#WriterLifeMonth, Day 9: Challenge overcome.
I started showing symptoms at 13, if not younger, when I began to develop delusions. I might have had some auditory and visual hallucinations. According to my Mom, I always had trouble sleeping, which is a classic symptom of the disease.
By the time I was 16, I had my first major episode, and my pattern began to establish itself: I would have “up” periods from August to December, and then crushing “down” periods thereafter, from January to April. There might be periods of relative calm between these two extremes, or smaller peaks and valleys of up and down during, but, my creative life has been dominated by this overall up/down pattern. I would produce with great gusto and creativity during my up periods, and then feel utterly stagnated and incapable of writing a single sentence during my down periods.
If I ever thought this pattern “bipolar”, I dismissed it quickly. I wasn’t crazy. I just had a very particular rhythm to my creative life. I didn’t know enough to understand I was bipolar, much less the toll this up/down cycle took on my health. But at the age of 29 I had an incredible up period – a manic episode – during which I wrote the first draft of a novel in a very short amount of time. This was followed by a massive down time – a major depressive episode – which lasted for two years. I was 31 before I got the medical help I needed.
Limping into the doctor’s office, brittle, cringing, angry, hateful, self-loathing, in chronic pain, and exhausted from unrelenting insomnia – this was not the best thing to ever happen to me by any means. But I saved my life – my sanity, creative gifts, my relationships, and my future – by going in and starting medication.
The summer after I started on a mood stabilizer, a peculiar thing happened. I wasn’t in a mad rush to complete anything. I didn’t feel the hot, burning itch to write everything all at once. I didn’t feel passionately inspired.
I felt content.
I’d generally known that if I made progress every day on a project, writing or otherwise, I would build something more lasting than working on things in fits and starts. But being on medications made that possible for the first time in my adult life. I wasn’t too drained to write, and I cared enough to do so. My brain didn’t buzz with a sea of black hornets – thousands of ideas all wanting attention that could vanish at any second. Neither did I have to juggle two, and three, and four different projects in a frenzy, expecting that I would somehow finish them all even though I had no clear goals in mind. No; on medications, I could simply get up in the morning, brew a cup of tea, sit down – and work. I was no longer at the mercy of mania or depression.
I was free to write.
Check out the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for more information, including information for family, friends, and loved ones, and information about peer support groups in your area.