April 8th, 2017 – Musical Truths

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame…

…But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed

Present Day, February 14th, 2017

A Valentine to My Wife,

First, the most important thing a Valentine should say, I. Love. You. Stealing a phrase you once gave to me, “You have my whole heart.” At least, all of it that I know how to give.

People like me, with mental illness, are often the unseen millions. However, if that is the case, there is a much greater unseen tens of millions of spouses, loved ones, family members and friends that stand by us each and every day. People like you that care for people like me.

People that cry themselves to sleep after we have broken your heart yet again. People that collapse in exhaustion after holding up the household when we let it down. People that fight for us to live when we would just as soon die.

I appreciate you reading a book with me to help us manage my illness (The Bipolar Relationship, Bloch). I appreciate you attending a class to learn how to walk with me (courtesy our local NAMI chapter). I appreciate you driving to Chicago to retrieve a husband who had abandoned you, scared you, and left you almost without hope because he couldn’t find any within himself.

All of us, the ill, wish that we could promise all of you, the partners, that the worst is behind us…but it probably isn’t. We wish we could promise the pain won’t come back, but it almost certainly will. We wish we could promise that there is nothing to fear, dread or be leary of. And whilst those are no ways to live life…the future likely holds plenty to make each of those emotions reasonable.

However, on this day, this is what I can promise you…you have my heart. My love. My life.

Happy Valentine’s Day from one crazy heart to another. 

I. Love. You.

February 4th, 2017 – Musical Truths

…And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I a king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know I might have changed it all

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance

 

Present Day, January 11th, 2017

Last night I enjoyed a dinner and movie date with my oldest daughter. Home from her freshman year of college for winter break, we have enjoyed a few of these evenings together, cherished by fathers whose children are rapidly becoming adults and beginning to journey paths of their own choosing.

She is a passionate individual focused on the plight of immigrants, women, and minorities (in no particular order). And yes, her liberal views are one of the many things that I am most proud of.

With that heart, she had recently completed reading August Wilson’s 1983 play “Fences”. Therefore, we decided to take in the critically acclaimed large screen version. Before I get to the true heart of this post, let me just say that the acting was phenomenal. Off the charts. Incredible. By every. Single. Character.

However, I was forced to make the decision early on to emotionally detach myself from what I was watching. I could tell it was simply going to be too painful.

Rather than litter this entry with spoiler alerts or disclaimers, let me simply share the realities I have had to face about my life over the past six months that were directly addressed (exposed anew) and thrown in front of me by this movie…

1. Abuse is abuse no matter what decade it took place during. 

I had never allowed myself the freedom to believe this prior to my hospitalization just over four months ago. Here’s the thing. If it isn’t abuse. If it is just an acceptable form of physical punishment or emotional gamesmanship. Then I deserved it. My behavior warranted it.

But if it is abuse. Then I am simply not worthy of decent treatment. I am a creature who deserves to be beaten, berated, or maybe even sexually violated (though I speak with less certainty about this due to our minds ability to deeply suppress or contort such awful memories). 1970s, 80s, or in the case of Fences…40s and 50s, abuse is abuse, and abuse is wrong.

2. Affairs cause pain and often come from a place of pain.

Let me be clear, I love my wife very dearly. She found me, rescued me from myself, and had me placed in protective custody resulting in my hospitalization. She has stood by me since. However, we met via an extramarital affair and are aware that we caused great pain to two spouses and five children in the process. At the same time, prior to the launch of our relationship, we were concurrently facing marital separations and potential divorces. We were both in places of great, life-threatening pain. While our actions caused pain, they also came from places of intense pain.

3. There is a vague line between the blame of our past and the accountability for our choices.

Vague, as in, I don’t know where it is. Yet it seems that at some point and time, no matter how horrific the past, we still become accountable for our individual choices and actions. Interestingly enough, it seems like people often get a quicker pass for this based on racism, chauvinism, or other mainstream prejudices than those of us in the mental illness universe do for behavior in line with our diagnosis. Why? Because at our core, we all know that there are few infinite excuses in the world. Eventually, we have to become accountable.

