photo by Karen Cox
When I was a teenager, I lived in Ohio, and all I wanted to do was leave. The suburb I lived in was homogenous and boring. The surrounding area had little to interest me. I was miserable. When it came time to select a college, the first thing I ruled out was anything in the state of Ohio.
It did not occur to me then that the reason I was miserable was not the state of Ohio, but bipolar disorder. And of course I took that with me to college.
When I returned to Ohio and began living in a suburb very near the one I grew up in, my friends were astonished. “I thought you hated Ohio,” they said. “I never expected you’d come back here to live.”
What I had been seeking was a “geographical cure” for a problem I didn’t know I had. I thought could outdistance it, outrun it, make a new life for myself somewhere better.
Believe me, it’s not possible; unless you are trying to leave an abusive relationship, moving somewhere else will do nothing for your underlying problem. Probably not even then.
The next time I had a chance to take the geographical cure – to move to Pennsylvania – I turned it down. I had by that time built up a support system in Ohio of family, friends, and doctors, and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them and trying to build a new support system in an unfamiliar place. (Eventually, my husband-to-be moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, where we’ve lived ever since.)
But there are still times when I think about running away from this life. Often, I wish the Mothership would arrive and take me away to some interesting planet or galaxy.
But sometimes, when life just seems to be too much for me, I think of simplifying my life by starting over somewhere. It would be like being in the Witness Protection Plan, I always imagine. I’d live in a small, unimposing town somewhere. I would have a bookstore (maybe used books). I would live in a small apartment over the shop with one or two cats.
But alas, that wouldn’t work. Aside from the difficulties of moving, which I loathe, I would find myself in another place where I had no support system – no doctor to prescribe meds, no therapist to continue my progress with (I hate breaking in new doctors), no family or friends or husband. (I usually picture myself on my own, except for the cats.)
And life would be just as difficult, if on a smaller scale. I would still have days when I couldn’t get out of bed and open the store; weeks when I couldn’t bring myself to shower, driving away customers; times when the loneliness would become overwhelming. I would still have trouble with finances, health, isolation, shopping, business, et endless cetera. At least I would have a lot of books to read.
I would still have bipolar disorder. I might be able to replace some of what I would have to give up; it wouldn’t be easy or freeing. But sometimes I still like to imagine that it would be.
If my husband dies before I do, I may find myself in some form of such a solitary life and have to adjust to it, though I would most likely remain in my comfortable suburb, where I know a few people and have some great friends, and a psychiatrist and a therapist. I doubt I would again attempt a geographical cure unless forced by circumstances to relocate.
But I wouldn’t enjoy it, just as I wouldn’t really if I ran away from home now. The bipolar would just come with me, hopping into my suitcase before I even packed my underwear.