I was messaging back and forth with someone on my tumblr blog about something I’d reblogged about being middle-aged (ish, I know 40 is the new 30 *rolls eyes*) and mentally ill.
I tagged myself as being 42 and having bipolar 2, which prompted that person’s message, and thus far we’ve had a few back and forth messages about bipolar 2. Among other things, I mentioned that I think (and still do) that I am a better writer when I am really depressed.
Something they said in response struck me (to paraphrase): “I don’t know who I am without meds.”
I used to feel that way, and when I went to check out their tumblr profile I was reminded that they were in their late 20s.
It made sense, even though I don’t know how long this person has been struggling with their diagnosis. Here I am, 42, and I’ve been doing the bipolar diagnosis thing for 10 years. I’ve had this blog under one name or another for 10 years, however lately neglected it’s been.
And gosh, do I remember how fucking agonizing life was for a really long time. First, because I was miserable and couldn’t fix it. Then, miserable because I knew what was wrong with me but the meds weren’t a cure. Then, more miserable because the meds would work for a while and then just stop working.
Never mind all the stuff about the impact bipolar has had on who I have managed (or abandoned) relationships with– family, friends, and work– and how hard those relationships were to navigate around trying to keep a stuff upper lip and keep going. Never mind all the stuff about work and achieving what other folks expected of me and castigating myself for not being enough of a success.
A very big part of the angst and the agony was about questioning my identity– was I just malfunctioning neurotransmitters and faulty hormone levels? Who was I if it required medication to change my perceptions to something “normal?” Wasn’t there, surely, a “normal” that existed outside my ups(ish) and very deep downs? Wasn’t it really a character flaw inside my personality (whatever that was) that meant I wasn’t morally strong enough to just push my way through the depression?
I said to this tumblr friend that I had been through that and at some point it had stopped bothering me. I guessed that in all the thrashing towards leaving my marriage, I’d unconsciously resolved the question in favor of “I am worth it,” and stopped questioning whether “meds me” or “non-meds me” was the real person who deserved to have attention paid to them.
I think this is probably true– although heavens know, I could go back to when I was blogging here then and re-read my posts to see if that’s what I was thinking then. I’m not going to, though– because it matters less than what I know to be true now.
Here’s what I know to be true now.
It mostly gets better. Better(ish), if you like.
Infuriating, right? Everyone who’s not inside your head tells you this and it is so damned hard to believe in the midst of the darkness. Someone told me this back then and I emphatically refused to believe it.
It’s true anyway.
I don’t want to navel gaze about self-help or sports-jargon words like “resilience” or “adversity” or “living with your struggle.” I think that “keep calm and carry on,” is as close as I can come to paraphrasing what I’ve come to accept makes sense for me. Or maybe Winston Churchill’s “if you’re going through hell, just keep going.”
I kept going and decided to do that even when things were objectively terrible– and not just because my perspective was tinged by depression and panic and very little hope that things would improve or that I deserved to keep going.
A lot of times I tried to trust in the therapeutic value of work– not in some big, high-minded way, but in an “at least I accomplished something today” kind of way. I have journaled erratically over the last several years, and when I have it’s been focused on what I have been doing that means I accomplished something.
Sometimes it’s been– I fed someone something delicious.
Sometimes it’s been– I got someone back their health insurance, or hired someone who’s succeeded, or I gave someone the space they needed to attend to their health and still keep their job.
Sometimes it’s been– I made someone I care about laugh.
Sometimes it’s been– I cut back that overgrown, unblooming rosebush that scratched up everyone who came near it.
I hacked back that rose hedge the week after I left my marriage and moved. I was scratched all to hell by the end, and I sweated the whole way through it, sore and tired from all the work.
It’s been 6 years since then, and that hedge is more or less orderly, blooms all summer long, and it’s beautiful in its own droopy, old-fashioned, slightly scraggly, occasionally thorny way. Those things are all true, standing right up on top of the hedge. But three feet away, it’s a well-put together rose hedge that delights everyone who sees it. (We get notes through the mail slot about how nice a rose hedge it is.)
It’s work, though. That first pruning was not a magical fix and it was ugly and bare for a while. I have to tend to that hedge every year and cut out the dead parts, feed the roots, and take a step back to figure out how to fit other parts of the garden around it.
That rose hedge is a little too heavy handed a metaphor, but it’s true. I had to hack my life back down to the ground for it to grow back– but it worked. It got better.
Gardening metaphors aside, though, it doesn’t mean I don’t still get depressed, or anxious, or agitated and doubtful and occasionally helpless. It does mean that having decided to keep going, there are more and more successes over time that are objective proof that I am mostly making the right decisions, and that whoever I am, with or without meds, I’m doing okay. And then, I feel better more quickly than I had in past years.
It gets mostly better. And when it doesn’t, it’s okay. It will get better(ish) again. Just please keep going.