42,058. That's how many words I've written, revised, and obsessed over since Thanksgiving.
On several of those days I didn't write, and on others I wrote quite a lot. This past weekend, I wrote slightly more than 11,000 words between 4:00 Friday afternoon and 10:30 Monday morning.
It's been a wild ride.
I think we all have heard the stereotypes about creativity and mental illness - and that, in particular, bipolar people have an inherent disposition towards the arts. And that may be true; I cannot say for sure that my urge to make things is separate from the way I see the world, mentally ill and shouting into the dark. I feel confident in stating that I have a unique perspective - I see people, places, feelings, events, with incredible intensity.
Having a mood disorder enables me to feel extreme highs, extreme lows, and the thrilling (but the most physically and mentally dangerous) mix of both. I think that those moods inform my creativity - pain and pleasure and just a smidge of divinity are in me, all the time, and they are the basis for whatever endeavor I undertake. Writing romance - which I seem to enjoy most - lends itself to this conglomeration of wildness, of emotional risk. What is more mercurial than love? Than passion, and loss, and reunification? Those things are, in their own way, bipolar, too.
It's been an interesting process, making art while coping with illness, keeping on creating while adequately medicated. Anecdotally, I've heard a lot of artists worry about losing their creativity due to medication - I've always felt that my medication is what allows me to make art without diving off the deep end. The first thing I did when I went on my meds was buy art supplies and start drawing again; I was freed from the chaos of my own brain, more able to express my inner truths. Treatment, for me, has not negated my urge to make things.
But, now in treatment for over thirteen years, I find myself with a new perspective. And it's kind of... frightening. Uncomfortable.
The internal force which urged me on and kept me writing in the past few weeks has felt very much like mania. It's better than the mania I experienced as a teen - it is productive, not self-destructive - but man, it's been a lot to cope with. Because I've been scared of myself.
I always carry a big, "What if?" What if these passionate feelings are the harbinger of instability? What if the meds aren't keeping up with my pressured creativity? What if my work is a sign that all, even now, is not well? I have no frame of reference - I don't know what it's like to be "normal." I will never know what it means to be an artist without my mental illness.
Do other people feel this way? Like the whole world could fracture and splinter and refract light, rainbows of feeling dazzling and blinding?
Upon finishing the first draft of my recent work, I felt that high - the brief period of an unbelievable outpouring of text - turn into a low. It's a rotten thing to feel like you're finished - it's like you're saying goodbye to your closest friend. It feels a lot like heartbreak, as if your beloved has left you, cruelly. It is a period of mourning.
And maybe that's because I am so able to immerse myself in the sensory details, and the overwhelming ardor of love affairs, and the internal struggles of my characters - I've felt all those things intensely, at maximum volume. My perspective is like living inside a symphony. It's hard to let that go; it feels really, really good, while it's happening.
I had a bit of a rough day yesterday - and there were multiple factors, many of them physiological; I'd gotten very little sleep the night before (and sleep is medically necessary for mood disorders), and I had forgotten to eat enough on many of those days of writing (and hunger is a trigger for addiction). I'd struggled with body image issues, as I usually do before the holidays; I'd been, subconsciously, pushing aside my C-PTSD symptoms to get all that work done. So yeah, around 2:00 yesterday afternoon, I was tired, hungry, dysmorphic, triggered by memories.
Maybe I should give myself a break, hmm? And maybe, you know, eat a steak.
Balancing all these things - managing a mental illness - is a big job. It's not a one and done - taking meds is just the first step. I have to maintain sleep levels, and calories, and therapy, and self care. I have to be busy and productive, and I also have to take time to rest. Being healthy, for me, is an occupation, and not something I can do from 9-5 and then forget about.
So I have to be careful. I'll always have the, "What if?" I'll always want to make things, and I'll always need to track my mood. It's a pain in the butt, but that's just the way it is. I really do think that my bipolar perspective is helpful, when it comes to creativity, and I also think that I will, for the entirety of my life, be watching for the signs that my creativity has crossed into mania.
And I'll have to deal with the moments when projects end.
And then I will go on to the next.