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To the Doctor I Hated for Diagnosing Me With Bipolar Disorder

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When you walked into my room in the mental health unit of the hospital, I was afraid of you. I was afraid you would see me as this “crazy” young girl who tried to kill herself, not as the hurt and desperate young woman I was. I was afraid of what you would say because I knew it would determine if I stayed in the hospital or went home with my mom. I was terrified of what your diagnosis would be; you would be the one to tell me what was wrong with me and how I could be fixed.

I hated you for diagnosing me bipolar. I was in completely denial, I was angry and I felt like you were personally responsible for ruining my life. I swore you were wrong and that you didn’t take the appropriate time to talk to me to be able to diagnose. I made up excuses why I couldn’t be bipolar and why you didn’t know what you were talking about. I rolled my eyes at you whenever we met, I shut you out and I didn’t listen to your words that could have helped me cope.

When I finally began to accept my diagnosis and go through treatment for it, I slowly began to forgive you. I realized my diagnosis didn’t just magically appear out of nowhere, and it was something I had been dealing with for a long time. You were just the first to give what I was dealing with a name. Bipolar. When you diagnosed me, you explained my illness, its symptoms and how I could be treated, but I didn’t listen. I wish I would have, and maybe I would have come to accept this new diagnosis sooner. Accepting I am bipolar brought me peace and made me a fighter.

You were my coach. You conditioned me on how to battle my diagnosis so it wouldn’t control me. You gave me medication, listened when I talked about my symptoms and taught me a variety of coping skills. Thank you for enduring my abuse before I understood, and thank you for staying positive and realistic even when I wasn’t. You are the one who led me into battle when I was ready and trained me to fight the enemy. Thank you for equipping me with the skills I needed to live with bipolar disorder and not become bipolar disorder.

Thank you for reminding me I am not my illness. Thank you for showing me the statistics of how many people in the world have bipolar disorder, so I didn’t feel so alone. Thank you for meeting with me whenever I thought my medication was causing problems, and thank you for quickly fixing them. Thank you for allowing me to admit myself to the hospital for a second time and supporting me through my stay. Thank you for telling me this step back does not mean a full regression and for reminding me everyone needs a little extra help to get back on track.

Thank you for letting me hate you. I needed somewhere to place the blame when you first diagnosed me. You knew you needed to be that person because if it hadn’t of been you, it would have been my parents, and you knew I would need them. Thank you for reassuring my parents I would be OK and that you would be there to answer any questions they had. It meant a lot to me that you included them in my treatment — because they also hated you at first. Keeping them close and informed helped them understand what was happening.

I appreciate you and everything you’ve done for me since I was diagnosed. You’ve managed my medication, tracked my moods and given me counsel when I’ve needed it. Thank you for diagnosing me and waiting patiently for me to accept that diagnosis so we could both fight it together. Thank you for giving me the resources and the courage to fight. I promise I will continue to do so. And I will not let you down.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You Don't Know Who You'll Be When You Wake Up in the Morning

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NOTE: I am diagnosed with the following: bipolar (manic depression), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and RAD (reactive attachment disorder). I have been told I might have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but haven’t been officially diagnosed, as of my last psychiatric evaluation.

I wake up not knowing who I’ll be that day, even when medicated, even in treatment. Which sucks, because I’m 22, and a mom, and a wife. You may know a lot about mental illness. You may know the scientific terms, or why someone has a mental health issue or a chemical imbalance. You may know the treatment plans and the medications. You may know of programs in your area to help others, you may know the name of support groups.

But unless you have a diagnosis, unless you are affected? You don’t know what it’s like to live daily with a mental illness. So let me do the honors, and introduce you in a day in the life, or specifically, a day in my life.

There are several states I can wake up being, or cycle into throughout the day. I’ll start by describing my low state: depression. I think depression is a term more commonly heard. I fall into depression when I sleep too much, but sometimes I’m triggered into after a fight, or a bad day, or hearing news I don’t like (I’ve been told I shouldn’t use the word trigger too often, because it sounds intense, but that’s all I can think of). My husband is more concerned for my depressed days; I’m not. I wake up miserable. It’s like being held closely by darkness. It’s suffocating. Some days I want to cry, others I don’t want to move. People identify it is laziness; I identify it as losing the will to live. Depression is like drowning. It’s almost calming, in a f*cked up way. It’s a dark comfort. It’s like a friend that’s a bad influence; you know better, but you can’t get away from it. It’s a little easy to pretend you’re not depressed. You can try and shake it off as nothing. But it creeps and clings to you, until one day, it engulfs you. Depression is a trap. A terrible, comforting trap.

