The Game

“Aaaaannnnndddd… welcome back for another episode of BIPOLAR, MEDS, OR MYSELF?”  the host croons into the microphone, as the audience claps and whistles loudly.  

The camera glides quickly over the crowd, melting the gleeful smiles and wildly-waving arms together into a giant soupy miasma of feverish enthusiasm.  Their brightly-colored graphic tees host a jumble of printed slogans.  

‘It’s all in your head!’

‘Have you tried meditation?’

‘I get mood swings too.  Have you tried counting to ten?’

The lens finally pans over to the stage, decorated vibrantly with the tacky hues of a Sunday-morning newspaper comic.  LED lights strobe to the staccato beat of the cheerful intro tones.  A man in a splashy suit flashes a winning smile at the camera, his plastic-looking hair remaining stationary as he jauntily strides across the stage with his microphone.  

‘And I am your host! DOCTOR FEELGOOD!

 Today we have with us, a very special guest…’

The crowd takes it’s cue, and the ambient noise is silenced.  

‘She hails from a recent diagnosis and joins us today from… well, Julie, where exactly do you call home?’

The screen zooms out to reveal a thin, pale woman wearing an over-sized hoodie and ripped jeans.  Her long brown hair is piled on the crown of her head, held in a messy bun by an elastic band that’s stretched nearly to it’s breaking point.  She clears her throat and eyes the microphone nervously before muttering into it:

‘Well.. um.  I don’t really know.  I don’t remember how I got here.  I’ve been, a little lost lately.’

Unperturbed, Feelgood lets out a booming laugh.  ‘Well, that’s wonderful.  But the important question is:  are you ready to PLAY?’ 

The crowd erupts in a unanimous, encouraging cheer.

Our tiny contestant flinches slightly at the sudden noise. 

‘Do I… Do I have a choice?’

The crowd laughs heartily, as Feelgood responds, “Does she have a choice, folks?”

‘NO!!!’  They announce in unison.

‘Then let’s begin!!!’  He chirps into the microphone.

The cheesy music returns for a moment as a large curtain is hoisted, revealing an enormous illuminated screen hiding behind it.  Feelgood shuffles the deck of plastic index cards he’s been holding and chooses one seemingly at random. 

‘Okay, Julie! For 100 points each… we’ll be naming some of your symptoms… and you’ll have 3 seconds to identify which category they belong to – BIPOLAR, MEDS, OR MYSELF.  And the clock starts NOW.’

Feelgood eyes his card quickly. 

‘Okay… the first one reads:

Your head feels as though it’s filled with cotton fluff, like an unopened, vacuum-sealed Tylenol bottle.  It’s difficult to concentrate on even menial tasks and you’ve been forgetting simple things on the regular, and so you’ve recently taken to writing your entire day out on a bulleted list before it even starts so that you’re not bumbling around aimlessly forgetting why you walked into a room or if you ever ate lunch today.’  Is this your Bipolar Disorder, your new medication, or just YOU?

The clock ticks loudly.

‘Ummm, I think it might be… my meds?’  

Our chipper host turns pointedly towards the screen behind him.  ‘Well folks?  Is she right?’  

A giant green check mark appears on its surface, along with a resounding “DING!” 

The crowd goes wild.

‘That is correct! 100 points for you!’  

Julie smiles rather reluctantly and fidgets with the pockets of her sweater.

‘Okay… next one.  You’ve been feeling rather flat lately and seem to be devoid of emotions.  You don’t feel sad, but you don’t feel happy either.  You’re just… numb. 

It’s alarming because you used to feel everything INTENSELY and now you’ve begun to wonder if you’re doomed to exist as a soulless robot for the rest of your life.  You’ve been wondering to yourself: ‘Do I have to choose between being crazy-but-full-of-passion or boring-but-stable?’  What is the culprit here, Julie?

Her eyes glaze over a bit as she ponders it.  ‘Well, I’d have to blame that one on my meds too, I guess,’ she answers.

Both a check mark AND a looming red X appear simultaneously on the screen at once. 

Feelgood’s booming laugh fills the stage as the audience mutters among themselves in confusion.

‘Ah!  It’s a bit of a trick question, actually!  It COULD be your meds, but you also could just be cycling through a depressive phase… which could present the exact same way.  You are HALF right, so you get 50 points!’

More clapping.

‘Third question!’  He grabs another card, takes a breath, and is just about to speak when all of the sudden a loud buzzer rings out.  Julie jumps and looks upwards towards the speakers.  A cartoon lightning bolt appears on the screen.  

Feelgood’s eyes widen theatrically.  ‘Uh-Oh folks… you know what THAT MEANS!!’

‘RUMINATION ROUND!’ they holler maniacally.  

