Last week, I started a six-week Intensive Outpatient Program for grief & depression over in Anderson. It meets every Monday-Wednesday-Friday for three hours for a whopping six weeks, with the first half of sessions being about education, skills & strategies for healthier living, & the second half consisting of group therapy. After mid-July’s brush with suicidal ideations & one of my more prolonged manic spells, I decided a more concentrated approach must be attempted. After poking around at the resources in my area, this program shuffled to the top.
After a week of reprogramming some of my logical & social skills & processing in group therapy, I can say I’m on the right track. In just a few sessions, I’ve been challenged to think outside of my default self-centered mode, coming face-to-face with the logical, social, & biological patterns that have been befuddling me. The other patients in the program are further along in their treatment, two-to-three weeks, & their comfortability & growth lends me a great deal of confidence & insight for this journey. Our therapist, BC, is particularly adept at asking questions that push our sharing beyond story time & woe-is-me aspects, & instead, into more contemplative, productive realms.
On my first day, I was sharing my story--what brought me here, what my struggles are, where I need to be heading--& BC asked two questions that I stumbled over. I was explaining my what: identifying my bipolar & psychosis tendencies, explaining how I was hospitalized, diagnosed, & left by my wife in the same week, & expressing my need to find closure with the grief of harming & losing my wife before I could do the life-long work of managing my illness.
In wanting to know more about the symptoms of my disorder, BC first asked, “What do your bipolar episodes look like?” I started right in--the embarrassment / abandonment triggers, the blurry brain, the black-outs, the dissociation--but quickly was met by my group mates’ befuddled looks. I realized I was telling the story of how it felt to me to have spells, an impossibly visceral moment to convey; as Elyn Saks said in The Center Cannot Hold, spells are things that happen to a person, not necessarily things that are happening by or because of a person.
That distinction, thus, made it impossible for me to explain. I’ve never seen an episode. I’ve never witnessed the way my body, my attitude, & my voice loses controls & transforms into this other. So, I went back--to ask my mother what she’s seen, to reference my blog posts, to review emails & texts from friends who’ve seen an episode. Let’s call it a flesh tornado--one part Tasmanian devil (the cartoon), one part Tasmanian devil (the animal), & one part disoriented & dislodged hick flailing for any control or comfort. In that revelatory image, I was able to start the process of grieving with empathy for my wife & others who have decided this person, this body, these capabilities are too much for them.
It also led to BC’s second question, “Were you a dick to her [your wife]?” I instinctively said no, knowing I was never the kind of husband to gripe about housework, to demean appearances or intellect, or shirk responsibilities & promises of my own. However, I continued to tell the story that led up to DS’s leaving--the increasingly volatile Prozac-induced spells, the deep shame / depression, the final straw of flipping her out of a chair during an episode--& I quickly contradicted myself, a fact BC pointed out, saying, “So you were a dick.”
“I guess I was,” I admitted, grappling with this distinction in the haziness of choice, responsibility, & intent. Regardless of the fact that these hurtful moments were done in irrational, bipolar episodes, I must take responsibility for what happened. It was my choice to not report my increased spells early enough to my doctor. It was my choice to stop seeing my first therapist back in Indiana & my choice to wait so long to find another one. It was my choice to accept my Texas therapist SW’s misdiagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. It was my choice to not protect my wife DS earlier in the year when I knew things weren’t right. The blame sits with me because I didn’t make the right choices, take the necessary responsibility, & harness my good intentions when I had the power to do so.
Like I hoped to avoid with the LS situation years ago, I never sought to justify my actions, disorder-induced or not. Rather, this contemplation remains focused on contextualizing the situation, which is what BC’s questions nudged me towards. How proactive am I (& must I be) in regards to my disorder? When & how do I allow myself to decompress & possibly dissociate? Who do I trust with my care? While I have moments when control is ripped away from me, every day there are critical choices & circumstances to be handled. I must never forget that again.