My favorite line from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is when Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne tells him the reason that we fall down is so we can learn to get back up. Its one of those little boosters that I collect for when I feel like I cant keep going.
Its been a week or two from my last post. I have spent the last two months fighting this demon known as bipolar. Lots of energy drinks, dark coffee and cigars and copious amounts of music have kept me company as I try to find myself once again.
For those of you who have been following my last few post, I was half dosing my Geodon and Trazadone and going without a mood stabilizer for quite sometime. I wanted to have the energy to just feel normal. But it took its toll, rapid cycling and mixed episodes pushing me to the brink of suicidal ideation. Self destructive behavior abounded, surrounded by the things that gave me joy just so I could make it through the day. I felt like that part of my life should have been over.
And it was for a brief period of time after ECT, I was better. I was evolving into a reflection of the me that I knew. But then the effects of ECT slowly wore off over time, I don’t understand the science behind it. They zap you, you have grand mal seizures and then you turn into a zombie for a year or two, you;iterally learn to balance again, learn to function again and for a couple of years you feel normal. I was able to cut back on my meds because the ECT did its job. But slowly (and this is just my uneducated guess at the anatomical makeup of the brain) the pathways in my mind began to revert back to their old ways. The thoughts that I would be better off dead, better off to not exist at all began to creep back in. But at this moment I would be damned if I ever go back to ECT. That was the hardest thing I have ever done. And I’ve done some pretty horrendous things to myself over the years. I’ve modeled myself after the manly man that Hemingway promoted. I prided myself on being able to take pain, to never complain, to suffer in silence, in essence to be strong as a bull. But I’m really exhausted from that.
And my family, they look at mental health like a cold or a virus that just has to work its way out of your system and then your are fine and healthy. It doesn’t work that way. I have asked for time, time away from my responsibilities that flooded my life, taking the very strength that it took to keep from dying to do the “chores” needed to function. Things like waking at 7 am to take my son to work became overwhelming and my wife was on top of it, she rallied my family together to help me just relax and heal. But if you aren’t bipolar you cannot understand bipolar. And over the years I’ve written positive pieces about how to include your family in your treatment, but I question that now. Because unless you know what this is like, this existence, you can never really be sympathetic to the plight of a bipolar person. Maybe that’s why I have always idolized Ernest Hemingway, he made it sixty years before ending it all. I guess I never saw his suicide as failure, but more as an end to the madness, more of a celebration of not giving up the first time death beckoned for you.
A couple of weeks back my doctor put me on more meds. I battled through the nausea, the sick feeling of taking all those pills. I watched as the person I had come to know slowly changed, changed into a completely different person. Sure, we liked the same things but food tasted different, and when I looked in the mirror that man I saw was not me, not the person I had come to love. He was broken and suffering. And he was me. The meds altered my perception of myself. New drugs, new me.
This curse of being a high functioning bipolar person resonated because I could see the changes, understand the changes and the molecular function of the medication. It alters our brain chemicals, redirects feelings from one part of the brain to other parts that adapt to the chemicals we take morning and night, taking away the depression, the mania and the desire to end our lives. I’ve been watching as I changed and the mixed episodes slowed, the rapid cycling lessened. I had my moments when all I could do was cry like a child, and then every now and again a little mania would leak through and I would catch myself getting loud and energetic, and I realized that I was manic. But it wasn’t the happy manic that made me feel like a god. It was a tamer mania, that only lasted an hour and then it vanished into the dark.
To be frank, I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. And you cant go into this much detail with your doctor, most only give you ten minutes of their time to analyze and write a prescription. They don’t go into the deeper psyche, that’s what a hospital stay was for. And I really wanted to avoid those damn hospital stays. You know the group therapy and the coloring time and the bad food. Don’t get me wrong, when you are at the end of your rope, by god, check yourself in and deal with it. I just felt I could do a better job with my own routine and simply saying to everyone, (in the words of Billie Eilish) “Just Fucking Leave Me Alone”. Its blunt and offensive to some, but its what I need.
So I’m on higher doses of meds, and I have accepted that I need this. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it, it doesn’t mean I have to be content with this new me. I can protest, I can make snide comments and I can complain. But its for the best. I’m sick and I need pills to make me better. That’s the simple fact of the matter. But every time you change meds, you become a different version of you, a different mind inside the same shell. That person looking back in the mirror, they are different and it takes time to get used to them.
I’ve bailed on band practice for three weeks now, the one weekly thing that brought me three hours of bliss, had become a bed of anxiety ridden stress. Just leaving the house has been a challenge, but I force myself to do it. I take a couple of valium and chase it with an energy drink (and don’t lecture me on how that is “not healthy”, this entire thing isn’t healthy!) I do what I can to cope with the situation. I know my limits, and that is important. Know your limits and right them in stone. Never cross those limits because they can be the difference in coping and self destruction.
