It’s been one of those days, but not unbearable by any means. I welcome productive days, with a small dose of mini-crisis to remind me that I’m still alive, and to give me that much needed practice to handle stress. I ranked about a 6 today. I stepped on a needle. It honestly didn’t hurt too awfully bad, I was in a hurry to get somewhere, so I quickly grabbed it pull it out. I’m not unusually squeamish, but something about the fine needle not coming out as easily as I needed it to, sent my head into a centrifuge of terror. Anyway, less dramatic words be told, it came out, I slipped my loafers on and headed to a movie with a friend. No socks, crappy coat that I really don’t like, but beggars can’t be choosers, you know. It’s a nice coat, but it’s wool and I’m obsessed with textures, wool not being one of them. I enjoyed my night out. I needed that time with my friend that only involved being entertained. I was giddy with laughter most of the evening.

I get home, my foot is throbbing. There’s nothing I can do but wash it and hope I don’t contract some movie theatre strain of staph. I walk barefoot mostly, even when it’s cold, but not below freezing. I feel grounded and more in control. I like the way textures feel under my feet. My mother would try to convince me I’d get ringworm, or E.Coli, or whatever trendy death was happening. That was almost 30 years ago she’d tell me that, and I’ve yet to contract a thing. Pretty sure the stupid sewing needle will be the thing she warned me about. I’m sure she’s somewhere looking over me, rolling her eyes, and saying, “I warned you!” Maybe, maybe not.

Before the pike and quartering of my right foot, my day was busy. Little irritations came up, just like they do for anyone. When you’re like me, however, those little things stack up really fast and turn into something huge and overwhelming. More so lately, as my brain has decided that we were due for an episode of mania. I have Bipolar Disorder type 2. I guess if I had to choose one, I’d take type 2 over type 1. Type 2 is more about the down times and hypo mania. Short manic episodes, never quite reaching the peak of a all-out manic episode. Doesn’t mean I don’t get manic at all, just not that often. When I was a lot younger, mania was elation. It was, to me, a rock star level of fun and spontaneous (bad) decisions. Nothing is ever a bad idea.

I get hypo manic a few weeks out of the year. It could last two days or two weeks, or stop and start as it pleases. But, last Wednesday, mania came in like the Kool-Aid man and took over my head, heart, and body. The lack of sleep is insane. I can count on one hand the total of hours I’ve slept in 6 nights. I made it 54 hours with out a nap at all. I take my medicines as ordered, I call the nurse, I call my friends for help. That is what I am supposed to do. Years ago, a manic episode would have been a free pass to an endless party involving my wine rack. It did knock me out to sleep. Not sure, but I think it’s safe to say that’s probably not a healthy sleep. I’ve not had an episode this intense for over a year. Yes, sometimes medicines can’t control everything. Yet, they are helping, as I’m still functioning well, despite sleep deprivation. I still feel I have my wits about me. I’ve cried a lot the past week. Mostly over things that aren’t happening, just dreamed up scenarios in my cluttered thoughts.

Medicines. Everyone has an opinion about them. Suddenly, total strangers are experts in psychiatric drugs. At least a dozen well-meaning acquaintances have offered me healing through religion, essential oils, herbs, energy healing, and the best one..the Eden diet. I don’t know what that is, and I’m good. There is a good balance in modern medicine and a healthy lifestyle. There are no gimmicks when it comes to mental health, for me. I practice relaxation methods, mindfulness, breathing, exercise, and a normal, healthy, fad-free diet. Caffeine can send me into anxiety and my body feeling blah.

The B WordBut, I take my medicines. I’ve had many different ones. Some helped, some didn’t do anything, and some made me so sick I made trips to the er often. Every brain is different. As much as we want to believe there is an exact science to treating mental illness, there just isn’t. There are times my doctor and I find a good “cocktail” that seems to work miracles, and then, months later, my brain has become tolerant and the drugs no longer do what we need them to. We try again. I am already accustomed to the fact that I’ll probably be down a week at least when starting or coming off of a medicine. I have to audibly remind myself the side effects will pass and the benefit outweighs my temporary misery. I have a wonderful team on my side. My psychiatrist often tells me that we are on the same team, we are together in this fight, and I’m safe in his office to be brutally honest. There are two nurses that treat me like a patient, not a problem. I have a medical doctor who is my trusted friend. My counselor is incredible. More than that, my recovery is up to me. Finding support is crucial to getting better and staying better. I have friends who I swear take turns during the bad times, with assignments. One is on food duty. I’ll usually only eat if food is put in front of me. When I’m depressed, I cannot get out of bed and function. It’s not that I don’t want to, I’ve cried wanting to get out and be just like everyone else. My support team does that for me. Another friend will be on “get her out of the house” duty. That involves attempting to look like I haven’t spent four days in bed, telling me to get in the car, and we drive somewhere for maybe food or a movie. Something low-key and no stress. I have my 4 am friend, the one I call at all hours, rambling & crying or yelling, begging, even laughing about this disease I had to get. She loves me anyway. She knows what to say or not to say, and sometimes, she just knows that not saying anything at all is the best thing to do. There are other times, I just need a hug, my hand held, a human being to sit with. That’s enough at times to bring me back. I wish it wasn’t that way. I’ve wished so many times that the doctor could just cut this out of my head, like a tumor. I could go home and I could heal. People would send flowers and food and come to visit. That doesn’t happen with my mental illness.

The times I’ve spent in the hospital were a bleak reminder how taboo my illness is. I’ll maybe get a phone call, a visitor once, but mostly I spend visiting hours curled up in a blanket trying not to feel like a freak.

I’ve never seen people rally together to help someone mentally ill. I know from my experience, I’ve come home to a quiet house, a few thoughtful text messages, but little else. I’ve never heard of a 5k to raise money for a family who desperately need help financially. Psychiatric care is expensive, and most insurance companies still don’t view it as an illness. It is devastating in every aspect of life, for me anyway. A decent job with insurance seems like a mountain of a goal. My suffering comes not only from the illness itself, but the stigma that holds tight to it. I have often wished for a more socially acceptable disease, for if I am forced to endure it, having friends and family to be encouraging would make it less of a lonely burden. I know how lepers felt. It is a solitary madness, when the thing that helps so much is compassion.