How two painful stories affected me and how I failed as a pet owner.
To say that bipolar keeps your life in chaos is probably a colossal understatement.
Looking back on the weeks after my diagnosis, I had no idea how much my life was spinning out of control. I made drastic life-altering decisions with little thought, both accepting things I shouldn’t have and walking away from things I needed to keep.
In the time since I got out of the psychiatric hospital, I made one awful decision after another. From starting a new relationship, to living in a world of nightmares and Neverland. Everything was a bit topsy-turvy.
My friend Margaret was doing everything she could to keep me busy. Everyone was afraid if they left me alone or with nothing to do that I’d end up back in the hospital again. Though rarely did anyone actually say the words to me.
Margaret and Patrick came up with a plan. They felt I had to see how suicide affected the lives of others. So I was whisked off to Richmond, Indiana to visit some of Margaret’s oldest friends.
Friends in Pain
Margaret’s circle of friends in Richmond had a painful past, one that I could understand clearly. One of their youngest members had taken his own life after three failed attempts. The were all coping with the impact of suicide.
Margaret thought if I heard the story and how everyone suffered since the tragedy, it would keep me from ever making the wrong choice again.
The trip to Indiana filled my mind with a tornado of swirling thoughts. The internal pressure also led me to more poor decisions.
In part 19 of the Surviving Bipolar Series, I’ll share the impact of suicide on others. I’ll also answer the question: should someone with bipolar disorder have a pet?
Suicide Affects Everyone
The night before my hospital stay, all my thoughts of death revolved around the end of my suffering. My mind failed to comprehend how my end would affect others. All I cared about was stopping my pain.
I was 23 and selfish. The reality of how my life affected others would take years and maturity for me to figure out. I thought my decisions were my decisions, and what I did in my world affected no one else.
And I was wrong.
Impact of Suicide: The Story of Little Will
While I was in Indiana, I learned the story of Little Will. Not his whole story, but enough of it to impact me.
Many of Margaret’s friends in Indiana had known Little Will his whole life. They all said the same thing. He was often quiet. Everyone knew he was battling monsters in his mind and lived in darkness, but no one thought they needed to worry.
Even after Little Will’s first three failed suicide attempts, many of his friends never thought he would seriously hurt himself. Until they found him dead. The impact of suicide forever changed them all.
Death is painful whenever it happens, but when someone takes their own life, it adds a lot of traumas along with it.
Little Will’s friends wanted to know if there was more they could have done or things they could have said to stop him. It was too late for them to change Little Will’s path. He was already gone. So, many of his friends were telling his story to help others.
Little Will’s friends knew I had been in the psychiatric care center and wanted me to know both what happened and how it had affected them. A few years passed between when Little Will died and when I heard the tale, but the pain was still fresh in everyone’s hearts.
Stories can Hurt
I know Margaret’s head was in the right place when she took me to Richmond, but hearing Little Will’s history was too much. As I listened to strangers describe how hurt they felt, the weight felt too heavy for me to carry.
Every day, I wrote in my journal about how much I wanted to cry. As I mentioned in Part 18, numbness was a continuing problem. No matter how hard I tried to cry, the tears never came.
I never knew Little Will, but during the seven days we were in Indiana, I felt like I understood him better than anyone. I knew I was hiding similar secrets and couldn’t help but wonder how my death would have affected my friends.
A tiny part of my mind felt gratitude for hearing the story. I was alive and Little Will’s experience was giving me strength to keep fighting. I wish I could thank him because his death helped me.
Never forget: suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary problem.
The worst darkness you feel is like thick morning fog. It will eventually disappear, even if it takes weeks or months for that to happen. If you hold on, you will always find the light again. Always.
When someone ends their life, it leaves everyone who knew them reeling. The impact of suicide shatters worlds. Often, those affected include those that you would never even think of. I’m sure my friend Tony never thought his death would affect me. Let me tell you about him.
Impact of Suicide: The Story of Tony
Not long after I heard Little Will’s story, a friend I grew up with, Tony, took his life. The last time I saw Tony was five years prior, and while I considered him a friend, we never were close friends.
Tony and I had a superficial friendship. We always said hello and would laugh about stupid things at parties, but there was never any depth to our relationship.
After Tony died, I found out he didn’t have any real friends. The reality of his solitude broke my heart. I knew Tony fought dark thoughts.
Even as kids, he talked about death and dying in somber and knowing tones. I knew the gloom lived in him, but never knew how much.
After I moved to Tennessee, I never talked to Tony again. When he died, I couldn’t even remember the last time we spoke to each other.
If Tony thought of me at all before he died, he never would have thought his passing would affect me. But he would have been wrong about the impact of suicide.
Another Story and Envy Haunted Me
For weeks after I heard about Tony’s death, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I wondered if his family knew he was suffering, and what triggered him to make that last choice.
Tony’s death not only changed the way I felt about him, but it brought up a strange and obsessive line of thinking.
I felt an unhealthy jealousy because Tony succeeded in ending his life. To a mentally healthy person, that would never make sense. Even so, I envied Tony for being dead. I was glad to be alive but also sad because I failed to go through with my plan.
