Native and Bipolar


“Beauty is still there, even when I’m blinded to it, waiting for me to see.”

These were the words Ntozake Shange told me during a meet and greet before she presented at UC Davis in February of 2012. I was preparing myself to leave for my master’s research, “Puquios of Nasca: Pre-Incan Groundwater Technology of Southern Peru.” I had been battling major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for three years. Inepo Yoeme. I’m Yaqui. Me identity as a Native led me to this field of studying engineering and wanting to know other Native engineers, especially those with works left from the past. I termed it indigenous engineering methodologies. But in trying to reach back into the past, my entire future changed on the third morning I was in Nasca, Peru, April 9, 2012.

I’m breaking.

My efforts are shaking.

My heart is undertaking.

Transformation is needed.

I pleaded with a God once.

I screamed Viracocha to the sky.

Take me back Cerro Blanco.

To where my spirit lifted itself up.

Allow me to fly above the waters.

Va’aam I prayed for you.

I prayed to Achai Ta’aa.

I’m breaking.

My spirit has broken itself in two.

One half here in the north.

One half left drowning in the south.

In desert sands.

Fallen in puquio water.

Aqueducts carried Allea into the ground.

The Earth consumed my lost daughter.

I gave away my daughter’s name!

I scream at the sky.

I gave away my daughter’s name!

In Nazca on a Good Monday.

So half my spirit fell into those deep deep waters.

Allea was her name.

I try to call her back to me.

But she is stuck in the south and I am here in the north.

I visited a curandera who called my mother crazy.

I visited a curandera who told me,

I must prepare myself to return.

The desert is my true home.

I was intellectually ready.

But spiritually my soul was too weak.

From absorbing my sister’s pain.

I took it upon myself.

I developed a mental illness.

This sickness.

I can’t live with this.

And yet here I am breathing.

Breathing with negative feelings.

Spirit guide me back to those blessed waters.

I prayed to Achai Ta’aa.

But I cursed Viracocha.

I bowed to Cerro Blanco.

But I cried for Bacatete, Shasta and Sierras.

And now I live in quarters.

Separated my body, mind, emotion and spirit are suffering.

Now I live.

Hollow.

I live but no longer deeply as I did before.

My third day in Nazca, I had become manic and psychotic. I was forced into a Peruvian psychiatric hospital for three days right before Easter. I was devastated. At one point I was roomed with a male patient. I remember screaming and fighting, but not knowing if I had or had not been assaulted. No one could understand my words, in Spanish or English. I was put in solitary for almost two of those three days tied down with linen strips to an iron bed. No water. Nothing. I remember being forced fed bread and warm milk but kept throwing up because of the continuous Haldol injections. It was too much. I remember sitting naked in a patio chair while a nurse hosed me down with water and washed my hair. I was too out of it to mind that it was cold.

It took my husband and my father-in-law to come get me out. My father-in-law is from Lima, so he explained to the doctor that he was a CRN. Plus I don’t think they wanted an American in their facility considering what almost happened. My father-in-law over the next week tried to administer the meds, but I refused. I was still manic and psychotic, just beat up from the whole thing. By divine help I made it back to the United States. But my poor husband, he couldn’t keep up with me. I was up all night, secretly communicating with the universe through electric chords. Singing at the break of dawn with my hand drum announcing that because “they” messed with Geronimo he sent a Yaqui-Warrior woman to help Itom Ae (Our Mother) and bring back balance.

I was the Native-Neo, controlling the weather and summoning demons to take out demons. It was one hell of a ride, and it took me escalating to a point of jumping in the American River to finally get 51-50’d. In the hospital I would spin and spin around, believing that my motions called the waters of the Earth to fight back. I was studying civil engineering, especially hydrogeology, so I’m not too surprised at this. I was inpatient for almost a month, and was discharged the day before I was supposed to walk the stage for my master’s degree. Instead, the next day I walked in an outpatient program, still manic and a bit psychotic. The meds slowly but surely started bringing me back to consciousness. I could feel fear coming back instead of feelings of invisibility.

“What happened to me? Bipolar 1 with psychotic features? No, there is no way. I was drugged! I was assaulted! Something else must have happened. I’m an engineer! I’m an engineer. There’s no way I could have that! Right?”

