Polar Bear
Words and Illustrations by Emily Rose

part 1


"I'm not a psychiatrist, so I can't officially diagnose you, but it sounds like you have a bi-polar disorder."

He had a large mole below his eye, and the side table in his office was decorated with a plastic clock and a small artificial plant. They were both covered in dust. I thought 'He must be very lonely'.

He said "It sounds like maybe you're not surprised."

I was surprised. I had flirted with the idea of having bi-polar disorder as much as I had flirted with the idea of having paranoid schizophrenia, colon cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, Crohn's disease, MS, Diabetes, Leukemia, ovarian cysts, etc. Each represented an evening with the glow of the computer screen reflecting long explanations of symptoms and causes on my face as I agonized over comparisons to my own symptoms.

I said "Well."

He searched my face for a reaction. Inside I felt like something had collapsed. I'm still not sure what that was. Maybe hope that I had escaped my family's various hereditary neuroses.

I thought 'I guess I better say something because he's looking at me'.

I said I wasn't sure that that was the case. That my best friend had once suggested I was bi-polar though. I remember him cautiously broaching the subject as we walked down a grey street in Vancouver. He said "Have you ever thought… maybe you are bi-polar?" And I said "Why?" and he said, "I don't know it's like.. sometimes you're on top of the world and then sometimes you're like a …nihilistic German ex-cop." and I said "Oh yeah… Nah."

I thought about it very intensely as I returned back to work. At the time I was working in a press house, making books. I had quit my high pressure IT position at a competitive, hip, downtown marketing company because of the crippling depression. Now I was making books, quietly, for eight hours a day, with two kindly Asian men named Louis and Henry.

Louis bound books for 8 hours, every day, non-stop except for lunch which was a half hour. I was just working on contract during a crunch time. Every available table in the high-ceilinged print-on-demand department was covered in various weights and lengths of paper. Books upon books upon books that needed to be cut and bound by a week before. They had fallen way behind schedule.

I was 'trimming', which meant that I would take a stack of newly bound books and put them on a constantly running belt that would pull the books into a vice that would in turn bring the book to a large blade that would cut it on three sides. It would then spit the book out on the other side, and I would wipe off any residual binding glue and place them in stacks five upon five in grey containers.

I did that all day that day. Henry would take large stacks of printed paper, and cut them into book size stacks. He would bring them into the binding office and Louis would stand in a room that smelled acutely of toxic glue fumes in front of a binding machine, mechanically feeding them in and then stacking them behind him. When he was done he would bring them to me, and I would mechanically feed the books into the trimmer.

I liked it. It was mindless. I thought about how I would tell my boyfriend that maybe I had bi-polar disorder. I wanted to text him but it seemed like one of those things you don't just text your boyfriend.

"Doctor says im bi-polar sry cant talk now !"

I love books. I love watching them being constructed. I feel sad when they are bound wrong or cut wrong, and you have to throw them in the recycling bin because no one will buy a bad looking book. I fed one book in, and watched it being pulled inexorably towards the cutter, and then chop! It is more perfect and chop! It is even more perfect and chop, chop! The front edge is trimmed and it is so perfect someone will read it.

You produce so many perfect books that you start feeling strangely affectionate about the warped ones. You want to take them into your own library, because you start to be bored by the books that look identical to every other. You think that there's no story to the production of perfect books. But you're just getting sentimental. You're just not comfortable with being warped.


I asked my boyfriend to meet me at our favourite cafe. He had taken me in like a bird with a broken wing for the past few months, and he had only put his foot down about me going to see a doctor after I stumbled into the night with a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon, weeping, only half-wearing my shoes during the night of my 27th birthday party.

He met me at the cafe and I got him a coffee. We both sat down and I put my hand on his hand and looked into his eyes and said:

"The doctor says I might be bi-polar."

He looked into his coffee and said "I knew you were being too nice to me."


part II –


"So, we're going to go see the psychiatrist. If you have any questions please bring them to him. I am sure you'll have done your research." He smiled at me, and the dusty office just sat around us uncommenting.

I asked "So, like… I guess… I need medication?"

He said "Well there are medications to treat bipolar disorder, but I can't comment on which you will be prescribed."

I said "Like… Anti-depressants?" and felt stupid.

He said "No, those actually make the situation worse with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You'll have a different medication."

I said "Right, because I have a special kind of disorder." I snickered.

He said "All disorders are special." in an ambiguous way that made me feel that he understood that if every disorder is special, that no disorder is special.

He seemed alright. He tried to talk to me about the music I liked. I sensed maybe he wanted to be friends with me in real life. I made him laugh a lot but I wasn’t interested. I felt like there was no point to living. I had been depressed for about a year straight.

The occupational therapist had prepped me by saying that the psychiatrist wasn't a "touchy feely" guy but that he was great with diagnosis. We entered and the man looked serious as he reviewed the three pages of notes that the O.T. had typed up on my various traumatic life episodes and possible indications of chemical imbalances.

"Hello Emily"

He didn't look up from the page for a long time and then started asking questions like "Do you ever have periods of elevated excitement, energy and sociability for a few days?" I said "Yeah sometimes but just for two days."

He asked "Describe your lowest point."

My lowest point, I felt excited about sharing it. What's the point of your lowest point if you can't gravely recount it to a psychiatrist? My mind raced. Which was the lowest!! Make it interesting… I spouted a few disorganized memories of the worst times: I forgot what day, week, month, year it was. Couldn't organize myself to shop or do anything. I sat in the dark and drank bourbon and watched anime. It seemed uninteresting.

He said that I was Bipolar Disorder II, characterized by major depressive and hypomanic episodes. I argued and said that it wasn't hypomania because according to the DSM IV, hypomania lasts at least four days. He shot back that the DSM V will define hypomanic episodes as lasting for two days or even as short as 24 hours. He said he recommended medication.

I said that I knew that it seemed like bipolar disorder and that I would think that it was bipolar disorder too but that it wasn't bipolar disorder. I tried to appear charismatic and sane. The O.T. and the psychiatrist looked at me blankly.

The psychiatrist said "I will not remember you in three days. So whatever you choose to do, you do it. There is no way to get someone out of a bipolar depression once they are in it."

I took that. I tried not to be hurt. It's not personal. It's just his job. Imagine if your job was telling people that they are considered warped by the medical community. You would probably get a lot of people telling you that they're not.

And you’d come back with "According to the book, you are."

And you can't argue with the book.


emily rose lives in canada