Chapter one of
Bipolar Disorder Doesn't
Have to be Depressing
Tears ran down my face like tiny rivers rushing to an unknown destination. Pressing my face against the window, I searched for one final glimpse of my children. Circles of fog obstructed my vision in the January morning air. Afraid I would never see my children again, my eyes strained for one last glimpse of their small faces.
Slowly, the doors closed. Holding myself in my seat, I knew if I allowed myself to think one single, fleeting thought, I would rush out of this airplane, back to my safe but insane world. Forcing myself to remain in my seat, I buckled my seatbelt. My heart still gripped with fear. My mind began to whirl as the sound of the engines picked up speed below me. Every attempt at quieting my thoughts was much the same as standing before a thundering herd of horses bent on their own destination and willing the thundering herd to stop.
I knew without a doubt in the small part of my rational mind which remained that I was sitting in the exact place I needed to be, yet the whirlwind of fear continued to blow through me. My thoughts returned to the darkness of a few nights before. The decision to make this trip had been filled with anguish. Years of wild chasing of ever-distant winds and frequent, feeble attempts at solving my own problems had led to this moment. All had been just as futile as standing before the ever-present herd of pounding hooves.
In the air now, my silent weeping had ceased, and I ran the thoughts through my fragmented mind. Growing up in a dysfunctional home where arguments were loud, tension was prevalent, and the fear of fierce reprimand a constant shadow had done very little to build my self-esteem and confidence. Feeling alone and unaware of what love really is brought me to a place of fear and uncertainty. A young child cannot understand the ways of the world. To a child, love is a hug or a kiss from a parent or a grandparent. If those types of affection are not often shown, a child cannot perceive the difference between the true love of a parent and the advances of a predator.
One summer evening, my boredom took me to a place which was normally one of safety. A young man was there. My heart was beating rapidly as his conversation turned to me. It seemed to be a harmless game of cards, yet I did not understand the fear which plagued my young heart. Not knowing I should be afraid, we continued his game of strip poker.
As he led me from the room, my heart skipped a beat. Unaware of the warning signs, my young heart followed his lead. In a dark and dirty shed down by the river, his game took away my innocence. Before the evening was over, this fifteen year old had stripped my eleven-year-old heart, body, and soul of everything I knew to be safe and true. My sobs went unheard, and as I begged him to stop, he told me it would be OK in a minute. It was not OK. Not in a minute, and never in a million years would what he did to me be OK.
For years I blamed myself for “letting it happen”. Through much therapy and prayer, I finally came to a place of understanding of what had happened that night. Rape is rape. A child cannot know how to avoid such a situation. He did not beat me, nor did he tie me up with a rope. He tied me up with fear. My young heart and mind did not understand what he wanted to do. His invitation to go for a walk appeared harmless to my young ears.
My parents had taught me to never say no to someone in authority. While respect for your elders is a good thing, I find it necessary, if not mandatory, to teach a child the difference. If my parents had known to teach me the difference, there may have been a very different outcome. Yet my parents didn’t realize there was a predator in our neighborhood. They did not know this young man was someone who could hurt their child. He was in our home daily. They could not know what lurked in his heart, and on this dark night, no one knew what thoughts were in his mind.
My body, heart, and soul were broken by his actions. In some sad way, my young mind continued to remind myself how wrong the boys in school had been. I was not ugly. This young man wanted me. Being tall and thin with thick, studious glasses and protruding front teeth had led to thoughtless ridicule from schoolmates. It seemed to be a daily ritual for some of them to make my life miserable. We did not call it bullying back then. We did not call it anything at all. It was just the way things were.
Words like “stupid,” “dumb,” and “ugly” were all part of my daily routine. They were used to remind me that I would “die an old maid because no man would ever want to touch my body, or look at my hideous face.” Sadly, my young heart wanted to tell them about the boy who had wanted to touch me, if only to prove to them they were wrong. Fear kept my mouth shut. Or was it a kind and loving God Who wanted to keep me from any more hurt? Only God knows what they would have done with this dark information.
My first boyfriend was four years older than me. I was thirteen, and my wounded heart thought this was true love. Although he cared for me and showed it often, I soon found my heart broken and once again my virtue shattered. It was not so much by his hand but by my own wandering eyes. Love came easy for me, or was it the illusion of love which beckoned me? Unable to clearly see what love truly was, my wandering eyes could not stay on only one person.
