The years that followed were a mixed bag of being OK and not OK. In 10th grade it was like someone flipped a switch again, and I was fine. That is the last time I remember not being symptomatic. After that it was downhill.
I struggled through the remainder of high school and college. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had started cycling through the hypomanias and depressions of bipolar. The highs weren’t high enough to send up red flags, and the lows I did my best to keep hidden. The anger I couldn’t hide…I took it out on my family. I started having panic attacks.
After college I moved back home and the symptoms got worse. I tried to find help on my own and ended up with someone incompetent. Those were hard years. We were trying to blame my symptoms on the wrong things, which just made them worse.
Grad school….my symptoms spiraled out of control. My anxiety was so bad I was regularly waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. The cutting got worse again. I started having cognitive symptoms…I could no longer follow discussions in classes. The years of keeping everything a secret caught up with me. I thankfully found people I could talk to that helped push me in the right direction. I went through 3 different counselors in a year and a half. The first two told me that they thought I was fine. The third recognized that something was wrong and sent me to a psychiatrist, but was ultimately not helpful.
The psych. put me on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. That’s when my crazy came out in full force. I started to rapid cycle in and out of mood swings. I was waking up at 5:30 or 6 in the mornings, would clean everything in the apartment by 8 am and then be impatient because I was ready to do things and no one else was. I remember one weekend complaining because the library wasn’t open at 7:30 in the morning. Other days, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, and when I could I would sit at work and cry. I went through periods where I was more suicidal than I had ever been before.
During this, I couldn’t keep up with school. I remember sitting at my computer crying because I couldn’t string words together to write a paper. I had to contact all of my professors and tell them that I currently couldn’t “do” school and could I please have extensions on everything. I was afraid I was going to have to drop out.
After a semester of going through different medications, I called it quits. I was done with the meds. At this point, someone should have recognized my reactions to meds as a sign that something else was going on. Instead I was told that I wasn’t really depressed. Again. After a bit I was talked into trying medication again, and we found something that didn’t turn me into a complete rapid-cycling mess. Instead I just felt like I was going to throw up for 3 weeks.
I graduated and moved home from grad school. Things jut got worse. I was sicker than I had ever been. I can’t even describe it. This time around I let my mom find me a therapist because I couldn’t do it.
3 months later I was diagnosed with bipolar. This was the fall of 2015. I’ll never forget the day when I was sitting in my therapist’s office, and as I described what I was going through she looked at me and said, “That sounds like bipolar.” I went home and looked it up. The descriptions….that was me. She talked me into seeing a psychiatrist again, and she confirmed it.
I wish I could say that we found the magic drug and things got better. But they didn’t. I got worse. The first med change helped. The next four months was a series of med changes that made my life a living hell. My therapist was convinced I was experiencing psychosis and she pushed until a psychiatrist recognized it. Delusions. Voices. Those kinds of things. I’m convinced that if we hadn’t found the right drug I would have started to hallucinate.
I found myself actively suicidal. Just a year ago, almost to the day actually. It was scary. I will never forget it. I was close to landing myself in the hospital.
Meanwhile I was mostly functioning as a fully competent adult. I had my job. I had my friends. I was living on my own. As my therapist says, I compensate really well. I was miserable, but I was functioning.
Now, I’m mostly OK. I know how to take care of myself. I don’t always take care of myself, but I know how. I don’t see my struggle as a secret anymore. It is what it is. I don’t have the life I thought I would have, but who does?
Moral of the story? Use the scary words. Suicide. Depression. Words like that. Don’t treat mental health like a dirty little secret. That day in 9th grade when I ended up in the guidance office set the tone for the next 14 years.