compassion & care, mental health & illness

Esmé, age 2, in a hat and dress that her mother sewed

My thoughts have been all over the place, lately, so please forgive me for the fragmentation.

Last week was both momentous and ordinary. My younger brother and only sibling married his fiancee at City Hall on Thursday. A small group of witnesses, including myself, stood with them in the City Hall rotunda while a judge wed them. I cried and cried during the vows; I cried so hard that Chris joked that it didn’t even seem like I was happy. I don’t know what the feeling was, either. “Happy” isn’t adequate. I cried out of love, is the only way I can think of to say it.

Almost all of my family, my great, big, extended family, will be in Taiwan this December, including my brother and his new wife, Chris and me, and my parents. The last time I was in Taiwan was the summer before my own wedding — 2009 — and I was so strangely fragile. Everything exhausted me. The smallest outing sent me back to my aunt’s to nap in the nearest bed or on the nearest couch. I ate oyster noodle soup out of tin buckets. The singing garbage truck came by every night for us to run out and dump our garbage. I began TLW in earnest.

Yesterday I finished a book that had a great effect on me: A Perfect Chaos, by Linea and Cinda Johnson. Of all the books that I’ve read about bipolar disorder, this one is, while not the most beautifully written, the most viscerally descriptive of what comes very close to my own experience. And to read it while I’m in a reasonably stable state unnerved me; I’ve said this so many times, but it is frighteningly easy for me to forget how bad things can get, how completely out of my mind I can be, how it wasn’t so long ago that my friends and family were babysitting me on rotation or visiting me at the hospital. Glory be to these days now that surprise me with flashes of joy.

On Saturday Chris and I were invited to a beach house up Highway 1, and there was grilled shrimp and salad and amazing coleslaw, laughter, talk of theology and philosophy, the men and one of our ladyfriends smoking cigars, a cozy fireplace, a cousin making me martinis. I brought my computer, but I didn’t open it. I didn’t check my phone. I had forgotten what it was like to be so relaxed. E, a precocious and adorable red-headed three year old, woke up from his nap, came into the living room and chatted with me, and went out on the beach to his mother, where he told her, “Mommy, I met a pretty lady.” Oh my. I had not felt pretty in months and months. When I went out to join the group outside, he became shy in my presence, covering his face and burrowing into his mom’s arms. How pleased I was!

Two weeks ago, my therapist pointed out that I was behaving significantly differently than she’d ever seen me — laughing, speaking quickly, enthusiastic. Was this my “normal” self, or something more significant? A Perfect Chaos reminded me that bipolar disorder is chronic. I’ve lived with it for over a decade, and I still don’t handle it perfectly. I learn new aspects of this complicated condition all the time. I learn the same lessons over and over again. Every time I have an episode, I feel despair and confusion and I can’t imagine anything different. But as much pain this illness has caused, I’m still so grateful for those who were there, and are here for me.

I love you. I owe my life to you.

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