bipolar as a Them 3


have you ever gotten on a city bus
to run out and do a few errands
and had your whole life
melt down?

i was out and about one day,
on a #41 bus
in Vancouver,
just going to deposit
my pay
and pick up a few things

when the bottom fell
out of my world.

it took less than  60 seconds
for me to go from 'normal'
in the dum-de-dum, nice day
sort of a way to terrified
and totally irrational.

the world as i knew it
was gone.


suddenly, i didn't know anything-
where i was, or how i ever thought i could do
something as complex and fraught
with peril as depositing a cheque
in a bank machine or how the f***
i was ever going to find
my way home.


i have no memory of how i got home,
but apparently i did. the next day
i called a friend who came over
and made tea and talked really quietly
to me for a while.

it took me days to work up the nerve
to go outside the house,
and it was a week before
i could convince myself to go
to the corner store and buy some cigarettes.

when i finally did, i was still certain
i would dissolve into a weeping,
terrified fallen-down on the street person
en route, but i made it.

such are the positive powers
of addiction.


years later, i would find out
that there was a name for this.
it was called a 'panic attack'.

it was symptom of something known
as 'agoraphobia'- from the greek,
meaning 'a fear of the marketplace'.


i had to go back to work at some point.
the bus ride each day was harsh,
but the benefits plan that allowed me
to go see a counselor for a while.

aside from the discomfort of talking
while laying on cushions on the floor,
all i really remember from those sessions
is that after she said i seemed to have
an attitude problem. she said i seemed
to feel like the world had let me down,
and i agreed with her...

...the difference being that she thought
my attitude was a problem, while i saw
it as lifetime of trying to live
an ethical life and reading a lot
of books... and before we could
grapple with the differences
in our perceptions, she moved
to California and our sessions
came to an end.


as often happens, trying to pass for 'normal'
while living in my new reality
led to the development of what are known
as 'coping mechanisms' to keep
my ongoing anxieties idling
at a sub-panic level.

there were a surprising variety
of triggers for what had metastasized
to a 'fear of fear' - the almost overwhelming
dread i'd feel at even the thought
of ever having another 'episode'.

suddenly my world was a much smaller place,
as i tried to limit my exposure
to environments that induced anxiety,
like elevators, offices, airplanes and heights.
as 'the shakes' became a part of daily life,
so did self-medication with different foods,
vitamins, stimulants and depressants.

remembering psych 101 and BF Skinner,
when i felt that panic rising up my spine
i'd respond with mantras, deep breathing
and other distractions like writing
and loud music in my headphones...

it's been about 30 years
since that bus ride.

so far, so good...

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1 comment:

HelanJ said...

This sounds like a frightening experience. I also have bipolar and it can be difficult to appear "normal" to the outside world. I have found a lot of ways to control my bipolar through http://onlineceucredit.com/edu/social-work-ceus-ba. Thank you for sharing your story.