Saturday, 25 February 2012

Bipolar Blossoms

The cherry blossom holds much symbolism within Japan. According to the Buddhist tradition, the breathtaking but brief beauty of the blossoms symbolizes the transient nature of life. The flowers last for at most a few weeks, but during that time, both the mountains and the cities are full of the delicate pink flowers.

For most of the last decade of my life I've experienced symptoms which baffled me. I was 14 when I first tried to take my life, and while at the time my reasons made sense, they seemed real and valid, and the pain I was in was chronic and unrelenting, trying to understand that state of mind in recent years has been difficult. The logic of my actions eludes me. I don't know if it's just that no adult, having left adolescence, can truly understand that pain. Having filled our lives with necessary mundanities, is it possible to comprehend the way your world falls apart at a harsh word? A perceived slight? A toppling in your social rank? When these things are everything to you, do they hurt just as much as losing your house, or your partner, or your reputation as an adult? I think they must.

I couldn't tell you much about my mental health before then, apart from that the eating disorder was all encompassing and I dismissed everything else as a symptom of that. But after that? There were moods so low it felt like someone had cut all the nerves to my face. I couldn't focus my eyes, I'd go days without talking, without looking up from my schoolbooks, without even sitting with my friends in the library or cafeteria. And then there were times when I felt like I'd been injected with dark energy. I wasn't happy, I wasn't alive, I was just.....everywhere, and everything, all at once. I was going to start a rock band, become a serial killer, an architect, a dancer. Careers and futures flickered through my mind faster than seems possible, but I was always so completely serious about them. Nothing was a whim. I was dedicated, completely and utterly, until the depression crept back and sucked me down again. I wouldn't sleep and then I'd leave the house at 5am, walk halfway across the city, just walk and walk and walk until I found something that seemed worth stopping for. In my later teens, I'd get into hideous relationships, I'd hurt people for reasons I didn't understand, and at one point I wrote a catalogue of poems about an ex-lover that shocked me when I recently looked up my writing account to take them all offline. I was vicious and cruel. I wasn't happy, but I was humming, positively crashing into the walls with dark energy. When I was 18 I came home from a family trip, turned on the computer, applied for any live-in job that was away from London and 3 days later I was on a train to the southernmost tip of the country for what turned into two months of drinking and fucking away the pain I was in.

But you see, at no point did it ever occur to me, or the people around me, that all of these things? The violence and the drinking and the promiscuity and the mad life changes and the dark energy? They were all heavy indicators that I wasn't just depressed. I was having manic episodes. My mania, though it went unrecognised for many years, has always come much closer to killing me than the depression has. Depression didn't put me in strange beds, in strange cars, in strange towns, with strangers. Depression didn't have me goading and fighting with anyone who came near me. Depression didn't have me walking the streets at 5 in the morning, defiantly iPod-deaf and not even trying to watch out for myself. Depression never told me I could fly, or live forever, or take on grown men in a fist fight, or somersault off a wall. Depression didn't have me planning weddings to three people, nor did it see my way to cheating on the third. It didn't tell me that I really could maintain a boyfriend and a fiance, that somehow it would all work out well. Depression was always realistic about life.

This week started out bad. I had a lot of set-backs, there was a lot of pain and a lot of misery and when I was already tired and close to snapping, we got some really bad news. I held it together long enough to make a phonecall to confirm, and halfway through that phonecall something inside me broke. The part of me that had been fighting and holding on just let go, and I sobbed myself to sleep. I woke up at midnight and started writing letters. Writing goodbyes, writing sorry's, writing I-love-you's. I tried to formulate words to leave my daughter. What could I tell her? What wisdom could I impart? How could I fit a lifetime of mothering into the hours between midnight and dawn? How could I warn her to watch out, to not let mental illness sneak up and take her down from behind? How could I explain that I loved her more than life itself, which is why I had to go, because I loved her too much to let her see me like this as she grew up? I loved her too much to risk my illness marking her life. I had promised not to let anyone hurt her, and the only way I could see to keep that promise was to leave.

