A sketch of a woman, profile

I hated myself. I hated that I have limits, I hated that I have doubts, that I have fears, that I can’t do what others can. I hated that I am disabled, that I feel loose, lost, that most of the time I feel broken, that I don’t trust today, tomorrow, that I see darkness, nighttime, emptiness, loss, anger, confusion…

I hate me.

Powerful, isn’t it?

Hate.

I hate me. But I can’t lie, this has been life for a long time. I hated every
aspect of myself for years, hated my lot in life, hated the cards I was dealt.

Hated it all.

I have bipolar disorder and I hate that too.

People would mention the concept of self-love, but that concept had been too elusive, a fleeting moment in the back of my thoughts, like a spider’s web, catching all the refuse, shredded. Why would I bother with self-love when all that is me can so easily be broken down into fragments of manic highs and depressive lows?

This time last year, I reached the apex of that garbage-ridden journey of
self-hatred, frustration, despair. Sitting in front of a computer screen,
surrounded by an office cubicle, bathed in harsh, florescent lights of my
day-job. Knowing that I should be grateful for a day-job – so many others like me didn’t even have that. Couldn’t have that. Knowing that I was smart, that I had talent, but full-heartedly believing that I just simply couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything but push papers and blink under that harsh light. Couldn’t do anything but brace for the impact of the highs, the lows. The fall-out.

The fall-out stripped me of all that I thought I was worth.

But I’d had enough.

Enough lack of will.

Enough absence of motivation.

What was my life? An endless battle of “I can’t” and “that isn’t my life”? Why? Because of mental illness? Daily, hourly, minute by minute, I’d gaze out the tinted window of the 21st floor, Queen’s Park in the distance. The university’s buildings just grazing my line of vision.

The words, “Why me?” slowly became, “Why not me?”

Can’t I? Should I? Am I good enough?

I wanted to go back to school. I’d wanted to for years. To reinvent myself. To see how far, I truly could go. To test my own illness, this battle of emotions constantly raging inside me, to see if truly, I could be me.

Just be me.

Without self-loathing. Without self-disgust. Without despair. Without damn self-pity.

And possibly with a little success? Is that possible for me, I wondered. Is it possible I challenge my own self-imposed limits and win?

I decided to investigate if returning to school was an option for me. I
made the calls, still filled with doubt. I conversed with my partner, with
trepidation. I registered for classes, with fear.

And then I quit my job. My fluorescent-lit, paper-pushing, 21st floor
job. This decision wasn’t borne from a manic-induced bought of impulsivity.

This decision, the decision that was to forever change the course of my life, was meticulously thought out. Carefully planned. And for a small moment, I felt capable. Just a little bit of competence.

When classes started, doubt poured over me once again. Conversations with my partner would start with questions like, “What business do I have being in school with peers who are almost half my age?” “What if I dysregulate?” “What if they all find out just how ‘crazy’ I really am?”

What if I end up in the hospital again?

What if it all falls apart?

What if, what if, what if…

My partner responded with, “Then we will deal with that, too. In the meantime, go to class.”

The semester continued, I attended classes as best I could, riding my bike to and from campus. I met other students. I even told one peer that I had bipolar disorder. I wrote my finals, and I did well.

I started to forget that I hated myself.

The following semester, I applied for a position with a student club. I led a registered study group. And I got to know my peers and professors. I wove my life around campus, around the busyness of academia. I delved into projects and research, and even garnered a research position at the Center for Addition and Mental Health.

Doubt began to fade, to be replaced by a glimmer of confidence. The fear of my illness shuffled to the back of my mind, pushed out by papers and learning and grades. Of conversations over topics in class. And possibilities of a bright future began to bud.

A bright future for me, that I carved out for myself. With my own two hands.

I wrote my finals, I turned in well-crafted and purposeful papers, I earned respectable grades. And I began to smile. To feel pride. And accomplishment. And a little bit of love.

Self-love.

One year ago, I sat in that office chair, at that cubicle, gazing out the 21st
floor window. Gazing at the university. Filled with self-doubt, despair, fear. Self-hatred, self-loathing. A self-image buried under years of carving a box for myself and filling it with memories of hospitalizations, of therapy, of medications and perceived failures.

A month ago, after I’d finished my finals, as the grades started pouring in, my partner wrapped his arms around me and said, “I’m so proud of you. Look at what you’ve accomplished. You did it.”

Today, writing this, I feel hope and promise. I see possibility and excitement.

Today, I know self-kindness, self-care.

Today, I’ve learned self-love. Because I faced a decades-old fear – that having bipolar disorder would forever pigeon-hole me into despair.

