HOW WOULD you describe having bipolar disorder to a stranger? This is how I would put it:
Bipolar is the equivalent of being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in a race car. The world is simply too slow and people too dull-witted to accommodate you. The initial advantage over one's fellow man inevitably gives way to frustration and occasional rage. Sure, at first you experience the exuberation of weaving in and out of traffic as you leave the world behind in your rearview mirror, but now there are more cars, all closer together, backed up for miles on end. Your engine is revving hard, but you find yourself banging your head against the dash in utter despair because you are desperate to pop the clutch and floor it, but all you can do is hopelessly idle and suck other people's fumes.
Or it can be the very opposite. This time you are the one standing still. The mind, once engaged in a certain activity, finds it impossible to switch off into another one. One finds oneself staying in the shower until the water in the tank runs cold or staring off into space as if in a trance. As for getting out of bed, forget it - one is effectively bound to the mattress.
We may associate bipolar disorder with mood swings back and forth from mania to depression, but in truth the major characteristic of this illness is its capacity to bend time in ways that even Einstein failed to comprehend. When everything is going right, the optimum ratio of their time to your time is something like one to two. You can think faster, react faster, and produce faster. If I were a batter facing a pitcher, I would be able to see the seams of the ball coming at me, and calculate the trajectory of the object as I leisurely brought my bat around in anticipation of a satisfying smack.
Ah, the manic high, that satisfying smack.
But things never stay the same. Inevitably, the clock speeds up or winds down. In speedy mode, this time as a batter I swing at the ball way too early, but I have time to swing at it again and yet again. "What's the matter with you, ball!" I rage in a white heat. "What's taking so goddamn long?" By now I have completely forgotten about the ball as I take out my anger on the bat, the ground, or, heaven forbid, the person nearest to me.
Nothing goes right in this state of time. Every rock, every tree, everything God has placed on earth has turned against me and me alone. People conspire to make my life miserable, computers find new ways to throw up error codes, numbers and their values change right before my very eyes, and being placed on hold is enough to reduce me to tears.
But then we have those time standing still moments - those times in the shower and under the covers. Yet, time also stands still in the midst of feverish activity. In another piece, on the act of writing, I noted: "When I'm in full flight there is no time and space. The sun takes its leave, booming music falls mute, and the steaming hot cup of tea by my side is stone cold when I pick it up a minute later."
Walking into company in this frame of time can be an out-of-world experience, for you are there, completely in your own moment, but not theirs.
So what state of time will it be today? Forget about the terms manic-depression and bipolar. Let's instead give this thing a name that truly represents its characteristics - bichronicity.
Yes, I am proud to say, I am bichronic. I experience the full spectrum of time, from warp speed to standing still. In the past, I never knew which state of time I would turn up in, day to day, minute to minute. This tended to make my life somewhat unpredictable. I recall as a law student kicking the pants out of the slickest lawyer in town and in other situations being unable to respond to a simple question. I've gone from recluse to life of the party to social embarrassment, from hyperproductive to plain lazy, from being totally on top of the situation to being completely out of it.
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These days, my medications tend to hold my time in check and make my life more predictable. Sure, I would love to have my optimum time back, but they haven't invented a pill that can keep it in place forever. I still have my still-time, which is a great advantage when I write, but is my bane when I try to get out of bed. Thankfully those frightening warp speed times have largely receded. Still, learning to live on other people's time requires a bit of adjustment.
All in good time, though, all in good time.
Reviewed Jan 18, 2016