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Bipolar Penpals

Misery loves company

My aunt, who, like me, struggles with mental illness (me, bipolar disorder, her chronic depression).  We've begun to exchange letters to track our comings and goings in hopes of at least to keep a steady diary charting our moods, at most to offer one another consolation and guidance to live fuller, more stable lives.

Dear Aunt Robyn,

I hope your letter begins a journey, up and down undoubtedly, but with supportive purpose, sympathy, empathy, and hopefully the occasional laugh or inside joke!  I’ve waxed perhaps too inwardly and poetic out of the gate.  But fresh out of recent doldrums, this stream of consciousness felt good.  And I hope (or don’t hope?) you can relate on some level.  Regardless of how prosaic or poetic, our tome together will be worthwhile in one friggin way or another.

So, here’s me:

When I’m down I’m drawn deeper (or I drag myself deeper—I’m still trying to figure that one out) and the deeper I get, the deeper I get.  Worry becomes doubt.  Doubt begets anxiety.  Anxiety wrenches downward.  Depression.  Then self-hatred, agitated mania, and finally the floor. (Sometimes at home, others in the pysch ward.  Once in prison).

The further I slump, the more it’s my fault until I’m saturated with self-loathing.  For and about everything. From within and without, like Dickens' ghosts, the worst of my past, present and future.  No words supply solace, no action alleviates angst, and no person can mollify the pain.  Like you, darkness and documentaries draw me away, but biology ultimately pulls the strings.  Their erratic tugs and jerks stagger me though unsettled nights in anticipation of a new odious tomorrow.  (Sometimes there’s Ativan, to synthesize unearned peace and with luck, sound, albeit artificial, sleep.)

But in all this, I know I ain’t alone.  And that doesn’t comfort me so much as encourage me:  You, for one, are fighting, alive, compassionate, active, creative, funny, and brilliantly shining. Maybe not all the time for folks like you and me.  But enough to be thankful for. Others are too.  Even those worse than I can imagine.  And then it passes and for a little while, and I can breathe again.

Anywho, it’s me writing this, so inevitably, a song comes to mind.  The this tune’s from a band called Sublime fronted by Bradley Nowell.  Brad lost his battle with mental illness and addiction in 1996.  Once destitute, he succumbed to his illness shortly after signing a lucrative record deal that might have brought enough comfort for him to carry on.  Oh! the music he had left to play.  How selfish.

Sublime, “Bad Fish,” 1992

'When you grab a hold of me

Tell me that I'll never be set free

But I'm a parasite,

Creep and crawl I step into the night.

Two pints of booze

Tell me are you a Badfish too?

Are you a Badfish too?

Ain't got no money to spend

I hope the night will never end

Lord knows I'm weak

Won't somebody get me off of this reef?"

Sublime's Bradley Nowell

Bradley Nowell before his death in May of '96. This was shortly after signing a lucrative record deal he worked nearly his whole life to achieve.

Ryan Ziemba
Ryan Ziemba

I am a public advocate for mental illness and a bipolar entrepreneurs myself.  My focus is now that of a music industry optimist and music-brand tech founder, passionate about innovation at the intersection of music, brands, and technology

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