Down the Drain


“Don’t spend your money on something that’s going to go down the drain.”

This wisdom was offered to me when I was debating between buying the Byredo Mojave Ghost body wash or body lotion. Both offer the same delicious scent (and I’m not one of those people who uses “delicious,” but it’s really the best word for this, so trust). One stays with you for a moment and then washes off. One is your armor for the entire day. If you’re only going to buy one, why buy the one that goes straight down the drain?

So, I bought the body lotion, allegedly because the argument makes sense, but mostly because I like my life lessons with a dash of beauty.

{And for those of you reading this exclusively for beauty tips (do you exist?), here are my Byredo favorites: Gypsy Water, Blanche, Mojave Ghost, Flowerhead, Rose of No Man’s Land, Rose Noir, La Tulipe, Seven Veils. N.B. I’m not a fan of 1996, despite my affinity for, well, 1996.}

The kink in my fragrance life lesson, though, is that in life we don’t know which one is the body lotion and which one is the body wash. The packages aren’t labeled. I may anoint myself the same way each day, but I don’t know if it’s going to be the kind of day where I’m encased in beauty and delight or whether it’s going to be the kind of day that goes down the drain.


And this is what it’s like to live with a bipolar disorder. Living with my brand of mental illness means that from one day to the next, I can’t rely on a consistent experience of the world or a consistent personal style, whether in terms of aesthetics or tone or just basic functioning.

It’s like a rollercoaster when you fancy yourself on a bike ride. I mean, I haven’t ridden an actual bike since I was a child, but it’s safe to say that I’ve never ridden this figurative one. I’ve only known life on a rollercoaster, and, despite the sudden and often lengthy downturns, sometimes I’m cool with it. But it would be cooler if I could choose whether or not to ride and maybe if someone were standing guard to make sure I met the height requirement.

Living with mental illness may be an adventure, but trust me when I say it’s not a choose-your-own-adventure type of deal. It’s more of a Stranger Things universe, but from one day to the next, you don’t know which character or which plotline will be yours. You know that you’re always employing varied tactics to confront the same problem; you just don’t know who you are. Sometimes you’re little team leader Mike Wheeler, quick, even-tempered, biking away from home in pursuit of answers. Sometimes you’re Eleven, a seeming stranger to the normal, outside world, manifesting special powers that other people can neither deny nor explain. Sometimes you’re a sleepless Winona Ryder, desperately trying to match your own wiring with some tangible reality but simultaneously hiding it so that no one calls you crazy. Sometimes, if your age is a 2-digit number that starts with a 1 or 2, you’re pretty Nancy Wheeler, partnering up with an attractive boy to whom you’re peripherally yet suddenly profoundly connected in order to solve the mystery together. And sometimes you’re sad, scared little Will Byers, trapped temporarily in the Upside Down, cleverly communicating with the outside world and deeply hopeful that you’ll be back soon. But mostly, you’re Barb. Already an uncomfortable outsider (with amazing style), you were pulled into the Upside Down so quietly and unceremoniously that few even realize you’re gone. You find yourself trapped in a dimly lit, often terrifying place, grasping at shreds of life and waiting until season 2 to find out if you’ll even be ok.

{I’m sorry if you don’t watch Stranger Things. I didn’t plan that. I didn’t even love the show. But TV is my lifeline and love language, so I took the ride and tried to leave you context clues.}

Forgive me, friends, but today’s adventure in mental illness lacks the intrigue of the Upside Down. Today is a body wash day.

Today, I am foggy. Communication is stunted and even painful. Pulling words out of my brain is hard, maybe even harder than stringing them into sentences. Every mental function feels like it’s being run through a cotton candy filter. I even got in the shower, thinking that maybe I could wash this feeling down the drain, start fresh, and convert this into a lotion day. (Showers work sometimes, you guys.) But I came out squinting my eyes and stumbling around the same way I went in. I let my Le Labo Santal 33 bar soap (purchased before the life lesson) wash down the drain, but I couldn’t get a clean slate.

After so many years of practice, I’ve learned to identify the different types of fog. I think (think!) that this one is a medication fog. I started a new medication today (and I’m not going to tell you which one, because I’m not that kind of girl). There’s an adjustment period. Maybe it’s like that recent switch I did to natural deodorant; at first it feels uncomfortable, risky, and even a little smelly, but soon your system adjusts. In the past, with both natural deodorant and medication, I was too impatient and risk-averse to wait for the adjustment. I needed the mystery of the Upside Down solved in one episode, and I refused to accept the notion of anything washing down the drain.

But today I decided to be patient. I decided to keep watching beyond the pilot, because life with mental illness is an episodic adventure, and I need it to keep getting picked up for more seasons. So, I have to let it play out, even though, let’s be honest, not every episode is great. Some are a wash. Some trips to the Byredo counter deliver life lessons, and some are just visual displays of sweet smells with very little impact.

So, look, I don’t have the purchasing power here. I understand that a lotion is a better buy than a body wash, but I can’t control what ends up in my bag. All I can do is control my reaction when I unwrap the treat. And if the rollercoaster ride is to ultimately land me in a safe place, I have to accept the adjustments. I have to accept that occasionally I’ll unwrap something that ends up down the drain. If I spend my limited resources worrying about what went down the drain, this rollercoaster will never leave the Upside Down. And so, I have to let this spilled-milk, fog-headed day wash down the drain.

But don’t think this life lesson is learned peacefully; washing a day down the drain is not without its frustrations. Drain days are hard to accept, because I don’t exist in a vacuum. This isn’t an unlimited perfume buffet where I can choose lotions or body washes without consequences. I can’t afford both. I need today to be a lotion day. I need staying power. I need to choose my own adventure. I hate having to let a day wash down the drain. Because I have work to do. Because there is a to-do list. Because I have limited resources. Because any little thing I do requires a head that is not foggy. Because tomorrow is an early morning with lots of commitments. Because life demands that in the next 12 hours I somehow become a completely different person. But hey, stranger things have happened.

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