Riding the waves: My friendship with depression and hypomania (Bipolar 2)

When he follows me, he stays in the background. It almost seems as though he is there to protect me. Sometimes bad things don’t happen to me because of him. I don’t go out, so I don’t get mugged or hit by a car, or have my purse stolen. I don’t talk to friends so I don’t get involved in gossip drama. I don’t work hard so I don’t have to worry about misunderstandings at work about “who is credited for this wonderful work”. No, depression keeps me safe from all of those things. I am safe from life.

Depression is a jealous friend. I can only be friends with him. As such, I am alone. I would say this is also bad but I have lived alone in my head for most of my life so it’s not a traumatic experience when it happens. In fact, being alone – or retreating into my own head- is a coping mechanism for me. I have used it many times to escape the current reality. As an adolescent, I escaped in my head more times than I can remember. It’s ok when I do it. It’s different when depression forces me to do it. Being alone in my head is my retreat, my safe haven. I go there when I want to. When depression imposes it on me, it’s different. It’s darker. It’s harder. I don’t have control of when I will be released. That is the one thing that I do fight. I fight depression when it keeps me isolated an alone longer than I feel is necessary.
Most of the time I will allow depression to “run its course”. I allow it to take me and keep me for a little bit. I figure it’s ok to be disconnected for a few days and let depression walk with me then fall back as it does. But sometimes depression will walk with me a bit too long. He will put his arm around me and pull me close as we walk down the path of my days. He won’t let me talk or smile to anyone. He won’t let me enjoy my life. I’m held captive much like a jealous lover. It’s an abusive relationship that I have learned to cope with. But unlike a human abusive relationship, I cannot and will not ever be able to rid myself of him. I will have to learn to cope with him as I grow older.
As for my hypo-mania, I have learned to control her. She is not as controlling as depression but she can get out of control and take me down the wrong path. When I was younger, I made some very bad and dangerous choices. She took me on self-destructive tours. I am lucky I was not killed or hurt in any terrible way. I am also lucky I had the clarity –even in the depths of hypomania- to not use drugs. I did smoke pot in college and after but I did not use any sort of cocaine or other manufactured stuff. I was around it when I had zero self-awareness. It was easy for me to start doing that stuff. I cannot explain why I didn’t. I can only be grateful that I never did.

Hypomania can be wonderful at first- especially if she comes after depression leaves. She is happy and energetic and wants me to reconnect with every single person I ignored while depression was around. She has a sense of urgency to do stuff, experience life, talk to people, create and be everywhere at once because she knows that depression is merely hibernating. She knows he is resting up for his next visit. She feels a sense of responsibility to me to make up with my loved ones for the absence depression causes. I like her when she arrives. I hug her and welcome her. She is indeed a sight for sore eyes. I used to believe she was here to stay every time she came home. And it took me 20+ years to realize that wasn’t true. Hypomania is a fickle friend. She is not stable. She is flaky. She arrives unannounced and leaves without saying goodbye. I have learned to tame her influence on my though. I don’t listen to her all the time. I don’t follow her lead on stupid plans. I smile and say “yeah, that’s a great idea” and then I try to figure out if her invitation to something is worthy of my time and whether or not I can continue on that plan after depression comes back. I am still working on this part of my relationship with bipolar 2. It’s hard to placate hypomania. She’s so full of energy and she seems so happy. But she’s also potentially dangerous and destructive. It’s like babysitting. That I can do. Sometimes….

The best and easiest way to survive depression and hypomania is to ride the wave. You can’t stop it. You can’t avoid it, but if you recognize it, you can ride along and keep safe. It’s a lot harder than it sounds but it’s what works. I have not perfected it. I am better at riding the hypomania than I am at riding along with depression. That is harder because it’s debilitating. It takes the world away from me. Hypomania wants me to see and experience the whole world in one day. It’s not debilitating, but she’s dangerous.

I feel that any story I write must include some of these characteristics. Mirrored characters are important to a good story. I love those types of stories. They can speak to many people. The way a story is told is perhaps as important as what the story is about. Perspective is one thing (POV) but the lining up of characters or the setting, the time period the speed of the story all combine to tell a great tale.