With each new man in my life came the hope of love and stability as I searched for a place to belong. My parents’ marriage had ended long before the divorce papers were filed. Many loud fights between them had left everyone wondering what they were both so angry about. When a disagreement in my own relationship became loud and uncomfortable, it seemed much easier to find someone else than try to work it out. Leaving was the only thing I knew how to do well.
When the man of my dreams walked into my life, I was unable to see him for who he was. His kindness and love were so foreign to me that I was unable to respond. We went everywhere together. I learned of the finer things of life. Old cars and older music embedded their tunes into my soul. The roar of stock cars on an oval track sang melodies into my ears as I stood on the sidelines, screaming for my favorite car and driver. I was transformed to another me. My life was more my own than it had ever been. This man loved me more than I knew, yet my wandering eyes were about to tear our life and my heart to pieces. I was unable to comprehend how anyone could truly love me for who I was. His love was beyond anything I had ever known.
When the mind wanders, a broken heart will soon follow. The man of my dreams seemed content with life as it was. Many scenarios went through my broken thoughts, wondering what was keeping him from asking the all-important question. Maybe he really doesn’t like me that much. The broken child within my heart and soul began to remind me that no one could really love a girl like me. The words of boys from elementary school came back to me so many times. Slowly, doubt crept into my mind as I was reminded of those words from childhood. Once again, I began to believe them. Fearing that my boyfriend only kept me around for the physical pleasures I could give him, I began to let my eyes wander yet again.
When my broken heart began looking for someone new, I didn’t have to look very far. My fear of someone taking advantage of me sent me looking for another man. The man of my dreams was replaced by a man who took advantage of me.
No longer could I stop the flood of emotions within me. Knowing when a decision is clearly the wrong one did not make it easy for me to stop myself from doing what I knew was wrong. I quickly rationalized my actions and did what I wanted to do at the time, starting a roller coaster of events which I was unable to make sense of, let alone do anything about.
It seemed every man who looked my direction was yet another confirmation of how the boys in school had been wrong. The rush of first attraction became so intoxicating that I was unable to stop myself from making another mistake. The broken child within screamed for me to stop, and yet, within my own brokenness, I could not. Somehow, a double life eventually came around to meet me, and the man of my dreams had to learn about my discretions. My own lies tried to convince him and myself how untrue his accusations were. I swore to myself I would never do it again. It seemed to be the best answer at the time. Sometimes, the best intentions are the ones I could not keep. For nearly a year, I kept up this charade. My guilt became so hard for me to bear. I tried to make him angry so he would never come back. I did not wish for him to be gone. I simply needed the roller coaster to stop.
In an attempt to start my life fresh, I bought a one-way ticket to Oahu, Hawaii. My sister and her husband lived there and I hoped to find a new life. After two months, my attempts to find a job were fruitless and I wrote a letter to the man of my dreams in hopes of seeing him when I returned to the mainland. He never responded, and I bought a ticket to return home with my heart broken. I didn’t blame him, but I had hoped for one more chance.
I no longer cared what anyone thought of me as I returned to my old job and found new relationships to occupy my time. Soon, the symptoms could not be mistaken. I discovered the signs of pregnancy early on, and I hung my head in shame. Uncertain of the paternity of this child, my thoughts turned to abortion. Somehow, ending the life of my child would cover up my indiscretions, but it would never heal the pain. My child was an innocent bystander in this scenario and I could not bring myself to end my pregnancy. Dialing the phone to the obstetrician, I was determined to make a new start for myself and the life that was growing within me.
Word gets around in a small town. As my seventh month of pregnancy was rapidly approaching, I answered a knock on my door, and on my doorstep, stood the man of my dreams. My face burned as he said, “I just wanted to know if it was true.”
Anger is the first response to many of my emotions. Instead of telling him how sorry I was for hurting him, I screamed at him, telling him to get off my porch and to never come back. As he turned to leave, I slammed the door. My heart was breaking into a million pieces. I knew I should have begged him to forgive me for what I had done. Instead, I sent him away with angry words. As he walked down the sidewalk, head down and shoulders bent, I closed the shade and slid to the floor.
Part of me wanted so badly to apologize and to try to do the right thing for all of us. I knew this child should have been his—the fault of our breakup lay at my feet. Sitting on the floor sobbing, I was unable to bring myself to call out to him or beg him to forgive me. Deep in my heart, I knew I would probably just hurt him again, and he did not deserve it. Wanting so desperately to hold onto the only man who had ever truly loved me, yet he deserved someone who would treat him well. Knowing I couldn’t guarantee my actions, my heart shattered as I let him walk away.