Mania is my favorite drug; and yes, I know better, but I’m hooked. I know how terrifying mania is, but I love it. I’ve been “sober” from manic states for a while, but it’s tempting to relapse sometimes. Mania is an adrenaline rush. It is like going on a roller coaster, a destructive roller coaster, and feeling that rush. It feeds itself. Mania can be a bitch; it disguise itself as extreme happiness. If I get too manic, I think I’m cured. I think I’m invincible. That’s when things get dangerous. I am unstoppable. I keep diving into terrible decisions, head on, without hearing anyone else’s concern. I drink more, I’m more likely to do things I would normally not do. I used to be more flirty in manic states, prior to my marriage, and although now it’s humiliating, I didn’t care. My (former) favorite part of mania was getting into a fight. I would black out. That would normally be at the peak of my manic state. I am hurtful and mean. I can get violent. It is such a release of anger, and adrenaline; and sadly, it’s sometimes what it takes for me to get out of a manic state. I abruptly stop, and see the damage I’ve caused. And I’m miserable. I’m distraught. I’m damaged.

I also get into paranoid states, where I’m afraid to even leave a room in my house. I feel like someone is watching, I feel like I’m being stalked. I’m afraid, paralyzed. Of course there’s anxiety too, and I can’t breathe when I’m having anxiety attack. I get into obsessive states, where I cling on to someone or something for dear life.

The most lethal state for me is mixed state, however. This is a dark area, where I’m more likely to slip into depression.

And every day, I wake up, unaware of what state I’ll be in. Treatment of course is helpful; but those states still exist. I think people assume when you’re getting help everything goes away; but it’s not like that for me. It’s mellowed out for sure, but it’s not cured. And like I’ve stated before, there isn’t a cure-all medication for mental illness. A lot of meds are trial and error, a lot of therapists aren’t the right fit. It’s not as easy as finding a dentist. It takes years to figure out the treatment plan, and if it doesn’t, you won the mental health lottery.

My states suck because they don’t allow me to be a 22-year-old. I can’t schedule ahead, and I’ve become an expert at blowing off people. I don’t mean to. I really don’t, but it’s inevitable when you don’t know who you’ll be that day. You can’t plan a good day when you don’t know if you’re going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. And for a lot of people, although you are trying to protect them, you are marked and labeled as a bad friend.

There is hope for me; I find hope in balance. It’s hard, and it’s something I have to focus on nonstop. But I do find comfort in the concept. And I hope one day to find that peace. Until then I will be taking pit stops into different states; with the hope of not staying too long, or falling too deep into a disaster area.

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Follow this journey on Taylor’s site.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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My Personal Prescription for Bipolar Agitation

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When the agitation gets this high I seek destruction. I drive faster, I eat more, I kick things, I yell, scream, storm out. Ultimately I think I want to die. Crawling in my skin, crawling out of my skin. Sharp tongue. Raised voice. Constantly rubbing and pulling at the back of my neck where the tension lies.

Tears roll and I scorn them. How could I be so weak and pathetic? What is this even about? Pacing around the house like a caged animal. The answer has to be somewhere. Although I’m not really looking, I just can’t sit still. I can’t find my breath. I don’t even want to breathe. Ultimately I think I want to die.

Pouring the medication into my hand last night I wanted to add more. If three is supposed to be the magic number, maybe six is even better. Perhaps it’s nine. Electric currents of impulsivity fueling my decision making. Each buzz hits my hand and jostles the bottle, one more pill fell into my hand. One more than is prescribed. And again. As I cup them in my hand I wonder if I find the right combo, maybe this time I won’t wake up. I won’t have to fight this intense agitation. Feel like some out of control monster that has to hide away from work, from society. The noise is too loud. The light is too bright. I am too raw to be in the world today. Yet I feel too broken to be alone.

I turn to social media for help, reassurance, something to tell me I’m OK. I’ve pushed friends away long ago. Some just not capable of understanding and some just lost patience as rapid cycling bipolar throws me up then throws me down. I am guilty of not picking up that phone. On days like today I am convinced no one would want to be around me. Hell, I don’t want to be around me.

My house is small. An echo chamber. Just like my mind. If I yell and scream into this space it just comes back at me. I feel trapped. Alone. My neck hurts, my head hurts, my heart hurts. I wouldn’t wish these feelings onto my worst enemy. How ironic because in reality I am my own worst enemy. The skill of self-compassion is missing from my tool box. Truth is I kicked that box out of sight. So here I am. In pain. Raw.