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Losing my youth

I’m 46 years old. I feel old. I have felt old for a while now. I miss my youth. I miss being 26. I miss the freedom with which I lived my life. I also have no regrets about choosing to have a stable life. I made that choice at age 27 and I’m a better person for it. But I do miss my independence. I don’t remember what it feels like to be able to travel on my own, to check with only my energy and my mood (and my pocket book). I miss that. I think that having that uncertainly made me feel alive. Now, everything is certain. Everything is planned and everything is for someone else. I don’t mind the last part. I like taking care of my kids and my wife. I just sometimes long for the absence of that responsibility. I wish I could go back 20 years or even 18 years (after I met Ana) and to have a simple life. I miss being 26.

Depression…still

It’s a dead weight that hangs off your neck. It’s debilitating. And this is what it looks like.  It’s difficult to wake up and want to feel diffently but have it be physically impossible. 

Episodes like this one always come at a bad time. This one has popped up just in time for my daughter’s 13th birthday. I feel bad about that. I have been physically present but my mind, feelings and my soul have all been missing. Depression makes you miss important events. I hate it. 

This episode also came with a high dose of anger. I feel crazy. I also worry that I may get worse as I get older. I will become a burden to my family. My goal is to not become a burden. I will do whatever I have to so that I don’t become that. I may have to leave at some point so that I cause no burden or pain. 

The numbness I have makes it easy to consider leaving. It used to be that this numbness came and went. Now it’s mostly here. I fear that it will become permanent and it will change me and my family forever. I can’t have that. I can’t be responsible for that. 

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions…. (originally posted June 2012)

Yesterday was a particularly good day for me. I found myself getting a bit upset at my girls for bickering over mundane issues, but overall it was a fairly decent day. I have made a concerted effort to control my thoughts and therefore, my emotional state. It has not been easy, but it’s getting easier every day. Now, why am I going on about this? Well, it’s simple. I’m currently “in between jobs”. I’m in a unique situation. I have resigned my teaching position and am looking for a new job. The uniqueness, however, is in that I continue to get paid for my teaching until August. This gives me until the end of August to find a new job. It also allows me to find what I want to do next. I have mentioned in past posts that I have worked at many jobs after having forfeited my dream of anthropology. I’m pretty much over that…well, for now anyway. (I suspect it will be one of my everlasting regrets that comes to haunt me on my death bed).

I have spent the rest of this summer break (in between jobs) to figure out what it is I really want to do now. I’m 42 and I’ve decided that by the time I’m 50, I will be a professional writer. I also want to visit the continents of Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa all by the time I’m 55. I don’t much care for the “all inclusive”, “pre-packaged” vacation type of travel. I have always liked to travel off the beaten path. When I met my love in the late 1990s, I had already traveled a bit and I enticed her to travel “on a shoe-string budget”. It was romantic when we were still courting and, well, poor. But over the years, she has talked me into visiting places like Las Vegas and although it can be a fun escape from reality, it’s also not really the kind of trip I would have ever taken on my own.

Decisions and fate

It seems I only come here whn I’m feeling bad or sad or hopeless. I wish I didn’t do that, but I do. I’ve had a bad day. It’s mostly of my own making though. I woke up recently with a constant thought: how did I end up in a cubicle? All my young life I spent learning and wondering about the world around me. My curiosity about people from other lands and other cultures. And somehow I have ended up on a dark hole in front of a computer. No windows. No social interaction. And I’m 10 ft from the rest rooms. The only evidence I have of people showing up for work is the sound d toilets flushing all day. I hate it. Just hate it.
In a previous post I confesses that I’m 40 and going nowhere. It seems as though I’m still on that road. I have, however, made some Clift adjustments. I became a vegetarian again (last summer). And last week I began running for exercise. I am not completely sold on that activity yet, but it’s looking like it might stick. I wanted to buy a nice camera with the intention of picking up my very old hobby of photography. But recent expenses might keep me from pursuing that goal. Or maybe it’s me that keeps me from doing that.
I am also going back to school. I need to finish my PhD. I am doing it fr my girls. They need to know I’m not a slacker-loser who can’t get a decent paying job.
I worry sometimes that if indie tomorrow, my kids would only remember that I yelled about their room being dirty. I’m not sure they would remember much more. I wish they would remember me for being somebody. I want them to be able to say “my mom was a great ________”. (And “mom” does not count).
I’m sure I can make them proud. They are beautiful girls and I just want them to remember me with love, affection and respect.
I think that is my only goal. I want my kids to have great memorie of me.
I’m glad I came here to write. My next post will include a plan of action. “How will I live my life so that my daughters will have great memories if me? And what lessons will they learn from me that will help them be good and decent people?”.

