My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘marriage’

Managing My Anger

Many people need to control their anger by learning not to let it out. They can take anger management courses.

My anger problem is keeping it all in. I never know when it’s safe to let some of it out. And I don’t think they have courses for that.

Why do I need to let my anger out? Wouldn’t I be happier and life be easier if I were pleasant and agreeable all the time?

No. There are reasons I need my anger, and need to express it.A LOADING Illustration with Black Background - Anger

I need to vent. I was at the office once and a coworker had done some crazy thing or other. I went to my boss and spouted off. Wisely, he just tsk-tsked about it and didn’t try to fix anything. He knew that it was just a frustrating situation and I needed to express my feelings.

Stuffing your feelings is unhealthy. It’s especially bad if you push the feelings of anger down and then try to smother them with food or alcohol. A character on Dharma and Greg once said, “If you’re going to bottle up your feelings, you might as well pickle them first.” Taking advice from sitcoms is usually not the best idea.

Swallowed feelings don’t go away. They stay inside you and fester. Sooner or later you may explode and cause real damage – the kind you can’t fix. Better to let off a little anger at times than to save it all for later.

Sometimes, anger is justified. Anger at injustice or when you’ve been wronged is appropriate. If you don’t express it, the injustice or wrongful behavior will simply continue.

Having bipolar disorder makes dealing with my feelings of anger even trickier. I’ve spent too many years not recognizing that I even have anger and that it’s sometimes an appropriate feeling. That leads to being a doormat, which I also have years of experience with.

Dealing with my bipolar issues has meant dealing with anger as well. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

There are people I can vent to. One of them is my therapist; some of my male and female friends provide good outlets too. These are not people I am angry at, at least not at the time I vent. As with my former boss, I just need someone to hear and acknowledge my feelings of anger. I have separate categories – a friend to discuss my husband with, another one for work issues, and so forth – so no one has to listen to too much of my anger spillover.

I need to pick my battles. Living with anyone causes friction, which can lead to anger. Just this week I was mad at my husband. I wanted to shout at him, “If you had done your errands yesterday instead of watching movies, you wouldn’t be jammed up today and laying them off on me!” But really, how would that have helped? Could he go back to yesterday and do the errands himself? Would it have helped to refuse to do the errands and then sulked all day? Was there any real reason I couldn’t help out? Best to let this one go.

I have to measure my words. Perhaps I do this too much, but some amount is necessary. What was helpful this week was to say to my husband (after I had run the errands), “I need to tell you that I’m frustrated that you left all these errands until today and I had to take over some of them. There were other things I needed to be doing today.” (My things could be postponed; his couldn’t.) By that time I had cooled off enough that “frustrated” was more accurate than “angry,” and less likely to trigger a major shouting match. (Also notice the “I” statements that psychologists recommend.)

If I am angry and I do express it, it’s survivable. My husband and I have gotten through some very bad spells when both of us have been extremely angry. Some of them have required couples therapy, while others have been solved through time and negotiation. Other parts of my life have not turned out as well. I had to cut ties with a toxic relative for whom I had an unhealthy level of anger, with no hope of either of us changing.But I survived – and was the better for it, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes that’s necessary, for either your own or the other person’s mental health and safety.

It helps to have a good emotional vocabulary. Seriously. I don’t have to jump straight to anger when something upsets me. Maybe I really am just frustrated. Or disturbed. Or annoyed. Inconvenienced. Irritated. Miffed. Insulted. Disappointed. Cranky. Those feelings are easy to mistake for anger. It may be better for me to step back and ask, “Do I really feel angry?”

It helps to have a repertoire of behaviors. Not all anger has to be dealt with the same way. I could lash out and say something hurtful. But I could also walk away until I calm down, or have a good cry. I could say, “I’m too angry to discuss this now.” I could release my anger in a physical activity (actually, my husband is much more likely to do this). I could write a “never-send” letter (or a “to-be-sent” one).

But the first step to all of these is recognizing that I do indeed feel anger, and have a right to own my anger and express it. Anger may be harmful, but denying it is harmful too.

I Got Away Successfully!

Last week I mentioned that my husband and I were planning a day trip to Cuyahoga National Park to see Brandywine Falls. This was based on a sudden, nearly inexplicable urge to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and see nature, despite my aversion to exercise. Maybe I was a little manicky. Who knows?mesign

I’m happy to report that the trip was a success, as you can see from these pictures. The drive up was long and hot (so was the drive back), but that gave us plenty of time for conversation. We got lost a couple of times in the park area (it’s a big, oddly shaped park), but with a little help we found the right parking lot and even grabbed a space near the trailhead. As advertised, there was a boardwalk that led right to the falls, or at least to an overlook with a great view.

stairsThere were also 69 steps leading down to the falls, or, more to the point, 69 steps leading back up to the boardwalk and the overlook. I declined to attempt the stairs, but my husband did, and got some pretty good pictures. janfalls

Since it was Father’s Day, there were a number of families there, but not so many that the trail seemed like a line for the rides at DisneyWorld. The weather was ungodly hot – in the 90s as we were driving home – but the boardwalk was shady and there was a bit of a breeze.falls3

So, what did I learn from this little adventure? First, that travel, at least on a small scale, is possible for me. I liked it so well that I am looking forward to taking another such trip, though most likely when the weather is cooler.

