February 7, 2022

When Mania Feels Like Freedom.


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My first love gave me a CD of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” for my 15th birthday.

I loved that song then. I still do. It’s a bit of an anthem for me.

There’s something about it that symbolizes a perfect freedom.

No limits, no restraints, no responsibilities, just the open road and endless possibility.

It was the song I played later that same year in my boyfriend’s old Chevy Caprice when we ran away together (incidentally, not my first love, but his best friend, that’s a story for another day, though).

Then when I was 19 and moved to Arizona with my oldest son’s father to start a new life, I played that song again as I flew down the highway through the lonely Arizona desert with the windows down in my blazing hot Nissan Sentra with no air conditioning.

Last week, I played it again, but the nostalgia and the “freedom” that came with it this time was not a good thing. Because while yes, life might in fact be a highway, it’s not one that I can ride all night long anymore or that I can really ride alone. And that crushes my spirit in a really big way.

I had a pretty rough week last week. The particulars that started it out don’t really matter. But suffice it to say that chronic illness takes a lot out of me, and with the mental illnesses on top of it (in particular bipolar disorder), sometimes life becomes pretty unbearable—which is the place that I found myself in last week.

After I finished a routine doctor’s appointment that was somewhat triggering (not at the fault of my doctor, she’s amazing, just because of my history) and left with orders for two separate ultrasounds, a mammogram, a sleep study, and an appointment with a cardiologist, I could feel it coming.

I told myself that I was hungry. That was it.

My meds mess with my stomach, and I rarely have an appetite in the morning, so assuming that my blood sugar was low, I looked in my purse, and for some reason, I didn’t have the obligatory granola bar that I usually carry.

So I went up the street to get a smoothie. The juice bar was packed, full of people, and being unable to get the app to work to order from my phone, I went instead to this odd, little boutique-like vegan “grocery store” next to it that was completely devoid of people.

(Have I mentioned that my doctor’s office is in an extremely bougie area?)

Ironically, there wasn’t much in the way of actual food, like, you know, fruits and vegetables. It was all kind of processed vegan fluff. I left with Pigless pork rinds (which are delicious, by the way) and some dark chocolate-covered dates (that were very much not delicious).

Then I drove to the cemetery.

I know it probably seems weird and macabre, but as strange as it may sound, it’s a sort of happy place for me.

I live in paradise and everybody comes to vacation here, but not at the cemetery.

No people. That’s my favorite part. No living people anyway. It’s absolutely the most peaceful place around, the dead don’t make much noise after all, and it has the most incredible view of the ocean.

I also really love the beautiful, lichen-covered statues and tombs and the peculiar contrast of the perfectly manicured green lawns to the scattered gravestones that, for the most part, seem to have no order at all.

I’ve never seen such an arrangement, but the oldest part of the cemetery is assembled completely haphazardly. Almost as if the grieving were walking along and said, “I don’t care, put her wherever you want.” And so the grave diggers did.

There are headstones facing each other, diagonal, facing different directions. I imagine heads and feet way too near to each other underground. It’s bizarre. And I love it.

So I went to my usual, unusual, happy place, intending to sit on the tombstone bench closest to the fence, overlooking the water to eat my pigless pork rinds and chocolate-covered dates. And hopefully pull myself back together a bit.

Much to my chagrin, however, the groundskeeper was mowing the lawn. I parked and waited, thinking he wouldn’t be that long. He drove the riding mower around for long enough though that I started munching in the car. Then he came toward me, looked straight at me, turned, and covered my previously clean car in a layer of dirt.

My mood darkened further. He finally finished and drove the little mower away. I gathered my things, opened the door, and set off the car alarm.

Scrambling to find my keys, I turned it off and then had to sit and catch my breath because I gave myself a panic attack.

After I calmed myself enough to actually get out of the car, I walked over to the bench.

I sat there breathing and watching the water for a bit, then felt the nausea come back and realized I needed to finish eating.

I started eating again and then saw someone out of the corner of my eye. A man. With a video camera. He looked like he was coming toward me. I felt my anger begin to rise.

He stopped about 10 feet from me and set his camera up to take a video of a six-foot statue of a nondescript, goddess-like woman. I’ve always thought that she looked very much like one of the weeping angels from “Doctor Who” (in silent pose, not creepy attack pose). She, too, is covered with green lichen being so close to the sea, which, in my opinion, makes her that much more beautiful.

