If you suffer from bi-polar disorder or simply from “excess emotional energy” [my term], then you know the drop from happy to depressed can be triggered by something that rationally seems small, even ridiculous. Yesterday, this happened to me. I woke at 6am ready for the day, excited for the day. I had my coffee, did my cardio, put things in order to accomplish my goals for the day. THEN ... BOOM.
The day before a good friend and I went to lunch. She’d just finished reading my novel – I didn’t even know she’d bought one and was thrilled she’d taken her time to read it. She was wonderfully complimentary and asked questions that let me know the book had her thinking! Yea! She mentioned, casually, that’d she’d discovered a typographical error. I took a deep breath, tried to put that aside. She thought fixing it would be easy – it’s not.
As I’m exercising, this single typo kept flitting across my mind, worrying me. I knew a clean manuscript was critical to good reviews. I also kept getting angry that the editor I paid a decent fee let this happen. The problem would come to mind; I’d forcefully slide it away. After exercise, my husband and I went to breakfast and I mentioned this typo to him. He met me with dead silence. As my tension grew, I debated whether to dig … I dug … I then dropped deep into the hole.
It turns out that my husband also noticed “several” grammar errors. My heart is racing, I’m sweating, I’m holding in hysterics. FAILURE, FAILURE, FAILURE became a billboard flashing like Times Square. My father’s voice boomed in my mind – “I can never be proud because ultimately you disappoint me.” Every single “button” was pushed and I was lighting up, heating up, wanting to throw up. My book – which I’d been so proud of, which sat squarely on a table in my living room – became tangible evidence that I am a F*C# UP.
Just the week before, I’d sent the paperback version to my beta readers with a gift. Book bloggers were set to begin reviewing it. A few other friends had ordered it. My sister-in-law was reading it. I cannot express to you how devastating all of this was. I went from the high of having achieved a goal to the depths of having yet another failure (and this time, a failure literally on the shelf).
It’s the next day and I’m feeling better. Before it all fades away, I want to analyze how I handled the situation – what did I do right to handle the pain versus what I did wrong?
When we got home from a painful breakfast (I cried, I wouldn’t/couldn’t listen to my husband’s rational responses…I embarrassed us both), I dove into cleaning the house and listening to a book. This was GOOD – in the past when I hurt like this, I’d immediately close myself away. Instead, I tried to use some of the energy moving through my body. The book helped me to relax – yes, maybe it was a disassociation technique. But, dissociating is not always bad. Then it went off the rails….
Unfortunately, as I cleaned I got on the negative hamster wheel – “All I’m good at is cleaning bathrooms. I should stay hidden from the world. I keep embarrassing my husband and the poor guy has to keep rescuing me. He deserves better. I need to quit teaching and for damn sure I should stop writing. I’m obviously a fraud. Who am I to help others edit their work?”.…. and on and on and on and on.
I came down to clean the main level and saw my husband sitting at the table finding all the errors in my book – putting them on a spreadsheet – so that he can work with the interior design people and get it fixed. “See, all you do is cost your family money. The book sucks anyway. You should tell him to throw it away. And, because of you, yet again, he’s not doing what he wants. If you weren’t such a mess, you’d fix this yourself. You’re worthless.”
I was paralyzed. I was so angry – and I have no idea exactly where my anger was directed. My book sat on that table and all I wanted to do was destroy it – tear it into tiny pieces. I wanted to throw my husband’s spreadsheet through the kitchen window. I did throw my book away – what good was it? All I could see was errors, mistakes, failure, disappointment. It was better tucked under the detritus of lunch.
I canceled every appointment I had for the next day – why should I waste my time or anyone else’s time on a book that was obviously a disaster? If an idea for book two came to mind, I shoved it into the “trash can” of my computer brain. I can’t write a second book if I can’t write a first book worth a shit.
I dropped off the cleaning supplies, made some excuse about finishing it later. I disappeared upstairs, into the bed, tears wetting pillow. I couldn’t fall asleep; I couldn’t stop the negative thoughts. Instead, they got more destructive.
Up into the bath and into my pajamas. By 11 am, I’m in my pajamas! UGH … going backwards. I wanted to get back into bed and stay there. Instead, I grabbed a novel, went to the deck and read for several hours. I fell asleep on the couch watching some documentary. Then I OVERate the dinner my husband had prepared.
During dinner my husband tells me that my sister-in-law read the book and didn’t notice any errors. What should have been a relief became an agonizing pain – she read the book and never commented – not one word. I go out of my way to compliment her hobbies.
So, of course, all I could think was: “she hated it.” That sent me reeling with all the other people who had not said anything. My best friend had promised me weeks ago that she’d write a review for Amazon. She didn’t. My mother’s only comment was “there are a lot of words on the page.” My children haven’t bothered to read it at all. The hole I’m digging is getting deeper, darker, murkier.
Because he shared my shame with his brother, I get to turn against my husband. Why be mad at myself when I can be mad at him? His perfection – his rationality – his willingness to help me – all became reasons to be PISSED. Poor guy. While he cleaned the kitchen, I stared out the kitchen window and catalogued all the ways people hate me, let me down. I justified their hatred, their unwillingness to be supportive. Tears dripped to the table.
I convinced my husband we should get ice cream. I went to the ice cream shop in my pajamas (at least I didn’t get out of the car). I ate a huge waffle cone.
We watched a movie – by this time I was feeling guilty for being such a “bad” wife. I wanted to go to bed, to cry my eyes out, to remind myself of all the ways I’m a terrible person. But, I forced myself to watch a movie. It was an intellectual movie and that helped – it gave us a neutral topic to discuss.
It’s the next day, and I’m feeling better – not perfect, not “right or normal or leveled” but better than yesterday. My book – Dave’s copy (my copy is buried in the trash) -- is only a few feet away and I no longer look on it with pride. Instead it’s tangible evidence of my father’s words. When he’s done, it will go in the trash too. So, I’m fighting to not jump back in the hole.
When mired in the muck, with the negative thoughts running around like unruly children, it’s hard to grab hold of strategies and pull myself out of the depths. Hopefully, looking at yesterday through today’s lens, I can find a different path for next time. So, here goes:
Did you notice I never said “should”? I refuse to “should” myself – that just starts the negative train. I could have done things differently.
I also need to identify the ways I did take care of myself. This will remind me next time what worked and allow me to build some confidence that I can handle the next time (and there will be a next time). So, here goes:
Honest. When I canceled my appointments, I was transparent with my situation. Shopping. I didn’t go to the bookstore (which I wanted to do) because I knew I’d try to find the mania again by spending money. I never opened Amazon on my computer.Words. I didn’t pick a fight – and I wanted to pick a fight. Here is where I think the journal would have helped – instead of spewing on my husband or holding the pain inside, I could have gotten it out on paper. But, at least I didn’t attack my husband. Analysis – rather than just letting the disaster go away, I’m taking the time to learn from it AND I’m sharing rather than pretending I have it all together.Rested. I did need to rest yesterday. Maybe I didn’t need to put on my pajamas at 11am, but I did need to rest and I took that time.Food. The ice cream was a good idea – (maybe not a full waffle cone). It was soothing and I enjoyed watching my dog eat his cone. His excitement was contagious.
Dave has just told me that it will be several days before this is all resolved (i.e., the book fixed and put back on Amazon, etc.). It’s all kicking back up, choking me. ARRGH! One of the worst things about the “post-mental breakdown” me is that I get overwhelmed very easily. Overwhelmed is not a pleasant experience. I’m overwhelmed.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....