hello from the fringes

For months after I lost Molly, I drifted the streets of Olympia, WA, letting the rain mix with the salty tears that never seemed to stop. I was proud; I challenged this small town with my presence and my grief, surely an abomination. I carried my heart in the darkness of my eyes. They changed my medication when I said that I was not sleeping and I developed serotonin syndrome. Fever-wracked and shaking, I met the peoples’ stares with the defiance of a woman who had lost everything and still refused to die.

My friends stopped calling, not knowing what to do with me. Slowly I became invisible. When I go out now, I look down at the sidewalk.

I thought I understood social isolation. I’ve never been very good with people, with crowds–in my twenties, I went through a nasty bout of agoraphobia that at the time was all-consuming and terrifying to reverse.

Infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss are another level, though. I live my life scared to even see any friend that could possibly announce a blissfully innocent pregnancy, although as I approach middle-age, that scenario is less and less likely. I cry if I stare too long at a baby that will never be mine. I cringe when my friends start to talk about their kids, knowing that I might never experience what is so easy for almost everyone else I know. I go to therapy every week and try to talk about anything other than the horrible, unshakable rage and sorrow I wear strapped to my back every fucking day and the persistent belief that the reason my babies die is because I’m a crazy bitch that’s unfit to have a child.

My days are quiet and I spend them in solitude.

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innocence

I met my husband through mutual friends. Well, one friend in particular, a pathological liar–if I were to explain the trials and tribulations we went through with this guy, no one would believe me. We both thought well of him, initially, and when the cracks started appearing in his incredible web of lies, Geoff and I forged a strong bond based on, “I hate that bitch too”. We were each in go-nowhere relationships, both experiencing a burgeoning sense that we wanted more than what life was giving us. Circumstance had us spending more and more time together. And things unfolded as things unfold. I asked my boyfriend to move out and Geoff moved in.

Our wedding was the happiest day of my life. We rented a grange hall, I bought a black dress, we said fuck you to tradition and we knew we were forever.

In my memories, our first year of marriage was drenched in sunshine. I know I’m being wistful and romantic, but I don’t remember the ceaseless rain of the Pacific Northwest being anything but a delicate mist that cleansed away the bad memories of who I was in my twenties. It was a new beginning and I desperately needed one.

It sounds awful and cliche. We had so much love. We wanted to share it. So, we decided to try and start a family. It was supposed to be easy because everything else has been hard.

love & depression

I see my reflection in my computer screen. My face has become sharp angles. I am very sick and sickness has taken me over. An aging beauty queen, if those words can describe what I was when I was younger, an Asian girl in black leather stretched tight over jutting hipbones, jet black hair spilling in tangles and eyes as haunted as moonlight. Everyone’s eyes following me, self-conscious and exotic. Today I am thirty-eight, damaged by the indiscretions of my past. I am sick, I tell myself. Today I am sick and I will stay in bed. My intensity scares people. I cannot go out.

There are tiny little things. Signs that I must keep going. In reality, there are no other acceptable options. Our bedroom is sectioned in two by a bare mattress. The mess on my side would get me committed and my husband’s side is not much better. A prosaic thought: we’ll spend the weekend cleaning. Cheap ovulation prediction kit strips litter my nightstand next to bottles of pills. Ziprasidone. Lamotrogine. Paroxetine. I’m not like a regular person, I’m a little zany. The cat starts crying. I haven’t kept track of the time, and his dinner is late. Life was not always like this for me, for my husband that I love so dearly. He’ll be home soon and I’ll smile. The daytime is brutal.

halloween 2016

Written after my first miscarriage: I envy other women for their ability to not be so fucking dramatic. To wear less black eye makeup. To live in a state of grace. Myself, I’m full of anxiety and these days I cry a lot. Over simple things. The blissfully pregnant woman sitting across from me at community acupuncture. The couple that shows up with a baby that they never bothered to tell us about. Despite best intentions, I cannot control my behavior these days. My mental health professionals suggest deep breathing—I am never not deep breathing, panic rolls over me in waves. Complete strangers often take the time to tell me to relax. Who can fucking relax?

There’s a high-pitched noise reverberating through me. My reflexes are on hair trigger; I am always vigilant. I have difficulties navigating the outside world, troubles that should have dissipated as I grew and evolved but in approaching middle age I find I am unarmed, raw and increasingly high strung. A lot of people think I’m weird and I really wish I wasn’t. I want to be wholesome again, but I no longer have no conceptual framework for that particular attribute and am marked by deep furrows in my face and circles under my eyes. The face of a histrionic child-soul grown old despite my desperate grasp to maintain immaturity, to cling to innocence but at the same time I miss the hardened stoicism I projected as a girl.

