I was diagnosed as bi-polar 2 just about 4 years ago, at a top hospital in Boston.
While I was a patient at this hospital, I was lucky enough to find a doctor that had finally found the key to unlock the mystery of my brain. I had an answer to the question I had been asking myself my whole life... the racing thoughts, the pressured energy, the negative voice in my head telling me I was worthless, the bouts of depression, finally I had an. Answer.
Unfortunately, this is neither where my story started or ended. I had been brought to that hospital several days prior with hypothermia and was basically unconscious after dipping my toes in the waters of a suicide attempt, literally and figuratively. It is more than worth mentioning that, besides being bi-polar, I also struggle with alcoholism. All I could remember about that cold April day was driving to the river, drinking a pint of vodka, leaving my car running, placing my wallet on a bench, taking my shoes off and getting in the water. After wading through the river, fully clothed, nearly fully submerged a kayaker found me and asked if I needed help. Completely disoriented and likely quite delusional , I said “no, my dad’s coming to get me”. Luckily for me that stranger could sense that something was amiss, she brought be to shore, called 911 and saved my life.
Before I got into the river my life had been on a rapid downward spiral for months: I had been served divorce papers, and had my custody compromised, and I was in the midst of erratic drinking that got God-awful after my son was born. But, truthfully, my drinking and my mental health had always been awful. I was never a “good” drinker, I had always drunk alcoholically. But I never wanted to identify with it. After my son was born it was like the train left the station never to return. It felt as though I had no control over my actions and who I was becoming.
In addition to the alcoholism, I was always battling this other “thing”, but I never knew what it was. I would be diagnosed as suffering from depression, anxiety disorder. I would be given all these medications, and nothing ever worked. The “thing” was always still there.
After my proper diagnosis in Boston, I actually got out of the hospital and used my new diagnosis as a crutch to continue my drinking. I would tell people” Don’t worry, I am not an alcoholic, I am just bi-polar”. Like that was something I could stick a Band-Aid on, and it would make it all go away.
Well, it didn’t. It has taken me about this long to identify a lot of the feelings and emotions that have come along with this experience. I have battled for custody of my child back, I have identified as an alcoholic, I am 2 years sober, and I put one foot in front of the other every single day.
A couple of interesting things have happened to me along my journey, but one simple event made such an impression on me that I want to share it with you.
After my maternity leave, I went back to work at a daycare center in Waltham MA. Right outside our windows is a pond, and in the spring, we watch families of Geese give birth to Goslings. They create these little families and we see them go about and grow up together. The children absolutely love it. When I went back to work, I was in the midst of my custody issues. I had lost everything to this. My son, my marriage, my home. But I was crippled by embarrassment and shame that during this time my time with my son was supervised, and I could not drive a car with him. The time apart is something I still struggle with today.
I understood all the decisions that were made during this time, even if I hated them and all I did was cry everywhere I could, and I respect all the people that had to make them. It could not have been easy. But it was for the safety of my son.
But it was gut-wrenching to say the least.
One day I was leaving work and I saw one Goose, all by herself limping and struggling to walk. And, I say it’s a she, because I KNEW it was the Mom. And, the Mom was alone, and she didn’t know where her family was. The area is not that big, the Gaggle of Geese always find each other. But I saw her, KNEW it was the Mom and pulled over and started crying tears I had been holding in for so long. It was the most cathartic experience to identify with this Goose. These were the feelings that I had stuffed down and hidden. I never wanted to tell anyone the shame, the guilt, the fear and the awfulness that comes from having your child taken away from you. I called the building maintenance men daily, driving them crazy, saying,” You have to go help the Mom Goose. She is lost and scared and can’t find her family and she is alone. She wants to go home”.
I kept thinking Moms shouldn’t be apart from their families; they shouldn’t miss their babies. But it happens and they do miss their babies. And, it’s hard and it’s really difficult. I find there to be a particular type of shame for moms with mental illness and recovery issues. From the time we are young woman, we are told that we can do this amazing thing with our bodies and become mothers. We will meet someone, start a family, and maybe spend weeks on vacations in the Cape. It was not like that for me. I gave birth and slowly started to lose my mind.
This Goose impacted my life so strongly that I went to AA meetings and talked about her, I went home and shared my concerns. Everybody would ask me about the Goose, and I would tell them when she was still lost and I rejoiced and took it as a sign when she was reunited with her family, just like me.
Shortly after “meeting” the Goose, I remember reading an article about a Mom that lit herself on fire in a playground after the state had taken her child away from her. She had a particular type of bi-polar, that kept getting misdiagnosed, and I understood why that women did that, I could relate to those feelings, I don’t want to say that I ever thought about lighting myself on fire, but I thought numerous times that I wasn’t strong enough and I couldn’t fight back, I might as well give up.
I have heard judgements made about behaviors or actions I have taken. I understand it. I can see how someone may not know what it was like it my shoes. But what I have taken from this experience, is I want to show people what was like in my shoes. What it is like it my shoes. I want to share that being mentally ill, or struggling with alcoholism, is just a fact that my brain works differently than some.
