Today in "All Aboard the Bipolar Express" I examine my emotional tie to a childhood literary character I always found troubling and problematic until I realized that character was myself.
I'm going to assume everyone here has heard of Winnie the Pooh, the animorphized teddy bear with a thing for honey who lives in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood. I'm sure if you didn't read the books, you were inundated with the cartoons on TV or your parents bought you Winnie the Pooh stuff because they liked Winnie the Pooh. But I never had that problem because even though I was painfully aware of who Winnie the Pooh was in book, cartoon and 300-count threadsheet form, I was not a fan. I think I was either too old when I finally discovered it or already cynical. (I've been a cynic for an extremely long time, becoming self-aware sometime around the age of 8 when I realized the Cold War was paying for my Barbie dolls as my dad worked in the aerospace industry.)
I'm pretty sure though I hated the cartoon due to Winnie (and friends) overly simplistic views of things contrasted by Eeyore, the perpetually moody stuffed donkey. I was pretty disturbed by Eeryore as a child because the idea of someone who could not be happy hadn't entered my mind yet. It sounded horrifying to exist in some perpetual, existential state of blah, wondering the point of it all, never quite up and always a little down. I didn't know what therapy or anti-depressants or mental illness was back then, but I seriously hated that cartoon because it had introduced such a miserable thing in my life. How could all the other stuffed animals exist knowing how sad this dang donkey was and do nothing, to just go about bouncing around, shoulder shrugging that "that's just how Eeyore is I guess" in the face of whatever crisis he was having.
I want to always say that I was a happy child. But that's the problem, I "want" to say it. Instead I was one of those moody children who didn't understand other children and unintentionally went about life alienating myself from my peers. It wasn't that I didn't or couldn't have fun. I had plenty of fun playing pretend, writing and illustrating books for my younger sister to read, getting pleasure out of being an "A" student, knowing the teacher liked me best and essentially being a female Martin Prince from The Simpsons.
"Pick me teacher! I'm ever-so-smart!"
I was the kid who accidentally called the teacher "Mommy" because all teachers were mother figures I desperately wanted to please. I was the kid who jumped to grab for candy from a piñata at 13 when all the other 13-year-olds were too cool to get into it. I was the kid who for a long time liked the company of other adults a lot more than children. If I could have eaten lunch in the teacher's lounge everyday instead of out there with my peers I probably would have done it.
Children were mean for abstract reasons. They were petty. They were immature. They were, well, they were children and I was a tiny adult trapped in a kid's body. I was positive I'd be more well-liked and respected as an adult and life proved me right. It was just too weird for my peers to talk to someone who'd been about 30 years old since they were 10. Once we all grew up everything was copasetic.
Then, as it happens for most people with bipolar disorder, things started to change for me in the early 20s. At age 23 I became severely depressed and found I couldn't get over it with sheer will or happy determination. I was deathly sad and it was a sadness that colored everything in my life. I found myself searching for failures while ignoring my successes. I became even more critical of myself in a search for perfection, yet found myself still making errors. For the first time, self-doubt entered my mind. I'd survived my childhood of weirdness because no matter what anyone else thought I, inside, thought I was pretty cool and that everyone else was crazy for not crowning me Popularity Queen. Inside I thought I was pretty if others didn't and I knew I was smart and talented -- no one could deny me that as a kid. Yet, as an adult the more and more I grew as a writer the more I found myself questioning myself.
Part of what drives me today is all that I lost in my 20s. I didn't get to enjoy my 20s as much as I wish I could have. Sure. I went to parties and made friends and wrote great stories for my old newspaper in Bakersfield. But for nearly the whole time there I vacillated between feeling as if I was the greatest person to ever be great and being the worst person to ever be worst. And the in-between was just a low-level sadness that ruined even the most shiny of moments. From age 23 until age 31 I was too sick, too miserable, too self-loathing to do the things most 20-somethings did and I definitely wasn't as aggressively pursuing my dreams.
I was Eeyore. That stuffed donkey I loathed.
Everyday was another blue day. I grunted instead of saying hello. I grunted if someone asked how I was doing. I let myself become a guinea pig for the various treatments doctors tried in order to "fix" me. I was forever stopping taking some medication because it made me too exhausted to function until I came up with the "duh" idea to simply take my medication at night, which inadvertently cured my insomnia that I'd also battled for most of my 20s.
My mood stabilized -- thanks to some good doctors, therapy and the world's most supportive parents -- in 2009. But I'm still prone to being Eeyore at any given moment. Especially when something really good happens to me. The urge to crap on my own accomplishments is so strong that usually I only reserve the ridiculousness of it for my closest friends and family. To subject the average citizen with "I wrote a really cool story and now everyone is paying attention to me and saying nice things and I feel miserable, I wish I hadn't wrote it. I didn't really want all that attention," is the dumbest thing ever. Because I know that's Eeyore talking and not me. Me, that little kid who was in every school play, entered every art contest, every story writing contest, was in the Gifted and Talented program, wrote her first terrible novel at 13 and let everyone read it, illustrated comic books for people to read and went out of her way to get attention was who I was at my core. What was I doing all this for if I didn't want attention, if I didn't want people to enjoy my writing, if I didn't want to be liked? I dreamed my whole life of getting out of my parents' house and into the world and now I don't like the world?
It was confusing to say the least.
But it makes perfect sense if you're bipolar and you spend your life with two contrasting realities existing in your head. In one reality I am who I have always been and feel good about that. I think that I am pretty and that I am smart and that I happy and love to make other people happy. I'm a good friend and daughter and there's is absolutely nothing wrong. In the other reality I am that other person who feels fat, ugly, disappointed in everything, unable to get "caught up in the moment" and stays anchored to the ground, feels dumb, is convinced all my friends and family secretly hate me or resent me or both. I do a fairly decent job of keeping that other side in check even though it's always there. I try not to let it take over and seep into every facet of my world.
Not that ol' Eeyore doesn't get out sometimes and create emotional havoc. Last week I had both a good thing and a bad thing happen in the same day. Guess which thing left the more lasting impression even though the good thing was extremely wonderful? The bad thing. Oh, the bad thing was just so terrible that I couldn't enjoy that good thing. And as I lamented my non-problems to a friend his response was, "I'm trying to be understanding, but man, that just doesn't make sense. Usually if something good happens to me after something bad happens I'm just happy. But I get that you don't work that way. Still though ... What the hell?"
Indeed. "What the hell?"
I have no idea if I will spend my entire life where a good thing will happen and I will find the bad thing about it and obsess over it, ignoring all the applause and praise. I'm definitely working on it. I'm sure there are dumber problems to have. It's no different from someone who can't take compliments. I can't take living in two different realities where in one I'm a paranoid weirdo.
But then, I was always a little weird. So maybe that's OK.