I once lost five friends in a weekend; not dead but done with me. My illness is a jealous guard: sending away the ones closest to me, leaving me alone in its company. It sends them away, some of those who have been closest — exasperated, insulted, indignant, and just done. It casts them away while I lie helpless, grasping at what has become thin air.
I do it to myself, that’s what they believe, the conclusion that my illness draws them to. It’s a battle, between me and my illness, between me and my loneliness, and between me and the cliff that I teeter on, my illness at my back, urging me to jump.
The pain of losing a friend is not a pain that fades quickly with time; it lingers and burns like my shame. It is a wound that is constantly reopened by memories and by the loneliness that comes with the loss. Friendships built over years, sated with trust, and vivid with memories are hard to come by and harder to lose. But when my illness wins its victory resounds. Those that had surrounded me and protected me retreat and leave me in the darkness, my illness victorious.
You are only given so many chances, a number unknowable but finite and firm in its obscurity. And when you’ve used your chances your friends leave, one by one, even the ones that have stood strong by your side as the storm inside you rages. The pain of loneliness that comes with the calm after the storm is not easily abated. And my illness rejoices, victorious, as I use up my last chance with friends’ whose support I never thought I’d lose.
I am not alone though, my illness is always with me, a staple that will never leave my side. Unlike the friends I’ve lost, my illness is here to stay and has no notion of chances.
The pain doesn’t dissipate in the light. The emptiness remains, through the night and the day. It lingers with me, exacerbated by memory, while my illness reigns victorious.
You see, my illness watches and waits to push me off the cliff that being bipolar has set me upon. It bides its time during the good times, waiting for the slightest inclination that the tide has turned and is beginning to bring me under the water with the pull of the undertow. Once I begin to sink it gets harder to come back up for air, to escape the hands of my illness pulling me under, down to the depths and darkness in my mind. It doesn’t want to drown me; it doesn’t want to be the direct cause of my demise. While my moods blacken and I begin my ascent to the cliff, my illness goes to work. It pushes away the people that are keeping me from jumping.
One by one they leave my side. I’ve become too burdensome, too self destructive, too hard to watch. My illness pushes them away and eventually I begin to lose my grip. The darkness of being bipolar becomes overwhelming and chips away at my will to live. What is a life that has to be lived alone? How can I keep myself from falling off the cliff without my friends behind me, holding on?
There are times that I have given into my illness, times that I have fallen from the cliff, times that I have sunk too far into the depths of my despair. My illness encourages me during these times, bending me towards its will. Infiltrating my mind and sowing the seeds of self destruction. As they bloom I start to realize that I have a bottle of pills, enough to end my pain, enough to surrender and let my illness take the victory. Under the flowers of my illness I take that bottle, greedily swallowing its contents. Maybe it’s surrender, maybe it’s just giving up.
This is when my friends find me. My illness has briefly taken its eyes off them while it watches me get further from consciousness, while my breathing begins to slow, while I start to slip away from the world. My friends find me, out of my mind but still in my body. At first they are scared, they call an ambulance to save my life. But while they’re waiting for the ambulance my illness infiltrates their minds. They become indignant. How could I do this to them? How could I be so selfish? Do I want them to feel the pain of loss? They become angry with me while my illness looks on, smiling. They don’t believe me when I tell them about the power my illness has over me. They are mad. They are done. They walk away while I sit in the hospital, waiting for the visitors who do not want to come.
As my friends retreat a deep loneliness enters my being, hand in hand with my illness. The loneliness and my illness have similar goals—to isolate me from support and push me back towards the cliff. My illness is resilient; it does not given in just because I was saved from my first fall. I am not so resilient. I leave the hospital to find that my friends have turned their backs on me and my illness smiles a smile of greedy satisfaction. I struggle in the dark, unable to understand their abandonment, turning once again towards despair.
But slowly the tide changes. I wrestle myself from my illness’s grip and seek help. I call out for a lifeguard to save me from drowning; I take a step back from the edge of the cliff. I find that my illness is strong but not invincible. I discover weapons and use them to break my illness’s grip. You see, my illness cannot abide therapy and medication. Together these weapons pull me to my feet and strengthen me, readying me for a fight. I tear the hands of my illness from my neck; I begin to swim towards the shore, fighting against the tide that wants to drag me down to the depths. I turn away from the cliff and begin to walk away.
I know that these weapons are my saviors. Without them my illness’s victory is almost certain. I hold on to my weapons tightly, learning how to wield them, how to use them to keep my illness at bay. I fight back. I am still alone but I am alive.
In the end, I can’t count the things I’ve lost. Even my mind at times has deserted me, taking with it my will to survive. But it is possible to go on, even without a reason or the friends I’ve lost. I have weapons in my armory, keeping my illness at bay and keeping me out of the darkness, into the light.
The war will never be over, although I may win the battles, my illness will never surrender; it will never leave my side. But I can survive. I can win the battles. And, for now, that has to be enough.