Simply Happiness (Pulp-Free)

I am naming this post after my current-favorite beverage: Simply Orange Juice. My mom tried to ruin Simply Orange Juice for me by telling me it had more sugar in it than soda. But maybe that’s fitting—things right now are pretty fucking sweet.


I looked back at the list of goals I made for 2016, curious to see if I’d accomplished anything. I’m happy to report that I‘ve made great progress. I highlighted in yellow the goals I’ve reached and oh, all that sunshine was lovely.


I’ve been feeling strong for a little while now. But there’s a major difference between feeling strong and feeling happy. When I’m stable, I’m “happy” in the sense that I am not depressed, but I’m not necessarily feeling joy. Scraps of it are floating around me, but they’re hard to catch and hold onto.


That has changed. The last couple of weeks I have noticed that most days I am in a good mood. Most days I find myself doing something goofy to try to make my parents laugh. I sing aloud more; I go for vigorous walks in the neighborhood. One day I slid in my socks across our wood floors to get to the kitchen because why walk when you can slide? When I did that, I felt a good-old-fashioned, clichéd warmth radiating through all of my limbs.


As the days I am well become weeks, the possibility of lapsing into another serious episode seems less and less likely to happen. The fear behind that hasn’t disappeared entirely (in my experience it never does), but I have grown more comfortable and lost some of my skittishness. Before, I was hyper-vigilant. I was testing myself for weak spots at various points of the day to see if there was anything I needed to keep an eye on. I was weighing situations to determine whether or not they were safe for me. Being so aggressively on the defense is exhausting. But that animal-desperate need for self-protection is lessening.


I think that this might last a while. I’m no longer naïve enough to think this will last forever—lesson majorly learned on that one!—but I’ve definitely hit a sweet spot. I think it’s likely I’ll be well for a good stretch. I hope that proves to be true.


I am experiencing simply happiness. And in one of those rare moments where I hate my disorder microscopically less, I acknowledge that this happiness is amplified in me, and so precious to me, because it is really fucking hard to get. So I will try to muzzle the gremlin’s voice in my head that tells me to be afraid. I will tune out her chanting this will not last this will not last. I will enjoy this time that I have. I may literally stop and smell some roses. I will not take this for granted. I will be grateful. I will be joyful.


Bipolar Disorder Dies with Me

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I have never fantasized about having children. I have names “picked out” because they are my favorite names, not because I’d ever use them for offspring (Quinn and Nicholas, if you’re wondering). But besides the fact that I utterly lack a maternal instinct, I have several reasons not to have children, all of which are related to my bipolar disorder.


FACT: Mothers with mental illness are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. (As if regular ol’ depression weren’t bad enough).


FACT: There are many antidepressants a pregnant woman cannot take, so it is possible I would have to at least lower my dosages, which could result in an episode while I am pregnant. (Just imagine coupling morning sickness and swollen feet with a desire to die, even as you’re growing life inside you. Fun!)


FACT: There is a good chance I could pass my disorder on to my children. I read in one book that there’s “only” a 14% chance I could pass it on. That “only” really bothers me. In my opinion, 14% is still too high. Ten percent would be too high! I’ve read elsewhere that a child is more likely to have some form of mental illness if other family members, in addition to the parent, have it themselves. In other words, my children would be fucking doomed. (Already, there is a separate, small pit in my stomach reserved for the fear I have that one of my dear nieces or nephew will become sick.)


Here Are (Some) Reasons Why Having Bipolar Disorder Totally Blows:

-I have to take medication for the rest of my life.

-I have to deal with the side effects of that medication for the rest of my life.

-It is likely, at some point, my meds will stop working and I will have to go through the awesome process of trying various pills at various dosages, some of which might actually make me worse, until I find ones that work.

-I will spend a fuck-ton of money on doctor visits for the rest of my life.

-As well as I may be doing, there is always a risk that something could trigger an episode; because of that risk, an undercurrent of fear will run ragged through even my best of days.

-Having it will always make me feel innately apart from most people.



