It’s a weird way to start this post off. I’ve tried different opening lines, arranged words around, trying to find the right combination to ease into the heaviness that’ll follow. But I keep coming back to those two words. It’s where this story starts. Where, in a lot of ways, I start. I’m bipolar and it’s not a secret, but it also kinda is.
I talk about being bipolar a lot. Or, at least, more than I used to. I’m not afraid to throw it out in a conversation about mental health, or to take ownership of this diagnosis I was once so bloody afraid of. But I still shy away from the details. I pull back when it comes to sharing what being bipolar means for me because, while it’s not as dramatic as typically dipicted in books and movies, it’s not always pretty either. In fact, the lows are anything but pretty. I’m a girl who’s ruled by the sun, however, so my lows are short lived and blessedly predictable. I can count on cycling high, or into a very low manic phase, in spring, where I’ll stay until near the end of fall. Then, like the season’s name, I fall into a depressive low, the worst of it peaking around mid-winter, until spring comes again and I can start my ascent back to feeling like a human.
Those winter months are the hardest. It’s a time of little energy, little emotion, and little desire to do anything. Literally anything. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to eat or, sometimes, I don’t want to stop eating. I don’t want to shower or socialize or even think. I force myself to go on autopilot, existing in bare minimums, constantly feeling like I’m trudging through wet sand. I’m a robot, basically. A robot with rusted joints and a paper heart.
But the sun. The sun is my salvation and it’s what gets me through those cold, heavy months. The knowledge that when it burns brighter, when the days stretch around it, I’ll shake off that creaky metal surrounding me and feel human again. It’s my lullaby when I lay in bed at night, reaching for sleep with both hands, rarely grasping it. When the noise around me beats at my slumped shoulders. The sun will come and chase the darkness away.
Except this time, it didn’t.
Spring came in like a lion here in North Carolina, and I waited, exhausted and a little desperate, for whatever cue my brain needed to start our ascent. I was ready to have energy again. I was ready to feel human again. The temperatures rose, the days became longer, but that switch in my brain never budged. Each night, I’d fall into bed and tell myself the next morning I’d wake up and everything would be okay. This would be over. But each day the sun would rise, I’d stumble out of bed with it, and I was still neck deep in dark, icy water that was getting harder and harder to tread. After weeks of this, weeks that shouldn’t have existed, of living in fractions, I started looking at other things to help. Exercise. Vitamins. Dieting, for God’s sake. Anything that would give my brain whatever nudge it needed to go, “okay. We’re done. We can get out of this godforsaken place.” Instead, I found myself growing number. More tired. More empty. Everything, everything, felt like work. Existing felt like the hardest thing to do. I trudged along, going through the motions, my rust gaining another layer of rust until, finally, I stopped waiting for the sun to work its magic at all. I began to accept my lot. I lived here now. In this cold, murky, unforgiving place where I couldn’t feel. Couldn’t even remember how.
The bad thoughts came. I shoved them away with both hands, pushing myself harder when I ran, when I worked out. I forced myself to stay busy during the day, plastering a shaky smile on my face as the circles under my eyes grew deeper. When I was alone, I chased away the silence with whatever I could find, because if it was loud enough, I couldn’t hear them. And if I couldn’t hear them, I wasn’t in danger of entertaining them.
I quietly crossed off the first day of summer on my calendar. It didn’t matter. Nothing did.
When you’re prone to darkness, having a safety net is crucial. And I have a damned good one. But once you’re in that place, where everything feels like work, where the waves are crashing over your head and your joints creak and moan when you move, talking feels impossible. It takes energy you don’t have. It comes with the risk of your lungs filling with water the second you open your mouth. It’s easier to just continue on autopilot. Use as little energy as possible. Keep your mouth closed and your lungs clear and allow yourself to be shoved deeper in that endless sea of nothing. But out there, those bad thoughts are louder and my brain, my bastard brain, grabbed a megaphone. No longer was my lullaby the promise of shaking off the darkness and rust. It was dangerous untruths. I tried not to listen. I tried damn hard not to listen. But to ignore a twisted song in your head playing on loop.
You’re too much of a bother. You’re too difficult. This is your life now. You’re broken. You’re worthless. Everyone resents you. They should resent you. They will if they don’t already.
You shouldn’t be here. No one would miss you. They’d be happier if you were gone. You should be gone. You shouldn’t have existed in the first place. You could slip away tomorrow and the world wouldn’t even blink.
The worst part was, I didn’t care. I didn’t care if it was truth or lies or somewhere in between. I was past the point of caring about anything.
I was walking around with a horcrux around my neck and I couldn’t take it off.
Each day grew hazier. I did too. I felt like a ghost, viewing the world from behind a filmy curtain. I decided I wanted to stay there, it was easier, so much easier, to accept rather than fight. Yet some part of my brain was still functioning like it was supposed to. Thoughts never became actions. I continued on autopilot. Every now and then, without my realizing it, my eyes would stray toward the sun.
Part of me still waited. Hoped. It was quiet but it existed, even as my desire, my drive, my ability to do anything else but stumble on disappeared.
