In 1995, I was living in Montreal, and I struggled with what I now realize was a serious bout of depression. I had battled this unexplainable need to stay sheltered in my dark bedroom for most of my graduating year in high school. But it had gone unnoticed because I was doing what most teenagers do: I was sleeping. The difference between me and other teens was that I wasn’t just staying in bed until noon – I was staying there until my family forced me to get out of bed, and since both my parents worked until five o’clock, I spent many hours isolated beneath a pink comforter, staring at the shadows on my walls. The irony is that my life has always been splashed in pink – pink furniture, pink bedding, pink paint, pink clothing –yet the inside of my head has always been smeared with darkness.
The year before my first marriage, I had once again become a recluse, literally climbing into bed from the moment I returned from my job to the moment I had to wake the next morning to return. I was starving myself and abusing laxatives. My weight was at its lowest point; my face thin and my eyes sunken. And when I found the strength to leave my apartment to socialize with friends, promiscuity was my companion; the fingers of strangers on my body an unhealthy reminder that I was indeed still living. I had never been diagnosed as having depression or any sort of mental illness.
Near the end of 1995, I met a man, a soldier in the Canadian army, deploying overseas. We barely knew each other, yet when he asked me to marry him while I was visiting him during one of his furloughs, I gladly accepted. Because mania does that: it tells you everything is fun and “You should totally do that!”
I was planning a wedding for the second time. The first time I had left my fiancé two weeks before the wedding, but this time I was determined to commit. And I did. Less than two weeks after his return from his deployment, we were pronounced husband and wife. That’s always how I had and still live my life – making decisions so quickly my mind wouldn’t have time to become muddled with life’s tedious details and my disordered thinking.
Honestly, the first few years of my marriage were the most stable I had had in several years. I had two children 20 months apart. My incessant need to remain thin had me loading them in a double-stroller every day, summer or winter, and jogging around the town we lived in, obsessed with maintaining my six-pack abs and my waistline. Although this behaviour is partly a manifestation of my eating disorder and my exercise addiction, remaining active and tending to my babies kept me sane… -ish….
Three years into my marriage, my husband suffered a terrible brain injury. The stress of caring for him, a 20-month-old toddler and a two- week-old newborn jostled my mental fragility. Although this time, with too many people depending on me for their own survival, the usual coping strategy that had accompanied my depression since I as a teenager – that of hiding deep within the confines of a dark, quiet room – was instead replaced with a stoic smile.
I took care of my family. I drove my husband to the nearest city (two hours away) several times a week while he underwent tests to determine the seriousness of his brain injury. And all the while I juggled my small children in the waiting rooms of various hospitals and treatment centres.
With each trip into the city, my thoughts became more and more foggy. Suddenly, the shards of pain that had accompanied my adolescence and urged me to end the powerlessness I had felt then by attempting suicide, were slowly creeping back into my thoughts. Whereas before my husband’s brain injury I had felt in control of my life, I was suddenly imagining my car wrapped around trees or smashed into brick walls. Completely uncomfortable with these suicidal ideations, I saw a therapist. Twice. She blamed the agonizing thoughts on baby blues and told me I should get some exercise. I’m serious.
My husband slowly healed. Life continued. But the feelings of loneliness I had experienced after his head injury never dissipated. I had a third child. For the next 12 months I went through the motions of life. I tended to my children as though my very life depended on it. In retrospect, it probably did. But as soon as they were in their beds, I crawled into mine; not only from the exhaustion of motherhood, but also as a means of escaping an inexplicable sorrow.
As with all my prior months of mental agony, the kind that lodged so tightly in my chest I could barely inhale, this one morphed into that familiar, yet rarer, rapid breathing which preceded the hypomanic moments I had experienced in the past. Although my marriage had been stressful for the last few years, its decline was accelerated by the excitement my mania would hurl into my life. As though awakening from a deep, sorrowful sleep, my decision to leave my marriage was swift and exciting. The thought of living a different and new life was necessary, but it was also spurred on by the waves of euphoria that accompany hypomania.
By this point my husband was working and living in another city. It was by mutual agreement, but my husband certainly did not expect that one weekend he would return to an empty house. As a great happiness pushed through me, I had packed my and the children’s belongings and moved in with a friend. The joy of being in new surroundings was due not only to the courage I was exhibiting at taking my life into my own hands, but also partly to a disorder that muddled my thinking and urged me always forward.
As I settled myself and my three children into our new environment, I was utterly elated. I had been married to my first husband for seven years, and although to most people marriage is supposed to be forever, seven years for me felt like an eternity. My hypomanic mind raced forward in search of the next adventure. Of course, I found it. I always found adventure unless it found me first. This time, the adventure has lasted 12 years of marriage and one extra little human being to call my own.
Finally, through the trials and tribulations of these last 12 years, I am diagnosed. I’m diagnosed with a few more disorders than I care to admit to, but the treatment has been put into place. Now I continue to wait for the other bipolar shoe to drop.
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