Now why, WHY would I wish that for another person? I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, so wishing it on someone I love? No way.


There is one more thing I’d like to say on the matter. There are people who are impressed by how far I’ve come, how well I’ve dealt with bipolar disorder, and what wonderful things it has inadvertently brought out in me who say I am more kind, patient, artistic, and strong than I was before I got sick. These people ask me, “Knowing what you know now, and who you’ve become, if you could go back in time and prevent yourself from getting bipolar disorder, would you?”


FUCK YES, you idiot.

Here Is a Depressing Poem I Wrote about Depression

This is the best way I can explain it to you:


I am standing on top of a mountain.

It is a clear day. The sun is out. It must be almost noon.

My head is clear, too; I’m not thinking much of anything.

There’s a smile on my face.


Without warning, someone, or something, unseen, unknown,

shoves me hard in the back and I fall.

I tumble and roll, get caught up in brambles, get lashed and bruised.

See me there, standing shakily at the bottom of the mountain, alone.


At first, I’m not concerned. All I need to do is climb back up.

Then it begins to rain. The mountain is steeper than I thought

and becomes more slippery as more rain dumps down.

I am covered in mud. I start to climb. I can’t grab a hold—


all the embedded rocks I try to clutch come loose

and hit me on the head and shoulders. All the grass slides silkily

through my fingers. All the exposed twigs snap,

and splinter in my hands. Drops of my blood rust


the gathering puddles. I am shrouded

in the stink of mildew. I’m concerned now, but confident

that once things dry, ascending will be easy. But it keeps raining.

Days pass. And months pass. Years. The rain is unceasing,


obliterating. I gain ten feet; I lose ten feet. I fight for twenty;

I slip back twenty. Occasionally, I make real progress.

At one point, I am halfway up the side of the mountain,

but always I fall. Always I end up back at the bottom.


Most of the time, I don’t know why I keep trying to scale it.

I am numb. I continue on blindly, losing and losing

hope of reaching the top. You’re right—I could just crumple,

lie still under the bulleting rain and crashing stones,


but letting go of my life is pointlessly redundant.

So I claw. I forget it’s raining because I forget sunlight.

I lose the ability to track my progress. I resign myself

to never making progress. I think I will scratch


at the side of the mountain until my fingers break

and I won’t get anywhere. When my fingers break,

I’ll try to climb with just my knees, and I won’t get anywhere.

And then I look up and discover I’m standing on top of the mountain.


None of my words can describe the shock and relief I feel.

I can tell you it isn’t raining; up here there is sun.

I want to stretch my arms up into the sky,

but I’m not strong enough. I cry, but begin to believe


I will grow stronger. I begin to feel safe.

I am not even tentative when I take my first step forward.

I take my first step forward. My next.

And then I lose my footing.

What Ifs of Work

It’s been my goal for some time now to start a career in freelance editing. I love editing just as much as I love writing, and I’m good at it. I believe working independently will give me the best chance of success, since I will be able to set my own hours and be selective with which projects I take on.


I’ve been “getting ready” for work for a long time now. When I started out, I made a list of all the things I need to do before I start actively searching for work. There are 16 items; I’m on number 6. I’m no mathematician (har, har), but I know I’m not making much progress.


Part of the problem is the major setback I had that started in the summer and lasted for many months. During my setback, I didn’t feel strong enough to keep working toward my career goals. I was barely holding on. I had to hunker down and focus all of my attention on getting well. Putting aside my goals seemed very necessary. But now I’m better and I’m not moving forward as I should.


My therapist talked to me about this and voiced some concerns. She suggested that I am avoiding work when I should be diving in. When she first said this, I didn’t take it very well. I got defensive and upset. But I know she has a good point. I don’t feel ready to take some of the big leaps she’s proposed, but I can admit that yes, I am avoiding working. How come?


I have many fears surrounding work, many “what if” questions that plague me. For example, what if no one will want to hire me because I have zero work experience? Totally reasonable fear, right? Or how about this: what if I’m not nearly as good at editing as I think I am? Also reasonable—professional editing is new for me.


