Here we go again

Brain Filter note: This was my “he said” on the issue of suicide. Please read the trigger warning. Whether you read this piece or not, there is help out there. People care about you. Reach out for help. Please do. Because we love you.

Trigger Warning: I am going to talk about my experiences with mental illness and suicide. If these things upset you too much, I hope you will skip this post but stick around the site head to our food site. Our recipes and stories are generally much more palatable.

In my first draft of this post, this was the point that I eventually got to, but this is not something you build up to. This is literally a matter of life and death.

If you are considering suicide, think about us.

We know what you feel. We know darkness, hopelessness, bottomless despair. Your situation is completely different from ours. And exactly like ours. We know your pain and we love you. Believe us, there is hope; there is love. There is someone who cares about you. Don’t give up. Reach out. Please. Reach out. Here are some folks who can help. Please, let them.

If you are in crisis, stop. Don’t do anything. Call these folks for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24
1-866-488-7386

If you’re not in immediate danger, please act anyway. There are professionals who can help. There are medicines. There is therapy. Now is the time to find out what works for you.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advice for finding professional help and support groups. They have lots of other good information as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health has great information. More than just help, if you are interested in the science or the history of mental illness, check them out.

And please, please ask for help. We love you. The world needs you. The future has a place for you.

Now back to our regular programming…

I am adding the above warning to Angela’s post on the same topic. I know some of our friends — and likely some folks we don’t know — were affected by her post. We are truly sorry for springing that on you. We know exactly how intense the emotions can be.

No excuses, but an explanation… Angela putting that out there is amazing. I am so proud of her for opening up about something so difficult. She is not an open person at the best of times. For her to be able and willing to open up was remarkable. And like pulling off a band-aid, it needed to be done quickly if at all. Hence our failure to add a warning to her post.

But her story is out there now. So it’s time for my story. Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m crazy as a betsy bug.

Hi, Paul!

See?

It’s no joking matter, except that it is a joking matter. While “crazy as a betsy bug” is an accurate if cornpone diagnosis, my actual disease is bipolar disorder. I’m manic-depressive. Normal folk have mood swings. I have the roller coaster from hell.

Um, so where’s the joke? True, my disease is the source of many of my problems. I’ve lost money, jobs, time, relationships, and a marriage. It was actually my first wife who explained my condition to me; after we were divorced, she, with considerable vehemence, called me “a sick fucking psycho with a bipolar disorder.” After that pleasant phone call, I did some research. She was right. I found a psychiatrist and with just a few pills I was much better.

I won’t attempt to define the disease. The folks at the National Institute of Mental Health have that covered. I am bipolar II fortunately — just crazy enough to really screw up my life. Not crazy enough to end up in an institution. So far.

Right, jokes. It turns out that you are currently reading my silver lining. Bipolar disorder has a strong link to creativity. The mania and hypomania that speeds up our brains tends to rev up the creative circuits quite well also. That is assuming that your brain is not so overloaded that you end up walking down the street preaching the gospel. Naked. And even when creativity is what you get out of the deal, the tide can turn. As bright as you can be, the blackness of the depression is crippling. Van Gogh anyone? And Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse to drown.

Again there is a much better source of information. Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., is an expert on bipolar disorder; she co-wrote the book on the subject, Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression. She is a scholar and an excellent mass market writer as well. Her memoir, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, is beautiful and heartbreaking. She also wrote Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. If you are interested in the arts, this is a book you should read. It shines a new light on many of the masters.

Dr. Jamison also wrote Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. If you have no experience with suicide, I’m happy for you, and this book can help you understand a little. If you do have experience, you can get a sense of why. And if you have ever considered suicide, this will hopefully show you why not.

I have experience with suicide.

When I was 13, my mother and I drove to rural Greenleaf, Mississippi, to visit my grandmother. When we went into the house, her bedroom door was closed. I think that’s when I started to cry. That certainly told me something was wrong. She never closed that door. I pushed open the door, moving the small table that she had placed in front of it. She was sprawled on the floor beside her bed, my late grandfather’s shotgun beside her. She had tied a length of thin green ribbon around the trigger and looped it around the stock in order to fire the long weapon.

This was my first real experience with death, and the grief and the guilt were overwhelming. My mother and I both wondered what we could have done differently. Visit her more? Bring her to visit us? Why? Just why? It wasn’t until much later that I noticed one of the two calendars in her bedroom. One was the standard drugstore calendar. The other was something like that, but it was older. I always assumed she liked the picture, a nest with beautiful robin’s eggs. Then I noticed the date; it was the month and year that my grandfather died. I didn’t understand depression and mental illness then, but the idea that she had lived with that much sadness for so long was heart-wrenching.

I have considered suicide.

