Tag Archives: family

Among Others

Would you mind just knowing when I wanna be alone but not alone alone, so like maybe you could hang out in the next room with the door open but I wouldn’t have to tell you to do this, you’d just know it’s what I need right that sec?

Is there any way we can ensure that you’ll say exactly what I need to hear, at the pace and in the tone in which I need to hear it but without my having to instruct you at any point regarding what is the right thing to say because I honestly have no fucking clue?

Can we make arrangements for you to be gone when I’m feeling spontaneously creative and would really like the house to myself so I can make all the noise I want for the purpose of later choosing which noises I like best except I’ll never have to actually ask you to leave?

Can you please refrain from commenting that I seem like I’m feeling better because it places a lot of pressure on me to stay better and I don’t know if I can do that, plus having this conversation has the potential to make me feel un-better, so just like, know not to do that, Ok?

Would it be possible for you not to take, “FUCK YOU, [LOVED ONE], COME CLOSER AND I’LL PUT YOUR GODDAMNED LIGHTS OUT!” personally when I’m having a panic attack, and while we’re on the subject, can you jettison your natural instinct to comfort me physically when I’m freaking out because your well-intentioned hugs feel like burning sandpaper, but I don’t wanna have to recoil when you touch me, so you’ll just not do it?

If possible, can you try not to resent me when I’m in bed at 6 p.m. reading and rereading the same news article for 45 minutes because my brains turned to gutter slush while you’re downstairs both cooking and cleaning up dinner which I probably won’t eat until 4 hours later, and I probably didn’t clean the litter boxes either but you’ll just understand that an apology for this shit may or may not be coming several days later?

Is it alright if we have an implicit understanding that when I say I’m gonna “power down” for the evening it means I’m gonna get stoned and watch episodes of cartoons I’ve seen so many times I can recite them by heart and then fall asleep at 9:15 when my Depakote kicks in ’cause I’m still not totally used to it?

Can I not have to defend my irrational attachment to the 3 saplings that took root in the yard this summer so we can plant them in the spot I picked out and cross the low-hanging power line bridge when we come to it because destroying trees of any size makes me cry?

ch870113-1

Thanks. I love you a lot, though.

-LB

Fuck, Fuck, Shit, Shit, Fuck, Etc.

Super brief:

I’ve been MIA for the last few weeks for a handful of reasons, the main one being my grandmother is dying. She was moved to hospice this morning. We’re not sure how much time she has left, but it may be as little as a few days or las long as several weeks (the former looking more likely). I won’t have time to be here (which sucks ’cause I miss being here) because I’ll be out in the suburbs with my family. This is a massive, massive loss for me. My grandma practically raised me. Watching her suffer is agonizing. My doc upped 2 of my meds to help me deal with the anxiety, distress, sadness and panic attacks that come with losing the person who sang me lullabies, tucked me into bed for about half of my childhood and shared cups of coffee with me over Italian soap operas. This hurts so fucking bad. I feel like I’m gonna snap in half. But I won’t be here for a little while. Then I’ll probably be here about 11 times a day for a bit, then things will return to a shittier version of normal. I miss reading your posts and your comments. I miss your support. I miss my blog. But I can’t do this right now.

Ci vederemo qualche giorno in avvenire.

-LB

Helping…ish?

Goddamnit. I would think that in the 3 weeks I’ve been going to therapy half as frequently, I’d be writing here constantly because I’m filled to spilling with all the feelings and my tendency is to want to articulate them, but I’ve been busy as fuck with the goddamn sky falling this past week, and even though I know it’d be therapeutic to hammer out a post, I’ve mostly been hanging out with my favorite guitar (its name is Calvin. For 3 separate reasons).

But the sky is most certainly falling. My uncle-in-law died ahead of schedule (he was given 6-12 weeks and only made it 2) so almost nobody got to visit him and say goodbye, the thought of which make me sick to my stomach with regret because when someone’s dying that fast, like, don’t fucking tarry. Just make room and go. Lesson uncomfortably learnt. So This past Thursday was the wake and Friday was the funeral. Both events lasted most of the day. My husband and I each brought a flask of whiskey to the funeral. This is not something I’m accustomed to doing, but it is something I did do and getting buzzed in a cemetery on the most beautiful spring day that ever happened anywhere was moderately surreal and probably not the classiest thing I’ve ever done. But funerals are hard. And I kept my shit together, so whatever.

