Content Warning: This post contains information about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, which may be triggering to some survivors.
“To Know Myself Again,” MacKenzie Dumas
Finding out that I am bipolar was not surprising. The negative aspects that come with being bipolar have not surprised me. But, the positive things that have surfaced since becoming more vocal and open about being bipolar have surprised me.
I have struggled for a while with my mood, but I found out just over a month ago that I am, in fact, bipolar. I will briefly write about the negative things, just to let people know that it is something that people, most of the time invisibly, deal with when they have bipolar disorder. But, the main purpose of me writing about living with bipolar disorder is to bring light to my situation and hopefully, remind bring a little light to others in the same boat as me.
Both ends of the mood spectrum when it comes to being bipolar are scary. They are scary because I do not know I am there mentally until I leave those places. When I dip into the depressive state, I find it more than difficult to pull myself out of bed—
I don’t call my parents. I don’t eat. I don’t do the things I typically enjoy doing. I sleep and can’t convince myself to pull myself up and live. I do find the time to talk down to myself, and for a person who is hard on herself even without being in the depressive state, this can be astonishingly harmful to myself.
When I go into the hyper stages, my mind is going a million miles per hour. I can’t concentrate. I have driven places, forgotten I drove there, walked back to my dorm, and forgotten my car overnight. I can’t sit still. I can’t sit in class without having to leave to go do something. I crave to run. I want to run 1,000 miles. I want to run at 1 o’clock in the morning. I do not know where I want to run to, but I can’t stay here.
I want to be there, and there, and there.
I want to do that, and do that, and then do that.
I will sleep for 2 or 3 hours a night and not miss it the next day. I get angry at myself for not having the ability to do multiple things at once and not be able to be in multiple places at once. I forget to eat, because I am too busy trying to accomplish a month’s worth of tasks in a day. I will do that for a week straight and when that hyper time is over, I am mentally and physically exhausted.
But, I can either focus on those parts of bipolar disorder, or, I can choose to see the great things that have happened.
The first time I was actually told that I am bipolar, it scared me for about a second. But then, I realized that it explained so much and that there was so much I could do to cope with it and help others deal with mental illness. I decided to make this a vehicle. I can drive it anywhere I want. I can either decide to leave the car in park and not use it for anything. I can put the car in neutral and let it cost wherever it wants to, dragging me along with it. OR, I can put the damn car in drive and I can travel and go places and bring others along for the ride. And if anyone decides that they don’t want to go with me, then they can leave, and that’s fine, but I am driving and I have places I need to be.
So stay or get out—but I. Am. Going.
I have a blog that I started as a medium to write about my transition into being an adult and start life away from where I grew up. I decided to use the blog as a way to document my experience with bipolar disorder. My first post has been my favorite.
Back when I was in a really depressive state, I decided to get the phases of the moon tattooed down my spine. For me, it represents that even when I do not feel like all of me is there – when I feel like parts of me are missing, big or small—I am always whole. I am constantly transitioning.
This tattoo is monumental. I am cratered with imperfections, but I am whole and I am strong and I am beautiful.
For my first post, I connected my mood transitions with the phases of the moon. The moon has been a very important element in connecting my mood with something visible and real. But think about it, the moon is allowed to constantly change, in fact, so is the weather, so why is there such a stigma about my moods doing the same exact thing?
"Phases of the Moon," MacKenzie Dumas
New moon. This is the beginning.
I feel like I have not found myself but I have not lost myself, yet.
I have not lost myself again.
There is so much possibility and probability and potential.
But everything feels ambiguous.
And just as the crescent begins to show, so do I.
A new revolution.
There is so much to believe in.
I begin to feel familiar to my own self.
My skin feels like it is of me.
I remember, just for a moment what I am made of and how to once again
Catch My Breath.
Half Moon and the glass feels half full.
I recall in a way that I could not in the previous moments of being
The semblance of a working soul
Everything can only get better, bigger, stronger. Real.
I am almost there and so is the gibbous moon.
Only a crescent-sized piece of me is missing
And maybe I can live without it.
If only I could stay here, and live with the compromise of myself
Live without the missing piece but I don’t know what it is and my mind is racing
And I can do almost anything
And then the unmistakable feeling emerges
I am whole
Bright and visible and illuminated
Cratered by imperfections
But they are beautiful and
My soul is beautiful
Nothing is lost
When I look at my reflection, I am within
I am familiar with those who surround me
My thoughts are my own
I can change the tides of the ocean
And with the victorious awareness of liberation
Comes the inevitable and calamitous
Because everyone knows that even when the moon is full
Half of it is in darkness and waiting its turn
And we try not to be selfish.
Once again, I become a gibbous.
One again, a piece of me is missing.
Still, a piece I feel I can live without
If only I can stay here.
Functional and thriving.
But just as quickly,
I am at half once again.
Half Moon, half empty.
Still proportionately the same as before,
Half is okay.
We can do half.
And a little light is lost.
And then a little more.
And soon a crescent sized piece of myself is left.
And I think
I just need to keep this little bit. I just need to know that some of me is still here.
Because if this leaves, what if I never come back.
And pretty soon I am in my own darkness
All that is left are the stars and a glimpse of our galaxy
And I am lost somewhere in there
Just hoping that I get another chance
To know myself again.
I created the post, and then decided to share it to my Facebook and to Twitter. It was very terrifying for me because almost no one in my life knew what I was dealing with. But, I really want to use my experience to help others cope with their own experiences, and hopefully foster an environment for others to understand what people are going through.
Posting that poem has been such a positive experience. I had people messaging me, people who I’ve never met or known, to tell me that they were so happy I posted it. People were able to connect with it and sigh a breath of relief because someone else on earth knew what they were going through.
I have told friends and family and for the most part, people have been extremely supportive of me. I have found that becoming vocal about it has changed my relationships with people, and they have changed for the better.
Here I was, afraid that people would stigmatize my mood disorder (only 1 person did) and I was the one underestimating people for how they would react to me telling them.
If you surround yourself with positive people, your experience will be more positive. My message is that, you can either surround yourself with people who only go outside to see the moon when it is whole, or, you can surround yourself with people who appreciate the moon during every phase. Remember to love yourself, no matter what phase you are in. Learning to love yourself when you are whole is hard, learning to love yourself when pieces are missing or hidden, is even harder. It’s a beautiful life and I just want everyone else to make the best of theirs.
About the art:
I was inspired by Mackenzie's poem about phases of the moon to create this piece. The colors are inspired by the cool, calming colors of the ocean. I started to paint the phases of the moon, but the quote I chose to use from her poem is about the full moon phase. With this idea, I painted full moons in different colors and shades.
It's funny that the quote is about imperfections, because this painting is actually upside down.
I painted the moons with the idea that the light source (or yellows) would be at the bottom right of the piece. After adding the quote which I fell in love with, I noticed that I had painted it upside down. I loved how it turned out and I think it fits better with the moon orientation this way instead of the way I had originally planned.
Sometimes the picture in our mind isn't what the final product ends up becoming, but I am very grateful for that because it created a more beautiful painting than I had thought it would become. This relates to the events that shape our lives along the way. It may not have turned out how we thought, but it's even more amazing than we'd imagined.
I hope Mackenzie loves this painting as much as I do and it inspires her to be true to herself, because she is amazing.