Below is the story of my greatest accomplishments (in fewer than 700 words).
It amazes me that I’m heading towards 50 years old. Sometimes time seemed to have crept at a snail’s pace, and other times it sped like a sports car at over 100 mph. I guess if I chose an analogy for my stable times (I have bipolar disorder), I’d say they were a stroll in the park. Anyway, just like my life seemed to pass at various speeds, my perspectives on life seemed to vary, too. Luckily, I finally learned this very well, so during harder times, I remind myself to have patience and keep trudging forward no matter how many steps I seemingly fall back. During other times, I try to savor simple and occasional exceptional pleasures and keep looking forwards. I definitely don’t stoke the mania fire anymore! I’ve been terribly burned too many times to do that nonsense.
My mother’s life was taken quite suddenly almost 14 years ago. Just prior to her passing was the beginning of a series of my worst bipolar episodes ever. I believe my illness started at 14 years old, but it wasn’t until this terrible series, starting at 33, that I became completely crippled, in a sense. The manias (most with mixed features, and some with psychosis) were like a series of tidal waves, each almost drowning me in the end before brief opportunities to catch breaths before the next wave scooped me up high, and then slammed me down into the sand again. And then when the storm finally left, I was flat on my back hardly able to even move, feeling left for dead and so depressed that it took ECT to lift me up again.
The four plus years I describe just above really left me traumatized, and I lost so much at its end. I lost my career, friends, sense of security, and even myself, to a degree. I was discombobulated. Those years were frightening enough, but even more strange things started to happen to me. Speckled in between additional periods of intermittent elevation, stagnation, and confusion, was anxiety like I never had before! Sometimes it made me freeze almost like in catatonia, other times I’d go into the typical fight or flight mode. Music started to play in my head; first original pieces, then constantly repeating phrases of a song that I knew. It was the band U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” A song I used to love became torture! Doctors thought this was seizure-related. And then one didn’t. Depersonalization and derealization started. I couldn’t figure out what was real and what was untrue. Then I began to get migraines for the first time in my life. I’d vomit profusely, but the vomiting didn’t get rid of the sickness.
It took a long time to find a good medication mix for all of it, especially one that didn’t make me struggle with severe side effects. However, medication alone couldn’t do all of the healing work. Time and patience, grounding techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy, self-care and determination, as well as self-reflection and creativity were also required. I had to work it all!
My illness has figuratively thinned my skin over the years. Though I’ve found my way back to a point of relative stability and mental clarity, I’m still unable to do all of what I used to do before the worst years struck. I guess I could grieve the loss of my younger tougher self, but…Hey! Wasn’t I pretty tough to get where I am today? I’ll try to do more as I can, but I don’t want to be a reckless fool and put myself in jeopardy. I tiptoe forward, sometimes holding someone’s hand, sometimes balancing myself with a cane of sorts. Other times, I look to see if the coast is clear and take a small hop.
My story doesn’t end here. It will continue. Though I can’t celebrate a final victory against the bipolar beast, I know I can be lauded for being a survivor – many times over. I believe these to be greater accomplishments than anything I did when life seemed comparatively easy. Believe me!