to my studio today. It was exactly as I left it last summer when my brain went dead and the sitter money dried up. I tried to keep my head down, shove the boxes in the corner, but I was pulled into the ghost town, the ghost herself.
It has been raining all month.
I have been collecting sleep in buckets and pouring them wildly over my head whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Trapping my big kids in their room with audio books and napping with the baby, going to bed at 8pm and waking up well past dawn. I have some kind of otherwise symptomless sleeping disease that is eating away all of my writing time, and you know it’s real because I am just going with it. And I am not one to go with things.
My mother arrives today for a long overdue visit, so I am taking the opportunity to perch the baby on her most welcoming head, and in between the tea parties and fashion shows, to sleep the deep, heavy sleep only children know when their mother is in the house.
On a day you cannot move forward, you do not feel in love, you do not feel proud, you do not feel inspired, you do not want to find the energy, the effort to press, press, push. On a day when the shores are too far gone and you have no choice but to float, to glide, to wait until one or the other becomes an option. On a day that comes right in a string of days that lack reward, that do not fool you into believing you are doing it. When you are not thriving, winning, moving with the current to carve the landscape. On a day when you have not changed.
What do you do?
Do you draw circles on the page in your favorite ink just to feel your hand move on the page like a child rocking themselves to sleep? Like a smoker chewing gum? Not real, but better than nothing.
Better than nothing days. I know better than to think they won’t come, and thankfully I am wise enough to know they will go. They grate on me, the minutes scraping by, every one of them trying to convince me that I am standing still, waiting. Not working. Not blowing anyones mind. Not feeling the electric current of inspiration coursing through my being. Not living up to my expectations.
Yes, that is my expectation. The electric current of the universe coursing through my being.
What do I do on the days that aren’t like that?
First, I throw a fit and panic. I get myself so worked up in the doom of it all that I cannot possibly be a pleasant member of the Saturday morning breakfast table conversation with the tacos and the coloring books and the family I am clearly failing. I sit at my desk, face down in my notebook, begging it to please swallow my head. I very dramatically sob because the universe has very dramatically abandoned me. My husband leaves me to it because after ten years of marriage there is grace and there is wisdom. And because what I do next, often enough that I am still here, still writing these words, still moving this body, still married to this man — I get up.
With no electricity or enthusiasm, I climb onto the rails of the day. I set the table, I chew the food, I admire the exquisite Crayola masterpieces. I clear the table, I find the leotards, I braid the hair. We gymnastic. And the day goes on like this, with me on the train that is moving despite the empty sack of inspiration I’m dragging along behind it. Without fail I make it to bedtime grateful that my doing did not match my feeling.
As a person who regularly lists ZEAL (always all caps) in her top three core values, accepting that my own boredom is not a symptom of failure and irrelevant to others, continues to be one of my most formidable adulthood challenges.
My family does not require zealously scrambled eggs. My daughters do not require zealously applauded cartwheels. The milk flows freely from my breast regardless of how excited I am about it, and when I sit my body down on the couch, my family gathers around its automatically warmed 98.6 degrees and is mostly content just to have me there. Just to have me there.
So I offer this to you today, creator who found no inspiration waiting for them this morning, mother who woke up to mess, noise, and no help, anyone on psychiatric medication, and every other already tired human being who got up anyway: today, your boring, uninspired presence is doing work. You are on the train and the train is moving. You are in the river and the river is flowing. You are all the wonderful mixed metaphors that say breathing today is better than nothing.
Three times this week my rhythm has been ruined by sleep. Harriet, my 14 month old, is doing that awful thing that children do where they grow suddenly, violently in the night. This involves a great deal of thrashing and sideways nursing and sitting on my head at 4:10am. It does not involve my eyes opening magically at 5:21, the way they always do, eager to inch their way over to my desk and adjust to the blue-white glare of the book light on my notebook while she happily sleeps for another hour.
Instead, I have stumbled, red eyed and kind of angry, with her, bright eyed and bigger than yesterday, into the already bright morning around 6:30 with my 4 and 7 year olds, in full princess regalia, primping loudly (why is primping so loud?) in the full length mirror in my bedroom.As someone with bipolar disorder, particularly seasonally affected, rapid cycling bipolar disorder, I find that I am especially sensitive to routine, rhythm, order, and prone to rigid habit formation, system building, and addiction. I grab hold of the things that I perceive to be good and I do not let go without significant force. Most of the time, I use this power for good — a steady schedule, taking into account the needs of my whole family, keeps me healthy and blesses us all. When I get momentum going, I have iron clad will power, conviction, and determination. But when I cannot get the ball rolling, when it meets one too many turns, all those good things turn sharp. I become intractable, controlling, and harsh.
Why God saw fit to allow me a personality like this and three daughters, I will ever understand this side of Glory. The volume and depth of their drama will only grow louder and more complicated in time. What I do understand is that I have to spend 90% of my therapy hours figuring out how to soften the sharpest edges of my mind and tongue before that redhead meets puberty.
This is not to treat bipolar disorder so much as being a mother of three small children. Part of my spacemaking endeavor requires that I take these daily for a minimum of twenty minutes every morning, with the aide of a generous husband. Of all the drugs I take, these blue guys may be the most potent.
The smile is real and the love is real and the fire is real. This sickness is just like the flu, a stubborn virus I am prone to, that knocks me out more than the average person and instead of snot I get whisper screaming in Target. When I talk about how hard it is to love, I do not mean to be in it, I mean to do the touching and the sounds and all the sensory bits of being flesh and blood. When my brain goes haywire, that is the part that is hard. Those people up there, they are not hard, just look at them.
So when you see me at church tomorrow, when I pass the peace, when I meet your smile as I limp back from communion, hauling my crew up the side aisle, know that all my love is right there, for real, or I would’ve spent my Sunday morning at The Steeping Room with the cupcakes.