This was also published on The Mighty: Missing the ‘Highs and Lows’ of My Life Before Mental Health Recovery
I listen to a lot of show tunes. Scratch that. I listen to A LOT of show tunes. In the car, at work, at home, it’s Broadway time, baby. (If you’re already getting bored with my talk of musical theater, I promise mental health is coming up soon in the next scene.) There’s something about this style of performance that resonates with me. And it can be so versatile. Compare Hamilton to Cats to A Chorus Line: they couldn’t be more different.
Sometimes, I discover a show long after it’s day in the spotlight, and most recently, thanks to the recommendation of a friend, that was Next to Normal. This show follows a woman with bipolar disorder and her family as she goes through treatment and tries to find hope. Granted, I’ve never seen the show; I haven’t even listened to the cast album all the way through. But one song has stood out to me distinctly: “I Miss the Mountains.” In this song, Diana, the protagonist, has gone on medication and feels more stable. However, she also describes feeling nothing, and consequently missing “the highs and lows.”
“I miss the mountains,
I miss the highs and lows,
All the climbing, all the falling,
All the while the wild wind blows,
Stinging you with snow
And soaking you with rain…”
I don’t have experience with bipolar disorder or mania, but I do have experience with borderline-personality disorder (BPD). They are definitely different, but similar in that they both involve ups and downs. Perhaps the oversimplified way to contextualize the differences is that BPD involves rapid changes in erratic moods, whereas bipolar disorder involves slower shiftings between mania and depression.
When I was in the depths of BPD, my mood could snap in an instant. The smallest thing could trigger intense feelings of despair, hopelessness, fear, or abandonment. My life, or lack thereof, centered around suicidal ideation. And because of this, I was hospitalized a few times, and I was sent to the Psych ER to be evaluated far more than a few times. Life was chaotic.
What it wasn’t though was boring. It was intensely painful, yes, but it was never dull. When I hear “I Miss the Mountains,” I think about my own past mountains and wonder if I miss them. I don’t miss feeling so depressed I wanted to die, but I think sometimes I do miss the excitement of crises and pain. Sometimes, and I’ve heard this is common with BPD, I miss the hospital. At the time, it was horrible. But also, these crises were something to fixate on. They were something to define myself with. They were an, albeit often ineffective, way to get validation. They were a way to be seen.
Like Diana after undergoing some treatment, my mental health is far more stable now. I went through and graduated from a rigorous dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) program. I found medication that works for me and continue to take it as prescribed. I have made it over a year without needing to be hospitalized or even be evaluated.
Without these crises though, who am I? How do others see me? How do I see myself? And how do I spend my time? I’ve written before about making recovery a larger part of my identity. Basically, I don’t plan to push aside and forget about all my experiences with mental illness, but I want to make being in recovery my identity rather than being ill. There are healthier ideas to fixate on. There are healthier ways to define myself. There are healthier and more effective ways to get validation. There are healthier ways to be seen.
Yet, I still have kept all my paperwork from the hospitals as well as a pair of scrubs and socks that I wore. I tell myself I keep it for research purposes for when I’m writing about these experiences. But, I also keep them as mementos. They remind me of the pain I endured and survived, while also serving as a warning to stay on top of my skills and wellness, while also allowing me to immerse myself in thinking about those experiences again. Suffice it to say, BPD and recovery are complicated.
If I could go back and take away my experiences with BPD and suicidal ideation and hospitalizations would I? My answer might be different another day, but as of today, no, I wouldn’t. And it’s not because of something cheesy like that I learned from it or am stronger because of it, though those are true too. The main reason is because most of the time I am glad to be doing well, but every once in a while I miss the mountains.