Every year, in Canada, Bell Canada has a “Let’s Talk” event. It runs for one day at the end of January and is supposed to stimulate conversation about mental illness. Which is great but mental illness doesn’t exist for just one day.
I had a rough day with Colin but it didn’t start today, it started back in August when he came home from his psychiatrist and informed me Dr. A was going to be away for a while. My first thought was summer vacation. It was the right time of year to go.
School and family and appointments went on until one day, I said to Colin, “You haven’t seen your doctor in a while… like a really long time. Did you make an appointment with him?”. Colin reminded me that he hadn’t made an appointment because his doctor was going away. I remembered that conversation from months earlier. Surely he had to be back by now.
That was when we got a message from the pharmacy saying that Colin’s prescription had expired a while earlier and the doctor was not responding to their faxes or returning their calls. They could no longer extend his prescription and it was ending the following week.
I had a psychiatrist’s appointment that week and Colin’s grandmother was dying in the same hospital so Colin left school a little early on the day of my appointment and came up to meet me. The receptionist informed us that his doctor was on leave and Colin should have received a letter in the summer with his temporary psychiatrist’s name and a request to make an appointment. He didn’t get a letter. There was nothing they could do other than schedule an appointment now but the earliest date available was the end of March. This was the middle of January. We made the appointment. What else could we do? It turned out we could go down to the ER and speak to the on duty psychiatrist.
Colin visited his grandmother, while I politely waited in the hall, then we went down to the ER to wait for the psychiatrist. Well he did. I was struggling with anxiety and went home. He came home quite proud of himself after talking to the doctor and we both breathed a sigh of relief that the prescription had been filled. At least until two weeks later when his blister pack of medication didn’t arrive. We were informed then that the ER doctor only prescribes enough medication for one week. That was when Colin said he wasn’t taking his medication anymore. It didn’t make a difference and he wasn’t going to sit in the ER every single week. I knew it would make a difference but had to admit I wouldn’t want to sit there each week too. And it wasn’t like I could force him to go.
Sometimes it’s not just one thing but a bunch of little things that cause mental health issues. Colin was stable on his medication until those little things piled up and toppled him off. And, to be honest, he wasn’t very compliant with his medication to begin with, something people struggling with bipolar disorder are notorious for. I quickly took over his blister pack, doling them out three times a day, until the pills ran out. Because if I left it to him he’d “forget” two out of every three pills. And we bumbled along until, thanks to a bunch of things, the pills ran out. Then, over a week or two the meds slowly left his body.
For me, today started at 3am when Colin woke up and turned on his videos in the living room. I think he was in the living room, I didn’t even open my eyes, let alone get up. “Emma?” I called. “Can you please turn that down or put on headphones?”
Medicated Colin would have complied. Medicated Colin would have turned down the video or stayed in his room with headphones on because 3am is fricking early. Not unmedicated Colin.
“No! The video isn’t on that loud and I’m working on several different computers so I can’t wear headphones. You just need to learn how to tune things out.”
“Tune it out Mom!”
I ended up drifting back into an uneasy sleep, never knowing when I was going to get woken up again. At one point Colin frantically asked how far our furniture had to be away from the patio doors as our building is having all with windows and patio doors replaced.
“Umm, three feet,” I replied sleepily. “But they’re on-”
“Okay,” he interrupted.
“Emma,” I continued. “They’re on penthouse right now and they’re only doing three or four apartments a week. It’s going to be spring before they get to us.”
“But we only have 24 hours,” he told me earnestly. Sure enough, I got up to find all our furniture moved away from the windows. We can’t use half our table but the windows are clear.
Then came school. He’s started a program at our local college, which isn’t far from us, maybe 5 minutes by bus. He decided not to buy a bus pass this month, instead he’s going to walk or bike. A laudable choice but it’s February. One thing we can count on is snow and slush. I figured it would take him about an hour to walk, giving him time to wade through unshovelled snow and slush.
He wanted to get to school about a half hour early today, which is fine, but he didn’t start getting ready until after 9am for a 10am start. I’m honestly not sure what he was panicking about as much of it was aimed at himself and a bit indistinct due to yelling. He needed a water bottle, maybe a plastic disposable bottle or maybe a reusable one. I told him where we keep our refillable bottles but there wasn’t one. Chances are they’re all in his room somewhere but that didn’t stop the complaints.
He left then came back for something then left again then finally came back. I began to wonder if the door was revolving.
“The sidewalks are wet and slippery,” he yelled. This wasn’t news to me. I’d told him that when he suggested biking in the first place. I thought he was going to walk.
“I need your bus pass,” he continued as he rummaged through my coat.
Then came more yelling. I was horrible and mean for not getting up to help him. It was my fault he was going to be late for school because I didn’t help him get ready. I pointed out it was his school and his responsibility. He stormed out only to call me at 9:59am.
“I’m going to be late for school and it’s your fault,” he informed me. “I’m taking my computer monitor back. I only lent it to you.”
I pointed out that he built me a computer with a monitor but it was pointless to argue. He wasn’t in a position to listen. And besides, there’s no telling what mood he’ll be in when he gets home. He could be angry, exhausted, euphoric, or just simply happy about school. What I do know is the anger will come back and keep coming back until he’s on his medication again. Uncontrolled anger is a symptom of bipolar, along with the swinging moods. It’s a rage that breaks through giddy happiness and blends in with unchecked depression.
“You don’t care,” he’ll sullenly inform me. “You only care about your book.” Or my blog, or Facebook, or whatever I happen to be doing at the time. “I could kill myself and you wouldn’t even notice!”
The only difference between the two rages is his up rage is more vocal and direct while his down rage is more quiet and manipulative. But either way it’s there.
People joke about being crazy like it’s fun. Sharing memes about driving the crazy bus and being close enough to walk. About using the fine line between creative and crazy as a skipping rope. But it’s not fun.
Crazy is screaming at 3am because the rage is bubbling in your soul and has nowhere else to go. It’s being so happy you’re floating above the world and can see eternity… until you come crashing down. It’s lying in bed unable to get up because it’s pointless. Every single day is exactly the same and nothing will change. You will live and die in ennui until the end of eternity or until you get the guts built up to jump and end it all. But you don’t have the energy for that either. It’s the little voices that whisper and pick. You’re stupid and worthless. You don’t matter. When people say they like you they’re lying. You’re a horrible friend. It doesn’t matter if they’re in your voice or in voices of their own… they sit on your shoulder and jabber away. Crazy is not fun.
This year’s “Let’s Talk” is done. The Facebook messages and posts are over for another year. And many people will settle back down in their lives and not give mental illness much thought until the blue splashed messages appear again.
Let’s talk. Let’s talk real. Let’s talk ugly. Let’s talk scared. And, most of all, let’s listen. We’ll be here waiting.