Before being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II – I honestly knew little about it or mental illness in general for that fact. I was drowning in confusion while losing an uphill battle of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
It’s difficult to take care of yourself when it feels like your brain has betrayed you. For those of you who suffer, who are afraid to seek help, or are currently in the threshold of the mental health system, I give you my ABC’s of mental health.
Everyone deals and reacts to mental illness differently. This is not a standard guide, but my personal experience with dealing with a new diagnoses, going through the process of finding the right medication, while trying to live life to the fullest despite the struggles and stigmas faced every day.
At yourself, at life, at everyone around you. Anger toward the medication you have to take, the doctors telling you things you don’t want to hear, therapists making you dig deep to the point of mental breakdowns. Anger that this is your new life. In the words of Tame Impala, “Let it happen.” Then let it go.
I know it may not seem like it at times, but it takes a lot of courage and strength to get out of bed and face the world when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and hide from everything. It’s even braver to say things out loud and accept your disorder as part of you -not all of you. I came out to my family and friends in the form of an article that was published. Although I didn’t feel the bravery that they told me I had, it was a necessary step in accepting my illness and reducing the stigma attached to it. To those who struggle every day and find the courage to keep going, you my friend, are a brave one.
The word that gives me anxiety, insecurity, and an enormous amount of doubt and self-deprecation. It’s the word that reinforces the stigma that we try so hard to stray away from. The word that makes me want to cry in a ball when I hear someone using it to describe me. I don’t know why this word makes me sensitive AF, but if you can refrain from using it, please try.
Depression and Denial:
With the state of depression already being a huge part of my life, having psychological terms being thrown at me was not only overwhelming, but scary. Being bipolar and having a scientific explanation to why I was so mentally and physically exhausted might seem like a relief, but hearing “bipolar” out loud gave me the kind of denial that had me trying to fight the extreme highs and lows and impulsive behavior. I tried convincing myself that this was just a phase, not a whole life diagnoses. As soon as I started to accept what was my new reality, it became easier to take on the day to day highs and lows, allowing myself to feel while being aware that the extremes were all just part of my brains way of working.
Although living with a mood disorder can be mentally draining, the extremes of depression can be so extreme that physical symptoms emerge as well. Everything from joint and muscle pains, migraine headaches, and overall lethargy strike without a moments warning.
Depending on your medication, the first few weeks can be a nightmare. Side effects plagued my body and after weeks of hanging in there, I’m just now starting to see the benefits. This is one thing I wish I had known before starting the trial and error period of finding the right medication.
This feeling can manifest in every direction possible. Fear of being found out, fear of not being in control, fear of being labeled crazy, fear of being judged.
Unfortunately, we still live in a society that stigmatizes mental illness or doesn’t take it as seriously as it should be taken. Fortunately, with so much advocacy and awareness being spread, I truly feel that we can be the generation to reduce the stigma and get rid of the stereotypes associated with those who suffer. Just knowing that we are progressing as a society, although slowly, reduces the certain fears I do have with being associated with bipolar disorder.
Or something like it. I remember the first time my Doctor used the words Bipolar Disorder. I couldn’t help but feel like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in the film, 50/50, where everything blurs after hearing the medical term. You can’t help but notice your Doctors mouth moving –without a sound coming out. Everything feels unreal, blurry, and extremely scary.
After processing everything, it was hard not to blame God, life, or the Universe for the bad luck I just received. I was angry, depressed, and confused. Although it feels like luck is not on your side, mental illness is more common than one can assume. According the NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), 18.5% of Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. Although it can feel isolating, you’re not alone. A large percentage of those who suffer go on to lead normal and active lives despite the day to day struggle.
Particularly, family history. With stigma and shame still a factor, a lot of mental health issues within families are still kept in the dark. After being diagnosed, I am now just finding out about relatives and their struggles with depression and Bipolar Disorder.
It’s unfortunate that these things are still so secretive. If it weren’t for the stigma, I probably would have known there was more of a problem than just ordinary sadness. Since mental illness can be hereditary and common, I’m sure there are people within your reach that share the same struggles you do. You just don’t know it yet.
Maybe this is directed toward Bipolar Disorder specifically, but impulsive behavior is one of the main issues I have on a day to day basis. A lot of it has to do with my spending habits. Being a vinyl collector, I’ve been known to purchase records in numbers as well as going on makeup splurges. I know it has to do with instant gratification, but this is an issue that has been very hard to handle.
