The Bipolar Lens

My view from the rollercoaster.

The Case Against Change

Why the Same Old, Same Old is So Wonderful

Things keep changing on me, and you know what?  I don't like it.  The Barnes & Noble café where I wrote my first two books, fueled by equal doses of caffeine and conversation, is no more.  I showed up one Tuesday afternoon as usual, ready to write, only to find the windows all boarded up, the doors securely padlocked.

It meant a lot more to me than losing yet another bookstore (which L.A. can scarcely afford).  It meant losing the essential structure of my day.  What would I do now, where would I go, and how in God's name would I write?

Then yesterday, out of the blue, another savage blow.  There's a secret garden near my house which is critical to my sanity.  Every now and then when life becomes too much for me, my therapist reminds me that it's time for a dose of beauty.  So I head out to this perfectly faceted gem of a Japanese garden which only a very few people know about – perhaps because it's tucked away in the sinuous curves of Bel Air; or perhaps because it allows only two cars to visit at a time, with prior reservations.  The founder endowed it to UCLA, so you'd think it would at least be a public secret – but no.  It's mine, all mine, whenever I go:  every azalea bush belongs to me; the rhododendron rustle my name; the camellias bloom simply because they know I like it.

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And now it's gone – “up for sale," the caretaker told me.  As if one could sell off sanctuary.  And with it goes all hope of soothing myself non-chemically when things get really rough.

No, I don't like change.

This could easily be a cliché – nobody likes change – unless you understand the particular and peculiar workings of my inner world.  Because I'm bipolar, my emotional landscape is always in flux.  Who knows what it will look like when I wake up tomorrow?  Gray and gloomy, with scudding storm clouds threatening the horizon?  Or so brilliantly, vividly, piercingly sunny I have to squint to take it all in?

With bipolar disorder, change is a constant, a given.  It's even a blessing sometimes – it means that this mood, too, shall pass – but on the whole I find it disturbing.  I need some measure of stability to balance out this internal fluctuation.  And since my inner resources can't provide this, I look to the outer world for consistency.

And so, I want my same waiter to greet me with "The usual?" when I take my same seat in my favorite café.  I want Mondays to always be therapy; Tuesdays to be my support group; Wednesdays to be my writing class; Thursdays to be the farmer's market (same order every week – a dozen white lilies); Fridays to be my other writing group, and well, you get the point.  No substitutions; no exceptions.

I want stability in people, too.  I resent it when my friends change their email addresses, let alone get married or find a new job.  I'm not crazy about their aging, either – not because I don't empathize but because it makes them look and act differently.  I want their faces to be, if not carved in stone, at least reliably etched in my memory.

I never used to be like this, so attached to one way of life.  Back in the old days, the days when I was flagrantly symptomatic, I used to crave variety to match my kaleidoscopic moods.  Up one day and down the next, I could never predict which environment would suit me.  When I was manic, I wanted throbbing noise and hot bright lights and a hip buzz all around me.  When I was in a mixed state, so anxious I could barely breathe, I needed a clean white space with waiters who whispered.  When I was depressed I rarely left the house; but if I did, I went to dimly lit dens where other black-clad souls drowned their sorrows in shots of espresso.

Now that I'm relatively stable – with the right meds and the right doctors on board – I see no reason to stray from routine.  With sanity comes a hunger for order and an even deeper superstitious belief that if I keep doing things this particular way, madness will have no hold on me.  Whether or not I relapse, of course, depends on a whole lot more than getting my same exact lilies from my same exact guy ever Thursday afternoon.  But who knows?  All I'm really certain of is that I'm incredibly lucky.  The vast majority of people with bipolar disorder still suffer grievously from the disease.

So as long as I keep staying lucky, I'll keep on saying no to change.  Batters hitting over .300 never alter their swings. 

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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