I have taken this experience and decided to make it my life’s passion to share my story so maybe someone won’t feel so alone. It is my job, to share that hope in life can be so amazing and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It can be a fight to stand up to negative self-talk, and hearing what people say about you. It can be so difficult every day to move past the shame and embarrassment. But it is the most rewarding experience to fight back against those feelings.
6 months after my marriage ended, I went to rehab. I came out, made it 6 months and relapsed. The fight to prove myself stable and capable was much more difficult round 2. It involved a lot more boxes to be checked and a lot more hurdles to jump. We worked with a parenting coordinator, I used a portable breathalyzer, and I sent an active and full calendar of the AA meeting I attended and weekly doctor appointments I went to. But I wanted nothing more in my life than to do this and do it well.
It is something I still want to do it today. Last May (2018) , I gained my 50-50 legal custody, and just this past January (2019), I gained 50-50 physical custody as well. My son is the most amazing, empathic, compassionate and forgiving child on this planet. He has seen things that I wish to God I could take back, but I can’t. My psychiatrist tells me that he won’t remember anything from birth to age 3, like a form of baby amnesia.
What he does remember will be stories he hears. He will probably hear stories. During this time of regaining my life back, I have been called a litany of colorful names; I have endured some bullying and false accusations made against me. These are things that I wish had never happened. The name that I was called that, at the time, brought me to my knees in tears was mentally ill Mom.
But I am a mentally ill Mom, and I am an alcoholic. These things are facts and they are okay. There are more facts about me though that are equally important, I am a good person and a fantastic mom. And I love my son more than anything on this planet.
I now have the tools, the resources, the strength and the courage to handle this, one-day at a time.
My son’s life will be a little bit different because I find bi-polar to be tricky sometimes. Things can seem loud, and I need to focus to really understand what people are saying and I over-analyze many of the decisions I make. But I study it, I learn about it and I talk about it. I go to therapy once a week, I see my psychiatrist bi-weekly and I work with a sober coach. I always want to be ahead of this disease, because on the one day I don’t get ahead, there’s no telling what could going to happen. Even after I made a serious attempt on my life, and I knew I was the luckiest person that this wonderful woman found me on a cold April day, when not many people would be out kayaking.
Life is so different now. I never really held my head up that high, and I don’t want to sound cocky, but I am pretty confident in the decisions I make today. I am closer to finishing college than I have been in my life. I just won a huge scholarship for my academic achievement and the grit and tenacity it has taken me to get here. I am a peer mentor at my college, and I talk. A lot. I juggle two jobs, school and being a Mom, being a Mom is the most important job in my life. I can say with certainty that I AM PROUD OF WHO I AM AND HOW FAR IVE COME.
I appreciate given the option to share my story so candidly. I do talk very openly on social media about my experience with recovery and mental illness. Seeing everyone and their glossy pictures with their families when I had lost mine didn’t feel very good. Because I didn’t have that. I’m sure that everything they post, and share isn’t the whole truth, nor does it paint a complete picture, but I want to share what life may be really like for someone from a different point of view.
If I do one thing well in my life, besides be a good Mom, I want to help, others, even if it’s only one other person, not feel as alone as I did. I didn’t really have anyone to identify with when this was all going on with me. My female friends in the program hadn’t had their children taken away from them; I didn’t have friends that had lost custody of their children. It was so heart breaking to go to people and say,” I don’t have custody of my son.
Whenever I speak about this, I like to put my hand on my heart. I have a small tattoo of a heart on my hand that syncs up with my heart. In an AA meeting I once heard that putting your hand on your heart allowed the person you were speaking to realize that you meant the words you were saying. I like to put it there today when I share my fears, my insecurities, my hopes and my dreams.
Today I am full of gratitude. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments I cannot find gratitude. I am still human. But, in the big picture, I thank my lucky stars all the time. There is such a huge chance I could not be alive to write this story. It isn’t even a story; it is the true tale of how I changed my life and began to recover. So many amazing people helped me and offered me the opportunity to recover and seek help. This has not been a solo job. It took support from lawyers, our parenting coordinator, my ex-husband, our families, my friends, recovery programs, and my son. It took me not seeing I was a waste of life or damaged. I was a person that needed help, guidance, and I got sick. I got really, really sick. I could change and thrive and live an amazing life sober. Sober. What a gift that is.
Daily I remember where I have been and what I have done. Remember when’s can help and remind people like myself to stay on the path that has been gifted to me. Remembering is not to live in guilt and shame, but to remind myself how different my sons life would be and how I would have altered the trajectory of so many people’s lives. Especially my son.
Today, things are good. He is so happy, his father is happy , I am happy, and our lives are going in 2 different directions but, we co-parent well and always do what is best for our son.
Every morning, I promise to my son that I will try and stay strong and BE BRAVE.
I hope by sharing this , I am showing you bravery. If anyone reading this needs it, I hope I am offering that hope because without hope and belief that change is possible there is nothing.