Hoop Dreams and semicoherent ramblings

An ideal caregiver, simplified, and then possibly over-complicated, by me. 

After lengthy conversations with numerous people of varied backgrounds and levels of mental illness exposure, I have compiled a composite sketch of the ideal caregiver. Some points may seem contradictory, but the illness I suffer from is one giant contradiction. So bear with me, and feel free to comment with agreements, arguments, and amendments. 
My ideal caregiver…
– May not understand, but takes the time to educate themselves, and uses that knowledge to respond and react appropriately
– Asks open-ended questions about me specifically, that are more specific than asking if I’m ok
– Isn’t easily exhausted. 
– Understands that I don’t do it on purpose, that it doesn’t go away, and that I can’t always control it 
– Believes me when I say that my thoughts, feelings, and behaviours have nothing to do with them or any of my loved ones
– Doesn’t shame me or make me feel guilty/afraid to express what I’m truly feeling; no matter how upsetting or shocking hearing it may be
– Embraces the good days, and doesn’t melt down on the bad days
– Respects that I feed off of the energy of those surrounding me; if you’re grumpy, I’m grumpy
– Accepts that I am not always the bad guy, but calls me out when I am
– Apologises when they are in the wrong, doesn’t twist it into how I’ve created a negative atmosphere
– Self deprecation is common in people like me. You don’t have to like it, but a certain amount is always going to be there. The negative nelly in my brain makes sure of that. If it gets out of hand, talk to me – don’t shame me
– Knows that they didn’t cause my illness and neither did I
– Admits if they can’t handle the huge undertaking that is being a caregiver of mine. There is no shame in knowing and accepting your limits
– Doesn’t hide their feelings for fear of triggering mine. I’m a big girl, I know how to listen and be respectful 
– Isn’t condescending to me during panic attacks, down swings, or periods of mania
– Asks what I need, doesn’t tell me; and reacts and responds accordingly
– Loves me for me, because of all of my weird quirks, insecurities, and downright crazy attitudes, because I am worth loving, and I deserve to be loved without having to change to fit who others think I should be. 
This is a very simple list that I feel applies to any human being, because when it comes down to it, that’s all I am – a human being. I am flawed, as are you, and everyone we’ve ever known. Flaws can be beautiful if the people living inside of them are nurtured and cared for, feel safe and loved. Stop defining human beings by the flaws that make them unique, and start loving the whole person. 
Being someone with a flaw that has a name doesn’t make us bad people, being judgemental, ignorant, and impatient is what bad people are made of. 
I am the most critical of myself, and I often project my opinions of myself onto others. I try to remind myself that everyone is entitled to form their own opinion, and it’s not right for me to assume how they feel about me. It’s a cycle: I assume the worst, negative energy is created, the other party reacts negatively and/or I lash out, and assume that they have a poor opinion of me. Rinse, repeat. I try hard to avoid these situations, but I am often affected by social cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Tone of voice, how your eyes move, where your hands are when you speak; all things that my brain converts into either ‘good vibes’ or bad ones. My most used phrase (admittedly not first spoken by me) is, “impact, not intent“. If you are a caregiver or close friend with someone who is living with mental illness, this is really a mantra that you should take to heart. Let’s say that while we’re talking you roll your eyes at something I’ve said. (Assuming that we’re talking about more than just sports or the weather) even though you may not even notice that you’ve rolled them, I did. I am analysing, conjuring all of the negative thoughts that I think you’re having about me and what I’m talking about. The impact of what you say and how you respond to people can have a major effect on their mental well-being. 
I’m not saying that you should find out the life story of every passersby before looking or speaking to them, but I am saying that you need to know your intimate audience. Just as I can’t assume that you don’t like me, you can’t assume that you’re close relations can’t or won’t be affected by some of the things that you say. 
Educate yourselves! Embrace your loved ones! And most importantly, be comfortable enough in your own skin that you don’t have to scratch the freckles off of mine. I have accepted who I am and what I live with, if you can do the same, we can all care for each other. 

Bipolar in public: conclusion

I had an excellent week. 

The first few days, as you know, I felt a little bit out of control. After I had made the commitment to myself to do better, I did! I still spent too much, but I feel like it wasn’t as frivolous as it could have been. Without boring you with too many nerdy details, I would like to highlight a few of the things that I learned about myself while I was away. 

1. I can handle the masses. I was 1 of 102,000 people navigating the stampede grounds, and I survived! I paced myself, I took frequent fresh air breaks, and I knew when I had had enough each day. T’s patience with me was indefatigable, and as always I feel indebted to him for his constant kindness. Being my caregiver on these trips can’t be easy, I hope he can feel how genuinely grateful I am. 

2. I am sometimes guilty of underestimating my own value at home. Arranging babysitters, writing lists, prepping bags, getting to school on time, all things that I never considered to be a lot of work until I left it in the hands of others. It’s easy to lose perspective on what we do in our own homes, but realizing how many people it took to do the things that I do regularly was a big eye-owner. (Not saying that my family falls apart without me, just recognising that I’m not always as useless as I think I am!)

3. I need open conversation about mental illness. While out for supper with D we had a very candid conversation that I didn’t know I needed. D asked questions that were more personal; about how I feel during situations. I have never been asked what a mixed state is, or how it feels. Having someone ask something other than “are you ok,” was refreshing – and answering was cathartic and liberating. It rarely occurs to caregivers that we are just as confused as they are. I better than anyone know how hard I am to deal with, and trust me when I say that I get tired of my condition infinitely faster than anyone else does. 

I left the restaurant that night feeling more in-tune with myself than I have in years. If I could have more of that with more of the people I love I would be very happy. 

