This is the epilogue to the album “When I Get Better,” which was written a few years ago during my bipolar recovery, treatment, journey, or whatever you want to call it. The last words on the album are “if I get better,” and some people have taken that as a cliff hanger ending. Did I get better, or am I going to keep writing songs about how depressed I am for the rest of my life? The answer is complicated, just like everything to do with mental illness. But for those of you looking for the light at the end of the mood disorder tunnel, the short answer is yes. I got better and I keep getting better. That’s the reason you can listen to my album, because I got “better” enough to get to a recording studio, record the album, organize the release, and do all the boring but necessary things that come along with releasing a record. If I was still as sick as I was when I wrote the song “When I Get Better,” none of this would have been possible. Of course, I had help from some amazing people and I could not have done it without them. But when I wrote most of the songs on this album, I could barely make it out of the house. I was still getting used to Seroquel and I slept fifteen hours a day. At the very least, you have to be awake to make an album. Unless you are a really famous person with an alcohol addiction, and maybe even then.
Getting better when you have multiple mental illnesses is a horribly slow and painful process. I personally believe that you should treat bipolar disorder with medication. I am not going to spend time right now debunking the myth that psychiatric medication is a conspiracy by big pharma to keep people sick. I’ll save that for my next blog post. The truth is it took me two years of constantly changing medication to find the right concoction of pills to keep me sane, but now that I feel stable, I am so glad I stuck with it. Over those two years, I tried to keep making music (actually I tried to go to music school) but changing medication every two to three weeks can make a girl tired, hungry, dizzy, nauseated, and/or unexplainably angry, so most of what I tried to do during that time didn’t go anywhere. I did manage to pull off some successful music tribute/charity nights at a venue across the street from my house. Now that I look back, the fact that I did anything during that time shocks me. My weeks were filled with doctors appointments and visits to the suicide prevention centre. Each mood stabilizer that didn’t work was another blow to my vision of “getting better.” The more meds I tried, the less I believed they would work. But I knew that I had spent the past five years trying the alternative methods, and they didn’t work either. Name a medication and I’ve probably tried it. I was being treated for both bipolar disorder AND anxiety disorder, and funnily enough anxiety medication can make bipolar worse and vice versa. Or maybe that’s not funny at all. It felt like torture, but I do not regret any of it. I am sitting here today without scabs on my arms and legs, my medication is on the kitchen counter and yet I haven’t overdosed on it, and I have so far eaten breakfast AND lunch. I have now been on the same five meds for a year, and I feel okay. This is progress. This is what “getting better” looks like.
It’s not just a few pills that helped me find a better place in my life. I perform with a traveling show called Reach Out Psychosis that educates high schools students about mental health, and I always tell them that three things worked for me: medication, finding a great therapist and learning to dance. During my one of my first ever performances with the group, a student asked what kind of dance I learned during our Q&A period at the end of the show. I was so tired that I couldn’t think of a lie, and I told a gym full of teenagers that I pole dance. The reaction from the teenage boys was…I can’t even think about it! But it’s the truth. Exercising until you feel like dying and making a fool of yourself while you do it absolutely changed my life. I started with Zumba. The first day I showed up at the Trout Lake Community Centre I had blood running down my arms, but I wore a tank top anyways because I thought I’d never come back so why both hiding my illness. But of course I came back, again and again and again. And then I tried pole dancing, and then erotic dancing in those giant heels (I’m already five eleven) and then hanging upside down and free falling in aerial arts (like Cirque du Soleil, only I’m terrible at it). I have never left a dance class feeling worse that when I got there. Not once.
A friend once said I was so lucky that all of the things I wished for in the lyrics of “When I Get Better” came true. She’s right: the boy that I love came back. But we don’t go “dancing all the time,” mainly because it’s expensive and I have to take my pills at eleven pm. I sometimes forget to “take my pills” AND “pay my bills,” because I’m still a musician living with a mental illness. In the song, I wish that I could be the one taking care of him, that he would never have to worry again about me or my crazy brain. But at this point, he is taking care of me, and he probably worries about me all the time. As for being lucky, I am now learning to say that it’s not just luck that I’m getting well again. It’s hard fucking work and I am still working on it every day. I’m giving myself a gold star for surviving all this, because it wasn’t easy. And the fact that you are reading this means you are surviving too, so gold stars all around. There is no easy was to survive mental illness. There is no simple answer to the question “Did you get better?”