Judging okay is hard when your okay judging thing is broken. Just because I feel okay doesnít mean I am okay, in the strictest sense of the word--okay. There is okay and than there is the ďwearing-underpants-on-your-head-swinging-from-the-chandelierĒ okay (a colorful variation on hypomania). Eventually, I know I will become un-okay again. Cycling is as inevitable as bad hair days; hateíem but they are a fact of bipolar life.

Part of the problem is that others are rarely aware of my becoming sub- or supra-okay. Itís an iceberg; the majority of itís bulk is under a smooth surface. Add on the fact that I tend to become very protective of my okay-ity and you have a lot of room for misunderstandings. This is especially true as Iím skipping hypo-manically, ascending higher and higher on the okay-scale. First, just okay than marvelously-okayÖ ambrosially okayÖriotously okayÖmonumentally-okay. I move along an internal mood chart no one sees, tip-toeing passed monstrously-okay and transcendentally-okay. The farther I move up the okay-scale the more the tether shreds and the less important getting back to the space shuttle is.

That no one knows there is an iceberg of weirdness below the surface, isnít surprising. By the time omnipotently-okay hits me, there is no one I trust. The tetherís snapped and Iím not even trying to get back to the space shuttle. To let anyone know Iím free falling would mean Iíd have to face it myself. Not to mention everyone would start trying to get me back to the shuttle and ultimately, Earth.

In retrospect, (and rational thoughts on mania are always in retrospect) my unwillingness to share how good I feel ought to be my first heads up. Learning to deal with the cavalcade of moods, thoughts, and randomly firing neurons is, to say the least, a challenge.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1996. Before that I was a diagnostic mental illness medley including all the usual suspects. Anxiety. Depression. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ad infinitum. How I ended up with the bipolar diagnosis; Iím not entirely sure. I wasnít thinking very clearly at that time and I simply donít remember. There were some clues my doctor picked up on, I suppose. Clues I should have found disturbing but instead saw as the harbinger of a brilliant, new, and sparkling phase in my life. I donít remember the discussion I had with my doctor when the word bipolar came up for the first time. I am grateful that he saw all my brilliance and sparkling for what is was--pathology.


There is a lot to learn in the beginning and rapid cycling doesnít give you much of a chance to learn. In an hour- or three- you suddenly feel entirely different. Ah. Right. That mood thing I have now. Being bipolar can be very difficult to get a handle on and at first it did seem overwhelming.

I spent considerable time and energy in the first fully-medicated months trying to find some way to fit the bipolar thrills and spills into my life. All the while trying to give myself hope it wouldnít always be so hard. Cycling is a lot like doing three sixties in a car. You just close your eyes, hang on and spin. Itís only when the car stops that you know which direction your pointing. Dealing with the mood circus felt like just like that; and it was dizzying at first. Moods used to just be things that I had, not things that I had to manage. I wished repeatedly that it wasnít so hard. I wished I was still going through my days without having to think about the meaning of every thing I thought and did. Automatically moving from hour to hour, day to day in the same old mood. I wanted it to be automatic like blinking. Or getting in my car and driving somewhere. If I have to go to the store I get in my car and go; the mechanics of it are invisible.

Now. While blinking has never been something that took a great deal of brain power, driving was far from automatic at first. The steps were laborious. Every car related movement was wooden and unnatural. It was all foreign; fraught with stress and danger. At first just sitting in the driverís seat with a wheel in front of me was bizarre and everything involved in driving required at least one conscience thought:

Open door

Get in

Shut door

Look to see if the mirrors are adjusted

Adjust mirror

Adjust other mirror

Adjust other mirror

Adjust seat

Put key in ignition

Turn key

Give it gas

Not too much gas

Let go of the key

Sweat profusely

Find gearshift

Find reverse on gear shift

Look behind you

Make sure no cars are there

Think about where my foot is

Think about how far the gas pedal is from break

And at that point I hadnít even moved yet.


Yet in just a monthís time I didnít have to think about any of these things anymore. They had become automatic. I'd just get in the car and tool down the highway. Instead of doing one painful thing at a time Iíd be cruising; windows down, changing lanes, fiddling with the radio, and smoking a cigarette.

Perhaps learning to drive is an good metaphor for being newly diagnosed. All beginnings are fragile and scary but eventually certain things related to bipolar disorder will become second nature. When the unease of a recent diagnosis fades--and it will fade--there will be some consistent signals that you are in a bad place on the old okay-scale. I may never know when things will change but if Iím paying attention I can see it begin to happen. Most, if not all people, have a tell tale clue or two that signals changes are afoot. For me, an avid talk-radio listener, when I start listening to music in the car, Iím manic. Even if Iíve missed (or was ignoring) the more subtle clues, when I go from AM to FM radio, Iím in trouble.

Itís extremely important to self-monitor your own moods. You, yourself, will always have the best chance of knowing if you are okay (refer to iceberg analogy above). You must be your best ally. You are the most important link in your stability chain. In my case, self-monitoring makes a lot of sense. It annoys me when people start asking if Iíve ďtaken any meds latelyĒ or suggesting itís ďtime to see the doctorď. I resist. Another problem is when I pass a certain point on my okay-scale, I am more convinced than ever that I am in control. People may suggest I need help or hint that I am about to crash--And soon. Ha. I think. Telling a manic person they are heading for a crash, soon, is about as useful as telling a carload of six year olds they are going to be at Disney world--soon. Soon is too vague for six-year-olds and crashes.

The truth is, you can chart your moods, take your meds, watch for danger signs, keep all your doctorís appointments and still find bipolar difficult to control sometimes. Being diligent isnít a guarantee that you will always be smack in the middle of the okay scale any more than a diabetic can ensure perfect blood sugars forever if he does every single thing a doctor orders. Will self-monitoring keep me out of the hospital? I donít know. Itís probably like defensive driving. It will lessen the chances of, but not entirely prevent, something bad happening. One day, when Iím defensively driving down a road, some yutz on a cell phone could come out of nowhere and plow into me. Another day I might be calmly humming and cooking dinner when--BAM!-- the thoughts start flowing like lava and itís all I can do to just stand still and not carve the roast into a replica of Mt Rushmore.

The best I can do is take care of myself, monitor closely and pay attention to the radio stations. It will not prevent the inevitable times when things will go wrong but at least I will always be able to answer the question, ďYou okay?Ē And knowing that is the most important way to keep myself okay.


© January 2005 All material is the sole property of the author and my not be reproduced without written permission.



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