If I was a boat right now, I’d have an engine. A big, fat, highly-powered engine that you can’t turn off. I don’t know enough about engines to elaborate on that any further, but I trust you get my drift.
Last week at work, I had about 300 tabs open on my computer, few of which were particularly relevant to women’s rights, and I was flicking between them, quickly, from one side of the screen to the other, back and forth, gurning, without actually looking at or reading anything. I don’t know how long this went on for but at some point I realised what I was doing. It wasn’t the first time. This behaviour has been coined by a dear friend as “The Social Media Sweats” (TSMS) and is usually but not always accompanied by a usually but not always obnoxious stream of consciousness via the nearest available outlet.
I did a check. I had slept an hour and a half the previous night, and hadn’t eaten anything but crabsticks for two days. I had set alarms on my phone every half an hour, which prior to TSMS had kept me to a strict regime of writing, socialising, work and life admin. I looked in my diary at the excerpt I had written the night before. It began:
“Things are so good. It’s happening so fast. Every moment I’m spending here is a precious gift. It’s like summer for the first time. Nothing is enough.” Excellent.
I started to panic, not because I hadn’t eaten or slept – I can make up for that (and OH I WILL) – but because the thought that the productivity, positivity, discipline and creativity I have been experiencing since moving onto my boat was the product of an altered mental state, a manic episode that is unsustainable (to put it mildly), was truly gutting and completely terrifying. That it could all be snatched away from me. That I could wake up one day soon, realise I have to walk ten minutes for a shower and wonder what the fuck I’ve done with my life.
The thoughts flooded in, as they often do during this period of self-regulation and transition into independent living. What if I’m not stable after all? What if I have only managed to cope with the move, the weird angle I have to sit on the toilet and the nights alone because I’ve been buoyed by the relentless energy, confidence and OPTIMISM that mania brings me. What if I’m about to crack?
I ran out of the office convinced I was about to implode and called Hilary, my angel (occupational therapist) from heaven (the NHS). I’m really into ‘Hilaries’ at the moment. I’m reading a book called ‘Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Wanted To Know About Bipolar But Were Too Freaked Out To Ask’ by one Hilary Smith and it’s just awesome. So funny, so helpful, by far the best book I’ve read on bipolar. I’ll review it when I run out of things to say.
Hilary took me seriously as always, told me she had seen this coming, and recommended I go home to eat and sleep, which I did, hyper-aware all the way that with every step I took I was making the pavement ripple. I felt like I was in a music video with low-budget special effects, against my will. Which is strange because on what universe would I not want to be in a music video with low budget special effects? It was uncomfortable.
Validation is important because it stops you feeling like a dick. It staves off the constant fear that actually, you’re just an attention seeker, or that anyone who pathologised themselves as much as you have begun to would also have a chronic mental illness. I get validation from some family and friends when I look into their eyes or listen to the tone of their voice, from my doctors who have always taken this more seriously than I have, from the drugs that have an undeniable effect on my ability to function, and from the experiences I have that do not occur for the vast majority of (sober) people. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when later that evening, as I walked down a dirt path towards my boat, I saw a thick python moving slowly towards me. Turns out this hallucination was just what I needed. I ran so hard and so fast that I had to sleep for two days just to recover.
I awoke to yet another breath-taking day, and as I clamboured out of my boat to greet it, as I do every morning, I saw another boat coming towards me, steered by a very handsome couple wearing matching sunglasses. “WE WIN!” I shouted to them as I fist pumped the air. They ignored me.
In other boating news, heavy rain while you’re on the boat is basically a spiritual experience. Slugs are the new spiders, which is good because I think they’re less inclined to crawl into your ear and lay eggs, but is bad because they leave snail trail EVERYWHERE including on my clothes and I’m beginning to look like the snotty kid at primary school and I was a lot of things but I was not that kid. I’m growing sunflowers and they make me want to puke every time I look at them. I spend most of my time feeling like a happy dog.
I’m still not sure why I’m doing this, or if I’m going to regret disclosing all this personal information, or if I’ll keep it up, or who I’m talking to. But on the off chance that there’s someone there, and that person feels like they will never be happy again – like they have lost themselves and the person they have been trying to make decent/clever/funny/kind for 15 or 25 or 55 years has dissolved and left just a shell – I promise you, you are still there. It doesn’t feel like it now, but one morning you will wake up and you will feel OK about it.