Numb

I’m starting to feel the numbness creep in that I thought I would avoid this holiday season.  It’s Chanukah, and, even though I’m not Jewish, I keep that holiday.  The burning candles comfort me and bring peace in to my life.  That’s worth celebrating.  Tonight is  the last night.  The entire row will be lit.  I’m hoping the warmth of the candles will take away some of this numbness.  It’s a feeling that you can’t feel anything.  Does that even make sense?

This year, I have done festive things.  I have participated in a Chanukah Shabbat service, attended a gift swap, and even have two Christmas parties on my weekend agenda.  These are better efforts than I’ve made in years past.  But the numbness is taking over now.

I have to be very careful with this numbness, as it tends to lead toward self-injury.   There’s a need to see blood for proof that I’m alive.  The warmth of the blood against my cold skin awakens me.  It’s a sick process founded by a sick mind.  I have to be diligent and aware.

As the numbness creeps in, the happiness and feelings of family and love begin to fade.  I am in a fight against my mind, once again, and I don’t know which of us will win.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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.

Routine

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.

Bittersweet

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.

Breaking Points

All those years ago when I was supporting my mother and sister, I knew that if I broke everything broke.  That might sound dramatic, but it was true.  At one point, soon after my father left, the rent and all the trappings of supporting a family fell on me.  Anyone would have done that– in survival mode, we do what we have to do.  Still, until I got in to a stride and a routine, I felt that as a heavy weight on my shoulders.

I feel that same weight now, but it’s not as easy to take on, for whatever reason.  I have this constant knowledge that my biological family are gone.  They weren’t particularly helpful when they were alive, in all honesty, but I still felt like there was a safety net in place.  Just a precarious one.  A recent really negative performance review brought to the front of my mind the possibility of finding myself without a job.  What happens from there?  It took me 18 months to find a job.  I feel like I need to take time off from everything and just rest for a while, but there’s no one to fall back on.

Let’s look at this realistically.  As my therapist is fond of pointing out, I’m not the only person out there who hasn’t got biological family.  Somehow, she thinks that should make me feel better.  I’m also grown.  Even if my family were alive, they wouldn’t have an obligation to take care of me whilst I stopped to figure things out.  Still, there’s something about knowing that isn’t even possible.  The fact that I did keep things going with two other people to support should give me some confidence, but I feel like I get overwhelmed much easier these days.  I’m not sure I *could* have kept our family going if I were as I am now.  Back to that if I break, everything breaks feeling.  Only this time, I seem to be breaking regardless.

Never the Same

I’ve lost so many people to the cult my family was involved with that I sometimes feel very alone even in terms of the common human experience of grieving. The loss that’s kept me up many nights, though, is one that only a few people know about even among those closest to me. I’m not sure why it has been treated as somewhat taboo. Maybe it’s the nature of the loss. Maybe it’s the circumstances surrounding it. In any event, it’s really quite simple, and once it’s stated, it needs no further explanation.

When I left London almost eight years ago, I left behind my two-year-old son Andy and his father. That was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, but it was the only way to keep him safe. By that time, the cult had taken what I’ll euphemistically call a renewed interest in my mother and me, and there was no way I was going to subject my son to that environment. Eight years later, though, I still feel incredibly guilty about my decision to leave him behind.

In what turned out to be a really bizarre chain of events, Andy was killed two years ago in an accident related to cult activity. I’d have to go into quite a bit of detail about lineages and cult structures to explain that fully, but that isn’t the point of my post. Andy had never been involved in anything remotely related to the cult until then. He never even knew things like that existed. I guess that’s irrelevant in some ways, though, as my family’s involvement with the cult still led to his death in the end.  I feel responsible for that, but I did what I could to keep him safe.

Even though Andy and I lived far away from each other, I still feel like the bottom of the world fell out when he died, and I’m still trying to put it back together again. Whether you keep in touch through another part of yourself, through telephone conversations and emails, or through any other means of communication, your child remains a major part of your life. That’s something I truly wish I could make understood. Parents become parents the minute they find out a baby’s on its way, and regardless of the circumstances, they remain parents for the rest of their lives. 

I’m very fortunate to have photographs, letters, and even a few colouring book pictures that Andy sent to me over the years, and I’m even more fortunate to have the baby ring his father and I bought the day we brought him home from hospital. I wear it on a chain around my neck. The chain broke recently, which shook me more than I thought it would, but now that I’ve replaced it, it’s the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night. Maybe it’s only psychological, but I feel like he’s with me when I’m wearing that ring. It helps me remember things like his father and I cleaning up the wreck that was our first attempt to feed him oatmeal cereal, bathing him and wrapping him up in his little yellow baby towel with the rubber duck hood that always made him laugh when we pulled it over his head. I think of the first time he pulled himself up to stand, bracing his shaky little legs using the low table in our living room. We were chatting and laughing, but the room got silent then as we all watched him. I’ll never forget how proud I felt at that moment. Children are wonders, and they bring so much love and joy to your life.

Anyone who knows me can attest to my ability to remain composed through just about anything, but this is one subject that gets me every time I talk about it. My best friend in London got me through the funeral and the absolutely excruciating hours just after that. My best friend here largely managed my life until I got somewhat stable again. He was there when the numbness wore off, and he still sits with me now when my grief feels raw and new again. When I’m really struggling to accept this situation, he quietly reminds me that I’ll always be Andy’s mother.  He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I could never put into words how much he means to me.

So to those close to me who didn’t know about this part of my life and to those of you who’ve never even met me, I’m happy to make my son’s memory known.  He was such a lovely child, and he’ll always have a part of me, just as I’ll always keep a part of him.  That kind of bond is unbreakable.

For anyone who might need them, I’ve posted links for some organisations that have been incredibly helpful to me. My thoughts, best wishes, and healing energy go out to you and those close to you.

‘What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.’ — Helen Keller

Square Pegs and Round Holes

As much as I resent the negative effects my Stuff has on my life, it’s even worse to see it cause negative effects in my best friend’s life. Today was a 4th of July celebration in his family, as some of his relatives and their friends were in from a few states away. His family is bloody huge, but for the most part I knew all of the people who were in, at least in our immediate little group. I typically spend part of the winter holidays with these people, and we always have alot of fun. For some reason, though, today I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, as the saying goes.

In the years since my parents died I’ve become accustomed to the ‘orphan’ status. As I was already an adult when my parents died, I’ve never really considered myself orphaned– in my mind that brings up images of ratty children in gutters, not semi-stable adults– but sometimes that thought does lodge in my mind. I guess it’s one of those sudden ‘there’s no one but me’ feelings. Those close to me can attest to the fact that I’ve faced some fairly significant losses in recent years, and as my feelings become more accessible, more facets of those losses creep up on me.

I couldn’t stay for the entire dinner today. Something about being surrounded by people whose memories stretch back as far as they can see made me feel incredibly sad, which quickly led into anxiety, which further escalated into that feeling of being trapped. My best friend, being a very dear man, thought nothing of driving me several miles back to his apartment where I could collect my car and go get my thoughts together.

There is rather alot of Stuff leading into this current mess, and I certainly need to try and see it in its entirety. It all seems a bit on the self-pitying side, but I have to be careful with that classification as I tend to place it on any of my emotional reactions. Maybe it’s just, as my best friend suggested, another part of the grieving process. Maybe I’m just angered by my whole situation and need to heist myself from my bum and change things. It could even be this nasty little depression I can’t seem to shake for longer than a day. I’m truly not sure at the moment, but it’s likely to be a combination of the above.

Right then. I foresee a visit to the shrink and/or therapist in my near future.