When Bipolar steals your joy.

He brought me $3.47 from his piggy bank and asked if that would get us to Disney World. For months he has talked about this magical place and his dream to one day walk those sacred pathways leading to every character he’s ever loved. He’s 4 years old, and our daughter is 5—their imaginations are still magical, but the hourglass of untamed beliefs is losing sand faster than I can keep up. It’s an opportunity to watch their faces of unparalleled enchantment that would leave scars on my soul if missed.

“We just don’t have the money right now, bud. One day, I promise we will get there.”

I’ve not worked in over a year; and the year before that the business I stubbornly swore would be our ticket to riches…well, it bankrupted and plummeted us so far into debt that I sometimes wonder if we will ever walk without chains tightening around our necks. Somehow, every necessary bill gets paid and every meal is served hot on the kitchen table; it blows my mind every week. Our lifestyle was demolished when our income was cut in half; the adjustment from that has been close to unbearable—but humbling at the same time. Our house is warm and the mortgage is paid, food in our bellies, running water to drink, and more love than can be contained within our own family. I have my husband to thank for that, and his unfailing love of an incredibly complicated and undeserving wife. (Refer to this blog: https://sarahbethmcclure.com/2017/03/17/to-the-men-who-love-complicated-women-i-see-you/

I have children who think I hung the moon; and a warrior husband that has climbed out of the rubble with me and chose to remain loyal though I blew his world apart. We have been stripped bare of our recognizable life, but our souls have been refined in a way that isn’t possible unless you survive a fire of epic proportions. We are the lucky ones because we are still standing, albeit naked and on shaky ground; but I am more thankful for the financial chains around our necks than I ever was for all the material possessions we took for granted. With every successful bill payment I am reminded that miracles truly happen, and it’s a constant celebration that we survived another month.

I blame myself, though; and there are days that shame wraps a cage around my bed where I wallow in grief and resentment for all the Disney Dream Vacations I see on Facebook. I can’t hop on a plane and take my kids to the most magical place in the world. I can’t give them that one rite of passage that every child should take. But they have never given up hope, and any loose change they find is placed in their piggy banks or the Disney Savings Plate on the kitchen counter. They still believe their parents carry magic in their wallets; and that come hell or high water–we will get them there, and so they patiently wait.

I know what you’re thinking, because the normal side of me is thinking the same thing: I should find a job. Simple answer, it makes complete sense, right? I’m qualified, and I have truly wrestled with the idea for months now. I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree; and I worked a successful and well-paying career for nearly 10 years before my life imploded. I’m not bragging; those credentials played a part in ultimately breaking my soul.

You see, my spirit hid a ticking time bomb from me; and everyone else around me. By maintaining complete and utter control of my life, and the lives around me—I managed my condition without even realizing how miserable it was making me. Looking back, the evidence of Bipolar Disorder is so apparent that I can’t believe how blind I remained for 32 years. The people close to me still question if I truly suffered from the disorder my whole life—but that’s because the control I maintained hid the toxic thoughts that I ignored daily. I coped and self-medicated when necessary, the dosage just enough to keep my sanity. Then I got married, gave birth to two beautiful children within a 14 month timespan, and continued working and self-proclaiming myself as super mom. Then I was laid-off by my job; a job I enjoyed with people I loved dearly. Of course this was my moment to purchase and build a business that would make us millionaires. Private Jet to Disney World whenever we wanted. That was the crossroads where I stepped onto a looming path that was screaming for me to run far away and never return, but my stubbornness is toxic.

I lost control. I lost complete control and fell off the saddle; Bipolar Disorder was there waiting and laughing as it stole the reigns. I can still hear it mocking me, “Buckle up, Buttercup.” Essentially, my disorder spurred the horse and rode straight towards a spiraling and endless vortex of mania; leaving the controlling version of me face down in the mud.

