I was never one to tell my secrets. I have always kept my closest and inner thoughts to myself. To let someone into my head is worse than standing stark naked in front of a crowded stadium. For long periods of time, I would talk to my sisters and mother, so they knew most of the darkness swirling in my head. Eventually however, the darkness created a rift between us, so I stopped being so honest and hid myself. Once I described myself one of those pens that have 6 colors in them that you push down a lever to choose a different color. With each person I interact with, I choose a different color to show. I’m always me, just a different or embellished part of me. For most of my life, I have left the demons inside to fester and swirl. That my brain wasn’t right is something I’ve known for most of my life.
As a child, I would often exaggerate or lie in order to get attention from anyone who would pay it. A favorite story my aunt likes to tell is that I once dropped my blanket on my foot at three years old. I threw an absolute temper tantrum for hours about how much it hurt. Clearly, I was overtired or wanting of affection, but that attention-grabbing part of me is something that has become a legend in the family. My first experience with a therapist was at 12 years old. There was an assignment to write a poem, where we filled in the blanks with facts about ourselves, then we would use construction paper to illustrate who we were. I was determined to make it poetic and beautiful and impress everyone. I was a voracious reader and so thought I could use some of the beautiful language that I’d ingested through books. I spent a lot of energy on it and named it, “I am sad and lonely.” My teacher was terrified for me and reported it to the counselor in fear that I was suicidal and depressed and needed help. I was sent to the school counselor for therapy for a few sessions. My parents at the time thought I was doing what I always do and just exaggerating. They would talk to me and ask me why I was lying and told me that I wasn’t depressed, and I was just fine. Looking back, I’m sure they were doing what they thought was best for their oldest child who had a history of needing attention. Unfortunately, I did have depression at that age. I didn’t like who I was. I was always in the background, afraid to be around a lot of people, didn’t think I was good at anything and everything was always bad. If something wonderful happened, I’d automatically look and see how that situation was actually bad or not as good as it seemed. I always told myself, even at a young age, that it is better to have low expectations and be excited by something, than to be let down. Because of the experience with the school counselor and nobody believing me as I reached out and cried for help, I learned how to hide it. I watched and taught myself how people who were happy acted and I became a master impressionist
A constant guilt I have, even at this age is why I’ve been depressed for so long. Why do I always look on the wrong side of things? Why can I not see the good around me and appreciate what I do have? I had an idyllic childhood. My parents worked very hard and with what little money they had, they would help us experience different culture and art. Scrimping and saving, they would bring us on a road trip to somewhere on the west coast every other year or so. We went camping up in Wyoming every year with our entire extended family. Every Sunday, we’d go to my grandparent’s house with the whole family and play with my cousins and really enjoy a tight-knit family. This was an absolute cacophony of sound and movement in a very small house. It was wonderful and one of my most cherished memories. Sometimes my parents were able to splurge and would get us season passes to the local theme park. My two sisters, myself and our best friend would and be dropped off all day with a little lunch money and ride our little hearts out. At just 14 years old with my best friend, we got the unique ability to flirt with boys our age and go on the huge Ferris Wheel with these boys and pretend that we were going to make out with them. This was before cell phones, so this was the perfect one-night stand for a 14-year-old. It was exhilarating and some of the best summers we would ever have. But even then, I was always in the background. I’d ride alone when it was a 4-seater. I’d walk behind my sisters and friend. Sitting on the end of the row was my duty. At such a young age, there was also a sense of protection of my sisters. Not that I could really do anything to protect them, but I was always on guard and making sure that there weren’t men staring at us that shouldn’t be. Keeping my eyes up and searching for potential danger was almost second nature to me at that age.
Adult Guilt and Remorse
There has always been an undercurrent of pain, fear, guilt and discontent inside of me. I could never put my finger on it, and I didn’t know where it came from. I’ve tried many different things to attempt and pinpoint what it was. After that experience with the school counselor, I learned to not share my pain with anyone. I wasn’t in REAL pain I thought. I wasn’t abused. I had everything I needed or wanted. Why would I want to sleep for 14 hours a day? Funny movies or TV shows never made me laugh like they did for others. Why did music and lyrics touch me right to my core and speak to me more than my friends did?
