Day to Day Writing, Epiphanies

#9 Candid

It’s been two years since I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder  and I’m not sure what I’ve done with it, except dance through a cacophony of doctor and therapist’s appointments with only various prescription bottles to mark the success of the event. They line the dresser in my bedroom like a parade. On good days I take them religiously and keep them in my pocket. On most days, I throw them away.

If I am doing well, I accept the diagnosis with intense conviction, the same one I held on so firmly to that made me end up in the hospital in the first place. This forces me into self-analysis – reflecting about the flaw inside of me that keeps me from having the confidence to do anything with 100% certainty because I don’t know which side of me is in the driver’s seat: Mania or Depression. Before I absolutely do anything, if I’m well, I have to ask if it’s sustainable in the long run. Can I actually work three jobs whether or not I’m well? Probably not. This seems like a simple answer in moments of lucidity but those moments for me are few and far between. It’s either, Yes, I ABSOLUTELY CAN WORK THREE JOBS, I CAN DO ANYTHING vs. Who are you kidding? You can’t do anything. Finding the mid is a battle I constantly have to fight. Jumping from one extreme to the next is incredibly exhausting.

Some of my closest friends romanticize my mania, and it’s disheartening. I only hang out with most of the people I know when I’m manic. Mania is a fickle mistress; it is the burst of energy I need to survive my day to day. It keeps me employed, keeps me social. When I’m manic, parties become so easy; I just sit back and she does the talking for me. My creativity flows out of me in a deluge of half-finished stories and beginnings to novels that never end. A sprinkle of uncontrollable brilliance that keeps me painting and writing until the early morning. My boyfriend sleeps while I write, read, paint and repeat. When he wakes, I show him what I’ve created, and he says he’s proud of me.

But one step over the edge and I lose all control. The mask slips and she completely takes over me. I start forgetting. I don’t remember what I did last night, the week before – I start to miss days until days become months I can’t recall no matter how hard I try to piece it together, gaps in my memory I have no control over. My friendships end with that look on their face that I have come to know so well. I can pinpoint the exact second that look takes over – that moment of sudden, dawning realization that even after x amount of time, there is a side of me that up until that moment, they have not seen. One that is unforgivable – as if all of who I was before up until that moment was just pretense. And inside, I’m fuming. An insurmountable amount of rage tripled by my manic heart and a voice screaming inside me – I told you, I told you this is who I am, you JUST didn’t listen.

One time, in group, I asked,”How can we seek new relationships without feeling like we’re scamming them? Do I just say, hey, before we get to know each other, you should know that I’m crazy, insane, neurotic? How much time is an acceptable amount of time where admitting that you’re insane isn’t a social faux pas anymore?  For every person that you meet, if I don’t say I’m insane, does that mean I’m lying?”

The answer they gave me was that we are all trying our best, every single time.

That seems like a lie.

I can’t exactly tell that to the person/friend/lover I pounced on because I couldn’t control my rage, because I hadn’t slept for a month, because I woke up standing in the middle of my job not knowing who I was, or where I had been for the past couple of hours. Seems like, to any other person outside looking in, seems like I’m not trying at all.

I still have not been able to develop the language I need when people tell me the things we did that I can’t remember. People I don’t know come up to me like we’re old friends except I don’t know what name I gave them, or when we met.

At the hospital, I spent most of my time walking other patients down Spadina avenue, especially those who weren’t allowed to walk by themselves, or those who were just afraid. I learn about their lives, listen to the story of how they ended up here with me. One beautiful girl whose sole mission in life was to look like Mariah Carey and spent hours upon hours in front of the computer looking at her pictures, once told me that she had long accepted she would never be married. I asked why.

She looked at me, and as if breaking some terrible news to a child for the first time, said, “I think you’ll find – people like us – we’re never going to have normal relationships. People will either pretend to understand, or won’t even try. Sooner or later, they’ll get tired.” Then, as if it was an afterthought, continued with forced optimism –  “But maybe you’ll get lucky – maybe you’ll find someone normal, and they’ll still get it… you know?”