The sky is falling on Colorado too, in case that’s of interest to you. My sister has strep and her roommate brought home bedbugs and 2 nights ago, some drunk strangers her other roommate brought home almost broke Big Sis’ new couch by fucking super loud and hard on it within earshot of the entire house. Like, what the hell is wrong with you? Go screw in the bathroom like a normal person. Idiots.

But the most disconcerting was the 50 minute phone call I had with my stressed-to-the-breaking-point mom last Wednesday. I called her ’cause I needed someone’s address and it should’ve been a 3 minute call, but ballooned into this…thing. This thing that required me to avoid being an asshole to my mom which can be a genuine challenge because sometimes she just plain invites it. My grandparents are doing very poorly and my mom is shouldering way too much of the work needed to keep them comfortable and not dead. She’s been sleeping like 2 hours a night, dealing with my grandpa’s dementia, my grandma’s failing kidneys, the horrible pain resulting from my grandma’s failing kidneys and – between the two of them – this ancient, stubborn Sicilian couple who refuse, out of pride, to consider dialysis and/or a night nurse.

My mom very obviously needed to unload so I let her talk, and when she started talking, she started crying and it was really evident by the tone of her voice that she’s basically a raw nerve at this point. So I let her talk some more and mostly just listened. Like many people in crisis do, she shot down most of my suggestions as logistically impossible. I don’t know why people sometimes react this way. I think when you’re that shot you need something to lean against and, in some cases, you end up leaning against your last shred of control by way of an exasperated argument angled at whoever might be trying to help you. I think if she deemed any of my ideas doable, my mom would internalize them as an indicator that, despite working herself down to the marrow, she could have been doing it better. The mind recoils.

But in all the years I’ve been in therapy, I’ve learned that being heard is more important than almost anything, so I tried to keep my mouth shut. Which is another thing I’m not accustomed to doing, but hey, week of firsts. When she was out of things to say and things to cry about, my mom told me she felt better. I done good. Like not even by accident. I mean, the phone call was happenstance, but everything else was me acting like a decent human being to this person who has the peerless ability to topple my wellness in a fell fucking swoop. I was nice to my mom and it was weird.

So there’s a part of me that’s deeply resentful for the things that happened re: my mom in the weeks and months after my dad’s death. I moved home temporarily to take care of her (nobody actually ever asked me to do that, the whole family just assumed I would). I guess my dad would’ve appreciated it. But losing my dad the way I did was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to me. I say “arguably” because there are some super unfortunate contenders for that #1 spot, but, in terms of flashbang tragedy, Dad’s sudden and untimely death left me like…concussed…in the soul. Is that a thing? It sure felt like one. The summer after he died was hard as fuck. My mom regressed into this awful, helpless state which left her 100% unable to support me emotionally. The whole summer she kept asking me why this horrible thing was happening to our family. I didn’t know. Nobody that close to me had ever died before. I was a grief neophyte. She never asked me how I was doing or if I was Ok or if I needed to talk. She did cry a lot and refuse to eat, fucking up her blood sugar but still giving herself insulin so that I’d find her passed out on the floor occasionally. Dunno if you’ve ever tried to lift a person who’s gone completely slack but it’s not very easy. It’s pretty hard to tell what the worst part of that summer was, but a candidate might be the limited symptom panic attacks I was having. I’d be sitting in the class I was taking or just listening to music or bumming around and my heart would start to race and pound and I’d get really nervous. My dad died of a heart attack so the shit my heart was doing as a response to bereavement and shock was twisted into firm evidence that I was next on the list and that I was, at all times, one misstep away from a heart attack of my own. I got kinda into morphine that summer, which probably didn’t help things. Good stuff.

Anyway, after a while I got so angry with my mom’s behavior that I stopped talking to her for 8 months, 5 of which I spent in Rome, so that made it a lot easier to avoid her. I got SO much shit from my family for cutting off my mom. To this day I still think that 8 month cold shoulder was justified. In the years since then, she’s been many flavors of difficult and frustrating. I’ve spent way more time in therapy talking about my mom than my dad – Dad being the reason I sought help to begin with. So being a shoulder for my mom to cry on last Wednesday felt a little like a betrayal to myself. That’s kinda fucked up. It also goes against everything I believe in about treating other people empathetically, but I frequently jettison my integrity on that point when I deal with my mom. Cognitive dissonance, man. (Cognitive Dissonance Man would be the worst superhero. Or the best. I can’t really decide.)

