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I’ve suffered from motion sickness since I was a kid. Most people outgrow it, but not me. I buy Dramamine by the fistful; the non-drowsy stuff doesn’t work. Acupressure and ginger? Also completely useless, unless I feel like spending time vomiting while in motion. Let me tell you, I can’t think of many things that feel more rotten than that, except being sick to your stomach before you even get on the bus (the worst ever coach ride from Oxford to Heathrow started with being sick on the street on the way to the station. Mortifying and miserable and I hope that never, ever happens again.)

I mention motion sickness because I think it’s a good metaphor for bipolar disorder. The emotional motion is what makes me ill. Being at either end of the spectrum is either bad or good after a fashion, or perhaps a little of both in some perverse way. But it’s the constant change that makes me feel sick and disordered. What goes up must come down – or in the case of motion sickness, what goes down will inevitably come up.

A pill can suppress motion sickness. Nothing else helps me through it. I can handle long car trips if I do absolutely nothing other than drive or gaze out of the window from the front seat. I can’t even knit in the car. Buses and coaches are the worst offenders, boats can be bad, and even airplanes will make me ill with the least turbulence. The motion sickness pills make me woozy, knock me out for at least a half hour or so, shut down half my mental capacity, and pretty much wreck my day. But they keep me from getting sick all over, and I can make it through the maze of airports, find my shuttles, check into and out of my hotel rooms. This post is being published while I’m in the air, all doped up on Dramamine, and in a few hours I’ll get off my plane disoriented and half-witted, but not ill.

A pill (or two, or three) can also help suppress bipolar disorder. So far, carefully managing lifestyle stuff helps, but just doesn’t reduce symptoms enough to function. Medication is what does the trick, and I’m so grateful that I can have even that much relief. But like dimenhydrinate, the medications have side effects. It’s still a fair tradeoff, but I think the metaphor is apt – avoiding being violently sick to my stomach is worth putting up with being woozy and unable to think very well. Avoiding being violently mentally ill is worth putting up with a little sweatiness, tinnitus, aphasia, dry mouth, and headaches. The side effects might sound rotten, but they’re better than being so sick I can’t function at all, that all my thoughts are focused only on being ill, that I lose any sense of time and space and just want to disappear.

I just hope that I can keep the motion sickness from kicking in again. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop worrying that it will come back, but until that other shoe drops, I’ll be taking my medication to keep the illness away.

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