Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Times That Try: A Scholar in Crisis—Part II

[This piece is the second in a two-part series on the experience of enduring hardship while suffering from Bipolar Disorder. Click here to read the first installment, The Times That Try: A Scholar In Crisis—Part I]

Still rising...
Though much of these events have already come and gone, their gravity continues to pull at me, warping the shape of the space which surrounds me until nothing is familiar save the prone position in which I so often feel I am forced to exist. I know that survival ultimately lies within reach of my own agency, and my escape is inevitable—the question is, what form will I take once the worst has passed?

I have long held that the nature of the universe is heavily dependent upon the fact of consequence; every effect is the cause of another, the very course of Reality amounting to an infinitely complex mosaic of cascading dominoes falling in endless succession. The tiles which so chaotically tumble now are very much the result of events which transpired in the summer of 2009. This crucial tipping point, five years in the past, seemed even then to herald no small amount of difficulty to come. I learned rather quickly to avoid clinging to an anxious anticipation of the "other shoe" dropping; "Everything changes", Heraclitus said, "and nothing stands still." Rather than dread the eventual outcome of that conspiracy of triggers, I looked forward to the adventure of navigating their results. But in the five years that followed, I'd forgotten a great deal, having grown complacent as those changes failed to materialize. I took for granted the illusion of stability, yet another example of naively setting myself up for a painful surprise.

Days of Summer Past

In the wake of the economic collapse, my family had been struggling. Additionally, my grandmother—with whom we had lived all of my life—had begun to suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia to such a degree that we could no longer adequately care for her. In response to the latter, after much guilt-ridden consideration, we opted to find a nursing facility that could more capably contend with the many challenges presented by my grandmother's condition. Though our hearts were heavy with self-recrimination at our failure to care for her ourselves, it was a relief to find the home more than sufficient to the task. Her condition began to improve, and we enjoyed a brief period of relief.

In response to the economic hardship that had befallen us, just as it had befallen so many, my parents sought to restructure their mortgage, hoping to lower the monthly payment enough to afford a little more breathing room in the budget. They were told by their lender that, in order to qualify for refinancing, they should forego payment on the house for two months, after which they could then enter negotiations for new terms. 

One night, at the end of June, we received a phone call from the nursing home—my grandmother had contracted an infection, and it had spread. They informed us that she had been rushed to the hospital and was being treated now for septicemia, or blood poisoning. At nearly 89 years of age, she was not expected to survive. The next morning, my mother woke in a daze, her vision blurry, her speech slurred; she, too, was taken to the hospital.

A few days later, we received notice from the mortgage lender that due to the lapse in monthly payments, they had begun the process of foreclosing on the house.

My response to these and other circumstances was, as I've said, to embrace change as the natural order of things. Thankfully, my grandmother did survive, my mother recovered without incident, and though the house was in foreclosure it remained more or less in our possession for years after. In fact, it wasn't until a few months ago—just days after the tragic event that preceded July—that my family finally received word that the house was to be sold, at auction, in the beginning of August. I hadn't realized until the day that noticed arrived just how much of my breath I'd been holding all that time—finally, the end was in sight.

August - 2014

I had thought, with no small amount of optimism, that the sale of the house would provide the motivation necessary to bringing so much of my family's affairs into order. I suffered no delusion that I held any power over these events—indeed, the affecting of this boundary has been integral to my survival over the course of the entire season. Whether or not matters were resolved should never have been such a concern that a failure to do so could impede my own progress, but I must admit that, as the sale came and went without much notice or fanfare, I found my optimism quickly replaced by still more despondency than I had already experienced through much of July. The bank, it seems, had purchased the house from itself, prolonging the foreclosure even further, and so the process of moving on from the old home life still has yet to proceed. 

I had managed, however awkwardly, to find some semblance of "footing" in spite of these events. However, this tenuous stance suffered a major blow from well beyond the sphere of personal matters, in the form of what can only be called a national tragedy—the passing of Robin Williams.

I should like someday to expound upon the influence that Robin Williams' work has had on me over the years, the ways in which his roles have so greatly informed the man I have become. While I know enough to credit the writers and directors behind these roles nearly as much as I credit him for so perfectly portraying them, in the wake of his passing those characters have become as patron saints to the cause of my progress toward actualization. While not everyone mourned his loss, those of us who did felt it deeply, and fiercely. Then, when further details of his life emerged, I found even more reason to grieve: Robin Williams suffered from Bipolar Disorder, and his death was no accident. I was left wrestling not only with the absurdity of grieving for a man I'd never met, but also with a question: If someone like Robin Williams could lose the fight against this condition, what hope do I have? 

It was a question I would continue to ponder as the month dragged on, but I had little time for it. That very same night, my mother was rushed to the hospital. A few days later, so was my grandmother. Though it astounded me to see the same confluence of issues resurfacing in tandem five years from their first convergence, I could not claim enough recollection how how I rode out the storm then so as to similarly weather it now. Things were much more serious this go around, as well; though my mother is doing well, she faces the possibility of fighting against a chronic condition for the remainder of her life. And although my grandmother did recover from the illness which sent her to the hospital that terrible week in August, it sapped from her whatever strength she would have needed to contend with the next blow only three weeks later. 

