While in my flower garden recently, pruning and watering my long-suffering rose bushes, I began to think about my life with bipolar disorder and how I, too, am like a plant that is often slow to flower, with medicinal fertilization and psychological pruning hardly providing relief. There has been no master gardener able to clear my mind of the weeds that twist and choke and delude my senses. No administered drug has permanently lifted the fog that clouds my vision and no gentle hand has effectively coaxed me from my shell. Likewise, my roses aren’t particularly receptive of my care. I have spent hours nourishing them, watering them, ripping my hands open on their thorns. Despite my best efforts, they lie dormant, their buds browning with defeat.
Where I live, the weather is unpredictable: at times you can observe all seasons in the same week, including rain, frigid temperatures, sweltering humidity and devastating storms. The volatility takes a toll on the local horticulture; trees lose branches and leaves from wind and lightning strikes, yards are flooded and turned to mud by torrential rains, and blooming flowers and shrubs freeze to death overnight. Living with bipolar disorder can be similarly devastating. It’s about physical pain, of adversely reacting to medications, of losing hair and weight and then gaining it back, and then some. It’s about pallid skin, brittle nails and nausea, of feeling cold when it’s hot and hot when it’s not. It’s about overwhelming fatigue and weeks with no sleep and scars from painful moments that were too much to bear. It’s about retreating from reality and physically and emotionally surrendering to the disease.
I have been guilty of allowing my garden to grow wild. The rose bushes were indistinguishable from the weeds, the bag of fertilizer I optimistically bought sitting unopened mere feet away. I have also been guilty of letting my illness get out of control. I have refused medication, withdrawn from loved ones and chased irrationality to despair. Yet my will to live and thrive has prevailed, and like the changing of the seasons I now expect, and accept, the recurring swings in my mood and behavior.
I am far from an expert gardener. I would hardly even call myself knowledgeable. If you look closely, you’ll see the nicks I made while inexpertly pruning my roses last season. You can snap off the dead branches caused by sporadic watering and pull up the weeds that seem to thrive without nourishment. But despite it all, the rose bushes are still there. At first glance they may appear lifeless, but their thorns are set to pierce when you get too close and their buds wait, contemplating blooming, ready to unfurl and spread open toward the sun.
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Unsplash photo via Jaime Spaniol