What I didn’t realize at the time was my sudden money spending, binge drinking, and irrational thinking was a textbook case of a manic episode. A very intense episode that I had never experienced before because Bipolar only ran along beside me, my control blocking the reigns. I was spiraling upwards and increasingly out of control with nothing to stop me besides complete and total self-destruction. I became a person that I didn’t recognize; I stared at this second version of myself in the mirror every day, and she seemed fun and the life of the party, but my heart knew that she was not someone I wanted to know—still, this strangely curious girl laughed and pleaded that I keep spinning with her. I devastated many people along that twisted and dysfunctional path. The amount of damage is unfathomable, and I don’t think I will ever be healed enough to discuss it openly. Those who love me were chasing me, but I refused to slow down. I left them in a cloud of haze and smoke until the sudden brick wall of complete self-destruction knocked me completely to my knees.

And then I fell, and I fell hard. I fell into the deepest pits of depression one could ever face; and I continued spiraling downward as quickly and intensely as I had spiraled up. Bipolar Depression is different; and it is deep, and it takes root at rock bottom and grows around its victims, making the potential escape almost impossible. Those who make it become Warriors—fighters that never give up, ever.

At that point in my depression, it’s not that I wanted to stay in bed to escape the world—I HAD to stay in bed. I had to sleep; and there were times I couldn’t be woken up, which would be normal if I was taking sleep medication—but I wasn’t. I was on low doses of depression/anxiety medication and mood stabilizers. Those medications give energy, but they couldn’t even touch the depression I was facing until they were increased in exponential proportions.

This new and depressed third version of myself was colorless and rarely spoke; she detested sunshine or relationships, and she wanted me dead—she nearly succeeded. She held me hostage inside the walls of my house and her branches grew quickly around me, tightening their grasp as they staked their claim on my life. She chained me to my bed—then she whispered continuously in my ear that I was worthless and only made the lives of those around me miserable. I hurt people, it’s what I did—they didn’t deserve it, but she didn’t care; and she would continue with those swirling thoughts until I ended my life. She told me it was the only escape. 

My children kept me alive during that time; not that I was any type of mother that a child deserves. I could barely care for them, but I spent what small amount of energy I had on making sure they were fed and mostly safe. The thought of not seeing them grow up and the incurable pain they would feel if I was not at their graduations and weddings gave me just enough strength to grasp the edge of a cliff and hold on until my husband and family could ensure my medication was beginning to release the grip the branches of depression had over my entire body.

My children are incredible little humans that have learned the art of forgiveness and self-sufficiency at an inappropriately young age. My five year old daughter knows that when a person begins crying all you need to do is hold their hand and hug them. How many times has she rubbed her mother’s back while I silently release unhealthy thoughts and emotions? She normally asks why I’m crying, but when I don’t answer she never demands an explanation. My son just received the “Most Fabulous Friend” award at his preschool, and was recognized for always trying to comfort his friends that were sad. He’s a natural; and I almost lost my composure when those values were spoken. I can only pray these experiences have somehow miraculously strengthened their spirits more than harmed them.

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So you can see the incredible fear that I have of entering the fast paced and busy world of working mothers. I made an agreement with my disorder: that in exchange for shared control of my mind, I promised to slow down. I promised to admit defeat and that I will never try to regain control again. I will speak openly about my mental illnesses and I will accept them as a part of who I am. They still show up sometimes, depression and mania—but they only visit for a short while and their stay doesn’t entirely disrupt my life. They remain quiet for the most part, but I can tell when their plane touches down.

My fear is the reason my resume remains the same as it did 10 years ago. Rationally, I know we need more income immediately, but if I choose this route will the pressure push me over the edge again? Could I destroy my family by getting swept into another upward spiral? Could I survive another downward spiral?

My children deserve a trip to Disney World more than most—they’ve earned it. It would be a small reward compared to the battle I would have lost without them and their little understanding and forgiving hearts. But I cannot give them that reward if it means I’m stolen from their lives again. I vowed that mania and depression would never mother my children ever again.

So while I wrestle with the decision of side jobs just to make ends meet; or full time work so we can take an extravagant lifestyle for granted again—I just cannot stop leaning towards the side of miracles and the celebration of bill payments being made. I cannot help but have faith that the magic those kids believe lives in our pockets will someday miraculously manifest.

Maybe our pockets really are magical… if we choose to believe?