As I lay listening to my favorite Beatles song, I was sort of transported back in time, a year and a half ago, at the end fo my junior year. The month of May--the month of exams--was unusually rainy. Rain drops falling by the thousands had transformed the valley and the mountains in my backyard into a green wonderland. I would drive my Jeep to the small Mormon church a few blocks away from the school every morning for two weeks, relishing the purity and cleansed feeling of the world around me.
Fast forward to the November of my senior year. This was a time of high anxiety, college applications, and an unsettling depression. Where was the joy and the meaning I had felt so stronly only months earlier? My song for that time is undoubtedly "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. I would drive to and from school listening to that song, relating my situation to the deeply melancholy lyrics and wondering why it seemed as though no one felt that way. It's a surreal and painful experience to listen to this song now as I am taken back to that time period of infinite darkness.
I emerged after starting a new medication and getting a psychiatrist. In April I went off my medication because of its miserably numbing effects, and I began listening intensely to Debussy's "Passepied." I loved the stacatto notes and constant rhythm that made me feel secure and at ease. That month I flew up to Michigan to be with my great aunt who was suffering from a severe stroke. I would walk the neighborhood--an upper middle class section called Grosse Point Farms--underneath giant trees and along the blue lake, listening to the song playing over and over in my head. I was introduced to the delusional Ayn Rand after pulling The Fountainhead off the bookshelf in the guest room. The gambling addiction that was discovered after financing medical care for the stroke was taking a toll on the entire family, and I could only sympathize with my poor aunt who now lay debilitated in a hospital bed in the living room. My uncle smoked at least a pack of cigarettes every day. Grandma Alma made cheese souffle. I helped with the housework and escaped in the evenings to walk or run and listen to Debussy.
Another May sprang up on me. I was able to fly through exams as though they were a piece of angel food cake. They seemed to easy I almost wanted to laugh at the entire Interantional Baccaulareate Organization. Two days after my last exam, on a Friday, I lost it and grabbed a hanful of my pills for anxiety. I had done the same thing while in Mexico a month earlier, but this time it was more. The next morning I found myself having a panic attack. The theme song this time was, oddly enough, Helen Reddy's "I am Woman." I stayed in the hospital for five days and did a day treatment program. The first hospitalization is always the biggest deal. The second one hammers in reality for you.
College, that imminent stressor looming on the horizon, finally began. I was listening to Gary Jules' "Mad World" and wistfully immersing myself in campus/dorm life and psyching myself up for the out-of-the-box classes and assignments that were so appealing for such a short time. My mood flew up and fell down and flew back up again. There was so much chaos I can't piece together a specific timeline. Back home for a week, back at the dorm for another one, and then back home permanently. More medication changes. Increasing isolation. Hospital stay #2.
Today: a meeting with my academic advisor, who wants to know why I have moved off the honors floor. I explain to her--the truth--and she tells me, "My husband is bipolar. I do have an idea of how hard this must be. It's great you're hanging in there." She also advises me to speak to my one honors professor because he'll understand and he might be able to help. I elect not to tell him in my class that day, but perhaps the one tomorrow. Where do I begin?
Everything can be okay and has the potential to be okay. I wasn't so optimistic last night when I saw my mother crumble before my eyes and give in to my tearful ultimatum. She yelled, I yelled; she cried, I didn't. I am staying in school, despite the fact that it will be rather interesting in the negative sense. This fight isn't worth it, and I just needed to admit it to myself. I'll be okay. My song of choice today was "Creep" by Radiohead.
My life will be a long and winding road. Maybe it will be more like a long and jutting road. I'm afraid at what might happen, those unanswered questions, the what if's. I don't want to lose myself more than I already have. What's so excruciating about all of this is that there are only scraps of me. Everything else has been replaced with chemical imbalances and prescription drugs and stigma. I'm a creep.
There is no reason why I can't survive, at the very least. Live, live, live...
The world has slowed down before my eyes, and yet my mind is too slow to perceive this immediately. I have given up on reading because my eyes scan the same word over and over again, and only when I've run out of time do I realize my lack of progress. Huge gaps of memory follow me everywhere, as I try to determine whether or not I said this or said that only two minutes earlier. With these developments has come complete apathy, so uncharacteristic that it's strange and foreign. Then again, I am strange and foreign to myself and everyone.
