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The path to wellness is a personal journey

Do you know what it's like to go through your life second-guessing your moods? I can't trust them. There's no external barometer to compare them to, since emotions and feelings are so subjective. Having been diagnosed with manic depression 15 years ago, it's been a steep learning curve. It's something I'll have to deal with for the rest of my life. An acquaintance remarked recently that she was astonished at how functional I was. She only saw the surface.

I stopped taking medication 10 years ago and I've never looked back. Within four months I went into creative overdrive, promoting a book, writing another one and socializing on a level that's normally reserved for debutantes. My cycles tend to last 14 months, with seven months on one end of the spectrum and seven on the other.

Manic depression is an affliction paired to many people with creative leanings. More artistically inspired types suffer from it than any other diagnosis, and we're the least likely to accept long-term treatment for it.

It's not that I hate medication, or that I'm roundly against it, but I'm foolish enough to think that I can survive long enough to be the exception to the rule. Many would call this grossly irresponsible or willingly self-destructive. They'd probably be right, too.

There isn't one specific key or quick fix for solving or curing every bout of deep, unrelenting introspection. From a writing standpoint, it's difficult to dredge up the desire to banish a fountain of ideas that spawn hundreds of pages and projects in the span of a few months. Why would anyone want to do away with that?

I've picked up a few tricks for keeping things from going too far overboard: Maintaining at least six to eight hours of sleep a day. Cooling down and taking a "time out" when I get unrealistically angry over nothing. It is a constant battle, but I'd like to think that I'm winning the war. I'm in no way condoning long-term avoidance from medications for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is a long, rocky path that I chose for myself.

During my downturns, I won't leave the house unless it's completely necessary. I'll sleep for 10 to 12 hours a day and still find myself exhausted and lacking energy. When I'm in conversation, I'll avoid eye contact and drift mentally, incapable of locking in on the topics at hand because my mind is clouded with fear. It's no picnic. This is hell on a relationship, but my wife understands. She's been through it with me before.

Some day I may return to medication, therapy or a combination thereof in an attempt to live a "normal" life -- whatever that may be. I often worry that it causes a strain on all of my personal and professional relationships and that I'm gambling with my own mental and physical health.

The path to wellness is a deeply personal and unique journey for everyone. If an acquaintance can compliment me on my seemingly stable personality, then at least I'm functioning at some level of normalcy. There's no way to compare your emotions or feelings to other people, which is what makes the disorder so stymieing. The best I can do is monitor my moods, make a personal oath to look after myself first and foremost and attempt to get the rest that my body requires.

Cumulatively, I've lost years of my life to sadness and inactivity with those I love. For the time being, if that's the cost of inspiration and elation, I'll gladly pay it.

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Tom Waters has lived with his wife, Lindsay, for almost seven years. He has written, published and promoted nine books.

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