Navigating bipolar depression.

“Imagine yourself standing alone by the shore, your body engulfed in darkness, your eyes struggling to see the water before you and the tips of your toes being brushed by the chilling cold of the ocean water. You feel the cool droplets of rain hitting your body, gradually quickening in pace and further obstructing your vision. You desperately try to feel your way around but there is nothing but darkness behind you and only the black depths of the water in front of you. Your body is bare and you have nothing and no one in your employ to navigate your way back to safety. Nothing but yourself and the thought that maybe, just maybe, there might be some way out of this if only you can muster the will to find the answer. You begin to blink suddenly for where there was no light before, you are suddenly bathed in the rays of moonlight that were previously hidden to you. The rain ceases and with a newfound understanding you see again that there is only darkness behind you. You cannot turn back. You must look forward and brave the dark and unforgiving waters now to find your way. You take a small step forward and feel the water winding itself around your ankles like a vine. It is freezing and your body begins to shudder violently from the cold.”

Well. It’s been two years since I wrote that introduction (or anything on here really) and it’s interesting because I had forgotten all about it but the associations that I perceive between the ocean and bipolar disorder are still prevalent today. And quick side note, when did this website become so difficult to navigate? I feel like I need a WordPress for dummies book to fall into my lap. Help! Ha.

Back to the ocean. I’m not sure when the connection was first made, but it’s easy to ascertain that there is a strong affinity between the harsh openness of the sea and that of the sometimes overwhelming emotions of bipolar disorder. Often when I picture my own feelings, I see them as a force heading toward me, similar to a powerful wave that charges towards you at the beach. Sometimes you are prepared for the wave and sometimes you are swept up in the brisk and alarming thwack of the moment. And so too can our ups and downs, our positives and negatives that run their course through our lives make us feel.

Recently I have been fortunate enough to start a new journey; stopping my lithium treatment (with lots of help).

I chose to do this because it felt like the right time. I have been consistent in my moods under the guidance of my doctors and with lots of support from family and friends for several years and so I made the choice to see how I would fare without medication. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that this is a really huge step for anyone who has been on medication and stable on that medication for a long time and the decision to stop treatment should not come lightly. Furthermore, it is inadvisable to cease any form of medication without consulting your doctor first. We are now over two months into the process and still not fully off the medication but definitely on the right path towards that goal (hooray!). That being said the process has certainly been a testing one and once more my brain turned toward the concept of the ocean to process the whole thing. I found myself using this imagery to draft the story of a person more or less overwhelmed by their immediate circumstances and woefully attempting to navigate new waters.

A very large part of me had hoped, more like prayed that this transition would be smooth sailing. I saw the open waters ahead and took it as sign that I could set sail without storm. The clear skies captivated me, acting as a warm plea to edge further in. The still blue water before me glittered like a jewel, and my eagerness to grasp it with my bare hands was overwhelming. My feet were buried in the sand, naive in their consistent comfort, engulfed in a sense of calm by the familiarity of the feeling. The sand moved between my toes like the soft caress of a mother, guiding me on my path. I tasted the saltines of the sea on my lips, enraptured by the rawness of it; my senses awakened. My courage ruptured and I lurched forward, forcing myself into the shore. Head first I threw my body into the cold and unforgiving waters. The water attacked like a knife, frigid in its cool and inhospitable temperament. Still full with the promise of hope I braved the water, unaware of the impending calamity and laborious battle and mark that I had placed upon my own head. Where I should have discovered solid ground I was instead met with a deep nothingness. My feet fluttered in panic, desperately searching for rock, sand, anything to propel myself from the looming depths below. With alarming difficulty I gathered my thoughts and recollected that I knew how to swim. My heart raced and my breaths quickened with the adrenaline of survival. I braced and began to steady myself, slowly breaking the surface and taking in a lungful of crisp air. My body weary, it shook with cold and ached with exhaustion as it had tried to stop itself from immediately drowning. Glancing around at my surroundings I became aware that the shore was no longer visible in my line of sight. My course was unclear and there was no way to retreat. Then the waves began to hit. Over and over, fiercely and ferociously they crashed into me, breaking bone and tearing flesh. Each wave hit with a force more dominant than the last, stripping me of any dregs of optimism that my feeble body and mind would prevail. Battered and bruised I powerlessly challenged each wave as they hit. I clung to the seconds of fresh air, gasping, broken, each time submerging and plunging deeper and further into a world of darkness and unknown. The world faded from my eyes and the clear jewels that once shone reflected in them now closed with the promise of emptiness. Was this the end?

Looking back it is evident that I was feeling fairly woeful when I drafted that story. But the writing process really helped me achieve a level of clarify and calm that otherwise was not forming in the connections in my brain. I ended my heroines journey with a question because right now I don’t have the answer to it. Some days are difficult and others are not. Some days are filled with laughter and others tears. I am still learning to navigate the waters and I have no considerable idea when or if they will ever feel easy to swim in. But I swim. I keep myself afloat. That is all we can ask of ourselves each day. We are unfortunate in that most things in life will be beyond our control and with that comes great acceptance and patience that I believe many of us will spend a lifetime trying to achieve. But believing in ourselves is something we can do, every day, unerringly. The world is a terrifying body of water and none of us should be afraid to wear our floaties and ask for help learning to swim.

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