Kitt O’Malley over at Kittomalley.com, so generously reviewed my book on being Bipolar and Aspie and the fight for sanity and love, in a post on her blog. Kitt, a psychotherapist and mother and wife, writes about vital and informative topics pertaining to mental health, ranging from being a Bipolar parent to a relationship with God. She can also be found at @kittomalley on Twitter. A big THANK YOU to Kitt for posting this review.
I greatly enjoyed reading and highly recommend Ellen Stockdale Wolfe’s autobiographical story of love alongside psychological and neurological growth: Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things: Learning to Love as a Bipolar Aspie. In her memoir, Ms. Stockdale Wolfe writes of her struggle with Asperger’s and Bipolar Disorder with psychotic features. Her autobiography traces her growth in her ability to love deeply and truly, her mental health history, and how she overcame challenges of her unique Aspie brain (Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder). She uses that unique brain as well as her sensitive soul to create beauty, whether it be this memoir, a poem, photograph, or painting. To see more of her stunning work, check her out at StockdaleWolfe.com, her site is appropriately entitled MOONSIDE | TRIUMPH OF SPIRIT IN LOVE, NATURE & ART.
Patterns of the microcosm
echoed in the macrocosm
lots of frustration
can’t calm down
do the Hong Sau
the only hope
in this mind
doing 120 mph
in a 35 mph zone
time soon for sleep
a pre-dawn high
drained at noon
back to racing
to feel awe
love in the afternoon
a natural anti-
sent sight soaring
in noisy ears
the hum of quiet
seems too loud
with all over
stop I say
stop I pray
stop the way
the world spins
hurling in space
take this body
in your arms
work your charms
on this alarm-
these frantic antics
quell the panic
break the day
and bring on
At age 35 I found someone who was more afraid of closeness than I was. I understood him almost from day one. This understanding came out of years of therapy that followed my breakdown at age 28. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know that I was depressed. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know that my failed relationships were due to my fear of closeness. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know I was Bipolar. I learned a lot of things in therapy that helped to change the direction of my life.
And then one day Thomas walked into the library where I had been working for 10 years. He got a job as a library assistant. He was a graduate student and wanted to work part-time. I took the first steps towards asking him out because it was obvious he never would. I had learned a thing or two after a stint at being gay. We bumbled our way into a relationship and, after 4 years, into marriage. We didn’t know that either one of us had Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder on the Autism Spectrum, until much, much later. We just thought we were very, very shy.
After some 23 years of marriage we are still shy with each other. Our instincts are still to run away from closeness, but now we are able to override the first gut feeling. We have grown together, becoming very, very close. So close that now my biggest fear is of losing Thomas. So close that sometimes we communicate without talking, as if we are on the same radio frequency. In fact talking often confuses things.
We have pushed each other along life’s path. Tom became a clinical social worker and I became a writer and artist. The road has been bumpy in spots. My being Bipolar has been hard for Tom at times. Many times. But there have been many more moments of joy that make it all worthwhile. We both feel the other is the best thing that happened to us, and the journey continues. New lessons are learned. There are still new magical moments and new epiphanies.
It is 3A.M. I lay beside Thomas in bed listening to his breathing as I watch a silent light show outside our bedroom windows. This is not a 3A.M. awakening born of despair as some are. At the moment I feel the Presence and that Presence fills me with love.
The moonlight beckons to me, and I respond by getting up and gazing at the twinkling stars and the hushed light of flickering fireflies. In the quiet stillness of a country night I am stirred by the music of the silence. My ears hum, the sound of the nervous system according to my husband.
The cool air is intoxicating. I go to the den to write and sit in a moonlit cathedral, watching the seemingly random flashing flames of fireflies flying in a frenzy of love. The madness of desire. Well do I know how love possesses one’s spirit and makes one fly through life, manic with emotion.
