A Beacon: Working through the cycles

After a hiatus, returning to live life more fully.

—Mari Fielder

It returned in much the same way as it always had, a little at a time, deceptively gradual. Three years ago, for six months, the medication I’d started on had worked beyond my expectations. I was able to start working at Daybreak, and did so for more than two years. I had a host of issues between those points, but it was manageable. That was my mantra: I got this. But, if you’re one of my regular readers, you can probably guess by my extended hiatus that was incorrect.

Tardiness became last-minute absences, going from once or twice a month to once a week. I was in constant communication with my psychiatrist to adjust my medications, on a strict regimen of diet, exercise, and proper sleep. I meditated several times a day, and practiced all the cognitive behavioral therapy exercises I knew, trying to haul myself clear of my bipolar’s gnashing teeth.

I have undergone this cycle 10 times since my late adolescence, a little more than two decades. You might think I’d have gotten used to it, but this last one? This last one really stung. Every time, I have fought my hardest, but this time, it really felt like I was doing everything right, playing by the rules. My dosages were suffocatingly high. Thought or emotion had to seep through the concrete the meds encased my entire brain in, their substance largely lost in the process. I was sacrificing half my life, just to be able to live the other half, and the bipolar was taking even that much from me, endlessly halving the remainder.

It was more than my efforts that made this latest wildfire so tough to take. When I actually allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might simply no longer be able to continue working at the Clubhouse, I felt the most incredible sadness. If you had told me, five years ago, that not only would I hold down a full-time job, but I’d love it so much I’d write about it in the paper? Honestly, that would be incredibly specific, and in my regular bouts of paranoia I would probably conclude you were a time traveler, and it would have been a whole thing. Yet here I am.

I couldn’t do it. I’ve stood in the smoldering wreckage of so many past chapters of my life, but I couldn’t lose this too. Of the many treatment options available, there had been one that I couldn’t bring myself to consider before: Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Most people are familiar with what was commonly called “electroshock” from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and while it was never remotely so terrible as portrayed, 20 years ago it was a messier affair, and the experience left a mark on people that shook me. A longtime friend who had undergone the process urged me to try, and that tipped the scales.

The process was not an easy one, and the recovery was extremely taxing. During that time, my grandmother, whom we had been caring for the past decade, passed away. As raw and ragged as the ECT had left me, the loss was annihilating. The month of October was defined by sadness and confusion. Yet from the first session of ECT, I noticed a change so all-encompassing, it was hard for me to fully comprehend. By my final session, there could be no mistake: My symptoms were entirely gone. There were symptoms I had grown so accustomed to, I only truly noticed them in their sudden absence. For the past three months, without psychiatric medication, I have known a peace of mind so implausible it had never occurred to me to hope for it.

Mental wellness. Experiencing it showed me that I’d never actually entered these clear, smooth waters before. There is no part of my life that is not different. The world is so sharp and vivid, yet sensible, still. Calm. It is a small margin of people who experience quite the depth of side effects as I had following the ECT, but the margin for this total success is smaller still.

I resumed my work at Daybreak the first of December. The work comes easier now, though I am still finding my sea legs. Coming back to them, to Community Services, was like coming home. I missed our members. I missed my comrades. I missed the work. Maybe I’ve won the war, or maybe just a battle. I don’t actually know, but no one really does. Whatever it takes, I will see it done. These people, this organization, this job is worth fighting for. If you’re in this fight too, I urge you to keep going. Keep looking. Keep fighting! And if you need the help? At Daybreak, I’ll fight at your side.

And I won’t be doing it alone.



  1. My sincerest admiration and respect to you. And happiness for you now. Most people are unable to understand what bipolar disorder can be like, and you do a service, perhaps more than you realize, in educating those who cannot really fathom the courage it takes to deal with the struggles that can keep changing over the years, even with a strict compliance to medications and lifestyle. Bless your heart and best wishes for your continued wellness as you help others.

  2. Matt, you know Sharon and I are praying for you regularly. I was a bit concerned that we had not seen an article in a while. I am very glad you have found something that is working for you. All our best to you and Mari.

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