I still have limits and doubts and fears, but I don’t hate myself.

In fact, I love myself.

Just a bit.

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I begin my week the same way. I am optimistic and positive. Monday has not reared its ugly head and I have no obligations.

Cue Monday and my alarm clock.

It’s still dark. I know my son will be awake soon and I have to make him breakfast, help him dress and drive him to preschool.

I start off with a full emotional “fuel tank.” Carrying out this routine five consecutive mornings with no break easily uses one fourth of my fuel for the week.

I am finishing my college degree online. For at least one test per semester per class, I am required to drive to campus and take my test in person. Due to a mild agoraphobia associated with my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), I rarely leave my house unless it’s absolutely critical. I had two tests this week and I had to commute over four hours total, excluding the hours spent in mental preparation to ready myself to leave my house. Routinely having severe panic attacks while driving in congested traffic, it was agonizing.

I could transfer to a college nearby, but few of my credits will transfer and starting a new school at age 30 is daunting and leaves a pit of dread in my stomach. My college is familiar with my bipolar disorder and anxiety and very helpful in that regard. That’s another fourth of my tank this week if I am being conservative.

Fast forward to Friday. Seems like a great week because I only used half of my fuel! But life likes to toss curveballs. I bought my son a toy and as we went to the car, the keys got locked inside. Here I am in the middle of a hot parking lot, surrounded by noise and traffic and people, with a preschooler who is asking me lots of questions and looking at his mommy for reassurance. I salvaged the afternoon with milkshakes and letting him look at fish. Easily another quarter of a tank.

The last bit of my fuel is spent on having a night out with friends. I definitely had fun and needed those connections, but it was entirely too much in one week and I was zapped.

Whether it’s spoons or my fuel tank theory, mental illness can take so much of us. I have to hold it together until I have somewhere private to break down. Daily obligations and my own goals push me beyond my capacity. There are weekends I do not leave my bed so I can refuel for the next week.

Cue Sunday and my naïve optimism.

The week begins again.

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For as long as I can remember I’ve been striving for perfection on the inside, instead of the outside. It seems counterintuitive to say this because most of the time we’re taught that perfection comes from outward appearances.

When I was younger this rang true, but now it seems all I want is to feel perfect on the inside. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2007 was a relief. I finally had a name for what was going on inside my head, but felt like something inside of me was “broken.” I have spent the last decade trying to outrun my diagnosis, through embracing it at times and outright denying in others. All because I want so desperately to feel the unattainable, “perfect normalcy” on the inside.

I imagine if you’re on the outside and looking in on my life you’d think I was, for the most part, “normal” and maybe even close to “perfect.” The beauty of social media is you are able to craft an image for the world to take in. Don’t get me wrong, I write about my struggles. I’ve written about my depression and surviving suicide so people also catch a glimpse of the reality of my life. I wonder though if sometimes I’m trying to fool myself.

In my quest for feeling perfect on the inside, am I denying myself the ability to feel?

I work hard at a job I am good at. I work hard to maintain good grades at ASU. I work hard to be the best wife, mom and friend I can be. I work so hard to be perfect on the inside so I’m perfect in all these roles.

But the truth is, I’m exhausted.

I’m finding ways to be OK with sometimes not feeling OK. I’m finding ways to be still enough to recognize when my brain is going a bit haywire and my emotions are running high. I’m finding ways to look in the mirror every day and say, “you are perfectly imperfect and you don’t have to hide.”

I’m good with having bipolar disorder. It sometimes allows me to be more creative in a lot of ways. I’m good with listening to my body. That’s part of the stillness, it forces me to pay attention. I’m learning how to be enough for myself and sometimes that means not being enough for anyone else. I’m learning how to be good with not having to be perfect on the inside.

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You wanted to know information about your son’s bipolar disorder. At first you asked specific questions about the illness and I did my best to answer them. You told me about your son and I was impressed with his accomplishments and sorry to hear he was struggling.

One of your questions stuck with me.

Is there a physical test? Is the diagnosis just based on observation?

It is a common question. I wish I had an X-ray or blood test that would show my diagnosis is real. People can understand a broken arm or diabetes, but not brain disorders.

But it was what I didn’t hear that struck me.

I have heard of parents with children who won’t get treatment, desperate for answers, trying to figure out how to help them get better. Instead, you sounded like you doubted he really had an illness. I could picture you using the “tough love” approach to get him to be more productive.

My mind went back to my own brother. He had a psychotic illness starting in the late 70s. My father didn’t believe in mental illness so he didn’t really get treated. He died young in an incident that was either a reckless accident or intentional, I don’t know.