But she really needed someone to talk to. She really needs some sleep. I’m not a monster. I’m also not a martyr, but I’d like to think, at this point in my life, I can actually refrain from being a dick to my mom even if it’s sort of my natural state. So I think she’s a little better now. I’d call to check in, but that just feels weird to me. This isn’t a vengeance thing. If one person in my family is suffering, we all suffer. My mom will, quite likely, be losing one or both of her parents soon. She wasn’t there for me when I lost one of mine. There’s a juvenile part of me that wants her to know how that feels, but to what end, really? Forgiveness is hard, but the discomfort is likely temporary. Regret, on the other hand, never really goes away. And anyway, isn’t it technically a win for me if I manage to be compassionate here? Or, at the very least, reassurance that I didn’t grow up to be my mom? There. I think I made it palatable for myself.

-LB

What I’m Actually Upset About

I’m having a hair problem. It’s bugging the crap out of me. I stopped straightening my hair like maybe 10 years ago because I realized I actually really liked my natural texture. I had these really nice, uniform, loose spirals that behaved perfectly with almost no styling. Like I’d just wash it and forget about it and be left with this awesome head of long, flowing curls that changed colors according to the season: strawberry blonde in the summer and a deeper auburn in the winter. Killer. Loved my hair. Embracing your natural hair texture is kind of a big deal for girls and women because so few of us have tresses that align with conventional, Western beauty standards, so we torment ourselves with expensive products, cumbersome tools and wasted time to achieve attractiveness (which is ultimately bullshit, but really hard not to buy into). I was pretty haughty about my ability to skip that nonsense.

So my curls are gone now. I dunno how or why. I started noticing it a little over a year ago and started going to greater and greater lengths just to get my damned Adonis hair back, but it’s gotten to a point where it just kind of hangs in these sloppy, uneven waves. It looks dumb. My hair looks super dumb. I’m pissed. I asked my sister-in-law about it because she’s a hairdresser and she said that sometimes it just happens. She said it’s usually meds or hormones, but for some people, your hair texture just changes. She followed her comments up with, “I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear.” It really, really wasn’t. But I appreciated that she took those feelings into account. Since it’s been so long since I’ve had to style my hair, I don’t really know how to do it anymore. I don’t have tons of hair and it’s not very long anymore (about to get even less long next week when I actually let a professional touch it, which I rarely do because I NEVER HAD TO WORRY ABOUT IT BEFORE), but it takes me like a full hour just to blow dry it into a shape I can live with, only to have that shape unfurl into a sad, limp mess 30 minutes later.

I’ve tried every weird tip and trick I could dig up on the Internet. In the last week, I bought a curling iron, a diffuser and some way too expensive products, all of which was a waste of money which I know I can’t really afford this month, but I’ve become obsessed. Last night Husband had some of our gaming friends over to play D&D. I didn’t participate. I didn’t even greet them when they showed up. I holed up in the bathroom with a whisky tonic, some T. Rex and a curling iron trying not to burn myself and trying not to cry and then lamenting my choice of tunes because Marc Bolan had this going on:

Marc At The BBC

And the whole while I was grappling with this searing hot curling iron, I was like, FUCK YOU SO HARD, MARC BOLAN WITH YOUR GODDAMNED CHERUB CURLS, YOU ASSHOLE. Because at that point I was starting to forfeit some of my rationality, which was probably resultant of the whisky and the iron burns. Good. Productive.

But truly, I am becoming obsessed. And, in my estimation, my hair is too frivolous to spend this much energy on, but, as I’ve said many times before, I’m pretty vain, so my fixation is becoming emblematic of everything in my life I see as a failure. Things could be so much worse.

Things are so much worse.

