Monday, May 30, 2011

Defenders of Sanity

Last night, the discussion topic at AA was loneliness. A meaningful coincidence, considering the fact that my husband has been overseas for the past few weeks shuttling college students around Greece on a study-abroad trip, a trip I used to co-teach when I was gainfully employed as a stable, useful, necessary, and needed college professor. Now, when my husband posts pictures of himself posed with giddy students grouped in front of the ancient monuments at Delphi or happily semi-soused at tavernas, the table littered with miniature ouzo glasses and the dessicated carcasses of roasted fish, plates littered with olive pits and remnants of tzaziki, and I am no longer in those photos? I feel lonely, like I’ve lost some essential part of myself, like there was once this functioning, respectable, sort-of-happy Kerry and now, she is gone for good. I almost believe if I were to flip through those old photos from those previous trips, the only trace of me would be some ghostly shadow hovering in the corners of the negatives. No evidence that really, truly I was once there.

A few days ago, a friend and I were strolling through an old cemetery in town and she told me a story related to her by our town’s historian: a woman from the 19th century was unexpectedly widowed during her pregnancy with twins. Her husband wandered off into the woods and never returned. Suicide was speculated, but he was never found. When her children were born, she named them Loneliness and Desolation. I kid you not. What a burden to pass on. But sometimes this is the exact burden I have passed on to my own children. Loneliness and desolation. After all, these two states are the conjoined twins of Bipolar disorder, and are the damages that lay claim to those who lay in its path.

Take my daughter Sophia. In my most recent several months absence, her father and I thought it best that she receive some counseling. After all, she must be feeling some inner turmoil connected to my sudden leaving, connected to the upending of her life once again due to my illness. This past week I went with her to her therapy appointment; her therapist told me that while Sophia seems remarkably resilient, she also tends to hide her emotions, her pain, that she is able to deflect it and buries herself in books and her imagination. Exactly what I do. And then there’s Sophia’s verbalized loneliness connected to her friends, or lack there of, these days. She’s almost nine, at an age where most of the girls in her class have Bieber fever, are beginning to become pre-teen lobotomized, obsessed with bling and glitter, the catty whispers and the spiteful pushing and shoving up the nascent social ladder. Sophia is a girl obsessed with dragons and her pet lizard, Bomb, and barely sits still long enough for me to run a brush through her hair.

So when I suggested she could invite a friend over for a playdate the other day, she said, sadly, “I don’t really have any friends. No one wants to play with me. No one else believes in dragons. They just all tease me. I don’t have a true best friend.”
A fist in the gut. All I could do was hug her. Tell her she was perfect as is. Tell her that her imagination was amazing. That she was loved. Tell her that it took me a long time to find my best friend because I was wacky, too. But when I found her, my friend Erin, in 6th grade, we’ve been best friends ever since. That a best friend is worth waiting for.
Of course, I didn’t tell her about the desperate loneliness in between the wait. How, in fourth grade, because of that loneliness and desolation, I downed a bottle of Flintstone vitamins in hopes of ending that pain.

And then there’s this return to Greece in two weeks. The last time I was there, I was at the absolute bottom of the well. Drinking and purging and starving and so out-of-my-mind lonely and desolate that within a week of returning to the States, I deliberately overdosed on my meds and woke up (at the time, unfortunately) in the ICU. I was talking to my psychiatrist about this the other day, about my fear of my suicidal impulsivity. How this scene keeps replaying in my head: Christopher, the kids, and I are driving back down a mountainous cliff after some party at a church at the tippy-top of said mountain. In Greece, the roads wind perilously close to the cliff edges, no guard rails, just lucky restraint and care and sobriety keep you on the road. Except when they don’t. All along these roads, are little shrines built by family members to honor the dead (those who drove their cars or motorcycles over the cliffs and died) or the almost dead (those who almost drove their cars or motorcycles over the cliffs and managed to walk away). On this night, the kids were soundly asleep in the back seat; Christopher was driving, sober; I was beside him, decidedly not, and angry and manic and depressed and enraged and arguing and threatening to hurl myself from the car and off the side of the cliff. Determined to.

