embrace the suffering

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble;
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and belly.

For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed. Psalm 31:9

It’s a shameful admission, but Palm Sunday services (or Resurrection services, really) had never been very meaningful to me.

Until now. For many reasons, yesterday, I was in a different spiritual place – literally and figuratively.  The priest’s message at the church I now call home was centered around a gentle consideration comprised of three words:

“Embrace the Suffering.”

Such a powerful practice in empathy to help us appreciate what Jesus did for us.

I was completely intrigued by this dissonance of the words “embrace” and “suffering” together as they were. Still, I wasn’t sure that I could get into a place of gloom and lament or even imagine myself in a place of extreme suffering at this time of my life.

But I could certainly remember a time when I didn’t have to imagine these emotions, because I experienced these realities firsthand. It was a time when my eye and my throat and my belly and my bones were consumed with sorrow. A time when darkness and death filled my thoughts.

These days, I am still working on embracing a life of faith and surrendering to the mysteries and miracles of it all. It’s hard work.

Yet yesterday, I couldn’t help feel closer to Jesus. Not because I could hold up my past suffering for measure against a crucifixion.

Instead, I could memorialize a time when evil ruminations ate away at my brain. I could remember a time when I was almost dead…

But then remember that I came back.

Better than ever.

With almost no logical reason or explanation.

Yes, I can now embrace my own past suffering.

Because it helped me realize a miracle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

what i learned from sylvia plath

“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”   ―     Sylvia PlathThe Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

I recently became interested  – obsessed, really –  with Sylvia Plath’s story. Sylvia Plath was a (bipolar) poet and novelist born in Boston in the 1930s and best known for The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. She was awarded a Pulitzer prize almost twenty years after her death.

Plath struggled for much of her life with suicidal depression, and she wrote about it extensively. Confessional poetry was new  in the 1950s and 60s, and she was an incredibly brave contributor to this very personal genre.

“The loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”
―     Sylvia Plath

I read her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, a few years back. Not the easiest or cheeriest read but I couldn’t not finish it. Family and friends with less mercurial moods than me might not understand why I’d want to read a novel with a prevailing theme of absolute despair, describing in detail a near successful suicide attempt.

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
―     Sylvia Plath,     The Bell Jar

I did not know until recently many details of Sylvia Plath’s life and death:

At eight years old, her father died. She lost her faith in God as a result. At only ten, she tried to slit her throat. An extremely bright and talented young woman, in her early twenties, she attempted suicide again with a bottle of sleeping pills. In return she spent six months at a mental hospital and received electroshock therapy. She recovered, returned to and finished college. She married the poet, Ted Hughes, who she loved very much. She would later give birth to a healthy girl. Her next pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. Her third pregnancy presented her with a healthy boy. In July of 1962, when her children were still very young, Hughes left Plath for another woman. Although terribly distraught, the period that followed is considered to be her most creative and prolific. In February of 1963, during one of the coldest and snowiest London winters on record, Sylvia Plath, then only thirty years old, woke up in the early morning hours and prepared meals for her two young sleeping children. She closed the kitchen doors, sealed them off with towels, and turned on her gas oven. She took a bottle of sleeping pills and put her head in the oven and asphyxiated at 4:30AM.

My God…

My husband, John, tells me that I should not read stories like these.

He is mostly right.

The night I read about Sylvia Plath’s death, I felt a real shift inside.

“Is there no way out of the mind?”
―     Sylvia Plath

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The shadows in my house were darker than usual. I felt scared. Scared of the darkness of the human soul. Of the darkness that drove Sylvia Plath to kill herself with her children in the next room.

I will never claim that my life or struggles have even remotely resembled those of Sylvia Plath’s, but I nearly ended my own life in 2007 when my daughter was only an infant.

I don’t think that reading Sylvia Plath’s story was a mistake, after all. Yes, the details of her death deeply disturbed me, but in the following days, I experienced a second shift…

Without judging Plath’s choices, I fiercely made up my mind.

I will never

ever

ever

ever

do

what

she

did.

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”
―     Sylvia Plath

 

God and bipolar disease

I feel slightly irresponsible about romanticizing about my manic experiences…but I guess I’m gonna do it anyway.First, I love the self-confidence that comes with the territory – if only it would last. I also enjoy the way my brain fires so rapidly –  I feel intelligent and insanely creative. I even have a sense of humor when I’m manic – for those that know me, being consistently funny is not my strong suit.But one of the things that I miss the most when I’ve come down from a psychotic state is a deep connection to God. When I’m manic, there is no denying His existence. He guides my every step. While not with an audible voice, He communicates with me. And I am very comfortable talking back to him.

Ironically, I doubt the existence of God on most days. And I’ve read that “hyper-religiosity” is one of those textbook symptoms of mania, but it breaks my heart to think that the connection I felt was false.

The God that I experience in my altered state is so loving and understanding. So profound and all encompassing. He helps me to connect to others with such empathy and compassion. The oneness I feel with God and humanity can bring me to tears. It is incredibly powerful and overwhelming – almost too much to bare.

In fact, I’ve had to tell God in the past, “You know, God, we can’t continue to talk like this every day.”

For the past couple of weeks, he has not been communicating with me. So, I guess I either got what I asked for, or like so many other times, God left the building, because I came down off my high.

