Saturday, July 21, 2012

"...A flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown." *

In "The Sound of Music", the nuns have a difficult time describing the young novitiate Maria. She wants to be a nun, she wants to be good, she wants to do well, but...well...she's young, inexperienced, unconventional, and she (can you believe it?) sings in the abbey!

In trying to find one word to describe this confusing, yet charming, being, the nuns come up with "flibbertigibbet", "will-o'-the-wisp", and "clown".

So what were the nuns actually saying about Maria? According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (, they thought she was a "silly, flighty person." Ouch. Silly and flighty. Easily distracted. Jumping from thought to thought, and none of those very profound.

What about "will-o'-the-wisp"? Back to the dictionary, which says this: "a delusive or elusive goal". Let's just skip the fact that Maria is a person, and not a goal, why is she delusive and/or elusive? Is it because the nuns aren't able to think the way she thinks, see the way she sees, sense the way she senses, feel the way she feels? That's only delusive (delusional?) from their point of view. I'm sure she makes perfect sense inside herself. At least most of the time.

And finally there is that word "clown". Here things really go downhill for Maria. Merriam-Webster has all of this to say about that:

          1: farmer, countryman
          2: a rude ill-bred person : boor
          3 a: a fool, jester, or comedian in an entertainment (as a play); specifically:  a     
             grotesquely dressed comedy performer in a circus b: a person who habitually
             jokes and plays the buffoon
Since the majority of the nuns seemed little amused by Maria's apparent antics, it appears to me they thought of her as rude and ill-bred in manners and decorum. Maybe some just thought she was altogether foolish. She didn't mean to be out of place, yet she was.

Some of the nuns disdained Maria for her differences. Some loved her in spite of them. It wasn't until late in the story, however, that she was loved and accepted simply because she was Maria.

I know many of the words people have used to describe me in my life. "Crazy" (generally in a good way, sometimes in a bemused way). "Different" (always in with a suspicious look in my direction). "Funny" (my favorite). "Molly Motormouth" (from Mom, when I wouldn't stop talking) or "blabbermouth" (from people who weren't quite as well-meaning in wanting me to calm down and be quiet).

There were people who thought I was "hyper". There were people who just didn't want to be around me because I was "unusual", I "stood out", I didn't "fit in", and I "didn't make sense."

As far as I know, though, no one ever made up a song about me, and I am quite sure there is no musical in the making about my "crazy, different, funny" life.

This much is true, however: after having symptoms that even I did not know were symptoms for pretty much my entire life, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005. I had been in a pretty manic cycle for several years then hit a depression that I couldn't shake. I ended up dealing with visual hallucinations both inside and outside my head, and finally wound up hospitalized six times in 15 months while meds were tried and adjusted.

From 2000 to 2004, I was a reporter/editor/photographer/columnist for my hometown newspaper. When I was manic, I had little need for sleep (or just flat out couldn't sleep). My columns were funny. My friends and I laughed deep and long. People I worked with outside my job found me amusing (at least a few did, anyway; I know there were plenty that just wished I'd go away). When I was depressed, my columns were filled with deep thoughts and observations. My columns were written weekly, and I almost never had difficulty writing them. The ideas just flowed for me. The words appeared sometimes as if by magic. I would edit to make things make better sense, to make my column fit in the allotted space, and to tighten my writing. But it wasn't hard.

When the doctor told me my diagnosis during my fourth hospitalization, I was furious! I was scared it meant I wasn't really funny...really engaging...really liked. That maybe my creativity was just some freak combination of chemicals, lack of sleep, and yes, craziness. If we treated the bipolar, would I become boring? Would I lose my friends? Would I not be able to write anymore?

The joy of modern medicine (and the fact that it is still called "practicing medicine") means that sometimes being treated has made the answer to all those questions:"Yes." 

Quick quips and banter, long my hallmark, fell by the wayside as I negotiated the wilderness of learning what medicines worked and which ones didn't.

Some friends and acquaintances backed away because I'm not-so-quiet about my diagnosis (love me, or leave me, I say).

Worst of all, writing became difficult and burdensome, then non-existant. Finally even reading became too much.

Some meds sedated me so much that I lost all personality, all sense of caring about anything, all motivation. Others did nothing for me, and the mania and the depression broke through again, wreaking havoc. For now, I'm on a regimen of meds that means very little break-through symptoms which makes my life much more comfortable.

Most of all though, this regimen doesn't steal my creativity. The ideas may not flood my mind like they used to (and that's actually a small blessing), but the seeds are there and they grow. The words don't just appear...sometimes I have to dig through my mind, my thesaurus, whatever...just to find what I want. And that can just be regular words like "foot" or "pencil". Forget describing someone as a "flibbertigibbet" or a "will-o'-the-wisp".

One thing I have discovered, however, since the diagnosis was made, is that a diagnosis is just a diagnosis. A person is still a person. I am still me. Maria was just Maria. Ephemeral? Leaping from thought to thought? Overly happy or exuberant? Sometimes. Maybe not the best behaved? Well, there's that, too.

But like Maria, I know that some will disdain me or be suspicious of me for my bipolar. Some will accept me in spite of my bipolar. And others, those lovely others who make life worth living, will (and do) accept me just because I'm me.

May we all have a von Trapp cheering section with word and in we go through our lives with our various differences.
* "Maria", from "The Sound of Music" (Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

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