In my experience, living with mental illness is like riding waves. A drastic crescendo followed by a swift plummet, repeating over and over again. As the high waves cascade over me, I feel euphoric, invincible, impulsive, and exhilarated. But like any joyride, these waves are unsustainable, unmanageable and overwhelming. When the waves come crashing down, it feels as if I am drowning. The low waves plunge into a frigid darkness and I struggle to keep my head above water. It is in between the waves, when the surface of the water is calm, that I feel peaceful, capable, and in control.
I can relate this metaphor to all my diagnoses: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), PTSD, and Anxiety. The waves encompass the mania and depression of my bipolar disorder. Up and down, up and down. They represent the storm that is BPD, constant thrashing waves as I sink further below the surface. PTSD and Anxiety are like being thrown into cold icy water, expected to float with nothing to hold onto.
In between the waves, there is only a gentle ebbing and flowing of the water. The calm after the storm. This is stability. I exist in the present moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. I am driven but not obsessed, I am positive but not disillusioned, and I am excited but not impulsive. I am able to set and accomplish goals. With my mental illness, it seems like I spend more time riding the waves than I do enjoying the calm between them. Depression can last from days to months and mania occurs a few times per year. I have learned to live for the moments in between and I have learned to understand that no matter how tumultuous the storms are, the water will always return to calm.
There was a time when I used to try and manipulate the waves. When they carried me upwards, I tried to maintain that state of energy, but it was tiring. When the waves crashed downward, I fought against them in an attempt to keep my head above the water. I have since learned to drift with them, letting them carry me up and down. I have learned to swim through the storm, but I will always be waiting for the moments in between the waves.