He looks as if he got confused when dressing this morning in his Eddie Bauer hiking boots and his Armani suit. Then I remember the snow and slush I schlepped through on the way to his office. Always ill prepared for wintry weather, or just too stubborn to buy hideous boots, I sit on his leather couch, nervously shaking my wet, tennis shoed foot, legs crossed, pillow clutched protectively in front of me and my demons. For $135, we are reviewing my meds today.
On more than one occasion, it’s been pointed out that I “present” well. This psychological jargon translates into: me, looking just fine. By some unconscious effort, perhaps I do act in that manner. Still, no Oscar, or the riches that accompany it, arrives in my mail box. Go figure. Indeed, I am in grand shape. This is the only shape that I know. The nickname “Sunshine” found me some years ago and from my vantage point, my glass really is perpetually half full. I suppose it stands to reason, though, that it must therefore be partially empty. I generally resist that notion whenever I can.
I am aware I have not showered and my hair loudly announces that fact. As he looks through my folder and chats, I glance down at my too-tight navy sweat pants that I vaguely recall dressing in. Under other circumstances, I might be embarrassed by my appearance. But I care more about how soon I can get home and go back to the safety of my bed than what he might think of my fashion sense.
I do not have the energy to be engaged in conversation today. He sounds a little like that teacher in Charlie Brown TV specials…
Blah blah blah blah Bipolar Blah blah blah blah.
He talks more but despite my herculean efforts to focus, I hear still just one word. Bipolar.
Is that all? What a relief.
I have nothing against open-minded bears willing to experiment!
A lifelong, mental illness? Oh, I see.
An exquisitely framed Harvard medical degree hangs on the wall across from my safe place on his couch. I am still and numb. Surely this well-intentioned professional, whom I have known for over 10 years, has to exercise a medical/therapeutic muscle now and again. Anyhow, everyone’s entitled to an off day and he is surely having one.
Still stunned, I sit in my car in the CVS parking lot. Unfolding, unfolding, unfolding the impossibly tiny paper insert. (Is there a warehouse in some Third World country where exhausted, undercompensated women sit and fold these tissue paper pamphlets for 18 hours a day?) I don’t know what I’m looking for but I am determined to become an informed and educated patient. I am on a mission to prove off-day-doc wrong. I am also searching for some comfort hidden between the chemical makeup diagrams and the usual “do not take if you are nursing” warnings (I checked. I am pretty sure that is not a problem). Somewhere in all the medical jargon, it will say “Les, this medication is not for you.”
After much eyestrain studying print a dust mite couldn’t make out, I am now enlightened to be on the lookout for a potentially deadly rash. I go back into CVS and grab a tube of hydrocortisone cream. Just in case. As I drive away, I imagine other commuters swerving and spinning; their cars out of control – blinded by my new scarlet letter – by the words emblazoned across my forehead….Crazy Chick.
Many months later, clarity began to arrive like dissipating fog from a steamy mirror. Like any loss (and in my view, a loss of somehow being “normal”) one is dragged, kicking and screaming, through all the stages of grief.
Shock and Denial: Dr. Off- Day is a flake.
Anger: I’m suing.
Bargaining: Dear God, I promise to quit swearing and taking packets of Equal from work.
Depression: Now that’s funny.
Acceptance: I’m at peace. OK Really? Not so much.
It took an excruciating year for me to find my crayons and connect a few dots, making even the loosest connection with my diagnosis. After my Crayola moment, I ferociously took on the timely and often expensive task of educating myself. I am now versed on everything from Bipolar I to Bipolar II to, thank God for my position on the BP spectrum, what’s sometimes referred to as “soft” bipolar. I like this fluffed-up term they use for “a little bipolar.”
Scholarly as I was, it took even longer to utter the words to anybody outside of my doc’s office walls.
Like a nervous teenager, pre-date, practicing in front of the mirror I stood…
“Hi! I’m Bi-polar”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Bi-polar”
I have found, and continue to find, that much of what makes me up – what characteristics I have are connected to bipolar disorder. And you know what? I like many of them. I just don’t know one thing, though: What in the world will I write on my Match.com profile?