We passed a car crash the other day on the highway.
Sadie had seen all the emergency service vehicles racing past us and was asking me questions.
The wreck was on the other side of the highway so she couldn’t see it.
I described that it was a Jeep that looked like it had flipped over and all its wheels were off.
I left out the part where I thought that the driver might be no longer with us, judging by the damage that I saw to the driver’s side door.
She asked what we could do to help.
I’m not a religious person, but a guy I used to date was, and every time we passed an accident scene, he would cross himself and say a quick prayer for people being tended to by emergency services.
After our relationship ended, I took that little nugget with me because I think that as humans, we need to do as Much as we possibly can to stay human within humanity, and that is such a sweet and simple way to acknowledge a total stranger and your care for them.
So today when Sadie asked what we could do to help, I showed her how to cross herself and explained that we cross over our hearts because our heart is what connects us to them and makes us feel for them.
I told her that I do the cross and then say a quick something like ‘please let that person be okay. Amen.’
But she still looked upset after we did our prayers.
So I told her “well, I saw an ambulance and a fire truck and a police car coming, so maybe that person will end up being okay. They have a lot of help.”
And then tears sprang to my eyes and a stabbing pain shot through my heart.
I thought ‘what the hell is That about?!’
And then I realized that I was relating the whole car wreck scene to mental illness.
I just came out of another depressive episode.
It was maybe two weeks long.
Thank the Lord it wasn’t a horrifically long one like my 6 months of postpartum depression with Lucy, but it was still awful to experience.
Some of the factors that led to me having this episode were Entirely my fault, and some weren’t.
It started the same as all of my episodes. Things were going fine until all of a sudden I start losing sleep.
When a person with bipolar loses more than one night of sleep in a row, things can get bad, Fast.
I tried to cut the episode off at the knees by taking time off work right away, going to the doctor and getting prescription sleeping pills and some Ativan for anxiety.
I was shaking, trembling, heart racing, bursting into tears with no external provocation, and sleep could not be found, no matter how many drugs I took.
I went to my psychiatrist for antipsychotic medication because it takes the edge off the anxiety and is the only thing strong enough to drop me into sleep at bedtime.
The whole time this was happening, I didn’t want to tell anyone.
Some of that was because my anxiety was brought on by my own actions and I didn’t feel worthy of comfort.
But most of it was because I was embarrassed.
I was embarrassed that even despite having ECT in the summer, I was already having another episode.
Before my postpartum depression with Lucy this year, I hadn’t had an episode for 8 years.
I was so happy and proud to be running this blog and to freely admit to people that I had bipolar.
I considered myself an advocate for bipolar and for mental health in general.
And then I had the episode of postpartum depression.
I wanted to hide.
I was a ball of shame and anxiety and I just wanted to hide from the world.
And of course, with anxiety and depression, the more you’re inside your own head, hiding, the worse things get.
People would ask me what they could do to help and I would say ‘nothing’.
When I finally got healthy after ECT, I didn’t want to post on this blog anymore because I felt ‘unworthy’ that I had ‘fallen off the wagon.’ I mentally equated having bipolar with having a substance addiction. I was ‘clean’ (normal) for 8 whole years and now I had to start counting sanity again from day 0.
It was the same this past episode; I hid in my house, didn’t go to work, stopped answering texts, removed social media from my phone.
The only people that knew I was having an episode were my husband, two of my closest friends and my sister.
Thankfully, the drugs worked quickly this time and I was able to regain my sleep and therefore my sanity.
Some of my friends had no idea I had even just had an episode, it was over that quickly.
But today- today when that driver was injured on the highway, it got me thinking about when someone gets into a car accident.
They lose control, they start heading in a direction they don’t want to be going in, then they’re in pain and they need help from others to get themselves out of the wreck. All of this happens while other cars and trucks are just comfortably passing them by.
I thought about the accident with the Jeep and how emergency services were all racing to the scene from all directions. For this to happen, someone would have had to make a phone call to 911 to get all those emergency services there. Someone would have parked their car on the side of the highway and rushed over to help.
