Much like alcoholism, bipolar disorder is something to be managed. It is something that lurks beneath the surface, threatening to destroy the fragile reality one creates in the sobriety of their days, after endless work and tears and perhaps even blood have been put into the effort. And much like alcoholism, it is something that never disappears, no matter how long it has been, no matter how much better life may seem on any other given day.
This morning, it knocked on the door of my subconscious again.
Hello, you. It’s me again. Have you checked your calendar recently? That cute rip-off calendar he gave you for Christmas last year that teaches you a new French word each day? What is today’s word?
What is today’s date?
It’s October again.
October. Yes, it is. It’s been October for nearly two weeks now, and I have been so busy filling my days with everyone else’s problems and fears that I have been able to suppress my own. I love this job. I love leading others to the solutions to their dilemmas, to the light at the end of those seemingly endless tunnels of desperation and despair. I love being the one to light the spark of hope in their voices as they hang up happier than when they called me. Me, the helper, the Maker of Better. I gain a lot of satisfaction in going home each day knowing that I helped far more people than I had to turn away. I find the silver lining in those numbers and it brings me back each morning to put on my headset, become “Available” for calls, and endure the barrage of fear-stricken callers whom are out of options.
If I were anyone else, maybe it would be “just a job.” Maybe it would be just an office I go to, a comfy swivel chair I get to sit in, a lovely corner desk with nice views of the gorgeous beginnings of a fall sunset each evening as my workday winds down. But I’m me, with my past, my fears and dreams, and my mental illness.
I’ve been there. I’ve been those callers. I’ve been those mothers, those wives. I’ve been those down-trodden souls with no food, no shelter, no resources and no hope. I’ve been those failures, those losers. How dare I ever let myself believe I am not still those people, those human beings with souls as broken as my own.
Septembers are good for me. For the past five years, September has been a month of healing. A month of getting my life back together, reorganizing my days into a routine that I can live with, and almost be comfortable with. I have no right as a 26-year-old to ever be truly comfortable, lest I give up on continuing to strive to be better every single day. September means going back to school, setting a pace that my family and I can all keep up until the dissection of December and those divorced holidays that stretch our family thin and bring us in close for embarrassingly loud, unabashed hugs when we are all reunited once again.
But like many other aspects of my life, as soon as I hit the ground running, I stumble. I get into a groove and find the crack in the sidewalk. I don’t always land on my face, but the inner damage is done, the rhythm broken, the peace unsettled. I fly up like the leaves swirling in the wind and wonder where I will land, wishing against all wishes that I could just be attached to the trees again.
Octobers are the reminder of the scope of hold that bipolar disorder has on me and my life, my entire existence even before I was aware of it. The first week marks the birthdays of friends I have left behind, friends I casually hold onto with the tips of my fingers as we superficially connect over social media. The first week is okay. The leaves begin their light show, and the nights turn cool. They entice me with the thoughts of bonfires, hot caramel apple cider, and memories of passing a joint around a circle of friends I thought I’d be part of forever. Today, I find myself still missing the joint, but not nearly as much as I would miss having this opportunity to be a better generation in my family than the ones before me. Being clean has given me the key to doors I had always assumed were to be left locked, at least for someone like me.
The second week of October marks memories of a boy’s eyes, the first boy that ever told me he loved me without having to pry those words from his mouth with endless hint-dropping and desperate attempts at makeup profiles, crop tops and bad advice from teen magazines purporting to know the secret to getting a boyfriend. He had beautiful eyes, like an October morning with waves of faded grass dotted by golden leaves. I told him this once and he smiled, but did not take my flowery words seriously. That’s when the doubt crept in and I first thought he may not be the one. I’ve always known how to find my soulmate – he would speak that hidden language and be able to find those words in me, pulling them from the back of my throat with a kiss so deep he could probably taste my darkest secrets. But he’d love me anyway, and know what it meant.
I remember, over twelve years ago, when those eyes turned dull and he didn’t see me as pretty anymore. We were still virgins, teasing ourselves and each other with the idea of going over the finish line, just to see what would change. To see if we would instantly be wiser, smarter, cooler, or even just like each other more than we thought we already did. As it happens, we didn’t see eye to eye on these complex details and he became a competitor while I became a finish line.
And when I didn’t let him cross it, he stepped over it anyway.
When I think of that night, in that parking lot off the highway where he assured me nobody would hear me scream, that cool breeze of autumn doesn’t remind me of apples and pumpkins anymore. It is a biting wind that takes my breath away and constricts my chest until I almost believe nobody could hear me scream even if I were in a crowded room.
