Emily’s Post for Writers: An Introduction to the Passion that Helped Heal an Illness
I gave birth to my son in March of 1995 and became extremely depressed. My doctor thought that I was suffering from postpartum depression and put me on an antidepressant. It didn’t have much of an effect on my depression. A few months later, I wrote a lengthy novel over the course of several weeks. I barely slept, didn’t eat enough, dashed around to do what I had to do in my house and with my son, and then got back to my computer so I could work, which I would do into the wee hours of the morning. During this time I spoke faster, moved faster, had racing thoughts, and felt as though the world, the achingly beautiful world, were spinning around me. My doctor referred me to a psychiatrist, and in October of 1995 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Emily Glossner Johnson, and I’ll be writing monthly posts here that deal with mental illness: living with it, writing with and about it, and overcoming the challenges it presents. I’ve lived officially with bipolar disorder for eighteen years, and unofficially with it for, I believe, my entire life. I’ve also written for my whole life. My first ever complete story is called “Geoffrey the Giraffe”. I was four and couldn’t write yet, so I told the story in pictures. I’ve come a long way since Geoffrey; I have my eleventh published story coming out this winter, in the anthology Postscripts to Darkness.
The novel I wrote in 1995 now sits in a box in my study closet—a convoluted, sometimes incoherent mess. The good that came out of it is that I wrote an entire novel for the first time in my life. The bad is that it’s the product of a manic mind, the fruit of a manic episode, and therefore nothing that I want anyone else to read. And yet, through it all, something shone through—two characters I fell in love with and didn’t want to let go. I filed them away in my mind and in 2008—balanced, properly medicated, understood and supported—I wrote another novel with these two characters, along with a third I created and love, as the main characters in a new story.
Everything began to turn around in March of 2005 when I started seeing the psychiatrist I’m still with, a wonderful woman who I believe has done much to save me. Also in March of 2005, divorced by now from my first husband, I began to get serious with an old high school classmate. We got married in 2008, and he has also helped to save me. My family and friends have always been there for me, but for many years certain pieces of the puzzle were missing. In 2005, I found those pieces. I think it’s no coincidence that I got published for the first time in 2005—a short story called “Lonesome Tonight” that appeared in the journal Lynx Eye.
I’m not going to pretend that everything is sunshine and roses now, and that I never have problems. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, and even when effectively medicated, treated, and supported, a bipolar person still has to work to maintain balance and wellness. It’s a complex illness. I have at various times been on Serzone, Celexa, Ativan, Lithium, Depakote, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zoloft. I now take Effexor, Lamictal, Abilify, Wellbutrin, and Clonazepam. I’ve been to six different psychiatrists. I’ve been hospitalized four times and in partial hospitalization programs twice. I’m very familiar with talk therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and group therapy. I’ve journeyed through the mental health system, sometimes in a dream state, sometimes as sharp as a knife as I’ve worked as an advocate for myself.
But I have come out on the other side. I know the triggers that set off mania or depression and, when I feel manic or depressed, I have skills to use to get back to baseline. And I write nearly every day. Writing helps and heals me, enlightens me, keeps me together. It’s my passion in life, a passion I’m happy to share here.
– – –
Look for Emily’s upcoming posts with our ‘Inspire Writer: Blog Series‘