The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, BrainStorm: From Broken to Blessed on the Bipolar Spectrum:
It’s a late winter day, with snow still fresh from a blizzard. The sun has emerged brilliant, reflecting off the white expanse. None of this moves me. Leah and Larry, my hearty neighbors, have invited me to go cross-country skiing in the state forest across from our home. A year ago, I would have leapt at this invitation. Now, I drag myself out of bed, struggling to remember where I’d put skis, boots and poles. What can I wear on an icy March day to stay warm? Despite twenty-seven winters of experience as a skier and ski instructor, I can’t remember my layering system or where any of my ski clothes are. This is how Bipolar II disorder impacts daily life. I barely have the physical energy to get to the car, let alone propel myself against the will of gravity up any of the notorious hills nearby. I don’t revel, as I usually do, in the speed of the descent—I am just glad to be down the hill not having broken or bloodied anything. I return home emotionally and physically spent. My body feels as if it lives on Jupiter—gravity is much more intense, and an hour’s activity leaves me exhausted. No endorphins. All I want to do is sleep.
I’ve been an avid sportswoman my whole life. If it’s winter, it’s skiing, sledding, skating, snowshoeing; if summer, it’s swimming, biking, blading, windsurfing. Joe likens me to the line from one of the Winnie the Pooh books: “Christopher Robin didn’t care what it was doing outside, as long as he was out in it.” I’ve always reveled in the feel of my body in nature and the gift of renewed spirit. How Bipolar II disorder affects daily life now affects every part of me.
But now I feel geriatric—my muscles fatigued, bones aching, breath short. And strangely disembodied, as if my brain does not compute messages from nerve endings and muscle sinews. I don’t know why the typical “runners high” disappears. Perhaps endorphins are not manufactured, or are not released, or are somehow neutralized during the down-cycle of Bipolar II. It’s anybody’s guess—the vast complexity of the brain is still uncharted. Whatever the cause, the result is that I get no relief or joy from physical exertion. I miss this greatly.
After skiing I feel too tired and heavy to sleep. I decide to do some yoga, to try to calm down. I’ve been practicing yoga daily for eighteen years, but suddenly I cannot remember any moves or routines. It is as if my muscles have lost all their memory.