Bipolar, how does it feel for you and how do you describe it to another person who has never even heard of it?
It has certain features of being under a curse. For sure, there is a root doctor somewhere with a poppet of you being floated over an open flame, incense burning and whips out a chant that's calls out as a dirty curse. Then, you stop, you start, a case of flu comes over you that isn't flu, your future is looking bleak, you have no energy, or you have too much. You're brilliant, you're stupid. This was my life when I lived at Brompton and Broadway on the North Side at age twenty, attending school at UIC. I got into candle burning and it seemed like as good of cure as any for my curse.
This curse you are left with is tiredness, irritability, and hypo energy, like bad speed, and you're whole life is messed around you because you're "nailed to a tree" (old voodoo expression), and there's no way to maneuver anywhere, especially in your brain.
Now I was diagnosed late in life - age forty four - on Valentine's Day, 2007. I felt like it was my lucky day, because here was a doctor that going to take the nail out of me for good, I was hoping, but it was not to be that oh so very simple. Still, I felt lucky because the psychiatrist sweetened the pot for me, and told me my brand of bipolar, while being bipolar II. was one of the worse versions of II you can possibly have! Well, that explained all the pain.
The doctor said to me, 'Joan, have you ever gone to see a psychiatrist before?"
"No," I said.
"No shit?" said the especially experienced professional psychiatrist who had seen it all in private practice and the hospital psych wards.
I mean, why on earth would I? My sister is only schizophrenic, and my brother is bipolar, What does that have to do with me? Turns out a lot. But I'm fine, I'm just depressed all the time, Have been most of my life and hypomanic in between, if there are any in betweens.
Actually it's rapid cycling or ultra rapid cycling, and as it turns out, mixed episodes most of the time too. That's when you've mixed up both of the moods at the same time. But I was never suicidal, just suicidally depressed. In other words, I was down and out and ugly feeling, but I never had an inclination to plan my death or even consider it. When I waited down in el underground, the impulse to get hit by the train wasn't there, but watching the rats from a safe distance on the el tracks was a preoccupation of mine. I really understood those rat's lives. It seems, all my life, every doctor I went to said I was fine. I was so healthy, at 5"8' and 125 lbs I could have been Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.
When Doctor X and I had sessions after finding out the Problem wasn't being nailed to a tree, I got more drugs to keep the continual horrible feeling away. Unlike younger patients, I had no problem with being drugged for the rest of my life.
But I asked Doctor X, how did I survive all those years without treatment, especially since I had a pernicious form of bipolar II? He answered, I had extraordinary "inner resources". (translation of that phrase to an idiomatic expression, I was left to my own devices.")
But I sat and thought about it and the answer was clear: at twenty, which is when the disorder really roared to life, I was a philosophy major at UIC and the way I handled it was very simple: I became philosophical about it.