It was dark.

The only light in the room was coming off the clock on the nightstand, which indicated that it was 4:02am by way of a dull blue glow. It was too fucking early. And too fucking dark. And cold. Fuck the cold.

Insomnia ravaged her. Again.

The grunting snores of her boyfriend, fast asleep next to her, sent her temper spiraling but she was comatose despite the succession of jittery shockwaves pulsing through her body. She didn’t get up. She didn’t move. No matter how hard she willed herself to, she didn’t so much as roll over.

Why bother?

She didn’t want to wait til dawn to break. She wanted it to come now. She needed it and needed it now, in this moment, because waiting is the worst and she didn’t have the patience for it. This sucked.

It was her fault, she hated to admit. She’d drugged herself to sleep (thank you sleeping pill, melatonin, and cbd oil) at 6:27 because she couldn’t stand the thought of being awake for a moment longer, staring blankly at the wall. No, her brain was too loud but it wouldn’t allow her to move and her stomach growled angrily but it couldn’t bear the heaviness of food and there were texts to answer but no words were available to her. No, fuck that. Time to fucking sleep.

At two in the morning she’d opened her eyes but forced them shut again. Forced her brain into a quasi sleep mode by having made up conversations in her head, half concentrating on them until she couldn’t any more and the fake attempt at batting away the longing for a friendly voice, a friendly presence, faded into unfulfilling sleep.

Two hour of tossing and turning and it brought her to her present wide-awake state. Fuck.

Get up and do something, she berated herself. Get to your headphones, blast some metal, or open your laptop, do some writing.

No amount of internal urging seemed to be enough to summon the motivation to move.

She was just about to attempt to get another round of restless sleep in, but the thought of doing so was more exhausting than actually doing it. So she finally got up. Cold enveloped her.

She paced. She paused. She stood motionless like a confused zombie trying to get her thoughts together but it was a messy, tangled web up in her mind. Wires were twisted. None of them were plugged into the right connections.

Gravity amazingly pulled her to her desk, where her headphones thankfully sat on a pile of books, which thankfully was next to her laptop. A sweatshirt was thrown over the back of her chair, and she used what little energy she had to pull it over herself. It was a miracle that the setting was now one that allowed for a meager amount of productivity to take place.

A miracle. That’s what’s worth calling a miracle? How stupid. How pathetically stupid. But whatever.

Headphones on. Music loud. Laptop open. Document pulled up. Aaaaand, go!

“Going” took another few minutes of zoned-out staring, but somehow her fingers were brought to the keyboard and somehow they started moving and somehow the movements formed words that appeared on the too-bright screen in front of her.

Why is this happening again? Why did I let this happen again? Why did I make this happen again and why am I continuing to push myself father into it. Again. I’m guilty as charged. I hate myself.

It went on like that for a while. Her words chased themselves in circles. Negativity. Self-hate. Anger. It went on until she began to write fervently and passionately and quickly, so quickly, her fingers barely keeping up with the pace at which her brain threw thoughts into formation.

She shrugged her sweatshirt off. Rolled up her sleeves. Was it getting hotter, or was she becoming overheated like a computer that’s been on for too long? Did it even matter?

Her eyes flicked away from the computer for a fraction of a second.

Bad move. Losing the flow was always a bad move. She lost the momentum and let her thoughts wander and…fuck, no. Why did she let her thoughts wander?

But the tattoo on her left forearm shouted loudly from its type-written font: Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!

Fucking positivity.

Yet there was a pale light in the distance now. It fell through the window as if by accident but it stayed like it was comfortable in the bedroom. Morning had come. She shut her laptop.

She collapsed back into bed, weary from the exertion of being awake and alive.

But at least she got an hour and a half of sleep.

*

“If you have the courage to make it through a lonely night with nothing but your self destructive thoughts to keep you company, darling, you have the courage to make it through anything.”

