One of my potential topics yesterday was the stresses of being “brilliant” and “mentally ill” at the same time. Maybe I’m not brilliant, but I’m definitely mentally ill, and these two things do not seem to play well together in the same brain.
I often wonder if it would be easier for me to deal with all of this mentally ill bullshit were I not so damn smart. If I was ignorant maybe it would be easier – maybe I wouldn’t realize how sick I am. Maybe I wouldn’t be so aware – painfully aware – of my limitations. Maybe I’d find myself content to work a menial job at the WalMart stocking shelves.
But no, I haz the smarts and my brain insists on using them, broken as it is.
I’ve always been smart. I’m not like off the charts smart or anything, just smarter than your average bear. My mom got me enrolled in special schools that catered to smart kids so I’ve always been challenged and encouraged to develop my brain muscle. Heaven knows I had no interest in developing any physical muscles. Anyway, I’ve also always known that there was something different about me, something that set me apart from the other kids. I was always super sensitive to any kind of criticism or harsh words. To this day the worst punishment my mom can dish out is to tell me that she’s disappointed in me.
So I knew I was smart and I knew I was different, what I didn’t know was just how different I am.
When I finally got diagnosed with the Bipolar at age 29 I was full tilt out of control. I was sleeping 2 – 3 hours a night, eating just enough to keep myself going, having an affair with my husband’s best friend, and drinking every chance I got. I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with me – I thought my behavior was normal. Not that I knew of anyone else who behaved like I did, but I figured it was just a phase I was going through.
When they admitted me to the psych ward and gave me the diagnosis the pieces finally started fitting together. My sleep patterns were explainable. There was a reason for the drinking. Every shitty thing I’d been doing could be explained away as a symptom of an illness, a disease. They weren’t character flaws anymore – they were symptoms and they could be treated.
I started a pharmacological regimen and therapy. Lots of therapy. As everything started to work I became painfully aware of the limitations my mental health was placing on me. Gone were the days of staying up until 2am knitting. Gone were the days of tossing back an entire 6 pack of beer by myself. Gone were the days of enjoying sex.
Gone was just about everything I really enjoyed in my life.
So I rebuilt, slowly, from the ground up. I learned how to take proper care of myself. I learned how to manage my illness. I learned how to be an adult human.
I’ve worked my entire adult life, since the time I was 16 years old, and through the entire course of my illness. I’ve missed some work because of it, but never more than 6 weeks at a time. I’ve been aware this whole time of just what I can and can’t do.
I can’t drink much alcohol anymore without getting violently ill. I can’t stay up all night and then expect to function the next day. I can’t let my gonads get the best of me and run off to have sex with strange men.
And most importantly – I have to take each of my pills each and every day if I want to stand any chance of making it to the end of the day in one piece.
So these days I look for enjoyment and fulfillment in other ways. I’ve gotten a Master’s degree and I’m getting ready to start a graduate certificate program. I’ve started knitting more complicated things and designing my own patterns again. I’ve finally really started taking proper care of myself.
But would all of this be easier if I was perhaps a little dumber? I’ll never know.