Picking up the pieces is a phrase that I have never given a second thought to, but what I have spent the last year of my life doing. One year ago, we came to Charleston when Brett went into the hospital. Those first few days/nights were hell. Confused, scared, paralyzed, broken, any emotion that we could have felt, we felt in those first few days. I remember, distinctly remember, telling Melissa one night walking down the beach, “I don’t know what I am going to look like on the other side of this.” Somewhere I knew. I think in a way, I was already headed back down into the depression hole, but I really didn’t know at the time what I meant.
Possibly the most important skill I have picked up over the last 6 weeks has been learning my symptoms, signs, triggers, etc. I have spent many quiet hours going back over the last year and understanding each turn that I took and what lead where. There is no doubt in my mind that I could have, should have, reached out at any point in time, but I never knew it was getting so bad inside my head. For the first time in the last year, I honestly feel like me. Feel like making a smart ass remark. Feel like going toe to toe with the boys talking any subject like we always do. Feel like getting up and living again. I had forgotten what I felt like.
I think that the hardest part of all of this is the people asking “what happened to cause this?” “Did someone do something to you?” However there is no answer to that question, nor is that how depression works at all. The cause is that my brain does weird things with Dopamine and Serotonin. I mean, not that those 2 chemicals are all that important, they are just the ones that give you feelings of happiness and joy among many other things. There are no causes to this. It was about everything and nothing all at once.
During the 3 weeks that Brett was in the hospital, Melissa stayed here, worked here and lived here. I made the 5 hour drive back and forth a couple of times a week. I would go home on Thursday morning to work Thursday and to be home for Colby’s game. We would stay until sometime Monday when I would come back here. I was on autopilot and I do not know how I made it back and forth. Other than the 2 tickets I received during this driving back and forth, I don’t remember much of those trips at all. As was typical, I wanted to bull my way through a problem. Just don’t stop and nothing can catch up to you.
I felt like I was failing on every level. I felt I was failing as a father by not being with Brett. As a professional for not driving west to my territory because my heart was east in Charleston, again as a father for leaving Colby with the emotional leftovers at the time, as husband because I didn’t have the courage to do what I needed to do to be here with Melissa the entire time. I should have never left her side. No I don’t know how we would have “made it” through all of that, but at this cost, I’m not sure that is much of an argument. The first few visits were on me to hold Melissa together through the bad part. I may live 100 years and never be adequately able to convey the emotions of cutting strings out of your kids clothes so he could have them. Melissa cried inconsolably while she did that.
But seeing our son in that hospital and the way that he had been treated up until we got there that broke something in me deeply. When we saw him the first time, he was 72 hours in and looked like hell. He was in a military T shirt, scrub pants and no sandals, slippers, nothing. He hadn’t gone to lunch that day because it was raining and he would have gotten his only pair of socks wet. When he told us he didn’t wasn’t allowed to gather any personal effects or clothes before he left because “they didn’t have anyone to walk him” back to the barracks. I was livid and it broke me. I seethed and brewed until we were finally able to get him back home last spring.
Looking back now and talking with my doctors/therapists/counsellor, I can deconstruct this last 8 months. The ups and downs of my mood were swinging wildly. This summer, I felt better. As it turns out, I was feeling better for the wrong reasons. I entered a state of hypomania that lasted about 6 of those months. The crash was always going to be there by the way I was dealing with my stuff emotionally, it just became a race to see which side would win. What I didn’t know was how steep the drop was as the hypomania retreated. The hypomania exhausted me and my body. I went days and days with 3 hours of sleep per night. I tried to cram my days as full as possible to keep me moving. I took stupid risks in my travels and even made room in my schedule for anything anyone asked even when I knew I should say no. Again, I knew that but Bipolar doesn’t let you see it.
At the end of the hypomanic period, I had what I now have learned is a mixed symptom bipolar episode. If you don’t know what a mixed symptom episode is, well it is a complete internal shit show. You get the racing thoughts, high energy, increased drive of the mania, coupled with the physical effects of depression. I had a million things to do and no ability to do them. By September, I had been mixed for about 2 weeks. I was over the hill and on my way down but I couldn’t feel it getting worse, I couldn’t feel the hole getting deeper. I tried everything to hold it back, a day off here and there, little reward nights on the beach during my travels, an afternoon of getting caught up. Somewhere around Labor Day something changed. I was flailing out of control.
The plain, simple fact is, I don’t remember much of the month of September at all. Not have some memory gaps, I don’t remember them at all. I have a couple of things that happened that I remember in extreme detail, but I don’t remember much of the day to day at all. I felt nothing and everything all at once. I was exhausted but jumping out of my skin at the same time. Everything that anybody said during that time was processed by me as a negative. They compounded day after day. I started getting concerned when people started asking me if I was sick because of the way I looked. There is a picture of me during the last part of September and I barely recognize me in that picture.
What I can remember is the last 2 days before I went to the hospital. Once again, I had crammed more into my weeks that I had minutes for. As I dipped down to Pensacola before heading back up north, I was driving down back roads. Old rural south back roads. For months I had been noticing trees and how close to the road they were down here, but now I was picking them out. I was sizing trees up on whether I could run my truck into one. I was no longer thinking about wanting to die, I was planning out the steps. I knew then I was in trouble, deep trouble. That night, I knocked off work early and spent the afternoon trying to figure out what was next. I knew I needed help, but I knew I needed to get home to get help. After a very long walk on the beach that afternoon, I locked myself in a hotel bathroom in the tub with the lights out and door locked to protect me FROM ME. I didn’t trust what I would do to me.
Now it has come full circle. The house we came to in order to help Brett became our port in the storm and now this house has come to heal us again. All of us this time. The mental health journey that all of us have been through has galvanized our belief in each other and us as a whole.
This episode has changed a lot inside of me. Everything I have been through has either more firmly cemented or helped change all of my core fundamental beliefs. I am different this time. I was formed by fire and pressure and now strengthened in the same way. I am thinking about working now and the proverbial “what’s next?” I am clear in my thinking and more in touch with me. I’m learning everything about my mind as I can. Not as an excuse for any past or future behavior (sometimes it is still because I’m just an asshole and has nothing to do with bipolar!) but to keep me where I need to be. Things have been added to my life and others have been removed completely and for the first time I can ever think of, I am happy to just be me.
Our weekend together as a family has been magical and special to us. I have started outlining some plans for future writings. I want to go back and tell the backstories of each of the boys and even with Melissa’s experiences because I know we can help someone, even if it is just to know someone else has been there. That you are not alone. Our pain can be of benefit to others.
It’s time to pick up that last piece. But the puzzle is different. I didn’t like some of the pieces so I have just gotten rid of them. An entirely new picture the way that I want it to be.
If you see anything in here that looks familiar to you, if you are going through something right now where you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek help NOW. Talk to a LICENSED, professional mental health provider. The hole can end. The next day can get better. I promise you it can. I beg you to talk to someone.
Always remember to love yourself first, always.