This piece comes as a submission from an anonymous source who wishes to share their journey and experience with bipolar disorder. Find their touching path to acceptance below.
Around the time I was thirteen, I knew something was off.
I didn’t feel like myself; it felt like every problem in my family or my eighth grade friend group was weighing down on my shoulders. I felt the awful pain every time bad news came my way and I spent more time crying that I did laughing.
Could it have been the constant fighting between my parents that struck emotional episodes and tantrums?
Was it the fact that puberty was hitting and I was finally realizing that I wasn’t like the other kids from my small suburban town?
Was it the constant back and forth of my foster cousins living at my Aunt’s house?
Could it have been the teasing and mocking about my bushy eyebrows, stupid hair that never quite fell into place, or bad clothing style?
I still don’t know exactly what started it,
but when I was thirteen I began cutting myself.
I cut to feel something real, or at least that’s what I told myself. The feelings in my head were all too fuzzy and half the time I couldn’t tell if I were happy or sad. I would come home from a relatively good day at school and just lay in my room and cry. My parents thought that it was just the typical middle school angst – until they found out about the cutting.
I can remember the day very clearly. I was called down to the guidance counselors office and as she explained to me what she had learned from a close friend of mine, my body, mind, and spirit completely shut down. I knew that she would have to tell my parents, I knew that they would be devastated, and I knew it was all my fault.
After crying for what felt like centuries with my mom, dad, and guidance counselor, I finally returned home and talked about the situation with my parents. Therapy was apparently necessary and I soon found myself drowning in a series of questions about my past, about my friends, about my romantic history – all things that no thirteen year old boy wants to hear about.
It took a while for them to make a decision.
Schizophrenic? Not quite.
Bipolar? Sure. Let’s go with that.
And so, I was labeled as Bipolar and prescribed too many pills and too much talking. The medication made me feel funny and the talking brought up memories that triggered mood swings and manic episodes. The only positive was that the cutting had stopped.
I went to a new high school, met new friends, and finally came out of the closet. Things went well for the majority of high school – a few slip ups here and there, but little cutting. My high school friends never even knew that I struggled with mental illness.
As the time to pack up for college came, I lost my great aunt unexpectedly. She was my hero; I admired her more than anyone else and losing her hit me hard. I considered not going to school. I couldn’t imagine trying to make new friends, study, or even get out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face. After some long talks with my family, I realized that I had to go because my great aunt never would have wanted me to stay home and risk my education just to grieve for her.
So, I went. And I met a boy. And I fell in love. And so many happy emotions flooded over me for that year that I finally thought I had beat this thing. I met so many wonderful people, formed such great relationships, discovered new passions, and created more dreams for myself than I ever thought possible.
Things weren’t always great though. My boyfriend at the time, let’s call him Nate, and I had our issues and sometimes they triggered unreasonably emotionally responses from me. I tried to chalk it up to just normal feelings that a normal person would get from a normal fight with their significant other. I didn’t want to think that my Bipolar disorder was kicking in again because I didn’t want to face it or talk about it.
I didn’t want Nate to think I was crazy.
As time went on, I tarnished my relationship with Nate (along with others) with my unnecessary high standards, overdramatic stubbornness, and outrageous mood swings.
So we broke up.
It took a while, but it finally happened. And I fell into what might have been the worst depressive state I have ever been in. I cried every day for weeks and begged and pleaded with Nate to give me another chance. It never worked. But you know what? I never cut. I held it together. Yeah, I cried a lot. I made myself out to be a desperate and clingy fool to my friends but deep down, I was proud of myself for not giving into the need to feel something other than sadness.
Part of it had to do with a strong support system. Counselors on campus and even just my small group of friends who would just listen and cry with me and hug me and tell me that everything would be okay. And it was okay.
As time went on my heart healed. Things started looking up. I was finally feeling good again and this time I didn’t have to talk about painful memories or take milligrams upon milligrams of antipsychotic drugs. All I had to do was believe in myself and express myself.
But then history repeated itself.
A new boy came into the picture. Let’s call him Will.
My friends thought Will was a rebound and maybe it started that way but I soon found myself head over heels for the guy. Within a few months of being together he told me about his severe anxiety disorder and opened up to me about the many failed medications he had tried and the ones he was still trying. I spent nights crying and trying to stay calm as I rubbed his back through uncontrollable midnight panic attacks. It was scary; although I struggled with my own mental illness, I never had the experience of a panic attack and I did not know how to handle it.
Maybe it was because my illness seemed so minuscule in comparison or maybe it was because it hadn’t been a problem in a while but for some reason, I didn’t tell Will about my Bipolar disorder. Maybe it would have made things easier from the start, so we could have related on a deeper level but I didn’t do it. Like any couple, we had fights here and there but whenever I felt myself about to fall into an episode, I tried to stop talking to him to spare him and deal with my feelings on my own: going to the gym, meditating, simply relaxing and clearing my mind.
And then finally, it came out. During a fight about why I couldn’t control my anger, I just let it out and explained to Will that I had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder years prior. I told him that I had been off of my meds and any treatment for years and that for the most part, I was okay. I told him that it had ruined my relationship with Nate and that it sometimes got the best of me, but for the most part I was okay. I told him that I was finally learning how to control my feelings and express myself in a healthy way.
At first, Will was supportive. He was the first person I had told other than my parents and he seemed relieved to know. It made sense to him and for a while, we seemed to be much closer than ever before.
But soon after that, he told me that I had to see a therapist – that I had to be medicated. He said that was the only way to keep up a healthy relationship. When I tried to oppose and explain that medications hadn’t worked and that I was finally learning how to control my feelings on my own, he wouldn’t listen.
So, I’m done with Will. Because nobody gets to tell me how to handle myself. What Will and everyone needs to realize is that mental illnesses do not define us. Medications are not always the answer; yes, they work for some people but every individual has a different method of getting to a healthy state.
It’s like trying to lose weight. For some people, a kind of fat burning medication is necessary. For others, simple changes in diet and exercise makes all the difference and medication isn’t needed. For me, changing the way I view the world and learning methods of being able to step back and breathe in times of serious mood swings is what has helped me gain back friends that I have lost and feel comfortable in my own skin.
Today, I am healthy. Today, I can express my emotions in a healthy way. This year, I have had a total of two “Bipolar” episodes. I say that because that it was I have classified them as. These were two times that I let my overwhelming feelings get the best of me and instead of stepping back and breathing, I snapped. My goal is to not let that ever happen again. Will I have other episodes in my life? Probably. But so many people lose their tempers every day. It’s normal to become frustrated and say things you don’t mean when you are put under a lot of stress.
And what I am realizing is that my Bipolar disorder just means that I feel that stress a little bit more than most people. And no amount of medication is going to fix that. What will fix that is the love and compassion of the people around me; the people that say “Do you need to talk?” as opposed to “You need to be medicated.”
So let this be a lesson, friends. If someone tells you that they have a mental illness, don’t jump to medication. Talk to them. Listen to them. Hear their thoughts and support their decisions. In the end, that it what will help them more.
Share your experiences below and leave some comments for our anonymous guest. I want to highlight the point of the people who say “Do you need to talk” vs. “You need to be medicated”. It’s so crucial that those who we open up to understand that we are just looking for someone to hear us out, and not be told again how sick we think we are. While medication is the answer for some people, it is not always the case. No two journeys are the same, be a friend and lend an ear, not a judgement.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
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