As I write this, I check in with myself and recognize that I am manic. I’ve been manic for well over a week now…I probably will be for a few days more. I can feel the start of a new phase in the cycles of my bipolar disorder creeping in. It’s the worst part to come – the part where my body feels like it is vibrating with too much energy and not enough all at the same time. It’s the withdrawal – the start of the low. Interestingly enough, the low feels better than the transition. For now, I push myself to focus in spite of my heightened attention and breathe. Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I smile. Thanks, Tich Nhat Hanh.
I was diagnosed two-and-a-half years ago, and six months after that I started taking medication. I was so afraid to start meds – a holdover from when I was a kid and saw a TV show where one of the main characters was “manic depressive.” She was this quiet, dull woman who stopped taking her medication and went off the deep end. Since my mental illness did not send me off the deep end (I am fortunate to this point to have had mild symptoms compared to some), the thing that made me scared was not the mania, but the way that I was shown meds would impact me. I did not want to be quiet, or mousy, or dull. I wanted to remain vibrant and cheerful and funny. Would taking meds mean the end of who I was? That’s why it took me six months – my therapist had to convince me to try.
Being on medication does not stop the symptoms, but it does make them calmer and more manageable – and I am aware of them now. I know when I am gripped by an incredible urge to quit my job, bike to Alaska, hunt a bear to its den, and write a book about it, all without sleeping…I can safely assume that this is fueled by mania. When I have the urge to quit my job, buy a house in the woods, make a nest inside, and stay in there forever with a stockpile of chocolate and bacon…I can safely assume that is fueled by depression. I used to not be able to discern that, and the chances of my being consistent were next to nil. Until I was 32, I’d never gone more than a month brushing my teeth, putting on pajamas, and sleeping every night. When I did it for a whole year I was elated. I’ve lived in the same place for the longest amount of time since I moved out of my parents’ house at 18 (almost three years). To give an example of the difference, from 2006-2009 I moved fourteen times. Jobs, relationships, apartments – all of these were things I could not commit to because the emotional, mental and physical experiences of my bipolar roller coaster made me feel that I had to make a change in order to relocate control. I think about how much money and energy that took, and I wonder what resources or roles I would have today were I able to be more consistent.
I still struggle. I’m not going to lie. One of my biggest challenges has been coming to accept that just getting a diagnosis and going on meds does not mean that my problem is solved. I am going to be bipolar for the rest of my life. I am going to live with it. Sometimes the thought of that is just exhausting. However, I have also been given a tremendous gift of finding pleasure in things I never did. I had no idea that sleep was so amazing!!! I either found it completely useless and a waste of my time to even try, or it was something I did to excess without ever feeling rested. I could not understand why people liked it so much. I have also been able to deepen connections to people and to my work in ways I did not know were possible.
Breaking silence has helped me, and I am hoping that keeping that going will help others as well.
Clare Cady lives in Corvallis, OR where she serves as Coordinator of the Human Services Resource Center, serving students experiencing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and food insecurity. When not at work, Clare can be found backpacking, cycling, making music, or tasting amazing beverages. Clare is a champion snuggler, and the list of things she would snuggle is long, and includes t-rexes, redwoods, polar bears, manatees, and dogs – ALL THE DOGS.
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