My hands are locked up tight in fists
My mind is racing filled with lists
Of things to do and things I’ve done
Another sleepless night’s begun

~ Barenaked Ladies ~ “Who Needs Sleep”

Insomnia is a bitch. She creeps up on me most nights, curling her long, cold fingers around the root stem of my brain. I try to fight her off, using all of my Ninja skills: deep breathing, happy places, self-hypnosis. If I know I am winning then all is lost. Mid-yawn, my body insists on gasping for more air. I hold my breath and hope for the best.

The fluffy bunnies, running on the wheels inside my head, Chug! Chug! Chug! their Red Bull and power up the mental generator. The inner screen flickers to life; it’s time to start the show. My worst moments of the day run on continuous loop. There is only one way to stop the horror: my eyes snap open. I am wide awake now. The sleepless witch pokes and prods me; I feel every ache and pain as if it were a new wound. I am too stubborn, or perhaps too stupid, to take anything stronger than a handful of NSAIDs. I struggle to remain silent. My bed is not empty tonight and he needs his sleep. Slipping out from the warmth of body and blankets, I steal his bathrobe and sneak away.

Something will amuse me, somewhere. I scan the Internet, read my e-mail, and wonder why no one else is updating at this late (or is it early) hour. The television gives me nothing but infomercials and bad porn. I am interested in neither. However, the sound of a human voice is comforting, lulling. I leave the garbage on. It is with supreme effort that I do not turn to my video game. I am not that pathetic. The sexcapade is still on; people are making animal noises. I have my own bathroom down here in the basement. The potential release of a languorous bath springs unbidden to the surface of my thoughts. If only I had some bubble soap and knew where my towel was.

I realize I am lonely, alone with only my thoughts. I surf the channels from cries of passion to lies of fashion, settling on QVC. There are not enough hours between now and morning to take a drink or pop a pill, so I will stay awake until bedtime comes around again. I pull my laptop desk to me. I write the rant I won’t post, with gripes about people I don’t know and defenses of the ones I do. I listen to the voice in my head who warns me I might want to rethink being online. I give in, and I turn on my game. After a while, I watch a virtual sun rise in real time. I prepare to head upstairs to greet the new day.

He will ask me, “Did you sleep ok?” He knows that if I go too many nights without good sleep we are both screwed. My moods are so brittle, I can flip from the safety and security of what passes as normal to something far more dangerous with the loss of only one night. Slumber is my strength, and my salvation. Take that away from me, and soon all is lost.

“No, but I will be fine,” I’ll tell him. And I will be, eventually. Meanwhile, the muses sing to me in their songs of color and light. Their words dance like inverted fireflies on my screen. The annoying twin sisters of nightmare and fantasy will have to wait another day before we three meet between the sheets, while their bastard cousin hallucination plays gentleman-caller. The lich insomnia has failed at sucking the life out of me tonight. On the contrary, she has shown me a new, beautiful, and deadly truth: I could stay awake forever, if forever felt this good. G-d help me when the end of forever comes. It is going to hurt like hell.


“Just a moment, please. I seem to have filed your chart again.”

In the year or so since I began visiting Dr Frank, only once had she remembered to pull my file before my scheduled appointment with her. I sat on the edge of the couch, my right leg a blur of nervous energy, and looked around the cluttered office. She had been to the library recently. I reached to take one of the books when Dr Frank walked back in. I snapped my hand back into my lap.

My psychiatrist pulled a sheet of pre-punched yellow note paper from the pile on her desk and slipped it into the chart on her lap. “So tell me, Amy, how has the last month been?” Pen poised to take notes, she looked at me expectantly.

“We closed on the house.” She nodded. “I had a few down days.” She scribbled something. “I mean really down days, like I probably should have called you but I talked to my friends instead down days.”

Dr Frank looked up from her notes. “As bad as last month?”

“Well,” I started, “I have had worse days. Like, if I was going to put them on that scale of one to five with one being I am hardly bothered by the thoughts and five means I should have called an ambulance already, then we are talking threes and fours. Lately.”

“I am really concerned, Amy, that you didn’t call me.” She wrote several more things in her chart. “Is the light therapy working for you?”

After a year, I’d learned that what she wrote down in my chart and what we actually talked about in session were very different things.

“I don’t use light therapy, remember?”

“Did you sell your light then?”

“No. You loaned me yours and it had no effect.” I tried to sound patient. “I gave it back months ago.”

“Oh, that’s right. And I can see you are not having any luck with your weight. That must be so frustrating.” Dr Frank was often so tactful. “Is that why you are depressed all the time?”

“No. And I am not depressed all the time. I am depressed twice a month. I have a really neat sine wave, if you want to see it, on my mood chart.” She waved her hands. “Well, I thought it was neat,” I muttered.