That’s what bipolar disorder feels like. A constant argument with myself, a debate over fault and if it lies with me. Hint: it never has, but it always does.
Next week, the third week of October, will be the week I start looking for birthday cards. I know they will not come, and if they do, I know they will not be from my great-grandmother. There will be no unicorns, no angels, no glittery hearts or stars. There will be no shaky writing inquiring about me and my sister, assurances that prayers are being sent in our names. There will be no dollar and when I buy myself a candy bar, it will taste as badly as I miss her.
I will visit her grave, and I will chirp away all the lovely happenings in my life. I will wonder if she would be proud of me, and smile because I know she would be. Then I will get in my car and I will drop my heart in my lap so I can hold my head in my hands and I will cry until it hurts, until the hurt goes away to return next year, next October 23.
And finally, in the last week, I will face the day I’ve been looking forward to all year: my 27th birthday. My “golden birthday,” the day I marked to be the day I would become everything I ever wanted to be. Quick checklist:
I am married to the love of my life, my high school sweetheart, the one that got away.
I have three beautiful children. A daughter, finally learning to be comfortable in her own skin. Another daughter, whom displays everything I ever hoped she would, all of the good, passionate, shining examples of my personal portfolio of traits I am proud of. And a son, the first boy of the next generation of my family, the culmination of a love I believed in with such fierceness, it should come as no surprise, that noise which emits from his mouth each morning. The screeching, screaming laughter of pure and utter joy.
I have a beautiful roof over my head, one I am not in fear of losing. One I am not worried I cannot afford. One I bask in each morning as I cross the original hardwood floors to fling open the antique windows and let the sun filter through.
I am home. It took me twenty years to get here, but I am home. I am back in the zip code I missed, the neighborhoods I waxed nostalgic over for so long. I watch my children’s feet tread the same paths my own took and it brings me a peace that only a perfect circle can bring someone as obsessive-compulsive as myself.
I have a job that pays me to do the kind of work I always wished I had time for. I have fulfilled my father’s orders to find something that satisfies me and fulfilled my favorite teachers’ wishes that I do something good with the heart I was blessed to receive. I do no harm and have found a way to give back to those who gave so much to me.
This morning, I drove my daughters to school. As I pulled out of the elementary school parking lot, I lit a cigarette. It’s a nasty habit, yes, but it beats rolling a joint I’d be fired over. So I lit a cigarette and as I looked sideways to flick the ashes from my window, I saw a car accident. Two mothers with their children in the backseats, sitting in the front looking angry and defeated. That’s a bad morning, I thought. I drove past, silently wishing their days would improve.
As my cigarette burned closer to my knuckles, memories of bad mornings flooded back to the forefront of my brain. Mornings I would wake with a smile on my face, until I rolled over to see that he was still there, still asleep, still dreaming of all the ways he could break me down today. Mornings I would turn my back to the mirror so I didn’t have to see the growing face, the widening waist; brushing my hair in silence, watching it fall to the floor. Stress, they told me. Take some time off.
Take some time off? From what? The two days a week I could work? Take time off from my children, the only good things in my life? Take time off from a husband whom treated me like a pathetic dog, begging for scraps of a heart? This was my life – there is no “taking time off.”
And today, those memories are so distant, if I did not write them down they may just fly away. Or so I’d love to believe. As I smoked that cigarette, driving through the neighborhood of the happiest times of my childhood, I was hit with a brick wall of sadness so thick, it may just satisfy Donald Trump and his dreams for total isolation.
Hello you. It’s me again.
I heard myself whisper, I don’t want to be depressed. Then louder, I DON’T WANT TO BE DEPRESSED. Louder, until I was nearly shouting at myself with stray tears flying off my cheeks as fast as I could furiously wipe them away, I DON’T WANT TO BE DEPRESSED!
I don’t want to be so much of what I am. I don’t want to be a mediocre writer, a half-ass poet. I don’t want to be a fat, stretched-out caricature of myself. I don’t want to be a college dropout, just like the vast majority of people I know. I don’t want to be a mom too busy for my children. I don’t want to be a welfare rat, I don’t want to be a mental patient. I don’t want to be a woman whom doesn’t know what she wants to be.
I don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to wonder. I don’t want to listen to that voice in my head anymore. I don’t want to be medicated to the point I can’t remember what it’s like to care. I am so certain about the things I do not want, but entirely up in the air about what will be left.
This is what bipolar disorder feels like. It feels like October.