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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Lenten Blogging 2022: Day 22

I can remember the very first time that bipolar disorder reared its ugly head.  It was the second week of January in 2000.  A very snowbound winter.  There was a storm every two or three days, it seemed.

Maybe being trapped inside by incessant snow and ice was a trigger for what came about.  Or maybe it was primed to blow up anyway, at that precise time.  What I most remember was that I became extraordinarily creative.  Inflamed with imagination.  Overwhelmed with energy.  I had received a flatbed scanner for Christmas and I found myself going full-tilt wacko finding uses for it.  Lots of mischief.  I spent two solid months in creativity overdrive.  I was writing.  I was making new images in Photoshop.  I got invited to join the staff of TheForce.net and I readily accepted.

It wasn't all fun and games though.  I was fresh out of college, looking for some sense of purpose about what to do with my life.  There were lots of resumes that went out.  Many, many jobs I applied for.  The one I recall most was with a Christian ministry in Colorado (I won't say which one but it is still one of the bigger ones).  It would have been a chance to use my writing to serve God.  I suppose I was still that "new puppy-eyed Christian wanting to further the kingdom".  I was one of two finalists for that post.  I didn't get it.  That's okay.  I wouldn't have lasted very long in light of what came next.

This was the manic phase of bipolar disorder.  All of the stuff that I was producing, the raw sense of euphoria.  I felt unstoppable.  My imagination and my drive would plow me through every challenge and obstacle.  Sometimes, I felt like I was divinely appointed and nothing would stop me.

The mania lasted through the rest of January and February, and into the first part of March.  And then spring came.

It was all that green, following months of terminal white.  It was too much life.  And suddenly I went the dire opposite of euphoric.  Without warning I became intensely sad.  Was stricken with depression, for the very first time in my life.  I couldn't look at anything without seeing uselessness and purposeless existence.  And when my grandmother passed away, and we had her funeral on my birthday and I served as one of the pallbearers...

A month later I found myself hospitalized in a mental institution for the very first time.  I spent the month of April looking at other people and seeing death reflected back at me.  And for the very first time I found myself wanting to die, so that there could be an end to the pain.

So began the agonizing flip-flop between mania and depression, that dominated my life and in many ways impacts it still.  Though today I have managed to achieve far greater control over my condition.

But I remember.  I will always remember, what it was like those first torturous months.  And I remember the person I became in the years that came after.  I don't know if I'll ever stop regretting the hurt that I inflicted on those closest to me.  Especially, the woman who became my wife and later left me.  But I don't hold that against her.  I don't hold anything against anyone.  This is my cross to bear.  No one else's.

I went public with having bipolar disorder about eleven and a half years ago.  It was an act of desperation, out of the single darkest episode I have ever had.  It lasted months and I was flailing around trying to grab hold of something, anything, that would make it stop.

Some people praised me for coming out as having a mental illness.  The ones I was most trying to impress with it though, it didn't faze them.  But the die had been cast.  I would now and forever be known as a person with bipolar disorder.  As someone whose own mind had turned against him.  With all of the baggage that such a thing carries with it.

Maybe I had to.  It had become too big, too impossible to hide.  I'm a writer.  I write what I know.  I didn't want to know manic depression.  It was a study in madness and I was an unwilling pupil.  Sometimes I tell people, like the ones I work with, that I've earned a doctorate in insanity.

More than eleven years later, and now I wonder: what would have been, had I not gone public with having a mental illness.  Would I have had some semblance of happiness?  Could I have been married by now?  Have children?  Which, has always been what I have wanted most.  And now on the cusp of forty-eight I wonder if it's too late for that.

What would Chris Knight have been, without having lost so much to manic depression?

I love my job.  I'm a peer support specialist with a mental health organization.  That means I'm supposed to use my experiences as one with mental illness, and help others who also have conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  I get to help people every day.  This evening I was an hour late getting home, because a patient needed medication and I was asked to pick it up from a pharmacy and deliver it to him.  And there was a sense of accomplishment in that.  Yesterday I found myself comforting a client, who was feeling very distraught.  She called me around noon today, and thanked me for coming to see her yesterday.  I really enjoy knowing that I've helped someone get through a rough time.

But even so... I have lived with the reality of mental illness for well over twenty years now.  As much as I have said it doesn't define me, well... it has shaped my life in too many ways.

What would have been, had I remained silent about having a brain turned against itself?

The two most potent words in the English language:

"What if...?"

And that is my blog post for today.