I’m not confused. I’m just well mixed.
~ Robert Frost
I thought I knew all the ways my bipolar disorder behaved. I recognized his tiny tracks across my calendar, stealing days while I struggled to get out of bed. I knew the way he reset my clocks while I gardened at midnight. I was familiar with the in-between, when my disorder was seductive and my medication disappeared into cobweb corners. I believed that because I’d been to these places and memorized the path home, that I was safe; I could follow the breadcrumbs. It turns out, I was right but I was also wrong.
Not long ago, I began to feel the darkness creeping in. After several good months, I was caught off guard when I felt the depression returning. Bipolar depression can be very stubborn so the onset is always scary. Will it be worse than last time? Will it last longer? Will it destroy more? Not knowing how hungry each bout of depression or mania will get can be paralyzing. Even when I understand what is happening on an intellectual level, my emotions can still take on a life of their own.
As this particular bout of depression moved in, I realized that something different was happening. Instead of sleeping fifteen hours a day, I was sleeping four. In addition to my usual weepiness, I was thin-skinned and irritable. I was depressed but I was also completely unable to sit still. My thoughts and words raced. All of this was new and it was awful.
I saw my therapist as quickly as I could and we discussed what was going on. She encouraged me to call my psychiatrist asap. Dr. W. listened to my story and then explained that I am experiencing a mixed episode. A mixed episode is the presence of both depression and mania at the same time, and in this case, it is the worst of both worlds. If I’d been here before I couldn’t remember. Just when I thought I understood my disease, my bipolar disorder reached into his little bag of tricks and pulled out a brand-new set of symptoms.
If you, or someone you know, is living with a mental illness, then you know what comes next. Dr. W and I began the process of tweaking the current medication. I really dislike this part but I’m compliant. Over the years, I’ve learned that compliance makes the process much smoother and more effective.
Here’s where I am today, the place Suzanne (the person) overlaps Bipolar (the disease) – the mixed state was miserable but I realized, with a certain clarity, that I was as afraid it would go away as I was that it would stay. That is the strange but honest truth about depression and mania. Depression can be soul sucking. Depression can be crippling. Depression can feel like a heavy wet blanket draped across my entire life. Mild mania, though really unpleasant, is also like waking up from a heavy sleep. I become speedy and irritable, but I am also functional (for a while, at least.) During this mixed state I have been quite creative. In fact, working with my hands has been the only truly sane/safe place in my life for a while. I am planting, crafting, and teaching myself to work with wood. The wood working is exciting because it involves new tools. Tools are fun.
I can feel the medication beginning to work. The mood stabilizer has begun to slow my racing thoughts and tame my irritability and impulsivity. I am still struggling a bit with sleep, but if the past is any kind of indicator of the future, sleep will come. The antidepressants are lifting the darkness. I can see again and it’s good. Things aren’t perfect yet and some adjustments to medications may still be required but I am definitely on the right track.
I am thrilled that for now, creativity is still scratching at the inside of my skull. I like to create art from found objects. There’s something really exciting about watching something old become something brand new. The other day, on the way home from the supermarket, I noticed a house near mine with a sign in the yard that said, “Free Wood!” (I could almost hear my stationary sander whisper my name.) I think I may drop in and have a look. This mixed state has been pretty awful and I’m incredibly glad it’s ending but once again, I’m reminded – there’s something to learn from every place I experience. I am learning a new path home.