We don’t have curtains on our windows, which is probably dumb for a few reasons, but the upside is that I get to wake up in harmony with the entire stretch of world that exists on the other side of the glass. Sometimes that means there’s a gradual lightening of everything outside that is echoed on my face when I’m starting to open my eyes and sometimes that means night’s darkness simply fades into a dull gray. Sometimes it means waking up to a burgeoning sunrise that paints the sky in broad red and orange strokes. It all depends on the day.

I’ve come to think of the morning sky as a screen on which the quality of my day ahead is projected.  In layman’s terms, the weather has a pretty big effect on the already-tenuous grip I have on my moods. And this isn’t coming from a place of superstition. Weather patterns actually impact mood. The sun can pull people away from the abyss of depression, rain can send gloom through even the happiest of people, and humidity makes people edgy and irritable. It makes sense. Not to mention seasonal affect disorder, whose sufferers’ moods cycle with seasonal changes (and oh hey, as a resident bipolar, I’ve obviously noted that my episodes align with such patterns).

So when the morning sky is a vast expanse of bright blue, chances are I’ll be starting out well-rested, rejuvenated, ready for the day’s adventures to begin. When the early morning is masked with cloudy skies, I’ll likely be starting with a vague ennui that might develop into nagging anxiety if not taken care of. When red and orange clouds linger with the climbing sun, it’s usually wise for me to heed the phrase that sailors have passed down over time and “take warning,” since chaos is surely brewing. Picturesque dawn means the sun is shining from below as inclement weather approaches from the west, scattering light through the present water vapor. And as beautiful as it might be, the calming hues of purple and blue are still chased away as if frightened by the impending storm.

In reality, no known atmospheric condition has power in itself to transcend symbolism and legitimately affect the circumstances of my day. My reaction to certain circumstances is certainly influenced by them; sunshine might make me more inclined to brush aside annoyances, clouds might make that harder to do, and a storm might bring forth my desire to hide away.

But it’s necessary to remember, even if only in the back of my mind, that I have the power to control how my days go. Regardless of the weather, and mood disorder aside, I have more power than I think.

Bipolar and the senses

So last year, or maybe it was two years ago, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop propped up against a pillow, listening to Duel of the Fates from the Star Wars prequels on repeat. I remember it rather vividly. I’d had a huge mental breakdown the night before, where my then best friend and soon-to-be-boyfriend drove me until one in the morning as we listened to music and I alternated between crying and singing along to the loud punk rock hitting me in waves out of the speakers. I was home from work, having called out by leaving a frantic voicemail detailing how I was insane and the thought of coming in to work made me want to die. So appropriate, I know. But there I was, sitting there trying to hold on to some semblance of calm, the vague, fleeting feeling that came and went throughout that entire day. I hadn’t eaten. I’d barely had any water. I was just existing, trying to write just to be doing something, thinking about something. Not one of my better moments.

And here I am now. That same Star Wars song on repeat. And it’s weird because I can taste the insanity of my past. I taste the feeling of hunger, acerbic in my mouth, just like I tasted two years ago. I can feel my insides grabbing for what little bit of calm it can grab. The memory of the thoughts I thought are echoing through my head, bouncing off the walls of my mind like that someone slammed a super ball as hard as they could in a gymnasium, the ball going going going with seemingly endless momentum. Or maybe it’s more like a balloon flying every which way after someone untied it and let it loose. The point is that I’m there again. I’m sitting on my bed, legs crossed, laptop in front of me, fingers flying frantically over my keyboard just because. I’m there again. Because of this song I’ve got on repeat.

It’s weird how that happens. The taste of my gummy melatonin does the same thing. That strawberry-esque flavor melting in my mouth, even now, transports me back to the nights I was plagued with what I’ll call violent, agitated insomnia.

On the flip side, I have this one roll-on perfume that calms me down. I always put it on before therapy and now when I roll it on before work, I smell the panic going the fuck away and my chest easing up. I feel full, deep breaths steadying my heart rate as I take actual air into my lungs (as much as I’m able to, at least).

I have an elephant stuffed animal that I hug close to me when I sleep at night. And I have a mini keychain with the same elephant on it. And I make a point to take out that little keychain and rub the elephant’s ears when I start to lose my cool, when I feel the anxiety bubbling up from my stomach all the way up my esophagus and ultimately reaching my head, dizziness ensuing.

