“What are you doing up?” My husband, Lyle, stood in the doorway, having just gotten through with his night shift. It was 2:30 a.m. and I stood at the top of the stairs, laundry basked on my hip. “Baby this ain’t normal.” I knew what he said was true, and the absurdity of the scene struck me as I laughed down at him. “I mean it. Did you ever think that it’s not normal to be up doing laundry in the middle of the night?” “No, I suppose this isn’t normal, but I have the energy, I’m not sleepy, and the kids are sleeping. I have to get things done when I can.” The wheels were turning in my head. I suppose I knew deep down that the “energy” would come to a screeching halt and I would be back in the depths of depression before too long. I always lived under the delusion that it could be the end of my depression, that things were turning around. Of course, it wasn’t true.
I would live in the glory of the light of mania for days, sleeping only a few hours each day, organizing everything, thoroughly scouring our home, doing every bit of laundry, making appointments that might not be kept when the time came, because I would then be too depressed to get out of bed. In the moments of living in that brilliant light, I didn’t question it. Sunshine was dazzling. Each detail was enhanced, the lighting of a cigarette, hearing and feeling paper catch fire as I inhaled. When I plunged into the darkness again, I would despair, staying in bed for days. I would feel a monumental failure, believing my kids didn’t deserve a messed up mom like me. I remember often praying, “Lord make me right and take me home.” I would stay in my pajamas, dressing only to go to the video store to rent movies. That was the one thing that I could do with my kids during those dark times. Maybe they wouldn’t notice how bad things were. It was summertime. We would stay inside and watch movies like “Sandlot,” “My Girl,” and “Simon Birch.” I remember being in such a state that I couldn’t stand human touch. It would surely break me to feel any tenderness or warmth from anyone. I avoided eye contact with my kids. I was so ashamed, and feared what I might read on their faces. I was being treated for depression. That was the debilitating part after all. The depression was a problem. The mania was a welcome reprieve, a time when I believed there was nothing I couldn’t do, the most amazing feeling in the world.
It took someone asking the right question for me to finally receive the help I so desperately needed. I was at Southeast Human Service center talking to an intake nurse again. I’d been here before when things became so unbearably bad that I would make the appointment and actually go. “Do you ever have good days?” She asked. “Well, yeah. I have some good days, but it’s this depression I can’t stand,” I responded, not liking where she was going with this. “What are those days like?” she probed further. “Well, I feel good. I get things done. But that’s only for a few days each month.” I was well aware of the pattern, yet still didn’t understand what that meant. “How many hours do you sleep during those days?” she wouldn’t stop focusing on what wasn’t the problem in my eyes. “I only sleep a few hours a night. But I have to get things done when I have the energy. I don’t have time for sleep when I’m feeling good,” I was becoming defensive. Just fix this depression! Then came that necessary and difficult question, “Are you ever suicidal?” I thought carefully before answering, “I pray for God to take me out of this world. I’ve also thought of running away. I could live on the streets of Minneapolis. I think, sometimes that my kids would be better off. They deserve better. I could never take my own life, though.” Her response was, “You don’t want to live on the streets of Minneapolis. You’d get beat up or worse.” What the heck kind of thing is that to say? I did picture it though, and shuddered inside. She made an appointment for me to see a psychiatrist and a referral to see a psychotherapist, explaining that it was important to have both components of psychiatry and psychotherapy in place.
During the weeks that I waited to see the psychiatrist, I deteriorated further. I didn’t have any good days. I went from deeper depression to anger and agitation. I was unable to focus my energy. I was so exhausted from this never-ending cycle that, by the time my appointment came, I was more than ready for help.
Dr. Faust was soft-spoken, kind, and listened patiently as I explained all that I had been going through. “I believe you have bipolar depression. You are describing years of highs and lows. Think of it as a pendulum swinging wider and wider each time you cycle. The highs get higher and the lows get lower. For a long time, you were experiencing euphoric mania. That’s when you felt good. Now you are experiencing dysphoric mania, the kind of mania that produces anger and agitation, and this will only get worse without treatment. I had shamefully described my last high to her. I had felt like an animal, unshowered, sleeping in my clothes. At the worst, I was walking into the grocery store. A woman looked at me, and I was sure she saw all of my shame, so I looked at her and said, “F*** off!” I told Dr. Faust about a better time when I was euphoric. I thought I had complete control of my surroundings, that I could see the molecules in the air. “The good news is there are medications that can help you. You’re going to get better.” I grabbed onto her words as a person drowning would a life-preserver.
It’s so hard to tell about that part of my life. It is a part of my life that I don’t like to think about or talk about. I even thought about skipping the most embarrassing parts, but it is a part of who I am now, whether I like it or not. I’ve come to look at who I was with more compassion than dread. If I ran into that woman now, I’m not sure I would recognize her. The road to recovery would seem long and harrowing, but it had begun.