For two days this week I’ve had what I think of as “normal” days. I’ve been able to go outside, take walks just because they’re good for me, read a novel, start a painting. I even took a shower. Yesterday I wrote in my journal, “I feel wonderful.” Oh, oh. “Wonderful?” I never use that word. Yep, This is the first sign that a manic phase is coming.
Second sign is that I’ll talk to anybody, and be as charming and charismatic as a stumping politician. Strangers on the bus, cab drivers, and people I see in the hall daily, but usually barely acknowledge, are suddenly blessed with my loving attention and clever repartee, whether they like it or not. I’m on top of the world, full of loud confidence, which easily yields to arrogance, then belligerence or worse, if I’m triggered enough. I’m so clever and garrulous, that the people who do care for me have a hard time tolerating me.
Third stage happened last night. I couldn’t sleep. Not tossing and turning because I couldn’t stop the mind chatter, but just not feeling any fatigue at all and wanting to write, paint, write some more. Full of big ideas that run into each other, tripping along painlessly til the dawn’s early light.
Today was more of the Miss Congeniality stage, but with the added fun of feeling the floor beneath my feet seem to vibrate if I stood still. I may seem to the untrained eye to simply have a ‘quirky’ or ‘highly strung’ personality, but I know that I’m always teetering on the verge of a panic attack during these episodes.
Tomorrow I’ll be talking constantly to my cats in a high pitched voice and feeling rushes of goosebumps up and down my arms and spine. My heart is racing and my breathing is high in my chest. Creativity flows more easily, but I can’t focus enough to do any real work.
In my younger days, I’d have registered for a huge class load, AGAIN, attended the first week with way too much enthusiasm, beaming at nothing as I walked down the hall to the next class, asking each teacher for extra credit work. Then would come the crash.
So yeah, I appear to be bi-polar. My highs just look like happiness and a “good mood” to most people, especially when compared to the hallucinations, public scenes, shopping or gambling binges, and self-medicating we associate with Bi Polar Disorder. So maybe my case is milder. It’s still frightening, and I know how many times in my long life I’ve registered for classes at the local community colleges, then was unable to complete any classes. I know what that’s done to my life. The dreams deferred, the thwarted attempts to change my life, the constant frustration. Before anti-depressants I’d end up a TV zombie, shutting out everything else, barely able to respond, or just sobbing under the covers, for weeks after.
So, when my Holistic Health teacher started talking about “joy”, I was afraid of the idea, thinking it must be like this state of near-hysterics that would occasionally be visited on me. He talked about joy for a couple of hours before he introduced the idea of “mind chatter.” Sometime during the second hour, it started to dawn on me that what he was talking about was something else, something I had no memory of ever experiencing. I began to cry. I cried until he said, “Joy is your birthright. You are born for joy.” At that moment, I was shaken out of my self-pity as I realized that life could be better. There was hope, and he was going to show it to me.
Now, years later, I can say that I’ve experienced joy a few times, and I have excavated a couple of memories of early childhood that were joyful, too. Joy is much more peaceful and grounded than I could have foreseen. There is a “high” that may seem comparable to various stages of mania, but for me, the high of mania exists in a place where the air is thin and the rooms are too bright, while joy liberates you inside a warm breath of knowing at your deepest level that you are okay and have always been. It opens you up to all your possibilities, grounded in love.
Joy is what happens when you feel connected to your authentic self, your true needs, your true worthiness, your actual divinity. It happens when you can hear past the mind chatter, intuit that connection, and respond to the world out of that ground. And it is something that even us depressives can sometimes choose for ourselves, once we learn how to recognize the mind chatter and decide to listen to our true voice. It can give us a chance to be genuinely happy, for whole minutes at a time. Maybe longer.