Flying in Formation


Even after 49 years, I can still take surprisingly long time to recognize when a manic episode is starting. It’s not telling every person in town I’ll be happy to come over and answer that computer question after work or even right now. It’s not acceding to all of Thing1’s needs and wants for college and groceries. Nor is it when I’m googling every graduate program and trying to turn the lemons of a stable but unsatisfying day job reality into a Tom Collins of academic and professional success by planning a succession of degrees at schools I could never afford and which would have dubious value for a middle age Hausfrau who already has too many responsibilities and dreams.

No, usually it’s about the time I look at my bank balance and say, “Oh shit,” that I realize mania may be in full swing.

Today I was in the shower when I realized I my flight was ending, sending me knocking at the door at the back of my mind. That door is the place I go when the world becomes my demon, often made worse by maniacal flights of fancy. It’s a gateway to a vast, rich fantasy world as layered and complex as the ‘real’ one everyone else lives in. Sometimes I crash through it as I fall out of the stratosphere, other times, I slink through it.

There’s usually no logical reason for the flights and falls. The wrong screw is loosened, and then up and down and up I go until I find a way to pound my octagonal peg of a personality into a round hole of life.

Over the last few years as I’ve become better at managing mania and depression, a few cobwebs have grown over the door. I may peek through but don’t really go inside. That morning in the shower I rinsed the soap from my eyes and found myself fully on the inside, peeking out, but realizing the kids, my husband and my job require active participation in that outside world.

The lifeline back to the other side, this time, came from an unusual source — common sense. It took the form of a small, almost unrecognizable voice in my head.

“Let go,” it whispered.

Those two words were so simple and clear, more meaningful than just saying no to the drug of trying to do everything because it sounds good. Don’t just fly after every idea. Learn to fly with one or two dreams in a single direction.

So the next morning, I looked at all the creative projects I’ve started over the last year.

The words ‘I have an idea’ can strike fear into the hearts of husbands and resignation into mentors. My sun-singed ideas languish in half-filled notebooks and devices. An almost-finished children’s book marinates on my iPad as I view yet another video on how to write children’s books. Another waits to move from the rough sketch book to the painting table. The pages of still another non-fiction book have started forming. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to explode into the sky and catch every idea for a novel or comic book that flutters chaotically over the fields and mountains, often following their trajectory until I’m blinded.

And then, “Let Go” echoed again.

It reminded me that chasing every dream, soaring towards the sun, may make it hard to tell the difference between the glow of opportunity and a goal going up in flames. Letting go means nurturing a few meaningful the ideas that may already be getting off the ground.

So I’m letting go of the degree research and lining up the writing projects so that I can more easily follow one at a time and stay on course. I hope it means I’m learning to fly in formation.

How I Explain It

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When we heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I hoped we would google it and learn it was just a new, creepy urban legend.  But it wasn’t.

We were mostly without internet at the time, so I just caught snippets of reactions from the electronic consciousness.  One snippet seemed to echo frequently.  It was the idea that Williams hadn’t focused on the good in his life or that, unlike the pontificating pundit of the moment who had also been through really hard times, he had simply chosen to wallow in his misery.

I’ve heard variations of that sentiment my entire life because while I can’t say I know what it was like to ride a mile in Williams’ roller coaster car, we are in the same amusement park.  I don’t know how all the rides work, this is how I explain my experience at the fair.
 
I had a fresh ticket in my back pocket a few weeks ago when I bounced into my shrink’s office, plopped down on the couch, and, without taking more than one breath, chattered non-stop for 45 minutes.

I chattered about a book I’m wrapping up, an idea for a play I’m going to write in September, an idea for a novel I’m already fantasizing about writing in October and had spent the previous half hour drafting a 20 page synopsis of.  I chattered about reorganizing the linen closet. I walked to my car, still dictating a dozen to-do’s into my to-do-a-maphone.

You could say I was up.  I was real up.

