I don’t harp on my manic depression. It doesn’t own me. Most of the time, I barely remember how much it impacts my life. That can be a tricky line to walk.
Of all the “symptoms” or maybe more accurately, characteristics is that of emotional intensity. Until my full diagnosis and subsequent therapy I had no idea that the way I processed emotions, as well as simply experienced them in the moment (and by memory) was any different from anyone else. However, it is different. My emotions are way more intense, visceral as compared to most other people. It is sometimes difficult to hold them together in a moment. I am desperately overwhelmed more often than I want to admit.
In all honesty, it’s not all bad. When it comes to happiness I often cannot contain my joy. As silly as that sounds I know my feelings ooze out, divulged in my facial expression and anxiety alike. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, aside from pure bliss. When I am totally immersed in a moment, no other thoughts, just there, it feels as if I will explode and none of me will be left. Honest to goodness, just burst apart at the seams. Pop!
The dark times are just as intense, pain so great the only respite is deep sleep or death. Sleep eases the emotional wounds by allowing my mind to escape, if only for a few hours. Death becomes logical ONLY because the pain cuts so deep. It is not a rational response. I am well aware. But in full disclosure, that’s how I feel inside. It sucks. I have a fairly high/good tolerance to real physical pain, perhaps it’s because the emotional gashes strike so harshly. I can only surmise that this intensity adds time to my healing from emotional set backs. I can’t heal these wounds in a normal, acceptable time frame. (Yes, I am aware there is no “normal” time frame, but it’s unacceptable to me, and too long for friends and family to last through full circle.)
Until I took a long, hard look at my life in full, not segmented, I wasn’t able to identify and see the pattern that has obviously run throughout it. Emotional pain led to depression at a very young age and my inablility to process the ferocity of these emotions meant they had nowhere to go. I had to find some coping mechanism, a way to relieve the pressure. Even joy caused extreme stress. It still does. So, I took out an audio account and made deposits. In other words I embed some intensity, pain and joy (as well as every other emotion) into a song. I realise this is not a novelty, many people do this inadvertently. For me, it is a necessity, essential to survival. When asked what is the one thing you could not live without? Music.
In high school, I buried the pain (and yes, I hate to admit it trauma) of my abortion in Don Hendley’s “Boys of Summer” (https://youtu.be/qkk0RMRwGDs). With the first guitar riff, the pain floods back into my system. I can instantly cry (god! I should have been an actress, lol). I know my mind in the summer of 1984. I can see the attention, any attention I needed to have. I feel the care I desperately wanted to explore, come to know. And I can now see how misguided my mind was. Still, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I grew up in such an instant, one moment in a New York City Hospital on a cold January night. Boom! You are an adult, figure it out. (Those are my sentiments, not likely what was expected from everyone.) But, I fucked up and I had to unfuck what I had fucked (both literally and figuratively) in life.
Conversely, I can encapsulate the only truly “happy” year in my high school career (all of my teens actually) , my senior year, with Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” (https://youtu.be/4BQLE_RrTSU). It is a song I really don’t like. It’s cringeworthy. However, it sums up a time and place of real joy. My senior year felt like all I had ever wanted. What I had been alive for 17 years to get to. My friends, my boyfriend were everything. School went well and I took all the classes I wanted (not that shit mandated by the state). Just pulling up that song throws me back to it all. I end up crying from the happiness bottled up within the first 30 seconds. It’s pathetic, lol. Especially because I really don’t like the damn song.
Flip again to the mid 1990s and I’m all tied up again with a flurry of feeling. Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us” (https://youtu.be/_WamkRSDeD8) struck a chord that ran so close to my heart that the strings play right along today. I got divorced early and had a huge amount of fear, anxiety, stress from the challenge of raising two kids without a fucking clue how or what to do. I wanted my kids to know, love and experience life with both parents as fully as possible. There was definitely a part of me that was angry I wasn’t a better, stronger person. That I wasn’t able to power through and make it work. In essence it is a reminder of my own shameful weakness, as well as my dedication and overwhelming unconditional love for my kids. Wrapped up in Will Smith is equal joy and pain. That’s a really hefty deposit.
The songs go on by name, artist, dates and a variety of emotional deposits. I encapsulate life in a soundtrack, no different than most except the intensity doesn’t decrease or alter with time. The years, decades only preserve the emotions, gently protecting what I could not, cannot process.
Please don’t think these deposits take away from emotions that happen “in the moment.” They don’t. Just last week I experienced a near perfect moment and no song, no music was there for the deposit. The only place I could put it was the ocean lapping up against the shore, and let’s be honest, that is no place for an emotional deposit. Way too much goes on at the beach. Lol. The moment took over my senses and my abilities were rendered a bit useless. It was only last week, but I get stressfully overwhelmed just recalling the intensity of the moment. It’s awesome. I love it and hate it equally. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t change it. But I know I actively, desperately looked for someplace I could make a deposit. It just wasn’t there.
My emotional audio bank would not be complete without an entire section dedicated to Coldplay. They may be the one band who (nearly) single handedly kept me alive during the deepest darkest times of depression in my mid-forties. Particularly the Ghost Stories album let me deposit emotions that may have pushed me that extra bit over the edge of a cliff of no return. (Thank you Coldplay.) I can span the Coldplay catalog with good, bad, happy, sad, midling, wonder, awe, sadness, cynicism, just life in general, but one song brings a smile and gives me hope (a seriously undervalued emotion), “Up and Up” (https://youtu.be/BPNTC7uZYrI). Beyond the lyrics, the easy mellow rise and fall of the melody underlaid with a strong bass drum line, the single best part comes at rougly 2.45 into the video. The build up to the bridge makes me well up every time. It’s just one of those moments that allow for release. The bridge pushes into the last choral reprise with a sustainable rush of what I can only describe as positivity until it ends with tender gentility. It’s like a virtual hug laden with encouragement. Plus who can resist an awesome concept video with skateboarders rolling along a disengaged booster rocket.
Without boring you with the multitude of tracks impregnated by my emotional overload, it’s important for me to state my need for music. The fact is it houses far more than notes, riffs, melodies, thunderous bass lines that ease my tinnitus. Music protects me. It returns things I’ve learned, felt, struggled and celebrated. It eases those emotions I simply cannot process, that engulf me entirely, swallow me whole. As far as my bipolar is concerned, uncontrollable and intense emotional response is by far the number one thing I hope I can somehow convey to other people. I can’t describe mania or hypomania except to say it is unforgiving. I can’t describe depression beyond utterly crippling. I know the right medication is a lifesaver, and taking it deadens the part of you that keeps you alive and makes life worth living. I struggle everyday with an antiquated mindset toward mental health: pull up your bootstaps, put your head down and get it done. I have found compassion, just not for myself. I have also found gratitude and try everyday to recognise it in some small part of me. Acknowledging the role music plays and its importance on my life is an act of gratitude. And, hopefully it helps someone else, maybe you, to better understand how manic depressives interlock the pieces of their lives.