I drove the whole way up and back and was not bothered by my fears of drivers in the other lanes or railings and concrete dividers being too close to our car. (This is a thing that used to happen, even when I was a passenger. Driving was out of the question back then.)

Second, that I could make this trip with only minimal panic. I did have a moment on the way home. We stopped to eat, and as I rummaged in my bag for my regular glasses, I couldn’t find them. I thought they were pretty likely to be in the car, though I had visions of the case lying on one of the benches along the boardwalk. I was even trying to figure out whom to call or write that might be in charge of lost and found.

However, I managed to suppress the feelings, read the menu with my sunglasses on (that actually may have been the hardest part), resist the urge to ask Dan to go out to the car and check, and get through the meal.

The glasses case proved to be in the car and I managed to avoid either panic or mini-meltdown. I call that success. I finished driving home, we fed the animals, and then collapsed. It was exhausting and exhilarating and adventurous and restorative, and most of all, proof that I could travel again, at least for a medium-short jaunt. Travel was one of my greatest joys and one of the things I’ve missed most since the bipolar stole so many parts of my life. I am delighted to be able to say that I am beginning to reclaim it.

All photos by Dan Reily

 

 

 

Mr. Fix-It

Him: I just groomed the cat. I used a cat-a-comb.

Me: *total silence*

Him: Hey, honey! I just groomed the cat – with a cat-a-comb!

Me: *more silence*

I was depressed, and he was trying to cheer me up. Using exactly the same joke that had gotten no response only seconds before. I don’t know why he thought it would work better the second time.

Many men have the instinct that, when confronted with a problem, they will try to solve it. When something is broken, they will try to fix.

I wasn’t broken, exactly, but I was deep in the Pit of Despair, aka the lower mood swing of my bipolar disorder. At that stage I am immobilized, uncommunicative, and utterly humorless.

The fact that Dan had worked in hospitals and psychiatric facilities was actually a bad thing, despite what you might expect. He had run laughter therapy groups, he knew the jargon, and he sincerely wanted to be helpful.

But he didn’t know – viscerally – what depression was like. How it felt in your body and mind and soul, how it damped down your personality and blunted your reactions and removed your ability to view life as anything other than miserable. Certainly not funny.

Later Dan learned all this when he experienced his own bout of clinical depression and became another one of my Prozac pals. But until then, he would occasionally come shrinking at me, until I had to tell him to stop. I could accept a hug, but not a joke or a “remedy.”

But all that was early in our relationship and before I had begun to heal or even get proper treatment. And I literally would not have made it this far without Dan. I need him and likely always will.

When it’s Pit of Despair time again (which it sometimes still is), he checks on me to see if I need that hug, or some food, or a kind word, or just to be left alone. When I am better, he still does the cooking and shopping, and reminds me to eat regular meals and take showers and tells me I smell nice after I do. Sometimes he can coax me out of bed with a tape of The Mikado or out of the house with lunch at Frisch’s. If I’m too nervous to drive to my appointments, he takes me. When I’m together enough to work, he keeps the house quiet and fixes food when I need a break and validates me for being able to bring in money, even when it’s difficult.

But he can’t fix me. And now he knows that.

Missing Friends

Last week I wrote about the controversial subject of self-harm. In my post, I said:

One of my dearest friends once said that if he ever found out I was a cutter, I would never hear from him again. Except for his publicly mocking me for being so stupid.

Naturally, this sort of reaction, though common, is not helpful. I didn’t tell him (or practically anyone else). And I didn’t tell him that at least two other people he knew – one fairly intimately – were also cutters.

Anyway, Tom, if you’re reading this and still feel the same, I guess this is goodbye – just not the long goodbye. I would rather skip the public mocking, though. I’ll just assume you’ve done it while I wasn’t there, mm-kay?

Finally, I got tired of wondering, withholding a part of my past from someone with whom I have practically no secrets, sometimes to the point of TMI.

So I called him and asked, “Are we OK?” At first he didn’t know what I meant, since he hadn’t read the post, but after a brief nudge I could tell he knew exactly what I was referring to.

Just as a (very rational) mutual friend had predicted, Tom chalked it up to the hyperbole of his callow youth and reassured me that we were fine.

Still.

I had lived with the fear of losing that important relationship (and being publicly mocked) for over 20 years. I had never dared mention it to any people in our circle either.

And, let’s face it, I have lost other friends and can attribute at least some of these losses to my bipolar disorder. It harms me, but it also harms those around me, and especially relationships.

