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.
I began to show symptoms long before I (or anyone) acknowledged there was a problem. Over time, my life became a predictable pattern of extreme emotional instability and a lot of damage control. It wasn’t until my external life began to reflect my internal chaos that someone spoke up.
Years after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and gaining the tools and support to manage that disease, on some unconscious level, I stilled fundamentally believed that losing weight would “fix” me. The fly in that ointment was that whenever food was restricted, the underlying issues were still bubbling, just below the surface.
Merriam-Webster defines illness as, “a specific condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally.” If this is true, then how do we succeed in a world designed by and for “normal” minds? Here’s what I think: We do it like McGyver, with nothing but a safety pin, a stick of gum and a thimble. We do it like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards, in heels. We do it like Joseph Friedman, who thought straws should be bendier, just because. For both the famous and the unfamous, success often requires a great deal of creativity.
Here’s what she said, “If you have pleased everyone who has asked something of you, you are doing something wrong. It’s ok to say no. You’re good at what you do, but you aren’t the only one who can do it.” I know she’s right but I can see this might take some practice.
When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
When I consider my life, it is usually divided into two parts: Before and After. Before – before a proper diagnosis. After – after a proper diagnosis. This distinction isn’t some fleeting thought I have when I open a scrap book. It’s the way I tell my story, to myself and to others.