Last week, we found out that one of the cats needs surgery to correct a badly healed femur she broke when she was a stray and probably still a kitten. She has arthritis (she’s only 3) and is probably in a good deal of pain. The surgery will cost us about $3,000. That’s a lot for us. Realistically, we might have to cancel our honeymoon which we still haven’t taken even though we’ve been married for over 6 months. We already bought plane tickets and planned a 5 stop itinerary from central to southern California. Awesome. My grandmother was admitted to the hospital two days ago because her kidneys decided to take a nap or something and the buildup of whatever your kidneys are supposed to filter out (I’m not good with human anatomy, I’m just relating what I was told) caused her to develop type II diabetes, which has its own set of complications because she weighs 98 pounds and has almost no body fat, so there are very few places on her frame that can support an insulin injection. Awesomer. One of my uncles-in-law was, this past weekend, given 6-12 weeks to live after years of battling brain cancer. He does not want to be resuscitated. He’s going and very soon. THE MOST AWESOME.

I’ve been crying a lot. I reached a breaking point the other day after a phone call from my mom became an exercise in masochism as I let her start yelling and arguing with me when there was nothing to argue about. Mother’s day this year falls on the 8th anniversary of my dad’s death and my mom just can’t handle it.So we agreed to celebrate the day before, primarily for my grandmother’s sake who really, really deserves to be celebrated this year. I mentioned to my mom that my mother-in-law pointed out (without resentment) that last year my family got my husband and me for both Easter and Mother’s Day and she’d really appreciate it if we could be with her family for one of those holidays this year. I also pointed out that she’s about to lose her brother, so it’s important to me that we spend time with my in-laws. Even though there was no scheduling conflict, Mom started raising her voice as if I was trying to weasel out of something, even though I made it clear that we will be seeing her for Easter, we will be celebrating Mother’s Day with her on May 9th and Mother’s Day with my in-laws on May 10th (I declined to point out that this arrangement is going to be extremely emotionally taxing for me because I didn’t want to give her another foothold in her concocted conflict that she didn’t seem to realize was completely one-sided). What I did say was that, while I recognize that May 10th will never be a happy day for anyone in our family, over the years I’ve learned to cope. Her response: WELL I HAVEN’T.

Oh yeah, and as long as I’m enumerating my current misfortunes, I just remembered that 4 days from now will be the anniversary of the death of my childhood best friend who was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Afghanistan while she was working as as diplomat for the State Department. She was on her way to deliver books to some schoolchildren when her caravan was struck by a car bomb. She was 25 and was moving up the ranks in her department at such an unprecedented rate that I have little doubt she could’ve been Secretary of State or even President one day. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and the world is a shittier place without her.

So I’ve become fixated on my hair. Because my hair is superficial. Because my hair doesn’t yell at me. Because I can waste time fucking around with it, channeling all my frustration into garbage pile that’s hanging off head right now and not think about the forfeiture of my honeymoon, my grandmother’s faulty organs or my uncle’s impending death. I don’t have to think about how I lost my dad and my friend prematurely if I’m focused on avoiding another curling iron burn. That shit gets REALLY hot.

There are 2 things I wish I had available right now. I wish I’d bought a 100lb heavy bag (punching bag) for the basement like I was gonna so I could practice my MMA technique (i.e. punch and kick the crap out of it) to blow off some steam. And I wish I still had therapy twice a week. I had to start going once a week because, in light of the money problems we’re looking at this month, I can’t afford two sessions every week. I would be getting out of therapy right now, actually. I might be running into one of the homeless dudes I chat with when I’m in that neighborhood. Those dudes are so goddamned friendly and so goddamned positive and I almost always get a hug and I could really use a fucking hug right now, even knowing that it would probably make me start sobbing, but I know they’d be cool about it.

So, right now, because I wasted most the of day in bed recovering from a migraine, I’m gonna finally get into the fucking shower. I’m gonna try to avoid fucking around with my hair. I’m gonna try to spend some time playing my cajon (it’s a Peruvian box drum that you can play with your hands, if you didn’t know) because I think the tactile sensation of hitting something coupled with the aural sensation of the massive booms I get out of that thing (my cajon kicks ass) will do me some good. But, frankly, I’m probably gonna cry in the shower because I’ve been feeling a monolithic sob welling up in me the whole time I’ve been writing this and if it doesn’t come out soon, I might end up barfing instead of crying. If I had a dollar for every time in my life that I said, “when it rains, it pours” I could probably afford that second day of therapy. I guess I just have to stick it out.

