Psycho Education: Things I Learned in the Psychiatric Hospital

I knew I needed to be hospitalized. I’ve known that for a while. Hell, I tried to get myself into a hospital prior to this, because I was desperate for some relief, and nothing happened. I guess it all accumulated for the past year or so, though. I went to my psychiatrist for a normal appointment on February 10th, and she sent me to the ER like, immediately. She actually called them and told them I’d be coming (I felt like such a VIP: very important psycho). My boyfriend left work early and picked me up and we went. And thus began an interesting journey where I learned a bunch of things that I’m going to explain in a vaguely chronological but unimportant order. This doesn’t include everything, and I have so many more thoughts that I’m dying to get onto a page, but I think it’s important that my first post is positive and talks about the last month as a learning experience.

I was in the ER for a day and a half. It was an overwhelming experience. I was crying a lot, and I just wanted to lay there on the gurney under the sheets and be “alone.” But I was on Constant Observation (since I was suicidal) and had someone watching me at all times. And apparently I couldn’t go completely under the covers because they had to see that I wasn’t killing myself under there. So I was basically inconsolable.

I hated the guy watching me, at first. He would ask questions and I’d try to answer, but I’d just start crying at the fact that I didn’t think he understood what I was actually experiencing. How much pain I was in. Like…was he belittling me? I couldn’t tell.

I came around to him eventually. I don’t know when, exactly. Maybe after he went on his break. The nurse manager watched me while he was gone, and she was really nice. We talked a little bit, and maybe that little bit where I was broken out of my shell helped me not feel so upset with Charles who had to sit there and stare at me. Not that he was creepy; he wasn’t. He was cool. It was just a hard situation, and I was emotional and all over the place. I realized that seeking comfort is okay and even brave at times, but at the end of the day, when no one else can do it you have to do it yourself. I was lying there, tossing and turning, my mind racing, all of my painfully confused…and I had to just calm myself down. I’m not saying I was successful at that (I wasn’t). But the lesson stuck with me. I asked for help, and I’m proud that I did. But I also learned that I can’t get help with everything. I can’t have someone help me control my emotions, it doesn’t work that way.

Charles and I eventually got into conversation, and he imparted a gem of wisdom that totally relates and that I wrote down as soon as I had a notebook in which to do so: no one can swim for you and no one can breathe for you. I couldn’t tell you what the hell we were talking about (I’m assuming it was the impending hospitalization ahead of me), but it’s true. The coming weeks were something I was gonna have to face on my own.

Yeah, definitely true. Although once I got to the psych hospital, I wasn’t completely on my own. I made friends almost immediately (once I stopped crying, showered for the first time in three days, and actually consumed some sort of food). I guess there’s nothing quite like being locked up together to bring about friendships. It also probably helps that we were all in a similar place mentally and emotionally. We related to one another. We grew into a weird little dysfunctional family.

And dysfunctional we indeed were. Lock a bunch of crazies up together and shit DOES get intense. I realized pretty early on that sometimes it’s best to just walk away. Walk away from a fight or confrontation, walk away from a trigger. Hell, sometimes you even need to walk away from someone crying who just needs to cry. I loved when the other patients there calmed me down as I was crying. A fist-bump and a sneaky hug go a long way (we weren’t technically allowed to touch each other). But there were moments I just needed to cry. And I saw the same being true of other people.

We were a unique bunch.  It became increasingly clear to me why you should never judge anyone without talking to them first. Like, everyone has their own shit. You literally never know someone’s story without asking them. And human beings are interesting, so ask! Listen to everyone’s story and learn from them, because my god is there so much to learn. Not to mention that people are all complicated, with or without mental illness. We’re all just different. It’s fascinating.

I sat down next to the schizophrenic who needed to be restrained and sedated the day before and actually talked to him. I was happy I did because he’s got a lot of wisdom inside of him next to all his fear. We sat there on the floor outside the med window after each taking our cocktail of pills, and started talking. The day after that was not one of my better ones. And he was the one to sit down next to me. “Hey,” he said. “Put out your hands like this.” I wiped my tears and looked up at him. I held out my hands in front of me. “Do you see them?” he asked, to which I responded with a tentative ‘yes.’ “See? You’re here, you’re safe, you’re okay.” I used that technique to ground myself a few more times after that.

