Bipolar Bears

(written sometime between 1997 and 2004)

Every morning when I wake up I take one and a half pink pills. They don’t taste like anything. They are small enough that they never get stuck in my throat. They are solid, not some gel cap that dissolves in my stomach. But whatever has been compressed into the quarter-inch oval is medicine – medicine that is supposed to snap my synapses awake and send serotonin shooting through the three pound ball atop my neck. My grey matter. My brain. And once the cycle begins it keeps me on an even level, keeps me functioning properly, appropriately. So I no longer do damage to myself or anyone else.

They have an aura of mystery about them, these small bits of medicine. A sense of magic, salvation, and inconvenience. They allow me freedom and yet stifle an intrinsic part of my nature. And herein lies the battle. They are my fix, something I take as I am still too asleep to think about what they do. Too asleep to worry about side-effects, either short-term, from drowsiness to sexual complications, to long-range effect that even their creators’ don’t yet know about.

I’m hip. I’m part of the anti-depression movement. The cure in the bottle. I have learned behavior modification. I have learned to embrace my failures and short-comings. I have come face-to-face with my imperfections. I am a poster child of pharmaceutical success.

A part of me resents the pills. Hates the fact that my control is in a bottle in my dresser. That no matter where I go on my journey, I will always be tied to a doctor, a pharmacy, a prescription. I hate being “fashionable” in the drugs I take. I am an individual. I want to be anonymous. I don’t want the responsibility they force on me. I want freedom.

And therein lies the rub.

The Yin and Yang. Mania and depression. Black and white. There is no shade of grey – grey is found in a bottle. In a pill.

Being told there is something chemically off in your brain is so humiliating. Sitting in a sterile office, in a black leather recliner, with a Birkenstock clad shrink looking over a sheaf of papers at you while the spring air blows through the open windows and the city moves in its daily rhythms beneath you is demeaning. It is both a relief (it is not my fault, something is broken inside, it’s genetic, I had no control) and a curse (how could this happen, my perfect existence fades away, “I am a crazy person”, I have no control). Being told you are sick, that something is wrong is hard, especially when you are programmed to live the American Dream, to be perfect. But knowing you no longer have to put up with the demons is the most wonderful gift in the world. Because you cannot run away from the demons anymore. And that is why you are here, in this office.

Heaven, Hell, Purgatory. I was 15 the first time someone told me that Hell was here on earth, that we lived in our greatest fear. Heaven and Hell. Heaven or Hell. Mania or Depression. Heaven and Mania. Hell and Depression.

I miss my manic periods. I never thought I was god or something greater. I never held up traffic or thought I could fly. I simply felt like the most brilliant, beautiful, mysterious creature on earth. Everything I saw, touched, tried was highlighted in gold. I could run forever, floating on the air. Sleep was a waste of time, eating was useless. My inherent drive was turbo. I could discuss philosophy, politics. I could be bold, yet coquettish. I could slay you with my wit. If I chose to take you to bed, I was forever seared in your brain, your body. And I never had to think. It simply flowed – all of it. A golden stream of existence. Heaven – it was my own world that I controlled with my thoughts. It was a chessboard where my mind moved all the pieces. All I wished for simply came to fruition – effortlessly.

And then I would open my eyes in the morning and my palace had become a prison, the colors faded, dark. My mind enveloped in a thick, black fog. My body an empty husk. I was simply now a vague image, moving through humanity until the final moment of death. Time slowed down to an excruciating crawl and I was there beside it, dragging its shackles behind me. When my depressions first began, they were not physically decimating, other than self-inflicted, physical pain. They initially began with incredible periods of ennui, boredom. So terribly exhausting to my brain. Nothing could hold my attention, nothing could satisfy. All that had entranced my life the day before became like finger nails running down a chalkboard. I would sit and stare at walls for hours, my mind somersaulting with pain, anger, regret and damnation. Self-medication was taken in the form of alcohol, which would numb as much as possible. Enough to give me the balls to search for someone, anyone, who could understand me, protect me, yes – save me. If not forever, at least for the night. Please.