Feelgood turns toward his contestant, brimming with excitement.  ‘Okay, Julie, here’s how it works.  I’m going to quickly list a series of events from your life, and you’ll have to choose immediately if it was a result of Depression, Mania, or your own natural decisions.  We’ll see how many you can get right in a minute.  Are you ready?’

‘I don’t really know how I could know that for sur–‘

‘HERE WE GO!!’ 

Numbers begin to pulsate on the screen, counting down from 60.

Your substance abuse problems and alcoholism as a teenager and young adult.

‘It was… me?’  

BEEP.  A loud chime rings out, neither confirming nor denying that the answer is correct.  A large question mark appears on the screen.

On to the next!  Your ability to cram for tests at the last minute, landing A’s in every college class you’ve ever taken, despite having been stuck in bed crying for a large part of that time?

‘Mania.  I think that was mania.  Sometimes?’

BEEP.  Another question mark.  

‘Wait, what? did I get it righ–‘

‘NEXT!!  Your inability to handle failure and tendency to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong anywhere around you?  Quickly now!’

‘I don’t see how I could ever kno–‘

BEEP! 

Your propensity to sabotage your romantic relationships?

BEEP. 

Every career choice you’ve ever made? 

BEEP.  The inability to stay in one place for any amount of time?  BEEP.  All the embarrassing things you’ve done when you were feeling GREATER THAN GREAT? 

BEEP. 

Well?!!, the clock is ticking!!!!

‘But, I don’t know if any of those things were me or my disease, I mean how should I kno–“

BUZZZZZZZZ.

The screen flashes ‘00:00′, signalling the end of the round.  

‘Well, Julie, I can see that your frustrated.  But not to worry!  I’ve got a little secret for you,’ Feelgood whispers into the microphone, pulling her reluctantly close to him and donning a mischievous grin.  ‘None of those questions even HAD answers!’ 

The crowd laughs wildly.

‘Let me ask you this, Julie.  Do you feel exponentially worse, now that you’ve been questioning all your life choices and are unable to differentiate between your own personality and the symptoms of your disease?’ 

He holds the microphone out expectantly.

She thinks for a moment.  ‘Yeah, I guess I feel pretty bad.’

‘BINGO!!’

‘+500’ appears on the screen.

Feelgood beams at the crowd, ‘Well, you’ve passed the Rumination Round and have managed to rack up a pretty hefty score.  Let’s move on to the final portion of our show, shall we?’

Applause. 

Both host and contestant make their way across the glossy stage as a leggy assistant in a sparkling dress pulls over a giant, multicolored circle-shaped contraption.

‘AND IT’S FIIIINALLY time for… The WHEEL OF SOCIETAL STIGMAS!!’

The excitement of the crowd bubbles over onto the stage and the camera quickly turns to capture them as they jump up and down in delight.  

‘Go ahead and give the wheel a spin here, Julie, don’t be shy.’

She reaches up hesitantly and pulls the lever, sending the enormous wheel careening on it’s axis, in a blur of intermingling, bold colors. 

The crowd grows silent as the contraption begins to slow, ticking loudly with each section of the wheel it passes by.  And as it slows, words begin to solidify as the blurriness recedes.  Each one sectioned off by a different color.

‘Crazy’

‘Fun’

‘Uncontrollable’

‘Passionate’

‘Emotional Trainwreck’

‘Unemployable’

‘Promiscuous’

‘Creative Genius’

They each pass by more slowly than the last.  The crowd holds its breath. 

And finally… it crawls to a stop.

Feelgood eyes the landing point, rips the colored plate off the wheel and holds it aloft for the crowd to see.

‘Ooo… rough luck there Julie! You’re label issssss... Not Dependable!!!’ 

And as the crowd groans aloud, he reveals a tiny string fixed to the back of the placard, transforming it into a large necklace.  He fastens it around his contestant’s neck, where it hangs heavy.  She looks down in resignation and sighs.

‘It’s not all bad, Julie.  You may need to work a little extra to prove that you can function as a productive member in society, and it won’t be easy,‘  He wraps his arm around her shoulder in a fatherly way.  ‘But wait til you see what you’ve won!’

I’ve actually won something?’ She asks, disbelievingly.  

‘Of course.  It’s not all bad!’ Feelgood replies.  ‘Let’s show her what she’ll be going home with!’

And as the crowd cheers animatedly, the final curtain is lifted revealing a massive pile of items stacked to the ceiling in a disorganized, messy heap.  

The girl in the sparkly dress holds her lanky arms out, gesturing grandly towards the towering pile of clutter, grinning ear-to-ear.

‘As a contestant on our show today, you will be leaving with the following gifts:


A one-way plane ticket to Somalia!’

The crowd gasps in envy. 

