So, this week I come across some old rock n’ roll recordings from the 70s and 80s, my youthful years during which I soaked in sun-drenched music, wore hot concert t-shirts, and began to sneak in a beer or two undercover. Where had the time gone? Unlike many others in my generation whose days and then years gradually putted along, mine was interrupted by a colossal traumatic break. And this disruption would erase my memory as it completely stripped away my ability to access passion. All those soulful, breathless moments in time when I thought I could not bear a single ounce more, and yet always joyfully managed to somehow drink one or two more in, were ripped out of my chest and thrown away into a trash bin labeled, “bipolar crazy.”
In my immature past, I would have been happy if any one of my clueless peers suffered the same kind of turmoil as me if only to have the chance to commiserate with a single human being who had empathy for me. I felt so alone, desperately yearning to have someone understand. Today, however, I wouldn’t wish the experience upon my worst enemy. I was lost, beaten down by the woes of a massive life accident, which I believed should never have happened, not to me at least. Not in my only lifetime.
I feel inspired by the memories and revise a poem I had written long ago:
Time Journeys By
Traveling in the open-windowed car,
Inspiration hits and then stops.
As I soak in the echoes of the resonating radio vibrations,
My chambers of history open up in memory form.
Imaginings in an artful space of ancient time,
The past of mine is so olden but golden.
I take off my travel kimono, powder my face with sunbeams, and remember wistfully.
The red and fuchsia possibilities of new world merged with old.
May I grab my things? May I enter the tunnels of yesteryear?
Bittersweet. But joy-filled.
Gone days true; almost forgotten. But salvaged not too late.
I continue to listen to the rotation of songs, and I feel that my heart is enormous and might burst. I’ve been hearing these songs on and off for years, why now do they throw me into this weepy state with such a massive punch? Is a new day dawning? A change in state I had forgotten existed somewhere in time? One which was annihilated long ago in exchange for balance, steadiness, stability and vapid stillness? Now in this revived state, I sing along with those songs, without mulling over or obsessing about anything, but instead just feeling them intensely through streaming tears down my face. I am reminded of such a happier, simpler time. A time when I was merely thrilled feeling what it was to be alive. A time when passion was not just a concept, but a thing I could feel. And as sentimentality floods into my heart, (something I winced at during many difficult junctures in my life), I slowly reconnect to something more meaningful, much more satisfying than the usual habit I have adopted from our sterile society of aggressively analyzing the psychological story behind it all.
My once passionate approach to life was flattened long ago, slowly and steadily influenced by the deadness of a cynical world. Growing up, a burning desire to feel deeply oozed from every orifice of my being. Everything I engaged in felt fiery and I only followed experiences that possessed that red hot flavor. But somewhere along the line, when the sadness and injustice of reality revealed itself to me, it was almost impossible to hold two directly opposing concepts in my mind at once. Because everything that was once alive with passion, now seemed wrongfully frivolous and selfishly absorbed.
Day by day, it was hammered into my brain that having passion wasn’t normal. It wasn’t healthy or productive, but rather, wasteful, abnormal and even dangerous. In response to the experts in the psychiatric institution as well as my brainwashed family and friends, I was actually becoming convinced that they were justified in being scared of me, as I increasingly became afraid of my own profound thoughts and intense feelings. After spending years in my own solitary, emotional cave of self-preservation, I realized that the only thing wrong with the condition of my mind was that I hadn’t yet learned to trust its remarkable understanding of the world.
In my cooperating in choosing to live a nonthreatening and bland existence, I learned that ordinary, non-moody, self-controlled temperance was the appropriate characteristic make-up cherished in our society. I quickly grasped that if one chose to pursue the impassioned good life, she willingly cut herself off from the rest of the tribe. Disturbingly, an overly enthusiastic and uninhibited person could quickly be thrown into the group with the defects, misfits, and disdained rebels whom no one in our culture took seriously.
The “bipolar” journey, as emotionally extreme as it can be for the average onlooker, is filled with such sublime moments, that any other way to live can feel insipidly numbing. If I had not gone into visionary states, (which the psychiatric institution persists in calling psychotic for their lack of understanding), then I would at least be able to fit into my own warm skin. Because without fear of others’ worry I could be left alone in my emotional moods, both sentimental and melancholy, and could access them whenever I needed to —for my art, my writing, and even for ecstatic prayer. I could travel up and down those corridors of inspiration at will. This would be God’s ultimate gift to me, for it is in my DNA, not as a mental defect but as my whole and natural self.
I am left inside a world that honors the stable flat lines of suppressed emotion, that shakes its head at the thought of tears falling for more than a few moments in response to a sentimental revelation, and that denies the importance of the sighing, breathless skipping of heartbeats created in trances of silent revelry. I’m willing to adjust. I had long ago, but I ponder today at what cost? Of losing all the passion?
Deep Pain Awakens
In the wake of all devastating emotional lapses that weaken our constitutions and alienate us from others, burns a delicate twin flame that resides within the same experience. For it was in my most enthralling visions that I witnessed the magnificent way God’s grace also reveals itself within the depth of the abyss by opening us to the realm of heart-filled emotions in a beautifully exquisite way.
In the deepest heartaches God discloses to us the perfect balance within opposites. A wide-eyed bewilderment can only awaken after a treacherous blow. How can one really reach those peaks of joy if they hadn’t felt the rock bottom and hellish ripping apart of the heart? Indeed it is the only way the heart can learn. Happiness is known only through sadness, and transcendent joy can only be truly discovered through overcoming heart-wrenching pain. In revealing to me the depth of the pain of humanity, wouldn’t he also gift me the ability to feel the enormity of the human heart, the world’s wonder, and the promise of his massive love and wish for our ecstatic happiness? I do believe in that kind of Maker, but calling up trust in such things is not an easy task.
These are the swinging moods and deliberations of the “bipolar” pendulum. And I thank God for their presence in my life, because only through them have I accomplished my best work. Although cold detachment once dwelled within me when my passion for life was extinguished, I labor with willingness at regaining it. I will keep trying. And when sensitivity grabs me, I am grateful. It helps me archive my memories and keep them alive like the recordings of yesteryear sealed in vinyl. Once fearless about following the path of desire, I am today much more tentative. But in choosing to either evaluate my psychological acuity or plunge into passion, I choose the latter. Arriving there may only be a potential right now and not yet a reachable goal, but maybe I can steadily wish and imagine it into being. With courage and hope, And with heart.