Saturday, May 4, 2013

#448: Citizens of Bipolar Nation

I'll be honest. There's a little more on my mind than I would prefer the day before a marathon.

I have been misunderstood... and understood too well. Which is ironic, because I don't understand a damn thing.

I don't understand why the word "love" has been spread so thin that it doesn't mean anything. We love our sweethearts. We love our friends. We love God. We love ice cream. We love humanity. We love Citizen Kane. When the same word can mean so many things, I don't understand how it can mean anything. 

I don't understand how things can be so mixed up. How the best intentions can become the most disastrous actions. The perfect solution, can turn out to be the worst thing you could possibly have done.

I don't understand how people who love me can believe the worst without knowing the truth. Or how people who know the truth can love me at all.

I don't understand this disease. This disorder. My moods are cycling hard now. In spite of the meds and the head shrinking. Life is still more than I can take in stride. It is like learning to ride a unicycle. There is only up and down. Good and bad. No middle. No gray. I'm surrounded by saints and devils. I love and I hate. It is confusing to the people who care about me. Unfair to the people who depend on me. Brutal to myself.

This is the danger zone. This is when the disease gets deadly.

I'm in a hole. I started writing about my mental illness for the first time because I thought it would help. Help people to understand what it is like to go through it. Help people who share the diagnosis and the stigma of bipolar disorder to know that they are not alone. That we don't have to fight it alone. I don't know if it has done that. I don't know what's true and what's my disease lying to me. I know that it has frightened people. Some are frightened for me. Too many are frightened of me. 

And I'm frightened, too. People know, now. I'm not just "eccentric." I'm not just "emotional." I live  my life out on the thin ice, and when it breaks, I'm not just sad, I'm scared to death. Because no matter how many times you tell yourself it will get better, there's a part of you that can never believe it. Especially when it keeps getting worse. 

So, what to do now? Stop writing about it? Stop thinking about it? Stop fighting? No. I started digging this hole, and it's too deep to climb out. There's nothing left to do but give up or keep digging. "The ones who give up... they all die." I'm not ready to give up. I will never give up.

You want to see what's down here? OK, have a look. 

Imagine a world of flickering shadows where everything seems dangerous and sad. Imagine feeling so strong, so smart, so ready to take on the world that your every move feels brilliant and inspired by God himself.

Imagine a Victorian room where warm soft light reveals deep, rich colors and textures so beautiful it makes you cry for the love of it. And the next minute, the room goes dark and every step you take stubs a toe, cracks a shin, knocks over a crystal goblet that shatters around your bare feet on the stone floor. And then, the lights are on again in the same beautiful room you remember, except your legs are bruised and torn, leaving bloody footprints on the silk rug wherever you step.

Imagine the eyes. The prying eyes of the curious. The fearful eyes of your mother. The wounded eyes of your wife. Imagine the rolling eyes that have had too much of you. The judging eyes that blame you. The unblinking eyes of the ones who doubt you. And always there are your own eyes. You see only extremes. You see only perfection or danger. Yours are the eyes whose every message has to be checked and rechecked because they have lied to you so many times that you can't believe your own thoughts.

Do you see it yet? Do you see what it means to know you can't be trusted because you can't trust yourself? Can you feel what it's like to have your own mind betray you, just when you need it most? Can you hear the tears of your beloved as she is confronted  by outsiders with the questions that you couldn't even answer yourself?

Then see this. See your own funeral. See the closed coffin and the confused weeping. See the anger, the blaming whispers. Hear the careful, evasively worded eulogy. Hear the silence of that dark box, and feel it's seductive peace. Can you do that, down here in this hole that I've dug? Can you imagine feeling like death, even eternity in hell would be better than living like a wounded bull in a china shop, thrashing your broken horns, goring everything that is lovely or loving in your world? Can you imagine longing for that release?

If not, then you have no idea what bipolar disorder means. 

I'm going to keep writing. It's going to hurt me. It has hurt me already. Cancer makes you a hero. Mental illness makes you a freak. That's the way it feels. And often, that's the way it is. And the only thing I can do to help change that is to keep telling the truth. 

Because here's the most important thing you need to know about us, the citizens, the prisoners of Bipolar Nation - if we are not dead, it's because we are fighting to hold on to life every second. 

I want you to understand. We are not criminals. But we are in great pain, and we are in great danger. We understand that you need to protect yourself from the consequences of our disease. You can't trust us when we are sick any more than we can trust ourselves. But we desperately need your compassion. We need someone to counter the lies that the lows tells us. We need a patient hand when the highs make us think we can take on the world. We know how much it hurts to be around us. And we understand if you can't do it all the time.

But oh dear God, we so need someone to keep telling us it's going to be ok.


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