The River I Flee to When My Mind Tries to Kill Me

The River I Flee to When My Mind Tries to Kill Me

During my depressive bipolar cycles, a river is what remains in my mind. Always. The sea, now that you can forget — the way the wind ruffles the surface or falls calm like a lake — but a river is what remains after my memory of it has seemingly passed, even after my imagination stops adorning it with riffles and dark wet holes and oxbow lakes. It lingers.

I am an Alaskan woman in love with a river. I love the muskeg along the banks of that river, the crooked black spruce that struggle for the sky but always fail, their bark wet with the effort, their limbs broken from the start by their own soggy roots. In Alaska, muskeg means a river is nearby. In the case of my very own river, the Delta Clearwater, it means it is flowing, slow and cold and spring-fed, somewhere beneath the tundra at my feet, and somewhere beneath where my grandparents built my family’s rickety old cabin….

A previous blog post of mine has been published on The Mighty. You can read more of it here: https://themighty.com/2018/01/suicidal-delta-clearwater-river-helps-me/

Self-Tracking: Moving Forward After a Bipolar Episode

Self-Tracking: Moving Forward After a Bipolar Episode

Remorse after a bipolar episode can cause tremendous pain, but when everybody else says “don’t look back,” I say: “look.”

I once read a book about tracking animals, and when I lived for several months on the edge of the enormous Chugach State Park in Alaska, I tracked a snowshoe hare in the alder thickets along the side of a popular hiking trail.

Read more of my blog article at bphope.com https://www.bphope.com/blog/self-tracking-moving-forward-after-a-bipolar-episode/

The Bipolar Superhero

Maybe if I can control it, I can use it to help humankind. –The Incredible Hulk

I stood at the base of a mountain, its peak hidden from view, as sleet crept under my collar. Giant, wet snowflakes hit my cheek. There was some semblance of clarity that morning, for the first time in days. The clarity engendered a sliver of hope. I began to hope that I may, again, stretch my hand up and into the sky.

The night before, as I lay on the bed on my back, I wrote it on the ceiling with my mind: “Try harder. Try harder and you will make it.” I have tried so hard that I have often crumpled under my own effort. I have tried so hard that, at times, I made myself even sicker. Over the years, I tried to not only break my illness as if it were a willful animal, but to somehow control it so that I could still ride the waves of my grandiose childhood dreams.

Before I had no control over the bipolar cycles, when I was in my teens, I used my capacity for trying hard, for working hard, to improve myself. I was like any child who wanted to be a superhero, except I wanted to save humankind with the written word. My words would someday change the world, I thought, if only I tried enough. And so, I trained. I read every classic piece of literature I could get my hands on. I wrote up to four times a day in my journal. I practiced, over and over again.

Of course, these thoughts would later be labeled manic “delusions of grandeur” or grandiose delusions, GDs, for short. My GDs were gorgeous, floral, ethereal things and, like acid flashbacks, refuse to be erased. Most children grow out of their desire to be a superhero, because they realize it’s not possible. But for me, it still—at forty years old—seems possible. Just out of reach, yes, but possible.

In the past few months, and after decades of hiding my writing, I finally decided to share my words with the world. I want to use words to help people—people like me who simply want to survive yet another bipolar day, and those who also occasionally want to be a superhero in their own lives. I want to engender that sliver of hope in them, too, that during their times of clarity, they also can share, and, slowly, carefully reach for the sky.

Although I go to a job every day and take several psychiatric drugs so that I can function and to quiet my secret, seminal desires, I still am occasionally mesmerized by a mountain and the thought that perhaps, one day I could still become a superhero.

 

 

 

 

Read my Essay on OC87 Recovery Diaries– Bipolar Disorder: Never Giving Up

On the rivers I used to float upon in western Alaska, I liked to just eat the peanut butter out of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. There was just too much chocolate in the whole thing for me. As I sat on the edge of the big rubber raft in my waders and wading jacket, I would fling each piece of extra chocolate into the ripples below. A velvety gift to whoever fancied it.

Read more at http://oc87recoverydiaries.com/bipolar/

 

An introduction– my history

This is a chapter (actually, the prologue, from my unpublished book, The Smartest Girl in the World). There is my history, and then there is the mythology of my history. Mon histoire. My story. You can’t extract the myth from the facts. They grow together, like the weed entangled with the peony. My history is incomplete without the mythology I wound around every single day, as each day ended, and my eyes closed, and my mind created its own story of the day. My mythology is what I felt, what I saw, what I thought I saw, what I felt like doing, but perhaps never did.

You can call it memory, or you can call it mythology. It could be the simple fact that a mentally ill memory is both true and false. That is the nature of it. After I became ill, illness grew like tree roots around the base of my brain. I can’t separate them. Illness added hyperbole; I remember flying when of course I never flew; I remember crouching when I never crouched; I remember being at war when I never fought.

My sister and my parents all say that I remember things from our childhood that nobody else does, that I confused books with reality, that I made situations up in my imagination. I think more likely it was that certain moments loomed large in my imagination, and as they grew in meaning, they rolled like the proverbial snowball, until they were so big they became my formative memories. I can’t help what I remember, and I can’t help what has since gathered so much meaning that I must write it.

It—my story—begins with my father. To my hungry little brain, he was my mentor, and he trained me to be a writer, and if not a writer, then he suffered me to think. My sister might laugh at this, at my grand-standing, at my self-absorption, at my seeing intellectual romance in the most meaningless of details, in a normal childhood, in a normal home. We are given one life, and in each life, I could craft ten thousand stories, and each story would only be as true as memory can make it. They are all lies, and they are all the truth. To my sister I would say there is a story for each of our given days, for each of our scars, for each of her tattoos, and as human beings, I could tell a fairy tale for each one, and in each one there would be truth to one and lies to another. Of the ten thousand threads that weave themselves through a life, this is just one, and I chose it because it is the one that holds me tightest. It is as true as any other thread, and because this is the thread of a crazy life, it is as crazy as I remember it.

Today, I am mentally ill. I am supposedly bipolar, type 1 but my current doctor thinks I am bipolar, type II. I’m given accommodations in my job and I take these amazing little pills that keep me alive. 100 years ago, on the other side of the world, I might have died of suicide in my twenties, alone, in a prison-like institution. 1000 years ago, when the Catholic Church was catholic in the West, I could have burned through a short life, filled with visions of God walking next to me, or appearing to me while I walked alone through the forest. People might have followed me, listening to me while God spoke through me, burning my mouth as I spoke. I could have been a saint. I could have been a heretic. 5000 years ago, here on the same dirt I stand in today, I may have been a shaman, a medicine woman, a caller of visions. Or I may have been a demon, exiled from the tribe, sent to die alone on the edge of the forest.

During my freshman year of college, at Georgetown University, I learned about memory, and a smattering about mental illness. There were about sixty students in psychology 101, in an old building that reminded me of a small castle. My professor taught us that our memory of every event is touched by the emotion we felt when the memory was made. When we are sad, we remember sad events. When we are happy, we remember happy things. Of course.

When I am sick, I’ve always been sick. I was born sick, I was sick in the womb. When I am well, I can’t imagine the feeling of being triggered by the same event that once made me crumble. When it is summer in Alaska, it’s almost impossible to paint the green sides of the mountains white, or to imagine the feeling of 30 below zero when the sun is warm and the air is full of the noise of insects.