Constantly fighting myself, my symptoms I forget I have tools. Calming techniques for agitation, or at the very least dispelling the negative energy. I think I am beyond sitting quietly for art. I need to blast some music and get this knotted up body moving. Quickly I make my way to the treadmill. Luckily the prescription for exercise is unlimited.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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When It's Time to Start Over Again, Again

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Everyone gets in a slump from time to time. When a slump is coupled with a breakup and mental illness, a little slump can turn a lonely home into an abandoned property with overgrown bushes and boarded-up windows. I think I’ve plastered, without much knowledge, some type of “no trespassing” sign over my skin these past few months, not wanting anyone to see the state I’ve let my body and my mind fall into. It’s a bit of a mess, a few months short of disaster, and I think it might be time for a controlled burn.

By this I mean I haven’t done a good job taking care of myself, mentally or physically. If my body were a building, you’d see I’ve let things rot — losing pride in the property that is my flesh. I’ve stopped exercising in favor of sleeping 13 or 14 hours a day and found comfort in tortilla chips, gelato and wine. I haven’t written a page despite deadlines for school, and turned to Netflix reruns instead of books to fill the hours when my mind won’t allow enough blank space for sleep.

It can be embarrassing to realize you’ve “let yourself go” again, especially when you’ve been to rock bottom once before, and it can seem like a lost cause to haul yourself from the bottom of some well of despair back onto dry land, knowing you — despite your best efforts — may end up at the bottom of that well at any point in the future. This, unfortunately, has been my reality in living with bipolar disorder.

But spring is coming, with its reminder of my hospitalization. With the sunlight and the budding plants comes the uncomfortable tingling reminder life is stirring around me, and that it’s time to wake up. It’s the fresh air coaxing me out of the cave of bleak hibernation, summoning me to rise from the ashes all over again — even if this is part of what can seem like a devastating, endless cycle.

It’s a time to think back to the good times — running half-marathons, cooking new foods, hiking new mountains, stringing together essays — and persuading myself to embrace everything these cycles of good times, no matter how long they stick around, can offer. I may always sleep with one eye open, and walk turning my head back every few minutes, nervous the will to survive will collapse in on me at any instant. I’ve come to find this primal desire will never be a given, and this has been the most devastating realization in the five years since I’ve grappled with a chronic diagnosis. There will always be times when returning from a slump will seem not worth the effort, or nearly impossible.

But what would be the point of any of my days if I didn’t muster all my energy to savor the good ones? And so, taking the saplings of the good times that seem to be on the cusp of growing strong, I need to be a phoenix. There is no other option.

It’s time to start over again, again. This is how it’s been since I was young, and maybe this is how it will always be. It is the toughest pill I’ve yet to swallow. But it’s time to put down the bottle, to put down the spoon, to peel off the comforter.

I want to return to what I once was, once more. When I was 16 and not ashamed of raw emotion, I wrote how it felt like I was walking a tightrope, a thin line of sanity, “one slip and I am devoured, gone.” I wrote, “expect nothing in this life, except sorrows and joys.”

In the days, weeks and months to come, I want to cook meals for myself. I want to get outside and run. I want to nourish myself when I need to be nourished, and abstain when I need to abstain. Of course I will falter and of course I will fail, but the difference is that I will, once again, be trying. I want to return to the world again, to be a sister and a daughter and a friend, not just a phantom pulled here and there by obligation and clocks.

When I was 18 — five years ago today — this is what I would have wanted for myself as I threw my hospital bracelet into the trash, with my family in tow there to support me. I was so determined to leave that darkness of the hallway behind me.

I wrote this at 16, too, and I still think these dramatic things are true, because they were real then, and they are still real now.

“We must endure these phases of barren trees and ashy personality. We must wait in mournful numbers until the waves’ salty water washes over us, covers us in lost emotions of the past — that hope and strength to live and breathe again.”

Follow this journey on Laura Dennison‘s site.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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A Letter to Myself at 15, From the Woman Who's Still Alive

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Dear 15 year-old Denise,

I wish this letter could’ve gotten to you in time, but you’re alive!

Let me tell you what you need to know outright. Before you even get to high school, almost everyone you know is going to call you selfish and over-dramatic. They’re going to ask why you’re so angry all the time. They’ll ask you “What’s the point of cutting yourself?” They’ll ignore you, call you fat and forget you’re smart. These people don’t know any better.

The truth is you’re bipolar. You know about bipolar disorder, one of the “worst” mental illnesses you’ve read about in books. Yeah, that’s all you, girl. You have bipolar along with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I know that sounds like a lot to take in at once, and you’re going to be in denial for a very long time, except for those moments of desperation where the only thing that makes sense is you’ve lost your mind.

Soon you will be of legal age and able to make your own choices, but being 18 doesn’t mean doors will magically open. In fact, the opposite will happen to you. These things that have plagued you will suddenly take all the breath from your lungs when you feel like you’re too broken to change anything. These next few years are going to be some of best and worst of your life, so hold on tight. Britney Spears will release a song with that title in 2013, and in your late 20s, you’re going to listen to it and cry in the tub as part of your self-soothing. It’s a good song, perfect for baths when you need a cry.