Yet sometimes, beneath the energy that stirs one’s blood, lies a silent union—a momentary glimpse of eternity in a loved-locked gaze into the eyes of one’s beloved. It is fleeting, at least for me. Gone in a flash, and yet it leaves me wondering just whom I am seeing. The inner voice says that God has touched my soul through Thomas, for the best of human love is merely a sampling of the Divine. Eye contact, so problematic for both my husband and me, is wondrous in this context. For a second, eternity beckons like the moonlight, whispering of another life, another world, something beyond the here and now.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
He didn’t “get it,
the “loss thing,”
when my aunt died mid-April,
and I lost my second mother.
Didn’t “get it” when I lost my first.
This was not the only time
he was lost in oblivion and
puzzled by my tears.
He didn’t see me hurting
from the loss of my lineage,
and his lack of empathy for my grief
as he made me meet and greet
a friend the next day, as if all was normal.
This time I balked, bolder and older,
and he agreed it was time to ponder
and talk with his mentor.
When he came home
one night days later,
full of hugs of apology,
and tulips on the kitchen counter,
it was a breakthrough for us both.
It took a few days
but what came out
brought tears upon tears.
Not having grown up
with emotional displays
he didn’t “get” the meaning of loss.
With no models of grief
he didn’t know how to feel it himself
nor how to give solace,
not just lip service,
to those who had lost.
I cried for him.
How very sad, as a child
he didn’t know the love I knew.
He, a sensitive child,
in an icebox family
fraught with frigid emotion,
and warm, deep affection only
from his great-aunt, Dot.
He brought me pink tulips,
flowers of a contrite heart,
and held me close
and kissed me
with lips full of apologies
but I was the one
who felt sorry for him
for the years he knew not love.
Twenty-eight years ago
God told me “Love this man,
trust him and have faith in him,
and hold him to your heart.”
Many moons later, I love him light-years
more than the day we met
and in then-unimaginable ways
has our love strove for the stars.
He has brought me:
kindness and gentleness,
generosity of spirit,
goodness of heart,
and healing humor.
What I have taught him:
the glories of love
and agony of loss.
From the beginning
the seed of love was sown
for better or worse
deeply within the parched,
but fertile soil of my imperfect heart.
And he has cultivated the growth
of a stalwart, staid evergreen,
amid the blooming two-lips of forever love.
This excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Biolar/Asperger’s memoir of finding love shows the beginnings of a psychotic breakdown.
I feel the electric light glowering at me. I look around the room in my basement apartment. The men following me. The phone call from Yvonne. Nothing is making sense. Obeah island witchcraft? Danielle’s thing. Danielle is the island woman. The room spins again. I feel like someone is watching me. I feel someone here— looking in the window.
Jumpy thoughts. Buzzing mind. I know the signs. Feeling the victim of a plot. Fear of being followed— of being watched— of evil spells coming out of an inanimate object— panic— magical thinking— paranoid ideation. I have made the break with reality. I have entered the deep, dark hollows of the paranoid’s world. Terror! I pick up the phone and dial. 242-6637.
“Hello, Dr.’s office.”
“Hello, may I please speak to Dr. Agostinucci?”
“Hold on a minute.”
“Hello, this is Dr. Agustinucci.”
“Hello, Joey. It’s Ellen. I’ve got to talk to you. Can you talk?”
“Yeah, you got me at a good time. I’m just in between sessions. What’s up?”
“Joey, I don’t know. I’m flipping out. I can’t sleep. I called Danielle last night and told her.”
“You told her what?”
“I told her what I told you— that I loved her. And then she told me that she wasn’t ‘that way’. And then . . . ” I start crying. “Oh, Joey, I’m so scared. I mean it means that all along I couldn’t see reality. I’ve been living in this fantasy world all this time, thinking Danielle’s in love with me and gay, and I’ve been drinking and drinking because I haven’t been able to sleep. And then today I started thinking that spells were coming out of the elephant that Sundra gave me. So I took the bus up to Columbia to throw it away. And then I thought two men were following me home. And Yvonne called me up from work and, Joey, I think it’s all a plot . . . ”
“Wait a minute, calm down. You’re all upset!”
