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What Helped Me Most in My Bipolar Journey

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When I received my bipolar diagnosis, I struggled to accept it as truth. Although the pieces of the puzzle finally seemed to fit together, I was in denial for many weeks. The pervasive shame and stigma associated with mental illnesses often lead many to go years without receiving the necessary support and treatment. I was no exception until I ended up with no choice but to seek the help I’d been longing for after being hospitalized for a self-induced

When I first woke up in the hospital, my 31 years of life came to me in a flash, and then suddenly felt as if none of it had ever really happened. I felt lost; my memory was hazy, and I was trying to understand how I ended up with an IV in my arm and wires attached to my body monitoring my heart. I became hysterical, screaming and crying, trying to get out of bed, but I quickly realized that I was unable to move my body. I was given medication that calmed me down and made me fall asleep. When I woke up next, I programmed my mind fast enough to believe what had just happened wasn’t a call for help. I couldn’t comprehend why everyone around me was worried about my well-being when I felt “fine.” I reassured them that everything was OK because even though it took several hours for me to be able to form a complete sentence and regain sensation in my limbs, I was fortunate enough to have no permanent damage.

I stubbornly insisted that what happened was accidental and not by choice because I didn’t want to stay hospitalized in the psychiatric department. I especially didn’t want to go to a treatment center that helps those in crisis; I tried to fight it.

Eventually, I agreed to receive the help offered, and it was the best decision I ever made.

What no one tells you is that after a manic crash, you can’t function, nor do you care enough to try sometimes. For weeks, I would dissociate, and my surroundings wouldn’t feel real. I felt disconnected from myself and the world around me. I couldn’t tell if I was alive; it was foggy like a dream, but one you desperately wish to wake up from. I could hear people trying to talk to me but could not respond. I would usually be found holding my ears because the loudness in my head was unbearable. I had to relearn and gain the ability to do the most basic of things, and it took an extreme amount of energy and cognitive strength. I couldn’t understand or remember certain words, even if you repeated them to me multiple times in a row. I often forgot what I was talking about and sometimes even forgot where I was. I couldn’t stand long enough to shower; even brushing my hair was impossible. Simply pouring a glass of water could cause me to fight for my breath. There would be days I felt defeated, and I didn’t care enough to try at all because my manic crash seemed impossible to overcome.

After spending a couple of weeks at the treatment center, although I had made much progress, I still had severe lethargy, memory loss, and intrusive thoughts. It was recommended that I still not be alone. Once I was back at home, I essentially had a “babysitter” all day to help me function and prevent any self-harm. Going from a woman who was energetic and independent to a woman who needed help with almost all daily tasks was difficult to accept. I often described myself as a baby bird who needed its mother all day so it wouldn’t fall out of the nest.

The recovery process was a living nightmare, pure hell. Leading up to the day of my overdose, I lost complete control over my life. The world was moving fast, and my mind was on overdrive trying to keep up with the adrenaline rush. My confidence was immeasurable; I was spending money I didn’t have, partying, doing drugs, and drinking recklessly while being able to go days without sleep, without needing to eat, and having grandiose ideas combined with unlimited bursts of energy. Although in the past I have acted similarly, this was the highest I’ve ever reached, and it felt euphoric.

It sounds pretty incredible until the inevitable crash hits you. My world went black. After years of being at war with myself in my mind, I finally had a psychotic break. I can only remember small pieces from that period; the rest has been told to me. The party was over, and this time, it landed me in a hospital bed. Imagine it being like a terrible hangover, where you feel like pure shit, humiliated, and have to do rounds of apologies for how you acted when you were on “cloud 9” when drinking. Except this is how you feel almost all day, every day; you have a hangover that never seems to go away.

It took me a while to be able to look in a mirror. I would look down rather than at myself. My reflection was now a stranger, and I hated her even more. Throughout my life, the voice in my head told me that I was a failure, and being able to see my reflection meant I failed at taking my life; it meant I couldn’t even do that “right.” I expressed to my loved ones that although I am alive, the person I used to be died the night of the overdose. Truthfully, I had felt like I lost every part of myself, and I went through a grieving process for months. I had no choice but to start over and figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.