‘A miniature trampoline!  2 puppies! A saxophone!  Ski poles!  An underwater basket-weaving instruction manual!  Skydiving gear!  A lifelong membership to a culinary institute of your choice!  A 1978 Volkswagon Beetle Classic! A set of 52 Collector’s Edition ‘Sound of Music’ dinner plates…’…And SO MUCH MORE!!! 

Well?  What do you think?’

Hesitantly, she looks out at the crowd, choosing her words carefully. 

‘I appreciate it and all, but… well… I doubt I’ll ever use any of that stuff.  I’m not really interested in any of those things…’

Feelgood nods, understandingly,  ‘Well, they’re not really meant for use TODAY.  These are MANIC prizes… 

These are the things you’ll waste your life savings on and become convinced that you’re passionate about.  Then you’ll eventually lose interest and energy, and they’ll sit around your house collecting dust and remind you of all the USEFUL things you could have bought if you hadn’t wasted the money on frivolity!!’

She sighs in resignation and stares blankly at the floor as the music begins to chirp overhead, signaling the end of the show.  

Well, Julie, thank you for playing today… and we look forward to seeing you all next time onnnnnnn..

Bipolar, Meds, or MYSELF!!!’

As the crowd claps together one last time, and the ending credits cascade down the TV screen, Feelgood leans towards his contestant and whispers low enough, for only her to hear.  

A little something extra for you, for being brave enough to play…’

He pulls a tiny box the size of his palm from his suit pocket, and covertly hands it off to her.  She stares, inquisitively.  

One day, you’ll open it… and you’ll find the purpose of your struggle inside.  But you’ll have to be patient, because it’s not meant to be unwrapped just yet. 

There will be times when you’ll convince yourself that the box is empty, and that there is no prize, and that this was all a great sham. You’ll want to tear it open in frustration, to confirm your suspicions.  But if you do that, you’ve missed the point, and you’ll find it to be empty.

And so you’ll have to wait. 

Wait until you know, without a doubt, that there’s something spectacular inside this box. 

Until you no longer have any misgivings about what it contains. 

Until it becomes so clear that you don’t even HAVE to peer inside to know what it is.  Does that make sense?’

She nods, slowly.

‘I guess.  But why even have a box at all?  If I’ll just wind up stumbling upon the prize on my own anyways… what’s the point?’

Because one day in the future… you’ll give it to someone else. But you can’t hand it off to someone, if there’s nothing there to grab.’ He concludes, with a wink.

And for the first time, the contestant smiles at her host, and they walk off together…

…and exit

stage left.

Where is My Mind?

Present Day

I awake with a violent jerk, tangled inside a nest of disorganized cotton sheets and blankets.

The room is dark, with a hint of fluorescent light trickling in through the cracks in the blinds. A lone streetlight casting its ghostly rays on the quiet, chilly corner outside.

I blindly reach my hand out from beneath the down comforter, probing expectantly with grasping fingers, and wincing as the cold air strikes my exposed skin.

The tiny muscles at the base of my fluffy arm-hairs tighten. I shiver as the goosebumps erupt. 

I continue my sightless search, combing the perimeter for that tiny familiar device, containing all the abstract data that comprises my existence here in the 21st Century.

Finally, my palm slaps something smooth and hard. My thumb instinctively swipes across its polished surface. 

I squint my eyes as the screen springs to life.

An angry grunt bubbles up in my throat as I note the time. 

4 AM

GOD. DAMMIT.

I toss the phone away and scoop up an armful of blankets instead, bundling them over my face. Letting out a muffled wail of frustration into the soft, cushy fabric.  

Suddenly, a sharp pang ripples through my belly, and my irritation at the ungodly hour evaporates. An impending sense of urgency replaces it.

I frantically kick my feet, attempting to free my legs from their tangled bonds before it’s too late.

My stomach bubbles ominously. I Groan as the walls of my intestines dance and writhe and twist, swishing their contents back and forth like a small child making waves in a bathtub.

Not a moment too soon, my legs have tunneled their way to freedom and I plant my feet on the cold hardwood floor. 

As I rise from the mattress, I reach down with one hand and grab a handful of the elastic waistband, hanging loosely around my sharply protruding hip bones.

It’s a habit I’ve only recently grown accustomed to.

Five weeks ago, these pants had fit perfectly.

Funny how quickly the body turns on itself, cannibalizing it’s own precious tissues in a desperate plea for sustenance. Liquidating it’s own assets in a frantic attempt to survive the nutritional recession.

Cinching the fabric tightly about my waist, I stumble  into the hallway and onward to the bathroom. 

How many times has this happened tonight?

What number am I on? 

7?

8?

How is there anything left in my stomach to expel?

Surely it must be empty by now?

Several minutes later, I collapse back into bed. The sheets have grown cold in my absence.

