Why I Revisit a List I Wrote While I Was Manic
“We’ll all float on OK.” — “Float On” by Modest Mouse
One memorable night of my first admission in a psychiatric ward, I sat up with another patient, Joey* and gave him my CD to listen to. Joey had come back to the ward from day release, drunk and in a dark place, refusing to go to his room, ranting about ending his own life. The night nurses told me not to bother, but I sat with him in the corridor for a while. Joey had been living in the ward for three months. Homeless, he didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was his last night there before he was being driven to a half-way house. Earlier in the day, I’d helped him pack and discovered his “The Cure” t-shirt and pulled it on over my black hoodie. He’d reminisced to me about his life on the street and with prostitution. A couple of days earlier, he’d come back from the supermarket with a box of black hair dye, and I’d helped cut and dye his hair. Suddenly, I’d had other patients lining up for a hair wash at my makeshift salon.
The other patients are what I remember most about my admissions. Their stories, their colorful personalities, their kindness and warmth. I can’t remember all their names or faces, but we were comrades in the hospital, keeping each other company in the early hours of the morning when the mania does not allow you to sleep, or during the boredom of long afternoons after visiting hours were over. We’ve spent Christmas together, and I’ve shared with them some of my deepest fears.
Eight years have passed since that night in the ward with Joey. I still pray for him sometimes, and hope he found his way out of that dark place. In those early days of my first admission, we were asked in a group counseling session to write down the positives in our experience of being diagnosed with a mental health condition. There were groans at such a trite, patronizing exercise, but in my manic state I blitzed it and came up with a full list. After some revision, I use that list to this day. I continue to remind myself that in a funny way, having bipolar disorder has been one of the best experiences of my life.
Yeah, there are shit days. It’s hard. I’ve had times where I haven’t wanted to be alive, a lot of days it’s hard to convince myself to do anything worthwhile, I’ve suffered post-traumatic stress from the screwed up delusions my chemically imbalanced brain keeps spewing out. I feel resentment at the seemingly endless pile of medication I have to keep track of. I feel I have burdened my family with my illness, and I am racked with guilt.
In spite of this, or perhaps because of it all, my experiences and the sheer challenge of a journey through my own head, has enriched my life. As well as the people I have been fortunate enough to get to know on the wards, I have been forced to get to know myself. It has brought me closer to my family, forcing me to open up about my drug use early on. It’s pulled me and my husband closer as we cling together through the terror of it all. It forced me seek proper medical attention, and now I have a good medical team of mental health professionals who I trust have my back. It has taught me about health, relationships, myself, people, life.
It has given me resilience.
So, to anyone who has been slapped in the face with a diagnosis, do not suffer from your mental health condition. Allow it to empower you, let it enrich your life. And on those bad days, get out your happy song and trust that we will all float on anyway.
*Name has been changed.
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