If This is High Functioning..?
Since being officially diagnosed as bipolar in my late twenties (no on ones’ surprise) I have been described as “High Functioning” by three different psychiatric professionals. The first was the psychiatrists that gave me my official diagnoses and first medication. I liked him. He understood that as a creative I had a slightly different take on my own mental health than most. He described my brain as a Ferrari engine in an old Volvo chassis, not able to reach its full speed. He also told me that I was High Functioning and the most practical person he’d ever met. I asked him what the hell he met by that because sitting in his office, not looking forward to walking to the train station in the pouring rain, feeling totally out of control I didn’t feel particularly high functioning. I didn’t feel like I was functioning at all.
Apparently, in his experience, people who have been dealing with the level of problems I have since childhood (age four) have been hospitalized, or arrested, or fired from jobs, or dropped out of school, or gone bankrupt by my age. That I’d managed to crawl my way through 19 years of education, allowed myself to get beat down by awful jobs instead of quitting or losing it at my boss, and never been caught doing something destructive apparently was a huge positive. From where I was sitting that just meant I’d been faking being ‘normal’ from a very young age and had gotten good at it. The fear of poverty, public humiliation, or disappointing people I care about had become a frame on which to build a very convincing ‘normal human’ suit.
The second person to call me High Functioning and tell me I was doing ‘surprisingly well’ was a maternal psychiatric nurse. When I got pregnant my doctor immediately referred me to the DHB’s Maternal Mental Health group because I was high risk for postpartum depression. Nice thing about living in a country with socialized medicine is that after giving birth I got seven days in a private hospital room with 24 hour nurses and doctors and daily psychiatric checks in order to make sure I was handling becoming a mom, for free.
I was sent home after five days since I seemed to be giving the right answers to the questions. Truthfully those first few weeks are blurry in my memory. I know I cried every day but I have no idea if it was depression, exhaustion, or the fact that I was a raging ball of hormones. The nurse came by every week for a couple of months. She checked me, checked the baby, asked if I was still taking my medication, and told me I was doing just fine. Looking at my file with Rapid Cycling Mixed Bipolar written on the top she was expecting a much higher chance of problems with me. Apparently postpartum psychosis is a thing.
I’m going to assume I did well. Well enough at least. My kid is four and a half and aside from getting rather combative at bedtime doesn’t seem to be too messed up. I mean I’m sure I’ve fucked up somehow because all parents do but she’s alive, tall, healthy, and incredibly stubborn.
The third person to tell me I was High Functioning was my current psychiatrist who was actually passing on the words of my psychologist. My psychiatrist wasn’t planning on talking on anyone new at the time but I needed someone to write me a prescription since my old doctor had left the country. When this sales pitch of myself as a patient was passed on I asked ‘if this is high functioning what the hell is low functioning?’
I have never in my life felt high functioning at anything. I best I maintain. No, I’ve never been arrested or hospitalized but the thought has crossed my mind more than once that maybe if I had acted out in my teens instead of gritting my teeth and ‘behaving’ I might have gotten the help I needed a decade earlier.
‘Acting out’ hasn’t been a real option in several years now but there is still the urge to just stand in the middle of the road and scream at the world. Though that might say as much about the state of the world these days as my mental health. I get up when my alarm goes off or my daughter decides it’s time for both of us to get up.
This year I received multiple rejection letters on my writing projects, so I went and self-published a short story, a novel, a novella, and had my first two bits of science fiction published by others. I got involved with politics on a local and national level. Technically this has been one of my most successful years to date but I’ve also had to change medications twice.
My kid his hooked on My Little Pony and pineapple pizza because there have been more than a few days when the very idea of going to the park then going grocery shopping has filled me with a paralyzing terror. At some point she’s going to realize that mommy doesn’t function quite the same as the other mommies. I think she’s already starting to clue in that there are days when she can get away with more stuff than other. She just hasn’t worked out why.
Yesterday I stood in the kitchen cutting bell peppers and had a moment where I decided I didn’t want to cook for anyone, ever again, ever, including myself. Even putting something in the microwave seemed too much like hard work. The thing is cooking is one of the few things I am actually very good at and usually enjoy. If I cook for you it means I love you. Or we exist in the same circle and I’m trying to get your attention for some reason.
I finished chopping the pepper and my family had a healthy grilled corn salad with edamame beans for dinner. A perfect summer recipe for a hot New Zealand December day.
This morning I got up, got dressed. Got my kid up, dressed, and off to preschool. Got myself some coffee and a cheese sandwich for breakfast. Took my medication and wrote this. I’ll go grocery shopping later, and I promised my kid we’ll make gingerbread men for the neighbors after school. But I have to say the ‘normal human’ suit is feeling a little threadbare and I ask again if this is high functioning what the hell is low functioning?