15 minute read
*This blog is dedicated to Dr. Wendy Potts, who committed suicide after she was suspended from her practice because a patient of hers complained about a blog in which she openly chronicled her struggle with bipolar disorder. For those who battle this challenging illness and try to make sense of it by publicly exposing ourselves and our issues, while hopefully helping others in the process, her death won’t be in vain because some self-serving asshole used her disorder against her. It’s difficult enough to deal with this. Having it used against you in life, court, work; to destroy everything you’ve built and worked for is criminal, inhuman and immoral.
The highway asphalt gave way to bridges flanked by sun-soaked palms and colorful beach motels. The Florida heat, oppressive for June, beat through my windshield while my air conditioning struggled to keep up. I turned onto a street where everything looked the same; block after block of Spanish tiled houses, pink, yellow and blue pubs boasting live music, Cuban restaurants. I slowed to “Florida driver status” looking for the turn that would deliver me to my new home.
Thoughts pinged around my head like mad on the drive from Valrico to Redington Shores. One resounded above all others. Fuck me. How did I get here? How could a man who claimed he loved me file a restraining order against me when I hadn’t done anything to harm him? Why did I have to hire a criminal attorney?
Someone I barely knew from a dating site offered me a place to stay. I swallowed my pride and accepted, since the (fantastic) friend I’d been staying with was expecting company and needed her spare room.
Oh, this is where I casually mention that this was the same man I’d basically declined for the one who’d just had me removed from our home.
I opened my car door and the humid, sea air enveloped me. Bob Barker ambled over to my car with his tail wagging. I hugged his big, blond Labrador head and kissed his pink nose, waving at Scooter (not a dog) who was stretched out barefoot, sitting in a lime Adirondack chair on the deck. He came over for a hug and proceeded to help me haul my belongings into his tiny beach bungalow.
“Women,” he muttered. “None of ya can pack light.”
I put my fat, gray cat down, and opened the pre-filled disposable kitty litter box I’d picked up from the store. Whoever created the portable cat poop tray is brilliant – and hopefully a millionaire. Bob shoved his face into the pet carrier, hoping for a playmate or a treat. Finding neither, he decided his water bowl was more interesting.
After loading the little tiki-style bungalow to capacity, Scooter and I sat opposite each other on patterned blue futons serving as couches. The hard surface bit into my tired body and I shifted around; trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable. My health had been an issue lately. I hadn’t slept right in weeks, hadn’t had a period in months and was doing all I could to keep the painful Lupus joint flare-ups and rash to minimum. I felt nauseous and weak. Trouble jumped up and laid next to me, purring, satisfied with this new living arrangement.
Scooter spoke directly, skipping the small talk as usual.
“So,” he said. “What happened?”
I handed him the injunction, which removed me from my own home on a false domestic violence charge for thirty days. My boyfriend – pardon, ex-boyfriend – listed bogus claims alleging I was a drug user, had a violent criminal record, was non-compliant with my bipolar medications, and previously had a restraining order issued against me. Of course, he knew all of this was untrue. That did not stop him from stating lies under oath in order to (successfully) achieve his goal of having me removed from our house. This, after a weekend of arguing.
To prove to the judge what a threat I was, he’d even listed my “intimidating” wrestling height and weight that I use for gigs, instead of my real size and actual measurements. How could this man lay next to me every night and not know how tall I am, or what I weighed? I wondered if he knew my eye color when he filled out the “description” for the police. Or did he have to Google that too? He also marked down that I was armed… with toys. Costume props to be precise.
He blatantly used my career and illness against me to achieve his goal. Of course, anything can be considered a weapon, even a pen. This meant that an Airsoft bb gun and plastic sword can potentially kill someone, as could my coffee cup and hair dryer. Jackie Chan could prove this theory, but with five magic words he got his wish. “I fear for my life.”
Done. Signed, sealed and delivered. I was evicted.
Scooter shook his head. “What’s his deal?”
“Wish I knew. Never saw this coming. He said all his exes were crazy. Giant red flag, right?”
“Well, all my exes are crazy,” Scooter said.
“Here’s a thought: maybe you guys are the ones that drive us crazy?”