An EMT would have assessed the driver’s injuries and spoken to them in a calm and caring manner.
A police officer or two would have been directing traffic, protecting the victim and ensuring no further injuries.
Firefighters would have helped to pick up the pieces of the wreckage and cordon off the area.
A whole army of people were there to support that person, all in different ways. Some small, some big, but all necessary to the healing and safety of that person.
When I was trying to comfort Sadie that the person would probably be okay, my greatest assurance that I could give her was that that person was likely going to be okay because of how many people were there to support them and take care of them.
When I felt that pang in my heart, it’s because I realized that it’s the same with bipolar- or at least it Should be.
When I had this latest episode, I was like the Jeep.
I had spun out of control; I needed people to help pick me up and put me back on the right course.
I needed people to check in via text and ask what kind of day I was having. Some texts I got were just funny selfies that friends had taken and sent to me. No one needed a Masters degree in counselling to pick me up; they just needed to be themselves and check in.
I needed my husband to act like a police officer or a firefighter cordoning off the scene. He made sure that no further damage occurred by policing and protecting my sleep. He was also like an EMT, calmly assuring me that I was safe, loved and being cared for. My sister checked in every day and did the same, as did my bestie.
When I thought of the wreck with the Jeep, I allowed myself to imagine what might have happened to that person if caring people hadn’t intervened.
If the injured person had refused help and sent all those helpers away because they felt ‘embarrassed’ for getting into a car wreck.
It was -23 the day of the accident. Choosing to refuse help and suffer alone would have been a deadly choice. It makes No sense that an injured driver would refuse help from their community on the basis of their hurt pride.
Logically, I can understand that people involved in a car crash need help and shouldn’t be embarrassed.
But I cannot extend that same logic to when I’m having an episode.
That needs to change.
It still remains that when I’m having an episode and need help from my community, I automatically shut down and tell as few people as possible.
When I’m really, really riddled with anxiety, I can see how this mechanism makes sense. I’m currently working mornings in Sadie’s preschool as a teacher; those little guys don’t need to see me having a panic attack or shaking uncontrollably.
But I do wish that some of my bipolar symptoms could be out in the open.
I told my new boss during this episode that I had lost sleep and was having a bipolar episode. I felt brave enough to have done that.
But when I dropped off my kids and had to see their teachers (my coworkers), I told them that I had lost sleep and that my anxiety was acting up. They were all So sweet and said similar things like ‘oh yeah- lack of sleep does that to me too’ or ‘I have anxiety too; it’s the worst!’.
I sometimes wish that my bipolar wasn’t so hard for me to just admit I have.
Maybe if I start being the change and being brave enough to use the word ‘bipolar’ instead of ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’, it will become less sensitive a word? More understood? Maybe I can be people’s ‘oh yeah, I have a friend with bipolar. She’s pretty cool, but sometimes she gets these episodes and they just knock her down for a couple of days (or weeks or months).’
I’ve been working on this post for almost a week now, chipping away at it day by day.
Here’s the takeaways- bipolar people need sleep. 8 hours of it. In a row. Every night.
Small children don’t allow this- bipolar mamas need supportive partners and communities to succeed. (Amen for Ryan- he is a true hero.)
Episodes can spring up on a bipolar person like a crouching tiger. I had gone to a movie with one of my loveliest friends on Thursday at 7 pm; I was shaking all over and calling in to work from lack of sleep by 6:30 am Friday morning.
Episodes can be very much like a car wreck. A bipolar person needs a lot of community support to get back on the road again. Funny texts, caring phone calls, porch drop offs of yummy snacks, sleep-supporters who come over to babysit- any or all of the above.
But a bipolar person can only receive this help if they’re open about it and willing to ask for help.
I’m out of this latest car wreck (amen!) and my sleep is back on track, so I don’t need the support right now.
But in the future- if you have a friend that you know is struggling, try and be that person.
Be a police officer.
Be a firefighter.
Or just show up and be you.
Sometimes that’s all a sick person needs.
One comment on “Car Wreck”
Great, post and analogy Em!! Thanks for sharing ❤️
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