I’m aware that a lot of what I end up writing about tends to relate to mental health and mental illnesses, but it’s probably because it’s such a huge part of my daily life. For decades now I’ve struggled with the ups and downs of manic depression, or bipolar, or whatever the doctors want to call it next. For the longest period of this time I went unmedicated, never really knowing that there was another way to be. Some days were better than others, but I lived most of my life in a gray fog, never quite seeing the sun or the world around me.
Last fall was the worst point in my life. As if to balance a period of mania in which I re-edited the History of Erâth, finished writing Exile, and set in place a schedule to republishing all my books on my own, I went off my medications and tumbled into a desolate oblivion, ready to walk off the face of the earth.
I’ve already written about this in a previous post, but it came to head as I sat in my car in the middle of the woods in Pennsylvania, looking up hardware stores so I could buy rope to hang myself. As I sat there, a pickup truck pulled up, and a man got out and took a hunting bow from the back of the truck. I wondered if I could ask him to put an arrow through my head. I wondered if I could follow him to his hunting grounds, and get him to mistake me for a deer. I wondered if he carried a gun too, and if I threatened him might he not just shoot me.
I’m glad to say that I survived that period of my life, thanks largely to the love from my wife and family. When I came home that night and walked blankly past the kitchen table, up the stairs and collapsed in bed, my son started crying. He came up to my room, and I managed to ask him why he was crying. He said through his tears, “I want my normal dad back.”
I want my normal dad back. Those words hurt me like none I’d ever heard. Even my eleven-year-old son could tell that there were two of me, and one was normal while the other was not. He wanted the good again, because that person had left and never come back. And in that moment, I knew that I had to continue, I had to be there for him, even if it was the hardest thing I’d ever do in my life. The time to end my life may come, but it isn’t now.
So I went back on my medication, and, with the exception of a brief lapse, have remained on them for nearly a year now. And despite many other events upsetting the balance of my life, I’ve been able to stay strong. The relationship between my wife and I is, in my opinion, stronger than it’s ever been, even though I’ve been away for nearly five months. I miss my son, and can’t wait to see Doctor Strange with him when I return.
But it isn’t easy. Each day I hit snooze three or four times because I can’t bear to get up. I lack energy throughout the day. I collapse in bed as soon as I get home from work. I’m gaining weight. The signs of depression are there, but the medications are keeping me afloat. And I think therein lies their value: there is no medicine in the world that can cure depression, or even out the bipolar swings, but there are ones that can make it bearable. And as long as I remember to take those little pills every day, I know I’ll make it through the day.
I don’t know how long this will last. History shows me that I will go off my meds again. But I’m going to try desperately not to, and so long as I don’t, I think—I hope—I’ll be okay. The struggle is daily; no 24 hours go by without me thinking of something dark, or despairing, or miserable. But there are signs of life: in the music I choose to listen to, in the words I write, and in the fact that I got out of bed this morning in the first place.
For now, all I can do is go along for the ride, much as I think we all do. There will be times when I feel on top of the world, and times when I don’t think I’ll make it through another day. As my life gets longer, I think I’m starting to learn that neither one is better than the other. What’s better is learning to cope with the difficulties, whether they be ups or downs. And I need help: I know that now. I can’t make it on my own. I need the therapy. I need the medicine. And I need the love of my family.
So to my wife and son, I say: thank you. I wouldn’t be here without you. And I don’t want you to go any further without me. I love you.