Friday, November 21, 2008

Well of Rage!! [or, Bipolar Lite]

Most of the people who know me know that I'm kind of an asshole sometimes. Or maybe just a son of a bitch. So, yeah, more than sometimes. Hear ye the story of The Well of Rage:

I was a frustrated, mouthy toddler. My first spanking was for spitting at my nanny in Burundi when I was about 3 or 4. In elementary school I vacillated between jubilant (to the point of off-putting) acting out, wiggly restlessness and smoldering resentment. I started fires (only little ones). I lied so much my parents had the preacher come over one night to talk with me. I stole. I backtalked so much that I wanted to slap me. Ditto my teenage years, except I was in boarding school for a lot of it and gave my dorm parents bucketloads of shit, instead of my parents. One dorm mom actually wept and asked if I was trying to ruin her life. I was angry, angry, angry, but more apt to lash out at authority figures than the classmates who angered me. I would go to the student center and fling myself around, laughing too loud, talking too much, and then escape, suddenly, to the rugby field to walk under the moon and cry for loneliness. I'm not telling any of this with pride, mind you, but sadness, both at the destruction I wrought and for the poor kid who, it turns out, was being pulled apart by emotions she couldn't control. All my life.

My adult life was similar, though I learned a few things in college about 1. keeping outbursts to a minimum, and 2. figuring out how to keep people from fucking with me. Not great lessons, I realize, but I was surviving. My friends liked me because I could always be counted on to tell the truth, no matter how harsh it was (poor things. I was hardly ever telling the truth, so much as finding weaknesses in people I didn't like and parading them around to make people laugh), I was funny (part of how to keep people from fucking with me), and you never knew what I'd do. Like the time I splooshed James' favorite cream-colored cable sweater with a full glass of grape juice. I hurt a lot of people in college. By the time MY time was up there, it was starting to come back to me from people who had figured out that my bark...etc.

Ramon helped a lot. He calmed me down. His total disregard for what people thought of him rubbed off on me. When I went from weeping my eyes raw to staring at the wall, scraping the back of my hand bloody with my fingernails (it was the only way to keep from screaming), he'd lay me on the couch in his dorm room, cover me with a blanket, and put on a movie. He gave me hope that someday I'd be OK, not an asshole, not a lugubrious, clingy, moody, melodramatic bitch.

He also took a lot. A lot. We've been together for 14 years, counting friendship and dating, and married (i.e. living together) for 10. All that time he has allied himself with a woman who is loving and devoted, yes, and very giving of her love and devotion. But also all the things listed above and prone to lashing out at the nearest body when irritated, confused, or proven wrong on some topic or another. For 13 years. He took it all in and only rarely fought back. Things started improving somewhat when I convinced him that standing up to me was the only way he and I would ever survive. I knew even then that I was not in control of my anger. I thought it had swelled to such proportions because of my childhood, those darn dorm parents and teachers (truly, for every angel there were two horrific ones), the church (still in the running for What Made Me Maddest of All). Kids that thought I was weird in school. Kids that messed with my little brother. Who knows what all. The usual list of grievances everyone has.

[note: I want to break in here and say that I had many good days in between "episodes". This all sounds very dire, but Ramon and I lived in sweetness and communion for much of our marriage, or it would surely have fallen apart before the 10-year mark. Ramon's wonderfully patient, but he's no masochist and he knows his own worth.]

I tried therapy. One cognitive therapist heard my Well of Rage theory and told me that it was a Well of Fear capped with anger. She proceeded to try to talk me out of it. That went well. I'm not pissing on cognitive therapy here, just her. She made me feel like shit - guilty for not trying hard enough to transcend myself. And oh, how I wanted to. To be free from the anger and torment and hate.

Friends of mine were diagnosed with this and that - mostly depression - and kindly, hesitantly asked me to see about it myself. I didn't think I was depressed. Doesn't that mean you're blue all the time, can't get out of bed, sleep too much, etc.? I wasn't any of those things. I was just kind of there - a bit blue - all the time with a couple of rage thingys a week and maybe one bout of inexplicable glee thrown in there for a bit of color.

I tried therapy again, this time with a wonderful, saintly woman (except she swears. I made damned sure on our first meeting) named Merrill. Merrill is compassionate, funny, earthy, giving, loving and smart as hell. She proceeded to untangle the knot of some family dynamics shit in a couple of sessions. I'm not kidding. She freed me from inappropriate emotional responses to typical family interactions (I'm being cryptic here. My parentals read this blog. Maybe I should curtail the cussing...). Then one time I was telling her the sad tale of how, in college, I loved singing - loveloveloved it, but could NOT make myself practice. Could not. No, not because I was lazy, I swear. She suggested I might be ADD and referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner (like psychiatrists, they can prescribe meds). I spent 1/2 hour with this new lady and she gave me her theory. She thought I was bipolar and prescribed lithium.