But it was true, and for a year I did or said nothing, I pulled out all my eyebrows and eyelashes. I sat still. My brain was fried from the manic and psychotic ride, and it took a year for me to be in recovery before I came back as a participant in the world.

That was five years ago, and almost to the exact same date I was recently hospitalized now, in 2017. This time for active suicidal depression and high anxiety.

Broken open with words unspoken,

Breaking free with intense emotions.

Scars now red from bleeding open.

Fears not dead but twice split open.

Walking stars that’s what we are.

But I went NOVA then collapsed in dark.

Susto at the base of my throat.

No key to be sung is the voice of my notes.

No key to be turned at the base of my mind.

No key to break free from the chains that now bind,

All of me.

Even though you do not see those chains that have enslaved all of me.

And I feel the whip of my worry.

Demands that I now hurry.

To keep exhausting all that is me or…

Choose to stop by breaking free.

Choose to stop the pain inside.

This a symptom of forewarned demise.

Disguised as a fault of my own,

The lie that is told is now the truth that I own.

Death is merciful unlike life.

Surem! Surem! Please help me fight!

Surem! Surem! Please help me fight!

By divine help open my heart.

My mind is split open.

Body falling apart.

My heart has stopped beating because I cannot breathe,

My mind laid bare and quick to rot.

I tried my family and used all I was taught.

And even there,

In a battlefield laid bare,

I welcome the end because death is the only friend there.

Surem, Surem, I want to go home.

I miss our ancestors and I miss your peace,

This is why I call myself “V.”

Why was I born human when ready to die?

Why can’t I be with you where there are no lies?

Suddenly across the battlefield to my surprise,

A voice a moment, to stop and recognize.

I am not alone with death as I notice her large yellow eyes.

Here in this cat named Katie.

Surem, Surem, I feel you are with me.

Yes, a cat once saved my life.

She saw the symptoms and rushed to my side.

With one look she stopped a moment of me bleeding out.

With one look she helped me to get out.

Now Katie has joined you, Surem.

And I fear I am in the battlefield along with death again,

But then again.

Suddenly across the battlefield to my surprise.

A voice a moment to stop and recognize.

I am not alone with death as I see my two friends and looked into their eyes.

I laid my truth bear with tears baptizing my eyes,

Surem, Surem, you remind me you are there with me through a new roommate this night at

Sutter Psych.

And she introduced herself and her name is “Katie.”

Now I can say I know my lowest low and my highest high. I may be bipolar, but I like to think of me trying to make order out of my disorder, of me trying to make beauty from my pain by lessening the suffering. I accept my illness, I demand from folks that it not be used as a pejorative. And as one of my favorite authors once encouraged me, I will stay medicated and mighty. Also, in hoping one day he will read this, this is for you Sherman Alexie, my fellow native and bipolar writer. This is for Red Group, you know who you are.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Bipolar Disorder

black and white image of hands holding jigsaw pieces

There Are Two of Me: Living With Bipolar Disorder

There are two of me. Each morning, I don’t know who I’ll be. No, we are not twins — in fact we’re completely different. It might not make sense to most people but I like being both. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; since I was very young it’s the two of me I’ve remembered. [...]
A pill bottle spilling out pills

Why I Stopped Taking My Medication, and Why I Started Again

It can be common among individuals with mental illness to want to stop their medications. This can be dangerous, and is often cautioned against by behavioral health professionals. Despite the words of warning, I have never met someone with the bipolar diagnosis that has not gone off meds at least once (though I’m sure those strong-willed [...]
rose-like mushroom on dark soil

The Rise and Fall of the Fairy Queen: My Bipolar Journey, a Prose Poem

People have inquired about my personal journey through the extremes my illness brings. Let me elaborate. Right now, in this moment, I own success. My feet are grounded upon the Earth I was born. Yet, often I desire to be more than myself, to be better, grander — magical. The only caveat is I must [...]
man draws abstract tree with colorful smoke flare,illustration painting

When Bipolar Disorder Makes You Take On the Feelings of Others

As if it weren’t difficult enough to deal with my own feelings, at times, I’ve had to wrestle with the feelings of others. It started when I was a teen. I had already experienced my first major meltdown, and was trying to put myself back together. Like most teens, I wasn’t really sure who I [...]