And lastly, I’m comforted in the best way possible when someone I love wraps me in a protective hug, sending love vibrations into my being with the pressure they put on me, squeezing my broken pieces together with a strength that can only come from true care and concern.

It’s amazing how this shit works. What our sense can do for us.

An unfinished piece about change…

A change is gonna come

There is a vague dotted line connecting what was, what is, and what will be. This is a constant and inescapable truth. The line isn’t always straight. In fact, there are probably times when the dots are few and far between, and you can scarcely follow their path. Furthermore, the transitions between past, present, and future aren’t always balanced on either side of the decisions that lead from one to the other. It doesn’t happen seamlessly, yet the metamorphosis happens nonetheless. Change is gonna come because that’s what it does. Change is gonna come.

Sometimes change is exactly what we need; meeting new people, exploring new places, a different routine, a different set of opportunities, it is often the solution that we know exists and we know we can make possible. But the onward march of time and the changes that it brings don’t always come without fear and doubt. Stasis, more time than not, feels safer, and comfort or contentment or nostalgia pull us into its depths. It happens. And it is a trap.

Because what once was has already given way to what is. Progress has already been made. And we’re here having survived, still breathing, still going. We’ve climbed the mountains and looked back on mere hills. We’ve crossed oceans and remember only nonthreatening lakes. It’s easier when it’s said and done, of course, but once it’s done I’ll bet you anything we rarely ever regret it. So can’t we apply this logic to our futures? What exactly is preventing us from diving into the next unknown, throwing apprehension behind us and heading straight into possibilities?

I know. Accepting change is fucking hard. I also know it is our only option when it comes to life’s one given.

Morning Affirmations

The sky woke up with a dull, gray covering this morning. And although I usually prefer when dawn chases the night away, forcing it to retreat while purples become pinks become oranges, I’m trying to view this rainy, stormy day as a potential adventure. The heavens are open, life-giving water is pouring into the earth, and the sound of rolling thunder is somehow calming. I’m at my favorite coffee shop. The meditative, chattering background noise along with the raindrops pitter-pattering against the large window in front of me soothes my mind —which is fairly quiet this morning compared to a typical day in my life. I’m taking slow, full breaths, inhaling the deep aroma of freshly brewed coffee and positivity. Exhaling thoughts of today’s potential chaos. My insides are expanding to allow space for observation; today I will watch my emotions flow back and forth, melting into one another, as an impartial judge. I refuse to contract, to fold into myself. I refuse to decrease in size, to shrivel into fear, to let myself tighten when I needn’t let myself tighten. I am vast and all-encompassing. I greet this day with a curious disposition. And as I sit here in contemplative stillness as the world and I wake up, gaining conscious preparedness, following the tried-and-true routines that keep us safely secured amid the rush of life, I know I can retain the cozy comfort of this rainy, stormy morning.

“We’re only given one spark of madness.”

I have this hooded denim vest that I stick all my pins and patches on. It’s fun to wear because it’s fun and colorful, and overall just an outward expression of who I am, how I feel in the inside. My favorite pin on there, as of lately, is an orange one with a Robin Williams quote: “You are only given one tiny spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” I’ve thought a lot about those words lately.

Madness is something I know well. I know it may sound like a subjective thing, madness. Who’s to say what makes a person mad? What are the qualifications? Who’s a typical example of madness, who can we base our judgment off of? I know personally, I feel I’m mad because my ridiculously extreme mood fluctuations and my tenuous grip on my sanity makes me act in an over-the-top, out of control way. So like, I’m pretty sure I know madness in the way Robin Williams meant it. I know how he must have felt as he said those words. He was known to have suffered from depression, and unfortunately lost his battle against it.

But taking the definition of madness and putting it aside, what the comedian was saying is that madness is a gift. It doesn’t have to be veiled in darkness, the word doesn’t have to hold a negative connotation.

