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Mental illness: My bipolar experience Mental illness: My bipolar experience
by Abigail George
2010-11-02 09:10:35
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Madness is one craving the genius, the savant, the gifted cannot go without. Oh, how it comes with the territory and there isn’t anything you can do about it. As the words, musings stream onto the page, drowning out all prejudice and common sense there is a faint grief beyond the surrender, in the letting go. You are the apprentice and melancholy is the master over you. It changes you. Never lets you go. As you touch the internal world that beckons within you when you are well you love extravagantly and live victoriously but it is still within you to harvest a swarm of black nothingness that will leave you a broken shell of a girl and your emotions frighteningly fragmented piece by shattered piece.

At first you regard your head space as a feast of words, there they take up residence – they leave their indelible mark, it is regarded as an immoveable feat in the land of the living; in reality, normality, humanity. Depression on the other hand keeps the innocent, cerebral juices flowing. So you put pen to paper and there is no filter between your head and your drumming, thundering heart, from your closeted brain to the white fog of the page, so you write as if you were born to do it with your eyes closed; shut tight. This is good for you, you decide, even if it’s just journalling you’re still writing your heart out, wrapping your brain around words that balloon from a small coloured nothings in air, that have blurred, hard, sticky and sweet edges that seem to nourish you in the thick of things.

When depression hits there is nowhere else to go but down, down, down. You slip into it butterfly-delicate, with sleep in your eyes; your thinking becomes magical as if you were a child again roused by fairytales. You live like a recluse in your pyjamas. You do not want to talk to anyone. You do not want to see anyone because simply, they won’t like this new you. They won’t recognise you. You don’t eat. You get more than enough rest burrowing yourself even further under the bedspread, covering your whole body, willing yourself bit by bit to escape the visible darkness but it chose you. Shouldn’t you feel special, you wonder as your thoughts speed up and race. You remind yourself; shouldn’t you wash your unruly, unkempt hair and brush your teeth?

You have so many ideas. You want this euphoria to last forever. You’ve never felt this good; had so much fun, been this provocative dresser before. You want to impress. You want to dress for success. But you’re just high. Mania is brutal. When it hits you it feels like bliss but you don’t want it to last too long. Before long you’re going to be hospitalised. You’re going to be in a ward with others just like you. Those exhausted, tired of life, of living on the precipice of both old and novel things and you share some life experience that you have had with them. You feel as if you’ve aged. You’ve gathered so much of life and you’ve had enough of it. You feel like your body is made out of glass. The hospital feels like heaven on earth.

You own little island of paradise. You call it home. There’s routine and it slowly becomes normal to you; every little thing around you. People understand. They’re just like you. This will comfort you. But I still felt distraught by my self-destructive behaviour. How I sabotaged myself, I couldn’t let go of that in the beginning of individual counselling sessions. It lingered like the rings of smoke the chain smokers around me inhaled. Why did I land up here? I was an uncontrollable mess that nobody wanted to put up with. It didn’t come with a holier than thou revelation or explanation except that what I had was bipolar and it was hereditary. I was not perfect. I was a drowned girl; limp and far-gone in my early twenties in my mother’s arms. She was built of stone and I was made out of a material that was fragile, gentle and soft to the touch but filled with tears and holes. There is no other way into the ‘normal’ world than to take your medication regularly.

You are still different and the internal battle and external war that you fight with, strike up with daily is still so far from being over. You give up on the distance now that you created between yourself and your family and some of them have given up completely on you. This hurts but you must learn to move on or otherwise you will stay up for days one end with no sleep trying to make sense of things in your head. I tried to justify their estrangement but it left me with no hope. Your eyes will burn, yearn to close and lose yourself in dreams but there will be pinpricks behind them that keep them open for hours on end. If you do not get your sleep, you will become ill and have to be hospitalised again.

I have become used to waiting rooms, psychiatric nurses, doctors, wards, playing with my food, moving it around on my plate, bingeing spurts, purging present and past literally and figuratively, cognitive therapy (how I love those two words as they melt into the background of my world), psychologists who were well-meaning and others who were not. Men and women who had brilliant minds and knew how to work with people who were mentally ill and then there were those who did not have the faintest idea of what we were on about. If we complained about something, it seemed as though they thought we where just plain whining about life and we had to pull up our socks, be pulled up by our boot straps. If only, they seemed to say, we could be more just like them. If only we could be ‘happy’.