At 4am, she woke up. I tried for an hour to get her back to sleep but it just wasn't happening. Nothing was working, so eventually I decided that we'd watch some TV and I'd endure the heartbreak of her being awake when I left.
She asked me to put Glee on, so I looked it up and sure enough, there was a new episode. I loaded it up. It was an act that would change our lives.
This weeks episode dealt with a suicide attempt, and the fallout after it. I could not have predicted, at all, that this would be the subject matter, or that the stars would align and force me to see it that morning. At first I was angry. I had made my decision. I didn't want to feel bad about it. I knew I was doing the right thing. Besides, I'd heard all the 'it gets better' bullshit before. Well guess what? When you have a chronic hereditary condition and debilitating mental health problems, it doesn't get better. It gets worse. Every day, every week, everytime you try to reach out and grab at life, it gets worse. I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to hear about how selfish I was from people who couldn't understand my decision. I didn't want to hear that I was wrong in the eyes of a society that wouldn't help me no matter how hard I tried. I didn't want any of it. I'd heard it all before, and more, and none of it mattered to me or made a difference.

And then something got through. Through all those awful cliche's, through all the rubbish and judgement and all those actors' menthol-induced-tears, something hooked into me. It sunk in, with this idea, a small idea, but an idea nonetheless. I hadn't done anything yet. This, all of this, in my life, this is not what I'm living for. This is not the rest of my life. There is so much I haven't done yet. There is so much I'd pushed aside to make way for other people's needs, other peoples dreams. How could I be so selfless as to end my life for the sake of not hurting my child, when I wasn't willing to be selfish enough to make my life worth living in the first place? How could I hate myself for burdening my husband but not hate him for giving up my live, dreams, and future for the sake of his? Why was it always my responsibility to do the hard thing, the painful thing? Why couldn't I, just once, be irresponsible and happy? Why couldn't I, for once, put myself first?

So I did.

I left my house early that morning and I spent all day etching a permanent reminder on myself. A reminder that the mania is short lived. That it blossoms and dies and sometimes it is beautiful and sometimes it is terrible but it is never forever. That I am strong and solid and crooked and out of me, beautiful things flower and grow and I have made beautiful things before and I will make them again. It is also a reminder that if at any point in the future I feel that down again, that desperate and low, there is always an alternative. It doesn't have to fix anything, sometimes it can be crazy and stupid and expensive but if I always try to find an alternative and take it, then maybe, just maybe I'll outlive this. Maybe I'll see my baby have babies. Maybe I'll see those babies have babies. Maybe I'll get to tell those babies the story of the day I chose a reminder that death is always near, rather than death itself.


  1. You are beautiful and brave and strong and I am so glad that THIS was the decision you made. I love the tattoo and more than that, I love the symbolism of it all.

    I only have manic episodes on medication, but they make me insane and I hear where you're coming from.

    I had to work hard to find a point of balance in myself, a point where I wasn't spending all my time singing "everything is ruined forever" inside my head. The only thing that helped was doing things solely for myself. Taking the small things and living the fuck out of them and enjoying what I could, when I could.

    And in any case, sensibility is overrated. Happiness and irreverance is so much more important.

    (PS, wish you lived near me)

  2. Oh V. How often I think the same thing....that life would be nicer if I lived just on the other side of your paddock!

    You're exactly right. Sometimes I need to take life by the lapels and shake the shit out of it. Sometimes I need to give in to the crazy, because not doing so, letting it stew and fester and breed inside me is hurting me.

    It's recently occured to me that the years since I fell pregnant have been all about everyone else. Being a good little incubator. Being a good mother. Being a supportive wife. All these are good things to be, but I persued them to the point of hurting myself. I told myself that I should be happy with the scraps of pseudo-happiness that I could scrape together. I'm starting to realise that the odd shopping binge or a night out with friends once every four months is NOT a suitable replacement for having autonomy, for living my life in a way that makes me happy. A steering wheel is not a car. A needle is not a sewing machine. A buckle is not a shoe. So too, my life has not been a life.

    But it will be. From now on, I'm going to try to breathe oxygen in all through my body, not just enough to create the illusion of life. I'm going to be selfish when I need to. I'm going to stop analysing the consequences to death before I do anything. I'm going to stop putting everyone else's feelings before my own.

    Most of all, I'm going to try to remember a line from a poem I wrote a long time ago, to a friend who needed to hear it; You are so much more than sickness.

  3. This is the first time I have stumbled upon your blog. Thank you for it. All I can really say is "I understand. I so very much understand."

  4. Quite a beautiful post. And also, what a powerful tattoo. To have such a visual reminder of the transience of sorrow, I love it.

    In my family, the manic episodes go undetected far longer because they masquerade as being "productive." It's strange to me the length of times that mask worked, as every single female relative on my maternal side has been diagnosed bipolar now.

  5. I love the symbolism of your tattoo, it suits your exact emotion and feeling, I hope you draw so much strength from it during your dark moments, I'm a first time reader of your blog and find myself nodding in agreement with every raw emotion. thank you for your blog Its comforting to know It's not a solo thing.