How sadly ironic it is that as the going gets rougher, the more people stop being there for me. It's lonely out here in the meadow of indifference and stalled sadness. I'm too incapacitated to reach out with the forceful energy I once had. Is there no break from obligated living when one is heavily drugged and trying to navigate through the day to day routines that used to be customary? What is sitting in a classroom going to accomplish when I'm not actually there in mind and spirit? Tell me how writing papers and completing math assignments is constructive during this block of painful time. Life is warfare.
On Friday I worked up the energy to go to therapy, even though I didn't want to talk or take off my Pretending Mask. My therapist said, "You have a very sad face. What's going on?" For the next hour I talked with bitter, vengeful anger and a sadness that hits me too deeply nowadays. I told her directly I did not want to cry. I did cry. I still feel hopeless and black and let down. Crying made it all too real. Not crying was my way of not having to physically acknowledge it exists.
"Normally" I would be suicidal, but the lithium won't let me think that way. I'm in a constant, albeit gloomy mood, but nothing extreme I suppose. I'm beginning to believe the lithium is working, but I also believe the side effects are more debilitating than I would have thought. I am capable of very little, but I'm expected still to be capable of a lot.
“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”
The sleep is not coming and my body resists it with the force of a hurricane. Droopy eyes, crumpled posture, and vertigo a restful sleep do not make. Anxiety, thinking and thinking, planning what cannot be mine right now. I’m too angry and disenchanted to give an ounce of concession to what my doctors love to tell me—“Relax, take deep breaths, make a list, take a bubble bath, listen to music, talk.” My head is screaming in a frightful tone that reverberates through my exhausted ear drums, my empty mouth, and my sad eyes.
As I paced down the hallway in the basement, creatures and ghouls were jumping out of the shadows. I’d close my eyes and see blood and anguish. I said out loud, “Eh, stop,” as I stumbled up the creaky stairs, trying to remain balanced and physically in control.
Control is such a luxury of the past. I am controlled, but I have little control.
Look at that, my head itches and I’m too dulled and sedated to scratch it.
What an amazement (not amusement) it is to sort of see my life decaying and coming apart at the edges like an old heirloom skirt. The apathy surrounding me, encumbering my worried, desperate mind. There is nowhere to run. I am simply running in circles deep inside a foggy forest, calling out the names of people I used to think could save me, pull me out.
I’d shout again, but my voice is worn through, rusted over from years of shout-shout-shouting! When I stop, a bottle of pills rolls my way mysteriously out of the darkness and I’m obliged to pick it up and consider it an alternative crutch. I take one, and there’s Joe.
“I don’t believe in medication. I don’t believe in mental illness.”
I try to argue with him, reason with him, tell him that somehow it is for my own good. If he and others can only scoff at my insanity, how can they expect me to refuse medication? Everyone says they are there to talk, everyone breathes down your neck telling you to just open up and smile and everything will be okay. Hypocrites—that’s what they are. Liars and sociopaths who cannot return love and understanding, the same kind I always have and always will distribute no matter how tied my hands are. I take the plunge with them, I swim to the surface beside them.
I have lost so much ability to trust. There is Megan, my former best friend who would go for long walks with me and share stories and clash jokingly over politics. I invested so much, and I thought she had too. She would not return my phone calls for over a month a little while after school started. I would spend hours fretting over what I had done wrong, what I had said, if anything. I had told her about selling the mushrooms, yet I never took into consideration that was the undoing of our friendship. She informed me—finally—that I am too risky, too dangerous to be around because of the illegal activities I engaged in while surfing the waves of mania. She couldn’t be involved. She could not let me ruin her chances of getting into pharmacy school.
I am but a liability.
Desertion is the norm; loyalty is a ridiculous fantasy I once believed in.
My grandmother told me an anecdote about her father the day I got out of the hospital (of which she was unaware). I gently asked some questions about my ancestors she knew, and I acquired some fascinating accounts of my great-great grandfather being hit by a train, my great grandmother moving from Sweden after being orphaned, and some cousin of my grandma's mother who served as one of the bodyguards to the last Imperial family of Russia, the Romanovs. Her story about her dad, though, sticks with me more. He divorced my great grandma Mary when my grandmother was four years old because of his alcoholism. A few times a month, after school, he would bring my grandma a bag of jelly donuts, because those were her favorite. He would walk her two blocks and drop her off at the corner, where she lived with her mom and new stepfather. At age 12, she was adopted by her stepfather, Grandpa Ernie, and it took several days for her family to track down her dad. When they found him, she asked, "Will you sign the adoption papers so Ernie can be my dad?"
