He looks as if he got confused when dressing this morning in his Eddie Bauer hiking boots and his Armani suit. Then I remember the snowy slush I schlepped through on the way to his office. Always Ill prepared for wintry weather, or just too stubborn to buy hideous snow boots, I sit on his leather couch, nervously shaking my tennis shoed foot, legs crossed, pillow clutched protectively in front of me and my demons.

For $125, we are meeting today. On more than one occasion, it’s been pointed out that I “present” well. This psychological jargon translates into: me, looking just fine. By some unconscious effort, perhaps I do act in that manner. Still, no Oscar, or the riches that accompany it, arrives in my mail box. Go figure. Indeed, I am in grand shape. This is the only shape I know. The nick name “Sunshine” found me some years ago and from my vantage point, my glass is perpetually ½ full. I suppose it stands to reason though that it must therefore be partially empty. I generally resist that notion.

I am aware I have not showered and my hair loudly announces that fact. As he looks though my folder and chats, I look down at my too tight, navy sweat pants I vaguely recall dressing in. Under other circumstance, I would be embarrassed by my appearance. But I care more about how soon I can get back home and get back to sleep more than what he might think of my fashion sense.
He sounds a little like the teacher in Charlie Brown today. I do not have the energy to be engaged in conversation. And there is was…

Bipolar. What a relief.
Is that all? I love gay bears! A lifelong, mental illness? Oh, I see. So, those poor stars of the Animal Planet’s show are medicated as they lumber from one ice cap to the next for the rest of their lives? That’s tragic. They do seem a little manic if you ask me.

An exquisitely framed Harvard medical degree hangs on the wall across from my safe place on his couch. I am still and numb. Surely this well intentioned professional, who I have known for over 10 years, has to exercise a medical, therapeutic muscle now and then. Anyhow, everyone’s entitled to an off day and he is surely having one.

Still stunned, I sit in my car, in the CVS parking lot. Unfolding, unfolding, unfolding the impossibly tiny paper insert. Is there a warehouse in some third world country where exhausted, under compensated women sit and fold for 18 hours a day? I don’t know what I am looking for but I am determined to become an informed & educated patient. I am on a mission to prove off-day-doctor wrong. I am also searching for some comfort hidden between the chemical makeup diagrams and the usual “do not take if you are nursing” warnings. I checked. I am pretty sure that is not a problem. Somewhere in all the medical jargon, it will say “Leslie, this medication is not for you. It’s for bears”.

After much eye strain studying font the size of a speck of dust, I am now enlightened to be on the lookout for a potentially deadly rash. I go back into CVS and grab a tube of Desitin. Mental note: I must program the doctor’s number in my cell. Just in case. As I drive away, I imagine other commuters swerving and spinning; their cars out of control as they are distracted and blinded by the scarlet letter I now wear.
Many months later, clarity began to arrive like dissipating fog from a steamy mirror. Like any loss (and in my view, a loss of being “normal”) one is dragged, kicking and screaming, through all the stages of grief.

• Shock and Denial: Dr. Off- Day is a flake. This only happens to bears.
• Anger: I’m suing.
• Bargaining: Dear God, I promise to quit swearing and taking packets of Equal from work.
Depression: Now that’s funny.
• Acceptance: I'm at peace. OK Really? Not quite yet.

It took an excruciating year for me to find my crayons and connect a few dots making even the loosest connection with my diagnosis. After my Crayola moment, I ferociously took on the timely and sometimes expensive task of educating myself. I am now fairly versed on everything from Bipolar I to Bipolar II to, thank God for my position on the BP spectrum, the term Soft Bipolar.

Scholarly as I was, it took even longer for me to be prepared to utter the words to anybody outside of my treatment team’s walls.

Like a nervous teenager, pre-date, practicing in front of the mirror I stood…

”I’m Bi-Polar”
“I’m Bipolar”
“Hi! I’m Bi-polar”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Bi-polar”
“A pack of Marlboro bipolar lights please”

But eventually I uttered. I did. I am.

Dear (fill in the blank) College Intake Coordinator,

Please accept my application for the upcoming semester. You’ll notice I have formal studies from both the University of Louisville and Eastern KY University. Oh, and in addition, I have independently performed intense, extensive studies and have just oodles of life experience! In reviewing your CLEP program, I am confident I can test out and gain credits towards my degree. I scanned the courses and it appears I am able to earn my pharmacy technician certificate, my undergraduate degree in social work, my masters in counseling and my medical degree within 3 months and with my degrees, I intend to get a job at the zoo in the frozen mammal exhibit.

I look forward to receiving your letter of acceptance.

Author's Bio: 

Leslie lives in PA with her little monster, a cairn terrier named Punkin. She writes to work through personal issues and perhaps help others in the process.