“If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski, Factotum
It has been almost a year since I was finally diagnosed as Bipolar. My life, as I knew it would, has changed dramatically and forever.
I remember bursting out of the glass doors to the medical complex where my doctor’s office is, calling a friend who is a nurse and asking that she meet me at my house. I fell into her arms when I arrived, sobbing with relief. This diagnosis explained so much, explained everything, about why I could never find peace or couldn’t stay in the same mood for long. Here, finally, was a reason, and proof that I wasn’t just a hopefully defunct and dysfunctional person.
I can still hear the pop of the cork on the bottle of champagne we bought to celebrate, still recall the toast we made to the health and healing that was to come. We ordered pizza, and I called what seemed like everyone I knew. Finally, I thought, the ordeal that I refused to fully admit to anyone or even to myself was a complete nightmare would be over.
Shortly thereafter, true to bipolar form, I asked my husband and daughter to leave the house so I could freely let my emotions go, and out came, at top volume, all the grief of a lifetime of suffering, of friendships lost, of being shamed for not being able to do simple things that others could, like calming down or letting it go. I raged and raged, and I needed to. I had lived 36 years that were much harder than they should have been, and I will never apologize for the anger I allowed myself to express that night.
The mood stabilizer did its job well right from the start. I stopped fidgeting. I made steadier eye contact, instead of always looking restlessly, everywhere and nowhere, around the room. I began to speak more Slowly, at a lower volume. I felt more settled, and others noticed this too. But with the removal of what was clearly an essential augmenting partner to my main antidepressant, I slowly descended into a dangerous depression. I had thoughts of suicide. I was calm, alright. But I was drinking heavily, and little by little, giving up.
That medication was added back in March, and that’s when the tide finally began to turn. Just as I was rallying, though, our oldest rabbit jumped from my arms and landed on our ceramic tiles, rupturing a disc in his back. He survived, but has never regained full use of his hind legs. Our grief and shock in the early days after his injury all but brought us to our knees. It caused terrible strain between my husband and I as we differed about whether or not to have him put down. I lost the ground I had regained, and sought refuge in alcohol more than ever before.
Slowly, my mood recalibrated, and despite being in active and worsening addiction, I felt significantly better. So began the long process of adjusting to this calm, stable stranger I had become. That process continued through the summer months, as I finally made the decision to seek treatment for my alcohol issues, and to really get healthy, once and for all.
While grateful to be out of depression, no longer feeling like I was moving through molasses with weights around my ankles, too exhausted and sad to function in my day or care about much of anything, I deeply missed the wild, ferocious euphoria of mania. I longed to be that person again, for nights flaming with fire, to ride through life chasing perfect laughter. Blazing was all I had known. It was how I understood myself and how others related to me, the volcano that never stopped erupting, the hurricane wind that could never be stilled.
I have had to be patient with myself as I worked through this adjustment, and I’m grateful for the sympathy of others who seem to understand why I might be missing mania. I am vastly different, after all, and continuing both to change and to surprise myself with my own steadiness. I still have my moments, of course, moments when my temper flares and I spew out angry words in an ill-advised confrontation with another driver in a parking lot, or spontaneously hike up my bridesmaid’s dress to photobomb a classy picture with the crimson garter I bought just to add some spice, even if it was hidden, to my demure, Grecian, flowing gown. I am always slightly relieved when times like this happen, glad to know that the fire I knew as me has not extinguished, but is still burning somewhere, albeit controlled now.
It has also been a year of reconciliation and forgiveness in my personal life and relationships. My parents, often mystified and appalled by their mercurial daughter, now understand that they would have and should have done some things differently. With the bipolar lens to look through, my needs and limitations make more sense to them. They are more accepting and each, in their own way, regretful that it took so long for the truth to finally out. My concerns that my husband will find me boring and bland are all for naught. He fell, after all, not for the craziness, but for the person he always saw underneath it, and it means a great deal to him that the wife he always knew was in there somewhere finally has a chance to emerge.
The journey I never asked to take is ongoing. But I accept it now, and look to the future with a growing confidence that I have the internal resources to handle what comes my way. I fought against myself for a long time, raging at an unjust universe. This past year, I have instead fought for myself, for my right to peace and serenity and a soothing life that meets my needs and feeds my soul. And I found those things, because fighting for mental health is, as Bukowski says, the only good fight there is.