“Don’t let this illness define you,” I’ve been told.
“Your poetry, your dance, your art, all reflect aspects of your mental health issues. Why don’t you write about something else, lighten up?!” I’m told. All in good faith.
Surprised, I didn’t think I wrote about my mental health at all in the last couple of years. I didn’t think my performance was about it…
Possibly it is that others see all I do through that lense, or that I am accepting it, and reflect it through what I do and get involved in, subconsciously.
How important it is to accept where I am, what I need to manage day to day, and to feel validated
When there are clear enough changes in mood, possibly because of a change in the balance of my medication, stress, fatigue, and just having read an honest, open, memoir by a prominent psychiatrist who studies mood disorders and is herself manic depressive, I feel how important it is to educate myself, to know how to manage, to know when to reach out for help, when to make sure I am sleeping enough, when to allow for rest and when to push through the listless lethargy and get on my mat, go for a run, or dance.
“This looks like bipolar disorder, mixed episodes. Can be managed, but you have to be and stay on your meds for a while,” said the psychiatrist in Paris a few months ago, echoing what another psychiatrist in London had told me, regarding the diagnosis, a few years ago. But at that time we were going between a couple of possible diagnoses, a couple of illnesses, but this last year has more or less clarified things a bit more for me.
The relationship with the medication has been an interesting one. There was the initial rejection because of a complete denial of its need as well as my averse attitude to any sort of medication, then the acceptance, followed by the desire to wean off it because the side effects started to express themselves in the form of weight gain, and so on. Now there’s a new acceptance of its value and my need for it.
Without the medicine, I see changes. More and more quickly. The lows commence, the energy just isn’t the same, little things become a drag. Days become “one activity a day”, kind of days, (spoon theory), but that isn’t possible because the kids have to get to school, and eat, and get to activities, and the studio has to run, and the classes have to get taught. So the fatigue sets in.
And then there’s the hypomanic periods where no task is too big, creative juices are flowing, productive hours are just much longer because sleep, well sleep….there isn’t much need for it. These moments, I miss. There has been a grief of a loss of an old me, that I was used to, that I am coming to terms with. Part of what the desire to wean off the meds was about.
When sleep is not consistently enough,
Two coffees become three and then quickly four.
A few glasses of wine with friends one evening can leave me dragging around in an extended hangover, for a few days. And then it’s back to more coffee during the day, disturbed sleep….
But, the spirals I’ve experienced when off the meds, the initial full blown manic paranoid psychotic break, then twice last year the beginnings of psychoses, were all too scary for me from the memory of the first one, and too much of a burden for those closest to me.
Memories of love and madness, shame and guilt surface. Fear of the repercussions for the kids, both, for what genes they have inherited,and of seeing their mother sedated, and hospitalized, of seeing her in the midst of a total break from reality, of throwing their belongings out of a moving car in a frenzy, of trusting no one, of being by her side in an airplane while she was sedated and in a stretcher.
They are so sweet, so sensitive, so innocent,
they were traumatized by that experience.
The fears of losing their mother so real, of seeing their father at a loss and in pain so real,fear that penetrates deep into their hearts and minds.
The shame is real, heavy, and dark, of the behaviors and situations I have sometimes wound up in, or put myself in, situations that lack clear judgement, even just common sense, in moments of hypomania, and mania, over many years, that my husband knows I carry. Never has he shamed me for them.
My closest teenage friend is the only person, at least to my face, who had ever said to me that I was moody! My family always had to manage it. I never thought anything of it. Never listened, never absorbed the honest words, the keen observation, as more than just normal.
I’ve always been blessed to have true friends and family, always a strong, compassionate, support network. And now with my doctor and therapist there’s an added layer. Also knowing what I now know is empowering. And I will keep on trying to understand better. In fact that’s always been something that interested me, most profoundly, to understand who I am and what I am doing.
I can manage the shaky moments more quickly. There is a safety net, that I am trusting more and more and it means I am less scared to fall. I am seeing that now the stumbles along the way are less damaging. I see the rock that’s out of place, the uneven surface, from a distance. The reaction time is reducing.
The signs of the highs and lows are becoming more evident for me, being able to catch subtle changes and watch them, and react faster and faster to bring them back into relative balance before they go too far into the mania or the dark, or as it seems with me, both at the same time.
The medicine helps. Therapy helps. My people help. My exercise routines, practices of asana and breath work help. Writing helps. Dancing helps.
So maybe it is that I express some of this through my creative work, even if I’m not specifically talking about it. It’s an outlet for what’s inside me and what’s going on. It’s part of my story to share.