“Well… That was awkward.” Choosing laughter over shame after bipolar episodes

The other day I was at the grocery store and I caught eyes with someone. At first I thought to myself, “Hey, I know her!” all positive and happily. My mind began racing trying to connect the dots of how I know this person… it happened much faster than I am explaining. And BOOM. I knew. I knew those eyes. I knew that face. And I wish that I had not…

She was a nurse the day I went to the ER during my manic episode. She tried to contain me, keep me in my room, when my manic mind wanted to wander and be a troublemaker and make a scene. She had to get pretty stern with me and maybe even physical but it’s all really a blur.

Regardless – I knew that face.

awkward-02And it all happened so quickly as our carts rolled by in the produce aisle but I’m fairly certain I saw an infinitesimal look of fear and acknowledgement on her face. I acted dumb and as if the squashes were the most important things in the world until her cart skirted past me.

A few months ago this would have been devastating. A few months ago this was literally my worst nightmare come to life. For weeks after the episode I was afraid to leave the house. Afraid to see some of these people who witnessed my episode in real life. Afraid of what they would think, what they would do, and how I would react.

But then it happened. This thing that I had confessed to my therapist was something I thought would be devastating happened. And it was more or less painless.

While I pondered this interaction with the stranger/non-stranger I thought to myself, you know what, in other contexts, she looks like someone I could actually be friends with. And then another thought, I wonder if she knows anyone personally with bipolar and how my experience affected her. Was it the only bipolar patient she’s ever seen? Likely not. Was one of the most humiliating, if not THE most humiliating days of my life just another day at the “office”/ER for her? Maybe I am just shuffled in with dozens of other “crazy” days that nurses and doctors just have floating around their memory bank.

Are you a nurse or a doctor who deals with mental patients? If so, what is the impression that you get? Are there privacy laws in place that keep you from sharing my story with those you know?

Because personally, my behavior that day was “newsworthy.” It’s the kind of thing you go home to your spouse to and say, “OMG, the craziest thing happened today… this girl just lost it, and…”

But personally, I wish it was a secret that you kept close to your heart and chose not to sensationalize it to anyone you know. I hope that you would respect my privacy, see me as a fellow human being having an experience that could happen to anyone, and maybe feel a little sad for humankind in general, not just me.

She didn’t point at me and say, “OMG, you’re that girl from that day!”

It didn’t happen.

She acted like she didn’t know me and continued on her way, talking on her phone. Thank you.

Maybe she will go home and say, “You won’t believe who I saw at the grocery store today acting perfectly normal!” But I get to laugh because at least now I look “normal.”

So what do we do with these horrific, terrible, no good, ugly experiences that we have to go through called a manic episode? Where do they fit in the storyline of our lives and still allow us to make sense of life and move on?

This is something that I certainly have not mastered, but can I recommend something that maybe I can’t quite do myself yet? And that is to find the humor in all of it. Yes, I literally acted “crazy” for a few days. And if it wasn’t me experiencing it, some of the “crazy” things I did were actually pretty funny. The british accent that came out of nowhere. My belief that I was saving the world. The way I wanted to become friends with absolutely everyone.

If it wasn’t so very, very sad it would be hilarious. So let it be. Allow yourself to find the light in the darkness of your story. Allow yourself to distance yourself from these experiences however you must to realize that you can move on and you can rewrite your story. You will continue to grow and evolve as long as you are alive. You get as many chances at this as you want.

Just another day at the grocery story turned into a brave moment for me. It turned in to me facing one of the greatest fears that I had created in my mind after my last manic episode and I am proud to say I’ve lived through it and will continue to live through many more. And maybe, one day (but hopefully not), if someone actually does say, “Hey, aren’t you that girl…” I can laugh and say, “Yup, I am. Wasn’t that crazy? Luckily I’m much better now.”

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