Demons on a Highwire: Life with Bipolar Depression by Lila Girdwood

I carry the word bipolar with me. Memories of long anxious nights spent in hospital beds linger in my mind. For a time, lithium held me steady. I rarely felt manic and started to believe the sickness had passed. Then something broke.
 
Three years ago, my husband, one-year-old son and I moved into a new home. The house was built in the early fifties, in a neighborhood full of old oak trees and stately colonials. The house fit our needs, but it didn't quite fit me. The crisp, clean walls and elegant gardens contrasted with my preference for casual housekeeping and comfortable clothes. I was out of place in my own home.
 
One day, as I played with my one-year-old son in his new yellow room, it felt like we were being watched. An apparition revealed herself to my nervous mind. She presented herself as a successful housewife of the 1950's, a television mom from a fictional era.
 
As I unpacked boxes, the deity whispered in my ear, "You should be an excellent housewife and a most attentive mother." In my irrational state, I grasped tightly to these words. Psychosis slithered its way into my mind.
 
I soon found myself frantically trying to live up to unrealistic standards. I scrubbed my kitchen cabinets with fervor, and polished my bathroom faucets until they glistened. Against my natural inclinations, I began dressing the part of a "proper" mom, ordering clothes from a conservative catalog. A piece of me watched in bewilderment, saddened at this new transformation.
 
My days were obsessive and anxiety-ridden, while my nights were filled with freeing seascapes. Dreams in which I forgot my husband's name overwhelmed me as I wandered down coastlines, alone and content. In the sea green waters I waded, immersed in beauty. As I swam with elegant, shining fish, I felt purely at peace. Here, in this other world, I was my true self.
 
I woke from these dreams in a panic. How could I possibly maintain my role as a dutiful wife and mother when this spiritual sea was sucking me in? The mind reeled. My two extreme selves tugged at each other. The clash between my waking life and my dream world became disabling. Panic overtook me.
 
Then one night, as anxiety electrified every bit of my body, I burst. I felt a cool ray of light permeate my skin. I met bliss, and completely detached from the earthly world. I felt an angel surrounding me. In my mind, I asked her what to do. "You need to leave your family," I heard her distant voice say. This deity was omnipotent, her wisdom resounding deep beneath my skin. In my mystical state, I believed her, despite the deep love I felt for my husband and son.
 
The following day I was greatly distracted, and struggled to care for my child. Throughout the day I felt an electric charge course through my spine. My skin was cold and my palms were soaked with sweat. That night, I spoke with my husband and uneasily told him my experience. I could see the apprehension on his face. His attempts at reassurance seemed fear-laden and oppressive. My angel laughed. "You don't really love him," she mocked. In a flight of nerves, I detached myself once again.
 
As the angel taunted me, a piece of my true self sat deep within, calm and centered. This piece knew that leaving my family was not the answer. She also knew that I desperately needed help. I placed a call to my therapist.
 
Strained and exhausted, I told her my story. My thoughts were like liquid, so elusive they were difficult to explain. I didn't dare tell her that I suspected hearing the voice of God the night before, but I did tell her that I was confused and anxious. And I described the unnerving sensations I had experienced.
 
She was concerned. Her words of comfort felt heavy. My angel laughed as she told me this lady was naïve and out of touch. My skin began to feel cool as I began to float. This woman, whom I had trusted so deeply, was now very far away.
 
Still in desperate search of relief, I went to my psychiatrist. As a man of science he didn't see demons. He saw that I was sick. Pulling out his prescription pad, he rattled off some enchanted names: Depakote, Atavan, Zyprexa. They had such power. I smiled wearily. That night I took the pills.
 
Weeks passed and I resumed my day-to-day life. I stayed at home and cared for my son the best I could while waiting for the medications to take effect. I was tired and weak during the day, and revved with anxious energy at night. Obsessive rituals returned. Counting and tapping, as I did as a child, I protected my family, warding off demons with a religious fervor. Life remained unstable. I returned to my therapist.
 
Once again I described my mystical experiences to her. This time she said, "Lila, you sound psychotic." "Psychotic?" I asked. The word echoed in my head. Somehow I liked the solidity of it. Psychosis. She had given me a name for the demons. A treatable name. I felt a little better.
 
As the months passed, I began to improve. I scheduled a sitter each week, relieving myself of full-time mom status. I lowered my standards as a homemaker and found ways to relax around my husband and enjoy him for who he really was.
 
Some days now, I feel like I'm walking on a highwire, balancing a big pole across a thin line. At the ends of the pole sit my demons, playfully jostling each side, attempting to throw me off. I've learned to tend to these celestial beings. I take my angel on long walks and let her sit on my shoulder as I write. My homemaker ghost helps me sweep up the kitchen and bake my son his birthday cake. I've tamed my beasts by giving them names. I've become an elegant master of the highwire.