning.
My tummy feels humming but it doesn’t kick the nachos out.
And Joe gives me warm kisses on my cheeks and eyes and lips.
I feel them.
And I feel them.

Cross posted at Leahpeah