Friday, March 11, 2011

Don’t look now. It’s a long way down.

“My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle.” – Patty Duke

One day last week, I was feeling pretty darn good. I was seeing certain things in a more positive light. I was getting hopeful for the future. I was feeling self-confident because of the way I’d handled some challenges in my life.

I just happened to have an appointment with my doctor on that day, and I told him I was feeling more optimistic. “I think I’m going to get through this,” I said. He replied, “I know you will.”

The next day, something happened. It’s not even important to say what it was; it wasn’t that important. It was just a disappointment, one of those things that everyone experiences. And I felt myself fall off the cliff.

If you have a mood disorder, you know what cliff I’m talking about. You literally feel as if you are crashing. You ruminate, you cry, you rue the day you were born. You wonder whether you will ever be happy again.

But worst of all, you have a hazy idea in your mind of what it was like NOT to feel this way. You could have sworn that only recently, the world seemed different. Wasn’t it only yesterday you believed you were capable? Wasn’t it only yesterday you believed that you were loved? Wasn’t it only yesterday that colors seemed a little brighter, that honey tasted a little sweeter, that music sounded a little more beautiful? Wasn’t it only yesterday…?

People that don’t believe in the existence of bipolar disorder often point out that everyone has emotional ups and downs. This is certainly true. But most people aren’t paralyzed by those ups and downs. Most people have an ability to compartmentalize. A person may have a concern, but be able to tuck that concern in the back of his mind so he can concentrate on other things.

With bipolar, there’s no compartmentalizing feelings. For me, a feeling like anxiety or depression is like a drop of dark liquid in a beacon of water. It changes everything. There’s no “getting my mind” off something. The feeling of worry or sadness is all there is, and it feels like a permanent condition.

After a day or two, I began to feel better. It was partly because my situation resolved itself (sort of), and, I believe, it was partly because medication has made it easier for me to change my emotional trajectory. No, medication has never “solved my problems,” nor has it allowed me to ignore realities of my life that I don’t like.

But in the past, a minor disappointment could bring me down for weeks – maybe longer. Today, I still fall off the cliff, but now I have a bungee cord. I’m able to climb back up. That’s a good thing.