As has been the case since my initial manic episode/awakening in May 2018, I often think back on what I was doing a year ago or two years ago on any given day, and lately I’ll go as far back as three years for comparison. This is a useful exercise for someone who tends to look at themselves with black lenses that render me blind to anything positive I’ve done. Fortunately I now have a member of the Mental Dinner Party whose sole job is to say, “Hold on there, let me get my notes,” whereupon my own psyche will hold up a large comparison chart and point out the giant differences in my life, most of them positive. I begrudgingly acknowledge the truth most times, although it typically takes a while to sink in and almost always needs reinforcement.
I still have the Inner Screeching Harpy of Judgment to contend with, though, who flies around clutching all of my perceived wrongdoings in her talons, just waiting for the opportunity to let them fall splatting on my head. She is a creature of both my own making and society’s making, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Yet she is slowly being silenced and disempowered via the careful application of kindness, which oddly I can only tolerate in very small doses because it’s so alien to the parts of me that need it the most. In some ways, I’m still a bit like a semi-feral cat. If you sit close (but not too close) and toss me treats, eventually I’ll warm up to you, but try to touch or Goddess forbid grab me, the claws and teeth will come out. I need to examine this part of me more closely: I suspect she lays at the heart of many of my emotional paradoxes.
So yes, I yet again find myself at a time when I feel it necessary to stop a moment and look backwards at my progress. Two years ago I equated my mental journey to something of a canoe ride down a river. Since that time, I’ve essentially encountered the ocean, paddled around for a bit, gone back to shore only to go mountain climbing, and now I’m on a high plateau, a vast distance plunging down behind me to the sea. Rivers get their starts in the snowmelt from the high mountains, so perhaps I’m circling back around for another trip in a canoe. One can never tell, though: “Always in motion is the future.” – Yoda
It’s difficult to describe the difference between my life now and my life three years ago, when I was at the tail end of the Zombie Years, a 7-year-long drug induced mental deathzone my incompetent psychiatrist put me in. Several months of a slow return to life ensued over late 2017 and early 2018. I now separate my life into two periods: before and after the MCU movie “Avengers: Infinity War”, because I saw it about a week before my May ’18 episode and a lot of the movie’s imagery was part of what went on between my ears. Life before my episode is like an old, fuzzy, black-and-white silent movie, while life after it is like an IMAX show. I often say that I now have “new ears, new eyes”, which is true in many ways. I watch movies and listen to music I know I have experienced before, but it’s almost like I’m seeing and hearing them again for the first time. Or perhaps I was a zombie for so long that I forgot what it was like to really be alive, if I ever knew in the first place, thanks to my childhood.
I know most mental health professionals would consider what happened to me to be a “bad” thing, but I do not. If a serious manic episode is what was necessary for my psyche to crack the shell it was in, I’m totally okay with that. Plus, there were so many parallels between what happened in my mind and things that are written in the world’s oldest repositories of spiritual wisdom that I consider the experience to have been deeply transformative in a way I would never trade, despite whatever troubles accompanied it when I had another, more severe episode the following year. Even then I learned valuable things about myself, although I now have much to say about the general treatment of the mentally ill. That’s another post, though.
Now I’m in a place where I’m trying to put the more troublesome aspects of the last couple of years behind me, which is difficult. There are many bad memories associated with both episodes, especially the one last August, and in a way, I feel retraumatized by my own psyche’s attempt to regurgitate what it should never have had to deal with in the first place as a child, as well as by how the system deals with someone in the mental state I was in. Any healthcare crisis is alarming to a person, but there is something uniquely terrifying about losing common ground with the shared reality of the people around you. The knowledge that your psyche has utterly broken down literally strikes at the heart of your nervous system, and it becomes something you can feel in your very cells, in the marrow of your bones, and with every breath you take.
I don’t hide as much as I did a few months ago. Ironically, COVID hit right about the time I had something of a personal revelation regarding my childhood and I ramped up my therapy (telehealth, of course), along with having the occasional socially-distanced art date with friends. However, I don’t talk about my mental health much other than to say I’m doing well: people generally aren’t interested in the details, and I detest the tense silence that hangs over a conversation when I accidentally bring up a topic no one else knows how to discuss or that makes them uncomfortable.
I do continue my studies into the collective unconscious, though, and into how it connects to certain kinds of epic stories, considering how much use I have gotten out of analyzing story characters and comparing them to myself and my own experiences. As such, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell feature heavily in my stack of books to read, as do fiction stories that resonate with me. I’m trying to make sure that I spend most of my time enjoyably, though, and not do things because I think I should. Sure, I have necessary tasks to tend to like anyone else, but I don’t need to have my nose to a grindstone with every single thing I do, which is an internal tendency I have. This is especially important with creative endeavors like my writing and art. If I turn those things into “work”, then whatever spark that drives them will immediately flare out, I have found from past experience.
Generally, I just try to take good care of myself. I get 7-8 hours of crucial sleep every night, which is good: a lack of sleep is a one-way ticket to a manic episode. I don’t eat as well as I should, but that’s something I’m trying to focus on, especially since one of my meds elevates my cholesterol levels. I take a walk with the family sometimes in our lovely neighborhood that still feels new to us after three years, and have ambitions to ride our bicycle around. The most important thing I could do for myself right now is to quit smoking, and I’m slowly ramping myself up for that. There are packs of nicotine gum scattered around the house where I can’t avoid seeing them, and I’ve at least begun visualizing chewing the gum instead of smoking. I did that this morning, and some odd feelings came up for me. I realized after a few moments that a big reason I can’t or don’t quit smoking is because I don’t care enough about myself to do so. Visualizing chewing the gum struck me as an act of self-directed kindness that I am as yet unable to manifest. Why I view myself so poorly is something I don’t quite understand and is probably fodder for a number of therapy sessions, although I know it’s common for people who grew up the way I did.
Otherwise, I sit and think while I listen to music, I write, I paint, I read, I catch up on shows and movies I’ve missed out on for whatever reason, and do necessary domestic things. “After the ecstasy, the laundry”, say the Zen Buddhists. My hubbie was out of work for several months and just got hired at a new job, so once the money floweth again, I’m going to take up gardening again, something I haven’t done since the habit died during the Zombie Years, along with almost everything else in my life. While I don’t like having to take medication for my mental issues, I’m at least glad that the meds I am on now do not make me a zombie and manage my more difficult symptoms well. I worry about them pooping out or suffering deleterious side effects with extended use, as is common with psych meds, but that’s a future bridge to cross. For now, most everything is pretty good, and considering what’s going down in the world, I can only be grateful, even if I’m still exhausted some days from everything I’ve had to deal with since May 2018.