Yesterday, I have to admit, I did not write. Not one single word. What I did do, though, was spend most of the day with my mom and sister. Days with family are so precious to me - made even more valuable, I think, because I remember so clearly being a teenager, going through that difficult period of distancing which, while natural, is fairly unpleasant. I think you probably know what I mean: being that age comes with a fair amount of hubris (I know better than you, Mom), denial (Ugh, Mom, you just don't get me!), and a longing for the easy rapport of childhood (Mom, why don't you understand me anymore?).
That was a rough patch. A very long, rough patch, an adolescence during which I experienced the normal growing up stuff as well as the manifestations of bipolar disorder. So, when I was diagnosed at nineteen and went home to live with my family, I was relieved not only to be thinking more clearly through therapy and medication, but also to find myself redeveloping a close, friendly relationship with my parents.
All of this is to bring me back to yesterday, when my mom and I waited for my sister to come home and talked for an hour.
We discussed a lot of things, many of which I am still mulling over and reconsidering, which I believe is the hallmark of good conversation. Something stuck with me, though, as I attempted to pick up the iPad and return to my daily practice this morning and found myself rusty and intimidated (yes, even after one day):
What is my relationship with writing?
And, beyond that seemingly simple question, there are more:
How does my bipolar disorder interact with a continued practice?
What habits have I developed - maybe procrastination, insecurity, guilt over things undone?
How can I view my disorder as natural, or even a gift, when it comes to creativity?
That last, I think, is very important. Yesterday, I found myself describing to my mother what I've come to think of as a predictable cycle - muted by meds and therapy, but still characterized by ups and downs.
I've usually got about two months in each cycle, and it has become routine enough that I know what's going to happen and when. First comes a week or so of recovery, getting back into the swing of things, as it were, with a daily goal or inspiration, whether it be cleaning or writing or crafting. Then comes a week, or if I am lucky, two, of intense activity.
I feel like, at this point, I should briefly define mania. Wikipedia, of course, has a whole article on the subject, but the most relevant tidbits to me are as follows: mania is characterized by abnormally elevated moods and energy levels; it is, sometimes, the opposite of depression; bipolar disorder can only be diagnosed if mania is present; the word, mania, derives from the Greek word which means madness and frenzy, and its verb form, "to be mad, to rage, to be furious."
My post earlier this week held clear examples of that second stage. I wrote 20,066 words in seven days. I mean, come on, if that isn't mania, I don't know what is. Obviously my mania now as opposed to the unchecked highs of my teenage years is a bit different - before, it was usually mixed, with a lot of pain tangled up in my creativity. Now, I charge head first into an activity and keep going, spending whole days completely invested in creating things (hair ornaments, workout plans, recipes, novels, poetry collections, you name it). And those days are very happy days.
And then it tapers off - it all gets a bit more difficult, and those things I had been enjoying so effortlessly become an obligation. Slogging through something you love but which somehow has become dull, challenging, is a lot different than being able to achieve lofty goals without even trying.
And then, the slump. I still get stuff done, sure, but I feel stupid and insecure and frivolous.
And then I get back on the roller coaster and start it all again.
I have to say I feel a bit nutty in describing this so publicly - I feel like this post needs a big disclaimer - I am not a crazy person, or, I am actually quite stable, thanks. But I think this is all important considering my questions on creativity and my experiences with inspiration and daily practice.
Bringing all of those factors back to my conversation with my mother - an open, honest exchange of ideas, emotions, and support - I still find myself worrying over this cycle and how it can be turned from an involuntary process into a wonderful catalyst for my creative life. In other words, just because I know a slump is coming doesn't mean that I have to view my elevated moods as an inevitable symptom of mental illness. Rather, I could see myself as lucky that I am able to achieve in a week what might take a month or two had I not bipolar disorder.
And the support I receive from family and friends during my productive phases - linked though it is to progress on a novel or my business - actually carries over into the days when I am not as energized, not as frenzied. My parents and grandparents, husband and in-laws, close friends and acquaintances, don't stop cheering for me when I find it difficult to cheer for myself.
Again, I find myself thinking that I am lucky, because even in slumps and feelings of foolishness I know I can achieve things and I know that there are always people ready with kind words and affection.
So maybe, when trying to answer the question of how my disorder is part and parcel of my creativity, I can view the chemicals of my brain not as a curse but as an incredible gift which allows me to make new things and strengthen my relationships with the people I love most.
This morning I looked at the ever increasing document holding my romance novel and had a moment of thinking, can I really do this? It was so easy two days ago, so why is it intimidating today? Isn't this all a bit of silliness rather than a worthwhile piece of fiction?
But then I remembered what I had talked about with my mother, how I had told her that I was trying to use my cycle of ups and downs to my advantage. And, though I didn't type out the four thousand or so words I had been able to just a few days before, I got in four more pages. It wasn't easy. But I did it.
As always, I'm trying to remind myself that having bipolar disorder - that it's not all that I am. Even in slumps I can still call myself a writer, the founder of a home business, a pianist, a cook, and the handful of other things I enjoy and practice. And I remind myself that my bipolar disorder can be a source of great inspiration and happiness and achievement.
And I am grateful, so grateful, to the people who help me with their support - on good days, bad days, and days of madness and fury.