I pour myself into my writing, story after story, book after book. I get lost in these worlds I create, these stories I publish and share with the world. And I have come to realize that I don’t care if anyone reads my work, I don’t care if my paintings don’t sell, or if someone doesn’t buy my music CDs, because all of that, the writing, the art, the music its all my therapy. Its my coping mechanism. I’m a classically trained watercolor artist for Christ sake, I studied at the finest art school in the country. But none of that matters, because that art I make, its for me. I have come to learn that making a living off of my therapy is an insult to the idea of actual therapy. Its my way of coping with all of this. And everyday I adjust to that. Notice how I said adjust, not accept. Adjusting is coming to terms with life, accepting is going against your better judgement and just being complacent with the way things are. I have come to terms that I will never be the world famous painter I wanted to be as a child, or the best selling author. I play in a subpar band that right now focuses on weekly practices instead of two gigs a week like I did for years. I come to terms that those things I do, the creative in me, those things are what makes me live day to day.
A few people will read this, some will think one thing, others will dismiss it as the ravings of a madman. But none of that matters. And knowing what really matters is part of the process. And what does matter?
It matters that I sleep, that I eat, that I communicate with my wife. It matters that I make an honest attempt at being a father to my children. It matters that every morning I take my pills, and at night I do the same. Stick to the things that keep me alive.
I have been obsessing about wanting to move back to my favorite city, Savannah, Georgia. Its five hours away and I spend everyday fighting the urge to just get in my car and drive back home. I miss that city, but is that even real? Is that logical? No it isn’t. My wife has a good job and it would be selfish to force her to follow my dreams for the simple sake of my happiness. And separating those moments of crazy ideas and logical thought have been difficult. Some days I wake up and think that I should just sell everything I own to fund my dream of relocating, but then I remember how utterly insane it was that in 2002 I sold everything and moved back to Savannah and then months later just up and left for the islands of the Bahamas, and when I grew tired of the islands I moved to Mexico. I spent two years spinning out of control, covering thousands of miles, spending thousands of dollars to find peace. But peace comes from loving yourself. Peace comes from finding complacency in your existing life. Peace comes from a perfect cocktail of medication and therapy. And I am working so hard at that right now.
As much as I want to give up, as much as I want to just go to bed and never wake up, I force myself to do the program. And what is that program for me? I spend hours in my studio, writing, smoking cigars, drinking energy drinks and coffee, taking the valium when I get too emotional and trying to stick to the medicine that my doctor feels is best for me. Focusing on tomorrow, not this moment. That’s my program right now, and its keeping me alive.
I’m not in any place to offer tips on how to live with bipolar disorder, at least not right now. I’m focused on living, second to second, day to day. I have amassed a huge amount of guilt for dragging my wife through this journey with me, but she says she understands and she loves me. How did I get so lucky? I can say that without her support and her understanding (which came from fifteen years of her honestly trying to be part of my treatment) that I would not be here today. Maybe I would be in some little village in the Caribbean or in a broke down apartment in Savannah, struggling to survive. Maybe I would have just ended it. I don’t really know, but this… this I know, having a partner who understands (or at least tries as best as they can) is the best treatment on Earth.
Am I better than the last time I posted? Yes, I am. But does that mean that its easier? If anything its harder, but I have no intentions of giving up. I’m going to let old age take me, I’m going to try and beat Hemingway and make it to 100 if I can. I want to die of old age, knowing that I fought this beast daily. I want to take my final breaths knowing that bipolar didn’t kill me, knowing that this fight hasn’t been for naught. Knowing that I tried everyday. I want a clear conscious, I don’t want the guilt of killing myself lingering in the universe, I try everyday for me, my wife, my parents, my kids, my grand kids and my dogs. I want to survive this. I honestly want to live.
Over the last few months I bought a Halloween costume from 1970 on Ebay that matched the one I wore for a year in 1974, pretending to be Batman. Its a tiny little costume in the original box. But it made me feel like I connected with the real me. I can remember being a little kid and adoring how Batman always survived, because he was strong and brave. I bought a guitar that matched the same one I had in high school (and sold out of desperation), just to feel that connection to that person I miss, that old me. I surround myself with toys and collectibles that keep telling me who I am. Some might say that’s financial mania, but I see it as survival. Because I so desperately want to remember who I was. That person I was before bipolar took over and made me into a psychological mess. Sometimes those stupid decisions have meaning, and there are great minds that say everything has meaning.
When your mind swirls like a Ferris wheel and you aren’t sure who you really are anymore, I find it helps to reminiscence on who you were when you truly loved yourself. A little soul shine, and we all know that’s better than sunshine.
So tonight I’ll take my pills, go to sleep and battle the demon in my dreams for six hours, wake up and take more pills and then try and get to know that guy in the mirror, all over again as I have done so many times in my life.
Bipolar is a bitch, its a horrible thing and its not fair but the best we can do is survive and thrive when we have the energy to do it. If you read this, I hope it helps you with your own struggles. I’m walking that tightrope and I’m going to die trying, hopefully after I celebrate my 100th birthday with my family by my side, and then I can be proud that I beat bipolar, proud that it never beat me.
Hemingway said, “we are all broken, that’s how the light gets in“, I keep repeating that day after day. Let that light in, let it shine.