Unlike most ex-girlfriends who were (allegedly) crazy, I am legitimately crazy. Bipolar 1, with a side order of anxiety, ADD and OCD, which I’ve gotten under control with stabilization medications, diet, exercise and regular therapy. I get mandated blood tests every couple months to verify all my medication levels are on target and I’ve never once (ever!) not taken my meds. I love them. Being a control freak, I like that I finally have power over of my emotions and temper. I’m happy to have the choice to decide whether or not to get upset or just let something go and walk away. I have an extreme dislike for the saying “I’m in good place” but that’s exactly where I’d been before all the bad stuff with C (that’s what I’ll call my ex – C. It’s an initial, not a grade) started happening.
A few days after Memorial Day, two deputies knocked on my door and served me papers. I was sitting on the back porch in my nightshirt, with a coffee. I was told I had twenty minutes to pack and leave the house. I was also instructed that I could not come within five hundred feet of my property, and when I looked down at the phone in my hand, I was warned not to contact C and ask him what in the blue hell he was thinking, or they’d arrest me on the spot. He already had the courts issue a no contact order.
We’d have to go before a judge to find out when – and if – I could return.
To my house.
Which I paid for.
Where I lived, worked, and went to school. With my pets. Where I planted fruit trees and veggies. (The majority of which didn’t survive my absence. I waited two years for those damn pineapples and almost managed to save them. But “almost” only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.)
I put in for an emergency withdraw from the university I was attending. Since most of my “day job” work was done on my desktop computer, size and circumstance forced me to leave it behind. I also left my shoot clothing, school books, wrestling gear, chickens, dog and the life that C and I made for ourselves.
In a roundabout way this sudden “forced vacation” was probably for the best. But that was not my mindset at the time.
After being served the order, my head was spinning. I grabbed as much as I could make sense of in those few precious minutes I had: clothes to sleep in, gym stuff, makeup, an overnight bag, medications, important papers, cash, laptop, protein powder, the cat, and very little everyday wear. Oddly enough, I packed my travel coffee pot first. Priorities? Foreseeing how long I’d be gone? I put the chickens in their coop, refilled their water and food, fed Bella, grabbed my stuff, locked the door, and not-so-silently cried every step of the way. I figured it was all some kind of huge mistake and I’d be back later that night. I was advised to go straight to the courthouse and file an appeal.
My ex-husband, Jordan, whom I remain on good terms with, went over later with a police escort to get Bella. At that point, the neighbors were sitting at the end of their driveways, unabashedly eating popcorn and refilling their Cokes. To his credit, he kept his “told-ya-so’s” to a minimum that day.
This also happened:
Cute Deputy: “So, I guess that relationship’s over.”
Me (standing in front of my car, wiping tears): “Ya think? I can’t believe he would do this.”
Deputy: “Well, when it all calms down, do you want to go to the beach or something?”
On the way to the courthouse, I called an ex-boyfriend, who was an attorney.
“Holy shit. Are you serious? OK, wait. Don’t fill anything out yet. Let me make some calls. We know the right words and most of the judges,” he said. (See a pattern here? I generally get along with people after we split up. This one had been particularly sweet to me with the many legal issues I’d encountered this year.) He referred me to his close friend, who quickly filed the appeal paperwork.
Several hours later, the phone rang and the thick New York accent told me what I didn’t want to hear.
“It’s Friday. No one at the courthouse does jack on a Friday. He fucked you. He fucked you good. Judges don’t consider injunctions a high priority, so prepare to sit this one out. I’ll do the best I can.” My phone rang again and it was his office collecting their (discounted) fee. I’d been sitting in the courthouse cafeteria all day, waiting, with a soggy sandwich in front of me, too nauseous to eat. Surrendering, I walked out to my car. I opened the GPS app to enter an address and realized that I didn’t have one. That’s when the weight of the situation I was in hit me and I fell apart in the parking lot, in tears.
