Inside a bipolar mind, there’s no calm, only chaos
November 2, 2003, around 3 a.m.
Around the corner from the Logan Square bus stop I pry open the massive window of my third-story apartment in a dilapidated 19th-century graystone that reeks of squalor and before I write an e-mail I wonder about the dimensions of my cell so I grab my 12-inch wooden ruler and move it along the walls pushing aside furniture, and after finding it to be 10 feet square I am curious how many quarter inches that would be and then how many millimeters so while I calculate I lie down on my back on the flea-ridden, plaid futon that came with the furnished apartment and I put my feet up on the wall and kick them to the rhythm of the music I have just begun to compose in my mind.
But I can’t sit still—so I jump up from the futon to shadowbox and speculate about whether I could have been an Olympic boxer while every so often switching to various calisthenics I learned as a cadet in Air Force ROTC at Notre Dame and stopping periodically to reorganize my book collection by author, then subject, then color, then size before having an epiphany that the absolute chaos of bipolar disorder paradoxically introduces a sense of peace into life because you learn to let go and accept the confusion of the world instead of trying to change things, so realizing the error of my ways and embracing chaos I knock the books off the shelf and change my shirt to pure blue to reflect the calm of resignation.
Sadness sets in and my throat chokes up and tears begin to well and I sing, nearly shouting: It’s a long way home, a long way from here, but surprise, blue eyes, you’re already here. . . and my neighbor pounds on the paper-thin walls and curses me but I can’t help singing this song about how home is not a physical place but a state of mind or something inside ourselves and I can be at home anywhere if I focus hard enough, quell my turbulent emotions.
Contemplating the meaning of home forces me to think of my years at Notre Dame so I dig through the mountains of clothes and late bills and debt-consolidation offers and obscure magazines I have ordered and notifications that my car is being repossessed and writing and drawings that I have strewn across the floor until I find my latest copy of Notre Dame magazine and my student loan bill the two of which I stick together with tape and affix to the wall using a gold second lieutenant’s bar as a pushpin to remind myself of the great costs I paid to have a top education.
I begin to cry and I’m hungry now as I begin to think about my current situation and that I haven’t eaten in two days so I retreat to my financial reserves which are pennies mostly stacked in little towers on the windowsill but I don’t have enough money even for a Coke and barely enough for some cheap candy and I remember how much weight I need to lose so I start doing jumping jacks stopping only once to take off my matching green sock and blue sock because the more I think about it the green sock should be on my right foot since green represents nature and balance and after testing my balance I am much more balanced on the right foot.
I really need a Coke, so I step out into the stale pink and silver hallway and hear that Crazy Indian Chief guy shouting war calls again and see the landlady pounding on his door threatening to call the police and I start down the stairs thinking to myself that Chicago is such a nice town if you have money and I begin to cry again when I reach the second floor and reflect on the fact that two is an oppositional number which perfectly matches the natural conflict within my mind . . . oh, crap! Did I lock my door? How did I ever end up in a halfway house?
I re-climb the steps and lock my door and descend again until I find my way down on the street. Everyone is looking at me as if they know all about me and my situation. The traffic is so loud. The noise is overwhelming. The crowds. The idea of riding the bus now that my car is gone. The thought of the crowded grocery store. Suddenly I’m tired. I can hear the overwhelming sound of the leaves cutting through the November air and scraping against the sidewalk. The fierce wind is wearing me down. It’s not like the wind at my mom’s house in Ohio. Everything is peaceful there. I miss home.
I try to shut out the calls of the late-night transvestite prostitutes and make my way to the ATM. I sift through my credit cards, one by one, and slip them in. One after another, they are denied.
I need answers and my mind races ahead in search of them. Maybe I can beg for two dollars for a Coke or maybe the guy at the all-night burger shop will give me one on credit since I’ve been a good customer or maybe my landlady will float me another 10 bucks and then I could get dinner too at the all-night Mexican restaurant on the corner.
My cell phone was shut off weeks ago but suddenly I remember the five-dollar calling card they gave me over the weekend in the hospital so I run over to the pay phone to make a call but the numbers get all jumbled up in my mind and I can’t dial the right digits for some time before I finally get through.
The phone rings for a long time, and then finally my mom answers.
“Ryan? Do you know what time it is?”
“Mom, they forced me to resign from work today when I got back from the hospital after I told them that I’m bipolar and I don’t know if they can do that but I went to the Equal Opportunity Commission and they told me I don’t have enough evidence to make a case . . .”
“Ryan. Ryan, slow down. I want you to take a deep breath, I can hardly understand you.”
I’m crying now. “I need to come home. Can I come home?”
Ryan M. Christman has dedicated himself to educating others about what it means to be bipolar. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Notre Dame(Winter 2007–08). Subscriptions: $25/yr. (4 issues) from 538 Grace Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556; www.nd.edu/~ndmag.