Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “Death”

Viewing Christmas Through Grief

Every Christmas part of my viewing list is the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” I love the music and imagery presented of a family united in their living, even when they don’t agree. I am inspired every time I watch this movie, along with many others on my Christmas viewing list, to gather my family to me and hold them close. This Christmas season, however, is one of the most difficult I can remember in my 46 years on this earth, and gathering my family to me will not happen this year. I feel I am caught in the bonds of remembrance, whose embrace is bittersweet, and my heart hurts with the reckoning of the way things are in relation to what I would like them to be.

This year we lost my 19 year old niece to suicide, and the impact of it will ripple through our familial structure forever; the devastation firmly seated with my sister and her family. There are no words; just no words to define what has happened here. I can’t even explain what this has done to our outside structure. If there were narrow roads of communication between us due to the erosion of time and life choices, the destruction wrought by this act has obliterated many of those narrow roadways between all of us, and all that remains are cavernous holes.

You see, when a tragedy happens, there is either enough integrity in the structure that it endures, or it simply blows apart, because there was not enough steel there to hold it together. Pardon my mixing of imagery, but this seems to need multiple visual constructs. For some of our structure there simply was not enough steel to hold things together. Love remains. We love one another, but love is not always enough contrary to pop culture.

I cannot speak for the other members of my family. I have an idea of where they are in the process, but when you have a family of introverts, with only a couple of extroverts seaming everything together, it is difficult to get everyone communicating, and introverts rather often feel misunderstood, because we tend to withhold who we are and tend not to express what really, deeply moves us.

So, for me, I find this Christmas season to be somewhat in opposition with the sorrow and hurt in my heart for my sister and her family, for my parents who lost a grandchild, and the rest of my siblings and me who lost someone we cared about and who feel impotent in the aftermath. I want to celebrate and wrap up in the ribbons of joy produced only during this magnificent season, but they are singed by the fires of grief that threaten to burn down every beautiful moment possible. And even though I need desperately to experience some beauty, it seems fitting and right somehow that more is lost in the blaze than the broken hearts that struggle through it.

I find myself at sixes and sevens as I pursue Christmas traditions. I see the family on the movie I referenced above, celebrating, and I want to make cookies and pies with my siblings like we used to; chatting animatedly and laughing together. But then I am pierced as I think of my little sister struggling to move through every day and find the meaning therein, most significantly through this Christmas season. I am held hostage as the two vibrant heart moments collide, and I just want to go back to bed.

My people tend to turn into themselves the more deeply we feel. I confess to be one of the worst offenders in this category, but I am trying to communicate with my husband and share with him the mixed up menagerie of exhaustive and conflicting emotions and thoughts impacting me during this season.

I have little rhyme or reason for expressing my own grief. I can say that I grieve more for my sister than for my niece, whom I believe is in heaven no longer suffering. It is possible to experience loss so deeply for someone else that you cannot function well through it. It is possible to hurt so bad for them that you are wounded from that alone. I had no idea.

But, I am learning. I am understanding that even now there are so many more ways the heart can be rendered incompetent in daily functioning. It is part of living. Having a heartbeat means it can be wounded, and that it can heal. That is the thing to look at.

So as I sit staring at my beautiful Christmas tree, I am reminded that the beautiful in my life does not come from the trappings that make it glow. What makes my life beautiful is what I experience and the fact that I am able to care enough to be grieved; the fact that even though we can’t go back to those carefree times of laughing through the messes made in the kitchen, we can endure and love another through the messes of life. Even if we don’t understand one another. Even if we can’t find the light in the dark. If love is there, “hope remains while the company is true” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).

God does not give up on his children. He does not do bad things to us. Stuff happens. I do not pretend to have the answers to the difficult questions. I quit asking a long time ago. What I know is that he has come through for me more times that I have suffered. I call him Yeshua (the Rescuer), because even though he has not removed mental illness from my life; even though I struggle every day, not with the normal issues in life, thought they press in, I have to grapple with finding reasons every day not to end my life. So, I know the price of suffering. I know who my people are, and regardless of what I do not understand, of what I have lost, of what my precious sister has lost, I know what I have gained and who rescues me every day.