Observations and other musings…

I started this blog because I found myself a bit lost. I hesitated to type the word “lost” because it sets off a list of inaccurate images. The word ‘lost’ can mean that I am poor, destitute, yearning for understanding, confused, angry, addicted, angry or maybe even depressed. And although these synonyms may not altogether be incorrect, they do not provide any more accuracy to what I mean. 

I started this blog because I feel as though I have lived, worked, loved, laughed and suffered for 42 years and I am coming to the realization that it’s not enough. I know there is a whole world out there waiting for me to know it and discover it but I seem to be going in circles. I do a lot of wondering, imagining and hoping but I quickly realize that perhaps these daydreams are just that….dreams. 

I am also distracted by the less-than-adequate environment in which I live. I have felt for years that this country does not aspire to be the best it can be. The majority of the people in this country -although polarized politically- will agree that this is the best country in the world. I don’t believe that to be true anymore. And although it sounds like I’m segewaying into a political rant, I assure you this is still a spiritual exercise. I have found that the people who surround me (and my family) confuse their spirituality with religion and their religion with their politics. That is scary. I don’t like being scared. 

I worry for my children. I don’t know what world they will know as adults. I try to keep them honest and away from the propaganda of pop culture that celebrates flash over substance. I want them to understand and know that ethics is far more important than money. I want them to appreciate people for who they are and not for what they can get from them. I want them to be good, honest, compassionate and spiritual human beings. Their careers or possessions will not represent them. Their character will. 

I started this blog to help clear my mind and help me find my way. Sometimes my entries are “rambly” like this one. That’s ok. I write what I think. And we all think “rambly” thoughts. I hope this helps me sort out some random thoughts, beliefs and passions today. 

 

My papagrande and the Alamo…tree

This is the only picture of my papagrande I have scanned. I have many others but this one is readily available.

The cottonwood tree is more commonly known as the “Alamo” tree. Although that may be a fun-fact, the Alamo tree is actually a very meaningful and important part of my life. As a little girl, living on the tip of an elephant’s trunk, my papagrande and I planted a cottonwood tree in our yard. He bought it for me and together chose the exact location for it, dug a hole and planted it. I guess he felt it would give our Mexican yard a more “San Antonio” or “American” look. Planting a tree known as the “Alamo” on northern Mexican soil may have been a simple literary and historical irony, but I suspect there may also have been some political -if not an outright protest- point made by my proud US-naturalized citizen “grandfather”. In any case, the Alamo became a living metaphor of my close relationship with my papagrande. I loved that tree and I adored my papagrande. Both were strong and proud but one was abruptly taken from me while the other withered away slowly. By the time I was 14 neither was in my life anymore, but they will both live in my heart forever.

Because I was all of 2 years old when we planted the Alamo tree, I feel as though we grew up together. I cared for it by watering it daily. And when it grew strong enough, I climbed it.    I remember climbing the lowest branch and sitting on it for hours. I loved the sound of the big heart-shaped leaves as the wind blew. To this day, whenever I hear the wind blow through the leaves of an Alamo tree, a warm smile inevitably takes over my face. I’d sit on the sturdy branch and watch the farmer across the road ride his rickety old tractor slowly plowing his field. I’d listen to the various whistles and bells of the many salesmen and service trucks come up and down our street. There was the coach’s whistle used by the mailman. He traveled by bicycle and would only blow the whistle if he had mail to deliver to a particular house. There was also the high-pitched bell that hung over the cabin of the trash collector’s truck. As he drove up the street, the driver would ring the bell by using a long thin rope attached to the bell. Once he rang that bell, residents would have to take the trash to the curb. Because the trash pick up was sporadic and unscheduled, trashcans were never left out for collection. Not all salesmen used whistles, many just yelled there wares usually in cleverly worded rhymes or songs.  The butane gas delivery trucks, for example, relied on the young, muscular men riding on the bed of the truck to simply yell out their presence.  If you missed them, you’d have no hot water for at least a week.  I also watched as people walked by (lots of people walk in Mexico) or drove by. I observed -with a bird’s eye view- daily life in my neighborhood just by sitting on my Alamo tree. All thanks to my papagrande.