I cannot sleep through the night, I cannot be alone. The thoughts, the voices will not cease. The demons are inside. Exorcise them. Exorcise me.

Tick tock, tick tock.

The depressions got longer. They demanded more from me. I prayed. I became celibate. I cleaned my house every Tuesday morning. My towels were hung a specific way. I screened my phone calls. I touched everything three times. Control Your World.

Then I began to think about death. And death was not the grotesque skeleton in the robe. No, death became beautiful. And death was simple. Death made no demands, asked no questions. Death simply opened inviting arms and said, “Come”.

I began to think how easily I could turn the steering wheel of my car to veer into oncoming traffic or a convenient gully. How nice, I would think, a faint smile teasing my lips, in those first days and weeks. Simple, efficient, no cause for grief over a suicide. It would be considered an accident. No blame or regrets from others. But I feared the failure of the attempt more, feared being saved by a heroic EMT.

I would lay alone in bed in the morning, staring at the sunlight kissing the walls, spilling over the bed sheets and wondering how many Advil I could take to simply sleep forever.

And yet. Yet. Through all my fantasies I knew. I knew I would commit myself to the hospital before I swallowed enough pills to fall into my secret lover’s embrace.

When I could no longer function, when my body could no longer move my legs to run across a tennis court, lift a racket to return a serve, I understood. Either I had to get help or I would have to make my final bow. Because Hell was not going to let me go. And my tastes of Heaven were getting fewer and farther apart.

Sometimes I feel that I live in a false state, a world where there are no extremes. And logically, intuitively, I know this is what I need. But artistically I weep for the loss of creativity. I weep for the loss of part of myself. I suppose this is odd. And yet it’s the duality. I would never wish to go back to Hell, but a part of me wants to be whole – to feel both the Heaven and the Hell again.

What makes me whole? A pink pill or a natural, hypo-serotonin level? It is a question never to be answered. Because I fear that other time and place of my past. I know all the statistics, the consequences of being un-medicated and it is enough to keep me swallowing those pink pills every morning.

I see shades of grey now. I don’t give a fuck about the way my towels hang. I never clean on Tuesdays. I have found a middle way, thanks to the medication. Mostly.

They have calmed the churning waters of my soul. Enough so that I can dive down deep to find the pearl that is waiting for me. What happens next is what I choose to do. I can take the medication or not. Some days I want to be free from it. There are days when my brain is unstoppable with thoughts of grandeur or defeat. I have to decide which way to turn. I have to choose whether to be “normal” or not. And every morning, when the pills are laid out before me, I wonder: what would happen if I simply stopped? Would the greatness return? Or would I finally take control of the pain, and end it all? I have no answers. So to keep myself safe, and those I love, I keep ingesting the medication the doctors prescribe for me, hoping that I can come to understand that life is worth living, and stop trying to destroy who I am.

Now, I am in Purgatory. I have found a chemical middle-way. I no longer dance with demons or angels. And this is good. This is a relief. I no longer feel brittle and old. Slowly I am learning to trust my emotions. I am finding my confidence. And an inner voice I can believe in. If I do nothing else in my life that is of note, I am content. This: this place, this feeling is such an accomplishment. There is a sense of freedom and peace that I feel I have achieved. I see the varying shades of grey now.

But I miss my manias. I miss the freedom and creativity they allowed me. At times, when everything clicks at the right moment, I taste it. And it feels like a kiss from an old lover. A comfort and a quiver of pain. I even miss some of the depression. The intensity. The raw pain that taught me to write powerful, honest prose. To create art that radiated sorrow. It deepened me as a human. At times I fear that I will no longer experience life that deeply again.

© Sorrow & Kindness


4 thoughts on “Bipolar Bears

  1. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and
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