Being bipolar is something I have to manage every day. I’m a single mom. And unfortunately I took it upon myself to fornicate with the devil, which ironic because our mutual child is an absolute angel – must be my side, and now I am stuck with this psycho and his equally psycho mother. I also have to cope with my narcissistic father. And I worry that these genes do not bode well for the future of my kids mental health. So everyday I battle the tears, the frustration, the hurt, the racing thoughts, the helplessness, and simple tasks such as getting out of bed. Bipolar type 2 isn’t obvious. There are no manic, euphoric phases. Only real life. And then real life. And in my experience, the only things that distinguish between the two are those that are completely out of your control. Like life. It’s happening.
To be honest, I find writing about my bipolar odd, because I generally tend to make light of even the most traumatic experiences in my life. When I am having a low, I can find humour in almost anything. Except my low. Nobody knows when I am having a dangerously low mood swing. I laugh, I interact, I go about my motherly duties, my duties as a friend. I am very religious about my medication and continued therapy. I’ve come very far, and my bipolar diagnosis was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Because finally I could understand myself. Finally, I could see that it wasn’t just me. I could stop taking on everyone elses shit believing it all belonged to me. It didn’t. I’ve always been headstrong and brutally honest. Qualities I admire in others, but qualities I was belittled and rejected for. I thought it was me. The masters of our own destinies and all.
My first clue should have been the fact that my first trip to a therapist was at the age of 5. A suggestion made by the school I attended. I remember sitting in those sessions with my mother, hearing her tell MY therapist what a nightmare I was. What a danger I was to myself. How accident prone I was. How stubborn I was. How naughty I was. Thanks mom, send me to a therapist so you can take over the session with your issues by blaming me for them. I should mention she was married to a gay man. She knew it. He knew it. But they played happy families anyway. With my sisters and myself their biggest guest stars yet. I always wondered why? Why my mother put up with my father never being at home. Why she subjected herself and her kids to the hideousness that was their marriage. Why she didn’t just move on. Why we had to be exposed to the 3am fights in the driveway. Waiting for my father to join us for Sunday lunch after a ‘weekend business trip’… For two… I would hear about hotel bills for two, we would go away for family holidays and my dad’s “friend” would house sit. On our return, Uncle X would have left a bunch of flowers, chocolates, wine, and a signed ‘welcome home’ card. I remember thinking it odd. But I was maybe 9 years old, tops. Sometimes my mother would go ballistic. Who knew why? She was always going ballistic. At the time, she was a lawyer. A defense lawyer. A female of colour during the Apartheid years. The death sentence still very much a part of what was already an impossible legal system to navigate for those of colour. My mother’s moods seemed justified… Necessary even. I mean what kind of person would come home and embrace their kids, and ask them each about their day, just after their client had been given the death sentence. So we put up with an angry and emotionally absent mother. And a physically, mentally and emotionally absent father. Somehow, I managed to be the dumping mine. Each member of my family had a spade so that they could dig up their own shit and dump it onto me. A habit my sisters also picked up. And honestly, 30 years later, it’s a habit they all have a hard time breaking.
And that’s what eventually broke me. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Except in this case, the straw was a champagne glass and the camel was me, and the back was my face. But what nobody ever actually asks is who put all that straw on the camels back? Who was the asshole that decided the camel could cope with more than what it’s physical being could possible allow? Well my asshole was my father. So, to simplify it. My father threw a glass at my face which shattered on impact. And that was the beginning of what was to become the worst place I’d ever been in – my own mind. Sitting with my kid in the ER on Christmas morning, after flying from Cape Town to Joburg for the holidays. Having to explain why my face was bleeding. Pulling shards of glass from my face. While my father threatened me with more violence, my sister jumping to his defense. Comforting HIM while I am bleeding all over her house. My baby wide awake, barely 4 years old, packing our suitcase to leave. It was horrific. I had always been able to keep myself together. Granted, usually with a little help from a mind altering friend. Okay, always with a little help from a mind altering friend. Anything to keep myself out of my own head. It had never been a pleasant place to be, but after this, my mind became a fate worse than death.
I probably would have been okay with a few therapy sessions, weekly parties till dawn (and beyond). But things were different now. I had a child. And my father and sisters went on to tell everyone we know that I was the one who had thrown the first stone. Or glass. I would ask why this version (thanks Gerrie Nel) was being put to everyone except me, and of course anyone who is very close to me. Of course, in true Oscar, I mean NARCISSIST style, this would be denied “what do you mean, I never spoke to anyone about that, I don’t know where that’s coming from”. Um, YOU??!!! No ways. A narcissist will never admit that they are an asshole. They know it. You know it. They know you know it. You know that they know that you know…. But they don’t know what you think it is that you know because they were never there and they never said anything to anyone, ever… *insert frantic scrambling through text message exchanges for proof of whatever you (think) you need proof for. Two word: Mind Fuck. Better yet, make that one word because you’re too busy finding proof to counterclaim current and extremely confusing Mindfuckery. This mindfuckery began a year long downward spiral that eventually led to my kids friends announcing to me that I was always in bed when they were over for playdates. Of course my kid by this point was also always in tears because, well I was always in tears. Always in tears and always in bed. I had never allowed my depression to get to this. Fair enough, there were a few suicide attempts way back in my late teens… But like I said, I had never allowed the lows to get this low because before I learned to self medicate, I’d over medicate myself in an attempt to shut the depression down. Permanently.
This time was different. In spite of the meds and the intensive therapy I was undergoing, I could not cope. Eventually I agreed to go somewhere for treatment. I had been refusing before out of fear that my ex husband would use it against me. He did. He does. But I knew then if I didn’t get help I was not going to be around to make sure my daughter was protected from such male role models. I knew I had to do it to stay alive.
Finally, I realised that abuse in it’s worst form comes from the people you’re supposed to trust the most. Those who are supposed to protect you are the very ones who know exactly how to hurt you. I could return what wasn’t mine emotionally, and used that space to find clarity and confidence in who I always had been.
It’s hard to tell people about psychiatric disorders. Society is not at a place where it accepts this. Yet we accept physical abuse from our fathers, husbands, brothers. I wish I had called the cops that night my father threw that glass in my face. If I had known then what the events of that night would trigger in my life, I would’ve laid charges against him instead of protecting him. But as is usually the case with abuse, the victim is the one who has to heal the wounds. To make sure they stay healed. To hide the secrets of those who abuse us. Because they are all too often those we love, who we yearn to love us back. Because that’s what family is supposed to do, right?