It’s January. The start of a new year, full of promise and hope. So where does this leave me? Mildly suicidal and horrendously depressed. It started yesterday and has just continued to get worse over time.
It occurred to me that, whilst I am perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life at the side of my best friend, he might well wish to spend the rest of his life at the side of an actual romantic partner. My head spun as I realised that things could change in a major way. My entire lifestyle could be smashed. It would be a good thing for my best friend, and I would never begrudge him of that. I would just miss being centre stage in his life as opposed to an understudy. I like us as us. Not a couple, but definitely a unit.
So I recognise that part of this is situational; my big realisation isn’t helping my low mood. I realise, as well, though, that this is a bipolar depression. The sun is dimmer. That’s a sure sign to me that I am falling in to an episode. The sun looks noticeably dimmer even high in the sky. In short, I am depressed.
Fortunately, I see my therapist later this week. We will talk through my realisation, talk through the suicidal feelings, and make a plan for coping with it all. She’s patient but firm, and I know I can hold on long enough to make this happen.
My sister was born 29 years ago today. I can’t imagine her at that age. I wonder at what she would have become.
Today is always an odd day for me. Part of me wants to celebrate her. To make the day all about the things she loved. I want to colour unicorn pictures, listen to silly pop music and eat chocolate cake with loads of chocolate frosting. All the things we did on her birthdays. Her last birthday was no different. It was a day spend focusing on her and a day spent trying to catch that special smile I’ll never forget. Her blue eyes sparkled when she smiled, lighting up the little freckles on her eyes and nose. She was so beautiful.
What I will do on this day will likely counteract that. This year, there’s work keeping me busy. Most years, though, I feel drawn back to her last day. Not her last birthday. The last day of her existence. That day, too, was perfectly ordinary until I found her. On this anniversary of her birth, I’ll struggle not to think of her death. I hate that her life seems to be defined by that now, but I can’t pull it away.
My goal for this day is to perform some unexpected act of kindness, just to bring the light my sister brought to my life in to the life of another. A way to honour her. If you are at all able, share your own act of kindness today. You will honour the life and memory of a beautiful child who left us far too soon.
Looking through the window, you would think you were watching a family. Two people are playing video games. A baby is walking about with toys, showing his cars to everyone who will look. Folks are gathered around the table, still strewn with dishes. All of the people are related by blood or marriage. Family.
Then there’s me. The lone person in the room who isn’t actually attached to anyone. This is the Thanksgiving celebration of my best friend’s father and family. To some extent, I feel out of place. A Pagan vegan amongst diehard Christian carnivores. I used to think of myself as easy to throw away. No divorce needed. No separating the family in to factions. They could just point me toward the door and send me on my way. Little by little over this past nearly two decades, I am changing.
This year is different. This year, I am trying to connect. I’m trying to drop my well-honed guard long enough to let these people in. And I am bloody terrified. Immersing myself as part of the family feels dangerous. The more people you love, the greater chance you have of being hurt. The greater the chance for betrayal and pain. Is it worth it just to be part of a family? I’m still trying to answer that question, but I’m leaning toward ‘yes’ these days.
We have plans for most weekends in December. Family plans, and it’s just assumed I’ll be there. These people don’t consider that I won’t be part of family situations anymore. It’s so odd. I have no biological family, but I seem to have acquired a great deal of family somewhere along the way. I sit surrounded by these people, terrified that they’ll see whatever it is in me that those who hurt me saw. And then my best friend’s father nearly crushes me in a warm hug, telling me he loves me. Part of me loosens a bit inside. Part of me enjoys that. Who would have thought a girl with no family coming from a history of SRA and garden variety abuse would find herself surrounded by the love of a family someday?
So t his is my struggle this holiday season. I want to be present in the celebrations, rather than so mentally-guarded that I miss out on things. I want to talk with people, even when I feel they’ll just judge me anyway. I want to function as part of the family, comfortable in the knowledge that that’s how they see me. I want to take this chance for once and hope things don’t come crashing down. My past says this will end in heartache and loss. My current mindset dares to hope it won’t. Here’s to trust!
As an English immigrant, I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving. For that reason, it became a favourite holiday of my mother. We had no bad memories or rituals associated with it. We were able to make it our own. I wish that kind of love for all of you. Thanks for reading.
Here in America, my home of late, we’re preparing for Thanksgiving. I have loads to be thankful for. My FOC, my cats, my good health. All of that. For a girl who grew up in a cult and nearly died escaping it, having a good life at all is miraculous. Yet here I sit, typing away, confident in the knowledge that I am loved and wanted by a wonderful group of people (and wonderful cats). Yes, I am thankful.
I am not, however, thankful for bipolar disorder. It will be the unwelcome guest this holiday week. I’ll miss my nightly chat with my best friend Tuesday and Thursday due to his family obligations. My work schedule is different. My adopted grandmother of sorts and I will spend a day cooking together (great, but still out of the ordinary). And all the while, I’ll have to monitor my mood for shifts caused by the lack of routine.
If you have bipolar disorder, you know this dance. Your mood is stable. Friends and family arrive. Your anxiety rises. Partway through the new terrain that is this holiday week, your anxiety peaks just in time for everyone else to settle in. Your thoughts start racing from the anxiety, and pretty soon you start to feel the deliciously dangerous tug of mania. This is what a significant change in routine can do to me.
Self care is so important during these times. If I feel my thoughts start to race, I just go to my room and write or breathe or meditate. Whatever it takes. I check in with my best friend via text just to say goodnight. Even if we can’t actually chat, that brief connection makes a major difference. I force myself to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. That part of my routine remains intact. I used to think of this sort of care as selfish. Now, I see it as necessary. Without taking care of myself, I have nothing to give to others.
