I am forty-five years old.
I was diagnosed with bipolar illness about 13 years ago. Diagnoses of PTSD and anxiety and ADHD came later. Ah, the salad, the stew, the soup of neurotransmitters… Those last three diagnoses changed my life dramatically, though it is only in the last year that my mood has truly been managed well. Only in the last year that the world seems like both a beautiful and wounded place altogether. Beautiful, if not aflame.
My brother, in his Poem of the Day for 10 September, quoted Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Pond,” in which she contemplates the gorgeous imperfection of the beautiful. I excerpt it here:
“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.”
Before my diagnosis of bipolar illness, I often did “float a little / above this difficult world.” I did look “into the white fire of a great mystery.” Almost all the time.
Goddex: Male, Female, Both, and Neither–as as close to me as my skin, as close as breath. As close, as Muslims say, as my jugular vein, as close as life itself. I saw Her in mySelf. The world glittered and glowed as though sunlight poured through an eternal canopy of maple and tulip poplar.
And, along with this glory came irresistible risk taking. I thought I was invincible, though I wouldn’t have said I believed that at the time. I was just living my life! (Doesn’t everyone?) I was just hearing the deadly, persecutory voices. (Doesn’t everyone?) I just sought out more and more sensation, more and more intensity. (Doesn’t everyone?) I just flirted with people and charmed people and lured myself into beautiful, shimmering sex with person after person, man, woman, a couple in between., and one who had been another. (Doesn’t everyone?)
In some ways, imagination aside, one only knows one’s own life. One’s family system is just the the way families are, right? One’s parents are just what parents are, right?
I mean, sure, I felt different, special, permanently broken and meant for glory–both. I was told over and over again how I had all the potential in the world. (How I came to hate that word, “potential”!) I was an underachiever with bipolar grades–A’s and F’s. “Catie, what’s wrong?” teachers asked me, and I had no answers for them. I only knew that what I loved, I loved and what I didn’t, what was boring, was intolerable.
I’ve written here before about the importance of thunderstorms in my life. How I walked with no top on through the rain when I was a kid, delighted and yelling back at the thunder and the lightning arcing through the clouds and through my heart. The storms always seemed like echoes of myself. Tumultuous. Loud. Irresistible. Troubling. Sometimes leaving a grey heaviness behind, and sometimes a seemingly impossibly sunny reprieve.
For years, I wanted to be struck by lightning and live to tell the tale. (Doesn’t everyone? I mean, after all, I know two people who have!)
I thought being struck by lightning and seeing the blood vessels in the body stand out proud and terrifying would be the height of my life “lived in El Marko,” as a dear friend once said.