Aug 17, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
I was editing my book and this old chapter really spoke to me, especially since I’m about to graduate from my Master’s and attempt to do all the things I thought I couldn’t do. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine where you’ll be tomorrow – let alone a year from now – but you have to remember that you are capable of more than you know. If you’re not going to surprise yourself, who will?
*Be aware of the footnotes*
The Long Way Home
“Are you feeling sad?”
“I gained like 14 pounds(*), so…”
“That seems a little harsh.”
“Like you don’t want to live?”
“No,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Not that one.”
I was back in my doctor’s office after passing out over the weekend. I play lady dodgeball on Sundays, and I couldn’t figure out why I was playing so poorly, until I realized that I couldn’t actually see faces anymore and wound up on the grimy gym floor.
“Okay,” he said, scribbling something down, “Let’s talk about your face.”
“Do we have to?”
“How long have you had that rash?”
“Like three weeks.(**)”
He flipped through my file. “And we upped your medication… about three weeks ago.”
Remember that tiny, tiny chance that I would start turning purple?(***)
“Holy fucking shit. I didn’t even think of that. Shit.”
“Yeah, we’ve got to stop it immediately.”
“All of it?”
Bipolar is not a schoolyard bully.
At which point my parents came in, which hasn’t happened since I started getting better. But if I’m being honest, all I’ve been doing lately is getting worse.
Bipolar is not a schoolyard bully. If you stand up to it, it doesn’t go away. It lurks in the schoolyard, waits until you forget that you were ever so weak, and respawns with five machine guns and a hot girl. I may have mixed some metaphors back there.
“I want you to try Saphris. It’s new – very new – but it’s supposed to work quickly with minimal side effects. I have a young patient who felt significant changes after his first week on it, and I think it’s worth a shot. I don’t want to alarm you, but we’re starting to run out of options – although we haven’t really discussed trying you on lithium.”
“I really, really don’t want lithium. It scares me.”
“I know the side effects might sound unpleasant, but it’s been very effective for so many people. And that’s the other thing. The old drugs like Seroquel, lithium; they’ve been around. They’re cheap. That’s unfortunately not the case for some of these newer drugs.” My doctor turned to my dad. “Is Leanne still covered by your insurance?”
“Until she finishes school,” he answered, looking at me intently. “But cost is not an issue. You can’t put a price on physical and mental wellbeing, and all we want is for her to get better, to be well enough for her to live a normal life.”
And as they discussed my new treatment plan, I sat there blandly, thinking that the cost of being normal was just too high.
On the way home, I sat in the backseat trying to draft an email to my professors that would explain that the forecast called for a 30% chance of me falling apart again; about equal to my class attendance of late. I had spent my entire winter break at home, surrounded by mountains of Kleenex that felt more familiar to the landscape than the snow outside, promising my parents that I would get back on track after I recovered from the horrible cold that had been plaguing me for weeks. It wasn’t a cold.
“We’ve been doing this for five years now. When is it going to change?”
I didn’t look up from my phone. I have this conversation with my mother at least three times a week, and it’s starting to sound less like a conversation and more like a script.
“She’s calling me to see if you make it now, you know that?”
I glanced at her.
“Grandma. She’s worried you’re missing class again, like I don’t wait for you to wake up so I can drive you to the friggin’ door. She keeps talking about your Masters.”
“I’m not even going to get in,” I said, sliding in my seat.
I wasn’t trying to be dramatic; it was just common sense. Facebook had been flooded with cheery acceptance statuses since Valentine’s Day (****), and despite my recent success, I’m a student who had a total of one passing mark in 2013, after nine dropped courses and a serious hospitalization. My whole letter of intent was basically an explanation of why I have sucked in the past, and why I wouldn’t suck in the future. Talk about investing in an unstable stock.
I wasn’t trying to be dramatic; it was just common sense.
“But what if you do?” she said, like it was the worst case scenario. “I can’t let you waste her money on sending you downtown. You can’t even make it to a class that’s ten minutes away, for God’s sakes.”
“Can you just stop?”
“Leanne, you have to take ownership of this!”
“What do you think I’m trying to do?”
