I think there’s a better-than-average chance that this will never see the light of day, but since I write what He brings to my mind, we’ll see if this is the time where it comes out or not…
God sometimes tells me to be transparent about things that would be easier (and more comfortable) to keep private. I, being the flawed creature I am, think of “special ways” to express to Him my feelings about this…
But I write them anyway, because I’ve learned in that particular argument, I’ll always lose.
If you’re reading this, there’s a reason. I think I know what that reason is, and I’ll ‘splain at the end.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m someone who deals with mental illness – part of that dealing is with depression, as well as some ADD tendencies, though not enough to go pro with it.
SQUIRREL!!! *stops, looks around…*
See? Just enough to get distracted, not enough to be a contender.
I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, which makes me want to curl up and hibernate as soon as the sun starts going down before 7pm, and really should get back to using light therapy, not only for the SAD, but because I live in Michigan and we don’t get NEAR enough sunlight even on a good day. I also take a whole gob of Vitamin D, which helps a lot, although I have to take more than a normal person since that’s one of the vitamins that my new system doesn’t deal with readily, and needs a little help. (ADEK, for those keeping score at home, are the vitamins that a DS patient has to take in a different form, since my redecorated innards don’t deal with ’em well.)
… And I’m stalling here, aren’t I?
(Great quote from The Incredibles – “I was monologuing! You got me monologuing!!”)
SQUIRREL! *hmm… nobody’s buying it. Carry on.*
So the one that hides behind the others, the one that explains the rest, the one that is probably my #1 concern to monitor but most likely to not be spoken of except to trusted friends (and there are a LOT of them out there, since many folks that are close to us know this little tidbit about me…), and the one that doesn’t really change anything, but explains a whole bunch is this:
I’m bipolar. To put it more formally, I have bipolar disorder.
“Wha? Isn’t that the thing where somebody goes totally crazy, shoots his family, then turns the gun on himself and makes the lead story on the 6pm news?”
Um, yes… but… No… but…
Well, let’s define it first, shall we?
“Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people go back and forth between periods of a very good or irritable mood and depression. The ‘mood swings’ between mania and depression can be very quick.” – U.S. National Library of Medicine
Yeah, me too…
It’s what was once called manic depressive disorder, and changed because in the middle of pitching a fit, “manic depressive” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as smartly as “bipolar” does.
Not that I have direct experience in that or anything…
Want a little better picture of it? Let me take a swing at it… (not literally, though – really)
It’s a rapid switch between extremes or a rapid onset of…
Mania, which can be absolute total euphoria or extreme irritation or anger or a mixture of emotions. It can make you see everything as beautiful, so you’re almost giddy, or the slightest little thing can make you respond in frustration or rage. A full-blown mania episode can make you totally throw judgment to the wind, can cause you to engage in stupid or risky behavior, excessive spending (see the aforementioned word “stupid) or believing that everything you do is touched with greatness and you can do no wrong. It reduces your attention span to nil, takes away all judgment, and can hit like a freight train.
(Yes, I’m sure any number of mental health professionals would tweak that to make it more correct… I’m just callin’ ’em as I see ’em from the inside out.)
Depression. You sink into the depths and can’t climb out. You weep, you cry, and all you can see is darkness. You can’t hear loved ones speaking to you. You can’t hear truth, you can’t feel joy, and the worst place you can possibly be at that moment is alone.
You may even consider at that point that everyone you love would be so much better off without you and all your drama, all your ups and downs. WHICH IS AN ABSOLUTE LIE THAT DEPRESSION WILL TELL YOU. DO NOT LISTEN TO IT!
(Sorry to shout there, but one of the biggies of dealing either with severe depression or bipolar is knowing this – your loved ones would rather have you, broken and flawed, than not have you around at all. You will not “make life easier on them,” or “quit ruining their lives” by leaving – you’ll leave a gaping hole of loneliness that can’t be filled. Suicide is the most selfish act someone can choose. Having lost my dad that way, I can testify personally – it rots.)
The preceding thoughts and understanding come from a blog that I can’t recommend in good conscience, since she uses colorful metaphors like others use vowels, but I’ve been helped and given so much clarity in her open journey dealing with mental illness that I have to give much credit where credit is due. So props and thanks to The Bloggess for opening her world to all of us who walk that path also – letting us know that “it’s not just me.”
Back to the swinging gate that is bipolar…
The two extremes can overlap. Or go stone cold from one right into the other with nothing between. Or manifest in other extreme ways, all the way up to psychosis and losing grip on reality. It’s the nastiest roller coaster you can ever imagine, but with NOBODY enjoying the ride.
So next time you see a lurid news story about a horrible incident with someone who suffers from bipolar, put my face on the label and understand that many of us deal with the condition, in varying degrees and forms.
Put a face on the demon, and understand. See a view of it from the inside. This is how it feels to me…
It’s running full-tilt toward a cliff. You can see the cliff, you know that you’ll be falling for days, you know that it’s horrible and dangerous, and that it will damage you…
But you just. Can’t. Stop.
