I walked reluctantly to the neurosurgeon’s rooms. “I don’t want to be here!” my mind screamed. I had seen him four years prior, after slipping over in my town. I had heard a snap in my back, and sure enough, I had broken my spine in several places through the thoracic region. He sent me for an MRI, and I had it, but never went back to him. I couldn’t face it at the time. I had a small child, practically a baby. I was nervous about seeing him again. Would he be angry with me? I was immediately put at ease. He put me through an examination, and found there is quite a significant deficit in the nerves through my right side,from my foot to my hand. I cried when he said he was in awe of me and how I kept going. He knows the pain is severe, and he knows nothing he does will make it better. “How did you survive that fall? Nobody could survive that!” he exclaimed. He wants me to bring a copy of my book to give his daughter. I told him that his praise meant a lot. More tests have been ordered, and I am going back in July. A day I was dreading-which had dredged up the crime responsible for this appointment-had been transmuted into a day of clarity, pride and redemption.
My husband wanted me to write about our experience with bipolar, as we know several couples at the start of their journey. He wants what we have been through to help others. I commend him on this, and also on the huge changes I have seen in him. He said he didn’t understand that he had textbook symptoms. There needs to be a checklist. He says to other men, if these things are happening in your life, get help! What sort of things need to be on your checklist? Feeling different from everyone. Not being able to communicate with people, especially in long-term relationships. Feeling unbeatable and unstoppable, then feeling worthless and useless. Drinking heavily and/or experimenting with drugs. Seeing loved ones pull away from you. Going around in circles. Going really well for a while, then plummeting back to earth. The main thing for my hubby is relationships. He went from a naturally gregarious character to a fellow who couldn’t talk with people. He wouldn’t know what to say, and would get extremely restless at social events, and wander off by himself. Talk to your doctor, and loved ones. You can receive help and it is more than possible to not just survive, but flourish. The Black Dog Institute
Today has already been remarkable. A Bowen therapist invited me to her place for a treatment. She has a property on top of a mountain, with a view guaranteed to stun. I haven’t felt so relaxed in a long while. We chatted and laughed, and she remarked that a red-breasted finch was on the windowsill as I lay on the treatment table. I was humbled by her gift this morning, as I am to see a neurosurgeon this afternoon.
Try as I might, I can’t escape the fact that this isn’t any old appointment. I wouldn’t be going to this surgeon if it weren’t for a series of events, a long time ago. I patted the scars dry after my shower this morning. I told my friend, the Bowen lady, all about what had occurred for me to be on her treatment table. I survived, yet the legacy lives on. A day off work for my husband. $220 to see the medicine man. I feel like I am back on a ride. A teacup ride. It promises to be a harmless kiddie adventure, though when the operator sees me, he spins and spins and spins that teacup. I am still spinning. A man broke me many years ago. Today is a part of the journey toward having a future. Surgery may be required. That’s okay. I surrender my anger, my indignation, and accept the unfairness. I feel calm. A Bowen practitioner worked on me this morning. A finch landed on the windowsill and peered into the cabin. I met her goats and saw a vista. I am at peace. I am ready for my appointment.
A man tried to kill me when I was fifteen. I am proud of the battle scars carved onto my body, due to the countless surgeries since that night. I endured much pain, and countless nightmares. I felt like the trauma had placed an indelible wedge between me and the people I knew. I didn’t crave sympathy, and pitying looks. Empathy was more to my liking. It comes from the soul, and says, ‘I can’t understand exactly where you’ve been, but I can try to put myself in your place, and treat you as I would like to be treated.’ Instead, gossip occurred. The peculiarity of humanity, wherein we glean enjoyment from other’s misfortune. The gossip and their compatriots are aboard a trawler ship, scanning the oceans of despair for a worthy subject. Hobbling into a local café soon after being released from hospital, never had I felt frailer or more exposed. The monster I’d encountered that bitter night was predictable. He was psychopathic and wanted to kill me. I hadn’t anticipated being destroyed all over again by the lady who taught me at Sunday school, the lady who cut my hair as a child, those I’d grown up with, who had nursed me on their lap’s. “I heard she has gone mad,” they whispered from their corner booth. “She’ll never be the same.” “Was he her boyfriend?” These people left me alone for three long years. I escaped into my schoolwork, and pretended that it didn’t hurt that they considered me an enigmatic pariah. I left my home town at eighteen, never to return. I refuse to indulge in gossip. Others should never be fodder, nor used to entertain our circle. If I learn of someone’s pain, I let them know that I empathise. Those folks were right. I wasn’t the same after all I endured. I was more sensitive, empathetic, kind and loving. I was better.
