Saturday, February 1, 2014

How Do They Do It?

I don't know if I'm going to publish this. 

But first, a disclaimer - more so for myself than for any reader: I am okay. Really. I'm okay. 

I write here, very often, about the results of my bipolar disorder. That is, I post the symptoms of symptoms - I don't go into detail about the way I feel but about what happens after I feel. I've posted about leaving my job with the school system, and I've written about writing, and about housewifery. I write about the things which I love and the things which I rail against - politics, religion, sexuality, football. Symptoms of symptoms. Questions which are derived from the essential questioning which is being mentally ill. 

My mother, sister, and I attended the birthday gathering for Dennis. I didn't know what to write about that, because - as I am selfish, and human - so much of my experiences with Dennis were wrapped up in my personal journey and in my blog post, Shame. In other words, it was difficult for me to remember him without remembering what he meant to me, those few hours he spent acknowledging a girl who was writing and who was, who is, sick. I couldn't bring myself to write eloquently on the subject of a great person who meant so much to others, when to me, his voice meant a groundbreaking nod of acceptance. Others wrote better, and wrote more, than I ever could have. 

Symptoms of symptoms. A man who read a blog post by a woman who was telling a story about bipolar disorder. 

My husband is in bed. We've been having a stressful time, of late, because we are going through the process of buying a house. He was up last night, numbers running through his head, and he's succumbed to the need for sleep and is snoozing away. I went to brush my teeth, and when I came back he had passed out. I could be there, now - there in bed, there with my ear buds jammed in and West Wing quietly lulling me into thinking, yeah, I can sleep. I can do it. 

But tonight I couldn't quite tuck myself in. 

I write about details, about minutiae, about the little parts of my life which reflect the deeper truths. And I don't mince words, exactly - if you've read me over the past year, I've painted some pretty elaborate and exact images of a mind in and out of crisis. And I've never been one to turn a word away when it comes eagerly to my mind - give me three syllables and I'll give you four; give me prose and I will give you verse; assign me consonance and I'll dutifully return assonance. I don't lie. I do elaborate. 

I elaborate the normal parts. 

Here I am, tonight, my husband in bed, and I'm writing this because there's a pretty substantial part of me which thinks I will never publish it. And if you're like me, you're probably wondering where the hell I'm going with this. Dennis and my husband and my illness and the use of big words and the way the letter s sounds on the tongue. And I don't, necessarily, know where this post will end up, but I know that I am caught up in something I haven't felt in some time, which is a starlit madness and the warmth of forty degrees after a windchill of ten below. 

How can I go to sleep when I have such music in my head?

I talked about bipolar disorder in Shame, and I have talked about it elsewhere. There are no simple words to describe it - not just the state itself, but the understanding of an illness without a cure. Shame was about dealing with the repercussions of being mentally ill, about how I feel about myself knowing that I am different, strange. And trust me - I have attempted, again and again, to ignore the fact that I am a bit off centre from the rest of the world. I have had moments when I put it away. I spend time with family and it is all good, all okay, and I have spent hours with my husband and with friends which are colored by laughter and balance and peace. 

But, despite all of that, there are moments which are wholly mine, which are the disorder's, and which are almost physically real. It's not a matter of negative thinking or feeling sorry for myself or any new age terminology for depressed - rather, it is an utter intensity which is unparalleled. It's not being sad, or being happy, or being sleepless. It is being something uncontrollably large and impossible. 

And I cannot sleep. 

And I don't know how to grieve.

Other people in the blogverse have been expressive and honest in the past week. In Columbia, we had our first shooting incident seven days ago, and almost as quickly gathered to mourn and to bolster the optimistic gestalt of this rapidly growing community. We celebrated Dennis's life at Clyde's, and we posted pictures of pastries at the Petit Louis Comptoir. The internet and the Howard County voices therein have done an amazing job, have moved literary mountains, in a time of change and fear and remembrance. 

And I - I don't know, I don't know what I'm doing, because if I let myself feel those things it wil be weeks and weeks of it. And I'm lying to myself, because obviously I am awake after midnight and my husband is in bed and I'm writing and the disorder has taken over, just for these few chill moments on the porch. The truth, as they say, will out. 

I have no idea what it is like to experience these things without mental illness. Honestly - how do you do it? How do you reconcile sadness with the inevitable and dulling pull of time, recovery with the shock of change? How do we, as a community, get over these events when we, as individuals, feel them all so differently? How do people with normal brain function mourn, or how do they celebrate, or how do they spend nights when they cannot sleep and everything they've ever wanted is waiting for them, snoring and wrapped in a quilt?

How do they do it? 

Because I - I've got music in my head, and I've got the smell of wet grass, and I'm feeling every whorl of dry skin in the cold, and I have the color red behind my eyelids, and I am aware that even as I write this I have the laughing jackals of over twenty four hours since my last dose, and there's a scratching in my brain which is not mourning properly and not celebrating the way I should and being very, very alone. 

Does everyone else feel this way? 

I'm okay. I'm fine. In a few hours I will wake up and it will be another day, another reset of the clocks until my meds. It will be a Sunday of minutiae - dip and chips and ice cream and footbal. We will be waiting for news from the sellers after they review the inspection notes, and we will settle back on the couch and watch a game and then go to bed, again, because it will be bed time. Four and a half pills, the West Wing, and symptoms of symptoms. 

But maybe now, at one in the morning, I am taking a time outside of clocks and details and representations of normalcy, and I am feeling the cold on my skin and the way sadness can fall like the last note of a Sonatine. And maybe the blue-black madness of after midnight is a terrible and familiar comfort. 

And my illness is the song of a spring which always comes. 


  1. Hi there Alice, my name is Cameron and I was reading up on your bipolar journey just now. I had a quick question and was hoping that you could email me back when you have a moment. I really appreciate it, thanks!

    1. Sure, happy to answer any questions. How can I get in contact with you?