When I told this to my doctor, he said, “Well, the next time you feel like this, you climb into the back seat, get in between your kids, and hold onto their hands. Remember why you need to stick around. Remember why you need to stay alive.”

Of course, the next time, God willing, I will be sober, too, but even without alcohol in the mix, I’m still feeling the manic highs and lows and suicidal impulses. So my doctor’s advice seems both sage and sane.

And, I need to remember that I did not name my children Loneliness and Desolation, but Sophia (Wisdom) and Alexander (Defender). Taken together, my children suggest that they are the defenders of my sanity. Hold their hands and I will stay away from the cliff’s edge.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Today, my therapist at my Partial Hospitalization program asked me if I can see my “soul,” the “Real Kerry” when I look in the mirror.

After cringing, perhaps too visibly, at the New Agey, It’s Three O’Clock. Do You Know Where Your Inner Child Is? (Remember those 1980’s commercials?) emphasis on the word soul, I replied, “What I see, when I look, if I look, is an assembly of parts. All of it wrong. Complete detachment. Honestly, I don’t even understand how my husband can take any pleasure in touching my body when I can’t even bear to look at it. I glance in the mirror and what is reflected back is only this loathsome thing. So a soul inhabiting that? Impossible.”

I should add that the full-length mirror in the bathroom is set directly against the cat litter box. That awful ammonia spray, those litter encrusted turds perhaps too directly analogous to my feelings for myself?

The Real Kerry? Is that the Kerry with her arms full of scars? Is that the Kerry ravaged by deliberate starvation, a bony wreck? Is that the Kerry vomiting into the toilet beside the mirror and the cat box? Is that the Kerry trying to pick the lock of the liquor cabinet with a barbecue skewer, a lock put there by her husband to keep her away from the vodka, the gin, the rum, the scotch, anything with any proof at all? Is that the Kerry zooming around on the jet fumes of mania or trying to decide whether the bottle of pills or the garden hose attached to the exhaust pipe or the noose slung around the closet rod or the car aimed at the telephone pole would be the most effective way to end the black despair?

Or is the Real Kerry the one who diligently drives herself forty-five minutes each way to the Partial program five days a week, hoping that she will finally get it, that something will finally stick? Is she the one who is optimistically packing her bags for a three week family trip to Greece, departing in a mere two and one half weeks? Is she the one who, against her dysfunctional better judgment, is actually completely honest with her psychiatrist, ratting herself out for each slip, each dangerous thought? Is she the wife and mother who tentatively imagines herself, dares to project herself into the future alongside her family?

I don’t know. All I know is that I hate mirrors. Have always hated them. Even as a little kid. I would look in them and pick myself apart, zeroing in on the flaws, on the parts of me that were not right, that weren’t perfect, that were ugly, too skinny, too flat, too blemished, too much Kerry and not enough…Better. More Acceptable. More Beautiful. More Lovable. Enough. All I could see against that cold, reflective surface was Never Enough. No surprise that even now, my husband can find me in front of the mirror over the bathroom sink, not transfixed by my own beauty, but picking apart my face, picking and picking and picking until I bleed. Reality check: I am almost 39 years old. I do not have almost-pre-menopausal acne. I am seeking out the tiniest bump, the miniscule blemish, the almost imperceptible imperfection and picking at it, magnifying it, making damn sure that I am as ugly as I feel.

But then, yesterday. I walked into the bathroom to my daughter perched on the sink, her face pressed close to the mirror, her mouth open in a wide grimace.

“Momma,” she said, “How do I get my teeth as white as yours? My teeth aren’t white enough.”

“Oh my god, Sophia,” I said. “Your teeth are completely white!” And it was the truth. They are white. Not blinding white, not bleach-product white, but natural white, the white of a kid who has good dental hygiene, who hasn’t smoked cartons of cigarettes, or guzzled gallons of coffee or wine.

