PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: My psychiatrist first floated the idea that I don’t have bipolar disorder months ago, when we were spending another session dissecting my history of disasters. That’s what you do in therapy, in case you’re not familiar — you take out your calamities and examine them, hold them up to the light until you can see them without shadow. Then, if you’re lucky, you fold their shiny sharp edges in tissue paper, place them in a box, and shove the box to the back of a shelf you can’t reach without a ladder. When all the boxes are on the shelf, you’re done with therapy, I guess. I’m not there yet.
But I am getting closer. It’s been 20 years since my last stay in a psych ward. My medication cocktail, which once involved up to 10 drugs at the same time, each trying to fix the sins of the others, is down to two. I haven’t missed a day of work due to mental illness for more than a decade. On the days when the boxes are especially well stored, I find it hard to remember what psychosis was like, or how it was that I used to spend days anchored to my bed, unable to move.
At one time, for a long time, I was so ill that I dropped out of graduate school, went on disability, suffered through shock treatments and punishing medication regimens. I talked to myself in CVS, walked in my nightgown to Wawa, then sat on the corner of 15th and Locust not understanding where I was. I had paranoid beliefs about cashiers and receptionists judging me; my mother had to call places ahead of time to warn them I’d be hostile. I saw cockroaches everywhere, skittering. Once, when I saw one for real, I killed it with a blowtorch and then stayed in my bathtub all night, blowtorch in hand, in case it came back to life. MORE