Where do I begin? It’s a question you can take many ways. Where do I start this new venture? Where were my beginnings? Where does my condition end, and I begin? All good questions for my debut post.
Where do I start with this new venture?
Blogging for A Canvas of the Minds is a new venture for me, one of many, but there’s always something new in my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way – anything else would get boring, and I can’t stand to be bored. I’m still new to blogging, although I’ve been writing for what seems like forever. I’m still new to bipolar disorder, although I’ve lived with it for probably half of my life or more. I’m still new to being an invited speaker, which is happening more and more with increasing recognition of my research work.
All of these new ventures are exciting, stressful, and slightly bewildering. I’m doing well enough with all of them, but every time I take on something new, there’s a fear of failure to overcome. I have more new beginnings coming up very soon: the transformation from lowly PhD Candidate into validated, graduated Dr. Chickadee; a change in jobs from Research Assistant to Postdoctoral Fellow; a shift in workplaces from my living room to a cubicle in a modern office building set in the middle of a nature sanctuary working with an awesome organization that I’m very excited to be joining.
It’s simultaneously terrifying and thrilling to look forward to these changes. I can’t run away from them, so I embrace them. I don’t do anything halfway.
Where were my beginnings?
We’re taught to start a story at the beginning. Much of my mental health history has already been documented. It doesn’t begin to answer the question, though.
I was born in Detroit, so I’m afraid of nothing but myself. I spent my youth in Michigan, a place I dearly love and finally made my peace with having left. I had a wonderful childhood, but then things fell apart, the way they do. As I got older, they fell apart even more. Catholic school led to public school, and public school led to college. At each step, things got better, and they got worse. Middle school was a train wreck, and while high school was a little better in some respects, it was also a continual downward spiral in terms of mental health.
In college, everything got much, much worse. I had an inkling of what was wrong – in fact, both of my self-diagnoses were correct – but for many reasons, I slipped through the cracks and continued to slide. And then someone wonderful came along and helped me pick up the pieces. I married him ten years ago next month, and haven’t regretted it for a moment. Most of me has since been mended, but I now understand that my life will always be strained at the seams. I live larger than life, by choice, and that has its consequences.
I now live in The Great State of New York, far away from The City, in a place not so different from my native state. I work and play in an ivory tower, well insulated by snow and hills and academia. Importantly, I’m also close enough to mountains that I can easily escape when the zombie apocalypse begins. Better yet, I can flee to the wilderness when everything else closes in, which is important to me.
What else can I say about where I came from? Oh yeah. My family is totally nuts, through and through. Not just in terms of drama, but also genetically. I didn’t realize how weird they were until I met my husband’s salt-of-the-earth family. Talk about cognitive dissonance!
Where does my condition end, and I begin?
This is a pretty philosophical question. It’s along the lines of “do I have bipolar disorder, or am I bipolar?” and people get pretty bi-polarized over that topic. Pun intended, of course. It’s the topic of this month’s Let’s Talk About discussion on Labels are for Jelly Jars. I’ve already posted on that topic over on my own blog, and I guess I swing both ways on that question.
I began long before the bipolar did, and depression preceded bipolar as well. So there was a me before there was a bipolar me. I didn’t even make it out of my teens before mania rang my doorbell and blew the roof off. Before long, the “normal” years will be just 1/3 of my lifespan, and continually shrinking. I do remember what things were like before then, but mourning the loss of that version of me would be like mourning the childhood that we all have to release eventually: pointless.
Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how my condition affects me, my thinking, and my life. I think that’s only natural at this point, since I’ve only been living with the bipolar diagnosis for only a few months at this point. Just months? Really? It feels like years or decades already. Coming to understand myself through this lens has been so consuming.
So I’m still learning about the line between me and bipolar, how fine or fuzzy or hard it is, whether I have to toe it, walk it, or cross it. I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s a bottom line but also a line in the sand, constantly shifting and blurring. Bipolar disorder is teaching me to accept uncertainty. I’m a better person for that.
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“There was a me before there was a bipolar me.”
I find this particularly touching. As I know even us, partners, often need to remind ourselves of that. That you are more than the bipolar you. Quite obviously.