Once I became an adult and would suffer more deeply with depression, I found that if I wait it out for a few weeks or months, it will eventually lift, and I could breathe again. I was not aware of what these depressive cycles meant. I did not understand that my acting out and spending money on credit cards that I couldn’t pay for was risky behavior. I could not put the fact that I was cheating on my high school boyfriends with men that could not care less about me into the “risky behavior” box. I thought I was just happy and having fun for once. My risky behavior turned into drinking and lying about it. Drinking and driving home. Hiding things from my boyfriend (and later getting caught). Around 18, I also started having extreme chronic back pain. Back when that started, I was able to get all the narcotics and pain medicine I wanted, and so I imbibed fully. I didn’t put that into extremely risky behavior; I was in pain and they helped for a time. It didn’t matter to me that I was not taking them as prescribed. I started taking so many pills and mixing so many types that I’d have to pull over on the side of the road and throw up often. And yet, this meant nothing to me. There was no risk to this, I wasn’t addicted. I could stop at any time, and actually did.
Not until I met my now husband, did I become aware of the merry-go-round of depression and risky behavior. I thought that was normal for depression. You get down, you take SSRI’s and then you get better. After a while, you get down again. It wasn’t until I was about 30 that I started to put these issues all together. I had been dealing with my cycling depression for decades now and had just started trying medicines to help me out. Many different types of anti-depressants were tried and abandoned for about 8 years. None of them seemed to work, they’d only take the very edge off. The only way I knew they were working, was if I could catch a glimpse of positive thinking. Driving home from school, I’d be in my typical merry-go-round of thoughts, and one positive and thankful thought would pop in. In my 20s, I went back to school to get my Bachelor of Science in Psychology. It was then that I learned about Bipolar II and saw it as something that may just fit.
What is Bipolar II? Trying to get a diagnosis
Bipolar II is not the “flashy” mood disorder that is often shown on television or movies. The mania and compulsiveness is much more subdued and so easily looked over. It is similar to Bipolar I in that there are cycling moods from depression to mania, but the “up” moods never reach full blown mania. It is called “hypomania” and is generally felt as irritability or euphoria. A person in hypomania will often start projects they never tend to complete. Spending vast amounts of money they do not have, high anxiety, flying from one idea to another, exaggerated self-confidence, and engaging in risky behavior. Bipolar II however, is mostly known for its deep depressive episodes, and “manic depression.” For most, a diagnosis can take years to obtain, even though symptoms get intense in your 20’s and 30’s. It took me until I was 32 to get a diagnosis.
I started going to therapists in my late 20’s and after a few sessions, I would start prodding about being bipolar. I would bring it up at the end of the session as an aside and it was brushed off just as easily. Bringing it up to my general practitioner was also an exercise in futility. She decided that she couldn’t see any mania in me at the moment, so it was impossible for me to have bipolar. The next few moments were her telling me I was wrong about the condition and its symptoms.
Eventually after trying this with multiple doctors and therapists, I gave up. I’m not an assertive enough person to really demand care or advocate for myself. So, I took what they said to and did the breathing exercises for anxiety and took the medicines and tried to learn how to think “correctly”. And yet, I was still deeply depressed. For days I wouldn’t get out of bed. It would take every bit of energy I had to shower and brush my hair. I’d go for days and days without it. Housework was close to impossible, and so I’d wait as long as I possibly could to do the least amount I had to. Unless I was in what I called an “upswing” where I had energy and felt like a normal person. Then I was able to clean my house. I wanted to use this time to do special projects like paint or redecorate a room. It became a problem when I crashed again and didn’t finish it for months. I would have half painted bathrooms for far too long. Weeks of animal hair on my carpet. Sheets not changed for so long, that hair collected between the headboard and the mattress that wouldn’t come out in the wash; it was tied into the fiber of the cotton. Laundry would be piled up for months, in both our room as well as in the basement laundry room. Instead of doing the laundry, I’d buy more socks and underwear, so I could go longer before I had to eventually break down and wash it and put it away.
Destruction of Relationships
When I was just barely 19, I was married to my high school sweetheart. I was terribly unhappy, through no fault of his own. He did whatever he possibly could to make me contented. He was smitten by me and tried to do whatever it was that I wanted in the moment. Even if I didn’t love my husband, I loved my little apartment. I had a designated cleaning day every week that I vacuumed the 500 sq ft and made sure everything was spotless. This is the only time I’ve ever been able to keep up a somewhat normal cleaning schedule. My parent’s second-hand furniture made me so proud to have. I was a real, true grown-up then. And it all came crashing down.
