The breeze wicks me dry, leaving what’s leftover of my sweat to stick my thigh to the leather of my driver’s side seat. The stereo blasts some song of the summer, the bass swaying the car back and forth to the beat. One of my hands rests on the steering wheel while the other extends up and out of the moonroof reaching for the Summer sun.
It’s moments like these that I know joy firstahand, like an old friend. Serotonin rushes through my veins. Others tell me I radiate happiness, that I remind them of a ray of sunshine even. That’s the truth that I want to believe, that I was happy, that those were normal happy moments.
Unfortunately, my reality doesn’t exist within the normal happiness spectrum. Rather, it farther than my hands ever could, enough to encompass the sun if it chose. Everything starts to explode like fireworks. Confidence! Adventure! Sex! New clothes! Work done! Went to the gym! Room cleaned and reorganized! No pain! Joy! Elation!
The showtime varies, but they always stop having scorched everything that once lay before.
This feeling, that I now know as mania, allows me to reach a level of what resembles happiness to a degree that neurotypical people cannot. Though that may seem a gift, it’s a double edged sword. The same slight chemical imbalance that let’s me climb so high into the sky, sends me into the depths of my sorrows. Sometimes the energy is still there. My mind continues to race, to react impulsively, but it’s from a place of despair not of joy. The depression begins. Ugly thoughts pop in and out at their leisure. Eventually they slow down, sometimes leaving me bed ridden for days. Days I want to get up, I want to do my work, I want to get outside. I know that I should. I know setting routines will help. Yet, all I do is sit in my dark room, TV on, staring at a blank wall.
I never realized that my mood spectrum wasn’t neurotypical until February of my twentieth year. I thought the extreme lows were simply normal. When I got my first recognizable high, I soared for weeks on end. I was shocked by the mood lasting so long, how it kept going despite any need for sleep or food. A few weeks into the semester, my friend sat me down, criss-cross applesauce on our beloved rug, and said we had to talk. She told me of how I had been acting: interrupting her at every chance, acting as if my needs, stories, and time were all that mattered, an overflow
of irritable snapping comments towards her and our other friends, being reckless to myself. She sat down with my hands in hers and told me she was concerned. That yes, she was hurt, but she was concerned for me above all else. Upon her concerns and my shock, I decided to go back to therapy. After meeting with my long term therapist, she diagnosed me as being on the bipolar spectrum. Since then, it has been classified as type one.
Now I know that these extreme moods of both my past and future have a biological reason. I also know that though subdued by medication, they will be present for the rest of my life. So I must learn to know when they are coming, to be prepared. But how am I to be prepared for something I’ve known all my life as normal? At what point does reaching for the sun turn from a happy time to a warning sign, what happens if I’m wrong and start to burn? All of these answers remain unknown.
Cali Turner (she/her) is an undergrad at The University of Maine at Farmington. She is currently double majoring in English and Creative Writing. You can always find Cali outside, whether she’s hiking or curled up with a book in a hammock.