Cling to this Life

There is something about me I do not tell people because I fear judgement, and I fear having to deal with ignorance, but this blog is about overcoming my fears, and I do not think I should have to remain silent about a part of me that is instrumental to who I am.

Not long after I turned sixteen, I was hospitalized for a week. It was after my fifth suicide attempt, and I was diagnosed with manic depression (yes, I know the correct terminology is bipolar, but I still think manic depression sounds cooler.)

I do not talk about it because I do not want people to think that a diagnosis means that my life is tumultuous and unstable. It is not.

When I was a teenager, I did not understand what was happening to me. I constantly cycled through feeling high and invincible to feeling depressed to the point that I heard a voice inside my head telling me to kill myself. To look at me, I don’t think anyone would have known anything was wrong because I did not appear gloomy, and I did everything I could to cover up the fact that anything was wrong with me. I even joined cheer team because I wanted to be around happy, positive people.

When I was in the hospital, a family member who years ago was diagnosed with manic depression wrote me a letter, telling me that she knew how I felt and I needed to have faith and trust the doctors. She also told me that her life was very happy now and that she never thought of suicide. As I read that, I could not comprehend how my life could be happy or without suicidal thoughts.

I feel fortunate to have gotten sick back in the 80’s because there were not a lot of experimental drugs back then for manic depression. Lithium was still the main form of treatment and today it is still the gold standard, but a lot of doctors shy away from it in favour of newer drugs. So, a patient can go from one drug to another without making progress.

After being placed on lithium, my hallucinations stopped within a week, and within two weeks, I felt normal, even happy. I know it is not like that for everyone with an affective disorder, but for me, it was that simple.

During my pregnancies, I went off lithium to avoid side effects to the fetuses, and I had wonderful pregnancies. With my first three children, I went back on my medication right after they were born. I was unable to nurse them, but I did not have any problems with postpartum depression. If anything, I felt constant joy at the intense love I felt for each of them.

When I became pregnant with my fourth daughter, my doctor informed me that research had changed and I could remain off my medication if I breast fed. At the same time, I did research on the internet about lithium-rich foods, and I got in into my head that I could control my illness through my diet, and I would never have to go back on my medication again.

I was still breast feeding my daughter Olivia when I got pregnant with my daughter Sophia, and then I breastfed her until she was nineteen months. When she was ten months, I started feeling mildly depressed due to returning to graduate studies then work, preventing me nursing her as much. I coped through positive self-talk and remaining optimistic.

Five months later, my grandmother passed away, my milk dried up, and I started deteriorating, yet I was still convinced that I would be fine without medication. While at work, I coped with my depressed states by finding menial tasks to keep my mind going. For my graduate studies, I waited out my dark times and did my work when I was feeling high. Gradually, coping became more difficult, and then my hallucinations returned.

At that point, I knew I needed help.

So, I called my doctor, went back on my medication, and I told myself that I just had to endure the next two weeks and I would be well again.

Readjusting to my medication after not being on it for four years was difficult due to the side effects of weight gain and horrible fatigue, but if given the choice between living on the edge, wanting to kill myself and dealing with fatigue and weight gain, I would gladly take the latter. Now that I have been back on my medication for a few years now, my body has adjusted and I do not feel any of the side effects. Through healthy living, my weight is under control and I have an excess amount of energy.

I do not regret my illness; in fact, I don’t even like referring to it as an illness. If anything, it is a gift. Being able to experience such a wide range of emotions has added to my creativity, helped me to be empathetic towards others, and has given me such a strong appreciation for life that I will cling to this life and never take it for granted.

Navigating the Unknown

The scariest night of my life was when my daughter Justine was born. On that night, I went to the hospital and after an internal examination, I was told I was not in labor and needed to go home.

I was twenty-two years old and good at doing what I was told, so although I was in pain, I complied, trusting the information I was given.

Back then, I lived in low-income housing, and I was in the fourth townhouse at the end of the row. I remember stopping at the white fence of the first house and doubling over in pain then walking to the second, third house, and my house doing the same.

When I went inside, the pain worsened and I didn’t know how to manage it, so I took a quick bath, and when I got out of the tub, Justine was born within a few minutes.

I was alone with her for those first few minutes as the paramedics were let into the house, and I remember my intense fear of not knowing if she was alive. As I checked to see if she was breathing, she cried, and my fear subsided.

Fast forward twenty-one years, and I am so proud of the lovely young woman she has become. She is kind, intelligent, dramatic, and she speaks her mind, especially regarding feminist issues. Above all, she is a survivor.

As for me, I am learning to push boundaries and to not always do what I am told or what I think society expects of me.

I got married a second time because I honestly wanted to have someone I could be with for the rest of my life. Early on in the marriage, I knew there were problems, but I believed that if I just did everything right, things would get better. Also, I did not want the stigma of going through another divorce with all the pettiness and ugliness that accompanies it. And, I feared facing my life alone.

I get sad sometimes, and I cry.

Then I shrug those emotions away as I prepare to go for another run, turn on some music to dance, or check out my recent likes for my quirky Facebook posts. When I am feeling down, it all means a lot.

I am now walking through the unknown, and it is scary. But I do not feel all alone as I did during those first few minutes with Justine. With the love of family and good friends, I will navigate this unknown, and life will be okay.

Welcome to my site: Fear Less, Single Mom

I have recently found myself single after eleven years of marriage (well, twenty-one years if you count my first marriage). I’m in my mid-forties, and I have five wonderful, vivacious daughters: three in university and two in early elementary, who all live with me.

There have been some challenges over the past few weeks: I forgot about my eight year old daughter’s friend’s birthday party, and I have two bins of laundry for the younger girls that they dig through every morning because I have not gotten around to putting it away.

Aside from that, overall, I am doing well. I have a glass or two of red wine pretty much every day, I run every second day and relish the high it provides, and I have returned to the original love of my life: Mr. Jon Bon Jovi.

I created this blog to embrace my fears by challenging myself to do what scares me. So, what scares me? Spiders of course, as well as public speaking and displaying any kind of art form in public including my writing (horrible anxiety issues that I need to deal with).

But my greatest fear is realizing that I am not quite half way through my life (hopefully–shooting beyond a hundred), and I don’t want to get to the end only to discover that I played everything too safe by confining myself to a monotonous existence.

This weekend, my younger girls are away at their father’s place for the first time, and I’ve already gotten into the wine, so tonight I am going to listen to music and dance. Tomorrow, I am going to devote respect to our veterans by participating in ceremonies and visiting the grave site of my grandfather, Charles Schneck (the most handsome man to grace our good Earth). He went to war when he was a teenager, was a POW, suffered from TB due to the awful conditions he lived in, coped with PTSD, and died at the age of 53 from a heart attack. Now that’s service to our country.

Then I am going to lock myself away in my office (without my red wine) and complete the final edit of a novel I have been working on for the past two years. So, here’s to life and embracing fears.