No one in my day-to-day life seemed to sense the ghost who’d taken over my body, or else they never looked close enough to see. Which was fine. It was the way I wanted it. It told me, for all my faults, I looked present. I looked engaged. If I couldn’t feel normal, I could at least appear to be, and that felt like the next best thing. No one would remember the time when I wasn’t really there. No one would ever hold it against me, even in their memories. When they looked back on these months, they’d remember me laughing and smiling and doing. They wouldn’t remember all of those things were forced. They wouldn’t recall the long spaces between those things. Times when I just sat and stared into space. When I checked out completely, there but not.
Before the darkness took over and refused to leave, I’d desperately wanted to see Jurassic World. But when the time came, I didn’t care about it anymore. It was a movie. Just another movie. What did it matter? What did anything matter? But Betty got a sitter and looked at me expectedly and I went through the motions for him. Later, after we collected the kids and got them in bed, Betty and I laid in our own bed and discussed it. We compared it to the original. To the shit show of a third. I brought up Chris Pratt because it was expected of me, and dropped random trivia I’d read about the movie. I was done talking before I’d even started, so when Betty fell quiet, I did too. I let the silence of the room soak into my tired bones and prepared myself for another night of shitty, restless sleep.
“The scene with him and the raptors. When he was on the motorcycle? That was pretty badass,” Betty commented after a few minutes. I was so proud of the fact I didn’t groan out loud.
“Yeah. I like the idea that his character was like, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it like a bamf. Someone go get my bike.'”
“How else you gonna ride with raptors?” Betty turned over then, away from me. I took that as a signal he was done. Another day down. That’s what my life had come to. Another day. Then another. They all blended together.
Betty laughed. It sounded like he meant it. I couldn’t remember what that felt like. All my laughs felt dusty and foreign.
“You know they say chickens are descendents of raptors,” I continued absently.
“I could see that.”
“Maybe when I get chickens, I’ll name them after the raptor pack from the movie.” I didn’t know where all these words were coming from, but I let them come. Fighting them felt like work.
“Get you a motorcycle? Ride down the mean streets of this town with your pack of raptor-chickens?”
“A segway. I’ll get a segway.”
And suddenly I was picturing it. Me on a segway, rolling down the streets of our tiny town, a pack of chickens racing along in my wake. It was the kind of ridiculous, impossible scenario people close to me would expect me to come up with, something I’d say and be met with laughs and headshakes and “Where do you get this stuff”s.
Somewhere inside me, something broke. A tiny something. It clattered down deep, shaking things loose as it went. I was barely aware of it. All I could see was me on this fucking segway with my chickens.
“I’ll roll up to town hall, my chickens in tow.” A giggle. I didn’t recognize it. “Strut inside. My chickens will take up formation at the door.” Another giggle, followed by another. I wanted to snatch them up. Examine them. But I couldn’t. Because they were quickly followed by more. “Everyone will be like, ‘what’s with the chickens?’ but I’ll be yelling, ‘Delta! Delta, I see you over there. Back up!'”
I put my hands out in front of me, as though warning back a hostile chicken, and I couldn’t breathe through the giggles that’d shifted into cackles. My sides hurt. My stomach ached. Whatever had broken off inside me had settled into the dark pit I was losing myself in. But it’d jarred something when it did, and laughter was rushing out, choking me, blinding me with the tears that came with it.
“Everyone will be staring at me weird while I rush my chickens out the door. But as I mount my trusty segway, my chickens falling into formation, I’ll call back over my shoulder, ‘don’t put your back to the cage.’ Then I’ll ride off into the sunset, the squawking of my chickens echoing down the street.”
Betty was staring at me, laughing at my laughter. Laughter I couldn’t turn off. For minutes afterward, every time I composed myself, a fresh bout of giggles would overtake me, until I was face down in the mattress, wailing and gasping and wheezing and cackling hard enough to shake the bed. It was funny, sure, but it wasn’t that funny. Yet, in that moment it was. I was making up for months of pretend laughter, pretend emotions, with this. Losing my shit over a segway and some chickens.
That night didn’t fix me, but also, maybe. I’m still tired. I can still hear whispers of bad thoughts. But my movements feel a little less robotic. My emotions don’t feel quite as muted. I’m able to sit in silence now. Not for long, but for a little bit.
I also started writing again.
I’m having to pull the words from somewhere deep and almost forgotten and, at times, it hurts to do so. But I’m getting them out and that feels like something. Something significant. It feels like hope. Hope that maybe I’m gonna shake it all off soon and the sun will warm my skin. That maybe, this year, I won’t fall like the leaves in a few weeks. That, when the temperatures drop, my mental health won’t go with them and the waves won’t overtake me. Maybe I’ll be able to dance in them.
Or ride down the street. On a segway. With a pack of chickens following me.
Maybe not. But in my head, their squawks sound ridiculous and hilarious and like salvation. And this picture is now on my mantle to remind me of the laughter I fought for.
If you’ve made it this far, check out Myra’s etsy page. Who saw my call for “I need to find someone to draw me on a segway with a pack of chickens don’t ask questions” and took that shit to heart without a single question. Thank you, Myra. You are an angel. A talented, incredibly gracious angel.