To My Shadow Named Bipolar Disorder
It’s been roughly eight years since I started this roller coaster ride with you. Eight years of struggling to tame the violent hurricane you’ve hurled into my mind. I wasn’t aware you were already building a fortress in my head the first time you came around. I thought you were nothing but a phase all adolescents go through. So I ignored you, thinking you’d eventually go away if I pretended you didn’t exist.
But just like a shadow, you followed me everywhere I went. I pretended not to feel you looming over me with every step I took. I tried to be oblivious to the self-destructive thoughts you constantly whispered into my ear. It took every fiber of my being to keep myself intact every time you threw my moods into different directions.
For a long time, I survived this constant battle with you. Little by little, I was successful in lulling you — the monster living inside of me — to sleep. It wasn’t easy; I had to be really careful so I wouldn’t wake or upset you. Maintaining that kind of composure was stressful; but for a while, everything seemed to be under control.
That was until a traumatic, life-changing experience triggered you back to life. Your comeback was utterly devastating. You wreaked havoc in every area of my life. No matter how hard I tried, it was impossible to keep you out of bounds. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t stop my mind from racing. I felt alone, worthless and unloved. Some days I just felt nothing — like I was out of my own body. There was a heavy, crushing feeling in my chest that wouldn’t go away. It was like being stuck in the middle of a neck-deep pool. It got to the point where I self-harmed and thought ending my life would be the only way to make you stop.
That’s when I realized I had it with you. I couldn’t let you take over my life anymore. I told my parents everything I was feeling and began to seek help from a psychiatrist, hoping I’d finally get to know what you really were.
You were given many names: clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. I was prescribed with a lot of disorienting and nauseating pills that promised to keep you from attacking me. Everything was going great for a while, but then a different side of you manifested inside of me. I started having these intense phases of zoning out. There were a lot of times I suddenly didn’t know where I was or how I got there. I was too lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t know what was going on in the real world. I couldn’t stop myself from having so many ideas and so many rapid thoughts that everything else seemed to be in slow motion. I couldn’t control my impulsive buying habits. I would often go broke over things I didn’t even need. I didn’t and couldn’t go to sleep because I wanted to do so many things all at the same time and I had to do it immediately. I cleaned every corner my room obsessively until it was spotless. I would over-organize everything and freak out over even a speck of dirt lying around my room. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice I’d been cleaning all day. The anxiety was intense. I was sure something terrible would happen in every situation I was in, even if it sounded ridiculous and unrealistic. I found it hard to trust anybody, and was scared of being in a room full of people. I felt like everybody hated me, and was plotting some sort of evil scheme to get rid of me.
The worst part was the voices. On good days, you’d only resound all my insecurities through soft, bothersome whispers. On bad days, you’d scream right into my ear. It was torture. It was like being in an airplane with a baby shrieking loudly in the seat behind you and there was nothing you could do to make it stop.
So there I was, back to square one. I went to a different psychiatrist this time, mostly because I was embarrassed to go back to my former shrink. That’s when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. She explained people like me experience longer periods of severe depression and shorter periods of mild manic episodes (hypomania). This is why most people who have this illness are often misdiagnosed with clinical depression. Apparently, the spell I was in right after my depressive phase was called a hypomanic episode. It was a lot to take in, but everything made perfect sense. Although the diagnosis left me scared shitless, I also felt relieved to get to the bottom of this.
Bipolar 2 disorder. Finally. Your real name. After a long, frustrating journey, I now know who you really are and how I’m going to manage you. It’s definitely not going to be an easy ride — and it would probably take a lot of time to get the right mix of medications to tame you — but I won’t let you destroy me again.
Thank you for showing me how much my family loves me, and how amazing my parents are. Without their support and understanding, I wouldn’t have been able to survive all the shit you put me through. I’ve lost a lot of people along the way, but you showed me who my real friends are. Up to this day, I still don’t know what I did to deserve them. So thank you. Thank you for showing me I’m not alone in this fight and that it is definitely not impossible to find solid friends.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help and reach out to people who are like me. You gave me the chance to show compassion, kindness and understanding to people who are also struggling with an invisible war inside their heads. As long as I am alive and breathing, I will do my best to diminish stigma and raise awareness about mental illnesses.
Finally, thank you for making me realize how strong and resilient I am. Thank you for showing me it’s possible to survive even with a mental illness. I know how hard you tried to knock me down, but here I am, still standing. Yes, I’m still far from being well — but I’m also far from the weak and vulnerable Layana you once knew.
…So bring it on.
Your worst nightmare,
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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