I am a rather ordinary-looking woman in my early 40s. I am of average intelligence, and possess no particularly extraordinary skills or talents. I have confidence in my abilities as a mother, and I used to believe in myself as a wife. I consider myself a pleasant person and a decent friend. And when I am calm, when I am “myself”, I go about my days feeling nothing more.
But when I am manic, I am the most beautiful woman in town. I’m like a Breck Girl, shiny hair and glowing skin. I check my gorgeous reflection in the mirror. Often. My makeup is flawless. I push my cart through the grocery store keenly aware that everyone notices me, thinking to themselves how lovely I am. And smart. My God, I am SO smart. People who I grace with my presence are in awe of my intelligence, and clamor to be close to me. I grow weary and bored with the dull conversations of others. They are all so annoying and they test my patience. In fact, so many people seem like idiots or morons. I sing along to songs on the radio wondering why nobody in the music business has discovered me yet because my voice is spectacular. I am an exceptional musician, banging furiously at the keys of my piano making few or no errors. I gesture often with my left hand, making sure my wedding band is visible to the scores of men, both young and old, who are looking for it. Sorry boys, I’m spoken for. I have boundless energy, and I move everywhere very quickly. I even drive fast, usually too fast. Everything I cook is a culinary masterpiece, everything I create is a true work of art. I typically spend a lot of money during my mania, but it doesn’t matter – my husband won’t mind because I can do no wrong. My children are chips off the old block – lovely, brilliant, smart, talented. And my husband adores me. He is proud to show me off, and brags about me constantly. He is lucky to have me. We are a gorgeous couple. I feel slim and classy and beautifully dressed. People want to be just like me.
And then the cycle ends, and I crash.
And I usually crash pretty hard.
And when I finally get back onto my feet, I’m afraid to catch sight of my reflection in the mirror because I can’t bear to see the ugly woman looking back at me. The ugly, stupid, frumpy and unremarkable woman staring at me with dead eyes. And then I remember that I am sick. That I am mentally ill. And I remember I’m not really any of those things I’d thought myself to be just a few hours earlier. And I crawl exhausted into my lonely bed, remembering that my husband has left me and my children are afraid of me and my mother is confused by me and my friends are tired of me. And if I have a teeny bit of that previous energy left, I use it to cry myself into a solitary sleep. But sometimes I am too tired even to cry.
If I’m lucky, I emerge from that bed without having lost too much time. If I’m luckier, my frequent memory loss that is a result of ECT will override the selfish, self-centered previous couple of days and I’ll have no recollection of my thwarted perceptions of myself. My haughty, embarrassing behavior.
If I’m lucky, I will be able to look at myself in the mirror and see a rather ordinary-looking woman in her early 40s, of average intelligence who possesses no particularly extraordinary skills or talents. That woman will have confidence in her abilities as a mother, and remember with melancholy that she used to be a good wife. And she will pray that many, many weeks will pass before she sees anyone else in that reflection.