So this is my takeaway for all of you out there dealing with mental health issues this week: take care of yourself. Your family, whether biological or just in the heart, wants to spend time with you. Don’t let your disorder take your place.
The passage of time can be something of a trigger for me. I am not a snowflake. I’ve had my share of trauma and am here to tell the tale, so to speak. But I do have triggers. Typically, I can work with or simply avoid them. Not so with the passage of time.
We’re headed in to a time of year that is difficult for me. The anniversary of my sister’s death looms ever-present as we near early December. This will be the 17th anniversary, but it still feels new on that day. Time has done nothing to touch that. I think of her still as a twelve-year-old girl, smart and witty beyond her years, touching the lives of everyone who knew her. My therapist asks me what I think she would be like now, but I have no answer. I’m stuck in the year of her death. She’s frozen there. I can’t take on the task of bringing her to this time of my life. I guess I fear she’ll simply leave again.
Every December, I mark another year that has passed on the calendar, but my mind stays in 2000. My sister took my heart with her on that rainy afternoon, and, in at least part of my mind, time has stopped there. It’s hard to move on when you’re clinging desperately to the past with a child’s false hope that maybe you can stop it happening if you just try hard enough to return there.
If I had to pick a single adjective to describe my life, ‘bittersweet’ would be the one. There have been so many losses over my life that it seems every memory is tinged with sadness at times. The happy memories of those I’ve lost are always there, but the sting of their absence is, as well. And so it is with this holiday season.
My best friend’s brother died very suddenly in early August of this year. Having been part of their family for almost seventeen years, I feel this loss acutely. We’re all working through in our own way, sometimes even with each other. When we’re together, though, there is an absent presence. We gathered a few weeks ago to spend time with each other, and it was clear someone was missing. My best friend and I, along with his two surviving brothers, sister-in-law, parents and nephew all came together for games and a meal. It was a wonderful afternoon full of love and laughter. And unspoken loss. Bittersweet.
Death has a way of bringing everyone together before splitting them in to separate groups when the public mourning is done. Last year, my best friend’s grandmother died. It’s been quite a time for his family. This year, they won’t all be together for Christmas. With the matriarch missing, the siblings have decided to gather with their own families of children and grandchildren. No more big family Christmases to be had, now the centre point is gone. Everyone will be with their separate families, and there will be love among all, still. They just won’t be together as they have been in the past. Again, bittersweet.
The thing we have to remember about the word ‘bittersweet,’ though, is that it is a compound word. Separately, the words are opposites. Brought together, they are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have sweet without bitter, simply because the sweet of any relationship will end. Whether by lack of compatibility or by the separation of death, the sweetness ends. The trick is to enjoy the sweetness so much that, when the time of bitterness comes, its sting won’t be so bad.
As I took a stroll on this beautiful Autumn morning, a peculiar thought occurred to me– the beauty of Autumn is in death. What we see as beautiful colours is actually the death of the leaves. Beauty in death. Who would have thought that possible?
This got me thinking of my sister’s death, which is a thought that’s never far away. My therapist tried to help me see a sense of hope in her death. She chose her time to go out, and she went out on a high note. Those were my therapist’s words. They only served to make *me* suicidal, though. If suicide is about going out on a high note, why don’t we all do it? Why don’t we all just choose our time? Those were my thoughts from the therapist’s perspective.
The answer I discovered took me by surprise. Suicide isn’t the answer, even though it seems so right sometimes, because we can’t actually guess when our high note occurs. My sister died four days after her twelfth birthday, four days after a celebration that was all about her. I can’t help but wonder what she had ahead of her, though. I’d like to think there would have been many more high notes. Enough to keep her here, at least.
There is a certain beauty in death. The kind of death that is a long, slow and peaceful decline toward our next journey. I saw this last year when my best friend’s grandmother died. The family gathered together to take the last steps of this life with the matriarch who linked them all. It was so sad to watch her pass, but it was beautiful to see her family come together to support each other and share this pain.
There is no beauty in suicide. There is violence and endless questions and years of longing. I say this both as a survivor and someone who has attempted herself. I can’t promise I’ll never be suicidal again, but I can promise that I’ll always look to my family-of-choice and all the high notes they bring to pull myself back out again. The beauty of life is that, no matter how dark it gets sometimes, you never know when a high note is just around the corner.
We’re nearing the end of 2017, and the beauty of a grey Autumn day with colourful leaves everywhere set my mind to this blog, which really isn’t much of a blog anymore. School is done, work is work, and my personal life remains relatively the same as always. There really isn’t much to say these days. But, as we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I’d look back at some positives and negatives.
Politically, the world is a mess. America has an idiotic prepubescent bully in the White House who would do better to be replaced by one of my cats. The UK has a deluded Prime Minister who thinks she can keep the UK in the single market after Brexit. These are our leaders, folks.
I don’t even have to remind everyone of the terrible shootings plaguing America right now. And according to the ‘President,’ mental illness is to blame. As someone with a mental illness and no desire to kill anyone, I take offence to that. I own my disorder, and I work hard to keep myself stable. I am probably the least violent person you’ll ever meet. Yet in the eyes of the man who runs the most powerful nation in the Western world, I am the problem.
Times like these, we have to look to the positives in our lives. I don’t get on with my housemates, but the centre of my existence lies outside my home, buried safely within my family-of-choice. These people never fail to amaze me with their patience and love. They deserve the best, but somehow they’ve ended up with me. Then there are my cats. Wonderful little beings who enrich my life every day. Whenever I hear of yet another terrible world event, I just snuggle one of them, and things fade a bit. It’s hard to be anything other than happy with a cat in your arms.
As this year winds down, I look to a comfortable ending and a bright beginning. In fact, I wish that for many things.