A young Iraqi doctor resuscitated me, sweat beating off his brow. He had pleaded for a scintilla of life to re-join my body, as the senior doctor retreated from my bed.
At fifteen, my spine was fractured. A balding Jewish surgeon-diminutive with sharp dimples-stood for eleven hours, tending me with blessings spoken in Hebrew.
A Greek Orthodox priest, eighty years of age, prayed over me. We preferred our tea black.
My heart and lungs were being crushed by my spinal curve, further down the road. A Celt stood for fifteen hours, alongside Italian theatre sisters, dreaming of la dolce vita in bergamot-scented villages. The English reminisced about decent central heating.
The blood transfusions were donated by Indians and Spaniards. Their essence became mine as I devoured their gift, drop by drop. My heart was massaged by the heated glow of a Canadian’s calloused hands. These hands had a month prior, climbed mountains in the country his family fled to when he was young.
In ICU, I was tended to by Irish wags and Dutch humourists.
A quiet Turkish surgeon, Chinese radiologist and Egyptian anaesthetist prepared me for surgery later on, with the tenderness of cotton wrapped around my battered bones.
Many hands were involved in my healing. Soft, rough, cocoa, pink, pale, limpid, gold. I have travelled the world, listened to her citizen’s table their stories. My life is no longer my own. Long ago, I handed over my brittle life to the citizens of the world, and they revived me.
Today, I am at peace. Nothing in particular has happened to procure this feeling. Rather, it stems from the many smiles, hugs and kindnesses my beautiful friends have bestowed on me. I am humbled by their kindness. They ask after my husband, and I am delighted to say that he is not drinking, and is well. To those who walked with me the years in the wilderness, fearing my husband would be lost not only to me, but to the world, I thank you. If I could write your names across the sky, I would. Texts and gifts, meals and lifts. Listening ears and open hearts. It has all meant so much. We still have a way to travel in our marriage and in ourselves, but your kindness has helped make the path easier under our feet. xxx
I met my dear friend Joan over ten years ago, at a church in the inner-west. Our little puppy would accompany us every Sunday, and receive a blessing from the minister, who was a free spirit. She gave my husband a card when I fell pregnant, which said, “to the lady with the long blonde hair, who has a little dog.” Inside was a little gift. It made my heart soar. Despite there being no family around us, a great-grandmother was reaching out her hand. I received a card the other day from Joan, who is now 97 years old. ‘Dee sent me the brochure of your book. Congratulations. It must have been an ordeal for you to write all those sad memories. You are a brave lady and you still have to go through all that publicity. I will certainly buy a book and I will encourage others to do so. Everybody should know of the things that go on and then they will get fixed. The Lord helps you. A hug from Joan.’ xxx
“Aren’t you lucky? No more periods!” I have heard this many, many times over the past few years. The reality is quite different to the freeing experience other women believe it to be. It is hell. I have been thrown off a building, had my spine shattered, and a cacophony of other traumas have been inflicted on me. Early menopause is the worst, I can state without compunction. Endometriosis led me to have my IVF/ICSI daughter. She is our joy. I had one follicle, despite being on high doses of hormones that encourage many eggs to come forth. She was one of two eggs in this follicle. Both fertilized, but her twin perished before embryo transfer. We so wanted to give her a sibling. After our dark pasts, we wanted her to have blood family, as a kind of buffer in life. My last endometriosis surgery saw me almost bleeding to death. I was rushed back to surgery the next day, after having the doctor warn that I could very well die, and that if the bleeding was stemming from my reproductive organs, I would need a hysterectomy to save my life. I prayed that these organs would be saved. I wasn’t willing to give them up just yet. The bleeding came from blood vessels near my belly button. I was so grateful to have been spared a hysterectomy. When I saw the doctor for a post-op consult, he showed me a picture that still holds me spellbound, and renders me heartbroken. He couldn’t believe it himself. When he went in, he captured the moment a healthy egg was being released from my fallopian tube. It was white as snow, determined. He reassured me that I was ovulating, and that IVF was able to go ahead. We were thrilled. We saved, and we planned. I had another period, and then realized that the following was late. I couldn’t bear the thought that my body had shut down as a result of the trauma I had gone through.