Now you know Angela’s story. She even gave a good account of my side. What she didn’t tell you is that, for an instant, when I found her on the kitchen floor I considered just letting her go and going to slit my wrists. I didn’t obviously. I called 911, and after the worst 20 minutes of my life, the ambulance arrived. After five endless days, she came out of the coma. I can tell you long and often funny stories about her recovery. (Okay, just one. Angela was in the ICU during the World Cup. I was afraid I was too mean to the Brazil fan nurse until I met his German immigrant co-worker. Wow.) For now I should stay on topic, though.

During my unhappy first marriage, I wondered about driving into a tree. I didn’t have anyone I was worried about, and I didn’t have airbags. I suppose I thought of my mother, but truth be told, I was just worried I would screw it up.

After things started to fall apart for Angela, a lot of the stable foundation I had began to crumble. But as dark as things got, I had Angela. I do that to her. I couldn’t be without her. And my life isn’t without hope or promise. Hell, we’ve written three books. Those will outlive me so if I keep writing, I will be that much more immortal. But the feeling can still take you.

And because it bears repeating…

If you are considering suicide, think about us.

We know what you feel. We know darkness, hopelessness, bottomless despair. Your situation is completely different from ours. And exactly like ours. We know your pain, and we love you. Believe us, there is hope; there is love. There is someone who cares about you. Don’t give up. Reach out. Please. Reach out. Here are some folks who can help. Please, let them.

If you are in crisis, stop. Don’t do anything. Call these folks for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24
1-866-488-7386

If you’re not in immediate danger, please act anyway. There are professionals who can help. There are medicines. There is therapy. Now is the time to find out what works for you.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advice for finding professional help and support groups. They have lots of other good information as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health has great information. More than just help, if you are interested in the science or the history of mental illness, check them out.

And please, please ask for help. We love you. The world needs you. The future has a place for you.

Why We Haven’t Written in a Year

Brain Filter note: This post, originally from our main site, marked the beginning of our return to life after a long, dark period. Pay heed to the trigger warning. If you can’t bring yourself to read this post, we understand. But please, reach out. Whether you or someone you love suffers from a mental illness, help is available — help to cope, help to understand, help to survive. Reach out. And always remember, we love you.

Trigger Warning: I am going to talk about my experiences with mental illness and suicide. If these things upset you too much, I hope you will skip this post but stick around the site head to our food site. Our recipes and stories are generally much more palatable.

It really has been over a year since we posted an entry. Wow. A lot has happened. The blog got wiped out during a design change and had to be rebuilt. The boy got old and moved out. We’ve gotten out of the chicken business. We’ve gained and lost pets.

But none of those things are the real reason we haven’t written.

I’ve written before about being bipolar, but then I focused mainly on the manic side of things. For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been fighting the other side, the depression. We’re all familiar with depression. I think we all experience it to some degree at some point in our lives.

But the depression I’ve dealt with has been irrational and unceasing. It took over our lives and almost cost me mine. I took a handful of pills back in March and spent 9 days in a mental hospital getting my head back on straight. I came out of that feeling better for a while, but the depression wasn’t done with me.

I don’t remember doing it, so I don’t know what I was thinking or feeling. I don’t even remember the days leading up to it, but on July 9, Paul and I had an argument, and I guess I went down the rabbit hole. I took 5 bottles of pills while Paul was out to lunch cooling off. He found me unconscious on the kitchen floor. I ended up being in a coma for 5 days.

I shouldn’t be writing this now. The doctors didn’t expect me to come out of that coma. They had started talking to Paul about long-term care options. But I did wake up. It hasn’t been easy. I spent 23 days more in the hospital, some of it in a medically induced coma, the rest relearning how to communicate, how to use my left hand, getting back my memories. I still have a trach in my throat, so I still can’t actually talk.

Paul stood by me through all of it. In that whole 28 days, he only came home 5 times. He’s been my rock. While I would completely understand if he were angry with me, he’s never once blamed me. In the larger scope of things, he’s been a saint. My depression has cost us dearly. Our fourth book is never going to happen because of me. I’ve cost him job opportunities because neither of us trusts me to be alone. And I can only imagine the emotional hell I’ve put him through.

I’m not writing about this now in search of sympathy. I’m writing about it because depression is dangerous. Suicide claims more lives than murder even though we don’t hear about it in the news. People who try suicide once are more likely to try again. I tried for the first time when I was 19. This was my 6th attempt.

Am I ok now? Yes and no. I’m not suicidal now. But I have had some emotional instability since I’ve been home. I’ve completely changed the medication I take, and I can tell a difference. But I wouldn’t say that I’m out of the woods just yet. And there’s the trach. I’ve been back in the hospital to get scar tissue in my throat removed, but I’m still weeks away from being rid of it and able to breathe and talk normally again.

Watch the people you love for signs of depression and get them help when they need it. There shouldn’t be a stigma to needing help sometimes, but people can’t always ask for themselves. When someone is depressed, sometimes they don’t realize how bad things are from the inside, and things can get very bad very quickly. Making that offer can make all the difference in the world.