There is at least some scientific data about brain chemistry out there that attempts to explain why mania and hyper-religiosity sometimes go hand in hand. I started researching the issue and came across a scholarly article about the neurobiological basis of hyper-religiosity. It went into detail about hippocampal and white matter atrophy. I quickly realized that I was not at all interested in reading about the wasting away of my brain.

And I decided I wasn’t really interested in the scientific explanation after all. The point that I might not understand it aside, I don’t think I would be satisfied by it.

I’ve developed my own conclusion. It’s that God has shown up during my periods of madness in order to take care of me. And while I may be burdened with overwhelming doubt on most days, I will continue to seek a connection with God.

I hope that the real God at least resembles my bi-polar God – because He is just that wonderful.

 

side effects

My mania lasted at least 23 days this time around, according to my mom.I was so relieved to be discharged from the hospital Tuesday before last. I thought that things could only get better post-hospital. For a couple of days I felt pretty good, but I was released still in a manic state. Apparently, I wasn’t done wearing down my family (mostly my husband, John) with excessive chatter and boundless energy.

It has never been my intention to perpetuate  mania, because I know how painful it can be for my family to see me in this state. So a few days post-discharge, I volunteered to take the antipsychotic drug, Haldol (prescribed to me on an as need basis). This drug brought me down – way down. While this was o.k. and even desirable, the drug’s side effects were incredibly uncomfortable.

For three days, my body seemed confused. I felt both drowsy and restless at the same time. I was experiencing tremors and “restless legs” syndrome. Even though I wanted to pace, my stride was suddenly shortened – I was demonstrating the “Thorazine shuffle”. I was able to sleep in short intervals – an hour here and an hour there, but I was having a large number of terribly vivid nightmares. I preferred sleep deprivation over these nightmares.

I would wake up in the middle of the night in absolute agony – it felt like my body was attacking itself. I wanted to jump out of my skin.

I called my on-call psychiatrist about my symptoms. While there was nothing he could do overnight about the nightmares, he could address the tremors and restlessness.  He called in prescription for Cogentin, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Initially, I was reluctant to take  another drug for fear of requiring yet another drug to offset its side effects. So I waited one day.

The unpleasant symptoms had not abated by the next day. When I picked up the Cogentin prescription, the pharmacist told me that the Haldol would stay in my system for one week, but I could expect relief in 24 hours. I was hoping the drug would act faster, but I was grateful that I was on a track towards relief.

One week later, I’m no longer manic. Now in my bipolar “hangover” state, it’s hard to accept that I’ve been out of my mind or someone other than myself for over three weeks.

I’m now in this space in which I don’t have much to say. My concentration and short term memory is pretty terrible. I lose my place mid-conversation. This mental fogginess stands in such sharp contrast to the mental acuity I had (or perceived to have had) in my altered mood state. I don’t know if this is the medication working on my brain or if my brain needs to repair itself. I hope the answer is that time will take care of this.

I feel the need to apologize to family members and friends for hurtful things I said or did over the past few weeks. Some of the things I said were true. Many were distortions of the truth. I don’t remember most of the things I said.

Side effects and complaining aside, I’m grateful for two things 1) I haven’t crashed into a depressive state and 2) My family is feeling relieved that I seem to be my old self again.

 

lithiummom.com #1

Mental illness sucks.I have struggled with depression for almost as long as I can remember.

But in 2005, at the age of 29, I experienced my first episode of mania. The high I experienced  had me convinced I’d had a breakthrough…that I had somehow broken the chains of depression and that I was going to be just fine from there on out.

Well, if you have bipolar disorder, you know how this story (or at least this ‘episode’ ends).

Six months later, I would cycle through the mania and crash again. Another terrifying experience for my family. And a humiliating one for me.

I had a longer reprieve the next time around. But the next time I cycled through mania and depression, I was a brand new mom.

My post-partum depression lasted seven excruciating months. It was absolutely debilitating.

I was in a constant fog. I barely spoke. I was barely able to speak. But the cruel voice in my head was relentless.  It kept telling me that I would never have a relationship with my daughter – that I didn’t have what it took to be a mom. It told me that she would grow up and resent me for all of this. I was convinced that my she would be better off without me.

I wished  – even prayed  – for death daily. I tried to research exactly what quantity of my current meds would kill me. I toyed with excessive prescription doses.

In the seventh month, my family dictated that I be sent away to a long-term facility in Maryland for treatment. Several members of my family pooled their resources to send me to this clinic with a price tag of $30,000. This was a big deal. My family was desperate.

But I didn’t want to be treated. I just wanted to die.

I was prescribed the well known mood stabilizer, Lithium. And I started to get better. To this day, I am not sure if it was the medication or the therapy or a combination of the two that actually saved me.

Two years later, a family member extremely close to me manifested bipolar symptoms for the first time in her late fifties. Her episodes were much less intense than mine but they would recur with much more frequency. It was hard for me to witness the manic madness in my mother. I was for the time the stable one – the concerned one. I was on the other side of the mental illness, but I felt as if I might has well have been looking  in the mirror, and it was extremely uncomfortable.

I went four years without another manic episode. I even convinced my therapist (a relatively new one for me) that I didn’t need to be on Lithium. I thought I was out of the woods.

Truth is, I had one of my most dangerous episodes of mania in September 2011. It involved another hospital stay, Haldol injections – even police officers and physical restraints.

It’s been another 15 months since I’ve been  manic. It’s quite possible that I may never have another manic episode.

I wrote this post a little less than a year ago but never published it until now. I am now on the downswing of another intense manic episode.