Bipolar disorder is an incurable disease that with luck, therapy and medication can be contained at best. Even when it’s controlled I don’t think you can call it ‘in remission’ as with some illnesses. It’s always there, lurking in the recesses of your brain just waiting for an opportunity to take over.
It requires a constant awareness and vigilance to keep in check.
Sometimes it feels like my illness is a living being. There are times I can almost physically feel it as it moves through my brain. The depression wraps its arms around me, covering my thoughts with a heavy, wet blanket of despair. Mania races around my head, leaving the brain quivering with excitement. There’s a line from the Doors song “Riders on the storm” that often comes to mind when I start swinging up out of control…
“There’s a killer on the road. His brain is squirming like a toad”
I can so identify with that feeling of a squirming brain, struggling to break free and run amok.
And if I’m a killer, the victim is me.
When deeply depressed or high with mania, I start repeating words and phrases in my head. It’s usually just a short sentence, ruminating over and over and over. And depending on the mood, it’s in a specific part of the brain. I can feel it. Depression lives in the back, just above the brain stem in the darkest part of the brain. It’s a low, slow thought that keeps creeping in, despite of the efforts to push it back down.
Mania lives in the front, just behind the forehead. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to escape. It’s sitting there right below the surface, bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer. “Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad… Squirming like a toad…”
Not that I really hear the voices. It’s just a thought. The only difference is the repetition and location.
The first clue starts with a long conversation I have with myself. Usually, I’m planning something I want to say to someone else, but it’s a monologue, not an imagined real conversation. And that’s always in the middle of my head.
And when that starts, I know I’m about to get in trouble.
But I’ve learned tricks and skills to react once I realize that I’m headed in the wrong direction. Before, it seemed like both the depressions and manias just slammed in. Boom. Zero to Sixty in 2.3 seconds. The signs were probably always there, I just didn’t know to look for them. So now it seems like a slow progression that I can feel taking over and controlling my mood. And since I can see it coming, I can throw up the defenses to ward it away. Depression needs exercise and focus. Work can be a big trigger for both depression and mania. Sometimes the volume of tasks gets overwhelming, causing me to react in one of two ways; up or down. So when I feel the down slide, I really focus on telling myself that in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a job. So what if I’m behind. The world keeps turning, babies are born and people will die, it will rain, or there will be sun. It’s all about perspective. But that only works though when you catch the fall early.
Oddly enough, the Mania is the easiest for me to reign in. I feel the shoulders start to rise, the knee starts bouncing, my typing gets incredibly fast (and the typos occur exponentially). But I’m waiting for it. I stop, take a deep breath, and force my body to relax. And I find one physical thing I can focus on. It’s a form of mindfulness I suppose. I focus until all I feel is my still fingers on the keyboard. Or my ass sitting firmly on the chair. Something… ANYThing that releases the excess energy. It’s kind of like I imagine what it’s like being struck by lightning. The electricity pours into your body, permeating everywhere, then pouring out of you at the point of contact between you and the earth. All that energy leaves the body in one small point. So when the mania starts up, I try to give it a ground where it can go.
See how easy it is? Oh HELL No it’s not.
It has taken years and year of therapy to learn the skills that work for me. It’s taken even longer to practice, and find the best way to apply to my specific situation. And sometimes even that doesn’t work, and I have to move to the next level of defense.
But I have to be very careful.
When I start feeling unstable, it’s easy to go too far with the countermeasures. This is especially true trying to pull back from a manic episode. Once the excess energy has been dissipated there can be a vacuum, allowing a space for the darkness to invade. Sometimes it’s just the fact that I recognize a swing. It’s a reminder that the disease is still there, active and deadly. That alone can be depressing as hell. Other times, the mania comes from a churn of all kinds of different emotions, and when one is gone, another can move to the front.
So you see, the fight is never really over.
I spend my days in a wonderful normalcy now. The disease isn’t the core of my being anymore. For so many years, the Bipolar Disorder defined who I was. Now I’m free to be true to myself without the overwhelming emotions ruling my life. But it takes vigilance and acceptance to keep everything in check. There’s a very fine line between sick and well, and it’s too easy to cross over that line.
It’s a delicate balance.
Oh, and work is beating the hell out of me these days.
Deep breaths man, deep breaths. My ass is firmly connected to my chair, pulling the boat away from the dock.
It’s going to be all right.