Despair and Hope

You wake up feeling energized and ready to take on the world. Days like this are the ones with such clarity and concentration that solutions come at such a blinding pace that it’s hard to keep up. Plans are laid out for moving forward with so many things. Anything from practical things at home that need tending to, or have been neglected for whatever reason, business ventures that just need the time and effort put into them to be great to big ideas that can change the world. Not in minor ways, but huge improvements to the lives of millions. There’s nothing but pure possibility ahead. You can work 10 hours and get nearly a week’s worth of work done, then come home and have dinner with your wife and if you’re lucky, get lucky with the same level of vigor and enthusiasm that you had all day. You’ll both be sweaty, sore and a little embarrassed about what just happened, but swimming in too many endorphins to even care. You go to sleep exhausted, but know that tomorrow you’ll set in motion all of the things that you know need to be done to set those big plans in motion.

You wake up and can feel the heaviness of the expression on your face. You have a bit of a headache and are very lethargic. There’s a feeling of utter blackness in you. The fire in you has long fizzled out and whatever notions you had the day before now seem insane. How could you let yourself believe you’d do all these things? You’re so tired you can’t get up. The sadness is overwhelming. Depressed? No.. That word is an insult to the gravity of this feeling. You hit snooze too many times before forcing yourself out of bed. You wash your hair, face and brush your teeth. Good enough. Begrudgingly you get dressed and start the commute to work. You feel on the edge of tears, but even if you tried, you couldn’t muster one. Traffic only adds to the irritability that’s welling up as you head to that job that you’ve felt burned out on more often than not. You pull in the parking lot, put on your mask and just try to get through the day. By the time it’s over, you contemplate crashing the car into the nearest overpass column on the entire trip home. Dinner consists of whatever requires the least amount of effort, if you even eat at all. You go to bed early because you are so tired you can barely stand, but can’t sleep. You lie awake contemplating death from just about every angle and tangent of cause and effect. Somewhere in the middle of the night, you fall asleep.

Flip a coin – how you wake up the following morning is a 50/50 chance. Sometimes these cycles last for days, weeks, even months. Sometimes you wake up at one extreme and mid-day it flips. In my case, I’ll wake up on the upper side of the scale, then it all changes over the matter of minutes. It’s like being violated by your own chemistry.

The experience may be different from one person to the next as far as the severity of their experience with bipolar II, but that’s the general gist of my experience. I lived that experience for the vast majority of my life, but with age the depressive cycles got longer and longer and the good days were few and far between.

I’ve worked with therapists and psychiatrists over the years while trying to find something that worked. I figured it had to either be something psychologically going on with me, or chemical; maybe even both. It’s still hard for me to determine where “I” end and the disorder begins. How much intensity is really me? How much lack of vitality is really me? Some days I’m incredibly lazy. Other days I get shit done. So which am I? Which am I really? Since being successfully medicated, I’m about as even and calm as a Hindu cow. I still have ups and downs, but I totally understand how people with bipolar have described time and again how they don’t feel like themselves when they are medicated. That intensity is just.. Gone. Now I feel like an imposter within myself, if that makes any sense.

I have three options, all of which I’m going to assume that those with bipolar contemplate on a regular basis. Option 1: Keep on the same meds at the same dose and live a rather boring, but very stable life. Option 2: Don’t take meds, ride the wave and hope you don’t end up in a terminal depression or a manic high that leaves you in more debt than you’ll every be able to pay. Option 3: Insist of futzing with your medication, with or without your psychiatrist being involved in hoping for more emotion than the nearly flatline that you have going on now.

None of those options are all that appealing. Knowing how low the lows get, I’ve sworn to not rock the boat. I’ll take my meds with the regularity that’s usually reserved to old folks with apocalypse sized reserves of prune juice. But what kind of a life is that? It doesn’t “feel” like “me.” Granted, with the chemical imbalance, I don’t know what I actually should have felt like, but this certainly can’t be it. I’d say it’s kind of like a zombie sometimes, but zombies have been made into the terrifying fast-running things you see in 28 Days Later, not the kinds that you saw drooling and stumbling about in Night of the Living Dead. I’d say between the two, I’m about 70% toward the Night of the Living Dead.

Here’s the thing… Before being diagnosed I had been suicidal for years. I’m not saying that for dramatic effect. I literally wanted to die and thought about it often every single day for years. Even on those up days. Why? Because I knew they wouldn’t last and I’d be right back in that hellish place again. Before I went into the hospital I had sat in my car next to the ocean fidgeting with a straight razor. I had the full intent of going for one, if not both carotid arteries, provided I could push through the pain enough to go after the second one. I’d not do this in the car, though. At some point, the car would have to be sold and I still owed money on it. You know, being practical and all.

Hope.. So, I don’t get the amazing highs. I also don’t get the horrifying lows. I can go to sleep knowing that the next day, I may wake up at one of those extremes, but it will pass. Not only will it pass, but it will pass quickly. I have learned that I have a seasonal thing going on, which I’m in the thick of right now, so yes, I’ve been rather depressed, but it’s manageable. Maybe hope isn’t so much a feeling of well-being. Maybe that’s not what it really is. I always thought it was, but for me, hope is knowing that overall, I’m going to be alright. Alright enough to plan ahead, even. My wife and I are actually looking ay buying a house in about a year. We’re also talking about having kids, even?! Hope is knowing that there’s a future that you can build on. Hope is knowing that even if everything turns to shit, you’ve already lived through hell, so you know you can tackle whatever happens. With everything evened out, I’ve gone back to basics as far as what makes me happy. A good steak is up there on the list. Sex is still pretty awesome, so there’s that pretty much topping the list. And sleep – actual, restful, un-anxiety filled sleep because you know that you’re not about to wake up on the roller coaster in the dark not knowing what’s next. So.. Maybe hope is what you make it. At least that’s what hope has become for me – the ability to dare to dream.

How bad had the depression been in the past? I was 22 and had gone through my first divorce already. I had PTSD really bad at the time and wasn’t coping. Mix that with suicidal depression. I’ll blame that divorce on me – hell, I’d of not stayed with me. Anyway, at 22 I had a vasectomy. Why? I knew in my heart of hearts that I’d be dead by 30 by my own hand. I didn’t know when, but it was inevitable. I had already come so close so many times by that point. I wasn’t going to have a child, then have said child grow up without a father. Now at 37, with medical technology being what it is, having a child is possible, albeit kind of expensive.

Crazy, huh? I’d of never guessed that things would be the way they are right now.


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