So, this Christmas, as I straddle the fire flow burning a black chasm through my memories and traditions of Christmas, I am reminded of what remains through it all: Faith, Hope, and Love.

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The Lost Heart

It’s been a while since I have been able to write, and even now as I am typing these words, I’m still uncertain whether I will be able to continue, because somehow, somewhere, I have lost heart. I have been unable to express anything. Expression comes from the heart, and there is only an empty place where hearts tend to live; a vacant sign in the window with a stack of unopened mail outside the door.

I have lost heart before; more than once. I know that there must be a planned rescue, and in that process, expression must exist no matter how stilted and fragmented the outcome.

Because I am not a novice, I know what I must do, but I confess I am struggling to function, to care about all the things and people that matter and make my world go round. It is really a perfect storm of events that has included upheaval in every area of life, culminating with the loss of a loved one. The storm in my life has been so very comprehensive that it has made the bipolar I deal with every day seem superfluous in its wake.

Still, I am not able to experience life through any other lens than that of bipolar, and in amidst of all the trauma, loss, and now ubiquitous grief, there are the mood transitions that occur without fail; spring into fall; fall into winter.

I have been telling myself for weeks that I must get something down, but I’m not very good at writing when I feel blocked emotionally. But the thing about finding heart again is that you must walk out the process of having one before you can regain it.

I am not intentionally cryptic here. It’s just that in order to come back to the internal fragile self that houses all the inspiration, expression of beauty, and creativity, one must first journey ahead as though already in possession of these things. Again, I know this, which is why I have been reticent in beginning. I have been very indulgent of my lack of heart, and that indulgence has begun to impact all areas of my life.

When one loses heart there can be many reasons. It can happen in a day or over months or even years. Once the process is begun there may be a rending if it happens quickly, but rather often it is torn away in pieces, and one does not realize.

The loss of heart occurs with lack of time for self and connection to that inner part that sets us uniquely apart from others. Loss of heart occurs with abuse from those we love. It can occur from disappointment in life and the feeling of being trapped in something we never wanted to begin with. Loss of heart can also occur with death of a loved one, of a relationship, of a dream, or extensive illness. Often, though, it is a combination of these things that truly rends the heart, and because we are so busy trying to survive the lives we find ourselves living, we don’t even know it is gone.

Signs of loss of heart are a lack of drive, the need to escape, unwillingness to commit to anything, despair, disillusionment, the inability to feel anything; anger and frustration with the things we must do on a daily basis; lack of stamina and the discovery that nothing seems to matter to us. There is also a fragility that comes with loss of heart where we feel paper thin and we find ourselves experiencing profound sadness at times when we should be joyful, and we don’t understand why.

Loss of heart is something that happens more often than one might think. It is part of being a warrior in a world that would twist beauty and authenticity into a brand for product or sell us an emotion as and ideal. If you love, you will likely lose heart in the fray of walking that love out. It is just part of the mess of living.

But what is truly sad is not realizing that one has lost heart. People go decades without realizing this, and their decisions are made without their hearts truly engaged. So, if you feel this condition may be what you are experiencing, I invite you to go with me into this journey I am on to find my heart, and along the way, we will find yours as well.

Trees and Grief

The leaves on the trees outside my window are beginning to turn. It is early yet; only August. Yet it is as if a memo was sent out with the news that the carefree days of summer are at an abrupt end. The foliage is fighting to remain green for the time and space allotted, but it is losing. Every day I see the results of changing temperatures on the landscape. It seems to have decided that the summer has been a tragedy, and there is simply no point in continuing. So it has terminated the summer, and we are in a quick rotation to fall and then winter.

This year I am on a quick track as well, my transition into the long dark night of depression coming early and hurtling me rather quickly into the hole from which I crawled just a few short months ago. I am not easing my way. Someone has suddenly shut off the lights and I am groping around for the familiar in a darkness that is fluid with grief and a sadness so profound I find it difficult to breath.

I should not be surprised. My family recently lost a beloved member, and we are still reeling from the impact. I am not closest to the core of the trauma. I am one rung removed, but I have lost someone I loved, nonetheless, and that alone is exceedingly impactful.

August is also the month my best friend from high school passed away. It has been a few years since she left this life, but I find I am always in a bit of a struggle to stay aloft when the anniversary of her passing goes by.

