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.
- No matter what song I put on, it doesn’t feel right
- No matter where I go, it doesn’t feel homey or safe or okay
- So much dread
- The fact that I have to get through a whole day (and subsequently a whole night) feels like I have to scale a mountain
- “Life hurts”
- I’m overwhelmed by everything
- I’m having trouble doing small, menial tasks
- I want to drive really fast so the anxiety can’t catch up to me
- I can’t decide what mood I’m in or how I feel, I just know I don’t feel right
- Oh dear GOD the irritability
Lately, my brain and my meds have been in the middle of an intense tug-of-war game. They’re battling it out to see if I’m gonna inch closer to crazy and then fall off the edge, or continue for a few more months on stable, solid ground.
So I whipped out some old writing (I was actually just organizing my google docs and came across some stuff).
This is something I wrote back in early January when I was feeling good (after a long three-month depression). I was still seeing my old psychiatrist, but I felt like some good things were gonna happen, I felt like my future held positive things.
It kind of talks about how I was panicking because I wasn’t sure who/what I would be without periodically losing my mind. (I wasn’t aware that I’d lose it three more times over the course of like 5 months, but ahhh to be naive)…
Anyway, here we go:
I’m sitting on the couch in our living room, listening to a murder podcast with Andrew. I have a beer on the coffee table, and I’ve been sipping it casually even though I suck at drinking alcohol. I really like the idea of it, and I like being drunk, but it’s just that the actual ingesting of the alcohol is somewhat tiring. That aside, I’m having a pretty good evening. Work was decent today, Andrew and I went food shopping and ate afterward, and now I’m feeling quite relaxed as my fingers start flying over my keyboard to create this document.
I thought about what I wanted to write about before I began typing. I thought about it for a while, actually, and I couldn’t figure out where to start or what to say. I’ve been rereading so much of my old stuff lately, and I love it all, for so many reasons, but I don’t want to sit here and write something that’s already been written. Especially if it’s been written by ME already.
But like, shit, I’m so proud of myself for the intangible things I’ve made real with via words I put onto a page. Not to beep my own horn (fucking beep beep), but I can bring a reader into a downswing with me and send them spiraling so chaotically into nihility that they almost actually understand what it’s like to have this disorder. Reading through my work makes what I’ve gone through seem like nonfiction…because for a while there, in the midst of the tumultuous ebbs and flows, it felt like mere psychosomatic nonsense as opposed to true experience. After all, how could something that fucking CRAZY have been real? I had to have imagined it. Rereading my shit makes the continual ups and downs, which I have for a fact lived through, seem significant. It makes the extreme fluctuations seem purposeful and important. When I revisit my words describing the horrors of bipolar disorder in my years passed, I remember who I am –not because I am the personification of the word Mercurial, but because I am a survivor. I love remembering what I’ve survived (and will survive again).
It’s just that right now, I’m on the precipice of…something. It’s an exciting edge I’m looking at, but there is no element of fear looking forward at it. I’m happy to be on it, this turning point. And although I can’t be certain, I think I’m staring NORMAL in the face (as if the conventional meaning of such a word exists).
After ten years of being on the same medication, one that at its best only tamed my persistent mood episodes mildly, I have finally switched to a different one. Due to a mixture of dumb luck and another overwhelming depression motivating me to somehow acquire a change, I managed to acquire that change. I even took the self-help a step further and got into therapy again.
Three-ish months later, and I feel like the “something” that I’m staring at has been a long time coming. No, I wasn’t supposed to be so wildly up and so sickeningly down, so often, for so long, while having been on a mood stabilizer. No, I don’t have to live that way anymore, and no, it doesn’t have to be how it’s always been: I can manage this. I can cope with these chemicals in my brain that has morphed into a monster (the definition of “cope” being “to deal effectively with something difficult,” by the way). I can function better. It doesn’t have to take so much energy to control something as simple (or complex) as my mood. I can do this.
The writer in me is worried. What will I write about if I don’t have insanity fueling my words? Will I be boring without the cyclic breaks from reality? Can I even write well when the subject isn’t something as important as my delicate mental health? I mean, skill is skill, but having no power behind it scares me.