I agree to an extent. My insanity can certainly be a gift (although that might be a fairly magnanimous way to view it). It’s given me many wonderful things: my creativity, my capability to show empathy, my motivation, my passionate personality. Maybe neither the bad or the good outweighs the other, maybe comparing the benefits and disadvantages of being crazy is like comparing two totally unrelated things. But what I know for sure is I wouldn’t change who I am, madness and all, even if I could. I simply wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to risk losing the good, despite all of the bad.

Because as much as it sucks, my bipolar makes me see things differently. I see the world and all that it encompasses in a unique way. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s not always ugly. It is always my way, though. It is always true to me.

Again, it makes me creative, it helps me manipulate words, helps me bend them, helps me to warp their meaning by surrounding them with other words of varying meanings, all to get you to understand or allow you to escape or propel you into your own imagination. It makes me empathetic, allows me to understand the other human beings that walk this earth alongside me. It helps me connect to them in meaningful, beautiful ways. It drives me forward, and although my one-track mind isn’t always ideal, the passion behind it is powerful and glorious.

This all brings me to the ever-popular question amongst those with my affliction: where does my bipolar stop and where do I start? If the qualities I value about myself are so inextricably linked to my disorder, then is my disorder the only thing I like about myself?

In terms of recovering from anorexia, it wasn’t a matter of going back to who I was prior to diving into the depths of the disorder; rather, it was a matter of reinventing myself, new and while and happy, once the detrimental mental clutter was all cleared out. I couldn’t go back to before (a literal child). I couldn’t stay within it (utterly and painfully obsessed with food and calories and weight, chained to self-destruction). I had to decide who I wanted to be and be it.

Of course, deciding who I wanted to be wasn’t easy. So many options, ya know? I wanted to be me. Just me. But I needed a clearer image of what “just me” meant.

Bipolar is an entirely different animal. First of all, I’m stuck with it. It ain’t goin’ anywhere. Second, it’s more of a personality trait thing than a behavior thing.

Not to mention how some people with bipolar experience periods of normal stability in between major episodes. Or so they say. I’ve heard that and read it a thousand times lately. But like, what does that mean for me?? What is normal? What is stable? What is an even keel? I feel like all of that alludes me, or maybe I just like to feel down on myself.

One spark. One glittering, luminous, dangerous, shocking spark. That’s all we get in this life, and maybe if we were to let it fizzle out prematurely, we’d regret it.

One spark of madness. One diagnosis. One chance to utilize what it’s given me.

One chance to survive and thrive, to take the bullshit along with the best of it and make this thing work, because one day I may regret it if I don’t.

The point I’m trying to make is that madness is not a punishment. I mustn’t think of it in that way. I must open the madness up to the sparkling light, applying the benefits of it to my life. I think by understanding it in that way I’ll be better able to discern who I am.

How are names, a Harry Potter quote, exorcisms, and mental health related? Well I’m glad you asked…read on:

I think it’s obvious to anyone reading this that I have a natural affinity for words. Finding vocabulary that fits certain feelings I want to convey, finding phrases and linking them with other phrases that capture the essence of a particular topic, grouping sentences that are applicable to certain experiences together with one another…I fucking love that shit.

I like metaphors, I think in terms of them often, but still, whenever possible, I strive to call things what they are. There’s always been a particular kind of power in doing so. There always will be.

Yet calling things what they are can be scary in some situations.

Which brings me to a certain Harry Potter quote, naturally: “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Said by none other than the wisest of wizards, Albus Dumbledore, it refers to calling Voldemort (a dark wizard, a totally evil-as-shit kinda dude, if you haven’t read the books) by his actual name as opposed to “he who shall not be named.” When I read the books growing up, it never occurred to me to question the fact that everyone and their mother was afraid of saying his damn name. It drove the point home about what a scary, inhuman motherfucker Voldemort was. As I got older it definitely seemed silly and almost childish to dance around calling him his real name. But as I was coming to such realizations about Harry Potter, I was simultaneously struggling with calling my own shit what it was.

