When we first started to talk on Facebook, I didn’t mention my bi-polar diagnosis.
I didn’t mention that I had been religiously swallowing a hefty dose of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications for several years, and that I needed the pills to stop myself from tripping over into a starless void.
I knew that, if things kept going the way they were going (and I knew they were going good because I could make you laugh) I would have to reveal the wreckage of my mind. I would have to sit you down, with a cup of impossibly strong black coffee, and tell you the truth – that I was mentally ill.
But back then, when we were learning about the little things, like the fact neither of us liked liquorice, but we thought Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was the shit, I was too happy. I was too busy falling in love with you to mention that which tragically guided so much of my life.
I was too busy enjoying the stability our conversations brought to my mood. My mood hadn’t been so consistently ‘up’ in eons. I didn’t want to ruin anything by mentioning something so ‘high risk’ as a bi-polar disorder diagnosis. I wanted you to think I could do it all and more. I liked you far much too much to watch you close your Skype window and delete me from your contacts on Facebook.
So I kept it quiet, I kept it hidden, not thinking that, if you would have wanted to, you could have Googled me and, in seconds, found reams of content detailing the struggles I’ve had with my mental health since my early teens.
I can’t remember exactly when I finally told you about my illness, about my manic and depressive moods, about my erratic energy levels and inability to sometimes do the most simplest of day-to-day things, like clean my teeth. But I can remember that I stopped taking my medication in early springtime, when the very last of the snow was melting from the forest trails, because I trusted my happiness enough to say goodbye to my daily feast of chemicals.
You accepted my illness with so much grace, and life was gorgeous for a while. My brain and I cooperated. For a few weeks, my mood was stable. I was all about sweet kisses, catching the days with you and smiling so hard and so long it defied all logic.
But then, one morning, happiness slipped away as quietly as it had arrived, and I was dropped into the gaping mouth of withdrawal. I groped my way through the side effects that came with going cold turkey. I vomited like I was having an affair with a bottle of whisky, shook and sweated with a fever that should have sent me to the morgue.
I didn’t come out from the withdrawal feeling like I’d made it past the horizon, and that everything was going to be ok, maybe even better than it had been when I was happy the last time. Instead, I felt like my head was saying things I couldn’t trust
I was terrified. My anxiety was stabbing holes in my self-esteem at every given opportunity. I started sleeping all the time, sleeping like I’d been hexed. No sooner had I got out of bed, did I need to crawl back in, unable to stay awake to finish boiling water for tea.
But still I tried to move forward.
I was trying to get to grips with your language, to hold it down long enough so that I could maintain a simple conversation with you in your native tongue. I was trying to win over your toddler daughter’s heart. I was trying to carve out my career with my pen, like I had been doing for years and for years and for years, and prove to you that I could turn my words into currency, currency enough that we could food shop for the week without sliding into debt.
Everything got worse before it got better. My depressive episodes left me in the dark. I would smile when I needed to smile but I felt numb, like I’d been left naked out on ice overnight. I would cry more often than I wouldn’t.
My manic episodes were blurred flashes. I forgot things, important things, like birthdays, like turning the stove off, like locking the front door. I would go for days on a couple of hours sleep, my brain too wired to let me rest. I started a hundred million things, believing I could accomplish everything and anything I wanted to. I made shitty judgements and foolish decisions. I spent money I didn’t have on things I didn’t really need. I lost, for a while, my ability to read from my favourite books, without my thoughts spiraling off and leaving me needing to repeat the page and repeat the page and repeat the page.
My behaviour confused you, left you wondering where that strong, confident, independent woman you had known before had disappeared to. It was hard for you to fathom my deterioration. I wanted to tell you that woman was still there, you just had to look harder if you wanted to see her.
Yet, despite everything, you have hung in there. You have hung in when so many other would have run out of love, run out of patience, run out of the bravery it takes to be with someone whose moods are as unpredictable as an Icelandic summer.
I know life with me isn’t easy. I know there is a lot of fumbling up mountains in the dark for the both of us, and I know there are plenty more mountains that we will need to ascend. But I believe in us, I believe that no matter how difficult the ascent, if we stay close and strong and have each other’s backs, the descent from the mountains will be worth the horrors we encountered on the way up, and who knows, perhaps the mountains may one day become nothing but molehills which hardly even break our stride.