Accepting your diagnosis is accepting the terror that your mind can betray you, any minute, any second. That every day you are in control is a race against time – build as much as you can now so that you don’t lose everything when it happens. It’s all about timing. And damage control.

But most of the time, it feels like my life is an old, beaten book I am desperately clinging to with furiously clenched fists.

I know the story, it’s so familiar to me, but it’s written in a language I can no longer understand.


Progress Update

Sudden realization that exactly a year ago, on this very day,  I was sleeping my life away in a bed at CAMH because I was so convinced that death was a better option than living my life.

And this morning I woke up to texts from my new friends, making plans to go out, telling me their stories, about to hop in the shower to see a movie with another new friend, and then have pizza with an old childhood friend, and then spend the night with my new partner.

If someone had come up to me a year before and told me that I would end up writing 57 new entries on my blog, gain a following, find a job I actually look forward to going to (even though it virtually gives me no money), read even more books, gain friends, strengthen my relationships with my old friends and find a new, amazing partner/teammate that would help me regain confidence and champion anxiety – all within a single year –  I would never have believed you.

Time is a tricky, sneaky thing. But thank goodness we have it.

Character Portraits, Day to Day Writing, Epiphanies, Flash Fiction, Short Fiction

Day to Day Writing #19

My doctor, my executioner.

The Khan sits in front of me. His eyes are two portals across  his face that reflected not the person sitting across from him, but the glaring computer screen beside him. He has knobby, stubby little fingers that dance across his keyboard every time I talk, like a symphony of mental disorders and behaviour.

I am arguing with him. He asks, “Do you really think I’m here for my own benefit? Or am I here for you?”

He doesn’t look at me when he says, “I do care about your recovery. Otherwise, why am I here?”

I imagine him waking up in the morning. He won’t kiss his wife before he leaves. He will probably cuddle his newborn baby goodbye, to gain reassurance about the why, to strengthen the how – how he’s going to keep paying the mortgage on his house, how he’s going to pay for his baby’s care, how he’s going to keep up his and his wife’s lifestyle.

Because once you get intertwined with the why, it gets ugly. It gets subjective. It gets to that feeling of pointlessness and hopelessness creeping in.

Because it’s the how that keeps his hands on his steering wheel, as he drives through the rush hour traffic, his morning coffee burning in his Pink Floyd mug, on his every day route to the mental hospital.

“You can justify it in your head any way you want,” he tells me, “but all people are, are their actions. Everything else is construction.”

“So,” I begin, a tirade of what dug deep into my heart: “how about this story – of a girl confined here last autumn. You gave her permission to spend the day with her family for her 26th birthday. She made reservations at a restaurant and told everyone in the ward about it and got everyone excited for her. Then, they told me — she had an argument with you the morning of her birthday. And as she was entering the elevator with her parents, you threw the form at her as the elevators were closing in.”

I pause for effect. He shows no emotion. Just flagrantly blank. Fingers forever composing that symphony on his keyboard.

An eyebrow raises. “And so?”

I fall for the trap – lured, bait and hooked. “You formed a patient on her 26th birthday. On her birthday! How is that anything but a blatant misuse of your authority? How is it that you allowed her to have day passes and as soon as she disobeyed you – you trapped her? In here?” I throw up my arms to show him the place we were in – his office, my prison.

“I am not at liberty to talk about other patients here. And you know better than to bring another person up when you’re supposed to be here for your recovery.” He stops typing and sits back, cocking his head a little to side to indicate that he is now observing me. “Nevertheless, I’ll satisfy your curiosity. I’ll satiate your need for a conclusion. I don’t do things without a reason – you’ll just have to trust me that she displayed such emotional fragility that made me believe she wouldn’t be safe outside of the hospital.”

What a professional answer.

“Did I answer your questions?” He asks, challenging me. “Have I reassured you of my good intentions?”

I will carry this conversation with me, long after my discharge date. Another patient, a 40 year old superwoman, would smile at me and tell me she recognized the Khan’s humanity after seeing his Pink Floyd mug. I will be sitting next to a manic-depressive woman, cowering under her covers as music plays from her laptop, and begs me to stop being friends with somebody she hated. I will be in bed, listening to a story about one drunken night, when she comes home trying to comfort him, and then tries to go to bed with him. I will be listening to promises of being helped when I’m down, of being loved when I needed it, all the while realizing that people’s actions, never reflected the things say.

