I believe I’ve mentioned that I suffer from Bipolar Personality Disorder. I use the word “suffer” today, because it feels appropriate. When I’m riding the swell of life to its highest point I refuse to use that word, because it doesn’t sit right with my experience of my disease; but today, it is as snug a fit as a latex glove upon the hand of a mortician.
It’s like a worm has worked its way into my belly, and eaten through everything inside. Quite odd, really, that such a physical metaphor should suit something which is a completely psychological illness. Regardless of whether it is neurological, psychological or biochemical in nature, it is the mind alone which is truly affected by bipolar – but the entire body still feels every inch of the glory, and of the pain.
You will notice that I also used the words “illness” and “disease” back there. That’s because, despite all the political correctness in the world, I will always consider it to be a disease of my mind.
It’s not a disease I bear any ill will towards all that often – it’s not that kind of illness. It’s not the illness that drives you to an early grave with nothing to show but a rotting carcass and years of suffering. It’s not a cancer that spreads throughout the mind, slowly removing all your comprehension and humanity. It’s not even a limb, crippled beyond use, which makes the smallest of chore into a Sisyphean task. No, it’s such a different beast to all those illness that we are so familiar with looking at. Probably because it is not something we can look at.
Were bipolar something you could see, it would be a strange mutation of the flesh; ever shifting, always writhing, never constant. One morning you would wake to discover that your legs had been replaced by two great iron bars, incapable of moving; yet your fingers twitch with a heated itch, as delicate blossoms flower upon them – you can’t show them to anyone.
The next day, you float from your bed, stretching your innumerable wings wide. You take to the air, freewheeling amongst the clouds. Your eyes can see past the edge of the world, and into the hearts of the people you soar high above – but when you come down to tell them of the wondrous experience, you can only grunt unintelligibly.
A week from now, you discover that your entire head has become a warped and tangled mess of rock and mould; mossy pus seeps from open sores in the granite of your face, where your features once proudly featured. You cannot step out into the world with this foul countenance, but nor can your silicate brain conjure the thoughts required to even call for help.
Several days pass, and you find that in the middle of the day you shed all your rocky growths; the fairest face anyone has ever seen is revealed beneath the dried-up crust. You run out into the world, your body growing lithe, strong, and beautiful as you race the cars through the streets. But your eyes have faded, and you cannot even recognise the faces of your family as you pass them by.
The following weekend you discover that your mouth will now say nothing but the finest poetry, and your fingers have each become a wonderful musical instrument which you could play by ear – had your ears not become one with your digestive system, so all you can hear is an incessant, unpredictable gurgling.
Some months later you find that you have taken on the shape of a long, elegant sea-creature, and long for the wide-open ocean. But no-one will take you to the beach, because they remember that you ignored them when you were at your most beautiful.
There are so many more ways that this illness cripples, each day a little bit different, each day a new assortment of afflictions.
But neither we nor those around us can see the deformities that bipolar casts upon us. Sometimes, even as a sufferer, I cannot see the great unwieldy implements that my hands and mouth have become; or the burning glow that courses through my veins, cutting short my temper. I have to learn to look carefully, with eyes I must train every minute of every day, to recognise the signs of my malignant mind. And if I can recognise the problem, I then have to figure out how best to cope with it.
Sometimes I can tell that my tongue will not work as it should, and I can hold it tightly between my teeth. Sometimes I can feel the iron in my legs, and use the rails I have installed around my home to get around. Sometimes I know that my flesh has become an abomination, and wrap myself in cloth to hide it from even those closest to me.
And sometimes I can’t do any of that, and I must surrender to the whims of my ill-tempered mind. Those times all I can do is pray to the gods I don’t believe in that I do not ruin anything too dear to me, and offer my apologies afterwards.
But, even when I’m labouring in the deepest, darkest well; with worms gnawing at my guts as I struggle to reach up and catch that one distant handhold which will bring me within reach of salvation – even then, I would not trade in this disease for the world.
Because on some days, in exchange for all this horror, I get to fly.