You know, I thought I could change. I always thought that someday I’d straighten myself out and write glowingly optimistic words that would uplift and, pardon my narcissism, help people. I thought I might even learn to be humorous and that maybe then people would like me again. But time is running out, the world out there filled with less tragedy than I’ve wrought upon myself slips away a little more every day. I had a second chance. And it just went so so wrong.

present

It’s been almost 2 months since my last miscarriage. I never really thought the pregnancy would work out. At 14 days past ovulation, I knew the test line on the home pregnancy test should be darker. It didn’t get dark until 18 days past ovulation and by that point I should have been pumping out more pregnancy hormone (hcg). Still, I let myself hope despite plenty of evidence that hope for me is always a bald-faced lie.

My betas were doubling every 48 hours, though. I got the results back through my OB’s web portal, and for a short time I let myself feel something like happiness. God, it had been so long; thus, the heady feeling of optimism was irresistible. And I let my guard down, walking into my viability scan with the confidence we would see a heartbeat. But there was nothing there, just a gestational sac. They told me I must have gotten my dates wrong; I never get my dates wrong being as I track my ovulation religiously and my cycles are clockwork regular. So, they extended the agony, telling me it might be too early to see anything and I should come back in a week. And I cried, because apparently now I do that, and I hyperventilated, which was a more predictable reaction because I have panic disorder. The ultrasound technicians looked at me in disgust.

I hate ultrasounds. I’m still trying for the elusive golden egg to fertilize and implant in my wasteland of a uterus, despite all evidence that this might never happen for me. For a girl with RPL (recurrent pregnancy loss), ultrasounds are nightmarish with the anticipation of yet more devastating news.

So finally, after I ripped out my hair at the incompetence of the clinic I am a patient at (more on that in another post), I was diagnosed with a blighted ovum and opted to have a D&C. I was wary of the surgery, having had terminated my first much-wanted pregnancy at 18 weeks due to fatal chromosomal abnormalities causing severe birth defects. I terminated by D&E (dilation and evacuation), one of the second trimester versions of an abortion and it is brutal. A D&C seemed like it could hardly be worse than what I went through when I lost my daughter Molly.

Only it wasn’t. I had a series of attacks and flashbacks. My 18 week abortion was done at an abortion clinic, not in an OR at a comfortably sparkling surgical facility. I had twilight sedation and I don’t remember anything, but the D&C for dead baby #3 was under general. While the staff at the abortion clinic was kind and caring, the medical personnel at the hospital was antiseptic and brusque. And when I lay back on the operating table with my arm out for them to administer drugs…that’s when I lost it.

I have a tattoo of Molly’s name on my inner arm. The tattoo artist had me lay on my back on a table with my arm outstretched. The familiar and vulnerable position made my mind shut down. I don’t remember him doing the tattoo.

And time moves never forward, but in slow relentless circles. Another time, another afternoon spent getting my babies ripped out of my womb. These days I’m haunted by trauma although everyone around us looks puzzled when I speak of it. It’s not like they’re real babies–I see it reflected in their eyes.

I came out of anesthesia ready to fight. My strongest desire is to pummel my infertility into submission but I have precious few resources. I wonder if I’m an idiot, wandering through her days with something to prove. But sheer will cannot make a healthy baby. All I need, perhaps, is a little bit of luck.

in case you’re wondering how crazy i am

My name is Kathleen. In my cluttered mind, I am twenty-three years old but do the math from my driver’s license and I check in at an ominous thirty-eight. These days, I mourn the loss of my youth on a daily basis and yearn for the happier days that have all but slipped away from me or else never existed at all and I’m conveniently forgetting a shit load of tragedy. Some prosaic facts about me: I grew up in Boston, I vote Democrat, I have black hair far past my waist. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Geoff. I’m fairly basic. I hate crowds.

After being booted out of Oberlin College in Ohio for mental instability, I moved West to attend The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. I moved out here without ever having had seen the town, the state, even; I just picked up and left the Northeast with its familiar sense of urgency, frigid winters and stiflingly humid summer seasons and I vowed never to return although perhaps it would have been better for my heart if I had stayed close to my family and dear friends. It was an impulsive decision, to go west. I often wonder where I’d be if I had, arbitrarily, chosen a different place to make my home. I was not thinking rationally. My little sister died of cancer in 1996 and all I knew at 19 years old was that I had to get as far away from the hospitals in Boston as I could.

