I know the empathy borne of despair; I know the fluidity of thought, the expansive, even beautiful, mind that hypomania brings, and I know this is quicksilver and precious and often it's poison. There has always existed a sort of psychic butcher who works the scales of transcendence, who weighs out the bloody cost of true art.
Her parents, she said, has put a pinball machine inside her head when she was five years old. The red balls told her when she should laugh, the blue ones when she should be silent and keep away from other people; the green balls told her that she should start multiplying by three. Every few days a silver ball would make its way through the pins of the machine. At this point her head turned and she stared at me; I assumed she was checking to see if I was still listening. I was, of course. How could one not? The whole thing was bizarre but riveting. I asked her, What does the silver ball mean? She looked at me intently, and then everything went dead in her eyes. She stared off into space, caught up in some internal world. I never found out what the silver ball meant.
Compared to bipolar's magic, reality seems a raw deal. It's not just the boredom that makes recovery so difficult, it's the slow dawning pain that comes with sanity - the realization of illnesss, the humiliating scenes, the blown money and friendships and confidence. Depression seems almost inevitable. The pendulum swings back from transcendence in shards, a bloody, dangerous mess. Crazy high is better than crazy low. So we gamble, dump the pills, and stick it to the control freaks and doctors. They don't understand, we say. They just don't get it. They'll never be artists.
I've been accustomed to mysteries, holy and otherwise, since I was a child. Some of us care for orphans, amass fortunes, raise protests or Nielsen ratings; some of us take communion or whiskey or poison. Some of us take lithium and antidepressants, and most everyone believes these pills are fundamentally wrong, a crutch, a sign of moral weakness, the surrender of art and individuality. Bullshit. Such thinking guarantees tradgedy for the bipolar. Without medicine, 20 percent of us, one in five, will commit suicide. Six-gun Russian roulette gives better odds. Denouncing these medicines makes as much sense as denouncing the immorality of motor oil. Without them, sooner or later the bipolar brain will go bang. I know plenty of potheads who sermonize against the pharmaceutical companies; I know plenty of born-again yoga instructors, plenty of missionaries who tell me I'm wrong about lithium. They don't have a clue.
The intensity, glory, and absolute assuredness if my mind's flight made it very difficult for me to believe once i was better, that the illness was one i should willingly give up.. Moods are such an essential part of the substance of life, of one's notion of oneself, that even psychotic extremes in mood and behavior somehow can be seen as temporary, even understandable reactions to what life has dealt.. Even though the depressions that inevitably followed nearly cost me my life.