The Art of Being Bipolar

When you’re told, at twenty-two years old, that “People like you can live comfortable lives.” it makes you wonder, if comfortable is all you can ever strive for, if it’s worth trying at all, through all the pain you go through every day.

Let me tell you, some days are harder than others. But, so far, I find it that it is worth it.

I was twelve years old the first time I remember thinking about suicide, but I know I did before that, because I found my old journals and they’re full of whole pages in which I’d written in angry, capital letters and red print “I WANT TO DIE”. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but I must have been as young as ten. That’s when it all started. At twenty-three, it’s been more than half of my life that I’ve lived in cycles.

When people think about reasons for severe depression or a mood disorder like mine (it sounds better than mental illness), they think of someone who’s lived a very hard life and is in a constant struggle. Except, I had a very normal childhood. I was a happy, happy child, with a loving, caring family. There was nothing missing in my life. I had everything I needed and most things I ever wanted. When I was ten years old, I went through a bad trauma — I was sexually abused by a boyfriend of my mom’s — but, even that, wouldn’t cause a illness that doesn’t have a “cause”. (There’s no known cause for Bipolar disorder, only theories). It went on for about two years, and, after that, I went on to my normal life. Of course, then I was damaged, scarred, traumatized, broken, but my life went back to the way it was.

I was never bullied at school, I always had a lot of friends. I was top of the class smart. I didn’t show depression, on the contrary, I showed… light. I was always perky, fun, loud, talkative. I was sweet and kind and hilarious, in a way that no one could ever figure out there was anything wrong with me.

It wasn’t until that time I mentioned before, when I was twelve, that I was changing before gym, I so casually mentioned to a girl, “I’m going to kill myself today at 3pm.” And then I walked away, as if I’d just asked her the time. I know I skipped gym that day, and wrote my feelings out as a poem on a paper with a green pen. I really wish I hadn’t torn that paper. I know she told people, I know they asked me why, but I don’t really remember what happened much. I know they didn’t tell my mom, and I know I lied my way out of it saying I was fine. But I also know, that, at 3pm. I was looking down from my 8th floor window, trying to get the guts to end it all. I never had them.

I was never the same again, the perky girl that I was had been clouded by a darkness that insisted on not leaving me alone, no matter how much I tried. I tried therapy, and therapy, and therapy. And therapy. All the way till I was sixteen. That’s when my first real diagnosis came: ‘depression’. Of course, back then, for a kid who was completely alone, that was devastating and terrifying. I couldn’t accept. I rather thought I was going crazy. I wanted to die, all the time. I wrote poem after poem, of dark, dark thoughts of death and loneliness, knowing that no matter what happened, no one would ever be able to help me. When the poems no longer helped me, I started to self-harm. I felt so empty and numb, that sometimes, only the physical pain reminded me that I was still alive. I didn’t stop until my friends caught me. They cried, begged me to stop. They also told the school principal (out of concern!) and they threatened to tell my mom if I didn’t stop. So, I did. That was my first very, very bad crisis. It lasted about seven months.

Imagine my surprise, when, all of a sudden, I was “normal” again. I wasn’t great, I wasn’t happy, but I was normal and life wasn’t so bleak anymore. And I thought, “Hey, maybe I could live through this after all.” The worst part though, was the always lingering fear of going back to that dark, dark place. And I have. And it’s darker.

Luckily, I’ve found the light switch!

If I thought sixteen was bad, I had no idea what was coming at me when my my grandma died when I was eighteen. The downward spiral I went through was the hardest thing I couldn’t even imagine. I knew the unbearable pain well enough not to want to go through that again, and it was worse. This time, I’d replaced the cutting with bulimia, and that’d how I coped. And, when I couldn’t even hold food in my stomach anymore, I decided to see a therapist. And that changed my life.

When I told the woman I’d berely known what I was feeling, she immediately sent me to a psychiatrist, who, then, after a few tests and appointments, told me she thought I was Bipolar. I was so stunned with that diagnosis, I literally just walked out of her office and never went back. I just went back to the therapist and stayed. She DID help me. So much, I went abroad for exchange, I got somewhat better.

When I came back from my exchange, was that I clearly started presenting manic symptoms. Or that I noticed them anyway. I’d have crisis in which I wouldn’t sleep for days. I’d be erratic, I couldn’t even speak without stuttering. It was only then I started to wonder if that doctor could possibly have been right. Still, I did nothing about it. Not until I hit the bottom again, until I was so, so, so bad, I was thinking about killing myself every day, all day. And, I went back to my last therapist and said, “The thing is, if I don’t get help now, I won’t be around for long.” I really had nothing to live for.

She sent me to another psychiatrist, and, after a few appointments, she said the same thing: Bipolar. At first, I was… terrified. What goes through your mind is a mix of things that you can never truly understand. Because depression is curable. Bipolarity isn’t. Depression is understandble. Bipolarity has no known cause. My doctor said she believes it’s probably a mix of genetics, trauma and personality type (I just lucked out, didn’t I?). That’s when she said that “people like me can live comfortable lives”.

Comfortable. I was twenty-two then. I felt the world crashing before me. For more than half of my life, I’d been living with this pain inside of me, suffocating, debilitating. Yes, I’m fully functioning. Some days, I can’t even go out of bed. When it’s really bad, it lasts for weeks. BUT, I can get on with school, with family, with friends, everything. Still, I haven’t lived. And this woman is telling me, I have this uncurable illness, that ALL I can EVER BE is “comfortable”. Right then, I wanted to die, even more. I wanted to jump out of the glass window of her office (I know, right? A psychiatrist on the 11th floor with a ceiling to floor glass window?) and get this over with. But I didn’t. I listened to her. I listened to her talk about meds and therapy and what we could do for me.

And I was truly skeptic about it all. But I listened to her. And I started taking the meds. And, I can tell you, I’m… comfortable. I’m not doing great. I have really bad days still. Sometimes, I want to die, I want to kill myself. But I have good days. I even forget I have this thing hovering over me, haunting my life. The meds have made a HUGE difference, though. For the longest time, I couldn’t even breathe, and now I can. And it doesn’t even always hurt. And that, by itself, is a gift. They also prevent me from going full blown manic. Hypomanic is all I get, and it’s a rare thing.

My life is still normal. Most people in my life has no idea what I go through, including most of my family (not even my father knows). They can’t tell. Being Bipolar is a very invisible illness; or it can be. I’m very functional, but the pain I’m in is of a dimension I can’t describe. There have been many times I thought I wouldn’t live through the night, that I was so scared of myself. Being Bipolar, or having any other mental illness, inluding depression, IS scary as hell. And it’s a horrible, horrible thing to go through alone. So, if you need help, GET HELP. I know it’s hard, it sounds hard, and it feels like no one can help you, but there’s help out there, I promise. You don’t have to go through this alone. And, if anyone ever wants to talk to me, feel free to drop a line at edwardsoftroy@yahoo.com

You know, I always say I’d trade my mental illness for a physical illness in a heartbeat. I often feel sorry for myself. I get mad, for having no way out, for having something that makes me hurt so much, but won’t kill me unless I do it myself. But, you know, I think that’s what keeps me alive. I’m too curious and too perky to let go.

You should be, too.

Love,

“Abby”

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