As I began to develop the anorexia that ultimately had me in its grasp for three years, I truly didn’t realize what I was doing had a name. I was just stressed and nauseous and upset and anxious and overwhelmed and sad. And therefore, couldn’t eat. The disorder gathered speed slowly at first but gained momentum rather quickly once I came to understand that, “holy shit, there IS a name for what this is.” I remember the exact moment. I was standing on the scale in the bathroom on December 23rd, 2007. I remember sneaking in there to step on what would define my self-worth that day, I remember that I’d faked my way through eating half a bagel with my parents, sister, and grandparents who were visiting for the holiday. I remember gently putting the scale on the floor, ever so quietly so no one would know what I was doing. I remember stepping on, I remember what I weighed. And I remember when truth knocked the innocence out of me, stepping off the scale, and staring into the mirror at myself, looking gaunt and pale and fearful. There was a fucking name for it.

I spent two more years hiding the name and accompanying behaviors from anyone and everyone. I didn’t say the name, I didn’t write the name, I tried not to think the name.

When I eventually had no choice but to acknowledge said name (and subsequently be hospitalized and treated for anorexia, something that literally saved my life), it was revolutionary. There was a certain freedom in saying it around other kids and teenagers like me. It was phenomenal to say it and be heard saying it and to be proud of saying it, all while trying to rid myself of it. To top it off, I discovered the language behind it. The medical terminology, the psychological terminology. Even slang used by the other patients, my friends. There was power in saying those names and those words.

Because by saying them, by naming things what they were, I regained control. I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. Or, I wasn’t more afraid than I had to be; yeah, it was pretty terrifying to have to face this brand new concept (recovery), but I didn’t have the additional fear of a simple fucking word. And furthermore, I had the language to explain it all and described it so it would be understood. I had the tools to fight it.

For some reason, that had always reminded me of exorcisms. Go with me here. If you’ve ever seen a movie about that nonsense, you know that the priest always tried to get the thing that’s possessing the human to say it’s name. I just checked it out in some religious website, so look:

“Naming something (the demon), or knowing its name, means having power over that thing. In fact, God gives Adam the power to name things. At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.”

Now, I’m not religious. But I like the analogy here. Because as I said, naming things puts the power back in my hands.

When I call my anxiety what it is and just allow the use of its name to settle, I feel like I have at least a sliver of an ability to make it go away. It’s anxiety, that’s all. It’s real and it’s there and it sucks, but it has a name and other people know its name. It’s okay.

If I call my depression what it is, if I declare that I’m in a bipolar depression, it isn’t as scary bc at least it’s a legitimate thing that has some potential to be managed. If I call my hypomania what it is (if I make myself acknowledge that I’m going a mile a minute and it’s not because I’m superhuman), it’s a real thing that I’m going through and it has an end, because it is defined, and I’ll make it to the end without seriously attempting to fly.

If I’m suicidal, I have to call it that. I have to label the sinister desire within me with a word that matches it in strength and character. I have to call these things what they are.

I’m not saying this naming business is the end all be all for recovery and mental health management. I’m not saying emotions and behaviors without names aren’t legitimate. I’m not even saying you can’t pull yourself out of a dark spot without being honest about it all (although I wouldn’t advise going that route). I just mean to say that there is so much fucking good that can come out of naming things what they are and not fearing what doing so may mean.

Still some fight in me

My car has always been a sort of limbo;
I wait here, time passing.
I am not patient but still content
to stay here listening to classical music
(some of which I remember playing, years ago)
that reminds me I have a past
that was full of pain and torment but
also of
music and its reverberating explosions that send shockwaves of unimaginable hope through my being,
out my arteries, down through my fingertips,
and carried back to my heart with triumph.
I cannot always hang tight into that hope
(I don’t know anyone who has a right to blame me).
I cannot always see a way to weather the storms
(that come fast and hard, quicker than ever now, gaining intensity and ferocity)…but
I am intensity. I am ferocity.
I cannot always know this, see this, understand this, feel this.
But it doesn’t change that I am.
So I sit in limbo. Waiting, time passing…
Minutes march on,
thank some sort of god that they do,
and I’m surviving
(though not always actively).
How often have I sat here in the in-between?
Does it even matter?
Does anything?
I don’t have to know.
I’m wearing makeup and earrings
and a shirt that says “hello sunshine;”
I clearly have some sort of fight left in me.

