As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office tonight, the first hand of the clock indicating the commencement of my third hour spent waiting my turn on the sofa, the door to the back swung open, and I overheard, without much effort really, an anxiety-ridden mother speak intensely about her teenage son who has bipolar disorder (who only moments earlier had dashed for the exit the first chance handed to him).
And I realized something: I was one of the lucky ones. I forget, from time to time, the illness that creeps in the back of my mind, awaiting any chance to break free and wreak havoc across my life. It listens to no one. Respects nothing, not even itself. And when it wants to trespass, it will. When it wants to cut the line, it will. It has no intent, no conscience, no means and really nothing to hold it back – that is, except for me. But I haven’t been all there. In the past, that is.
It’s extremely hard to fight something you didn’t realize existed in you. To not have a diagnosis. To not realize you needed a diagnosis because you don’t even see there’s something ailing you. God, life was pretty tortuous back then. I can’t even put it into words… really. I mean, I could try, but what word in the human language ever truly encompassed an emotion, a feeling?
If you could imagine… waking up in the morning, truly disgusted with who you are, demoting yourself to a “what you are,” then stepping outside, only to be greeted by people who are seemingly just as disgusted by you, repulsed even. And they look at you. They stare and they whisper. They laugh and they deride you. They tear your soul apart with their jagged, piercing eyes.
Hallucinations. A symptom of manic depression not all sufferers of the illness experience. Unfortunately, I have. Hallucinations don’t always come in the form of a ghostly figure standing in your doorway. They can come in taunts, in ceaseless whispers, in loud chatter rupturing the night. They will call you names, dig down deep into the greatest fears of your mind, and bring them out for all to see. Or at least, your mind has made you believe they’re there for all to see.
Bipolar disorder can destroy its host. It feasts off their fears, their doubts… turning a simple apprehension into full-fledged paranoia. It can eradicate any amount of sensibility or reasoning in a person’s mind. It clouds over every sense, every thought; every mode of perception is suddenly dominated by an alien force. It can turn your most favorite thing in the world sour, and will encase you in an ever-enclosing box, overrun by muddy water and vicious figments of your imagination. For me, bipolar disorder is intrusive, destructive and oh so capable of controlling every inch of you.
You may not want to give in to delusions. But you will. You may not want to fall into a dark, bottomless pit with the entire world crashing down upon you, but you will do that, too. Bipolar disorder will not ask you if it can stay. It will kick down the front door of your mind and stay there until some Godsend man or woman finds a cure. You must be careful. Even if you think you’re doing fine. Even if you believe with every inch of your soul you are finally free of this awful disease, one must be careful. And one must not test it or entice it to come out. But rather, treat it with care, and hope for the best.
I believe about 5.6 million adult Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and 14.8 million adult Americans will suffer from depression. People can spend their lives never reaching the point of stability I have come to reach today. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m healthy. But for so many others, they are years, (for some a lifetime), away from recovering from the crippling disease. It consumes lives. It rips families and friendships apart. Relationships are mangled by this illness.
I, myself, have severed many relationships because of my inability to believe I can redeem those two years of reckless, bizarre behavior that taint my past. It is a shame I carry with me until this day, even though I know it’s not my fault. My senior year of high school was lived by a brazen girl who was not me at all.
To get people to understand about this disease is hard. And the Hollywood version of any type of mental illness really aids none. I understand how difficult it may be for some to comprehend a group of people that are mostly labeled as “crazy,” but really, we are just a group of people, genuinely misunderstood, who at times have little hope for ourselves, little confidence in everything that we do. And for those of us, like me, who have “healed,” we live with the fear (that at times is more predominant than others) that it will come back.
It meaning the thing that destroyed our lives, sent us catapulting in a whirlwind of desperation to feel sane, anxiety, paranoia, emotions of grandeur that left us laughing one moment, then wanting to end our lives the next, delusional stupor and a constant, constant need to be anywhere but inside our heads.
When you have a mental illness, it can be as debilitating as any other type of illness out there. It consumes you completely. It takes over your body, your mind, your soul. It affects your moods, your emotions, your mentality. And when something has such omnipotent control over you, nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. You may not be paralyzed from head to toe, but with an illness like manic depression hauling the reins on your mind, you might as well be.
I sometimes forget that my full recovery from my bipolar disorder episodes is something I should value. So many other people have a long ways to go. And I wish I could just give them hope, you know? And tell them, it’s all OK! Things will get better. They can get better. I promise! Your life might be pit of misery right now, but it can change. Please. Just know that. You know? I wish I could help…
Four years after I had written this piece, I had another relapse in 2012 — another mental break with reality. The delusions and hallucinations returned. You would think after having two previous breakdowns (one of which landed you in a psychiatric hospital) and knowing what I knew about bipolar disorder, I could spot another relapse coming a mile away. I’m saddened to say I couldn’t, and ’til this day I still marvel at my inability to see what was transpiring before me. I should have known, I always think to myself. How could I not have known? How could I let it happen again? I thought I was so strong, but the disease broke me down again.
Some days (even now) it’s hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
But please know, after every relapse, is a chance to rebuild. A chance to stand up once more and fight back. We cannot let mental illness win. Life is too short and too precious. The road to recovery isn’t easy. I thought I was pretty much immune to breaking down again. I was wrong. But I am still alive and kicking. I have reached happiness once more. It can be a long, rough journey ahead of you, but the road to recovery is one worth taking. It won’t happen overnight, but it isn’t hopeless. Surround yourself with people who care. Take your medication (if you choose to take medication). Go to therapy. But most importantly, don’t give up. Don’t give up. You owe that much to yourself. You are stronger than you think. Do not let your mind make you think otherwise.
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