We expected eight people, an intimate circle of souls listening to our bipolar story and sharing their own, at our forum on living with bipolar disorder. After spending years hearing people tell us our lives would be easier if we separated, safer for our children and more honest to our hearts, we were determined to hold hands together in front of a crowd, no matter how small, and declare that there is a way to live through the worst of bipolar symptoms and come out on the other side committed to marriage.
In truth I almost pulled the plug on our presentation Saturday night. Dave started behaving manic on Friday, gradually getting worse on Saturday. When we were going over the outline of our presentation he was a level 4 on a 10 point mania scale. I told him point-blank I would rather disappoint thousands of people than invite his mania to the level where we need intervention. He promised he was fine, that he could hold it together.
Over fifty people showed up to our forum, far exceeding how many people we expected. People visiting friends from out-of-town, people who do not attend our church but heard of our talk, and many, many people from our Unitarian Universalist family gathered together in our small fellowship hall to hear our words. You could have heard a pin drop, except for the weeping.
After we settled into our seats I began the presentation by saying that if someone tells their family and friends that their spouse has cancer they are flooded with casseroles and hand holding. When they say their spouse was committed to a psychiatric facility they are flooded with offers of u-hauls and basement couches. Both responses come from the same place of love, but there is a huge lack of compassion and understanding in mental illness that hurts families and drives people into silence.
Dave did amazingly well in his speech. He was very thoughtful and held himself together using dry humor pointed squarely at himself. He poignantly said that it is easier to tell his story that way, keeping it light. His emotions boiled over three times, all when expressing his love and gratitude for the people who kept him around even when his mental illness overshadowed the real him. With my parents in the audience he publicly acknowledged their role in getting us through his breakdown and hospitalization. Mental illness sucks in that one of the symptoms can be acting like an asshole to the people who love you most and love you best. Dave cried yesterday as he told everyone that the worst part of this illness is getting back to normal and remembering what he did to the people he loves, to me, my parents, his parents, when he wasn’t himself. That was when I cried, too.
This week was his week to lead the presentation; I only interjected with my perception of his total break from reality. I have never told my side publicly before. I sobbed as I admitted that I left him at the hospital, making the choice to go home and care for my child instead of staying at the hospital and caring for him. I only had enough strength to keep one of them alive, and I chose our 6 week old daughter. Next week I will walk everyone through our journey of finding love and joy in each other again. I will offer our family’s solutions in the hopes that they might work for someone else.
50 people came to our program about mental illness. At least 40 came to us afterward and told us their story. Many older people began shedding the weight of stories that may have rested heavily on their hearts for years, growing weightier with their silence. A father and son spoke to Dave about their brand new journey, a new diagnosis at age 16, looking for hope and finding it in our words.
We were scared. We almost walked away. But in our willingness to stand up, open up and be honest I feel as if we started a new web of connection. Each of these people will be a little less afraid to speak of mental illness today. They might hold a hand instead of offering a premature condemnation. They might reach out to someone in a way that gives them enough hope to seek help instead of self harm.
Today? Dave Woke up happy. We had a literal tempest last night, our power has been out for over 12 hours with debris everywhere, and my husband who is usually so quick to jump the scale with weather-related fears was singing songs. Stigma is heavy—I guess his self-recrimination was far heavier.
New visitors, welcome! If you are interested in reading other posts on bipolar please look below this post and to the left, there will be a bipolar live link that will bring up a list of all posts on bipolar I have written for this blog.