I wonder what normal feels like.
That may seem odd, but I was diagnosed as bipolar just over ten (maybe eleven) years ago. In that first year I went through three psychiatrists and held on to the one therapist who seemed to have my best interests at heart. I didn’t understand the weight of the change that it would bring to me, to go from a label of major depression and something else to bipolar disorder.
I understand depression. Depression is the one who wraps its arms around you like an old friend and reminds you of all the things that you absolutely deserve. These are the things you don’t whisper to others, the ideas that wiggle deeper each time depression comes to visit you. You both know there’s only one way out, and that’s feet first. Which is exactly the point of depression. At some point I welcome it, because I do know that it’s there to keep me company when everyone else has deserted me.
The flip side is scarier. I don’t know what to do when I don’t sleep and I don’t need sleep and I keep moving and I’m not tired and I don’t need to rest and there’s still more things to do and yet the clock has flipped around again to morning and it is time to go to work and do things. And the things keep moving, but not as fast as my brain. I would keep doing things and it isn’t at all how I would normally think about the world. Connections make themselves in ways I can’t explain and only make sense at the time.
Lucky, then, that the depression visits me more often.
Those commercials on TV never seem to fit. It’s something you learn on your own what your symptoms are, what your triggers are, and what you can do to manage.
Survival is about learning to deal with the changes.
Then you dump in the medications. I went through three psychiatrists the first year because they kept telling me things I couldn’t accept – and like that meme running around due to the political climate, I try to change the things I cannot accept.
The first doctor had been treating me for a few years, and he told me that because I was bipolar I should never have children. I don’t know how a ‘normal’ person decodes this, but I take that to mean my life isn’t worth living because of this life-threatening illness – my label is unacceptable to him, and the probability that i might pass it to my children is too high.
I cried. I was so wiped out on medicine I didn’t know what I was feeling. I sobbed onto my steering wheel and I couldn’t explain at all the turmoil that kept running down my face. I stopped the medicine. Three days later I realized I was angry. Because he didn’t think my label was something that should ever be passed on to another generation – and that meant I shouldn’t have children. Having children was that dream I always cherished. And that wasn’t acceptable.
The second doctor tried several different medications. She gave me sleeping medicine and she kept me off the other one that had been plaguing me so much I felt like a zombie- no emotional reactions to anything. Not anything I could understand. But in the course of the different medications I learned one thing: She treated me like many bipolar people are accused of- that I simply didn’t want to take my medication. She wrote in my file that I had psychosomatic symptoms to one medicine. A few years ago, I saw that medicine advertised on TV and it had the warning that the symptom I had was a side effect and could become permanent if not discontinued immediately. So I’m glad I quit her and the medicine.
Then the third doctor sat down with me and looked for my pedigree. Because bipolar disorder runs in families, so I ought to figure out the connections in my family who also have bipolar disorder. I don’t know of anyone else in my family with bipolar disorder. Depression, yes. I’m not very close with the extended family, and so many of them only speak of depression in whispers when the subject isn’t around, and not about bipolar at all.
Now I try to talk about it. I try not to be the silent one about mental illness, and it feels like every time I say, hey, I’m bipolar – someone who thinks they know me will respond, but you don’t seem bipolar.
So tell me, people. what does it take to seem bipolar?
I also managed a paranoid diagnosis while I was working full time. Then one of the managers explained how he did see that the guys worked against me. So now I don’t trust that I’m not paranoid, I don’t trust my own opinions about these things, because for years I worked against this paranoia diagnosis. That I’m not supposed to treat all these events as if they’re centered around me. And yet they’re all there to be my own standing of what is and what is not, of what I think and what I believe.
Truth and reality never do seem so set in stone. They’re liquid like the water or the glass that can shift, sometimes a little and other times all at once. It’s no wonder I ask an outsider for an opinion, as if a third party has the ability to sort through the pieces that can’t be reconciled in my head. As if a friend will be able to bring an absolute to the mess.
Yoga brings me calm. Writing draws off the excess emotions when I can wrap them in a story. Is it any wonder that these two things I try to do daily? Some days I fail, but the effort is there.
I am thankful for the close friends and family who support me when I need it and push me to do more when I can. I’ll never be consistent from day to day or year to year. I share this label with many amazing people, and occasionally someone will label me like that, too. My old boss called me brilliant. I can only tell you my brain works differently, and that this label of bipolar isn’t wrong.