Friday, September 30, 2011

An Unquiet Mind, Revisited

Just ran across this review of "An Unquiet Mind" that I wrote a couple of years ago. As I go back through blog posts, Twitter feeds, book reviews, etc., it amazes me how difficult a time *I* was having... and how I was paying NO attention to that whatsoever. It was all about someone else. And really, in this book, that's how Jamison seems to think it should be.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and MadnessAn Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I just had the opportunity to re-read this book when it was offered on the Kindle, and I was surprised. I seemed to remember it as being immensely insightful the first time I read it, but consider that that was immediately after my husband's initial bipolar 1 diagnosis. This was the first book everyone was recommending back then.



Now, several years of living with a bipolar spouse later, I read it and think, "Meh." I have tremendous respect for Jamison as a leader in this field of study, but I can't figure out what she was going for in this memoir. It seems to have been written more FOR herself than about herself, if that makes sense--it reads as very personal and cathartic.



Is it helpful for others, though? I'm not so sure. There are some wonderful passages in which she borrows from images in poetry and literature, and those, for me, make the book worth reading. But I don't get much of a sense of hope for those dealing with manic-depressive illness, because Jamison's resources were/are simply out of the reach of most of us.



If my husband had access to the level of care that Jamison has enjoyed throughout her life, he'd probably be doing much better. Who WOULDN'T thrive with near-daily psychiatric attention and round-the-clock home care (which, just by the way, is provided by friends/family/lovers, most of whom happen to be practicing psychiatrists)? Heck, I'd like to get in on some of that, myself. As it is, we receive financial assistance from our physicians, to lower our co-pay, so that he can see a therapist (not an MD, but a psychologist) once a week, and even that's a burden. Then there's couples therapy, because this disease puts a mighty strain on a marriage.



As someone in the "caretaker" role, to use Jamison's own terminology, I found the message of the memoir a bit burdensome. Yes, she shows great appreciation for her loved ones and their unflagging support. She also puts ENORMOUS weight on that support as being the key to her success. That only reads as a compliment the first few times, then it becomes a sledge-hammer of obligation and guilt.



I don't know--I'm conflicted this time around. It's a bit of "thank you for being there," and a bit of "but for you, I'd be dead." That's a lot of pressure, gratitude or no.



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Feed

Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy #1)Feed by Mira Grant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Bloggers, zombies, and political intrigue...so far, so good!



OK, forgot to update when I finished this one. Not really sure what to say, though, because there are sequels, and I'm kinda hamstrung by SO MUCH SPOILER. BUT. I really, really liked the "zombie origination" canon put forth in this novel. Very clever and creative...and plausible, if you just don't peek too far behind the curtain. I also like the idea of the CDC having to become all badass in the face of the Zombie Epidemic.



The most unbelievable part of all was the character of the Republican presidential candidate who was a super-good guy, honest, ethical to a fault, etc. COME ON, now. Zombies are one thing, but that? Suspension of disbelief only carries so far. ;-P



Anyway, not as epic and detailed and researched as World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, but then, it's only part one of what I understand is a trilogy at least. I'm not sure that I'm terribly interested in the sequels after the way this one ended, but we'll see how bored I get in the upcoming months and if I cave and go for part 2.



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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dear Child: There Are Things I Want You To Remember About Your Father

Dearest One, you have seen a lot that is not good. Too much for your age, by far. Arguments that never should have happened in front of you. The turmoil and consequences of over-spending issues. Anger. Lots of misdirected anger. All things that go along with having a parent with a mood disorder. You know that he and I can't be married any more, and you know most of the reasons why. But this is not about that. I want to take a moment, and tell you some things you may not know, or that you may not be remembering in this tumultuous time, about your father when he is stable, and the ways he treated me which were good--even if, at the same time, he was doing things that weren't good--that's called "compartmentalizing," and maybe we'll talk about that another time. But for now, here are some things that happened during good times that I want you to remember.

Your dad was the first man in my life who really "got" me. Understood me. Knew where I was coming from; finished my sentences. Read and appreciated the same BOOKS as I did (that one was HUGE, and quite possibly sealed the deal).

We could break ourselves up in hopeless laughter just by exchanging a look and an implied inside joke, and sometimes by pointedly NOT looking at each other for just that reason, in circumstances where snorting laughter would not be appreciated--say...church.

Your father listened to me...a lot, and he remembered what I said. I could mention how much I enjoyed something, or how I wished I could find a rare out-of-print book that I'd read once in college...months would go by, and then suddenly a surprise: season tickets to the Symphony; a copy of "Horses of the Sahara." That kind of thing.

Your dad never let a day go by without telling me I was beautiful. Never. Even when I decidedly was NOT beautiful (like waking up from surgery, all green and bloated), he would tell me that I was; not because he thought I wanted to hear it, but because he thought it was true.