I fell for a cook in the restaurant that I was working. I gave up my little home and my high school sweetheart, one of our puppies and everything that we’d built, for someone who quickly threw me to the side. That breakup, or breakups, as there were quite a few, really tore me apart. There was one week where I took sleeping pills for three straight days so I didn’t have to deal with anything or anyone. I wouldn’t shower. Cleaning or going to work was not possible. I was beyond miserable. Eventually after a week of not moving other than to cry in a different position, I had to go find a job. I had to pay my bills.
At this time, there was a new business being built across from my parent’s house. I was living with them at the time, so I decided to apply for a job, since it was so close to home. I walked in and talked to the manager and walked out with a new job. Step one of being responsible: check. My future husband in line: check. A man named Connor owned the new company, and shortly he would own my heart. I remember seeing him for the first time and thinking how good looking he was. He has very striking eyes that will change on a dime with his moods. He had that scruffy face that is always just enough scruff and clean. He was tall, well-built and had a very strong chest. I wasn’t in love immediately since I was still so utterly empty from my ex. But, there was a spark of something in me. Maybe just the spark of getting an adrenaline rush by doing what I was good at: getting guys to come after me and then leaving.
Connor remembers our first eye contact quite differently. I was doing some cleaning, up on a chair. I was in the middle of wiping down a mirror and was focused on getting all the grime scraped off. He walked by and looked in the mirror and made eye contact with me. It can be described as a “zing” that shoots through your entire body. Where every hair stands up and you just have a soul-shifting feeling punch from your head to your toes. Connor said his stomach sank and that there were butterflies for the first time in his life. He knew his life would never be the same with one simple glance. One that I don’t even remember.
Connor was currently unhappily married with two young children. He didn’t think anything of being unhappy in marriage, nor did he have any inkling of leaving for something better. He knew when he saw me however, that he was going to work on doing just that. Two years, and many extraordinarily tough situations later, we finally got to be an official couple. Throughout those two years, I had many depressive episodes and would break up with him. I always carried around this guilt knowing that I was breaking up a family. It made me utterly miserable, but it was exhilarating at the same time having to hide and having a clandestine affair. Looking back, I think this situation kept me in a hypomanic state far longer than I should have been. I’d go to school and work on 3 hours of sleep most of the time. I never stopped moving. Studying and working and seeing him every second I could, was all that filled my mind. As an adult, this was the first time I was not on any anti-depressants at all.
Connor and I moved in together during the week of my sister’s wedding. Once his divorce was final, I could bring him around the family functions. My father admitted he knew about the relationship and what was happening but would not acknowledge him until his divorce papers were signed. The papers were signed in July, and my sister’s wedding was in October. Our first ever photo together was at the wedding. Before the week of the wedding, where family was visiting from Utah and had to stay in my room at my mothers, I would just pack overnight bags to stay with Connor at his new rental. I did not consider that house mine until many months into the relationship. I would only gradually take my things over to stay there. The years in this house were also extraordinarily hard. I was a depressed 23 year-old with ideals of how relationships were supposed to be equal and that men should help out with housework, since that is what I’d had before. Connor is not that way at all. He is 12 years older than me, and two generation gaps away. He is very strict in gender roles. He is absolutely the provider, and I am absolutely the caretaker. This was a very hard adjustment for me to make, and it’s taken much push and pull from both sides to finally be closer to equilibrium 10 years later.
Throughout our 10-year relationship, Connor was able to predict my falls into depression. He could count on me being severely depressed and starting a major fight at least twice a year. I would bottle up so much resentment and nasty words, but never let him know anything. I’d eventually just blow up and we’d fight for hours. I would clam up and not really say what was going on, even in the midst of an argument where he was begging me to talk. I would let some little bit out but hold the majority of my discontent and resentment inside. I am absolutely the worst at confrontation, and Connor is an expert at it, almost relishing in delight.
