Author: Valéry Brosseau
I rode an ATV around Mykonos once, my hair free in the wind and my iPod blaring as whitewashed and blue-trimmed towns blurred by. I turned a corner and found myself at the top of a cliff watching the horizon turn a soft orangey pink and the sun set into the deep turquoise of the Mediterranean. I stopped. I stood on my ATV, I turned the music even louder. I could have jumped off the edge of that cliff. I wanted to breathe in the pinks and oranges and smoke out every bad thought I’d ever had with these soft bright colours.
In that moment I was truly limitless, invulnerable. I laughed and reached up to the sky. I could do anything. I was everything I had ever wanted to be. I needed no one. I had outrun all the bad, all the dark. I had risen above.
But….“This isn’t real.” A small part of me knew that this wasn’t real. Part of me knew this was the chemicals in my brain, untethered by medication and based on a biological variation. Yet, I stared as if I would never have the chance to gaze upon a sunset again, as if I would never be this complete again. By the time the last ray of sunlight disappeared behind the horizon I felt empty again.
I was diagnosed with bipolar II in my 20s. I am now in my 30s and a combination of medications that took 10 years to land on keeps me stable; it tempers the highs and brings me up from the lows. I have so often written about the lows. The crippling depression, the self-doubt and the self-hate. The words come tumbling out and they weave a heavy blanket I can sleep under for days. Even before I knew what they were, I wrote about the lows.
But the mania, it is a less frequent visitor and so maybe I neglect it. For me it is mostly hypomania. These moments of intensity and emotion. I almost feel shame for it. The depression is something I connect with; I see it as who I am. It is familiar and I sink into it deeper and deeper, but the mania or hypomania, it makes me guilty. I feel like I don’t deserve happiness of this magnitude.
When I feel that high, people see it. They feel it. They enjoy it. People used to tell me I was too young, too smart, too beautiful to be so sad. They refused to acknowledge the flip side of the illness. “Be the outgoing and fun girl we know and love,” they’d say, not recognizing the other side of the same coin. They loved to see me shine forgetting that a single spark can burn the whole city down. That combination of medications now keeps the spark in check but sometimes I miss it like an old friend. Sometimes I get glimpses of it and I wonder if maybe that’s the real me.
It’s been a journey of learning the middle. I have had to learn how to exist there; in the grey, where things don’t exist on either end of a spectrum. It’s unfamiliar but I know it’s healthier. I am learning that the highs are as dangerous as the lows and that neither allow me to be stable. I am finding myself again and the important thing to remember is that I am not my illness. I am someone who is valuable, loveable and worthwhile AND I have an illness. I am not the sum of my symptoms.
At the same time, I think my propensity for feeling things so deeply, for experiencing highs at their highest and lows at their lowest, has given me power. It has taught me empathy and allowed me to connect with others. Because true human emotion is what connection is all about.
I no longer look for those highs. I know they are not real, I know they are not healthy. I look inward for peace and happiness, I look outward for connection and comfort and I tell myself I have overcome all of this for a reason. I am not my symptoms, I am not doomed to oscillate between two ends of a painful spectrum. There is no need to miss the mania, now I make my own happiness and it is real, healthy and stable.