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Hope in Disguise

June 25, 2009

I’ve been hesitant to write about experiences like this here. But since they are public professionally among close colleagues and faculty members (and will be more so when my dissertation is complete), and because I care passionately about bipolar issues, I decided to "come out" and write about them here. It’s a horrible disorder and my hope is for greater understanding and empathy–for those who suffer BPD (bipolar disorder) towards themselves, and for those who do not suffer BPD but want to understand and love those who do. My story as a person with BPD is complicated. This is one of the stories. 

I need to find a solution, fast. I have been drinking, smoking, driving, and writing in an effort to stay alive and I have no idea what the fuck is wrong.

“Do you want another whiskey sour?” Carlo, my favorite waiter at Après Diem, asks. I stare at the full ashtray (which has been cleaned out twice) and the nearly empty glass. I’ve crunched most of the ice. The drink and ice. In fifteen minutes. 

“Sure.” I don’t care. I just need to get through the day. I’ve finished filling a sketch book full of poetry–half  of it written within the past hour. I write so quickly I can barely feel or hear the etching sound of graphite that I love so much. If I don’t keep writing, I’m not sure what will happen. The drinking and smoking barely slow me down.   

I later learn I’m trying to slow down one manifestation of bipolar disorder: a hypomanic state, and a mixed one at that. What is a mixed state? Try the adrenalin rush of a woman lifting a car to save her son mixed with a depression that would normally land you in a hospital. There you go. Straight to hell with a turbo engine. 

 I’m 5 whiskey sours and 2 packs of cigarettes in when the writing stops working its magic. My thoughts simply go too fast and I cannot stand to sit still. My body is on sensory overload–as if the unusually sunny November day suddenly transformed my surroundings into a Las Vegas casino full of flashing neon lights and random “You’ve Won!” sirens. 

I cannot stay here. 

At this point it doesn’t matter that what I’m experiencing was sparked by a doctor’s faulty prescription choice. I don’t know this yet. All I know is that I am out of control and nothing I do can halt what’s going on. I stop by Kroger on the way home and wander through the store, overwhelmed by so many colors, so many choices, and the glare of florescent lights off the floor. I swing the door to the freezer case open and peer in once again at the Ben and Jerry’s. I’ve done this at least 5 times. I can’t decide. I call my ex.

“Can I have the kids tonight?” It’s not my night. But surely how desperate I am should communicate telepathically and give me grace. He says, “No.” I hang up the phone and cry. I leave Kroger with nothing. 

At home, there is no way to channel this much energy in a 900 square foot apartment, and my thoughts are in the 7th level of hell, due for arrival at the 9th in 2.8 seconds. The 9th convinces me that everyone else would be better off if I did go, including my kids. I can hold out and fight everything until the whole reason for fighting disappears. 

To the web. I find the best how-to-end-it-all website. I have three objectives for my choice of method: certain mortality (no chance of a “failed” attempt), as painless as possible, and preferably able to look like an accident. Surprisingly, this is when things start to change. It’s hard to find a way to die that fulfills all three objectives and can be done within the next couple of hours. I’m pissed, but my thinking is slowing down enough to focus and my body is no longer being stretched to the point of snapping. I actually sleep for several hours that night. 

It’s always bothered me that reading about ways to die somehow kept me from choosing to do so that night. It wasn’t just the fact I couldn’t fulfill my three objectives. I was at the point of suicide more than once again later before they discovered what was wrong. At those times I no longer gave a damn about whether it was painful or looked like an accident. But the choice to stay alive in those hours hearken back to this one night. Something was planted that night that stayed with me and sustained me in the even rougher waters ahead. 

That something was hope. It kept me alive, and it is the nature of hope that it can surface in the most horrible of places under the weirdest of circumstances. In Manic, Bipolar sufferer Terri Cheney writes, “People always mean well, but they don’t understand that when you’re seriously depressed, suicidal ideation can be the only thing that keeps you alive. Just knowing there’s an out–even if it’s bloody, even if it’s permanent–makes the pain almost bearable for one more day.” 

I had no idea what was happening to me.  As far as I knew this horrible depression on crack would continue forever–straining my relationships, ruining my ability to work, and–worst of all–making it hard to be the type of mother I wanted to be. But the idea that I could make it stop–that I wouldn’t suffer forever–made space enough psychically so I could remember once again why I wanted to stay alive. Hope, albeit in a disguised form, made space for love. That small space remained open throughout the next several months, silently barring the gate back to the lowest level of hell.   


15 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 26, 2009 12:21 am

    Your courage is astonishing.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    June 26, 2009 1:21 am

    Melissa, I applaude you for taking the risk to publish this most horrible period of your life. I am very grateful that you were able to survive this time. I love you so much as your Mom.

    • June 26, 2009 7:39 pm

      Thanks, Mom. I’m grateful, too. 🙂 (And tell me LOL means “lots of love,” right? 😉

  3. Anonymous permalink
    June 26, 2009 11:08 am

    Thank you…
    For ‘outing’ yourself, and conveying the experience of that particular mixed state so beautifully. Another thing to add to your courage list. I’m honored to have read… Peace, Linda

    • June 26, 2009 7:44 pm

      Re: Thank you…
      Thanks so much, Linda. I was wondering if I had succeeded a little in conveying it. So much escapes words…

  4. Anonymous permalink
    July 3, 2009 12:20 am

    Hope in Disguise essay
    A very good essay, honest and well expressed. The issue of improper medication and the fine detailing of your feelings, perceptions, and experiences ring with authenticity. You may find my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint, to be of considerable interest. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a bipolar man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance and stability. More information on the book is available at
    Mark Zamen, author

    • July 3, 2009 4:19 am

      Re: Hope in Disguise essay
      Thank you! I will definitely check out your book. Sounds like something I need to read!

