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When You're Sitting in the Aftermath of a Bipolar Episode

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I didn’t know I was going through it until I was out of it. I didn’t see the signs. I didn’t listen to anyone (which in and of itself can be a sign). I thought I was doing really well. I thought I was successful and happy.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Until it all crashed down.

That’s the thing about mental illness. It often creeps. Sometimes you can feel the storm rolling in, reaching for you in dark wisps. Before you know it, you can’t see anything. You can’t think. You can’t breathe. Even then sometimes you don’t see the darkness, the slow suffocation of your flame until there is nothing but darkness.

It’s only now that I can see the terrible decisions, the impulsivity, the damaged relationships. That’s the worst part for me — looking back after an episode and realizing all of the things I’ve done wrong and more importantly the people I’ve hurt.

When I come out of my bipolar episodes, I’m left with shame and guilt. I feel like a failure. I feel like I’ve let every single person in my life down. I feel like I’m nothing; I’m no one, or at least not someone who deserves what I’m so blessed to have.

Mental illness can destroy lives. Not just the person with the diagnosis, but every single person in their life. The families, the partners, the friends — everyone and everything is affected. Jobs are lost, bills pile up, relationships are destroyed.

For me, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to the point that I shy away from people; I hide in my shame and guilt in the dark. I don’t want to feel like I’ve failed at yet another thing. I don’t want to come out and admit that my mental illness took me hostage this year.

It’s been a whole year of ups and downs. January to December — 2017 was not my year.

I don’t like to think I have a problem. I don’t want to admit that the mental illness is winning, that the storm has me in its clutches. It’s humiliating. And I can try and explain, but people usually don’t understand unless they have been through it. Despite all of the progress being made in discussing mental illness, it’s still hard to come out and own what’s going on. 

I own the last year of my life. I made terrible, life changing decisions. I hurt so many people and damaged a lot of relationships, perhaps forever. It’s not enough to own it though. It doesn’t change what happened.

When I’m in an episode, it’s like my brain and my mouth are not communicating. I hear myself saying the terrible things that spew out of my mouth like verbal diarrhea, but I can’t stop them. The slightest provocation sets me off and before I know it, there goes another relationship. Impulsivity rules my life. I think and feel, and then I act. There’s no thought for what the ramifications of my decision will be. I just do it, and I can’t stop it.

I like to think I’m smart. I like to think I’m a good person. Mental illness steals that for me. Mental illness steals me from me. I’m someone I don’t know. I’m someone I hate, someone that I don’t blame other people for hating.

Mental illness is a liar. Mental illness poisons my brain, my feelings, my thoughts. It makes me believe things, terrible things. It makes me hurt people I care about. It can destroy lives. It does these things without me even knowing. All of a sudden it is a year later and I’m looking back to see a trail of destruction in my wake.

I find solace in the fact that I come out of my depressive and manic episodes eventually. I know that one day I’ll wake up and the storm will be cleared, the sun will be shining. All of a sudden I will be able to breathe. It happens like that. It comes in waves. Like the pull of the moon on the ocean, so our lives will roll in and out on the sand. Right now I’m walking on the beach at sunrise, finally out of the storm that has been my life this year. Inevitably a storm will come again. It always does. I could worry about the next storm, but then I would miss the sunrise.

It’s not easy. It’s not pretty. I have survived my life up to this point, but I haven’t enjoyed it. I’m finally in a place where I want to enjoy life and not just scrape by. As they say, life isn’t just surviving the storm, it’s learning to dance in the rain.

Getty image via lzf

Originally published: December 8, 2017
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