A Little Night Mania
Winter in Alaska seems like an illogical time to go sweeping into the heights of hypomania; but so far I haven't found much that is logical about bipolar disorder. We've had a weird time of it here in the far north. Grey, rainy, listless summer followed by blinding, brilliant winter where the sun is so bright it bounces off the arctic air and pierces our soft and malleable brains--for five hours a day. Then we're plunged back into darkness, where the stars wheel overhead and our mole-eyes sift through the impossible cold again, seeking light.
I get an ice-cream headache every time I leave the house in the mornings. I imagine my pineal gland, that mystical and medical third eye at the center of my forehead, taking a literal beating through these extremes. A sinkhole of blackness. Scintillating sunlight. A rabbit-punch of subzero cold. The signals it sends to the brain are, one might imagine, like telegraphs from the first monkey sent into space. "WE ARE DYING! --No, wait, we're good. We are very good, in fact AMAZING! Oops, hold on--we are definitely dying. So, so lonely and cold. This is the coldest and saddest day of our lives." And so on.
Of course a monkey can't telegraph, but my brain can go haywire, and it is. I was driving down the 150-mile highway from Anchorage to Kenai yesterday, an ice-blue sky overhead and icy black roads under my wheels, Led Zeppelin pouring from the speakers. Robert Plant was howling about a lion standin' alone with a tadpole in a jar, and suddenly I was driving far too fast.
I said it's alright, you know it's alright
I guess it's all in my heart
You'll be my only, my one and only
Is that the way it should start?
Seventy, seventy-five, seventy-nine, the ice barely making a sound beneath the tires. The sun, low and blinding, flashed through the trees at strobe-light speed. That snarly guitar riff, the one I loved to play air guitar to as a 'tween (and still do, "rreearrdy-rreardy-rowr...) powered my accelerator foot. I was in the Houses of the Holy. I was immortal. I was just-a-touch manic.
If BP were a job, these would be the benefits. The cream off the top. The paid vacation. You want to know what it's like to fly? To really soar? That is what it's like--to live, for a time, without fear. To feel wings, actual wings, spreading from the center of your soul and lifting you, defying gravity, defying all that holds you back, ties you down. Boundless. Immortal.
But the job? God, the job sucks. Days, weeks, of darkness. Of pain, sometimes physical pain. You think it's cold and dark outside, where the temp is -11 and you haven't seen the sun for 19 hours. But the true darkness is internal. The true work is in dragging yourself out of bed and into the kitchen to make the coffee, feed the dog, feed yourself. Then into the shower. Then into your clothes.
Crazy ways are evident, in the way that
You're wearing your clothes
Sippin' booze is precedent
As the evening starts to glow
You try to keep your face out of the bottle. Self-medicating, they call that, and that's the best way to get in trouble with your psychiatrist. The theory goes that when you have BP you never just drink for fun. You drink to escape--that's what "they" say. Escape your boredom, your relationship, your job, the place you live, your life itself. Your self itself. Except--you don't have to be (gasp) mentally ill to try to escape something. It's not like the crazies invented escapism. And it's not like the crazies can't do stuff for fun. I'm not so sure about those psychiatrists; I'm not so sure about all of "them." Didn't they get into their profession because they were a little crazy, too? And doesn't everybody sometimes hate the "job" of getting out of bed in the morning? Don't you have to self-medicate in some way, just to be human? Why does the medication have to be booze?
Can sunlight through trees be medicine? Can music? Can conversation? Mountain air? A good book? Can love be medicine?
It's a weird time of year here in the north. And we are weird sorts of people, both sane and not-so-sane. The darkest day of the year is a strange time for mania; I blame it on Robert Plant and an overstimulated pineal gland. What's your excuse?