My lovely friend, Matt, used points to get me a hotel room for the night, which was highly appreciated. After unceremoniously appearing on my best friend’s doorstep in the form of a snotty mess while she was making dinner for her kids, I headed over to my new current residence. Despite copious amounts of Xanax, there was no sleep. I still couldn’t believe what happened that day. The next morning, I gathered what little I had with me and drove the hour out to Valrico to stay with my friend Lexie and her family for a while.
I experienced a lot of feelings at that time, but the most prevalent was utter disbelief and betrayal. I would have preferred him to cheat on me. He’d never so much as broached the subject of splitting up. It was insane.
Let me give you some back-story for context. Seven months’ prior, C had fallen at an ice rink and hit his head so hard that he’d suffered some brain damage. This was only four short months after we bought a fixer-upper house and renovated it together.
Living together was awful from the start. We powered through a series of not-so-comedic tragedies which included contractor rip-offs, a nasty stalker for a neighbor, pet deaths and learning that our HOA was intent on taking us all the way to court over a shed, our pet chickens or both. As you know, I’m a fighter, so we kept moving forward.
Unable to drive or work, he wound up on disability. The rational, patient, fun man I knew and adored was replaced with someone who was unpredictable, hostile, violent, emotional, and depressed to the point of being suicidal. He reminded me of me before I was on meds, and I wondered if this was some karma coming back to me for all the bullshit I’d put my exes through. (Dear Jordan, Paul and Rick… the words “I’m sorry” don’t nearly convey what I feel now that I’ve been on the other side. I’ve since learned to deeply appreciate and understand all you did and gave for me. I’m grateful to still have you in my life, as you three are amazing – and forgiving – human beings.) There were countless days I skipped the gym, or blew off work, because I was afraid to leave C home alone.
At one point, he spelled out to his niece and me exactly how he was going to hang himself from a tree out back, so I called his doctor on a Sunday in a panic asking what to do. She told me to Baker Act (institutionalize) him.
“I can’t. I can’t do that to him. I wouldn’t want that done to me.”
“Then reduce his Depakote by half and let me know how he does in a week.”
My friends and therapist said I should have Baker Acted him. They were right. He continued to put us both through hell.
That Memorial Day weekend, we argued.
I was on edge from end of semester school overload, and he was dismal from having officially been let go from his job. We found out we were about to lose our health insurance and had spent the week cramming in doctor’s appointments and med refills. For once, I didn’t back down when we bickered, and I should have. After arguing all evening, it culminated in him trying to leave the house intoxicated on pills. I asked for his keys and he refused. I then tried holding him back by the waist, to stop him from leaving and driving while under the influence, insisting he sleep it off in the spare room. He said he wanted to sleep in our bed instead. I said OK, and the issue was put to rest for the evening.
The next morning, we decided to take a break. He agreed that he would go stay with a friend. He stood in the doorway with his duffle bag in hand, and told me he loved me. Little did I know that when he left, he contacted his friends, family and police. C claimed that he thought I wanted to ‘murder him’ and single-handedly blew our entire life up. He was advised to get a restraining order.
He even contacted my own brother. I wasn’t raised with my brother past the age of 13, and my brother was barely 10 years old then. After our parents split, I was sent to live with our father because my mother felt he could ‘handle’ me better. My brother has never known me since I’ve gotten medicated, which has turned me into an entirely different person. (C has never known me as anything but medicated.) Brother has mostly only ever known me through stories and my mother’s rants about what I’d done this time, often inserting himself into situations that had he little to do with, which made them much worse. Gas on fire. To this day, he has no idea what bipolar disorder is or how someone acts with it. He doesn’t know that things he had done were exactly what someone should never do when dealing with someone with bp. Lack of education destroys. Lack of understanding keeps wounds open. Lack of forgiveness makes it hard to move onward. Despite these things, we had managed to put issues behind us and move ahead to the point of being acquaintances. For Mom. Honestly, I was happy about it. I have almost no family left and lots of fun, shared memories with him from when we were kids.
C was quite aware my brother and I had a tremulous relationship at best, which was based upon our mother’s dying wish for us to get along, yet he managed to drive a wedge into it. Why he would contact someone whom he’s never met, who has never been to our house, never invited us to visit, never even sent a Christmas card, was beyond me, but he seemed to think the advice held validity and later blamed the entire thing on my brother. My brother blamed me, even though he used the opportunity to twist the knife to scare someone whom he knew to have brain damage by plying him full of stories about irrational behavior during manic episodes and urged him to get the restraining order.
