Baby Steps

My doctors have indicated that I may have to learn how to manage two illnesses that interfere with each other for, what is likely, the rest of my life.

When people ask me why I am in hospital I barely know where to start. I often find myself telling people I have an “autoimmune disease”. Which of course I do. But those two words are easier to cough up than talking about the nasty, dirty, reality of psychosis, continual diarrhoea, vomiting, bowel pseudo obstructions, suicidal ideation, urinary catheters, depression, involuntary detainment, ECT, stomach pain etc etc. No one wants to hear about that (excuse the pun) shit.

And the biggest problem is these diseases love to mess with each other. My entire (almost) five month hospital journey was due to three major reasons:
1: malabsorption of my psychiatric medication due to excessive vomiting and diarrhoea.
2: taking Prednisone to counteract my OG, which instead increased my psychiatric symptoms.
3: mismanagement by poor communication between psychiatric, surgical, and gastro medical teams. Probably because no one knew what to do with me.

I trailed around psych wards with an IV and catheter. On medical wards i required my own psychiatric nurse. Medication for my bipolar negatively impacts my gastrointestinal symptoms. Medication for my OG negatively impacts my psychiatric symptoms.

In other words, it is a big fat mess.

I’m so afraid of what people will think of me when I am discharged. Am I bad mother for spending so much time away? A bad wife? Family member? Friend? Graduate? Employee? I think of some of the stuff I have done and cringe. I’m ashamed.

Years ago, in a psychology 101 lecture we learned that the true madness was defined when despite evidence to the contrary, you believe yourself to be sane, and those around you to be crazy. Indeed, the greatest difference between a locked and open ward seems to be that those in an open ward agree they are unwell and wish to change. Often those in a locked ward don’t believe they are unwell and turn against the doctors and nurses who suggest otherwise. I did this.

I was crazy.

After a brief visit home (and a good 600 or so new emails) I realized that the world had moved on. My friends who had only just announced their pregnancies before my admission had grown an entire baby during my absence, and given birth to new life. My loved ones had moved on with their lives with new jobs, hobbies and hairstyles.

What have I contributed to my family, friends and society in the last five months? All I have done is become a burden, not only to my loved ones, but to the community in general.

Today in group I expressed these concerns. Afterwards, to my surprise, one of the group members, Lyla, sat next to me at lunch. After some small talk she looked at me and said;

“Your memory will come back…my husband has Bipolar disorder too and needed ECT. It took time, but it came back.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, other than “Thank you.”

“Also,” she continued, kindly, ” I have seen my him through everything. I had to stop him jumping off a roof top. But I still think the absolute world of him. He is my everything.”

My eyes welled up with tears.

“And our son, he was five when all of this happened. He can’t remember much, and he would never want another Dad. Kids are so resilient. You are the best mum in the world for your son. And you are trying to get better. You will get better. And that is all anyone can ask. The people who love you will continue to love you…and those who don’t understand…they are not worth worrying about. You will get there. Baby steps.”

I nodded tearfully and whispered “thank you,” again.

It was when I got back to my room I realized that I didn’t need to close this chapter of my life forever, and jump back on the moving train. I didn’t need to pretend nothing had happened, and one by one answer those 600 emails. Instead I could look at it as a leaning experience. These ailments, it seems, may always hum away in the background. Something I need to accept as a part of myself rather than try and forget. Hubster even suggested, humorously, that I could look upon this experience as anthropological field research for my PhD topic. Laugh as we did, if anything this experience has taught me that stigma towards mental illness is still rife, and a topic that is important in contemporary society. One day, hopefully, I can pay back society with some solid research.

But first of all, I need to let go of the guilt that wakes me up at night, and realize that there was precious little I could change.

Baby steps, baby steps.

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