It’s been decades now that I have lived with this mental illness; this gift. I see it as and accept it as a gift. It is mine, all mine. It has given me so much; governed my life, given me life. As a child even then I felt different from other children. I was more mature, more grown up in my thinking and ideas and for that I was often drawn to adults and to their conversations. Bipolar has made me stronger than I ever would have been without it. There are days when I want to kill the sadness, bludgeon it. There are days when I do not want to stand in line with a bunch of other in-patients and get my breakfast, lunch or supper, sip Milo and eat fish paste sandwiches. Suicide is always on the periphery.

You either choose to acknowledge it or don’t. I want to live. You cannot rub it out though, you cannot erase it; you cannot stamp it out no matter how hard you try. In the end, you give up, give in and live in both the cave of squalor inside you mind and the ego of joy. You’re wounded by it, just the thought of taking your own life, spiriting it away to some dull climate or some hellish abode. There will always be monkeys on your back, demons gathering your thoughts giving you no closure, no truth about your condition, are you healthy, are you thin. They bully you into believing that you are a big, flat zero, drawing beasts closer and closer that bloom red flowers in your nightmares and it is here where blood seeps into the hell of your dreams; blood drawn from sticks, blood drawn from cutting, blood drawn from running with knives or scissors; sharp, flashy things with razor-like edges, from scratching yourself raw, opening the stitches. There are images of war that jars your nerves. You cannot look away so you stare at the television screen because it’s the only thing that seems to numb you. Being a witness to others unbearable loss, their poverty-stricken lives, their emptiness, their sorrow and their pain.

So their sadness becomes, morphs into you sadness and so you become a clone with a mouth opening and closing, opening and shutting, only speaking when you’re spoken to. I do not miss the euphoria. I do not miss that unnatural of unnatural highs because as much as it gives me, it takes from me so, so much that I can never get back; things that are important to me, my merciful, saving grace like other people’s love and their respect; it smashed my golden reputation to smithereens just like that and snuffed the light out of my eyes. Blinded loyalties and the trust that I had so fervently built up, stored up in reserve. It was all gone, gone, gone; gone to little ashes and dust. Silence comes with the sadness. You go all quiet and steady.

You ready yourself for the onslaught of the human traffic that seems to dissolve you in its spell when you are head on ‘high’. You chant, ‘Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?’ when you’re dying in a slump. They come hatched, patterned with loveliness at first, turned out, tuned in like clockwork, like dust spread out in the night air. I’ve already figured out their seasons, their cycles, when they hit, clutch me in their grasp, clinging onto me with their ferocious little beady, red eyes like slits, their false smiles and their rage. The periods of sadness, silence, madness, euphoria and depression; I do not covet them. They covet me. They convert me from a delicate lady to a baby in the womb curled up in the foetal position or left feeling electrified. The glow of the brightness around you seems never to go.

For now, I’m all cried out. Feeling this sad is feeling like you’re stuck in a boat at sea with no oars. How can you possibly row, row this boat out of the oncoming tidal tsunami that is on your path? So I wait for a stream of words to save me, rescue me out of this dilemma. If I am patient, they come. They come nonetheless. Sometimes so quickly there is hardly time for them in their wake, their rush to fit them all coherently onto the blank anything that is within my reach. So sometimes they’re wasted on me; forgotten, gone like a wind and I have to live with that. I have to accept that. Mental illness does not turn any woman or man into a saint. There are no gods or goddesses in stories of mental health awareness only games of snakes and ladders; no found utopias here. What goes up must inevitably crash land. Bits here and there grounded or up in flames.

At the worst of times it is unpredictable. It turns your life mostly upside down. Writing about it is a catharsis. It frees you in a way that you never even thought possible. It makes you fall, grasping with the pads of your fingers for something uniquely pure and relevant. It leaves you with hours, precious time to do simply nothing at all but get on with life, moving on instead of the more obvious, waiting to die, wanting to.

The end

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