What A Happy Week Taught Me
Have you ever done a Google image search for “bipolar?” If you want a good laugh, I recommend doing so. It’s full of poorly assembled graphics that would be fitting for a local TV news morning show in a small-time market, black and white diptychs of overly happy faces juxtaposed against feigned sadness, and plenty of half-assed infographics.
It’s like stepping back to a time when people weren’t as free to speak up about their mental illnesses. Or, is it? A conversation with a coworker the other day made me realize just how privileged (the correct word here?) I am to be in this specific corner of the internet to be privy to discussions about self-care in the context of mental illness. I’ve met so many other people who also feel empowered to be open. But, as I’m learning, only so much. As badass as Claire Danes is in Homeland, there is still a veritable shit ton of stigma around bipolar.
Why is it? Probably something existing halfway between bipolar being relatively unknown to most people on a personal level (people we’re all afraid to talk about it in a personal context) to it being wrongfully portrayed in popular culture. (Even people who have it romanticize it—like this head-scratcher of a Complex article—until it’s unrecognizable to most.)
I talk about the sad and difficult parts of bipolar quite a bit on this blog, but I realized that there’s a part that I haven’t spoken much to: the normal days. The in-between periods. For the last few years, I’ve been so caught in the highs and lows or, at my worst, rapid-cycling or having mixed episodes, that I haven’t just simply been. I jokingly remarked to a friend, “is this how it is for you all the time? If so, I’m extremely jealous.”
I’ve had about a week and a half of “normalcy.” Waking up at a regular hour—neither ungodly early nor too late. I’ve been productive at work, neither overly productive in the manic, obsessive way, not unfocused and guilty about being too sad to work to my full potential. I’ve been having normal conversations with my friends, not unknowingly begging them to bring me back down from terrifying heights, not making excuses to become a recluse because I have no energy to even talk. I’m—dare I say it—content? I’m no longer just seeing people and circumstances in either the darkest black or most blinding white, but I’m seeing with every color of the spectrum. And it’s absolutely beautiful.
Part of me has been terrified of when things will go back to the way they were. But more than anything else, I’m enjoying this. Why? Because having my head on straight for more than a few days at a time has given me something that I never had before: hope. For the first time since my diagnosis, I feel stronger than my illness. I feel more powerful than the forces that hold me up so high only to toss me down once I’ve gotten accustomed to the feeling of elation. There’s something breathtaking about being allowed to exist as anything else than a living, breathing dichotomy. To have agency over your feelings and your sense of self. To have autonomy over your decisions, to not be a victim to your mind’s proclivities for impulsiveness.
I have no doubt that I’ll be falling again soon. But I’m somewhat okay with that, because I now know what awaits me. For now though, I’m enjoying this. I’m even taking a short departure from my normal longform so that I can enjoy this beautiful (albeit, slightly chilly) Saturday. I’m going to work on my workshop, (another reason I haven’t been blogging much lately!) straighten up the house, grab a second cup of coffee, and enjoy being.