This is how Bipolar Disorder works (Ha! Ha! IT says, rubbing its hands in malevolent glee): it lulls me, momentarily and dangerously, into complacency, into a loss of vigilance because, Gosh, everything seems to be going Just Fine. See the bright smile? Note the renewed attention to detail! Clothes, make-up, hair—all of it Just So. (Okay, ignore the chewed fingers and nails--mere anxious oversight.) No crazy meltdowns, no ruminating over suicide, no all-nighters staring into the dark at the bedroom ceiling, obsessing about what I’m always obsessing about (job, kids, marriage, emptiness, loneliness, writing, not writing, forgiveness, guilt, penance, hunger pangs, and those scars raised in a grim Braille along my forearms).
All that chaos and frenzy feels remote, like some strange moonscape. Oh, that mad me? She’s running wild in Kathmandu, hair a snarled mess, bra torn, hooves for feet, warbling incoherent lullabies to wild monkeys. But the me right here, right now? She’s buoyed by Dr. B, her husband, and a handful of necessary medications. Finally, the right cocktail has been sorted out after 4 years worth of exhaustive trial and error and error and error: Lithium, Abilify, and Trazadone. A holy trinity.
Then Bam! Wham! Ka-pow! I wake up this morning looking like I’d rolled in some nightmare field of poison ivy—face aflame, skin itchy, eyelids swollen with hives. I know this rash. I’d had it when I was on Lamictal and the only way to get rid of it was to stop taking that drug which was, at the time, essential in maintaining equilibrium. The fallout? I’ve since played guinea pig to almost all the mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotics that are out there—Lithium, Depakote, Topomax, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Neurontin, Risperdal, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Remeron, Buspar, and Klonopin. None of which managed to touch IT.
This time it’s Abilify, a wonder drug that pulled me back from that terrifying manic edge just a few short weeks ago, and which is, according to my husband, who keeps careful track of my ups and downs, responsible for the past 6 weeks of stability. It’s allowed me to teach, to be a present Momma, to resist ITs demands for my life and stay out of the garage. But the rash changes everything, and so it seems I’ll have to give up Abilify, too. Cold turkey.
Once upon a time, I would have been relieved to dump my meds. All those bottles lined up on the kitchen counter cornered me morning and night; they meant weakness, fragility, and capitulation to the formal diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. And no way was I going to BE an illness—shuffling, bathrobed, unkempt. See Kerry run. See Kerry jump. See Kerry fall on her ass over and over until she gets the message: You have a disease. You are not the disease. I even bought a weekly pill organizer; the order of making order felt like wresting some control back from IT. And as Dr. B reminded me, “You take these medications because you want to live. You take them for your family who wants you to live. You take them because you want your life back.”
Tonight I am simultaneously trying not to scratch my face off while also maintaining perfect equanimity and composure: See Kerry recollect this in tranquility. But really, I am just terrified, scared shit that mad me will seize this unmedicated moment, exploit my vulnerabilities, and lay siege. Listen close: Can’t you hear her hollering in the hills, intent for blood?