Today’s guest post comes from Jes S. Curtis, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and two children. When she isn’t throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time, she blogs at squeezetheuniverse.com, edits creative nonfiction for JuiceBox: A Journal of the Ordinary, and tutors writing with Smarthinking. You can read her most recent online publications here: http://journal.segullah.org/winter-2009/god-sees-the-truth-but-waits/ and here: http://www.literarymama.com/creativenonfiction/archives/2008/04/erosion.html
Hi. My name is Jes. I was recently diagnosed bipolar.
I’ve wanted to say that out loud for a long time—but there never seems to be the right moment. Not when my new Relief Society president is sitting across from me on the couch. “Are you settling in?” she asks. And I want to say, “I just found out I’m bipolar. I mean, you know, obviously something’s been wrong. I’m terrified. I don’t know what that means. I need help. I need friends.” But I don’t. It’s just so weak to tell someone right off the bat that I am not well. I don’t exactly want to be on the list of troublemakers in the ward; you know who I mean, the people who take and take and take, with some feeling of entitlement and not enough gratitude. No, you don’t want to be on that list and neither do I. I don’t want to be cast as the crazy woman before anyone even knows that I teach killer Relief Society lessons, have perfected the cheesecake, know quite a bit about the early church in Kirtland, and give a great series on writing personal history. The truth is, most days I’m just like everybody else. I get up and get on with things.
My diagnosis (I call it mine, but it still feels so completely other–something that happens to other people, people I don’t know) was a long time coming. I’ve had the hypomanic episodes: writing for hours at a time, glowing, feeling like I’ve managed to harness the universe. I’ve had bouts of crazy depression, but I always got out of it one way or another. I’ve had vague thoughts of suicide on a couple occasions, but no serious planning.
And then I had my two children. Suddenly my little problems weren’t little anymore. Suddenly they weren’t just between me and my mind anymore. I had this whole family to run, and I was incapacitated. One of the more unfortunate side effects of bipolar disorder for some, and especially me, is postpartum psychosis. After those nine months and hours of labor, I didn’t even get to sit and snuggle my little ones, enjoying their smells and coos reveling in the bliss of motherhood. I was insane. I heard voices. I was gripped with such panic that I held down waves of nausea. I was in such physical and mental pain that I would look at other families in church with pews of children and hold down the tears, wondering what made them so much stronger than me. What did they feel that I didn’t? Or, perhaps, what didn’t they feel that I did?
And now I’m riding the medication waves. I take one thing, then another, facing side effects that seem worse than the disorder itself. I’ll be fine for a few weeks or months and think everything is solved, and then I tank, hurtling down so fast I can barely breathe.
I suppose if I lived near good friends, near my mom and dad, near people I could trust, it might not be such a problem. But, in reality, I’ve signed up for a life of hauling myself and my problems across the country every few years, following my Air Force husband. The stability my condition needs the most is the thing I know I will never have.
It leaves me wondering, are there other people out there like me… Is anyone else afraid to trust their own brain? Afraid that they might not be able to take care of their family? Trying to keep and make covenants when they go for weeks or months at a time without being able to feel anything? Trying to enjoy the life of their little ones when most days they just want to hide? Is there anyone else denying the reality of their diagnosis? Anyone else who clings to faith, afraid to be open about their mental troubles in case they get holed up somewhere they don’t belong?