Today as I write this, my body is heavy with depression. My thoughts feel foggy and it’s been hard to move all day. It took enormous energy just to write to my best friend and tell them what was going on with me, and their gentle prodding from afar was the only thing capable of rousing me from bed. I slogged to a café, ordered something peppy to counteract my sluggishness, but even robust espresso can’t shake my sads off. I have bipolar II and this is how my depressive episodes are, sometimes: a deep and inexplicable sadness I feel in my mind and my body, and just have to ride out.
When I ask myself how my life would be different without mental illness, the temptation is to think: “I would be so much happier and more productive!” And while that might be true, I also wouldn’t wish my bipolar disorder away. Because the manic episodes are worth the depressive ones for me. My occasional mania is key to my personality, a perky prism through which I sometimes view the world. Most of my best ideas, my finest work, my biggest contributions to the world, originated in mania. It’s my superpower.
Back when I was in high school, and hadn’t yet been diagnosed, my emotions confused me. It always seemed that I felt things more deeply than the people around me. When I was sad, I wept for hours and journaled endlessly about my feelings. When I was happy, I giggled hysterically, distributed hugs freely and couldn’t keep a big dumb grin off my face. I noticed details more than other people seemed to, fixated on them for longer, and remembered them more clearly. When I liked someone, I really, really liked them.
This is still how I am now. Getting a diagnosis gave me some answers, but it didn’t really change anything. I still seem to experience emotions more strongly than most people I know, and that can be very isolating – especially romantically. I get addicted to and obsessed with people in a way that’s supposed to be special and rare, but is just par for the course for me. If I’ve ever been romantically or sexually interested in you, I guarantee there are pages upon pages about you in my journals, dozens of complimentary musings about you in my chat histories with friends, and elaborate fantasies about our future married life floating around in my brain.
Media narratives tell me that this kind of fixation occurs only when you’re deeply, truly in love with someone – but that’s not consistent with my experience. I obsess over potential beaux regardless of the longevity or validity of my feelings for them. It’s like I’m drowning in a sea of New Relationship Energy, except it happens with everyone I’m interested in, whether or not they’re new to me or we’re actually in a relationship.
As you might imagine, this brain problem makes it hard for me to engage in casual sex, or to approach romantic encounters with any degree of “chill.” When I had casual sex for the first time last summer, I journaled lengthy missives about the dude’s perfect dick and top-notch sense of humor, complained to friends about how he would never be my boyfriend, and then wrote a song which contains the lines, “I don’t have the strength/ to keep you at arm’s length/ I fall for all callers to my bed.” And, truth be told, I didn’t even like the dude that much. After he’d left my life and the dust had cleared, I saw that we’d never been that compatible. (He openly hates puns and musicals, and loves sports. I mean, really!) I’d seen him through rose-colored glasses, because my brain is addicted to romantic and sexual stimuli. Dick, any dick, lights up my neurons and makes me feel desperately out of control of my emotions.
Writing this is embarrassing. I am sitting in a coffee shop and cringing as I type these words, because I know someone will read them who I wish wouldn’t. At least one person reading this right now, inevitably, is someone on whom I have turned my laser-focused headlights of infatuation at some point. Maybe they are recoiling in surprise and fear, shocked to learn how deep my feelings went – but it’s more likely they’re just nodding in recognition. I am not good at hiding my feelings. Faced with a crush, I dissolve into a blushy, giggly, dorky mess. It is not subtle and it is not “cool.” Sometimes folks are okay with it, and sometimes they’re not and I scare them away. Either way, I am always profoundly embarrassed by how strongly I feel my feelings. There are times when I wish I could shut down my heart, so I could, at last, become chill and detached like everyone else.
But, deep down, I know I would never do that, even if I could. My strong feelings are what make me me. When I write corny love songs or impassioned blog posts, that art stems from my bottomless well of emotion. If I’ve ever written anything about desire or heartbreak that you found relatable, it’s only because I’ve been flooded with those feelings so completely for so long that I know them inside and out. My heart is in a constant cycle of passion, joy, desperation and despair, and though I’ve been down this road a thousand times, it hasn’t gotten any easier. But that intensity makes my life exciting, my art compelling and my world vivid as hell.
Maybe one day I’ll get tired of it. But for now, after 24 years of living inside this crazy roller-coaster brain, I’m still pretty at peace with it. At least, as much as you can be “at peace” with anything while riding a roller coaster.