This constant merry-go-round was my life for five years. Eventually I was determined to leave and that the only way I could do that is if I snuck out of our house. I sent my mother and friend to get my things as I went to Connor’s work to tell him I was leaving him. I’d already spent weeks getting an apartment set up that was over an hour from his house. I’d borrowed money from my sister to pay the down payment. All of the laundry was done and separated on my last day. I spent so much time with my beloved cat and dog, thinking that I’d never see them again. I was up and ready to go, but utterly despondent. I loved him, but I was so unhappy. I thought I was so miserable and it was all his fault. I ended up coming back and moving back into our home again within three weeks. I couldn’t stand my new roommates, I missed him and my animals too much to express. I needed to come home.
The day I decided to come home and stay with him through thick and thin, we were hanging out and actually conversing about what I thought the issues in our relationship were. I asked him to change a few things, which he readily agreed to. Eventually I came to the realization that he may be the most difficult person to live with in the world, but he loved me unconditionally and really wants the best for me. I knew I’d never be able to find someone who can push me to be better and catch me when I’m stubborn and fall. He’s wonderful at protecting me and he really does drag me kicking and screaming to be a better person.
Finally Getting to Therapy
We got married on Halloween 2016. Eight years after we’d met. I had in my mind for years, that just being married would make me happy. SURPRISE! After the initial excitement wore off, I was right back down to being horrifyingly depressed. Then in April of that year, I lost my soul puppy. Completely of my own fault.
I had gotten Bentley at 18 years old when living with my parents. Bentley was the cutest Yorkshire Terrier I’ll ever see. He had the most beautiful silky blue hair and the cutest little nose and pointed ears. He was perfect, and he was mine. In reality, he wasn’t a well-behaved dog at all, but he was everything to me. He’d urinate all over the house instead of outside. He’d bark and charge at other big dogs. He would slowly plod along when I told him to come, taking his sweet time. But he was mine and he was faultless. On April 25th, the day after we got back from our honeymoon, Berkley decided to go on an adventure around our 5-acre, wooded property. He would often go on little 30-minute adventures, but this time he never came back. I was beyond consolation for weeks, nothing could make me smile. I’d cry at the drop of a hat which is completely unlike me. I had never felt grief like I did over losing my baby wigglebums. Eventually, I decided that I had to go to a therapist. I was just too upset and stressed. My wrists were in so much pain from tension that I got double tendonitis and had to wear braces for months. My back pain was excruciating and wouldn’t calm down. I was a disaster.
This therapist was great on paper. She had her doctorate in counseling for those with chronic pain as well as a whole litany of certifications. In practice, she was very kind, but spent the whole session talking about herself. The only concrete thing she gave me was to turn a list of things I hated about myself into positive affirmations. I didn’t think they were good enough, so I tossed them in the trash on the way out. At that point, I’d had an inkling that my cycling depression meant something, but I couldn’t get any general practitioners to agree with me, and this recent therapist just decided to turn the question around on her; her daughter had hashimotos’ disease which can look like bipolar. In thinking she was helping and had found the issue, she sent me to get my thyroid checked and checked and checked. I did have a small nodule on my thyroid, but nothing that doctors were worried about. I left her after about two months of weekly therapy, I couldn’t handle her hijacking the conversation anymore.
I then went a year or so before I got the courage to try therapy again. This time I did more research, as I wanted it to be a counselor that could also handle Connor’s directness and aggressive demeanor without shrinking. I found a very kind older man with a PH.D and who works with disturbed young men in his day job. He was perfect. For the first few months, we worked on Connor and I’s relationship. We tried to focus on my depression as a reason that the relationship was so bad in my mind. Why I couldn’t accept the gender roles that Connor holds so dear and will not change or alter. He is such a good and stable provider, why am I so resentful of taking care of the beautiful home he gets for us? While attending weekly therapy sessions with and without Connor, I started to see a new psychiatrist that was recommended to me by my best friend. Evaline knows me almost as much as Connor does, and so knew what type of doctor I tend to gravitate towards.
I have terrible luck with doctors, either because I am not assertive and will not ask for what I need, or because I truly have terrible luck. This psychiatrist was half of both I think. He was very short and direct and to the point. Most of that gruff nature I believe has to do with cultural differences. He decided to take me off one of the SNRI’s that I’ve been on for years, Cymbalta, and put me on Zoloft, which I’d tried years ago and could not remember its efficacy. He did not wean me from Cymbalta nor did he warn me of any side effects of the new medication routines. I am not sure if this is something that is common and expected, but it was not a good idea in my case.
