by Ben Sachs
Even when I came to understand what my condition was, it took years of practice to prepare successfully for the lows. During this period I could recognize the coming spell but had no idea what to do about it. The feeling was similar to how Dostoevsky described the moments before an epileptic seizure. Everything I saw gained a certain heaviness I didn't notice otherwise—becoming towering, almost sublime. And yet I felt so detached from it all, like I was observing it through a telescope from another planet. In retrospect, I realize I was retreating away from what I knew myself to be. Depression is an insidious enemy; it knows to strip you of your better qualities so you're defenseless once it attacks. And simply knowing you're defenseless is not the same thing as defending yourself.
For a while, this made me angry. I'd think, 'Why am I still so vulnerable to my own mind? I agreed to therapy and to pills; I accepted my diagnosis. This was all supposed to stop!'
To my surprise, the anger could keep me going. It provided me with energy, which the depression usually sapped. I no longer felt like I had a bout of depression the way one describes having a bout of the flu, but that I was fighting a bout the way boxers do. This felt better than the usual defenselessness, but it quickly grew exhausting. I've never understood how a person can be angry for long periods at a time; it's like refusing to walk and sprinting everywhere you go instead. After the anger passed, the resulting crash was as debilitating as if I hadn't experienced it in the first place, but there was some satisfaction in knowing I hadn't fallen into the same old pattern.
Well, that's not exactly true. I may have stopped lying down when the dread approached, but I was still retreating into my mind. I acted as though no one cared about my condition but me—and that was my mistake. If I've gained anything from being bipolar, it's in learning just how many dependable people are out there. Your family and friends, provided they're a worth a damn, don't want you to stop eating or getting dressed. They don't want to see you made prisoner of your brain. If you tell them you're afraid of what the depression might do, chances are they'll want to help you face it down.
Like many depressives, I used to believe in a nonexistent race of people who were happy all the time—and how I hated those people! They were the ones who'd laugh at me for admitting I was sad. When I realized that everyone gets sad, it became a lot easier to stop retreating. There were other places where I could turn. I don't know if I'll ever be entirely free of that dread in autumn, but over time I find it to be more and more of a manageable nuisance—rather like a bout of the flu after all.