I ask my mother if she can watch Isk so Leigh and I can run to the store to grab a new bottle of baby vitamins. (Drug stores without the New York City markup are a great pleasure for us; we save minor purchases like this for trips to the motherland where possible.) Sure, she says. My father, cooking dinner in the kitchen, asks if we need money. Don't worry, I say, as my mother hands me her debit card.
Well, I want you to have money, my father says. He comes to the living room, presses a wad of cash from his pocket into my hand.
Thanks, Dad, I say. And like always, I wonder if I should keep it or not.
My dad wasn't diagnosed as bipolar until I was seventeen. It was bad, when shit went down; it was bad, and it was shocking, and it was totally unsurprising given that one of his sisters is schizophrenic and another had better be a diagnosable sociopath, because 'evil' is an inadequate diagnostic conclusion. Anyway, my family lost it for a while. My mother was reliving her sexual assaults in therapy once a week; I was silently deferring all of my emotions for a time when cancer and Ivy League applications wouldn't be better distractions; my brother was deciding that disappearing was his best bet to get noticed; and my father had a psychotic episode at work and was getting medicated to within an inch of his life.
I don't know if we're better now, but it's at least less unpleasant.
No, that's not true. We're better now. My mom's stepping off her Prozac; my brother's business is taking off; I am capable of letting my mother's judgement roll off my back without feeling crushed by it; and my father, now retired on disability, is okay. He has his swings, but he's generally staying in the vicinity of somewhere that can communicate with others. He's not normal, but he's fine, and that's what matters.
My therapist asked me how my father was after a recent trip to the motherland. "He's fine," I said. "I mean, sometimes he does things, and you can tell it's something his brain is making him do. That sounds stupid, but you know what I mean."
My father's brain made him ask me, every weekly phone call home from college, if I was warm enough--so much so that it became a running joke within the family. My father's brain makes him press twenties into my palm every time I leave the house these days. My father's brain makes him spend half a day obsessing over how I'm going to print the thing I need to mail out while I'm visiting--how will I connect to the printer? Will there be enough ink? Will there be enough paper? Should I print on best quality or draft quality? Will I see the necessary dialogue boxes? Is the printer USB or not? My father's brain makes him shop impulsively, so much so that, in his real manic phases, my mother has taken away his credit cards, that her will states that, in the event of her death, their money will go into a trust, rather than directly to him. In his normal phases, he just buys new televisions.
Okay, once a car, but only once. And my brother did need a car.
My brain makes me do things.
It makes me stay up late, later, latest, because if I lay down then the thoughts will come: that I'll never get these jobs I'm applying for. That I'm a terrible teacher. That my son will run into the road and die because I don't deserve him. That the world would be better if I--left.
It makes me burst into tears in the kitchen because the ants ate the donuts, which is CLEARLY a SIGN from GOD that I am A FAT LAZY BITCH WHO DOESN'T DESERVE THINGS.
It makes me read the words of my friends recovering from eating disorders and struggling with self harming, and wishing I could do those things, because it sounds like it would help.
I hear words leave my mouth, and some part of me goes: Oh, I'm here again. Dammit. And the worst part is that knowing where here is represents a victory, hard-one through thousands of dollars of therapy. Just being here--wherever the fuck here is--is an accomplishment.
There's no winning when you fight your brain. There are only truces.
I never learned that when I was fighting my body, either, for what it's worth.
The problem with being at the place my father's in, or the place I'm in, is that you don't know, sometimes, whether you're doing something, or your brain is.
Does this research proposal suck, or do I just think it does? And what is wrong with me that I can't--no, wait, stop, that's just going to make it worse.
Did I do an okay job teaching today, or am I deluded? And if it went well, was it me, or did my students manage to pull out a win without any help from me?
Did my father hand me the money, or did his brain?
My father is generous. My father is kind. My father is the silent type. My father is artistic. My father can't talk on the phone for more than five minutes these days.
Can I pry my father's symptoms away from his personality? Can I figure out what is legitimately his, and what is his brain tick-tick-ticking away in the corner?
What would I be like without depression as my companion? Quick, Amal: picture yourself with no crises of confidence, no days where you lay on the couch and think how much happier everyone you know would be without you, no days when you stare at the computer screen and think that everything you've ever produced is pointless, no nights writing letters to people you are convinced hate you until you wake up. Pry it out. Who are you without your ghost?
I am my own best critic. I am intensely focused. I am capable of working like a machine under terrible conditions. I am the fastest graduate student my department had ever seen. I am generous. I am artistic. I am self-sacrificing.
I am my father's daughter.
Tick-tick-tick, says my brain. Tick-tick.