I can’t talk about lessons learned in the psych hospital without mentioning how I learned to be thankful in a simple but grand way. I vowed that when I got out I’d stop taking day to day conveniences for granted. My phone and my laptop are wonderful tools I have, and I’ll never again forget how fucking cool they are. I was, however, already thankful for the support I am lucky enough to have. Every morning we had a “community meeting” where we told everyone how we were feeling, what our goal was for the day, and who our support was. I never once forgot how special the people around me are that they love and support me as much as they do.

Then there’s the lesson I’m continually re-learning: let it go. I really tried to tone down my reactions to minor little things while I was there. Like, I put serious effort into it. There were a few instances in the beginning when I was uhh…using humor as a coping mechanism, and it wasn’t received well by some of the staff. So I was told to stop. Which, okay, that’s fine, right? It is, and looking back I realize it right away now. But my general response is to feel stupid and dumb and dwell on the situation for far too long and then feel stupid again and just continue on and on. But I’m actually damn proud of how I let it go because I literally forgot about how angry I was at that staff member until just now. We turned out to be chill with each other anyway, and I’m glad we turned out that way because I feel happy to have known the guy. But yeah, I’m giving myself major props for that one, and I’m gonna remember this exact paragraph next time I go to overthink about something like that. I also want to phrase it differently, in case I didn’t make my point as effectively as I wanted to: don’t worry so much about what’s going on in other people’s heads, because you don’t have to live there.

As I got more stable (I’m gonna write a whole post about how that was able to happen to begin with, because holy shit was it a process), I started to get the itch to get the fuck out of there. I wanted to go home. I was naturally going stir-crazy, as you can imagine would happen after being cooped up for over two weeks, and I was even getting anxious wondering when they were gonna release me. I was tentatively scheduled to be discharged Tuesday the 25th, but on morning on the day before, I’d just about lost my mind wondering if that date was still set. The weekends went slow there, and no doctors or social workers were there, so I was left hanging and wondering. Anyway, as I was freaking out, another patient pulled me aside and told me that in his struggle with drugs, whenever he told himself “just don’t do drugs” every day, he’d inevitably wind up doing them. But “when I told myself I was gonna get up, go for a run, make breakfast, and so on, guess what I did?” I stared at him for a second. “I’m gonna go home tomorrow,” I told him, and he smiled and nodded. The moral of the story, I guess, is either that you attract what you think about, or that it’s easy to spot what you’re always thinking about. And it turns out I did go home the next day!

As I was getting ready to be discharged, I started to reflect back. I’d filled an entire marble notebook with thoughts and feelings, but there was still a lot I wanted to think about. Still a lot I had to think about. I said to the counselors and my social worker that even though I’d done so much work and self-reflection, I knew I still had a lot more work to do once I left. And oh boy is there still a lot of work to do haha. Self-discovery is a never-ending process. I think I used to let that overwhelm me, but honestly? It isn’t such a scary thing. Life is a never-ending process. Self-discovery is just a way of life.

And finally, because I actually do feel hopeful that I’ll succeed in my quest to be the best version of me: remember to have hope.

Happy things to appreciate 💙 (updates!)

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

The tippytap of my dog’s paws as he comes to me when I call him 🐾❣️

Family!! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Fairytales about princesses and castles 🏰👑

Classic Disney movies °O° 📼

Waking up without an alarm ⏰ 🌅

Selfies when I’m really feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️ enjoying that first cup in the morning 🙂

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or mentallyyy)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling for no particular reason 😃

Roller coasters!🎢 the anticipation at the top!

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

When it all comes together like a puzzle 🧩

Old school video games 🎮

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Gettingggg love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Binge watching a good show on Netflix/Hulu 🖥

Tropical vacations 🏝

The smell of mom baking apple pie on a fall morning 🍎 🥧

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Cute cats 🐱

My favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫 -notice the miracles

Getting a good night’s sleep 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎 appreciate that 👈🏻

Shooting for the moon 🚀 🌕

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Making someone happy 😃

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Comfy pajamas ✔️

Jeans that fit just right 👖

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas💡 on paper

Pride 🏳️‍🌈 for whatever I am

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Good fortune 🔮

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Shopping sprees! 🛍

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

Funny memes 😂

The incredibleee excitement the night before a Disney trip 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the world’s differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how so many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuffed elly!)

My favorite perfume 🥰

The first snow ⛄️ of the season 🗓 [peaceful!]

