An open letter to my ex parents-in-law

Dear ex-Father and Mother-in-law,

Firstly, let me express my wishes for your well-being, good health and happiness. You deserve nothing less and I hope that the floodgates of Heaven are indeed open upon your lives.

My apologies for writing and posting this letter on a public forum – Apart from the fact that I don’t want to reach you personally, I think that this letter may also be a guiding light to others who are walking the same road as I am.

I want you to know that all is well with me; I remarried and we are a very happy family; I became the Daddy to two beautiful children. I am still in the same job which may be a disappointment to you; I always felt you expected me to be more than a teacher. But this is the path the Lord has set before me and I intend to walk it for what it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the ambition to achieve better in life, but something I’ve learnt is that all good things happens in God’s perfect timing.

It is now 6 years, 8 months, 23 days and approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes since my divorce from your daughter. The first two, say two and a half years of it was utter Hell on Earth to me; I have no idea how long your daughter took to recover – on the one hand I hope she did it faster than I did but on the other hand I hope she suffered every bit as much as I have. And suffered I did.

My mental health which I believe was a concern unspoken of yours, is good. I believe it was unspoken because you never addressed the matter with me. I have ended up in hospital once, though. Instead of feeling it to be a derogatory state, I found it to be one of the best things that happened to me. Yes, each day is still a fight. I am yet to end up in prison for physically harming someone I know or don’t know if that was what you were afraid of.

I thought it would be much harder to write this than it is but now I’ve finally decided to do it, it comes quite easily. Lately I’ve dreamed about you so much that it almost feels like I am just typing a quick email to you.

Let me cut to the chase though. I thank you, especially you, ex-Father-in-law, for being the kind, compassionate person you are. I miss you and I can still recall your small gestures of love, kindness and acceptance of me and I could tell that they weren’t for your daughter’s sake but truly sincere. Ex-Mom-in-Law, thank you for all that time you listened to my rants and to encourage me and praying for me. I am forever in your debt for the kindness you have shown me.

I do, have this to say against you: You, especially you, ex-Mom-in-Law, poisoned your daughter against me. I wonder and will probably be haunted until my dying day as to why. Were you afraid of me? Did you perceive me as so bad a threat to your daughter? If that was the reason, or any other reason for that matter, why didn’t you ever talk to me about it? This part is difficult to write again. I was very angry about this for a very long time but when I finish this letter to you, I’m letting go of that anger and resentment. That is what this letter is all about.

In the end, all that is left to be said is thank you and you’re forgiven. And I’m better off now, but I mean it in a nice way, just as I think your daughter is better off without me. And congratulations on becoming grandparents to a beautiful baby girl. Give your daughter my best, if you will.

And I still love you – my thoughts dwell on you ever so often, gentle as a feather on a stream.

The world according to Nick

This is the final installment in what I have written.  Thanks to everyone who stuck it out and read my pitiful story. I will update this blog as new content happens and post notifications on Facebook.

I am in no position to judge whether life is harder or easier for people who don’t have to live with Bipolar everyday of their lives. I can’t judge because I have never experienced it. My wife often asks the question, “What is normal?” Do we folk with Bipolar actually have it figured out or are we just society’s cracked nuts?

I think it all comes down to a matter of perception. Most of the times we judge our days as either good or bad. There are the days we feel on the up, but in a bad way. Some others we feel down, but it isn’t bad. So, how can feeling down not be bad?

At the core we are still human. I think. We have the same emotions as the next person. We interact, we react. A certain emotional stimulus is likely to illicit relatively the same emotional response, albeit in an amplified or attenuated degree.

As a person I generally prefer to be withdrawn from other people, for obvious reasons. I prefer to be an observer, not a participant any further than I need to be. I like watching people, studying them and come to conclusions about how I perceive them to be.

So, how do I perceive the world to be? And what about life itself? I once said to a friend that life is cruel and intolerably strange. The world is a hard place and there is no room for sissies in it. No matter who you are, if you want to survive – whatever your perception of survival is – you had better step up to the plate and play ball. All the while remembering that life has but one guarantee and that is that you are going to die. Call me Mr Sunshine.

Yes, there is also a great level of stigma clinging to Bipolar as with all other mental conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia. People can’t or simply can’t or won’t accept that a person is mentally ill. Some people, in fact, think we are merely insane or full of shit. People fear what they don’t understand and people especially fear to discover the arcane realm of mental disorders.

