My dad and I connected on music. I grew up choosing from his extension cd collection. We would climb into the truck and blast hits from bands like Godsmack, Linkin Park, and Disturbed. He would test me.
Who is the band?
What’s the title?
What’s the album?
What’s the track number?
I began studying the books that came with the CDs. I would lie in bed and listen to the songs on repeat, while reading whatever lyrics I could find. And all of this was fueled by my dad’s praise. He was proud of me. We were connecting on something that he really loved. We had four-wheelers too, but he could — and did — brag about my music knowledge to co-workers and friends.
Somehow, my self-esteem became rooted in my knowledge of music. And not just any music, but heavy music. Over the years, my taste in music progressed to screamo and metal-core. I adored bands like From First to Last, Lamb of God, and Asking Alexandria. To this day, music plays a big part of who I am. My husband and I met because I booked bands for a few small metal shows. And he happened to be a guitarist in one such band.
At this very moment, I’m writing this story on his studio computer, flanked by road cases with recording equipment and surrounded by acoustic sound panels.
But I don’t remember much about music anymore. Not the way I use to.
To back track a little more here, my dad and I began connecting on music when I was quite young. My parents tell me that I would yell for my dad to turn the music up, before my brain was even forming memories. By time I reached the age of 7, this aspect of our relationship was firmly rooted. But then everything fell apart.
I believe my mom’s bipolar episodes started earlier than we all realize. I imagine they were relatively safe. She probably seemed joyous, productive, and charming. Just as I did for years.
But her illness progressed to severe manic episodes with psychosis. She would yank electrical cords out of walls, assault police officers, and disappear for weeks at a time.
My dad tried in the beginning. I can remember sitting next to him in bed the first night my mom was in the hospital. I can clearly see him burying his face in his hands as his chest heaved for air. I’d never seen him cry before. I couldn’t really comprehend what was happening. But I knew that my life was changing dramatically.
Over the years, we tried to stay connected through music, but our tastes shifted. He grew more into melodic bands like Tool while I was channeling the angst of Good Charlotte. His alcohol and my bitterness ultimately pushed us apart.
Jump forward to 2011. I’d recently been brought out of a manic episode, with the help of Haldol. I was lounging in my in-laws loft trying, desperately, to read a chapter for class.
I was always a reading. In the summer after 7th grade, I read 23 books. I loved reading.
But here I sat, reading, rereading, triple reading the same sentence. I couldn’t make sense of the words on the page. The lines were crisp, black, English against an off-white page, but they might well have been ancient, smudged texts from an alien race.
I grumbled to my husband that the medication was turning my brain to mush. It felt like I was in a constant, low-level brain fog.
I spent years insisting that the short course of Haldol all those years ago had forever damaged my brain. I was certain that I was wounded in a way that I’d never recovered from.
In 2010, I met my now-husband at a show that I’d organized. He was a guitarist for the main band and I was immediately smitten. I greeted him, eager to see if he was as cute as his Twitter picture portrayed, and was delighted to find that he was.
Twelve years later, and heavy music is still a foundational part of our relationship.
It’s been a long time since my dad and I played the song identification game. But my taste in and knowledge of heavy music is still a huge part of my self-esteem. The genre is primarily made up of guys. And while I don’t think it’s particularly healthy, I glow when I’m able to rattle off names from the peak of metal-core.
The problem is… I’m not able to do that much anymore. Eight years of unmedicated episodes, including some recent psychosis, have left me with some level of cognitive dysfunction. My husband will often reassure me that his memory isn’t what he use to be. But I know what I’m experiencing is beyond the norm. I’m not afraid to admit that I use to be sharp. I wasn’t in the honors society or any of that jazz in high school. I’d struggled so much with depression in tenth grade that I’d kind of shot myself in the foot there.
And my college transcript looks a bit like a train wreck, with a hospital-related academic withdrawal after a full semester of failing grades. Followed up by periodic failures due to more depressive episodes and the previously-mentioned brain fog.
But I wasn’t this slow. This incapable of processing. This incapability to remember.
And science backs me up.
Bipolar Disorder has taken a lot from me. With, perhaps, the biggest impact in being able to trust myself. My confident misjudgments along the way have left me incapable of trusting in my own perception.
But the cognitive differences are a more prevalent loss. My knowledge in the heavy music scene has been such a backbone of my confidence. Again, I acknowledge that his might be an unhealthy view. But drawing complete blanks in a topic that I feel passionate about, while talking to other people who enjoy the same thing, sucks.
I want to use some more eloquent word there. But it sucks, and that’s about the best I can do.
I’m noticing this more and more. I will admit to strangers that it feels as if my brain has just shut off, mid-sentence while talking to them. I stare off into space and may or may not remember what I’m trying to say. Though it does make sense that I would be struggling more than usual, since I’ve had two debilitating manic episodes this year and the worst depressive episode I’ve had since college.
Furthermore, my Lamictal is known for impacting word recall.
Blessedly, there are some strategies for coping with cognitive impacts. This story is already so long, I’m going to break that into a separate post. Not everyone who cares about cognitive repair strategies wants to read me complaining anyways.
As the title says, I feel like I lost my spark. I feel like I’ve lost grasp of something that feels integral to who I am as a person. I wasn’t dating someone who is in a band and records music. I organized shows, loved the music on my own merit, and knew my shit.
I’m hoping I can get back to myself, if only just a little.