When I first saw that Charlie Takes Phoenix wanted women to share mental health stories, I was SO excited. I had so many ideas. A flood of creative thoughts, insightful analogies, and parallels that I was ready to throw boldly out to the masses. I had a sense of, “Bring it on! I can handle any negativity, I can handle any ANYTHING that comes from this experience!” I was euphoric, I was jazzed, I was ready. I was manic, in an upswing from my latest addition to my list of medications that helped my mood stabilizer work harder so I didn’t have to change my dosage (in an upward direction) AGAIN within a year’s time.
Within days, I was exhausted. In physical pain from head to toe, daydreaming at work about the MINUTE I would be able to come home, don my yoga pants, lose the bra, and lay on my couch watching mindless television until I could pop my nighttime medicine and sleep. My motivation? Gone. Swept out from under me faster than you can say, well, any word really because saying one word is super fast, and that’s how rapid cycling works- it’s the nature of the beast. I have been in a low ever since, with only sporadic moments of normal energy levels, often spent trying to accomplish my neglected home. Dishes undone for two days, laundry in a heap on that beloved couch, all making me feel more anxious and guilty for a disease I seem to be unable to handle on my own. The latest fixation- negative responses to my writing piece.
“For years I didn’t understand why I was so easily irritated. Little things made me rage, little things stacking up gave me panic attacks. Being unable to find a pair of pants for work in the morning left me in tears and on the verge of hyperventilating. “
This is my life. This is my harsh reality. Diagnosed with Bipolar II, I experience depression more than hypomania, so I don’t have delusional episodes or hallucinations as those with Bipolar I experience. Instead, I struggle with extended bouts of clinical depression and a steady stream of anxiety and panic. There is no easy way to express what this looks like.
Oftentimes, those with bipolar disorder are easily concealed. We appear to have the normal ups and downs of everyone living life from one day to the next. In our manic periods, we are wonderful conversationalists, intellectual philosophers, people that seem to have life and its various challenges all figured out- superheroes capable of handling work and home with competence and even pizzazz! We appear outgoing, making others laugh, nurturing positive relationships and friendships and succeeding at every turn.
Sadly, these bouts also come with a lack of impulse control. I once spent over $500 to “spruce up” our home. That $500 was for rent and other bills. As soon as my husband realized what happened, $400 of that merchandise had to be returned. It wasn’t the first time I wasted income on unnecessary items or adventures, and it most certainly wasn’t the last.
The worst part was knowing that I knew better. My disease comes with a terrible side effect- the inability to stop what you KNOW to be insane and unhealthy behaviors. I have described this to my sister, letting her know that in my sane mind I am begging myself to stop! Put the breaks on!
“I had an illness, and just like the flu, I needed my illness to be treated. After going back and forth from medication to no medication, I committed to treatment.”
For years, I was ashamed. I didn’t want to fall for “big pharma” and pay into their pockets by taking loads of pills. I wanted to exercise, eat better, control my damn self by myself. When I finally caved it was because of the mother and wife I was becoming. For years I didn’t understand why I was so easily irritated. Little things made me rage, little things stacking up gave me panic attacks. Being unable to find a pair of pants for work in the morning left me in tears and on the verge of hyperventilating. Anxiety, panic, over pants. Just last year I read for the first time that irritability is a form of reaction to stress and anxiety. I had no idea. Over my son whining about homework. Over my husband sleeping in on a Saturday while I couldn’t sleep all night. Big pharma came calling. I could no longer deny that I was out of control and that I needed help.
That was the year that I finally used Google to search for my disease. I’d been afraid of it before. Scared to look too deeply and make connections that scared me. Words like “suicidal idealization” became phrases I knew to be true, but that terrified me. They say knowledge is power, though, and that is where I finally found strength. I stopped hiding. I stopped lying. I began discussing my illness on social media, attempting to be strong enough that others, especially my fellow moms, could be strong enough to talk about their own experiences.
“Self-care is being honest, being open, creating connections with people who have important things in common with you, and that understand your needs and respect your limitations. It is surrounding yourself with people who don’t ask you to deny yourself or doubt your disease.”
My message inbox exploded. There were nights I didn’t sleep because I was inundated with messages from women and men JUST LIKE ME! The last thing I had to do was admit that my brain had a malfunction, I had an illness, and just like the flu, I needed my illness to be treated. After going back and forth from medication to no medication, I committed to treatment.
Medication has helped me more than can be described. I can safely handle my budget, I keep a schedule, I use my organizer, and plan in advance. I stay calm in what could have been, in the past, a seemingly enormous crisis. I also began taking care of myself in a way that women always talked about. “Self-care” had never been a part of my life. I thought it meant wearing makeup and doing my hair and pretending I had my sh*t together. Now I know that self-care is treating myself to a long bath with a good book. It is drinking hot tea under a warm blanket. Self-care is telling people no when I am overextended and overbooked. Self-care is being honest, being open, creating connections with people who have important things in common with you, and that understand your needs and respect your limitations. It is surrounding yourself with people who don’t ask you to deny yourself or doubt your disease. (This happens a lot to me, people wondering whether or not I really am mentally ill. A good facade is easy, it’s the truth that’s hard.)
“Oftentimes, those with bipolar disorder are easily concealed. We appear to have the normal ups and downs of everyone living life from one day to the next.”
The struggle is real- that’s the bottom line. I will live this way for the rest of my life. Medication changes, highs, and lows, irrational fears, idealizations, panic. But the upside, and there always is one, is that every day is a new day, and signifies that you lived through the day before. Every day is a new day to reach out to someone and offer a shoulder because you’ve been there. To smile, even though you feel like crying because that’s what someone needs from you. Bipolar disorder is a part of my life, but it isn’t the only part. Learning to find those other aspects of life that keep my smile in place and sincere is what has helped me the most, and if anything can do that for me, it is helping others. If I have reached even one person with this writing, it will have been worth sharing this kind of struggle. And if you ever need me, I am always available, even on my lowest of days, to try and make you smile and live through the day.