Coming up with one, fluid metaphor for bipolar disorder is an impossible task. Ask me when I’m high- I’ll tell you it’s like standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, fully aware death awaits at the bottom, and, being numb and invigorated, jumping anyway. Sometimes it’s a disassociation of sorts. In strange, mixed states, I’ve felt like I existed a few inches above ground on a separate plane from everybody else and that I could see the atoms in everything- the trees, the faces of my loved ones, the ceiling. When I stare at my hands, they seem either too big or too small for my body. I get extreme urges to get naked and run and scream- to allow myself to go fully mad- urges that only a latent sense of propriety and shame keep at bay.
But it’s those wonderful hypo-manic moments, the almost-normal moments when I feel most like my real self, that have been truly euphoric.
I am beautiful, collected; I’m charming and witty and charismatic. I can accomplish what I set out to do. I don’t need sleep. I post more on social media, and, as if in confirmation, get the most likes and comments on those posts. I make promises I’m convinced I’ll keep. The idea of making a phone call or seeing someone in passing at the store or at the bank doesn’t terrify me. People like me. They listen to me. They want to be around me. I can do anything. I can do everything.
And then, inevitably, the crash.
I’m too tall, too wild. I talk too much and much too fast. I annoy people. I’m obnoxious and loud. I’m ugly, and no one wants to be near. They only pretend to tolerate me. I can’t for the life of me form a cogent thought or an explanation or give myself pause in any of this. I notice that all of my sentences begin with I and end with me, but I can’t stop. God, I’m selfish.
I suffer this slowly, in pieces, and all at once. I implode, split at the seams. I stop caring for myself. I skip a hair washing day. I don’t put on makeup. I can’t do or say anything right. And I unravel everything I’ve managed to weave into place. I am Sisyphus- I always start over at the bottom.
These days, even my manic moments aren’t pure pleasure. I’m too aware of the inevitability of the fall, so much so that my mania has become nothing more than a panic induced by sleepless anxieties. I used to be a voracious reader, a provocative thinker. Now, I can’t even have a drive without something playing on my phone. T.v. shows, movies. Nothing that makes me think or feel too hard. My television is the hardest working machine in my life.
My appetites become mercurial. I eat too much or not enough. I consume everything and nothing all at once. I anesthetize myself from all feeling, all thought. I’m exhausted, sick, and in pain- in a general, ontological kind of way that I can’t point at or medicate properly. I only manage; I do not heal.
I have Bipolar Disorder II, which means that the ratio with which I experience depression versus mania is 40:1. This makes my life a dreary, Northern spring – cold, wet, and gray. Boots squelching in dirty, muddy slush; the droll of cars skidding through the melting snow. Post-nasal drip. Coughing. A rising must of winter clothes drying on the radiator. The promise of spring broken by the ache of a new snowfall.
Pure inertia has kept me going. Or, perhaps, pure inertia has kept me from going. I’m not sure.
I’m idling at an intersection on a bright, overcast day that is only possible when it gets so cold that the sky is mostly ice. The traffic light hangs, pendulous, on a few thin wires. Its vacant eyes stare forward, as if plucked from a glaucoma patient. I can’t tell if they want me to stay or to go.
Did the light change? Am I missing something? Who is moving? Am I being swept away by the surge of blinking signals and roaring motors, standing motionless and sick from exhaust fumes? Or is it I who is speeding down the highway- cut breaks, loose wires- missing turn after turn and running every stop sign?
The distinction is clear, though the motion sickness is the same. One way I get there in a burst of flames and a body burned beyond recognition, sizzling flesh fused to the driver’s seat. The other way I never get there. I’m towed away, dead man’s grip on the steering wheel.