Until the night we separated, your father had never, ever, even once, even in the deepest rage (and you know there were some hellacious rages), called me a name. Not. Once. Yes, he cursed and raged at me on many occasions, but nothing from him ever started with anything like, "You are such a(n)...".

Your dad wrote me poems. Love poems. Many of them, over the years, and I hope that I've saved enough of them for you to get an idea of what we had when things were good.

I know that you know how many years I fought for, advocated for, and took care of your father. What you might not know is that, before you were born, before we were even married, he did the same for me. He slept on a pull-out bed in a tiny hospital room hundreds of miles from home for two weeks, while I slept an unwaking sleep and my body decided whether or not to give up. He did incredibly thoughtful things to help bring me out of that pseudo-coma, from locating my favorite essential oils to fragrance the room, to seeking out my favorite music to play for me as I slept. He harassed nurses when I didn't get enough attention. He questioned doctors, and went with me to every appointment. He could have walked away at any time, but he didn't.

When told that I would likely never have children, he declared that he wanted to marry me no matter what. I even remember the conversation--me saying, "But what if I can never have children?" And his immediate answer: "Then WE can never have children."

All by himself, he picked out the most perfect, amazing engagement/wedding ring I could ever have imagined--you know I'm not a big jewelry person, but that ring is just perfection. It belongs to you now. Let the diamond represent you, the precious gem we created out of love, and let the bands on either side of the diamond represent your parents, one on each side, embracing you with love your whole life through, even if we don't all live together.

When he found out that I was pregnant with a little girl, your father wept with joy. Not just a couple of tears; he absolutely wept, he was that happy.

The man rescued a goose with a broken wing from the side of a busy interstate, just because I looked at him, and he knew what I was thinking. We took it home in a Wal*Mart sack with its head poking out, and it lived many happy years on our pond.

On the way home from a dog show once, on a very lonely stretch of highway with no towns for miles in either direction, we came upon an older lady looking lost and alone, standing beside her car with the trunk open, and a very flat tire. Without hesitation, your dad pulled over, got out, and changed the tire for the stranger. He did this sort of thing often, once upon a time.

He taught you the "Whoo, Pig Sooie" cheer before you could walk.

Your dad has always been good about playing with you, at least when he was having "good days." He didn't hesitate, on those days, to get down on the floor with you and build things with blocks, to cut out construction paper shapes, to draw pictures and color, to play board games and card games...even though you are a notorious cheat, and frequently change the rules mid-game if it looks like you're losing.

Your father has always been, and still is, so proud of you and who you are. Never let anything that has happened between he and I affect what you have between the two of you.

I'd like to say that there have been as many good times as bad for the two of us, and for a long time I believed that... but looking back, and knowing what I know now, I'm afraid that's not the case. I do not know what your assessment will ultimately be of that sort of up/down/mixed-up ratio between the two of you, but I can tell you that when he could, he tried hard.

He mostly, for you, did the best he could with the tools he had. And he loves you as much as he can possibly love anyone or anything. Since we are now removed from the daily turmoil and chaos, my hope is that we can all get along and be a family--a different kind of family than we once were, but a family nonetheless. I think that, ultimately, even though I know he misses you desperately, your father is glad that you have gained some peace in your daily life, and that you're no longer walking on eggshells every day.

Child, you are loved and cherished. By both of us, even if one can no longer be with us like before.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How This Happens (At Least In My Case)

I am only speaking for me, and me alone. I do not know how women stay in physically abusive situations, but once was enough for me, and it was a clear and easy choice to make, and thank God I had friend and family support to be able to do it. (I have been shamed for asking my friends for help by my soon to be ex-sister-in-law, who told me that I should be "HUMILIATED" for actually asking for small donations during that time of crisis. Never mind that the PayPal "DONATE" button has been on my website and that of nearly every blogger I know for years, as a kind of virtual "tip jar." I never got an answer from her about how SHE would have survived on $20 during those days, had it happened to her, except that of course it wouldn't happen to her, because SHE "married a GOOD man." Oh, well. But the shaming? It's stupid, and it didn't work. All of you who helped out know that if I can't pay it back, I'll pay it forward someday, and I have a post upcoming about all of that.) But now is the time to address the most commonly asked question of me right now: "Why? Why did you stay in this mess for so long?"

Well, I believe that I have an answer for that. I've noticed that in many cases of people hanging on to marriages with actively episodic mentally ill spouses, they profess themselves that they have histories of being co-dependent, and of consistently choosing the "wrong" type of partner for themselves. They speak of growing up amidst chaos, often with rampant untreated mental illness and abuse. There is the tired but necessary (because it's true) cliche of the "endless cycle" of the abuse victim. She/he was abused or witnessed abuse as a child, and grows up to perpetuate that pattern, either as the victim or the abused. And while I was only physically abused once, I can now look back with great clarity and recognize that I have been in an emotionally abusive marriage since...well, almost Day One. I have been controlled, I have been monitored, I have never been allowed to be alone, and I have walked on eggshells so much that I think I might qualify as a deerstalker now. I had even discussed with my husband, many times, just how his behavior was abusive to me. I should not, for example, have to sit in a doctor's office and cry because my husband refuses to leave and go to the waiting room so that I can have a private visit. That right there? ABUSIVE. Controlling. NOT OKAY.