The most difficult part to me is that people don’t understand that I am ill, when I appear fine physically; I don’t have a runny nose, watery eyes; I don’t complain of a sore tummy and I’m not vomiting. Instead, I may just hang my head, cover my ears. Or I may be fine in all aspects on one day and then be off sick for three days, just to appear back at work looking as fine as the day before I left. People generally don’t understand this and can’t accept it. If they but knew the inner workings and knew that in those three days a life and death struggle is happening.

That brings me to the question of how and when you die and how you’ll be remembered.

There are those who believe that our days are numbered and the day and time of our death is a predestined thing. I agree with that because I am a believer. However, in that lies a conundrum. Our lives are in our own hands just as much as it is in God’s. Any time you choose, you can end your own life. Or try, at least.

If you have Bipolar, or one of many other mental disorders for that matter, you’ll be familiar with that deep dark hole where there seems to be no difference between life and death anymore. I have been there enough times and if it wasn’t so dark there, I could have drawn you a map of it. That is the place where you cut yourself to see if you’re still alive – if you bleed and feel pain, you must still live. It is when you can’t feel physical pain anymore that the difference between life and death becomes blurry and the barrel of a gun starts looking mighty friendly to you. It starts to look like a sweet release from the hell you’re living in – death can’t be worse than it. At that point nothing matters anymore; you don’t have the energy to think of things like what your suicide will do to those you leave behind and other considerations of the kind.

That is why you need to think about them while you are of clear mind. As for myself, I would like to go out with a bang someday. Hard, fast without suffering while doing something I enjoy. That is why you need to find the things you enjoy and actually do them. They make you feel good when you’re down and they take off the edge when you’re too hyper.

How will you remembered isn’t entirely up to you. Dr Stephen Covey refers to your “Circle of Influence” and “Circle of Interest” in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Your remembrance does fall in your Circle of Influence but it is dependent on other people’s choices. Yet, think of this while you’re lucid.

As for me, I would like to be remembered in the first place as a good husband to my wife, a good father to my children and as someone who offered people hope and shone a light for people in dark places. Hence this book.

Ultimately, life is a journey and life with Bipolar probably a slightly more intricate one. Robert Frost in a poem wrote about a road that split in two in a forest; one clear and fair and the other overgrown and rough. My journey is on the latter. It forces me to live a life less ordinary.

My name is Nick and I’m a survivor.

Because it is a choice I make every day.

Struggling with God – Part 3

So, where does God come in with dealing with Bipolar in my case? I simply believe that I am in desperate need of the grace and mercy I am incapable of giving myself. I sometimes need comfort that no human being can offer me. I need peace in times of trouble and turmoil. I sometimes need strength I can’t find within myself. And that I only find in God.

That is my picture of God and the result of many years of believing, doubting, denying, hating and eventually accepting. My picture of God is in all probability very different from yours. To quote something from a wonderful writing called Desiderata: “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.” There are enough stresses in fighting Bipolar; don’t let fighting with God be one of them.

Struggling with God – Part 2

It isn’t even important to me whether I get to Heaven or not. I don’t believe in God as a one-way ticket to Heaven. It takes more than just faith to get there. The way I understand it is that faith must lead to deeds, and I’m not talking about helping old ladies across the street. I’m talking about actions like repentance and if I truly had the deeds following the faith I’m talking about, I’d go back right now and edit every hash word out of this book. I can’t do that, though, because doing that will make me a hypocrite – I just don’t have other words to honestly describe how I feel or my frustrations in a way most will relate to.

I sometimes wonder if God is any more of a philosophical premise to me that I could use as a crutch to lean on when I need to. Yet, cognitively, I don’t think so. The universe, as I perceive it, doesn’t make sense without a supreme being whom I call God and I believe in the true good and caring nature of God.

Why wouldn’t the universe make sense to me without God? I find it hard to verbalise it but I’ll give it my best shot. Firstly, I don’t believe that the universe happened by accident. I don’t believe in a Big Bang, simply because I can’t believe that “there was nothing, then it exploded.” Secondly, I don’t believe in evolution because I believe that when God wanted to create monkeys, He created them. Subsequently, I believe that when He wanted to create humans, He did just that. I don’t believe that the miracle of life is a mere accident that just happened – I will change that belief the day we are able to create a living organism, and excludes cloning because that is extending an already living creature. God isn’t a static concept to me; He is the perpetuator of life, and the only One who can give it. Does He take it away? Yes and no. We may make choices leading to death. When someone commits suicide it isn’t God who pulls the trigger.