In a few years, the fog will lift a little. You’ll go back to college and finally start seeing a therapist, something you’ve known you needed to do since you first started carrying a razor and clean-up kit everywhere just in case you needed to cut.

In nine years, you’re going to be put in a mental hospital, but don’t be scared. Let it happen. This will be your salvation. This is the turning point in your life. It’s going to feel great, like sudden freedom and fresh air. Your time to get better will come, and you will be grateful for it every single day moving forward.

In the meantime, though, forgive yourself, be more honest and understanding with your friends and know I can tell you with 100 percent certainty from just 15 short years in the future that things will absolutely, positively get better.

Your life will always be a struggle. Some days, you’ll think there’s nothing wrong, and that nothing ever has been wrong. Some days, you’ll wish you had killed yourself instead of turning yourself in to the campus doctor. That’s part of the disorder, but every day, every year, your life will improve. You’ll begin to look forward to aging because you know that it brings more peace of mind. Even now, six years into treatment, I have dark days, days lost to being sick. Life is hard, and you will feel it more intensely than many can comprehend. But with time and the coping skills you’ll learn, life truly gets better. Since you’re me, I don’t need to tell you the differences between surviving and thriving because you already stay awake at night grappling with them, but soon you won’t have to choose between one or the other.

There’s still so much for you to do, and you’re going to have some incredible life experiences that will leave you breathless in only the best ways. Get through your bad days minute by minute and strive for stability. Stability is excitement these days, and it’s what you’ve always wanted. You’ll get here and further — you just can’t give in to the darkness. I love you, and P.S.: since no one but creepy older men tell you this, you really are smoking hot and beautiful. I mean, grade-A bombshell, and our opinion is the only one that matters. Don’t give in to the haters. Love it now.

Love,

Yourself

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Having Bipolar Disorder Means Your Head Is a Balloon

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My head always feels full; like a balloon that has been blown up almost to the point of popping.

Except what’s in my head isn’t air. It’s worry, constant worry, over the impending anxiety that hits me as soon as my feet hit the bedroom floor each morning. Anxiety takes over as soon as I open my eyes and turn on the switch. Every day my brain decides which switch to turn on, and there are many. Happy, sad, hurt, anger, excitement, optimism, rage. I don’t get to choose. Every moment of every day I fight with my brain for the right to choose what mood I want to be in. If it were only my choice, if I didn’t have this disorder, I would choose to be content every day. But that’s not how it works. Bipolar disorder leaves me feeling helpless, unable to feel how I want to feel and think how I want to think. Inside my head, thoughts race and swirl and jumble until I am so confused I just don’t want to think anymore.

When my mind finally quiets, it’s not because I have nothing to worry about. It’s because even though I could have been happy yesterday, today I experiencing a darkness that leaves me thoughtless. I don’t have any racing thoughts because I just don’t care. My mind is slow and so is my body, and the want to get out of bed and care for my daughter isn’t there. I hate my appearance, even though I refuse to do anything about it. Part of me really wants to take a shower, but the switch just won’t turn on. Part of me really wants to eat, but the switch remains off. These are the times my head feels like a deflated balloon, a sad excuse for a party favor, that takes twice as much air to blow up again.

My brain turns on the manic switch and my mind is all over the place. I am happy, excited, ambitious about the future, invincible and on top of the world. I can get anything done when this is the switch my brain picks for the day. I am super mom, super woman. There is no need for sleep, because how can I get things done, how I can I make plans, how can I be better if I am asleep? I don’t need my medication, I’m having a good day and it’s because of my own strength, not because of the pills.

So I don’t take them. I don’t take them for a few days, and that’s when my mind unravels. That’s when the balloon is letting out air and flying all over the room. That’s when I’m angry, hateful, aggressive and just plain pissed off. At everyone, at everything, at every person who has been there for me throughout this hell that is having bipolar disorder. They’ve done nothing wrong, and I know that, I really do. But the switch just won’t turn on. I hate them, all of them, for what my brain is telling me they’ve done and haven’t done to help me. Its selfish, this switch. It doesn’t care about the feelings of others, or my feelings either. It cares about not needing medication, rage, hate and stops me from going to my appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist. From rage I return to the darkness, and that’s when I realize I need my medication to function properly. At this point the sadness switch is on, the helpless switch is on and the part of me that makes decisions decides medication is the best option.

So I go back on my medication. My moods are even, the balloon is a decent size. Until they aren’t, and again, the balloon is too full.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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