It should read: Bipolar pen lady hurt her back and talks about drugs. She used to be fat. I think she has kids.
It is a true story.
While technically a blog about manic depression and obesity, I do use fountain pens and writing as therapy. This has always been the case, but it wasn’t until I was sidelined by a stupid back injury that I thought to mix them all up.
That injury and the subsequent use of narcotics gave me the space and drug induced bravery to blog again after a season of juggling tiny babies and heavy weights. I may not have been blogging, but I was always writing. I have never, ever, not had a notebook. And I have never, ever not had a very strong opinion about pens. Or most other things, really. But especially pens.
In my absence, WordPress got fancy, added likes and stats and whatnot, so I’ve been able to see that while there’s a good deal of interest in crazy, there is twice the interest in crazy AND fountain pens. Interpret that as you will.
So, if you’re here for a story about being formerly obese and managing manic depression with fountain pens, food, faith, and exercise (and therapy, and medication, and babysitters, and the occasional housekeeper) in the context of homeschooling three small children while recovering from a serious back injury in beautiful downtown Austin, TX, you’ve found the right blog!
Third panic attack this week. Come on, pens! Work!
If age has brought me anything, it’s the wisdom to shop around. I met a new psychiatrist yesterday and I liked her very much, but she found me even crazier than the first.
So it seemed rather timely that this beauty, lost in the mail for quite some time, finally arrived today. Orange cylinders are the way to go.
When I was younger, hypomania was bright and shining, immensely productive, thrilling, vibrant. I was a joy to be around in those days and weeks when art and music and poetry and friendship just flew fearlessly right out of me, right up until I burned up in the stratosphere and came crashing down, a smoldering lump, to the ground.
As I’ve gotten older, I still see flashes of that sparkling energy, that proprietary brand of effervescence. But more often than not, my hypomanic episodes are a crackling flame of anxiety and irritability. Medication and strict management have hemmed in the dangerous, bankrupting highs, and while this has kept me breathing (and married, and financially solvent), it has transformed the once scintillating creative energy into agitated, tightly wound fear. My manic traits now manifest in panic.
I once believed that if I could track precisely, eat perfectly, medicate consistently I would be safe. But even if you starve this disease of every trigger, it breathes. It attacks unprovoked. After two decades with this diagnosis, and eight years with babies in my belly or on my breast (and therefore unmedicated), I have become hyper aware of its movements. I have learned that the best defense is to move with it. It is not unlike holding a very hot cup of coffee in a moving car, anticipating the stops, starts, and potholes, inevitably spilling here and there and burning your mouth trying to drink it down to a manageable level.
These movements are subtle. Taken out of context they are silly and strange. But these movements are purposeful, powerful, medicinal, so it’s no surprise that they become habit.
Pens are one of my small movements. Fountain pens require regular cleaning, inking, maintenance. They must be taken apart, inspected, thoroughly cleaned and reassembled. By modern standards, they are a ridiculously tedious and inefficient way of writing, but a remarkably effective method of managing anxiety. Pens, unlike children or husbands or most things living, have steady, predictable, constant needs. Pens have problems I can solve.
When I begin to buzz with panic, I clean my pens. I spread my ink cloth on the ugly blue laminate beside the bathroom sink, set up my little yellow bowl and baby blue bulb syringe just so. I select the most needly pens in my collection, remove the caps and unscrew the barrels from the sections. The eviscerated shells sit quietly and wait while their converters are twisted, pinched, plunged empty. The water runs wild in the sink, stained with Damson, Tsuki-yo, Tanzanite, and Ancient Copper. I fill the yellow bowl with cold water, suck it up with the bulb syringe, and cram the nozzle into the section forcing out the old ink. Again and again, until the water runs clear. Again and again until my nervous system is convinced that the threat is under control.
Sometimes there are nibs to remove, breather tubes, feeds to reset, but no matter how elaborate the deconstruction, the goal is always the same. Empty the pen and make it new.
Often there are children pulling on me while I do this surgery. One might be clawing at my leg, another desperate to spray the mirror with water. All of them fascinated by the mess I’m making, the magic of ink and water and towels and mama’s intense focus. With each pen laid to dry on the cloth, my anxiety eases. My brain, satisfied by this focused, non-threatening, dopamine producing activity calms. My shoulders drop, my breathing slows, and I frequently forget the emergency that drove me to the sink. The trigger may still exist, but I have moved beyond the initial jolt, the panic that accompanies interruption.