I have shot my mouth off and driven away friends and colleagues with bitterness and sarcasm but without realizing how I sounded.

I have ratted out a friend to his therapist and his wife when he was suicidal, which he found unforgivable.

I have turned down invitations to go out or agreed to and then backed out one too many times. My friend gave up the effort since I wasn’t responding.

I have abused the hospitality of friends. When I was at my still functioning moderately well, I would visit and we would enjoy activities, food, conversation, and music. When I was near or at the depths, I would invite myself to visit and turn into an uncommunicative, disengaged, immobilized lump. I was a mooch and a leech, and a real downer generally. I didn’t like spending time with myself, so it’s no wonder they didn’t either.

And I miss every single one of them. I wish I hadn’t driven them away. I wish I could make things right again, now that I’m functioning at a higher level. But I can’t. And that hurts.

In some cases, I’ve tried – sent brief notes of apology. They have been acknowledged with cold politeness that does not invite more contact. I don’t know what else I can do.

Bipolar is a cyclical illness and, though I’m much improved, I can’t promise that I will never sink that low, be that inconsiderate, offend those I deeply care about again. And I can’t blame them for not wanting to deal with that. I don’t want to deal with it.

But I have no choice in the matter. And that hurts too.

Fortunately, there’s one friend I cannot lose, no matter what – my husband. He’s ridden the roller coaster with me, put up with the huge mood swings, ignored the irrational remarks, offered to help in any way, encouraged me to go out but understands when I can’t, and dispensed hugs on a regular basis. He respects alone time and is there when I need company or distraction. If things are really bad, he gets me to eat and helps me shower and takes care of the pets and picks up my refills and does whatever else needs doing.

He’s a man who takes “in sickness and in health” seriously. I wouldn’t have made it this far without him. And I won’t ever lose him, till death do us part.

A Mother? Me?

Ah, the shrieks of laughter and squeals of delight from playful children! They cut through me like a light saber through Jell-O. I’m hyper-sensitive to loud or high-pitched noises.

A while back, one of my blogging buddies was speculating on whether she wanted to or ought to have a child, despite her disorder. I have no answer or even advice for her, but but here is what I think about motherhood and Bipolar Me.

When we got married, my husband really wanted to be a father some day. To tell the truth, I never gave it much thought really, since I had never expected to be married.

At that time in my life I was barely medicated and had a lot of meltdowns and breakdowns and up-and-down cycles (mostly down) ahead of me.

Looking back, I am glad that I never became a mother. The thought alone overwhelms me.

First of all, I would have been a really bad mother. It would have been unfair to a child to have a mother who would disappear into her room for days at a time, not communicate for weeks at a time, be depressed for months – or years – at a time. Not to mention not being able to enjoy anything. Put that person in charge of a live human child for 18+ years?

I know there must be people who do it, but I don’t even really understand how non-biploar people manage it.

Second – and this is the part that is going to sound selfish to those people she feel that childless-by-choice women are all selfish – but I needed all the resources I had to construct and reconstruct myself. As Gloria Steinem reportedly said, I didn’t give birth to a child because I was giving birth to myself. I still am, after my most recent and most monumental breakdown, still trying to salvage what I can of my psyche, seeing what pieces still fit, and learning to live with the things that are no longer present – or maybe never were.

And I had all kinds of irrational thoughts on the subject of motherhood. The one time I thought about motherhood, it was because my father was dying, and I wanted him to see his grandchild if there was going to be one.

Also, I was terrified of losing myself. My husband had some issues of his own and was, let’s say, way too close to his inner child. I thought he and a child would outnumber me and I would be the mean one, the killjoy, the Other.

As time went on, I grew less and less inclined to even be around babies or small children. And my husband would go into a funk if one of our friends had a baby. Eventually, he decided that if he wasn’t going to be a father, he could be a mentor, a helper, a healer, to other children and former children. Maybe even his inner child.

Now having a child is no longer even a possibility. And I’m good with that.

 

Taking Turns

For the past several days, I have been dealing with a husband in severe pain from osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis, and back spasms.

I have driven him to Urgent Care, picked up prescriptions, provided him with a walking stick and a cane, set up a heating pad, researched his conditions on the computer, talked him through his exercises, and more. I wish I could do all this without getting cranky. I wish he would follow my advice more, especially when I tell him to see a doctor. But sometimes he’s such a guy.

What I have been doing for him is nothing – at all – compared to what he did for me and how he supported me when I had my last breakdown, which lasted several years. He did everything. Shopping, pet care, cooking, paying bills, earning a paycheck. Not to mention loving me through the despair, irrational thinking, sobbing uncontrollably, immobilization, and all the rest.

He really took that whole “in sickness and in health” thing to heart. Now it’s my turn to do likewise.

I am completely out of spoons. I will carry on anyway. He deserves it.

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