This is the second post of a two-part piece offering a glimpse into my world during my second manic episode in 2011. The first post can be found here.
It is difficult to get out of bed. I feel too paralyzed to face the ordinary tasks of life. To escape my own story, I overdose on others’ stories. I seek short bursts of connection on Twitter or Facebook and information highs through reading multiple blog posts and news articles. I turn to food to numb the over-stimulation. Then I try to drown everything out with music. I put my headphones on and blast Johnny Cash, U2 or Beyoncé, their lyrics offering escape from the noise created by my own mind. The relief from these coping mechanisms does not last long, but I continue to go to them again and again.
My parents travel from Florida to our home in Birmingham, Alabama, to help. Our refrigerator is stocked with meals from friends, and my daughter and son are whisked away for extended play dates. My husband uses several of his vacation days so he can better care for our children and me. I can see the exhaustion and worry in his eyes but I’m incapable of comforting or reassuring him. I’m scared I’m not going to get better, that I’m never going to heal.
But there are small improvements over time. The new medications continue to decrease the effects of the mania, and I’m eventually able to lower the doses so I can have more energy. Therapy is going well, too. I am learning how to replace my paranoid thoughts with truthful thoughts and have plenty of opportunities to practice this new skill. When I feel like I am being watched by whoever is in on the conspiracy while playing outside with my children or when I think my husband and parents are giving each other secret hand signals to communicate about me when I’m in the room, I’m able to convince myself those scenarios are not likely. Continue reading
After two weeks, I arrive at a point where I am stable enough to re-enter more of life. My psychiatrist and therapist are telling me to incorporate some day-to-day activities despite the mania and paranoia. Even though it is overwhelming, I try to do as they recommend because I know I can’t stay in bed or on my iPhone with a bag of M&Ms forever. It’s time to practice wellness. It’s time to move through the discomfort and re-establish a routine and a rhythm.
My husband brings me coffee and awakens me. I wrap both hands around the steaming ceramic mug and drink deeply, thinking through what lies before me: Getting out of bed, changing into jeans and a T-shirt, brushing my teeth, walking my dog, caring for my children, preparing meals and interacting with my husband and others who might cross my path. I wonder how I’m going to be able to make it and am tempted to give up even before I attempt to make my first move. But something inside me wants to be well. Something inside me wants life. I tell myself to plant my feet on the floor beside my bed and stand up. I am in motion. I move forward and fight against what makes more sense. Staying in bed and tuning out is a mirage in a desert. It seems to offer me what I need, but it is not life-giving.
I proceed through the day and adjust my focus on what is right before me instead of the whole picture. As I spend time with my children, manage their exposure to screens and referee their arguments, I’m on auto-pilot. I remember the guilt I felt during my first manic episode when I beat myself up because I could not care for them the way I wanted to, the way I thought I needed to. This time I know they are OK. They are safe and content. They have my presence, even though I am not fully present. We are making it, and that is enough for now.
While gathering up the dirty laundry, I’m on the brink of tears. I sort through the piles and throw a load of white towels into the washing machine. Twenty minutes later, I move them over to the dryer. After an hour, they are clean and dry. When I am folding the towels and putting them away in the bathroom cabinet, I recognize there is not much room for paranoia in the midst of doing these daily, somewhat- mindless tasks. My body and mind have moved through these motions so many times, I know the choreography by heart. What I often experience as drudgery is now offering me comfort and safety.
I bring myself—a small part of my self—to my kitchen and make a pot of chicken, white bean and rosemary soup. It’s the same recipe I used before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is the same recipe I will use ten and twenty years from now. It’s the same recipe I use if I am manic or depressed or somewhere in-between. Somehow, through the act of soaking the beans, sautéing the onions, chopping the chicken and breathing in the aroma of the rosemary, I am connected to both my health and my brokenness. I serve the soup to my family. As we share this meal, we are connected to more of each other.
My dog and I meander through the neighborhood along our usual route and a sense of order is restored. With each step along the familiar paths, truth reveals itself more and more to my tortured mind like the June sun leaving its mark on my face. The blooming orange daylilies and pink and blue hydrangeas in my neighbors’ yards serve as beacons, helping me remember the past and helping me have hope for the future. They remind me of the cycle of birth, life and death, and with this knowledge a seed of faith is planted. I have assurance I will eventually come out on the other side.
And I do. After six weeks I wake up one morning and the mania and paranoia are gone. A switch has been flipped in the recesses of my brain. It is as if someone stood up and said, “We are all done here.” In an instant I am both relieved and fearful. My mind is no longer held hostage, but a severe depression is on its way. My battle is not finished. It will never be finished.
So I keep fighting. I take my medications and go to therapy. And I immerse myself in the daily. I do the laundry and clean our home. I run errands and cook dinner. I spend time with my husband, children and friends. I also crawl back into bed with my iPhone and chocolate. But I don’t get stuck there for too long anymore. After a while, I find the courage again to do the next, right, usually mundane thing. Because I know the ordinary is where healing resides.