I can only speak for myself. I know others who suffer even more than I do in the wake of the tragedy that has touched so many of us. I, however, can only speak to my own experience, though I have not because I felt that in doing so, I was somehow taking away from grief greater than mind.

But I am a writer. This is what I do, as much for me as for others. This is how I make sense of the tremendous mountain of living I do internally that I struggle to share with anyone in the external, and so I must write this out, however awkward it may be due to disjointedness that comes as a result of shock and loss.

The grief that hangs about like a London fog, threatens to permeate everything and leave those in it unable to move or see anything. It is a gray nothingness that causes immediate surrender under its weight. But there is a way through it, and I am groping for it, hoping for it, even as I accept that its presence has thrown me into the depressive phase of my illness early, and I am now committed to it through conscription.

The path, many of us know. It is the 5 stages of grief, and I’m going to provide them here, as I need a reminder as much as anyone.

  1. Denial and Isolation- So often we cannot accept what has happened, and because the world continues to move around us at the same speed it always has, we need to stop and isolate just to try to wrap our head around what has happened. There is nothing wrong with isolation, but staying there is a really bad idea, and an indulgence a person who intends on living in the world at some point cannot afford for very long.
  2. Anger– This is the next stage and one that is also absolutely normal. There seems an unending supply of anger once a person allows it loose. There is anger for the diseased, for the fact that life has had the gall to continue, and so many other things and people. But be sure to look at anger and make aim it where it belongs. Do not tear apart your support system with anger that should be directed elsewhere.
  3. Bargaining– So this is a tough one. Bargaining is that thing where you start looking for some control of the situation; like you need to understand what happened, and you start trying to find areas that should have been better or have been done better. The “if/then” statements. My personal belief with this step is that it does not leave you with control, but it rather often leads you to guilt which keeps you from moving through the grief process.
  4. Depression– This is where the profound sadness takes over; a lack of wanting to continue on, the inability to cope with anything, and the absolute pain that fills the place where a person has been cut from our lives. There can also be the absence of any feeling at all; a plateau of gray. Depression can last for months or years, but to stay in this phase for a prolonged period of time is akin to being trapped in a swamp, slowly pulling you under. Seek help, whether medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
  5. Acceptance– I believe that this stage can come to anyone seeking it through the haze of loss, but it does not look the same for everyone. As such, I will not be so callous as to define it. If you reach acceptance, you will recognize it as a place where you can live with what has occurred. For some, there is new life in place of what has burned. For others it is an ability to survive in a barren place. But acceptance can only be recognized and defined on an individual basis.

We do not necessarily go through the stages in order. We may repeat stages, but it is not a good idea to skip any of the stages. This is not about the heart, though it is certainly involved. You cannot put a constriction on the heart. It heals in its own time, but you can get the mind set up to support the heart as it struggles to continue to beat.

Loss is linear. What I mean by that is that you cannot compare one person’s loss to another’s simply because no two people are alike. It is a negative investment of time and energy to look at the person next to you and say, “I hurt more than you,” or “My loss is greater.” This is a linear position with a vertical journey; meaning we start out in the same place, at loss. Our journey, whether we choose to stay right where we are and wither away, or we determine to move through it, becomes a vertical one that is between only us and what or who we believe in.

What do you believe in? Who do you believe in? For me, it is Yeshua, who rescues me even as I am screaming out my descent. For me, the dark fog of loss can only open up into a 60 foot drop to the floor of massive dark depression where I will remain until spring renewal pulls me up into mania.  I will either have sorrow still in tow or not. I experience bipolar depression every year, but I must confess that just as the trees are being forced from their green stage and into the colors of fall, grief has me changing early from relative normalcy, I am simply not ready for the fall.

What It “Looks” Like

I have tried, over the years, to use my writing as a means to tangibly define and describe what it “looks” like to have major mental illness.  I am told that I am sometimes adept at doing that, but rather more often, I fear, I fall short.  Sill here I sit, yet again, virtual pen in hand, making another attempt.