I am a person that thrives on extremes. I’m trying to change that, to find a degree of moderation and the peace that would ostensibly come with that. I have a severe mental illness and my mood swings have tossed me around like a ship on a stormy sea. In my daily life, there is much ricocheting from anger to melancholy and my energy levels fluctuate wildly. Sometimes I cannot get out of bed; sometimes I am awake and hallucinating for days on end, no rest for the wicked. I’m prone to paranoid flights and there is a never-ending chorus of voices in my head, then outside my head, voices I hear with my ears as if I had constant companions, always talking while in actuality, I am totally alone in a room. I’ve lost so many friends by virtue of manifesting noticeable psychotic symptoms and there is a permanent line between myself and the world of normal. I’m constantly experiencing whiplash. I wake in the morning and my neck is sore and I’m still stuck in my head.

When looking back over my life, I see a steady decline in my mental health. I fell apart slowly, then all at once. I had friends in high school and it seemed to come naturally. I mean, I never quite fit in. My friends were all beautiful, and my Asian features seemed to preclude me from that category. I probably talked too fast, was a little too wild, but I seemed to amuse people. I think I was excluded from a lot of get-togethers, especially if there were boys there. Apparently I was not beautiful enough to be included in these parties that were merely an excuse for my friends to make out with boys that would never pay attention to a crazy ugly girl like me. I think I was an embarrassment to my girlfriends, who were constantly making fun of my appearance. I didn’t make things easy for myself. I’d do stupid shit. Piercing my nose before it was socially acceptable. Shaving my head. If I was going to be ugly, I figured I’d just go for the upper limit.

I’d had bipolar symptoms since I was a child, but they seemed to be worse and worse all the time. I spent my high school years skipping class…sometimes I was so depressed that I arrived at school, waited until I knew my mom and dad were at work, and then walked home and spent the day sleeping and watching soap operas and feeling like shit. Sometimes I could not stand sitting still in class and I’d ditch and go to Dunkin Donuts with my friends. I’d talk their ears off and act all kinds of obnoxious. After school ended, I’d go out with a different group of friends. And after dinner, I was out again. Since I never spent my whole days with the same group of friends, no one realized that I pretty much never slept at night. I could go for days without a wink of sleep. And the voices were constant; they terrified me. I knew I was losing my mind.

And my baby sister was sick. Diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome after a routine blood draw at her annual check-up turned up abnormal. My mom moved into the city to be with her during her treatment. My aunt and uncle would fly out from LA to help our family. Church ladies brought casseroles for my dad and I, to keep us going. My dad owned a small business and threw himself into it, working long long hours and leaving me to my own devices. My activities were completely unmonitored, and since I was still whupping ass in my academics despite my regular absences everyone thought I was doing fine.

Meg passed at the end of my senior year in high school. Right before graduation, prom. Right when I was trying to decide if I had the fortitude to attempt moving away to college in a mere couple months. I didn’t want to go, but staying wasn’t an option as far as my family was concerned.

So I went to Ohio and lost my mind. Seemed like a reasonable place to go crazy—everything was so flat, there were tornado warnings, and I was in a very small town. At first I thought I could pull it off. But things got weird. I was perpetually confused. I spent a lot of time wandering and wondering where and when my classes were because the campus map and my class schedule just were not making sense. Sometimes I’d attempt to go to class at 2 am. Sometimes I couldn’t read…the letters in my textbooks just looked like chicken scratches, incomprehensible. I wasn’t sleeping, showering. The voices were there, drowning out my thoughts and I just couldn’t stop talking to random people, thus scaring them with rants about nothing at all. My parents wouldn’t let me come home.

I ended up attempting suicide. I was just so confused, and I hadn’t made any friends that may have noticed I was losing my shit. I took a bottle of Tylenol, washing it down with lukewarm coffee. And then I waited to die.

A few days passed, and I was violently ill. It didn’t seem like I was going to die. I finally got so sick, I called 911 from a phone booth downstairs in my dorm. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of chaos, but I wasn’t aware. I was taken away by ambulance. Since I’d waited days to report my overdose there was no point in pumping my stomach. I was transferred from the teeny hospital in Oberlin to a bigger hospital in Cleveland. Tylenol wreaks hell on your liver…I was placed on the liver transplant wait list. I was sick as a dog. But I got better.

