After I was hospitalized for an acute manic episode my junior year of college, I returned to school with a new medication regimen—Depakote, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Wellbutrin—coursing through my veins. On the Risperdal, my eyes wouldn’t focus. I could hardly read. The Depakote made my hands shake, Parkinsons-like, so that I couldn’t bring a spoonful of soup to my lips without some of it spilling on the table.
In the months prior to my hospitalization, I had enrolled in a Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald course where, sitting next to me in the lecture hall, a guy with curly hair and wire-rim glasses used “maudlin” in a sentence made me swoon. A few weeks passed and, soon, I was manic and not attending any of my classes. The hospitalization lasted 28 days, and then I moved back home—all of my courses incomplete. I never stepped foot in that lecture hall again, and because this was the late 90s, before the sticky web of Facebook and email trapped everyone you knew in the same tangled, social sphere, I never saw the guy with the glasses again.
Back at school the following semester, the Risperdal made reading impossible. I fell behind in all of my courses.
Because of the kindness of a dean I’d met at some point while dealing with the details of coming back to school, my transcript had no ‘incompletes’ to indicate that I’d started courses like the Faulkner course and then dropped out. Instead, my transcript marked a medical leave for a semester.
Now, I had to finish long papers about To the Lighthouse or Lolita, but I was too medicated and beholden to sleep to stay up in the computer lab until dawn to finish essays in the only way I knew how—at the last minute with the adrenaline of sleeplessness coursing through my veins.
My doctor tweaked my medication every few weeks. I got enough done to finish out the semester, but in three of my four classes I had incompletes. Winter break, I tried to finish the essays, but I was too anxious. After another semester, summer arrived, and over a few months, I finally finished the essays to ensure my transcript was not marred by incompletes.
At that time, the unblemished transcript was an accomplishment. It was the document that proved I’d finished something important. But I spent so much time thinking about what life would have been like had I finished the Faulkner course, had I dated that guy, had I finished that semester.
When I am depressed, as I was feeling earlier in the week, this familiar feeling that I’ve not finished anything of substance, that my life is not complete, washes over me. I decide that what I am missing — a boyfriend, a bigger salary, a recently published essay—defines me.
What I try to remember is that it is my responsibility to focus on what I have instead of what I don’t. For me those marks are my meaningful friendships, a healthy lifestyle, a job I can tolerate, a commitment to yoga and spiritual growth, a medication regimen that leaves my hands still and eyes focused. Have I finished a novel? Nope. Will I finish this blog post? Almost there.
Remember that you don’t need to define yourself by what you have not finished.
Remember: you write the transcript of your adult life.
Remember: you are complete.