I have recently come back to asking myself why I write.  It is a committed task, and it causes me to have to expose parts of my inner world I would normally not share.  In fact, I would venture to posit that I tend to share more in my writing with those I have never encountered than I usually do with the most intimate relationships in my life.  It is just the way my personality type works.  I make myself accountable to my writing, which ensures I am most authentically myself when writing.

That does not mean I am inauthentic with those in my life; it’s just that we are working on the business of living, and there is not often time for the deep introspection that produces what I write.  So, today when I write about yet another component of my illness and how it manifests in my life, it will be as new to those I encounter on a very intimate level every day as it is to those I have never met.

This morning has been rough.  I have no current reason to be so very sad.  My being is bruised, and though my life has had some very devastating recent losses, this morning seems an odd occasion to be so very broken.

The bipolar mind is unique in that it tends to not have so many rooms to it.  Walls that exist to allow control and compartmentalization of meaning that is applied to what the senses encounter get demolished with the first psychotic break.  What that means for those who endure with the illness is when something happens, it is ushered into the mind and there it sits in that open chamber, reverberating and expanding.

A single emotion for a person who is not bipolar, say sadness procured while watching a death occur in a movie, will not necessarily dissipate for the bipolar mind as it most likely will for a person not so afflicted.  So, when I watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Yondu dies, I cry.  Then I go to bed and I wake in the morning with Yondu still dying and Quill suffering.  Then, I read in my morning reading, of an individual losing his pet, and I am undone; hysterical.

Never mind that I have so many great things going in my life.  Never mind that I  am loved, that MY pets are whole.  Never mind that this is a serious over exaggeration!  I am simply unable to step away from the sadness, and that is why I must be very careful what I am allowing into my mind.

It’s not that things are bad; it’s that they are not necessarily good for me at certain times.  I am vulnerable already from other sad things, but I am also vulnerable because I had a beautiful time with a friend at lunch yesterday, someone whom I love dearly and rarely see.  I am vulnerable because I have family here to visit and I’m overwhelmed with the pleasure of seeing them.  I am overwhelmed because I have a husband who is kind and good to me when I am neither.

These are all good things, right?  So what is my problem?

Well, my brain does not always recognized things as good or bad in terms of impact.  Things get ushered into the main theater of my mind, and it does not matter whether they are positive or negative.  What matters is that they have a tremendous emotional impact, and once introduced, they reverberate continually, filling up my mental space until I’m completely overwhelmed.

I have a little dog named Dexter.  People in my life make fun of me because I baby him, and I treat him like a child, but I have reasons.  Dexter knows my emotional status before I do.  He is every bit as vital to my ability to function on a daily basis as is the lithium I take every day.  I do not know how I survive the very devastating sadness visited on my life regularly, especially when I begin the descent out of mania into depression, without him.

Dexter comes to me, climbs up in my lap, and he comforts me.  He doesn’t care if I’m neurotic.  He doesn’t care that I’m nasty and prickly.  He is not concerned about conversations and actions I should have done differently with people.  He could care less whether I’m completely in control or under-performing.  He only cares that I’m upset.  He loves me with his entire little being.  He has the ability to recognize when I’m about to go down and will attempt to comfort me even before I malfunction.

So, if I am too protective of that little dog; if I tend be a bit paranoid with him and how he is treated, it’s because I am fully aware how many times he has pulled me away from that chaos in the open room of my mind; back to a little corner where he just comforts me by sitting in my lap, resting his head on my chest as he looks into my eyes.

I know how much he needs me, and in past years, he has been my reason for not following through on an action that would have been a permanent fix for a temporary state of mind.  Sounds silly, but it is what it is.  I do not try to apply rationale to mental illness.  I just take what I can get to work, and I’m thankful for it; just a it more of what it “looks” like.

 

Take Life or Retain It

Recent events have pushed me back to a subject I’m really tired of addressing in my journey:  The ability to take life or retain it.  I phrase it that way on purpose.  We can encapsulate a person’s ability to end life as suicide, but as per usual, we human beings feel the need to assign titles and then stereotype based on a narrow definition.  We see it in the news, life ending, on a scale larger than life.

We see it in our personal lives when those near to us make choices that change the direction of the journey for everyone involved.  It’s bigger than one word, folks, and the decision to retain life is as significant as is the choice to take it.  But we don’t focus on, “What ain’t broke,” right?  Well for those faced with the choice as though standing on a narrow ledge with a canyon on either side, one choice is every bit as valuable as the other.