"How?" you ask. "WHY?" you ask. Those of you who've known me for a lifetime have been more blunt: "Belinda-- YOU? Why did you stay?" Listen, it's not just friends and family. On my first visit to my therapist (who had been my husband's and my couples counselor) and was filled in by phone on what was going on, I sat down, he looked at me quietly for a moment, then just asked that famous question: "What took you so long?" He has been asking me, literally for years, what was keeping me in this marriage. And my response to him was always in the form of a question of my own: "If I leave, what will become of him?" He had been through so much, and needed so much help, and someone to fight for him...and by gosh, I had all those qualities, and was up to the task! Also, the thought of my daughter's father (who I loved fiercely, and STILL love, though the quality and nature of that love are evolving into something solid but totally detached) being without medical care, without support--he always insisted that he had "nowhere to go"--possibly even winding up homeless, was just more than I could bear.

So we discussed this a bit, the psychologist and myself, and besides the fact that I AM a habitual "fixer"-- of animals, of problems, of people--always the peacemaker (thanks, Mom! Although I wish I'd pulled it off as well as you have!), I believe that I landed upon a theory, which I would like to share with you. I KNOW that there are many out there in this exact same boat, the ones who never "fit in" at the Al-Anon and Narc-Anon meetings, or the NAMI support groups, or the Bipolar Significant Others online support group (may God rain blessings down on all their souls), so here we go.

I am not damaged goods. Not now, not at any point in my life, and most importantly, not when I met my VERY charming husband. I did not come from a "broken" home, much less an abusive or even mildly dysfunctional one. I grew up my entire life with a living example, in my parents, of what true, selfless, mutual love and respect looked like. They literally loved each other to distraction until death parted them, and shared that perfect love with my sister and me. I was a ridiculously happy child, as was my sister. During our young lives, we were scratching poor at times, but we never knew it. We had everything that we needed, and then some, in our loving, amazing family.

At the time I met my husband, I had never had a relationship with a mentally ill person. Heck, HE didn't even know he was bipolar at the time; how was I supposed to spot it? (I can spot it at least three miles away NOW, so if you are wondering about someone, run it by my MI-dar.) I had never had a relationship with an alcoholic, or even with a drinker. I had never had a relationship with a drug addict or user. My dating history was a GOOD one. And when I didn't find anyone who suited my rigorous demands, I just happily spent time being single. And LOVED it. Didn't get married until I was 34, and up until then was perfectly content with the thought of being forever single. I did want children, but I was prepared to make that happen on my own. Thinking back, I have never had a relationship with ANY man who was not respectful to me and solicitous of my needs. Never. Some of you reading this may BE one of those men, and for this, I thank you.

I never, in my life, went for the "bad boy." (Well, unless you count Nicholas Cage in "Valley Girl," and I think we can all agree that we do.) Never. I wanted a man who held down a job, knew how to save money, loved animals and kids, and opened the darn car doors for me and carried my heavy stuff. That's pretty much it. I never wanted lots of money, or a big house, or fancy cars (*mentally pats her faithful 10-year-old Tahoe, which runs like a dream, and is paid for, so will be run until its wheels fall off*), or anything like that. I wanted love, honesty, and respect. And to be frank, these were not things for which I needed another person. I felt whole and content on my own, and quite comfortable in my own skin.

When my husband came along, he absolutely seemed to fit that bill. He was charming, romantic, dashingly handsome, intensely masculine and strong, funny, smart, and most of all...he just "got" me. We hit if off and were engaged within weeks of meeting. In perfect hindsight, there were warning signs, things that were "off." But I was so happy with him, and so much in love, that it was easy to shoo those nagging little doubts away...especially since I'd never before encountered them. He reminded me of my dad in so many ways in the beginning, and when you had a father as wonderful as mine, that's a huge, huge thing.

As those of you who've followed my 'blog for years know, things went sour fast. They got really bad when I was pregnant, which led to hospitalization, residential rehab, and putting him out and officially separating. But then he did "all the right things," and he had, at long last, a diagnosis. He was bipolar. There were medicines that could keep things in check. It was FIXABLE. Except then it happened again. Florid mania that broke through the medication, then running (a term used among significant others of bipolar people that means just taking off for days, weeks, and in extreme cases even months on end), which in our case usually lasted several days...heck, my husband disappeared for 4 solid days as soon as we got our newborn baby home from the hospital. And then came the second episode that almost ended the marriage: once again, breakthrough mania, followed by drinking, and then heavy drug use, and finally just disappearing, accompanied by extremely risky sexual behavior. There was, ultimately, another hospitalization, followed by inpatient rehab, followed by an Intensive Outpatient Program for alcoholism and drug addiction.

