In 2011, it’s hard to know which is weirder—watching myself on videotape narrating my psychiatric struggle in 1997 or knowing now how inherently different my life is 14 years later.
Though ’97 was difficult, I generally had to fight hard for more than 10 years following my diagnosis with bipolar disorder in 1990, a decade of pain and endurance, as I struggled with every ounce of energy available, battled a diagnosis that doomed me to countless psychiatric hospitalizations and chronic poverty. I lived without a car and in 1997 on $736 a month.
Things were particularly bleak during the winter and spring of 1997, when I was hospitalized twice and struggled to complete even the most basic tasks of daily living—getting myself to and from treatment, feeding myself regular meals, taking medications as prescribed. I spent 5 hours a day on Dallas city buses, struggled to purchase groceries on $30 a week, and suffered so with memory loss, I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d taken the Zyprexa (an anti-psychotic drug) that dulled my thinking and left me listless, not to mention sleepy and ravenously hungry.
But yesterday, in the context of a memoir-writing project, I watched video-taped therapy sessions from 1997, a number of them, at least 6 hours worth.
I noted especially that on March 6, 1997, wearing red sweat pants and my hair in a loose bun, I congratulated my therapist on the occasion of her 49th birthday. I was 35 years old but looked at least 10 years younger than that—thin and toned as I pretzeled myself into a corner of black leather sofa.
But what I remember about that time, recall without having to watch a video, is the belief that my therapist was rather old—unimaginably older that I could ever imagine myself becoming.
Yet now, in 2011, I am myself 49. I am the “old” I couldn’t imagine myself becoming. And this is a hugely strange experience— sitting in a home I own, with my graying hair and gained weight—watching a much younger version of myself, wishing a woman I so respected happy birthday, knowing I was thinking, “Gosh, she’s almost 50. I can’t imagine being that old.”
Not only am I watching myself 14 years ago—seemingly endless hours of myself frozen in time—but also I’m thinking about who I am myself now at this ripe old age—how different I look—how inherently reversed my circumstances are—how much better, richer, fuller my life is—how my experience is now what I only hoped it could be then, what I only dreamed it could be, but never expected it could become.
Clichéd as it sounds—I am now literally living a dream come true—a dream I articulated to my therapist in 1997—a dream about teaching at a university again, a dream about writing—a dream about succeeding—a dream about love.
I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how or why I became ill, why my mind deteriorated to the point it could no longer be trusted, how it is that now I am well—at least in relative terms—my symptoms well-managed.
In 1997 Bill Clinton was just beginning his second term as president; scientists were cloning Dolly the sheep; and in the US we would soon have a balanced budget. Though Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died, it was a time of hope—a time of new beginnings and relative prosperity.
However, my memory at the time was so poor, my connection to the larger world so tenuous, I recall little of this. I know most of this from my more recent efforts to go back and fill in the blankness my brain experienced as real life.
Now, as I watch these videos, as I reflect on how I felt 14 years ago, on how it feels now to not remember, I’m amazed that I have come this far. That I no longer fear homelessness, that I no longer live in government housing, that I now own a home, function well, love an amazingly accomplished woman who loves me even more.
How did I survive more than a decade of seeming defeat? How is it that I’ve recovered to this degree? How did this come to be, this tale of endurance, my narrative of hope? How is it that this stunning grace has happened?
I hope my memoir can help me share this amazing magic—let others know that what sometimes seems an illusion of recovery can indeed become a solid and shared reality—a Boomer’s madness morphed into dream-come-true.
Life presents a number of madnesses to those who make the journey…the one you have made has led to happiness…your words may lead others to a similar fate…take care my friend.
Oh, thank you so much, Charles! I love this notion that life presents a number of madnesses–brilliantly and beautifully said!
This one made me cry.
I try so not to project into the future, but I believe with all my heart that there are wonders waiting there that I can’t even imagine. Knowing you’ve crossed into that place, gives me such hope.
And you’re right, it is amazing magic. I’m so grateful you’ve chosen to share it.
It really is possible, Sandy! Keep at it! Keep fighting! Keep struggling! It is so worth the effort! Yes, I still have symptoms. Yes, I could still have a serious psychotic break in the future. But I have not been hospitalized in 9 years, which is an amazing record for someone who for a decade was admitted at least 3 times a year! It can be done. You will do it, Sandy! You have what it takes. I can’t wait to watch it happen for you!
Beautiful story, Kathy. Life is strange, that’s for sure.
1997 was the year I was married and divorced (from the same guy).
Thanks, Marianne! Life is so, so strange! Sounds like ’97 took you from one extreme to the other! By the way, I’m looking forward to more of your gratitude posts!
Thanks Kathy. 🙂
I recently moved into an office with mostly sales and am surrounded by pretty young women. Though I fret about being possibly the oldest person here, I found myself feeling glad that I am over rp and I have seen it done that and with that it comes a certain degree of confidence and calm and peace. Zen.
Your story is a story of survival. I too believe that many will be able to benefit from your recounting your journey.
Yes, the sense of competence that comes with aging is refreshing–to have been there, done that.
Glad you think my story can benefit others. Thanks for reading, Lin!
In this post, we’re watching you watching you. How incredibly meta. (I used to think 42 was old, too. Now when my kids tell me it IS old I shoosh them and tell them it’s young. Funny how our perceptions change).
Totally meta! Thought about saying something about that in the title! How funny, Mark!
Beautiful post, Kathy. I am so happy that you have been able to turn the tides and emerge from the chaos to live your dream!
Ah, thanks, Dana! It is indeed a dream I’m living–a really, really good dream! Hope you’re having a good weekend!
Oh this is just fantastic! And you did articulate that dream back in 1997 – is this really the key? All received wisdom tells us it is the beginning of all our dreams come true, to create the vision and you have done it beautifully Kathy. You have to love some of your ‘madness’ – it was able to picture the dream for you and for that well we all thank you because it illustrates to us all hope for the future.
And I think at 35 we all think 49/50 is old – shame on us! Really great post!
I have to give lots of credit to my therapist for asking some really great questions and encouraging me to visualize, but, yes, I articulated these things. However, I really got into almost the game of visualization–it was a wonderful escape!
I think about it now and know I will someday think 49 is young. At least I have lived enough now to recognize that!
Thanks for reading, Penny!
I am glad that you survived that dark period in your life, to be able to enrich mine today – albeit from all the way across the world. Again, I understand completely what it’s like to “come out the other side” intact and feeling happy to be alive.
PS: Have you and Sara heard where you’re going next yet?
You and me both! Goodness, it was a long hard battle. I’m so glad to know you too feel happy to be on the other side and still alive! What relief!
No, we know nothing specifc about where we will go next. And it is driving me nuts! Figuratively speaking, that is. I thought for sure we would know last week, but still nothing firm! Thanks for asking!
I can relate to what you’re saying about thinking others are “old” having looked younger than my years for most of my adult life…
I’m so glad you’ve managed to conquer your illness enough to have a happy life, Kathy!
I am glad too! So, so damn glad! I don’t think I really look younger than I am any more–though I did for a long time. Thanks for reading, Wendy! Hope you’re enjoying your “paying” job!