Everything After

For a time, however, it seemed the tumult of the season had finally begun to subside. The matter of the house remained unaddressed, but it was a trivial matter when held against the question of our very mortality, which stood at the forefront of my mind following the tragic and near-tragic events of August. Through the entirety of the season, I was confronted with my own powerlessness in the face of so many aspects of my own existence. With the family health scares seemingly behind us, a birthday fast approaching, and my own finite nature well grasped, I was resolved more than ever to rededicate myself to the portions of my life over which I did have power. I'd allowed the instability of my condition to become the sole focus of my attention, at a serious cost to the goals I'd set out for myself. I'd forgotten one of the most important lessons I'd learned over the course of the past few years: the answer to any situation, no matter the size, is to keep moving forward. And forward I moved.

This time, no episodes coincided with my effort; though I experienced an elevation in mood, I refused to allow things to grow beyond my power to contain them. Inspired by the acquisition of a new electric typewriter and acting on a whim I'd shelved some weeks before, I repurposed an old dining room table as an work station, for arts and crafts, to accompany my writing desk:

Although I had managed to chronicle the most pertinent events that had transpired over the preceding months, I'd done little in the way of proper writing. Struggling to resume the practice, I instead turned to less serious endeavors; thus, the ScholarDoodle was born.

"Normal is an illusion..." - Charles Addams
For the first time in months, I remembered what a joy it is to create again. "The old juices", as Hemingway would say, were flowing. Though I still found work on my novel to be too daunting to undertake, I began conceptualizing on its structure, and arrived at a better understanding of the form it should take. In addition to reinvigorating my work, my confidence was boosted as well; i suddenly discovered myself to be more capable than I'd ever thought. Seeing these projects through from conception to completion has been more rewarding than I'd imagined. I've even opened a Tumblr account for exhibiting these and future works. 

"Gather ye rosebuds..." - Robert Herrick

Not only did this personal renaissance open new channels for me creatively, but it also drew a rousing burst of support from my closest artistic friends. Once again, I discovered the essential role that community plays in the life of a creative individual. No longer did I find myself questioning my chances given Robin Williams' passing; instead, I came to realize how much farther he must have made it with the help of his friends and loved ones. And, thanks to the support I received for these new efforts, and the rallying of the family in response to my grandmother's health scare, I was able to see, finally, a light dawning at the end of this long, dark season of my soul. Though I often approach birthdays with nothing less than the most dismal of depressions, I now viewed the upcoming birthday as a bright new year in my life, a means of putting all the darkness of the previous season—indeed, the previous three seasons—behind me. I was ready to move forward, and seize each day with aplomb. And then the other shoe dropped.

On Saturday, September 6th, my mother received yet another call from the nursing home: my grandmother had a fever. It seemed so insignificant at the time, though we were of course aware that she had become much more susceptible to a sudden decline. Nevertheless, it still managed to catch me off guard when, just after midnight, on the morning of September 7th, after she had once again been rushed to the hospital for the treatment of a potentially systemic infection, my grandmother reached her limit just as the nurse was to administer a dose of antibiotics. At the age of 93 years and exactly one month, the life of our family's matriarch came to its close. My grandmother was dead.

It was my grandmother's wish that we eschew the traditional arrangements after her passing. There was no viewing at the funeral home; there was no church ceremony, with grandsons and nephews escorting her down the aisle to an awaiting hears; no interment at the cemetery where so many of our family have been previously laid to rest. In the end, by the loving graces of her eldest grandson, we gathered as a family two weeks after her passing, broke bread together, and celebrated her life. I'd never realized how much I'd come to depend on the pomp and circumstance of the traditional funeral, but seeing the entire family gathered together—people I have not had the good fortune to see in years, otherwise—did bring some sense of closure. 

So it goes. I will arrive at the dawn of my 36th year without grandparents for the first time in my life. The house, while still filled with what familial possessions were left behind following the heinous act at the end of June, will soon enough be out of our hands. If ever it could be said that a chapter in my life was ending, let it be said now. The last vestiges of childhood are but a memory, now happy, now filled with regret, now tearful and joyful and filled with such life as I can barely contain. The trick is to experience these highs and lows without letting them run away with themselves, swallowing up still more months of this turbulent year.

My name is James La Salandra, and I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. When life is upon me—as ever it is—it can cripple and devastate in ways that confound the average person. The conspiracy of events that befell my family and me this summer have been absurdly severe, heartbreaking, and tragic. And for much of that time, they made the very act of surviving a day's duration the hardest work I have ever undertaken. But that survival, the endurance of these dark days, has taught me much about myself. It has strengthened my resolve to make the most of my allotted time, and sent me charging into the next chapter of my life determined to continue the fight to become whatever it is I may yet become. It's also reminded me that, despite the darkness, there is still beauty in this world. There can still be joy amidst so much sadness; one can still find kindness on the harshest of days; there is still life, so long as we have the strength and courage to live it. "Gather ye rosebuds", my friends, and just you watch as they bloom.

1 comment:

  1. James,

    I'm so sorry to hear of your grandmother's passing. I wish I could offer you great words of comfort, but I'm unable to. There are no words that sufficiently mourn the loss of a grandparent. They are our wise council, our well of infinite love and anchors for our weary souls.
    Your grandparents still live on, not just as memories in your heart, but in the flick of your wrist when you hold the spatula just as she did, the sound of your laughter echoing his as you age, and their stories you share with others. Sometimes, in the darkness of moments and the stillest of nights, a sudden thought of them will remind you just how much your grandparents believed in you.
    It is rare that a person has the courage to announce being bi-polar; even more so, to announce that you struggle with it still. I know your words will give hope to someone so desperately needing it right now.
    I'm glad you're writing your blog again and I look forward to your many doodles!