And I took him back. Despite the indignities inflicted upon me by this person who I loved and had trusted, I took him back. And people were confused, baffled, even angry with me for doing so. But here I fall back on my personal history up to that point. THIS SORT OF THING DOES NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFE, combined with the hubris of, AND I AM IN CONTROL OF MY LIFE, AND I WILL DARN WELL FIX THIS, TOO. I absolutely could not accept that I (I never thought of it as "we," which is sort of telling) would not get this thing in check and keep it stifled, and that things would be OK. And sometimes, it seemed to work, so I would be vindicated for my optimism and hope. Click, click, came the pellets, as I pushed that lever faster and faster.

Some of you are internally screaming, "DENIAL!" Well, yes and no. It wasn't that I was denying the reality of the situation; it was more that I was absolutely refusing to ACCEPT the reality of the situation, because in MY reality, this was alien and would be dealt with Sigourney Weaver-style, accordingly.

But even I have my limits. Some of you may have noticed that in the weeks prior to the domestic assault, I had changed my Facebook status from "married to Alex Miller," to, "it's complicated with Alex Miller," and then simply, "it's complicated." The things I was learning at the time were finally, finally piling up enough straws on this camel's back that I knew the breaking point was coming, and coming soon. When I discovered things like secret P.O. boxes in the next town over, credit card accounts opened fraudulently in my name, having my prescription medication stolen and sold to cover debts I hadn't even known about (on our last bank statement, despite having had $4500 wired into the account from who knows what source, there were STILL over $1700 in bank fees alone, for returned checks, NSF charges, etc. $1700, account completely in the red, and $s4500 wired IN. And nothing to show for it that I could see). It was only later that I discovered his dating history of the last several months (Craigslist "Casual Encounters" FTL, plus multiple subscriptions to "Adult" dating sites), but at the time, I had come to realize that, however much I might love this man (and that was a LOT), I would never, ever be able to trust him...about anything. I had pretty much made up my mind that it was over, barring a miracle, and to be honest was likely within 6 weeks or so of filing anyway. Arkansas is a no-fault state, so I don't even have to have a reason for getting out, beyond "personal indignities."

The way that this is going is SO not the way I wanted it to go. Again, because the way I was brought up, problems were not shoved under a rug, or pandered to so that they'd go away. They were exposed to the harsh light of day, discussed, and DEALT with, and then everyone got to move on. Nothing festered. No one held grudges, or kept score. So it is exceedingly difficult for me to have to deal with my husband as though a stranger, through lawyers and restraining orders and the courts. My desire and instinct is telling me to sit down with my husband, and calmly discuss and end this. To find out what he wants, and do my best to give it to him, within reason, so we can both move on with our lives. I mean, he's already been "dating" for several months, and having a whole other secret life, so why would he NOT want out?

So since once again it's too late to say "long story short," I suppose I'll sum it up: Why did I stay? Well, aside from the fact that I loved him, I felt responsible for him. I was his conduit to the rest of the world for years. Anyone who knows anything about me knows how I fought for him, how I advocated for him, and how I became an activist in the realm of mental illness awareness and support. I fed, clothed, and even bathed him during the months following the ECT when he couldn't care for himself...that was another time that I had one foot out the door, and then this debilitating brain injury happened, and what kind of person turns someone out with no support during a time like that? Well, not I. In all this, I had my daughter to consider. That is the key thing to remember here.

I kept secrets over the years. LOTS of secrets. I did it for my daughter--not just so that she wouldn't know about the Horrible Things I've Never Told Anyone, but so that people would not look at my daughter's father and only see those things. In protecting his image, I was protecting her innocence. I'm really hoping that none of that has to come out in court, for that very reason. Since the day we met until the day I fled the home, I have always been 100% faithful, honest, and trustworthy to my husband. He has not. But I stayed.

I stayed, because I could not accept that these things were happening in MY, up to then, idyllic life and that I couldn't make them stop by sheer force of my own will . I stayed because the three of us as a unit were very important to my daughter. I stayed because I felt responsibility for my husband's care, and could clearly see the burden of guilt I would have to carry for "abandoning" him. I stayed because I loved him. And at long last, finally, when he attacked me physically, I left. Immediately and with extreme prejudice. There won't be a second chance at that kind of thing.

This has been rambling and tangential at times, but I hope that I've answered, somewhat, the question of why "someone like me" would put up with all that's been done to me over the years. In short, it's not because I was "damaged." It's more because I was UNDAMAGED. And you know what? I still am.

