It has finally come to me that the only way for me to live with bi polar disorder is to make friends with it, to name it, to try to understand it, to take care of it. And the other day it came to me that this curious thing that I live with, that I get up with every day, is like a dancing bear, and if I dance with it, as gracefully as I can, life will go a little more smoothly. I decided to name the bi polar disorder that came to live with me The Dancing Bear.
As I thought about this, all the ramifications, and how best to approach it, I was reminded of watching Romper Room when I was young. One of my favorite things was Wendy the Weather Girl. Each day the kids would dress Wendy, or Willie, in the attire best suited to the weather that day, a rain coat and hat, or clothes that were suited for a lovely sunny day, and so on. I decided that when I wake up in the morning I would say, “Hello Bear, how are you today?” And I would quickly learn whether she was grumpy, or in a pleasant mood, nervous, afraid, or anxious. The thing about this is that when you know what kind of weather you are having, and how to dress for it, you are prepared to greet the day and you know how to manage it better.
I have named my dancing bear Annie, and as she is the person closest to me in the world, and I care about her, I will take care of her as best I can. You know how in life we don’t always do such a bang up job taking care of ourselves but we are really there for someone we love? Well, I will be there for Annie.
Mostly this is about being aware. If I don’t take the time to notice what the weather is that day I will bumble into the day and might, if a hurricane is on the way, be swept out to sea before I know it is coming. If I know, if I look Annie straight in the eyes and ask, Where are we today? I can dress appropriately, meaning that I pull the tools I use for self care out of my basket of tools that will best work that day. If it is really one of the hard ones we might have to go into hibernation mode, we are quiet, and gentle with ourselves. On these days I don’t answer the phone unless it is one of my children, who might need me, or my best friend Jeff, who is a great comfort and solace to me, and I know that I can tell any of them that it is a hard day and I have to rest. Other than that I let the phone go to voice mail and I deal with it later. Or not.
If it is a hard day I curl up in my nest which is the corner of my over-stuffed reclining love seat that I got by mistake — I thought I was ordering a couch but my iffy brain was so scattered after the fire that it short circuited a lot when I was finally moving back into the house, but I love it anyway and it fits the four pugs and I just fine — and I pull the covers up — I always have lots of covers, blankets, quilts and afghans — and in this cozy spot I can sit all day long, save getting up to get the dogs out, get us something to eat, and do brief walkabouts in the house to get the things that I need, and I return to my nest as if to a lifeboat, often feeling like I just barely made it and could have died if I hadn’t made it back that second!
Next to the loveseat, which is in the corner of the room so I feel especially safe with a wall behind me and one beside me, is my favorite bookshelf. It is very old, a heavy wood of some sort, about waist high, and was bought at a thrift shop years ago and miraculously saved after the fire. It was, at some time or other, painted a kind of sage green and the paint has worn off here and there over the whole thing. It has several shelves in different configurations, sort of like big cubby holes, and these are filled with books, my journal, painting supplies, baskets of pens, vitamins, my meds, and room to put water or iced tea, or coffee or a snack. Other things that I need to see me through hibernation, magazines, arty ones, the current planner — I buy a different one or two each year thinking that this will be the perfect one and then never use it. I use some little post-it note type programs on the desktop of my computer and on my phone. These see me through life. I’ve yet to find the planner that makes my heart sing and is enticing enough to get me to use it every day. I have romantic notions about them so I continue to buy them, but I never use them.
I sleep a lot on these days like a bear does in winter. Annie and I know that we are not fit for human interaction, and my pugs are so in sync with me they curl up with me and sleep when I do. They also do healing on me, sleeping on top of me or against me, and I can feel their warm soft bodies kind of humming. My newest rescue, Laverne, a very sweet senior who is twelve and came to me in October, will climb up on my chest with her bum literally in my face so that I have to scoot her around a bit, but then I lay my head against her soft fur and I can feel the life force in her stirring the life force in me. Some days that is the only way I’m sure I am still really alive. The other pugs are on other parts of me or leaning up against me and I swear they know that I am in a bad way and use their magical healing powers that always, one way or another, see me through.
Some mornings Annie is very anxious, shaking with nerves, and I remember that this is one of the rare days we actually have to leave the house. Weeks go by that I don’t leave the house and it is usually because I have completely run out of all of the essential things for life, food, toothpaste, toilet paper, and the like. I lunge at these days, throw myself headlong into them so as to get going before I know what hit me, to just GO and run fast into the whole business before I chicken out. I tell Annie, “Here, let’s hold hands and run FAST!” and I grab her paw and we charge, once more into the breech. We always have to collapse back into the nest with the pugs for some time when we return.
Since I began to think of my bi polar disorder as a dancing bear I have begun to take comfort, somehow, in not going it alone. It is not an ugly beast, it is simply a big, somewhat clumsy partner I am going through life with. I care for her as I would a deeply loved friend, I tend her tenderly, not fighting her and calling her names. And the more aware I am toward Annie and her needs the easier it is to get through the day. We do it together. With Annie I am never alone, and in taking care of her I take better care of me.
I am getting to know Annie better each day, and plan to cultivate a very loving relationship with her. I think for those of us who have some sort of something or other that we are going to have to spend our lives with it is better to make friends with it, learn how to dance with it to the music in our head, rhythmically, and mindfully, and when we meet, in my mind’s eye, I bow gracefully and take the measure of the day by seeing how she dances, and which type of dance she needs. This is new to me but already it is making a difference.
All my life I have searched for answers, tried to figure out what I should do. Bi polar disorder is not going to go away, but, living with it need not be the nightmare it is made out to be. Challenging? Darn tootin.’ Impossible to live with? No.
We are feeling up today, Annie and I. We may do the watusi. Some days it’s a slow waltz. But every day is a dancing day. I just listen to the music in my head, walk up to Annie, put one arm around her waist and hold her paw up with my other hand, and we move around the dance floor until we can really get a feel of what this day holds. On good days she will go back into her cave for awhile, while some days I hang on to her for dear life and we dance all day. But I am not alone anymore, I have a partner for life. Now I would just give anything in the world to have a great BIG stuffed bear. I’d like that. Maybe one day I will find her.