My mom had a pressure cooker just like this one when I was growing up. It was kind of a scary piece of goods, not at all like today’s pressure cookers with programming and safety features. It worked fine, but you didn’t dare leave the room in a multi-tasking frenzy and risk forgetting it was on your stove, building up heat and pressure. You had to watch it and turn it down at the right time, and within five or six minutes, you’d be rewarded with beautifully cooked potatoes, rather than the mushy mess with lost nutrients you get when you boil them in water. Mom used it a lot, and as much as she encouraged us to learn to cook, this pot was off limits to me, because, well, she knew me. I’ve had 4 foot flames licking up off the stove, thinking I could quickly go grab the laundry out of the dryer while waiting for the oil to heat up (it’s such a waste of time-and boring standing there for a whole minute watching a pot, you know?) Even being grown up in a kitchen of my own, it has often been referred to as the burn unit and my hilarious sons love telling everyone that I never had to call them for dinner. Our smoke detector going off let them know that dinner was ready. Hilarious.
So in my last blog entry, I closed by telling you that I ended up in Psychiatric care for a while. What happened was something akin to the exploding pressure cooker scenario. It had to do with dicontinuing my stabilizing medication and my old, bad habit of waiting too long to get help when my bipolar symptoms get out of hand. Old habits like that tend to have a way of sneaking back now and then. So I locked down the lid on those potatoes and just let the pressure build.
What kills me everytime, on hindsight, is that I know better! I have no reason to try and hide things with a loving husband who understands and supports me and a best friend-besides my husband, that is-whom I can always confided in…and she’s a psych nurse! Come on! Who understands me more and who do I think I’m fooling anyway? But I did it again, not wanting to be a burden, not wanting to be depressing or sound like a broken record saying day after day, month after month that I’m not okay. I didn’t want to worry them or my family. by sharing my thoughts. They’re not thoughts one wants to hear about! Anyway, I would find a psychiatrist soon, and I’m sure I’ll feel better once I’ve adjusted to being off the lithium and am back on track with my normal cycle. (Normal really isn’t the right word when describing a bipolar cycle, is it? Where’s that googly eyed emoji with it’s tongue sticking out when I need it?) In the mean time, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do to keep me busy. It’ll get better. Blah blah blah.
Bipolar friends, let me tell you, procrastination is not your friend. The importance of having a professional support system in place to help you stay on top of things and manage your symptoms is the difference between living a successful life and losing your shit. Over and over. (I can sure talk the talk, can’t I?)
But once again, I followed my perfect recipe for disaster and lied to myself while doing it. I know what I’m doing. I’ll be careful and wean myself off the lithium slowly, just like I read about. And I can relax with an occasional glass of wine to take the edge off. Or two. I convinced myself I had it under control. The intensity continued to build, my thoughts tormenting, anxiety, sadness and frustration building and building.
I’ve been through this before. I can get through it. I’ve got this.
Wrong. An emotional trigger, a vodka binge, and BLAM! Fucking potatoes everywhere. Off to the psych. ward (and not willingly, at first, let me tell you) with this broken pressure cooker. The first couple of days they kept me fairly heavily sedated. I stayed in my barren little room-just a bed, a desk, a chair and a little bathroom. No computers or cell phones allowed. No electronics, not even my kindle. I welcomed this unplugged solitude and for the first few days I mostly slept. I really didn’t know what to do with myself, so I gladly gave in to the exhaustion and sedatives. I had to join everyone in the common room for meals and there were group sessions to attend. I went where I was supposed to go, but kept my head down. I hated being there at first, but realized soon that a part of me was relieved. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I didn’t have to fake normal anymore. I didn’t have to spend all my energy on trying to keep myself together. I was in the right place to be a mess and nobody expected anything more of me.
The morning after I was admitted, I met with the Psychiatrist who was assigned my case to discuss our new plan of action; the meds we would keep and the new ones we would try, therapy, etc. I had made it clear I would not go on Lithium again. He changed the Citalopram to Escitalopram, kept the Wellbutrin, and added an antipsychotic, quetiapine. This turned out to be the magic combination that would clear my head and pave the way for some serious healing.
I also mentioned in my last blog that something big happened to me while I was in there. It was really a combination of a whole lot of things in the end that turned everything around for me, but there was one night that something happened unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was my second night in CAP (Center for Adult Psychiatry) and I was feeling restless and agitated, waiting for my night meds to kick in so I could sleep. (Sleep had become my escape for a long time. It’s a nice respite from relentless thoughts.) I paced back and forth in my room, feeling more and more anxious and frustrated as I buffed the floor with my slippers. My panic building with an endless stream of thoughts, how did I end up here? Why am I such a mess? Is this what my life is going to be? Up and down, in and out of hospitals? I sat down on the bed, closed my eyes and tried to take some deep breaths to slow my racing heart rate and strangled breathing. As I calmed down, I had a moment of complete silence, then I became aware of a strange feeling of separation-not like before, where I felt separated from life, emotions and others around me, but from myself. For the first time in my life (that I can remember) I was aware of my consciousness, separate from the broken mess sitting on the bed. I looked at my hands, my bandaged legs, and at that moment I felt the horror and shock of what I would feel like if I caught myself kicking the shit out of a puppy. My mind flooded with thoughts-and not the usual guilt-laced, negative hammering i was used to, but with an unfamiliar calmness, asking, what are you doing? Why do you hate this woman so much? What has she ever done to deserve your cruelty? Then I suddenly saw myself as a child of my youngest granddaughter’s age (4) with herpudgy hands and knobby kneed little legs, and that was my final undoing. It was clear then that all the hate and abuse I have been directing at myself, was also abusing that little girl, still a part of me, still in me. I’m hating and hurting her, too. I have a picture of my big sister sitting on a fence and holding me at about that age. That image might as well have physically been there in front of me, I was seeing it that clearly. I looked so happy and safe and so perfectly content sitting there in my sisters arms, with the sunshining on us (and damn, Iwe were cute, too!) An explosive flood of grief came out of me. I wrapped my arms around my legs and let it all go. Once I was good and wrung out, I made a promise to myself and to that little girl. No more abuse. No more indulging self-destructive thoughts and behaviours. I would take this time in here to do whatever it takes to heal. I was ready to do the work and to squeeze everything out of the help available to me in this place. I wouldn’t waste anymore time.