C, who doesn’t have strongest of spines on his stellar days, decided this was the best possible advice, despite there being no threat, no violence and having never seen any of that behavior. Ever.
C never experienced anything more violent than me raising my voice and the rare smashed plate on the floor. I handled him with kid gloves. Apparently, worst thing I ever called him was when I told him he was acting like his brother by ignoring issues when he needed to be there.”FUCK YOU, YOU CUNT,” was his response. I think my reply was, “Well, thanks for finally getting back to me.” I was told saying that was “unforgivable”. (He wasn’t a huge fan of his brother’s. He viewed him as an eternal fuckup who did nothing but complain, was ungrateful, entitled, didn’t raise his kids, hurt everyone around him and completely self-centered. Then, C moved the guy into our house a few months later, while I was gone.)
Anyway, just like that, my brother and C had me removed from home. I was unaware any of this was going on until C later told me, pointing the finger at my brother for all of it. He even named him on the court document. But, at the end of the day, it was C’s writing on the paper.
Brothers, huh? I knew I should have let the end of the see-saw drop a little harder when we were at the playground.
I’ll never know what happened, so if I use Occam’s razor, with the simplest answer usually being the correct one, here’s my gut feeling (which has a very high success rate when I bother to listen to it): I think C didn’t like or respect me as a person any longer (that, he told me), especially when I asserted myself a little and explained that I needed care and help, too. I’d recently been diagnosed with Lupus and the stress was wreaking havok. Before that, it had been all about him. I think he got overwhelmed with everything we’d been through since buying the house and was looking for validation to do what he wanted do, which was leave in any way possible. My brother simply gave him enough information to make him feel OK about doing something shitty. This is the only explanation that adds up.
(When confronted with this theory, he shut down. The court dismissed all charges in a matter of minutes on “no sufficient evidence” and the judge reminded us that injunctions shouldn’t be used as revenge. Only 30% of restraining orders are actually legitimate. 70% that are complete bullshit. That is a serious system failure.)
I never understood any of this insanity with C. This man, who had been in the military, was freakishly strong. At almost four inches taller, and at least fifty pounds heavier than I, was suddenly “afraid of me” (on paper at least), even though I never threatened, let alone harmed him. I’d never done anything but look out for him, even when he pissed me off. It just didn’t make any sense.
Remembering back, his ex-girlfriend emailed me through my blog with a warning back in 2014. She said that he was a “sociopath”, the most vindictive person she’s ever known, would ruin my life, and I “wouldn’t even see it coming.” (She also said some other stuff I won’t print here that was a little, ah…revealing.) I did not presume that she was clinically trained to make any kind of medical diagnosis and figured she was simply being spiteful. After rereading her words post-eviction, I wondered if his irrational behavior was not part of his head injury at all. I recently remembered that C told me he had contacted her ex husband on Facebook (who had nothing nice to say about her, thus giving C the words he needed to hear), which seemed to be a pattern for him. He’d contacted my first ex husband as well. Rick chose to ignore him and texted to let me know.
Normally, I have caused the majority of the problems in my relationships. As most bipolar people who aren’t on (any/the right) meds will (delusionally) tell you, “it’s always them, it’s never me!” But guess what? That’s a load of fucking horseshit. If the constant in the equation is you; if you have done this to everyone, then it’s you.
It was always me. I’m fortunate to have forgiving people in my life and the opportunity to be stabilized.
However, this time it was not me. And I am no longer delusional. Even our therapist took me aside and said he didn’t understand what was going on with C.
Before the accident, if things were going smoothly, C would find a way to create conflict. He could never just be. He always had to be doing something; playing a game, on Facebook, checking email, cleaning, or rattling around. Sitting still, reading a book, or enjoying the patio just wasn’t possible. He had untreated anxiety issues, and started spats over cleaning, how I folded towels, or how much room my varied coffee creamers took up in the fridge. For a guy who’d nearly died from a heart problem a couple years earlier, he didn’t seem to treat his second chance in life the way most people would. C was the world champion of causing death by paper cuts.