But here’s the big “what if,” the one that fills me with fear the most: What if I start working, then have another episode that forces me to quit? Partly this fear has to do with my responsibility as an editor—I would feel terrible if I had to drop someone’s project suddenly. But what the fear really comes down to is the hopelessness I feel when I have the following thought: I have no idea how to have a career when I also have bipolar disorder.


How can I maintain steady work when my illness is so totally unpredictable? Even if I get on a stable streak that lasts longer than a year and a half, something can always happen to tip the scales. That something could even be work—a particularly stressful job could easily provoke an episode. After all, I’ve had dark, down days that were sparked by simply a lack of sleep.


I’ve yet to figure out how to juggle bipolar disorder and day-to-day responsibilities. To date, every time I’ve had a depressive episode I’ve been almost completely non-functional. I shut down. Right now, I’m in a situation where if I have to shut down, I can, and it won’t totally fuck up my life to do so. But that won’t always be the case. I won’t always have the safety nets I do now. And if I want to “make it” as an editor, if I want to have a steady and fulfilling career, I will have to learn how to manage my bipolar disorder better. I don’t have any stellar ideas about how to do that yet, so don’t ask. All I can say for now is: I’m working on it (har, har).

Me & Weed

I first got sick on my 19th birthday. Yes, I can be that specific. Here’s what happened: On my birthday (in June), my college roommate talked me into getting high with her. I had only smoked weed once before and I hated it—I had an out-of-body experience that terrified me—but she was insistent and because it was my birthday, I didn’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud.


I can’t tell you now how much I smoked because I don’t remember. What I DO remember was that, once I was high, I was convinced I was going to die. (This is not, altogether, remarkable for a rare smoker. From what I’ve read, it’s a pretty common delusion.) I had a very intense headache and I thought my head was going to explode. Each throb of my headache was like a clock’s tick counting down to the inevitable. I can’t stress the following enough: I didn’t think I was going to die; I knew it. Again, not atypical. But here’s where things got kooky: eventually, the high wore off; my sense of impending death did not. That lingered. For months. It escalated into panic attacks. My fears branched out to include death by car accident, death by rape and murder, death by terrorists, even. I cracked. BIG TIME. And after trying to hide it all summer, without success, I went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with OCD. The OCD diagnosis didn’t stick—while I certainly had obsessive thoughts, I definitely did NOT have any compulsions. Additionally, my anxiety quickly morphed into mania. As I went along, it was clear that what I really had was bipolar disorder.


In some ways, I was doomed to have it from the start: a close family member has bipolar disorder and many other family members deal with depression and anxiety. Bipolar disorder was always there, scribbled on my genes and waiting for a spark. And I think that spark was marijuana.


I don’t have hard data to back this theory up, although more studies are being done on the link between marijuana and bipolar disorder. Here’s what I’ve found so far:


According to a case report entitled “Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features,” it is hypothesized that “cannabis use may precipitate psychosis in individuals who are predisposed to acquiring a psychotic disorder.” Nothing is definitive; while one study found that “cannabis use can lead to earlier initial onset,” that was based on frequent marijuana use. Obviously, I wasn’t a frequent user of marijuana. So I can’t say, without a doubt, that smoking weed that day kicked off my bipolar disorder, but I believe that’s what happened.


I don’t blame marijuana for my bipolar disorder. That shit was coming for me, one way or another. But I do think that my bipolar disorder waited for something to kick it in gear and needed that something for it to start. If I hadn’t smoked weed that day, what would have been the trigger? If I hadn’t smoked weed that day, would I have gone a little bit longer without having bipolar disorder? That time, in retrospect, would be precious to me. I’ve no way of knowing, but sometimes it nags at me.


For further reading: 

Cannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features: A Case Report

Cannabis Consumption Might Make You Bipolar

A Review of the Relationship Between Cannabis Use and Affective Disorders

Guilt & Gratitude

On any given day I have a laundry list of things I feel guilty about. Some items come and go, but there are a few constants. There are three biggies in particular that aren’t going anywhere.