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Tattoos 🌀

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

My infinite internal power ♾ 💥

The journey 🛤

Climbing into bed feeling accomplished after a long day 🛏

A new haircut (or color!) 🆕👱🏻‍♀️💙

Reliving memories 💭 / looking through keepsakes 🎟🎫

Being the perfect amount of energetic🔋

Finding light in the darkness 🔦

When good things fall apart but better things fall together 💔➡️❤️

Counting down on New Year’s Eve just like the entire rest of the world 🎆🎇

Making someone proud (even if it’s myself)☺️

Late night adventures 🌙

The fact that I kicked the fucking shit out of anorexia once and I can fucking do it again 🍽

How can I know what “normal” is if I’ve never experienced it?

“I don’t even know what a normal life would look like,” I sighed, disheartened at the fact that my lack of normal was largely due to my apparent need for drama.

I’m bipolar. For close to twelve years, I cycled between deep depressions and wildly irritable, energetic, too-much-in-too-small-a-space hypomanias. It happened every three months like clockwork. And before that, I’d spent the better portion of my teenage years slipping ever downward into an eating disordered abyss.

So it really isn’t my fault that I can’t imagine “normal.” I haven’t had a long enough period of stability to even think about it.

Until now.  I’m rounding the bend on half of a year.  A whole six months without totally losing my shit, without my sanity being painfully ripped from my mind and tossed aside like garbage. I haven’t had to pick up the shattered pieces of my mindset and use energy pulled out of nowhere to put them all together again. I haven’t had to do any of that. In six months.

I have the time to figure it out now, this “normal” thing, and I think I’m going to try. I felt stupid about it at first, thinking it was dumb to be confused about something so obvious, but apparently, it’s a good question. And even if it isn’t, my standards are different than other people’s. I have a different set of circumstances. And I respect myself enough to cut myself some slack.

Right. Onto defining normal.

I think what it really comes down to is “who am I when I’m not struggling” and “how is my life when I’m not struggling.”  Who am I when I’m not in a mood episode, when I’m not fighting with myself over my weight, when I’m relatively stable, when I’m not actively in a crisis.

Part of me has been afraid to ask such a question because I’m afraid of the answer. What if I’m no one without my diagnoses? What if my life is pointless without my struggles?

There’s no doubt that lots of ME is inextricably linked to my bipolar disorder (or my ADHD, my anxiety, and I guess even my eating disorder). Things that make up my personality are also markers for my mental health issues. Particularly my intensity and my reactivity. While they’re both telltale signs of being a raging bipolar, they’re also two of my favorite qualities.  The same can go for my passion, my one-track-mind, my motivation to create. I see the world differently because mental illness requires it, and I’m driven beyond belief to fervently capture that difference in an imaginative and exciting way, and not stop until I’m finished. I’m so often wildly energetic, unable to sit still or stay in one place. My ADHD is probably to thank, but isn’t that also just part of who I am?

I think for “normal” to happen, I’d need to set aside the drama that accompanies mental illness. After all, I have been known to sabotage my sanity when things are going too smoothly. I don’t blame myself –I blame my brain for having fucked with me for so long that I’m scared of the quiet hidden in the moments of calm. But normal requires slowing down. It requires letting go of the need to be busy every waking moment of the day to keep from becoming too reflective. It’s not like I’m in a period where I’m constantly working. But I still create lists of things to complete each day with way more tasks than need to be done. I will myself to concentrate on something, anything, because I worry where one stray thought might lead me. If I wanna move forward, I can’t be afraid to be alone with my thoughts.

To keep things short, normal probably means less negativity and less anxiety about my future. Not living in constant fear of another mood episode while still being realistic about the possibility and trying to prevent one. Doing the right things for myself while not focusing solely on symptom relief.

No obsessive thoughts, less stress. Calm, content happiness. Excitement (in a comfortable, contained way).

Knowledge. Self-awareness. Knowing my purpose, my reason, my why, my truth. Working to be the best version of me. Thinking about the big picture. Being more productive in a variety of ways. Accomplishing what I set my mind to. Actually looking forward to the future. Enjoying each moment as it comes. Being sure of who I am and how I want to be. Being sure of my values.

