We all require a certain standard of self-care in order to function in life. If our needs are not met we cannot hope to meet the needs of others around us effectively.
I am living this life lesson right now as a full-time carer. Sure I’ve had four children and have had to put my kids first at times – but even parenthood requires that you make sure your own needs are met or else you’ll fall in a heap. In fact, many of us do fall in a heap because we put everyone else before ourselves. It’s the quick lane to disaster. We can’t do everything for everyone else and ignore our own needs. Sure, we can maintain that level of martyrdom for a while – but it doesn’t last. Eventually we all crack. For me, with bipolar, it’s really dangerous if I crack. It’s not a pretty sight and very hard on the people who love me. I also dabble in very risky behaviour.
I can be selfish and selfishness is a part of all of us. In fact, without it, we wouldn’t survive but we all have different ideas of what being selfish means. For some, it’s simply ‘self-care’ while for others it’s a dirty word and associated with ‘self-hatred’ and ‘guilt trips’. I mean, I love a good holiday as much as the next person but guilt is not a place I enjoy visiting. The thing is, guilt is a place many of us find ourselves in and sometimes it’s healthy because we all should be accountable for our own actions. The problem with guilt trips though, is that they often take a side trip to self-hatred.
Selfishness in itself is not a bad thing – it’s just been given a really bad rap from controlling and manipulative people.
So why wait until we crack?
Here’s my story about getting to a cracking point. it wasn’t my first and more than likely won’t be my last. This part of my story is just to show that we all have different perspectives, needs and messy life crap – but we can all crack.
When my parents got ripped off with superannuation I realised that they would never have enough to own property or live comfortably on their own. So we decided to build a house together. It was going to be a win-win situation. Both parties would have home ownership, both parties would have their own spaces and we would all live happily ever after.
I’ll tell you what most people who knew us were thinking at the time – WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY THINKING?!?
Obviously, as mentioned previously, I didn’t have an ideal relationship with my parents. The fact that I was running away from home from the age of ten, had permanently left the family home by the time I was 14 and finally made a ward of the state and placed in a ‘youth hospital’. The government basically owned me. My father banned me from the family home for years after that because my psychiatrist from the hospital had told my parents that I had said that he ‘beats’ me. I had never said any such thing – in fact, I said pretty much nothing to him. The sessions were compulsory but they never got anything out of me other than I thought all adults were pretty much cunts. Even though I was banned from the family home I maintained a secret relationship with my mum. My dads’ attitude didn’t change until mum would bring me to the house and I would be there when he got home from work. He would walk in and pretend I wasn’t there. He softened when I fell pregnant and when I was nearly due we had pulled up in the driveway to get mums’ groceries out of the car and he came out and took the bags off me and said: “you shouldn’t be carrying heavy things like this.” Fast forward twenty odd years and here we were living together. I hadn’t just unpacked household stuff – there was some emotional baggage to deal with too. To unpack all that was really hard for me – I just didn’t realise at the time that how heavy my baggage was or his.
I was hypersensitive to everything when we were building the house and once we all moved in the hypersensitivity continued. I felt like, actually no I didn’t feel like it, I was in a power struggle with my dad. He was super excited about being in a new home and he wanted to participate as a homeowner does – and I made it really bloody difficult. I wanted to control. I wanted things to be a certain way and we just clashed. My childhood hurts were causing me to act like a selfish dick. Of course, going head-on with dad was creating more problems. I’m an imperfect greenie and he wasn’t. I favoured permaculture, organic and Eco-friendly gardening methods and he preferred poisons (poisons by the way that are linked with the cause of mums’ cancer). I didn’t like the way he treated my mum – he was a chauvinist and couldn’t see the problem with that. I could go on and on writing all the things I didn’t like about dad and all the problems we had but when I just cut the bullshit and get to the very base of the issue – it’s that we could not communicate our past hurts to each other or express our true feelings – and he probably had a list a mile long about the things that annoyed the crap out of him about me.
