I try not to say, “I’ve cured my manic depression;” it would be better to say, “I’ve cured my need for medication.”
In all honesty, I wasn’t even medicated for long because the meds were so terrible – and, since we’re being real here, I’ll add that I was self-medicating with a merry cocktail of fuckery for a couple years there. (Read: late teens to twenties.)
Learning to live unmedicated with this thing has been a journey. I still can’t fully decide how “real” I think the disorder is, which is partially what keeps me from discussing it. How un-PC of me to be in the “mental illness is in your head” camp, right? But that’s not what I mean at all. If I had to summarize it in a sentence like the former, I might say, “mental illness is in the spirit.”
As someone who believes, studies, teaches, and practices energy medicine, I can say with utmost sincerity that all dis-ease and dis-order stems from a spiritual/energetic cause. So to further complicate things, I’ll say that mental illness, defined as a treatable but lifelong chemical imbalance in the brain, is a bit of an oversimplification. Is it accurate? Sure, according to the framework in which it exists as a diagnosis. I’m no doctor; who am I to argue with clinical definitions?
I’d add, though, that if we look more deeply into this from a spiritual anatomy perspective, we might start to correlate the mental chamber and its chemical makeup with intuition and spirituality; perhaps even with self-expression or creativity. Can that shit get out of balance? Hell yeah. Our whole society is basically built to squelch those top chakras.
Then let’s add some medication to the mix. Some blockers, for starters, because all those discontented thoughts need to shush. And a stimulant too because we need people to DO. When we shush and stimulate, though, we further discombobulate the connection to self and spirit. So the meds have to be adjusted frequently, monitored closely, and taken religiously.
When I was diagnosed and medicated, and yes I’ll freely admit that I didn’t stick it out, find the right doc, find the right meds, listen to instructions, or any of the things someone who “truly wanted to get better would do,” I immediately became something other than myself. Something inhuman. A beast thirsty for my own destruction.
Those symptoms are a lot like what I experience(d) with the “disorder,” too. It’s a tricky thing to identify the difference between chemical reactions/side effects/intended effects and symptoms/emotions/feelings. Please don’t read this and just stop taking your meds. That’s not what this is. My journey has been long, well-documented, massively researched, and an entirely personal experiment.
I’ve learned to identify my trail markers. I don’t like “triggers,” because it’s not so much an explosion of gunfire as it is a change of direction.
Mania typically starts with an itch. I need to make a drastic change, do something big, go out and get crazy, or create something new. Like two weeks ago when I decided to build a website and launch a new brand – right in the middle of my already-busiest season AND the Arts Festival I manage AND a major personal transition – I spent hours in total focused creation until it was done. Building a website shouldn’t take a week, by the way. That’s kind of a lot of work even if it’s your one and only full-time job. That’s mania. Part of it, anyway.
Mania for me also includes riling up my inner party girl. Years ago, it meant benders and promiscuity (yikes!). Now, it means drinking a couple glasses of wine each night and maybe smoking some pot while I’m at it; but I’m still a mom and business owner and allllllll the other things so I still have to get up at dawn and take care of my shit. These benders are more like . . . my average child-free friends’ Thursday nights? Though I do have those crazy party-girl thoughts, which is how I know it is a manic stage instead of “just cabin fever.” And sometimes I indulge, a bit, because I’m human (FFS) and young and free. Plus a mom’s gotta sleep – thanks, wine. And eat – eating is the farthest thing from my manic mind. So, thanks, tetrahydrocannabinol.
Mania almost sounds like fun, right? I mean, I get to create something amazing, be hyper-focused, have some extra fun . . . but that’s only part of the picture. I can’t ground; my intuition goes crazy but I have major difficultly translating insights into meaningful actions. Meditation is nearly impossible. ALL I want to do is the creative thing on which I’m hyper-focused. Last week I didn’t even pay people on my usual accounting day because I got so wrapped up in web building AND I was 37 minutes late to daycare to get my toddler on that same day.
Sleep becomes its own weird thing – and that’s strange to say for someone who teaches people how to sleep and dream. I LOVE sleep! But when I’m manic, I wake up a million times each night with my mind racing and it takes everything I have to calm myself. Dreams don’t make sense – I race through them if they come at all. I wake up feeling anxious instead of refreshed. Like my fingers are itching to get back to work, only I’ve already done all the work.
