California, USA → Student & Writer → Reader → Bipolar & Anxiety → Medication.
R: Who are you?
RH: I’m an idiot from a small town in Southwestern Louisiana; or, a great big collection of stardust. To get really sexy, 99% of me is made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. But to skip the poetry and the tangent and answer your question, the baristas at my (well, not mine) local Starbucks know me as “Sara.” I have em write it on my side of the tumbler my iced Green tea comes in. Now that I think of it, I should have gone on with the poetry of being. Sounded like something Walt Whitman would have written.
R: Where do you live?
RH: Chino Hills, California, where else?. But… it’s under special circumstances. In March, I got asked to leave my living situation due to a bad depressive episode. I wasn’t have any luck finding a physician to treat me either. So I was unmedicated. While I appreciate the help of the people I was living with, one of them was profoundly ignorant of what I was going through. I was expected to snap of it. It’s like a light switch, you know?. And I was expected to fulfill more than I could at the time. There was so much pressure, so much misunderstanding. Still, I did as much as I could. I tried to work hard. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. It was one of the only times I experienced stigma, believe it or not.
I had nowhere to go. All I had was ingenuity and creativity. So I live in a tent in a field on the side of a hill. It’s not as horrible as it sounds. It’s in a wealthy neighborhood. Full of rich Chinese people with rich Chinese kids and rich Chinese dogs. The funny part, you’ll appreciate the paradox because you aren’t American, is that it’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived in. You know, I’m trying not to be bitter or pessimistic, I’m trying to learn to be happy and content despite my current conditions. And gradually, it’s happening. I’m beginning to love myself for the first time in my life. Anyways, as a great footnote, everyone around here calls the area “China Hills.” I don’t have to tell you why. The hills are massive. On top sit these massive houses. High up, like they’re charms hanging from the rear view mirror of the sky. You look at the houses and all you can think is “What the hell do these people do to afford this?!” Immediately, you start to feel envy; there’s this outrageous discrepancy between their situation and yours. I found a cure though. When I’m feeling bitter or jealous, I think of what would happen to their houses in the event of a flood. It would start off as hard rain pelting the roofs, breaking windows, kicking in doors. Biblical rain with locusts and please god no, boring genealogies. Then the hills would be sucked in from within, heading towards the ground. And the houses would slide down like wet Band-Aids. That makes me feel better. Don’t look at me like that. It works for me, okay?
R: What do you do?
RH: I’m a writer. Can you tell? I’ve always been creative. I began drawing cartoons when I was a kid. Then I switched to music. The first instrument I took up was snare drum when I was in elementary school band. Then I moved on to bass drum, xylophones, bells, snare drum once again, and kazoo when I got to Jr. High band. I wanted to be the Jimi Hendrix of kazoo, you know? But that eventually got boring. So I learned guitar and progressed to Bass. Most recently, it’s been ukulele, piano, and harmonica. I also discovered I could sing. For an audio reference point, my voice is a mix between Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and Elliott Smith.
But once again, that got boring. I knew I was creative but the sum total of those parts just didn’t align. I started writing. It was the first thing people really praised me for. Teachers told me I should be writing. Classmates found my writing funny and entertaining in Speech class when we had to recite monologues. I lacked confidence though. I couldn’t focus. I didn’t have the discipline. But I discovered books, REALLY discovered books in my high school library. I remember the book that paved the way for who I’d become. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller. Capt. John Yossarian was such a larger than life character. So much that I just had to read and see if I could find more distinct characters. When I say I discovered books… you have no idea how much I needed them then. Some kids find sex or drugs or music or sports or connect with people as stupid as they are. It’s their outlet from their shitty lives. Me? It was books.
But the illness took over. And really destroyed my life. I didn’t start seriously writing until I was 23. I got on meds and had this explosion of creativity; it was like the Wizard of the English Language snuck into my bedroom in the middle of the night, unscrewed my head, and tossed in whimsy, brilliance, glitter, sex appeal, and cute little kittens and left it there to settle. And leak on to the blank page. It hasn’t stopped.
R: What is the adversity you are faced with?
RH: Bipolar 1 with psychotic features, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Anxiety. A trifecta of insanity and, ahem, genius.
R: When did it begin? Or were you born with it?
RH: I was born with the gene for Bipolar. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it. It’s when an outside force, such as an environment, unleashes the gene, that it gets nasty. It began when I was 15. I’m not good at science or genetics, so don’t hold me completely to this answer.
I feel like a million different colors running all over a palette.
R: When did you figure out other people didn’t have it?
RH: When I thought I was the Duchess of Windsor. Other people have costume balls. Some people call it Halloween. I called it reality.
R: Do you feel different to other people?
RH: I think it’s a common human trait to feel different from others. Alienated or lonely or misunderstood. Sounds like I’m running an advert for Existentialism. But I’m not getting paid. So I’m not running anything.
But I, in particular, absolutely feel different to others. I feel like a million different colors running all over a palette. And I feel like I have millions more emotions than others. Most people listen to Mahler’s 10th and passively enjoy it or nod out or decide it’s not for them. Me? I EXPERIENCE the fucking thing. In my soul. Down to the bottom of everything that is me. It’s emotional intensity at its finest.
Now when I’m manic, I’m on another planet entirely. I have a legion of hilarious stories but that would take up too much space.
R: In your own words, how would you describe Bipolar?
RH: Ballroom dancing in a haunted house.
