TOUR Day 11 - Boise and Bipolar

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 We are driving through Idaho towards Salt Lake City. We spent two hours walking around a park in Idaho called Craters of the Moon: one of the best-preserved volcanic flood basalt areas in the continental United States. When I was very young, my family went camping in the Yellowstone National Park, and I remember scenes like Craters of the Moon. I remember thinking that walking on the old volcanic rocks sounded like walking on old popcorn. As an adult, I might adjust that analogy and say that it sounds more like walking on styrofoam packing peanuts, but in some ways those are the same. 

I get thoughtful around a lot of rocks. I think my default outlook about rocks probably comes pretty close to the outlook about rocks a very stoned person might have. My inner monologue is like this: “Wow. WOW. Look at ALL THESE ROCKS. I wonder how old these rocks are. I can’t even fathom it. DINOSAURS WERE AROUND WHEN THESE ROCKS WERE AROUND. Maybe a dinosaur sniffed one of the VERY ROCKS I am fingering. I am a speck. I am a meaningless speck. Rocks are God.”

We are trying to get to Denver. Denver is a long way from Seattle, so we have a few days off. It hasn’t felt that way really, because we’re driving. My tail bone hurts a lot; I miss moving around. I think maybe the sadness and panic that sits in the shadows right now is coming from failure to move around. 

Yesterday morning I woke up and walked along a river and it felt like I was drinking a huge glass of water after having been completely dehydrated for days. There was a place where you could wade into the river, so I took my shoes off and went in to my knees, concentrating on my breath. So yes, I am experiencing scattered moments of perfect contentment like that from time to time. But then there are moments in the van when I feel like my stupid, uncontrollable emotions are an aggressive creature living in my stomach, snapping at my throat, creeping up into my armpits, stinging my eyes. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but that’s honestly what it feels like. I picture the creature to be the size of a squirrel, but rambunctious, and with tentacles. 

My own mental health has been of serious interest to me lately. It took me until last year to realize that my extreme highs and lows were not to be blamed on anyone or anything. I have spent the majority of my life thinking, “If only this thing was different, I wouldn’t experience this crippling sadness. It is integral that I change everything about myself so the sadness will go away.” 

Sometimes I am very happy: the world feels like it’s at my fingertips and I can do anything. During these periods, I’m very productive. These are the periods when I diet successfully, start magazines, write cohesive essays, go to comedy shows, stay in touch with the people I love, and think flowers are perfectly incredible miracles. Other times I can’t get out of bed. I choke on my own breath. My self-talk gets loud and snappy and tell me everything that is wrong with me. I cry for days. I take it out on people I care about. I retreat to my room and crumble into endless Gilmore Girls-watching sprees. The word that is in your head as you read this — “bipolar” — has been gently suggested to me since I was twelve. I have always rejected it, because I don’t want to be bipolar. I don’t want anything to be wrong with me. 

But in the past year, I have come to terms with that word more. I’m bipolar: okay. My mom always said, “No one is really anything.” I think what she meant by that was that nothing is wrong with being bipolar, per se, because we all have our stuff. Our brains are all so wildly different; there’s a word for everyone’s version of crazy. And yes, I do believe that everyone is some kind of crazy. I believe that if we could all comes to terms with that and hold each other gently in that knowledge, we’d all be a lot better off. 

Unfortunately, we want to relegate our collective darkness to the corner: we see sadness and its compatriots as bad company, and prefer to have nothing to do with it. Too bad, because there is so much in sadness that is beautiful. It’s a matter of being willing to go through, rather than around.

I can recognize that I’m going through a depressive low right now, and I have decided to let it in. This is different: usually I try to lie about it, and fake my way around it. Usually, I try to justify it; I attempt to “act brave.” I name the things that are wrong with me so no one else can. I have thought this to be the “safe choice” in the past: to hide. But to accept this sadness as a part of my experience means to ask for what I need (space, air, time, music, silence), and to treat myself with patience and love. Even through days crawling on the backs of sleepless nights, I feel better than I usually do. I haven’t had a single panic attack. 

I think you can learn a lot from rocks: they tumble around, get burned up, get wet, get dry, get separated, are changed; and they weather it. They change without resistance. They give in to themselves. I mean, it’s easy for rocks: they lack consciousness. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep lesson in there, right? 

Salt Lake City tonight. Things are ok.