“You’re not listening to him,” she said, shaking her head. “He keeps telling you that sleep is the most important thing for your health, and you just nod your head and then stay up writing-“
“Because writing is keeping me SANE right now-”
“And how’s that working for you? When’s the last time you made a morning class?”
“I don’t need to go. I just need to finish,” I said sullenly.
“You can’t just get by like that for the rest of your life.”
“I’m still adjusting to this.”
“But we’re not,” she said, turning around to face me. I avoided her eyes. “We just keep seeing the same patterns, over and over again. Your father and I can’t even go away for a week’s vacation, because God knows what would happen if you had a meltdown, or if you ended up on a bridge somewhere, and we weren’t there to help you.”
“You wanted to go away?”
“Our friends invited us to go to Florida. They left yesterday.”
This book – it’s supposed to be about how my illness affects everybody else, and somewhere along the line, I forgot. I forgot how the small sacrifices people make for the people they love are just as important as the big ones. My dad doesn’t have a pension. I know that the cost of my therapy alone will add at least another year before his retirement, maybe more. That’s why I refused to go, until he told me that he would rather work forever than see me like that again – huddled in bed, barely speaking, existing just to hold a spot in line. And here I was again, letting gravity take its course.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know that,” I said, like the shitty daughter I was.
My mom spoke gently. “We’re happy to be here for you. All we want is for you to move out – when you’re ready – and have your own car, a career, a house-“
“You could have your own pad!” said my dad. He gets really excited by slang terms.
“I can’t,” I said, tongue dry. “I can’t do any of that. I’m never going to be able to live by myself, and I could have a car but I would be too anxious to drive sometimes, and no one wants to hire someone who cries as much as I do. I would scare all the customers and use all their Kleenex. And I know that, because I feel myself slipping and I don’t know how to make it stop.”
“You can do those things, Leanne,” said my dad. “You just need to take all the things you thought you couldn’t do, and set them as goals. You thought you couldn’t write your first year exams. You didn’t think you’d be able to go back to school. And now you’re so close to the finish line – can’t you see it?”
“I can see it, and that’s why it sucks.” I pulled at my hair, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “At least when everything was consistently shitty, that’s all it was. Now that I know what it’s like to be more than “just okay,” I have more to lose. And I’m losing it. I can feel myself losing it.”
“You’re not losing it,” said my mom. “Maybe you just need to take some time off after your finish your degree.”
“But everything that’s happened since we found out – it’s felt like time off.”
We hit a red light, the three of us sitting in uncomfortable silence, not wanting to acknowledge the truth of my lost years. Our lost years.
“I’ll finish,” I said, folding my prescription in half as my dad eased off the brakes. “This medication – even if I’m sick, I can do it from home. Get my degree and get out.”
“Don’t finish the way you finished high school,” he said.
That night, I crawled into my parents’ room at 1 am, sobbing hysterically over the small capsule I held in my hand – a flat, chalky, pill I had been staring at for hours but couldn’t take, a pill that looked like the sterile walls of the psych ward, the distorted faces seething against the glass of the emergency unit door, the overwhelming fear that I was exactly where I belonged.
“This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am, this isn’t real,” I whispered as my mom held my hand and my dogs licked the tears streaming down my face.
“I know,” said my dad softly, as I felt the bitterness dissolve beneath my tongue and my consciousness fade, “But it’s going to get better.”
* My boobs broke a knit sweater. Knit. All I did was breathe, for fuck’s sakes
**Life Hack For Sleeping With Your Contacts In:
Step 1: Wake up with eyes that burn with the vengeance of a thousand suns.
Step 2: Watch the sad part of How to Train Your Dragon 2 until sobbing uncontrollably.
Step 3: Repeat.
I then proceeded to pour eye drops all over my face, because my eyes weren’t really down for that whole “vision and accuracy” thing. And suddenly, my skin looked like pizza crust. Lumpy, delicious pizza crust.
*** Turning purple is actually a euphemism for a life-threatening rash called “Stevens-Johnson syndrome,” something my doctor specifically warned me about when he started prescribing me lamotrigine. So obviously, I forgot.
**** A day, in case you’re wondering, I spent screaming the lyrics to “Part of Your World” at single ladies’ karaoke like I was a misunderstood half-Asian mermaid, instead of incredibly single.