Saturday, July 6, 2013
The Art - and Pain - of Letting Go
Some of my posts are written to be of a general educational nature and some are of a personal journal nature. This post is more of a personal journal nature, to tell my own story and what I'm currently experiencing at any one point. But we can learn from others and from that standpoint I still consider it to be educational as well.
Where I was going with the previous posts The Psychology of Bipolar - Loneliness and Isolation and Blue Footed Boobies, Guano Rings, the S word and Isolation and Loneliness is that when you are battling mental health problems and/or feelings of suicide, you WILL end up doing so alone, or at least without the support of family and friends. Or maybe not. Most likely. I'm trying to separate my own experience from that of others. One of the things I was most envious about when reading Kay Jamison's memoir of her battle with bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind, is how much family support she got, how much support she got from her colleagues and even how much support she got from lovers. This is very rare, however, as much of my research and study would seem to indicate (as somewhat outlined in the above two posts), and is why I wouldn't recommend her book as a resource. It's unlikely one will get the kind of support she got from family and friends so to read that is to set oneself up for disappointment.
Abraham Lincoln was once suicidally depressed and talked openly about it. His friends formed a suicide watch (this back in the old days before today's alleged "progressive" openness and enlightenment about such issues) and, as history will attest, got him through it.
You assume, hope, that you'll get the same. Nope.
The feelings of isolation and rejection one will likely experience when dealing with mental health issues are many things but one of them, and maybe the most powerful one, is that it is disappointing. The disappointment alone can be crushing.
I'm not sure I'll ever forget - though I know that I ultimately must - the staggering and crushingly disappointing bewilderment I felt when I told my family of my first suicide attempt (which, as I now understand it, was a psychotic episode) via a carefully constructed email. I don't think it unreasonable to expect concern and help. I got not a word from anyone. Not a word, not a mention, not anything. To this day it's never been mentioned. Staggering in fact is an understatement. I'll never understand why no one could be bothered with acknowledging that incident. That incident and the surrounding high level of suicidal danger led to my first hospitalization and there was still not a word. Most could not even be bothered to visit. The pain of that is searing to this day. But, you forgive and carry on, right?
Things improved over the next while and I did get some indications of support from some family, most notably my twin, my sister and my oldest brother. Twin came and got me and accompanied me to the psyche ER for my second hospitalization. Sis visited me quite a bit and brought me books, magazines and newspapers. Twin visited a few times. Oldest brother and I had some good visits about it (though not in the hospital) and he was a very good listener. Of all the family, oldest brother is the best listener. Sis and twin both came through in huge ways when I had no money to pay rent and was melting down because of that. For that I am immeasurably and forever grateful (a friend has come through twice as well). But I was also told, very firmly and sternly, that this could not continue and as well that sis could "not handle this anymore".
I got lots of visits during my third hospitalization as well, mostly from sis and daughter. Oldest brother and his wife came once as well which I found very moving. He talked about helping me find a job which was very buoying to me and gave rise to much optimism.
But as things ground on for me, all this support dried up. No one ever did acknowledge the seriousness of the danger I've been in. It's hard, I know, to watch a loved one go through this. Mental illness sucks for everyone. What sucks most for the one actually going through it, however, is how their family will deal with it - and that usually with denial. When something is hard to deal with, the best way is to deny it and make up some sort of reality in one's own mind that makes it easier to deal with. Great for them, sucks for the mental illness sufferer. And hurts like fucking hell.
Three years on, three hospitalizations and still no actual acknowledgement from any member of the family about the seriousness of it aside from oldest brother.
I was told once by twin brother that this was all a "self directed path to oblivion". I'll never forget that till my dying day. Being told, in effect, that I was just making it all up and "choosing" to do it to myself.
That I have been making it all up appears to be the family line in general. This came to light recently when I was on the edge of despair and felt I couldn't take another step. I sent an email to all my siblings asking that certain things be done should I not make it. The response from sis was that I was being a "drama queen". Twin's response was something similar. Brother number 3 just thought I was "ranting". Brother number 2 was silent as usual. Oldest brother at least called, talked and listened with a sympathetic ear. Again, it was very jarring. "OK", I thought, "they just don't know all the details". So I tried to explain. I wrote several long emails using thousands of words to try to explain the seriousness of it in the best medical terms I could. I tried to explain that according to a professional suicidal danger scale conducted by my therapist that I was in the highest category possible. According to two different professional mental health clinics, I was in such danger that I should have been immediately hospitalized. I tried to explain as clearly as possible the mental illness conditions that I had. I tried to explain the psychotic episodes I experienced and how dangerous those were. I tried to explain seeing hallucinations and getting "commands" to do stuff to myself. I also made it abundantly clear that I could not afford to have people in my life who did not understand my condition and that doing so would only make it worse for me.