I told you about my brother. I feel guilty he didn’t have the chances I do. I pleaded with you to be gentle with your son. The words slipped out of my mouth that suicide is so common. It has been reported up to 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide. I felt like I said too much and second guessed myself when I came home.

Now that I have had time to think, I am glad I said something. I did not want to make you feel bad or scare you. I have not met your son and I don’t know where he is mentally. But, you wanted information and that is a valuable piece of information.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Ah, spring is just around the corner. It’s so close I can feel it! But for me, that feeling of springtime can often lead to the most difficult phase of bipolar — the dreaded mixed state. Don’t get me wrong or view me as ungrateful… theoretically I love the blooming flowers, buds on the trees, longer days and abundance of fresh air. However, the change in time and fluctuating weather can often wreak havoc on my system. Chris Aiken, MD who is director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina recently described it as: “Being tired and wired and urgent and distressed and anxious…you feel driven to do something but you don’t know what to do.” This is exactly how it presents itself in me and it’s frustrating, puzzling and very scary.

The extra light and fresh air feels amazing, but it triggers something almost indescribable in my brain. It’s like breathing in a huge breath of fresh springtime air that saturates my lungs then travels to my brain as a current, cleaning everything out it encounters (including the fog of winter depression). At first it is refreshing. I equate it to a pressure valve opening to get rid of all the grogginess that has built up inside my head. The problem is it doesn’t know quite how to regulate the release — it quickly erases the cobwebs but suddenly my mind feels as though it is being stretched too far and might snap. It’s as if upon emptying, the ability to connect to the world around me has also been sucked out along with all inhibitions, judgment and self-control. The initial feelings of motivation and renewal morph into desperation and urgency — to do what, I usually have no idea — and that is what becomes maddening.

I find myself pacing a lot, I can’t sit still and my patience is virtually nonexistent. I lose interest in reading because I can’t concentrate and it’s difficult to absorb information especially at work. I get disorganized despite the fact that I am constantly “organizing” everything. My mind bounces back and forth to all of the things I need to accomplish but it paralyzes me because even though I am capable, I can’t figure out where to start so often I just sit and stare at nothing while getting trapped inside my head. The urgency to do is incredible. The ability to start is gone. It’s a tug of war that declares no winner.

Reflecting on my past I clearly see a pattern of my springtime “awakenings” dating all the way back to my late teens. They have been characterized by risky behavior brought on by a sense of invincibility. In hindsight it’s obvious how this state led to staying up all night partying, suicide threats and episodes of self-harm. If I close my eyes, instantly I’m transported back to those moments vividly reliving how I was feeling and it was the same every time. The same sensations were present in my head, my eyes and even the blood coursing through my veins.

My most recent episode was several years ago when my kids were very young. Sleep became nearly impossible — two to three hours a night if I was lucky. I would wake up exhausted, but within an hour my mind became wired. It was absolutely necessary to keep moving because I felt if I stopped the crash would be just around the corner, so I spent every waking moment trying to outrun it. When it was time to go to bed anxiety flooded my entire being because I had run out of things to do, but the thought of laying still in my exhausted body while my mind raced at lightning speed was torture. My thoughts had no substance and made little sense, whereas my body would be on the verge of collapse. The nightmare would peak when my skin would literally start to crawl and my blood felt like it was shivering. Knowing that despite not sleeping the sun would inevitably rise and I’d have to do it all over again made me cry and want to rip my skin off and pull my hair out. After a week or so of trying to cope with this I would feel desperate and often end up in a hospital because if it was bad enough I would envision jumping through windows or actually harm myself as an attempt to wipe out the agitation that took over every cell in my entire body.

I used to feel so guilty because it was spring! How could anyone be unhappy? There would be people everywhere declaring how springtime was their favorite time of year and I desperately wanted to join them, but I could never shake the sense of being on the brink of destruction, so eventually I began to dread the season. Even when I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I somehow knew there was something lurking.

Now, thankfully, I know there is a name for it and I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. I recently read that springtime (March in particular) can be the most difficult time of the year for people with mood disorders. At first I found that very surprising because we often associate long, dark winters with depression, so logically I thought the light of spring should make it all better. But studies have consistently shown suicide rates peak in the spring. Theories range from increased energy, circadian rhythms and increased socialization. Whatever the cause, it is real and is difficult to deal with.

