I’ve been up and down and all around the past week. One day I am high-energy and conquering the world with bright eyes. The next day I am moping around the house in my pajamas. I thought I was leveling out in the beginning of the month, and now I am back on the hamster-wheel, mostly running as fast as I can.
Yesterday during my therapy appointment the therapist and I talked about medication. Of course she does not prescribe medicine, and it isn’t her job to advise me on what to take, so without mentioning drug names or dosages we talked about why some people with bipolar disorder readily take the medication and why others, like me to this point, balk.
My reason for balking is because I refused to believe I had a problem. Now that I am looking at my past mental health history with more clarity and sober eyes, I can easily see that I have been sick so many times in the past without receiving proper treatment. And that’s not an exaggeration — those are the facts.
For example, I can see that I should have spent more time in the hospital after both my psychotic episodes. I can see that I managed the doldrums of last winter by self-medicating with red wine. That’s fine and dandy if that’s your thing — most people enjoy drinking an alcoholic beverage or two from time-to-time to take the edge off. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The problem I am having is that (a) I admit that I have a chronic mental illness, and (b) I cut alcohol out of my diet altogether until I set up an appropriate treatment plan. Even so, I am grappling to find it under these two new circumstances.
Surprisingly, it was easy to cut alcohol out of my diet once I made up my mind, though my husband, much to my amusement, thinks that seems counterintuitive. But at least I know I am not an alcoholic. However, in exchange for using alcohol to tip the scale just enough to level out extreme moods, what do I put in its place? More running? More blogging? More medication?
My therapist was quick to point out that I have become obsessive about trying to read and research as much as I can about bipolar disorder. I hate to admit, but I think she is right. My husband would agree.
She asked me, “What are you trying to figure out?”
Without hesitation I told her, “I am trying to figure out if I was born with a predisposition for developing a mental illness, if I developed it based on the traumas I have experienced in my life, or both.”
She didn’t question my desires, but she did recommend that I find some balance in my life, especially when I told her how easily irritated I have been when I am hypomanic and get interrupted by my kids. It made me sad when I admitted that, but it’s the truth. I am short with them and they sense my unpredictable nerves.
My son is sucking his thumb for comfort more often, and my daughter is strutting around with fury and anger if I don’t immediately turn my attention to her when she needs something. That’s pressure on my already pressured mind.
Back at therapy, once the therapist and I got back around to talking about why people with bipolar will or will not take medication, she said that some people — successful and creative people — don’t want to take medication because they don’t want to lose the mania.
The mania fuels them and makes them ultra-productive and creative. They don’t want to lose their ability to lead with power and to create and feel deeply expressive emotions. She asked me if that was why I was reluctant to take a new medication when my psychiatrist suggested it in December when I wasn’t well.
Without consideration I said, “Absolutely not. Now that I accept that I have bipolar, worrying about losing the mania that makes me sharp and confidant and creative is a risk I am willing to take.” I added, “I am exhausted.”
Tomorrow I see my psychiatrist, and I am going to answer her questions with honesty. I have not been as honest as I could have been in the past, and it is has not served me well. At this point I want to do whatever it takes to get balance — to slow down, to enjoy the present, to live without constant perfection, to connect with my kids and husband, to RELAX and not be so wildly crazy all the time or dormant in the flash of a second.
The thing is — I am a super-efficient and super-capable person, but it seems like maybe I should strive for being capable and efficient without the “super” part. I just want normal ups and downs like a normal person. I can’t keep running full speed ahead one day and deflated the next. It’s simply too taxing on my brain and then I become at war with myself trying to control it.
On Monday after I wrote a crazy laundry list of 29 things in my head, I felt all discombobulated on what to do first. So I went out of my office to the kids and promptly turned off the television. But not before we watched a mother and son build a rocket ship out of a cardboard box. It had wings, headlights, a fancy paint job — it was picture perfect. I rolled my eyes and thought that, That’s the last thing I ever want to do with my kids.
Then I paused. I remembered there was a huge, unused box at the bottom of the stairs in our house. Maybe, just maybe, I thought…
I decided to give it a try, and I forced myself to push all those pesky to-dos aside and get messy.
When my kids finished making their “rocket,” it looked absolutely nothing like one on TV. It was a giant mess of paint, chalk, pipe cleaners, wrapping paper, and Elmer’s glue.
And you know what?
We all liked it that way. Even me as I realized there was orange paint on the carpet, purple paint all over my daughter’s face, chalk dust scattered all over the floor and art supplies littered EVERYWHERE.
I just let it all go.
And the kids responded to me; we connected. For a minute I think they even thought I was the coolest Mommy ever. Even though on the inside I was a jumbled up mess of nerves, I found a way to silence them for a little while and just be.
Yesterday morning, as my therapy appointment came to a close the therapist asked me, “So what are you going to do when you leave here?”
I said I was going to go pick up my kids and have lunch with my friend who was watching them. She said, “And are you looking forward to that?”
I told her yes, but then I quickly rattled off 5,000 other things I wanted to do once we got home and before swimming lessons at 5 p.m. Just listening to myself made me want to slap myself in the face. I slowed down, calmed down and drove across town.
When I got there, I chatted with my friend and then we ate lunch with the kids on a blanket in her living room. We pretended we were at the park and the kids ate it up (their lunch, too).
And then you know what I did?
I threw in the towel and relaxed into the moment and the messes and the noise of four children and I joined the fun. It was the best choice I could have possibly made for myself. I felt calm and present and efficient and capable. Not “super” in any way, but in a normal way.
My friend offered me a cup of tea and the paper on the string of the tea bag read, “Recognize that you are the truth.” I liked it because it gives me the confidence to know that if I need more, or different, medication to bring me back to Earth, that’s ok
I know in my heart I can still live my life and be me. I know in my heart that I can still write about it one day if I want to. And I can collaborate with mental health experts and that, if I want it, it will become my life’s work. I say this not with mania, but with the calm realization that this is my truth.
This grounded, yet creative and honest, career plan — second to my family of course — can intermingle with where I have been and what I hope becomes the story of the rest of my life.