Our values and morals weren’t aligned and I didn’t realize this until we lived together. I came from a household that managed on one military paycheck and a stay-at-home mom. We had a garden, used a wood stove, and if we ever went out to dinner, it was an event. We got what we needed, not what we wanted. He came from privilege. I conserve (read: am cheap as fuck), don’t believe in debt, am environmentally conscious and think taking care of yourself is important. He viewed me as “narcissistic” (and later posted about it publicly), abhorred exercise, spent time looking up articles that stated recycling is a waste of time, put everything on credit cards while making minimum payments and had no issues running water full force for two minutes while brushing his teeth.
Dr. John Gottman wrote that when people argue, it’s not really over money or chores. It’s rooted deeper. Their values are different and that is the problem. So, despite trying to resolve things, arguments keep happening. One of the main factors in relationship success is finding someone whose values match yours, or getting on the same page as far as understanding and respecting each other in this department. I felt C misrepresented who he was to me, but we were in a thirty year mortgage together and I loved him, so I wanted to try and make the best of it.
To be fair, he tried. We both tried. I posted a rant or three on Facebook myself, before hastily deleting them. I am most certainly not saying I’m wonderful and he’s evil. That’s not the case. C had a lot of really amazing qualities about him (which I’ve also written about), and that’s why I wanted to share a home with him in the first place. But this is the story of how it all ended… abruptly and without any rhyme, reason or remorse on his part.
Perhaps with the injury, C wasn’t able to hide who he was any longer. Or, with a head injury that scary, it consumed him (us) and thinking about others just didn’t matter to him anymore. All I knew for sure was that I didn’t know this person who had me put out of our home with absolutely no regret. I’d never touched him in any harmful or physically violent way. My best friend, who used to adore the ground he walked on and often defended him when I complained, said: “He’s just a fucking asshole and liar! No real man does that. He’s a pussy!”
Over winter, he became violent. He first snapped when I reminded him the doctor told him to stay off device screens for brain rest, which he found impossible, and threw his iPad across the room. He ran over and stomped it repeatedly, breaking it and the heel of his foot in the process. In a rage, he went out to the garage to throw the iPad away and when he came back through the laundry room, he looked at me like he might kill me. I don’t rattle easily, but he scared the shit out of me right then. It was the first time I was afraid of him, and it wouldn’t be the last. He smashed picture frames, threw his eyeglasses at me and broke them, threatened to put me through a wall, called me every name in the book and punched a hole through our pantry closet. He screamed, “I hope you rot in hell, just like your father.” (My father was a firefighter pilot and died in a plane crash putting out wildfires in California when he hit a mountain.) I was told I should put my sixteen year old cat to sleep (several times) simply because Trouble didn’t care for his young Siamese kittens and would go to the bathroom outside the litter box as his way of acting out. (He later apologized for both comments. C, not Trouble. Trouble doesn’t do apologies. Trouble also starting using the litter box again as soon as all the strife disappeared from home.) C didn’t understand that what I did for work was actually work, because I did it from home. “Just get a real job.” My dog, Bella, was afraid of him. I often sent her to stay with my ex-husband, Jordan, who shook his head. “You can’t date a civilian. Let alone a mentally unstable one.”
In calmer and less hurtful moments, C asked if he could get me anything on the way home, offered to proofread my writing, helped cook dinner, slaved over keeping the up the pool or fixing things around the house, and was as sweet and affectionate as one can be. I thought I could help him. If anyone could understand his erratic behavior, it was me. In other words, despite his regular psychiatrist, neurologist and neuro-psych visits, I was living with an unstable psychotic who often told me I was the unstable one who “needed to have my meds fixed.” It was always “my fault”. I “pushed buttons”. It was never him.
It was extremely rare that I lost my proverbial shit and yelled back, because my stabilizing medications kept me calm. He once screamed at me, “I can’t push your buttons. You’re like a fucking stone wall.”
However, C managed to drive me close to the edge a few times, and after smashing a jar of my favorite jam in the kitchen out of frustration (which I instantly regretted, because it was Bonne Maman’s Four Fruits and not that easy to find, dammit), I realized living with him was not healthy for me.
