So, Clara, why aren’t you writing much these days?
Oh, I don’t know. I think there are just too many distractions. And there’s that giant piece of work I thought I’d finished but now realize it needs more revisions and a new ending.
Are you referring to your memoir?
Yes! It is the only thing I’ve wanted to write and publish in my entire adulthood since it happened. No wait! I started writing the memoir before the major events in it took place.
Really? That seems kind of young.
Well I wasn’t writing it for publication. I was writing it for me. You see, my friend and I had just finished visiting a couple of Mozart museums in Salzburg and I bought a spiral-bound journal at one of them that didn’t have any lines (just the way I like it). Then, when we were on the train and didn’t have much to say to one another, I began writing my life story because I couldn’t think of anything else to write.
Do you think your life is so interesting?
Not now. But it’s had some interesting moments. The mania brought it on, first in France, then, nearly 17 years later, here.
Why do you think anyone would want to read your memoir?
Curiosity. Isn’t that what drives us to read any memoir? Also to make us feel a little less alone. I prepared for my memoir by reading bipolar memoirs by other women. None of them were the same. But they were all well-written and encouraging.
What about yours? Do you feel it would fit in well with what’s already out there?
Yes and no. I’m worried mine is too religious and yet I can’t remove the religion from it because it’s woven in too tightly. The friend I call Amélie in my story tried to loosen me from it but then my grandma died and I became even more religious. Then the American guy who lived downstairs led weekly Bible studies which I attended and he also introduced me to an evangelical church in town that was all in French! If anything, my grip on religion tightened during my time there. So yeah, the religion will drive non-religious people away from it and the psychology will drive religious people away from it. So I don’t know who will want to buy this book.
So as I understand there are two manic episodes about 17 years apart. What happened in between?
Not much. In my twenties I’d often go off my meds to see if I could trigger a manic episode. It never happened. Then when I was 28 I was in the hospital for self-injury and the doctor decided to put me on lithium. I stayed on that drug until I tried to get myself into a running routine last October but the lithium was making me feel nauseas and causing me to sweat too much. So I convinced my psychiatrist to let me go off it. This helped my exercising immensely! Then, with exercise, my self-esteem grew. I intentionally began waking up earlier in the morning to do some reading and poof! Before I knew it the racing thoughts were there and thoughts began to pop into my head that didn’t feel like they were from me.
No voices, right?
That’s right. No voices. Just intruding thoughts from a God called Love who seemed to have a playful side too.
What do you mean?
I guess it’s hard to explain. But it’s like when I couldn’t find my iPad and there was this “warmer/colder” game and as I came near it, the thought said warmer and there it was. Or when my sister and I went to pick up a Christmas tree and the thought would tell me that she was his chosen one, not me; that he’d hidden himself in the person who we least expected. And it feels strange to say that because it’s 9 months later and I have not been nice to my sister since leaving the hospital.
So God, if it were God and not just the mania, was teaching you to seek him in the least of his people. He was teaching you not to seek him in mansions and palaces, but in mangers and amongst the poor.
When I was manic I bought some oranges from a street vender that were not so beautiful on the outside, but when you opened them up, they were the sweetest, most delicious oranges I’d ever tasted. I felt like that was God telling me that he worked from the inside out.
What else do you think God was telling you?
That he was Love and he was safe and there was nothing to fear. But then my brain began to feel like it was running faster and faster until it felt like it was burning. I was beginning to make connections where there were seemingly no connections, between life, death, and rebirth, and history.
Is that all?
Oh, and that the world was going to be rebooted. That came through an episode of The Good Place that happened to have aired shortly before all this occurred. The “judge” saw a flaw in the system and thought the best way to solve it would be to reboot the whole thing. The character Eleanor and her friends thought this was a terrible idea and worked fast to try and find another way to fix the system. And so this idea that the world was going to rebooted and Jesus was taking people off the planet before it was too late raced wildly in my mind. I identified with Eleanor. Another friend identified with Chidi and unfortunately that other friend ended up on the receiving end of some very strange text messages.
I can imagine!
And I know this all sounds crazy but here’s the really weird part. I ended up in the psych hospital by way of the ER. Basically, I had a ticket to see a pre-screening of the latest Little Women reboot and I left early, hoping to meet up with others like me there. Then, while I was on the freeway, I took my hands off the wheel as if to let God literally take the wheel. And then I felt the car veer left but my memory stops there and resumes again at the side of an off ramp where I’m kneeling on the ground outside of the care, my glasses, phone, and purse behind me, and a guy in a red convertible asks me if I’m okay. I say, I think so. Nothing hurt at least. But they called an ambulance and ran all kinds of tests on me in the ER just to make sure. When it was revealed that I wasn’t physically harmed in the slightest, arrangements were made for me to go to the psych hospital.
Wow! Okay, that sounds pretty crazy.
And in the ER I sang and my parents showed up for a little while, until I asked them to leave because it wasn’t making things much better with them there. Once they were gone I started acting weirder but I’m not ready to share the details here. Let’s just say that I went from singing to screaming fairly quickly as they strapped me to the bed.
Good thing your parents didn’t have to see that, right?
Back to the car accident. Sorry. I forgot to ask. Was anyone else involved?
Nope. I hit I sign and my car was totaled but the airbags weren’t deployed. So like I said, between the time I lifted my hands off the wheel to the time I ended up on the side of the road outside of the car I have no memory.
There was a girl I met in the psych hospital who was in the same ER I’d been in at the same time as me and actually heard me singing. She especially remembered me singing songs from The Little Mermaid. She was in the ER for a panic attack but she liked the singing. Anyway, we developed a special bond because of that.
After all you’ve been through, do you still believe in God or do you think he’s just a figment of your mental illness?
Yes, I still believe in God. I still listen to the Christian music from my youth because it comforts me. I still sometimes pick up the Bible and read a few passages from it. I don’t go to church, however. Churches don’t seem to be very welcoming to people like me, and I’m not just talking about the mental illness. I’m talking about being a single woman of my age with no children. Churches just don’t seem to know what to do with people like me. They might have a college and career group for youth ages 18 to 25. But I’m 40 now. What is there for a woman like me?
That’s gotta be tough.
But, on the other hand, I love Jesus and I wish more of the world would come to follow him. And it’s not about heaven or hell for me. I don’t even believe in hell. It’s just the beauty in his words and the way he flipped our idea of kingdom upside down, with the last first and the first last. I love the way he loved those who were the least and how he was like, “whatever you do to the least of these you’ve done to me.” Some people understand this. But very few, I think.
Yeah. It’s like that quote from Gandhi about how he loved our Christ but not so much our Christians because Christians are often so unlike Christ.
Well, look. The word count is over a thousand. You think you’re ready to tackle the one book again? This book is your baby. Are you ready to see your baby grow up and become a part of the world?