It’s Puzzling

Author: Melinda Goedeke


To still my brain, I puzzle. In my world, puzzle is a verb. It is what you do when the thoughts in your mind run rampant and collide leaving you lost in chaos. While puzzling, I only consider the pieces in front of me. Where is the piece with the funky curve and a dab of pink? Where is the guy’s eye in the top corner? My best puzzling comes in the middle of the night as that is also when my brain goes into overdrive flooding me with painful memories and self-deprecating thoughts. I can’t think all that away. I can’t sleep, so I puzzle. I recently finished a 3000 piece puzzle that I hated doing because of the drab colors. However, every one of those pieces that I put into place offered me a moment of absence – from pain and memories. I wish my daughter could’ve puzzled to escape her plagued mind. But she could not. Almost nothing quieted her unquiet mind making her bipolar disorder the penultimate puzzle.


Laura died just weeks before her 24th birthday. She suffered from severe bipolar disorder and fought daily to put the pieces of her life together. Alone or with help, she always fought. Unfortunately, her puzzle was not a 3000 piece puzzle; it had a million pieces, all shades of blue with nebulous edges. Daily, she sorted the pieces trying to keep them organized, hoping to confidently put at least one piece in its place allowing her to see a glimpse of the whole scene – her life. She was systematic about it like I am when I puzzle. Do the edges first. Then the puzzle is contained. See a doctor and get the meds figured out. Contain yourself. Give yourself some borders. That was a worthwhile approach, but with bipolar disorder, there are no clear borders; she couldn’t always contain her episodes. They changed. She changed. The medication’s efficacy changed. If Laura could have seen her edges solidly in place, she may have felt like a future was possible, if not desirable. But, she seldom saw them and when she did, she wanted to quickly run past them, freeing her mind by opening the caged doors. The Bipolar disorder edges trapped her brain in a destructive state with pieces flying everywhere.


So, instead of looking at the puzzle as a whole, Laura focused on one piece at a time. Not a bad strategy. Look at the shape, the color, the possibilities of where it could go, and give it a try. She quit her job and moved to Paris. Maybe that was the fit. Living near the Eiffel Tour and practicing her French as she scooted all over town seemed in fact to be just the right fit. Seemed, wasn’t. Things changed. Episodes hit. Meds stopped working or maybe she stopped taking them. And, instead of trying to hone in on where this piece fit, she whipped it back in the box and picked up a different piece. She followed this line of thinking over and over again. Trying to put pieces of her life together, recklessly, enviously and rapidly as if there were a deadline for completion. In her mind, there probably was.


Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible for Laura to see the all too cliched big picture. Her mind went from piece to piece to piece. It couldn’t focus on creating pictures full of wonder and beauty. It focused on putting one more piece in its place amidst depressive and manic episodes which meant some days pieces were flying into place – success at work, laughter with family and friends and great runs only to be followed by throwing the pieces to the floor leaving fragments of the puzzle together as she screamed with mental anguish oozing from her pores while collapsing into a 3 day depressive state of sleep. She felt worthwhile when the pieces of her life seemed to fit together, but more than not they were lost under the couch or too hard to find in the sea of pieces that all looked the same.


To me, that is the story of Laura’s bipolar – a puzzle always in progress. I saw glimpses of the completed picture coming together one piece at a time; unfortunately, she did not. Laura often felt as if her bipolar disorder was a puzzle that she couldn’t complete. When she died, she left those pieces strewn all over the world. They aren’t lost, they are settling perfectly into someone else’s puzzle bringing him/her closer to seeing a whole picture.


Now, I puzzle more often than ever as it makes me feel connected to Laura, and it still empties my mind. And what’s amazing is that I find pieces of the Laura puzzle every day, and they make me smile; they help complete me. Yep, bipolar is a puzzle, but maybe it can be solved faster if we all look at the part of the picture we can see, and try to add a piece. Or even if we just pick up the pieces we find not leaving them lost or damaged. I think Laura would agree.

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