Eventually, this tension ( and an episode for me) led to us deciding to sell the house. We put the place on the market and as luck would have it my parents moved hours away to house-sit for my sister who was working ten hours away for a few years with her family. That meant they had somewhere familiar and safe to be. I might have issues, but I still worried about my parents. After a period of time, it was evident that the real estate market was on a go slow, so we decided to rent the house out to a friend and go travel for a while. We pulled my husbands’ meagre superannuation out (less than $45k) – purchased an old caravan and a 4WD and we were about to take off. It was totally reckless (mania anyone?!), totally dumb but without a doubt (in hindsight) it was exactly what needed to happen.
Before we had a chance to leave on our travels, my mother suffered a horrific cerebral haemorrhage and also had a heart attack on the operating table when a craniotomy was being performed. You know how they say that the truth of your core will be revealed when the shit hits the fan? Yeah well, it did for me. The past was firmly placed on the back burner and I was fully present for my parents. In fact, my husband and I moved to my sisters’ place and lived in our caravan there while my mum went through the gruelling rehabilitation. We chose to live in the caravan because I didn’t want to spend too much time with dad. Of course, we spent some time inside the house because he was suffering too but we also needed space.
The facility where mum was living was a new rehab centre only half an hour away. My sister and older brother both lived hours away and were only just coping themselves with partners who suffer mental health problems which often required hospitalisation. So the onus was on my dad, myself and my husband to take the load because we weren’t working. So we put the travel on hold and got busy with mums rehab. Dad and me at first would go in together but then did different shifts so mum wasn’t alone too much.
She had to learn how to move her legs, then to walk, to talk, toilet herself, write – basically all the things most of us take for granted. It was hard on everyone especially my dad. We grew through that trauma though – it gave us more depth and respect for each other – until we finally got mum home and he treated me like crap. Now that it was over (or so he thought) he no longer needed or wanted me around. Apart from my anger about that, I knew it wasn’t over with mum – her brain injury had left permanent damage and my dad just wouldn’t accept it. It’s a long story and really not a big deal now but I could see what it was really about. By this time there were decades worth of crap on the back burner and after that experience, I had even more crap to add to it.
Let me be very clear, dad’s behaviour was not the cause for my mental breakdown – it was just an extra push to where I was already headed. It just helped the gaining of momentum. It was getting too exhausting to hide my bipolar – as much as you can actually hide it. I was simply exhausted. I was about to crack.
Off we travelled – but little did we know, I was headed for one of my worst episodes. To be honest, in hindsight I can see that I was already in the episode but life was so crazy at the time it was well hidden because it was easily excused by mums accident and all of the stress that ensued. So off we went – my husband and I were so excited. This was his retirement reward. He is 14 years older than me and part of the reason we were taking off is that I secretly feared that he was going to die soon. Yes, I had experienced what I call a premonition months earlier that something really bad was about to happen. My fear immediately jumped to losing my husband. I have had many premonitions before that have come true and I have always dabbled in the world of ‘woo’- always looking for answers to fix my ‘crazy’ self. The problem is that when you are bipolar you don’t know if it’s just the mania having a dance with you – but oh I do love a good dance!
After mums accident I quickly filed my premonition as being a bit off centre – told myself mums accident was the ‘something bad about to happen’. So having been able to file that away I was left with feeling guilty that I had talked my husband into this great adventure that was premature in its timing and reckless financially.
As we travelled I unravelled. A perfect storm – in the middle of nowhere! I couldn’t find a tiny teacup anywhere. This was a full-blown storm – I needed the whole damn kettle. I had a major depressive episode. I spent countless nights sobbing until I fell asleep – my poor husband didn’t know what the fuck was going on. He would ask and all I could say was ‘I don’t know’. Remember, I had not told anyone, including my husband or family, about my mental illness. Sure they would have had their own ideas about me, my mood swings, my aggressiveness, my depression, irritability, anxieties, obsessions, hyperactivity, hypomania, mania – oh the list goes on!
Anyways – throughout this awful period, we kept travelling and of course, we also had some really good times. My brain was off and on like one of those touch lamps that a kid gets hold of and touches it repeatedly. All.bloody.day. Our Facebook and Instagram feed was full of beautiful sights, happy faces and all the rest of the ‘fake news’.
