Friday, April 27, 2012

Dancing in the Hurricane

It is a lot harder to be bipolar than the rest of the world knows.  The excessive emotions.  The changes in moods and cognition from beatific calm to bleak despair that accompany them.  I've thought about it a lot, and I think the rules don't apply to us - I mean the spiritual rules, promises of religions - that if we live well and practice, we can be filled with joy and contentment day to day. We don't get to have that or a steady-state calm.  Our lives are different in kind from normal life.  It is somewhat like living in Haiti and being periodically swept by hurricanes.

The psychiatric establishment sees as its job to keep us so dulled with medication that we don't bother anyone.  Parents and siblings typically blame us, scapegoat us, abuse us, abandon us.  Spouses think we could do better if we'd try.  By the way, that's what Vincent van Gogh's parents thought.  (And, why did he have to waste so much paint?!)

You have no idea how hard we try.  You have no idea how much effort we exert to keep from expressing the anger that can gust in.  To pretend to enjoy a dull gathering.  You have no idea how hard it is to be together with other people and be overwhelmed by irritable depression, and have to get out of there.  It sounds autistic, doesn't it?  Maybe it is.  None of these categories are clear-cut.

I try to protect myself, but I got on Facebook a little while ago, and it wasn't my fault that I stumbled over a post by a usually lovely Buddhist friend.  It showed a poster that said, Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.  Ah, life as a Gene Kelley movie.  So nice.  I loved that scene, myself.  Those musicals were the movies of my youth.  They were poor preparation for reality, but hey.

And since I once did have a more normal mind - my bipolar didn't come out to stay until I was in my early  thirties - I know how good life can be, how smooth.  I know that "normal" people who are not subject to the rapid or months-long extreme moods have to work on themselves, too. You have disappointments and losses too, you have illnesses (of course, so do we, on top of bipolar).  You cry and mope, you get fired, you have horrible bad hair days (me too).  Your family is dysfunctional, you assure me (but you should have seen mine!).  Nevertheless, you danced in that rain.  During the worst moments.  Pardon me while I grind my teeth.

But suppose that's the truth of your life; if it is, I can feel sympathetic joy, if not downright awe.  I am glad you have such fortune neurochemistry that you can feel basically happy in the face of life's ups and downs.  Of course, the scene above is about being in love and dancing in the steady, even rain of a soundstage.  Not about losing your job and having your roommate steal your laptop and your boyfriend.

Okay.  Here's my challenge, fortunate one:  Dance in a hurricane.  In 150 mph winds, when tin roofs and semi-trailers are gyrating through the air around you, driving straws into telephone poles like nails.  That's the dancing we are asked to do when someone who isn't comfortable around depression says, "Buck up!"

Do it.  And don't forget to videotape it.  It'll go viral for sure.

[Above: self-portrait of a profoundly spiritual and eccentric bipolar who couldn't hold a job, and was a grave disappointment to his parents all his life. From Wikipedia.]


  1. Jeanne, I read this post and your last. It's so hard to stay--to just stay as I read what you're telling. My feelings freeze, I want to flee. Scream. The least I can do is step into your shoes with my heart wide open and just listen. I can listen. I'm listening, Jeanne. I'm here.

    I'm deeply upset that you're going through this.

  2. My daughter Jennifer was bi-polar. It was very difficult to watch her go through her 'melt-downs'. She was my angel. I would have given my life to see her happy. It wasn't meant to be.

    She functioned well on her meds. But he said they made her feel unreal. She wouldn't take them. Instead she self-medicated-with Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Soma, Oxycodone and alcohol. She self-medicated herself to an overdose at 23 years old. She left behind my beautiful grandson.

    It's hard for family members to sit helplessly by and watch the one's they love destroy themselves. It hurts.

    Be well,

    1. Hello David -
      I find myself catching up on some things that were being swept by the hurricane when I posted this. Thank you for posting your comment; I meant to reply. I am glad to know that sharing my experience touches someone else, though you were on a different side of the equation. It wasn't easy for me to move into the place of being quite open about my experience, but this is exactly why I did that.

      On a personal note, it is a consolation to me that some loved ones' suffering ended in death, though that didn't end my pain.

  3. Dear Grandma D - I am grateful for your blog. It is gentle, confrontation, real. I have family members that are struggling with depression/bi-polar, liver failure and aches and pains of growing old. Your blog helps me to find compassion when they are howling at the peak of their hurricane. What advice would you give those of us who don't feel your winds when our desire for your peace of mind and body is so strong we simply want to wrap you in soft, muffled clouds until the torment passes?

    1. Dear Heather,
      I'm sorry I took so long to reply to this.

      Maybe the best thing you can do at times like that is find your own peace of mind, which can mean setting some boundaries on other peoples' demands. I know bipolars have a forceful energy, and it takes a very stable grounding to not be thrown by it yourself, so that you can still be kind.