He hesitated. "Is this what you really want?"
He signed them, and his daughter never saw him again. She believes he probably ended up dying of liver failure because of his excessive, out of control drinking. When she told me all of this, I asked questions like, "How old was he?" and "What did he do for a living?" and "Who were his parents?" To all of these she simply said, "I don't know. My gosh! All the things I don't know!" My grandmother is not the most emotionally open individual, nor does she like to be sentimental. She did, however, utter something that was the most touching phrase I've heard her say. In regards to her stepfather Ernie, which is how I referred to him at the time, she quietly said, "No, no, he was not my stepfather. He was my dad. Ernie was dad. Dad adopted me."
My great grandma Mary died last week at the bowling alley, where she still went every week, despite the fact that she was 100, almost 101. She had a fall and hurt her hip, and when the paramedics arrived they gave her some sort of strong pain medicine. A few minutes later, she just stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating, her organs ceased to function, her mind withdrew. And all of this in a bowling alley! As my grandmother said, "It's perfect! She wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
That family on my dad's side has been in Grosse Pointe, Michigan for over a hundred years. Most were employed by Ford or GM and managed to make a great deal of money until the unions delineated and CEO pay was taboo. So many of them live close to each other and stay in constant contact, a little network of the Anderson clan sharing books and classical records and Napa wines. I went there in April to take care of my great aunt who was severely disabled due to a stroke. My grandma came with me since it was her half sister, after all. My uncle was a wreck and must have smoked at least two packs of cigarettes every day. For some strange reason, though, in spite of all the sadness and confusion around me, I felt at home in Michigan, in that house in Grosse Pointe near the lake. I did hate the smell of cigarettes that had penetrated every square inch of the air and furniture, but I loved being there for a week.
My great aunt, the one with the stroke, she's recovering well now, and I sent her a card congratulating her. She was able to walk all the way up the stairs a few weeks ago, when just a month before she was in bed, hardly able to move. She is a gambling addict, which came into light right after the stroke after my great uncle had to work out the insurance costs. Her son, Warren, committed suicide when he was 19 after dealing with depression and bipolar disorder. My mom says he was a gifted artist and a quiet, intelligent kid who was never understood by his father. He hung himself in the garage, and no one will talk about Warren anymore.
R.I.P. Cousin Warren, great grandpa ? and great grandma Mary.
"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,love, remember: and there is pansies. That's for thoughts."
Being out of the hospital has made me realize one thing--people are ridiculous. Okay, I attended groups with schizophrenics and drug addicts, but I prefer that a hell of a lot more than sitting in boring honors classes with nosy honors kids who ask you, "Are you okay?" and really mean, "I heard you were in the hospital because you're mentally ill...whoa." Although I only went to one class today, it was unbearable. It's the easiest class I have and all one has to do is show up to get an A, but being around these people who sound so arrogant and intellectual and having the added burden of not being able to concentrate because of lousy medication is...hard. I need to be in the ring, ready to fight, on guard, with the sweat and persistence of Olympic athletes, but I'm so worn out.
And then there is my future. I will go back to college next fall. I will set my sights on law school. I will keep myself occupied. Forever. I must sound completely absurd and silly for writing out my stream of consciousness regarding my "anxieties," but seeing it anywhere outside of my smoggy brain is relieving and quite the comfort food. Everything will be okay, at some point, at some period of time better than this.
On Wednesday, after having slept barely four hours (I went to bed at 4:30 a.m.), I waltzed to calculus and happily stared out the window, thinking of what grand adventures were in store later that evening. I had brilliant plans to drive out of town and see where I would end up, or gather up a bunch of the dorm people and get wasted until we couldn't touch our noses. I had that same feeling of being better than every single honors student that sat in math, pencils busily scribbling equations and graphs, and I laughed to myself at how ridiculous they were to care. After all, I was just too damn good for calculus and my professor with two PhD's.
I drove home very fast and danced around the house, counting down the hours until my appointment with the therapist. Faster and faster I danced and ran and tumbled and skipped, until I was on the floor out of breath. Just like the night before. Dance sessions at 2 in the morning, sprints at 3, and pacing at 4 before hitting the sack. Energy flowing from an infinite source. My mom was out of town, so she wasn't there to harrass me into sleeping or at least pretending to sleep. I was invincible, unstoppable, out of this world...