R: How has your experience with Bipolar evolved? Is it the same as when you were a child up until now?
RH: The anxiety and ADD are probably the same as when I was a child (I’m still a child if you count my maturity level). The Bipolar has gotten worse. I’m not dying or suffering in agony or anything but by worse, I mean newer symptoms have evolved. Like hearing derogatory voices shouting at me “YOU’RE A FUCKING LOSER!” or, “OBLIVION!” or, “JUST KILL YOURSELF!” You know, all positive things. Then the delusions. Like thinking the government is after me (which might not be a delusion, actually) or that someone is poisioning my food or spying on me via surveillance cameras. Let’s just say there are newer medications for my symptoms.
R: What are the characteristics or symptoms?
Mania is the opposite. You become Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. Manmade laws, the manmade world… those no longer apply to you. Because you’re special. You’re electric. You’re a wizard. You blow money. You say things you shouldn’t say. You do things you shouldn’t do. You plan poorly. Your judgment is off. You freak people out. You go higher and higher and then you crash. It’s a lot like binge drinking over night. You black out eventually. Then you wake up the next morning not even wanting to ask what you did the night before. Because you know it’s bad. You know it’s stupid. And also, the voices and delusions and paranoia show up when I’m manic. So it’s like inviting more crazy guests to the party.
R: How does Bipolar affect your normal day?
RH: Depends on the day, really. Some days I’m able to function. I can socialize. I can do whatever needs to be done. But lately, I feel like I’ve been in a trance. Everything is slower. Everything seems out of reach. I don’t feel like speaking to anyone. I want to be alone. I have no enthusiasm. You can say it’s depression, it’s this it’s that, it’s my current situation. But I’ve had days where I’ve felt perfectly fine and didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Really depends on the duration of the mood episode. And its intensity. This is one of THOSE questions. Not easy to answer. But there you have it folks.
R: In your own words, how would you describe being Bipolar?
RH: Ballroom dancing in a haunted house
R: When you wake, is it immediately present?
RH: Look at him, ladies and gentleman. We’ve known each other almost two months and he’s already asking about my erection. Sorry, didn’t mean to stiff you there. Again, it depends on the mood episode. It also depends on my sleep quality. Living in a tent isn’t too bad. But some nights, with the noise of drunken college kids and the cars and sirens, you may find yourself up later than usual. Where I stay is quiet 99% of the time, barring those nights. So I’m able to get at least 8-9 hours. If I don’t, this is bad news for my moods. I will say this though. If I’m depressed, it’s definitely immediately present in the morning. It only outlasts my erection by two hours though, give or take.
R: How does Bipolar affect your work?
RH: This question really goes to the source of a lot of my self-esteem issues. I’ve never been able to hold a job. Any job. I tallied up all the jobs I’ve ever had, this was a few months ago. I discovered I’ve had ten jobs in ten years. The longest one I kept was two months. I’m not lazy. I don’t like living off of disability benefits. I want to work. But I get jobs, I do well, and then something happens. That something is usually depression. Employers find out that their first impression of you isn’t consistent with who you are over time. Employees think you’re weird. Eventually, they ask you to leave. Or if they’re more sensitive, they fire you. I just don’t do well in traditional work environments. With my history and age, even though I’m only going to be 27, I don’t think a lot of places would take a gamble on me. So I’m trying self-employment.I know I’m a writer. I know this is my calling. I’ll find a way to support myself through it. I mean, you reached out to me over something I wrote, right? Now we’re doing this interview. Then I’m editing these interviews so you can publish them in a book. All because of a little piece I wrote in under ten minutes. This should be telling me something.
R: If you had the option to lose it, would you?
RH: Questions about my penis again. Just to indulge you, yes. I want to lose it. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of growing up to be a eunuch. But no, I wouldn’t want to lose Bipolar disorder. Would it make life easier? I’m sure it would. It would also make me normal. Four kids and a minivan normal. I’d lose my Joie de vivre. I like me. I like who I am now. Without all of this shit I deal with, I wouldn’t be this person. So no. I’ll keep it.
R: Have you officially been diagnosed by a healthcare professional?
RH: Only eight different times by eight different doctors. Not too excessive, right?
R: Have you sought treatment? Do these treatments work?
RH: I have. I’m seeking it now. I take Latuda, Lamictal, Ritalin, Restoril, Buspar, and Lithium. It might seem like a lot but I literally can’t function without them. I’ve gone through periods in life unmedicated. It’s hell. It’s horrific. It’s physically and mentally excruciating. You don’t want to do it. It’s not for the faint of heart. NEVER AGAIN.
R: What’s your biggest fear?
RH: Having another relationship end because she says “I want kids,” “Oh? I don’t want kids,” “Not even one?” “No,” “I want FIVE kids.” That or women with mustaches. Or women with mustaches in clown costumes.
R: Do you feel awkward talking on the phone naked?
RH: Why am I standing on the phone naked and who am I talking to?
R: What are your plans for the future?
RH: To be a successful writer, a New York Times Bestseller. To get married to a wonderful woman who wants what I want and doesn’t want what I don’t want. To move out of the tent. To get a car. To have money to do stuff. And to be a bigger star in Amsterdam than I will be when this book comes out. Dreams DO come true!
R: Thanks for exposing life with Bipolar, Ridge. I appreciate it.
Follow Ridge on twitter @MataHardy
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Ridge Hardy
Photographs supplied by Ridge Hardy