Then There Are Days Like Today
It’s 10 AM, and although I’ve been awake for a while, I’m still in bed, reading.
There are things I need to do: dishes to wash, bills to pay, homework. But I am still in bed, still reading, still trying to pull myself together.
I cannot explain the sensation that follows the thought, “I need to get up and write some checks.” It is difficult to admit that, at moments like this one, small anxieties are crushing. When I’m on the upswing, of course, anxiety does not exist.
I brought this on myself.
For whatever reason, alcohol seriously destabilizes my mood. It brings on precipitous depressions, even when I’m trending towards the hypomanic side of up. It knocks me out of my tree.
This isn’t to say that I can’t have a beer or a cocktail or a glass of wine. I can usually handle that. It’s anything more that’s too much: I don’t get hangovers, but the chemistry of my brain just jumps the track. It can take a good, long time to get it back on target.
On Saturday, after the opera, we had dinner at a new local place that has fantastic subs, amazing pizza, and an extensive beer selection. Kelly and I shared a pitcher of pilsner that was bought for us by some folks with whom we traded tables so they could all sit together as a group.
I had a couple of pints, maybe three. Way more than I normally drink (when I drink at all). It was perfect with the pizza, crisp and delicious, and yet even as I forged bravely towards the bottom of my glass, part of me realized that I was Making A Big Mistake.
Sunday, I woke up feeling hollow, as if all that was good had been sucked out of creation, leaving only the “meh” of survival.
Monday, I fought my way through a morass, trying to keep a brave face on it.
Last night, having finished my class notes from Saturday, I admitted to Denis that I was not well.
Today … well, here I am.
It’s easy to understand how drinking can snowball for someone like me.
If I had less insight – if I hadn’t grown up with a father who was a recovering alcoholic; if I hadn’t received the powerful prophylaxis that comes with being hospitalized for the first time at age fourteen and then spending three years in intensive in- and outpatient treatment; if I hadn’t been given a lot of very conscious education about all this – I would probably think, “Well, I felt pretty good when I was quaffing that pils, and I feel like crap now. I know! I’ll have more beer! That’ll help!”
It turns out that I’m not the only person with bipolar for whom alcohol is like an “Activate Depression Mode” switch.
I guess it makes sense: antidepressants and stimulants can kick off mania; alcohol is a depressant. Of course it can kick off a depression. The whole point of bipolar disorder is that the brain’s ability to regulate its own chemistry is, to a greater or lesser degree, broken.
This, however, is a hard lesson to actualize.
It’s easy enough to know rationally: “My brain has trouble regulating its own chemistry, so my moods get out of whack.”
It’s harder to grok the applications: “My brain has trouble regulating its own chemistry, so alcohol can make me really depressed for a while. Caffeine can make me manic.”
It’s hard to accept those realities and to keep a super-tight check rein on myself all the time (to be fair, I do schedule times in my life when I can take the check rein off; now is not one of them). Those of us with bipolar disorder often crave stimulation and spontaneity, even when it’s the worst possible idea.
I’m not sure how to approach today. I think I’m going to budget a little caffeine in hopes of nudging the meter back towards the positive.
I guess I’ll also have to get back on the fish oil, which I’ve been neglecting to take (for no rational reason … yet another malfunction I can’t even explain to myself).
Tomorrow, I’ll have work, school, therapy, and ballet.
With a little luck, maybe all of those things will crack this depression and I’ll be able to tend back towards the midline instead of languishing for weeks because I made one poor decision.
In the end, this is part of the difficulty in dealing with bipolar disorder.
What might be no big deal for someone with typical neurochemistry is a potential game-changer for us.
It is not hyperbole to say that 1.5 extra pints of lager can become a question of life or death: the little blip is there in the back of my head that says, “It would be so much easier just to die.”
If I was in the position of too many of my sisters and brothers who wrestle with bipolar — if I didn’t have a privileged background that afforded early treatment that taught me important coping skills; if I didn’t have a spouse who loves and supports me even in my darkest hours; if I had to worry about a stressful job and whether or not the bills would be paid and I’d be able to eat, let alone keep a roof over my head; if I didn’t have a gifted, effective therapist…
Without all the things that I did nothing to earn that help keep me afloat, it would be statistically pretty likely that my weekend’s minor excess could snowball into suicide.
That’s the reality for too many of us. Other people drink a little too much and get hangovers; we drink a very, very little too much and get tragedy.
For those of us with bipolar disorder, the repercussions of some decisions are amplified beyond all reason.
And we, who are not always so great at staying rational in the first place, must somehow cope with these repercussions.
I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. It began as a kind of confession: Okay, yes, I’m struggling a little and I’m hiding it as usual.
It’s grown into some weird sociopolitical treatise: here is a reality that people with bipolar know that maybe “typical” people don’t see. Here is why your bestie really means it when she says, no, she can’t have a second drink.
Here is why maybe he does anyway and then drops off the planet for two weeks afterwards: because sometimes, when it’s been a while, we forget just how fast and hard that extra drink can drop us through the bedrock, or how explosively that extra cappuccino can launch us into the sun.