But I won’t know this until a few years later. I won’t know this until I am in the centre of distress and disappointment. I won’t know this until the moment I have to force myself to open my eyes, to move my arms, to sit, straight up – and face another day, no matter how broken.

And so I say, “Yes,” because I don’t know any better. I say, “because it’s your actions that define you. Everything else is construction,” because I can only repeat what he had just told me, imitating in vain to compensate for the fact that I lack the luxury of experience.

Epiphanies, News

The Aftermath


Women of DC Wallpaper by JGiampietro

Today, I got discharged from CAMH’s inpatient unit. What follows next is a 6 month intensive group therapy that I will be attending from home, in part because I feel as if I need some kind of transition in order to rebuild my life, and the other because I want to keep visiting the friends I have made in the ward.

I kept a detailed log of my stay, and as I look back at my initial entries, it really surprises me how, even I, came into the unit harbouring stigma towards mental illneses. I realized that I only socialized with those whom I deemed were at the same “level” of mental illness as I was, as if there was a hierachy of pain and mental illness. I also noticed the resenment I carried towards other people my age, who weren’t diagnosed with mental illness, as I constantly compared their achievements towards my own. It took me a long time to recognize when I would start judging — myself, and others — and I know that completely stopping myself from judging would be a long process, but at least I have accepted it as a valid truth, and that is always the first step.

I know that there is a lot of stigma towards mental illness, and for the most part, that’s what stops me from immersing myself back into my social life – the fear that I would be treated differently, that I would be treated as if I was a circus freak.

But I want you to know that:

We are not defeated. Being at the hospital takes immense courage and strength, because it is the first step towards changing our lives for the better.

We are not always sad. Yes, we break down every once in a while, but when we’re together, we laugh and crack jokes just like any other group of friends. And when we laugh, it’s genuine. Because laughter is golden in the ward – it doesn’t always happen, so we don’t want to waste time faking it.

We have dance parties. Even if it’s coming from laptop speakers that are barely audible, once it’s a song we know, we make sure to dance, and try to convince others around us to join in as well. (Admittedly, the nurses don’t always agree to these dance parties, they usually make a point to shut us down as soon as they get wind of it – but that’s when we start dancing in our rooms instead).

We do rebel hugs. In the ward I stayed in, we weren’t allowed to hug, nor form close relationships with each other. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Rebel hugs is what happens when you are in dire need of comfort, and you forgot to bring your stuffie with you. We usually do this away from the nursing station, in the corner of the hallway, in the entrance of the emergency room.

Just like you, we hold important roles in society – we are just on pause from our responsibilities. We are social workers, teachers, librarians, marketing specialists, activists, feminists, actresses, models, nurses, hospital administrators, students, mothers, daughters and grandmothers.

I was talking to another patient a couple of days ago, and she was telling me the heartbreaking story of her life. From a succesful career, to suddenly becoming a survivor of trauma – the world she knew shattered around her and she began to feel unsafe – and no matter how hard she tried, she could not feel safe again. After numerous suicide attempts, she finally arrived at the hospital, in risk of losing her house and her dog. I couldn’t find any words to comfort her, but in the end, I didn’t need to. Because she said, that she found consolation in the fact that there was an immense strength within the ward’s walls – that it is the combined stories of the women in the unit that keeps her going.

And then she said something that really resonated with me. She said, “If one of us makes it, then we all make it.”

It may be surprising to some of you how quickly friendships can form in a place that’s supposed to be dark and depressing. But that’s because outside of the ward, the normal is people pretending, to people laughing. It’s the Facebook mentality. Only show others your best pictures and statuses. That’s what you’re used to. But in the ward, we’re only used to seeing each other unashamed, honest and brave – and those are qualities that are hard to uphold without being exhausted or tired.

But it’s the honesty that’s liberating – it’s the honesty that keeps us from being fragmented, from being incarcerated.

And it’s the honesty that allows us to connect intimately with each other, and share in each other’s small victories and courage.

