The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, BrainStorm: From Brutality to Blessing on the Bipolar Spectrum.
My most challenging struggles with Bipolar II disorder is the severity and unrelenting nature of the depression and how that is compounded by my Inner Accuser. The condition itself gives rise to negative thoughts and ideation that — when flaring — pull me down into a vortex of despair. Here’s one episode of when Bipolar II disorder compounds depression.
As the days darken in the fall of 2006, I begin to panic. I’ve been sensitive to seasonal changes for years, always preferring the long warm days of summer. If I feel this bad when it is warm and sunny, the dark and cold will kill me. My four year-old daughter Maya’s breathing challenge is also much worse in the winter. The year before she’d suffered five asthma-induced pneumonias in as many months. Winter colds and flu are her trigger. I reasoned that if we took her out of winter, perhaps her lungs would have the chance to strengthen and heal. Maya’s situation plus mine convince us to head south to where my parents spend the winter in Florida. They offered to rent us a place in their neighborhood, delighted to have the time to be near the twins, their youngest and presently most adorable grandchildren.
But the Florida sunshine does nothing to ease my pain. Instead I feel rootless and isolated from my support system of friends. My anxiety intensifies.
One morning I am in the kids’ bathroom trying to find their toothbrushes and towels. Maya’s twin brother Sam approaches, asking, “Momma, can you open this jar of peanut butter for me—I’m hungry.” As he hands it to me, the jar drops onto the cold tile floor, shattering and leaving the peanut butter laced with glass shards. It is a simple mistake that any four-year-old would make. But I let out a bloodcurdling scream, and then scream again and again. Not because I am mad at Sam. I know it isn’t his fault. But because the effort it will take for me to secure another jar of peanut butter is too overwhelming to bear.
I will have to find my wallet, the keys, get in the car, buckle both kids in, remember where the store was, get to the store, find a parking place, get the kids out of their car seats and walk with them through a sea of cars in a strip mall parking lot, remember what I needed at the store, feel the dread and overwhelm of staring at endless shelves and choices of peanut butter, and then do the whole thing in reverse to make it home. It will take more mental energy than I have on reserve.
Sam’s tanned, innocent face turns pale as tears stream down his cheeks. He begins to wail in fear. What was going on with his momma? I see the terror in his eyes and stop myself.
“Sammy it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sorry I’m yelling.”
Confused but relieved, he lets me hold him. Meantime my inner accuser is having his way in his righteous patronizing tone, “You are pathetic. You don’t deserve to mother this beautiful, innocent child.” I concur. When Bipolar II disorder compounds depression, My Inner Accuser is always right.
Judgement and negative ideation that accompany the reality of the experience, compound the depression and sucking me further into the vortex of despair.
It’s 2021, fifteen years later. The twins are strapping college Freshman, surviving and thriving. I have been well — thanks at last to the right diagnosis and medication — for many years. It is a miracle that I’m grateful for every day. Much more to share about this in my upcoming book. I wrote to help heal folks who are suffering from BP II: save lives, reduce suffering, end the stigma..