P.S. Let me share with you possibly the WORST thing to say to someone in my, or a similar situation, when discussing the sins of the spouse. That would be any variation on how YOU would "NEVER put up with that." Shut your hole. Just shut it. You do not know what you would "put up with" until you are challenged and must answer that for yourself. It is not your job to make someone who's already feeling sad, defeated, betrayed, and foolish aware of just how superior YOU are, since YOU would never get into such a sordid situation in the first place. Bully for you, you win at smug. But you might want to check over your own shoulder every once in a while...just in case.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The One From A Good Friend

Someone who has been following my website for just about since it was born, and is bipolar himself, having faced many a personal trial and challenge, sent me a private message recently that was SO amazing that once I dried my eyes, I asked him for permission to share his message more widely, because I believe that many could benefit from it. He generously consented, and I will leave it up to him as to whether he wishes to identify himself in the comments.

"Hey Belinda--

Long time, no see. I've been following developments lately, and did read your blog. There are some things I absolutely need to say. I hope you understand.

I'm sorry for what Alex did... not because it's my fault, but because I know people with bipolar can act better than that. Alex is still responsible for what he does. The mental illness isn't an excuse... it's an obstacle that makes things harder; not impossible.

But I know what you're thinking. And so I'm going to say the second worse thing I've ever said to someone (the first is a story for another time):

Alex doesn't care enough about you to act better.

How he acts is still his choice... even if the voices and imbalance in his head is telling him to do something he shouldn't.

I'm sure he loves you; it's not that. It's just that he needs to care enough to think long and hard before he acts; and he didn't. Hasn't really.

But here's what I'm trying to get at. That's such a shame. A lot of bipolar people could use someone as caring and loving as you in their lives. It's not your fault for not doing enough; or not doing the right things. It's his fault for acting like a shit. His responsibility. And it's his fault that because HE can't control HIMSELF that he's losing the two best things he has in this life.

I'm trying to tell you that you did everything right, everything you can. And you should never question that. Because I know what's going through Alex's head; and I also know that he could stop anytime he really, really wanted to. You can be tempted to push an enter key on a keyboard all your mind likes... but you are the one who has to tell your finger to press it.

I'm bipolar.. My force of will is strong because of people like you who care/d for me. I stop and think before doing anything. The ME inside is in control... not the impulse or the emotional reaction. Because those things hurt people I love. And I don't want to be that kind of person.

Alex isn't going to get better until he decides he wants to. He doesn't have a choice about having faulty wiring, but he does have a choice about accepting the faulty wiring and using the proper electrician to get it fixed. It's just easier not to.

I never want you to think that you're a failure. You're not.

I see everyone telling you that living with mental illness is hell. That makes me sad. I hope that living with me is not like that for the people in my life. The decisions we make matter. The people we choose to be matters. Everyone deserves a chance. You gave more than a chance. Alex made his choices. They were the wrong ones.

That implies that he could have made the right choices. See what I mean?

I have nothing extra to give right now... both my parents are out of work, and I'm trying to help them get by until they can find jobs, or I'd send enough to make you cry. You were always so kind to me, and I wish I could repay that kindness. It made ME a better person. Unfortunately, I'm not your husband, so that effort was kind of wasted, eh?


Chin up. Watch where you're going. No running into stuff. And if there's anything else I can do, just ask.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Crying Time

So, in my new life, midnight is, apparently, crying time. I can't stop. I'm crying over things that haven't even happened yet, and things that are just impossible to fix. The overwhelming unfulfillable desire that's pretty much taking charge is "I WANT TO GO HOME." Because more than anything, I do. I want to go home. I want my husband back...the one that a good majority of this blog has been about over the years, the one from before the other night, in that INSTANT where everything went to hell. I just want to go home. The last time I felt this way, and cried this hard, the unfulfillable demand I was making of the Universe was, "I WANT MY DADDY BACK." That's how deep this hurts.

I'm not some hero who bravely and decisively "did the right thing" and then everything was great. I'm conflicted, I'm depressed, I'm anxious, and I'm homesick. Bella isn't yet, but she will be soon. Mostly right now, she wants to be where I am, though she's very worried about her dad. I'm worried about him. His family has shut me out, and I don't know if they're doing the same to him, but I wouldn't know, since they won't speak to me. I do know that he has nowhere to go. Nowhere. No one in his family will take him in. His only income comes from disability, and his health insurance is mine. And yet, we need for him to get out of the house for a bit, so we can get in.

I can't believe the three of us are not seeing the Harry Potter movie together. It's unthinkable. I don't know--maybe stuff like that wouldn't be so bad. It's in public, then we leave, and we don't have to speak at all, but Bella gets to spend fun time with her dad. I don't know. I don't know ANYTHING.

And here, I'm going to just go ahead and share the most shameful secret I have right now, right out there in public, because maybe someone else is at THIS decision point, and this could help.