Being the ME I want to be: bright, bubbly, outgoing, energetic, friendly, kind, optimistic, loving, hard-working, full of life, a social butterfly, accountable, trustworthy, helpful, inspiring. With that, being seen as I want to be seen. I want to be known for those good qualities I value (while also not letting it bother me when every single person doesn’t get to know me; not everyone will know me personally, not everyone will know my story, and that’s okay because not everyone has to). I also want to be seen and understood as the whole, multifaceted, and at times contradictory person that I am. Because I accept that I am and always will be more reactive, more intense, and yes, more dramatic. I want to see and understand myself as the whole, multifaceted, contradictory way that I just am.

I think listing shit like that will help me to envision normal because it shows what I think I’d be like and what my life would be like if I continue in this period of relative peace.

Like…I was recently inspired to picture the kind of future I want to have. What will I be like? What will my circumstances be? When I really stop and think about things like that, I do picture myself happy and successful and fulfilled and proud of my accomplishments (deep down I know I’m smart and capable, so I can manage that!). I picture myself doing okay with the resources I have. I picture myself surrounded by the same love I’m lucky to have now, as well as new love. Basically, I picture a normal life. And I think all of what I described above relates to that.

So I guess I already have an idea of what normal is, and I guess it’s time to just…manifest that shit.

Waking up like “how long will it take for the weight of the day ahead to smash me into a bad mood,” and spending time to counteract life’s crap

woke up feeling shitty and anxious and mopey

spent lots of time wondering why i felt that way and thinking about confusing shit about how i have to constantly readjust my moods and how i’m literally just unsure of how to do that at this point

taking my adhd meds helped because now i can at least focus on something distracting or productive

ingesting hella caffeine is making me feel better too

and my favorite band (reel big fish) playing in the background is working to make me not feel shitty

anyway

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and now for a vaguely poetic brain dump

 

Wake up.

It’s comfortable at first, and then the world hits you.

Mind too big in a world too small.

Or perhaps the opposite.

Because there are too many thoughts,

Too much noise at too high a volume,

But there’s too much room for it all to fly free in total chaos

Which means you have to focus,

Use specific, deliberate effort to adjust and readjust.

It requires all of you,

The effort,

The fight, from within and without, against unseen demons.

And as you look around at the confusion

That has nearly turned your mind,

Too big and too small,

Into ruins.

Get it out.

It’s urgent to do so.

Spill it, pour it, put it elsewhere,

Into the ether

Or onto a page that may or may not be read

Or even remembered.

An hour into consciousness and you’re tired and unsure.

Anxious? Depressed? Empty?

(You are continually putting words to the intangible,

But somehow can’t when it comes to emotions, those mercurial things).

Take your meds. Drink some water. Eat something.

What are you even doing,

Sitting there comatose when you have shit to do?

Inhale. Exhale.

How can you hold it together today?

What’s the plan (you’ll be lost without one)?

Put on some music,

Your favorite band,

Turn it up.

The forceful pressure recedes, permitting some sort of flow,

Some influx of something that resembles calm,

Some release.

Your mind shrinks,

Or perhaps grows,

But you’re not analyzing it so you feel better.

Your free-flying thoughts organize into

What is more reminiscent of graduation caps mid-air,

Thrown up in celebration of achievement.

Still messy.

It’ll take time to find your cap, the one you were looking for.

That doesn’t necessarily matter;

The photographer snapped a picture and the frozen moment makes you happy.

Organized.

So maybe, you think, there’s something to strive for

In the potential to turn a day around

(or a month, a year, a life).

Potential for new thoughts,

For finding happiness as opposed to forcing something vaguely similar to it,

For not letting sadness with when all else fails

Because you’re coming at life with full force.

Although survival mode played its role,

It’s in the past for now.

So tomorrow if you have to drag yourself out of bed

As you doubt your ability to get through the day,

Don’t wallow in confusion.

Let it out, find the words, 

Take your meds, drink some water, eat something.

Breathe. Music.

Let your mind shift, take shape, rearrange and reorganize.

Give it time, don’t dwell, stay calm, and fight hard.

After all,

Haven’t you proven your strength to yourself yet?

