Bipolar illness is — I’m sorry for the cliche — a roller coaster. There are periods of slower ratcheting up to highs that catapult a sufferer into the depths. The rush of the ride provides momentary exhilaration but is always followed by the hollow feeling of the pits that drag the stomach down. What’s more, the person with the illness doesn’t realize it’s possible to live without the constant highs and lows.
When manic, I am exuberant. Colors are brighter. My nose is more sensitive to anything around. I want to hear words of praise for whatever I might be engaged in. I want music, and interestingly, it can be quiet and soothing. It doesn’t have to be raucous and loud. I want to eat. I like spicy food or the flood of good chocolate melting around my mouth or a piece of crisp toast flooded with ever-so-slightly-salty butter. And I want hugs. Touch becomes important. Clothes have weight, and I feel them. I don’t just dress. I adorn myself.
Depression slows the whole organism. Senses become dull. Simple routines are hurdles to overcome. The example for me is brushing my teeth. When I find I neglect that small chore, I know I’m sliding down the slope. Most importantly, my mind turns on itself.
Negative thoughts abound. They are present on awakening. I hear them when I look in the mirror. Turning the corner from the living room into the hallway, they bounce to the front of my mind. It’s not something that can be battled with affirmations. If reciting happy ideas would rid me of these horrendous voices, I would never have had to endure them even once.
In my eleven years since I was diagnosed bipolar type one, I have been hospitalized four times for psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts. A person isn’t admitted to the hospital for biting his nails. I applied for and now receive government benefits that provide me a means to live. I cannot work a normal job. Government benefits for mental illness are notoriously hard to come by and require a long wait. Mine came in a short six months revealing a bit of something about my case.
My distant past was fueled by alcohol, which ceased to be a remedy for me a very long time ago. Once that fog lifted, mental illness rushed to the foreground. Stress on almost any level stops me in my tracks nowadays. If positive thinking is not enough, if prayer is not the answer, if herbal remedies won’t suffice, where then is the fix to the conundrum?
Happily, it’s in a mixture of modern medicine, vigilant self-help, and heavy reliance on a tried and true network of support. I rely on medicine to help regulate the highs and lows of my condition. It works. It’s been proven. I know in my experience that taking medication for bipolar illness far outweighs the alternative. I help me by practicing some simple strategies for coping with the extremes. I try to remain logical when I’m manic. I vociferously question those negative voices that hound me. I exercise, which may be one of the most important components of all. I meditate. It’s not a formal religious ceremony. It’s something that centers me and gives me a safe place to go in a troubled mind.
Then there’s therapy. After 26 years of it, I’m sold on its benefits. I get the advantage of sitting with a professional who is not emotionally attached to my situations and hearing sound words of help and solace and encouragement and even chastisement but never judgement.
I’ve come a very long way when I look back over the years. I’ve survived self-hatred and self-loathing that have come close to killing me on a number of occasions. I’ve rid myself of fears that spotted the inside of my eyelids with angry points of lights. I’m continuing to work on filling my life with substance and meaning.
I am an active participant in my own existence today.