I had my husband bring me my yoga mat, yoga magazines, and coloring books (he visited me every day and his unwavering support and love dispite the hell I’ve put him through make me pretty much the luckiest woman alive. He’s a beautiful soul.) I spent hours alone in that room, devoting my time and attention to thinking, reading and learning how to live a new lifestyle rooted in mindfulness practices. Forcing yourself to think and be in the present moment when you’re used to either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is a heck of a new habit to develop. It’s worth it, because there is tremendous freedom and peace in letting go of things you can’t do a thing about anyway! I meditated and practiced yoga daily, focusing on deep breathing and just being.
I began to look at the others around me-a lot of haunted eyes in there. I came to love many of them. It wasn’t the kind of place where you openly ask, “So, what are you in for?” But you recognize things in each other and are drawn to those with the same struggles. A misconception one often has if one has never been in a place like that is that it’s a place full of weak people. A very big misconception. Those people have a lot of pain, but they have an indescribable strength and depth and resilience you don’t see in many people on the other side of that wall. It radiated from each one I spent time with one-on-one or in our group sessions. I was in awe of it. They inspired me and gave me strength I never expected to find in a psych ward.
By the end of the first week, the psychiatrist asked me how I was doing and if I felt ready to go home. I still felt pretty raw and believed I was in the right place to get help with that, so I asked him what he thought was best. He said he’d like me to stay another week. I didn’t argue.
As I adjusted to the new meds and as the dopiness gave way to new energy, I had the little pessimist in my head popped up occasionally, cautioning, “There is no way this can last! Don’t get your hopes up!” But the tormenting voices were gone; the lifelong crap in my head, the guilt, self-loathing, all of it was gone and everything looked different. It was as if an ugly, dirty, bunged up filter had been removed from my brain.
I went home after two weeks and happily took my new clarity and peace of mind with me. That was the first week of November. It is now the first day of February and I can still say I’ve never felt this good, even with signs that I’m losing steam a bit, which is normal for this time of year in my cycle, but it’s managable. I have given up alcohol completely. I drink tea. Lots of tea. If I start feeling some negative intensity or have an explosive reaction to something, I make myself stop and breath. I make sure I get at least one form of exercise in daily. Getting run down is a big trigger so I make myself get lots of sleep. If I need a nap, I’ll take one.
At risk of sounding cheesy or cliché, I feel like a new person, but what’s really happened, is I’ve finally been able to find the real me. It took some serious pruning and shedding of layers. 50 years worth! That me is far from perfect of course, but I refuse to beat myself over the head with my flaws anymore. I still has a wide range of emotions, (I’m still bipolar, after all!) moods and eccentricities, but I not only accept those, I have every intention of rocking that shit! I know my battles are not over, but I have a whole new arsenal to help me with that. Scheduled regular visits with my new psychiatrist, (who actually listens…there’s a novel idea for my last one. Like one of my eloquent sons would say, he was a total bag of dicks) whom I can talk to and will help me manage my meds. I will keep to my new self-care plan not just for my sake, but for those around me. I owe it to all of us.
I started a scrapbook of quotations and lyrics I find truth in, during my stay in what I sometimes like to refer to as “The Home for the Bewildered” (because the real me is still, at her core, very silly, and humour will always be my main coping mechanism.) I’d like to share a few of them with you.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen
“Nothing in life causes more pain and suffering than the judgements we hold against ourselves.” -Iyanla Vanzant
“The soul usually knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” -Caroline Myss
“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffereing.” -Ben Okri
“I already know what giving up feels like. I want to see what happens if I don’t.” -Neila Key
“Remember you can’t reach what’s in front of you until you let go of what’s behind you.” -Chinna Sharma
“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” –Elizabeth Gilbert
“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” -J. Lynn
“I know what it’s like to be afraid of your own mind.” –Dr. Reid, Criminal Minds
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” -Robin Williams
“Serenity is not freedom from the storm. It is peace within the storm.” -Unknown
“If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.” -Lori Deschene, tinybuddha.com
“Your Peace is more important than driving yourself crazy trying to understand why something happened the way it did. Let it go.” -Mandy Hale
“I used to live in a room full of mirrors. All I could see was me. Well I took my spirit and I smashed my mirrors. Now the whole world is there for me to see. I got a whole world that’s there for me to see.” -Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders