Here, on this white space you read, I have dared to open up about my private struggles through severe depressive episodes brought on by bipolar II disorder. Ordinarily, one would probably reserve these thoughts and experiences of mental illness for those closest to them. Or even limit themselves to talking only to a professional. I completely understand their reservations. I was once there. Hiding with my back up against the bathroom door. Perfecting the art of the silent cry so as not to wake my husband. I didn’t want him to realize I was smack dab in the depths of hell yet again. Worried that this time his patience for my episodes had finally grown too thin. It is embarrassing to admit to that you cannot control your own thoughts and actions. For a long time I was uncomfortable with the diagnosis even though I knew it was the correct one.
While writing the stories I often feel shame and anxiety. I know I’m typing the words but believe me when I tell you I wish it wasn’t my story to tell. Then when I press publish something unexpected happens. When I publish the words, I also own the story, and instead of being ashamed about it . . . I feel empowered. I’m no longer hiding underneath the thick layers of self-hatred. I am no longer letting the negative voice inside my head eat away at my confidence. By making a conscious decision to share the truths of my disorder with all of you . . . I feel stronger.
I was so honored when I was asked to read and review Linda Gray Sexton’s memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. I opened the book when I was alone in my house and within the first five minutes of reading her words, hot tears streamed down my cheeks. With every turn of a new page my heart pounded within my chest. And although it was difficult to read it was definitely the perspective I needed to hear.
Linda is the daughter of famed poet Anne Sexton, who after attempting suicide multiple times ultimately succeeded in the task of killing herself. Linda takes us on her own painful journey of surviving her mother’s depression and suicide and ultimately surviving her own depression and suicide attempts. It resonated with me as I too have struggled with thoughts of and near acts of suicide. I can admit that my intent was never meant to hurt anyone as a selfish act. But I’m sure that is how many around me see it. We don’t think about how it will effect our loved ones after we’re gone. We only think of ending our own pain. Linda showed me what I already know deep inside. Ending my pain is only the beginning of the pain for those who are left behind.
Often, I write about how my disorder has effected me. It’s not that I don’t think about how it has effected those around me. I do think about how my actions have hurt others. I know it has brought indescribable pain for all who surround me. For some, the pain was so insurmountable that they chose not to be a part of my life. I am now at a place where I accept and am at peace with their choice not to be a part of my life, whether a former friend or former love interest. Not everyone has the desire or patience to live in the eye of a hurricane.
That’s how I think most of my loved ones would describe what it is like to love someone with bipolar disorder. The hurricane has already hit. They have seen it’s raw power and the devastation it left in its path.
But it is never over.
This is just the eye of the hurricane and none of us will ever know when the rest of it will hit.
We can only be steadfast in our protection from the storm.
Although it was difficult for me to read this book as it evoked so many old memories as well as brought on new fears, I think it is imperative that I am reminded my disorder is not just my own.
When I am forced into a depressive episode by this hurricane called bipolar disorder, everyone around me could very easily be taken down with me. I will not pretend to know what it is like to be on the outside looking in. Before writing this post, I asked my husband the very general question, “Honey, how has my depression effected you?” It kind of felt like I was asking him what he wanted for dinner.
He stood there for a moment, with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look, and finally replied, “I’ll have to think about it.”
About ten minutes later he returned with this, “It was really hard to be patient when you were upset.”
I try to put myself in his shoes. Nearly four years ago, I suffered from one of my most severe depressive episodes yet. I was near hospitalization and threatening to kill myself every single day. I don’t remember these days very well. A team of doctors worked quickly to get me on multiple medications that would stop my suicidal thoughts. The fact that he can describe what this disorder did to him and to us at that time makes me love the man even more than I already do. I caused the man I love so deeply to cry and sob as he left for work because he didn’t know if he would come home to his new wife . . . dead or alive.
He says, it was hard to be patient and me saying I’m sorry is supposed to take that away? God forgive me.
I had no real reason to be depressed. My husband and I had just been married in a beautiful ceremony. We had just been on an amazing honeymoon in Bora Bora and in the spring of 2007 we had just purchased our first home together. Kids were in our distant future. But in late spring the hurricane of depression made landfall right over our household and without warning our lives were turned upside down. Our lives. Not just mine. Hurricane Molly hit my husband, my parents, my sisters and my friends. All left to pick up the pieces. I will never know what that did to them.
I think the subject of the book that most resonated with me is that Linda is also a mother to two sons, as am I. Discussing how her mother’s depression and suicide effected her and the way she raised her boys. Promising them that she would never do what her mother had done to her. That she would never abandon them. It spoke deeply to the heart and soul of why I continue to be well and stay well today.
Of course I want to be well for myself. I want to be able to enjoy life. But I have two precious little boys who count on me every single day. And I have no intention of ever making them suffer. This disorder can be managed with medication, therapy and exercise. It is no longer just about me anymore. It’s about them. I will do whatever it takes to stay stable so I can be a good mother to them.
My boys are still so young that I have not yet had to talk with them about the legacy of mental illness in their family. Someday, when we as parents feel the time is right, we will explain my illness the best way we know how. Because secrets never serve anyone and I don’t think keeping something like this from them as they grow older is a wise choice. My children will always remain my biggest motivation to make sure the hurricane does not make a direct hit.
The one thing I can say about my husband, my parents, my sisters and my friends that are in my life now is that they are the strongest people I know. All of them represent a big piece of who I am today. They have been my shelter. A sounding board, a warm hug, a late night phone conversation when I just need to get it all out. For witnessing what they have witnessed and still loving me for exactly who I am, I could never repay them. And the best part is they would never ask that of me.
Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.
To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.