The short story: I have always wanted children, as long as I can recall, and it pains me deeply, daily, that I don’t have them. But I can’t have them, because I left my cats.
The long story:
I can’t put this all together without some background but I will try to keep it to the point. When I was 14, I met a guy and we fell madly, mutually in love. We were together solidly though we did have our big troubles. We moved in together when I was 18, rescued a kitten when I was 20 and another at 21 and married when I was 22. When I was 28, I blew us apart.
E and I were “The Couple”. We loved each other fiercely, intensely and we were the kind of couple that ached to be together when we were apart for even a short time. E was older than me and my first real relationship though I had been in others sporadically. We got along easily and laughed and cuddled and were more romantic than any couple I have ever known. We were faithful and happy and doing our best to work on the major issues we did have in our relationship. My biggest fear was losing him to death equaled only by the fear that I would lose my cats.
I am a “cat person”. My best friend growing up was a cat and my cats, M & Z, were incredibly important to me. I resist saying they were my substitute children but my heart ached with love watching them sleep and I missed them whenever we were away from each other. They were an active part of my life and my thoughts and many a night I spent laying awake in misery worrying about them and their safety. The point is this: they were innocents that had never done me the slightest wrong and I loved them with everything I had. I even commuted nearly an hour each way to college because I couldn’t live in student housing with my husband and my cats. It would have saved us hundreds a month but it just wasn’t an option. The cats were family, plain and simple.
Cue The Bad Year.
Piecing it together, I think my mania was set off by a misdiagnosis of depression and a bad choice of meds. Or maybe it was just the chemical time bomb in my head was geared to go off again. I don’t really know. I was trying to get help but I didn’t understand completely what had been going on with me all these years.
Whatever the cause, I can remember waking up one morning and feeling nothing but elation, power and a curious … lack. Even now I can’t really put it to words, I wasn’t numb, every part of me was singing with sensual joy and contemptuous superiority; but I looked at myself in the mirror once for a long time, like in a movie or something, and I couldn’t connect with anything. This spread quickly to my husband who may have well have been a stranger in my bed for all the feeling I had towards him. I felt as though I could communicate somehow with strangers, give them a “push” (?) through my eyes and make them see me. I did this in the rear view mirror to great effect (so I thought).
And I was positively buzzing with sexual energy. It was a constant, frustrating sensation, but one that gave me power somehow.
I am not sure how long into this I came to the Big Truth. (Yup, it needs capital letters.) I can only say that it was like what we used to call acid logic back in the drug days. There is usually a moment, during any sort of deep inebriation, though acid is especially good for this, where you “realize” some “Big Truth” about the world. It often is fleeting and you can’t really grasp it when you are sober again but at the time it seems like the most important, most revelatory and revolutionary thought you or anyone else ever has had.
Mine was this: Love is just chemicals. And it was weeks before I sobered up.
Clearly my new state of mind had shown me that love was nothing more than a chemical cocktail that, if cut off, left the lovers contemptuous strangers. All the feeling I had for E had been kicked into being by a blip, a cerebral hiccup and it was finally correcting itself. I cannot honestly trace the moment that I went from the Big Truth to cheating on my husband, but I know it wasn’t long. I know I didn’t set out to cheat on him, but when the opportunity arose I didn’t protect myself against it or tell him about it as I had in the past.
I was also, I think, testing my theory that my new chemical brain really didn’t feel what it felt before. Before, I was always very careful about fidelity and felt guilty even when I would get the innocent crushes that come up in life. Men would sometimes be interested in me or I would have a stray unfaithful thought and I would always tell E right away. In our 13 years together, before all this, I had never so much as had an errant kiss.
I started talking to a man online (J) and when he started flirting, I did too. In a matter of weeks we were meeting and having sex. I hid it from E and felt nothing, not even a thrill at getting away with it. It was just more data to support The Big Truth. Shortly after J and I met, I was clearing out whatever I could fit in my car from the apartment I’d shared with E for 8 years and I moved in with J to a town I hated about 6 hours from home.
I decided that I would be in love with J because he was there and I was with him so I went about trying to make that happen. The thing is, I didn’t even really like J. He was not the sort of man I’d be friends with much less lovers, he was a lot less intelligent than me, very insecure and bombastic to overcome it and well, he sweat on me all the time and spit when he talked. That’s just awful. He didn’t make me laugh, I didn’t like his politics and I felt lonely in his presence. I went along with the whirlwind “love” but I don’t know how truly I ever really believed it. I find it hard to make sense of my thoughts at that time so all I can do is best guesses.
