My illness is my superpower

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Disclaimer: SickNotWeak does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

A few years ago, my son did a TED talk which deeply impacted me. Here is my story of it.

“I’m bipolar but I’m not crazy and never was. I’m stark raving sane.” — uncredited

Growing up in dysfunction which was a breeding ground for very poor mental health, it never actually occurred to me that there could be a reason for much of my suffering and difficulties. I took it without question. This was a big mistake because, when I was in my early 40s (I am now 67) I imploded, asked questions, and went screaming for help.

On the surface, it seemed that all was fine and I was just another mid-life crisis for a spoiled Jewish princess mama. Not satisfied with this bullshit, I found myself catapulted into the medical system with its dubious knowledge of mental health issues, particularly mood disorders. While in the depths of a major depressive state (like I am now, waiting for the first frost which will boot it out) I got an appointment with a psychiatrist.

I took it without question.

After determining that I was clearly depressed presently, his suggestion was to fill up my head with a pharmacy of medication and “call him in the morning.” He valiantly tried all sorts of meds and seemed stumped that I was never any better by that proverbial morning.

I always sensed that he felt my inability to be cured by all the meds was somehow an indictment of him and his profession. He never seemed to get all of me, just the symptomatic me. I don’t believe he ever really saw me either. He tried every medicine in his arsenal. He was responsible about it too-recognizing that what might be good for my head was certainly not good for my liver, kidneys, libido and even heart, so along with the meds were the regular requisitions for Dracula to take blood as needed to check all these other parts. My head became a pharmacy and my skin became a pin cushion.

When I landed in the emergency department of the Clarke in a clear state of mania and needed a bum full of medications to counteract all the other meds so that I may be able to sit and perhaps eat (at this point I also had a roaring eating disorder, caused in part by the meds)it was finally determined that I was the proud owner of bi polar disorder and that basically it was mine to medicate and live with-no other options available or suggested. It was a life sentence, with instructions to be a good girl, take your meds, and expect no better. And you wonder why I routinely fight the medical profession and have a somewhat disbelieving and cynical attitude towards it.

My head became a pharmacy and my skin became a pin cushion.

I swallowed this koolaid and for the next almost 20 years, I gave all my power to my illness and allowed it to define me. I took my meds, saw therapists in several cities and two countries, assumed my victim mentality, and resigned myself to the rest of my life of “this is what it is, suck it up, put on your big girl pants and accept that you are your illness.”

Throughout this time, I made some huge life changing mistakes in periods of mania and became a one woman alienation machine during periods of depression. I hurt people I love dearly and caused more collateral damage than I can ever imagine or hope to undo. My illness had defined me and taken over my life. Unlike the tree, I was not happy and not yet ready to be an old stump. (reference Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree)

Then, for a reason I still don’t fully understand (it may have been side effects like a diminished libido when I was in my prime and incredibly horny ) I took myself off the medication, against medical advice, and went looking. I did acupuncture to help with the horrid withdrawal symptoms and they were epic. Later, I found yoga, I found long bike rides around the Sea of Galilee, I found lots of exciting and memorable adventures, I found cool jobs and had a long string of meaningless and semi-satisfying adventures with men who never even got the chance to know me or see me.

Miraculously, through a series of risks and events during a recent hypomanic summer, I found myself happily watching that TED talk again, sitting beside someone I had very accidentally and against my life plan of victimhood fallen in love with, and who does see me. Wow-no need for an explanation! And then it hit, finally, thankfully and blessings to the universe – like whack between my eyes and into all the nooks and crannies of my old bones and body. I am not my illness, it does not define me but, eureka, my illness is my superpower! And it is mine to narrate the rest of my life.

I know who I am and I know my triggers.

So, for the duration, I now have a solid plan for loving that superpower and honoring it. No more meds that mess with my parts. I know who I am and I know my triggers and I plan my life accordingly. Going forward, I will stay away, far, far away, from anyone who doesn’t see me and who wants to fix me. I will plan for lows and highs: creative energy and a clean home when hypomanic and get the job done, a bit messily, during depression. I have the knowledge and deep self awareness to control the dragons, or, worst case, to give fair warning to those I may impact. I am just a cool, interesting, loving old hippy grandma who happens to have a mood disorder.

As Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind boy, asked so many years ago, I only ask the same now. “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” and shout it from the rooftops.

I leave you with this uncredited quote:

“I compare myself with my former self, not others. Not only that, I tend to compare myself to my current self with the best I have been, which is when I have been slightly manic. When I am my present ‘normal’ self, I am far removed from when I am my liveliest, most productive ,most intense, most outgoing and effervescent. In short, for myself, I’m a hard act to follow.”

Terri, October 2021
Submitted with a heartful of gladness and gratitude to those who see me.

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