I need to come clean. I can only do that by honoring my bipolar truth. Transparency is how I have gone through every stage of my life as a person with bipolar disorder. That and a sense of humor.
I don’t give much thought to the time of my diagnosis. It was so long ago, I was young, and that was one of the handfuls of “worst times” in my mental health history. I don’t have a sense of humor about that part of my journey. I have tried to forget about that experience; it was painful. I did, however, think about it recently during an interview. I got emotional. Moreso than I expected.
I explained it a little like this, “It was 1988, I was 18, first came a mania that led to extreme depression. I sought help which led to my diagnosis and now I am an advocate.”
Seeing the full story on the screen will make me feel more honest and transparent about my story.
So, here is how it happened.
When I was an eighteen-year-old child, I became ill with depression. I was living at college, away from home for about six months, I was ill-prepared for my solo mission into life. I had all of the symptoms: physical pain, dark thoughts, and indifference to my personal care. I was about to fail out of school. I saw a doctor at the suggestion of the nurse at my college.
The doctor I saw read the forms I filled out and talked to me for about ten minutes. Apparently, I had experienced a manic episode before this depression and just thought it was a fantastic mood. This order of events is not, I now know, uncommon. When the mania was over, I spiraled into a deep depression.
Since the day of my diagnosis with bipolar II, there has never been any doubt in my mind that it is accurate.
Like many new patients, I was sent home with no information and a lot of medication. It became my unacknowledged mission in life to do everything more. I fell apart more. I drank more. I acted out more. I lied more. I avoided more. I alienated more. I lost more friends. I spent money more.
I had to make a decision, I had to get well. That meant finding help without the internet. With a library that had only books! By asking professors and fellow students who were majoring in psychology.
I fought the hardest fight I could fight until I hit a wall with my roommates. I became impossible to live with. I was frantic then depressed. Rapidly cycling and aggressively seeking.
I left school and moved in with my parents and grandparents nearby. My dad sat me down and helped me get my finances in order. It was not always easy, but eventually, we all came together and learned how to live with our mental illness.
Mental illness belongs to the entire family, not just the patient.
For years, I was compliant then noncompliant. I took medications that made me so sick I would vomit all night and others that turned me into a zombie. I made terrible decisions.
Finally, I found the place I am at now. I have been compliant for twenty years.
Every morning I wake up, and I ask myself, “What is it going to be today?” Waking up with bipolar disorder is the decision to put one foot in front of the other. It is accepting and loving the person you wake up as and confronting the moods as they come.
While it is different for everyone, I know one thing without hesitation: when you think you are better and have bipolar under control, check yourself before you wreck yourself. You can manage your meds, and that will manage your moods, but never believe that you are smarter than the disease. That will get you in trouble. Take your meds.
No matter how hard I work, I am not promised absolute stability. I go to therapy, a psychiatrist, I meditate, I exercise. Even then I will have good days and bad days. The difference is, I understand it, I accept it, I am better equipped to deal with it.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. I made it here with hard work and determination, and I should never forget that.
It is my life we are talking about, after all.
Dedicated to my friends at WEGO Health, you know who you are. YOU are magic.