Thursday, November 29, 2007

How I became invisible

In late 2006, after two years of struggling to get my medication-resistant bipolar disorder under control, rapid cycling and all, I thought I had been through every humiliating aspect of the illness. It is a humiliating illness, and anyone who tells you otherwise either has no connection to the real world or lives in such isolation and insulation that they haven’t really had the opportunity to be exposed to Life as We Know It.

There’s a shitload of stigma attached to Bipolar Disorder. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there, and a lot of misunderstanding about what the disorder is and is not, as well as flat-out disdain from those who believe it’s somehow willful or a matter of self-control. I watch my mouth, I lie abundantly, and I do everything possible to never, ever let on what my diagnosis is or to reveal when I’m having symptoms. It is exhausting, this living two lives in a simultaneous overlay.

When the fall of 1996 rolled around, I was depleted. Depleted of courage, depleted of fight, depleted of energy, depleted of dignity, and above all, depleted financially. Everything was a fight—the medication regimen, the day-to-day management of symptoms that just wouldn’t go away, the inability to sleep, the lithium-induced brain fog, the loneliness, the money.

The good news was that I had been put on EMSAM and it was working. The bad news was that I couldn’t afford it, and insurance wasn’t yet ready to pony up. In the first 18 months of my illness, I paid close to $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses (not all BP-related). I had no money, no cushion. I paid for bills using credit cards, and although I was trying incredibly hard to dig myself out of a very deep hole, it seemed like I just kept getting slammed again and again with something new.

But I tried. “Try” was my signature, although most attempts at doing anything seemed to backfire. I just wanted to fix it—all of it—but I couldn’t seem to catch a break. I went to see Consumer Credit Counseling, but they told me they only work with three of my creditors, and I would do better just calling the companies myself and trying to negotiate a more manageable payment schedule. Yeah, that really works. Ha! Credit card companies take an evil glee in fucking over people who are genuinely trying to get out of debt. It’s sick and frankly, I think it should be illegal. It’s predatory and steeped in greed.

It breeds resentment and frustration. These are not feelings I manage well when I am cycling through the Bipolar Wheel. Although I can be calm, controlled and level-headed in crisis, when I am tired, sad, and depleted, there is no mechanism in my brain that can properly process resentment and frustration. There is no coping skill big enough to corral these emotions, and they are the very ones—along with anger—that get me in trouble again and again. I can see it happening, like an out-of-body experience. It is painful to watch and worse to experience. I become powerless in the face of my own irrational behavior and that makes me feel even worse.

At Thanksgiving last year, my mother came to stay for the week. She lives far away, so visits are never short. My mother is difficult even under the best of circumstances. Pile on not feeling well, being stressed out and broke, and running interference between my mother and my husband, and the whole holiday left me feeling drained and short-tempered.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, November 27, I came home from a very bad day at work. I had a huge presentation to do the next day, but I felt overwhelmed by the prospect. If I could just tweak the PowerPoint. If I could just focus and feel more comfortable in front of people. I just needed to work out the slide order and the timing.

My husband came home and before taking the dog out for a walk, asked if I was going to try and call any of the credit card companies. I told him I didn’t want to—I wasn’t in the mood. In retrospect, I should have followed my feelings on that one.

I’ll stop here for now and continue in a later post. I need to catch my breath.

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