4. I need away time. I am a flight risk. Having a few days away is a good reminder that I don’t want to run from my girls, I want to run from myself. Until I can run fast enough to split myself in two, I know where I’m needed. The delusional eleutheromania that I am prone to experiencing can drive me to the brink of… Extinction. I can’t run from what’s on the inside, and traveling reminds me of that. It’s always with me, no matter how far I go. That few days was all I needed. I’m happily home with the ladies I can’t live without! 

I consider myself very privileged to take part in these unique experiences as often as I do, and I was relieved this year to find out that I am coping. Every trip, every expo, every overnight in YVR is helping me prove to myself that I can be in control of myself. 

It gets easier,

It gets better,

and I am proud of the person that I was this past weekend.  Cheers to small victories and future successes. 

Bipolar in public

On Thursday, T and I arrived in Calgary for the 10th anniversary of the Fan Expo. Thursday was preview night, and while the crowds were big, there weren’t as bad as I had expected. Friday was much busier, and I forgot to pack my medication in my day bag. I did well, but I was starting to feel the panic and the fear as we were leaving the Q&A panel with Neil Patrick Harris. Riding the train here is easy, easier than YVR!! one less thing to stress about whilst here. 

The bipolar beast has been rearing its ugly head at every turn, spending money like Big Daddy is made of it. Thursday I lost control. Friday I complained all day about not being able to lose control. Today? Today I have a plan. 

I’m going to medicate before I leave, I’m going to take frequent fresh air breaks, and I’m going to remember that anything I buy needs to be explained. Would Big Daddy say ‘go for it!’ Or would he tell me to take a hard pass? Today I will employ him as my conscience, and I am going to make a conscious effort to keep myself in check. 

It’s hard. It’s physically taxing to battle myself, to ignore the pulsing in my head that is constantly telling me what to do. My inner monster is the definition of hedonistic, and in moments of excitement or anxiety, I have trouble saying no. 

Today will be a good day. I will have fun, I will enjoy the wonderful company of T, and I will come home with money in the bank. 

Progress update on Tuesday!

Pieces. 

Does anyone else feel like their lives are constantly on the verge of falling apart?

I have a lot of good things going on right now. Biggest kid is playing lacrosse and loving it, middle kid is coming out of her shell and enjoying her school and mates, smallest kid, is growing like a seed and developing a very sweet personality. This weekend I met William Shatner, something that I never thought would happen, and he was every bit the man I imagined him to be. Later on this month I’ll be travelling to Calgary with my brother for the Fan Expo there, and at the end of the month I have my oral surgery consultation so that I can begin the process of fixing my teeth. In the wise words of every 90’s kid, everything’s coming up Milhouse. So what exactly is my problem? 

I am constitutionally defective. No matter how much good can happen on the outside, the inside is still highlighting all of the things it feels are wrong about me. My inner monsters hate my body, but steal my energy, so I can’t find the motivation to exercise. The want is there, but the hate always wins. The inner journal of my mind is constantly stained with pools of sticky, black ink; the kind that never dries, but instead glues pages of good thoughts together so that I can’t read them. I know that they’re there, but I can’t see them without tearing the pages. 

The biggest pools of ink currently staining my mind are telling me that my supporters and loved ones are getting tired of me not ‘getting better’. One minute I’m feeling strong and wanting to talk to Big Daddy about what I’m feeling, and the next I’m worried that I’m becoming too much of a burden for him to bear. His life comes with its own stressed and worries, a lot caused by me. How much more can I put on his shoulders before he collapses? I have nightmares of waking up to him gone, the children with him. Finding out that he can no longer act as my caregiver, that I am no longer fit to be a mother. My bipolar monster telling me that they would all be better off without me. Even in dreams I cannot escape the clutches of mental illness. I awake in a cold sweat, heart racing, sometimes crying. I know that everyone is tired of hearing how tired I am, but I wake up exhausted from stress. I haven’t slept peacefully in years. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed not hating myself. 

I spend the majority of my days trying to make it seem like I’m not struggling. I can smile, I can laugh, I enjoy my children, but nothing (so far) has been able to quiet the anger and self loathing that I feel inside. Everything I do, my demons find a way to tell me I could’ve done it better, or that what I’ve done is too insignificant to matter – so I should stop trying. Run away, stop being a burden on the people I love. They don’t deserve a crazy mother, wife, daughter, friend. Why do I punish them? I rationalise how much better off we would all be. Perhaps if I left and didn’t feel the constant guilt or not being the person I should be, I would also feel better. When the rational part of me pushes those thoughts away and reminds me that I am a good mother, and that I couldn’t survive without my girls, the monsters call me a coward. It hurts, and I feel alone. No matter how hard my loved ones try, I am always alone. Alone with my manic thoughts of grandeur, my depressed thoughts of wanting to die, my rational thoughts of putting on clean clothes and trying to make it through another day. In the end, these thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all I’ll ever have, they are what I’m made of, and as hard as I try, I cannot quiet them. More often than not it is too hard to combat these feelings. I lay on the couch, distract myself with tv or my phone. My mother thinks I’m lazy. Maybe I am. I’m losing the will and the energy to fight every single minute of every single day. I make promises I can’t keep in the hopes that something will click inside of me and I will magically become the person that I’m “supposed” to be. Instead I repeatedly let people down. Why am I the only one that doesn’t function like a proper human being? 

I know that I’m not, but it’s hard not to feel that way. I am always alone. I am the only one fighting my battle, and even though they try, no one can help me. 

So here I sit, the coward on the couch. Over weight, lazy, and unwilling to be a productive member of my family. I’m sure that’s how it looks from the outside, anyway.