Another impulsive habit I have is posting through social media. Whether its loads of pictures a day via Instagram, or links and statuses on Facebook, I can’t help but feel like I’ve hijacked my friend’s newsfeeds. With impulsive behavior comes a lot of regret. Especially when it comes to texting ex’s in the middle of the night, going on midnight shopping sprees, and making a million plans only to cancel them later. Sorry guys…blame it on the bipolar :(
Jumping to Conclusions:
A lot of this stems from anxiety. It’s easy to assume that a friend is upset with you when you don’t receive a response from a text within the first five minutes of sending it. I remember being in a relationship and constantly having arguments that lead me to always jumping to the conclusion that we we’re officially broken up. It’s definitely irrational to assume such drastic things, but when it comes to those dealing with mental illness, it’s sometimes the only way we know how to get answers –jumping to conclusions.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness can not only be isolating, but extremely lonely. When I was first diagnosed, I couldn’t help but feel different from everyone around me. I tried my hardest to avoid the outside world because in my mind, no one could possibly understand the demons I faced every day. When you do meet someone who struggles with the same issues you do, it can almost feel like kismet -or meeting a kindred spirit. The same can be said for celebrities and public figures that speak so openly about their struggles.
There’s a great appreciation and comfort that comes over when you find people who are just like you.
Although it can be such a breath of fresh air finding people to share your struggles with, most of the day-to-day can be pretty lonely. If you’re like me, you avoid talking about things in order to not be such a burden on the ones you love. Of course being a burden is far from the truth, but it’s a feeling that can’t help but be felt. With this idea, loneliness becomes a shadow that follows you all throughout the day. Even if you’re amongst your family and friends, loneliness tends to hang around despite not technically being alone.
Mood swings, Medication, and Misdiagnosis:
Let’s start with the mood swings. Whether you suffer from bipolar disorder, clinical depression, or any other form of mental illness, mood swings become such a huge factor.
There are moments where my depression can last for days, and by some luck or miracle, I’ll have a happy spell that can last a good while. On those days, I’ll make plans and be as social as possible. But once the depression comes back, all those plans go down the drain and my bed becomes my best friends.
As far as misdiagnoses goes, this is often an issue that happens when being treated for any type of mental illness. Your doctor getting it right the first time can somewhat be a rare thing. For me, I was diagnosed with clinical depression before the accurate diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder II. A lot of this is in part of my downs being extreme, and my highs never reaching full blown mania. When I’m in a hypomanic state, I tend to have a lot of creative energy and extreme happy spells. The worst of hypomania for me is irritation and passive aggressive behavior. It’s only really when my depression hits suicidal ideation that I tend to seek help. With this being the case, it was easy for me to be misdiagnosed with severe depression than with Bipolar Disorder II. It may take a while to figure things out, but trust me, once you do, the help provided afterward will be worth the struggle.
It’s understandable to feel completely lost, in denial, or afraid of what comes next. Whether it’s taking new medication, adjusting your life to make the days a bit more manageable, or simply coming to terms with what lies next, a new normal is something many of us will face after a new diagnoses.
Although I try to keep things consistent, I know there will be days where my lows will be debilitating enough to keep me from work or everyday activities. With Bipolar Disorder II, I also know my highs are high enough to result in sporadic and sometimes dangerous and careless behavior. Knowing this is half the battle.
Overthinking, Over-Analyzing, Over Everything:
This comes hand in hand with anxiety once again. Everything feels like it’s your fault no matter how ridiculously wrong you are. The tiniest things can seem like the end of the world. The tendency of assuming the worst is another battle all on its own.
Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Prescriptions:
There’s a whole plethora of “P” words that can describe the medical process of dealing with mental illness. Of course, those “P” words don’t even begin to describe the other side of it, “Panic Attacks,” “Paranoia,” and/ or “Physical Aches and Pains.”
Dealing with all of this at the same time can seem like a never ending battle of constant dread and fatigue. You just have to remember, that with “Patience” comes the best “P” word of all…”Peace.” Even if it’s for small fragments at a time, it’s well worth the struggle of finding the right doctor and medication in order to finally feel some kind of peace.
So many questions. Will this be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life? Will people see me differently? Will it always hurt? And when I’m happy…will it last? Sometimes, the answers we’re searching for will never come in time. We’re learning every day and figuring things out as we go. Just like everyone else with or without a mental disorder.
