Yesterday was a triumph in my world. A friend who knows me well and who understands the pain of bipolar disorder firsthand emailed me after I told her of my plan to take my daughter to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. She wrote,
“You need a cape for this day. I am not joking. It could read ‘Boardwalk Bad-Ass Mama’ – what do you think? The Boardwalk? That is a feat of sheer awesomeness. I am soooooo proud of you right now! You rock it, Boardwalk Mama!”
Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I wasn’t daunted by most excursions. At a moment’s notice I’d hop in my car and drive three hundred and fifty miles to visit my family in Los Angeles. I’d think nothing of driving solo to Big Sur for the day, which was only a ninety minute drive, but the curvy Highway One that led me there was known for being one of the most treacherous drives in the world. Whenever I visited San Francisco, I was fine with driving up and down the ridiculously steep hills in my stick shift. I had once been a person who took ground school lessons to earn my pilot’s license at age twenty-one, and I flew by myself to New Zealand at age twenty-four. (I flew on a jet; I didn’t fly it myself!)
Over the past eight years since my bipolar diagnosis I hardly did anything fun and adventurous with my girls. My severe depression shut me down. When I was more functional, I still had an intense fear of crowds and of running into people I knew, so I remained a recluse for the most part.
Going to the Boardwalk felt symbolic to me for several reasons.
When I was seventeen and lived in Los Angeles, I loved to see movies in Westwood. Westwood had the best movie theaters and were frequently used for world premieres. In July, 1987, “The Lost Boys” starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Jami Gertz was released, and I went to see it on opening day.
I was blown away by this movie, not just by the intense and scary story, the haunting soundtrack, and the cutting-edge special effects, but by the stunning scenery of Santa Cruz, California where some of the film was shot. The panoramic screen of the theater was the perfect backdrop for such a film.
“The Lost Boys” begins with two riveting scenes filmed at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; specifically the the magnificent 1911 Looff Carousel (a National Historic Landmark) and a Boardwalk parking lot. Little did I know while watching “The Lost Boys” that I would be moving up to “Santa Carla” (Santa Cruz) to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz, and that I would visit that very carousel, parking lot, and other beautiful locations shown in the film. As I exited the theater that day, I felt energized by seeing the action, romance and the vampires’ allure. I also had a slightly eerie feeling that “Santa Carla” might be a part of my life someday…I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
Yesterday when Rilla and I arrived early at the Boardwalk, we parked in “The Lost Boys” parking lot. I chuckled when I exited the car as I recalled the shocking parking lot vampire scene from the movie. As we walked to the entrance, I spotted the bridge that the Lost Boys enjoyed hanging from, and I flashed back to the vampire gang tormenting the gorgeous “Michael” (Jason Patric) on it. I noticed that my anxiety level wasn’t that bad, and I felt hopeful that we would have a good experience.
We did have fun. It wasn’t all wine & roses, but we made the most of our day passes. Rilla’s favorite ride (and mine) was the bumper cars and she was an excellent driver. At her request, we went on two different bumper car rides for a total of seven times, and I loved taking my aggression out on strangers. (I wish I had my own private bumper car arena!) As the day wore on, the Boardwalk grew extremely crowded, but I didn’t panic. We made sure to visit the carousel and I could almost see Kiefer Sutherland’s menacing character “David” leading his motley crue of Lost Boys on it. Here’s the opening scene that takes place on the carousel:
The only major hitch was that Rilla was so excited (and a bit sugared-out from ice cream) during our miniature golf game that she stopped listening to me. As a result she kept hitting her golf ball into other players’ zones and I lost my cool, but at least I didn’t yell. We stayed there over four hours and I was beat. Rilla, with her almost bottomless reservoir of energy, could have kept going.
I know it won’t be the last time that we enjoy such an adventure together. When Rilla is old enough to ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster, another National Historic Landmark, I want to be by her side. It’s the perfect roller coaster. It’s not too frightening, but it’s thrilling and has an amazing view of the ocean. The Giant Dipper opened in 1924, and it’s unusual because it’s wooden. The coaster could qualify for a Screen Actors Guild card because apart from “The Lost Boys” it has been featured in “Sudden Impact”, “Sting II”, and “Dangerous Minds”.
Yesterday I tapped into my old self again. I can’t reject the new “bipolar” version – it’s a part of me that I am still working on fully accepting. But if I can continue participating in activities that stretch my comfort zone, my “bravery muscle” will strengthen each time. (I used to be a certified personal trainer /weight lifter, so I love weight lifting analogies.) If I return to some of my old ways I’ll be a better person, mom, wife and friend. I write this blog in part to remember the other sides of me that have nothing to do with mental illness, and in doing so, I can approach bipolar topics with more clarity.
I am no longer lost, I am found. And it feels good.