-LB

Smile For The Camera, Stay In The Closet

I’m feeling a little down today. The thought has crossed my mind that I’m becoming depressed because I’ve been slowing down a little over the last week-ish. I kind of wanna say that most of my major mood episodes have been seasonal and that I can expect to be depressed in late summer and hypomanic in mid spring and again around mid January, but since I’ve graduated college, my episodes are not quite so predictable. Supposedly, this is not an wholly uncommon feature of bipolar students, which makes sense, because schedules change throughout the school year and cause shifts in routine, sleep, eating habits and a number of other factors that can trigger or predispose a person to an episode. Over the last several years, I think I’ve tried to cram my episodes into some imagined schedule so I could feel more stable and brace myself or something. I think I’m lying to myself. At this point, things just kind of happen when they happen and the events that spur on mood issues are considerably more varied than Christmas or Spring break.

I kind of hate Christmas. Actually, I almost totally hate Christmas. Christmas in my family is a 3 day affair; big dinner/most gift opening at my mom’s place on Christmas Eve, afternoon at my cousin’s house followed by my in-laws’ place Christmas Day (except this year we’re skipping my cousin’s because the 2 families in one day thing is exhausting) and then a traditional afternoon tea time at a hotel downtown on the 26th which is invariably followed by my mom shopping for next year’s Christmas ornaments in the hotel gift shop. For like 90 fucking minutes. I think the only thing I really like about Christmas is how many pairs of socks I get because I never don’t need socks. Both my bio family and my in-law family are great and I like seeing them. And getting dressed up is Ok, I guess – except for the face part.

The last thing anyone wants to talk about during festivities is how shitty and anxious I feel. I feel compelled to maintain a facade of cheerfulness for the benefit of everyone else in the room at my expense. There are a few reasons for this:

1. I can bring down the mood of a room like a fucking pro. Nobody likes brooding introspection while they’re celebrating Everybody’s Favorite Holiday, so if I’m feeling down, I feel responsible for hiding it so I don’t harsh everyone’s vibe.

2. My grandparents are ancient and foreign so there’s a generation and language barrier that prevents them from understanding my illness. Also, my grandfather had a stroke 11 years ago and, because of it, he’s been developing dementia for at least the last 2 or 3 years, so he has a hard time understanding pretty much everything. My grandparents know that sometimes I’m not well and that I need to take medication. My grandma knows I’ve been in the hospital but the rest of us lie to her about my reason for being there (suicidal) and tell her, instead, that the doctors are giving me a new medication and want to keep me for a few days to make sure it works. My grandmother’s a lot more perceptive than she lets on. I’m just about positive she knows I’m mentally ill. I’m also just about positive that we’re never gonna talk about it. She occasionally tells me that she “wants me to be happy, Ok?” and that’s the extent of it. I have to hide my symptoms around my grandparents because upsetting my ailing grandfather is the most grievous mortal sin anyone in my family can commit. My grandparents, having been born in the early 1920’s, have a very 20th century view of mental illness – that it’s embarrassing, shameful, freakish and needs to be hidden from public view. I don’t blame them for being a product of their time, but it sure would be swell if they understood better.

3. My husband’s family is gigantic. His mom is 1 of 8. I don’t know a lot of them well enough to answer, “Hi, how are you?” with any honesty. “I can’t quite remember your name, but would you mind hiding the cutlery” is, in 99% of cases, the wrong thing to say. Thanks, rigid social conventions. You make everyone’s life a little easier but mine.

These are some of the reasons I get covertly drunk on holidays. Forcing myself into an inflexible exoskeleton of cheerfulness is really goddamned draining. The other reason I’m a holiday drunk is that my mom has a short fuse and it doesn’t bother her one bit to ruin everyone’s mood by blowing her stack over something entirely frivolous, she does it every year (it occurs to me that there may be a lesson here…).

Christmas also rouses some pretty typical and deeply unpleasant feelings about my dead dad whose absence is, even after 7.5 years, very conspicuous on holidays. I freaking miss the shit out of my dad. My dad was beyond great.

