My husband wakes up for work at 5:30am. I am sitting on the couch, watching the news. He already knows what my answer will be, but he asks anyway. “Have you slept at all?” I shrug. He knows I haven’t slept. He knows I haven’t slept in days. He is stoic, but I know if I look up from the television, I will see his expression. It will be a little sad. It will be a little frightened. I can’t stand the thought that I have done this to him. He sighs and walks away. I assume it is to gather his thoughts and begin again. He makes us each a cup of coffee, mine in my favorite heart shaped mug. He uses the fancy, flavored creamer. He knows exactly how I take my coffee on mornings like this. After so many years of mornings like this, he knows too many things. His kindness breaks my heart.
He sits across from me; he is on the love seat and I am on the couch. He mutes CNN and begins to gently pour his words on me like round fat warm summer rain, each drop pregnant with the possibility of growth. I know he is praying that something he says will land on fertile ground. Grow something stronger and more resilient.
He says, “This is what it feels like to live an ordinary life.”
He says, “This is what it feels like to sleep in the dip in the mattress, worn soft in the middle after years of dreaming, belly to back.”
He says, “This is the way people drink their coffee.”
He says, “This is the way people grow old.”
I can barely hear him over the din of sounds inside my noisy head. This is the way mania affects me. It makes me feel like my heard is bursting at the seams, cracking open like a cicada shell. Like a cicada who has slept for seventeen years and whose wings are finally free to rip open the dark. When I am like this, I want to start fires. I want to plant roses at midnight. I want to gamble away our savings. I want to wager on horses and new dresses. Impulsivity nips at my heels.
He says, “Take your pills, Honey, and try to remember what it feels like to sleep through the night.
He says, “Be still and this will pass.”
“I don’t know if I want it to pass this time.” I say quietly. It has been long enough since my last manic episode that I have almost forgotten the unspeakable pain and shame that follows. Almost forgotten, but not completely. I know with certainty that I have said these words before. Still, he listens patiently, nodding, head slightly tilted to indicate he is taking it all in. I know he will never understand just how dark the darkness can be, or the way it feels taking the first few steps into mania. It feels almost euphoric. Euphoric, until the madness sets in.
Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset. We go around like this for a few days, then I relent and call my psychiatrist. I pretend that I am angry, but really, I am so very relieved. My doctor is responsive. He listens to the calm way I say, “I’m not feeling well.” He listens but he also watches my knee shake, watches my hands flutter across my lap like little birds. He decides it is time to update my medication cocktail. Add a new mood stabilizer. We choose together, the one with the least possible side effects. I am ready. I crave sleep like a lost lover.
After so many years of doing this, I know that calm will find me. I understand that I will sleep and wake to a different view of the world. I understand that I have an illness and need medication. Still, there is a very fundamental part of me that harbors the shame of hurting the people that love me most. I am devastated at the idea that I have sent my husband off to work with the image of me – hair wild, eyes wilder, drinking coffee, glued to the worst news of the day. How do I reconcile my desire to be well with my willingness to slip back into the old patterns? Shame can be as bitter as any pill prescribed to heal. Shame, and the ugly things we tell ourselves to feed that shame, are so destructive. I will have to remember to talk with my therapist about this. I will have to write down what I am feeling and thinking today, so that when the memory of this fades, my treatment can still be effective. I have begun to keep notes for her, so that I can tell her each important event, before the medicine soothes the hurts and I forget again, about the cicada and the coffee and the roses.