A Tale Of Two Springs
Ah, spring. What is it about this season that has me so up and down? (Besides, of course, my mental illness.) I recently began a strict regimen of vitamins, supplements, and, most importantly, medication. It’s the first time I’ve really buckled down and forced myself to take part in the not-quite-as-fun aspects of self-care. Anyone can take a bubble bath. Anyone can eschew the household chores of cooking and washing dishes for an evening of Chinese takeout. Such can always be justified for the sake of self-care.
What’s not, however, easy to justify is the spectrum of side effects that accompany any medication designed to treat misfiring synapses in the brain. The fog is unreal. Sometimes I’ll be halfway through a sentence and forget what I was saying. I’ll be walking somewhere and after a few steps, find myself reminding or reassuring myself of my general direction. I’ll even be holding something—any sort of object—and forget why I picked it up in the first place. As annoying as that can be though, it’s still somehow better than the alternative. (Or so I must continue to tell myself in the moment.)
I’m only on a small dosage, and it can take six weeks to really start seeing a marked improvement. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo, but I do feel a difference. Perhaps it’s the act of taking care of myself when before, I’d rely on a cigarette, glass of red wine, and binge-watching Sex and the City when I was feeling out of control?
(Carrie Bradshaw voice) Could it be that the act of self-love in itself is transformative? And that I could reap the same feel-good benefits if I swallowed Tic-Tacs in the morning instead of my Lamotrigine? I couldn’t help but wonder if all I needed this whole time was a Cosmopolitan, my suspiciously good-looking group of girlfriends, and low doses of baby aspirin to make the dull heartache of bad life decisions simply melt away like the piles of browned Manhattan snow on the first warm day of springtime.
I will leave that uniquely early-2000’s form of navel-gazing where it belongs and counter it with this sickeningly simply sentiment: when we do kind things for ourself, it opens the floodgates of affirmation. The break-in period for my meds is not fun, yet I love myself and those around me enough to deal with it. The alternative—not taking my meds—is much, much easier. However, it’s not what I need. If you’re in a similar space, pat yourself on the back. What you’re doing is not easy, and few will understand the “sacrifice” you’re making.
After all, the medicated life comes with its own shitty stigma. Everyone thinks they know what’s right for you. “You need to be on MORE meds,” some will clamor, while others recommend alternative healing such as essential oils and salt lamps. (Both of which I am not opposed to—in fact, I have several of each in my home—but if you think that those are sufficient enough to mend the inner turmoil of mental illness, maybe you should leave those opinions to yourself.)
Having said that, there are times when I am shocked at the minutia of this disease that grips my brain in the oddest of ways. I’ve made a habit of curating a playlist every month. The only rule is this: include what you feel. That’s about it. I’ve been doing this for years, and my monthly playlists have served as mood charts or mille bornes of significant events. Heartbreaks, happiness (it’s been a while), hypomania, career triumphs, career failings…. everything. Every moment, remembered as melodies and vaguely relevant lyrics. Though we’re barely one whole week into May, I’ve had two playlists for this month already. (I got a head start and began one of them towards the end of April. Transparency included for the pedantic nerds who will send me a DM on Instagram with an accusatory statement about my feigned “authenticity.”)
What you’ll see in the accidental juxtaposition of these two lists is what it feels like to have this illness: playful and hopeful one moment, contemplative and prone to an unmoving kind of sadness the next.
You can see a sort of melancholia taking over towards the end of this first one, which is why I decided to start a second, which devolved into all-out sad nostalgia for lost love and other motifs so powerful that getting out of bed despite them seems like an all but improbable outcome.
There you have it. I’ll call this my aural introduction to bipolar disorder for those who don’t know what it feels like. It’s pretty entry-level, but I’m sure you’ll understand. Whether you’re also mentally ill, struggling with heartbreak or failure in some other way, or just want to stay grounded (for the latter playlist) or you need a pick-me-up, want to have some fun singing in the car, or have no reason to make yourself sad with painfully beautiful but melancholy music, the former is for you.