Author: Melinda Goedeke
Every time I drive home, I have to decide exactly when to turn onto my street as that split second decision could be the difference between making it safely home or not. My timing has to be perfect. I am sometimes forced (in my mind) to cut it close, to avoid being rear ended. My timing is the key. We think about when to say or do things of little significance and/or great significance with little and/or careful thought every day. Timing impacts how our news is heard and if our actions succeed.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice about the timing. My daughter-in-law is 6 months pregnant; she can’t easily hide that. So now she has to answer all the questions. “Do you know the gender?” “What will you name him/her?” “How do you feel?” And she has to politely listen to birth stories. “Well, I was in labor 82 hours, and the baby weighed 12 pounds, but I’m sure your birth will be much easier.” She could not, at this point, pick a different time to share her news. The baby made that decision.
Sometimes, we do have a choice. I never easily shared that my daughter had bipolar even when talking about our kids’ struggles. It never seemed to be the right time. How would I work that into the conversation? What would be the right time? When Laura had a nasty cold, it was easy. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it to our dinner tonight because Laura has a cold, and I’m going to bring her some soup.” But I seldom had the courage to say, “I can’t make it because Laura is in the middle of a depressive state cutting herself and would like me to sit and hold her.” Was I protecting her or me? Both. Or was it just none of anyone else’s business? Yes, that too.
No one would ever have described Laura as timid or unwilling to share. I’ll never forget when she told me she was dating a woman. I had just picked her up from the airport to spend a weekend at home. Her stream of consciousness talking was in full speed as she looked straight ahead. Listening to Laura in this state required total concentration as the words spewed so fast that it was exhausting to keep up. When she said, “Hey, I had a date.” I assumed it was a man as she had been dating men for years. Not looking at me, she said, “It was with a woman.” Still without eye contact, I said, “Great! How was the date? Tell me about her.” She did, and we drove on. She had thought about when to tell me. We were alone. It was within 5 minutes of seeing me so she wouldn’t keep thinking about it. Timing was crucial to her.
Other times, timing seemed totally irrelevant. In the height of a manic episode, sitting around the table, Laura said, “I’m going to buy a motorcycle. I know a guy…” She had never driven a motorcycle, and riding in the car with her probably should have included signing a waiver of some sort. But that’s part of what we all loved about Laura – every moment was an adventure. We laughed, but then said in unison, “Nope.” Debate ensued, a bit animated, but thankfully she didn’t buy that bike. This timing was spontaneous, unlike when she told us she had quit her job and was moving to Paris in a month. That was very carefully planned – timed.
I wonder. When is the right time to tell someone you have bipolar or you live with someone who suffers with bipolar? I never hesitated to say, “my kids have pinworms, and I’m exhausted.” Pinworms are gross, and to this day I don’t know any other parents who dealt with that. So why was that easy to say without shame or embarrassment at any time? When Laura worked at Boston Scientific as an engineer, she had no trouble knowing when to ask for a standing desk, but she agonized over when or if to tell them she needed this standing desk because to help her manage her bipolar. Was it okay to tell them after working there a week, a month? Should she wait until her symptoms were impacting her work? Timing mattered. Ultimately, she told them when her down cycles were causing her to miss work. After that, she felt looked at. Misunderstood. Noticed. Should she have waited? Was the timing wrong? I don’t have the answer.
I do know, however, that I’m not thinking about when or if to share my connection to bipolar and details about my own mental health journey. My daughter suffered from bipolar II with extreme rapid cycling, and it (not she) took her life. The 24 years she did have with us were jam-packed with high highs and low lows, making me the luckiest mom in the world at all times.
Timing matters, and nuances in when, who, how go right along with that, but maybe it’s time we all start saying, “My daughter has bipolar.” “I can’t come to dinner because I’m too depressed to even get out of bed.” The time is now, at least for me.