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 🍽

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.

“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.

What Brings Me Down vs What Fills Me Up

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.

Relatable quotes.

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.

Dogs.

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.

 

Fuck bipolar.

How do you expel sadness? How do you chase it away? How do you take the sadness that has crept into your being and, graciously or not, show it to the exit? How do you repair the wall that sadness tore down, and how do you ready yourself for its next intrusion? How do you heal from the hurt left in its wake?

Any number of analogies would work beautifully here. Countless metaphors would suffice, and goodness knows I’d love to sit here and type them all out in long, eloquently phrased paragraphs. But ambiguous words don’t exactly help me solve the issue at hand so much as explain it. And fluffy descriptions and fancy words simply won’t help; I’d much prefer concrete and definite instructions to vague, unreachable concepts.

So how can I explain to you the ways in which you may hope to overcome the sadness? How can I help you to tear yourself free from the vice-like grip of internal desolation?

Sadness is a poison and I know an antidote exists. The problem is I’m well-versed in what the former entails but I’m not so clear on the latter. I long for a manual, a set of instructions that can serve as a guide. I doubt there is one. I am left to write the directions on my own, to learn the steps through my own efforts and energy. I only wonder if I can.

I’ve tried to do it before. Trust me when I tell you I’ve given it a God’s honest attempt. And of course I have, how could I not, having been through the ringer. I’ve seen hell, countless times. You don’t think I’ve scrambled to make a mental note about how I got my hands on the rope I used climb back out? To write down exactly how I survived? And furthermore, to figure out why? Believe me when I explain that I’ve given it my all to figure it out!

In my darkest days, when waves of depression were crashing into me, the riptide pulling me hard and fast away from the comforts of sanity at the shoreline, I tumbled with the current and couldn’t find my footing, but eventually caught my breath and treaded water and surfed my way back to shallower depths. I’ve been sucked back into the ocean many times over again, finding it rougher each successive time. I am afraid of it. Bodies of water represent the terrifying repetition (the tide comes in, the ride retreats, it repeats continuously). I am afraid. But that doesn’t stop me from going to the beach. I have never let it stop me from going to the beach.

I guess that’s the first step, then? Resilience? We’ve got no choice but to get back up, time after time. It sucks, and you may get dragged for miles, but eventually you get back up. As long as you’re taking air into your lungs, you still have time to do so. And since you’ve gotta get up eventually, there’s no harm in doing so with as much hope and optimism as you can muster.

Then a few steps away, somewhere down the staircase is another critical issue: the self-talk, the internal monologue, the script forever running on and on in your head. You’ve certainly heard it before that your thoughts become your reality, that you attract what you think about. You’ve gotta make your head a positive place to be because you’re there all the time. You’re literally never fully away from it. So choose wisely the words that you say to yourself. Pick each idea carefully, and pluck from your consciousness the ones that don’t promote happiness, the beliefs and perceptions and opinions that don’t serve a valuable purpose. Weed out the dead flowers, filter the muddy waters. Affirm the fact that you’ll be okay, you’ll always end up being okay. Even if you aren’t right now, you will be eventually because that’s the way it works. Collect the inspirational quotes, litter your life with positivity. Surround yourself with it; you might as well.

The next step is just as cliched, if not more. But it helps, so you’d better get going on that self-care. Images of bubbles baths come immediately to my mind. The kind where bath bombs have colored the water and candles are lit around the edges. Face masks and body scrubs and special conditioners, all of this seems to be what’s marketed as the prime examples of taking time for yourself. And I value such things for what they are and what they do. But caring for yourself spans a wide array of actions, all of which are supposed to help you meet the needs you might have been neglecting in a calm and relaxed way. This could mean taking a walk outside in the sunshine. Or making yourself a healthy meal. Or meditating on things you’re grateful for while focusing on steadying your breathing. It could mean treating yourself to that overpriced coffee, coloring mindlessly, or just taking a nap when you need one. But whatever it is for you, you’ve gotta do it.

Continuing along the staircase away from melancholy brings you to distraction. Keeping your mind busy is an indispensable means of taking sadness by the collar and kicking it to the curb. Channel the bad feelings polluting you, put them into something positive and productive and helpful. Don’t think about anything but what you’re doing. Focus, consciously. Give it effort, and work hard, and reap the benefits.