I’m genuinely grateful that I remember those years. In my mind, they have a golden glow that now holds more significance to me than just the warmth of happy childhood memories.
Not everyone is so lucky. I know some people who don’t can’t remember a time in their life that wasn’t flavored with bipolar symptoms. I feel so sad for them to have missed out on even a brief experience of true normalcy, but on the other hand, it seems like acceptance might be easier if bipolar were the way it had always been.
I remember those years for me, and you’re right, they do have a golden glow. I also remember years after I know I had episodes, but I had other periods when I was not symptomatic. I was just me. Bright, beautiful, full-of-life, shining Ruby.
It is lucky. I am especially lucky for those times in my late teens and early twenties, because they remind me of what a splendid grown-up young woman I was. And what a splendid grown-up woman I now am.
I also had some years in the 20’s that seemed pretty much normal. Not entirely, but close enough. It was when I had a very normal, routine life and was underemployed in low-stress jobs. And pretty bored with that state of affairs, so I don’t associate that period with being all that great.
I’ve known my wife the way she is, which is to say, I don’t know when or if the bipolar symptoms were always there. For me, she has always been a passionate, beautiful and brilliant soul, opinionated, and extremely benevolent. She has been making my life better from day 1 with her, and with or without any bipolar symptoms, I have become a better man just by being with her.
Exactly. I was having a conversation with my husband about this and he said something to the effect that I’m the same person I’ve always been in his eyes. He’s right (I did flip out before I met him) that my underlying personality characteristics are not changed. It’s just that the balance of things is at times a little off.
Beautifully said, Clown on Fire. Sara is a lucky woman.
Great post. RE the third question, I am in a similar place.
To be honest, I get sick of such existential questions pretty quickly, but it’s a point of commonality. I think we all have to come to grips with those questions at some point – usually not long after the diagnosis, I suspect.
Yup…I got my bipolar diagnosis late, and am just starting to come to terms with it.
Great to see you on Canvas, DeeDee! Looking forward to reading more….
Thanks! Same to you, Laura. 🙂
I must admit that I’m a bit jealous you’re in academia. That was once my ambition until I had what I periodically refer to as “the big break.” Anyway, I admire you for being able to balance that with your mental health! This is a great beginning of your tenure at “Canvas”!
Thanks! Academia suits me so well. It’s a ton of work, but I love it. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 7, and there’s something truly gratifying about having been right about that (nevermind the part where I wanted to be a scientist nun).
I don’t think our mental illness necessarily has to stop us from accomplishing all we can. Sometimes it does put on the breaks for awhile, but I don’t (yet) agree that it has to change all our plans. I’ve compromised on my next step and took more time to get here than I wanted, but I’m pointed in the right direction. That’s all that really matters to me.
My interest is more in English than in science. I don’t know if it’s the mental illness that is stopping me or not. It definitely interfered while I was getting my Master’s. Ever since then, I’ve been feeling unsure whether I really do want to go into academia or not. I don’t know what else I’d want to do, but that’s not a good reason to go into academia. I’m just not sure how committed I’d be, and I don’t want to jump into that life if my heart’s not in it. I’ve also discovered that I have a problem juggling multiple tasks, and I think if I were in academia, that’s all I’d ever do. I don’t know if I want that or not.
Academia is stressful, that’s for sure. To make it through, you really have to want it, and know what it can do for/to you. To be honest, English is not very employable – I’ve seen plenty of treatises discussing PhD education in the humanities as utterly irresponsible and abusive of talented individuals who deserve a real life and future. It’s a bit depressing. Fortunately, there are better prospects in my field.
And I’m a social scientist, by the way. We get no respect from the “real” scientists. 🙂
I think there are many worthwhile things done in English academia, but you’re right. In English, you have to be fully invested and then some precisely because the facts aren’t that encouraging. The job market isn’t all that great. There’s a lot of debate about how it has to do with our society’s devaluing of the humanities, which I think is true to an extent. But something does need to be done about English graduate studies so that it can find its niche. There’s a whole lot to that that I won’t go into, but I just wanted to say that it is a problem that at least some in the discipline are looking at.
Also, the social sciences sounds interesting to me!
I’m so glad to have you aboard! What a wonderful addition to our family. Welcome!
Thanks! Happy to be here. 🙂