Diving into Bipolar

By: Melinda Goedeke

Spying on a lobster the size of my leg while gently swaying back and forth 70 ft. below the sea is both exhilarating and meditative for me. I even secretly like the anxiety of knowing that with each breath my oxygen is depleting. I swim swiftly past fire coral hoping to avoid the oozing and burning wounds it inflicts on me; yet, I want to get close enough to see its brilliant color. When I tell people I scuba dive, they often give me a look of surprise or maybe it’s fearful curiosity. It is the same look I get when I tell people about my daughter who suffered from bipolar disorder II. And she, like scuba diving, was exciting and calming. She was a mystery that I would use every last breath to see again.

From a mother’s perspective, scuba diving and bipolar share many similarities. Both are scary and complicated, requiring education and calm breathing. Exploring the depths of the ocean is intense, full of eerie loud quiet, and magical mysteries that arouse fear, danger and wonder. My daughter suffered and ultimately died as a result of bipolar. She knew how to manage her oxygen and stay away from fire coral, but one day the undertow got hold of her banging her into the jagged coral poking holes in her skin. With her air running low, her mask slowly filling with sea water, she plummeted into total darkness not realizing she was no longer at a safe depth. She lost sight of up and ran out of air.

As in scuba diving, living with bipolar disorder requires attention to details. Precise safety stops at certain depths are necessary in order to ascend safely. Those with bipolar also need safety stops – medicine checks to stay alive. It can be tricky finding just the right mix of meds, along with a well-trained therapist and the personal will to manage this relentless disease. Laura missed the warnings telling her to take a safety stop, pause and breath so she could access her tools. Like bipolar, the ocean conditions change quickly and dramatically. It can be rough on the surface and calm at 50 ft. or vice versa. The undertow can sweep you away faster than you realize pulling you further and further from shore causing you to breath heavily and use all your air and might to escape the tow’s grip. Like those currents, Laura’s bipolar episodes would come and go without warning, leaving her exhausted and disoriented. Other times, however, her episodes allowed her to see the smallest hidden wonders like a stingray disguised perfectly still under the sand. Sometimes I could predict and observe the currents of Laura’s bipolar; however, most of the time they were a surprise.

The underwater world is vibrant with indescribable colors and movements that cannot be replicated out of the water. Watching a snoring turtle sleep peacefully and or spying a huge bright green eel curled up in a pipe eerily winking one eye at me is worth the possibility of brushing against fire coral or accidentally making eye contact with a seemingly friendly shark. I move slowly and quietly underwater not touching anything to cause or provoke suffering, just as I did with Laura. Similar to the fantastic purple fluorescent corals, Laura could never be replicated -a marvel beyond what anyone had ever seen before. And so I swam in her ocean with her despite the risk of shark bites, reef rashes and the bends. Together we explored this world seeing it from a perspective that most never could – both the amazing and the terrifying.

This year, I was able to see the Ostracods in Bonaire – small crustaceans that display a futuristic light show five days after a full moon and 45 minutes after sunset deep within the ocean. Sitting on the bottom of the ocean in total darkness a little freaked out, a light suddenly switched on revealing the dripping twinkling life forms creating a magical glow and then stopping just as abruptly as they started leaving me in total darkness a bit bewildered, a bit thrilled. Laura’s show ended abruptly too, and even though it was short, it was magical. Bipolar took her, but it also gave her a perspective of the world that most will never have; like the Ostracods, her lights shone brightly and uniquely. She was an amazing wonder whose life changed everything it touched making you lucky if you got to even see it. Unforgettable.


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