In a little over two weeks, I will celebrate what I call my bipolar birthday. August 22, 2011 was my first day of mania, followed soon by a psychotic break. Ah! Such fond memories (not). I cannot believe it’s been nine years!
For nine years, I’ve taken Geodon and Lamictal every night (except a few nights when I’ve accidentally forgotten—those weren’t fun nights). I take Geodon with food, and I take the Lamictal right before bed.
Let’s do the math. I’m not exactly sure when I started taking the medicine, but let’s say it was 3,260 days ago. Not accounting for a few missed doses, I’ve taken approximately 13,040 pills in nine years. Two Geodon capsules and two Lamictal tablets every night.
A few weeks ago, after taking the medicine over 3,200 times, I noticed something on my prescription bottles. Maybe I noticed when I first started taking them, but I’d since forgotten.
So, I looked the other day, and my medicine says, “Take two capsules by mouth every evening for mood.”
I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself. It cracks me up that my life and mental health journey are summed up so well by two words.
Damn straight. Everything is “for mood” when you are bipolar. It’s a mood disorder, after all.
For mood! Is my battle cry.
Sleep is King, in my kingdom. Without sleep, all is lost and nothing is right. I cater to sleep in every situation, and it is my most trusted ally. After a bad day, sleep helps me start over. Even after good days, sleep is a warm friend.
Without sleep, I am a grumpy asshole.
If I’m afraid my sleep will be disrupted, I’m a grumpy asshole.
Sleep is King, and taking my medicine is akin to feeding the King. I spend hundreds of dollars every year keeping my King well fed. And it is worth every penny.
Ah. My psychiatrist, my King’s most trusted advisor. She’s expensive, and she earns her keep. Keeping the King in balance is a tall order, and all of my health stems from him functioning well.
To be clear, Sleep is King, and I suppose that makes me the Queen. If we borrow from the world of chess, this metaphor makes a lot of sense.
The King is the most vulnerable piece and obviously the key to winning or losing the game. He is only capable of one move in any direction. Similar to sleep, which performs pretty much just that one function. But the King affects how all the other pieces play the game. Everything is to protect him and keep him safe. Other pieces are sometimes sacrificed in the process, and that’s okay.
So, I am Queen of my kingdom, and I can make any move necessary to protect my King. I have a lot of power, which means the responsibility for the game (my life) resides with me. I’m the one in control, and I say how the game is played.
I am not a chess aficionado, so I’m going to stop while I’m ahead.
Countless hours in therapy to reach a place of solace within myself. Accepting myself, warts and all, trauma and all, shame and all, and giving myself grace.
I am enough, dammit! And no one can take that away. It took me a long time to reach this conclusion, and my life is all the better for it.
Learning to regulate my emotions—an ongoing struggle—and not using my illness as an excuse for bad behavior. Holding myself accountable and taking responsibility for my actions.
I used to blame my illness for my temper and ugly interactions with family and friends. “I’m sorry I acted like a jerk, I am bipolar after all. Guess you’ll just have to accept me anyway.” I never did it that explicitly, but in my mind, that’s what went on.
That is bullshit. A complete, bullshit cop-out. I’m sorry I ever fell back on my illness in such a way. I have to remember to give myself grace in this, too. Being diagnosed at 19 isn’t a walk in the park, especially after years of living on the edge of mania.
I can still be the biggest butthead you’ve ever seen, but that’s nothing compared to my assholery before I was medicated.
Every year, I get better and better at coping with this side of my illness. Year after year, I grow a little more and am able to separate my true self from my illness. That was not easy. After a while, I identified with the illness so much, I just used it as the standard for my behavior.
Oh, I acted like a butthead? Well, at least I’m not sleeping with everything that breathes, or taking drugs, or drinking. So, I must be doing okay.
I set the bar low for myself, and it took me years to get out of that rut. It took some hard friendships and some severe calling out of bullshit—which I am eternally grateful for.
My life is rich and blessed because of my capacity to feel. I can experience a dozen moods in less than ten minutes. What’s your superpower?
Instead of using my mood swings as an excuse, I try to use my experience as a way to relate to people who are struggling with the harder emotions—this, too, is a work in progress.
I’ve stared depression and suicidal ideations in the face, and I can help people process through those emotions.
Screw you, whacky brain chemistry!
I have the tools I need to manage you, and you will just have to sit still and let me live my life.
Because there’s nothing better than feelings and emotions and moods. It’s what makes us so wonderfully human.