“Focus. Breathe. Relax. Keep breathing and focus,” I whisper to myself.
I’m laying in my big comfy bed, cocooned in my own personal safe haven. Surrounded by crisp white sheets perfuming the air with soft notes of lavender, a hint of bleach, and a dozen racing thoughts. Today is not a good day, today I feel anxious. My plan was to get up and clean house, but my brain has other ideas in mind. One minute I’m deciding which chore to tackle first and the next minute I’m hit with a wave of words crashing down inside my skull, filling it up so fast and full I can’t think let alone remember how to breathe.
Beach. Bathing suit. Sand. Sun.
Drive. Music. Shopping. Pedicures.
Nails. Paint. Craft. Sew.
I rub my temples trying to erase the thoughts envisioning my brain as a giant chalkboard, but it’s never that easy. As I continue to plan my attack on the house chores, the noise of the thoughts bouncing around like pin balls inside my head gets louder with each ping off the inside of my skull.
Paint. Paint the living room! Rug. Buy a new rug! Shopping! Go shopping!
Instinctually I turn on music in an attempt to drown out the chatter. Today is not a good day, today the noise is a storm raging inside me. My skin prickles with electrical energy and I feel the all too familiar fight or flight urge grab hold of my heart, the crackling intensifying with every pulse.
“Focus. Breathe. Relax. Keep breathing and focus,” I remind myself for the nineteenth time.
SHOPPING! DRIVE! DRIVE TO THE BEACH! BLAST THE MUSIC! GET OUT AND GO!!!
Today is not a good day, today I struggle just to get out of bed. Today I am at war. I am battling an invisible monster who dwells within, fighting for control. Across the room my eyes land on a small antique clock, it’s little bronze hands keeping score for this invisible battle. Two hours and 47 minutes. Two hours and 47 minutes that I lost today.
Exhausted, discouraged and afraid I reluctantly admit defeat. Desperate, I remove my secret weapon from my creaky nightstand drawer. The creak a declaration of surrender as I pop a small pill into my mouth and await my salvation; though later I’ll kick myself for taking the coward’s way out.
I’m laying in my big comfy bed, cocooned in my own personal safe haven. The noise starts to get quiet with each passing minute until all at once the silence is deafening. Today was not a good day, today was harder than yesterday. Tomorrow is a mystery, but I’m hopeful for a victory.
It’s been almost 10 years since I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and even now at almost 29 years old, I still haven’t figured it all out (but I’m okay with that), nevertheless this is my story. In the beginning, I remember being terrified of having a stigmatizing mental illness and being labeled “crazy” (that I’ve never openly talked about it), but most surprisingly I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. My diagnosis finally gave me an explanation for so many years of questionable behavior, motives, thoughts and ideas that I hadn’t understood at the time (I won’t get into my whole past but let’s just say suddenly it all made sense!).
After I was diagnosed I immediately sought out therapy to help discover my triggers, how best to avoid them if possible or work through them, develop a support system (people I could depend on to help watch for my triggers and tell me when they thought I was having an episode), and lastly find the right medication to help balance me out (I hated this part and still do).
Here’s some fun facts on medications, it takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks to introduce a new medication into your system before you see any results. During that time, you’ll likely experience side effects (I learned that Zoloft and Prozac cause extreme pain in my arms and legs, also Lexapro makes me sleepy and or genuinely not give a fuck about anyone or anything). However, if after enduring side effects for weeks and you still don’t feel any better you’ll have to change meds and guess what happens then?
You must stop the current meds, wait a week or two and then gradually introduce the new meds; we’re talking 2-4 weeks before you’ll know if the medication is working or not (I felt like a damn guinea pig). If you happen to land upon the right medication or combination of meds you’ll then have to fine tune your dosage; I ended up taking 9 pills a day just for my BD and that’s not including vitamins or supplements (my purse legit jingled when I walked and not from loose change, I felt like a walking pharmacy).
I’m not really sure why (probably just didn’t feel like it anymore or I was tired of eating pills for breakfast, lunch and dinner; not sure which) but I stopped going to therapy. It’s a well-known issue that people with BD will stop treatment or go off their medications through-out their lives and being one of those people I just want to say it’s okay! I Promise I won’t go all Britney Spears if I decide to take a break from my meds (I never carry an umbrella, although I have considered shaving my head once or twice, but that’s more or less because Demi Moore in GI Jane made it look sexy). Anyways, I started overanalyzing every aspect in my life looking for what might or could trigger my next manic or depressive episode, but I found I was so miserable from worrying all the time that I wasn’t really enjoying or living my life.