A poem about my daily life that ends far too optimistically, but whatever…

She woke before seven, excitement abundant, still groggy but ready to thrive.
She sprang out of bed (or did something like that); it was morning and she was alive!

With a handful of pills and a few sips of water, she began with a plea to stay stable.
Then came washing and dressing, while counting each blessing…the gratitude made her feel able.

The birds started chirping, the world started waking, the sun started brightening the sky.
The quiet was punctured, (perhaps that was better), and then the thoughts started to fly…

With resolve she stayed focused on what she thought mattered: the good that this new day would bring.
Because in only one hour, or probably less, she had felt her moods climb, fall, and swing.

“Come ON,” she thought loudly above all the chaos, “you got this, just sit and calm down!”
But would sitting there help when annoyance was rising and rage on her face put a frown?

The always-there need to be NOT sitting still then took over. She got in her car.
She wanted to drive fast, away from confusion, away, anywhere, near or far.

She wound up (surprise!) at the cafe in town, as if the paths toward it were paved.
And soon coffee was brewing, her passion renewing. Just maybe the day could be saved.

For her mug full of love was symbolic of passion and all the excitement it brings.
With sugar and milk added for extra goodness, the winter outside became spring!

“Alright,” went her brain-talk, “you know now you’re able to change your emotional state.”
Deep inside, though, she knew her bipolar disorder would get her, would always checkmate.

What was she to do, this mess of a human, when life brings such her up, down, and up?
She takes all the meds and she thinks the right things, she forever fills her coffee cup.

Though the grand fluctuations are now less intense, though the coaster-ride invokes less fear,
The daily uncertainty, constant unsureness, make it hard to know ‘normal’ is near.

Yet for all she knows, ‘normal’ is just as dramatic, confusing, and full of such flux.
So honestly, why should she bother? She shouldn’t! She shouldn’t give so many fucks.

Now tomorrow is dawning, it’s come to forgive her, to show her a new chance to live.
And yes it will test her, and also will bless her, will prove to the girl it can give.

Because that is tomorrow and that is the next day, that’s life in a nutshell, you see.
The crazy’s expected, can even be fun, once you realize this you can be free.

“Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
— Mufasa, The Lion King

Somehow this reminds me of the fact that bravery is also internal and that emotional vulnerability is oftentimes synonymous with courage. I’m not sure why, but that’s the connection my brain made. What I mean is that we don’t always seek out trouble; in regards to the way I am understanding it, trouble usually comes to us. But facing it is still bravery. Furthermore, the physical aspect of bravery doesn’t need to come into play. In other words, strength and power aren’t just used in head-to-head combat. They don’t exist only to fight physical fights.

Sometimes strength is simply the capacity to withstand major pressure, or the ability to the face brute force of something negative and come out of it alive. But withstanding pressure isn’t always external and negative brute force comes in varying forms. Sometimes power is merely the act of supplying energy to move or influence something, or the speed behind what ultimately moves what’s in front of you. But the energy supplied doesn’t always come easy, or come at all for that matter. And speed certainly isn’t a necessary or qualifying factor. A powerful person can still struggle. A powerful person is sometimes exactly someone who struggles.

This way of thinking is perfectly applied to mental illness. Being open about the difficulties of a mind at war is, in my opinion, courageous. If only because it involves admitting the truth to yourself —which can be scary because once you admit the truth, you must face it. But having an openness around other people is courage multiplied tenfold. Being vulnerable around others opens the doors to a plethora of shitty possibilities: not being understood, being judged in general, being laughed at or brushed aside, being abandoned, being the subject of bullying. The list goes on and on. Luckily, it also brings with it the possibility of kind understanding and even respect and admiration. The thing is taking the risk when you aren’t fully certain which outcome you’ll experience.