Sharks At My Grave
The Fourth House
by: Sheri de Grom
From Journal Entry: January 2001, North Carolina.
‘As I look back over twenty years of living and loving Tom with bipolar disorder, I acknowledge how much of my life I carelessly discarded. Somehow I’ve imprisoned myself in an imaginary tomb: sinister, gloomy and cavernous.
I throw pieces of myself, one at a time, into this grave. I don’t want others to witness me floundering with Tom’s disease or observe the nonstop apprehension and terror I feel.
I pretend life has proceeded as planned and forged ahead with my career while masquerading as the person I perceive others expect. I’m adept at concealing the person who represents the real me—especially from myself.’
My bitterness and disappointments toward myself churns deep. I’ve pushed away friends and acquaintances and now I’m alone.
Sleep is something I used to do. I can’t indulge any longer for fear of my reoccurring nightmare. Sharks will again circle my grave more and more menacing until in a panic, I finally manage to surface from the twisted clammy blankets to wrest myself.
‘My night terrors always begin the same. A shark sticks its head out of the ocean, where I’ve been abandoned and asks, “Tell me all you know about brain disorders, and I will go away and never return.”
I have nothing to offer, I don’t know anything. How can I pacify this cold-blooded predator when I’ve learned nothing?
I notice the happy face of a blue gill tuna. He has the audacity to come ashore and sit by a campfire I’ve made. In a friendly tone, he questions, “Hey, what’s happening?”
How can I explain I’m oblivious, numb and have no interest in or zero trust enough to bare my soul? I can’t be vulnerable by revealing to a new friend just how lonely and afraid I am. Nor can I admit my life has turned upside down like a capsized raft, and I don’t have a clue of how to right it.
With the eternal wisdom of the sea, an octopus propels himself out of the ocean and reaches out to hug me with all eight arms—b-ut—I’ve forgotten how to accept hugs and condolences. The pain is so intense I long for the darkness of my nightmare tomb. My unwelcome feelings remain locked away.
A shark appears again out of nowhere. He snaps, “I can make short work of your pain and misery. I’ll be happy to help you into that coffin you’ve constructed for your own pity.”
Simultaneously, I see porpoises at play, reminding me they could have chosen to be victims of the harsh and brutal coastline, but instead they are content to play and soak up the rays of the sun. They intuitively know what I’ve not yet discovered: it’s more fun to play with others than to internalize my fears.’
Today, emerging from bed and getting dressed, I headed to my garden sanctuary with a fragrant cup of coffee. Rage, anger, and irritability compel me outside. I do my best thinking while gardening and I can once again live with Tom’s brain disorder after a refreshing respite with Mother Earth.
Gardening allows me to tune out my obsessive worries and fearful thoughts. I’m alive with the flowers, birds, bugs, and gray or blue skies.
I watched the leaves I’d raked and piled in my wheelbarrow dance crazily in the wind. The leaves were powerless; the same as Tom is within the vindictiveness of bipolar disorder. How could I not be enraged that our life expectancy and plans have been radically shortened and forever altered?
Thinking about what had actually driven me into the garden, I became aware of how livid I’ve become with my inability to talk with family and friends about Tom’s disease. My disappointments, loss of candid conversation and thoughts of abandonment has built walls around my heart over the years; now no-one speaks of Tom’s disease.
I’ve studied my daily journals page by page and often I’ve recorded multiple entries on any given day. I carry my journal pages with me everywhere and I think of them as a friend in whom I can always trust and confide. On particularly bad days, it’s my only place I find an old familiar friend.
Not only are my journals a useful source of information for this blog, they’ve proven invaluable as an accurate record of Tom’s medical care. I’ve recorded every medication or change and the prescribed amount, plus the doctor’s name. I’ve even annotated doctor appointments to include name, location, date, purpose of visit, and obtained a copy of the medical records of that visit to store in a separate notebook.
Additionally, I keep the same detailed information regarding all tests and other procedures performed on Tom’s behalf. Unfortunately, I didn’t do this during the years I worked and the result has been non-repairable organ damage. Keeping up with any catastrophic illness and the fall-out that goes with it is a monumental challenge.
My goal in providing this blog is to emphasize the importance of my journal and the importance of medical documentation. There’s a saying medical personnel and insurance claims adjusters hold to the highest standard, “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”
My journal provides more than medical information. It documents the emotions I felt and the events surrounding those feelings and often details how I worked my own feelings out so that I might live with myself.
People with bipolar disorder have no control over their mood states. Those of us who do not suffer from a mood disorder often expect mood-disordered individuals to control their emotions and behavior the same as we do. When we sense we are letting our emotions get the best of us and we want to wield some control over them, we tell ourselves things like, snap out of it, get a hold on yourself, try and pull yourself together. We’re taught that self-control is a sign of maturity and self-discipline. We’re indoctrinated to think of people who do not control their emotions very well as being immature, lazy, self-indulgent or weak. But you can only exert self-control if the control mechanisms are working properly. In people with mood disorders, they are not.
One of my journal entries during this same time period reads, ‘If Tom suffered a heart attack, or a fracture that would not heal, no one would wonder why Tom was in the hospital again. But if I say his mind is adversely affected by day-to-day events, most people fail to see any problem at all.
No one wants to hear that your brain can go bad, just like your body. Tom’s condition doesn’t mean he’s cowardly, heartless, or devoid of emotions. It simply means he no longer functions consistently because he has an uncontrollable organic brain disorder.’
Once again, thank you for reading with me as I continue my FOURTH HOUSE series. I appreciate each and everyone who comments, along with those who let me know they visited my blog by hitting the ‘like button’ and those who prefer to contact me offline. My e-mail address is at the top of the blog. I’m not a mental healthcare professional. I’m merely a woman who fell in love with the most amazing man and is committed to her wedding vow: ‘in sickness and health.’