For months, I had to undergo an intensive therapy program as well as lengthy evaluations, tests, and follow-ups. I had to go through trial and error with medication to see what suited my body best. At times, the medication side effects made it hard to even keep my eyes open during conversations. There were days that I had nausea, headaches, dizziness, and body aches that were so painful that I would stay in bed all day crying. Some days, I tried to refuse my medication because, ironically, I feared taking it would cause me to die in my sleep. Some days, I feared falling asleep because, for a while, I had nightmares and sleep paralysis, and just like when I overdosed, I was left unable to speak and unable to move my body, no matter how hard I tried. Sometimes, the noise in my head would get so loud that I was convinced the only option would be to try to end my life again rather than endure the pain and exhaustion I had every day. On my worst days, I made it known that I might try to take my life again.

Over the years, I became good at hiding behind humor, but in reality, I had debilitating sadness because I couldn’t let go of my past and my mistakes. I also had a lot of trauma that was hindering my recovery process.

My bipolar diagnosis helped me see the daylight I was never capable of before. My entire life, I would tell others that I wish they could just see what it’s like to be inside my head because I couldn’t even explain it myself. The reasoning behind my behavior and suffering was now attached to a name and explanation, and it was a great relief.

But I won’t lie to you; when I first heard the words: “You have bipolar type I disorder,” I never felt more scared and alone. I thought to myself: “If this is true, this is all I will ever be and nothing more.” In the beginning, it was overwhelming; I had to take it day by day. Going undiagnosed for such a long time made me angry; it made me feel robbed of my past years and my potential.

Externally, I used to project myself as bubbly, outgoing, and confident; meanwhile, internally, I had debilitating anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. My friends and family wouldn’t understand why I did the things I did (to be honest, most times, I didn’t understand it myself.) I was impulsive and had a pattern of self-sabotaging behavior because I didn’t know how to control my thoughts or emotions, and it was incredibly exhausting. I consistently had one boyfriend after another and would pursue risky, meaningless relationships (sometimes simultaneously), mostly during what I now know as manic episodes. My good relationships would slowly crumble, but my bad relationships gave me the high I needed.

For years, I was given the wrong diagnoses and medications that ultimately just heightened my bipolar symptoms. I struggled to imagine myself with a long and happy future because my intrusive thoughts would repeatedly tell me that I didn’t deserve anything good and that the world was better off without me. I used to tell myself that this is the life chosen for me — a carousel of major highs and major lows with no way of changing or managing them. I said to myself that this was life’s plan for me — I had to stay trapped in the labyrinth of my mind until I couldn’t take it anymore and finally somehow find a way out.

The guilt I feel from the magnitude of shock and concern for my loved ones is still something I am working through. The silver lining of everything is that I was given a second chance at life. Self-forgiveness is the main goal today; as I say, “Jennifer, you weren’t yourself; your mind was sick and confused” because the people or things I cherish most no longer seemed to be enough to live for. Thankfully, as I rediscovered myself, they are the same reasons I look forward to waking up each morning. I found my purpose in life again.

I didn’t choose to have bipolar, but I can choose how to live with it. Before my diagnosis, I never thought I should live my life thinking long-term because I always assumed I wouldn’t make it long enough to care. Bipolar disorder can never be cured, but it can be managed. It’s about acknowledging that it won’t go away but finding a way to befriend it.

With the right treatment and medication, I have gained the tools and knowledge to be able to navigate the complexity of my inner world; it saved my future, and it saved my life. I wouldn’t change anything I have gone through because it made me the woman I am today, and I think she is pretty great. In some aspects of my life the recovery is ongoing, but overall, today, I am healthier, I am happier, and I am the best I’ve ever been. I am learning to make peace with my past and my mistakes rather than make peace with trying to end my life because of them. I am grateful for the people around me, both personal and professional, who never gave up on me despite not making it easy for them sometimes. I am grateful to have infinite moments and memories to look forward to. I am grateful to be alive.

There is hope. There is light. There is a world that needs you. Don’t ever forget that.

Originally published: April 10, 2024
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