If ever a bumper sticker needed a beverage alert, it was this one. I saw it a few months ago on the back of an old Honda that was held together with prayer and duct tape—kind of like my life—and promptly spewed Diet Coke all over my dashboard.
Then I went home and told this story to my family, only to have them stare at me like I was wearing red ribbons in my hair. I keep forgetting that people who are not cursed/blessed with a serious mental illness can’t quite wrap their intact little minds around the humor inherent in carrying around a big, bad ol’ DSM diagnosis like bipolar disorder. They don’t get the jokes. You know, like Foghorn Leghorn saying, “Boy, I say Boy, you’re exceeding the limits of my medication!”
Then again, those of you who are too young to catch the reference to a 1960s-era cartoon chicken might not get that one either. ‘S okay…..sometimes, you just have to get to know me to understand my peculiar brand of warped. The fact that I’m a registered nurse of some years’ vintage also has done things to my sense of humor that would make a sailor blush. Poop stories? Nurses know ’em all: we’ve seen it, smelled it, cleaned it…..and they’re made fresh daily. Ba-da-boom!
All kidding aside, being a health professional who just happens to have a nasty case of manic depression really sucks sometimes. Well, it sucks more often than that, but I digress. It’s a difficult thing to hide when you’re working side-by-side with other nurses, doctors, patients, and the assorted characters who populate healthcare facilities. These people usually know each other’s business only slightly better than they do their own, so when you experience a bout of mania or depression, everyone in the building knows about it almost before you do.
I’m a rather unusual case, seeing as how I wasn’t even diagnosed until the age of 53. Now I look back and can see that I’ve had bipolar for most, if not all of my life; it explains the melancholy of my childhood, the tempestuousness of my 20s and 30s, the crazy things I did (like throwing a change of clothes and a pack of cigarettes in the bed of a co-worker’s truck and driving down to Ensenada, Mexico on a Friday night). But like too many people with the disorder, I thought I was merely defective and didn’t deserve any better, and I was also terrified of mental illness. My parents used to talk about people who were “loco en la cabeza” (IOW: nuts) in hushed tones, and of course there weren’t any crazy people in OUR family……no, we just had parents who drank like fish, and aunts, grandmothers, and sisters who had quiet nervous breakdowns behind closed doors.
So I got to be the ‘special’ one. I don’t get what my mother called “the vapors” or pass out drunk in the parlor; I have a MENTAL ILLNESS. And sometimes the label seems to weigh more heavily than any patient I’ve ever lifted.