I was getting worse – I thought of suicide at least daily and my mind was all over the shop. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to work my way around the country. Our intention was to work on fruit farms as we travelled. We had already done a lap of Australia in a matter of months. We didn’t have enough money to travel properly without an income coming in. My husband was not yet eligible for an age pension and was due for a total shoulder replacement so unable to work either. The thoughts that were filling my head were all over the shop – I simply couldn’t process them and I just wanted to ‘go home’. I knew I wasn’t well but I still wasn’t ready to confide in anyone – not even my husband. Oh for sure he knew there was a big problem – he assumed I was having a very bad bout of depression. He’d seen me have them before. He’s also seen me experience mania before – he just knew nothing about Bipolar.
I contacted my tenant friend and said that I was considering breaking the lease agreement because we needed to come home. Of course, she was pissed off because who wouldn’t be – she’d signed a 12-month lease and a few months in I’m saying she might have to move out. What I did not learn till much later was that a message I had sent about paying her a payout fee, a bond fee for a new place etc was never received. What I didn’t say though was the truth – I just wanted to tell her how bad I was and that I wanted to come home. I wanted her to say “just come home – park your van here and we will sort this crap out”. Her reply sent me into a rage – she told me that my behaviour wasn’t cool and that it was all on me. I reacted with anger and told her she was a selfish fuck and to go to hell, that I had been her rock for the past two years when she had needed me. If I had just told her the truth in the first place things may have turned out differently. But I didn’t want to tell her the truth because her partner at the time had serious mental health issues of his own. I knew she was struggling with that and I didn’t want to be another problem. It was all a huge cluster fuck of miscommunication and then I went into shut down mode – or shut out mode. I shut people out when they piss me off.
So our travels came to an end due to the financial reasons and the fact I was not coping. It was no longer possible to hide my mental illness from my husband. We were sharing a tiny space, travelling all over Australia – just the two of us. There was nowhere to hide.
We moved into our sons’ house with his family for a couple of months. I was so grateful that they were in New Zealand on holiday at the time because it meant I had time to process my feelings, do some self-care and put my game face on before they got home – because that’s what I do – put my game face on. No.one.must.know. This is how I had lived for decades.
Life got busy, my son and his partner had a baby girl and we were blessed to share those first few months with them. I got a job, our daughter got a job – she was 18 and loving the fact that we were living in our hometown and had easy access to the beach which was about a 15-minute drive. Then we moved into a cheap and seedy little unit right around the corner from the beach – and we loved it. My neighbours were some of the best people I have met. There was a hooker next door, a drug dealer downstairs, another drug dealer upstairs and a crazy arse chick next to us whom we loved. These guys didn’t scare me, I spent my teen years with the same kind of people.
I felt safer with them than I have ever felt in my life. I knew exactly what to expect from them and in return for our acceptance, they made our life there very enjoyable (drug-free by the way – in case you were wondering). So we became the token straight ‘n’ narrow family in the group. My parents visited us at this unit and they were nothing but positive about the seedy little joint we were living in. I think they could actually see that for the first time in a long long while – I was truly happy and in my element. I was working at a supermarket doing night fill and loved it. I liked the staff and I loved how the job could accommodate my obsessive nuances. The control freak in me was in its element. I was feeling great – really really great. Ding! Ding! There are those bloody warning bells again. La la la la la….
After a couple of months, my husbands’ name finally got to the top of the hospital waiting list for a shoulder replacement. So while he was recuperating at home, I was working and we were enjoying walks along the beach and loved walking around the city finding all the cool eateries. Then my old patterns started emerging. I was experiencing body pain that would slow me down or have me stuck in the house for hours. I would see a doctor – they would diagnose things as bursitis, pulled muscles, strain, a virus blah blah blah fucking blah. After so many years I knew the drill – I knew where it was headed. Down into the very dark depths of depression.
The diagnosis this time though was peri-menopause. OK. Maybe. I’ll give that a whirl – see how that feels. Or was it my thyroid? I had my entire thyroid removed due to pre-cancer in 2005 and yes it causes lots of symptoms and hassles but I know them – like the back of my hand. I know my bipolar even better – that familiar friend that has been there since I was a teenager. I have found that I have flare-ups of my autoimmune disease, closely followed by anxiety then followed by depression and normally the end of all that is celebrated with a shot of hypomania – and sometimes I just get the whole damn lot and I’m just juggling. If I’m lucky (and everyone else around me) I’ll go into cruise control for a while.
