Many days I ask myself if I still need to take 40 milligrams of Celexa and 200 milligrams of Lamictal every day. After five years of sobriety and a decent measure of stability, I often think I’ve got this bipolar thing down.
And still, despite the medication, symptoms will sometimes flare up.
Mania goes like this:
It’s 3 am and I’m wide awake and ready to conquer the world. The rest of the world is sleeping, but I just don’t seem to need sleep. Nope, too much to do, and here are the priorities: buy a $200 belly dancing costume online, break out my oil paints and finish a painting, put shelves up in my room, work on my book (I’ll get another idea for a different book and have to start that too), start an heirloom yogurt business, research farmer’s market permit laws for said yogurt business, go to a meeting and take on a new sponsee, buy a book on the ancient myths of Egypt, read the book on the ancient myths of Egypt, fuck my boyfriend twice, practice playing finger cymbals and practice my Spanish online. Right now I’m learning conditional future tenses.
What I won’t do that day is eat, brush my teeth, take a shower, make my bed, clean my room, pay my bills, clip my toenails or put gas in the car—I’ll run the tank down until the needle falls well below empty. I’m a genius, you see, on the verge of an artistic breakthrough. Geniuses like me have more important things to do than fill the gas tank.
With my heart racing a million miles a minute and my head speeding forward even faster, I’ll make the mistake of getting in the car. The world may be my oyster, but the world is too slow. Everyone is driving too slow. The Priuses are the worst, those little slugs without any horsepower clogging up the streets everywhere in LA. Their drivers always look so serene and sane in their middle-class eco-friendly cars, prudent and patient drivers who chill out to NPR while my crazy ass hauls down Hollywood Boulevard at 50 mph, blowing through reds, cutting them off and screaming obscenities.
One of those days, I pissed off a guy off so badly that he chucked a cup full of cigarette butts at my car after screaming “You stupid crazy bitch!” from his window. That same day, a brownish red Honda drove so slowly down Sunset that I decided to pass him by driving down the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic, just to get around him.
Other days, the idiot speaker at the women’s meeting is talking too slow. Another dumb bitch is going on and on and on about her boy troubles, crying hysterically, and I want to punch her in the face. Another one holds her screaming newborn. All the other women gaze blissfully into the baby’s eyes, but I want to chuck it across the room. That crying baby—it’s killing me. I’m sensitive to noise, sensitive to light (the harsh Southern California sun seems to burn my retinas) and sensitive to any kind of external stimuli.
I meditated this morning, I swear. I got on my knees and said the third step prayer. I called my sponsor and sponsees, really I did. Regardless, I’m tangled up in a mix of elation, irritability and restlessness.
You can tell me I’m just not in fit spiritual condition, that I haven’t prayed enough, meditated enough, checked in with my sponsor or levitated enough. And there are people—in and out of the rooms—who don’t believe in mental illness, despite the scientific evidence in SPECT scans that reveals the physical abnormalities of depressed or manic or schizophrenic brains. Plenty of those idiots don’t believe in taking psychotropic meds.
But how can they explain what happens after the high?
It’s 10 am—not again, not another day. My head feels like it’s wielding a 50-pound anvil—it takes effort just to hold it up straight. My limbs feel chained down by iron weights, and it’s a chore to breathe. Walking is a chore. Talking is a chore. Consciousness is a chore. I try to get up and write—to work on my book—but I find myself plummeting back down on the bed, my face smashed into the quilt. I cannot think, I cannot talk and I cannot act. All I can do is stare into the ether, watch my brain flat-line and let the tears drip down my face.
The world is a curse.
With a foggy head and slugging reflexes, I make the mistake of getting in the car. The world is moving too fast. Cars honk and beep at me, but I’m too depressed to drive the speed limit—I roll forward at 20 mph. I walk slowly, think slowly and have to take extra breaths just to speak. So I pull the covers over my head and sleep. Then I sleep some more. Sleep is the only antidote to this blackness—either that or putting a gun to my temple.
These are the ups and downs of bipolar disorder—they are very real and they are very physical. I can feel mania and depression all throughout my body, in every bone, muscle and nerve. Because I’m on medication, it’s rare that symptoms flair up, but when they do, it’s important for me to be aware that the problem is chemical and that there are things I can do to rebalance these chemicals.
Writing dozens of pages for my sponsor won’t pull me out of a manic or depressive spell and neither will chanting the Serenity Prayer 500 times with a rosary. Meditative breathing does help with mania, as simple breaths in and out will calm the crazy brain, and running five miles up in Griffith Park is an excellent way to take the edge off the high. Vitamins, chock full of iron, B-6 and B-12, and often just eating a super juicy burger will shoot my mood up a couple of notches.
Still, there are days when doing all of the above won’t lift the proverbial Bell Jar. When this happens, I have to cut myself a break. If I’m hypomanic or manic, I let myself “act out” in constructive ways, like singing my heart out at karaoke in Little Tokyo or taking two belly dancing classes in a row. If I’m depressed, there are days when the best I can do is sleep, force myself to eat, get to a meeting, hate the people who share as well as the crying babies, but still at the end force myself to put a hand out to a newcomer and clean the coffee cups, maybe crying mid-rinse.
If I’m symptomatic but don’t act out on those symptoms, if I don’t blow $500 on art supplies I don’t need, if I don’t fuck people I don’t know, if I stay out of the car, if I don’t overdose on pills and don’t pick up a drink or a drug, the symptoms will most definitely pass. They always do. Time and time again, when I come out from the underside of a low point, I find my way back to baseline mood. A year or more may pass before I crash again, but when I do, at least I know I won’t burn.