The Jakarta Post
There are long passages of time that I have lost. (Shutterstock/File)
There are long passages of time that I have lost. I am not talking about hours, which in my mind seem insignificantly short. I am not talking about days, which in my mind seem to disappear within a blink. I am not talking months or weeks. I am talking about years.
There are years that I cannot seem to recall, where apparently, life occurred. There are years where I do not remember what happened, in my life and beyond — conversations, friendships, weddings, funerals, breakups, relationships, illnesses, wars, births, the good, the bad and the beautiful — have been erased from my memory, without my knowledge or my consent.
The people around me no longer ask “Don’t you remember?” but rather, “Do you remember?” And when I tell them that I don’t, they will assist me in exploring my mind, in finding whether there are traces of that certain memory left, and if not, as most often is the case, they will kindly and patiently remind me of the grand, lasting memory that I have lost (the name of a person, the year of an occurrence, the location of an event).
Even so, I cannot expect this degree of comprehension and patience from everyone, especially those I am not familiar with. And it is difficult, living with a bipolar disorder is difficult, understanding it is difficult, explaining it, even more so. But here it is: the good, the bad and the beautiful.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a disorder in which a person experiences uncommon changes in mood and energy. The moods that are experienced fluctuate from manic (type one bipolar) or hypomanic (type two bipolar), which is extreme elation, to depressive, which is extreme hopelessness.
The common symptoms of a mania or hypomania episode is the feeling of excitement, extreme energy, increased activity level, sleeping problems, memory loss, agitation or irritation, higher speed in thoughts, speed and actions, and the impulse toward risky behavior such as shopping, gambling, binge drinking or excessive sexual activities.
The common symptoms of a depressive episode is the feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, low energy, sleeping problems, eating problems, exhaustion and suicidal thoughts. These episodes, both high and low, might be triggered by certain situations but also might occur naturally toward the person with a bipolar condition.
It was a secret, and still is as I am writing this, because I was afraid. Every part of the experience, the fluctuations of emotions, the erratic behavior, the required medication, is not only my secret, but the secret of others around me.
My mother, who once had to convince me that I did not have to find a dance class in the middle of the night; a friend who installed a tracker on my phone to know my whereabouts; another who had to calm me down while I cried in the middle of a restaurant during lunch hour. The explanation that I have written above are clinical terms, and are therefore emotionally detached and disconnected from the reality of the lived experience of those living with bipolar.
There is no common language to describe it that does not fill it with fear – words such as, “insane.” “unstable” and “reckless,” words that one would use in reference to a potentially dangerous person. Yes, there are moments I have experienced where I would admit it to be insane, unstable and reckless. Then, there are moments of grief, of confusion, of complete despair. But there are other moments, moments of truth, of calm, compassion and extraordinary affection. And I would like to tell you about them, if I may.
During hypomania, I find myself within my own time and space. It is a time in which everything is fast, the fastest pace you can imagine, and a space in which everything, everything you can imagine, is possible.
During hypomania, I have disappeared to other cities without notice — spending the trip with friends, drinking, partying and barely sleeping.
During hypomania, I have struck up conversations with strangers in public spaces, regardless of their character or intention.
During hypomania, I conjure up ideas, millions of them, and I write, and I thrive. During hypomania, I reason that at the very best, I will have an adventure, and at the very worst, I will have a lesson.
During depression, I find myself without a time or space. It is not a slowing down of time but an absence of a fixed time, and it is not hollowness but a loss of space.
During depression, I have disappeared to other cities without notice — spending the trip alone, wandering, crying and barely sleeping.
During depression, I refuse to speak even to the people closest to me, regardless of their character or intention.
During depression, I am coerced to face my emotions, millions of them, and I write, and I heal.
During depression, I reason that at the very worst, I will experience death and at the very best, I will experience rebirth.
Of course, there are moments of lucidity. In these moments of luxury, I am aware of my thoughts and actions, my behavior is composed, and I have the ability to make decisions in a stable state of mind. I am able to have long, deep conversations with my loved ones. I am able to enjoy meals and drink in the proper amount. I am able to sleep well in the right amount.
And lastly, I am able to write. Writing taught me to be disciplined, focused and productive. Writing has become my most successful coping mechanism, but most importantly, it is a source of stability. Writing became an unconscious meditation in which I have the autonomy to explore, to imagine, to think, to feel and to create.
And all of these, all of the happiness and sadness, and excitement and despair, kindness and chaos, could be erased within hours. There are blank spaces — with only fragments of memories — that have to be filled in by other people.
Who did I meet yesterday for dinner? What did we talk about? What did I wear? What did I say? How did I behave? Did we go to a bar afterward? If so, how much did I drink? How did I get home? Did I lose anything, other than my memory? And so most mornings begin with a hunt for my own memory. I go through the pictures on my phone, I read the texts that I sent, I check my social media posts, I call my friends and tell them to recount to me everything that happened.
But there are moments that I can remember. Experiences that are too moving, too monumental, too important to forget, and all of these, in some way or another, are moments of love.
I remember the moment a friend told me that she was in love, the maroon V-neck dress that she had custom made and the black heeled sandals that her sister bought her for Christmas. I remember how elated she looked as she sat across from me, and how, in a strangely fitting way, her brown hair was tied in braids that night.
I remember the moment another friend announced that he had been accepted at a prestigious school abroad for his Master’s degree, the lucky blue shirt he was wearing, the white wooden chair he was sitting on that had two deep dents on it, the remnants of his affogato with vanilla ice cream that he ordered. I remember how we moved to embrace him, and how we could actually feel the joy within him.
I remember the moment I told the person I cared about, full of fear and hesitation, that I was bipolar. I remember his hot cappuccino next to his car keys on the table between us. I remember how we did not sit across from each other or next to each other, but diagonally. I remember how I told him I felt like a fraud because all of the qualities he said he admired in me — my unpredictability, my creativity, my frustratingly stubborn mind — was merely because of my condition. I remember how he did not look away, did not express disdain or surprise, did not even ask me questions. I remember how he said, “For me, you are not exceptional because of your condition. You are exceptional because you are you.”
There are long passages of time that I remember. I am not talking about years, which in my mind seem insignificantly long. I am not talking about months, which in my mind seem to disappear within a blink. I am not talking weeks or hours. I am talking about minutes.
There are minutes that I recall where life occurred. There are minutes where I remember what happened, in my life and beyond — conversations, friendships, weddings, funerals, breakups, relationships, illnesses, wars, births, the good, the bad and the beautiful — that are imprinted in my memory, without my knowledge or my consent.
The people around me no longer ask, “How could you remember?” but rather, “Do you remember?” And when I tell them that I do, I will assist them in exploring their mind, in finding whether there are traces of that certain memory left, and if not, as most often the case is, I remind them of the grand, lasting memory that they have lost (a passage in a book, the color of a blouse, the position of a person’s hands).
Even so, I cannot expect this degree of comprehension and patience from everyone, especially those I am not familiar with. And it is difficult, living as a human being is difficult, understanding it is difficult, explaining it, even more so. But here it is: the good, the bad and the beautiful.
Rain Chudori is an Indonesian writer and translator. She is also the founder and creative director of the literary journal, The Murmur House.