Living with a diagnosis like mine isn’t a pleasant thing. It wasn’t until the late eighties that the psychiatric field finally came up with a label for me, and they dubbed me ‘Bipolar.’
For years, I really doubted the whole thing. I mean, sure, I had depressions–deep depressions, but I wasn’t sure about the ‘highs.’ And then someone pointed out how my teens and early twenties were full of sexual escapades that were, well, let’s say they were excessive.
And then there are my spending habits. I get out of control about something. There have been periods of time when the Amazon truck came to my house every day for about two weeks in a row. And we won’t even mention my obsession with the deals on Poshmark.
When a name for my ‘moodiness’ became available, I was still close to my in-laws. I shared this new information with them, and suddenly anything negative happened was ‘my fault.’ Of course, it was–I had a verified mental illness. (Whereas all of them didn’t have a convenient label, so they put things on me.)
For years, I would screen all my calls. If I didn’t recognize the number, or if I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I would let the phone ring. If they left a voicemail, maybe I would listen to it.
I loved the good old days when your answering machine would amplify the message as the person left it. When my sister-in-law left me a mean message about my mental illness and suggested my husband divorce me, I confronted her by grabbing the phone.
"How dare you talk to me like this? Aren’t you supposed to have a master’s degree in sociology or social work? Don’t you work in the mental health field? Can’t you see how you are purposely using my illness as a springboard for you to insult me, blame me, and be mean?
“And if you think your brother will divorce me because I’m an inconvenience for you, your mother, and your sisters–THINK AGAIN!!!”
Slamming the phone down before she could utter another word. I do not know what her reaction was. She thought she could leave a message like that and get to say her piece without hearing my reaction.
Ha! I didn’t let her have the last word.
When I hung up the phone, my chest heaved, I was hot all over, and my ears rang.
I’m pretty sure I used a lot more expletives, and my children, who were young at that time, assure me I did. In fact, I scared them. They hadn’t ever seen me that upset.
I didn’t talk to that woman for five years.
And I only put up with all of them for about ten years. After a particularly difficult time in our marriage, I told my husband I didn’t want to deal with his family anymore. In fact, it was one of the conditions for reconciliation. And with that, I put my in-laws in a box. The box lived on a shelf with memories-some good, but most were bad. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve seen most of them.
The same sister-in-law called me in 2006. She wanted to reconcile. First, she emailed my husband at work. She involved me after he told her he wasn’t interested in that.
“Well, I have forgiven you. But I can’t forget what was said and how I was treated. There isn’t any going back. I’m done. And you’ll only get your feelings hurt if you continue to try.”
I heard her crying on the other end when I hung up the phone. I don’t think she was concerned or hurt about me not being in her life anymore. She was hurting because my hubby stood by me and wasn’t attending their family functions anymore.
Without that toxicity in my life, I could start down the path of healing. I firmly believe that my mental illness has a genetic component, along with one that is environmental. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family, and it affects, or has, many of my decisions, mood swings, and viewpoint of the world.
The ‘box’ that exists grew smaller as I got better. Getting better involves a lot of work. Breaking bad habits-like screening your calls or not answering the door if you’re not expecting anyone, takes enormous energy to stop.
Hibernating in your house for days on end must go away.
Now my children are still a part of that side of their family. Whenever there is a special function, they attend. Or at least my daughter tries to. She is in the Air Force, and depending on the occasion, she comes if she can get leave. My son needs us to pay for his transportation since he lives halfway across the country and rarely has enough money for airfare, train fare, etc.
For instance, when my father-in-law passed away, my hubby and son attended the funeral. Our daughter was still in training, and she and her grandfather discussed her attendance before he passed, so she felt okay. She’d lived with her grandparents for about three months before leaving for the Air Force, and she cherished that time. She’s at peace with her relationship with them.
When the family matriarch turned ninety a few years ago, my hubby and the children attended the celebration. However, none of them are celebrating some half-assed reunion this weekend in Long Beach, Washington.
My husband’s other sister-the sister-in-law who treated me worse than all of them, lives in Long Beach. I have vowed NEVER to go there again. It’s a small beach community, and she knows everyone there. The thought of running into her, or worse, someone asking me whether I’m related to her, hurts my heart.
You see, my life is stable now that I’ve learned to live with my mental illness. I can choose who I will be around or not at my age. My medications keep me stable, and my mood swings are rare. Most of my days are pleasant.
Do I miss the people I’ve cut out? Sometimes, I miss the extensive family Christmases or Thanksgivings. Most of my nieces and nephews have grown up, so I feel comfortable contacting them on Facebook.
My calendar for next year includes plans to see two of my nieces from that side of the family. You see, I’m selective about whom I cut from my life.
I haven’t cut out the people I enjoy being around. I only avoid the people who see my disability as their ‘out.’ I created a special box for that type of person, and once you’re in that box, you are no longer a part of my life.
When you’re officially ‘mentally ill,’ you are always at fault–no matter what the other people do.