“I want to hold you in a warm Atlantic,
A sea of my own making, a meringue of lapis wine.”
It is bedtime, and I have swallowed my evening cocktail of bipolar drugs: 300 mg of Seroquel, the Lamictal, and, of course, the Clonazepam. The Seroquel silence is seeping in. I have about 20 minutes on this dead-end road. Soon, I will fall asleep, content and comfortable, a pleasant and sleeping “high-functioning bipolar,” but I will not get to think about what happens to that person in the warm waves of the Atlantic or find the rhythm that goes with my lapis wine.
Instead, I will forget about the beginnings of my poem in my own happy oblivion, and tomorrow I will pay the bills, maybe watch my favorite show on Netflix, and I will stop trying to knit these words together.
As I lay my head against the pillow, I slowly forget my own connection with the beauty of words. Somewhere, in the blue-dark recess of my mind, I still know that the way words touch each other entrances me and I remember — somewhere — that I have always, and will always, love them, and the way random, strange, unusual words can touch each other and explode into something striking and beautiful.
My pillow is soft and my eyes grow tired. This slight artistic eruption was simply a chemical hiccup, a moment when the medication lapsed and let me be creative. That little desire to write a poem went shooting off to the edge of my brain and somehow sidestepped the sedative effects of the Seroquel. The shot of drugs somehow missed my artistic moment, those moments that seem to come so rarely now.
I try to think — I wonder to myself — “is ‘meringue’ the right word?” but before I can even process the thought, I am easing off to sleep. How long will these medications hold my head down, staring at the flashing cursor, my mind blank? Or will my longstanding desire to write keep me pushing tentatively into empty corners? I grab at mental shoeboxes, I turn them over, blow the dust off, look for spiders, anything to perpetuate the temporary spark. I search the proverbial attic, wondering… if the drugs have made this house simply too clean to write about.
Will I remember my words tomorrow? I struggle in the throes of my own quiet rebellion. I know that if I fight tonight’s medicated oblivion, then I may cry later on, then I may let the bipolar win, and that I may have a terrible episode. But, on the other hand, if I just let the medicine take over, then something else inside me fails.
When I was sixteen, and my bipolar disorder was budding into its special little manias, when I first read the Tao te Ching and Confucius and Tolstoy’s Confession, when I explored and tried to understand life, I asked myself, over and over: “is it better to live for happiness or meaning?” And I made a decision. I would live for meaning. And by living for meaning, I thought I would never give up my connection with words, and the creative writing that ruled my world. I would read and write, until my mind would finally implode with a bipolar diagnosis, when I was 21 years old.
Tonight, I wonder, as the fog covers that blue-dark sea in my mind, will I only, after all, be mediocre? Is that the ultimate side effect of being medicated? And how can I be a sane and functioning member of my household, and society, and also be a (manic-depressive) poet and writer?
I have spent twenty years battling this question.
I finally fell asleep that night. And somehow, the next day, I remembered my warm Atlantic. But it came at a price. My chemical hiccup resulted, as I thought it might, in a crash, a crying spell, and in that ultimate suffering — a mixed episode. And so, here is the question that has occupied two of my decades: is it worth it? Can the artistic desire exist without the pain, or can our pills — those round little miracles that keep us alive — still allow us to produce art and live meaning-filled lives?