I woke up in the middle of the night for some reason and what was on my mind was how manic I was in my 20’s. Sometimes I question why I don’t seem to have mania any more, and I’m thinking maybe I used it all up in my 20’s. In my 20’s, the world was full of magic and potential. The air was crackling with the possibilities of life. I was full of impulsivity – financially, sexually, and then finally geographically. At about 23 years of age, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like my life, and it was because I had always wanted to go to Paris, and the solution was to move to Paris. So I set about selling everything I owned and bought a plane ticket. I had very little money and even less of a plan. Fortunately, I had a cousin living in Paris so I could stay with her initially. When my cousin Mimi asked me what I wanted to do in Paris, I replied “I don’t know where this is coming from, but I feel like I want to sing!” I was full of intuitive hunches and my faith in them. I just knew everything would work out.
At the time, I was sober and very involved in AA, so when I got to Paris I found the American churches and the AA meetings full of ex-pats and made loads of new friends. I was gregarious and full of life – I was a beautiful 23 year old girl – who wouldn’t want to know me! I walked everywhere in Paris – everywhere I looked was beauty. Things I had only seen in pictures were regularly showing up in my field of vision. I felt like I could do anything!
In talking to one of the ladies from one of my AA meetings about needing a job, she said “Well, can you sing? Because there’s this place called the Hollywood Savoy that takes English-speaking girls and you wait tables and then sing in between.” A light went on in my head. Hadn’t I said I wanted to sing? I went right over with her and met the management, and just like that, I had a job. They let me start without the proper paperwork (I didn’t have permission to work), so the job was very short-lived. Also, even though I could sing, I wasn’t used to singing with a band and didn’t know how to come in with the intro, and I couldn’t find my key. I must have looked like an idiot. Some of the other girls made fun of me. Oh, the dream and the reality were not matching. Oh dear.
At this point, I was missing my group of friends and my family very much, and wondering why in the hell I’d come to Paris. I was suffering from culture shock and realizing that I didn’t speak French as well as I thought I did. Specifically, I couldn’t understand the French that was being spoken. I was beginning to panic. Even so, I tried to salvage the situation by looking for a job as a nanny.
One thing in Paris that I had never seen or heard of was “Turkish Toilets” – that’s what they called them. They weren’t toilets at all, but just a hole in the ground that you squatted over to go to the bathroom. Any time I encountered one, I resolutely refused to use it. It disgusted me! I was offered one nanny job in Paris that offered upstairs servant’s quarters for the nanny, but the bathroom was a Turkish Toilet. Based on that one fact, I turned down the job.
The second nanny job I was offered, I took. It was just watching a baby, and I was expected to do everything to take care of the baby, including getting up with him in the middle of the night. At one point I was sitting on the floor with the baby, and I was so sad and missing my family and friends, and I started to cry uncontrollably. Then the baby started to cry. Then the mother walked in. Somehow I composed myself and tried to make light of the fact that I was an emotional basket case.
All in all, my Paris fantasy lasted all of six weeks before I called it quits and ran home with my tail tucked between my legs. I was so relieved to be back in my hometown, but also embarrassed because I had told people that I would be gone for a year. I suffered a deep depression upon my return. The magic of life had died. I didn’t know where I had gone wrong, or where to go from where I was. It may have been the first time that I felt really betrayed by myself, the first of many, many, many times to come. I would not be diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder for another ten years, many heartaches, many financial disasters, many failed relationships later. For now, I would fumble along in life, looking for the magic, believing that something great was just around the corner, thinking that I was destined for great things.
The mania showed a person so zestful, so happy, so smart, so full of potential, that people reflected that back to me. People believed in me and in what I might do. But the inevitable crashes that mania produced (as well as crashes caused by impulsive behavior, my kryptonite), caused me to be a shadow of that person. I confused myself, and the outside world, with my two sides. I thought I just had depression. Why my therapist couldn’t link my severe impulse control issues with my mood disorder, I’ll never know. However, it’s all clear to me now. Although I miss the highs of life, and the belief in magic, I am grateful for the impulse control that keeps me from running my bank account down to zero, the impulse control that keeps me from shoplifting and the fear of being caught and exposed, the impulse control that keeps me from having sex with random strangers and thinking I’m a porn star. I don’t have as many secrets to hide, and that’s a relief. In AA, they say you’re only as sick as your secrets, and I believe that to be true. I’m not too sick. I am a secret smoker. Sometimes I use pot, although I try to avoid it. But that’s about it, for secrets. You guys know it all. And you’re still reading!! Thank you. And for now, I’ll close with saying take a chance. Share your secret. Even if it’s here in the comments. You’ll feel better. I know I do.