Meet: Charlie

I don’t know Charlie, but I’ve fallen in love with her writing. I asked her, and she kindly agreed, to share this humorous and poignant story with us, on living with bipolar:

I only read nineteen pages of Collected Stories by Frank O’Connor because I happened upon “The Bridal Night” and shortly thereafter began to pout. The pouting turned to sulking, the sulking to depression. Welcome to the world of bipolar.

dscn1080I read this: Around the headland came a boat and the heavy dipping of its oars was like a heron’s flight. I got excited. I hunkered down into my mind, ready to be pulled away from reality. I had once described rowing as, “a soft stroke of sound,” but the bird thing was so much better. I pounded my fist against my desk. How do good writers do this?

Then came the story. It was about a crazy man. It was complex and done with such an even hand that I started to laugh. Something unhinged in my mind. I imagined the story as if it were written from each character’s point of view, and ah-ha! I had solved a technical problem I was having in another project I was working on.

The only problem was that this imagining triggered the darkness.

Thanks for messing me up, Frank O’Connor.

My depressive thinking started out small: I’ll never be that good of a writer. And morphed into: What is the point of life?

I tried explaining this to Husband.

ME: Let’s put science aside for just a moment. Let’s think of mania, and a break with reality on the very simplest level. I have amazeballs ideas when I am crazy; the only problem is that I believe they are real. If I had such amazeballs ideas when I was sane and didn’t believe they were true then I’d just be considered creative. Perhaps even interesting. The only thing that ties man to God is belief. I’m having some serious issues with belief right now, so can you see how this would lead to a “crisis of faith”?

Husband stared at me.

ME: Say something.

Husband: God gave me two ears and one mouth. I think we should go to bed now.

Something like three days later, I was still sulking, probably more like brooding. This is when my Sassy-Man-Hating-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend showed up.

SMHCSPBF: Get out of bed you sad betch.

ME: There is no point. Just so you know, that’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: We’re going to a concert.

I agreed to get up because I didn’t want SMHCSPBF ashing on my sheets. When we got to First Ave, and the first act came on stage, we stared at each other. In a crowd of hundreds of people, no one moved. Minus one man who was solo fist pumping it near the front. He must not have been a Minnesota native.

ME: Awe man, this is like a Catholic mass. Is this the band?

SMHCSPBF: It’s Enya rock.

Whatever. I went with it. At least it wasn’t a musical. Maybe it was the secondhand weed*, but I started to zone out like I do at yoga. There was no sound, just the sound of my heartbeat. I started thinking of all of the other heartbeats in the same room. I started to understand why so many people enjoy those long and dreary masses.

SMHCSPBF snapped her fingers in front of my face.

SMHCSPBF: Let’s go.

ME: It’s just that I think of the birds in the wetlands near my house, or deer, or my cats or any other creature and I look at them and I don’t know if they believe they have a singular soul. Do they always and forever want to be a deer or a bird? Would I always want to stay human and know the world only from this place? I don’t see myself as any better than them or even very different. Can someone just tell me the point to life? What if after this, we no longer exist? It doesn’t seem fair that a deity would create this just to test you. That’s a very manmade concept.  Can someone just tell me why we do this?

SMHCSPBF: I need to double my SSRI because of you.

ME: Am I starting to sound like a poet?

SMHCMPBF shrugged: What would I know. I’m a step away from buying a pair of Birkenstocks and moving to Costa Rica.

When driving SMHCSPBF back to the airport, we passed a cemetery.

ME: All the gravestones look exactly the same. There’s no gender. No race. No religion. Just the mark of someone who once lived. It’s so easy to see in death. Why can’t it be like that in life? I didn’t want to say anything because I think it’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: I was looking at them too. Men created war. Not women.

I tried explaining all this to my therapist.

T: Do you need to know the meaning of life?

ME: No. But I need to talk about it.

T: I think maybe you think about these other things so you don’t have to deal with other problems in your life.

Later I made pancakes for dinner and sobbed as I cracked the eggs into the bowl. Darkness had fallen over the Atlantic, blank gray to its farthest reaches. I laughed because the subtext was absurd. I laughed, not because I’m bipolar and a second ago I was crying, I laughed because I’m human. I tried to hold it together through dinner.

Husband: You just got to fight depression. If you know you have sad thoughts then don’t give in to them.

He pushed the last of his dinner aside, apparently no longer hungry.

ME: Oh yeah? Eat that last pancake, Midwest. You can’t leave the dinner table until you clean your plate.

H: Fine, you’re right.

He stuffed the last pancake into his mouth.

Last week I had a lot of trouble getting out of bed. My mind took me to very dark places. I understood the appeal for some of drugs and alcohol. Escape. I understood why some are attracted to thoughts of suicide. Escape. For the first time since the creation of my blog, I missed a week.

I’m trying to do this the right way, but going to the gym, doing yoga, quitting caffeine and alcohol just weren’t enough. No one could tell me what I learned for myself last week.

I needed to be on a mood stabilizer full time.

When I realized this, it felt like resignation.

But then I thought of Husband shoving that pancake into his mouth out of pure Midwestern grit and pride, and I realized I was fighting.

If this life is all I have, all I’ll ever be, I don’t want to spend it sad. Cynical yes, but not sad. Not so depressed that I question the meaning of all this, or I start avoiding interactions with others because I am scared to let them see me cry.

I used to believe that I was alone in all of this. Now I know I am not. Maybe it’s a good thing I have some serious issues with belief.

There would no words come to me, and we sat there, the three of us, over our tea, and I declare for the time being I felt ‘twas worth it all, all the troubles of his birth and rearing and all the lonesome years ahead.    

And I’ve got 682 pages to go.


*Thanks Minneapolis. I’m trying to live a sober life.

This post was originally published on Charlie’s blog, That Girl Who Reads Books.

Postpartum Depression

Chicago Tribune, January 31, 2013

Dear Editor,

Thank you for the article “Man defends wife who stabbed baby; Postpartum depression becoming more widely understood…” I am 89-and-a-half years old and want to share my experience, which I’ve never talked about before.

Our first baby was stillborn; a year-and-a-half later, I bore a beautiful baby girl. When I got home from the hospital, my husband, who was a minister, explained that he had to supervise a summer work camp for our denomination’s youth. This meant that I would be home alone for that first week.

I had never handled a baby before because my parents would not let me take baby-sitting jobs. After five days the baby was still crying so much, I was exhausted. That day, I decided that I would turn on the gas at night without lighting it so that the baby and I could sleep. Fortunately, the parsonage we lived in was large, and a small apartment was rented to another couple, who invited me upstairs for dinner. We finally managed to get the baby to sleep, and their invitation obviously saved my life.

I never told my husband about it even when another minister friend tragically lost his wife. A week after their baby was born, the wife jumped off the roof of the hospital and died.

I share my story now in the hopes it might help someone else.

Bernice Klosterman, Evanston, Illinois

That’s a True Story if I ever heard one.