Morning Routines: why I (try to) stick to mine and how (I think) it helps with the bipolar thing

I’ve been watching YouTube videos a lot lately.  A habit that started out by me using it as background noise (I’d literally search “Disney World area loop music” and just listen to it while working and pretend I’m at the parks, ahhhh).  And then I discovered guided meditations and positive affirmations and all that. The ASMR videos are cool too. But like, YouTubers are a thing now. A huge thing, actually. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly a thing for the youngsters of today’s world, so I feel kinda silly getting sucked into that world at 28 (even though someone literally told me that another group of people she knows asked “why isn’t she in school” and “does she drive herself here” –AKA, they thought I was 18 years old at most, lmao). Buuuuut there are so many interesting videos to watch.  I generally stay in the self-improvement category. And yeah, it’s all these like, put-together looking girls in these minimalistic apartments, and not gonna lie it kinds makes me feel like I’m a shitty adult haha. But the videos fascinate me.

Now, to my actual point: there’s a lot of emphasis on morning routines in that genre of video.  A topic I’ve always found interesting, by the way. I remember having this little notebook in fifth or sixth grade (it had black pages so I wrote on it with a purple glitter gel pen…remember those?) and every night I’d write down what I had to or wanted to do the next morning.  As if a ten-year-old had so much to fucking remember. Also, it’s an interesting memory because I’m pretty sure it’s indicative of the slew of mental illnesses I’d later develop haha. Anyway, I continued to do the routine thing through high school. In my anorexic high school days I had a fairly rigid morning routine (the whole day was routine, actually, scheduled pretty much minute to minute…like I said, hello mental illness!).

I’m rambling. Surprise.  Moving on, though…

Nowadays I try and stick to a specific set of steps after waking up.  Because it’s apparently good for us bipolars, with our disrupted cycles, sleep patterns, body clocks, and circadian rhythms, to keep external things in check.  Makes sense. Keeping everything as routine and structured as possible minimizes external chaos (we have enough internal chaos). Minimizes anxiety. In other words, since we need all the help we can get, might as well help ourselves that way.

Routines are also helpful in that they make us more efficient, saves time (which is such a valuable commodity), allows us to build better habits, and gives us more mental space by reducing how many decisions we have to make (I can’t be the only bipolar person who fuckin’ sucks at making decisions).  Damn, that sentence was so research-papery. Whatever.

Okay, before I continueeee, allow me to reveal to all three of you who might be reading this what my mornings actually look like:

I wake up around 6 or 7.  Like, every day. I just spring awake at that time usually, and even if I have to kinda urge myself out from under the covers, I like getting up early.  So I make myself. Mornings are full of promise and possibility and coffee.  Gotta savor the good shit, amiright?

Then I hafta immediately take my meds, otherwise GUESS WHAT, I ain’t gonna.  Swallow three pills. Boom. Finish the glass of water. Take some more supplements (calcium, fish oil, magnesium, passionflower extract which btw is amazing for anxiety reduction, etc).  And right after all that, I record my sleep, meds and supplements, and moods in some of my many mood-tracking apps (mainly Daylio and eMoods, both of which I suggest you download).

Moving into the bathroom.  Wash my face. Brush my teeth and listerine the shit outta my mouth to remove that chalky disgusting med taste away.  Do my hair. Bedroom. Get dressed in the outfit I laid out last night because I’m anal about that. Put on makeup and earrings if I feel so inclined.

I might stretch or something.  Ya know. Limber up. Try to get all nice and bendy.  And because I’m having a “fun little throwback to the eating disorder of my youth,” I’ve been doing crunches and pushups, because doesn’t that sound fun.

Oh, and I try to take conscious breaths before I throw myself into the land of social media and journaling and all that nonsense.  Inhale and exhale. I struggle with that, dunno if any of you do too?).

Anddddd who could forget coffee.  Gotta get that coffee. And enjoy every damn sip.  I’d love to tell you I do the whole mindful drinking thing, but eh, I can only do so much good for myself hahaha.

Okay, right.  That’s what I do in the morning, and I actually do think it sets me up for success.  All the hip YouTubers say what you do in the morning matters (there are literally tons of videos about it, go find some fun ones if you want).

I dunno why I felt the need to share this information with all of you readers (all three of you…I am not a very popular blog, I should proooobably work on growing this thing if I wanan be the writer I was born to be, huh?), but I had fun writing it, so.  Yeah. Morning routines 🙂

I spoke too soon with this one, buuuutttt, I guess when my brain calms down after this round, the sentiment of this essay will be true again

They say “making a mountain out of a molehill” is expanding what is, in reality, a tiny insignificant issue into something monumental and dramatic.  An overreaction. An over-exaggeration. A histrionic response to something that doesn’t warrant such theatrical feedback.

