Like most people with mood disorders, I’ve always loved reading books about other people with mood disorders. More than one of them have had a bipolar protagonist. And I’ve always thought, while reading: “Huh. That kind of reminds me of… me”. This is not to say that I’m inclined to wear a tutu to the grocery store or buy spur-of-the-moment tickets to Vegas on a newly opened credit card, but the way things tend to cycle inside my head has always made me wonder.

For example.

Syracuse, NY (home of my alma mater) is not known for its fine weather, but the perpetual slate-grey skies mirrored my dysthymic mindset to such an extent that I could only conclude that the pairing was meant to be. I went to class, kept my grades up, and partied like a rockstar, but, behind the scenes, my mind was an abyss. I sought help on more than one occasion, but no amount of talk therapy seemed to lighten my load. And, at the time, I was resistant to medication. The summer before my senior year things got so bad that I had to quit my waitressing job in Boston, bow out of my prizewinning internship at an ad agency, and move back to SU, head in hands. My boyfriend and I had just recently ended our year-plus relationship, and I was terrified of all that lay in store. That first semester was a nightmare. Horrible.

Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

I remember the moment everything turned roses – it was the screening night for my film class – and finally, to quote the great Sylvia Plath,

“All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air. ”

It was wondrous.

But, as we all know, the only constant in life is change. And it wasn’t long before my euphoria plunged back to black despair. The moment the switch flipped back is just as clear as the moment it flipped on, and I cried on Katsu’s shoulder, knowing that my reprieve had ended. Not knowing when, or if, it would ever begin again.

Those switches are less clear now, but I’m beginning to think that some have flipped. The first was euphoria – living alone, freewheeling out to my new boyfriend B!, even moving home bothered me less than anyone could have imagined.

The second, of course, is now. The realization that all those good times were on some spectrum of yet another mental malfunction – a symptom of this suspected disease. All the progress I thought I’d made? Nothing but hypomania triggered by my stint in the Bin.

And you know what? That really feels like shit. Seriously.

Is having a problem over here.


So I’m writing this essay for this contest, and it’s about my personal journey from sickness to health. Well, I mean, it could be about anyone’s journey to any old place, really, but for me it’s about that. There’s a cash prize, also, so I’m especially motivated to make it a good read. And, as usual, I’m fine with talking about my depression, my anger, my marriage, my stay in the Bin, but it is SO HARD to describe how I got well. The journey from there to here is impossible to relate, and, in some ways, more painful to remember than my days in despair.

I mean, how do you describe how your husband left you, and you were living in the apartment alone with a cat who pissed not just everywhere but EVERYWHERE, and you barely had heat and you slept on the pull-out couch, but how during that time the Universe saw fit to give you amazing friends, shiny fun toys, and a brand-new lease on life? How do you describe how you were actually GRATEFUL to your husband for leaving, and how much sorrow you felt about how everything turned out? And then, if you can manage all that, how do you convey the beginning with B! – how a phone call from an old friend turned into capital L-O-V-E in a matter of weeks? Like, crazy fast but it was gravity, and the realization hit like a crash-test dummy faced with 65mph of brick wall.

Maybe it’s hard because those last days with Katsu were so hazy and strange. Maybe it’s because the months after were stranger yet. Maybe it’s this way because I’ve yet to figure it all out. I never want to come at my story from a position of being totally well – I mean, I’m still amazed by each day without utter catastrophe – but it’s true that my mind is much better now. Regardless of whether I win or not, regardless of how I tell the story, the essay will bubble up here eventually. It’s good to have things to rely on.

Where what’s mine is ours, unless it’s yours.


That Jake is a man of mystery. At first, he was no-one’s, except maybe this guy back in Eastie, who described the cat as having a “proud set of balls”. Technically, this was incorrect – That Jake only had one descended testis – but the one that promoted itself was proud indeed. Until last fall, when we cut it off. Ah, life.

So first he was no-one’s: a street cat. Presumably he’d been owned at some point, since he knew how to use a litterbox, but when we took him in he was looking pretty feral. Then he was ours, by which I mean mine and Katsu’s, by which I mean Katsu’s. I didn’t want him, remember, and washed my hands of him once the pissing started. When we went to the vet, it was Katsu’s last name on the intake sheet.

Once Katsu and I started the dance of martial distancing, I was left alone with That Jake for the better part of five months. We grew close during that time, believe it or not, and I started to think that maybe he had a soft spot for me after all. I’d sleep on the pull-out couch, and Jake would be right there next to me. I mean, it probably helped that our heat was broken and it was December, but whatever. I thought it was sweet.