The man kept moving around, making odd noises and adjustments and wasn’t wearing a mask and was making me extremely nervous. He was too close.

Being an introvert, immunocompromised, anxious, and a sexual assault and abuse survivor (and still very much afraid of men), I couldn’t deal with him being so close, and no one else around and started to panic.

I grabbed my things and took off back to my car.

Looking back, I’m glad he didn’t say anything to me. Even a friendly “hello” would likely have been met with a “f*ck off” from me at that particular moment.

I didn’t know where to go or what to do after that; I was moving into a really bad place, and I could feel it.

I texted my partner “Blue 7,” which is how I keep him apprised of my depressive state. Anything from 1-6, I can deal with on my own, but if I get to 7, I have to tell him; that’s the deal. If I go past 7, then he stays with me for my own safety (all part of my crisis plan).

I drove down the hill past the zoo where I saw two giraffes eating on the other side of the trees and backed into a parking space near the volleyball nets at the beach.

My driving skills are significantly lacking anymore—or perhaps it’s more my parking skills. I blame it on the lockdown. I didn’t drive for over a year. So it’s not really my fault that it took five tries to back in straight.

I sat there for a bit watching the birds in the sanctuary near the zoo. I didn’t get out of the car. There were too many people nearby.

I scanned Spotify looking for something to play that would help. I found something that I liked. My Angry Chick playlist, full of Veruca Salt, Poe, Garbage, Seven Year Bitch, and Hole.

In hindsight, not the best choice, but it was what I was feeling at the time. So I screamed along for a few songs and then decided to go home and lay down for a bit. I still didn’t feel right.

I drove past a different parking lot, though, and saw that there were no people at the beach there. So I parked and got out to put my feet in the sand and the ocean that so often grounds me.

It didn’t work this time.

My partner called me around this time. I don’t remember much here. He told me later that he asked me about where I was and if I was still at a 7, and I got angry at him. He said I told him something about putting my feet in the water because I was “numb and needed to feel something, anything.”

My mood was even darker. More people were around, so I went back to the car and started driving home.

I changed my music selection and landed on a playlist of 90s songs that I knew and liked. I sang along at the top of my lungs.

As I was driving, something changed. Or rather something snapped, as often does with bipolar mood changes (at least in my experience).

Then the song came on. “Life is a Highway.”

I sang as loud as I could.

My throat was raw.

I kept singing.

I saw the sign warning me that my exit was coming.

I kept driving.

I saw my exit.

I kept driving.

I saw the exit on the opposite side of my street coming closer.

I kept driving.

I watched all the exits pass me by and still kept driving.

I drove along the coast and I sang and I felt free and I felt happy and I didn’t care. About anything.

I didn’t notice that I was driving 80 miles per hour down the freeway by myself with no food, no water, no money, no clothes, and perhaps, most importantly, no medication.

I didn’t notice that I was in full-blown mania.

I had no destination. No one knew where I was, and no one could stop me. I was free, and I could do whatever I wanted.

No one can stop me.

No one can stop me.

No one can stop me.

I was just about to pass the last exit before the freeway turned inland and away from the ocean when my phone rang. I looked down at it and saw my partner’s picture and name and started driving faster. I thought I could ignore him.

It rang again.

Then again.

He wouldn’t go away.

Then I answered.

I was angry. Really angry. I don’t remember much of anything that was said; I only remember how I felt. Then he mentioned our 15-year-old coming home from school soon, and suddenly, just like that, I was back.

Then I was angry at myself.

I thought, what the f*ck are you doing? You can’t just leave. 

But I almost did.

I wasn’t thinking about anything else except running away. Far, far away.

It’s the same feeling that I had when I was 15 and ran away with my boyfriend.

It’s the same feeling that I had when I was 19 and moved to another state to be with my oldest son’s father.

I just felt free, and that was all I cared about. I just wanted to feel free.

I didn’t want to feel tied down, not to my people, though. I don’t begrudge my people (my partner and children) for feeling tied down. It’s not them.

It’s my body and my mind.

It’s the illnesses that I sometimes feel are eating me alive, devouring my body and my brain.

It’s the abuse and neglect and assault and the generational trauma that is etched so deeply into my bones that I can never fully leave it behind.

I just want to be free. I want to feel free.

I want to have that feeling of freedom at some other point in my life besides when I’m manic and running away.

I just want to feel free.





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