Over the years, since being diagnosed with bipolar, I’ve developed an almost poetic affinity for bleach. I love the way it stings my eyes and burns my nostrils with the harshness needed to fix caked-on messes. I love how it brings things back to the way they once were, before the filth claimed them as its own. I love the crisp freshness of nothingness it leaves lingering in the air. I love the way it eases my mind with the confidence that no matter how disgusting things have gotten, they can always be made clean again. All of the stains, all of the mistakes, can slowly be transformed back to purity. Bleach does things to dirt that I would love to have done to myself.
But this post is not all about metaphors. It’s really about the mundane task of keeping things clean, and the tremendous struggle this can pose for those with bipolar disorder. For myself, the things I have the most difficulty keeping up with, are the things that need to be kept up the most – the day-in-and-day-out dirt that never quits being produced. These are the things that don’t forgive you when you fall behind (which may feel like every day of your life). They just keep slapping you across the face every time you look at them.
My home is an absolute disaster, and I’m really not exaggerating. I’m not one of those people who warns you that their house is a mess simply because one dish is in the sink, or one pillow hasn’t been fluffed. I’m fully capable of looking at my life objectively and calling-it-like-it-is, and when I say disaster, I mean disaster. Disgusting. Shockingly so. Before I got sick – especially several years before – my home was immaculate. Maybe not to my standards back then, but to my standards now, yes – immaculate. And it stayed that way. I had a regular cleaning routine. I was extremely organized. Things got put away, messes got cleaned up, laundry got washed, dishes didn’t fester, dinner got made, friends came over. Entertaining was my passion and practically my trademark. I lived a completely normal existence, taken totally for granted, by a completely normal mind.
For me, there was a very clear line of demarcation between “before diagnosis/after diagnosis” as far as my ability to focus and stay on top of things. I once had the ability and energy to deal with the everyday dirt that life brings. But there came a point in time when I looked around, and nothing was the same. Nothing was where it should be, but I couldn’t remember where it belonged. The chaos buzzing inside my mind became the chaos all around me. The filth that I felt inside myself was now reflected in my surroundings – staring back at me, mocking me – with no way to escape its gaze. I simply became trapped in my own disease. Now, everywhere I look, I’m reminded of my broken mind, and my lack of ability to escape from it. Everywhere I look, I’m reminded of the wife and mother that I’ve become, versus the wife and mother I used to be – who I want to be still – who is now so far out of my reach. Now I can only watch as I see her in the distance… slowly drifting away.
It’s the typical vicious cycle that struggles spin us into: things are cluttered because of the bipolar, but the bipolar is worse because things are cluttered. It spins me around till I’m dizzy, and I’m not sure which is worse – the bipolar or the mess. Looking around now is painful, like a dagger constantly poking at me, not caring that I’m already bleeding – and the irony is that I am that dagger.
As you can imagine, I despise unexpected visitors. DESPISE! Nothing causes me more trepidation than a knock on my door. My stomach is instantly tied into one giant knot, and it’s difficult for me to breathe. An unexpected guest = humiliation, heaped on top of the already huge pile of debris that’s left of my self-worth. The judgment that visitors think (but politely won’t say out loud), I more than make up for myself: “You filthy pig! How can you live like this? How can you be so lazy? What do you do all day? “ And my reply to this imaginary judgment is: “Yes, look at it. Take a good, long look. Because whatever you see – whatever you are thinking at this very moment – I can guarantee I’ve thought much worse. I can guarantee that the disappointment I feel in myself is far greater than any dirt you see on my floor.”
Difficulties and struggles are much easier to confess when they live under the cloak of the past we have conquered. It’s much harder to separate your identity from the battles you are currently fighting. But this is my past as well as my current truth, and truth is what I write. Chaotic surroundings have a way of dousing you in so much shame, it’s hard to even see who you are in the mess, much less find a solution, or know where to begin. But yet, we’re expected to.
Not too long ago, I had a hypomanic surge of actual, complete thought processes, along with boundless energy – the perfect combination in Bipolar Land. It was that magical moment – that beautiful place of clarity – that a rare manic episode can take you to. Everything was clear, the synapses were working, I suddenly got my intelligence back, and I felt as though I could conquer the impossible. Because of this perfect storm, I was actually able to dig myself out of my mess. Every room was clean, in order, and together, and my mind was content with the harmony of my new surroundings. I was able to think clearly, to organize and delegate, to shove the worrisome thoughts out of my head long enough to keep the accumulated clutter at bay. Unfortunately, clutter fought back with a vengeance. I had a fleeting glimpse of the old me, when for a brief moment she broke free from the wreckage. But she was inevitably sucked back into the past. Oh, the way sanity teases me so cruelly.
You know how it goes – all it takes is one bad day. One day of not feeling well, one day of somehow getting out of the rhythm, one little bump that sends me tumbling back down the hill of accomplishment. It’s just the sad reality of my fragile stability – it never lasts for long. I’m always slapped back to the realization that it doesn’t belong to me anymore, and that the person I once was – the person I knew, who once lived inside of me – has long ago been dead and buried. And I mourn for her.
I know that cleaning your house sounds like an easy fix. I know I sound like a drama queen, when the solution is so obviously right in front of me. I know what my mother would say to me if she saw it: “Just get your butt up off the couch and clean this place up! Stop being so lazy! How can you live like this!? This isn’t how you were raised! Just put your mind to it, and get it done!” But there comes a point when the simplest things bring the greatest struggles, because they should be so simple. And all you see when you look out around are seven-million-simple-problems, that need seven-million-simple-solutions – each one begging you to fix them first. It’s just so much easier to close your eyes and wish it away. It’s just so much easier for an already compromised mind to shut itself off, and pretend it’s not there.
My life has been reduced to a series of starts and re-starts. No matter how much I will myself to never sink so low again, I know that I will always return to the mire that has now become uncomfortably familiar. My self-esteem will continue to ebb-and-flow with the tide of my mind – wherever it decides to lead me on any given day. No matter how unpredictable this illness is, you can always predict that the highs will be followed by the lows. The rare times I find myself somewhere in the middle – in that perfect spot of hypomanic productivity – I’m always grateful for the bleach, and the peace of mind that it brings. Everything can be made right again, everything can be erased, everything can be brought back to its brightest state – the way it was meant to be. I envy that sweet forgiveness that it grants, and the finality of seeing past mistakes so easily forgotten. I wish I could forgive myself so completely. I wish I could wash my soul, and finally be rid of the filth that I feel inside. I wish I could be so easily fixed.