It’s Wednesday night. My husband is out of town on business. I have fed my children and bluffed my way through their homework. My daughter retreats to her room which she calls, “the spa.” She’ll wrap herself in a fluffy polka-dotted bathrobe and repaint her toenails neon pink while watching “Dancing with the Stars” on her tablet. I won’t see her again until bedtime when she’ll demand that I snuggle with her and the dog under her pink comforter and whisper a list of all of the people who love her and reassure her that the doors and windows are locked and that she is safe and will always, always be safe with me (this is my favorite part of her day.)
But first I call Milo to me. I reach into a kitchen cabinet and pull down the compartmentalized plastic container with M T W T F S S stenciled in blue on the square, pop open tops. I lift up the W and dump 2 pills in my hand. I hold them out to Milo. He gingerly takes the oblong, smokey blue one, holds it up to his eye and squints.
“What’s this one do?”
“That one works on the speed of your thoughts. It helps you think clearly.”
He swallows the pill. And considers the light yellow one.
“What does this one do?”
“That one balances your moods.”
“What if I don’t want my moods balanced?”
“Why wouldn’t you want your moods balanced?”
“Do you want YOUR moods balanced?”
“In fact, I do. That’s why I I take that same pill.”
“I do. I’m a lot like you.”
“Do you have days when everything goes wrong and you think everyone including God hates you and you want to hide under your bed and cry and cry but crying doesn’t help so then you think it would be better if you died?”
“Yes, I have days like that.”
“Do you have times when you are so happy, you can’t stop yourself from shouting, even if people around you ask you to be quiet you just keep shouting.”
“Not really. That’s where we differ.”
“So, do you have the Bipolar?”
“Yes, but not the same kind as yours.”
“There’s more than one kind?”
“There’s two kinds. You have the first and I have the second. You’re one and I’m two. But we’re alike.”
He pats me on the back. “So that’s why you always understand me.”
“What if we didn’t take our pills? What would happen?”
“I’m not sure. I think we’d feel bad.”
“I already feel bad.”
“I think we’d feel worse.”
“Okay.” And he takes the pill.
I have struggled with depression since high school. At different times in my life I’ve fought it off with poetry, sex, travel, hallucinogenic drugs, television and shopping. Everything worked until it didn’t.
I was helped by the first generation of SSRIs. Until I wasn’t.
Meeting my husband, finding my craft/medium and having my children was a reprieve.
But, not long ago I fell into a cavernous depression. I managed to get through the routine necessary to keep my kids in lunches and clean clothes, to read to them, watch TV with them, play games and do homework. I managed to be there for them, but otherwise I was in bed, asleep. Or crying.
My husband was heroically patient. Until he wasn’t. So I found a psychiatrist and, after much consideration, he prescribed the same medication that Milo is on. It worked. That is to say, my ocean of despair filled in from the edges and became a lake, now it’s a formidable pond, deep and cold at the bottom. But I can see the trees. And for me, hope lives in the trees.
As far as I can tell, psychiatry is as much an art as a science. If you respond to a medication designed to treat Bipolar than you will be diagnosed as Bipolar. I have never experienced mania, so my diagnosis is Bipolar II. As my daughter would say, whatevs. I’m glad to be swimming in shallower water.
I don’t know what goes on in Milo’s brain. I don’t feel what he feels, even at my most depressed. But I know what it’s like to think you’re drowning, which is why I’m never sorry to retrieve the plastic pill box, pop open the correct square, hand Milo his pills and then high five him as I swallow my own. I’m never sorry to throw out that rope and reel us both in.