Sunday, September 19, 2010

I go up and down.

I was 21 when I first got diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I think they were just trying to figure me out, and that made the most sense at the time. But I'm afraid it has continued to make sense as much as I've tried to find a hole in the diagnosis, and stayed up nights looking for another explanation, and now it's just a known thing, I have the disease.

What brought me to the doctor the first time was an attack of depression that lasted a few weeks. Weep weep, can't get out of bed, I suck, etc. It was a feeling of suddenly being heavy, physically, and also so heavy even your thoughts can't climb up to defend you. They tried Paxil there at the county clinic, experimenting for a month or two with different dosages, and it just didn't work. Then one day my psychiatrist, an Indian man with a heavy accent, said: "I think you are manic depressive." I can still hear him say it. I had already swallowed being an alcoholic, a drug addict and a total asshole. This was worse. I was in the same spectrum as the people in the slippers with the corkscrew hair and the TV on all day.

I still analyze the information he had at the time 17 years ago to see if it was really enough to go on.

When I was 13 and my dad was in psychology school, one afternoon he looked up from one of his textbooks and jokingly said, "Kid, I think you're manic!" I do remember making sound effects and doing stupid voices, and I remember there being a kind of excitement and energy behind it. He was joking, but when I try to make myself believe the diagnosis I tell myself that memory was a sign.

The only other thing I can remember is this one summer when I was 18 or 19 and had a job giving lectures at a petting zoo. I used to drink a lot of coffee because it was free and make a lot of sound effects and do stupid voices. I remember a teenage girl who worked there telling me I was cra-zy. She said it smiling, I made her and everybody else laugh, but what I remember was the quality accompanying the smile. I was funny but in a borderline kind of a way. The coffee is interesting. I've always been drawn to stimulants. That first time I went to see a psychiatrist when I was 21 I was maybe nine-months sober, completing the last stage of an outpatient rehab. If I'd even ever been manic at all it did make sense that it was self-induced. Drugs and alcohol made me do things easily described as crazy, a stupid kind of crazy.

Other than those two memories---the comment from my Dad and from some girl---all I remember is the depressive part of manic-depressive. When I think of what that felt like as a kid I picture a lump of buttery dough with sticks for hands. No name to put on it then, I just felt tired, tired at home and invisible at school. I do think that a lot of what went on in school would make anybody depressed however. Later in high school I started drinking and when I did a kind of angry despair would go howling through me. I remember a lot of nights riding my 10-speed as fast as I could or wandering up to the Catholic church on the hill overlooking my street, and in all these memories there was always the same feeling that the sky was not just absent of any kind of God but that he had actually forcibly removed himself from existence just to spite me. The stars winking up there were like the lights that get left on in stores after they have closed.

After I went on medication for bi-polar disorder I couldn't deny it anymore. Every time I would forget to take the medication the same thing would happen. For two days my eyes would dilate and I'd sweat and I'd grind my teeth a lot. I knew something was off because it was the same sweaty dilated feeling I used to get when I used certain unprescribed chemicals but now, it was happening without them. After the two days I'd get depressed. Depression for me veers back and forth between the heaviness and a weepy, empty-world kind of feeling and a very intense, hot irritability. Nothing is right.

I've tried different drugs at doctors' recommendations and the one I'm on now really works. I became a fan of it on Facebook because it is near miraculous in doing what no vitamin supplements, traditional remedies or SSRIs could do.

I'm telescoping a lot, there are many more pieces to this story.

There's how I got to the county clinic with the help of a drug/alcohol counselor from Jamaica and what it was like walking in there, the laminate floors, the battle-scarred office furniture. There's my therapist who recommended what now are some of my favorite movies and in between, recommended actual therapy, mostly it was his kindness that stays with me. There's his glasses and the discrete lines of his facial hair, and later, the mystery of an unnamed indiscretion (after I'd trailed off from seeing him anymore and only stopped in for prescriptions, the receptionist, in her Long Island accent, said she "just couldn't believe the accusations about him"). There are my two successive psychiatrists, the first with his curt but lilting pronouncement of six words that changed a life, his own wispy mustache and mole glasses, and the latter with his bushy red beard and sparkling eyes, a Scottish elf with the magic pen. There's the two-year period I went off my medication and returned to it again gratefully. There's chain smoking and other things we'll just not bother to mention ever, thank you. When I think about all of it it's too overwhelming to try and write down but I tried.

I felt inclined to tell this story now because I had an off weekend. That old feeling has been breezing in and out of my body in waves since around Thursday, the feeling of being temporarily occupied with too much gravity and then bouncing back up again. Having been on the meds for a while I really notice it. I practice meditating a lot. It gives me just enough space between myself and the feeling to realize something is askew. But even with this insight I've still lost sight of that space a few times these past few days. A lot of that has meant snapping at the one person who deserves it least. This particular time the hot stagnated frustrated side of depression has prevailed.

I'm not sure why it happened. I think it's because I haven't slept much this past week. Also, confession, I'm absent-minded. There was one day I forgot to take one pill, but I realized it and took extra the next day. My doctors said I'm allowed do do this. However, a couple hours of forgetting combined with being tired is enough. I picture a piece of fabric in a textile mill running very smoothly through rollers, somebody falls asleep at their post and the machine wrenches, smoking, to a stop. The fabric gets torn.

Even now I can feel it, a sense of heavier air curling around the edges of the space I'm sitting in typing. There's also a "warm vibratey feeling all up through my guttiwuts" as Alex says in A Clockwork Orange. It's the thing that makes you sleep, a defense covering me up with a blanket until it all passes. It will pass. It always does. I fight it hard. I go running, I clean the house, I work, I make myself get up and take a shower and run errands, and on a moment-to-moment basis I watch for the random negative thoughts my brain generates completely out of context so I can smack them down again. Like one of those whack-a-moles. Occasionally one gets by me but it's not so bad.

Nothing is so bad anymore.


Anonymous said...

Such strong, sensory writing, Eric. Plath real. I wish so much that I could make it all go away those visions of reality run amuck.
We love you, Mom

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Anonymous said...

Eric, I just read this after creeping on your facebook page to locate the blog. It's great writing, and it mirrors much of my own experience with depression. Powerful stuff. I wish I could describe it as well to the people in my life whom it affects.

Thanks for writing it.

Jeff Hovendon