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By Natasha Tracy
Enter the Ring
I cry a lot. I'm very sad, very often. Bipolar-type-II-ultra-rapid-cycling. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you. Ten years ago it wouldn’t have meant much to me either. It would have been a word jumble. But then one day you wake up and a definition rules your world. I don’t remember all the medications. Fourteen, maybe. Tricyclic antidepressants, MAOIs, SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and, of course, the granddaddy: lithium. I looked at the jump master and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” I really meant it. I didn’t think I was going to be able to push myself out the door. I felt frozen with fear. My jump master just looked at me and said, “You’ll be fine.” Words of stunning clarity and confidence from a man who had known me for an hour. Right foot, right arm, left arm, left foot, left arm, shimmy, hang. It’s a lot harder to hang from a strut of a plane than you’d think. Try it sometime. I remember thinking – CAN I LET GO NOW? THIS HURTS. The pain distracted from the obvious issue of hanging 3,000 feet in the air. He signaled me to let go. I looked forward, I closed my eyes, and I let go. At this point you are supposed to yell, “ARCH-THOUSAND, TWO1
THOUSAND, THREE-THOUSAND, FOUR-THOUSAND, FIVE-THOUSAND, CHECK CANOPY.” There is even a rhythm to it, emphasized during every practice in the classroom and on the ground. In reality though, I was more like, UG…what’s going on, open eyes, look up, THANK-GOD-NO-MALFUNCTION. Suddenly everything was quiet. It was just me and the view. It was amazing. It was a peaceful, beautiful, powerful panorama of fields, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. Each breath seemed to last a lifetime. I only got a few seconds to take this all in before I had to try to figure out how to stop flying away from the drop zone. Technically, I had just passed the easy part. It’s really smashing into the ground that can break you. Just before I hit the ground I heard someone yell FLARE. I did. I lived. I was unbroken. I was astonished. Suddenly life had become electric. I never felt a high like that again. Nothing would make me happier than finding out that I just had to get over a specific event in my past, that all there was to this was “pulling myself up from my bootstraps” and just painting a smile onto my face. But this is a biochemical problem, and not a traumatic event in my life that can be solved by talk therapy.
Now is better than before the meds. That I can honestly say. I can also say that meds are the only thing that has truly helped. I have learned certain techniques to deal with my moody craziness, but nothing has really helped alter the craziness, per se. Understanding my clinical condition though, has allowed me to seek out tools, including medication, to help me through the madness. Therapy at 11. Depressed and self-harming at 13. My father went into rehab but it didn't take. My parents divorced. Shuffled through many therapists, I moved out at eighteen. I almost never felt like I wanted to be alive. I lived with my boyfriend, went to university. Life was pretty good and I was happy. I met my first girlfriend. At 21 I spent two months backpacking through Europe, cycling through depressions. Therapy didn’t help, except to keep me alive. Talked into taking meds in spite of my better judgment. She called twice in the last two days, and I’m now anticipating a minor, possibly major, skirmish. My Mother. I don’t call her that unless pressed though. I don’t like “mothers”. I suppose I like the concept but I really don’t like the reality. I don’t need or want one. I choose not to talk to her about my health. I reserve the right to discuss or not discuss anything I want at any given time. This is my right. I expect people to
respect this. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone why. But there is a specific reason where this is concerned. It is because I consider getting sick a personal weakness. The fact that I got sick at all shows some kind of deficiency on my part and I don’t want to give her any more ammunition. I don’t want to hear the, 'you should do this,' 'you shouldn’t have done that,' etc. But most important of all, I don’t want to appear weak in front of her. It took me a very long time to tell her I was on medications. But it was impossible to hide after some time, and I had to tell her something. I opted for the truth. I don’t like to hug her. This is a terrible thing to say. I don’t like to hug my Mother. The touch of her makes me flinch. I feel no active love for her. She’s OK, I don’t hate her; I just don’t want her around. I think this makes me fairly cold and horrible. Every day growing up I dreamt of getting away from her. From what I could tell she was what was making me suicidal. I hated what she did to me. I hated what she did to my brother. In looking back, her behavior is some of the most psychologically destructive I've ever seen and I wish that I had taken steps to protect myself and my brother. I didn’t get away from her early enough. I didn’t get him away from her early enough. I allowed destructive seeds to be sown in both our lives. And I, the big sister, didn’t try hard enough to erect a shield for us. As an adult I understand that children can’t rescue other children from