I also feel a lot of pressure to do things right on holidays and, even if I felt that my bipolar was not creating a problem for me right now, the anxiety of not fucking shit up again this year would (does) create its own problem. My sister is a master gift giver. She finds those things you’d probably never buy for yourself but that you absolutely love to get as a gift. She got me a desktop sandbox one year. It’s a shallow ~9×9” wooden box with this special kind of sand that only sticks to itself (no mess, super cool) and comes with some sculpting tools to play around with. It’s incredibly soothing and everyone who visits my house loves to mess around with it. It’s great. I suck at giving gifts. I think I did a really well with Big Sis’s gift this year, but that was dumb luck.

I get that this time of year stresses most people out. Christmas stops being fun sometime around 16 or 17 when you start saving money from your first job and are then charged with using said meager savings to shower your loved ones with shit they might not even like. Given my druthers, I’d replace all gift giving with charitable donations. I might really like to get cajon brushes or a collection of Joan Didion essays, but I’m pretty sure several million kids around the would would dig a polio vaccine even more. Off topic, but worth mentioning.

So this year, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll find something in my super cluttered nightstand drawer that will get me high or something my my mom’s dust-collecting liquor cabinet to get me hammered for the sole purpose of pasting a fake as hell grin on my face just to protect my loved ones from the prickly reality that I feel like total shit. Barring intoxication, I don’t know how else to deal with this problem. Suggestions are always welcome, but, in honesty, rarely heeded.

So happy tidings and such. I may be a grinch in disguise this year like most years, but I sure hope you don’t have to be. If you do have to fake it for a day or three, just remember I’m right there with you.

-LB

My Dad’s Final Parting Gift

My dad was a hypochondriac. I guess he had some good reasons for it. He was born with a rare heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is a disease that causes the heart muscle to thicken abnormally. This thickness or rigidity can cause arrhythmias (basically your heart beating wrong) which can be fatal. From the time I was a small child, my dad discussed his health with me. I knew he had a lot of doctors, I knew he watched his diet and exercised almost every day of the week. I knew he took a lot of pills. My dad believed strongly in the efficacy of modern medicine. In his mind, if you have a headache, you take some Tylenol. If you have a toothache, you see your dentist. If you’re sick and you don’t know why, you go to the doctor. This all sounds like common sense but I’m repeatedly surprised to meet people who avoid over the counter meds and dentists and optometrists and doctors because they basically think they can walk it off (I’m not gonna get into how the expense of medical treatment can make going to the doctor impossible for some people because if I do I’ll be typing angrily ’til my fingers fall off). But my dad often feared the worst when beset with a twinge and he passed this trait down to me. I’ve been to my state’s top cardiologist multiple times to rule out the possibility of of having inherited my dad’s heart disease. There’s a 50% chance that I’m a carrier of the gene (which doesn’t matter to me because I intend never to have children) but I do not have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Neither does my sister. Though the cardiologist assuaged my fears more than once, I still feel like my heart’s seconds from exploding every time I have an anxiety-related elevated heart rate.

My dad died suddenly when he was 61. He ran several miles at a local college’s athletic track almost every night. He loved to run (this is something else I didn’t inherit from him). One night, he collapsed on the track. He died so fast his skinned knees barely had time to bleed before his faulty heart stopped pumping blood. Other runners tried to revive him. At the hospital he was shocked and intubated, but it was pointless. He was extinguished faster than modern medicine could reignite him.

I was 19 when my dad died. On his last night alive, I was away at college. I had just finished my sophomore year and I was sitting on a bench gazing at Lake Michigan at dusk writing a letter to a pen pal in Omaha. My mom decided not to call me until the next morning. She decided that my sister and I deserved one more restful night’s sleep before our lives came crashing down on us. My sister and I were very close to my dad. I could sit here and recount myriad happy and meaningful memories from my childhood and adolescence and never be finished. If my dad noticed that you liked a certain flavor of yogurt, he’d buy the store’s entire stock of it, not caring if he looked like a lunatic with 25 single-serving peach Dannons in his grocery cart. He made sure we never wanted for anything. My mom told me that she didn’t have to buy paper towels for 3 and a half years after he died. We speculate that these behaviors were the result of my dad having grown up very poor (at one time even homeless and another in a group home having been taken from his drunk, neglectful parents). I could brag about my dad’s 155 IQ (I guess I just did) or that he could count 4 decks at once or that he filled notebooks with the kind of calculus problems that take up entire chalkboards just for the fun of doing math. He taught me to play blackjack and hockey and chess when I was 7. He told me stories about when he backpacked alone from Athens to Sri Lanka in his late 20’s with nothing but American currency, a change of clothes and a book in his bag. Losing my dad was an intense blow that marks a pivot point in my life from which I’ll never swing back.