That secret is that, deep inside, I am actually thinking to myself, "If I had just kept quiet about this and handled it in my own way, I could be at home right now." I could have us in separate rooms, leading civil but non-intimate lives together. I could have my financial information protected, and he would undoubtedly, at this point, give me complete control over all finances. I COULD BE HOME, AND NO ONE WOULD BE THE WISER. I could be surrounded by my dogs, looking out those big windows at my beautiful horses. I could be discussing that new med cocktail the doc put him on with my husband, and we'd undoubtedly be sharing some of our inside shrink-jokes, and things would SEEM normal. Almost. Curse it, it's canning season, and all my jars are there. So many tiny things that are ruined, and these combine into one colossal, painful, longing for the impossible.

So there it is. I know it can't be, but I can't make it not be what I wish for, in my heart of hearts. I want to go home. I just want to go home to a different life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Part Where We Stop Dancing

For all of my marriage to Alex, I have performed a delicate dance between keeping people informed about what's going on, and protecting his privacy. And I still feel a responsibility on that count, but a line has been crossed, and as much as I love him and want for him all the things in life that people deserve, the time has come to stop dancing.

No matter how good the good times are, the bad times of living with a bipolar person are pure hell. It's not their fault that they're ill, but they ARE responsible for their actions. The thing that makes it hard for "normals" to deal with it is that it is not logical. Where we have something happen, and feel a corresponding mood in response to that, a cycling bipolar person feels the feeling, the mood, FIRST. For no reason except that their brain is broken. Upon feeling that mood, they must then cast about externally, looking for a REASON for that mood. If they feel angry, and you're the only one there, brace yourself. You're about to have done something horribly wrong, whether you know it or not.

There are countless circular arguments. My family can vouch for the times that they have heard Alex, over the phone, trying to make me do something while I cry to be left alone, him standing over me and yelling, "WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?" over and over. WHY am I thwarting him? WHY won't I obey his every, ever-shifting whim? WHY? And here's the shameful part: Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, depending on how much strength you have, you just do it. You just do whatever it is that will make the crazy stop, even temporarily (and it's always temporary) because it's just exhausting. And when you do that, The Beast has won. And it is clever, and it stores that information away. You've just reinforced a behavior, and further cemented it (yes, I'm a total Skinnerian).

So if you follow me at all, you know by now that I've taken Bella and left home. I had no choice. Alex has been in an increasingly florid manic state for weeks now, staying on a non-stop, destructive spending spree that has left us literally penniless. He has stolen my much-needed pain medication and sold it to fund his overdraft charges. Let that sink in for a minute. I had medication prescribed to me for the pain I'm dealing with, and it was well know to my husband that that was the only relief I ever get. He let me have three days' worth, then he just took it. He told me that he sold it, and that is probably true. But, you know, that same day he cooked dinner or brought me some candy or something, because he's TOTALLY a good guy. Right? You're getting a taste of living with the craziness.

So meanwhile, during the ruinous spending (OH, how those UPS trucks rolled in every day!), Alex was also spying on all of my internet activity via keylogging software he'd installed, unbeknownst to me, on our home network. Now, I could not care less if he reads everything I've ever said to anyone in any conversation, because I never say anything I wouldn't say in front of him. That's the super-secret bonus to not being a liar: you never have to stop and think about whether you're telling a different story to one person than the other. I have nothing to hide. In the last couple of days, I noticed him hacking my accounts repeatedly, so I knew he had to have software that was logging keystrokes, because I was making some ca-razy passwords. The last one on my Facebook account was actually an insult directed at him: "alexisaliar67". Didn't phase him.

So, last night, Alex went to bed before me. I followed about 15 minutes later. He was watching "Silence of the Lambs" on the Roku player. I was reading Feed on my iPad, so I wouldn't have to turn the light on to use my Kindle. After about 5 minutes, Alex got up, went into the living room, and got on the PC in there. I thought this was a bit odd, but he'd paused the movie, so I figured he'd just forgotten something. I got absorbed in my book, then realized that another 45 minutes or so had passed, and he was still in there click-clicking away on the keyboard. I called out, "What are you doing?" and got an angry sounding, "NOTHING!" I had a hunch, so I clicked the iPad over to Facebook, and there I saw "me" changing my relationship status (I had it on "complicated;" he changed it back to "married"), making posts, and sending messages to people. It made me SICK. Did I mention that earlier that day I'd discovered that "I" had gotten "myself" a Chase credit card? Odd, given my stance on credit cards (they can die in a fire), the fact that I didn't apply for one, and the fact that "Belinda Miller's" contact email was "aalexmiller@aol.com."

So I confronted my husband, and yeah, I was furious. He stood and denied everything, even though I'd just watched it happen. But when The Beast is in control, it's all about the denial, plus Alex himself, no Beast required, has a pretty healthy lying problem, even when it doesn't matter. As my dad used to say of him, "He'd stand up to tell a lie when he could tell the truth sitting down." He's had countless hours of therapy about it.