I continue. “Yvonne and Danielle are in cahoots. Maybe they’re both testing me to see if I’m gay. Joey, I don’t know how I’m going to go to work tomorrow and face Danielle and face Yvonne . . . ”
“Calm down. One thing at a time. You’re overwrought.”
“But, Joey, I don’t know what is real and what’s not real anymore. I can’t sleep and I can’t stop crying.”
“Okay, look, I’ll give you a prescription. I’ll call in the prescription to the pharmacy. They’re probably still open. I’ll have it delivered. Just give me the name of the pharmacy you use— the one nearest you.”
“Uh . . . I’ve got to look it up— just a second . . .” I run to the bathroom to find a prescription bottle.
“Joey, it’s Rexall on 76th Street. The phone number is 663-7684.”
“Okay, look, I’m going to give you a prescription for Valium, 2 mgs. Take one pill and see what happens. If you still feel very anxious, take two.”
“Listen, I think you should go to work tomorrow.”
“Joey how can I? I keep bursting into tears.”
“Look, the Valium will help calm you. It’ll be a whole lot worse if you stay home. I suggest you call the Health Service first thing in the morning and make an appointment to see someone. Tell them it’s an emergency.”
“Okay, Joey, I guess you were right. You always told me I needed therapy and I always told you that I felt I’d go to pieces one day and now it seems that day has come.”
“Listen, you’re extremely upset. Take the Valium and try to get some sleep. If you need me you know where to reach me. And if things really get bad you know you can always go over to the emergency room in Lenox Hill.”
“Yeah, that’s right, I can always go there.”
“Listen, when I call in the prescription I’ll arrange for them to deliver it, too, so you don’t have to do anything. You have enough money to pay for it?”
“I don’t know. Let me see. Yeah, I think I do,” I say as I scramble through my purse.
“Okay, look, are you going to be able to answer the door? Or are you still scared of those men?”
“No, the doorbell only rang twice. Whoever it was is long gone. I’m not scared of that anymore.”
“Good. So just wait for the delivery. I’ll tell them to speed it up.”
“Thanks a lot, Joey! Thanks for everything!”
“Okay, take care, get some rest. I’ll call you tomorrow to see how you are.”
“Okay, thanks a lot, Joey, bye.”
For information on the memoir see: http://www.amazon.com/Eye-locks-Other-Fearsome-Things-ebook/dp/B007TOOF56/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345051643&sr=1-1&keywords=eye-locks The book is also available on Barnes & Noble Nook, iBooks and Smashwords.
Fri., October 28, 1977
I hardly sleep at all. Ever since yesterday I am totally confused. I am no longer sure that Danielle is interested. Danielle talks again to the department head. She says something about love in a very loud voice to catch my attention. I am so upset and nervous that I don’t hear what she is saying. All I can make out are individual words: “she . . . love . . . candy.” Then when I walk by her desk she gives me a big smile. I am panicked. I don’t know what she is smiling about. Was I supposed to hear what she was saying? Did I miss my cues? I am somewhat cold and distant because of her statement yesterday. I ignore Danielle and she runs out of the office and goes to the ladies room. I follow her in there and see she is crying. “What is wrong?” I ask, wanting to throw my arms around her and comfort her but I don’t have the courage to do it.
Danielle says, “Ellen, please just leave me alone.”
I am panicked. I go over to the department head in desperation and ask, “What is wrong with Danielle? She’s in the ladies room crying.”
Sheila says, “Oh, she’s upset because they’re reducing the retirement benefits.”