You have to admit, it is worrisome. Or at least, it WOULD be worrisome, until this essay-thing started pouring out of me. Writing begets writing. Does that make sense? Am I using that word correctly? What I mean is that the problem that had to do with writing was solved by writing. I’m writing about writing. It’s a very “meta” thing, now that I’m thinking about it.
But the main point is that being more stable is not going to negatively impact my writing. Maybe it’ll even have the opposite effect. I’ll be able to concentrate on words ALL the time, as opposed to only when I’ve emotionally evened out (the task of writing, though as necessary to me as breathing, is insurmountably difficult when I’m not evened out). And who says I won’t still be writing about my mental health? I write about the anorexia that nearly killed me, and I write about it expertly I think, and that isn’t my main enemy anymore. Why shouldn’t the same logic extend to the bipolar disorder? Furthermore, even if I’m writing a story about a completely random topic, who says I won’t inject mental health into the story’s meaning?
WHO I AM is more than BIPOLAR, but my mood disorder is a tremendous part of what has made me who I am. So I am certain that it will permeate all corners of my writing just like it reaches all corners of who I am. As it should. As I like it. I like who I am and I like that I’m a survivor and I like that the two are mixed evenly together to make a homogenous writer who is proud of herself.
There are so many things I can write about outside the realm of mental health. I’m so excited to delve into them all. I can’t wait to practice writing in all its glorious forms, gaining as many skills as I can and learning as much as possible. I will write about everything as eloquently as I can; such is why I write, after all.
A part of me is sad because as I leave the shores of practically-untreated bipolar disorder behind, I might miss being the frantically up-and-down Laura that I’ve always been. But I am reminding myself that it is a part of me I’m not giving up so much as growing from.
And besides. Whenever I miss my insanity, I can always visit it with words.
“Do you remember
When you were young
And you wanted to
Set the world on fire”
These lyrics hit me square in the stomach whenever my music shuffles to this song. I remember so vividly listening to these words on last year’s hot summer days, filled to the brim with hot-blooded passion. I was nothing if not wildly manic –and not the irritated, agitated, anxious, dysphoric kind that usually rips into me. It was transcendent happiness sending shockwaves of light, blindingly radiant, throughout my emotional core. Which is why I didn’t simply listen to the music; I experienced it. Particularly distinct are my memories of listening to it one sunshiney August morning in my parents’ pool, as I alternated between sipping my coffee and swimming laps like I was training for the motherfucking Olympics. “Teenage Anarchist” was roaring through my speaker at full volume, the perfect soundtrack to the perfect start to the perfect day after a perfect succession of days and nights and days and nights and…it blended together, obscuring any realistic interpretation of the previous seven weeks. Perhaps the tangled mess of sleepless nights and unheard of caffeine intake fueled the fire, but then again, what wasn’t stoking the flames. What wasn’t egging them on to rise higher, burn hotter. To spread. The music was an energy that buzzed throughout each of my senses -I heard the interlaced harmonies, saw the notes pass over my vision, even tasted the electric shock of the guitarist striking each chord- finally resting in my sense of feeling. It was euphoric. It was priceless. It was rampant energy, but this time with someplace to go. It shot out of my body like radiation emanating from the sun. The world was overflowing with a crazy joy, and I consumed it all greedily. I was at the top of the world, not knowing I was dangerously close to its edge. And I continued to listen to that song, the song that existed for me, my song. The song that played on repeat, that stayed with me underneath my conscious awareness for two months. Two long fucking months.
…until it dissipated into frazzled distress like balloon that ascended too high into the atmosphere, reaching a deranging altitude, until it maxed out, popped, exploded. Then the remnants of its container plummeted down to earth, somehow crashing into it with the force of the meteor that caused the goddamn ice age.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
Here we go again. I barely had the chance to catch my breath but here we fucking go again.
It came on quickly, and for no reason, and now I’m trapped in the cage that is my existence with nothing to do but pathetically wait for it to leave me alone…hopefully it eventually will.
Rage emerged in a mushroom cloud of destruction. That was maybe a week and a half ago. And now, after the bomb-drop, after the dust and debris settled having burned everything around it in a windy rush of radiation and heat unmatched, a hangover of formless pity is all that’s left. I am despondent. Hopeless. Sickeningly bereft of the will to attempt, minute by minute, to keep fighting.
The worst of it is that once this is over it’ll simply happen again. So what am I left to do but wait for the next detonation to destroy my entire world. Again.