And then I was hospitalized. After speaking with the therapist. She was on to me. Alas, I stayed five days at the Neuropsychiatric Institute once again, the dreaded but much needed place where I could be away from stress and anxiety and unstructured time. The place where I was given four medications as if I were some lab rat.
I'm so drugged right now and numb and incoherently thinking that I will need to write more on this when I convince my doctor to let me go off one of the medications.
I felt so good this morning, in the first stages of a manic explosion. Suddenly nothing mattered because I felt as though I was too important, smart, and generally good for everything and anything. I smirked at my professors and thought, "They have nothing on me!" Remembering the heartache I felt at so many friends deserting me, I grew irritated and then laughed. They never deserved me anyway! Here I was, being a great friend and confidante, and because of my bipolar issue they scampered away like scared kitty cats. The day was cold and gray, not the ideal setting for an uplifted mood, but I was uplifted nonetheless. Elated.
I suddenly don't really care what nasty things my mother might throw at me. She will never understand me, and that's because I'm too complex for her to get a grasp on me. And to think that just 24 hours ago I was crying about how she hates me and what she says must be true. No, what I say is true for me. What she says--at least about me--is a load of crap because she's ignorant. Everyone is. I'm the only one fully aware of myself, and that's how it should be--or that would just be creepy.
I got the papers to move out of the dorm and I have to pay $421.12 as a "cancellation fee." Who do these people think they are? The Mob? Yes I will be home, but I can always run off to dad's, and, when I make enough money, run off on my own and never let anyone know. I don't belong in this sphere. When I talked to my dad today and told him I felt better, he responded, "Well thank god the darkness has lifted!" He is such a hypocrite. I love him more than life itself, but he needs a major reality check. I hate saying negative things about my parents, but I have to acknowledge they certainly are not perfect in any way. They have done everything for me in terms of raising me in a stable environment, providing for me materially, and being there each time I reached a life and death crisis. Sometimes, though, I want to write up a long critical review, explaining that maybe it would have been better if they did A instead of Z. I know they'd have a field day writing up a critique on me as a daughter, but this is purely mutual, so there's nothing wrong.
Therapy tomorrow. I took my lithium.
I'm skipping in circles around my grave. I have dug it myself, for myself. Each day death seems closer and closer. I try to fight it, but it has become me. Death becomes her.
I need to admit the fact to myself that I am alone--no one, absolutely no one, understands or wants to understand. My mother wants to send me away for Christmas so I don't "sneer" at people again like last year, when I was doing the grave dance as well. My dad called today and sounded hurt, disappointed, and frustrated. "You seem so depressed. When is the medication going to work?" Father, welcome to my thunderstorm world.
No friends, no safe place to be. I'm moving home, but my mom seems so desperate to talk me out of it. Another knife wound in the chest. I'm not wanted anymore, and I don't blame people for not wanting me. I don't want me. That is why I'm approaching my grave faster and faster. When you stop wanting yourself--your thoughts, your friends, your life--going about living seems rather futile and foolish.
Everyone in my life has been pushed away, first with little jolts, now with full strength shoves. I tell myself (falsely or not), "They don't want to try, so why should I?" When I walk into a room, everyone throws a hand to their forehead, complaining of a splitting headache. Little kids shriek at the dead girl, lifeless yet present.
Motivation is nonexistent; perseverance and fight have left the building, possibly for good. Could my current living death be temporary? Absolutely. I doubt, however, that I can rebuild the familiar Amanda because she is in such shambles, there might be no permanent repair. Damaged goods. You break it, you buy it.
I'm an angry, vengeful walking dead girl who picks fights with everyone, while the little bit of sanity left in her head screams and shouts, "What the hell are you doing, you coward?" I am confrontational where I used to be passive and bite my tongue. I am suspicious of everyone, including any given driver who happens to have their left blinker on without knowing; I ask, "Are they doing this just because they know what I think about that?" The paranoia, insanity, wariness is something all too relative, but all too foreign. It's not me.
"Keep trying, Amanda, you have to try harder," say those around me. I protest that I am, and that if I weren't, I would be dead. I wouldn't seek out the few friends I have left to do something mildly entertaining. I would have given in to my urges to drink and overdose on lithium. I would have thrown myself in front of moving cars like I so often want to do. I wish people could back off, stop criticizing, sit down and listen to me, and put up with me.
If I can't put up with me, though, who can? Oh, the inhumanity of humanity.