  5. July 3, 2009 11:24 pm

    Hi I’ve come through from twitter – what you’ve written about here hit me in the gut becuase it sounds like the sort of not thinking frenzy I go through when the post truamatic stuff is triggered.
    I was just wondering if there is any connection know of that would connect the behaviours and maybe cuases of BPD and C-PTSD?
    Thankyou for being brave enough to write that.

    • July 4, 2009 12:51 am

      Thank you. I’m not an expert on BPD (my dissertation deals with memoirs written by people who suffer BPD) and off the top of my head I don’t remember any direct connection between BPD and C-PTSD. I just quickly looked at Manic Depressive Illness, the “textbook” (although this isn’t the latest edition) and don’t see that they deal with that link directly. What I do know is that stress is one of the factors that triggers BPD in many people (or seems to-there is so much they don’t really know about this illness for sure). As for my own story, I definitely think childhood trauma played a role in making me more susceptible to the triggering of BPD, but, of course, I don’t know that for sure.
      The symptoms of BPD are similar to many other things (which is one reason why people are misdiagnosed for years) and are wide-ranging. It doesn’t surprise me if some of this sounds a little like what you suffer when the post traumatic stuff is triggered. They very well could be similar. I know C-PTSD is hard and I wish you luck and lots of healing. 🙂
      I have a friend who is a researcher in BPD and I’m going to ask her the question about BPD and C-PTSD. I’ll send you a message with what she says.

  6. July 4, 2009 9:01 am

    mental breakdowns
    I’ve been hospitalized a number of times, namely for addiction which they later called bipolar.
    I take antidepressants but I think it may be exacerbating my symptoms of hypomania, which I’m pretty sure I have.
    Between drugs and personality disorders like OCD, I feel messed up most of the time. But I’m able to keep a straight story. I also work hard.
    Being in school should help you stay distracted. That’s what my business does for me now. As long as I’m fulfilling my clients’ needs and also enjoying my own projects, I feel good.
    Unfortunately I have to keep a number of vices to feel good. I rely on the most elaborate reward system ever devised.
    But I’m not where I used to be. I used to be in “Addiction Hell”. Addiction hell is where crack users and heroin users end up.
    Then there is “Recovery Purgatory.” I was there. I call it purgatory because you never get to let loose and see what happens. You’re always tied down to a result.
    I left NA about two years ago and ever since then I’ve been more and more lax about my drug use. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been productive; I started my own business and run several Internet publications.
    I’m feeling purposeful and content right now . . . ironically I continue to abuse substances. Self-medication seems to be an easy rut for me to fall into.

    • July 5, 2009 6:36 pm

      Re: mental breakdowns
      Antidepressants, especially if they are SSRIs, could be exacerbating your hypomania. That’s what catapulted me 3 1/2 years ago into what I write about here. Ask your doctor about it. If you still feel it’s affecting you this way and he/she won’t listen, find someone else. I ended up going to a researcher who specialized in my type of bipolar where this effect had been seen over and over again. I was immediately taken off Prozac (unfortunately it’s in your system for a while so you have to wait it out).
      Wow. I admire what you’ve done so far in working on being healthy. I know I cannot underestimate the need to feel purposeful. Or content. And that’s how you describe yourself now. 🙂 I don’t know a lot about addiction, but I do know that if things aren’t quite right with the brain chemistry, then self-medicating is sometimes the only way you stay alive. It’s a fight for life (even as it gives a type of death over the long term).
      Regardless of your continuing to abuse substances, it sounds like you are in a much better spot, and the hard work and what it took to get you there (and what it still takes) should not be undervalued. If you eventually decide you want to stop altogether, it certainly won’t help to whip yourself and make yourself feel like shit. It makes you weaker, not stronger–and to face hard challenges you need all the strength you can get (I’ve learned this the hard way).
      So glad you commented. You have a lot of courage. 🙂

  7. Anonymous permalink
    September 10, 2009 2:45 pm

    You write brilliantly, to be able to peer into, if only for a moment, your mind and feelings during those trying experiences. As others have said, you have a lot of bravery and deserve our admiration, acceptance, and respect. I think you’re doing well in your objective to bring this out so that those with BPD don’t have to also live in shame and isolation from others.
    Elimelech David

    • September 10, 2009 10:54 pm

      Thank you so much
      Thank you so much for your comment. It came at the perfect time–when my resolve was fading a bit and the questions “Why am I doing this? Does it really make a difference?” were spinning ’round and ’round in my head. I really do hope it helps–the work for school (the dissertation, which I hope to make a book) and the work in forums such as this. Thank you again. 🙂

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 12, 2009 10:40 pm

        Re: Thank you so much
        I’m so glad I could return the favor so to speak. There’s real soul to your writing and it’s obviously touched people here, some of whom have commented. Based on what I’ve seen, I think you’ll write a great book!
        Elimelech David

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