adults. Typically no one listens to the child and often children don’t even know that they need to be rescued. My brother would have raged at the idea of not being able to blow things up, inhale things down, and do anything else he wanted at any time he wanted. But that’s what he needed. I left home for the last time the day after my high school grad. I had been out all night and had woken to hear someone playing my piano downstairs. The piano was a great source of pain for me as my mother had always used it as a weapon – proving to me how ungrateful I was, and now, to punish me, she was taking it away. The person I heard playing it was there to buy it. She said I had no right to be upset, that I was being a spoiled brat. The rest of the yelling is a blur, but the conversation ended when she grabbed some ceramic art, made for me by a family member, off the wall and threw it across the room. As the ceramic shattered I screamed very loudly, and moved into my boyfriend’s house. I've been bipolar for a very long time; in fact, more than a decade. I have been bipolar longer than I have been pretty much anything else. But even so, I have a hard time not internalizing it as a personal fault. It's so clearly one of the worst things a person can be saddled with it seems impossible that I didn't bring it on myself somehow.
Particularly convincing is the fact that so little is really known about the disorder. No one can point to a brain and tell that the brain has bipolar. No one can pinpoint the problem. I can never really say where it hurts, only that it does. It seems like it's all in my head. All my own personal drama, made up because I am so personally deficient. Yes, I intellectually know, this isn't true. I would never tell a bipolar person that it was "in their head" or that they should "snap out of it" or that they didn't really have a disease. They do. I do. I just don't believe it. I'm complicated that way. It's part of my charm. I am pretty vehement when I talk to other people in saying that I have a brain disorder; after all, I do, whether I believe it every day or not. It's so that others can properly frame the issue. They garner an understanding of what bipolar is, so that they don't experience any confusion. I like to play my own confusion close to the vest. And generally, people are fine with that. I don't run around telling everybody, and those I do tell are generally intelligent enough to digest reality, even if I can't. Except for my brother. My brother thinks it's a choice. It's my worst fear realized: discovering that all this time, all this pain and suffering was all in my head, all my own fault, and I
that could have ended it any time but just wasn't strong enough to do so. I know he's wrong, but when my worst fears are played on, I have a hard time not indulging them. He is so convinced, and it’s so infuriating. He's back to believing that he's his own personal Jesus. And looking down on me because I take medication. My mother and my other brother do too, but they have their own issues. We're talking about my older brother because he's the family member I feel the most genuine closeness with, and the only one I think I can actually have a friendship with. That I could actually be friends with a family member: the idea is shocking in its unprecedented-ness. But, and I'm extremely sorry to say this, bipolar is pretty much my life. Every day it effects what I do and how I do it. The medications, and the sideeffects, and the doctors, and the research, and the coping, and the coping, and the coping. And someone who patronizes me by saying that any day I want to I can decide to be different is just, well, not a friend. They don't get it, and I suspect they won't. I can't be expected to convince everyone that the sky is blue, after all. He has his reasons, which are personal, unique, and unlikely to change, but then again, so are mine. And I don't know how to deal with it. It bothers me on a fundamental level. But maybe that's just the way it is. No one really accepts the crazy girl.
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning mental health writer with a
damaged brain and a mind striving to deal with it. She writes technical articles, creative nonfiction and fiction and is known for devastating authenticity and occasional controversy. You can find Natasha:
Writing Breaking Bipolar for HealthyPlace.com Writing at natashatracy.com @natasha_tracy on Twitter Natasha.tracy.writer on Facebook
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