Author: Melinda Goedeke
Contingency plans rule my world because I see the glass as half empty. My kids used to sarcastically call me the beam of optimism because I was always preparing for the impending disaster. It’s one of those special gifts I learned in childhood or perhaps it was from teaching middle school students for decades. What still surprises me, however, is even though I seldom actually need these plans, I secretly continue to make and store them safely in my mind ready to unleash at exactly the right moment. My plans are thorough, logical, possible. Case in point: My son was born with congenital hearing loss and before he was 17, he had 13 surgeries. The doctors would tell me that the surgery was to last x hours. Okay. After x hours and one minute, my plan was to walk through the hospital No Entry doors, nonchalantly, yet politely, shove any nurses, patients and/or staff to the side and march directly into the operating room to see what the hell was going on. Seemed like the perfect plan in my mind. Fortunately for everyone, especially my son, I never had to execute my brilliant plan. What I now see is that in devising those plans and staying alert in case they needed execution, I missed valuable moments holding hands with my husband, thinking of the smile I will see on my son’s face when he hears for the first time and even being able to read People magazine guilt-free.
The fault in my contingency planning lifestyle just recently was illuminated when my best friend shared a stunning picture of a wolf track with me. Immediately my mind went to her safety. How close is that track to her house? Can she actually kill an animal if she must? When she walks in the woods, will she take the walkie talkie so she can call home to say, “The wolf has attacked me, and I’m bleeding out.”? If she’s attacked, how do I get her shoe collection? Though she has not asked for help, I need to be ready for the attack. I have skills, or at least I personally know some warriors who do. Then for a split second just after I begin creating my masterplan to save her from the soon-to-be wolf massacre, I notice the snow crystals glistening perfectly around the wolf track. They are mesmerizing, peaceful, remarkable, and I almost missed them blinded by my planning.
Fiercely loving someone with bipolar disorder may have caused a similar blindness in me. I spent four years trying to help my daughter with her illness by making brilliant contingency plans. I could sleep in the bushes outside her house, so I could help her if she began to disassociate. I could somehow get some lithium just in case she ran out; if I had to steal it or contact the underworld, so be it. I could kidnap her against her will and….(this plan wasn’t totally thought out.).This all seemed logical and possible. Looking back now, I see how ridiculous this was. Laura didn’t need saving, at least not by her mother. She needed me to believe alongside her that she could live a happy and meaningful life with bipolar. I did. She needed sometimes to be reminded that I was here for her, no matter what. She knew that. What she didn’t need were the plans that consumed me. I desperately wanted to save her from pain, from mania, from depression, from judgement, and so I created plans. I missed, however, the glistening crystals surrounding her. She wasn’t a wolf track to follow. Sure, Laura had bipolar disorder, and it took her life; I didn’t and still don’t have a contingency plan for that. But Laura also had glistening crystals that deserved notice. Her laughter – infectious and contagious. Her misunderstandings -family foo doo instead of family voo doo. Doesn’t every family have that? Her zealous sense of adventure and willingness to do – well, anything. Like the time she pierced my ear. “It will be a mother/daughter moment, Mom. I’ll numb it, and it’ll be over in a sec.” The numbing was an ice-cube on my ear for two seconds and then the “sterilized” needle jammed through my lobe. Success. After I screamed, we laughed uncontrollably wrapped in each other’s arms thinking how lucky we were to be us. Her shiny glittering crystals stuck to me.
Loving someone with bipolar disorder can be fraught with concern, fear and contingency plans, but it is also extraordinary and energizing. I let her bipolar disorder become a disease that left only havoc in its path missing the creative, original and breathtaking crystals that were Laura. Fortunately, I have a best friend who continues to help me clearly see those crystals surrounding my own wolf tracks. In her case, however, I think I will hold on to a few contingency plans.