This was not good news. I thought ADD was glamorous and kind of tragic - plus it answered a lot of questions about my life. Bipolar disorder is...well, you know when you're having a conversation with someone about someone in THEIR life who's a crazy-ass butthead and making things miserable for everybody? And then they say, casually, "Oh, and they're bipolar and off their meds" and everybody goes, "Ohhhh" and shakes their heads? Like this person is still a crazy-ass butthead AND off the deep end to boot. And it's still OK to scorn them because THEY'RE off their MEDS! That's the first thing I thought of when she told me I was bipolar. Bipolar 2, by the way. Bipolar 1 is your basic depression-mania thing where you're either unable to get out of bed or you're shouting that you can fly and jumping over the rail at Macy's. Basically. BP 1 peeps, correct me if I'm wrong. BP 2 is like bipolar lite. I've got a low-grade depression on pretty much most of the time, punctuated with hypo-manic (i.e., less than properly manic) episodes of either total rage or more of that tasty inexplicable cheer. I never know which one will rear its head. But I'm highly functional; steady job, friends, marriage, my houseplants don't die (much), etc.

Fine. Bipolar 2. Fine fine fine. I still thought it was a shameful and unglamorous disorder, but there it was. It just explained way too much. I eased into the full dosage of lithium very slowly (I told the nurse practitioner, Donna, that if I gained even one pound, or if my sex drive went anywhere but up, I was out), and for a while didn't feel anything. Any change. Wait - I didn't feel anything!! I was a sedated zombie lab rat! I'd be one of those faceless losers who wore beige a lot and never laughed at jokes. Or, OR, a 300-pound slug with no emotions at all who camped in front of the TV watching her stories all day! Or both!! Wait, wait. I still talked and laughed a lot. I still missed Ramon all day and hugged him long when we got home. I still felt joy and anger and irritation. But the emotion would appear in me and then...just...go away again. Even the anger and irritation. It would flash red for a moment in the blackness of my brain (I always picture my brain's interior as black - like the night sky, or a chalkboard always ready for the writing) and then slide away again. Amazing. Sometimes it would escape even before I had a chance to express the emotion at all. My eyes stopped filling with tears every time I felt happiness or a connection to someone (it sounds cute, doesn't it? But it's really embarrassing and kind of a pain in the ass. I still do it, but less often). I was feeling everything I always feel, but I could control it! Let me repeat, especially to any of you who've felt the sting of my anger: I can control it. I can count to ten. I can change the subject. I can pick my battles. I CAN. [YES WE CAN! I'll blog about that later.] Mostly. I've still shot off some emails at work I had to apologize for. Ramon and I have gotten into about 3 or 4 fights since June, which is when I went on the medication. Instead of, you know, 2 or 3 episodes of screaming goodness per week. And there's been zero shouting. I've been like a starving person at a 100-course meal, tasting every emotion EVER and being able to feel it, sometimes really deeply, without being overwhelmed by it. I'll tell you, even feeling joy without control is hard on you, especially when you're around people.

That's about it, really. It hasn't been that long since I was diagnosed and treated. Do I like being one of the Mighty American Medicated? No. Not so much. We're kind of vilified in the media, aren't we? Am I still embarrassed about being bipolar? Nah. Why would I be? I'M bipolar, and I like me just fine. I liked me before I was treated. I've got people around me that I love who have it. Besides, I'm so overwhemed with relief almost all the time that it's hard to find time to be unhappy that I might be the crazy butthead that's ruining everyones' lives. No way. I'm becoming what I always wanted to be, more than anything: affable and good-natured. And still talkative, a bit fiery, opinionated, funny-ish and prone to laughter. I've apologized maybe a thousand times to Ramon for the hell I put him through and he just smiles seraphically - you can SEE him forgetting the past, I swear it - and says he enjoys saying what he wishes to say to me without fear, good man. I'm not so exhausted anymore, reining in my behavior, that I can't try new things and work toward a goal. Like with yoga and the whole fitness thing. Or maybe [claps hands to mouth] MUSIC.

I never knew the meaning of blessed until I started taking three capsules of mineral salts per night. I'm free. I'm fucking free. I'm FREE WITH THE FREE FREEDOM!!!

Thank you, sincerely, to all of you who have stayed by my side while I was still a prickly hoo-ha. I love you so. I'm so sorry.