Because of my journey with mental illness, the option to end my life has been a daily decision.  Every day I wake up thinking, “Is this the day I won’t find a reason to keep fighting?  It is a dialogue that is as familiar to me as that to brush my teeth, feed the dog, and do my list of chores for the day.  I have been addressing that commentary for over 30 years.   That is not necessarily the case of someone who does not battle mental illness. You can be taken to the ends of endurance for many reasons that do not include mental illness.

My personal belief is that desperation, disillusionment, and despair occur in the absence of hope, and many of us have lost hope in the midst of endless struggle where we simply knew we were incapable of going on, and an option to jump ship seemed not only the only option but completely rational in the face of ongoing battle and the complete depletion of our reserves.

I do not believe ending life is categorically defined as mental illness.  If so, in order to logically balance that statement, my NOT ending my life makes me NOT mentally ill, which would be lovely, but I have a bottle of lithium, anxiety meds, and a lack of mental control that would present as witnesses to the contrary.

My point in writing this is that we cannot look at the tail end of the life-ending process and attempt to address it there.  We must look at how it unfolds in life, and even then, the ability to determine to continue to live or to end life is the fundamental right of the person making the decision.  I am not advocating ending personal life.  If that were the case, I would have ended mine a long time ago.  I am saying we need to look at what we can do regardless of outcome.

We are such a reactive culture.  We bond together in aftermath.  Watch the patterns in our society, and you can’t miss it.  Our medical practices, our mental health practices, our reasons for changing our life practices are largely seated in reacting to something after it happens.  We lose weight after our health fails.  We address medical issues after the body fails.  We address mental health after we have lost it, and our systems for treatment perpetuate that.

So what is the answer?  I believe that we are always faced with choice.  We cannot change another person’s choices the majority of the time, but we can choose to love greatly, to invest mightily, and live the lives we have been given for as long as we have them.

I have been a public speaker for 25 years.  I have spoken to law enforcement, church organizations, and academic settings about my experience with bipolar disorder and what it has done to my life.  I have addressed suicide so authentically that it makes people very uncomfortable.  I have taught classes on addressing suicidal ideation in self, because it is arrogance to assume you can address this issue in someone else  unless they want to address it.  I adamantly profess self assessment and accountability when it comes to suicide, because it’s as much my responsibility to prevent my death every day as it is to do anything else I have committed to.

I believe with all my professional and personal experience that we need to look at suicide in a different way, because what we are doing is not working.  I am not sure a person who has made a decision to end life can be dissuaded.  It is either something done in overwhelming despair in the moment or planned out based on very thought out reasons and process.  Neither is really a scenario set up for talking through it.

People who reach out for help can be helped, but we need to come up with better ways to help, because what we are doing is not working.  We have to be willing to talk about suicide, what it is, what it does, and the fact that it is permanent.  The young do not necessarily understand this.  Duh.  Right?  Nope.  The brain is missing major logic connections, and there is often an inability to understand that there is no coming back from completed life termination.

We have to be willing to talk about the ending of life when we talk about living it, because it has become an acceptable solution in our current society.  Sometimes having notoriety in death is worth not being here for, just to know at SOME point people knew you were here and that you suffered.

There is a double-edged sword present in talking about suicide.  It can backfire with more suicides because people are often pushed to suicide because they feel alone and misunderstood.  The more we publicize those who have ended their lives, the more it speaks to the person who is so desperately needing to be seen.  But not talking about it causes stigma.  As I said, a double-edged sword.

We must get with people who have survived suicide attempts or ongoing suicidal ideation and learn from them; find out how they have managed living with such a permanent inclination.  We MUST redefine how we address the option to end life.  We are not getting anywhere.

I am going to sound as though I am talking through both sides of my face.  I believe in the right to decide for self.  But I also believe we must educate and open up what life ending does to the person and especially to the people that person loves.  The aftermath of death for any reason devastates those who love that person.  When an individual takes their own life, there is a feeling of betrayal and abandonment that accompanies many who are left behind that does not generally accompany other reasons for tragedy. We have to be ready for that, and when they reach out, we need to be willing to talk about it without condemnation.  It is never our place to judge, unless we have reached perfection ourselves.

