The stress of a large home renovation then subsequent bronchitis throws me into a bipolar episode…
I had my Birkenstocks and SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…
You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999. It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.
Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.
We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town. It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands. The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and home-owners who mostly stick to themselves. I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.
The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated. We had our hands full when we moved in. The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness. We ripped it out the first night.
Open the dryer and door fell off.
Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.
Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.
Every window screen was torn.
Paint was chipping on the exterior.
The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.
The fan above the oven exhausted into your face. So, I took to wearing a hat when I used the stove-top to cook.
The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.
There was a large amount of black mold on the main bath ceiling. Both bathroom fans sounded like jet engines taking off.
The ensuite shower stall had a serious microbiome going on.
Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.
You get the idea.
Everything was broken!!!
And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!! (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything. One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then. He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers. My younger brother Luke and I were stunned and mortified at his audacity. We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed. Years later we just chuckle about it. It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome. The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey. Every stat. Every player. Every game. It was truly fascinating when he got going.)
The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard. Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen! Imagine.) Tiny, rotting windows. Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors. Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen. The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare. Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up. One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of. It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed. People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.
After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition. The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house. I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it. His face mask was over part of his mouth only and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house. My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit. That could be asbestos. Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up. Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school. My friend Eric who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call. He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite. He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.
I was in luck. A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side. He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day. He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos. I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos. He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated. The place would be off limits.’ Oh jesus…
Stress and more stress.
The next day I received his email. It was NOT asbestos. I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well. Next I heard that he beats up his wife. This is a small town. I did not wish to run into him again. Especially if I was by myself. I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.
So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began. With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly. So does stress. I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.
After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely. I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend Eric and we would chuckle the day away. I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened though and would wake me up several times a night.
At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis. I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline. The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep. Uh oh. It was thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth, and resultant sleep deprivation, had caused my first psychotic episode.
Up next…Crazy Train ~ part 2 ~ Cuba