Tag Archives: bipolar disorder

Coming out

A bad thing happened in October and I’m not ready to write about it yet, but people who have been paying attention will notice that right about the time that I really went off the deep end. (Well, this time around, anyway.)

I have pared my daily life down to the most basic the most and essential life functions because SURVIVAL. I just need to get by. Do my job. Take care of my kid. Sleep. The other stuff will either wait or it won’t get done or it will get frustrated and scream for attention. As the latter has occurred more than once, I’ve been dolling out quite a few explanations and apologies lately:

“I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can.”

“It isn’t that I don’t want to do X, I just haven’t had the time/energy/attention span.”

“Give me time. Please. I’ll get better. I’m doing the best I can.”

Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.
Nope. It really never even occurred to me to try.

This Button Poetry video showed up in my Facebook feed. In it, Sabrina Benaim eloquent and powerfully explains to her mother what depression looks and feels like from the inside.  Thank you for those stirring words and images, Ms. Benaim. As I’m sure you could tell from the reactions in the audience, you accurately voiced the feelings of many.

From to her explanation of depression as miniscule and managable one day, then as massive and brutalizing as a bear the next, to her characterization of anxiety as an unwelcome party guest — Sabrina brings it home. After watching that video, I felt like giving her a slow clap.

I grew up in the 90's. I know of few higher commendations.
I grew up in the 90’s. I know of few higher commendations.

Because, you see, my happiness is also a high fever that will ultimately break. That is what mania is. So when someone says to me, “I just don’t know if I really believe that you actually have bipolar disorder — I’ve never really seen you be manic.” What am I supposed to say? Observe: My illness is not so much roller-coaster as it is pendulum, swinging from side to side, and so we shall go from the light side to the dark, and while you will certainly recognize the dark days for what they truly are, you will mistake the light days for health and wellness because you don’t see that I am actually sailing into the Sun. Proof? Really, you need evidence? Ok, here you go, flip through these snapshots of me over the past ten years — I like to call it the “Watch Sarah Gain and Lose and Gain 100 Pounds” Show.

Mania, you fatty bitch.
Mania, you fatty bitch.

If I’m not proving I’m sick, I’m defending my right to self-care: “You know, I feel like our relationship has been really one-sided lately.” You’re right. It has. Because even though I love you and I care about you as a person, right now my head is one big snarly black mess of fluff and lint, and I can’t seem to keep arbitrary things like dates, appointments, or birthdays straight. I love you, but I don’t want to go out –because I don’t want to have fun when having fun just isn’t fun anymore. I just want to sleep and make sure that there is enough energy left in my reserves to properly take care of my child because if anyone is going to be short-changed it sure as shit isn’t going to be her.  It might have to be you. I’m sorry. I love you. I am doing my best. Can you hang on until it gets better? If you can’t that’s okay! Here: have an out: You can hang on until it gets better or you can plead self-preservation in your own right and leave for a while. I won’t be upset. I wouldn’t blame you. You wouldn’t be the first.

I feel like explaining my depression is something like what my non-heteronormative friends tell me about coming out: it isn’t a one-time traumatic release. “Oh thank God, I got that off my chest!” Nope! It’s over, and over, and over, and over. And each time, depending on who I’m “coming out” to, a host of new fears come to the party: will this effect my job? My reputation? Will I lose her as a friend, a colleague? Have I said too much? Is she still going to like me, respect me, want to be around me? Have I frightened her? Overwhelmed her? Will she now turn tail and run?

After a certain point, this whole blog became a calculated risk — people that I know in REAL LIFE read this and will now know me differently! Even if they never bring it up, they have seen behind the mask. My entire adult life I have heard comments like, “You have anxiety? Well, I never would have guessed!” or “You carry yourself with such poise. I had no idea you suffered from depression the way you do.” I am letting that go up in smoke, because I’m willfully telling you: Yes, I am a mess. Yes, I have these disorders. No more compartmentalization and no more hiding. Even if I didn’t know it at the time of inception, that was the mission behind starting the Real Sarah C Project.

But here’s the thing — I fooled you.