Still nothing. Not a word. I spent more than thirty hours in a car with brother number 2 recently and not a word. Not one single solitary fucking word. Brother number 3 still believes I'm just "ranting" and "venting". Twin acknowledged, in a couple of terse statements, that he'd "read" them. Sis presumably, though she was not privy to the emails detailing my condition, still thinks I'm being a "drama queen". But still no word of concern or any inquiry at all into my safety. Not one.
I could not even begin to explain how hurtful this all has been. This is how seriously the danger of suicide is taken by society and family. I'm sure it sucks. Any potentially terminal illness in a family member sucks for the other family members. And the easiest way to deal with it is denial. Just believe it doesn't exist, just believe the person is making it up. Or whatever. I'm tired of trying to figure it out, really fucking tired. I gave the benefit of the doubt before because I know mental illness is hard to understand. But after my detailed emails explaining everything, ignorance is no longer an excuse. No one's ever bothered to learn more about bipolar disorder. No one's ever bothered to learn more about suicide risk in a family member and learn what to do. I get that everyone has their own shit to deal with, I really do, but still, to have all this denied, and worse to be accused of making it up and that it's just drama making for attention is beyond what I can endure. Why anyone would think that I just made up all of the last five and a half years, and the previous thirty year history of bipolar conditions, for the sake of drama is utterly beyond me.
I know I caused some confusion earlier in the year when I declared that I was "no longer mentally ill" and for that I take full responsibility. I know how much people close to me wanted to believe that. But that was a delusion. I was manic at the time - a "good" mania - and mania can give one, and others, the impression of all being well. All was well - at that time. But when the mania fades - as it always will - and the harsh reality returns it's ... well, back to reality. I know also that I've given the impression that I'm getting better. And I have been, I'm much better than before in many ways. So I'm sure it's confusing to get the different messages. But this is the reality of mental disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia; they cycle, they cycle through times of seeming to be better and then they strike again. A lot of illnesses are like that; they go into remission, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, then they jump up and get worse again. That's the way they go. It'd really help if the family at least made some effort to learn more about my conditions but apparently they haven't. Maybe they have but I've seen no sign of it (aside from oldest brother). If they had, I'd be seeing signs of it like doing the things that are recommended for family members to do.
But when I look at all the literature about bipolar and suicide and the recommendations for family and what to do, my family has done the absolute opposite. They try, I know, in their own ways to deal with it but the actual stuff that's supposed to be done doesn't get done. Just the opposite. Rather than to acknowledge, buck up, be adults and do what's necessary, they've chosen denial and to create their own alternate realities for the situation. They feel everyone has their own problems and that everyone has to deal with their own problems, so to just be a man and deal with my own shit.
You learn a lot about letting go when fighting an illness like this and all the life difficulties it creates. There is so much that I've let go or am trying to let go and now the family is another thing to let go. Maybe the family has a different view of all of this. I have no idea. All I know, or can know, is the pain it causes. The isolation it causes. The feeling of rejection and abandonment I experience. I myself try to deny these things, to push them aside and rationalize them away, but the feelings of hurt are deep and always eventually jump up and bite me in the ass. The frustration of dealing with the family's denial just makes things immeasurably worse and harder. So in the end, I have to let them go. It's easier - and far safer - to put them out of my life, to let them go. When you expect nothing, you experience less disappointment and pain. Attachment truly is suffering. So it's best just to let it go, to let them go. I have to purge them from my memory. Maybe some day I can create new memories, that's up to them. But for now the purge begins.
That's kind of what letting go is - an internal purge. I love my family, it hurts to purge them. But right now, right here, I have to be more concerned about my own health and the pain they cause me. Part of my reality is that right now I'm in danger again (and have been for about a month). I made this extremely clear by email. I made it extremely clear that their ignorance and denial was pushing me closer to the edge and even included all the science on this (i.e. that I wasn't just "making it up"). And yet still nothing. Not a word. Not a single, solitary fucking word. It hurts so fucking bad I can't describe it. I know they don't mean to cause pain but from where I sit it is pain that they cause and I cannot endure that pain any longer.
I don't know how this letting go of family will work. Is isolation harder than rejection (and by rejection I mean their denial and their refusal to deal with my situation)? I guess I'll find out. All living organisms are designed to avoid pain and humans are no different so I'm just doing what is human. And I suppose that's what they've done as well. This causes pain for them so they avoid it. I guess we all have to let go.
I don't think this is unusual. I think most of us (those with mental health/suicide issues) end up going through the same thing, or at least that's what almost all the case studies I've read seem to indicate. It's a common pattern; end up isolated from family, struggling alone and then, if things go well, finding other people to connect with and with these people perhaps overcome it all. Maybe I can find those people, maybe not. I just know that to do so I have to let go of what I already have.