It happens so quickly. One moment, I’m me. I’m dealing with symptoms, but have a decent sense of self at the center of it all. Then a question comes up. Someone wants to know if I’m up to doing an optional, often recreational, thing. It might be as simple as watching a certain movie. But I freeze.
Am I up to it? Is my brain able to cope with whatever the thing is at the moment? I stare at my questioner like a deer in headlights as my brain whirls. What’s worse, to turn the person down or to try the thing and have it not work out? I think about all the reasons I should say yes; all the times I’ve had to say no in the past…and as I struggle to find words, I’m plastered against a wall of shame like a bug on a windshield.
Still staring at the person who waits for a reply, I’m consumed with hatred for the cycle of apologies that shapes my days. I despise that the necessity for some apologies remains, no matter how well I take care of myself or how much I grow in self-acceptance. I go through a miniature version of the anger and shame I felt when I was first diagnosed, or when I first realized my condition wasn’t going to let me do certain jobs.
At last I answer the question. But whatever my answer is, my mini-crisis churns inside me and tries to taint my experience.
I know how this works. I’m hypomanic for a while. I get all sorts of great ideas for projects. I even work on some of them. My mind whirls with possibilities…then comes the crash.
Then come the nights of less and less sleep as the exciting part of hypomania turns into a complete inability to focus on one thought for amy length of time. Then the disorientation. Then the onset of a depressive phase.
I know how this works. So why is a tiny part of me still taken aback when it happens? Why am I surprised that now my mind is sluggish, or that I react to questions with a “deer in headlights” expression? Why am I surprised that the happy projects of a few days ago seem as far away as the moon and just as unattainable?
Why can’t I accept that I, in effect, have lost a good part of my intelligence for a few days? That I’m going to be physically clumsy and have to take care not to fall and hurt myself?
No matter how much acceptance I achieve, there’s a part of me that fights. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to slog through the days ahead and wait for the spark to return. I don’t want to be spending way too long writing this post because of the constant typos my fumbling fingers are making.
I don’t want it, but that’s the way it is.
I have lived most of my life in boxes. Some were shaped like rehab. Some were shaped like psych wards. Many had no physical structure at all, only walls and flaps made of compulsive rituals.
I have lived most of my life obsessed with the next pound, the next pill, or the next scheme to fix myself and leave the realm of brokenness behind forever.
Wars happened while I dwelt in my boxes. Cultures changed, the planet suffered…for most of my adult life I have been on the sidelines, self-absorbed. I don’t say that to beat myself up, only as a simple truth.
There are a lot of limits to what I can do now, but I do believe I have left boxes behind. Even when I have episodes, even when I’m overwhelmed, I am still part of the general community.
I get to experience the fear and anger we all feel. I get to experience ordinary human joys and sorrows. I get to look at myself in the mirror and notice the mundane signs of aging.
I hope I never stop visiting my former boxes, because many friends known and unknown are still in them. But I don’t live there anymore.