I’m surviving, but barely. I’m not reaching even half a percent of what I’d be capable of if not for this disorder incapacitating me. I cannot work on my passions, I am not permitted to. I cannot move forward, I truly am not able to. I am stuck. My biggest accomplishment is surviving day to day, and fuck if I can be proud of myself for just that.
It’s all so pointless. And that would be weirdly motivational if I had the energy to believe that it it’s motivational. There’s nothing to do but handle this day. What else is there to do?
I wish like hell I could be a normal person. But I can’t. So here I am.
I am 20 years old. I am walking around Stony Brook University, meandering through the buildings, wandering aimlessly across the expansive campus in the pouring rain. I’m drenched from my hair in its high ponytail right down to my purple plaid converse sneakers, but I keep walking. I could be in class; I should be in class. But my body wouldn’t carry me into the lecture hall even if I wanted it to. The rain is disguising my tear-streaked face, hiding the fact that I’m quietly sobbing. I look down at the concrete as I walk, and it occurs to me to pull my hood over my head. It won’t prevent the rain from soaking me further, but it hides me better at least. Not that anyone would notice me anyway. It’s simply that the hood hides me in a more metaphorical sense, shields me from the reality of the world outside my head in an ambiguously emotional way. There’s a song playing on repeat in the distance, no wait, it’s coming from my headphones, the headphones planted securely over my ears. The punk rock band shout-sings lyrics to me and for me through fast-paced drumming and heavy guitar music: “why does the world as I know it keep on bringing me down?!”
I find myself in the campus bookstore talking to the manager. She’s a woman about my mother’s age. She’s friendly and she always remembers me. She speaks words of comfort that land far away from me but still close enough for me to consider. “Why don’t you withdraw from this semester? Come back when you’re feeling better, more secure. What do you think?”
It takes a while for the idea to solidify in my head. I can withdraw. I know I’d fail if I stay. The knowledge cuts me deeply, slicing through the facade, ripping through the mask of my former self, the mask of a high-functioning perfectionist. I am left with my current self: a confused failure, a bitterly struggling mess, a girl whose desperate attempt at being a regular college student has just been shattered into a billion pieces.
I leave the bookstore and trudge away towards my car, and once I get there and slump into the driver’s seat, I turn my music on again at full volume, the band once again asking me what it’s asked me over and over again today: why does the world as I know it keep on bringing me down?
I am 27 years old. I am driving east on the parkway, not necessarily speeding but going fast enough that I can pretend my anxiety won’t be able to catch up to me. I know it’ll get me eventually, catch me by the throat and squeeze the breath out of me before settling in my chest for its stay. But I allow myself the fantasy of escaping it as I fly free down the Southern State. I just have to keep going, keep doing, keep moving. The faster the better.
I left therapy a few minutes earlier. The office had been bright even without the lights on, with the better part of the back wall a window overlooking the parking lot. We’d been talking about the usual: the way my bipolar disorder seemed to be a cloud casting a shadow on nearly every aspect of my life, obscuring the meaning of it all, eclipsing my sense of what to do to extricate myself from such a situation. I was sick of it, I had no more energy for it. It seemed, at that moment and quite honestly all other moments of recent life, that picking myself up from the depths would be pointless; I’d be dragged back down, probably shortly afterward, anyway. The control I so desperately seek out was too far out of reach. It wasn’t worth it.
Thus I’d been tasked with figuring out the particulars in terms of what actually brings me down, and conversely, what fills me up.
“Change the script in your head,” I was told. “Think about what makes you tick and about what fills you up with that good goo.”
Apparently, I am able to reclaim my moods as my own and combat the suffocating anxiety. I wanted so much to dispute that fact, to lend the negative arguments in my head a voice, and my eyes instinctively lept to the window as the doubts started to crawl their way towards me like the living dead. But my gaze found its way back to my therapist sitting across from me. Her confidence flickered through me. I kept my mouth shut. It couldn’t hurt to entertain the idea. All I had to do was think about what upsets me and what makes me happy. Basic stuff. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?
So here I am. Driving. Thinking about what upsets me and what makes me happy.
