I’m the girl that lives two lives. The mostly put-together one that people see, and the one I hide away with my winter clothes in the leaking garage. I let her visit when I’m alone at home, the lights are out, and nobody will hear me cry.
I use all my energy to come across as “normal” at work, batting emails back and forth like a pro table tennis player. Reports meet deadlines, word counts are adhered to, I rack up the stars on my forehead. I go out with friends and have a few tequilas to entice the bubbly personality out, then crash when I get home because alcohol and meds definitely don’t mix. Crash means to literally race the car of your pretense life into a massive tree. It hurts, you’re stuck, and nobody can see you bleed. You beg God to open his jaws of life again and pull you out the wreck, but most nights you know you have to let yourself be unconscious a while and let your mind take the break it so desperately needs. You cry. You punch the pillow. And eventually you sleep.
When you wrestle with the courage to wake up, it takes everything inside of you to get out of bed, never mind get dressed and walk out the door to face an 8-hour day. The really brave will make eye contact with the mirror and with trembling hands put mascara on (it deters you from crying in the bathroom later at work because the smudges would give you away and ruin your facade), followed by plastering on the fake smile you will need to wear all day. Just like all the ads for long-wearing lipsticks are blatant lies, this red grin has to be reapplied fairly often throughout the day. And, depending on how much stress you need to eat, it can rub off so quickly that sometimes you don’t notice and forget to touch up. Then you get the broken record response from a well-meaning colleague: “Are you OK?”
And of course, you answer: “Yeah, I’m totally fine (insert reapplied lipstick smile). Just focussed on my closing comment to this report. Can’t wait for the party later”
We cannot let the crazy out until parole kicks in after 5, and tears are only allowed in 30-minute stints when your head hits the pillow. It’s exhausting to keep all the moods in their stacked boxes, when all you want to do is collapse on top of them and see them scatter across the room, spilling out all their dirty insides. Keeping the lie alive means killing something else instead. And that is why death creeps up on us – something has to give. You wish the car and tree were real, that the blade would go deep enough this time, that the meds and alcohol would finally find their perfect mix.
But, and this is a huge BUT, I am still deeply grateful. It could be a hell of a lot worse. I am still considered a “high functioning” bipolar bear. There are beautiful people in my tribe who have been dealt a more shitty deal in life. They didn’t get the lipstick, and they don’t have the luxury of waiting to let their emotions run free after hours. Sometimes clinics become second homes and it’s no secret to anyone that they are in distress. Reality comes and goes. The only perk I can see in that deck of cards is the ironic joker free pass – they get help. And if they’re really lucky, people reach out and hold them when they cry.
The high cost of being “high functioning” is that no one hears you, no one notices you and seldom does anyone feel it necessary to help you… when you are apparently so able to help yourself.” – www.healthcentral.com
Until very, very recently I thought I had no choice but to negotiate those Sliding Doors every day – getting on and off the train, switching faces depending on which side of the door I was on. I will never want sympathy pats on the back, I don’t want awkward silences, and I am not shouting a “poor me” from the rooftops. But I am starting to be myself around others, even when I can only handle the discomfort of this new habit a few minutes a day. But, most importantly, I choose to stop hiding behind a cardboard cut-out of shame. That will never be real.
On the 1st October 2015 (a short month ago), I “came out” and introduced the world to the skeleton in my closet. It’s public. My friends know. My family knows. My boss knows.
And guess what – not a single person has treated me differently. It has started heartfelt conversations with other Sliding Door passengers sharing their truth too. It has helped those close to me understand the days I appear like an entirely different person (albeit a “high functioning” one).
I feel less alone.
Truth is, I still don’t want someone around when I’m breaking down with the curtains drawn. I don’t want to be treated differently or wrapped in cotton balls of special treatment. I simply no longer wish to live a lie. I want to cut its oxygen so it no longer has power over me.
I have Bipolar Disorder and some days I’m not OK. I still don’t want you to ask if I am though.
I’m the same person I was before you knew.
I’m just more ME.