Next to Normal is a Broadway show that came out a couple of years ago. Diana, the protagonist, has bipolar disorder, and the story revolves around her seeking and experiencing different treatments in an attempt to resolve her demons. I haven’t seen it yet – I missed it when it was in Toronto. I’ve just eaten up Youtube clips and lyrics pages. I’m a little afraid of seeing it; it looks so emotional I don’t know if I could come out with my head screwed on straight. Some of the lyrics feel like a punch in the stomach.
I don’t have bipolar disorder, nor am I the writer. I can’t say if it’s accurate or real. But what speaks to me the most is not the picture of suffering (which it attempts to avoid), it’s the questions it asks: does treatment change who we are? Do current treatments actually solve one’s problems? Is our mental illness part of who we are? Should we try to get rid of it?
The song that sticks with me from clips is I Miss the Mountains. Diana is struggling with how calm she feels, how ‘perfect’ and plain, and throws away all her medications, desperate to get back to her real self with real feelings and energy.
I always wonder, am I really like this? I feel like I’ve forgotten who I am. When I first started on antidepressants, within a week I felt like I had woken up. The terror and sleepiness and hate literally felt pulled away or lifted, and I was suddenly like a fresh crocus springing for sunlight and stretching my petals, free from frost and earth, breathing at last. There was a reason for living. I remembered how I used to think spring was beautiful, how I liked laughing children, how little things could make me smile, how I could be with myself at peace. It was a miracle drug for me at the time, and for all that I resisted taking it for 3 months prior, I have to agree with the decision in hindsight.
But as my medications had to be altered, new ones added, doses changed, my symptoms began to come back, and I began to feel angry again, stressed, and frustrated. My earlier depression had been exhaustion, despair, and worry. Now I was hurting myself physically, and lashing out again at my boyfriend. I began to feel like a whirlwind, confused and upset, and alien. When I started on Seroquel, it all went back into sleepiness. And within a year there we were, almost back where we started, only kind of stupid-happy.
I’m exaggerating. My psychiatrist is amazing and will only work with my decisions. I do think that this has overall been for the better. But I don’t want to be on meds indefinitely. There’s something wrong. There’s something missing. Somewhere, in all these peaceful waters, I’m floating and remembering that I want to try whitewater rafting. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or my illness tricking me into destruction! I don’t know I don’t know. But the water feels like syrup sometimes, clouds other times, and I want water, fresh cool water with waves and winds, sunset and sunrise, whales and kelp and this metaphor has gone to far because what the hell is kelp doing in my brain but nevermind.
I know this isn’t right. I know, I feel, I am not all here. I don’t feel like this is who I was when I grew up. There’s energy missing, and feelings and thoughts and I don’t know where they’ve gone. It’s subtle. I almost can’t remember anymore. I’ve been on medications for over a year and half. I’m not sure what I used to be. Is this nostalgia? Is this madness? Foolishness? What if, if I stop meds, I was wrong, and this is me, and this is what I am – is that ok? I don’t – no, I don’t think it is.
How can I subject other people to my rampant emotions so willfully again? But how can they take me away from myself? Ack.
Medication keeps mental illness from defining who you are. Or does it? Maybe the cures start defining you for yourself even more than the symptoms.