But I also have to be candid with you. Part of me regretted living, and that part would show up again and again every time a friend died.
No, it’s not a rational thought, but how much of bipolar thinking is reasonable? I resented Tony for a long time, even on the days I was enjoying life. Tony would never have to fight again, and there was a sense of peace in that thought. It was another way the impact of suicide changed me.
My point in telling you about Little Will and Tony is to remind you how impact of suicide has far-reaching effects. When someone takes a life, it affects everyone who ever knew them.
Suicide is a decision that changes the world for everyone whose life was touched by the person who dies. Yes, everyone.
I think of Little Will and Tony, and now nearly a dozen others I knew, who have all died by their own hand. Each of their deaths has shattered the world of the people who knew them.
If you love anyone, it’s a reason to keep living. The pain of suicide is something that never goes away. Ending your pain is not worth all the trauma your death would cause your loved ones.
Wow, that’s a lot of darkness. Part of me hates talking about suicidal ideation, but it’s an important part of bipolar recovery. In my crisis period, I needed to hear how damaging suicide was to other people. I hope this story will help you remember that too.
Thinking of ending things was only one of my problems. I also was making other unwise decisions. One involved two new little friends.
To Have a Pet or Not
The counselors tell you when you’re in a mental health facility not to start any new relationships for a year. Most people ignore the advice, and I certainly did, but it’s good advice. I also think it’s a rule to follow when getting a new pet.
House plants are great, and you should get as many as you want. Cactus plants, philodendrons, and snake plants are all good choices because each requires little care.
But pets are something you should wait for. I wish I had.
One Margaret’s friends had a cat with young kittens. The tiny balls of fur were the perfect age to go to homes of their own. The moment I saw the five of them tumbling over each other, I was in love.
The kittens were orange and white striped, and I wanted to adopt all of them. My trip ended with me taking two of them home.
Too Much Energy
Aquila and Priscilla, the names I first gave my new pets, were two little monsters full of never-ending energy. They were barely in my house 10 minutes before they destroyed every plant I had.
While growing up, my mom, who never allowed cats in the house, always said, “You can have cats or things, but you can’t have both.”
I never understood until two orange and white fluff balls trashed my trailer.
The Biblical names didn’t stick, so after a couple of weeks, I renamed my little beasts Ginger and Mercedes. I forget the story behind the names, but I’m sure there was a reason.
Ginger and Mercedes refuse to be confined. No matter where I put them, they found a way out. If I left them alone or went to sleep for a while, I never knew what mess I would find. And for two tiny kittens, they made a gigantic mess every day.
Cleaning up ripped papers and shredded plant leaves was exhausting and more than I could keep up with. Adjusting to life with bipolar disorder was taking all of my energy.
Having to clean up constant messes made me angry and destructive. I never hurt them, but I sure thought about it.
As much as I loved Ginger and Mercedes, it was only a few months before I gave them away.
Bunnies Were Also a Mistake
Pets were hard for me in those early years of my bipolar diagnosis. Another time, an old rabbit farmer was selling bunnies alongside the road. With a twinge of mania and no thought on what it meant to take care of a bunny, I quickly bought two, a little brown one and another, all black.
I named the rabbits Peanut and Buster, a wink at Dairy Queen, and love them immensely.
I once heard you could train bunnies the same way as any other house pet. With that wisdom in my pocket, I decided to let Peanut and Buster hop free around my house.
That was not a great idea.
Bunnies are like little PEZ dispensers (sponsored), and they leave little treats every time their butt hits the floor. Except it’s not a treat you want, especially if you’re walking around barefoot.
Then Another Mistake
In my brilliance, instead of buying a rabbit cage (sponsored), I made a home for them in one of my lower kitchen cabinets. I imagined I could lock them in every night and not have to worry about what they might get into.
Peanut and Buster were not fond of my choice. They spent their nights banging against the doors of the cabinet, trying to get out. The noise kept me from sleeping, causing worsening problems with my mental health.
The cabinet idea only lasted for a few weeks, and then Peanut and Buster had to go.
Part of me wishes I had kept them. They were loving bunnies even if they caused me a lot of frustration, but they were more than I could handle at the time.
Pets and You
Pets are a great responsibility. As much as they can help with anxiety and depression, they also take a lot of time and energy.
If you’re considering getting a pet, take some time to think about it. Meditate on how much energy you have and if you have the strength to train and care for a small animal. In those early bipolar days, I did not.
Happily, once I became stable, I also found the energy to care properly for my pets. Bootsy, though technically my dad’s cat, has been my companion for years. She eases my stress on the toughest days and purrs me back to happiness when sad.
But back in 1995, I should never have had a pet. Bipolar chaos made me a terrible pet dad.
During all the pet disarray, I was struggling to find stability in my life. Over a month passed since I left the psychiatric hospital, but I was still fighting anxiety attacks when I thought about being with groups of people. I’ll write more about how I handled my stress in the next part.
Until next time, keep fighting.