I wrote this post as a response to desert_moon , but it's sparked a good discussion between she and I and I thought it might be worth sharing with the rest of Hera's Daughters. The original post (with comments), is here.
"I mean, how could I be hurt (even 1% of me) that the person who belittles and berates me, didn't call me on Thanksgiving? How twisted is that?!? lol. Like you said, it's pain, no matter what."
It is pain no matter what and it's totally crazy-making. (Heh.) For Thanksgiving, I turned off the phone and turned the volume on the answering machine all the way down to 0. We had friends over and laughed and stuffed ourselves to the gills and even though I thought about her a few times, I didn't linger on it or worry or get that sick feeling in my stomach that comes with thinking about her. It was a really good day.
So why did I cry a little later when I checked the machine and there wasn't a message, not even a hang-up that might've been her? Because this is what it is to be the child of a bi-polar parent. I don't know that you ever stop wanting the mom you wish you had, or even had sometimes. I miss the mom I sometimes had, the one who taught me how to make scalloped corn and made sure there were sweet pickles on the relish tray even though I was the only one who liked them and never made us do all the Thanksgiving dishes until the next day. She's also the mom who made me pray with her the night of a big lottery drawing that we would win and all her problems would be solved and then, when we didn't win, cried so hard she hyperventilated. And didn't get out of bed for a week, losing her job and making the fiancial straits we were in even worse. Oh, and the mother who got us up in the middle of the night to help her paint the basement floor and then insisted we go to school the next day and when we got home, exhausted, decided we needed to take all the dishes out of the cupboards, all the silverware and utensils from the drawers, and all the pots and pans too, and wash every single one of them.
I don't know that I'll ever be over the wishing for her to be normal. There are glimpses, and the memories of those glimpses, and to me those are almost tortuous because they give you a taste of what could be, if only. She's not ever going to be that though, not really, and even though I know that on a certain level, I'm struggling with letting go of it. That's the phase I'm working on right now and it's taking awhile.
You asked how long the cycles last and the answer, I think, depends on the person. It took me a long time to identify my mom's cycles and even then, they're not always right on cue. Each phase of her emotional cycles last roughly 9 months to a year, with smaller, shorter cycles in the middle of each one. So, she'll be in a depressive, practically suicidal, woe-is me phase for about 9 months, with short bursts of mania throughout, preceded by a depressive, angry, manipulative, paranoid phase for about 3 months. The depression phase will finally pass and she'll slowly ease into a kind of "coming out of the clouds" cheerfulness, life is wonderful, anything is possible phase (about another 3 months), there might be a few minor bouts with depression here and there, and then her mania will really start ramping up. She'll start making bigger and grander plans, her sleep patterns turn into no sleep at all and neverending energy, and eventually, things are reeling out of control, she's not tracking at all, and her linearity is fucked up beyond recognition. And then something happens, either internally or externally, and bam! she hits the wall, and she's instantly in the depressive phase again.
They all have their various dangers and things to be wary of. And that's leaving out a lot of the external triggers that can muddy the waters a little in predicting where she's at in a phase. Plus, the medication. When she's medicated, things are fairly even, but sooner or later, she'll start convincing herself she's okay and take herself off ("weening herself", she calls it) and I'm sure you can guess the result.
Things have been rough between us for a couple of years. They aren't always -- it's cyclical, as I said -- but this latest rough patch has been particularly hard. Two years ago, about two weeks before Thanksgiving, my brother had a horrible fight on the phone for reasons I won't get into, the conversation ended with me telling him that's it, I'm done and hanging up on him. I never hang up on people. Ever. This conversation, though, was one of the most abusive, hateful episodes I've ever been through with anyone in my family and I don't say that lightly.
I made the mistake of calling mom right afterward and I knew within about 30 seconds that it was a mistake. Huge, huge mistake. I'm pretty certain she set the whole thing up, which wouldn't be the first time she's played us against each other (to test our loyalty to her), but by far the most sophisticated play she's done on that front.
Now, this all happened on the heels of what had been a very good period between she and I, so the fact that she went straight into behavior that normally doesn't happen until deep in a depressive part of the cycle is one of the things that took me so off guard. Manipulation like that usually happens on the tail end of a manic period or sometimes in a flash during the middle of a particular manic episode, even when she's deep in her depressive phase. But this was about 6 months into her first treatment and therapy -- when she really faced that she had this disease and was really for real getting help, finally -- and I suspect she was still fighting the therapy at that point and that's where this sudden manipulation came from.
Anyway, February rolls around, which is the birthday crunch, with my brother's, hers, my stepdad's, and mine all within 3 days of each other starting on the 3rd. That's the last of the holiday period for me, because if I can make it through that period during a bad time with her, I'm free and clear until she cycles back around again, regardless of where she's at in a particular cycle. No call for my birthday but then a few days later, she called me and she was...somewhat manic, somewhat normal. I was cautious but open because when she's like that is the best time to talk with her, even if we don't discuss anything terribly deep. Those are the times I try to soak up my mom as much as I can so I have something to hold onto for the times when she's not my mom.