When I moved home, of course, That Jake could not come with, so he became Katsumi’s cat again until last October, when B! and I moved into our palace in Revere. I felt bad taking Jake away from Katsu – the two were thick as thieves – but his parents had had enough of the pissing.

Cut to last month. We take Jake to the vet for a theoretical UTI, the vet says he’s jaundiced, and the next day B! is signing him in at the pet hospital. At work and panicked, I email my husband to let him know the state of things. It seemed like a life-or-death situation, and, for all the strife and separation and water under the bridge, we’d been a little family for a time. Katsumi, of course, came down straightaway.

So there we all were in the waiting room, my boyfriend, my husband, and my cat (in a very sorry state, emerging, as he was, from anesthesia), and the nurse comes in and is like, “Jake? Jake [insert B!’s last name here]?”

Hello, awkward.

Whoever’s he was, Jake had always had Katsu’s last name. Even when I thought of Jake in my head, it was always Jake [Katsu’s last name]. It felt, for a moment, like we were really divorced, and I’d gone ahead and re-named our child.

The moment passed, and we turned our attention to more important matters (bilirubin levels, kidney function, proper procedure for administering subcutaneous injections), but it kind of echoed in my head for awhile. So whose cat IS this, anyway?

They call me E Money. At least, some of them do.


So this started out as a comment over at DefineFunctioning, but it got really long and awkward and then I was like, hey, why don’t I just make it a blog post and link back. So that’s what I’m doing.

To paraphrase, we are talking about how mental illness may or may not have impacted our ability to care for ourselves (and others) financially. So here’s my deal:

Katsu and I were making good money, towards the end there. Like, GOOD money. It was nice. We ate fancy food, I wore beautiful shoes, and we were paying down debt hand over fist. Then, you know, I lost it. I quit my job, I went to The Bin, and I was there for six weeks. During those six weeks, of course, I was ineligible for unemployment, and it took another four weeks after that for the state to approve my check. So ten weeks with no income.

(Very) Thankfully, I had my husband to take care of the rent and utilities, and our health insurance covered most of the costs associated with my hospitalization. But it was a hit nonetheless, and we had to take a very uncomfortable look at our budget. But I wondered, you know, what do other people do? People who don’t have a Katsu to float them when they’re waiting for the dole? People with families? People without insurance? I was thankful.

Then, of course, Katsu and I split up. Making only a fraction of my previous income, I chose to move back in with my parents rather than continue squatting in the apartment we once shared. Having second-interviewed for many jobs and gotten no offers, in April 2010, as an experiment, I posted an ad on Craigslist for wedding videography. Within a week, I’d booked my first gig. So that helped out. Living at home, I was able to save money like who knows what – especially after I landed two part-time summer jobs with two local producers.

Meanwhile, as we all know, I was planning to drag B! across the country. I’d saved enough to get us an apartment, and I’d saved enough to allow us to make it our own. One of my part-time jobs turned full, which was awesome, but somewhere around Christmas I realized that the money I was making wasn’t actually… enough. Not saying anything bad about my pay rate, mind you, but footing the bill for two smokers can really drain one’s resources. Then there was the whole insurance deductible thing, which definitely brought the rain to my already-soggy parade.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m comfortable. I have two cats, I have wine when I want it, and I smoke as many cigarettes as I please. Far be it from me to cry poverty. But in terms of mental health, I’m very aware that what happened to me in summer ’09 had a severe impact on my financial status and my earning potential. Like, my name is totally on this site, which one could count as questionable, and a google search of me links back to some weird old ghost page that somebody hacked and reformatted. Also, I’m aware that my particular blend of crazies can be as limiting as it is prolific.

My therapist asked me, the other week, if I ever hoped to reattain the standard of living I enjoyed before my breakdown.

“No,” I answered, not blinking a lash.

I’d rather be happy than rich.

Then and now


Things I could handle just fine in January 2010:

– being unemployed

– asking my husband for a divorce

– moving in with my parents

– giving up my kitchen

– getting dressed


Things I could not handle just fine in January 2011:

– working

– a friendly phone call from said husband

– my apartment

– cooking chicken

– getting dressed

Thank God my shrink OK’ed the restart of Abilify, otherwise I’d probably be cowering half-naked under the bedsheets, spatula in one hand and a cookbook in the other, trying to figure out what to do with that pound and a half of chicken breast in the fridge.

OK, maybe I still don’t know what to do with that pound and a half of chicken breast, but at least I’m not weeping about it.

%d bloggers like this: