My doctor once asked me, “So have you done anything weird lately?”
She was this little Russian woman. Psychiatrists are an interesting bunch overall, but the Russian was funniest. She played professional basketball before immigrating to the U.S. and loved Roger Federer a semi-absurd amount. We bonded over sports and I always made sure to read the latest on tennis before going to appointments. She also had a delightful sense of humor and thought I was funny. And she hated Rafael Nadal. So much.
She asked me if I’d done anything weird, and I hemmed and hawed a bit as I do when I’m faced with a question about my feelings or my behaviors or anything that could possibly broach the world of something vulnerable. Prior to 2017, I was spectacular at this “talent” in general. I could make irrational things sound perfectly rational. I could make my feelings a secondary story to circumstances. (This is a very strange thing to do — basically, you describe a circumstance so fully that the person you’re talking to starts to have their own emotions about it so that you never have to name yours.) (It’s not recommended.) (At all.)
“Well,” I told her, “I redesigned the entire intake process of our counseling center for no particular reason other than I was bored.”
She looked at me. “No one asked you to do this?”
“No,” I said sheepishly. “I just had an idea. So I drew up a flow chart.”
“And then what?”
“Then I presented it to the Dean who really liked it.” I paused. “Then I went to a Unitarian Universalist service and gave a speech on absurdism in the context of suicidal ideation.”
“Right. Like the idea that the world has no meaning which is totally fine as long as you accept it and create meaning in whatever small way you want to because none of it inherently matters at all.”
“And then what?”
I always looked at my feet. Or the drawing of flowers on the wall behind her. I think she secretly smoked in her office because it always had just a hint of tobacco smell to it. It was strangely comforting even though I have no reason it would have been.
Then I do this thing with my mouth. I sort of twist it to the side. Like this:
That is the face of, “Yeah. So. I know whatever I’m about to say sounds perfectly insane. My bad.” Anyone reading this who really knows me has seen that face. Not to give away my secrets or anything, but that is definitely my “off the rails we go” look.
“Well, I’m going to write a novel. And I have this idea for a musical that I think would be really cool. And I have great ideas at 2 a.m. And I started talking to this person who sort of lights my brain on fire just a bit. And I sort of feel sad, but I don’t know why? But I’m sure it’s temporary. So we don’t have to do anything about it. I’m just mentioning it because you asked if anything was weird. And. Well. That’s sort of weird? But everyone thinks I’m okay. I mean, I’m okay. I’m not as bad as I was. So we’re good.”
That’s just it, see. All of my episodes are measured against all my other episodes. Like, “Did you write a suicide note and have a plan?” replaced “Did you drive to Kentucky in the middle of the night and stay up for four days?” This replaced “Did you sleep three hours a day and take 24 credits and spend most of your time practicing jazz piano chords?” These were the benchmarks until 2017.
They say bipolar disorder worsens as you get older. Like, the episodes get more severe. What a hopeless way to describe something to someone. Just, like, lie to us or something. We don’t need to know all the facts. People do just fine while swimming in the pool of ignorance on topics they SHOULD want to know more about. So. Give us this one.
For a month in 2014, I had tactile hallucinations that made me feel like I was getting paper cuts on my fingers. This was especially bad at night. I couldn’t sleep because the sharp, burning pain would wake me up. It was most pronounced then, but I couldn’t really handle a stack of papers or anything like that during the daytime either. Every time I had the feeling, I would snap my fingers. It made the sensation dissipate temporarily. I remember leaving the room in the middle of the night so I could snap my fingers without waking my wife up. When these started to happen more frequently, interrupting sessions, I took a leave of absence from work for eight weeks.
All of this doesn’t matter with regard to 2017 because that was its very own animal. I just wanted to lay the groundwork and emphasize that I have a network solidly in place to tell me when it’s time to take a break. I do not, under any circumstances, put anyone in danger. It is my worst nightmare and I am ridiculously protective of who I am in this regard. But I am also exceptionally adept at doing what needs doing no matter what state I’m in. Any inference otherwise is just insulting and I don’t tell these stories to invite judgment or criticism. I’m sure it’s there and that’s fine. But let’s just agree on this fact: I would rather die than get it wrong. The end.
On March 23, 2017, it became clear that I was going to blow up my life. I wrote something along the lines of, “I can’t keep feeling what I’m feeling without changing things.” But the further and further I got off my meds, the stranger it all became… the conflicting emotions of “every sense in my body is at 100%” coupled with “I am such a worthless person, this is just dumb” resulted in a whole lot of “short term” planning.
Every day was its own worst enemy. I was officially no longer comfortable so… mission success?
“Have you done anything weird lately?”
The answer is always yes. I can’t remember a one-week span of time in my life where the answer to that question is no. And if I’m in a mixed episode, then all bets are off. I will compare love to Girl Scout cookies and I will tell people over and over that I will “do better” without having any idea what I mean or how that could possibly happen. I will continue to apologize for the “innocent” people I took down with me. I will continue to say amusing things and do shoulder dances and be JUST cute enough to love while JUST slippery enough to never trust that what I’m saying is the absolute truth. I will write love letters at 1 a.m., make 19 Facebook videos a day, and still outline for everyone around me the reasons I am a terrible person. I will listen to my music as loudly as humanly possible and then beg for silence from everyone around me. I will tell one person that they are the love of my life while I plan the logistics to walk out the door forever and I will tell someone else that I am “in” for being with them while saying, “even if this wears off for you and you decide I’m not what you want and I get that already… like I’ve already forgiven you for that… I will still have been in love with you and won’t be able to look at you and I wonder if I’ll be okay with that.”
All of this leaves a person tired. Just for reference.
It’s an interesting world to be completely unmemorable in 98% of the meaningful ways, but that sticky 2% is just a bitch and a half.
My brain betrays me on almost a daily basis. So I will do as much as I can until I can’t anymore. That’s the deal I always make with myself.
Oh well. Soak it in bleach and make it pristine again. That’s all there is.
I could make good on that.