Holding Back the Crazy

The hardest thing to accept about being crazy is that you don’t cure your disease. You manage it. Mental illness, like any chronic affliction, is always there, hanging out in the back of the bus with a straw and an endless supply of spitballs and it will fire them at you. It doesn’t matter how many things you do right. Every once and a while you’re getting a slobbery wad of paper stuck to the back of your neck.

Accepting that sucks. It takes a lot of effort to admit you have a problem. It takes more to submit to being unable to solve it on your own. Especially because you know help isn’t going to do much at first. You’ve got lots of work in front of you before you get a glimpse of “better”. Once you’re through all of that, getting cool with never being free of it can feel like a bridge too far.

Which is why I remind myself –  every time I get sick of managing my crazy – that it’s better than being slowly but relentless dragged back to the pit of despair I fought my way out of.

My medication is the keystone of my treatment, sure. Those little lamotrigine tablets do things for my brain that a strong will and good behavior could never do. The difference between how things felt before and after those pills is…frankly, it’s kind of unbelievable. Without my medication, I’d be fighting an uphill battle on an oil slick. The easy thing to forget is this: Even after the pills clean up the oil slick, you’ve still got to fight that pesky uphill battle.

I go to therapy weekly. Every Friday, I talk about all the fractured things in my brain that aren’t chemically induced. Things that mess up my thinking, that crush my self-esteem. That stress my brain in ways that increase the likelihood of mood cycling. See, while being “strong” won’t stop the problem, letting your brain do whatever damage it wants will make it worse. You can’t fix yourself, but you can stomp on the cracks in the glass that are already there. Oh, can you stomp. Without therapy, all those wired-in behaviors would work against the medication. Maybe even lie to me and convince me the medication isn’t helping.

That’s what modern medicine can do for me. The rest is on my shoulders. Things like sleep (sorry, it’s true; not getting regular and consistent sleep is going to mess with you) and exercise are more important than they were before I knew I was nuts. When people tell you physical activity is good for your brain, listen to them. I run three times a week. Before the medication, the relief that gave me was minimal. Minimal enough that there were lots of days when I thought, “Great. Now I’m depressed and sore. Screw this.” It helps, though. It matters.

Like this weekend. My sleep sucked all week. I was up late writing, up late editing and up late because after three days in a row you start to stay up just out of habit. I was out until 2am on Saturday helping a friend through some Stuff, and when I woke up Sunday I was Not Good. Not Depressed, exactly, but I could feel the badness at the edges, scratching at the walls. I really didn’t want to run. I was exhausted. During the drive to the Y, all I could think about was my couch, my PS3, and my wanting to let my brain shut off. It wasn’t until that evening, after 3.25 miles on the Dreadmill, that it hit me: the scratching had stopped.

My medication makes me better, but it doesn’t keep me good on its own. With the therapy and the running and the sleeping (ok, not always the sleeping), I give the medication the room it needs to work. I still have bad days. I still fall over. I just fall over less often, and I usually get my hands out to keep myself from going face-first into the cement. Falling still sucks. It makes me wonder why I’m doing all the work if I’m still going to scrape my knees. Until the day it passes, and I feel like myself again, and I remember that I’d do just about anything to buy a few extra weeks of feeling normal. Even run on the damn Dreadmill.

This week I’m hanging out at Yeah Write’s hangout grid.

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15 Responses to Holding Back the Crazy

  1. Rachel says:

    *sneaks guilty look at her gym pass*

    *hacks up a lung*


    But you’re right. It does help when exercise and proper sleep become part of the routine. …I need to get on that.

  2. Mel says:

    Word, my friend. So very much word.

    Also, you mispelled brain as brian in the last paragraph. <3

  3. Thank you for this. Thank you for the honesty of it, the realness of it, and the I-can-relate of it. In just 2 short months of blogging, I have learned a few things: 1) there are some seriously rad people out there in cyberspace. 2) it is super fun to connect with them and 3) I am not alone.

    And you are not alone. I live the world you describe above. Every day. Thank you.

    P.S. Does this mean I have to stop abusing you on Twitter? please say no.

  4. QuoterGal says:

    I thought of another thing, though I guess it’s included under the heading “help” – wasn’t E. away this weekend? If I’m away and A. gets or stays off schedule at all because of it, it further messes w/ his whole pills-food-exercise-sleep thang. And of course, too: with the companionship/loneliness part of the complexes.

    A good partner helps manage The Sanity.

  5. Eric says:

    @Rachel – Yes, get on that! Start with the working out, because sleep can get mucked with by insomnia. Working out is totally under your control! Do it! :)

    @Mels – Oh lordy, fixed. This post was typo city. Had to rush my last edit.

