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ESSAY
Polar Opposites
Aaron Como

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Like the highest peak of the tallest mountain.  The air is thin and it’s hard to breathe.  It’s pure, though, and clean.  There are no obstructions to cloud the view for miles and miles…

Like the wide and vast base of the mountain.  The air is thick and it’s hard to breath.  At the bottom there is nothing but jagged rock straight up.  The peak is a myth and its truth is obscured by clouds. 

Like the poles, the North and the South.

Like sides of a coin.

Like me.

Opposites.  Far apart, the widest chasm in between.  Never to meet, with nothing in common. Except as part of the whole.

* * *

They’d decided on bipolar.  I’d shrugged.  They throw diagnoses around like cheap dime store frisbees.

They used to call it manic depression but they changed it.  Bipolar sounds more clinical.  Less…crazy.

I wear it like a badge of honor.  The badge is dull and crusted with rust.

* * *

Standing at the peak of bipolar is exhilaration.   

At its peak I can do anything.

At its peak I am invincible.

At its peak I am confident.  I’m attractive.  I’m funny.  I sparkle and dazzle.  Everyone likes me at the peak.  Everything is possible at the peak.  I look out from it at the world and I am one with all living beings.  I am at the top of the world.  I am the top of the world.  Until I look down…

Lying at the base of bipolar is sorrow.

At its base I cannot do anything.

At its base I am broken.

At its base I sink into the murk until I am frozen.

At its base I am full of reproach.  I’m hideous.  I’m awkward.  I’m dull and flat.  No one likes me at the base.  Nothing is possible at the base.  I’m alone.  I’m under the world.  I am the underworld.  Until I look up…

They pull and push at each other, the peak and the base.  They long and reach for each other. They hate and reject each other.  There is no middle ground.

* * *

Before I knew its name I knew it.

I’ve done things in its name.  I’ve brought it with me, complicit in the things I’ve done.

On top of the world feeling no pain.  Feeling so good and wanting to share the feeling.  Never wanting the feeling to end.  Raining dollars on the writhing women.  One more, then one more drink past too many.  Windows down as the car and the music blast down the highway.  I don’t see the lights or hear the sirens.

I’m on the top of the world.  I never want the party to end.

* * *

I’ve done things in its name.  I’ve brought it with me, complicit in the things I’ve done.

At the bottom of the world everything is pain.  Pain until I was unable to feel.  I needed it to stop.  I’ve stood on the roof and dared and shamed myself to let go.  I’ve turned on the car and shut the garage door.

I’m at the bottom of the world.  And I want it to end.

***

I sat in my room at the hospital.  I cried harder than I thought was possible.  I felt relief that I did not know existed.  I slept a long, hard, dreamless sleep, protected against the dreams that had battered my mind.

* * *

I can’t trace its etymology.  I can’t see it.  I can feel it, though, and it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t find the words.  They tell me that it doesn’t matter.  It matters to me.

They tell me its chemicals and they give me pills.  They make me talk about it.

I take them and it helps.  I talk and it helps.

I’m not like that anymore.  I haven’t been to the peak in a long time.  I haven’t been to the base in even longer.

I live in the middle.  It’s ok.  It’s better.  I’m better.

I can talk to people and I don’t hide from them.  They like me, or so it seems.

I’m respectable.  I have a job.  I have a family.  I haven’t done anything harmful or hurtful in a long time.

* * *

The pills and the talking hold the bipolar at bay.  It’s not a cure but a truce.  The war is never won.  The top and middle and bottom.  Wherever I am, I am exhausted.

I am functional.  There are no jagged cliffs to climb up or fall onto.  It’s gentle, like laying in a boat as the water gentle bobs it up and down.  It’s good.

Yet.

They’ve chipped away at me.  I’ve been robbed. 

I’ll never feel the pure exhilaration at the peak of the mountain of bipolar.  It’s too dangerous.

I’ll never feel the deep sadness at the base of the mountain of bipolar.  It’s too dangerous.

I’ve mourned them.  I miss them.  I was raw and unfiltered and undiluted.  I was pure. 

I’m better.  But a piece of me is missing.  I’m not the same, for good or for ill.


Aaron J. Como lives and writes and works in Milwaukee, WI. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Drunk Monkeys, Five to One, Red Fez and The Creative Truth. Find him on twitter @aaronjcomo