As I got older, I climbed higher on that tree. At one point, I could see over our cinder block wall. I could see the dirt road behind our property. I could see clearly to the baseball stadium. I could also hear more. I could hear the screeching of the poor brakes on the public buses, the customized horns of the many cars that raced on the nearby boulevard and the roar of semis that traveled along the dirt road not too far from our house. I could easily see and hear the hustle and bustle of my immediate world when I was perched up on the tree.  It’s as if the growth of that tree and my ability to climb it higher allowed me to observe and appreciate more of the life around me. I loved that tree. That Alamo tree.

I sometimes wish my papagrande  had lived a longer life so we could have shared a moment or two in the shade of that Alamo. But even if he had lived longer, the demise of that tree would have hurt him so. That tree was brutally cut down by some evil tree trimmers my father hired. They were hired to cut down the tree next to the Alamo, instead they cut down MY tree. This is one of those horrible experiences in which the emotional and the literal memories are played in your heart and your brain in 3D and HD.

It was a normal hot afternoon. We drove home from Laredo, Texas with a carload of groceries and tension. We had picked up my father from work and, as usual, he had already drank a few beers with his buddies so he was a bit toasted.  This caused the passive aggressive tension aforementioned.  As usual, I escaped by looking out the window hoping we would make an unscheduled stop along the way just to break the monotony of the daily drive.  But that never happened.  I always sat on the same side of the suburban so I could see the tree as soon as we turned the last corner off the main boulevard. As soon as I saw the top of the tree, I knew we were minutes from home and all would be well. I could escape the tension of the house by climbing the tree.  I looked forward to that moment.  But on this day, that moment would not come.

I remember a feeling of nervousness rise up my from my belly to my throat as we turned the corner of that back dirt road. I didn’t see the top of that Alamo tree like I always did. I felt sick. I was paralyzed except for my hand. I grabbed on to the door handle so tightly you could see my knuckles turning white. My parents were arguing in the car, as usual. I managed to quietly utter “it’s gone”. “What’s gone?!” my mother snapped. “The tree. The…tree. It’s gone”, I mumbled. They stopped arguing and my mother, who was driving, pressed on the gas pedal leaving a huge cloud of dust that covered the whole road behind us.

When we arrived to the house, there was complete silence in the car. The evil men had cut down my tree and seemingly left it for dead. They had no way of taking such a large tree in their little truck so they left it there. They planned on returning the next day with more equipment to cut it into smaller pieces and then transport it to the tree cemetery.  I was in complete disbelief. I started to breath heavily. My lower lip quivered as the tears ran down my face.  I didn’t know what I felt or how to stop it. It was the first time in my life that I felt rage. I ran out of the car and yelled at the top of my voice “My Tree! They killed my tree! This was my tree! My papagrande planted this tree for ME!” I could hear myself yell as if I was another person. I was not in control of my voice nor my actions. I ran to the trunk of the tree and hugged it as though I could somehow save it. I sobbed over it like a mother sobs over her dead child. It was excruciatingly tragic for me. I hated that day. I hated those men. I hated that I wasn’t there to stop them. I hated knowing that my papagrande’s gift to me had been torn to shreds. It seemed to me that I was the only one who cared about the tree. And now it was gone. My tree had been killed.

My papagrande died a few years later. We never spoke of what had happened to the tree. I don’t know if my mother ever told him. And even if she had, he may not have understood nor cared. He had dementia in his last years of life and he remembered little if anything. He forgot his wife and even his children. But he never forgot me. I loved that.

I was unable to save our Alamo tree, but I’m glad I was able to help take care of him in his dying days.  The Alamo tree and my papagrande live on because I remember them. That tree is planted in my heart and my papagrande and I will sit under its shade forever.