Well, for starters, these fuckers who don’t know how to DRIVE upset me. Get the FUCK out of my WAY! But we’ve talked about that before. Other drivers represent a lack of control, which is fairly consistently the larger issue when I get worked up. Another example would be when technology doesn’t just WORK. When the wifi sucks, when my laptop freezes. It should just work, things should just work, why don’t things just WORK? The reasoning there is that my life is already difficult enough without things always going wrong. I don’t need minor, insignificant things putting me over the edge. If two elephants of equal weight are sitting on a seesaw, the seesaw doesn’t move. When a fly lands on one of the elephants, it makes one side of the seesaw heavier. And in my illogical corner of the world, that fly might as well have weighed a ton, because the seesaw is uneven and now I’m off balance and everything is ruined and wrong and I’m anxious and I hate everything. Also known as: Laura isn’t in control of the situation. If I can’t control the idiot drivers, and I can’t control the god damned wifi, what else might be out of my control? It isn’t the other drivers, it isn’t the god damned wifi, it’s what all those bullshit things represent in the bigger picture! Things could easily, so very easily, spin into chaos. The world may very well fly out of the sun’s gravitation, or at least that’s how it feels, because my GOD do things spiral quickly! And the worst of it is that certainty really doesn’t seem like too much to ask. It’s just that life and the universe and my fucking bipolar disorder are always shifting and changing, always moving faster than I can ever hope to. Certainty is a joke, and a cruel one at that.
As if on cue, iTunes shuffles to a familiar song that brings me back seven years. Suddenly I am 20 years old, wet and cold and scared of the fact that so much has gone wrong and I don’t know how to fix it. So much has changed since that rainy October day, but I’m still scared. I sing out loud with the song and wonder, “why does the world as I know it keep on bringing me down?”
Because that’s really what it feels like –that the world itself is out to get me, that the world is trying as hard as it can to bring me down. But I assume the purpose of trying to determine what upsets me isn’t to give me something negative to dwell upon. I assume I’m supposed to focus more on the things that fill me up. And I assume that putting the two next to each other is supposed to teach me some sort of self-reflective lesson about positive self-talk and what it can do for me.
Okay. Positives, positives, let’s think of some positives. What makes me happy? Is it just me, or does this one seem harder than the last one?
But it hits me that I’ve thought about this before. I’d written about it, years ago. Could it have been after I withdrew from that semester back in 2012? I remember sitting cross-legged on my bed, my laptop propped up on my pillow as my fingers tap-tap-tapped across my keyboard without stopping for hours. It must have been late; insomnia had dug its claws into me, but I didn’t have to wake up to get to class, so I stared at my computer screen until I couldn’t possibly stare any longer, until the words had all been propelled from mind to page. I wrote about the little things in life, the small symbols of joy, the smile-bringers. I wrote about those moments of meaningful exhilaration that cast the meaningless days before it in the golden light of purpose. I wrote from my heart because everything else in me was exhausted with the ups and the downs and the frenzied anxiety and the cyclic upheavals and everything else. My body, my brain, my soul was exhausted. But my heart still found its way to the good.
I remember exactly where I saved that piece. I drive home and only need to search a minute or two before I find the flash drive, jam it into my laptop, and once agian sit cross-legged on my bed to devour my words of years past…
Waking up before dawn for no reason, but not going back to sleep. Being the only one awake to hear the reverberating silence be punctuated by the birds beginning to chirp in sweet harmonies. Watching the daylight edge ever so slowly towards the darkness, until finally, the morning erupts into being with fragrant hope. Feeling the peaceful intensity of truly appreciating the gift of a new day.
The smell of spring.
When the lights go out because of a storm so you’re stuck inside counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder. Listening to the storm move progressively closer, the pitterpatter of raindrops grow steadily heavier, until it runs its course and retreats, the hypnotizing sounds easing to a stop. Walking outside and feeling the heavy dampness of the renewed earth.
Seeing a rainbow arc across the sky.
Laughing uncontrollably with friends, so hard that you’re in tears, gasping for breath because you can’t stop cracking up long enough to inhale fully. Calming down for a few seconds only to start all over again a few seconds later.
When the days get longer, the mornings get brighter, and the weather gets warmer. When summer announced itself in a blaze of freedom and excitement. When the beach invites you to relax on its shores and you arrive with a towel, a book, and some pink lemonade. When you arrive at the bar and meet all your friends for a night of karaoke and deep conversations and maybe even alcohol. When you’re having fun around the clock, and the days melt happily into the next, and your happiness feels eternal and safe.
