I'm Not Dead.
Monday, March 24, 2014 at 12:00AM
Danielle Belton in All Aboard The Bipolar Express, bipolar disorder, danielle belton

Family photos from my grandmother's sun porch in Newport, Ark.First of all, it's been a long time and I shouldn't have left you without a dope beat to step to ... or at least some blog posts to read. Astute readers and "Friends-of-Snob" have pointed out on numerous occasions my last post here was in November. My last articles on Clutch and The Root were in January and I promised, on the Facebooks and Twitters, that I'd come back in February and now March is almost over. So, yes, that is all true. My goal was to redo my site and re-brand/re-launch on Wordpress, but Wordpress struggled to import all my old posts (I've been blogging since 2007, so there are quite a few) and I'm so busy and impatient I no longer have the energy to futz around with my own HTML and make something pretty. 

A few of you who have been reading me and supporting me the longest actually were worried I'd fallen off the wagon. (That would be the ol' sanity wagon thanks to my friend "Bipolar Disorder.") But I'm pretty much as sane as I ever was, if not more so, as 2013 was the year of serious questions, reflection and re-evaluation. This year, 2014, is the year of having a better long-term plan. 

I'm not going to lie, 2013 was rough. I did not take the ending of my career as head writer of a failed late night talk show all that well. ("Don't Sleep" hosted by T. J. Holmes was, by far, the cruelest mistress.) Shortly after the show ended and I was back in St. Louis, I fell into a pretty rough depression. Some personal relationships exploded while others imploded. I watched an idea myself and my writing partner, Yesha Callahan, nurtured go from amazing promise to crickets. I tried to get hired by a couple other shows, but neither panned out. I took one rejection a bit harder than the other, even though that show was also off the air before 2013 petered out.

I'm a commitment-phobe for this very reason. No one takes break ups well, but you know that person who pretty much becomes a hot mess when things don't work out? That's me. Even though I knew moving to New York and the TV show were long-shots, I wanted to be wrong. And since I'm incapable of maintaining emotional distance once I'm in the weeds of it all, I was hurt all the same, as if I never knew the chances of failure were high.

This side of me has always concerned my parents, as like most loving parents, they do not like to see me upset. But their not wanting to see me upset goes beyond not wanting your kids to be unhappy and melds into the fear that "The Big D" -- depression -- would return. Thankfully, that did not happen. Partially because I know the signs now and prepare myself to combat them, and the other half was the fact that we babysat my sister's son, my nephew Alexander, during the day when my sister was at work. It's hard to climb all aboard the pity train when there's a toddler demanding you pay attention to him, love him, feed him, carry him around and change his diaper. And so, it was thanks to my nephew needing us all to make his needs the priority that got me through it.

My sister Deidre, Alexander's mother, has always been a very driven person. But before Alexander came along, like myself, she wasn't exactly sure of what she wanted to do. She knew she wanted to be successful, but at what? And distractions were always around, pulling you in one direction or the other. When she found out she was pregnant almost two years ago, she was initially worried if she would be capable, but my sister beat that challenge into the ground with a determination and righteousness I'd never seen before. She got serious and then she got very good at what she did, at everything she did -- her job, her personal life, being a mother. I don't tell her enough how proud I am of her and how even though she's my little sister, I looked up to her in those moments. She was the one inspiring me. She faced a challenge and said "Challenge accepted." Then she proceeded to beat the challenge into submission. This doesn't mean every day is a paradise, or that she doesn't need help, because we all need help. But it's about how she got serious about what she wanted, what she needed and how to go about it. How pride died and she focued on what really mattered. 

And I wasn't doing that.

I've had my share of "moments of reckoning" with my illness. I had the moment when I realized I needed to seek therapy. The moment I had to ask my father and oldest sister Denise to recuse me from Bakersfield, drive me from my dusty apartment back to St. Louis where I proceeded to wallow in so much pity I almost died of drowning. I had the moment when I realized I had to get serious about my treatment and maintaining stability and holding myself accountable. I had the one where I realized I couldn't just blow my paycheck and there not be consequences to my sanity. And while most of the time I'm cool with admitting my faults and trying to work around them or improve on them or get help for them, after awhile, you get tired of yelling at yourself and telling yourself what you're doing wrong all the time. You want to be blissfully unaware like so many other people get to be. You want to pretend like everything is normal. You want to eat the entire pizza like doing this won't make you fat. Like actions don't have consequences. 

After New York, I wanted to get back to my life as soon as possible. I didn't want to be unemployed and I didn't want to be in St. Louis. But I also didn't feel like going through whatever the Bipolar Disorder version of the 12 Steps were again. I've often described how being Bipolar is somewhat a bit like dealing with an addiction, or in my case, a desire to just let my id rule my personality and do whatever immediately makes me happy no matter how bad it will set me back. I didn't feel like trying to figure out the grand mysteries of crap like "Why is my anxiety disorder so out of control lately?" or "Why am I actively avoiding most romantic relationships to the point of hostility?" or "Why am I so mad?" After all I've been through psychologically, I wanted those moments of self-reflection to be over. I wanted to be done. But with mental illness -- the Hotel California of illnesses -- you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Even if you feel fairly well, it never goes away. It's always lurking under the surface and you have to constantly fight it, even when you don't want to. And, man, I didn't want to.

But seeing my sister choose not to fail because failure was not an option, made me wonder why I too would accept anything less than what I wanted out of life? Getting older meant I had to get better. I had to keep moving forward, because even if I chose inertia, time would keep propelling me forward anyway. Except by doing nothing, I would take away my right to have some hand in my fate. I would have to accept whatever was dolled out to me by the universe, and I seriously didn't trust the stars to make these sorts of life altering decisions without my guidance.

There's only so much you can do, can control, in this unpredictable life, but what you can do, you most certainly should.

After a few months of wound-licking in the Show-Me-State, I swallowed my pride, borrowed money from my father for what feels like too many times at this point, and moved back to Washington, D.C. to find a job and bring some sense back to what had stopped making sense. I had to swallow so much pride I feel like I gained about 20 lbs from my all ego-digesting diet. I moved into a room in a house in D.C.'s Hillcrest neighborhood in Anacostia. And, for what felt like the fifth or sixth time now, I stepped out on faith and just "believed" that I would find a way -- to make enough money, to find a place to live, to get started again. And for the second time since 2009, the last time I truly let myself down, I continued my now five year streak of not doing that. 

It's funny, but when I was younger, I was always my fail safe. I knew if everyone let me down, I wouldn't let myself down. I'd find a way. I'd finish the science project by myself. I'd write the term paper the night before. I'd put in the work and time and it would save me from my own procrastination and failures. But after my Bipolar Disorder started to manifest itself when I was in my early 20s, my own reliability became less and less reliable. It started with cutting corners. Then watering down my usual detail and quality. It ended with that day when I didn't show up and do the work. Where I actually failed. And as someone not used to failure of any kind, that was tough. 

So the fact that my word isn't just a word, but a bond with myself again, is pretty remarkable. I found a job. I took a break from my blog to focus on getting and keeping that job. And I dedicated myself to a new plan -- creating stability for myself that didn't involve the First National Bank of "Your Parents." I still have all my other dreams and ambitions, and I continue to work towards them. I still want for big things. But I can't do those big things at the expense of my health.

What good is a gaining the world if you've lost your mind?

You only get issued one of those.

So I'm back, but I'm not "back back." But I'll be writing again. And eventually I'll remodel this site and I'll talk more about culture and music and issues and what not. But for now, let's just play this by ear, shall we?

Article originally appeared on Danielle Belton's The Black Snob (http://blacksnob.squarespace.com/).
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