That was the last I heard from her until September (last year). I called her before we left for Arizona, because I knew she'd freak about us going to see my dad if she found out about it from the newsletter, so I thought I'd just cut her off at the pass, say hi, how are ya, chat about her cats and what not, and just casually mention about the trip. I never even got that far. I called, she answered in a rush, said she had a bunch of people coming to look at the house and she'd call me back later. I didn't even know they were thinking about selling their house.
She called back a few hours later as if the call never happened and totally blew me off about selling the house when I asked. Made it sound like it was just a preliminary thing, that they hadn't decided yet if they were going to buy another place outside of town or in town, closer to my grandparents, and changed the subject. Fine, whatever. Needless to say, I completely forgot to tell her about the Arizona thing. I never hear from her after we get back from the trip and the newsletter goes out, figure yep, she's pissed and she can just bite me. Thanksgiving comes (this is last year, now), I figure I'll be the adult and call her...and I get a phone disconnected message. I call her cell phone, same thing. I call my stepdad's cell phone, same thing. Eventually, I find out that they've decided to go to cell phone only and got new cell phones.
She didn't call again until New Years'. We made small talk about the weather (big snow storm here in Portland), cats, whatever. Then she said -- and I'm quoting -- "Well, I'm just calling to let you know that Steve [my stepdad] and I filed for divorce on December first, it was final yesterday (!), I've bought a little house a few blocks from Grandmother and Granddad, I've got all my cats with me, and I'm going to see Lord of the Rings again tomorrow."
Whiskey, tango, foxtrot, over? Leaving aside the whole snarly history with my stepdad and that whole mess o'crap, as well as the fact that I was the one who first brought up the possibility of their divorce two years before and that it was probably the best thing for both of them, this is not the way you deliver news like this.
We didn't yell at each other or anything, but honestly, what do you say to that? Especially when she acts like she's just telling you she broke up with this guy she's been dating for a month or so that you never met, not the guy she'd been married to for 20 years and who she put you through emotional hell for just so she couuld be in this utterly dysfunctional and destructive relationship and which had therefore created a whole mess of issues for you that had taken 13 years and professional counseling to deal with.
So we haven't talked since then and I guess I shouldn't be surprised there's no message on my machine from her. But the reason I'm telling you all this is because even I -- who've been dealing with this my whole life and managed to find contentment and make my peace with it to some extent -- even I haven't stopped wishing that things were different to the point that I'm still disappointed when she doesn't call me for Thanksgiving, even though it doesn't surprise me and is much less painful than if she did call me. I've got Christmas, New Years', and our birthdays in February to get through, and then I'm free and clear for awhile.
You said your fear is of the unknown and that's absolutely the hardest part about this whole thing. You never know how much to expect from her, you never know if you're going to get the snarling beast on the other end of the phone line or the coolest mom evah who can't say enough loving and encouraging things. Even all this talk of cycles and phases and stuff, it's my way of trying to make some kind of sense out of complete chaos. It's successful roughly 50% of the time. I'd be just as good to flip a coin, probably.
During one of my mom's more lucid periods, we were talking about her bipolar in one of the first heart-to-heart and completely open ways ever. It was during that visit out here after we bought our house and right before she had her breakdown that precipated really getting serious about getting better. Anyway, she said she kinda didn't want to get better because she liked her manic episodes. She's very creative during that time and she said everything seems much more vivid and alive and she feels superhuman and for that, she's willing to put up with the depression.
And I told her that's real nice for her. Nice of her to completely ignore how it affects everyone around her. She was very taken aback by that. I don't know why, it's not the first time she's been told that, but whatever. I mean, when I was in high school, all of my friends worried about whether they were going to be asked to the prom or if they'd be able to make enough money at their after-school job to get that brand new car they wanted. You know what I was worrying about? Whether or not my mom was going to kill herself. Oh, and whether or not we were going to be evicted from our house because my mom bought a $35,000 boat for my stepdad during a manic episode that we had no way to pay for. I didn't bring them up to throw them in her face, but just to say, yeah those manic episodes have real consequences. For everyone else.
And then I said, "It's like you're driving a car, and we're all passengers. And you're driving this insane obstacle course that none of us can see because we're blindfolded. So you're having a great time, and it's all a great rush and you can see everything that's coming. But we can't. I can't. So you'll forgive me if I don't think the manic episodes are as cool as you do." It was like I could hear it finally click for her. Not that everything was suddenly better after that because, obviously, but I think I finally got through to her that it's about more than just her.
As for the books...I understand not wanting to read up on it. I personally don't put much store in self-help books anyway so I'm not inclined to read them as it is, and even less so for this for the same reason you don't. I don't particularly go out of my way to seek out material about bipolar, although I do read up on it from time to time. I personally find encouragement in reading about other people's experiences with their bipolar parents, just as reinforcement that I'm not alone. That's why I recommended the Jacki Lyden book. I understand if you're not ready for that yet, though. It may take some time and you might have to put it down and come back to a few times. I did.
This rambled a bit and I'm sorry. I've gone back and cut out a bunch of not really relevant stuff but it's still long and probably not entirely coherent. But then, considering the disease we're talking about, that's probably to be expected.
Use your LJ during the holidays because it's not going to be easy. I won't say it'll be hard because after all, you're very content and well-loved and that makes a huge difference. But I know that no matter what happens with your mom one way or the other on or around the holidays, it's going to hurt. But hopefully, it'll be the minimum amount of hurt possible. :)