What am I doing to my kids? How can I help them understand? I want to be with them. I want to snuggle with them, hold them, comfort them, laugh with them.
I want to take them to Gamestop so they can spend the allowance they’ve been waiting over a month to spend.
So here I am, huddled in bed behind a closed door, crying while trying to write when I can focus enough to do it.
So far I’ve put my laptop down and picked it back up five times and as I write this sentence it’s 11:38 PM but I started writing at around 6:30. This is typical for me. It takes me a long time to write these posts, friend. I’m just grateful the Lord gives me the strength to finish them.
But as I sit here battling guilt, I know if I take my kids out right now, I’ll only end up snapping at them, crying in front of them, and will likely have to leave before they’ve decided on something. Once the break down begins, I can’t stop it, and they can’t talk to me or touch me. Everything is too loud, too invasive, too sensitive, too everything. I can’t think, I can hardly function, my mind and senses like a melting wax statue. Everything is bubbling over and running together into shapeless chaos, and once again, all that’s left is ruined expectations and broken promises. Not to mention the fact that every time I experience this, it sets me back for at least a day with deep depression and anxiety because of how taxing it is on my brain. Like trying to run on a sprained ankle.
Our family calls these episodes “brain attacks,” even though to everyone else they look like panic attacks. (I talk more about why we came up with the name “brain attack” in the post, Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction.)
But these aren’t panic attacks, friend, even though that’s what I tell people because most have never heard of what they actually are. They’re unique to bipolar disorder. It’s called a mixed episode. Like it sounds, it’s a state in which I feel a mix of things: depression and internal pain mixed with the racing thoughts and anxious, irritable, panicked feelings of mania at the same time.
They are actually the reason I began seeing a psychiatrist in the first place back in December, 2016. I was having on average five major mixed episodes a week, the kind that make me pull over into the turning lane on the way to get groceries because I’m crying so hard I can’t see through the tears or breathe through the sobs. There’s no trigger. Almost no warning. Most of the time, it just happens. There’s no reason. No rhyme. I am helpless to stop them.
Helpless. That’s a word I know well.
The depression and anxiety I’d dealt with my whole life, I could live with that, but a mixed episode is at once terrifying and excruciating. Like those horrifically rare times when someone wakes up during surgery, unable to move from the anesthesia, but they feel everything, every cut of the blade, every shred of the drill. It’s agony and terror with nowhere to go and no hope of help because you’re paralyzed, imprisoned in your own body.
The worst kind of mixed episode feels like one of my children was just kidnapped. I’ve called the police but I have to stay at home, waiting, waiting. Helpless. Left with nothing but thoughts of how terrified they must be, of how much their kidnapper is hurting them, of whether or not I’ll ever see them again, of how they may have just been trafficked, that it may be a lifetime of suffering, that it’s my fault and I’ve failed them because I was supposed to protect them. It’s terror, agony, grief, panic, despair, pain unlike any other.
In short, it’s torment. Like glimpses of Hell.
So when I say “break down” or “brain attack,” that is what I mean—a mixed episode. They hit me in varying levels, but they all have the same things in common. Pain. Terror. Helplessness.
To be clear, mixed episodes are different than psychosis, or, psychotic breaks or psychotic episodes, as they’re also known, which I also mentioned in Fruiftul in the Land of My Affliction, describing one of my own experiences. Psychotic breaks are not a “nervous breakdown,” which is how I’ve described them to people before because “psychotic break” is also an uncommonly used term.
And a very misunderstood one.
One mention of the word psychotic and…well, you can imagine.
But a psychotic break is simply experiencing a break with reality. That’s it.
Most people only have to hear the word “psycho” in the term, and all kinds of sensational or scary images and thoughts come to mind.
But “psycho” comes from the word psychopath, no psychotic.
I could spend an entire blog post on the differences between the words psychotic and psychopath and how the two have become blurred into one another over time (mostly since the release of Hitchcock’s Psycho) even though the two terms involve different Greek words and Latin suffixes, both from psykhe, the Greek word for “mind,” but the Latin -osis for psychosis versus the Greek word pathos for psychopath, etc… They are not in any way interchangeable.
And I’m not even including sociopath in the mix of confusion, otherwise known as those who suffer from antisocial personality disorder, or the SIX different kinds of hallucinations (of which I’ve experienced three)…
Or maybe I’m just telling you all of this to make me feel better. I’m not violent—I’m prone to yelling and occasionally punching walls or slamming doors. I’m not crazy—I’m emotionally unstable and unpredictable.
Whispered words to a fractured mirror.
But the real question is, have I accepted it?
Yes and no.
I wasn’t lying before in my other posts–I have accepted it and am at total, complete, beautiful if not broken peace with God about it, knowing that because I share in Christ’s suffering I will also share in His glory, the Lord will somehow use my pain and how He’s overcome through me to help others in the same pain as me, and above all I know that He loves me and that all things work out for good according to His purpose for those who love Him. (How often we forget the rest of that verse, friend. Praise God my life is built from His purpose and I love Him because He first loved me).
But those are the scriptures and words and the foundation I remind myself of (or the Holy Spirit does when I can’t) when I’m at the mercy of the torment, when I’m in the heat of the flame.
But how do I keep from numbing the pain instead of going to the Lord? And how to explain the temptation to self-medicate? It’s like this–
Your hand touches a red-hot stove top. Your natural instinct is to cry out and pull your hand back, but…you can’t. …Or maybe you can. But only by self-medicating, by doing what you know will make the pain go away but only temporarily. Like leaving your hand to roast, but numbing it with anesthesia. You know you should trust God, to put the bottle down, to not raid the pantry, to not spend hours binging on Netflix, but the instinct is so powerful to numb it. To take back control. Anything to just stop the pain.
The other option is to fight the overwhelming urge to pull away from the scorching heat, to instead hold your hand there, crying out to God for mercy, knowing that He will eventually pull your hand off Himself, but in His time and His way…and then, in time (I am still waiting), He will heal it completely. Make it whole once again.
If not scarred…like His own.
That’s what Jesus did, friend. He held His hand to the stove. He didn’t move. He didn’t flinch. He’s the God of the universe–He could’ve stopped the agony. But He didn’t. He sweated blood and cried out to the Father to remove the cup, but then accepted it. Submitted.
For me. For you.
To me, the gospel (which literally means “good news”) is not only the fact that God Himself died for us to restore us to Him and heal us and free us from sin and death, but that He suffered and was tempted to stop the pain too, just like me, as scripture says in Hebrews 4:15. Being tempted isn’t a sin, and God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it, as 1 Corinthians 10:13 says. It’s a promise, friend. I’m always looking for the way out that He’s provided, that proverbial EXIT sign when the pain and the temptation to numb it comes. Like at this very moment as I sit alone weeping behind my closed door.
And incredibly…(I did not even realize this until writing the previous sentence)…the EXIT sign is this blog.
Praise God, His ways are mysterious. I start writing this to try and help others, and find I am blessed instead. Thank You, Jesus…
He suffered so I wouldn’t be alone in it all. He kept the scars, even upon His glorified body, without shame, so I wouldn’t have to be ashamed of mine either. He conquered so I could too. And even now, He could’ve said the cross was enough suffering, but instead He enters into every moment of my pain, praying for me with groanings to deep for words.
As the Psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.“
With Jesus, my door is never closed, friend, even when I can’t feel Him, and my children are never alone, even when I can’t hold them. He said He would be with us even unto the end of the Age. And I believe Him.