Everybody in my family deals with grief differently – so differently that we find it really hard to support one another. My sister fled back to Indiana and stayed high for a year and a half. My mom stopped eating but kept giving herself insulin and spent several months oscillating sloppily between public mourning and a diabetic haze. I decided to find a psychiatrist.

I saw my doctor for the first time on July 25th, 2007. I remember the date because I wrote it in a journal. I’ve been seeing the same doctor ever since. My initial reason for seeing her was to deal with my bereavement. Then it came out that I suffered horrific physical abuse at the hands of my babysitter until age 7. Then I talked about how my mother is micromanaging and manipulative and self-obsessed. Then about how I got into hard drugs at a young age. So clearly, there was a sizable lump of very shitty clay my doctor had to to mold back into a functional person.

About 2 months into therapy, my doctor surmised that I was chronically depressed and that my depression was not just the result of having lost my dad or being lied to by my mom or having the shit beat out of me by a sadistic babysitter. She wanted me to start taking an antidepressant. I resisted initially because the previous year I had been treated for ADHD with a daily dose of Concerta (an extended release form of Ritalin) and it made me hypomanic twice and extremely paranoid (I didn’t know what hypomania was at the time, I just remember 2 lengthy episodes of little sleep and Gatling gun bursts of creativity. One of these episodes coincided with my dad’s death. I was grieving and hypomanic at the same time. It was fucking surreal…). I wasn’t keen on the idea of taking pills every day again, but my depression worsened and I finally allowed my doctor to medicate me with Zoloft (see LBD: antidepressants). At first I felt better. Then I felt worse. My doctor upped the dose. I felt better. Then I felt worse again. My doctor tried a number of other antidepressants. I can’t remember them all but they included: Welbutrin, Effexor, Remeron, and Celexa. There were more. They’re written down somewhere. Every time I tried a new antidepressant, I felt better, then worse. It occurred to my psychiatrist that I might not have major depression. I think she was afraid at first to say the words “bipolar disorder” to me so she told me she thought that the reason the meds weren’t working was because I might have a “cycling mood disorder” and that I would probably need a different kind of medication regimen. By this point, I was 22.

I don’t remember the first medication we tried. It was either lithium or Lamictal (lamotrigine). I was also taking Klonopin daily because I started hurting myself and having panic attacks. Either way, I started to even out a little. It wasn’t perfect. Most of you know that bipolar medication often requires a lifetime of tweaking and fine tuning as we get older and life happens to us. Over the 7 and a half years I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist, I’ve tried out 16 different meds. This is pretty standard. I’ve read numerous studies that claim anywhere from 3 to 10 years from diagnosis to an effective drug regimen. I’m on year 5, and still working at it.

So my dad left behind an unintentional gift: an accurate diagnosis. Because of his death, I sought help. Because I sought help I found out I had a treatable illness that retroactively explained a lot of the shit that happened in my past and a lot of shit that continues to happen to this day. It was a tough road from bereavement to bipolar, but I shudder to think of the shambles my life would be in if my hypochondriac dad hadn’t taught me to take myself to the doctor.

So the obvious fly in the ointment here is that, arguably, my dad had to die so I could get proper treatment. I don’t really see it that way. My dad died. There’s nothing I can do about it. It hurts like crazy and even over 7 years later, I still get the occasional urge to give him a call and talk politics or philosophy. He’d have turned 69 this past September. He didn’t see me graduate college. My husband never got to meet him. He wasn’t around to debate me like old times as my personal philosophy, ontological viewpoint and moral compass matured and grew to be my own. All of that sucks. But aside from astigmatism and hypochondria, I like to think that I also inherited my dad’s compulsion to look for a silver lining. When tragedy becomes a fixture in your life, perspective is everything. My dad gave me a lot, but perhaps nothing more important than that sentiment.

So I can only say thanks, Dad. For everything, but right now, thanks for helping me get better.

-LB