THE TECHNICAL DIAGNOSIS IS “NON-ACUTE bipolar disorder with hypomania,” but — despite the mollifying modifiers — it feels from the inside like a rainbow rollercoaster circuit through hell and paradise.
This objective assessment, this iron collar which chafes, this ongoing test of self-transcendence is mine by genetic inheritance, but was first revealed to me by a psychiatrist in 2003 following the death of, and my subsequent unstoppable grieving for, a 25-year-longtime friend whose fractured passage brought the disorder rather vividly and inescapably to the foreground of my life.
As you may imagine, these are not easy words to write. (And yes, I’m “on meds.”) But I write them a-purpose: not to join the modern bandwagon of professional breastbeaters, but to lend credibility to my accounts of some fairly remarkable experiences with what may “be” “the Divine” and which may be interesting and perhaps instructive. (Or at least entertaining.)
To wit: When I tell you certain things that may sound crazy, I want you to know why I know the difference. I feel compelled to write them not to convince you of their veracity, but because I’ve learned that when a story wants to write itself the wise man sits back and lets it.
That’s not to say my disorder isn’t filtering what I see and say — but it isn’t the only filter, even if it’s taken me a while to see that. As part of my immediate experience, bipolarity has tripped me up, held me back, isolated and deferred me from much of what I live and love. It has given me an almost preternatural cockiness and despair, a mix of intense thrill-seeking and extreme insecurity; it has also taught me brutal self-honesty, finely honed introspection, close observation of myself and others, a distrust of the psychotherapeutic process and authority in general, stronger skepticism (suspended judgment) in general, an acceptance of the transience of mental states, a solid understanding of the biochemical nature of consciousness/awareness, non-attachment to dogmatic thought, and compassion for the confused.
Except for the days spent watching the minute hand spin, it’s not a bad trade. “Depression” is a misleading word; a better term would be “leadening.” Your arms and legs and torso and head feel like separate, unresponsive entities; as a whole, like being trapped in amber. My mania, on the other hand, is of the mild variety: no mad spending or driving sprees, just an intense feeling of enthusiastic urgency, that anything’s possible and all in the next five minutes. (That’s certainly true and handy for starting projects, not so much for completing them — and it sometimes hampers my face-to-face communications.)
But as Ron White would say, “I told you that story so I can tell you this one.” It doesn’t concern extraterrestrial contact, elevation by angels or appointment by God to the elect: just a series of weirdly unifying visions(1) and overwhelming ecstasies, utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and in whose wake I find a calm and enwholing clarity of a type scarcely communicable. I can’t explain them, except to say that they fit several models: epiphany, theophany, quasi-epilepsy, right-hemisphere awakening. From the inside, they feel like missing pieces being put back together after a long absence; experiential evidence that I am surrounded by and of a piece with Something transcendentally whole. I hope to write more about this in the coming days.
As my disorder is all-encompassing, so too is my “spirituality,” or “sense of God in the world.” I imagine that it’s had to become that, in that “the spiritual” might also be termed “the unifying.” That’s how it manifests to me, anyway — and it’s how I know, or convince myself, that it’s different from the disorder; even while the disorder itself is spiritually instructive. (I sometimes feel as though everything I see has attached to it a “LEARN ME” tag a la Alice in Wonderland. But this hall of mirrors leads into clarity and out of isolation toward a deep and satisfying happiness.)
I spoke earlier of brutal self-honesty and close observation. I’ve come to believe that without these qualities, the earnest “seeker after God” is likely in for self-delusion of some dangerous sort or another. Even with these qualities, self-delusion is possible; but who knows? Only the arrogant will claim that a glimpse equals a grasp, or that the grasp is firm.
In any case, I hope you find this useful. It has been to me; as though I’ve thrown open a door and let sunshine into a place where there was only must and dust and shadows. I hope that light flows both ways.
(1) I call them that because their main aspect is visual. If they were aural, I’d call them … I don’t know what. “Aurons?” “Audions?” Sounds like something out of Dr. Who.