The stillness of the aftermath
How long had he been sat there, with his empty and emotionless eyes? Quiet, but with a slowly consuming presence. He must have crept inside in complete silence and sat, enjoying being undetected thanks to the busy and distracted period of my life.
As I now sat beside him and thought hard, I came to realise he’d been there at least 6 weeks, if I had to guess. I hadn’t even suspected a thing until that point. I’d felt the impact building day by day but when it drips, bit by bit, into your consciousness, it blends and bleeds gradually into your reality and you accept it as part of the picture.
My depression varies, but sometimes it is characterised by a ghost. Nothing complex or scary, just a basic sheet-over-the-head job with eyes cut out. He’s not solid; I’ve never tried but I feel like if I reached out, I could push through him. Beneath his sheet is simply a cloud of darkness.
His presence skews my reality. He slowly paints onto the canvas of my thoughts which eventually results in delusional psychosis. They’re usually persecutory; I feel as if everyone’s out to get me and I’m about to lose everything. Everyone at my job is conspiring to get rid of me, everyone’s sending messages about me and laughing with each other. He creatively adds a smirk here, a glower there, adds subtle hints of whispers into the background. This adds extra pressure to my already fractured state because I feel as if I need to stay completely on top of my game to protect myself, as I feel everything slipping from my hands.
Eventually, and completely unsurprisingly, I crash and burn.
That is, unless I realise what’s happening before I hit the tarmac. If that happens and I avoid the full impact of the fall, I can also avoid the longer and tougher journey back to the light.
The symptoms of Bipolar are numerous and different from person to person, but can also vary within the individual. They can change and evolve with age, with the time of year, or seemingly without any rhyme or reason, like mine. For example, sometimes depression feels like being hit by a truck that I didn’t even hear coming and the fallout is sudden and complete. It can feel as if the sun has just died in the sky above me and everything has fallen into a dark and endless winter.
Other times, like this occasion, it behaves like a ghost. It happens slowly and unassumingly, like a stream of negativity into my lake of consciousness. This feels much more dangerous to me, because I can’t see the illusion for what it is. If the negative distortions came marching down the street, announcing itself with a megaphone accompanied by the local brass band, I’d still feel it but I’d know what it was. I could be objective and keep a safe distance. Not when it’s the ghost.
Coming back to reality
It took someone outside of myself to raise the alarm this time. A friend told me I wasn’t well, just in time before I slipped beyond the horizon of the black hole, and somehow that trust was enough to drag me back. Just a discussion and pointing directly at the ghost to make me aware of the presence. All of a sudden, it all became so obvious. It’s almost like waking from a terrible dream and realising it was an illusion and that actually, real life is still there and everything’s okay. The life you loved and felt had slipped away is actually still there just waiting for you.
Oh, the relief. The depth of the sigh when realisation hits that it’s okay is profound.
I’m not saying that all of a sudden I’m fine. Of course not. I needed some time off work to settle myself again after the terrible waking dream I’d been drowning in for weeks. But that moment is coming up for air from the dark depths of the lake. It’s the first breath. I still need to swim back to shore, wondering how the hell I ended up down there, but it’s light and I can see.
So the question for me now is: how do I notice that the mirror is distorting images? When I look into my reality, everything is dark and twisted…is there a way to remain objective as someone living with bipolar, or will I always need others to keep me anchored to reality? Psychosis can be characterised by a lack of insight and self-awareness, so I’m unsure if it’s possible all, or even some, of the time.
I don’t really know the answer to this just yet. I’ve read a pile of books and had numerous discussions since being diagnosed recently, trying to find this answer. As with many things relating to bipolar, there’s no universal tool which works for everything, every time or everyone. I have heard a few useful tips however that I’m trying to familiarise myself with, to try and protect myself in the future.
Taking something from the darkness
A book I read gave me a great nugget of advice that I’m going to hold on to, and have it ready for the next time this inevitably happens. “Now she recognizes that when she feels committed to these beliefs, it is time to call the doctor.” or in my case, reach out to my support network. Could it be possible for me to realise this commitment to my delusions, objectively? All I can do is remember this line and means test my thoughts when I start to feel the distortions and the darkness.
As painful and dark as these episodes can be, I always try and spend some time afterwards reflecting on them. It would be all too easy to try and run away from them and try to forget, but I feel like I want to utilise my experience and armour myself with the knowledge for next time. It may not be helpful because as we know it changes and evolves, but I have to try. That’s all I can do.