Yes, it is once again springtime and I’ve already felt my chemistry shifting. I write this as a reminder to myself to use what I have learned to avoid falling apart so I can truly appreciate the beauty of what is going on around me. I have done it before and I will do it again. That means I must swallow my pride, ask for help and turn to God over and over again because let’s face it…medication is unreliable, the weather is unpredictable and the chances of me following through on everything I need to do in order to stay completely symptom free are pretty low. But, thanks to people around me, I am reminded I will get through this.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I’m terrified. No. Make that petrified. How do you hold two entirely separate things, one in each hand, and weigh the importance of one over the other? How do you wrap your head around the possibility that you might not even be able to have the one thing in life you have wanted for as long as you can remember? How can you choose your health over an innate, natural desire, or even need? How do you sacrifice your health for a dream?

Or do you have a choice?

Do you stand a fighting chance against the cards that life has dealt you?

And is life telling you to back off? Or fight back?

Fight for what you want, what you feel you need in every ounce of your body? Why should I be different? Why should I be deprived of something I’ve wanted for so long? Something that makes a part of me ache a bit because I yearn for that something to be a part of my life as well. A part of me. A part of us.

But…it is not that simple. Then again, what major decision ever was?

You see since I was young, I’ve wanted children of my own. Three. I’ve always wanted three. Whether it be two girls and one boy or one girl and two boys, I could never really decide. But I always knew it had to be three. And through the years, I’ve dreamt about what their names would be, what their personalities would encompass, what talents they might have.

But never in my wildest dreams could you have told me 15 years ago that having kids might not be an option for me. I would’t have believed it. And then, I would have dropped my bottom lip even further to the ground when you told me it is because a year later, I would discover I was bipolar, which meant, medication, which meant chemicals, which meant hundreds of milligrams cramped together in little yellow and green cases that could potentially bring harm to an unborn baby. Do I dare to take that risk?

It might be risky to try and have a child while on all the medication I am taking. Right? Sigh. And I’d be pretty foolish to try and stop taking the meds so I can have a child. Right?  Of course. I wouldn’t do that. Ween myself off slowly sure… I mean, that is what my psychiatrist told me is what I’d have to do.

But I’m so scared. I have been on these pills since I was a teenager. I’m scared to death to simply stop taking them. Will I be able to handle it? Could I cope? I mean, I’ve had a major relapse even when I was on the pills! What happens when I’m off them entirely? It…I don’t know. It seems so unfair. I feel like bipolar disorder makes my life abnormal enough as it is. Is it so wrong to have one thing in my life that is “normal?” So I can at least pretend to be “normal” again? Why should I have to deny myself of one of the things I want most in this world because I developed a mental illness?

But if I were to go off my meds? I fear the paranoia will come back. I fear I will start hearing voices again. I fear getting depressed. I fear getting stuck again. I don’t want to put myself in the position I was in before. It literally almost killed me.

But the thought of not having children kills me as well. It’d be easy to say, “I’m going to be strong!” And I’ll have the greatest reason ever for it. But the truth is, I might not be able to control myself or my illness once I’m off my meds.

But, and yes, I know this is like the 20th “but” now in this post, but (there I go again) I’ve always felt I was meant to be a mother. Always felt that motherly instinct. It is a part of me that’s been present for decades. What’s more, I don’t want to deny the man I love something he wants as well. I want to be able to give him children.

I never really know which part of me is my medication, and which part of me is me. The two have been blended together for so long, it is difficult to divide up the pieces. You are left guessing. And you are left to ask yourself, “This person I am giving up (this person who has been tweaked, formulated and regulated through the years), will that person disappear once I abandon my meds in order to create, what I want to believe, is a better, more magnificent life for myself (which I feel would occur the moment I am holding my baby in my arms for the first time)?”

But I know who I am and I like the person I have come to be. It’s taken years, but I’m happy in the state I am in. I am comfortable in my own skin. I have to believe this is the person I will continue to be once I stop taking my pills. I have to believe it because if I don’t… I won’t recognize me at all. And others won’t recognize me. My own boyfriend might question my new state of mind. My new behavior atypical of the girl he’s grown to love the past eight years and eight months. I don’t want to change for the worst. Hell, I don’t want to change at all if it means losing myself. I can get by in life being who I am today. I could excel if I wanted to.

But really, what I want is simple. A baby.

I’m working with my doctor to take the best path for me, but why does it have to be so hard? It’s all that B.S. baggage and everything that comes with it. But really? As petrified as I am to live a life without these drugs? I’m even more petrified to live a life without children. I can’t imagine that life. And it’s not that I don’t love this life I am in. It’s not that I don’t love Richard immensely because God only knows how much I love that man. But…I don’t think our family is complete. Not yet. It is missing a baby bottle or two…or three.

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