4. Escapism will never work.

Sports. Alcohol. Sexual relationships. Job promotions. Running from our inner demons will never allow us to find freedom because inner demons don’t have to do any of the work when they are along for the ride. (Damn, that’s another one of those good ones I should get credit for somewhere!) In the hospital I was told I would have to confront a life pattern of control, anger, and unaddressed mental health needs if I ever wanted to live a life of greater peace. I had to…I have to…quit running and confront my inner demons.

5. Life is hard.

Like many plays, books, or movies that are designed to in some way deal with reality rather than the Death Star, the Underworld, crazy office Christmas parties, or alien encounters (all of which can be entertaining and/or include plenty of human truth)…movies such as Fences remind us that life is hard (as if we needed that reminder). Or maybe phrased another way, that life is often harder for people than we could ever know. 99.9% of the people that encounter me on a daily basis have no idea I have a mental illness. No idea that I am Bipolar. No idea what a daily battle my life is. And the same is probably true for them.

 

It was all just too much to take in for one movie. Too many real life demons. Too many real life connections. Too much common ground. Which is ironic for a film about a black rubbage collector in the 1950s. At face value, we have nothing in common. But the ties of true humanity are much deeper than at face value.

 

November 27th, 2016 – Musical Truths

“And I don’t want a never-ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want a never-ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want to see another night
Lost inside a lonely life while I’m here…”

Present Day, Thanksgiving Day, 2016

Three months ago to the date my mind came unhinged. Three months ago to the day I was taken into protective custody. After more than 24 hours on the run. After the involvement of law enforcement officials from at least two different states. I was determined to be a danger to myself, and therefore to others. I was detained. Admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Checked into the Psychiatric Unit. Began my first even inpatient treatment for Bipolar II.

Today in America is Thanksgiving Day. A day of mass family gatherings. Mass eating. Mass focus on what we are “thankful” for.

So, the question is asked, and the response is in many ways almost expected –

“What are you thankful for?”

“I’m thankful just to be alive.”

Except, and I know this will not be popular with many or even understood by most, it just isn’t that easy.

I look at it this way. There is this vast spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is “I am thankful to be alive.” On the other end of the spectrum is “I wish I was dead.” But in the middle is this massive gray area. The area where I, and I am guessing many people with mental illness, live many of our days.

Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions. This is not a declaration of being suicidal. In fact, maybe quite the opposite. It is a declaration of being alive enough to be honest. To be real. To be transparent. To recognize that “thankful to be alive” is way too simple of a response to describe where we live. Mentally. Emotionally.

Than what am I today? I have thought about that throughout the week. I am tired. Staying mentally and emotionally healthy is exhausting. To say the least. For each warning sign I have previously written about [Saturday, August 27th (Hospitalization Day 3)] there are seemingly countless activities needed to combat them.

And there are therapy sessions to attend. Meds to take. The financial implications of both to fret over. Books to read for their daily practical applications. Reminders to set. Situations to avoid. All while attending to work, family, and spouse. Fulfilling the roles that life brings the way of any given individual. Roles that don’t get suspended just because one struggles with a mental illness. And just like those roles grow tiring for the common person…as I see it through my bias eyes, exponentially so for someone living daily with Bipolar, or Schizophrenia, or Borderline Personality Disorder, or Manic Depression, or countless other diseases.

Is it possible to be thankful that I am not dead without being thankful that I’m alive? To be thankful for the many daily experiences that bring me joy, or peace, or love, or happiness, while simultaneously having the occasionally wandering mind to the eternal rest of simply no longer being?

For me, and I venture to guess many others, the answer is “Yes”. The answer is that there is this gray area in the between. A gray area that fills that space of pause when someone looks at me and says, “So, what are you thankful for?”