Soon the day came for my child to come into this world. Sharp pains in the early morning hours awakened my slumber. Inexperienced and unsure of what to expect, I alerted no one about the pain in my swollen belly. Sometime in the middle of the night, there had been another knock on my door. To my surprise, my father had traveled all day to be by my side. Waking early the morning before, he had feared something was wrong and I needed him. His motorcycle was now parked outside my house, and his bedroll lay on my living room floor. Thankful for his presence, I said nothing of the pains in my lower back as we prepared to go to church.
Quietly, I counted the contractions and timed their slow, recurring pain. Having been through false labor before, I was not certain if this was the real thing. Sitting next to me in church, my sister counted contractions as I winced in pain. It would be wise for me to have the doctor determine my progression of labor and not rely on my own diagnosis. Soon, my contractions were close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital.
The birth of a child is never an accident. Every child is a gift from God, regardless of the parents’ actions to get them here. This child was not planned, nor was he born under the best of circumstances. His birth literally saved my life. If I had continued on the road of late night parties and caring little whom I spent my time with, my life would have probably ended at a very young age. After a difficult labor and emergency cesarean-section delivery, my son was finally here.
As I looked into his dark eyes, I knew I didn’t deserve him. Someday, I would have to answer for the decisions I had made. As I stared at his dark hair, I knew I would do anything to make his life easier. He deserved so much better than I could give him, but I was certainly going to try. Deep in my heart, I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the decision to give him life. With fear and determination, my child and I started our lives together.
Longing for a better life for my son, I married a man who had come into my life. He was a handsome man with big blue eyes and a truly great smile. His work ethic was one to be proud of, and I loved him with all I had. Yet his frequent trips to the bar bothered me. Confident he would settle down after we married, I smiled on our wedding day. Soon, I was pregnant with my second child. Our little girl rounded out our happy family, or so it seemed. She looked more like her father than me, and I was glad of it. There was no question in my mind that this child belonged to him. I never allowed my eyes to wander to another man. Determined to never make the same mistakes again, my eyes, my heart, and my body stayed at home.
My husband drove a diesel truck in the oilfield so supper time could not be determined with any kind of certainty. Frequently, I would drive to his work and leave him a note if I planned to be at my sister’s for awhile. One such afternoon, I searched his car for a pen to leave him a note. Finding greeting cards of some unknown origin piqued my curiosity. My fingers trembled as I opened the first one. It spoke of late night events and how much the writer missed his presence. They were addressed to my husband. As I read the other cards, it became clear in my mind that my husband had been cheating on me. Unable to fully digest what had happened, I went on my way.
Shaken by this turn of events I told no one for a time. Putting the cards in a very safe place, I went on about my life. When the time came for those questions to be asked, my husband denied everything and blamed the words on his friend’s overactive imagination. After a brief phone call with this girl, I learned a very different story.
An alcoholic is never easy to live with. An angry and hurting spouse only makes things worse. The demise of this relationship could not be laid at one person’s feet. Unable to handle his drinking and angry outbursts any longer, I sought solace and friendship from another man. Late night conversations on the telephone led to an emotional attachment with a man who was not my husband. Conversations led to hugs, and I soon found myself in familiar territory.
Determined not to cheat on my husband, I moved out of our home. Yet the realization of what my friend and I were doing was wrong and it completely destroyed our friendship. An affair is an affair whether it is a physical or an emotional affair. Ours teetered on the edge and the damage had been done.
Another friend, this one from one of my college classes came by my apartment one afternoon. As he stood on my doorstep, my heart skipped a beat. He seemed to be a nice enough person but the fear in my heart should have warned me of his dishonorable intentions. With my brief emotional affair ended, and my marriage in shambles, my mind was not working well. While my children slept in the other room, he slammed me against the wall. Terrified, I was unable to breathe as he pushed me toward my bedroom. Not wanting to awaken my children, I cried silently as he forced himself on me.
After he left, I went to my kitchen and slid to the floor. Sobbing quietly, I decided my life with an alcoholic was better than this. Terrified to be alone, I cleaned myself up and called my husband. We never spoke of the events surrounding me leaving him. I never told him of the afternoon invader into my personal space, nor did I call the police. Fear kept me from telling him the story, knowing he would never understand, nor would he sympathize with my plight. Once again, I pushed the shame deep into my soul and went about life as though nothing had happened.
Lies cannot sustain a marriage. My children and I stayed at home while my husband spent many nights at the bar. Along with my own reactions to his addictions, our lives had become a nightmare of fights and angry words. It was not until verbal altercations became physical fights that I decided to leave for good. A plan had begun to form in my head. It was a plan to sew him into the sheets of his bed as he slept in drunken stupor. And then I would beat him until he didn’t move anymore.
