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How Bipolar Disorder Tests My Will to Survive

To date, my resume includes jail, the intensive care unit, the emergency room, the ambulance, the psych ward, rehab, a homeless shelter and a mansion in Miami. I’ve been stitched, intubated, NARCAN’ed. I have a tendency to get arrested, so I keep the best attorney around on speed dial and none of this fuckery could be possible without manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder.

Of all the afflictions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, bipolar is the one I’d want. It is a wild ride. Mania can make you soar higher than an eight ball of Peruvian white. It will jerk you violently thus and fro as you are beset by delusion, grandiosity, bliss and rage. You may achieve brilliance, or even genius, if you’re blessed with clarity of mind. And after all that, after living life at full tilt in a somewhat superhuman capacity, the insomnia and hyperactivity will vanish, and depression will settle on your soul like some sort of malignant octopus. Its tentacles will subsume you in a tempest of grief, self-loathing and doom. It will test, again and again, your will to survive.

Enter medication. If you’re like I am and you spent 10 some odd years on a train with no conductor, medication is like a bat to the head. In my experience, it’s a buzzkill, if it works. Gone is my full wattage electric personality, and instead is a duller version of me. This takes some getting used to. Mania itself can be like a narcotic you must wean yourself from, but some people with mania can become addicted to their mania, especially if they feed it with alcohol or cocaine and achieve total bliss. If you take medication, like the old standby lithium, people will often notice the difference in you and might wonder where their feral friend disappeared to. You will no longer be dancing on tables or wearing lampshades or snorting rails off tits.

As I cruise into middle age, battered and scarred, yet somehow still alive, I have come to view myself as a survivor. Bipolar is like treading water in the middle of the ocean; it’s a constant struggle to keep your head above the waves as they crash into you. Medication acts like a life vest and it will buoy you, but you will always be in the same ocean. If you slip under the water, there may be a cop or an ER doctor to save you and, in time, just maybe, you’ll learn to swim.

Unsplash image by Priscilla de Preez