For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told I “have a temper,” that I’ve been “easy to agitate” my whole life. And I know that. I remember blowing up, here and there, in a way that made people stare and talk. When people have asked about my writing about depression, I answer, “I had some depression issues in the past.” I never answered truthfully. I never said those issues were a background to any day, that it was like a switch was turned and my life was without joy, some days. These lines I’m painting cannot begin to encompass the volleyball that were my moods for most of my life, but I have heard them used to describe me, and I agree with them, to an extent. But, in public, I learned to look normal, to act as though my skin was not on fire with energy. Sure, I talked too fast, worked too fervently, spoke too harshly, at times, but mostly people just thought me quirky, I imagine.
But I never really knew how to describe myself, my needs, my personality. Consistently agitated would be a very large understatement. I’ve had roommates call me obsessive, and that hits the nail on the head. No matter what I’m doing: an assignment, a play, cleaning, writing, researching, I DO it. 100% until I am done. Anything that broke up my time doing that task was met with a volley of frustration, even rage.
I’m empathetic, so empathetic that when other people emote, I emote. Tears stream down my face over injustices they cannot contain. I try to contain them and they spill out of me. When another person is having a bad day and sits down with me to talk about it, I soak their bad day up like a sponge and regurgitate it.
But I think the best way I used to describe myself was the description I told the nurse, who was figuring out how to treat my Bipolar spectrum mood disorder. I told her this: “It’s like a mass of energy sits just under my skin, buzzing around, and any little trigger will explode that energy. If it explodes up, I am a raging storm, angry and dangerous. If it implodes, I am a suicidal mass of self-loathing.” She then asked, “And what about your neutral moments?” I cried. I couldn’t remember what it was like to have those. I answered her the best I could, “I think that I’m usually just living in between the moments of up and down, afraid of which way I’ll go and trying not to go either way.” I know, just five years ago, I had more frequent spouts of neutrality, but I’ve been trying to manage that energy that never goes away, anymore, for at least a half decade.
So, she recommended medication. Something that has always frightened me. I’ve seen medication handled badly. I’ve seen the results of terrible side effects. Lives almost lost to incorrect dosage. I’ve heard horror stories and I did not want to become one. But I wanted to live, truly live. Not worry about whether I could manage to take my child to ballet class and get work done in the same day. That seemed ridiculous to me, that taking my child to a class she enjoyed might be as much as I could handle in a day. I didn’t just want to manage anymore, and I’d let fear be my master long enough. So I buckled and started on a medication regimen three weeks ago.
The first week was not great. The dose was not high enough and it would wear off midday. I would go from feeling normal–shopping, taking the kids for a walk, cooking dinner–to sobbing and considering a dash into heavy traffic. I think the swings were so extreme not because the medicine worsened them, but because the medication was allowing me a window of neutrality before I was slammed with my normal state of being, which is chemically abnormal. So I couldn’t prepare for how terrible the energy was, how strong and overwhelming it felt. I didn’t wake up with it and take deep breaths, pray and talk myself into dealing. It just hit, all of a sudden. It overwhelmed me. For two hours, I just covered my head and cried or counted the time, shaking, until my husband would get home so I could break down by myself.
And then the dosage was increased, to combat that window. So, now, you might wonder, what is life like? Are you a zombie? Uncreative? Slogging along to the drum of a nurse practitioner. No. I am neutral, which, for a woman who never had euphoric mania, and generally had terrifying aggression, is a truly wondrous place. I’m not going to lie. It’s a little sleepy, even a little nauseous sometimes, but…I can play that game. I can change my schedule to writing in the morning, so I’m not losing my window of productivity. I’m going to have to be a morning person, and that’s okay because I actually feel capable of change.
And I don’t just manage every hour. I feel like, instead, I’m living every hour of the day. I am writing, working and being with my children, and when something goes wrong, doesn’t get finished, falls apart, I DON’T. I stay together, and I figure it out. And isn’t that the most amazing thing?! For years I’ve been fighting neutrality because I was afraid of what medication would do to me. Can I tell you, honestly, it’s given me my life back? Because it has. And I’m making this life thing work. It’s not that I don’t feel. Because I’m crying right now, so happy to feel excitement and appreciation for life. It’s that I feel within a range that does not undo me. When you have a mood disorder, you are used to over-feeling. I’d grown so used to it that I didn’t know how hard I was working. The little window of instability that my first dose offered me made me understand just how much energy I had to put into maintaining my moods. It left so little room for the rest of my life.
So, am I healed? Completely better? No. I still have to workout. I still have to manage my caffeine intake and schedule my life to free myself of little stresses that can trigger episodes. The meds make me insatiably hungry, so there is that. But it all feels so…within my reach. I feel like Cinderella, dancing at a ball and open to endless possibilities, not because a prince saved me, not because my medication saved me, but because I made the choice to save myself by taking an action that was frightening. I was afraid my medicine would change me. And it did. But I’m not afraid of change anymore. It turns out that not all change is bad. I know that when you’re on the Bipolar spectrum, change is hard, but this change has become my friend. And I don’t plan on going back.