Unstoppable euphoria. Blinding frustration. Bitter depths of depression. Doesn’t matter what lies at the bottom of the cliff – you simply can’t stop, can’t step away, can’t dial it back…
You jump. Every time.
Your loved ones watch you leap, see the pain and damage and horror, endure the mania or the rage or the darkness, knowing there is nothing they can do to bring you back… The coaster rolls on, you drop with it.
“Whoa, Cal – lighten up, dude. You’re creeping me out a little here.”
That’s ok. It’s no picnic from my seat either.
To folks that have known me for many, many years, it explains why sometimes you’d encounter GiddyCal – fun, laughing, lovin’ life – and sometimes you’d encounter EvilCal – irritated, angry, sad, melancholy. Always an extreme, no middle ground.
And there I was, hating it all on the inside, with no clue why I would behave like that. So it turned to a type of self-loathing, added to the issue of being super morbidly obese, shaken none-too-gently, and served stone cold to an unsuspecting world.
I’m frankly surprised that so many people hung in there with me for so long.
But God gave me a promise March 30, 2010, when my old life fell away. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.” And since then, sometimes blindingly fast, sometimes carefully slow, the chains have fallen.
He had just the right people in place to show me this chain called bipolar disorder, and to offer solutions. To administer the right drugs and to nail the prescriptions from the start so that I haven’t had a horrible struggle finding the right balance that would give me control over the demon.
Once again, He set me free.
Now, I have to show up and do my job. I have to know my triggers, to comply with my treatment, to be constantly aware of my emotional balance, and to look at challenging situations to determine if I’m facing a speed bump in the path or a major turn that calls for a change.
But for the first time in my life, I run toward the cliff…
And stop. And take a deep breath. And turn around.
I can back away from the edge, I can stop the descent.
My chains are gone.
Bad days? Of course. Wrong choices? Yes. Learning from the tough and going on, wiser for the wear, by God’s grace? Absolutely.
So, the reasons I feel compelled to lay this out in public now? I think there’s a couple…
1) Since I’ve never been open about dealing with bipolar, I’ve never actually written my way through it. I’ve never trotted out my thoughts about it – just lived with the treatment, learned, and went on. Which works for a while, but not long-term.
When something doesn’t go through the writing process for me, it never gets worked through. It never gets sorted out, so I can identify the truth from the lies when it comes around in my head again. Writing (as I’ve said so very many times before) is essential for me – to bring the intangible into the tangible and wrestle with it, to illuminate it and understand it.
In the days since I started writing through this, in the process of journaling this part of my path, I’ve been able to identify how mania and depression show up in my own walk. How to identify when I’m starting to turn my face toward the cliff and lacing up my jumping shoes. And how to try and head it off before I lift a foot to run. Writing, illuminating, understanding – the process God has given me to see my life, my struggles, my path…
And once again I’m blown away at how much God loves His kids. How He takes care of us, even when we have no idea how needy we are.
“Ok, well that’s dandy. But why fling it out there on the blog then?” Glad you asked…
2) Just as God has used the experiences of Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) to let me know that I don’t need to feel “different” or “stigmatized” with the labels of depression or bipolar disorder, or weak because I rely on drugs to assist me in having control over it, I need to pass that on.
(In fact, she gave me a different angle to look at my drugs from – just as a diabetic would take medication for that condition, or a heart patient, or someone with high blood pressure, I’m dealing with a physical, tangible condition here. There is a chemical imbalance in a specific organ – my brain – and my medications work on that condition. No stigma, no weakness, just using the tools God provides to help me walk the path He sets before me…)
There’s someone out there who needs to know they’re not alone, that others feel like this and struggle with it. That some days the demon wins a battle, but will never win the war as long as we keep going.
And, most important, that God loves His kids, that He still moves in the most miraculous ways, and that His faithfulness endures to all generations. I’m not unique or special – just exceedingly blessed…
And in Jesus Christ, so are you. We are ALL blessed in Christ, and God moves in ALL our lives in amazing, wondrous ways – we just need to open our eyes and SEE Him at work.
He is the light at the end of the tunnel. He stands at the cliff edge, holding out His arms to keep us safe. He is our refuge and strength – ever-present in times of trouble.
I’m Cal, and I deal with depression and bipolar disorder.
That’s not who I am, or who I’m becoming – it’s just a part of the package that encompasses me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I shine brightly because of His light, and I’m constantly delighted by the wonder He puts into each day.
Be blessed, my friends. See the wonder. See Him.
“And Lord of the mind, when Legion brings insanity, You’re the Word that restores me once again.
That’s why I say, You are my all in all. You’re the air I breathe, the song I sing, the help I call. And when I know I just can’t cope, You alone are all my hope, for Your grace is enough…
– “Lord Of The Troubled Sea” by Ken Medema