The anxiety begins as a buzz nearly indistinguishable from the effects of a couple glasses of wine. Its source is somewhere inside your chest, possibly your heart, whose beat is currently cycling between the thrum of a hummingbird’s wings and the slow clop of a Clydesdale. The buzzing slowly fans out, up and through your clavicle and into your shoulders, down into your arms and finally into the fingers, moving restlessly, compulsively pressing the buttons on your phone. It snakes into your belly and wriggles like a living thing, your stomach churning with all the acid in the world. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and settles in your amygdala, activating the very worst of all the fears nested therein: You are unlovable, you are unwanted, now and forever. And all at once the buzzing turns to burning, a raging river of fire slicked with oil. The corrosive metallic taste in the back of your throat will not be relieved by any liquid, nature-made or not.
There is something wrong with you.
You know this; you have known for a very long time. You have been trying to get better for a very long time.
You have done the yoga and de-stressing workshops, divulged the deepest darkest parts of yourself to a total stranger for one hour once a week. You have taken the pills–you are still taking them. You are a veritable walking pharmacy: norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors, antiepileptics, sodium ion channel agonists (or maybe antagonists; you can never keep the two straight).
Your hope is that these drugs and an altered lifestyle– better food, more exercise (both physical and social) –will make you functional. Except you’ve somehow muddled through all this time; it was tough, but you always were functional. You rode out the wobbly highs and catastrophic lows. Perhaps your coping techniques were not what other people would consider “healthy.” But they worked.
The drugs are kind of working. But if you’ve never known a moment’s peace, can’t remember what it was like to have a mind sharp and clear, how do you know when you’re…you?
Because for so long, this has been you. This condition is part of you; you’ve become symbiotically linked. Who are you, if not bipolar? Do you even exist– is there anything under there? And so, despite that urge to get “better,” to live without the leaden heart or fear of happiness, you resist. Those highs and lows are what make you special, you tell yourself. Without them, does your creativity disappear? Will you be able to write like you always have; will your one talent abandon you?
You don’t tell your doctor that you still feel like you can’t get out of bed in the morning, or that sometimes you go weeks without sleeping more than a few hours at a time. You feed him enough tidbits to show you’re better, you smile and joke during appointments. You don’t tell him that every minute, every second, every beat of your heart, there’s a gun pointed at your head, a Beretta 9mm. It is dull and black, heavier in your mind than in practice.
You live your life like you’re on the lam. Your worldly possessions sit, inert, in boxes– no matter how long you’ve lived in this apartment. You balk at the idea of buying furniture, of taking that step toward making this “home.” Home has been taken from you before, and will be again; this you know. Instability rules your world, chasing you from place to place, daring you to look back, forcing you to look forward.
Home. The very idea is both anathema and something you yearn for, an internal struggle within a larger war. It’s people, a feeling in your gut, a certain kind of smell. It’s things, too; people who try to convince you that “home is where the heart is” could not be more wrong. Maybe it’s something you own (a stuffed bear given by your first love); maybe it’s something that just makes you feel (the sight of the Sears Tower) but without these things, we would be adrift.
And you are adrift. You long for connection and fear it at the same time, all that it entails, the vulnerability and sacrifice of your independence. It is less a conscious fear than an instinct, a move you automatically make, diagonal from whatever piece seems to threaten you with any kind of nearness.
So you sit alone and sip whatever toxic cocktail resides in your cabinets, waiting for the ropes to finish fraying.