Now for those who don’t know anything about Bipolar Disorder let me explain. Having BD for me is like being stuck on an emotional/mental rollercoaster (I’m not exactly sure how I got on the ride but I’m trying my best to be brave and not freak the fuck out). The highs or manic episodes can be pretty wild, I tend to lose a lot of my inhibitions or judgement and act impulsively (like driving to Beverly Hills and buying a car or almost letting a sales woman talk me into a $2000+ Kirby Vacuum; not my proudest moments), other times I’m just super chatty and adventurous. Sometimes when I’m manic I’ll have a really hard time concentrating because my thoughts are pin-balling around inside my head or the thoughts just feel LOUD (like when you’re trying to find a good radio station but all you get is that piercing obnoxious static sound, try carrying on a conversation with that going on). The constant noise can be extremely overwhelming at times, there’s been a few instances when it’s triggered severe panic attacks (FYI- don’t hyperventilate on tile or hard surfaces, chances are you’ll pass out and hurt yourself, also you won’t have to question the mystery bruises on your hips, knees or elbows). I’ve even had to drop college classes (I re-took them later when I was finally level-headed and stable) because it was just too much at times. There’s been 2 occasions where it was so bad that I almost committed myself to the local hospitals psych ward because I couldn’t stand being trapped in a suspended state of fight or flight (my skin felt like it was literally crawling), my body humming with energy and the thoughts so fast and loud I couldn’t function beyond curling up in the fetal position bawling my eyes out. So, unlike everyone else who excitedly anticipates the highs of the rollercoaster, I’m that person in the back bracing myself for what’s to come, I may even be shedding a tear or two, and or screaming that I want my mommy because I know that what goes up must come down.
That leaves us with the lows or depressive episodes, which I personally think are the scariest. My lows can range from just feeling sort of off or blah to full blown feeling like I’m teetering on the edge of an enormous sinkhole. I’ve spent days not eating, just laying in bed or on the couch sleeping or zoning out (I’ve become a master of getting lost in thought for hours on end) because the idea of doing anything feels exhausting. I hate being alone but even during these times when I crave company the most I tend to isolate myself for fear of what people will think or say (I know we had plans but I’m gonna have to cancel for my spontaneous cry-session followed by an anxiety attack and self-hatred spiral). There’s times where I’ll feel so overwhelmed with negative emotions that I’ve slipped into past habits of cutting (I was a cutter for 8 years, starting when I was 9 years old). To be honest cutting helped me through a lot of trauma in my youth (emotionally abusive father, bullying and sexual assault just to name a few) so I get really irritated when people freak out and assume that cutting = a suicide attempt (if I wanted to commit suicide I can think of several more effective/quicker ways to kill myself so relax). For me cutting allows me to take all the bottled up emotional pain (my father ingrained in me from a young age that crying was a sign of weakness and would make me feel ashamed if I ever cried unless I was physically hurt, “If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about” was a threat I heard quite often so I bottled everything up instead) and turn it into physical pain (Oh look I’m bleeding! Now it’s ok for me to cry and I take that to the bank; I may be responsible for filling the local lake to new heights) that I can then process and deal with. I’m well aware that cutting is an unhealthy method of dealing with emotions and I’ve gotten better about trying to express myself in healthier ways (I’ve turned to crafting or writing as an outlet) but I’d be lying if I said I’ll NEVER do it again.
With all that being said, when the rollercoaster is just coasting along on an even plain I feel fantastic and enjoy the ride (I genuinely love life!). I’m proud to say I’ve been medication free for almost a year and I feel great, I’ve had minimal episodes and thanks to my amazing support system I got through them alright and returned to my “normal” state rather quickly. Honestly, I try not to worry too much about what’s around the next bend or any impending highs/lows and just find the good in each day and cherish it (for once I don’t have a plan and am enjoying the spontaneity of life). So though I’ve lived in remote silence and fear with Bipolar Disorder for nearly a decade today I break that silence. I may have a mental illness, but I’m still the fun-loving, party planning, interior decorator, crafter, baker, writer and make-up enthusiast I’ve always been (with just a dash of the occasional crazy) and I will continue to live, love life and better myself as much as I can (and when I can’t there’s always good ol’ Xanex). In all seriousness don’t let the fear of what others will think or say keep you down, instead stand tall and be proud; I’m proud of everything I’ve overcome with Bipolar Disorder.