The bigger issue is the lack of available treatment for those trying to get away from having to constantly make the decision whether or not to live.  I confess, I have no answers here.  I have largely steered clear of what is available in the professional sector for treatment for my illness.  I am medicated, but I am an authority on my illness.  I believe knowledge is power, and I am armed to the hilt.  I do not view the medical community as knowing any more than I do.  They are my employees, and I hire them to provide what I need.

I pray and ask my Creator to show me how my body functions.  I do not believe he made me with mental illness, but he has allowed it in my life for reasons I do not fully understand, and he has given me means to handle it that are not in the current treatment regime for such illnesses.  I have navigated outside the current system and the damage it does to people, but I have also used it to receive what I need to sustain my life.  I modify, modify, modify.  I surrendered a “normal” life long ago, and now I function at a daily deficit.

But I Function

This is an ongoing problem.  We cannot put a period on the end of this one.  We must start with those in our lives and begin to change how we look at this, one person at a time, and we must remember that as long as there is the option to live, there will be the option to die; the ability to take life or to retain it.

 

The Monster in the Guest House

Over the years I have attempted to describe my special brand of mental illness with vivid imagery like, the monster in the guest house, so as to lend someone who has never experienced mental illness a way to identify if even just a little with what goes on in the life of a person with major mental illness.  I’ve no idea how successfully I have managed to do that.  I know that when I do speaking engagements I often get feedback from those kind enough to listen to me in regards to the vivid imagery I use, suggesting that they have in some way been able to relate.  That positive reinforcement compels me to look further for ways to help bridge the gap to understanding, because stigma exists out of fear of the unknown, and the best way to ameliorate fear is to educate.

The icon I have used that I feel best defines the existence of bipolar disorder in my life has been the monster in the guest house.  I have written this out before, but I have had so many different venues for my writing that I am unable to find my original writing, and there is the fact that I was also writing a dissertation whilst writing blogs, and some things disappeared in the process and my wearing out laptops and not getting everything saved beforehand.

So, without further ado…

My life with bipolar is like having a monster show up on the doorstep of my house, insisting that it is going to move in.  That is what happened at 22 years old.  Now, I wrestled and fought this monster, but I was poorly armed, so while it rampaged in my house, tearing everything apart, I began to search for reinforcements.

There really were no human beings able to help me. They had never seen such a monster, and their response was that I simply control it or pretend it was not there.  But the monster could not be controlled, and I could not pretend it was not there.  It not only tore up my house, but it was a shape shifter and would alter its appearance to look like me, then run out of my house and do things others could see.  They would think it was ME doing those things.

I found a doctor who gave me some magic pills and told me that he could not see the inside of my house or the monster, but the more I explained to him what my house looked like, what the monster was doing, and how I was feeling, he could better help me.  I was relieved to have someone in my life willing to help and who seemed to be able to plot a course for killing the monster.

What I came to realize was that the monster was so attached to me and to my house, that if I killed him, I would also die.  Many times I very nearly killed the monster.  Many times I nearly succeeded.

I decided that I would not be a victim.  I would be a warrior.  I armed myself with as much information as possible, and though the magic pills did not work, I continued to search for ones that would.  I became strong in my knowledge, and authority on the monster.  I became powerful in my abilities to trick the monster, and finally after 10 years, I found a magic pill that helped.

I was able to take the magic pill and close places in my house in a way that rendered the monster limited in its ability to access them.  The magic pill was not a cure, but it was a powerful weapon in limiting the monster, and eventually it only had access to a couple of rooms in my house.

One day I met a brain wizard. He was a doctor of cognitive behavioral practices, and he taught me how to take a thought and remake it into a better functioning thought.  This was valuable, because the biggest power the monster had was to take thoughts that roamed freely in my house and turn them into twisted ugly things that didn’t come close to their original structure.  They would turn on me and attack like little rabid dogs. The brain wizard helped me grab hold of those twisted thoughts and remake them.

