Monkey On My Back:
A Story About Living with Bipolar
By Kristen Shupe

I am so afraid to stop the motion. I am so afraid to lie down. I am terrified of my mind running free for hours as I lie in the dark praying for sleep to come. I feel like I have live wires running all through my arms and legs. I experience a roller coaster of emotions. My stomach actually feels like I am riding on one. I can’t breathe. I can’t sleep. At times, I can’t eat. My head swims. I am underwater. I am drowning. I try to tread. All I want is escape.


Getting through the day seems insurmountable. All this I try to hide from my seven-year-old daughter. I am a single mother. I am broke. I want to spend. I want to consume. I want to run away. Nothing is ever enough. I am impulsive. I do not think my decisions through. I dyed my hair bright red, which  seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I hate it. At least I’ve come this far – the only damage I have done to myself this time is cosmetic, not life-threatening.

My body betrays me. It jerks and twitches and clenches up my insides. I have a permanent headache from clenching my jaws too tightly.my neck throbs with tension. My head beats like a drum. I feel empty inside and raw. There is nothing that can fill me up. I try to lay down.my body dances like a hideous puppet on strings. Waves of panic seize my stomach. Again I cannot catch my breath.

At these times, all the myriad medications I am on mean nothing. I become completely immune. This too shall pass, I pray. It usually does. The good times in between just seem to be getting shorter. I pray those close to me will not realize how close to some precarious edge I am. I pray I am not too out of control, too hyped up, too offensive. I pray God will make the pain stop.

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I try to exercise for relief. I try to take extra medication. I try not to eat sugar or drink caffeine. I try to isolate myself as much as possible and not lose my already compromised mind. My eyes are always on the verge of overflowing.

Before treatment and therapy this would have led to illegal drugs, alcohol, and men. Searching for anything to fill the void. I am stronger than that now. And at least that is one thing I can be proud of.

I saw my therapist today. I read to her from this journal. Just reading what I have written makes me cry. I thought Bipolar would be a thing that could be controlled – that with treatment and medication I could be normal. Now I know this is not true. Bipolar is like a beast. Sometimes it sleeps, other times it tries to destroy you. No matter how far or fast I run, no matter where I hide, it comes for me.

All the coping mechanisms – all the tidy tools they try to arm you with – those are never enough. When it comes to the major battles, you are naked and defenseless. You are nothing. At times like these I have no dreams, no hopes, no tomorrows.

I hate trying to wake up the next day. I feel like a zombie from all the meds I had to take just to be able to get a few hours of sleep. The monkey is not always on my back at this point, but he is still in the room. I have run out of household chores. I am scared of being idle. Driving through the streets, listening to songs that move me as loud as the speakers will go – this helps me. This can bring a smile. I sing at the top of my voice and believe some of the sickness trapped inside is expelled.

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Even as my body slows down – that internal humming growing fainter – the throbbing in my head remains. I am so furious that at times like this, prescribed drugs are the only things that get me off this crazy ride. I’ve got to be doped up just to cope, and boy does it take a lot to get me there. Some days I take so many pills I lose count. I can’t remember what, how many, when. I will do just about anything to get the monkey off my back. Seems like a vicious cycle that defeats the whole purpose – the purpose being a life of clarity, sanity, participation.

  1. Michelle says:

    WOW! What an amazing article! It really touched my heart! My auntie has biopolar too and I felt like I was ready an article that had been written by her because she suffers from the exact same things you do. I always want to help her but there doesnt seem to be anything I can do to make her feel better. Her illness cycle has become permanent and she has lost the will to live. If anyone has any advice I would be grateful to hear it! Thanks.

  2. Andi says:

    Vrinda – please keep writing. Your precise relay of feelings and thoughts articulates an education of understanding. It is a gift to read your story. Your talent will be celebrated!

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