I have a family I adore, a great job, and a growing creative life, but there was a lot on my mind that week.  I’d learned of a friend’s recent death and a serious illness of another. There was a mountain of work that wasn’t getting smaller, a world panicking about Ebola, Russia and the Middle East, a fresh diagnosis of a degenerative eye disorder (I’m blaming that for any drawings that appear subpar) and more than a few bills marked ‘Freakin’ Urgent – Pay UP Loser’ waiting in the mailbox.  

I, however, was helicoptering over the planet, suspended by a thread-thin seatbelt over a world that looked technicolor perfect and sparkling with possibility (it could have been the algae blooms in Lake Erie).  

I would have been up if you had told me I had a special type of cancer that made my butt look even fatter when viewed from outer space with the naked eye.
I can admit the flying is fun when it’s not scaring the shit out of me, but it does scare me.  I become SuperWoman, taking on too many obligations in a single phone call and exercising the purchasing power of a regional big-box store, leading to a crash whose destructive force would make Michael Bay drool with envy.

I’ve been doing this part of the roller coaster ride since I could talk.

I’ve tried working with my brain’s air traffic controllers, but the littlest things (medications, for example) can inspire strikes and and even walk-outs.  My current shrink has been helping me find new ways of negotiating with the control tower.  We haven’t ruled out new and improved pills to pop, but my brain, like my diet, is a work in progress.

But like my diet, if there were an easy way to be ‘normal’  (or thin – the ultimate fantasy) by just ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘deciding to be well’ without having to medicate and journal and snap rubber bands on my wrist and sit with a shrink once a week for many of the last 30 years, I would jump at it – even if I had to jump for “it”  from a plane without a parachute to grab it out of the sky with a pair of tweezers.

Because I know that in a few months, even if I found out I’d sold a zillion copies of my soon-to-be-imagined bestseller “How to Not Dust a House for 365 Days or More”, Santa was real, both kids had landed scholarships to Harvard and Yale, and peace on earth prevailed, I would still feel like closing my eyes on a deserted highway so that the Big Guy and the kids could call my death an accident and not know that I had intentionally left them forever. 

I know this because I’ve been doing this part of the roller coaster ride in one form or another since before I could talk – long before I was old enough to understand the words, “snap out of it”.

What This Blog Is

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A few weeks ago, my frustration with a writer’s block born of the down side of my Bipolar life led me to write about it. It was the first time in my life I had ever written about it overtly. Not knowing how it would be received, I purposely picked a post day when I thought no one would be on their computers. I worried about losing readers, but I was desperate to get past depression and back to writing, so I took a chance. The response to my gamble was overwhelming and, for me, completely unexpected.

Even then, however, freed from the fear of letting the world know that somethin’ ain’t exactly right, I was adamant that this would not become a bipolar blog. But a recent email exchange made me realize that, while I didn’t know exactly what this site was, in many ways it has always been a a bipolar blog -even if I couldn’t see it.

When it began last summer, I thought it was a mommy blog (for extremely disorganized mommies). I thought it might also be a rural mommy blog. For a while I thought it was an illustration blog. It was a cartoon platform and a poetry outlet. And, of course, it was a blog about family.

For months it was all of these things because I was. I was flying, and the blog and I were keeping each other aloft in the stratosphere. When my flight ended, however, the crash came, and the blog became part of my lifeline. It, like the other part of my lifeline – my family – needed me to get out of bed each day and nurture it. Like my kids, it needed care and feeding, even on the many days that I wonder if it and they would be better off with someone more competent or stable. And as my self-soothing visits to my fantasy work became more frequent, my blog became a depression blog, interweaving itself with the only other blog theme I could and needed to sustain – my family.

Now as I continue to cling to the “This Too Shall Pass” mantra that helps me manage my stay in Melancholia, I realize that this has always been a blog about mania and depression. It has always been about the simulataneously intoxicating but precarious highs and the sometimes crippling lows. But it is also a blog about how the journey between those places affect the family I chose to join and build – for good or ill – and how they have come to affect it by saving me every day of my life. Even on the days I don’t think I need it.