    @Melisa – It’s wonderful to know you’re not alone, I know. That’s gotten me through days when there wasn’t anything else tangible onto which to grab. And please, keep up the abuse. Lord knows the world will split open if people stop thinking I’m a masochist.

    @QuoterGal – Y’know, I hadn’t even thought of that (I was so focused on the week of crappy sleep) but you’re absolutely right. Along with everything else, to not have the stable one in the house there to be with me through the rest of it…yeah. That’s a really good point. Partner does help The Sanity quite a bit.

  6. I wish I could give you a hug, a gold star, or an A+. Anything tangible that would let you know that I know what a BIG deal all of your self-realization really is. I know you are fighting the fight and from this post I know you are an incredible, exceptional person. I grew up with a bipolar father who expected the medication to be the silver bullet and when it wasn’t, he wasn’t willing to put any work into his health. When I entered my medical training I understood his disease better and I encountered many patients with mood disorders, but none with the will and gumption of you. You are special. And your analogy of the medication removing the oil slick, but the uphill battle remaining was brilliant.
    This should be part of a psychiatric textbook and a patient pamphlet. You conveyed everything with absolute perfection.

    Okay, so did you get that I sorta liked what you wrote? I’m worried I was too subtle. Ellen
    (Glad you got the ice packs because the Dreadmill is vital)

  7. Wow, this is a very well written description of what one of my good friends often experiences. I am glad you are out of the oil slick and hope you can continue your uphill journey with minimal falling! Your honesty is touching.

    I don’t like the Dreadmill either but I do like the elliptical. Have you tried that?

  8. I love that you are so open and honest about everything.
    Thanks for that.

  9. Gina says:

    Stopping by from the summer series.

    You are brave and strong and genuine for sharing this battle. I wish you the best and you are absolutely correct about sleep and the Dreadmill. Those two things help my head stay screwed on straighter.

  10. jamie says:

    I appreciate the honesty in this post. And I wish I can reach out from my seat and give you a big hug. I know you’re fighting a good fight and you’re running a good race. At the end of it all, you’ll be stronger… more than a conqueror!

  11. Eric says:

    @Sisterhood – This comment means a lot from you, Ellen. Like, a lot. Like, I got emotional and now I’m going to pretend I didn’t to maintain my last shreds of masculine…oh, who am I kidding? I never had any shreds of masculine anything. Thank you for your support and for letting me annoy you with knee-related inquiries to keep the running thing going.

    @Stacie – Here’s the weird thing: I actually like running. I never really worked out, not in my whole life. I played Jr. High Basketball and did a year of hockey camps. Other than that, nothing. When I started running, I thought I’d be lucky just to keep it up. After a few months, though, I’ve come to *really* like it. Like, I feel good after I do it, and kind of want to keep doing it. It’s just that the Dreadmill is *way* more boring than being out in the trail. I have considered doing some Elliptical work to work some other muscle groups, but so far haven’t really pushed myself to vary my routine.

    @Dawn – It helps, honestly, to talk about it, and it makes me hope that if someone else stops by and reads it that maybe they’ll feel a little less alone. It’s the feeling alone in it part that really kills.

    @Gina – Thank you, though I’ve never seen this as bravery. The really hard part was admitting this to myself. Once I did, it felt okay pretty quickly to run my mouth about it. Let’s keep

    @jamie – Oooh, I like this conquerer thing. I mean, I’m still a big wussy weakling, but for five whole seconds I felt *tough*. That was cool. Thank you! :-)

  12. christina says:

    oh boy did i find myself nodding along to all of this; you’re not alone. thank you for your honesty and for sharing.

  13. Joe says:

    My sleep has sucked for as long as I can remember. I have trouble turning off my brain sometimes. But for the past two weeks I’ve been sleeping. I only wish I knew what changed. Thanks for sharing your story.

  14. Carrie says:

    I missed this last time around! What a brave post. Health can be such a precarious entity and you’re right, the best way to keep the problem at bay is to do what you can to take some preventative measures. I suppose this rule goes for mental and physical maladies. We have to take care of ourselves wholly and completely because pills and doctors can only take us so far.

    I hope your knee heals quickly!

  15. macie says:

    This post was inspiring. I googled ‘bipolar, uphill battle’ today bc that’s how I felt and found this little piece of inspiration letting me know I’m not alone. You say getting choked up threatens your masculinity, but I think a wicked case of bipolar puts a little hair on anyone’s chest. I’m unmedicated now bc no health insurance and even the community help programs are full of fees. Made me feel better to read this today, though. Thanks.

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