“I am really quite concerned about your ongoing depression, Amy. Especially that you are still having these suicidal thoughts. I think…”

I interrupted her, “I didn’t call you because it’s not what you think. I mean, yes, I feel that bad and yes, I have those damn thoughts in my head. But I can finally call on my friends for help now, when I need to. I even know how to, well, reboot my brain. To get it to stop spinning round and round in places I don’t want it to go. All those years of cognitive therapy have taught me it isn’t what you think, but how you think it that is important.”

Dr Frank looked at me as though I were nuts, as I went into mini-manic-mode: my arms gesturing, my legs bouncing, my words racing and tumbling about; all the while I explained how I rebooted my brain to break a major depressive episode. Eventually, I regained some measure of control.

“You know, there is some scientific evidence to back you up on that.” Dr Frank made a couple more notations on that yellow paper. “I still want to adjust your medications, but would you mind meeting with a student next month? I think they could learn something from you.”

I nodded, and pulled out my Treo to check for an open calendar appointment. I could put up with her idiosyncrasies for another month, if she could put up with mine.

Pain Is A Four-Letter Word

Stability is something I strive for. Each morning, when I receive my One-Click Mood Chart reminder, I am proud when I can click the “Normal mood” link. Each successive day of normalcy allows me to pretend that I am just like every one else; that I am not at the mercy of misfiring neurochemical receptors in my brain; that I really can enjoy my full-bodied coffee in the morning and my diet Pepsi in the afternoon. Most especially, that the glass or two of wine I had with dinner, with friends, alone watching television, that those wonderful glasses of pinot noir or plum or riesling, in moderation are not going to hurt me.

I am wrong, of course. I love denial.

Yesterday was a horrible, no good, very bad day. It was one of a string of bad days; today is even worse. I wish I could do something about it. I’m actually kind of scared.

I feel like I should have seen this coming. After all, stress is a trigger for me, like most bipolars I have met (or read about). The minimizer in me points out that I have it easy. My job in life right now consists of cleaning a two-bedroom apartment, cooking dinner each night, making sure the laundry and dry cleaning get done, and trying to stay on top of the bills. It doesn’t seem like much. I have plenty of free time for writing, sewing, and goofing off however I choose. I get vacations. I travel. Everything is great!

The realist suggests I might want to expand my definition of responsibility, as well as my sources of stress. There is the whole house thing: not only is the purchase still up in the air, but change in general is stressful. I will be the one handling the details of the move from both our house in Kentucky and our apartment here in DC… Shit, there is no need for a laundry list of stressors. They just exist. No one really cares what they are.

Physically, I am in a lot of pain. A little pain, I ‘m used to. I ‘m getting a little older, and even though I exercise, the occasional aches and pains in the morning aren’t out of the ordinary. Neither is some stiffness if I sit too long in one place. This pain that I feel right now is different. Every joint, every muscle aches, as though I were a stretch Armstrong doll and some nasty child is trying to torture me. Perhaps he will pull off my head; I would feel much better, I think, then.

And no, the pain relievers are not helping. I am reluctant to take more right now. I am reluctant to go anywhere near my medicine cabinet.

In a way, I suppose I should be grateful. I am so tired, so full of pain, that while the ideas of self-injury are there, tickling and teasing at the edge of my consciousness, they are easy to ignore. I haven’t the physical strength to consider, let alone carry them out.

G*d help me if I slip into a mixed-mode. That is the most dangerous time: when the depression is strong, but the insanity of mania suggests that not only is suicide the best escape option, it is completely achievable.

It is funny. I fell asleep, lying here on the couch, right in the middle of writing this. Perhaps that is the best way to end. I know it must be better than any alternative running through my head.

Water of Life

I walk down to Judiciary Square, taking photos as I go. It is bright, warm in the sunny spots, cool in the shade of the buildings. I look at the fountains, monuments to those who have given their lives in service to others.

I take deep breaths and remind myself that this is the only life I get.

I can make of it whatever I want. I can fill it with drama. I can let every little thing hit me with the force of an atom blast. I can take things personally, whether they were intended that way or not.

I have a choice.

I can let the things that hurt me flow around me like turbulent waters pass the immovable stones. Sand may be pulled out from under me, but I will only shift if I let the floods overwhelm me.

I have a choice.

I can let my moods rule me, control me, dash me down between the canyon walls until there is no escape but the underground wells. I can, because that is a choice before me.

I can also refuse, and with that refusal stay in the sunshine, bright and warm, reflecting the beauty of life back upon those around me, in brilliant sparkles and shards of vivid color.

That, my friends, is endurance – choosing to live in spite of the desire to float away.