Oddly, I’m no longer wallowing in self-pity.  Instead, I feel… reassured. Relieved. Vindicated. 

I’m reacting to this much better than I had two weeks ago. I’m not panicking, like I did last time.

Because now, after 1 month of slowly titrating up the dosage of this new medication, I’m finally recognizing the patterns.

Patterns lead to predictions.

And predictions lead to preparation.

And preparation, leads to a sense of control. 

I may not have control over my body just yet, but if the cycle continues… I will feel physically well again in about a week. My body will adjust to the higher dose, and the cramping and nausea will subside.

I just have to keep the faith and ride out the storm. 

Easier said than done.

Because as much as I’ve come to accept the physical demands of this adjustment period, they absolutely pale in comparison to the hell they’ve imposed on me MENTALLY.

Three weeks ago I was out running when I passed by a garage sale.

As I coasted along the sidewalk, I noticed a spunky little clock that stood out among the rest of the mundane and perfectly ordinary baubles. It’s borders were undulated, as though someone had suspended it over a blowtorch. It was artistically melted.

I thought to myself, “That’s cool. Looks like one of those paintings by… by… by….”

That artist. 

You know the one…

C’mon you know this.

You wrote a research paper on him in college. 

It’s a household name, for Chrissake.

You KNOW this. 

You have to know this. 

Why don’t you know this?

Why don’t you fucking know this? 

What’s WRONG WITH YOU?

Why can’t you REMEMBER?

This went on for my entire run.

I don’t remember what route I took, what music I listened to, or what my time was.

But I vividly recall spiraling into a full-blown panic attack that didn’t let up until I arrived back at my front porch and FINALLY, screamed aloud, practically sobbing in relief…

SALVADOR DALI!!

Salvador fucking Dali.

I get it. I know it’s stupid.

Normal humans, all over the world, are probably forgetting the names of Early-20th century Spanish painters on a DAILY basis.

No one, that I’m aware of, has ever found themselves in mortal peril from their lack of useless art facts.

And more importantly, I’m not an artist.

Nor am I a curator, or a museum-owner, or someone who can dissect a famous painting for hidden meaning, or really comment on art at all, except maybe to say things like “I think this one might be a watercolor?”

So why did I let Salvador Dali and his bizarre acid-trip style interpretation of the world ruin my day? 

Let me explain.

I am by nature, an extremely scholarly person.

I love to learn new things, expand my vocabulary, and binge-watch Netflix documentaries until I can recite all the exact dates of the major World War II battles for no particular reason other than to annoy you. 

I tend to consume information gluttonously, eating it up like a package of freshly-opened Girl Scout cookies.

And I pride myself on retaining that information. Its a huge part of who I am and how I define myself.

And throughout the past few weeks, as my psychiatrist has slowly begun to alter the dosages of some of my meds, I’ve felt that part of myself slipping, ever so slightly. 

And that scares the shit out of me.

For the last two weeks, I’ve had my own brain under interrogation almost constantly. 

Insignificant bits of forgotten information have become evidence…

… that my medicine has dissolved my memory into soup.  

Every perceived deviance from my normal way of thinking has been carefully monitored, cataloged, and placed in the repository of “Things That Prove I’m Now an Idiot and will be This way Forever.” 

To top it off, I’ve been terrified to write anything for fear that the entire world would pick up on the fact that I’ve somehow transformed into Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon.

And even if I’d wanted to write, I was having trouble finding the right words to convey even relatively simple ideas.

That burning flame of creativity that had always been raging in my mind, had been extinguished.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying 2 weeks.

But near the tail end of it, the fog began to lift, ever so slowly, as my body became accustomed to these strange new chemicals.

And I realized, much to my relief, that the change… was hardly permanent. 

Best of all, I’m beginning to feel, a hint of “something else” that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I feel, slightly better? A tiny bit… balanced?

Not an overwhelming change, but enough to give me a tiny glimpse of hope to get through these next two weeks, as my dosage was increased again yesterday. It’s a perpetuating cycle of adaptation and agony.

As I lay atop my sheets now, preparing for the next round of cramping and nausea to begin, I desperately cling to the idea that this is temporary.

My body, will recover.

The atrophied muscles, I can rebuild.

I won’t live on soup and crackers forever. 

My mind, is healing. That takes time.

And although this all seems so wildly unfair… in the broad scheme of things, it’s actually not so bad.

So I close my eyes… grit my teeth, and probe my struggling mind for activity.

Salvador Dali

It becomes my mantra.

I clench the phrase in my hands and squeeze it until my knuckles turn white.  

As long as I can remember it… I know I’ll be okay. 

My mind, is in there somewhere. Lying dormant.

Waiting. Healing.

It will return when it’s ready.