I think she is lying. I don’t know what is going on. I tell Yvonne I think people are lying to me. Everyone is all upset. I overhear Dr. Lencek, the medical cataloguer who trained as a psychiatrist, say that I am a troublemaker and a flirt. I want to say I am not. I am desperate. I leave a note on Danielle’s desk when she is not there saying, “Don’t you know I can’t hear or see when I am so nervous? I am sorry.” I hear Yvonne say, “It sounds like a heart-felt apology.” But Danielle shows no response. I feel rejected again and go home in a panic. Now I have really made a mess of things. Everyone seems to know what is going on except me. I have made a scene with the head of the department. I have hurt Danielle’s feelings. They think I am playing games and hurting Danielle’s feelings. Am I? I don’t know. I don’t know why I turn so cold and hard at times. Yvonne, Dr. Lencek, Nina— they all seem to want me to love Danielle. I have to do something. No sleep now.
I close the diary after reading Friday’s entry. Joey was so negative about the whole thing I didn’t dare tell him all this and I certainly didn’t dare ask him what I should do. Why hadn’t I been able to explain the whole story to Joey?
YOU WERE TOO NERVOUS. YOU COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT. JOEY JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THIS KIND OF THING. YOU HAVE REJECTED DANIELLE A FEW TIMES NOW. AND NOW SHE IS REALLY GOING TO THINK YOU ARE PLAYING GAMES. YOU MADE DANIELLE CRY. DANIELLE WASN’T CRYING ABOUT THE RETIREMENT BENEFITS. GET REAL. YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING AND YOU HAVE TO DO IT NOW. IT’S CLEAR YOU HAVE TO FORCE YOURSELF TO COME CLEAN TO DANIELLE. YOU HAVE TO PROVE TO DANIELLE YOU’RE NOT PLAYING GAMES. YOU HAVE TO SHOW HER YOU WERE JUST SCARED— THAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO REJECT HER— THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED. YOU HAVE TO TELL DANIELLE THE TRUTH. BLUNTLY. OVER THE PHONE. TODAY IS SUNDAY. DANIELLE WON’T BE IN TOMORROW. SHE’S TAKING A VACATION DAY AND TUESDAY IS ELECTION DAY. YOU WON’T SEE HER UNTIL WEDNESDAY. THAT’S TOO LONG TO WAIT. TONIGHT WOULD BE THE PERFECT NIGHT TO DO IT. YOU HAVE TO DO IT. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. DO YOU WANT TO LOSE HER FOREVER? REMEMBER THAT LOOK ON HER FACE WHEN SHE CAME OVER TO YOU AFTER HER VACATION? THIS IS REAL LOVE AND MAYBE YOUR ONE AND ONLY CHANCE.
I pour myself a Scotch. Then another and another. I take out my phone book. I am still shaking. I dial Danielle’s number, then before it rings, I hang up. I drink the last of my third drink and dial again.
This excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir illustrates a manic love and an Asperger’s difficulty with social cues. For full information see:
Also available on iBooks (iTunes), Barnes and Noble Nook and Smashwords.
When I was a little girl of seven, I swallowed the “Prince Charming” myth whole. I cried watching the movie Sleeping Beauty, because I wanted my own prince to come. Then adolescence happened and I found myself a wallflower– not only at socials but in everyday life as well. Few friends and no dates. I had one good friend who was best friends with someone else which somehow negated our relationship. I was painfully shy and full of anxieties. College was a little better. I had my first boyfriend, a run of relationships that mostly went nowhere fast and, again, few friends. High school peers were marrying off. My brief brush with marriage to a Sri Lankan ended when he went back home, promising to return. He never did.
And then it happened, totally out of the blue and beyond my control, I fell in love with an older, West Indian woman at work. I became obsessed with a relationship that was never to be and nearly lost my job in the process. Unable to handle such feelings on so many levels, I went free fall into a downward spiral of depression and psychosis, commonly called a nervous breakdown. It lasted for years. But I still believed in love and Prince Charming (in this case, “Queen” Charming). For years I lived in the netherworld of mental illness, locked in isolation. I explored being gay but like my college relationships, all failed. I will never know the truth of all that happened between the West Indian woman and me. After testing many medications before arriving at the right cocktail, years of therapy taught me about my own fears of love and how to love. I was diagnosed Bipolar but treated as if I had Asperger’s as well, since I could not decipher what in hell’s name was going on in social relationships. I was not officially diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder until some 30 years later.