(13 days after I moved, J got into a car accident that crippled him for life and during his ICU coma and my vigil by his bedside, I found out he was a pathological liar and probably cheating on me; not too surprising in one who was content to have sex with a married woman. So I went to his storage unit where he had a loaded gun and wouldn’t be writing this right now if my brother hadn’t happened to call me. After that, I went home and that began Chapter 2: the attempt at reconciliation, my heart and conscience return, my proper diagnosis and my horrific med alignment and testing period, E’s relationship with L and the profound damage we did to one another before we finally called it over. But that’s another story).
During the time I was gone, I barely thought about E or the cats unless E was contacting me. On some distant planet I felt guilty for E’s pain but his appeals and suicidal theater (I call it that because it was always a “suicide attempt” in my face but never all that dangerous) did little more than flick at the corner of my conscience. I started to come back to myself a little before J had his accident, I thought about the friends and family I had left and I missed my home a little. I started to ask myself “what the hell are you doing?”
And I started to miss my cats. Oh yes, the cats! I am finally to the point! When I left, E didn’t know if he could find a place to keep them without my paycheck, so I blithely suggested he take them to a shelter. Even writing that now makes my heart clench. He ended up being able to keep them at his friend’s house but I knew it wasn’t a good situation for them. They were confined to a room and E’s friend was not fond of cats. They had never done me wrong and they counted on me to care for them and I left them.
I think that is enough background to make the picture clear. I decided, after excruciating months of thought and hours of therapy that I was not willing to risk having children even if I was able to reconcile with E or to find a new partner. I didn’t want to pass this illness on but more importantly, even if I adopted, I couldn’t allow myself the risk that I might wake up one day with an exploded time bomb in my head and leave them or worse. I had left my cats, after all.
I was cruel and merciless with E, I betrayed our vows and our history and was brutally cavalier about the whole affair. I “confessed” and then I packed my bags. It barely touched me at all when it was happening. But E and I had done damage to one another, as couple’s do, so I can almost say that it wasn’t completely out of the realm of reasonable or possible behavior by me to be that way to him though it was counter to everything I knew about who I was.
But the cats? I doted on them, I loved them, I actively was grateful for their existence. They never did anything wrong to me. And I did not even blink when I left them. I didn’t even make sure they had somewhere to go. (I did get them back from E a year later. M is sleeping on the bed and snoring softly as I write this). I am unwilling to take that chance with children, children that I want and I love and I grieve the loss of even though I never had them.
(Let me take a moment to address my audience, should there still be one, I do not think in any way that everyone with BP or everyone who has had a serious manic episode and/or psychotic break should not have children. I would never presume to know what someone else is capable of and I know that even if I did have children and the worst happened, it wouldn’t necessarily mean I “shouldn’t” have had them. This is about my own personal decision and struggle with that decision, not a statement about what all BP people should or shouldn’t do. So, please know that if you are a BP parent or potential parent, with any sort of history, I am not judging you or suggesting you shouldn’t be.)
I try to explain why I don’t have kids to my closest friends and family and I can’t completely. The man I married also doesn’t want children for reasons of his own, but it rarely hurts him the way it hurts me. When I turned 35 and maybe about 18 months before then I had a really hard time with it. Biological clock, I suppose. I didn’t know how to explain why I started sobbing in the baby clothes aisle or why I couldn’t go to a Baby Shower, because on the surface there was no reason I couldn’t have kids.
When it was really hurting me more than it ever had, I tried to get comfort from friends. They did their best to understand but would challenge my reasons (being bipolar, being too old, etc) and push me to defend myself against their very sound rebuttals. I would have done the same thing in their place. I just never knew how to explain in short sentences without a ton of background (as evidenced here) that I cannot be responsible for a person who counts on me for their very existence when I have the capability of turning into the equivalent of a sociopath at any time.
Do I think it is likely that I will have it happen again? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I cannot shake the certainty that for me, it is too dangerous. What if I had a manic episode and my Big Truth was that my kids are better dead than living in this world of suffering? It is just as impossible to me that I could hurt a child as it was that I could break up my marriage, leave my cats and destroy my life as I knew it in a matter of weeks. Which is to say, it is possible. Anything is possible and there is no strong assurance that medication or therapy or anything else could protect my kids from me. I am not even talking guarantee, just strong assurance. Remember, I was on medication and under a doctor’s care when this happened in the first place.
My love, my conscience, my history and relationships with anyone are subject to abrupt and dreadful change that I can’t control. I cannot rely on medication to keep me or them safe and so I only enter into relationships now with people who can give informed consent. (My husband adores our cats and I have told him this story of course and know he would never let any harm come to them).
So there it is, and my children are as real in my heart as they have always been (and made a cameo during a psychotic break and often in nightmares) and I long for them daily. I tell myself I will do my best to help other children and I do adore my friend’s kids, but I will never be in a position where they are counting on me and I have the ability to leave them. It is a risk that I have decided is too high, the pain I could cause my children far outweighs my pain that they do not exist.