I've sat here half numb for most of the day. Carrie Fisher has died. A lot of people have died this year, but none hit me as hard as this one.
I didn't know Carrie Fisher. To be honest, I never followed her. I'm not a Star Wars person (gasp!). However, I knew that she was funny, unapologetically herself, and battled addiction. I didn't know that she also was bipolar.
I've read a hundred articles about her today. I've felt sick to my stomach.
I've been writing this blog post in my head for many months. Carrie Fisher would have wanted me to write it today, so here goes.
This past summer I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Not mild bipolar disorder. Classic bipolar disorder. Manic, crazy, intense, wonderful, beautiful, exhausting highs that lasted a day or so at a time. Sometimes they lasted a few hours only. Gosh, I enjoyed those. I had brilliant thoughts. I talked a mile a minute, it was hard to keep up with me. I COULD DO ANYTHING. Often, I would. I made my best (and worst) impulsive decisions during those highs. I could convince anyone that I was right.
Sounds good, right? It was.
But then came the crushing lows. The classic depression, except I didn't know what was going on. I was just so tired all the time. I cared about nothing. The first thing I'd think about in the morning was how long it'd be before I could take a nap. This would sometimes go on for weeks. I'd become completely immobile.
Sounds terrible, right? It was.
I have three children. I was a stay at home mom. This was unacceptable, to huddle up in my bed for weeks at a time, but I would push through it the best I could. Sometimes I just couldn't. Sometimes it'd take every ounce of energy to put on that smiley face as the kids would walk through the door after school. I'd have their snack ready, say the hellos, ask about their days, give out hugs. And then, when they were distracted and doing their own thing, I'd go out back to smoke a cigarette and finally breathe again. Alone. Not putting on the show.
I am 36 years old. I have known, in the back of my head, that I've always been bipolar. For my whole life. I asked my mom the other day when she first suspected and she told me they first noticed when I was 13, but they hoped it was just puberty and that I'd outgrow it. Then I went to college and was just gone.
I didn't outgrow it, still haven't.
For at least 23 years, I have lived with a chemical imbalance that makes life incredibly hard. And because I thought... whatever, I don't know what I thought. I didn't think about it. Maybe I didn't think I should even think about it, I don't know. I certainly never thought about getting help. That was the furthest thing from my mind.
I became an incredibly good actress. I know how to read social cues and to react accordingly. I've "passed" very well, even to the point of being "super mom" for many, many years.
That worked out ok for me for a long time. Until it didn't.
When it didn't, I'd look to change something. I have changed a lot of things over the years, trying to find that state of living where I'd finally feel comfortable, like I could let out that breath I'd been holding in for my whole life.
I never found it.
This past summer, the shit finally hit the fan. My life had calmed down enough that I was able to think for more than two seconds about what was going on in my own brain. And I didn't like what I saw. I went to therapy and it took all of one session for my wonderful therapist to diagnose me. I went to my MD and he agreed. I went to a psychiatrist and she agreed. Three for three equals me being definitively bipolar. No question about it.
To say that the last few months (six months??) have been hard is an understatement.
It's time for me to be true. If you've been following me for awhile, you've probably been waiting for this post. It just maybe isn't the one you were expecting. But hey, let's talk about the elephant in the room, shan't we?
I am on medication now. It's a struggle. I am constantly questioning whether or not it's working. The thing with bipolar disorder is that there isn't a cure-all pill. Different things will work for different people. Often, the pills that used to work stop working and you go back to the manic depression until you notice and start all over again with something new. A lot of people convince themselves that they're "better" and that they don't need the meds anymore. Until they go off the rails again.
I'm lucky in that the first medication that I tried seems to work. I worried that I would feel flat, but my doctor described it as an intense up and down roller coaster... the meds would still leave the hills and valleys but they'd no longer be so harsh that I'd scream.
So, that taken care of (??? maybe, who knows? maybe tomorrow will be the day where the meds stop working, but I take them religiously and I have a great team of professionals at my back), I moved on to other things that seemed like they needed to be handled.
Truth.... phew, here goes. More elephants in that corner there.
My husband and I separated this summer. We've been married 13 years. I've known him since I was 20. That's all I want to say about that, but I'll let you imagine how hard this has been. I have never lived alone for one day, and now that is my ordinary.
I haven't really figured out my ordinary. It all feels so extraordinary now. So open with possibilities. Not scary so much as just... open. New. Fresh. Extraordinary.
A few months ago, I asked my therapist how you start to move forward with identity. She asked me to approach every moment and ask myself, "What do you want right now?"
See, guys, I don't even know how to be a real person. I know what the expectations are and I live up to them. I don't even know what I want, and I think that I never did. That's a deflating thought.
It gets easier. I've stopped actually thinking the question and now I just naturally move towards what I want to do. Sometimes I just sit and think. I listen to an insane amount of music. I go out with friends. I'm lucky in that I've found a bipolar soul sister who is going through a lot of the same stuff as me. We hold onto each other like life rafts sometimes. She gets it, I don't have to explain. Exhale breath.
I'm ready to exhale my held breath here now too.
Carrie Fisher said, "Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I'll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do." I sent that to my bipolar friend. She responded, "I wow." Not a typo, I don't think. I said, "Yeah. Tears."
So Carrie Fisher, god, you gave it to me today. You punched me in the gut and told me that today was the day.
I should also just come clean and tell you that I'm an atheist, I say fuck all the time. I've smoked most of my life. I drink more wine than is healthy. I eat terribly and am pretty underweight right now. Meh. I know you have your thing too. I don't judge.
But you know what? I'm doing the very best I can.
Right now, I'm sitting here in my comfy bed. MY comfy bed. My children are playing with their Christmas presents. They know that Mom needs a break every now and again and they respect that. My dog is next to me. I'm listening to chill music.
But hey, I showered today. I'm eating. I cut both my daughters' hair today and made sure that they were clean. They're on their own for food, but that's cool with them. There's food in the house.
I'm doing the very best I can.
I'm simply exhausted of living that other way. I no longer see the point. It got too hard. The truth is, it got too hard a long time ago.
If this changes your opinion of me, I'm very sorry that this was even a consideration. So you may quietly exit now and let me live my ordinary without feeling one ounce of guilt over it.
When I look in the mirror, my truth looks different to me than it does to you.
Thanks, Carrie Fisher. RIP. You did good, girl. I appreciate the kick in the butt. I think you'd be proud as fuck of me. I can't wait to keep showing you and me what I can do.