I realized I could act on the monster’s weakened state, so I kicked it out the door of my house and locked it in the guest house.  I told it I may never be able to kick it off my property but I was not going to allow it to destroy my house any longer.  I locked it up, and with the magic pills and the skills taught by the brain wizard, I have managed to keep it there…

For the most part.

After so many years of battling the monster, my house is not the same.  There are scars, gouges, from where it sliced through walls.  I have rebuilt the furniture many times, and the appliances work, though not as well as they used to. It is not a pretty house any more.  Things are tidy, but often the walls shake with the monster’s rage and attempts to break out of the guest house, and things fall and break. There are fewer rooms to secure these days.  The last time the monster broke out of the guest house, he broke down more walls, so the house is pretty open.  And though the memory room still stands, there is no longer a door.  That is the room that the monster likes to wreck, and it is the room it takes me the longest to restore.  In fact there have just been too many things that have gone missing from that room.

I feel that for the most part I have been fortunate in my dealings with the monster.  I have had people move in around me who are good neighbors, people who help me watch the guest house and alert me when things are looking unsettled.  Mainly, though I have a Being in my life that is unafraid of any monsters life can produce.  I was angry at the Being for a long time.  I thought he had put the monster on my property, but I have come to realize he has orchestrated all the weapons I have obtained, and the beautiful neighbors who help me are there by his design.

Here’s the ironic part.  The Being has helped me realize my life has more meaning because of what lives on my property. I am a more dimensional, humble, and empathetic person because the Being didn’t kill the monster but helped me submit the monster.  Some days I stand guard very well.  Other days I struggle to make it to my post from the sheer magnitude of stress caused by having such a creature on my property, but I continue in my precarious existence, and I attempt life with grace bestowed on my by the Being and those beautiful neighbors.  I find I have a light of hope walking back and forth between my house and where the monster is housed that reassures me that there is more good for me than bad.  I find I can employ  gratefulness and identify with others, and I believe I am able to do those things largely because of the presence of the monster in the guest house.

“Drowned in Moonlight, Strangled by [Her] Own Bra”

And so that is how I will honor her.

I did not know her.  I was not “close” to her.  I was a fan less of her acting and more of her unwillingness to let major mental illness destroy her zeal for life.

In my twenties, I was soaring on the wings of youth and anticipation when they were clipped by a psychotic break and a near death (OK, more than one) encounter. It was through reading about people (and there were precious few) who were living functional lives with mental illness that I obtained some hope in finding a way to survive.

Over the years I have found the illness a more than worthy adversary.  I have often looked around at all the zebras in the pen and wondered why I had spots.  Learning that Princess Leia was of the same pattern somehow helped.  As time passed, my professional research correlated with my personal experience with bipolar disorder as well as agoraphobia and produced information I have sometimes wished I had not found.

Things like, people with illnesses such as mine die, on average, 10 years sooner than those who do not.  Heart issues seem to be joined to bipolar, and there is research linking the ongoing production of cortisol produced by a damaged hypothalamus (a physical component of the damage bipolar does to the brain) that ultimately causes heart problems.

In short, it’s not all in my head after all! And I’m not at all sure that is a good thing.

What I do know is that there are too few zebras with spots living their lives out in a way that is fearless and, yes, sometimes quixotic, but authentic in all.  Carrie Fisher was one.  I would not normally write a blog about a famous person.  It seems rather sensational, and I’m not that kind of writer, but this person, personally, impacted my life.

There are so few people in this area to look up to.  Mental illness too often wins and extinguishes the life light before the person can really show who they are.  I always thought Carrie’s frankness and ability to articulate her thoughts in unique ways that often caught the listener off guard, was a direct win over illness, insight into her as a person, and an encouragement to those dealing with bipolar that you can make it to a place of balance.

I’m in a very dark season at present.  The waves of instability keep pounding into my little boat of balance.  Today was not a good day to have an icon of hope for surviving mental illness pass away, but there is never a “good” day, and I am reminded that some of the things that make life most meaningful are our abilities to love and feel loss, to laugh and find the humor in things, and live fully that life which we are given as often as we can.

Today I can’t do most of those very well, but tomorrow I will try again, and I suspect that is what Carrie did the most…she continued to try again.

“[She] drowned in moonlight, strangled by [her] own bra”

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