I’ve Got That Bipolar Feeling…

One reason I’ve always done well in school is due to the structure. Many graduate students working on a dissertation know this feeling well: as soon as the coursework is done, and time is unstructured by classes and papers, one can find an infinite number of things to do besides writing the dissertation.

Now, I didn’t necessarily have that option, which is both a good and bad thing. Having children to feed and a limited number of years of funding meant I had very little time to spare. I wrote my dissertation in one year because, despite the fact that I had to take two-degrees-worth of classes, I needed to be done and move on. So I did it, and I moved on.

Except that I didn’t. While the dissertation was done and the doctorates were in hand, I didn’t have a product, in the form of immediately publishable articles, that I need to get to the next level: a tenure-track faculty position. Now, I’m in the position of writing and revising while I also have a busy day job. The day job is also on the path to getting THE job, so it’s not as if finishing the degrees when I did was all bad. It just means I have to cram a little more into every day — while being a wife and mother of three.

Which leads me back to my original point of focus. Sometimes I get so mad at myself that I don’t sustain my energy — my blogging is temperamental, as is my drawing and my exercise and my singing and my work. My energy towards different tasks waxes and wanes to the point that I feel pulled in many directions and, due to the tension, I’m not moving anywhere. I stand at a crossroads so often that instead of moving way forward in one direction, I move bit by bit on all directions, slowly pushing my circle outward, going many places but getting to all of them slowly. I get better in all areas, but not as quickly as I want.

I blame being bipolar. And I hate it.

My waxing and waning follows the path of my hypomania and depression; they are cyclical, but somewhat unpredictable. The hypo months are productive in every area — I blog and draw and work everyday. My time is well portioned: I spend an hour here, another there and yet another elsewhere, each hour more productive than the one before. Every day I find myself pushing the boundaries of the circle, and I’m proud of myself for doing so. I create my structure, and work it to the bone.

But then the ebb comes, and everything slows. I stand still and shrink up. I neither blog or draw nor write nor sing. The depression weighs me down and I can’t move. The only structure is that which  requires me to get up and go to work — and there I am maintaining just to avoid getting fired and not having a paycheck. My perfectionism eats at me, as I blame myself for being sick. I see all my boundary pushing fizzling, and all I did seems to be for naught and I’m disappointed in my lack of progress.

Having bipolar II disorder is the hardest thing about being me. I absolutely hate it. I am not one of those people who had learned to love their bipolar brain, to embrace this thing that makes them special. I can no more embrace bipolar than I’m sure many survivors cannot embrace cancer. I have goals and dreams and ideas and sometimes I feel like I am settling for something less than I am.

And the ironic thing is that I know this is the bipolar talking. The bipolar is saying you’ve achieved nothing, while I blame the bipolar for my lack of achievement. The bipolar sees all that I’ve done and lets the perfectionist start talking — I want to lead my perfect life and anything short of that isn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter that I have three beautiful kids and a husband that is unmatched and academic honors and a prestigious job — I want more. I can’t even trust that how I’m feeling is actually how I’m feeling — what if it’s the bipolar feeling? How do I know?

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