BP D-Day

So it’s World Bipolar Day, and I guess that’s fabulous. I see lots of my friends and colleagues sharing photos of themselves with words strewn across: “I am a mother, a business women, and an avid reader. I am not my diagnosis.” It’s incredible to see so many empowered individuals owning their experience with mental illness and couching it in terms of “this is something I live with, but it is not who I am.

I really admire that. I’m just not sure I’m there yet.

Certainly, I agree that I am not my illness, but I struggle to cast it off merely as a condition of living, like the flu or a bad back. Bipolar disorder is part of my identity, and I don’t make apologies for that. I am who I am, in part, because of the personality quirks and general weirdness that BPD has imbued me with — and when I consider it objectively, I really like myself. It would then be a terrible hypocrisy to hate on my diagnosis.

That being said, it’s not always positive. It’s not always endearing to be a hermit. It’s not always funny to lose my temper at the drop of a hat. Sure, those things often make for fun stories after the fact, but day-to-day, I wear my illness like a shroud: it colors my vision of the world and marks up my skin. Literally.

IMG_3916It is an amazing triumph to say that I have been able to grow my fingernails out past the quick, even if my cuticles continue to be ragged. I am proud of the fact that despite (or perhaps because of?) my illness, I am able to devote myself to truly fulfilling work. Still, I am constantly aware that burn-out is a tangible possibility, and I often worry that I’ve taken on too much.

IMG_3919If I were to create an image similar to one of my friends, to express my success in spite of my illness, I guess that would be it. I mean, I have enough titles and talents to take up FOUR business cards! Goodness! But I feel that to do so would be disingenuous. I’m not who or what I am in spite of anything. I just am.

Perhaps I would feel better about #bipolarpride than “I am not my illness.” Bipolar is just a small part of who I am, and gosh darn it, people like me! (Myself included… most days.)

Some days

One year, my brother sent our mom a birthday card that really made her smile. It wasn’t one of those Hallmark deals with corny poetry and glitter — it was just a cheap little card. It had a photo on the front of a little boy sitting on the steps outside of his school, with his lunchbox beside him and his head on his lap, as if he were crying. Inside the card it said: “Some days, I still just want my mommy.” I think she loved it because she loved feeling wanted.

I think about that card a lot, particularly the sentiment printed inside: I just want my mommy. That thought wandered into my head the other night, as it often does, when I suddenly realized the date. March 8th. March 8th, the absolute worst day that ever was, ever.

In the seven years that have passed since she died, I have never gotten into the habit of honoring the anniversary of her death. March 8th is not the day I choose to remember her. It isn’t the same as those birthdays, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. Or any of the other happy occasions that bring her to mind and make me wish she were with us. The anniversary of her passing is a black mark, a day that got knocked off the calendar in sheer repulsion. A day too sad to commit to memory.

A pattern has emerged in the last few years. The anniversary goes by without my paying any mind — no more than usual, that is, because I think of her every day — but I don’t think about holding her hand in the hospital bed, listening through the night as she struggled for breath and the morphine slowly stole her life away. I elect to avoid that place whenever possible. It is as if I am walking down memory lane, the branches pulled aside to clear the path ahead. The coast is clear and then smack! One of the thin, springy branches snaps back and whips me in the face. I often feel guilty for having forgotten: I mean, here I am years later, still locked in a prison of grief. Should I not have kept count of all the awful days that have gone by and how many times I have needed her? I am forever affected by her death, but somehow, I sometimes forget that she died.

When the realization hits me, I count on my fingers — how long has it been? Seven years? Seven. Years. How it that possible? How I am still walking around with this hole in my gut, like the umbilicus that once tied me to her never healed? But then, maybe it didn’t. What is the shelf life of a mother-daughter relationship after the mother is dead and gone? At what point do I cease to be hers?

When shall I no longer wish to curl up beside her warm, soft body, my head in lap as she strokes my hair? When does a child no longer want or need their mother? I can’t fathom it, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to let go, because she was mine and I was hers and whatever wrong she did — and there were wrongs — and whatever I took for granted — and I did so, regretfully — she is mine. And I am hers: a mournful child crying on the front stoop, waiting for my mommy to pick me up and make me feel good again.

Separation Anxiety

I have been blessed with a child who is flexible, pleasant, and joyful. She is also loud, opinionated, and relentless. So when Moira’s godmother and godfather offered to take her for the whole weekend to allow me some much-needed rest, I leapt at the chance, particularly when they offered to watch her over this weekend, as I have just had my last two wisdom teeth pulled and I fully intend to spend the next few days hopped-up on painkillers, eating Jello, and watching bad TV. Hey, you recover your way, and I’ll recover mine.

Jello: It's what's for dinner.
Jello: It’s what’s for dinner.

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this weekend in equal measure. First of all, I’m not a real big fan of having teeth pulled. It’s painful and uncomfortable and it prevents me from eating solid food. On the other hand, SLEEP. I get to sleep in for two whole days in a row; a decadent, delightful vegetative treat. I’m really looking forward to indulging in that prolonged unconsciousness. On the other-other hand, though, I’m going to miss my baby. Since the day she was born and was whisked away to the NICU for the night, I’ve always been anxious when we are apart. So far, she has only ever spent isolated nights away at her grandparents’ houses and I have always rushed to pick her up the next day. When I’m home without her, I am at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. What do I do when I’m not acting as Mommy? While I’m anxious and troubled, however, Moira has proven to be as carefree and cheery as ever. I’ve never received a call in the night from a sleep-deprived Nani or Grampy with a screaming infant in the background. No desperate pleading for tips to get her to eat, or ways to decrease her crying — because she doesn’t cry. She is blissfully unperturbed. As always, my darling girl is too busy loving life to feel anything but elation.

Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.
Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.

This has confirmed something that I have always secretly believed about becoming a parent: by some miracle, there are times when neurotic, emotional people have kids and witness these children turn out far better adjusted than the parents have any hope to be. Hallelujah! Honestly, I consider it a triumph: so far in my daughter’s 16 months of life, I have not managed to imbue her with any of my anxieties or neuroses. She doesn’t have any trouble sleeping over at her Auntie’s house because she is loved and secure. My daughter has no worries. Score ONE for Mommy! I’m not sure how long this will last, of course. Right now, she is fairly unaware of my struggles and idiosyncrasies, but that will not always be the case. I will have to continue to monitor myself and wage my personal war in private if I am to avoid exposing Moira to my various insecurities. I know from experience how important this is — I see in myself so many of the same feelings and manifestations of self-loathing that my own mother had. That is not the legacy I want Moira to grow into. My mission in life will be to preserve my little girl’s outlook (sunshine and rainbows included), so that the only one who has to suffer separation anxiety — or any other sadness — is me.