The Mighty Logo

To My Beautifully Broken Brain With Bipolar Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

To my beautifully broken brain,

You see, I still at times have a hard time with you. Those fleeting moments before, when you switched on and off to the person who I knew I wasn’t supposed to be, I loathed you. However, I think back to the time I realized you were beautifully broken, the night you saved my life. It’s a conundrum, I know, but hopefully others will also understand.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

When it switched on — high voltage, ready to take on the world, unaffected and audacious, not weary of anything, I became a different version of myself. That is when I became manic Mary. I laughed more than usual. I took on new hobbies I never finished. I could do anything! I wrote a 70,000-word novel in three weeks and slept little. I made never-ending to-do lists that were rarely checked off. I started blogs and vegan cooking channels online in hopes of living a healthier life (I can’t help but laugh a little about that). I signed up with different companies selling various things, convinced I could be a top seller and six-figure income earner. Shopping? Did someone say shopping? You didn’t need to ask me twice! I swiped that plastic card without a care in the world and planned trips with no abandon.

You see, with mania, it can seem there are no consequences. There’s only the high, the moment, the transient seconds ahead when everything seems so flawless…

Except it’s not. When I was in the midst of my worst manic episode that lasted from September to December, I ruined my marriage, racked up $23,000 of debt, lost friends and found myself drinking heavily (I am not a drinker at all). I dated a man who made choices that went against everything I believed in. People who knew me probably saw me as a walking disaster and I can’t help but wonder, why didn’t my friends reach out to me? Why didn’t they do the whole, “If you see something, say something” thing? I guess they weren’t really friends after all. Or maybe they were too scared to say anything since mental health is still very much a stigma.

Then there’s the big kahuna … rapid cycling. I had no idea what was happening to me until rapid cycling came along and stuck its nasty claws into me, and honestly I’m grateful for it (I know this sounds strange, but keep reading, it will make sense). Still in my manic phase, I went to bed very late and woke up just a few short hours later in the worst depression of my life.

The switch had been turned off. I went from traveling on the highest speed freight train to competing with a turtle. Everything was slow and desperate. I was shallow and full of despair. I started to feel the effects of my bad decisions and the disgusting emotions of shame and guilt swathed me up, suffocating me with their dread. I immediately broke things off with the man I was dating.

I wanted to end things. I had a plan. It would be on a weekend when my kids were with their dad. I’d write a letter to my ex-husband who was (and still is) the love of my life along with my obituary, and the songs I’d chosen for my Catholic funeral. I prayed the priest wouldn’t speak too harshly of me for my choice. Purgatory wasn’t a place I planned on spending eternity. I also had a plan to write a letter to my children for them to open as an adult. I knew how I wanted to die. I’m a nurse. I know how these things work.

Then, something happened. I walked into my son’s room and stared at the family photo of us four (my ex-husband included). I started sobbing and crying to God, knowing something was wrong with me. My brain wasn’t right. I had been battling depression and anxiety since my early teens (and honestly, probably since childhood), and had tried around 15 antidepressants to no avail. One word gave me hope and fear in that second.


I prayed even harder and decided I couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on life. I had to have more answers, more hope and more treatment options available to me. I was sure of it. The next morning, I reached out to my doctor and she placed a referral for me to a psychiatrist. My ex-husband and I had remained on good terms and I was very open and honest with him about my mental health. He saw how I struggled with postpartum depression (PPD) after our second son. He knew how bad my anxiety was. I told him how much I wanted things to work out between us, but I needed to get better first. I explained to him I thought I could have bipolar disorder. We decided to work toward reconciliation once I was stable and we were mutually in a good place. He truly is my rock and one of the best humans I know. We spent spring break together as a family. It was magical and just what we needed.

The following Monday, I sat across from my psychiatrist, nervously tapping my foot and fidgeting with my hands. He asked me many questions, taking about two hours to complete a thorough history. It was the first time I was completely honest with a mental health professional. I cried a lot, felt every emotion under the sun … but mostly, I was relieved. I cannot describe to you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders that day. I worried I was losing my mind. He assured me I was very intelligent and brave, at one point mentioning he couldn’t believe I hadn’t ended up inpatient. Honestly, I should have been. I managed to put on a face and facade through it all for my kids and not miss work.

Looking back, I still have no clue how I did it. I don’t recommend trying that, though. When you are feeling that manic and depressed, seek help immediately. I am not a doctor, but looking back, inpatient would have been the best and safest place for me during my manic and depressive episodes so I could have stabilized much faster.

I got several diagnoses. Bipolar 1 with rapid cycling. Borderline personality disorder (BPD). Panic disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Depression refractory to treatment. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It was a lot to take in, but I was grateful during that time for my beautifully broken brain, despite its flaws. I may never know why I am bipolar, for the other diagnoses are the results of circumstances and experiences I have endured, bipolar has not yet been determined to be inherited or environmental, or perhaps both. I am not aware of anyone in my family being diagnosed with bipolar.

Fear did set in. Worry for my children. Would they inherit this? Then shame again. Guilt for my manic phase and the decisions as a result. I had to shake it off. I needed to have my eyes set on my treatment plan and focus on recovery and stability. My psychiatrist ensured me it was very much possible to live a normal, healthy and happy life with bipolar 1.

Now, the incredible phase of healing is currently happening. I am taking my medications religiously, practicing mindfulness, attending therapy, journaling, spending less time on social media, removing toxic people from my life and doing more of what brings me joy. Don’t get me wrong, it has been incredibly painful at times. Recently, I was triggered and had the worst panic attack of my life. I found myself on the steps of the psychiatric hospital ready to be admitted, but God intervened and apparently that wasn’t what I needed. I went to my partner’s house (ex-husband) and stayed the night there. I talked things through with the people who I am close with, “my corner,” so to speak. I was grounded and calm. I had no thoughts of harming myself or others, which is why I didn’t get admitted. I got good sleep, called my psychiatrist the next morning to follow up and I’m back on the right path.

Through the power of prayer, modern medicine and therapy, I am full of hope, courage and bravery as I face this uphill battle. Not only do I have a beautifully broken brain, that flawed organ also saved my life when I was at my lowest point and I will forever be grateful. It showed me two versions of myself, two puzzle pieces: manic Mary and depressed Mary. They somehow fit and pushed me to get the help I desperately needed.

I hope you learn to love your beautifully broken brain just as I have. Some days will be harder than others, but the incredible days and healing ones are definitely worth fighting for. Never give up.


Original photo by author

Originally published: May 10, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home