And this is when I went off the rails. I thought to myself, this is as bad as it could possibly get. But it wasn’t.

And what right does a woman like me have to want to bring a child into this world? My illness is a part of me, as much as I wish that wasn’t true. I will live with it for the rest of my life. Having experienced so much crazy, having spent so much time in the dark places of my mind. I know there is judgment, as there always is. But in my defense:

I was stable for 10 years before I met my husband. After I struggled for years trying to find medications that would keep okay, I had managed to stumble upon just the right concoction. Tossing back pills three times a day–well, it was a necessary evil. I had friends again, I had a life back. And when I married Geoff I was confident that my dark days were behind me. And I want a normal life now. And I have so much love to give.

Yes, bipolar disorder is hereditary and having suffered so much with it, you may wonder how I could possibly put a child through that.

For all the years I spent wanting to die, I never regretted having been born. Life with bipolar disorder is still worth living.

present

I have absolutely no right to stand up to God and demand another miracle. The years have been unkind to me and I have been even less kind to me. If I become pregnant again will society open their arms once again and welcome me back from the fringes that I’ve come to know so well? If I have a healthy baby, will the world take me back? I hear the word “sick” being whispered at a frequency only I can hear. Another day cloistered in the security of my own head. When was the last time I’ve said a kind word to another suffering person? I’ve become cold and hard even though my heart is still beating and I imagine blood, more blood, every month after month there is blood and my heart never slows. There are a thousand million other worlds, countless other sides and I just can’t break through the walls and I’m stuck. In my sparsely decorated bedroom, and always blood flowing out of me like tears and I wake up every morning and grit my jaw and see nothing ahead of me but destruction. Hellfire, damnation. There has to be someplace in front of me better than this one but my contact lenses stick to my eyes and my vision blurs and every. single. day is a fucking lifetime of emptiness and the slothiness that is born of nothing. I will find a way out, maybe someday. The days will be brighter, I’ll feel mirthful again and laugh at something nice instead of at the expense of others. I will learn again to be kind. But this day…I’ll let myself just fucking lose my shit.

Miracles are slippery and I can’t seem to hang on to them.

flashback: beginnings

Everything in my life boils down to this one moment in time, a moment on a metal table with a wall between myself and my husband. A kindly doctor putting his hand on mine, an anesthesiologist to my right. Someone asks me about my cat, not the cat I have curled in my lap right now but a different cat, less neurotic. And I’m thinking about every last thing I did wrong, about what brought me here whether it be my own actions or just a bit of random unkindness from an unforgiving universe and this moment is crystallized in my memory and I don’t realize it yet but in the years to come I will describe it over and over in my writings as if I can encapsulate the finality precisely enough to stop the requests for explanations I just don’t have in me anymore. What happened to you to make you like this? And I smile and shake my head as if that simple gesture will erase the vitriol I’ve been inadvertently spewing, as if healing exists and I just got caught up in what? this moment where I lost control. This moment where I lost everything.

that background tho…

I am thirty-nine year old woman with a severe form of bipolar disorder. I’m not really sure why I’m still alive. I thought my youthful self-destructive habits would without a doubt leave me dead before thirty. Die young; stay pretty.

I’ve lived a life of extremes. Sex, drugs, rock n roll, the whole shebang. Multiple mental hospitalizations in my late teens and twenties. I was beautiful; thus, I was doomed. After years of struggling and countless tries at medication, I had achieved stability and rejoined society. I had a life that was almost normal.

But these days are marked with an absence of dramatics and histrionics. My days are quiet and each morning they stretch before me and time slows. I struggle with violent mood swings, panic attacks, paralyzing depressions and hallucinations. I wake up fighting and after that split second where I think everything is okay–well, then the world comes crashing down.

I’m married to the man of my dreams. I am blissfully happy having him in my life but I can’t help wanting more for us. When we decided we wanted to start a family, I was thirty-five and so naive to the perils of reproduction. I spent a year tapering down on my psychiatric medications in order to prepare for pregnancy. We never dreamed that after all that, we would be catapulted into a nightmare of pregnancy loss and infertility. I have been trying to conceive our first since November of 2014 and have had multiple miscarriages, usually at nine weeks gestation. I have also terminated a much wanted pregnancy in the second trimester due to our little girl having a fatal chromosomal defect. Her name was Molly, and losing her was the single most painful experience of a life full of painful experiences.

This is my sad attempt to tell our story.