My rational mind took over. I knew I could not deprive my children of either of their parents, and this plan would not do anyone any good. My dreams of finding happiness lay in a fragmented heap. My marriage was over. My love for my husband was deep and it was real, yet without serious professional help or Godly intervention, two broken people never make a whole marriage.
All I had ever wanted was to have my own family—a family who loved and accepted me no matter what. Longing for a place in one person’s heart seemed to elude me. I knew in my heart I was unable to receive what I needed most, no matter who tried to love me. Others around me seemed to understand what needed to happen, yet the answers to those life questions eluded me.
I longed for a relationship that was similar to the one my sister shared with her husband. They had married young but were so much in love. An accident had nearly taken the life of her husband, yet it had only served to bring them closer together. Their lives intertwined and it was beautiful to watch. My life was so much a part of theirs. We had children who were around the same ages and we shared many activities. Her happiness bolstered my own and I felt certain I would have my own love and best friend someday.
My sister was my closest friend. One year and ten days separated our birthdays, and it seemed as though we were almost twins. Our mother had dressed us in matching outfits so many times it only seemed natural to be close. Her guidance had brought me through many trials. I looked up to and trusted her as many younger siblings would with their older counterparts. Childcare seemed to come natural to her. It was a task which eluded me and I feared my children may not have fared so well without her guidance.
Soon after my oldest child was born, my inexperience was evident as I tried to nurse my young son to no avail. My sister came to my rescue as she gave him a bottle of formula. Sleep had eluded me for many days by this time and my young son was just as cranky as I. Raising a baby on formula did not make me a bad mother; it only meant there was another way to do things. As I sat watching my young son sleep, I thanked God for my sister being in my life. She was my best friend and I was grateful for her.
The shreds of my existing world crumbled as my sister and her husband packed their three children into a truck and moved four hundred miles away. This was the best plan for their lives, yet my own heart was broken and I missed them terribly. Soon, I began planning to move as well. By this time, my job and now-ex-husband would not allow it. With a mortgage, car payment, and other bills to pay, I could not quit my job. Slowly, I allowed myself to sink deeper into depression. My own heart and soul was lost with nowhere to look but up.
My hope for a better life included more than a good job, my own house, and a new car. Somehow the “things” of life could not solve the hurt in my soul. Feeling very much alone in this world, I prayed for Jesus to come and end the pain in my heart. No longer could I manage my job, my children, and my everyday life. My life seemed to be over.
After a discussion with my boss, I knew I needed to seek help because I could not afford to lose my job. Slowly, my fingers dialed the number to the Employee Assistance Program representing the company I worked for. With the phone number to a psychologist in my area in hand, I prayed this nightmare would end and that I would find the answers to my problems somehow. She listened thoughtfully while taking notes on her yellow pad of paper. It felt good to finally talk about the hurt that was so deep in my heart.
Her answer shook me from my thoughts. “There is a treatment center in Oklahoma, and I think you should go. You will have to be there for twenty-eight days.” I was stunned. Was I really crazy? No. I couldn’t leave my job, my children, or anything else, and I sure wasn’t going to get locked up.
She assured me they were not going to lock me away. She explained the program to me as though it were the answer to my problems and would spare my life. “There are many people out there who struggle with problems; the same way you do.” Her words slowly sank into my brain, yet my resistance continued. Unable to believe anyone could have problems as big as mine, I went home.
Lying in bed unable to sleep, I contemplated the questions before me. Part of me yearned for some time away to rest and think. The thought of making the call to set the wheels in motion paralyzed my heart. Knowing I would probably spend the rest of my life in this rut prodded me forward. The battle raged within my heart and soul deep into the night. Part of me wanted to go, yet the other part continued to hold back. But who would take care of my children?
As the early morning hours dawned, sleep came to my burdened soul. As I fell into a fitful sleep, I dreamt of them, and peace came into my heart. As much as I love my children, I knew God loved them more. My heart was at peace as I dialed the number to my therapist’s office.
Danni Andrew has written a very personal, very poignant account of her life. It has not been an easy life, yet Danni painted a picture showing that you can move from despair to determination, from victim to victor. Being Bipolar Doesn't Have to be Depressing is far more than the story of an overcomer. It is a tool box filled with information, inspiration, and instructions. It is a resource that everyone who struggles with bipolar disease, or knows someone that does, should read. You will find hope and encouragement in Danni's story.
Gerry Wakeland, President, CLASSEMINARS, Inc.