Or irrational? This definitely relates to the many questions that one has after being diagnosed. You tend to look back at all your previous blowups, arguments, and past failed relationships and wonder if your illness was the cause. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. It’s easy to dwell on the past and blame yourself for all the bad that happened, but life goes on. The only way to move is forward.
Before being diagnosed with a mental illness, I too was guilty of believing the stereotypes associated with certain disorders. I pictured the character of Craig Manning on the show ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation,’ having melt down after melt down with no form of self-control. Upon being diagnosed, I was scared that people would see me that way. A loose cannon waiting to explode. But as I mentioned earlier, I truly believe that our generation will be the generation to end all stereotypes and stigmas. By publicly speaking about both my struggles and minor accomplishments with mental illness, I believe we do have the power to end misconceptions and reinforce discussions and understanding.
Trial and Error, Trauma, and Triggers:
…Oh my! Medication can be fickle. Sometimes they work, other times, they simply don’t. It can be a struggle to find the right one. Same goes with doctors and therapists. Certain ones work for others while others don’t. And when you feel like you’ve found the right one, sometimes they’re just not strong enough to keep triggers and memories of trauma at bay. The trick is to find your coping mechanisms. For me, that’s listening to vinyl, writing, or simply latching on to my Harry Potter coloring book–staying within the lines and coloring each page until the anxiety and panic slowly leave my body.
Or lack there-of….Friends will come and friends will go. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being so open about my disorder. Not everyone will understand it and that’s okay. One of the most heartbreaking things for me was losing certain people I would speak with on a daily basis after coming out about my struggles. I know that their distance comes from the fact that they have no idea how to act around me. But the positive –meeting people and reconnecting with old friends. There have been so many people who I’ve reconnected with that have opened up to me about their own personal struggles. Sometimes the friends who leave do so to make room for the new ones that are meant to be in your life.
It’s okay to freak out over things. Everyone does. Anytime I’m angry or start to have a meltdown, my first instinct is asking myself and those around me if my reactions are valid or understandable. Although we may deal with things differently, always remember that certain feelings are still okay to express. It’s okay to be angry that your best friend flaked on you, or your boyfriend or girlfriend said the wrong thing. It’s also okay to be extremely excited when something goes your way or a happy moment occurs. Feelings are what make us human. Questioning their validity comes with the territory of dealing with mental illness. Just always remember that it’s okay to feel, to cry, and to laugh, regardless of the situation.
Or in the words of the Pixies… “Where is my Mind?” There have been so many days where I ask myself why this is happening to me. Why do I have to get stuck taking this medication every day? Why do I have to have an extreme reaction to situations that are nowhere near extreme to other people? Have I lost my mind? Questions will come and go. You’ll have your good days and you’ll have your bad. Just hang in there and stop doubting yourself too much. As Morrissey once said, “there is no such thing in life as normal.”
Ativan, Valium or any other benzo can be your new best friend. Although highly addicting, and dangerous if used improperly or without the watch of a Doctor, just knowing that these pills are in my bag are good enough to help me feel at ease. Although I don’t take them daily and only during intense anxiety attacks, just knowing I have them provides me with immense comfort. There’s no shame in having to take medication. Just like Ibuprofen is there for headaches, Xanax is there to help calm me down during intense times.
Young or Old:
Mental illness does not discriminate. Sadness is a natural human emotion, but if it feels like more than that, there’s no shame in seeking help. I’ve always been severely depressed since my early teens. I’ve always blamed it on teen angst and the college blues. At 30 years old, I am now finally getting the help I need and deserve. Everyone deserves to be happy. I hope we all find it one day.
Prozac, Celexa, or Lexapro…SSRI’s can be a life saver for many. I was first put on Celexa…which lead me to overdosing. My next medication was Prozac which seemed to work for a bit but later worsened my depression. After months of trial and error, and finally being diagnosed as Bipolar II, I’m now on mood stabilizers instead of SSRI’s which have helped me tremendously.
The point of this is to emphasize that the trial and error period can be crucial. Don’t give up. It can take time to find the right one but once you do, it really is life changing. If you can get away without taking medication, more power to you. Sometimes talk therapy is just enough to help while others need more of a push. The point is, we’re all in this fight together. Some methods work for others while some don’t. It’s all about figuring out what’s right for you.