I had my medication changed in the early summer, and this made my summer close to a hell. I could not, for the life of me calm down. I was constantly anxious. I would rub my tongue on my front teeth so often and so hard, I had constant sores along the front of my tongue. My shoulders and back were so tense, that my normal back pain that I’ve been dealing with for over a decade went into overdrive. I was in so much pain at work that I was not able to focus. My thoughts were constantly flitting from one thing to another, making it impossible to solve complex problems that are my daily and favorite part of work. At night, I would snore so much and grind my teeth so hard that my poor husband could not sleep through the night at all anymore. Whenever I was sitting, my legs would be constantly bouncing around, unable to be still.
Inside my mind, I was in turmoil as well. I became paranoid that everyone was judging me for the smallest things. I began to wear thick makeup, because I thought people were looking at my skin and hated me because I had acne scarring. I began to restrict my food intake so much, that I lost another 15 pounds in a month. I was so euphoric, I thought I could do anything and get away with it. One Sunday, I went over to my parent’s house as usual on Sunday nights. I had one glass of wine, then another and another until I was entirely drunk. I decided it was a better idea to drive myself the 25 minutes home, rather than to tell Connor that I was too inebriated, and he needed to come get me. I drank myself into oblivion so that I could not feel anymore. I wanted to be numb.
In addition to the mental circus going on, there was also a deep and hollow feeling. I was so lonely and so down on myself, I hated even living anymore. I thought I was terrible at anything and everything I did, so what was the point? Often when driving, I would think about driving off the road into a tree or a ditch; it became almost second nature to have these suicidal ideations. Who would care if I wasn’t here anymore, I’m not good at anything I do? I’m such a bad housewife and cannot even make my husband happy. I’m so miserable, my step kids hate me and hate coming over to our house. I’m such a bad housekeeper, my house smells terrible. My dogs are naughty and pee on the floor and don’t like visitors. Anything and everything I laid my hands on was bad and ruined.
Towards the end of that dreadful summer, I went back to the psychiatrist and brought along my best friend. I knew I needed something to help, I was in dreadful shape. I needed someone beside me to help me be assertive and ask for what I thought I needed, Xanax. Evaline works as a case manager in the mental health field, and so was a perfect person to be beside me and give me a backbone. There is nobody like Evaline. She is a strong and beautiful person who has gone through dreadful traumas and is such an amazingly positive person despite it. We share the same dark humor and love to do off the wall things together, like a tea party at my house. We have gotten entirely too drunk on my front porch as we bawled and blubbered about our lost dogs. She loves me fiercely and we need each other just as fiercely. We are so aware of each other’s mental state, that it’s never an issue if one of us just can’t get the energy to hang out. It is not an issue, we just try for another day and forgive ourselves each time.
With Evaline beside me, I told the doctor that I was thinking of suicide and about how agitated and anxious I had been. He changed my medicine again, without weaning, back to my Cymbalta and off Zoloft. What a disastrous mixture that would turn out to be. Like the countdown before a rocket launch, my brain turned to self destruct.
At coffee following the doctor’s appointment, Evaline and I started talking about my mental health. She must have had a sense of how miserable I was, because she asked if I’d ever go to a psychiatric ward or do intensive outpatient therapy. At the time, I brushed it off, thinking I didn’t need that intensive of help. I thought about my dogs, my husband, my home, and didn’t think they could go on without me there orchestrating everything. At the time, my kitten was also very sick with fatty liver disease and had a feeding tube. I spent most of the day caring for her. I’d gotten a cute little carrier that she’d go in and sleep as I toted her around town. I’d feed her every 2 hours a slurry of intensive care cat food and water. It got so bad that the vet taught me how to do sub-q fluids to keep her hydrated. I could not imagine leaving my chaotic life and take time out for myself. I did admit to Evaline however, that if I absolutely had to, I would. If my suicidal thoughts turned to plans, that I’d check myself into the hospital at once. Having my undergrad degree in psychology armed me with what I thought was enough knowledge to be able to protect myself when I was too bad. As I hugged her goodbye, I promised her I’d do what I needed to get better. I’d go to whatever lengths needed to stay around and stay with her. What a prophetic statement that turned out to be. Countdown in 3, 2, 1…