A blank notebook begging to be filled with ideas and stories and poems and drawings and anecdotes about adventures. An open document, a blank slate waiting to have meaning. A new box of markers, a sharpened pencil, books full of stickers. Creativity waiting to happen. The sheer amount of potential ways to express it.
Looks of encouragement when you don’t think you can possibly go on.
Text messages of all kinds: friends saying “good morning,” groups making plans, catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a while. The magic of being able to communicate with loved ones with such ease. Texts that make you smile, texts that serve as reminders of how loved you are. The kind that you screenshot and save and look at again and again.
Disney World vacations. Going home to the Happiest Place On Earth. The butterflies you get when you walk around the corner, down Main Street, and see the awe-inspiring view of Cinderella Castle. Riding rides, meeting characters, watching shows and parades and entertainment, all the the same exhilaration you’ve always felt while there in sunny Florida. Being a hopeful youth again, finally remembering what that feels like. Having no cares. Making memories. The emotions you’re filled with when you see the fireworks explode gloriously above your head.
When someone gets your quirks and unique assets perfectly.
The few seconds of anticipation at the very top of a roller coaster, when you know you’re about to go over the edge. When you realize just how high up you are, and you’re flooded with a mixture of nerves and excitement. Then the rush of wind blows back your hair and your stomach flips as you rocket towards the ground. The way you involuntarily throw your hands up, screaming and laughing because there’s nothing on your mind except the next drop.
When someone says “this reminded me of you.” Getting noticed, being appreciated, feeling loved.
The crispy smell of fall. Pumpkin coffee and apple pies. Scarves and boots and a light leather jacket. The possibility of hay rides and corn mazes and haunted houses. The colors of the changing leaves.
Being the reason someone smiles or laughs.
The first cup of coffee in the morning. Inhaling the smell of it and exhaling whatever nonsense is attempting to take up space in your mind. Sitting quietly as you drink it, enjoying the flavor, savoring every sip. Then easing into your day feeling energized and excited and filled with ideas and intentions.
Crossing bullet point after bullet point off your to-do list. Collapsing into bed after a long, productive day. Feeling good about your accomplishments. Being proud of yourself and what you’ve achieved.
Snow days where you sip hot chocolate under a blanket as the crystalline flakes continue to fall peacefully outside. Having no place to go and nothing in particular to do. Relaxing, truly relaxing.
A good book.
Deep, emotional conversations with friends. Important conversations. Ones where you talk about everything from philosophical concepts to feelings about life and love, to things from the past and plans for the future, to the craziest and most random things in the world. Getting to know someone you love on another level of intimacy, feeling closer and more connected to them.
Waking up on Christmas morning. Experiencing unparalleled excitement, the same exact excitement you felt as a five-year-old. Christmas breakfast, Christmas presents, Christmas traditions. Giving gifts to friends and family, exchanging them in the spirit of the holiday.
Big hugs that last for a long time, with a squeeze at the end to get out the extra love.
Counting backward from ten on New Year’s Eve after having an awesome night. The way everyone, everywhere shouts “Happy New Year!” in unison. The promise of new opportunities on the horizon. The way we begin each year by hugging and kissing the people we care about.
I take in my words, let them absorb into my mind. Try to reconcile the positivity with the foul, negative lump sitting undigested in my gut.
I get it. I get what past-Laura was trying to convey, I get why my therapist wanted me to focus on the good, the tremendous potential for good that this world brings. Yes, the little things matter more, sometimes. And no, life doesn’t have to be perfect all the time to be beautiful. I realize that I am capable of changing what I see around me by simply viewing it all through the lenses of hope and optimism.
I still have that damn song ringing in my ears, though. “No matter how hard that I try to climb I’ll be pulled back down again…why does the world as I know it…”
I guess that’s the point, though. I have to keep climbing up because that’s really the only thing there is to do. I guess I will reluctantly agree to continue doing that. I’ll agree to pick myself up after every fall, even if the chaos sweeps through again and again in startlingly rapid succession. Okay, fine. There. I get it. I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to, because I get it.
The world keeps on bringing me down because that’s what it does. I’m gonna keep on climbing back up. And no matter how annoyed I am about having to do it, I’m still gonna keep doing it.