And while we’ve never asked for donations before, I’m asking now. If you’ve got money sitting around doing nothing, we could really use it. Please consider visiting my GoFundMe site. Thank you.

The Interesting World Inside My Head

Brain Filter note: This was our first foray into talking about mental illness on our main blog. Angela was very brave here. Unfortunately things only got worse from here.

I’ve confessed things on here before, but this is an actual thing. In case you didn’t know it, I’m bipolar. It’s not as bad as a lot of people think, but it does make life, well, interesting.

To be honest about it, you can probably tell by blog posts when I’m having manic time. Things like this happen. Or I don’t write at all because I can’t trust what I might say, or it is too rambling for anyone to have to read. We just don’t have enough readers to risk alienating people.

When I’m manic, I get a lot done. It’s unfocused sometimes, but sometimes it can be useful. I’ve cleaned the kitchen to the point of taking a toothbrush to the underside overhang of the granite counter top. That may have been a little too much, but the kitchen was very clean. I’ve cooked all day for days at time to freeze things to eat later. I’ve had really great ideas of what to cook but been totally unable to focus enough to cook anything. Along the same vein, I’ve thought about things to cook, but then by the time I get around to doing it, I can’t remember what it was.

It also makes for interesting writing. If I’m not just writing for me, I have to keep that rambling instinct from coming through (I’m lucky enough to have Paul to edit me). Sometimes I let it come through enough to be humorous, and that’s ok. That’s just the way I am. Sometimes writing is very difficult because I get ideas on what I want to write about, but I get too many ideas, and then, just like with cooking, nothing gets done.

I do write a lot when I’m having happy fun manic time. I can crank out 5 1,000 word short stories in a single day. I can get huge chunks of larger works done. (If you’re actually interested in what I’m working on, shoot me an email, but we’re not going to talk about it on here.) I don’t sleep; it’s not that I don’t need to, but I really can’t. I’ve gotten to be great friends with sunrise. I’ve stayed awake much longer than 24 hours. Paul and Patric can tell pretty easily when that’s happened even though I do always say, quite honestly, that I’m not sleepy and I’m ok.

Then there are the bad parts. So many things come into my head that my head actually hurts. My tinnitus turns into background music (never good music, though) that only I can hear. Lights seem to dim and then brighten again. When I close my eyes, I see patterns behind my eyelids that look almost like letters, and I would be able to read them if I could just get my eyes lined up right. I know this is not good, and I am working with my doctor on getting these things under control.

But just like with the manic parts, the depression parts of this tend to go a little too far. I don’t cook, not because I can’t focus well enough to cook one thing, but because I can’t make myself get motivated enough to get up and make anything. There are times when it actually seems pointless to cook. I either don’t sleep again, or I sleep too much (16 hours solid has happened). The thoughts don’t come into my head at all, and writing is very hard. I have to try not to be melodramatic; I have been known to actually cry when I write something that wouldn’t normally get to me. Of course, I can also cry just because I’m breathing.

When I’m on the depression end of the spectrum, I don’t care about much of anything. I don’t care about the fact that I don’t cook, don’t clean, don’t watch TV, don’t write much, don’t get out of bed even if I’m awake. The cats don’t get fed as often as they would like; the dogs end up spending more time in their kennel than they deserve; Paul and Patric end up fending for themselves. My productivity goes from 150% to about 5% on my good depression days. Less than zero on my bad days.

I’m luckier than some. Paul understands and will talk me down into sleep when the mania is bad. He will get me to get up and at least shower when the depression is kicking my butt. Patric sees the signs. He will say that sometimes I’m more fun when I’m manic. (He doesn’t so much care for it when it gets to toothbrush cleaning the kitchen level, though.) If I’m depressed, he makes real efforts to cheer me up.

The point of this is not to ask you to excuse it when there are dry spots in blogging here. It’s not to make you feel sorry for me–I don’t need or want sympathy. I talk about this because I’m far from the only person out there who goes through this to one degree or another. While I’ve told you what it feels like for me, it’s honestly a very personal experience; some people may have some of the experiences I go through, some may have none.

Those of you who don’t go through it or personally know someone who’s been willing to talk about it, can possibly understand a little better about why a co-worker, friend, relative, or someone you deal with on a regular basis isn’t always the same. I wouldn’t recommend that you try to talk to them about it; if they haven’t talked to you on their own, they may not feel comfortable with it. Or that may not be what’s going on with them at all. But it’s not always something that they can help. It’s not always even something they’re always aware of–I didn’t know that’s what had been going on with me for a long time until earlier this year.

Just don’t make assumptions. If someone does talk to you about it, even elliptically, understand that it doesn’t mean they’re crazy. It doesn’t mean that you should stay away from them or push them out of your life. Sometimes we can be difficult to deal with, but there are rewards. We tend to be creative people. We tend to be interesting. We tend to take on careers and projects that make us stretch our minds. We really are just like you.