And that is why, today, I am not afraid of being discharged. I am ready to transition back into the community and rebuild my life back from zero. Because in my hand, I carry, the strength and stories of these women with me.


Healing With Others

Hope by Ryky

Hope by Ryky

A really beautiful thing just happened and I wanted to share it with you to give you hope.

After a long day of intense group sessions and meetings with psychiatrists, the other women at the ward and I were sitting in the dining room, unwinding, when I saw another patient burst into tears by the medication room. Immediately, I felt distressed seeing her break down in such a strong way, when she was usually the one who was so protective and generous with advice. She was my roommate, and just the night before, I was crying in my room, frustrated at the information they were giving me as I felt that it wasn’t helping me in any shape or form. Having been in and out of mental institutions her entire life, my roommate sat down and explained to me what it’s like to heal within a system – the language that’s expected of you, the key things nurses look for to determine whether or not you’re progressing and the realization that I cannot expect a miracle cure that would heal me forever at the end of my stay here. She reassured me that it takes a lifetime of coping to be able to deal with trauma, and that pretending you’re fine when you’re not, only deny others a chance to be in the program when they need it so much.

Talking to her felt entirely different from talking with the nurses, or my friends, because it came from a person who was in the same place as I was – and so hearing her words and stories made me feel more confident about the program and finally motivated me to start working within it. And so, seeing her so distressed, made me feel so worried. A friend of ours immediately came over and hugged her, and the same nurse I had fought with before – Nurse Ratched as we call her, told them that hugging wasn’t allowed. I could see two other concerned women milling around at a near distance, watching  my roommate break down and wanting to hug her as well, but they kept their distance as Nurse Ratched was watching.

She went back into our room and I didn’t know if I should go with her or not because I didn’t know if she wanted to be alone. She came out after a while and asked us if we could go down with her, where the nurses couldn’t see us, and pretend we were on a smoke break. Immediately four women, including me, ran to our rooms to get our jackets and as soon as we were in the elevator, we hugged her as she cried on our shoulders.

By the emergency entrance of the CAMH building, the first place we saw when we were first brought in there filled with so much pain and unhappiness, we each took turns embracing each other and comforting each other, and telling each other positive things to keep us alight.

And then, with my roommate facilitating the discussion, just like in group therapy, she said, “Let’s all say things that we’re grateful for today. Today, I’m grateful that I met you guys.”

Another woman said, “I’m grateful that disturbing emotions are temporary and don’t last forever.”

The next one said, “I’m grateful to be a mother who is on her way on getting better.”

And I said, “I’m grateful to have you as a roommate and because of our talk last night, you made me trust in the program and one of the main reasons I am working so hard in this program is because of you.”

And she looked at me with such happiness and mouthed, “Thank you.”

When we got back, we all sat down with her and ate junk food that we shared with each other – one ate a strawberry and jam sandwich, I ate chocolate cake and another one ate a freezie. When Nurse Ratched came back doing rounds, she tried to say that it wasn’t her fault, that the reason why she didn’t let us hug is because they can’t have five women in the unit breaking down, and while she said this, we all looked at each other in mutual understanding that despite their belief that we can be triggered by each other’s breakdowns, our instincts to protect each other is much stronger than they could understand.

It was an amazing thing to witness and be a part of – that incredible impulse to nurture and care for each other. Within a second, we were making each other foods and brewing teas to keep each other from breaking down. Whispering things to each other like, “Don’t judge yourself,” “You’re doing a great thing,” “You’re learning – don’t deny yourself that education”, and quickly holding each other’s hands as the nurse’s backs were turned and then staying up with each other despite the medications we were on, knowing that if we let each other go to bed too early, the nightmares could begin — these are the basic, human things we do for each other, that keeps us alive and well, and to see it come so naturally in a place where you would least expect it – is something I believe will give me hope forever.

Tonight, I’m going to stay up and keep the light on, and listen to her breathe, and make sure to wake her up once the nightmares begin. I am happy to know, that despite being here, I still have the strength to look out for those who need me.

Like she said: “If you hold a person’s hand today, someone will always hold your hand tomorrow.”