I always feel guilty about how much time, attention, and emotional energy I take from my parents, and how little my siblings get of the leftovers. (I should mention that I have brought this up with both of my sisters and they have insisted that a: while it is true that they get less attention than I do, they feel they don’t need it as much and b: they would never feel any resentment toward me.)


I also always feel guilty that my parents have spent, and will spend, a LOT of their money on me. Even with the extremely helpful federal aid I receive, I can’t always cover my expenses, especially given the number of doctor visits I attend monthly. Now that I have that aid, I am able to take less money from my parents, but I still feel terrible that I take any. I also feel ashamed that I still take their money at my age. This summer I will be turning 30. I can tell you that I never imagined how indebted I would be to my parents as a 30-year-old. I never had a clear picture of where I’d be at this stage of my life, but I assumed that I’d be supporting myself. That has never been the case. I have never been able to support myself and boy howdy do I feel guilty about that. Not only have my parents been endlessly generous to support me financially, they’ve set things up so they’ll be able to continue to support me even after they pass away.


I feel guilty that my parents cannot travel as much as they might because I do not do well without them for any length of time. I am not good spending time on my own for any longer than about a week. I am an introvert to the core—I often need time to be alone to recharge my batteries or just to enjoy solitude, but I can only revel in that as long as I know there are people nearby. (Writing that makes me feel bad for being so greedy—I want it all! I want time to myself to read or write or listen to music, but I want my family close by, ready for as soon as I need them. That greediness is something I can add to my guilty list.) The fact is, I do need my parents with me, and they know it. They don’t feel comfortable being away from me for too long. They feel that way because of all the near-disasters I’ve had when they were gone. The last killer depressive episode I had caused them to cut their vacation short to come home, suddenly, when I was falling apart. Now, I know that they’re not upset they had to come home early—they wanted to, to take care of me—but that doesn’t take away the fact that they lost part of their vacation. Since then, they haven’t had to cut their time short on other vacations, but they’ve come damn close. Over the summer, when they were away, they touched base with me constantly, worrying about me and ready to drop everything to be by my side if need be. Over the years we’ve learned, as a family, that they cannot take long vacations, even if they want to. It’s just not a good idea.

Recently, I talked to my mom as she was trying to make plans for their summer travel. There are a lot of options—lots of people to see, lots of places to potentially visit—and my mom is taking time to sort them out. One of the big factors she will have to take into account is my illness. I hate that! Mom says that with all the different options, they could be traveling for as many as four months, only they won’t, they can’t, because of me. I told my mom that I’d been feeling stronger (true) and that I did well the last time they went away (also true) so maybe I could make it, but I know that’s false. Yes, I did well the last time I was on my own, but that was for one week. Even if I keep improving and gain back confidence that I can count on myself to stay stable, I can’t make it four months. That’s just not possible. My parents know this, too. And they will make adjustments, as they do now, so they won’t leave me alone for that long. Again, they’re not mad about that, and I feel certain that they, too, could never resent me for being ill, but this is one other aspect of their life that has changed, possibly irrevocably. Of course that makes me feel guilty!

But I’m not writing this post to lament or bemoan; I’m writing this post to share what I’ve learned about guilt.

Guilt can be a healthy emotion: when you feel bad about something you’ve done wrong, you can use that as fuel to make better choices. But guilt is not always healthy. The guilt I feel, on a daily basis, is pretty useless. This guilt is a toxin. This guilt makes my guts lurch. This guilt is like an ugly blotch of black ink that bleeds across a crisp, white page.

I can’t make my guilt just disappear—believe me, I’ve tried. However, I don’t have to just feel guilty. IN ADDITION to feeling guilty, I can feel grateful.

