In a bipolar life, there are days, weeks, sometimes months, where the illness never lets up. Most of the time, I can ride those long spells. They’re a fact of my life. I understand that. But, I suppose like anyone with a chronic illness, the relentlessness of it sometimes swamps me. The despair of dealing with the illness combines with the despair it creates. The extra weight guarantees sinking to the bottom and makes it that much harder to fight my way back to the surface.
I’ve been going through one of those spells—a long season of black. It’s been a different kind of hard this time without my two water wings of compulsive eating and compulsive spending. Oh, the compulsions are still there. I still pace my kitchen like a caged bobcat, opening all the cupboards, the fridge, the pantry, hoping I slipped and brought home something, anything, that will dull the wild scrabbling in my brain. And even when I’ve budgeted a trip to Des Moines, have cash to pay for a movie and gas, the urge to keep spending is a fish hook under my sternum. Pulling, pulling always pulling.
This past week my Start With One Serving mantra saved me from getting lost in food, but I still gained a couple of pounds. Compared to other similar seasons, though, that’s nothing. And while I’m on the edge of nothing in my checking account, I have enough in my piggy bank at home to get through the month. Since I paid all my bills, put money in my car fund, and made my planned Visa payment, this, too, is far from the disaster such seasons usually bring.
I’m sure the tension of fighting these old behaviors contributes to the illness itself, but the fight is required if I’m ever to find any freedom. I know how lucky I am to even have the option of fighting. I’ve met others like me who don’t, who don’t have an inkling of insight, who are utterly lost in the illness itself. I understand them. I am them. But, I’m also this.
There was one day last week where I thought about surrendering to being lost. What if I quit fighting and just turned into the crazy cat lady on the corner? Would that be so bad? There’s a siren song to mental illness that can be so seductive. Go to sleep, it says. I’ll take care of everything.
But, after all this time, I recognize that purring song. It’s part of me, but not all of me. So, I start looking for joy. Tiny moments. Gentle kindnesses. Things that make me close my eyes in appreciation. The light on Emmet as he watches the birds. The silky slide of the water as I swim. A song on my Pandora station. A kind note from an almost-friend. The perfect taste of a vanilla latte with one squirt of raspberry. The ballet-like fight scenes in Captain America’s new movie. The wonder of creating an exquisite background paper for a card. The smell of rain. A deep breath. An old feeling of lightness that comes while driving through town in the orange light of dusk. A chance to listen so someone else in pain.
My friend, Lily, once told me something that has soothed me for years. Sometimes, all you can do is hang on. This is true. Hang on until the season turns. Hang on because this—whatever it is—won’t last. Grip the rope and wait. Most of my life I’ve focused on the tension of waiting, the feeling of not being able to hang on much longer, the sense of fingernails ripping away. What I’m finding is that it’s even more important to notice how beautiful the rope is and to treasure it.