I once had the fire, raging within, unchecked and veering out of control. Now it glows like a pile of burning embers I sift through periodically, as if panning for gold. Once a cauldron of creativity, ideas bubbled around inside my head at break-neck speed, spinning like a troop of whirling dervishes. But far more valuable, the flames fueled what can only be called the presence of God within, being at one with Jesus. Such beautiful states were sparked by the same fire that also torched a living hell within—for such were the cycles of my mania and depression.
The danger of mania drew nigh when the flames scorched what was left of my reason and my perception of the world, sending me into a morphing reality where I could no longer tell what was real and what wasn’t. This alternative/alternating consciousness clouded my vision as I ran up against the walls of mania and depression, like a little girl, lost in a house of mirrors, not knowing how far she was from the light of day.
To say I could not function is a huge understatement and was a by-product of my living in another dimension. I remember once not being able to respond to a store clerk simply asking if he could help me. That question had always been troublesome for my Aspie nature, but in a Bipolar mania I was unable to open my mouth to speak, and this sent me running out the doors of the store, seeking a hiding place for my tears. One of the many times I lost my speech.
To make matters worse the fire would rage and then die out suddenly and completely, leaving me like a trapeze artist suddenly finding there was no safety net below. Despair was total—no creative juices, no God and a mind replete with self-loathing in a totally black, bleak void. I was a dead tree in the depths of winter, with decaying stumps where branches used to be. There was no future and I had no access to any of the goodness of things past.
Alternating between these two ways of being in the world was exhausting, confusing and totally disorienting. And then I had a breakdown and psychosis spewed forth from the detritus of my mind. I was reborn into a the world that was totally overwhelming and hellishly over-stimulating. I had to learn the lessons of childhood all over again, starting from square one. This time with professional help and MEDICATION! Not the self-medication of alcohol. Psych meds. Heavy duty ones of the Thorazine variety. Anti-psychotics.
At first, it seemed I was now wrapped the “cotton-wool” Virginia Woolf described as her moments of “non-being.” My cotton-wool was more of a mental straight-jacket. The medication had toned down the world outside and inside as if I were under water in John Lilly’s immersion tank. Clearly medication adjustments had to be made and they continued to be made over and over again until my doc and I found a balance—the Golden Mean of medication, with me as a willing patient since I could no longer function at all without it. Medication meant that I didn’t have to go to hospital. Medication meant that I didn’t have to kill myself. Medication meant that therapy could now teach me how to live and, more importantly, how to love. I had been seeking love all my life but was too dazed by the blaze within me to see it, feel it or return it when given. Now, at long last I could.
Most Bipolars are not med-compliant and go off their meds when things get better. And then they veer into the vertiginous descent to hell once more and wind up in hospital/jail/homeless/dead. There is no virtue in my med compliance. I have tried stopping the meds a few times resulting in a reality so painful, that, humbled, I go crawling back to them. Life events have necessitated raising the dosage now and then. Like when my father was dying of cancer and later my mother and, just a year and a half ago, my brother.
Every so often I lament the loss of the raging fire of creativity and the burning desire for communion with God but now my thoughts are slowed down enough that I can sift through the embers and find little sparks which inspire poetry/prose/paintings/photographs/prayer. I find smoldering embers of religious feeling and have to work hard to fan the fire, it’s true. But now I can channel the creativity and religious feeling into works of art that I can be shared with others. Not torn up, destroyed or desecrated in a sudden descent into depression. Now I have to work harder to pray and have practiced meditation to find real religious feeling. Despite the loss of mystical states, I find myself more motivated to become a better person in God’s eyes without the former pseudo-spiritual feeling possessing me and my ego. Most importantly now I can love: people, God, and even myself at times.
Slowing down is not boring. It enables one to function/produce/LOVE. I have accomplished more in every facet of my life after being medicated and treated than I ever did before my breakdown. The same ideas are there but now I can use them as building blocks of art/faith/relationships. I think myself more materialistic and self-seeking than I was when I was totally out of my mind. Yes, it is true that I am, but paradoxically that makes me better able to try to give something back to the world, to love others and to pray harder to God. I have lost the effortlessness of it all and I have to pedal harder to get somewhere where treasured feelings are deeper, and more lasting. I could not love before—not myself, not others.
Sometimes I mourn the manias, until I am reminded of their undesirable attributes as they occasionally race through my mind scaling the protective walls of medication. Now I finally know them for what they are. Dangerous. Scary. Out of control. And I now know they will be followed by a crash. When I mourn the days of raging fire, others remind me that the middle road is far better. I remember my Sicilian grandfather whom I adored, preaching the “Middle Path,” which I think he got from reading Marcus Aurelius. And I wonder if he said this from his own experience of some sort of psychological problems he may have had. His daughter, my Mom, certainly had a mood disorder, if not Bipolar Disorder itself. Maybe he did, too.
My husband is my biggest reminder of the importance of medication. A clinical social worker, he knows well of what he speaks, the bulk of his knowledge coming from 23 years of living with, and loving me through my suicidal depressions and my florid manias. And these days, he is the man I adore. I am still constantly amazed that I am able to give love to a real other, another human being, however imperfectly. In the days when passion fanned the terrifying, tumultuous flames of phantasms of love built upon superficial desire, I could not. Nor did I think I would ever be able to love or be loved.
Medication, therapy and my husband have helped me stay sane and walk the middle road. And the middle road is the only path to take.