“No, Momma. They’re not white like yours.”

Fuck, I thought. This is how it starts. The picking, then the picking apart. Teeth then stomach then thighs then ass then breasts then then then then…

“Oh sweetheart, that’s crazy.” I leaned down, and smiled beside her. Smile beside smile. “See? Same same.” Then I turned her away from the mirror and planted a kiss on her lips. “You are perfect and perfectly beautiful and crazy to think anything different.”

Which may mean, by force of logic, that Momma may be crazy, too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

Once again, Momma went mad. Hence, the long, silent absence. An almost two month stint, inpatient, at a residential program in Arizona. Dual diagnosis, designed to tackle both the Eating Disorder and the Bipolar Disorder. What I wasn’t expecting (or perhaps I should rephrase: what I wasn’t ready to admit) was that I would emerge as a Triple Diagnosis: now add Alcoholism to my list of what officially ails me.
I have to say, it is a relief to give up drinking, and liberating, too, to acknowledge the problem alcohol has played in this continuing downward tumble.

I mean, I was never an every-day-drunk, never an in the gutter, hands clutching the rot-gut handle of no-name vodka, never slumped against the dumpster, vomit dribbling down my chin. Never that, no (but sometimes close, at least, the decorous, middle-class, educated version). But certainly, I drank too, too much, and too, too often. And certainly, my drinking created problems between my husband and me, and created problems in my ability to be a good mom, and made the depression and mood instability worse. And when drunk, my cutting and purging were out-of-control. Venomous rages? Check. The occasional blackout? Check. Impulsive attempts at suicide? Check.

So. Booze be gone. Since I’ve returned home from Arizona, I’ve been going to AA meetings as often as possible, which are helping me to stay afloat because those unstable moods, the bleak, black depression have both returned. And AA’s message of hope and courage and perseverance keeps me from doing really stupid, stupid things. The big time stupid things (I still, yes, I admit, engage in the small time stupid things but I hope to learn better with time).

So yes, once again, I have to remind myself to be grateful to have made it home from yet another stint of rehab, grateful that doctors and family alike saw the grim signs of desperation, saw that I was once again teetering on the edge, knew not to take me at my dishonest, completely fucked-up word and didn’t give me any other real choice. I believe my husband said, “Either you go inpatient or you can’t come home.” So I went.

I went, got better-er, and am home. Again. Listening to my kids run riot in the backyard, playing some version of “I’ll poke your eye out with a sharpened stick-Not if I throw a handful of mulch in your eye first.” Am a few weeks away from the first real family vacation in three years: three weeks in Greece on the teeny, tiny island of Serifos. (Not without its attendant anxieties, but more on that later). But victory, nonetheless. I am actually in a place where transcontinental travel is possible: doctors and husband alike believe I’m a safe bet.

I’m traveling five days a week to a Partial Hospitalization Program run by my Psychiatrist that helps with stabilizing moods and gaining coping skills. Generally stuff I’ve learned before, but of course, I’m the expert at forgetting what could help me—what could actually make a difference in recovery. And then there’s also the benefit of being surrounded by people struggling with similar difficulties; I no longer feel like the absolute craziest person in the entire room. State. Country. Hemisphere.

I’m trying my best to follow the mealplan assigned by my treatment program, a plan meant to keep my body nutritionally sound, and my mind balanced. But it is hard. Damned hard. I look in the mirror and see all the weight I gained while away and am honestly repulsed. Can only see excess. Which is, of course, the perfect container for how I feel about all of me: Excessive. Excessive body. Excessive reactions. Excessive emotions. Excessive anger. Excessive mood swings. Excessive neediness. Excessive inexplicable pain.

But IT’s voice seems quieter, today anyway. Perhaps a result of the new meds I’m on: a new mood stabilizer which has made a significant difference in the diabolical see-saw. Quieter but not gone. As they say in AA, it’s progress not perfection I’m after.