This has been one of those days in which I start three different blog posts and am dissatisfied with all of them. Partially this is because I’m aware of the fact that when I write, I’m not doing so solely for myself, but with the hope that I can share something that might resonate with my readers. So in a way I pressure myself to create something for an audience, which I suppose is antithetical to the notion of a diary! But here we are.
So, I’m just going to tell you what’s on my mind today, if that’s OK with you. And what’s on my mind today is a conversation I had earlier this week with someone with whom I’m beginning to develop a project. They are of a different generation (a few decades older than me), and perhaps not as skilled in addressing and discussing mental health issues as has come to be expected in this day and age. I’m going to call them X.
I was trying to explain the idea that music is experienced differently (and certainly feels different from a performer’s perspective) when one is in different mental states. In my case, I was describing the different perceptions of music I had when I was in a depressive or manic state.
X’ response was along the lines of “Well, being manic probably feels pretty good, right? Like you have a lot of energy? I bet you get a lot done!”
I live with bipolar II, so my base state tends to stay in the depressive end of the spectrum. Before my current medication protocol, I would experience regular (every month or so) hypomanic episodes (from 1-4 days) in which I would inexplicably become full of an uncontrollable, electric energy.
I didn’t need to sleep much, and food became of little interest. My mind had a certain clarity that allowed me to generate a lot of ideas. I would, however, have to write these down immediately as I found it difficult to focus on any one of them. In fact, it would be hard for me to remember what people were saying to me because my focus shifted so quickly.
While I enjoyed being able to increase my running pace and distance dramatically, I also experienced what I can only describe as an unpleasant tingling in my limbs which made any resting position, whether sitting or lying, very uncomfortable. I couldn’t be at ease unless I was moving (you can imagine, then, that conducting was actually soothing to my mania).
Writing came more easily when I’m hypomanic, as did conversation, most of the time – when I was at my peak, because my mind would be moving so quickly, it was hard for me to formulate words fast enough and I paradoxically became tongue-tied. I was highly irritable during these periods, and I had little patience for anything or anyone, including myself. I found myself having to constantly remind myself not to lash out at people.
And finally, my sleep meds didn’t really work when I was hypomanic. Or more accurately, they wouldn’t help me sleep but would rather make me kind of high and even more energized, and I would do things like buy stuff on Amazon that I couldn’t recall purchasing the next morning, or find myself on a treadmill at the hotel gym at 3 am trying to soothe myself and get myself to come down.
I didn’t respond to X with this lengthy explanation, but rather said “There was heightened energy involved, but it was mostly pretty unpleasant”, and left it at that as we continued with our discussion. This exchange did, however, firm my resolve to find ways to have more complete and open conversations about mental health.
So I’m going to continue to pursue the angle of presenting music from the perspective of depression and mania for the project we’re working on. Just having this conversation with a well-educated, well-meaning person made me realize that there are still barriers to understanding mental health issues. Once a totally taboo topic, it feels like it has only recently become a part of the national discourse.
Over the last several years celebrities have “come out” about their anxiety or depression and invariably been praised for their courage. And while I applaud their efforts to shed light on the prevalence of mental health issues, the real courage lies in living with these conditions, and finding ways to be productive, compassionate, and full of life in spite of them.
I’ve always been keen on advocacy, but it has most often been in service of uncovering truths and creating support for others. I’m finding now that advocacy is most meaningful to me when I’m speaking my truth, and inviting others to share in my experience so that we can better understand ourselves, and each other.
And part of that advocacy is bringing my experiences here, on this blog, to share with you, and I feel grateful for each of you reading this post and for being a part of my journey.