One day I grew strong enough to stand up to life. For the first time, I could think of what I wanted in a person and look for it. After all I had been through, I still believed in the “Prince Charming” myth. But he never found me. I found him. He didn’t sweep off my feet. I swept him into my arms. I understood him because he was Aspie like me. I knew if I did not make a move he never would. So, with heart-pounding fear, I asked him out and then he asked me out, and we bumbled along and married 4 years later, after I basically said “now or never.”
We remain happily married almost 24 years later. And so came “happily ever after.” But not exactly as I expected. For one thing there were fights which I hated. I had to learn that this was normal. Then, when my best friend died a few months after my father died, both of cancer, it hit me for the first time. There was no “happily ever after.” I realized that marriage either ended in divorce or death. Both dire. And that one of us was going to lose the other except in the unlikely event we both died together. How could I have been so stupid and not have seen this before??
Today my love for my husband runs deep and I realize I am closer to him than to any other human I have ever loved. I live in terror of something happening to him. As we both approach old age every good moment becomes a treasure I try to engrave on my memory. My husband has blossomed into an empathic, caring clinical social worker. He now expresses his deep affection towards me. Even I, who had a hard time recognizing love, can see this. He still teases me relentlessly. This is his way of showing love. I understand that because my father was the same way. But my husband delights in getting away with teasing me. “What joy!” he said one morning, as he played some mischief on me. “I love this “love thing’!” he said. I never thought he would say that or turn out to be so affectionate and loving. Just as I never thought I would find love. And when I looked at him with love in my heart that morning after the teasing stopped, he said, “What?” We still have trouble interpreting expressions and are still shy of eye contact even with each other. I said what I had read long ago that a child had written. When two people in love look at each other, stars come out of their eyes. A wonderful image that comes as close to “happily ever after” as one can get.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
June 21, 2012
It is the first heat wave of the summer. For me, that means high anxiety bordering on panic. Not terribly together to begin with, I become totally undone in the heat. Nuzzling up to my husband in bed over morning coffee alleviates some of the gloom and doom. Today, the longest day of the year, is a day I dread, as a child of the longest night.
Tom gets up and brushes his hair. For the first time in all the time I have known him, he offers to brush mine. “It will feel good!” he says. Just in time, I override my almost instinctive Aspie reluctance to try anything new and say, “Okay.” He comes over to me and gently runs his two brushes through my hair. It is hard to say whether it feels GREAT due to the physical act itself or because I feel the love in his hands. I see love all over his face, now wrinkled in a tender smile. As he brushes, he says my hair is beautiful. And to think I almost said no to this. It took me years to learn to overcome my fear of closeness. A battle I still fight.
How did we, two Aspies, get to be so close? We have had 25 years together and gone through some pretty rough times and some pretty tough losses. Maybe the losses have made us more aware of mortality, our own and the mortality of the other. The future is no longer an endless expanse of space reaching up to the sky. It never was. Youth suffers from an “optical delusion of consciousness,” to use Einstein’s words out of context. I now make much more of an attempt to savor every moment with Tom. Of course, I often fall way short of that high aspiration. Partly it is due to my being Aspie, and partly it is a limitation of human nature.
I am infinitely blessed to have Tom in my life, a feeling I have had during most of our time together. It surfaces much more intensely these days. Tom struggles with his Aspieness as well. He shows more love to me while in his “during-the work-week mode.” I understand this now. We both need lots of alone time. It has taken years to learn these lessons but, oh, have the results been well worth the struggle!
Despite our limitations, this moment in time, born this morning, is one I will add to my treasure chest of memories, which I hope will always be there, tucked inside my heart until the day it ceases to beat.