Let’s never forget to reach out for help, either. Get that support, surround yourself with love, jump into all that is happy and positive. You are enclosed in a semi-permeable membrane, the fact that sadness has entered is a testament to that. So it’s logical to marinate in the good, the beautiful, the special. If you don’t, how do you expect to let it seep in? Utilize your loved ones for they are all around you. They choose to be a part of your life for a reason. They are prime examples of tools that can help. And if they cannot do the trick alone, there are other minds that may hold an answer. But it’s all dependent on you seeking the help. Ask for what you need. Ask for light and you’ll soon find it shining on you.

if nothing else, you can wait it out. You’ve got more time than the sadness does, you are more expansive and contain more power. Within you is all that you’ll ever need, in fact. Remember this truth while you stay where you are as the clock ticks you closer to freedom.

Through all of these steps, you’ll surely gain some forms of protection for the future. You’ll learn from what you’ve gone through, building upon a foundation of inner strength and using cumulative knowledge as material. You’ll make mental notes, write down how exactly you survived. You’ll do this subconsciously as apparently I have done, and think that maybe all of this is easier than it seems.

You wanted to know how to push away sadness. You asked me how it is actually done. It turns out I knew more than I gave myself credit for, so I’ve tried here to answer your question in earnest, but the truth is I’m still not quite certain. The process I’m describing might just have to be trial and error. Or maybe you just have to do what you can with what you have until the sadness gets bored and vacates the premises of your mind and body.

Either way, I hope you find metaphors that apply to your journey. I hope you can explain your plight and triumph with fluffy, fancy descriptions. And I hope the ambiguous collection of words that don’t exactly solve anything help you, at the very least, to find meaning.

“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.

You’re at the edge…do you climb back down, or jump?

I’ve often described my moods as “precarious.” I am forever teetering on the edge. I am always as the word is defined: likely to fall or collapse, not securely held in position, dangerous. One wrong thought, one random situational annoyance, one person who treats me unkindly…and I may very well be pushed off the ledge where I am forever perched.

The cliff on which I sit, then, can be thought of as a kind of precipice: a very steep rock face, especially a tall one. It is a hazardous circumstance. It is being close to potential disaster. And the precipice is where I spend most of my time.

A precipice isn’t inherently negative, I don’t think; being on the precipice of change is often a good place to be, but the word ‘change’ is the qualifier that matters here. It’s the key factor in displaying that the precipice isn’t necessarily always terrible.

I guess what I’m saying, or asking, or trying to figure out is: must a precipice be precarious? Say that three times fast. But really…

I read a poem recently, and it was titled “The Precipice.” It’s author describes her troubled state, detailing how rescue from it is unlikely. Her situation is overwhelming and frightening. But she then comes back with a counter-thought, explaining that she is “a girl with a street education in disaster management and talking [herself] off a ledge.” I’m not certain the author feels particularly confident, as she ends the poem with “something’s gotta give before I do,” but I interpret this work in my own way. I heard a message in these words, and it’s one that I find useful.

Constantly talking yourself down, using conscious energy in nearly every moment to manage the dangers of imminent disaster, is first and foremost a major accomplishment. I also believe it’s something that gets easier over time. Working on calming down or dealing with chaos, it must change your brain connections, right? Neuroplasticity is a thing. It’s like positive self-talk, it is powerful. It’s like working out a muscle, it gets stronger with repetitive use (although it’s probably important to keep in mind that rest is a necessary part of building muscle appropriately).

My next thought is somewhat pessimistic. In my life, with my bipolar disorder, I’ve learned that the longer you go while experiencing episodes, the more extreme they get. I’ve read about it. I’ve experienced it, witnessed it. It’s been proven to me. So, I’m left to wonder, will the logic I explained earlier even apply? Is it true that the higher you go the harder you fall?

The optimistic counter argument is an idea I’ve felt to be true since I hit rock bottom at age 17, when I very nearly gave up the fight against the eating disorder that had me in a choke-hold. I was rescued and subsequently worked hard to get better, and I succeeded, and I internalized the notion that we need to hit an ultimate low in order to trampoline back up. We need to fall, kinetic energy turning into potential energy, to be allowed to bounce back up.

Which perspective is better? The latter is obviously more helpful. But maybe the former can be useful still, so long as you use it as motivation. If I use the facts I learned about bipolar disorder’s progression, if I let it fuel my fire, maybe I’ll end the dramatic episodes, or at least improve them, and I won’t see myself descend further into it.