Apparently it is the end of summer. My words have been few and farther and farther between. Part of this is stress in my personal life. That piece of the silent pie is just mine for now, but I will say that things look a little more hopeful than even two weeks ago.
My avoidance of blogging – or, indeed, any communication outside of what is required/needed/nice for my internship and work – is also due to an ever present undercurrent in my life: bipolar type II.
Maria Bamford, picking up on the fact that receiving a bipolar type II diagnosis seems about as culturally cool as the iPad mini getting retina display, called it the “gladiator sandal” of mental health disorders. Carrie Fisher refers to it as an internal and independent weather system. I think of it as a name that, among possible monikers, is closest to what I experience.
Basically, I experience high moments – where my brain feels able to think at 100 times its regular speed, where my productivity increases 10-fold, and where I feel that I could bike forty miles without have trained for it – and low moments – depression or sadness so intense that it is physically painful – in short succession. I don’t have the “classic” mania that disconnects me from reality, but my day to day life is usually powered by how much I am actually able to be present and to concentrate through internal forces.
Okay. Why am I talking about this? Why am I avoiding some personal things but obviously not this one?
I chose to have an internship near Ann Arbor for a few reasons:
a) I was offered this internship, which has been awesome.
b) I wanted to move to Michigan and learn about epidemiology at the local level. Most of my other internships have been international and, for once, I wanted to stay put. I wanted a local context.
c) I wanted to learn how to manage my mental health, which seemed easier to do here.
Yes, I am on medication. Yes, I have friends and professionals to talk to. Yes, I exercise, eat, and sleep at set times during the day. Yes, I have patterns – including my internship. I have a lot to learn, but living with rhythms helps me to achieve homeostasis.
Before someone gave me a name for my brain workings, I loved patterns. In a way, patterns have always been the common thread in my life. Knitting, working on math problems, reading history books… all of it tied together through rhythms in structure or content. I think this might be why epidemiology has always felt like a home to me.
I look for patterns. That is what I do, every single day, and I love it. Currently, I explore data rhythms – viral load frequencies, Detroit-area prevalence, recent diaspora probabilities. Everyday, I feel like cheering, “I get to do this!” I get to work as an epidemiologist… my dream job.
I am good at what I do, and what I do also happens to gift me with a health benefit: exploring population health patterns usually evens out my internal free-for-all.
I have had days this summer where my brain movement left me unable to talk, and days where I had no idea why the idea of walking down the street made me want to burst into tears. In both situations, my internship gave me a reason to keep pushing – it has provided me with the need to keep learning, to keep producing excellent rather than acceptable work, and to keep dreaming about the future. My coworkers, knowingly and non, have supported me in the most wonderful ways.
Plus, data is just fun.
I consider these brain workings a hindrance, boon, and part of who I am. This summer has given me the confidence to say that I am not an invalid, and that, in my eyes, my brain’s stuff makes me able to go on to so many interesting and great things. I think my bipolar, or whatever it is, will make me a better graduate student.