And then I know it’s coming – the downswing. The depression. It happens first with sleep. I can’t get out of bed in the morning, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten. My dreams become nightmares of past traumas, death and destruction, helplessness and rage. I feel terrified and lethargic at the same time, and my mind shifts to create any excuse to get out of my obligations.
Suicidal thoughts rush in. Desperate loneliness and hopelessness follow, aided by a grotesquely detailed story unraveling my current life situation. I can’t look people in the eyes or touch them (which is a problem here in the industry of empowerment) and all I want to do is hide. I’m not sad; I’m lethargic. Words escape my mouth because they’re too busy tearing apart my mind.
All the things I neglected to do during my mania are now pressing on me like a collapsing cave and I cease to give a shit whether or not the walls come down. Again, I forget to eat. Even though my phone rings and pings, I ignore it (and the thousand emails, notifications, plans I’ve made) to favor, instead, the story that I don’t matter and that I am totally alone in this life, a disappointment to myself and a hindrance to others.
How can someone like me, in my position, who teaches what I do, be typing this right now? How is this still my truth, and what the hell does it all mean, and can anyone really trust me to guide them?
Authenticity is my guidepost. Am I being real? Yes. Does me telling my story offer someone a perspective that could help them find themselves? I believe so. And – here’s a biggie – I’m still fucking here, typing this today TO guide/heal/help people.
I mean, sure, I am hiding in my house instead of at the studio because I don’t want to actually have to talk to anyone. Yeah, I ignored some emails and phone calls today and just drank 3 shots of espresso because my two-and-a-half-hour nap didn’t quite cut it. BUT I’m returning those communications little by little and am fortifying my own resolve in each letter that appears on this page.
Here’s the thing. This whole episode, both mania and depression (which admittedly I am still in), has lasted about two weeks. In that time, I’ve still run my business, parented my kid (even *naturally* cured him of an ear infection), surrounded myself with friends, eaten food, taken showers, taught yoga, launched my new brand, and even started reading a new novel.
Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, fits me like a whole different garment today than it did half a lifetime ago. Because of my ability to meditate, breathe, move, dream, intuit, speak, feel, read, write, EAT FOOD, and recognize my cycles, I am still standing. In fact, I’d say I’m thriving.
I still have a way to go before all my goals are met, I still have dreams to see through, and I’d love to be the kind of person who literally never “medicates” or “swings.” (Do those people exist?)
But the me I am today is a hell of a lot stronger and more resilient, steady and at ease, grounded and awake than I ever have been. I know when these things are coming and I am proud or pleased to say that I am figuring out how to not just “treat the symptoms” but to ride the waves. That new website and brand I launched, for instance, was me using manic energy to smash a long-term goal! I’m so pleased with the result.
Yesterday, I knew I was out of mania and starting to slip down, so I did what any intuitive would do in that situation: I pulled some cards. It was also the 16th anniversary of my mom’s death, which is always a strange day for me. I pulled “orphaned” (LOL thanks) and “take a nap” and a whole bunch of other cards supporting those ideas that I wanted to ignore. It was time to pull back and take a rest, let that which has been created become, and turn gently inward. The cards were telling me “you’re in a low.”
So today that is exactly what I did after teaching my morning class. Even though I woke still in a fog, I knew what I had to do (as Mary Oliver wrote) and I set off with my espresso in hand and laptop on my hip. I changed my clothes, returned some pressing emails, took a call or two, and wrote this eighteen-hundred-word self-indulgent expose on modern day manic spirituality.
Maybe now I’ll curl up with my novel in a patch of sunshine before I get my toddler (on time) from daycare.
There’s so much more I could say on this topic. And I do, and I will, and I have. It’s enough for today, right now, for me to have laid it out like this. Now that I see it, I don’t feel so guilty; now that I’ve written it, I feel lighter. That’s one of the things I’ve learned to do – give that inner voice an outer voice. Demons are a lot feebler in the light (mostly because they just got lost in the dark and tried to make themselves seem bigger while they were there . . . but once we bring them up and let them out, they, too, can breathe and release).
Maybe my demon is actually a war horse who comes to my aid when I need a ride, and then a snuggly stable companion when the battle is won, keeping vigil while I sleep. Maybe that’s what MY “mental illness” is: a gift.
(More on my actual black horse spirit guide another time.)