I was just writing in my journal for a long time and it felt like something I wanted to share. I had cut apart a magazine as I often do to come up with pieces for collage in the journal, or evocative words or images that help me get writing on stuck days. Today the phrase was “Make & Share” and I wrote under it, “What can I make that I am willing to share?” And then I kind of laughed because I am so open here and most other places that I write that it seemed inconceivable that I would make something I wouldn’t share. And then I stopped suddenly and said… “Oh.”
I have been trying to write a book for 3 years that has had a couple of different titles but the oyster was always part of it. The reason it is part of it is that the quote that I have long held in my heart as being the one that best describes me is from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The quote is, “Secret and self contained and solitary as an oyster.” It is as if he wrote it for me. The book (non-fiction) was about finding the pearl inside this body and life of mine that I live as a bipolar woman with a handful of other mental health diagnoses. I want not to be only defined by the mental health issues but to see the beautiful things, the worthwhile things, the lovely and loving things and not just the hard days as I wrote about last time. Luckily the dark clouds are beginning to lift and I can breathe a little easier. I also tried to write the book as a novel, based on my life, but about another woman whose life doesn’t resemble mine but whose experiences are mine, or, sort of. But I couldn’t finish it as a novel either.
And this brought me up short, feeling proud of the fact that I am very open in my writing I realized that SOMETHING was stopping me, and as far as that making and sharing business there were obviously things I wasn’t so willing to share after all, or was there?
I dropped to a deeper level and I started to get somewhere. Maybe it’s not that I’m not open enough, or getting hung up on finishing the story, maybe it’s that horrible thing that had to be written on the paperwork for disability (There is nothing more humiliating than that paperwork.) which my daughter Rachel, who is a psychologist, helped me fill out because I was so completely overwhelmed. We talked our way through it and she filled it out. It got to the point where the answer to one of their questions, about how my mental health challenges affect my life was “Can’t complete tasks.” I was mortified, yes I was humiliated, and yes, it was true. I felt, and feel, ashamed, but it is true.
The flip side of that is that I am a writer to my core and I need to write this book, and if I’m going to write a book it has to be a different way. The problem with my oyster book, whether non-fiction or a novel, was that the whole book was one long, continuous story, the journey of one woman through all of the twists and turns, ups and downs, of a life with mental illness but how, still in all, she searches and finds the pearl inside the oyster. As I wrote in the journal it occurred to me that for whatever reason staying the course with a single story through a whole book was hanging me up, and I remembered a book I had read years ago, that I can’t for the life of me find now online, called Episodes, and it was a book with very brief chapters, some only a page, some 2 or 3 pages, but they were brief episodes of the writer’s life. (If anyone knows this book please leave me the writer’s name in the comments, I can’t even find it on amazon, but he was connected to The Beat Generation somehow. Grrrrrr, so frustrating!) I loved that book.
Remembering Episodes, and the episodic nature of the writing, made me realize that the way that that was written was exactly the way I needed to write my book, and in keeping with the oyster theme that is very important to me I would be writing, not about finding a single pearl, but about a strand of pearls, each episode in my own life that I write about being another pearl, for there are surely, despite all of the oddities and eccentricities of my life, many, many pearls, wonderful times, memories I cherish. Suddenly I lit up and felt like a cloak of darkness that had descended over me had lifted. A big part of my depression has come from stopping and starting this book for over 3 years and never being able to really write it. I knew there was something there, but I just couldn’t get it done.
The thing about not being able to complete tasks is true, but I think what I am seeing is that I can’t complete tasks in the usual way we think about them, and that, like finding a way that I hope will allow me to write my book, I need to look for other ways to complete tasks in the rest of my life. Being bipolar is no picnic. Struggling for a lifetime with clinical depression, anxiety, and now agoraphobia can be crippling, but it’s not all dark all the time. I think for awhile I need to chart these times in my journal, in fact keep a daily chart of the moods and means that I deal with as I move through my days. I know there are patterns but I have never really charted them, they have just felt like a great big amorphous blob, and knowing when the good days and the hard days would come and go was something I could never see. Maybe I will never be able to see it clearly, but I can try, I can hopefully find ways to move from day to day with a greater sense of grace and ease.
And looking back over my life I really can see things I have never shared, I can’t, I don’t want to, so the spaces between the pearls are my own private thoughts, the secrets, and that is okay. I have written openly and honestly for so long, and I will continue to do so, that I forget that I am editing as I go, sharing what I want to share and letting the rest slip away. Secret. Self-contained. And yes, solitary as an oyster, but an oyster with many pearls, at least this oyster has many a pearl inside.
I feel so relieved as I come to the end of this post, my whole body has relaxed, I have hope. Hope that I am not some useless person who can never complete tasks, but a person who just needs to approach tasks differently. Yes, that feels possible, it feels good.
Now I will start the book again, and I will thread my stories, or pearls, on the string, knot the string after each pearl to hold it on, and thread the next one on when the story is able to manifest, and I shall remind myself that it is okay to do it a different way, and it doesn’t make me less than, no, it makes me more than I’ve ever been, one step closer to loving and accepting myself just as I am.
Reader, take heart. If you struggle with these kinds of things know that it is not about not doing something, it is about doing these things another way. Please hold me in your thoughts and prayers as I hold you in mine. We can climb these mountains, if upside down and backwards. I can string these pearls. It will be a beautiful necklace when I am finished.
With Gentle Love To One and All…