Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Highs and Lows

Last night, I got to experience the highest and lowest of life - all in the span of about four hours. My head is still spinning a bit, my emotions reeling from the wild roller coaster ride.

I decided to attend a concert, to be held in one of the classier venues in our city, right in the heart of downtown. Coinciding with the decision to attend was the decision to take public transit. (I'm not a fan of driving in the city at night - or any other time, really...)

So I walked to the nearest bus stop and sat on a bench to wait, a little nervously. (There was a time that public transit was the only way I traveled, but that was several years ago. Now I take the bus a few times a year, max...) Already on edge, I just about had a heart attack when a cat was trying to cross the road and narrowly escaped being hit by a truck - right in front of me!

The rest of the bus trip was uneventful, thank goodness. Until I got downtown, that is. I got off at the right stop, but then I didn't know where I was in relation to where I needed to be - only a few blocks away, but more than enough to stump a directionally-challenged person like myself. So I started walking.

It was then that the juxtaposition of life hit me hardest. There, in the midst of enormous modern skyscrapers and old architectural masterpieces, resided the lowest of the low, the down-est and out-est. The homeless, the wanderers, the ones who had squandered their chances or never had any chance at all. And you want to know something? No one accosted me, no one asked me for anything...but more than one of these poor folks actually looked me in the eye and smiled as I passed by. It broke my heart.

I finally found my way to the concert hall and was immediately accosted by the opposite extreme - the wealthy, the well-off, the affluent, the comfortable, finely-dressed folks who had extra money to spend on tickets to a Christmas concert. And I was one of them.

The concert itself was lovely, the impeccable harmonies lifting praises to the heavens as obscure melodies and familiar carols were sung. My soul was well-nourished by the time the final notes had ceased. To say that the evening was a study in contrasts would be a bit of an understatement.

Kind of like my life these days.

(If you're still with me, Friend - bravo! You'll find a revelation in the following lines.)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll be familiar with my struggle with depression over the last few years. (Your support has been so empowering, by the way - thank you.) At the urging of family and friends, I finally gathered the courage to see my doctor a few weeks ago.

My doctor's a great guy. Very thorough, very efficient. He asked a lot of questions, had me fill out several mental health surveys and BOOM! Diagnosis: mild to moderate bipolar disorder.

Say whaaa? First of all, I one hundred percent didn't expect a diagnosis on my first consultation about this. In fact, I was kind of anticipating/hoping the doctor would say it's nothing to worry about, go ahead and get on with your life, or something to that effect to suggest that I really was okay. And bipolar disorder? Of all the things it could have been, I sure didn't foresee that.

Looking back, I'm not sure why it was such a shocker. I mean, there is a family history of mental illness, diagnosed and not, that goes back generations, and includes bipolar disorder. I guess if I had actually taken the time to find out what it was when it emerged in our family, I would have seen the symptoms in myself much sooner, and may have been spared some hard things.

Do you know about bipolar disorder? Boiled down, it's regular life interspersed with extreme highs and lows, or mania and depression. "They" believe it's caused by a chemical imbalance, serotonin and dopamine specifically. It's a spectrum disorder, with a wide range of severity and occurrence of symptoms. Generally speaking, someone with bipolar disorder has higher highs and lower lows than the average person - whoever that might be :)

I've experienced a wide range of emotions as I've processed this new label. I expect there will be more to come, but for now I've landed on acceptance. A very good, very wise friend gave me a great way to look at it - that we're trying this label on to see how it fits. If life gets better wearing it, maybe we keep it. If not, it's not a problem to take it off and try on something else.

I feel good about having taken this step towards health and wellness and knowledge. I'm happy to have the opportunity to be an ambassador for mental health, to help break down communication barriers and stereotypes and stigma. I'm anticipating the positive changes that will come in my life as a result of this step in the right direction. I'm thankful for a God and a family and friends who have never and will never give up on me, who give me strength and courage and hope in the face of what could be seen as a bleak outcome. I'm choosing to anchor my soul to hope.


  1. Joy, I just wanted to say you have been in my thoughts often. I am grateful you are sharing your experience and that you are seeking help. I loved that idea about labels, try it on for size, if it helps great, if not, you can let it go.

    1. Bless you, Renee. So far, so good - I'm finding strength in authenticity and honesty these days. I love the trying-on-the-label notion, too - it makes wearing it feel much lighter, less constrictive, more empowering. Joy :)