I started to feel ill. Constant migraines, vomiting, dizziness, intense sweating and body heat. I couldn’t remember things, nor could I get my thoughts together. I put on weight virtually overnight. I looked puffy. My hair became like straw. I saw my IVF doctor, and it was broken to me that my FSH levels were double that of a normal, healthy woman in her early thirties. “Unless it comes down, IVF will not be an option,” she said sadly. I was put on strong HRT, in the hopes it may reverse what was happening. I put on two stone in a month, and had abscesses in my breasts. I had to be taken off it after two months. It had failed. I had two tumours on my face, and one on my breast. I had thought they were warts, but a dermatologist referred me to a plastic surgeon for their removal. We all concurred that the hormones had fed them. The day I found out whether these tumours were cancerous, was the day I also found out I was in full menopause. I was thirty-one. I sobbed from the depths of my soul as it was explained the health problems which can occur as a result of going into menopause so early. I already had fragile bones, as a result of my fractured back, and the many surgeries I had endured. A bone scan found I was now at high risk of neck fractures and forearm breaks, among other areas. I couldn’t take HRT after having had the tumours, to deal with the hot flushes and many other symptoms. I felt so very alone. The women I knew were falling pregnant, extending their families. It was never discussed with them, nor did they ask. People couldn’t understand why I was sick all the time. They certainly couldn’t comprehend the mind-shattering depression. I felt guilt for my little girl. She wanted so much for me to have another baby, and my heart broke when I saw her joy at holding her friend’s siblings. I felt as though my body had failed. I tried many alternative health practices, and spent thousands on herbs, potions etc. I was so delighted when I saw a spot of blood that I told everyone that I believed a period was beginning. It ended up being a normal part of menopause. I was still sent for regular FSH tests, and the last one was in the 90’s. It should be under 10. We booked a holiday and left town whilst I came to terms with the diagnosis, in its entirety. It was a time of deep grief, not helped that I wasn’t sleeping. When I say not sleeping, I mean I went weeks without having more than one hour. I felt old before my time. I had a five-year old, yet I felt eighty. I had nobody to talk to about any of it. The loneliness was unbearable.
Since the start of 2013, I have taken matters into my hands. So much has been out of my control, and it feels good to be proactive about what I can do. I go to the gym daily to be in the best shape possible, and do weight-bearing to insulate these fragile bones. After trying every remedy on the market for the insomnia, I saw my GP, and take a powerful sleeping pill every third night so I can rest. To those who are going through this (only 1% of women go through early menopause), my heart goes out to you. I can’t see the silver lining in being in a state not meant for another twenty years, but I have uncovered strength I never knew I had. A toughness despite my being soft. One has to be, when people think hot flushes are funny, that it’s hilarious to say that women in menopause have more swings than you would find at a park. I go gently into this new phase of life.
The past five weeks have been snatched away. I am left tumbled and breathless. I met my husband at seventeen years of age. I had no intention of marrying. Studying and become a learned single woman were on my radar, not a bloke. He came up to me, and said “hey beautiful,” and I ignored him, wandering off. We became great friends, without a hint of romance until after I turned eighteen. He was supportive, rarely drank, and could always be counted on. The little boy he once was had never left, nor receded. He was ever-present, as was a hint of naiveté. It was endearing, seeing life through this child’s eyes. An appreciation of wonder and a soft spot for those in trouble and for animals. Qualities often neglected in adults, and then they wither. Slowly, he changed. The pressure of retrenchment, slap-bang in the middle of fertility treatments was the opening scene. Ticktock, ticktock. We were on a clock, and time was running out. Pressure mounting. You can’t stop mid-way through such an epic journey. Every week, there was a new bill for a fertility treatment in the thousands. Sperm extraction, theatre costs, anaesthetists, specialists, storage, drugs, etc. By the time our daughter was born, he had receded into the shadows. We were visited by this phantom-as though we had contact with the dead- and he came alive whilst interacting with our little girl. Then, back to the shadows. We have spent a fortune on alternative therapies to help retrieve his broken spirit and mind. I would have given anything to see him well.
Just over a month on the new medication, and my husband is eating regularly and healthily. He is sleeping more, and communicating. He isn’t restless, taking off at parties, unable to be found. He is hanging around, standing by my side. He is making great decisions, both for himself and for the benefit of us as a family. When I see glimpses of agitation and frustration, caused by everyday life (dealing with Telco’s, for instance), my muscles tighten and my heart thumps. He is able to retrieve himself from that space, and our life continues. He is healthy and looks better than he has in a very long time, despite currently being on a job where he is working twelve-hour days and travelling a few hours on top of that. He wanted me to make our story public. He wants partners to know they aren’t alone, and we wants people like him to know the same. I commend him for this. We are starting over, tremulously, nervously. We are starting over…