I’m known for this.

A spilled cup of coffee is The End Of The World.  Spill a cup of coffee and the ground cracks in a violent zigzag that spits forth red-hot molten earth.  Spill a single drop and the skies open up, a foreboding, gaping hole revealing heaven itself, and the only result is torrents of rain that send floodwaters rising too high to fathom.  Spill, and the apocalypse is surely coming.

It works in reverse, too.  When I wake up and the sun is shining it means Life Is Amazing (so long as every other star has aligned itself with the sun so as to create such a perfect condition of Amazingness).  When I have a fun night out with my friends it means, for some reason, that I Am Invincible and if I wanted to go for a run I could make it across the country without needing to stop (particularly if this happens several nights in a row, but providing that nothing happens during the days between the nights that could fuck it all up).  When I’m driving and a song shuffles on that accurately fits my mood it is a Sign From The Universe that everything is perfect and nothing can go wrong and incredible things are going to happen and and and and (just as long none of my thoughts go rogue, because just one gone wrong could sabotage the whole thing).

And I guess there are more than a few people who fit into the category of blowing things out of proportion.  But of those people, even fewer experience it in the same ways I have.

We’re called bipolar.  And we come in different degrees of crazy, to phrase it in a probably-offensive way but one that speaks to how I personally feel about it.  But what I mean is we have differences in the nuances of our illnesses. We’re all different. Our symptoms manifest in different ways, and we experience different degrees of those oh-so-stigmatized monsters called Depression and Mania.  Some travel up and down faster than a slingshot roller coaster, ascending to deranging heights only to be dragged back down to earth accelerating faster than the 9.8 meters per second squared allowed by the laws of gravitation. Some fluctuate slowly, the wavelength between highs and lows longer, like a photon of angry red light as opposed to calm, collected blue.  

I would love to analogize by using the snowflake comparison, but I think that one should permanently retire; people are all unique in and of themselves, and unnecessarily comparing our species to a form of precipitation just, for some reason, fucking pisses me off me.  Like, WHY? That now-hackneyed characterization of human beings doesn’t make sense to me because the fact that everyone on this planet is totally individual should be as clear as day.  But people are dumb so it isn’t.

Oh but look, I’m being melodramatic again.  Unintentionally proving my point. What was my point again?

Right, I’m so used to “making mountains out of molehills.”  It’s second nature. Or perhaps a more appropriate description is that I go to step over a molehill and suddenly I’m looking up at a mountain, its dizzying height sending me into a panic because dammit wasn’t this thing so much smaller a literal second ago?!

Cue a little something I like to call “a proper dose of a medication that actually helps.”  And suddenly the idiom is reversed. The mountains I am so accustomed to, the ones I’ve had no choice but to expect after years and years of begrudgingly climbing them, they’re becoming smaller.  And I’m beating the phrase to death, but I’ll use it one more time in this reversal: the mountains are becoming molehills.

Yeah, so the obstacles are still there.  There are still days when coffee spillage is upsetting, even overly so, and on those days I might crawl under my covers and hide for a while.  But the earth doesn’t split open at its seams and I don’t fear for the end of existence as I know it. And there are definitely good days. Ones where I wake up feeling hopeful, go about my morning routine with a smile, hit every green light on my way to work, and actually getting to work doesn’t ruin that specific brand of inner peace that the day has brought me (or perhaps that I have brought myself).  On those days I still know that I’m in control. Under the layers of my consciousness, in the far reaches of my mind, no panic bubbles to the surface. Nothing hisses at me from the corner “this is too good to be true,” and I don’t respond with “oh shit you’re right.”

It’s weird, actually.  I’m still partially anticipating the worst.  But I’m not consumed with worry. That’s the weird part.  I’m not living in fear as a result of every hill I hike through.  I mean, that’s a good thing. I know that’s a good thing. So why am I somehow scared of it?

It’s change, I assume.  Or maybe it’s having to learn how to live life without making those molehills mountains.  The two are probably related.

Well, either way, I’ve gotta get used to it.  Gotta focus on scaling the other problems I have (I’m sure I can find enough of them to occupy myself).  And whether they reach the clouds or simply rise above ground-level in a mound, I’ll survive –and live to tell the tale dramatically.

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.