I had looked up on my iPad instructions for putting up a firewall against keyloggers, and sat on the couch with my laptop and iPad open, reading instructions on one and applying them to the other. The whole time, I was subjected to a yelling rant demanding that I go back to bed and leave this alone. It was about a three-sentence rant, but the sentences were repeated on an endless, angry, loud, loop: "WHY? WHY? WHY?" WHY CAN'T YOU DO THIS IN THE MORNING? WHY? WHY WON'T YOU COME TO BED WITH ME? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?" (That last one is a personal favorite that gets trotted out whenever he gets "busted" doing something wrong--I am to blame for discovering/complaining about/trying to right said wrong. Because I am just bitchy like that. If I would just leave it alone, EVERYTHING WOULD BE FINE.)

When I would not stop trying to protect my account from him, he stomped off upstairs and disabled the Internet so that I could not continue. I went up there to fix it, but he'd hidden the cable away so I couldn't find it. I went straight to the bedroom, where during that two minutes he'd crawled into bed, turned out the light, and was actually pretending to sleep. I turned on the light and demanded that he fix the Internet. I told him (VERY angrily, I admit) that it was the least he owed me. His position was that I had "no business" using the Internet at that time, and that he would restore it "in the morning." I can't imagine why, but this made me even angrier. I also realized that at this point, I was arguing with The Beast, so I tried appealing to Alex. I reminded him that no one--no one--in the world was a bigger advocate for him, that I had championed him for years, fighting for him when no one else would, and that all I wanted him to do was at least tell me where the Internet cable was. No avail. I kept trying to get a connection from my iPad to my laptop, but I couldn't make that work. And yes, during this half-hour or so, I DID go and turn on the bedroom light and demand that Alex right things--more than once. As I'd said, I was furious, and I am human.

I called my mom and let her know what was going on, just in case, and she overheard him on the phone standing there screaming at me to go back to bed, so we ended that phone call so I could try to deal with Alex. The mistake I made at this point was telling Alex my intentions. I can get a bit blinded by rage, too. I told him that I was going to post to Twitter and Facebook from my cell phone, warning my friends that someone else was posing as me online, and that I would send messages to our families (my mom and sister, his mom and sister) telling them the same thing. I should have just quietly gone and DONE it. I might have gotten it done, but that little truth-speaking voice in my head says he would've followed me into the living room to see what I was doing, and the same awful sequence of marriage-ending events would've followed.

I had my cell phone on the charger by the computer, so I went and sat in the computer chair and began to compose a text message. I saw Alex come charging toward me, except that it wasn't Alex at all by this point. Empty, dead eyes of The Beast. Still, I never in a million years would've anticipated what followed. He tried to grab onto the phone, but I held tight. He'd already disabled the Internet, and I knew that he could do the same with the land line, with the push of a button. I panicked. That cell phone represented my only link to the outside world. I was not going to let go of it, even in my pitiful weak state, if I could help it. I was also afraid he'd smash it. He yanked me across the room, ripping the phone from the charger in the process, destroying the charger. I started screaming, in fear, in hopes he'd let go...and because at this point he had an arm across my face and the other hand twisted through my hair...pulling. At the same time, my back and shoulders were being pounded against the floor, I could feel great wads of my hair coming loose at the roots, and a blow to the breastbone. One of his hands was clutching my shoulder, and was right in front of my face, and was my only target, so I bit it, hard, thinking he'd let go of my hair. My hair was what let go, at the roots.

I want to state at this point that I do not believe that it was ever Alex's intention to hurt me--not his goal, at least. His goal was to GET THAT PHONE AT ALL COSTS, and it just didn't enter his temporarily deranged mind to care that he was hurting me. In ten years of suffering every hurt and disgrace that bipolar disorder has to offer--from serial cheating and hardcore drug use during the early, unmedicated time, to alcoholism, to identity theft (yes, it had happened before, and was the impetus for the great depressive state that preceded the fateful ECT treatment), to spending us into poverty, all the while lying, lying lying... he has never, ever put a hand on me in violence. Never. I believe that just amplified my shock with what was going on.

Ultimately, being much stronger and way less sick than me, Alex managed to get my phone away from me, and just as I'd feared, proceed to bust it up. From my vantage point on the floor, I spotted a house phone, and crawled to it and dialed 911, as Alex ran to the kitchen. I suspect that his intention was to disable the land line, but he denies this, and I certainly can't prove it. At any rate, my call connected, and a sheriff's deputy was dispatched. I stayed on the phone with the dispatcher until he arrived. From this point on, Alex was remarkably calm, while I was near hysterical. My life as I knew it had just ended. We told our stories (which differ distinctly, big surprise), and to my amazement Alex did not get arrested/hospitalized, which is what I was hoping for. Apparently I didn't get battered ENOUGH during this scuffle to get the kind of marks that count as "evidence." The fistful of hair and corresponding bald patch? Nope. Heck, I coulda done that myself, amirite? Anyway, since he couldn't make Alex leave (and Alex certainly wasn't going to do something that gallant on his own), while the deputy waited, I went upstairs and woke Bella, who had, amazingly, slept through the whole thing (tender mercies), and we packed up fast and got out of there.

