Hi all, this post is about my mental illness and I talk about addiction, grief, suicide, mania and depression.
If I had never found the doctor who diagnosed me with Bipolar, would I have waited and wasted more years of my life in pain and confusion without a diagnosis? Would I have finally swallowed too many depression medications and sleep aides to move or breathe? I can’t know. I would like to think I wouldn’t have let that happen, that I would have continued to search for the answers I so badly craved. However, untreated Bipolar will often make its own choices without considering your feelings or asking you to weigh in.
I know that now, that I never had as much control over my emotions and moods as I thought I did or as society kept telling me I had. I bought into the whole swap-your-pills-for-running-shoes bullshit being shoved on me from what seemed to be every direction at the time.
I wanted so desperately to believe that I could choose happiness, that I could simply motivate myself out of the intensifying sadness and looming panic, that I could water myself without sunlight and still grow.
I thought the sun might show up if I worked harder, if I was aware enough, if I grew stronger, if I practiced all the self-care and self-love I could muster, if I was patient, if I stayed on the treadmill for hours on end, loved god, went to bed early, woke up early, wrote affirmations.
The more effort I put in the more I wilted, drooped and watched my petals fall. I turned to literature, read books with titles like “No Excuses,” “The Laws Of Success,” and “You Are A Badass.” I felt inspired, bursts of motivation, but nothing stuck and I continued to blame myself. It’s nice to believe that you can will yourself into wealth, wellness and status.
I “put in the work” for years to better myself. How is it my closest friends could say to me that they thought I wasn’t trying and how could I have continued to believe this?
Even though I felt something abnormal, some monster down below in the depths of me, and I longed to learn its name, I would call it by my own name for years still.
After countless attempts to take my own life, after years of drinking myself sick, swallowing unisom like a multivitamin, all the hospital gowns and the stomach pumping and the pain pills and purging and late nights that bled into morning and the debilitating fear, anxiety and grief which seemed to always be just below the surface, I finally decided to see a psychiatrist.
One diagnosis of depression later, along with a prescription for Klonopin and Zoloft, I was more manic than ever, though I didn’t yet know the word for it. I was having the time of my life while I was simultaneously in so deep I couldn’t keep my head above water long enough to breathe.
In June of 2013, I found myself stumbling into my kitchen through the dark after a night out drinking with friends. I remember the moonlight spilling in through the front window. I remember how that summer felt, how it consumed me, how I thought moving across the complex to a new unit would bring me back to life, the distress that quickly followed when my moods still plummeted and skyrocketed, the cavernous ache I felt daily.
I hungered for the pain in my life to subside. I swallowed all my medications and lay there on the floor waiting for it— the feeling of the world coming to an end.
It’s the final thing I remember, before waking up in another hospital bed, too confused to feel anything else, the room like a movie set, not quite real to me yet, searching the floor for black x’s and looking for stage lights tucked away in the rafters. My face was wet with tears I couldn’t remember having cried. They felt unreal, like someone had painted them on. I longed for my parents.
In the days that followed, I felt paranoid and wavered between reality and fantasy. When I talked with my mother I wept. I told her I wouldn’t make it to 30, that I just couldn’t do it. I thought I would never be able to escape the sadness that plagued me.
I found Dr. Cai sometime shortly after I was released from the hospital. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 and an anxiety disorder.
When I started getting the proper treatment for my mental illness, when I finally knew the name of the monster I’d been avoiding, I started to see color in places where I hadn’t seen color in a very long time. I started to notice flowers growing through the pavement, how odd and beautiful they were, I wondered how they could grow there. I started to feel less sorrow. The sunlight poured in.
Even with a proper diagnosis and treatment it took years to find stability.
When I was diagnosed with Bipolar I had people tell me they didn’t believe in mental illness and that they thought I was trying to find something to blame my problems on. When I began taking medication, people said I was looking to dodge responsibility and find a “silver-bullet.”
Seeking a diagnosis and starting treatment for my illness was the most responsible thing I have ever done for myself. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t seek to blame my illness. But my diagnosis did help me learn to lift the blame off myself and no longer carry the shame others made me feel for getting help.
Starting treatment meant cutting through the narratives people tell— that it’s all in my head, that they get sad sometimes, too, that it doesn’t matter what you call it, that it doesn’t need a label and searching for one will only complicate things, that I can’t move from bed because I’m not trying hard enough.
It’s funny that people who have never experienced mental illness have so much to say about it, and have so much fear invested in it— fears which I think stem from our capitalistic ideals, and what we think it means to be lazy, to be unproductive, to be ill, to be unmotivated, to be healthy, to be independent, to be unsuccessful, to be happy, to fail.
Medications have likely saved my life, if not saved me years of unnecessary extremes, addictions and heartache.
I couldn’t have known that learning to love my illness would require so much from me, though I knew it would be a challenge. It was such a massive relief to finally have answers. Maybe I thought simply understanding it or learning its name would be enough for it to stop destroying things. But it’s taken me years to master what I believed then to be the most basic first steps of soothing it.
Learning to love and accept my mental illness has taught me to love and accept myself and learning to love and accept myself has strengthened my ability to love and accept my mental illness. Choosing to love something I once believed was unloveable, something I once neglected yet yearned to care for, something I tried to run from, has been the most difficult thing I’ve done. It has also been the most beautiful, courageous, exceptional thing I’ve done in my life.
If you’re in the deep end drowning, thinking you’ll never make it out alive, I’m here to tell you a stable life is possible, not if you try hard enough to swim, but if you listen to yourself instead of the people on land yelling at you to save yourself, if you can learn to accept yourself and your madness, if you continue to search for the answers.
Don’t settle for less than what you know you deserve.
You are raw and brilliant and the depth of you is remarkable. You are brave and mightier than you may know now— though someday you’ll realize, and it will take your breath away.
You won’t sink here, in this ocean of grief and despair— you will soar.