People will criticize your dreams,

Layer doubt and uncertainty on your consciousness

Because they don’t understand

The intensity and ferocity of your fire,

With its red passion,

Aggressively orange desire,

And burning yellow optimism,

Your fire, your eternal, internal warmth,

With its propensity to spread, to expand.

They’ll approach the ladder you’re steadily climbing

And insist you’ve missed a rung or two,

As if you haven’t reached a higher altitude already.

They’ll warn of the dangers that lay above you

Without regarding the successful resilience of your past

Or the Houdini-style escapes you’ve scraped your way through.

“You can’t marry the mood,” they’ll chime,

Thinking they’re ringing out like virtuous bells of truth.

But if I can’t marry the moon,

Explain to me why I’ve been bathed gloriously in its light

Why it’s soothed my dubiety,

Quelled my ever-questioning mind.

Explain why it’s kissed me goodnight

After I’ve collapsed into a cocoon of blankets and pillows,

Exhausted from the efforts I’ve left behind,

Whispering in my ear that the sun is going to rise again soon,

Powering the winds of renewal

Like my perfectly-paced, everlasting forward motion.

My life is strongly and intensely magnetic

I am a magnet.  Of two specific poles: the highs and lows, the ups and downs.   Both are in disagreement. It is one or the other, but the one and the other are related, connected.  They oppose each other. But since magnets produce fields as well as respond to them, so do my highs and lows and ups and my downs feed into one another.  My anxious, agitated dysphoric hypomanias exit my north pole and enter the low, low depressions of my south like magnetic lines of force. Repel. Attract.  Push. Pull. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I am moved and shoved through means of these unseen forces that control my every move. It’s possible for magnets to lose power (raise their temperature or shock them), but their magnetic state returns in the end.  I can raise myself high by doing what I should, but the fluxes still return. I can be shocked into stability, like after a particularly deranging episode ends, but it doesn’t last forever. It is an unceasing dance caused by the spin and momentum of electrons, by life’s disorganization and the speed at which it all flies by.  It is bipolar disorder. It is unrelenting.

My life is strongly and intensely magnetic.

And it seems as though my magnetization repels good and attracts bad.

Yet with all that, it’s possible to put the exhaustively persistent magnetic forces to good use.  Daily life is the way it is largely because of them. Everything from headphones and refrigerators to computers and medical equipment functions properly due to magnets.  Their forces may have been mysterious to us at one time, but we understand them now, and we make them work for us.

I spent far too many years being confused by the seemingly capricious ups and downs of my bipolar life.  It wasn’t until later, much later, that I made sense of what was previously confusing and chaotic. Previously mysterious.  I’ve come to understand that there are warning signs to signal what might be coming, and guidelines to follow to prevent the very same “what” that might come.  It doesn’t always make sense; this analogy isn’t perfect. Still, I understand what I can understand, which I can extrapolate a bit to reach the ways I can make my opposite poles work for me.

First, I’ll need to revisit the somewhat beneficial aspects of bipolar disorder.  I worked hard to weed through the detrimental aspects to find the beneficial ones, and I’m proud to say I found quite a few.  So I’m excited to be citing them here: creativity, empathy, compassion, the ability to feel wholly and completely, fierce resilience, and the strong friendships I’ve built because of these traits.

So how can I  put the forces of my bipolar disorder to good use?  I mean, my daily life is the way it is largely because of the disorder.  This might seem like a fairly negative thing, particularly when I look back to how my wild reactivity, tendency toward overexcitement, drastic changes in energy, and sudden mood changes have caused, for lack of a better phrase, utter chaos.  But are those things wholly and completely negative? My reactivity, my ultra-hyper response to stimuli, brings with it a certain quick emotional reflex that can help me discern my true emotions. My excitable nature gives me a passionate determination that helps at work and in my personal life.  Having too much energy and then not enough, flying high and then plunging low makes me appreciate what I have at the moment, and such a perspective is immeasurably useful in life. Yeah, I know. A bit of a stretch. But my point is that technology progressed when we utilized magnetic power, so can I grow as a person by putting my inherent traits to good use.  It requires thinking outside the box, that’s for damn sure, but fuck, we’ve gotta find the silver lining.  

The next step, I believe, is learning how to pull apart the two when they’re all mixed up together, tangled in a messy cluster of wires going every which way.  It’s a matter of figuring it out as I go along, I guess. But there’s an answer out there, a solution to the struggles bipolar comes with. It’s science. It’s life.

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.