I see a divine order in the universe; other than brilliant minds like Stephen Hawking, I don’t see chaos in the natural order. I see a divine order and purpose, even though I don’t understand it. Maybe I believe like a child. Yet, that doesn’t mean I don’t question. Everybody knows that a child’s most pressing question is “Why?” You are more than welcome to accuse me of immature thinking, but believe me, I question all the time.

The most pressing questions we have in the human state when it comes to God is, “If God is good, why is there evil? If He is all-knowing, why did He create Lucifer, when He knew how much suffering it would lead to?” These are questions which are honestly beyond me. I can only theorise about them. I am no theologist and a very bad philosopher but I can tell you what I believe.

I believe God created all sentient beings with a free will. Lucifer chose to become Satan and he, in his arrogance, instilled the same power lust in people when he successfully tempted mankind into a fall. Try to deny it – even within yourself you hunger for more power, more money, a better lifestyle than you presently possess. Therein lies the evil – we are willing to harm others to obtain that which we crave. Like Satan, we will lie, cheat and steal to get our desires.

You are probably trying to lead a good life, right? You refrain from lying, cheating and you don’t steal, do you? So why do you have to suffer? Let me ask you this – did you ever lie, cheat or steal? If you answer no, you are either a hypocrite, blind, stupid or morally compromised. We deserve to suffer, even by one single injustice we have committed. Then I’m not even talking about the injustices we commit against God Himself, let alone the injustices we commit against ourselves.

Struggling with God – Part 1

Since I don’t know you I have no idea what your religious views are. I don’t know whether you are even religious or not. And it is by no means my intention to convert you to a particular religion in this chapter, although I’d like to, possibly more than anything else in this book. Neither is it a personal testimony, but I am striving to give an exposé of my own thoughts. OK, so I used some taboo words in the book and I’m definitely no angel or saint, but God is important to me. I wouldn’t struggle so much with God if He wasn’t important to me.

If you don’t believe in God and the afterlife, I do hope you’ll keep reading. Even if you’re an atheist, you can’t deny that you’ve never thought about God. I am not going to try to convince you of the existence of God, but please hear me out. I may just give you some things to think about and stuff that may serve as pointers somewhere down your road, or something that may serve as philosophical amusement to you.

I believe, for various reasons, that a relationship with God is important in dealing with Bipolar. Even if it is a love-hate relationship. Just bear in mind that God loves you unconditionally and any hate there may be is yours. Or mine.

I don’t know but I hypothesise that People with Bipolar have a harder time believing in God than others. I can’t know this as a fact because it is something I never discuss with other people. But speaking for myself, a relationship with God is exactly what I imply in the title of this chapter – a struggle.

Many people believe for the mere reason that when they die, they want to go Heaven. My first argument is this: As a Bipolar sufferer, why should I have reason to believe that I won’t still have Bipolar should I get to Heaven? My existence in this life can get pretty miserable for a considerable percentage of the time, so why should I believe it should be any different in the next? Eternity is a pretty long time to be miserable in. Should I believe that if I should get to Heaven I will be, for want of a better word, magically healed? I don’t believe it and it is not important to me whether I get to Heaven healed or not.

A bumpy ride

H

aving Bipolar is nothing short of a bumpy ride in life. Sure, anybody’s life is filled with ups and downs and surely People with Bipolar can’t claim the bragging rights that it is only us that experience these ups and downs. Normal people experience ups and downs like waves on the ocean. So do People with Bipolar, but the difference is that sooner or later or dare I say more often than not, we experience tsunamis.

I think I have used enough analogies in this book so far to describe the different ways of how people with Bipolar experience things as opposed to normal folk. Crikey, I even hate saying “normal people”, but it is just easier to type than people who don’t have Bipolar, isn’t it? I promise I will try to refrain from it now; unfortunately for you I just find it easier to communicate in pictures and analogies.

This section is titled, “Coming back to life”. When I initially started writing this book I was hospitalised and I thought it a good time to start working on fulfilling my life-long dream of publishing a book. I thought at the time that I had all the experience I needed to write a book on this matter.

Truth is, I don’t and I doubt I ever will. Like I said earlier, I am no authority on Bipolar.

I expected that once I was discharged, everything will soon return to normal. I am still eagerly waiting for that day. In the end, any day may be a set-back and any day may be healing. You just never know which; remember what I said about Eyore and Tigger?

Therein lies the trickiness of Bipolar and like rough seas, it takes a seasoned captain to navigate. Pardon the analogy. What does navigation mean in this context? It means to be able to anticipate, compensate and execute.

