Sometimes when I’m down on myself I find comfort in muttering “well God loves me just the way I am.” This is true… I guess…if you believe that stuff…could be the Cosmos, or Buddha, or even the Great Pumpkin. And then I try to apply this to other people who are at the moment behaving in a rather unlovable way. Sometimes though, I go sailing right past the limits of my patience and medication and that’s when I find myself thinking “OK, yea, sure, God loves you just as you are – but the rest of us need a break!”
I’m beginning to suspect that a large percent of the population who subscribe to the “I’m just fine and peachy keen just the way I am” have forgotten that they don’t live on a desert island. We all live together in the desert of the real. Those of us who are relatively sober and sane anyway.
I’m still in recuperation mode from Thanksgiving. I better get on the ball here and finish percolating and ruminating because Christmas is just around the corner. Having a large immediate family of 4 sisters and 2 brothers and all their children and significant others, the chances of making it through the holidays unscathed, without at least one person, and usually more than one, going bat shit crazy are slim to none.
This Thanksgiving was no exception of course. I went to New Orleans knowing full well what I was getting myself into or so I thought. Why do I keep doing this? It’s because it’s my family and I can’t just throw my hands up in the air and pretend they don’t exist. OK, sometimes I do go through periods of pretending this, but it’s not sustainable over the long run.
This season sent me a bit of a curve ball. A relative who just 6 months ago I initiated a failed intervention for alcoholism, was a clean and sober and behaved in a perfect lovely manner; helpful, talkative, a joy to be with. However, another relative who is usually pretty well pulled together, this time became completely unglued. This particular person is usually fastidious, well groomed, soft spoken, and kind. Every time I saw them they were in the same clothes, disheveled, ranting and raving, smelling of stale beer, throwing things, verbally attacking anyone who crossed their path and just in general acting like they needed a trip to the hospital in a padded wagon.
Unfortunately in New Orleans there is no padded wagon. Mental health care is in abysmal short supply in the U.S.; in New Orleans it is non-existent. If someone has a meltdown all the emergency room can do is shoot them full of tranquilizers or anti-psychotics and then turn them out on the street. Usually the hospital does not bother to inform the family that their loved one was put on the street in a bad part of town at 3:00 am.
I’m waffling back and forth about what to say to this relative who took temporary leave of their senses. Should I say anything at all? I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to because they have a mood spectrum disorder and claim to be handling it on their own. Unfortunately, this past Thanksgiving it was excruciatingly obvious that this is not the case.
In the Middle Ages, it was called melancholia. In the early 1900s, it was known as neurasthenia. From the 1930s to about 1970, it was known as a nervous breakdown. “Nervous breakdown” is a term that the public uses to characterize a range of mental illnesses, but generally it describes the experience of “snapping” under immense pressure, mental collapse or mental and physical exhaustion.
My lovely daughter once dropped a quote that I thought was pretty funny at the time; “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Now I think back on it, she was acting as a prophetess.
I’ll always remember the winter of 2012 as that pesky time when I lost my freaking mild altogether. Losing one’s mind is way more inconvenient thank losing one’s cell phone for example. You can always call yourself from the house phone and follow the ring to where the darned phone is hiding…this time. If you haven’t silenced the ringer – then you have to turn off everything in the house and listen for the vibration.
Checking all your coat pockets and purses you’ve used recently doesn’t help much either. A lost mind tends to lurk around in the shadows and pounce on you at inconvenient moments. Say, just long enough for you to put 2 & 2 together and realize that your answer, 42, is not quite right.
It’s really weird to be on the inside of a mental meltdown. Part of you decides to play the part of spectator and stands off on the sidelines, cheering and wincing. “Come on Girl, you can do it. Just put your pants on one leg at time, it’s not that hard once you get started.” Or “Oh, I can’t believe she said that, that’s going to be hard to explain.” Or “Oh crap, she’s never gonna live THAT down.”
I spent the majority of December 2012 and January 2012 feeling like my brain got put into a food processor and spun around on high until I ended up with a bizarre brain puree not suitable for consumption by anyone.
The whole meltdown thing started innocently enough. I began to display evidence of losing my aplomb. Minor incidents were suddenly earth shatteringly serious. I went from being annoyed by the self-destructive antics of friends and loved ones to being annoyed by their very existence on the planet.
I think one of the things that saved me from total chaos is that I can type really fast, almost fast enough to keep up with my thoughts when they are raging in a manic episode. I can sit down with a cup or 2 of coffee and bang out a novella on the outrages of using a poorly constructed can opener, 8 to 10 thousand words easy – no problem. And it all makes sense, at the time. I’ve saved a few of the crazier ones for a private look back guide to tell when I starting to careen off the rails. I just wish I could channel some of this energy into the book I’m writing. Sometimes I can.
Well, all of this nonsense ended up in an enormous train wreck from my perspective. I spent a lot of time being profoundly grateful that I was retired and didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of melting down on the job.
I saw it happen to a work friend and it was not a pretty sight. She was suffering from “forced speech” that frequently accompanies a manic episode. This meant that she couldn’t sit down in her cube and couldn’t shut up no matter what. She took to walking around wearing a blood pressure cuff as a bracelet and updated everyone on her stats on a continuous basis, about every 15 minutes.
This went on for 2 days in a row. Being the one responsible for keeping track of employees at that time, I had to be the one to have HR call her husband to come get her. Actually I was relieved that he came and quietly spirited her away. We spoke for a few minutes and I thanked him for coming to get his wife. He thanked me for doing something instead of just ignoring her. I felt terrible that she went through that. The company ended up giving her a generous retirement package and we never saw her again.
I heard through a mutual friend a year or so later and she had received treatment and was feeling much better. She was working part time in a low stress, small grocery store owned by a family member. She was able to get out of the house, and a huge benefit was that they were kind and patient with her when she had “one of those days” and was unable to handle being in the store.
I’m grateful for my beloved husband for bearing with me during this episode. I don’t know how he stood it really. I couldn’t even stand myself. It must be incredibly challenging to face someone who switches from “I’m pissed that you left the toilet seat up, please don’t do that” – to – “I’m pissed that you left the toilet seat up, therefore I’m leaving and moving to Brazil!’ in the blink of an eye.