My 14 year-old was recently diagnosed with cyclothymia which is on the bipolar spectrum. She gets that from me. I’ve lived most of my life in some form of hypomanic state, which might last for months or, conversely, in a dark place of melancholia. I didn’t know that my experience of the world was unusual. I only knew that there was relief when I was prescribed Topamax for chronic migraines. Suddenly, the oppression in my mind lifted, and my capacity for happiness increased. I lost my ability to achieve hypomania which I found very inconvenient. I feel less intelligent now somehow, but the quality of my relationships is so much better. I’m better even though my brain’s processing speed has slowed. Topamax is an anticonvulsant after all.
There is something, however, that no drug can give you. A sense of a future. That you will be alive to face tomorrow. That you will be alive in ten years. That you can make plans, dream, imagine…that you can hope. There is something called “a sense of a foreshortened future”, and it’s a lesser known symptom of a certain anxiety disorder. I’ve spent many years of my life doing a lot of work–really good work–with gifted clinicians, but I’ve never been able to overcome my sense of a foreshortened future. That has been one of the last little goblins, gnawing at me, preventing me from moving forward, painting me into a corner of wrong perceptions and distorted fears. Until now.
I was backed into a corner last summer, overcome with paralyzing fear, convinced that we had been abandoned. My sense of a foreshortened future started cannibalizing me, and I was barely functional. Grace wasn’t functional at all. I was so terrified and almost beginning to dissociate that I forgot to wear underwear…under a short denim skirt. And, I flashed my local UPS driver whilst getting out of the family’s Mystery Machine. The look on that man’s face was priceless. The look on my face was less so. Oddly, I saw a lot more of him after that. Just cruisin’ up and down my street…waving at me when I was outside. ::shudder::
Anyway, that very embarrassing faux pas was the cold slap to the face that I needed although I’m being reminded of that scene from the comedy flick “Airplane” where passengers are lining up to beat up the hysterical woman with various weapons. Maybe that’s what I really needed. A good beating.
Well, I got a good beating in the form of my daughter’s mental illness and repeated co-morbid crises, and somewhere in the middle of it all the bottom of that corner fell right out from under me. I didn’t realize it when it happened, but I started making plans. I had to. For Grace! My husband and I had to start thinking in the longterm which is something I’ve never been able to do before. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, but I’ve always lacked the capacity to do it. I’ve always kept one foot in surviving my circumstances and entertained putting the other foot in thriving in them. I’ve never, however, been able to leave surviving behind. That’s all I’ve ever done. Survive…or fight to survive. And, I’m a fighter. That’s what put me in that corner. Fighting everything. Fixing everything.
I fought the school district. Boy, did I ever. I had to fight Grace’s clinicians in the very beginning because they were misdiagnosing her. It’s not a small thing to diagnose an 11 year-old with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. I know that, but don’t you want a truthful diagnosis which will lead to proper treatment? I tried to fix everything and everyone. I tried to fix Grace, and when I realized that I couldn’t fix her…I fell to pieces. It felt like giving up, and I don’t give up.
Here’s the deal: I’m alive because I have a ridiculous drive to never stop progressing. Never surrender. I’m a survivor of human trafficking. I was 18, and I fought like hell to escape, tricking the man who abducted me…twice…to get away. That drive has pervaded every part of my life, and it blinded me. It’s also why I couldn’t see my own future. When you’re treading water all the time, you can’t see beyond yourself. It’s a protective mechanism. Frankly, it had to go, and I couldn’t fix it.
So, I surrendered. I acknowledged that I could no longer fix Grace, myself, my husband…or anything else. I just stopped treading water. It felt like a breakdown, but that’s not what happened. Peace settled. A kind of peace I’ve never experienced. I said that the bottom fell out from under me. It’s true, and I went with it. I fell into a new place. A wide, open space. I could finally breathe, and I could finally see something beyond this moment. Not only could I imagine my own future and that of my children, but I could be present in a far more meaningful way–even if the present moment was terrifying. I didn’t fear it. I didn’t want to run away from Grace’s mixed states or the hospitals calling for their money or that one collector that always calls at 8 PM every fucking night (yeah, I have one medical bill that I just can’t seem to pay off although I’ve worked out a payment plan) or Milly’s autistic challenges or my own marital conflicts or…whatever life is throwing at me. I realized that I am okay. It’s not a matter of “It’s going to be okay.” No, it is okay. Right now. Yes, it’s painful, but if I run away in my mind to Neverland, I’ll miss the joy. I’ll be less than who I am, and I want to show up not only for the people in my life that need and love me but for myself. I don’t want to live a mediocre life. I think that terrifies me more than anything.
I used to call myself “The Girl Who Got Away” because I am one of the few girls who escaped the trafficking world. Because of what is happening with Grace, for whatever reason, I have stopped defining myself in terms of that one life-changing event. My entire narrative has changed. The power of the love within our family has risen up and bonded us together, and it is obliterating that twisted, dark, wicked perception that has haunted me for so many years. I am so much more resilient and stronger than I thought, and God has not abandoned us. Not at all. He is expanding.
So, why share this? Well, we all have our battles to fight. We all have demons that chase us down, clawing at our backs, biting at our heels, oppressing us. We say that we can’t do it. We think that we don’t have what it takes. We believe what people have said about us and to us. Many of us have been traumatized in one form or another, and perhaps we find ourselves trapped in a reality that we didn’t choose, enveloped in a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. I have been there. I have been in very dark places not of my choosing, and, when I escaped, it felt like part of me was still captive. I believed for a very long time that I would always be broken, never the same again.
I’m here to tell you that twenty years later, nothing could be further from the truth. What is the gift of Grace’s schizophrenia? Redemption. Somewhere in the middle of all this my husband and I were completely wrung out, turned inside out, and turned around. We are not the same. Issues that I have tried to fix in therapy over and over again have resolved in the span of five months. I don’t know if it was my surrendering to the ceaseless suffering and acknowledging my limitations, choosing compassion for others and myself instead, or refusing to embrace a victim’s paradigm and simply deciding to be present. One has to be present every second of the day when one’s child is schizophrenic. The act of practicing mindfulness for the sake of Grace might have created new neural pathways which led to the healing of my sense of a foreshortened future. In any case, I have come to believe that if redemption is possible for my husband and me, then I know that it’s possible for Grace. I don’t know what form it will take, and I don’t limit. This, however, is how I get up every day, maintaining a posture of hope, peace, and optimism.
I can finally say that I’m no longer “The Girl Who Got Away”. I’m the woman who is present. I’m the woman who has hope. I’m the woman who can make plans. I’m the woman who can love without fear of rejection. I’m the woman who will continue to progress and teach her children how to do the same regardless of circumstances. Peace, hope, and resiliency are not dependent upon circumstances; they are dependent upon me and what I believe. That’s my starting point. Every morning.