In the interest of equal time, I will share Alex's version of last night's events, as posted in his Facebook Notes, and he is, of course, free to comment here:

"I went to bed early, about 10:00pm, after waking me up three different times and leaving the light on it was 2:00am, I decicided no on[e] needed to be online at 2:00am, so I unplugged the internet. She threatened me by saying she was, cut off from the world, and was going to call everyone she knew, at 3:00am, and tell them I had unplugged her precious internet until the following morning. She then said she was about to call my 83 year-old mother at 3:30am. This was a tipping point, I [took] her cell phone away. She bit me and threw a fit. She went crazy. She called the police, when empathized with me, and then she proceeded to wake up our child at 4:00am and leave. That is it. I am fine. I just wanted some sleep."

I can find three points in that account that are true: I did bite him (in self defense), I did call 911, and I did leave with our daughter. I can't help but giggle at the image of me biting him for no reason and "going crazy". If I wrote that version, I would've added that I was screaming, "HONEY BADGER DON'T CARE!!" the whole time. It's a very common bipolar defense (both internal and external) to cast the other person as "crazy," and if you've lived with or known a bipolar person for any length of time, you've no doubt experienced this. If you've hung in this long, brava for you, and it's way too late for me to say "long story short," but for now, I can leave it with the point that this is a marriage-ender. This is a line you do not cross, even in a fit of rage, even if you're manic, even if you're just a freaking lunatic. Hands on me for purposes of hurting = goodbye.

I am heartbroken. To think that after all the loving care I've given, all the struggles we've been through, my life-threatening illness, his life-altering illness, the endless fighting against all odds to stay alive and stay together and bring a beautiful, amazing child into the world...it can be over that fast, just because of selfishness and lies and misdirected anger. To think that we made it just long enough to get those negatives from our wedding photographer for free. To think of not just what I've lost by losing this marriage now, but what I lost by being IN this marriage for as long as I was.

The true heartbreaker is this: I have never, for one moment, stopped loving Alex. Never. I don't suppose I ever will. But I'm sitting here now watching this amazing, silly, brilliant, beautiful, wonderful little girl dive for rings in the pool where we're staying, and I know that my job now is all about her. And extra sadness for the fact that her beloved father will no longer be a daily part of her life. They love each other without reservation, and Alex is very good with her (though I don't leave them alone if I can help it, because he kind of "forgets" she's there sometimes)...the way I wish he was with me. Let me repeat: he is an amazing dad--at least supervised, he is. I dread having to tell her that we won't ever live with Daddy any more.

Now something I swore I'd never do, and I hate it, but: we left with nothing but a quarter tank of gas and a $20 bill. My paycheck, which was deposited Friday, was devoured by Alex's overdraft charges down to less than $100. The electric company is shutting off power at the house because of the $354 overdue bill that Alex told me he "took care of" weeks ago. In short, Bella and I are busted, with no way to get through the next two weeks until payday. It hurts to tell an 8 year old who's read every Harry Potter book at least three times and has been waiting for HP7 part 2 since the second HP7 part 1 was over that no, we can't afford to go see it at the Saturday matinee, even though I promised we would, because the Friday payday money is gone already.

I'm putting out the tin cup. If you have a couple dollars to spare (please nothing large that will make me cry or embarrass me), and are so inclined to send it via PayPal to ninjapoodles@gmail.com, I will somehow, someday, karmically (that's when karma tells jokes) repay the kindness, or pass it along to others. I'm 98% sure that I have it secured so that no one else can get into it.

In closing, let me say I don't want hate directed toward Alex. He needs help. More help, ultimately, than I can give.

Finally, I love you guys. You have no idea how much you get me through.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers

Tractorhogs

Love you, Dad, and miss you so hard.


And since I can't really, STILL, talk much about my own father without starting an ugly crying jag (which he would hate), I'll mark this day by posting what was probably the best thing I overheard all weekend.

From 8-year-old daughter to her father, as Dad was getting ready to go outside and tend to some chores, wearing his old Carhartt coveralls:

"Dad. One of the buttons on your fly is undone. I don't care if it IS Father's Day--no one wants to see your junk."

Clearly, we are exemplary parents and role models. Why, earlier that same day, we sent a visiting neighbor child home with a bag of dead squirrels. True story! It's all about class down here in the holler, folks.

And yeah, this WAS the best way I could think of to kick-start this website again. It is, after all, its 6th anniversary. And to think, it all began with aluminum underpants. It's good to be back.