Monday, September 17, 2012

"Life is a train of moods..." *

I only remember that he said he had a diagnosis finally. This was odd because I thought we knew the diagnosis. After all, this was my fourth time in the hospital in about one year’s time – always with severe depression that didn’t seem to respond to treatment, always with violent images in my head of hurting myself, always with freakish visions of devilish faces leering at me.

Everything that I’d read about bipolar disorder indicated to me that mania was a huge part of the illness, and that people with mania were out having a hell of a lot more fun than I ever did. They blew scads of money, made crazy decisions, did outrageous things. Sure, I’d given a thousand dollars to a man I’d met once so he could move to Indiana to marry me. Sure, he was an ex-con with some serious issues. (I was convinced he had or would overcome them.) Sure, I had weeks where I averaged only 3-4 hours of sleep a day. Sure I left a good career and went in to a completely foreign job for no good reason. But I wasn’t promiscuous, doing drugs, drinking, or anything glamorous. Where did the shrink get the idea I was bipolar?

When Dr. Ishak told me the diagnosis, I went cold. Angry cold. Terrified cold. I shut down. I asked to be excused. I went to my hospital room sobbing. I wanted to scream. I was angry but didn’t know who with. I asked the nurses for a Sharpie. Surprisingly, they gave me one. Maybe they figured the damage I could do with a Sharpie would be minimal.

I took the Sharpie back to my room and did two things. I made a sign that said, “No Visitors. No phone calls. NOBODY.” I taped it to my door and shut it firmly. I didn’t want anyone in my circle of family and friends to learn the horrible truth. I needed time to process alone. Then I drew a railroad track on my depression-grey men’s t-shirt I’d brought to sleep in. I drew a giant train barreling down the track – straight out of my chest and going away from myself. I wrote “Bipolar Express” on it. If I could have drawn a reasonable Tom Hanks conductor, I would have.

I put the shirt on, then sat down to cry – uninterrupted except for one tech checking on me occasionally. I cried as if my life were ending. Because it was. What if being bipolar meant that I was crazy? What about all the hilarious times I had when I was with my friends? What if all those creative stories and poems and columns I’d written when I couldn’t sleep were just some manic mumblings and weren’t all that great anyway? What if we treated the bipolar and I couldn’t write anymore? Couldn’t have fun anymore? What if no one liked the sane me that I would likely be medicated in to?

Killing the depression was one thing. I longed for that. But bipolar meant that something else was wrong…that even the good times might just be chemicals misfiring and get medicated away.

Truth be told, that happened.

I’ve been on medication that took away all my motivation. Left me lifeless and emotionless. Zapped my creativity. Not depressed, but not happy, either. I have been written up at work because “you don’t seem to care about anything.” I had to request a med change then because it was true. I didn't laugh as much. It was years before I could write again.

It took patience and support from my family, multiple discussions with a long line of psychiatrists and counselors, and lots of study and research on my part about the disorder to get where I am today. I left the ex-con. I moved home. Mostly stable now, I am in school and employed part-time. I’m not bringing home the big bucks and not able to risk my stability with the kind of high pressure jobs I had in the past; but I laugh, I have friends, and I have the kind of fun sane people have.
I’m writing again, too.

It’s good having the Bipolar Express on the right track.

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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