I spent Christmas Eve day in Starbucks. He’d started in on me because I left the laundry in the dryer and it escalated. I turned away from him, shattered my lunch plate on the kitchen floor (a month after the jelly incident), grabbed my purse and left. We had gone to the beach the day before with my friend Joe, who drove down from Louisville to visit (which is why I didn’t finish the laundry) and my debit card was in another purse, so all I had in my wallet was my Starbucks gift card. I camped out with a breakfast sandwich and a cappuccino. He texted, repeatedly: “Please come home.”
When things were good with C, they were really good. I honestly thought he’d get better. But, they didn’t, and I felt trapped in a mortgage and a school commitment with a half-lunatic, hanging by a thread of hope that was stretched to its limit.
“I’ve heard of this from some of my buddies, but never a female,” said Scooter.
“Yeah, well… I guess I’m just lucky,” I said.
“Yeah, well… you’re also kind of like a dude. How many women do you actually hang out with? Women are fucking crazy,” he said. He was wearing glasses and looked handsome in them. I like glasses on men. I think it’s the whole sapiosexuality (Google it) fetish I have. I need my dates to be intelligent and witty. Most aren’t.
“I know. I’m in a locker room full of men and hear about it all the time. I just never thought it could happen to me.”
I had leave for an appointment back in Clearwater. Despite his hospitality, it gave me an uneasy feeling leaving my cat, makeup, clothes, cash, passport, medication, mortgage papers, and laptop with Scooter. Trust was now an issue. It took everything I had not to completely lose my mind after what had just happened. All he had to do was lock his door and what little I had in my possession would be gone. I’d be fucked. My stomach churned with uneasiness until I pulled back into beach bungalow a half day later, where he was still barefoot on the same green chair as before.
I felt foolish for being so paranoid and angry at C for making me think that way.
The night, the moonlight shimmered off the ocean as the waves broke and lapped at the sand. Walking along the beach, puddles of sea water felt warm and cold at the same time. Bob pranced alongside us, a glowing ball in his mouth. Scooter said this was the only time Bob could play in the water since The Powers That Be decided dogs weren’t allowed on the beach. Makes sense. Dogs digging holes or pooping is far more devastating to the beaches than the endless broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, cans and plastic wrappers humans leave.
We were in a parallel situation with our significant others, but his was without a deputy eviction or lawyers. He was mostly angry; I was mostly beaten down.
“Oh, your neighbors are definitely talking about you,” Scooter said.
“The minute you guys leave, they are SO turning that place into an age 65+ community.”
“Probably,” I said.
“What I want to know is how this happens,” he said, gesturing around with his hand. “This. How two people, who mean the world to one another, get to the point not being able to stand each other?”
“How it goes from that person consuming your every waking thought to just-get-the-fuck-away-from-me?”
“Yeah. Exactly.” He threw the ball out to the waves and Bob scampered off into the darkness to find it…
Continue to Part 2 (coming soon)…More couch surfing, some hardcore epiphanies, court drama and even a little ‘Frating’.
Note: I’m writing about this because I withdrew from nearly everything from this time until the present with little explanation other than “lots going on right now.” Work, customers, friends. I blew a lot off and let people down. It was too much to talk about and explain. I’ve always been better at writing than speaking.
Thank you to Danielle Dadamo, Hubert O’Hearn, Jeff Ritter, Carroll Grant, Matt McDermott, Brian Hairbottle and Mick Foley for their suggestions and valuable time editing. I am deeply grateful to my psychotherapist, Amy. She goes above and beyond, keeping me grounded in times of upheaval despite having her own battles to fight.
Thank you to those who have reached out to help. So many of you were good to me during this time and I feel incredibly fortunate.
You know who you are, and so do I.
Disclaimer: This is my recollection of events and I’ve related them to the best of my knowledge. Some names have been changed or omitted.
Thank you to Pam Ella Lee for the photos around my home. Thank you for Steven Griffey Photography for the cosplay photo of Thundra (not Flash!)
No part of this blog may be copied or used without permission.