Last Sunday afternoon, Thanksgiving weekend, I was out for a walk in Perth taking some of the photographs I collected over my five days there. I was also slipping away from the family in order to listen to a radio program which included brief comments I had made by phone as invited by the producers.
CBC Radio’s Tapestry was airing the second part of a series called Coping and at about 15:49 into the program I am heard introducing myself, then speaking of how my bipolar II diagnosis was an “A ha!” moment for me in the context of living as a survivor of childhood trauma, addiction recovery, and living with HIV/AIDS since 1989.
I also said that the bipolar II diagnosis has allowed me “to have a little more compassion for myself” and, in turn, with others with mental health issues with whom I can more easily and comfortably empathize and suppress my self-criticism.
“I live on,” I said, “and live on in curiosity”.
The reason I felt I had to head off to my favourite café, rather than invite my family to listen to the program with me, is that they are not all up-to-speed on my bipolar II diagnosis nor, in some cases, the sexual abuse. In the case of my mother, I have withheld these because I have judged that she has had more than enough to deal with. Whether it is worth the secrecy may be another matter entirely.
Fast forward to my weekly group therapy yesterday, which I had missed due to travel last week and being ill the week before. It followed on the heels of my check-in with my psychiatrist in the same hospital during which I confessed that, due to financial problems over the past little while, I had been unable to pay my quarterly prescription co-pay of about $100 and had, therefore tapered myself off my medications – re-starting at the end of September after more than a month when my finances were back in limited order.
He urged me to be in touch with him should I ever run into trouble again (I had even bluffed my way through an appointment with him during the crisis) and to keep in mind that relapses could be very serious.
Off to group therapy I went where I broke down crying as I reviewed the past couple of months and spoke of the shame I felt in being short of money. It was of my own doing, I judge, because I had sought sexual release time and time again with the click of my TV remote at $9.99 plus tax per viewing. (More shame.) The financing – no worries until the bill arrives – was as seductive as any of the pay-per-view characters. There were equal amounts of shame in having dug myself into a financial hole, putting my health at serious risk, and the mental condition which I dared not speak of with my loved ones – despite all of their support for me in every other area of my life which many other families might not be able to tolerate.
I did manage to tell my family, as we packed down a splendid turkey dinner, that I had lost ten pounds in the past little while. What went left unsaid was how much less I had been eating and why.
What could I have done differently?
Certainly I could have flagged the financial problem with not only my psychiatrist but also my doctor and pharmacist. Heaven and earth might have been moved to make sure I had my meds. Instead I chose, in shame, to deal with it myself – the same faulty self-reliance that got me through the rough years as a kid.
I could have told friends what was going on. It would not have been too tough to borrow a hundred bucks for my meds.
No doubt I could spend time, honestly, openly and, more constructively, out of isolation with friends.