For a little while, at least, I fooled you, and now perhaps you will sit back and wonder how many other people in your life are functioning with some form of mental illness — 1 in 5 adults, according to this study — so chances are you know someone. You might even be that someone. And when you consider the masses of individuals coming out and embracing their own non-nueronormativity and fighting to dismantle the systemic stigmatization surrounding mental illness and other disorders, it is plain to see: we are just not as isolated, as powerless, or as dysfunctional as our faulty wiring would have us believe. Perhaps some days, it’s all we can do just to function and to survive, but every so often, we’ll shine.

I feel sick.

Every time the depression wells back up and takes me, I feel like a failure. This time it took me by surprise in a new way because it didn’t start with sadness, it started with success. Yes, I’ve been tremendously busy, but I’ve been on top of it all – managing my appointments, my schedule, showing up on time, in the places I’m meant to be, and feeling good. I’ve been feeling in control of myself, nigh invincible, as I have taken on more and more, chasing that glorious moment of triumph.

Something you should know about me: As long as I’ve had something that needs improvement, I have had something to prove.

This time, my descent started with an up-tick. It started with the slow, steady ascent of a wooden coaster, as the click, click, click ushers you ever onward and upward toward the peak before it surrenders you unto the nothingness, allowing you to fall.

"STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF," she would have said, if she had better foresight.
“STOP THE RIDE, I WANNA GET OFF,” she would have said, if she had had better foresight.

But this time it would seem the problem is not really the depression, but the mania. The mania (and the anxiety and the paranoia), which previously only lasted for a few hours or perhaps a day at the most, has become recurring.

I can’t think. I can’t write. I am distracted by the tiniest of things. Glitter, stuck to my sweat-dampened skin. Moira, exploring my work area. The feel of the air in the room, how oppressively warm it is with the sliding glass door closed and the humidity inching upward each moment as the sun heats the moisture on the pavement outside. The creeping vines of anxiety as each of these press inward on my consciousness, the feeling starting in my ankles, moving inexorably upwards toward my chest, immobilizing me and robbing me of my words, setting a spark to my fight or flight response. It suddenly occurs to me that I can either sit here self-immolating, or I can get up and start pacing, picking, cleaning, starting with a lint-roller all over my body to get rid of that god-damned glitter because FUCK GLITTER. WHO LET THAT SHIT INTO MY HOUSE?!

Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.
Satan is a five year old girl with access to fairy dust.

The depression which has punctuated these last few stretches of anxious upheaval has been an almost welcome reprieve. As I have mentioned before, the contrast between the two states is, I imagine, like being catapulted from a tub of hot water into cold, and back and forth — not unlike what Inigo experienced when Fezzik forcibly removed him from his state of drunkenness in the Princess Bride.

drunkinigoBut rather than restore me to sanity, the effect has been completely destabilizing. I feel like I have nothing.

It’s in those awful moments I want to do truly terrible things to myself. Still. Even with all the treatment, the therapy, the medications, everything, all the improvements I’ve made, all the distance I’ve covered in the last few years, when I feel the control begin to slip away from me, the urge to harm myself screams back into focus with alarming alacrity. I just know, with deep, chilling certainty, that one simple act of self-harm would immediately, easily end the uneasy, frenetic scratching in my skull – the pain would calm me, my stomach would settle, and I would finally feel better.

My heart wouldn’t be fluttering any longer, and my thoughts wouldn’t be racing. My mind wouldn’t be festering with words and stories that refuse to coagulate into coherent stories worthy of telling. I could sit and enjoy my family’s company, my daughter’s play, my husband’s touch, or the simple miracle of a quiet house.

I don’t typically feel that my mental illness is particularly disabling, or that it makes me especially ill. In fact, as a colleague and I were discussing the other day, we take particular pains to obscure our mental “peculiarities” as much as possible, lest the rumor mill start a’ pumpin’. But this? I hate this. This makes me feel as though I suffer from true madness. I am provoked, then, to spit out the proverbial poison – to remove it from my person as if by force (thus, The Real Sarah C Project was born). Well, now that I think about it, it actually was by force! These 800 words took me two very painful weeks of writing, bitching to trusted friend about not being able to write, trying and failing to write other things, and then trying again.

Reader, the thing that I really want you to know is that I feel like a terrible mess. And despite feeling like a terrible mess, in these last few weeks, I have still felt very much myself – on top of my game, good at my job, able, and confident. I’m not sure precisely what that means in the long run, but in the spirit of keepin’ it real, I just wanted you to know: you can still keep it together while you’re falling apart.