First comes acceptance: Yes, it blows that I need all of this extra support, but I need this extra support. There’s just no way around it. I have to be realistic about myself and my situation—I cannot do this alone. Once I accept that, I can swallow my pride, say “Thank you,” and be grateful. Like this:

I feel like a drain on my parents, but I know how lucky I am that they are the type of parents that would do anything to care for me, and I’m grateful for that. I worry that my siblings will resent me, but I’m lucky they don’t, and grateful that they love me so much. I wish I wouldn’t cost my parents another penny, but I’m lucky that they can afford to help me financially, and I am eternally grateful for their support.

Not 100%

Context: Once a week, my parents and I have a check-in. In a check-in, each of us, in turn, talks about whatever we want to talk about—this usually includes how we’ve been feeling, anything we’ve been struggling with, upcoming goals or plans—and then we ask for help, if we need any. No one may interrupt while someone else is speaking; no one must judge, but advice is fine, as long as it is asked for. (An old therapist of mine suggested this check-in style of communication for our family and it has done wonders. I cannot recommend it highly enough.)


Tonight, at our first check-in since we’ve all been home from traveling, I found myself saying that I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made in getting back to my goals and, more broadly, getting back to myself, but I’m not 100%. That got me thinking: What does that mean for me, to be 100%? Can it be qualified by the state of mental, emotional, and physical health I was in during my happy years? Certainly that was a time when I was firing on all cylinders, excelling and growing in every aspect of my life. If that’s 100% I may be fucked! I may not ever be 100% again. Okay, so the best I could hope for would be what, 95? But that’s a pretty shitty way to live—measuring how healthy and happy I am at various points in my life, knowing I will never be at my best. Fuck that, right? It’s MY measure I’m making, right? Yeah, I need to recalculate this shit.


What I used to think 100% was for me:

Feeling happy most days of the week.

Feeling stable almost every day.

Cooking dinner multiple nights a week and really enjoying it.

Getting into baking.

Training for a 5K (running at the gym, walking, weight training).

Dieting with DASH and losing weight.

Working on becoming an editor.

Managing my finances perfectly.


How things have been recently:

Feeling happy in little bright bursts, but not very consistently.

Feeling stable about half the time.

Cooking dinner once a week, sometimes enjoying it, sometimes just powering through to get some food on the table.

Not baking at all.

Running at the gym extremely rarely.

No longer dieting.

Working on editing stuff very sporadically.

Managing my finances perfectly. (YAY!)


For that second list, if I’m judging it against its counterpart at 100%, I’d put it at about 75. Not TERRIBLE, but come on, we can do better!


And now I AM doing better:

Feeling happy in bright bursts consistently.

Feeling stable most days.

Cooking dinner at least once a week, with plans to bring that up to 3 times a week. Doing what I can to ensure I still enjoy it, like plugging in my iPod and listening to some tunes.

Not baking, but not because I can’t—because I’m restarting my diet.

Restarting the DASH diet (in Phase One as of today).

Restarting the Cto5K program I was doing before, now dead-set on finishing it.

Making more time for editing; easing into it at first and then taking off!



This last list could maybe be that 95, but I think this 95 should be my new 100. I’m in a great place right now: I’m hopeful for the future; I’m getting back into my hobbies and profession; I’m getting healthier; I’m making goals that I believe I can reach, and I’m doing all of that while walking on somewhat uneven ground. There are two advantages to pushing myself forward while the earth is still shaky beneath me. One: I’m more vigilant. I check in with myself more. I’m constantly looking out for any warning signs (which means I feel as prepared as I can be). Two: When I push myself and succeed when things are shaky, I prove to myself that I can handle the shakiness. I learn that even in uncertainty I can find strength and power.


It’s time now to be both realistic and optimistic. Realistic: that initial 100% may always be out of my reach. Realistic: I cannot hope to never deal with depression or mania or anxiety again. I’ve got a long-ass life ahead (presumably) and there WILL be downs. Optimistic: There will ALSO be ups, and even in the downs I can still meet goals and improve myself and do things that make me happy. Optimistic: This time that I’m in right now, one I dreaded being in, is doing some really important things for me. I can feel it. Maybe THAT’s my 100%. Or, you know, fuck percentages to begin with.