There are many means to learn what to anticipate from your Bipolar. The one most recommended by many psychiatrists is to keep a mood chart, indicating your mood every day to try and establish a pattern of what you can expect next or in the foreseeable future. Personally I don’t use them merely because I find that there is too much happening in life, too many variables, to make accurate estimations for what lies ahead. I try to know what my triggers are: Stress of any kind, situations in which I exercise no degree of control over, overindulging in alcohol or the use of some medications, that kind of things. Some of those lead to depression, some of them lead to mania. In my humble opinion it is therefore more important to know what your triggers are and what reaction to anticipate.

Compensating yourself means applying your ship’s rudder and turning your bow into the waves of the storm. That’s right, it means facing it head-on. It doesn’t matter how low you feel, a ship is less likely to be capsized by waves when facing them. Similarly, when you’re on a mania, you will feel that you are stronger than the storm, although you’re not. You need to have coping strategies in place and it doesn’t matter how miserable or high you feel; it is OK if it is part of your coping strategy. And it is OK to flip over sometimes – most of us do sooner or later. There is help for times like those, based on the proviso that you want to be helped, or you will go down like the Titanic.

What are the coping strategies I’m talking about? In the end all my coping strategies, whether I am in a manic phase or a depressive phase all come down to functioning as normally as possible. To keep the game face on, if you will. Yes, I feel very sorry for myself when depressed and I feel larger than life when manic. It is all a matter of keeping things in perspective. It is a matter of keeping as busy as you can when depressed to keep your mind occupied with anything else than the swamp of tears and sorrow it is wading through. It is a matter of channelling your endless energy into something productive when manic – you’ll both be shocked and amazed at how much you can achieve while you are manic. That is why it is said that Bipolar people can be among the most creative and productive people on this planet.

What does it mean to execute? In SCUBA diving, a simple principle is taught when in an emergency situation: Stop, think, act. With Bipolar, I think it all comes down to action in the end. Taking the appropriate actions at the right time. Knowing when to do some things, knowing when not to do the same things. It means implementing your strategies at the right time. Anticipate, compensate, execute.

Allow me to talk about some of my coping strategies. When I try to think of any, nothing springs to mind immediately, apart from keeping busy. When I am depressed I try to keep my social interactions to the bare minimum. I talk to the people I have to, when I need to. I answer questions I am asked but in short, concise answers. I put conscious effort into it not to bring everybody else down; a sour apple quickly turns other apples sour too. What it really comes down to is putting my soul in bed like one would put their body in bed when they’re down with the flu. I allow my soul some time to rest as much as I can.

When manic, things can turn very nasty very quick. I get overly social when manic and say and do things I regret afterwards. Coping with it is harder than coping with depression for me; other people with Bipolar find it the other way around. To be completely frank with you, I don’t really know how to cope with manias, simply because I don’t get them that often anymore; in the time I had raging manias I didn’t even know I had Bipolar. But based on past experience, I know that I really work on it to keep my racing thoughts in check, simply because my mouth tends to work at the same ridiculous speed.

Also, I need to ensure I get sufficient sleep; enter Zolpidem, stage left. Remember what I said earlier about feeling rested after as little as two hours of sleep? Well, that’s only a feeling and feeling is often far removed from reality. I think that at any phase, sufficient rest is important if you have Bipolar; not too much and not too little.

The long and winding road

The title of this book doesn’t include the word, “journey,” for no reason. It isn’t an exaggeration because that is exactly what Bipolar is. A journey, a voyage, an epic odyssey. And you don’t know where it may take you but you can exercise some level of control over it.

I will suffer relapses in my life, maybe serious enough end up in a mental hospital again. It is probable that I will have many more havoc-wreaking changes in my medication. You never can be certain because Bipolar is rife with impossible variables.

So, I maintain that it is a journey, a path that was set before me that I have to walk. My body will change as I grow older and subsequently, so will its chemistry. Life will keep throwing balls at me which I may or may not be able to play back.

So, the road is long and winding. You don’t always know what is around the next bend and you can’t always be prepared for it. It is so for every Bipolar sufferer and each one would tell you exactly the same thing if you asked them.

In my case, there is always be a depression lurking in the shadows, I just don’t know how severe it may be. There may be the occasional hypomania and goodness knows what the consequences thereof may be and how much damage control there may be to do afterwards.

Every day remains a challenge because there is no way of knowing how you will feel when you wake up. But at least you are brave enough to get up and, to the best of your abilities, play to your strengths the hand that Bipolar dealt you on any given day, even if it means a step at a time, even breath at a time and merely going through the motions.