If you don’t know much about the phoenix rising from the ashes, allow me to give you a brief synopsis. Like all myths and stories each region, each history, each people have their own truth about this winged bird. One of the most popular themes regards a beautiful and powerful bird, living in Paradise, building its nest. The bird and nest are invariably burned by (in this version) Icarus, who stops to listen and watch the beautiful bird and therefore, creates and drops a spark that destroys both the bird and the nest. Three days later the bird is resurrected and born from the ashes to sing it’s beautiful song once more. Of course, if you study the mythology of this bird you will come across stories about it’s venture into the mortal world, it’s birth from a worm of the ashes, even a version where the Phoenix itself sets itself on fire in order to reemerge. Doesn’t really matter which myth you ascribe to. Doesn’t matter which story fits into your own narrative as the point isn’t that the bird burned but the bird rose. The point of the story is the hope that each time that bird rises, you will find a way to ride it’s wings.
I am bipolar, that is my narrative. And being bipolar the one thing that I can guarantee, without any doubt, is that I will create and live through cycles. I rise, I fall, and I am often trampled to death by this very life and this very body. So from the beginning of my studies on popular mythologies, the phoenix has always called to me; much like I imagine it has for many. I use other studies and other stories from the past to motivate me, to try and understand myself and to get myself and my brain into a position that will ultimately help me to reach my goals. I like reading and I like using that knowledge to create a narrative that I can use to propel myself into the direction I currently believe that I want to go. This direction changes as fast as the wind, this narrative of mine changes with my mood, where I am and who I am with. But I take comfort that there is a direction, always a path that if I am able to find. (I even use an old story about the power of farts to push you in another direction so you should routinely fart!)
Learning about myths and stories is a past time of mine. Trying new directions, trying new hints is also a past time of mine. Sometimes those paths are a mile long and sometimes they are thousands of miles long, but they all represent a start for me. And a person who lives so much in the darkness and suffers what can’t be described to you in a few sentences, needs a start often. Every time I find myself, once again, coming out of darkness, finding an internal determination to change, even finding the desire to be something different than what I am, is a start for me. And that start is important. Because it means ultimately that I am trying once again, with the full knowledge that I won’t be able to sustain it for very long. Learning to either start over or simply rise from the pile of ashes that you find yourself is a repetitive and exhausting understanding of how mental illness works. You fall, maybe for a week, maybe for six months, and then you find some spark inside of yourself that makes you want to be better. I should point out one more time, this is something temporary, as darkness is much easier to succumb to than the promise of a fresh start that will end in disaster.
I am not all together sure what keeps me rising. I don’t know why on a random Tuesday I decided I wasn’t going to be the person lying in bed, warm and alone, and instead risk, once again, the knowledge that anything I do will be fleeting. I don’t know why it is important for me to keep getting up. Some would say it is human nature; and it is true that we wouldn’t have survived as long as we have on this earth if people didn’t keep trying to rise above those ashes. We would have died out a long time ago as a species if we hadn’t learned not only to run but to discover the next path to walk down. But what is created in the ashes to give a person the hope of rising even with the sure knowledge that it will all burn again?
To protect myself, I have learned many things on the different paths that I have walked to try and reach the full beauty of myself. I have learned that the paths have to be simple. No rolling hills or sharp bends and curves. It has to be a clear path that doesn’t require a whole lot of strength to continue on. I have learned that getting rid of dreams of some sort of miraculous transformation isn’t what my phoenix is about. My phoenix is about the little changes that might not be sustainable but does continue to give me hope despite the truth we all know. My phoenix has broken wings, even when it rises. My phoenix isn’t perfect, doesn’t have a voice that would cause a God to stop in their tracks, and rarely is seen by anyone who wishes they could find me in the chaos that I live in. My phoenix has become over the years, thankful for the chance to have a moment to live with happiness, thankful for the chance to have one moment that isn’t only in the darkness. My phoenix is so broken that she won’t live long; and even though she is here now, there is simply isn’t a way for her to live long. I always imagine my phoenix as the dirty, dark version of the many stories, that temporarily shakes off her feathers and becomes not beautiful, but rather strong enough to build a new wall where the last crumbled. My bipolar creates the up and downs; it makes sure that the walls aren’t fortified with steel and beauty; it keeps me from ever seeing the full rise that is so prevalent in the mythological stories of the past.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish that my phoenix would keep me away from the darkness and teach my fears to believe in something other than what up to now has always been my truth. I wish my phoenix could fight the monsters. I wish my phoenix could surround me with her beautiful and broken wings and wrap me in the sort of freedom those who are not bipolar take for granted. I wish that my phoenix didn’t rise and fall into the ashes as if the cruelty of the journey was something it was meant to do; I suppose I wish that my phoenix was free. Free to fly. Free to rise. Free to sing.
But wishes are for someone else; they aren’t and can’t truly ever be mine. I have walked these hallways too often, in the dark and all alone, to believe that I won’t always be exactly where I am. I take the hope that each rising of that phoenix gives me for as long as it decides to stay. And then I once again, let it go. I don’t have faith in my own ability to rise to any occasion; even the rebirth of my own self. I don’t believe that the path that I am currently on will still be there when I wake up tomorrow. I have been here before. I have seen what happens when that path takes a bend that I can’t traverse. I know in my soul the feeling of loss in a much easier and greater way than I will ever understand gain. I know the darkness so much that the light literally burns my eyes and makes it hard for me to see. I can hear the perfect melody of Verdi and still listen to the drowning voices that scourge my subconscious for the weakest spots.
This is my life. This is my disease. This is bipolar. The ups and downs. The belief that you can fly that easily turns into the belief that you deserve to burn. The phoenix that rises from the ashes three days after it was burned, only to die the next time some God wants to hear the music. I have learned after many years with this disease to not trust the rising. To not trust the inherent promise that everything is going to be okay. I have learned not to listen to that phoenix’s song; but rather simply ride on it’s back for as long as possible.
For me the rising of phoenix can’t be a sustainable truth. It has to be reworked to fit into my disease and my life. So I concentrate not on the rising, but rather on the image of those beautiful wings giving me a hug and a song that propels me. In my world, the phoenix rises and falls without my permission or my help. I can’t rescue that phoenix any more than I can rescue myself. But this world is a lonely one, so I can feel that strong hug that may dust me with it’s ashes but allows me a moment to feel power. You don’t have to be powerful to know power, you don’t have to be beautiful to know beauty, and you certainly don’t have to have a voice to listen to a song that would cause Gods to weep. And you don’t have to rise up for a day to know that it is so much harder than anything else in your disease. You don’t have to rise to know you will burn like the ashes in her nest.
I will continue to fly on the back of my personal phoenix whenever she comes around and allows me the freedom. I will continue to sleep in my dark bed and believe that somewhere is a phoenix singing a song that is meant for me to hear. The phoenix shouldn’t represent the rising, it should represent the hope. The hope that we all deserve to fly for one moment.