But back in our little unit, I could feel the cruise control had been turned off. I was struggling with the load at work, which to be fair is pretty full on – you know the drill, supermarkets don’t run on staff members, they run on staff hours. Everything must be done in the shortest possible number of hours – whether it’s safe or mentally healthy or not. Shape up or fuck off – that’s how my work life has always been.
It was time to ‘return to base’ or ‘re-calibrate’ for want of a better word when our tenant moved out of our house. Rather than sell, we decided it was time to move back to the family home. It felt like it was meant to be, my husband and daughter were both able to get their old jobs back so they moved back first and I followed a few weeks later. Not long after, my mum and dad moved back too. We were in a better place with each other – we were all on the same page – we just wanted to co-exist and respect each other’s lifestyles. But eventually, dad still annoyed the hell out of us (yeah not just me).
Dad is dead now. He died on 9th April 2016 at precisely 6.05am – I was on the bed with him. He died only two months after I wished him dead. How’s that for a guilt trip? Be careful what you wish for. The logical part of my brain knows that me wishing him dead didn’t cause his death. That bastard Melanoma had been working its deathly magic long before that – we never saw it coming. He was in severe pain for weeks and after several misdiagnoses, he had a fall in hospital and never came out. He was dead in a matter of weeks. But it’s the wishing him dead that you may be wondering about isn’t it? I admit it.
He was acting like a prick towards me and I’d had a gutful. I got in my car – drove around the corner from the house and at the top of my lungs while driving exploded with all the rage I could muster and screamed for him to just fucking die – and he did. Do I still struggle with that? Of course, I do. I remember all the selfish little things I did around the house – just to have control of every situation. I remember the selfish outbursts too. I remember every selfish cunt bit of myself. I also remember all the cuntish things about him.
You can be selfish, you can feel selfish, you can be considered selfish but you can only really understand the differences between all three when you have experienced them all together. Working out when it’s appropriate to be selfish is the most important thing. Therein lays the problem for me. The nature of this damn mental illness is that it sometimes causes me to be selfish when it’s not really appropriate, it makes me also feel selfish and of course, from the outside looking in – I am considered selfish. But it’s when I’m in these cycles that I really really need to be selfish. I need to focus acutely on self-care and I need help. It’s just such a struggle to ask for help once you are in the middle of it – you know? I also need to recognise when others are being selfish with me. I am often told by friends that I am not selfish enough – but I’m not so sure.
Since dad died I have been mum’s carer and it’s been a hard road. Immediately after he died, mum started her cancer treatment – lots of tests, chemo and home care. I was exhausted because I was also working on a fruit farm. All the running around and worry took its toll and I kept see-sawing between depression and anxiety. I honestly didn’t think it was bipolar because I reasoned that pretty much anyone who had been through the trauma I had for the last year would be feeling stressed, depressed and anxious. So I ignored it – as you do. But recently I fell into a heaving heap of anxiety and hypomania – oh hello my dear old friend. This time it turned into psychosis. I experienced the whole lot – delusions, hallucinations, talking incoherently and I was extremely agitated and paranoid. It was bad enough to get me to seek appropriate medical help for the first time in 37 years.
In fact, I haven’t been able to seek medical help when needed for various things in my life because of the treatments I was subjected to when institutionalised. That’s where all the ‘uncontrollable’ and ‘mental’ kids were sent. My sentence at court was ‘for an indefinite period’ – which actually meant they were free to do what they like with me until I turned 18. It was one of the most fucked up places I have ever experienced. Full strip searches, forced pap smears – where you were held down by several people while the procedure was performed (I along with many other victims class that as rape), beatings, inciting race hate, forced medication including knock out doses of Serenace (Haloperidol – an antipsychotic), la la land doses of Diazepam (to make sure you slept – easy shift for night workers), no schooling and the crap goes on and on. We were all minors and the suffering was coming from adults. I came out of that hellhole a lot worse than when I was admitted – I was a heroin addict when I went in! It was here that I was told by the apparent God of the place – the main psychiatrist, that I had manic depression. Of course, because the place was so screwed up I told my friends at the time I didn’t believe him – but deep down I felt it was true.